Monday, June 30, 2014

The Revolutionary Vote (1/3)

The Ballot as a Weapon (Pt 1)

“Even where there is no prospect of achieving their election the workers must put up their own candidates to preserve their independence, to gauge their own strength and to bring their revolutionary position and party standpoint to public attention. They must not be led astray by the empty phrases of the democrats, who will maintain that the workers' candidates will split the democratic party and offer the forces of reaction the chance of victory. All such talk means, in the final analysis, that the proletariat is to be swindled.” Karl Marx

“I’d rather vote for something I want and not get it than vote for something I don't want, and get it.”  Eugene V. Debs

Socialists want a revolution but one involving much more than a change of political control. We want a social revolution, a revolution in the basis of society, a sweeping, fundamental change in political and economical organisation. No-one can be exactly sure which form the revolutionary process will take but many socialists hold that the potential use of parliament as part of a revolutionary process may prove vitally important in neutralising the ruling class's hold on state power. It is the most effective way of abolishing the state and ushering in the revolutionary society.

 The vote is a potential class weapon, a potential "instrument of emancipation" as Marx put it. He and Engels always held that the bourgeois democratic republic was the best political framework for the development and triumph of the socialist movement. For Marx the key task of the working class was to win "the battle of democracy". This was to capture control of the political machinery of society for the majority so that production could be socialised. Then the coercive powers of the state could be dismantled as a consequence of the abolition of class society. Marx said that you cannot carry on socialism with capitalist governmental machinery; that you must transform the government of one class by another into the administration of social affairs; that between the capitalist society and socialist society lies a period of transformation during which one after another the political forms of to-day will disappear, but the worst features must be lopped off immediately the working class obtains supremacy in the state.

The vote is revolutionary when on the basis of class it organises labour against capital. Parliamentary action is revolutionary when on the floor of parliament it raises the call of the discontented; and when it reveals the capitalist system's impotence and powerlessness to satisfy the workers wants. The duty of a socialist party is to use parliament in order to complete the proletarian education and organisation, and to bring to a conclusion the revolution. Parliament, is to be valued not for the petty reforms obtainable through it, but because through the control of the machinery of government will the socialist majority be in a position to establish socialism.

 The working class is the key political class, whoever wins its support wins the day, hence why the factions of the capitalist party vie for working class votes. Socialists recognise parliament as an institution geared to the needs of capitalism, and therefore inappropriate as the vehicle for a fundamental transformation of society, but regard certain electoral practices as coinciding, to some extent, with the principles governing that transformation, adding the possibility of a peaceful transition. There need be no straight-forward, exclusive and exhaustive choice between constitutionalism and violent seizure of power. Certain elements within existing institutions may be valued, and action taken in conformity with them, while others may not. It serves to limit violence to the role of self-defence in the event of resistance when a clear majority for revolutionary change is apparent, rather than the use of violence as the primary means of change. Rights to organise politically, express dissension and combine in trade unions, for example, are valuable not only as a defence against capitalism, but from a socialist viewpoint are a platform from which socialist understanding can spread, while the right to vote can be the means by which socialism will be achieved. At the same time, we  recognise that genuine democracy is more than these freedoms.

If there were a working class committed to socialism the correct method of achieving political power would be to fight the general election on a revolutionary programme, without any reforms to attract support from non-socialists. In fact, the first stage in a socialist revolution is for the vast majority of the working class to use their votes as class weapons. This would represent the transfer of political power to the working class. We adopt this position not because we are fixated by legality, nor because we overlook the cynical two-faced double-dealing which the capitalists will no doubt resort to. We say, however, that a majority of socialist delegates voted into the national assembly or parliament would use political power to coordinate the measures needed to overthrow the capitalist system. Any minority which was inclined to waver would have second thoughts about taking on such a socialist majority which was in a position to wield the state power.

The capitalist class are the dominant class today because they control the State (machinery of government/political power). And they control the State because a majority of the population allow them to, by, apart from their everyday attitudes, voting for pro-capitalism parties at election times, so returning a pro-capitalism majority to Parliament, so ensuring that any government emerging from Parliament will be pro-capitalism. If the people are to establish socialism they must first take this control of the State (including the armed forces) out of the hands of the capitalist class, so that it can be used to uproot capitalism and usher in socialism. In countries where there exist more or less free elections to a central law-making body to which the executive, or government, is responsible, the working class can do this by sending a majority of mandated delegates to the elected, central legislative body. Just as today a pro-capitalism majority in Parliament reflects the fact that the overwhelming majority of the population wants or accepts capitalism, so a socialist majority in Parliament would reflect the fact that a majority outside Parliament wanted socialism. Socialists contesting elections should make no promises and offering no reforms except for using parliament as a tool for the abolition of capitalism .

The easiest and surest way for a socialist majority to gain control of political power in order to establish socialism is to use the existing electoral machinery to send a majority of mandated socialist delegates to the various parliaments of the world. This is why we advocate using Parliament; not to try to reform capitalism (the only way Parliaments have been used up till now), but for the single revolutionary purpose of abolishing capitalism and establishing socialism by converting the means of production and distribution into the common property of the whole of society. No doubt, at the same time, the working class will also have organised itself, at the various places of work, in order to keep production going, but nothing can be done here until the machinery of coercion which is the state has been taken out of the hands of the capitalist class by political action.

Whilst ‘one person one vote’ is an essential ingredient of democratic society, democracy implies much more than the simple right to choose between representative of political parties every four or five years. The Chartist movement, in the 19th century, saw that gaining the right to vote was meaningless unless it could be used to effect change. But today exercising our democratic right to vote for a conventional political party does not effect change. Ordinary working people are to be targeted with propaganda and public relations exercises to induce acceptance of things that are contrary to our interests. The effectiveness of this propaganda is illustrated by the widening gap between people’s preferences and government policy which often result in the quiet acceptance of, say, unpopular cuts in social spending or policies clearly incompatible with their interests. It is hardly surprising that working people become increasingly disillusioned with "democracy" and politics and register their frustration by declining participation in elections. We start to believe that if our vote is so ineffective in changing things there can be little point in casting it. We become exactly what our master class wants us to be, obedient and docile.

In those countries that have elections, people are asked to select a new government through what is said to be a democratic process. It is true that the vote, together with those other hard-won rights such as the rights of assembly, political organisation and free expression, are most important. But can the act of electing a government result in a democratic society? To govern is to direct, control and to rule with authority. Operating as the state this is what governments do. But to say that democracy is merely the act of electing a government to rule over us cannot be right because democracy should include all people in deciding how we live and what we do as a community. Democracy means the absence of privilege, making our decisions from a position of equality. Democracy means that we should live in a completely open society with unrestricted access to the information relevant to social issues. It means that we should have the powers to act on our decisions, because without such powers decisions are useless.

Democracy is one of those words like freedom or justice that is constantly misused and prone to expedient adaptation. Many people would argue that Britain (or India) and by this, they mean the regular elections to parliament and local government, the freedom to organise political parties, a press which is not beholden to the government, and the rule of law. If people object to the policies of the government they can vote them out of office. If they oppose a specific action by the authorities, they can set up a protest group and hold demonstrations, without the fear of being carted off to prison for voicing their views. In this, comparisons are drawn with dictatorships, where elections may be non-existent or a sham, where independent parties and trade unions are outlawed, where the press just follow the government line, and arbitrary arrest and even torture are commonplace. Do the trappings of democracy really guarantee a truly democratic way of life? Do they ensure "rule by the people"? Socialists argue that the answer to these questions is a resounding "no!", and that real democracy - a social democracy, as it might be called - involves far more.

Under a capitalist system there is a built-in lack of democracy, which cannot be overturned or compensated for by holding elections or permitting protest groups. Our objections are far more basic than any potential constitutional changes to the electoral system. There are at least three reasons, then, why capitalist democracy does not mean that workers are in charge of their own lives.
(1) They are too poor to be able to do what they want to do, being limited by the size of their wage packets.
(2) They are at the beck and call of their employers in particular and of the capitalist class in general.
(3) And they are at the mercy of an economic system that goes its own sweet way without being subject to the control of those who suffer under it.

Electors worldwide haven't had the true experience of having had their voices heard, at any significant level in the various processes of so-called democracy. Rather than an expectation of involvement there is passivity, cynicism or the common mantra heard far and wide that governments don't listen to the people. Many so-called democracies tend to breed apathy for a variety of reasons. Decisions have long been made FOR the people, not BY the people, with  decisions made with no consultation process and 'leaders' believing they have been selected to take the reins and make all decisions on behalf of the voters and who take it for granted that once elected they decide on behalf of the electors. There is scant referral back to the populace in times of major decisions –  how to deal with the effects of a harsh economic downturn, where to cut public spending, or whether to go to war. Even mass demonstrations against unpopular decisions can leave the elected unmoved and intransigent. As a result there has long been a culture of complaint, a collective feeling of impotence with no expectation of being heard, or even seemingly listened to. Socialists are not under any illusion about the nature of democracy under capitalism.

For socialists the rule of government can never be democratic. Governments implement policies for which no one voted, or would vote for. No one voted to cut socia services for the old and the disabled. No one voted to close hospitals. People getting what they DID NOT vote for shows that capitalism is incompatible with democracy as an expression of “the people’s will”. This is not because there are no procedures in place for people to decide what they want, but because the way the capitalist economy works prevents some of these decisions being implemented. Governments work for a privileged section of society. They make the laws which protect the property rights of a minority who own and control natural resources, industry, manufacture and transport. These are the means of life on which we all depend but most of us have no say in how they are used. Behind Parliament governments operate in secret. They are part of the division of the world into rival capitalist states. With the back-up of their armed forces they pursue national capitalist interests. Though the politicians who run it may be elected, the state is the opposite of democracy. Production is owned and controlled by companies, some of them multinational corporations with massive economic power making the decisions on what should be produced for the markets for sale at a profit. Through corporate authority they decide how goods should be produced and the conditions in which work is done. Again, this is the opposite of democracy.

The realisation that genuine democracy cannot exist in capitalist society does not alter the fact that the elbow room already secured by struggle can be turned against our masters. The right to vote, for instance, can become a powerful instrument to end our servitude and to achieve genuine democracy and freedom. Working people with an understanding of socialism can utilise their vote to signify that the overwhelming majority demand change and to bring about social revolution. For while democracy cannot exist outside of socialism, socialism cannot be achieved without the overwhelming majority of working people demanding it. The capitalist form of democracy, though seriously flawed, has in fact no formal means of preventing sufficiently determined individuals representing a politically conscious majority from using the political system it has developed in order to overthrow it, operating in a different social framework from the one that currently exists, one that would be filled with the notion of participation and democratic accountability at all levels.

If you ask “What is a political party?” the likely reply is “A group of people who want to get elected”. If you then ask them why they think these people want to get elected, the charitable response will be “To do things for the country. To help other people”. If they’re less charitable, they’ll answer “To help themselves. They’re just out for what they can get”.

People have also noticed that whoever gets elected, nothing really changes. This is because politicians have no intention of changing anything. The capitalist system may be nominally democratic, but it relies upon working class compliance, passivity and lack of involvement in the process to carry out its worst and most illiberal functionings. It has been borne out by painful experience that for the most starry-eyed of us, politicians are not only unable to make good on promises but have actually carried out unwelcomed policies. Why should we believe that another party would be any more successful? The working class persist in choosing between different versions of the same discredited palliatives for capitalism’s problems. This is masochism.

The biggest myth – that which keeps people voting for political parties to run capitalism – is that it is indeed possible to "run" capitalism. Governments of the world govern by the myth of control. With no steering wheel, capitalism is never short of prospective "drivers" who will do and say anything for a chance to sit up front in the drivers seat. They persuade us that they can control market forces, but only until the next crisis, whereupon they blame market forces or immigrants, or both.

Crucial to the question of democracy is not just the ability to make decisions about what to do but also the powers of action to carry out those decisions. For many years, in many nations, capitalist politicians seeking office have promised to solve the problems of poverty, unemployment, homelessness, pollution, crime, the health service and many more. They have failed because in fact they seek to run a system driven by profit, which imposes severe economic limitations on what can he done and which as a result cannot be rationally controlled. This makes a mockery of the idea of democracy. Democracy is what the working-class needs, and this can be best achieved, not by compromise, but by struggling for socialism. Socialists to-day content ourselves with the means of struggle and victory which have served others and of which we will serve ourselves in our turn. If anything is particularly idiotic it is the divergence that has been made between the means, divided into legal and illegal, into pacific and violent, in order to admit the one and exclude the other. There is not, and there never will be, other than a single category of means, determined by circumstances: those which conduct to end pursued. And these means are always revolutionary when there is a question of a revolution to be accomplished.

Our position is that politicians, whatever their intentions, are actually retarding the development of the only organisation of the working class that can enter into effective conflict with the forces of capitalism. By association with capitalist representatives in both political and economic affairs they induce the idea (which capitalism does everything possible to foster) that the hostility does not exist. But until that fact is clearly understood there can be no material improvement in the workers' condition. It is unfortunate, of course, that the workers do not understand. It makes the task of those who are concerned with the overthrow of capitalism, and the emancipation of the working class from wage-slavery, very difficult. The results of their work seem so very slow a-coming. And some of them tire and drop out of the movement, and others curse the stupidity of the working class, while others again weary of the work, endeavour to secure some immediate consolation by pandering to the ignorance they once may have thought to dispel, and so simply increase the difficulties in the way. The point of the battle should be to put an end to the dirty job of running capitalism.

 Some socialists say that revolution has to be democratic, participative and structured. Where it is available to workers, socialists take the viewpoint that capitalist democracy can and should be used as a critically important instrument available to class-conscious workers for making a genuine and democratic revolution. And in the process of making a revolution starts with reinventing a democracy fit for society on a human scale. The fight for democracy world-wide is an essential part of the struggle for world socialism. After all, if workers are not able to fight for something as basic as the vote, they are unlikely to be able to work for the transformation of society from one based on production for profit to one based on production for human need. A democracy that is free from the patronage, the power games and the profit motive that currently, from Moscow to Mumbai, Washington to Chennai, abuses it. As socialists, we do not regard political democracy in itself as sufficient to emancipate humanity. But we do recognise that it provides by far the best conditions for the development of the socialist movement. it is the heartbeat of every activity of socialists.

Basically, there are only three ways of winning control of the State:
 (a) armed insurrection;
 (b) more or less peaceful mass demonstrations and strikes;
 (c) using the electoral system.

The early members of the World Socialist Movement adopted, in the light of then existing political conditions, for (c), but without ruling out (b) or even (a) should these conditions change (or in other parts of the world where conditions were different).

But this was never understood as simply putting an "X" on a ballot paper and letting the Socialist Party and its MPs establish socialism for workers. The assumption always was that there would be a "conscious" and active socialist majority outside Parliament, democratically organised both in a mass socialist political party and, at work, in labour union type organisations ready to keep production going during and immediately after the winning of political control. Having adopted policy (c), various other options follow. Obviously, if there's a Socialist candidate people who want Socialism are urged to vote for that candidate. But what if there's no Socialist candidate? Voting for any other candidate is against the principles. So what to do? The basic choice is between abstention and spoiling the ballot paper (by writing "Socialism" across it). The policy adopted and confirmed ever since was the latter, ie a sort of write-in vote for Socialism. One or two spoilers/blank voters can be ignored, tens of thousands or even millions could not be - especially if backed by a vocal movement explaining the situation. See the Argentinian example, for instance.

The first step towards taking over the means of production, therefore, must be to take over control of the state, and the easiest way to do this is via elections. But elections are merely a technique, a method. The most important precondition to taking political control out of the hands of the owning class is that the useful majority are no longer prepared to be ruled and exploited by a minority; they must withdraw their consent to capitalism and class rule-they must want and understand a socialist society of common ownership and democratic control.We need to organise politically, into a political party, a socialist party. We don't suffer from delusions of grandeur so we don't necessary claim that we are that party. What we are talking about is not a small educational and propagandist group such as ourselves, but a mass party that has yet to emerge. It is such a party that will take political control via the ballot box, but since it will in effect be the useful majority organised democratically and politically for socialism it is the useful majority, not the party as such as something separate from that majority, that carries out the socialist transformation of society.

They will neutralise the state and its repressive forces and as stated there is no question of forming a government , and then proceed to take over the means of production for which they will also have organised themselves at their places of work. This done, the repressive state is disbanded and its remaining administrative and service features, reorganised on a democratic basis, are merged with the organisations which the useful majority will have formed to take over and run production, to form the democratic administrative structure of the stateless society of common ownership that socialism will be.

This is perhaps a less romantic idea of the socialist revolution but a thousand times more realistic. Which is why we think this is the way it will happen. When the time comes the socialist majority will use the ballot box since it will be the obvious thing to do, and nobody will be able to prevent them or persuade them not to. At that time it will be the anti-electoralists who will be irrelevant. A real democracy is fundamentally incompatible with the idea of leadership. It is about all of us having a direct say in the decisions that affect us. Leadership means handing over the right to make those decisions to someone else. We have at our disposal today the very means, in the form of modern telecommunications, that could enable us to resuscitate the ancient model of Athenian democracy on a truly global level.

The working class unity can be made real through a socialist party if that party becomes, in fact as well as in name, the fighting force of the whole working-class movement. Its avowed aim the reorganisation of the economic and social life on the economic foundation of socialism. It must use not only the weapon of mass organisation on the industrial field, but the weapon of parliamentary democracy, won in the past by working class power. It must set itself, by using the machine of Parliament, by adapting it and changing it to serve new purposes, to win power so that it shall transfer into the hands of the exploited  the land and the industries. It must wage the class struggle if class domination is to end. A socialist and working-class movement fighting relentlessly for socialism and in that fight combating the day to day attacks of capitalism is the only way to defeat capitalism.

There is nothing inherently elitist about the electoral approach. It is how you use that approach that makes it elitist. The World Socialist Movement is not asking people to vote for them so they can solve the problems the electorate have to contend with but saying quite clearly that workers need to understand and support socialism themselves in order for it to come about. It cannot be imposed from above. Furthermore, we constantly makes the point to workers in elections that if they don’t understand or support socialism then they should not vote for the WSM. The WSM does not propose to come "into office", ie to form a government and so does not propose "to vote itself into office". Nor to we propose that other people should "vote us into office" either. What we do propose is that people should, amongst other things, use the vote in the course of the social revolution from capitalism to socialism; that they should, if you like, vote capitalism out of office. To do this they will need to stand recallable mandated delegates at elections but these will be just this: messenger boys and girls, not leaders or would-be government ministers, sent to formally take over and dismantle "the central State". The situation we envisage in which a majority vote in socialist delegates is one where the revolution, in respect of socialist ideas has already begun to accelerate. The vote is merely the legitimate stamp which will allow for the dismantling of the repressive apparatus of the States and the end of bourgeois democracy and the establishment of real democracy. It is the Achilles heel of capitalism and makes a non-violent revolution possible. What matters is a conscious socialist majority outside parliament, ready and organised to take over and run industry and society; electing a socialist majority in parliament is essentially just a reflection of this. It is not parliament that establishes socialism, but the socialist working-class majority outside parliament and they do this, not by their votes, but by their active participating beyond this in the transformation of society.

James Connolly explained:
"I am inclined to ask all and sundry amongst our comrades if there is any necessity for this presumption of antagonism between the industrialist and the political advocate of socialism. I cannot see any. I believe that such supposed necessity only exists in the minds of the mere theorists or doctrinaires. The practical fighter in the work-a-day world makes no such distinction. He fights, and he votes; he votes and he fights. He may not always, he does not always, vote right; nor yet does he always fight when and as he should. But I do not see that his failure to vote right is to be construed into a reason for advising him not to vote at all; nor yet why a failure to strike properly should be used as a gibe at the strike weapon, and a reason for advising him to place his whole reliance upon votes."

It is the quality of the voters behind the vote that, in the revolutionary struggle, will be decisive.
Naive reformism, if you wish, but what are the alternative strategies which are in themselves not flawed?

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Together Workers Can Go Forward

Anti-capitalists - what are they fighting against? The horrors of capitalism are as old as capitalism itself and not simply a product of the last few decades. The reduction of people to commodities, sweat-shop labour, the long hours of work that destroy the lives of women, men and children, the land-grab and destruction of people’s livelihoods as poor farmers are driven from the land are characteristic effects of capitalism throughout its history.

Marx long ago pointed out that the way capitalism functions hides from people what is really happening. Those who buy and sell on markets see only the interplay of goods on those markets, not the human activity that lies behind this interplay. Those whose incomes come from dividends and interest, or playing on the money markets, believe money itself has a magical ability to grow which has nothing to do with the toil of people in factories, fields, mines and offices. Capitalists who live off the labour of workers believe they provide work for them. Unemployment is seen as resulting from some shortage of the total work that needs doing, rather than from the absurdity of a system driven by the blind competition between rival owners of the means of making a livelihood. Marx called this upside down view of the world encouraged by capitalism “the fetishism of commodities” – comparing it with the religious notion that god created humans, not humans god.

A capitalist can use and abuse his capital not as his whim dictates but in a certain well-defined manner, otherwise he is liable to an immediate penalty, namely, bankruptcy. He cannot use his profit as he likes. He must accumulate to improve his equipment and expand his enterprise. Otherwise he loses not only his profit but also his original capital. At a certain stage competition forces him even to abandon the individual ownership of his business and to enter into a corporation, and later into a cartel. Finally, he is compelled to wage war, to devote to that purpose an increasingly larger portion of his profits and to endure the haughty intervention of militarists and bureaucrats. All this proves that capitalist property is a contradictory phenomenon, self-devouring in character. And this we have known since the time of Marx.

The right to private property, the right to exploit, the right to rob, the right cause wars. These are the  basic rights of  of capitalism. Our answer to those rights is the abolition of the right of private property, and instead the common ownership of the means of production, so that all may enjoy the fruit of their labour, and consume it, thus eliminating economic crises, and the reason for wars. Socialists are not out to create a bloody revolution but work for a fundamental change in  the conditions of the people that can only be attained by transforming basic social relations, by a shift in ownership and control from the few to the many when the whole of society is changed by the elimination of the private ownership of the entire means of production, socialism. The Labour Party is a capitalist party. If so-called revolutionaries support Labour, even as a lesser evil or with all sorts of qualifications to their support, they are betraying the working class. To offer any support for Labour is to directly contradict the fundamental task of presenting the working class with a clear alternative to all capitalist parties and to the whole system of capitalism. A mass party must be created which presents a clear alternative to the capitalist parties, and which is able to prove in consistent struggle that it really represents working class interests.

The starting point for understanding politics is a knowledge of the real structure of society. That society is composed of different classes, ranging from wage workers in the factories, fields and offices to stockholders of the corporations which own and operate them. Which class rules and how do its agents secure their domination over our economic, political and cultural life?

The history of the working class has been a history of unremitting struggle against exploitation and oppression by the capitalist class. The working class came into existence by the forcible driving of the peasants from the land. The landless peasants were then forced to work at starvation wages in the developing factories, under threat by Government legislation of branding, flogging and execution. The ruling class, while in the main using lies and deception to exploit and oppress the workers, has never shrunk from brutalising the people. The ruling class has revealed its true features time and time again. Up until now, the capitalists have had a fine time concocting lies against the working class and deceiving the people. Many workers have had the media misrepresent their case when they were faced with the capitalists’ “take-away” attacks such as on so-called occupational final salary pension cuts.

Some of the Left Communist nature accuse trade unions of being instruments for the administration of capitalism because of the pressing need for workers to organise themselves to fight for immediate economic demands. Bosses do not look kindly on workers who are unorganised then attempt to form unions that will fight in its class interests. If the bosses thought that unionisation was purely class collaborationist, why would they use all the power of the state against workers organising. Nor is it inevitable that participation in the immediate economic struggles of the workers in a trade union form will lead to sellout by capitalist ideology. We agree that trade unions are not revolutionary organisations and fight only for limited demands within the system. Furthermore, once workers force the boss to recognise the union, the next step for the bosses is to attempt to reverse that workers’ victory. Employers’ management do this because a strong, militant union will eat into their profits and because such a union will become a vehicle for still greater struggle by the workers. And it has to be conceded that the boss class have been quite successful in blunting union struggle. It is not true that the trade unions promotes class collaboration. If that were true the bosses would welcome union recruitment campaigns instead of opposing them. Rather it is the lack of understanding within the working class that permits union leaders to take control. Without a knowing the nature of capitalism, workers will be unable to withstand the onslaught of the bosses.

Ordinary workers are powerless to determine the decisions that most vitally shape their lives. They are not consulted beforehand and often do not even know what these decisions are until they are struck by their consequences. The major decisions are made for them by people in pivotal positions who have centralized the means of information and the policy-making powers in their hands. The elite in power, on the other hand, are in positions to make decisions having major consequences. Their failure to act, their failure to make decisions, is itself an act that is often of greater consequence than the decisions they do make. For they are in command of the major hierarchies and organisations of modern society. They rule the big corporations. They run the machinery of the state and claim its prerogatives. They direct the military establishment.

The very rich of 2010 are largely the descendants of the very rich of 1900 or 1950. These acquired their fortunes thanks to the right of private property, by corporate manipulations, by favorable tax legislation and through compliant political authorities. The very rich have used existing laws, they have circumvented and violated existing laws, and they have had laws created and enforced for their direct benefit. Their immense revenues are derived from their ownership of the giant corporations. They are closely tied up in a thousand ways with the CEOs of the immense transnationals . The corporate rich alone are really free, or at least enjoy incomparably more freedom of action and of inaction than anyone else. Their wealth affords them unrestricted command over society and its products and liberates them from the grim material necessities of the lower classes. Money provides power and power provides freedom. The corporate rich, the warlords and the big politicians jointly develop and administer domestic and foreign policies. Decisive power on decisive issues is concentrated exclusively in the top circles. The current monopolizers of power have no responsibility to the people or to anyone else. Within the existing setup they are uncontrolled and uncontrollable and they profit from this state of irresponsibility.

Every crisis sets in motion the forces which temporarily enable capitalism to get out of crisis. Only when the working people develop a political movement to seize state power does the capitalist system break down. On its own, simply given economic contradictions under capitalism, the system could continue forever, breeding greater destructive crises, and then prosperous booms.

 This is the natural order of the damnable and sordid economic system in which we live. This is the order which will remain until it is altered by one of these classes, and the class which will make the alteration will be the working-class. Why has the mighty force of the working class, so filled with the spirit of rebellion and international brotherhood, never overthrown their oppressors? It is impossible to hold the people down solely by violence – it can only be done by deception. The political platform of the capitalists has been presented by their parties in as confused a manner as possible so the people won’t grasp what they stand for. With the proper understanding of the economic system, the workers will soon find means to end that system and  have for its goal the benefit for the whole of the community.

A new storm against the capitalist class is now developing. A drive to break the unions is under way. Wage, benefits and working condition gains are being taken away. Our labour struggles are mostly defensive trying to maintain concessions won previously. The capitalist class is grinding the working class down, and where there is oppression, there is resistance and it is producing a response. Pessimists see only half the struggle, only the capitalist attack.

Working people are seeing through the treacheries of the  capitalist class. There is deep distrust and rejection of the official channels into which the capitalist class tries to divert politics. Parliaments are largely irrelevant to people’s needs and the actions people must carry out. Trade union officials are viewed as ineffective and regarded with suspicion. Politicians are heroes to no one. The percentage of people who vote at elections is at a historical low point. Newspapers and television are read and watched cynically. Social consciousness is deeper.

There is class struggle raging. True, resistance is still scattered over many issues, but struggles will merge into mighty currents tomorrow. There exists a sense of mutual support of each others’ struggles. We are not in a revolutionary period yet by any means. But old limits of struggle have been surpassed. The workers question capitalism on a much broader scope than before. No political party ever spoke before in the name of the working class and called for the overthrow of the capitalist class as the ruling class. Socialism has always considered labour as the foundation for the existence of society. Socialism always set before itself the task, not only to emancipate the industrious society from the capitalist which had seized the means of production and used them for the exploitation of the labour of others, but it was also the socialist aim to replace the chaotic organisation of labour as it exists under capitalism, by an organisation which shall fit the needs of society.

We in the Socialist Party curse – and try to remedy – the fact that our numbers are yet so small that we are unable to take greater responsibility in the class war. We must admit this failure and not become demoralised but analyse its roots and chart a new direction forward. 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Federated Freedom

Socialism is not a religion but a method of understanding and changing the world. This is a speculative essay on how socialism may perhaps organise its decision making and should not be treated as party policy as our position is that when socialism is established, how it is organised will be determined by the majority at the time and not in advance by a small group as ourselves. We are also sure that there will be many adaptations to suit particular conditions and specific situations, taking into account the history, the geography and local customs.

Marx’s theory of socialist revolution is grounded on the fundamental principle that “The emancipation of the working class must be the work of the working class itself.” Marx held to this view throughout his political activity, and it distinguished his theory of social change from that of both those who appealed to governments and industrialists to change the world for the benefit of the working class and of those who relied on the determined action of some enlightened minority of professional revolutionaries to liberate the working class.

There is an enormous confusion in the use of the term “socialism.” It is mistakenly identified with state control and police rule. Socialist emancipation is incompatible with any state ownership or party rule, and true socialisation of the means of production requires true participation of all citizens in social decision-making. Socialist society is based on the free association of all individuals who work together to produce the goods necessary for their collective well-being. All will work according to their capacities and their needs will be fully satisfied. It is through such a free association, when labour in all its aspects becomes controlled by the workers themselves that production will rest not upon decisions of the planners, but of the freely determined wishes of the producers themselves. Socialism will have no need of the irrational remnants of a past age, such as prices, money or wages. The socialist view is that the future will see the rise of a free association, a society wherein neither class nor government shall exist. Socialism is a society of the free and equal, the rule of the people.  Each individual, with all his or her distinctive abilities and needs, is at the same time a social being. One becomes human only in society. Need for personal freedom goes together with the need to be recognized and esteemed in the community to which one belongs. Socialism presupposes a conception of mankind as a being capable of free creative activity, who brings to life the individual’s potential and at the same time satisfies the needs of others. The whole purpose of the socialist struggle for universal human emancipation is to create different conditions, different social structures, under which this potential can be brought to life.

Firstly, the means of production and means of other socially necessary activities must not remain the monopoly of any particular social group (bourgeoisie, bureaucracy, technocracy); they ought to be socialised not turned into the property of the state. The realm of democracy is not only the political sphere but the whole sphere of public life – production, education, scientific research, cultural activities, health service, etc. This is possible under the conditions of a thorough decentralisation. There is no need for any concentration of power in the hands of professional politicians. A form of democracy without professional politics is councils-democracy or self-government. Work has reached the point where it is now possible both to satisfy the needs of all individuals and to reduce the necessary working hours to a level which will allow everybody truly to participate in communal activities and decision-making processes.

Socialisation of the means of production is the transformation of private property into common social property. To be common social property means: (a) to belong to the society as a whole (b) to be put at the disposal of the community the fruits of such work to provide for individual and collective social needs. The justification for the socialisation of the means of production is that those means were actually produced by social work, by the accumulated, unpaid surplus work of hired producers over a long period of time. What makes socialisation a truly democratic act is the effective introduction of worker’s self-management. The assembly of all people (in small communities), or the council composed of delegates (in large ones) become responsible for the making of decisions regarding all issues of production, distribution and communal life.

 Marx's conception of what a fully democratic system would be like seems to had been influenced by events in France. Here's how he described the Paris Commune of 1871 which he held up as an example of how the working class should exercise political power once they had won control of it:
"The Commune was formed of the municipal councillors, chosen by universal suffrage in the various wards of the town, responsible and revocable at short terms. The majority of its members were naturally working men, or acknowledged representatives of the working class. The Commune was to be a working, not a parliamentary body, executive and legislative at the same time..In a rough sketch of national organization, which the Commune had no time to develop, it states clearly that the Commune was to be the political form of even the smallest country hamlet, and that in the rural districts the standing army was to be replaced by a national militia, with an extremely short term of service. The rural communities of every district were to administer their common affairs by an assembly of delegates in the central town, and these district assemblies were again to send deputies to the National Delegation in Paris, each delegate to be at any time revocable and bound by the mandat imperatif (formal instructions) of his constituents."

The democratic organisation of all people as citizens of the world would need to operate through different scales of social co-operation. Locally, in town or country, we would be involved with our parish or neighbourhood. Even now, there are many thousands of men and women throughout the country who work voluntarily on parish and district councils and in town neighbourhoods for the benefit of their communities. But these efforts would be greatly enhanced by the freedoms of a society run entirely through voluntary co-operation. Such local organisation would be in the context of regional co-operation which could operate by adapting the structures of present national governments. Whilst some departments such as Inland Revenue and the Treasury, essential to the capitalist state, would be abolished, others like Agriculture and the Environment could be adapted to the needs of socialist society and could be part of regional councils and would assist in the work of implementing the decisions of regional populations. With the abolition of the market system, communities in socialism will not only be able to make free and democratic decisions about what needs to be done they will also be free to use their resources to achieve those aims. Communities will be free to decide democratically how best to use those resources. Small units could be run by regular meetings of all the workers. In the cases of large organisations these could be run by elected committees accountable to the people working in them. In this way, democratic practice would apply not just to the important policy decisions that would steer the main direction of development, it would extend to the day-to-day activities of the work place.

Some anarchist advocates hold that all big systems are intrinsically bad and that all those activities that require them (for example, industrial manufacturing, air transport, even big cities) ought to be abandoned according to some. Murray Bookchin, an exponent of what he called libertarian municipalism has countered:
“....I don't want to go back to the past. I am not a primitivist...I think that the main causes of our problems lie in social relations — in capitalism, the nation-state — and in the commodification of all things and relations. If we organized social life along cooperative and humanistic lines, technology could be one of the major solutions to our problems. Primitivists believe we have too much civilization. I believe we're not civilized enough. Some primitivists are even against "society," but I think that without society you are not a human being. They believe in personal autonomy, I believe in social freedom. They seem to believe that there is a "natural man," an "uncorrupted ego," which civilization has poisoned. I believe that competition and other class and hierarchical relations have corrupted society, and that we need instead a cooperative civilization...”

Bookchin  goes on to explain:-

"Democracy is something that anarchism often seems to have problems with. This is one area in which I differ with authentic anarchists, who emphasize an individual ego and the fulfillment of its desires as the overriding consideration. Many anarchists reject democracy as the "tyranny" of the majority over the minority. They think that when a community makes decisions by majority vote, it violates the "autonomy" of the egos of the individuals who voted in the minority. They seem to think that somehow those who voted against a decision, because they are "autonomous," shouldn't have to follow it.
I think that that idea is naive at best and a prescription for chaos at worst. Decisions, once made, have to be binding. Of course minorities should always have the right to object to majority decisions and to freely voice their own views. Majorities have no right to try to prevent a minority from voicing its views and trying to win majority support for them.
The question is, what is the fairest way to make community wide decisions? I think majority voting is not only the fairest but the only viable way for a face-to-face democratic society to function, and that decisions made by majority vote should be binding on all the members of the community, whether they voted in favor of a measure or against it.
And unlike many anarchists, I don't think a particular individual or municipality should be able to do whatever it wants to do at all times. Lack of structure and institutions leads to chaos and even arbitrary tyranny. I believe in law, and the future society I envision would also have a constitution. Of course, the constitution would have to be the product of careful consideration, by the empowered people. It would be democratically discussed and voted upon. But once the people have ratified it, it would be binding on everyone. It is not accidental that historically, oppressed people who were victims of the arbitrary behavior of the ruling classes — "barons," as Hesiod called them in seventh-century B.C. Greece — demanded constitutions and just laws as a remedy...”

Decentralisation has a number of shortcomings, such as:
(1) The absence of necessary coordination leads to waste of natural resources, inefficiency. Some important social activities require common natural and human resources, division of roles and unique direction. These include energy production, public transportation, large-scale production of goods, protection of the natural environment, production of indispensable raw materials, defense.
(2) A low level of productivity based on small scale technology requires more labour. Many important human needs can not be met with small scale technology.
(3) Small scale social organisation and reduction of needs makes many rare, specific human skills redundant. Specialised scientific research, fine arts, cannot be supported by small, self-reliant communities.
(4) The inevitable social-psychological consequence of a narrow, provincial mentality returning after capitalism’s cosmopolitanism where any return to parochial forms of life and thought would constitute a major retrogression. The idiocy of rural life, as Marx described it.
(5) Decentralisation does not automatically  eliminate domination and oppression. One huge, faceless bureaucracy may be merely replaced by a number of small, personal, petty tyrants. Far from being more beautiful, the small master may be more inconsiderate, arbitrary and sadistic.

Rather than decentralisation, many prefer a federated system of organisation in the sense of a union of communities (regions, provinces, cultural organisations) which collaborate as equal partners while preserving a high degree of their autonomy. Certain issues can be resolved only in a global way; for example, efforts to improve the quality of the natural environment. In a world of growing interdependence, federalism appears to be the optimal way of transcending parochialism and localism. A federation is possible when all communities have an  interest in cooperation, in sharing resources and goods. The basic assumption of the federation is that it is a free creation of the parts rather than a primary whole that determines the conditions of its parts. No matter how high a degree of coordination in a union of this type, it does not have any dominating center because none of its component units aspires to domination, and/or because all of them strongly resist any such tendency. The stability of such a federation depends on a balance of two opposing forces.
One works irreversibly toward greater identity and uniformity; the other maintains diversity and preserves specific communal traditions and cultural values.
 In the same way in which an individual experiences a community as an indispensable social environment when he or she freely acts and develops in it, a community willingly accepts a larger society as its natural environment when it can freely develop within it, autonomously decide on its specific problems, equally participate in the solution of issues common for the whole society, and when it can collaborate with other parts without being abused or exploited by any of them. In fact the level of coordination among parts can be higher in a federation then in a centralist system. What makes it a federation is equal distribution of power regardless of the size, and full political, economical and cultural self-determination.

One difficulty is difference in size and population. If ordinary democratic rules would be applied, a bigger and more populous federal unit would have a larger electorate, a larger number of representatives in the federal self-governing body (federal assembly) and, consequently, more power. Purely quantitative and representative democracy must be corrected in order to diminish the importance of numbers and to protect the interests of the minorities. There must be a political culture that combines autonomy with solidarity. An association would fall apart if its constituent communities would pursue only their selfish, particular interests; fight all the time; and squeeze out half-satisfactory compromise solutions. The purpose of a common political culture would be to provide a consensus in basic premises for any conflict resolution. Such basic premises are, first, agreement about ultimate preferences, other conditions being equal; second, agreement about which ultimate preferences have priority when other conditions are not equal, and when they happen to be mutually incompatible. When a federal unit, for selfish reasons, raises a particular issue, it will be invited to justify it with reference to generally accepted principles. Dialogues cannot be won with short-sighted, self-centered policies. It is true that these policies can be stubbornly defended once one escapes the field of rational and moral discourse and turns to formalistic legal rationalization. After all, it is conceivable that, using its veto power, a part may blackmail the rest of the society. But in such a case either the particular discordant leadership would lose the support of its own constituency and would be recalled, or the federation’s social fabric would collapse, and it would practically fall apart. One of the basic purposes of living in any community is mutual aid, support of the whole for any of its parts when coping with a problem that exceeds its own powers. It is important to note here that while “aid” appears to be a one-way operation, a humanitarian act, it is, in fact, an expression of reciprocity. It turns out to be a rational thing to do, a matter of mutual interest.

Often seen as the most difficult problem of a socialist revolution is bringing to life self-government as the new form of democracy, the problem of the transcendence of the state - the “withering away of the state”.The practical meaning of the transformation of government into self- government may be spelled out in the following way:

(a) The members of a self-governing body, at any level of social organisation, are directly elected by the people or delegated by a lower-level organ of self- government. The procedure of election is fully democratic: no candidate can have any privileges because of his or her professional role, past merits, or backing by existing political organisations.

(b) The members of a self-governing body are elected for limited intervals of time; the principle of rotation strictly observed and it excludes perpetuation of the power of professional politicians.

(c) The members of self-government are directly responsible to their electorate. They are obliged to regularly give account to the community which they represent and are subject to recall. They articulate the needs of the community, but also by finding ways to reconcile particular interests of the community with interests of other communities and the society as a whole. The institution of self-government excludes authoritarian leadership. The will of the people must count all the time, and the use of force is out of the question. But it does not follow that the roles are simply reversed and that elected representatives have no other alternative but to follow blindly every twist and turn of the mass current. In case of conflict they will make an effort to prevail due to the strength of their arguments – or else they will resign. The road to becoming a career politician is closed. And the community is strongly motivated to have an able representative.

(d) Representatives must not enjoy any material privileges which would produce undesirable social differences, lowers the motivation of the representatives as well as the morale of the community, and eventually leads to the creation of a new alienated social elite.

(e) An organ of self-government constitutes the supreme authority at the given communal level. That is where it differs from analogous organs of participation, co-management, or workers-control which have only advisory, consultative, or controlling functions and, at best, only share authority with the political bureaucracy, capitalists, or the techno-structure. “Self-governing” institutions presuppose the elimination of all ruling classes and elites; professional-technical management must be subordinated to them. They create basic policy, formulate long range goals, establish the rules and control the implementation of accepted policies.

(f ) While there might be a plurality of organisations that mediate between people and self-governing institutions, none of them must be allowed to dominate the institutions of self-government. They can play useful and, indeed, necessary social roles: to express specific group interests, to politically educate people, to mobilise them for alternative programs of development, to contribute to the creation of a powerful public opinion. But none of them must have control over the institutions of self-government. Whatever the personal affiliations of individual elected representatives, their loyalty must go directly and fully to the people whom they represent, and not to any mediating organization.

(g) All power of self-governing bodies is delegated to them by the people from the given field and is not allocated from the center. When social power is alienated, all decision-making goes from the top to the basis of the social pyramid. When it is not, it is always the lower level of social organization, closer to the base, which decides how much regulation, coordination and control is needed at the next higher level. According to such a decision, a certain amount of power is, then, delegated. In such a way the authority of a central federal assembly rests on that of district or regional assemblies, and all of them are eventually authorized to decide on certain issues by the councils of basic working organizations and local communities. Learning from experience in a quickly changing world will give rise to changes of the whole structure. The problem is not central decision-making as some anarchists may argue but the source of authority for it. In self-government, power originates with the councils in the independent social communities, even when a considerable amount of it has been delegated to central self-governing institutions.

If self-government is to replace the state in all its socially necessary functions, it has to embrace a network of councils and assemblies constituted at several levels of social reality and on both territorial and productive principles. One would have to distinguish clearly among at least four levels:

(1) Basic organs of self-government in most elementary working and living communities;

(2) Organs of self-government in larger associations – enterprises, communes;

(3) Organs of self-government for whole regions and branches of social activity;

(4) Central institutions of self-government for the global society.

1. The basic level of self-government is characterised by direct democracy. Each individual has the right (although not an obligatory duty) to directly participate in decision- making in most elementary units of social life. Thus the individual has a chance to express and affirm oneself not only as a citizen, but also as a producer and a consumer (the last in a most general sense, with respect not only to material goods but also culture, natural environment and communal activities).

2. The next level is constituted by councils of larger working associations and the assemblies of larger local communities (communes). Here referenda and assemblies of all workers or residents maybe the forms of direct democracy. Councils composed of the elected representatives practically become the highest authority in the area or enterprise. But they are strictly responsible to the given community. However, they are limited in their decision-making by the existing legislation and accepted policies of the higher-level organ of self-government. In a true system of self-government the laws are not merely imposed from the center. The centre has been delegated power to pass them, therefore they can be revoked once they stop serving any useful social purpose.

3. Another intermediary level is constituted, on the one hand, by the coordinating self-governing boards for whole branches of activity ( industry, energy, agriculture, transportation, etc.); on the other hand, by regional organs of self-government coordinating the development of all communes from a definite area. Once a bourgeoisie and bureaucracy have gone from the historical stage, the purpose of better organisation, coordination and direction is no longer to increase efficiency in the struggle against another nation or region, not to control the market. The main purposes of coordination are now the elimination of waste, reduction of friction, joining forces for the solution of ecological problems, mutual aid and solidarity, aid for accelerated growth of the weak and underdeveloped.

The central organ of self-government – a federal assembly or congress of people’s delegates – must integrate both networks, one covering various types of activity, the other various territorial communities. There are a variety of forms possible for their inner organization, but all of them have to take into account the following three necessities:

The first is to reconcile the particular interests of various types of activity with the particular interests of various regions.

The second is to reconcile particular interests of both professional and regional groups with the common interest of the whole society.

The third is to preserve the unity of authority in order to secure efficiency and reduce wasteful inner conflicts, but at the same time to separate powers – in order to prevent dangerous concentration of powers in the hands of an oligarchy or a single dictator.

One possible solution is to have three different chambers: one composed of the delegates of all workers councils; another constituted by the delegates of all communes; a third composed of the directly elected representatives of all citizens. The former two would approach issues from the point of view of particular professional or regional interests. The third would mediate between them from the point of view of general interests of the whole society.

One of the most difficult problems of any democracy is how to preserve unity of purpose and protect the general interest without making it overwhelmingly strong. The classical liberal solution has been to separate legislative, executive and judiciary power – this is an achievement of lasting value. However at a much higher level of social organisation public institutions assume some new powers, e.g., regulation and planning of work and the overall control of the implementation of adopted projects. All these powers should be separated. This can be done, for example, by creating a council composed of elected members of the Assembly for each of these powers. Each member of the Assembly would thus participate in protecting a certain interest in one of the chambers, and would also participate in the execution of one specific power in one of the Assembly’s councils.

 Bookchin explains:-

"...The overriding problem is to change the structure of society so that people gain power. The best arena to do that is the municipality — the city, town, and village — where we have an opportunity to create a face-to-face democracy. We can transform local government into popular assemblies where people can discuss and make decisions about the economy and society in which they live. When we get power at the neighborhood level in a town or city, we can confederate all the assemblies and then confederate those towns and cities into a popular government — not a state (which is an instrument of class rule and exploitation), but a government, where the people have the power. This is what I call communalism in a practical sense. It should not be confused with communitarianism, which refers to small initiatory projects like a "people's" food cooperative, garage, printing press — projects that often become capitalistic when they don't fall apart or succumb to competition by other enterprises.

People will never achieve this kind of face-to-face democratic society spontaneously. A serious, committed movement is necessary to fight for it. And to build that movement, radical leftists need to develop an organization — one that is controlled from the base, so that we don't produce another Bolshevik Party. It has to be formed slowly on a local basis, it has to be confederally organized, and together with popular assemblies, it will build up an opposition to the existing power, the state and class rule. I call this approach libertarian municipalism...

... We live in a very confusing time. Sometimes people look for easy answers to complex questions. If a machine or item functions poorly, it is easy to blame technology rather than the competitive corporations that try to make money, or to blame people's attitudes rather than the mass media that shapes people's thinking, or to say we should go back to old ideologies — Christian fundamentalism, Islamic fundamentalism, orthodox Marxism, orthodox anarchism, even orthodox capitalism — for solutions.

People need new ideas based on reason, not superstition; on freedom, not personal autonomy; on creativity, not adaptation; on coherence, not chaos; and on a vision of a free society, based on popular assemblies and confederalism, not on rulers and a state. If we do not organize a real movement — a structured movement — that tries to guide people toward a rational society based on reason and freedom, we face eventual disaster. We cannot withdraw into our "autonomous" egos or retreat to a primitive, indeed unknown past. We must change this insane world, or else society will dissolve into an irrational barbarism — as it is already beginning to do these days."

Instead of centralised power and competition, socialists advocate decentralisation and cooperation. Decentralised communities can be federated horizontally, thus ensuring stability through a low center of gravity rather than the precarious, ever-shifting power configurations of top-down rule. Anarchism does not demand a “one size fits all” model, and therefore embraces the organic rather than the mechanical.

In The Relevance of Anarchism to Modern Society, Sam Dolgoff writes:
“Federation is the coordination through free agreement – locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. A vast coordinated network of voluntary alliances embracing the totality of social life, in which all the groups and associations reap the benefits of unity while still exercising autonomy within their own spheres and expanding the range of their freedom.”

Friday, June 27, 2014

An Uncaring Society

That capitalism is an uncaring, harsh society is hardly a debateable subject but the following news item takes a bit of beating even by its inhumane standards. 'The mummified body of an elderly woman has been discovered in her flat where  she had lain undiscovered for six years. Anne Leitrim, who was in her 70s, had not been seen since 2008 and neighbours had assumed she moved out of the area because her home appeared empty.' (Daily Telegraph, 27 June) And how did they discover her body? Her remains were finally found when bailiffs visited the property in the 1980s-built block to collect unpaid debts. RD

Socialism is the enemy of Nationalism

Book Review from the December 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

Nation et lutte de classe by Otto Strasser and Anton Pannekoek (Union generale d'editions, Paris.)

Before the first world war, Austria was a multi-national empire in which the Emperor and his bureaucracy ruled not only over Germans and Hungarians but also over Czechs, Poles, Ukrainians, Croats, Slovenes and others. As a result theoretical discussion of "the national question" became a speciality of Austrian Social Democracy. The problem was particularly acute in Bohemia where Germans and Czechs lived side by side and where a language quarrel raged over schools, jobs in civil service, signs in railway stations, and so on. Even the Social Democratic Party was not immune, the Czech party splitting in 1905 into those who wanted a separate Czechoslovakia and those prepared to work with the German-speaking party within the Austrian Empire.

Orthodox Social Democracy found difficulty in arguing against the Czech separatists since they were too nationalists, regarding the nation not only as a legitimate political form but even as the suitable framework for "socialism". However, within the Social Democratic movement, there were people who insisted on the world-wide nature of socialism and on the incompatibility between nationalism and socialism. They called themselves "intransigent internationalists". Among these were the authors of two pamphlets, first published in 1912, recently translated into French and published together as a single book: Otto Strasser, editor of a local German-language Social Democratic paper in Reichenberg (then in Austrian Bohemia, now in Czechoslovakia and called Liberec) and Anton Pannekoek, a native of the Netherlands then active in the Social Democratic Party in North Germany.

In his pamphlet L'Ouvrier et la nation (The Worker and the Nation), Strasser takes the various arguments of the nationalists as to why workers should regard themselves as part of a nation with a common interest (such as language, land of birth, national character) and demolishes them one by one. He also attacks those Social Democrats who argued that the best way to beat the nationalists was to meet them on their own ground by showing how the Social Democratic programme was in the "national interest". This (which was in practice the policy of the Social Democratic Party) was, said Strasser, self-defeating and should be opposed.

Pannekoek's pamphlet Lutte de Classe et Nation (Class Struggle and Nation) is more theoretical. He accepts the definition of nation given by Otto Bauer, the Austrian party's leading theoretician, viz. "a human grouping linked by a common destiny and a common character". He sees, however, nations as the product of the era of the rising bourgeoisie; at that time capitalists and workers did indeed have a "common destiny" against the forces of feudalism. But, with the development of capitalism, the class struggle more and more breaks out between capitalists and workers shattering their "common destiny".

For the workers the nation then comes to be replaced by the class as the "common destiny". Becoming class conscious, therefore, involves rejecting nationalism. He describes the "national conflict' in multi-national States such as Austria as merely an aspect of the competition between the capitalists within such states, with the different sections using language and nationalism to try to win mass support for their vested interests. He advocates that workers speaking the same language finding themselves divided between two different states (he gives as an example Ukrainian-speakers who were then to be found in both Austro-Hungary and Russia) should not form a single cross-frontier party, but should join the Social Democratic party of the state in which they happened to live, in order to help the struggle to win political power in that state.

Pannekoek emphasises the world, rather than inter-national, character of socialism:
The socialist mode of production does not develop opposing interests between nations as is the case with the capitalist mode of production. The economic unit is neither the State nor the nation, but the world. This mode of production is much more than a network of national production units linked with each other by an intelligent communications policy and by international conventions as described by Bauer on page 519. It is an organisation of world production as a unit and the common affair of the whole of humanity (Pannekoek's emphasis).
For him, "nations" will only survive in world socialism as groups speaking the same language and even then a single world language may evolve.

For all their criticism of the national policy of the Social Democratic parties, Strasser and Pannekoek were themselves Social Democrats and (at this time) shared many of their illusions, particularly that a socialist party should have a maximum (socialism) and a minimum (social and democratic reforms within capitalism) programme. This mistaken belief that socialists should try to combine the struggle for socialism with a struggle for reforms comes out occasionally in the text of both pamphlets. But this does not detract from the fact that both pamphlets put essentially the socialist case against nationalism.
Adam Buick

Thursday, June 26, 2014

'The Good Old Days' - Glasgow in the Nineteenth Century

From the April 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

The accommodation in which my family lived up to my teens was a crumbling Glasgow tenement at whose age I will not hazard a guess, though some idea of it can be gained from the knowledge that the lavatories were added many years after its original construction.

I recall my mother telling me that there used to be dry latrines in the back-courts which were emptied by men with leather-lined wicker baskets. This information, even then when I was ignorant of social problems, filled me with disgust: to think that men should find it necessary to take up such employment in order to gain cash sufficient to purchase the bare necessities of life.

Doubtless some of those early sewage workers considered themselves better off than their neighbours, for they had a steady job with little chance of being made redundant. As an added bonus they at least were outside in the streets away from the "dark satanic mills" and the ever-watchful eye of a charge hand ready to threaten with dismissal any lazyworkers who fell asleep on the job during their 14-18 hours' shift.

Although it is true that these sewage workers risked contracting some disease in such unhygienic and noisome employment, were they any worse off than their neighbours who worked in a factory where machinery lay unguarded, and a moment's inattention (common among workers fatigued with long hours of labour, and bad diets), could result in their being caught up by the gigantic strength of the machine and "rent asunder, not perhaps for his own good; but, as a sacrifice to the commercial prosperity of Great Britain" — as Henry Morley so satirically puts it in his article Ground in the Mill? Morley tells us of:
The boy whom his stern master, the machine, caught as he stood on a stool wickedly looking out at the sun-light and flying clouds. These were no business of his, and he was fully punished when the machine he served caught him by one arm and whirled him round and around till he was thrown dead.
There were, of course, workers who protested against such conditions. In lots of cases they were marked as trouble-making radicals in some black book, and dismissed at the first opportunity presented to a vengeful employer fearful of workers learning the power of combination and political action. The sacked workers' places would be quickly filled from the ranks of the Irishmen and Highlanders who, forced from the land that their fathers had lived on for hundreds of years, all in the sacred name of improvement, found it necessary to flock in their hordes to the cities like Glasgow in the hope of earning a living from the newly-emerging industries: filling to over-flowing the tenements in that city, making it necessary for the ruling class to erect more because of the epidemics which broke out, threatening the health of the rich in their comfortable mansions.

We must not think that the Glasgow tenements erected in the tremendous boom period that was the Industrial Revolution were built because the capitalists were full of altruism for the working class. In 1840, for example, W. P. Allison in a pamphlet criticizing the Scottish Poor Law, wrote: "The higher ranks in Scotland do much less for the relief of poverty than those of any country in Europe." The tenements were erected firstly to ensure a profitable income in rents and fees to the capitalists, and secondly to have the labour convenient to the large factories or industrial sites. When the "five minutes horn" sounded, the streets would become alive with men and women rushing to clock-in before the gates were closed, and they were either "quartered" or sent home for being late.

Just opposite the tenement in which we lived was a vast piece of waste ground known as "The Foundry". This was formerly owned by the firm of John Neilson & Co., who built the first iron-ship, "Fairy Queen", in 1831. C. A. Oakley in his excellent (but expensive) bookThe Second City informs us that the ship was "transported through the streets accompanied by great crowds [of unemployed?] and launched by steam-crane at the Broomie Law", on the edge of the River Clyde. 

Since the route from Garscube Foundry to the Clyde led downhill through the new working-class tenement areas, the sight of the ship must have been a mixed blessing, for in Glasgow when a ship was launched large numbers of hands were laid off work till their masters required their skills once more to use in their labour process — only in those days there was no Social Security payment (given out of the surplus-value created by workers) to keep them from dying of hunger if they were unemployed with no cash to buy food, for this was the period when men with no legs were exhorted to stand on their own feet.

Thomas Carlyle in his tract on Chartism made a slashing indictment of this attitude, saying:
The master of horses, when the summer labour is done, has to feed his horses through the winter. If he said to his horses: "Quadrupeds, I have no longer work for you — go and seek cartage" — They finally, under pains of hunger take to leaping fences, eating foreign property, and — we know the rest.
But this was the age in which the theories of Thomas Malthus found favour, who said that population growth tended to exceed food production; and sad though it might be, some would have to suffer deprivation lest the delicate balance of nature be upset.

It is not as if food was scarce in those days. Proof of this can be found in William Cobbett'sRural Rides. In it he tells of folk starving in the 1830s while livestock in abundance fed in the fields for the rich — because insufficient profit could be realized in the markets for meat. Under the capitalist economic system goods are not produced simply to feed, clothe or shelter people. In many countries even today workers who cannot afford the prices asked for goods can tighten their belts on their empty stomachs; lie down in their under a hedge, and die. If they should attempt to seize the food which lies in shops and warehouses, the law-enforcement officers will beat and shoot them down in fulfillment of their job as protectors of property.

It was a great boast of the Church of Scotland that they could provide for the poor out of the offerings placed in the poor-box at the front door. Since the distribution of this charity was in the hands of domineering Elders, doubtless many workers in Glasgow went hungry rather than submit to their will, until sheer desperation drove them into the invidious position of "rice Christians". He who would sneer at such an attitude as "obsequious" should realize that the threat of starvation to a man and his family can make even the most proud humble himself at the feet of him who can relieve the hunger.

One of Glasgow's most famous citizens was Thomas Chalmers, whose name is mentioned by Marx in Capital. He was a preacher with a tremendous gift of oratory (he must have had, for he actually made the rich cry — surely a most difficult task?). He originated a scheme for aiding the poor for which, for some strange reason, he has become famous. He undertook to "relinquish all claim to the fund [for relieving the poor] raised by assessment", and provide for the poor of his own parish by the church-door collection alone. W. Gordon Blaikie in his short Life of Chalmers tells us:
Hitherto the cost of the poor in the parish had been at the rate of £1,400 per annum, whereas the collections amounted to only £480.
Under the diligent hands of Dr. Chalmers the original requirement of £1,400 was reduced to £280. He did this by sending his Elders into the teeming slums, that were a blot on the face of Glasgow before the College was razed to the ground to make way for the railway station that was set up on that site. These Elders used their "spiritual" authority over the relatives of the poor (themselves desperately poor) and exhorted them to face up to their family responsibilities, and support their destitute relatives so as not to make them a burden on the rates or church.

Let u seriously consider this question, putting aside any bias we may feel towards religion and those who imbibe it. Was Chalmers's scheme to relieve the poor a success? Did his efforts really aid the poor materially? No better answer can be given than that supplied by the gigantic Edward Irving, who was Chalmers's assistant in Glasgow during the period before and after the 1820 radical insurrection. In Mrs. Oliphant's Life of Edward Irving, one of Irving letters to a friend says "I have visited in about 300 families - and have seen them in nakedness and starvation." He writes in another letter of
their wants, their misfortunes, their ill-requited labour, their hopes vanishing, their families dispersing in hope of better habitations, the Scottish economy of their homes giving way before encroaching necessity; debt rather than saving their condition; bread and water their scanty fare; hard and ungrateful labour the portion of their house.
It is little wonder that John Galt in his interesting book Annals of the Parish (interesting because it shows the ideas that were commonly held in those times) says in his description of the Glasgow weavers: 
It cut me to the heart to see so many fine young men, in the rising prime of life, already in the arms of pale consumption.
The phrase "the good old days" is used to make the myth of an era when life was good and men happy. Capitalism has never provided, and cannot provide, such a time.

H. Cunningham