Friday, 27 May 2011

AWL Up To Their Misrepresentation Again - Part 2

In Part 1, I showed that the AWL had attempted to portray Marx as some kind of Economistic, Reformist by misrepresenting his views about the possibility of workers simply being able to improve their wages and conditions by militant Trade Union struggle.
That, of course, is the very opposite of what Marx and Engels believed and argued. In essence, it removes the whole basis of Marx's analysis that such a process is impossible for two reasons. Firstly, that Capitalists do not attempt to minimise wages, and maximise profits because they are evil or greedy, but because they are forced to do so for objective reasons determined by the need to accumulate Capital in order to survive! The differences between the Capitalist Class and Working Class are not subjective, which is the implication of the AWL's argument, but are objective. The implication of the AWL's argument, therefore, is that the contradiction between the interests of Capital and of Labour are resolvable via this process of negotiation over the share of the cake. In other words, it is the basis of reformism as set out by Bernstein, and the Fabians.
Secondly, Marx shows in his arguments with Weston that workers cannot just extend their share of the cake – indeed their share has to continually fall – precisely because the share of the cake is determined not by the extent to which workers are prepared to engage in militant action, but by the laws of Supply and Demand for Labour-Power. That is why long before unions were powerful in the US, wages were relatively high reflecting, a shortage of Labour-Power. It is why in China with abundant supplies of Labour-Power wages were low, but equally why, in recent years, as Capital has accumulated rapidly, wages have also risen rapidly, despite workers being constrained in State run unions. In the end, Marx says, it is not the kind of distributional struggles that the AWL emphasise - be it for higher wages, or for redistributive taxes or other reforms introduced by the Capitalist State – which determine that share of the cake, but the productive relations. In short, if workers want a bigger share of the cake they have to own the means of production, and the only way they can do that here and now, as Marx sets out, is by establishing their own Co-operatives.

Yet, it is precisely, this position of Marx, that Martin Thomas, seeks to misrepresent in the second point.

“Two: that the working class must aim for the expropriation of the capitalists and public ownership of the means of production. (The Proudhonists traditionally looked instead to the growth of a network of workers' cooperatives linked by "fair exchange" and crowding out capitalist production rather than expropriating the capitalists. Bakunin sided with Marx on this).”

This is if anything an even greater misrepresentation. Of course, Marx was in favour of the expropriation of the means of production, though he did also write that, in England, it might be possible for the sake of a quick and peaceful resolution, to simply buy out the Capitalists. But, to read the comment here you would conclude that this revolutionary seizure of the means of production was Marx's only strategy, and that he counterposed it to the idea of establishing Co-operatives. But, it is clear from reading even these sources above that this is far from true.

So, for example, in the last quote from Marx from “Value, Price and Profit” he sets out his vision.

“They ought to understand that, with all the miseries it imposes upon them, the present system simultaneously engenders the material conditions and the social forms necessary for an economical reconstruction of society.”

And, in the Critique of the Gotha Programme, he declares openly what those social forms are – they are precisely the Worker Co-operatives! He writes,

“If the material conditions of production are the co-operative property of the workers themselves, then there likewise results a distribution of the means of consumption different from the present one.”

And elsewhere in the Critique, he makes clear just why the establishment of these Co-operatives is the means by which the revolutionary transformation of the productive relations is carried through. He writes,

“That the workers desire to establish the conditions for co-operative production on a social scale, and first of all on a national scale, in their own country, only means that they are working to revolutionize the present conditions of production, and it has nothing in common with the foundation of co-operative societies with state aid. But as far as the present co-operative societies are concerned, they are of value only insofar as they are the independent creations of the workers and not protégés either of the governments or of the bourgeois.”

In contrast to the claims, by Martin Thomas, that what distinguishes Marx's position from that of the Anarchists, such as Proudhon, is an opposition to Co-operatives and a belief in “Public Ownership” - a term which has no meaning for a Marxist because the “Public” is in fact comprised of classes, and here and now that can only mean that “Public Ownership” means ownership by the dominant class, within that Public, i.e. ownership by the Capitalist Class via its State – Marx's position is defined, on the contrary by a disdain for the involvement of the State, even in the form of “state aid”!

He writes, criticising Lassalle's statist approach of the State setting up Co-operatives under democratic control - that is essentially the policy put forward by the AWL of "Public Ownership" under Workers Control,

“Instead of arising from the revolutionary process of transformation of society, the "socialist organization of the total labour" "arises" from the "state aid" that the state gives to the producers' co-operative societies and which the state, not the workers, "calls into being". It is worthy of Lassalle's imagination that with state loans one can build a new society just as well as a new railway!

From the remnants of a sense of shame, "state aid" has been put -- under the democratic control of the "toiling people".”

And the last sentence here tells us just what Marx would have thought of the AWL's attempt to cover its shame, by cloaking its calls for the expansion of the role of the Capitalist State, in meaningless, revolutionary verbiage about “Workers Control.”

One of the AWL's heroes is the US socialist, Hal Draper, but Draper, in his The Two Souls Of Socialism demolishes this idea, put forward by Martin, that Marx was opposed to the establishment of Co-operatives, and that he counterposed the Lassallean/Fabian notion of Public Ownership – i.e. State Capitalism to them.
Incidentally, its ironic that the AWL that emphasises its Third Camp credentials, and hostility to defending State Capitalism in the USSR, or Cuba (their definition not mine) is all to eager to promote a very real State Capitalism in Britain!!! While workers suffer at the hands of that State Capitalism at Stafford Hospital, or via the atrocious way the elderly are treated by the State Capitalist Health factories, the AWL remain silent in order to maintain their Popular Front with the State Capitalist bureaucracy.

But, the AWL want us also to believe that they are in the tradition of Trotsky, albeit, as Third Campists, anti-Trotsky Trotskyists. But, Trotsky himself set out clearly what is wrong with the reformist ideas put forward by the AWL in relation to this Fabian strategy of promoting Public Ownership. He wrote, in Nationalized Industry and Workers’ Management,

“It would of course be a disastrous error, an outright deception, to assert that the road to socialism passes, not through the proletarian revolution, but through nationalization by the bourgeois state of various branches of industry and their transfer into the hands of the workers’ organizations.”

The AWL, of course,, like the Lassalleans, attempt to “cover their shame”, as Marx put it, for raising this demand, by adding in the demand for “Workers Control” - or at least they used to do, in relation to the NHS, for instance, they do not even raise that demand now, or even “democratic control” - but Trotsky, like Marx sets out why this demand is ridiculous.
He says in, Workers Control Of Production,

“If the participation of the workers in the management of production is to be lasting, stable, “normal,” it must rest upon class collaboration, and not upon class struggle. Such a class collaboration can be realized only through the upper strata of the trade unions and the capitalist associations.
There have been not a few such experiments: in Germany (“economic democracy”), in Britain (“Mondism”), etc. Yet, in all these instances, it was not a case of workers’ control over capital, but of the subserviency of the labour bureaucracy to capital. Such subserviency, as experience shows, can last for a long time: depending on the patience of the proletariat.

The closer it is to production, to the factory, to the shop, the less possible such a regime is, for here it is a matter of the immediate, vital interests of the workers, and the whole process unfolds under their very eyes. workers’ control through factory councils is conceivable only on the basis of sharp class struggle, not collaboration. But this really means dual power in the enterprises, in the trusts, in all the branches of industry, in the whole economy.

What state regime corresponds to workers’ control of production? It is obvious that the power is not yet in the hands of the proletariat, otherwise we would have not workers’ control of production but the control of production by the workers’ state as an introduction to a regime of state production on the foundations of nationalization. What we are talking about is workers’ control under the capitalist regime, under the power of the bourgeoisie. However, a bourgeoisie that feels it is firmly in the saddle will never tolerate dual power in its enterprises. Workers’ control consequently, can be carried out only under the condition of an abrupt change in the relationship of forces unfavorable to the bourgeoisie and its state. Control can be imposed only by force upon the bourgeoisie, by a proletariat on the road to the moment of taking power from them, and then also ownership of the means of production. Thus the regime of workers’ control, a provisional transitional regime by its very essence, can correspond only to the period of the convulsing of the bourgeois state, the proletarian offensive, and the failing back of the bourgeoisie, that is, to the period of the proletarian revolution in the fullest sense of the word.”

In other words, for Trotsky, neither Nationalisation nor Workers Control can be a strategy for advancing towards the revolution, they are only appropriate measures after, or at the most during the revolution!!
But, for them to be measures introduced during the revolution, we would have to have already the establishment of Workers Councils as an alternative state power, and a Workers Government. But, Trotsky's definition of a Workers Government is not that used by the AWL. For them, who call for it now, it appears as nothing more than just some Left-wing Government, that can be magically conjured out of thin air. They can neither tell us how a working-class that has just voted in a Liberal-Tory Government – whilst giving just 75 votes to the AWL in the General Election – is going to bring about this Government, nor who the 300 or so left-wing MP's, that would be required to establish it, are. But, for Trotsky, the Workers Government was something else, more akin to the Kerensky Government in 1917.

In The Transitional Programme, Trotsky sets this out,

“Is the creation of such a government by the traditional workers’ organizations possible? Past experience shows, as has already been stated, that this is, to say the least, highly improbable.
However, one cannot categorically deny in advance the theoretical possibility that, under the influence of completely exceptional circumstances (war, defeat, financial crash, mass revolutionary pressure, etc.), the petty bourgeois parties, including the Stalinists, may go further than they wish along the road to a break with the bourgeoisie. In any case one thing is not to be doubted: even if this highly improbable variant somewhere at some time becomes a reality and the “workers’ and farmers’ government” in the above-mentioned sense is established in fact, it would represent merely a short episode on the road to the actual dictatorship of the proletariat.”

In other words, the demand for a Workers Government, like the demand for Nationalisation under Workers Control, and all the other Transitional Demands, are only revolutionary, can only act as a bridge from the workers existing consciousness to a revolutionary consciousness, in very limited circumstances i.e. in a revolutionary situation. Outside that, they are simply reformist demands, which can only act, as Trotsky says above, as an “an outright deception,”, and which can only lead to “class collaboration” not class struggle. But, the AWL do use these Transitional Demands willy-nilly under current conditions, and therefore, as nothing other than reformist demands.
At best they can be nothing other than a demand for workers to bargain within the system. In the meantime, there is no bridge whatsoever, between the AWL's Minimum Programme of Economistic demands and their Maximum Programme, for Revolution, which consequently gets relegated to the role of being a mere totem, a piece of rhetoric to cover their actual Stalinist, reformist politics.

In part 3 I will show how it was precisely the idea of building Co-operatives, and of Workers Self Government, which Marx posited as an alternative to the kind of Fabian/Lassallean State Capitalism propagated by the AWL, which acted as his strategy for revolutionising productive relations, and workers consciousness, and acted therefore, as the necessary bridge between the Minimum and Maximum Programmes.

Back To Part 1

Forward To Part 3


Jacob Richter said...

You might be interested in what Lenin had to write about police-established unions in czarist Russia, since this is tied to my State Aid theme, especially in regards to Public Monopoly on Private-Sector Collective Bargaining Representation:

Zubatov was a tsarist police official who, around 1900, had the brilliant idea of beating the Social Democrats at their own game. Remember that not only political parties but even trade unions were illegal before the 1905 revolution. Zubatov’s idea was that the police themselves would set up semi-legal trade unions so that workers could pursue their economic struggle in a peaceful way, while still remaining loyal, even grateful, to the tsar.

What was Lenin’s reaction to this so-called “police socialism”? Let’s try to predict, based on our view of Lenin’s outlook. Now, if Lenin thought that workers were naturally reformist, one would think that he’d be pretty worried about these police unions, since the tsarist government was trying to show it could genuinely carry out needed reforms.

In fact, Lenin’s attitude was very brash—indeed, it could be summed up as “bring it on!”. According to Lenin, these police unions were good for the revolutionary underground in every way. For one thing, the police took over the job of providing legal workers’ literature, so that the underground could concentrate on smuggling in the stronger stuff. For another thing, there was no chance that the workers would be taken in for any length of time by the anti-democratic, anti-revolutionary message of Zubatov and his minions—of course, assuming that the Social Democrats did their job of vigorously refuting Zubatov’s message.

That’s what Lenin said in What Is to Be Done? in 1902. A year or so later, the revolution of 1905 started off in a way that reminded Lenin of the predictions he had made in his earlier book. In January 1905, a follower of Zubatov, Father Gapon, led the workers to present a loyal, peaceful petition to the tsar, and they were shot down by the government on Bloody Sunday, January 1905, leading to a radicalisation of large sectors of the working class.

Boffy said...

There is clearly a difference between recognising the reality of life under a Police State, and working in State run or controlled unions, and actually demanding or settling for such unions. Marxists would work in the state run unions in China today, whilst at the same time attempting to build independent workers organisations.

There is a parallel with the situation in South Africa in the 1980's over the question of Union registration. When the Government introduced legislation that gave some rights, and recognition to Trades Unions that registered, sections of the Left, argued for boycotting the registration process.

But, others argued that a boycott could only act to limit the opportunities that the legislation opened for workers organisation, whilst doing nothing to build independent organisation. A very good article setting out this position was written by Bob Fine, and appears in an issue of Capital & Class at that time.

Jacob Richter said...

"Actually demanding or settling for such unions"

Boffy, there is also a difference between demanding for such unions as part of a larger programmatic framework, and settling for such unions. I am by no means for the latter.

The former and the example above illustrates the core (not total) correctness of Jules Guesde's so-called "revolutionary phrasemongering" and Ferdinand Lassalle's take on "state aid."

I say "core" because they have notable flaws, but nonetheless their central points are valid. "Revolutionary phrasemongering" wasn't the same as Trotsky's "transitional" method or Marx's equal abuse of the word "transitional." It means, "Hey, they all say bourgeois capitalism is dynamic, progressive, lifts all boats, etc. Surely it can also achieve radical, structural, pro-labour reforms!" Likewise, State Aid a la Lassalle was different from State Aid a la Monsieur Ultra-Egalitarian Blanc (who coalesced with liberal scumbags), because it emphasized independent political organization.

Boffy said...

Trotsky's Transitional Demands were not revoluitonary phrasemongering as I point out. he makes clear that they are only Transitional under very particular i.e. revolutionary or pre-revolutionary conditions. The problem is that the "trotskyists" have used them as though they were some kind of Philosopher's Stone, or secret incantantion that opens a locked door to the revolution.

In that way they are either "revolutionary phrasemongering" or else they are straightforward reformism. Either the demands are ones that the Capitalist State is not going to concede, (revolutionary phrasemongering) and are raised knowing they will not be conceded to try to denude workers of their belief in the State, or else they are demands it will concede. If the latter then it comes down to the nature of the demand. The marxist principal is that they should be reforms that enhance the ability of the workers to organise independently.

But, its quite clear that some of the reforms that the Left advocates are ones the State can accept, but which are the very opposite of building workers independence. For example, not only CAN, but the Capitalist State has a positive reason TO establish a Welfare State. That's why every developed Capitalist State has one. Its why Bismark initiated the idea. And having done so, just look at how it has incorporated the left, which now is enthralled by it, and led to act as a defender of the status quo, of State Capitalism at the expense of advocating a socialist alternative.

Boffy said...

Its also quite clear that having implemented these reforms such as the Welfare State, particularly when the left has asked for them, the effect can only be to tie workers even more closely to that State, and the status quo, to convince them that it acts for all of society - after all was it not socialists who asked it to do this for workers?

Jacob Richter said...

"Trotsky's Transitional Demands were not revoluitonary phrasemongering as I point out. he makes clear that they are only Transitional under very particular i.e. revolutionary or pre-revolutionary conditions. The problem is that the "trotskyists" have used them as though they were some kind of Philosopher's Stone, or secret incantantion that opens a locked door to the revolution."

The real problem is that Trotsky's method is the same as Boris Krichevskii's. Lars Lih noted Krichevskii's sloganeering method aimed at growing political struggles from mere labour disputes, something which he shared with Rosa Luxemburg and the sectarian SDKPiL too.

The very first "transitional" slogan starts not at the level of state reforms, but sectional trade union disputes! It may be good for agitation, but it's horrible for political education.

According to Lih's book, this was the slippery slope Lenin warned against in WITBD, and remember that Krichevskii and his "Economist" bunch were the slippery slope *within* Russian Erfurtism, not the narrow-economist and actual Russian foes of Erfurtism (which united both Lenin and Krichevskii against these worse-than-Bernstein tendencies).

Boffy said...

I don't dispute their is a problem with Trotsky's position. It is a problem that emanates from Leninism, and its conception of the Party, and of Socialist Revolution from above. But, that is a problem that is true of your approach too.

The fact remains that Trotsky's Transitional Programme has been misrepresented by the "Trotskyists" who use its demands out of time and context reducing them to nothing more than either Economistic reformist demands, or Maximalist hot air.

The real problem for Trotsky is, what then is your approach in an historical period such as that we have now, rather than one such as that in which he was writing, of millions of former or current revolutionaries (even if loosely defined), of a living link to actual revolutions, and of a belief that the period was one of a final Capitalist collapse and revolutionary overturn. Under those conditions Transitional demands have a place, at least when a real revolutionary situation erupts, but clearly they do not now.

The question now is how do we implement the idea put forward by Lenin in left-wing Communism of the need to take over increasing areas of workers lives, pushing the bourgeoisie out from its control of them. How do we build the economic, social, and political position of the working-class, and rebuild the labour Movement so as to be able to actually defend and promote the interests of workers via class struggle?

Either you settle for the kind of Economism and Reformism that most of the left has descended into, or you settle for the kind of schema mongering that Marx criticised, and which typifies your approach, or else you argue as I do, and as marx did under simialr conditions for workes to begin to organise istelf to take over those areas of its life here and now, in whatever ways it can, through the establishment of Co-ops, and Co-operative forms in the communties, the workplaces and so on.

I beleive the latter is the only truly revolutionary and transformative praxis.