Tuesday, 30 August 2011

The Degeneration Of Theory

The AWL, to their credit, have written an article criticising the reported atrocities committed by some Libya rebels. However, that can hardly compensate for the terrible position that they have taken over the Libya War, and the arguments they also now put forward in this article, show just how far their approach is now separated from Marxist Theory.

Let us be clear, the AWL are right to say that the atrocities committed by the rebels, can in no way be used, as they correctly say some on the Left are doing, to lessen the vileness of Gaddafi's regime. This is not an ugly contest. Sacha Ismail writes, however,

“Having said all that: the idea that, because of this, there is no difference between the totalitarian state of Qaddafi and the popular uprising against it is bizarre. It also exposes broader political inconsistency.”

This is a version of the principle that the violence of the oppressed cannot be equated with the violence of the oppressor, but it is a wrong and perverted version. That principle means that we should not hold the oppressed to the same standards as the oppressors in the means by which they are forced to exercise their resistance. It means we recognise their weakness, and that as a result some of their methods are more indiscriminate, sometimes more brutal. But, in making this analysis we are talking about such methods directed AT the oppressor, and which only incidentally might badly affect others. It is not an argument to be used to justify, or in any way to excuse or lessen atrocities committed by one group of the oppressed against another group of the oppressed. We do not in any way excuse, justify, or seek to lessen violence against black women by black men, for instance, by reference to the fact that black men are themselves oppressed.

Yet, despite the fact that Ismail's piece says that it seeks to criticise these atrocities that is essentially what he does. Atrocities committed by the rebels do not in any way lessen the vile crimes of Gaddafi, but nor can the vile crimes of Gaddafi, lessen or justify the crimes, which flow from their politics, and not from their oppression, of sections of the rebels. In the 1930's Trotsky in opposing the intervention of Imperialism against Nazi Germany, argued that it could only strengthen the position of Hitler.

He wrote,

“The democracies of the Versailles Entente helped the victory of Hitler by their vile oppression of defeated Germany. Now the lackeys of democratic imperialism of the Second and Third Internationals are helping with all their might the further strengthening of Hitler’s regime. Really, what would a military bloc of imperialist democracies against Hitler mean? A new edition of the Versailles chains, even more heavy, bloody and intolerable. Naturally, not a single German worker wants this. To throw off Hitler by revolution is one thing; to strangle Germany by an imperialist war is quite another. The howling of the “pacifist” jackals of democratic imperialism is therefore the best accompaniment to Hitler’s speeches. “You see,” he says to the German people, “even socialists and Communists of all enemy countries support their army and their diplomacy; if you will not rally around me, your leader, you are threatened with doom!” Stalin, the lackey of democratic imperialism, and all the lackeys of Stalin – Jouhaux, Toledano, and Company – are the best aides in deceiving, lulling, and intimidating the German workers.”

But, the fact that Germany suffered this “vile oppression”, and that it created the conditions of despair that facilitated Hitler's victory did not lead Trotsky to in any way, consider the atrocities of the Nazis, against Jews, socialists, and German workers, any more justified as a consequence. He recognised Hitler as the worker's main enemy inside Germany, that the workers had to be organised to fight.

The same has been true in many more such instances. The fact of oppression of Imperialist or Colonial domination, have never been a basis for Marxists to fail to warn the workers within the oppressed country about the dangers of believing the words of those who usually provide the leadership of the anti-imperialist movement. And the same is true in relation to those same forces when they are the ones leading a “Democratic” revolution. On the contrary, our whole experience of the Popular Front, and of failing to advise the workers to maintain their independence of such forces, of warning them of the threat to the workers that these forces present to them, is written in the blood of the tens of thousands of workers who were slaughtered by those very “Democratic” revolutionary forces, before during or after that revolution had been completed.

In 1979, in Iran, another group of “Democratic” revolutionaries overthrew the vile dictatorship of the Shah. Most of the Left, including the predecessors of today's AWL, failed to warn the Iranian workers of that danger, taking at face value the Democratic speeches of Khomeini and others. The AWL, in their article write,

“Already, those on the left who are determined to prove that there is no difference between the two sides – or even that the rebels are worse than the old regime – are gleefully citing such atrocities.”

The implication is that the rebels could not possibly be worse than Gaddafi. Yet, in the light of the experience of the Iranian revolution, the AWL said they had learned their lesson about taking the words of such “Democrats” at face value. They did so, because in reality the medieavalist, theocratic, clerical-fascist regime in Iran IS, if anything, worse than that of the Shah. At least the Bonapartist regime of the Shah was modernising. In the light of that, the AWL also argued in relation to Iraq, that the clerical-fascist resistance could not be viewed as a national liberation force, because its very politics were the very opposite of liberation for the Iraqi people.

In fact, many of those clerical-fascist fighters in Iraq, came from Libya. In fact, just one town in the East of Libya provided more jihadists in Iraq than anywhere else. These are the same jihadists who have been fighting to overthrow Gaddafi, and who make up the most organised, effective fighters amongst the Eastern rebels. But now, apart from this current article, instead of arguing that such forces cannot provide real liberation for the Libyan people, the AWL have kept quiet about any potential problems that might arise if these forces are successful. As on so many other occasions the difference in approach seems to come down to this. In Iraq, those jihadists were fighting AGAINST “Democratic Imperialism” and its allies. In Libya, they are fighting on the same side as that “Democratic Imperialism”.

But, what is worse is the utter confusion that is then used in the article to justify the AWL's position. They confuse the struggle in Libya, which is at best a “Democratic Revolution”, and at worst a Civil War, fought out by a range of groups, tribes, and other geographical divisions each seeking to further its own interests, via a common front against the centralised state apparatus, with the anti-colonial struggles of Egypt, but more bizarrely the American Colonies against Britain. But, even then he blurs over important points. He quite rightly states, that Marxists had to support the anti-colonial struggle of the Egyptians, even led by Nasser, against the war being waged by them, by Britain, France and Israel. But, precisely for the reasons set out above, Marxists would not, in that process have failed to criticise Nasser, not just for those reactionary policies and actions being undertaken by his regime against Egyptian Jews, but precisely because of its CLASS nature. Marxists would not have proposed a Popular Front of Egyptian workers with Nasser, but would have argued for the Egyptian workers to maintain their independence from it. As Lenin put it, in Two Tactics Of Social Democracy In The Bourgeois Revolution, we might march in the same direction, but we keep an eye on our erstwhile allies as upon an enemy.

But, there has been no hint of this in any of the AWL's statements on the War in Libya. From start to finish they have bigged up the rebels, and glossed over the real nature of their politics in sharp contrast to their focus on that in respect of Iraq. But, of course, the lunacy of this comparison is that in Egypt, the revolutionary nationalist forces were fighting AGAINST an imperialist attack, designed to secure control over the Suez Canal, whereas in Libya, the rebel forces, that the AWL have acted as apologists for, have been fighting WITH Imperialism, and its desire to establish more effective control over the country, and its oil resources!!!

But, Ismail is ready with an historical precedent to justify this siding with Imperialism too. In the American Revolution you see,

“In passing, it is also noteworthy that the American revolution only triumphed because of outside military intervention, by the imperialist powers of the Netherlands, Spain and France – the last two of which, of course, had their own large colonial empires in the Western hemisphere.”

Has anyone noticed the problem with this argument? The American Revolution was a bourgeois democratic revolution waged to win independence from a Colonial power. It was indeed facilitated by the intervention of other Colonial powers, though it has to be said that in Libya, the main military force was provided by Imperialism with its massive bombing campaign, the modern weapons provided to the rebels, and the the Special Forces from Britain, France, Jordan and Qatar, it has now been confirmed have been fighting alongside the rebels on the ground. In the American Revolutionary War, it was the American rebels who provided most of the military might. But, this is rather besides the point. Ismail seems to forget exactly when this Revolution took place. It took place in the late 18th Century when not only was Socialist Revolution not on the agenda, but even in Britain there was not even a sizeable working-class that could have carried through such a revolution. Even less was that a possibility in America, even less was it possible to rely on an international Labour Movement coming to their assistance!

Under those conditions, at a time when Capitalism was still a progressive revolutionary force, as against Feudalism, there was no potential for arguing for a working-class solution, no potential to advise a non-existent working-class to maintain its independence and fight for its own interests. Even so, would it not have been the duty, even of radical bourgeois revolutionaries, in America, to have warned of the danger of placing any faith in these external allies? Indeed, many did do so. And would not revolutionary, bourgeois democrats in France, Spain, and the Netherlands have had a duty to fight against their own feudal rulers, and their own Colonial ambitions in America?

But, herein lies the root of the confusion in the AWL's politics when it comes to such struggles. In reality they do not proceed on the basis of a class analysis, but on the basis of a moral argument. That is why they are happy to warn of the dangers of clerical-fascist rebels in one case, whilst calling for support for them and bigging them up in another.

In a comment on the article, David Kirk writes,

“Marxists should not weigh up the policies of this or that opposing state to work out who is the most "progressive". They should always orientate towards the Labour movement and side with those fighting for democratic demands and self determination. Consistent democracy should be our principle and not be afraid to attack fearlessly all forces that fail this test even if we generally support their cause.”

That would, of course have meant supporting the Social Revolutionaries and Mensheviks against the Bolsheviks in relation to the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly, it means tying a bourgeois democratic noose around the neck of the working-class, as Trotsky put it, in its struggle for Socialism. Our priority is not to fight for bourgeois democratic demands and self-determination – in fact, in so far as the latter acts to divide workers from one another we should oppose calls for self-determination, even whilst supporting the right of oppressed minorities to such a right – but to fight for Socialism. The fight for these bourgeois democratic freedoms is wholly subordinate to that aim, and the raising of these demands is purely a matter of tactics.

But, David Kirk's argument is consistent with the AWL's approach, and that of the Third Camp. Yet, the AWL are far from consistent, not just in their constant zigging and zagging to support one position in one instance, only to reverse it in the next. If they really believed in their arguments about the progressive nature of democracy v fascism, and so on, then they should have supported democratic Britain, France and Israel as against Nasser's Egypt, just as they support Israel as against Iran, and are prepared to justify any attack made by Israel upon it. At best, as with their attitude to a War by Imperialism against the USSR or Cuba, they should argue for a position of defeatism on both sides, or as with the arguments they have made that essentially come down to the same position the Stalinists adopted in WWII in support of Democratic Imperialism against Nazi Germany, they should argue that the former is more progressive, and be open about their support for it.

But, they are not even consistent in their inconsistency. Marxists, as Trotsky demonstrated, in all these instances, base themselves not on the superficialities of the political regime – bourgeois democratic, fascist, authoritarian, - but on class analysis. We support a Workers State, even if it does not meet the demands of bourgeois democracy, in a war against even the most democratic of Capitalist States. We support a non-imperialist state against an Imperialist State, even if the former is a fascist dictatorship, and the latter is “democratic”. We do so, because our objective is not bourgeois democracy, but Socialism, and the means for achieving Socialism remains as it always has been a task that only the working-class can achieve. The workers have to liberate themselves.

Sunday, 28 August 2011


No serious person has beleived, from Day One, that what Imperialism has been engaged in, for the last six months, in Libya, was a "No Fly Zone" to prevent civilian casualties. Right from the start what we have had has been a War by Imperialism declared on Libya.
It has undertaken 20,000 bombing runs, using the latest high-tech weapons, and Cruise Missiles.

A look at the TV pictures shows the utter devastation that has been unleashed upon the country. But, it has been widely reported that, from early on, Imperialism has been using depleted uranium munitions, which are an effective means of armour piercing.
But, the consequence of such munitions is that the depleted Uranium is highly toxic. On impact, it becomes a powder that forms an aerosol, which disperses through the air, and also settles into the ground, entering the water table. As a consequence, its poisonous effects, including terrible deformations of babies, persist for decades. Britain alone has spent more than £300 million on the War.

But, it was also clear that this had nothing to do with protecting civilians. The Benghazi based Transitional Nation Council was largely the creation of France's President Sarkozy, who has been the main proponent of the War against Libya.
Its establishment, and the rebellion that erupted in Benghazi, enabled Sarkozy and Imperialism to present them as an alternative legitimate Government. Sarkozy recognised the TNC as the legitimate Government virtually immediately. The UN resolution 1973, was passed on the basis of preventing a massacre of citizens in Benghazi, by the use of Gaddafi's airforce. In fact, it quickly became clear that in Benghazi not only was there a large amount of military equipment, and regular troops, but there were even rebel aircraft. That became clear when one of those aircraft was shot down by mistake, not by the Imperialist "No Fly Zone" being policed, but just by the incompetence of the rebel fighters! In fact, as Channel 4 News have reported, both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have said that they could find no evidence to support the claims that were used to justify the War.

In fact, as nearly all foreign TV News Channels have reported, and some British news coverage has also made the point, the No Fly Zone was no such thing, it was an air war against Libya, with rebel forces based initially in Benghazi, providing a Fifth Column on the ground, whose job was to move in and take territory after massive bombing had cleared the way for them.
This was facilitated not just by the fact that Gaddafi's regime was hated by many Libyans, but by the fact of Libya's history. The country was originally three separate countries, which, like many Arab and African countries, that were former colonies, had been artificially brought together by the Colonial power. As a single country Libya is a very recent construct, and as many commentators, who are specialists in its history and politics, have been making clear over the last few months, it is not just the divisions between those three countries that exist. There are differences according to tribe, and locality as well. As one reporter related the other day, one rebel commander he spoke to said that he had to ensure that his men were made up in a specific way even to move to the next town, otherwise they would not be accepted.

Benghazi had previously acted as the Capital of the second most important country, and prior to the 1969 coup that brought Gaddafi to power, it was the base of the King. It has been the centre for several previous rebellions.
The East has also been the main base for the activities of the jihadists of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, whose members appear to be the most organised, and most significant in respect of the Eastern based rebel fighters, though not of those from the West, who are mostly Berbers and others, who have their own interests to pursue in toppling Gaddafi.

In fact, the Western rebels appear to be the ones who have received least support from Imperialism, and yet it was they that had most success. It was the Western rebels, who eventually entered Tripoli. Right up to that moment the Eastern rebels continued to make little headway, despite having massive Imperialist airpower clearing the way for them, and despite having been provided with the latest weapons, and training by Imperialism, and despite, it has now been shown, having the benefit of Special Forces troops from Britain, France, Jordan and Qatar fighting alongside them.

In Tripoli itself, the promised uprising of its people never happened, even at the moment that the outisde rebel forces entered the city, following an intensified night of bombing by Imperialism.
The Gaddafi regime had provided many of the people with arms to defend themselves, and in the main that didn't happen either. In pockets of the city, residents, and Gaddafi loyalists, together with some regular troops have continued fighting, but the majority of ordinary citizens appear to have either left the city - most clearly illustrated by the fact that the entire staff of one hospital fled as the rebels approached that part of the City - or else are just keeping their heads down. Some news reports have spoken about mass celebrations within the City, similar to what was being said about the arrival of Imperialism into Baghdad, but again, even the pictures that go along with those news reports, tell a different story. At most what we have seen is a few hundred rebels letting off steam, with guns and fireworks.

Some foreign news channels yesterday were reporting the discovery of war crimes by the rebels, and of massacres of civilians, particular of black Libyans, who have been willy-nilly assumed to be mercenaries. In fact, as many of those foreign news channels have reported, most of those Black Libyans, were indeed Libyan citizens. Many are people who genuinely supported Gaddafi, because they had benefitted from the regime, others were just black Libyan workers. Some foreign news reports from France 24, for example, talked about seeing dead bodies of such black Libyans, where they had had their hands tied behind their backs, so that it was obvious they had been executed by the rebels. Yet, the BBC coverage spoke only of massacres, and executions, the implication being that these were atrocities only committed by Gaddafi's regime.

As I quoted Channel 4's, Alex Thompson rcently, its war, and politicians lie, but we should expect something better from the BBC. The most ludicrous piece of propaganda was a comment yesterday from the BBC's Clive Myrie.
He was outside Sirte, where British Jets had just dropped another load of bombs on the Libyan people. They were he told us "maintaining the No Fly Zone"!!! What exactly were the preventing from flying at this stage, Gaddafi's armed kites and paper aeroplanes????

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Northern Soul Classics - Making Up Time - The Holidays

This is one of my favourite instrumentals.
The Holidays were out of Detroit, and included Edwin Starr early on.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Marxists And Bourgeois Democracy - Part 4

The degree to which the bourgeoisie will accede to such reforms depends upon the nature of the reforms, and the particular conditions under which they are put forward. For example, it is ironic that at the very moment when the bourgeoisie in Britain is seeking to privatise the NHS, large sections of Big Capital, in the US, are arguing for the introduction of some form of socialised healthcare. Their reason for doing so is simple. Private healthcare provision in the US is bureaucratic, and hugely expensive. As workers in the US have, in many large companies, negotiated deals, whereby the employer meets the costs of private medical insurance, these costs are crippling US corporations, making them unable to compete on the world market.
The companies are trying to get out of such deals with their workers, but to do so means large confrontations with workers who are the most organised section of the working class. Moreover, even if they get out of the deals, the likelihood is that workers will simply demand larger wage increases in order to cover the costs of taking out their own cover. The logical answer for big US Capital is socialised healthcare.

In the 1930’s Roosevelt in the New Deal introduced a whole raft of measures in support of workers, including minimum wage rates etc. But the background was rapidly rising membership of the US Communist Party, even amongst members of the middle class, the thought in the mind of the Russian Revolution that had happened only 16 years earlier, a Soviet Union whose economy was booming whilst the US and the rest of the capitalist world was in what looked like possible terminal decline.
Meanwhile, of course, other sections of the bourgeoisie were making other arrangements just in case these reforms did not buy off the workers. Henry Ford a long time anti-semite and perpetrator of the idea of the world-wide Jewish conspiracy, from whom Hitler took many ideas, was giving financial and political support to US fascists.

In short, in times when the working class is strong, and the ruling class see the potential for trouble they have learnt to tack and to allow, even considerable, reforms to the working class, provided those reforms do not seriously threaten the existence of Capital. In fact the reforms are the best guarantee of its continuation by avoiding revolution, and indeed as with the Welfare State, Capital was able not only to utilise it to ensure the reproduction of Labour Power, but it also meant it could head off existing attempts by workers to develop their own independent provision.
Its notable, in fact, that in Britain where the Labour Movement was in disarray during the 1930’s, the Labour Party having split etc. the ruling class did not feel compelled to introduce the same kinds of reforms that Roosevelt had done with the New Deal, or even to use the kinds of Keynesian economics introduced in the US or in Norway. Though as I have argued elsewhere in large part this is also explained by the different economic conditions existing at that time in the US compared to Europe, which made a Keynesian solution impossible in Europe. At times when the working class is weak, as it has been for the last 25 years, the bourgeoisie rolls back those reforms as it has done in relation to Trade Union rights, welfare rights etc.

In a situation where the majority of workers remain tied to these bourgeois democratic illusions then, I would argue that it is not only the task of Marxists to try to win workers away from them, not only to build the workers democracy as the alternative to that bourgeois democracy, but is to also utilise the bourgeois democracy, where possible to win reforms, and thereby to exacerbate the contradiction between the form of bourgeois rule – the bourgeois democratic Parliament – and the instrument of that rule – the bourgeois state. Contrary to Lenin’s formulation, which tends to conflate the Parliament and the State, workers can take control of one, but not the other. But, those reforms should not be of the kind that the reformists advocate, which sow the illusion that the Capitalist State can act to further their interests. Those reforms rather should as Marx advocated be ones that merely facilitate the self-activity, and self-government of the workers, developing it in opposition to the State.

Let me try to explain how I see that in a situation like Britain today through a number of examples. Take an example like the Miners Estate in the ward where I lived. The estate has been run down, the Coal Board sold the houses, it continued to own, to absentee landlords in London, who frequently sell them to other absentee landlords so that its impossible to keep track of who is responsible for them.
The landlords put in tenants that no one else wants, because they are anti-social etc., who then cause problems for other tenants, or home owners, who then move out leaving further properties vacant for the absentee landlords to fill with even more anti-social elements.

The tenants and residents on the estate formed a TRA to take up these problems. Some of the leaders of the TRA are current or ex union branch secretaries etc. Like most British workers they remain tied to the Labour Party and to bourgeois democracy. But that democracy was not resolving their problem. They elected Labour Councillors and a Labour MP but the problem persists. So they took it into their own hands and established a form of workers democracy to resolve it. I went to one of their first meetings, and argued that they had done the right thing setting up their TRA, that by taking matters into their own hands they had given themselves the best chance of resolving the problem, and that they should rely on their own strength and organisation rather than on the possibility that I or any other Councillor or MP could wave a magic wand, make some amazing speech in a Council Chamber and resolve their problem for them.

The Tenants began to do things for themselves. Plots of land on the estate, that were derelict, were cleaned up, and turned into play areas for the kids.
As a Councillor, I provided them with funding, first for a computer to do their administration, then for a big mower for dealing with their grounds maintenance, and for a shed to keep their equipment in. There are of course other measures that they could take. They could, for instance, begin to police the area themselves, and in short put the entire estate under their own management, and they could go on from there to argue that as they are doing this for themselves they will withhold a part of their Council Tax that should have gone to the Council to undertake these tasks it was failing to do.
There is a precedent for this. Town and Parish Councils are entitled to raise their own local rate to raise money for the specific area, which is then paid to them as a precept, by the Council that collects the money.

But short of a social revolution, some of those things would bring them directly into conflict with the Council, and with the bourgeois state. In order to legitimise some of those things it is necessary to actually utilise the structures of the Council. If we had a real Workers Party what would it say to those workers on that estate in those conditions? It would say (though not in these actual words)“Look you have proved that you can run your own lives, and your estate without the need for Landlords, for Council officials, for police or any of the other panoply of capitalism and bourgeois democracy. Unfortunately, for some of the other things we need to do we need to have them legitimised. So, although we have shown we have no need of the Local Council to run our lives it will make lives easier if we get the Council to legalise some of the other things we need to do. The best way to do that is for us to take control of the Council, and to put that legal seal upon it.” That, in itself, of course, would require that the Workers Party was able to extend such examples across the area, linking up each group of independently organised workers, and would in turn require the establishment of wider forms of workers democracy across the area. (The reason I argued that this does not apply in Iraq nor now in Libya is precisely because these alternative structures of bourgeois democracy such as Local Councils do not exist, and so workers could quite legitimately in the first place establish control of their communities through their own Workers Committees and allocate funds to them accordingly). It is interesting that in Benghazi, which has been in rebel hands for six months, the supposed desire for democracy has not yet extended to the establishment of any democratic institutions, be they bouregois democratic, or forms of workers democracy, as, for example sprung up spontaneously in the form of Soviets, Factory Committees and so on in Russia in 1905, and 1917, and similarly in the other European and Asian revolutions in the 1920's.

That gives no credibility to bourgeois democracy. It means the Workers Party takes its strength directly from the workers democracy below it, it merely says we are not ready for a struggle for power yet, and so we will legitimate the actions we have already decided upon. And if the bourgeois state then tries to ignore that legitimation it further drives a wedge between the bourgeois form of rule through bourgeois democracy, and the instrument of rule through the bourgeois state, it demonstrates even more clearly the fact that bourgeois democracy is merely a façade hiding the bourgeois class dictatorship.

But Marxists within this Workers Party would at all times be arguing for it not to limit its programme simply in order to obtain a majority of seats. The primary task of the Workers Party they would argue would be to build the Workers Democracy outside Parliament, to utilise elections for that purpose to propagandise for that workers democracy as an alternative to bourgeois democracy, to expose at every opportunity the sham nature of the bourgeois democracy. Only on the basis of the strength of the workers democracy outside Parliament would the strength of the Workers Party inside Parliament be reflected.
As Engels put it the Parliamentary representation is an index of the maturity of the working class for socialism, and nothing more. Only at the point where the class consciousness of the working class, developed through that workers democracy, is sufficiently developed that a majority of the class have been won to the need for a socialist transformation, would a Parliamentary majority become possible, and that Parliamentary majority would then simply legitimise the dismantling of the bourgeois state, an action which would inevitably lead to an attempt at counter-revolution by the bourgeoisie, but who would then be the ones seen to be acting illegally, and whose slave-holders revolt would be the more easily subdued precisely because of the strength of the workers democracy built up outside Parliament, and educated in the inevitability of such a response.

In short, the attitude of Marxists to Bourgeois Democracy depends upon the conditions they find themselves in. At all times their attitude is determined not by some need to defend bourgeois democracy as progressive vis a vis other forms of class rule, but is determined to win the working class to its banner to become an independent force against Bourgeois Democracy and other forms of class rule.

For us, winning the working class is the primary task, and at times, in order to be with the workers, in order to win them over, will require us to defend bourgeois democracy against fascism, when the workers are attached to bourgeois democracy. If the workers are themselves struggling for Bourgeois Democracy then we will join in that struggle, whilst giving no ground to the idea that it can resolve the workers problems. As Lenin argued in Two Tactics Of Social-Democracy

“A Social-Democrat must never for a moment forget that the proletariat will inevitably have to wage the class struggle for Socialism even against the most democratic and republican bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie. This is beyond doubt. Hence the absolute necessity of a separate, independent, strictly class party of Social-Democracy. Hence the temporary nature of our tactics of “striking jointly” with the bourgeoisie and the duty of keeping a strict watch “over our ally, as over an enemy,” etc. All this is also beyond the slightest doubt. But it would be ridiculous and reactionary to deduce from this that we must forget, ignore or neglect these tasks which, although transient and temporary, are vital at the present time. The fight against the autocracy is a temporary and transient task of the Socialists, but to ignore or neglect this task in any way would be tantamount to betraying Socialism and rendering a service to reaction. The revolutionary-Democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry is unquestionably only a transient, temporary aim of the Socialists, but to ignore this aim in the period of a democratic revolution would be downright reactionary...”

Equally, it may require us to defend a country ruled by a fascistic regime against bourgeois democracy, e.g. Iran or Libya, if doing so enables us to win the workers in that country to us, and where it is a case of an Imperialist State waging a war against a non-imperialist state.
In neither case do we defend by giving credence to either bourgeois democracy or to fascism, in neither case do we utilise the ideas or institutions of our class enemy for such defence, but on the contrary organise that defence on the basis of socialist ideas, and organs of workers democracy, because that is the basis of proving the superiority of those ideas and those forms of organisation to the working class, and that is the basis of winning them to our banner.

In countries where bourgeois democracy is established, and where the working class has illusions in that bourgeois democracy, then generally we will use elections within that bourgeois democracy as a platform to expose its true nature, and to propagandise for workers democracy. Where elected we continue to use that position to support the self-activity of the class, to emphasise its need to organise its own democratic structures, and to put no faith in the bourgeois democracy resolving its problems. We recognise that without a strong workers democracy, outside Parliament, representing the development of a well entrenched class consciousness, Parliamentary majorities for a Workers Party are meaningless, because such a party would be forced either to limit its actions in Parliament to what the ruling class will allow it to get away with, or will simply sweep that Government away without the necessary forces existing outside Parliament to defend it. We recognise, however, that in conditions where the class consciousness of the class has reached a level, where it recognises the need for a transformation of society, such a transformation can be facilitated by a Workers Party legitimating the actions of the workers democracy, outside Parliament, and legislating away the bourgeois state apparatus, thereby forcing the bourgeoisie to be the ones acting illegally when it tries to organise a counter-revolution.
Such legitimation is not irrelevant in winning over other classes in society to the working class, or in minimising the basis of foreign intervention. However, as Engels pointed out, it is likely that the Bourgeoisie would resort to extra parliamentary action long before any such party began such a process via parliament.

In conditions where bourgeois democracy is not an established fact, where the working class does not, therefore, suffer from illusions in it, and where bourgeois democratic forms – local councils, bourgeois parliaments etc. – do not exist, we should focus primarily on the development of workers democracy immediately as the basis for workers resolving their immediate problems, and organising their own self-administration.
The development of such workers democracy does not at all equate to the need for an imminent struggle for power or overthrow of the rule of Capital. There may be many instances where the working class is too small for that to be a feasible proposition e.g. Libya now, but there is little point in imbuing such a working class with illusions in bourgeois democracy, when their problems can be better addressed by workers democracy even within capitalism, only to have to then wage a fight against those illusions at some later date.

The best guarantee of reforms being maintained i.e. not taken away, is when those reforms are based on the strength of the working class outside Parliament, when those reforms bring about some real change in the ability of the working class to defend itself, and to increase its social weight. That has been true of many of the most important reforms that have taken place, they came about due to extra-Parliamentary activity by the working class. Whether they were the result of real concessions, or were concessions granted by the bourgeoisie in the context of a situation where they could benefit too - for example Engels comments about the conversion of the Big Bourgeoisie to supporting Trades Unions, to Factory Legislation and so on - is irrelevant if it brings about a real improvement of the class's ability to defend itself, and increases its relative weight.

However, these kinds of changes are most solid where they bring about some kind of change that it is difficult for the bourgeoisie to take away at some point in the future. The bourgeoisie cannot easily take away the right of people to organise collectively within their own community, to manage their estates etc., indeed to a certain extent they condone it with things like Neighbourhood Watch schemes. It is up to socialists to put the necessary class content into such bodies, to use them as means of living and breathing with the class and raising their class consciousness. And even with TU's the bourgeoisie have found it difficult even in limited ways to take away the right to belong to a Trade Union, though they have reduced the extent of Trade Union rights.
Partly that is because Trade Unions themselves took on a corporatist nature seeing their role as negotiating completely within the system, individual members were encouraged to see paying union subs as an insurance policy. Once that breaks down and the rank and file of trade unions begin to reassert themselves and get back to what Trade Unions are about - solidarity - no amount of legislation will prevent ordinary workers supporting other groups of workers as the Gate Gourmet dispute began to demonstrate.

It is that kind of collective self-activity of the class that I emphasise, and which bourgeois democracy mitigates against. My conception is a more gradualist conception than the Leninist big bang violent revolution led by a small revolutionary party. It is about building up a solid, socialist class consciousness within the working class based on the self-activity of the class whether that be workers forming collectives as co-operatives for their employment, to manage their housing, to control their estates, or other forms of co-operative action that is based on workers democracy.
But that self-activity still requires a Workers Party to draw out the lessons of all those struggles, codify it for the class in order that lessons already learned do not have to be learned again, it does require co-ordination - it is not a proposal for anarcho-syndicalism - and given the fact that the majority of British and European workers still believe in the need for Parliamentary action, it would require such a Party to reflect these real changes in the workers consciousness and strength in Local and National government. It would also require that in the event that some revolutionary outbreak occurred, sparked by some unforeseen event, that this Party was ready to take advantage and push the workers forward, to develop the workers democracy it had helped develop to a much higher degree, to begin to establish higher forms of workers democracy such as the Workers Council/Soviet to put on the agenda there and then the question of who rules.

So my proposal is both gradual and revolutionary - it is dialectical. It recognises that the class struggle does not take place at the same tempo all the time, and that indeed if socialists do develop a strong class consciousness within the working class by pushing forward the kind of Marxist strategy I have outlined, the changes brought about will inevitably lead to a quickening of that tempo, will inevitably lead both to a situation where the workers recognise they have no need of bourgeois democracy or of capitalism, and where the capitalists recognise that their rule is threatened. In short will lead to a revolutionary situation.

Back To Part 3

Marxists And Bourgeois Democracy - Part 3

In Part 2, I argued that the Marxist position is determined by the principle that we should always “stick with the workers”. That is we do not adopt a sectarian attitude to the working-class, setting ourselves apart from it simply on the basis that it is imbued with reactionary ideas. The sects have fallen prey to such a danger, because they have created for themselves an idealised image of the working-class, which is maintained as a result of their isolation from it.
They are able to delude themselves that the workers share their ideas or many of them, because their largely petit-bourgeois background and lifestyle separates them from the real working-class. They live in a bubble in which they simply exchange ideas with likeminded people, or at best with only that tiny minority of the class that is itself engaged in some form of political or Trade Union activity.

The consequence of that, and the similarity of approach that can be made with the attitude on an international level could be seen with the Lyndsey Oil Refinery dispute. There construction workers protested at a potential loss of jobs due to work being contracted out to an Italian company.
The nature of the dispute was such that it facilitated the raising of reactionary, nationalistic demands that already hold some sway amongst the working-class. So demands such as “British Jobs For British Workers” appeared on placards. The BNP were quick to try to jump on to such a bandwagon.

Some groups such as the AWL, but also including the SWP, reacted in a thoroughly sectarian way, opposing the strike on the basis that it was being fought under these reactionary ideas. Indeed, the AWL even made an abortive attempt to organise a picket of the UNITE offices where the strikers were to attend a meeting! This is, in reality, merely an extension of the kind of moral politics, of the AWL, at an international level, to that of the day to day class struggle at home. It dates back to the origins of the Third Camp, and its moral outrage at the nature of the deformed Workers' State in the USSR.
It did not meet their pristine requirements for what a Workers State should look like, so they abandoned it, and threw in their lot with “Democratic Imperialism”. It is the same moral politics that leads them to support Democratic Imperialism and its allies against Iran, Libya, Iraq, Serbia and so on today. But, similarly, abandoning the LOR workers meant not just effectively siding with their employers, but its necessary consequecne would have been to push the workers into the hands of the BNP.

Fortunately, other socialists, primarily the Socialist Party, who had militants working at the site, were able to provide support for the strike, whilst opposing the reactionary demands. It meant that the BNP were prevented from taking advantage of the dispute, and it also meant that the reactionary demands were dropped, and the strike directed in a more positive direction.

But, let us take this analogy further. The BNP have established their own Trade Union – Solidarity. We can assume that not all members of this union are in fact members of the BNP. Suppose it were to be involved in a strike, what would the attitude of Marxists be. As a strike, an action by workers aimed directly at their bosses, we would be on the side of the workers, despite the reactionary nature of the union. We would be so, because our task would be to try to win those workers away from the influence of the BNP. Were we to oppose the strike, it would be to play into the hands of the BNP who would say to other workers, look these socialists are in league with the bosses they claim to be their enemy! Moreover, if the employer were to try to break the union, and to claim their reason for doing so was because it was run by fascists, we would give such claims no support whatsoever. It would be clear that the real reason for their action was to break the union the better to oppress the workers.
In the US, there is a history of unions being taken over by the Mob. They use their organisation and strong arm methods to buy off and intimidate union officials. But, does the fact that such unions are not in the workers interests mean that they are in the bosses interest? No. The reason the Mob seek such control is usually in order to extort money from employers, or to force them into agreeing contracts with front organisations of the Mob. They can use their control of the union to threaten employers that if they do not do as they demand, they will unleash a strike on them, and the methods used by the Mob to ensure the success of a strike are usually far more ruthless than those that would be used by workers. But, would we support an employer, or the Capitalist State intervening in such a union? No, because the only reason they would do so, would be to replace control of the union by the Mob, with either control by compliant union bureaucrats, or else to smash the union completely. The answer to Mob intimidation, is more organised more effective rank and file action by the workers themselves to ensure control of their union. We do not seek to put forward Bourgeois democracy, or the elements of it as the solution to workers problems, we advocate more extensive, more effective workers democracy.

If we go back to the beginning of the 19th century and the Chartist Movement consider a different scenario. The working class did not have the vote, but Trade Unions had been formed, and the Co-operative Movement had come into existence encouraged by people like Robert Owen.
Suppose that instead of fighting for the Charter i.e. to achieve universal suffrage and the right to representation in the bosses Parliament, which at the time the bosses would have fought a Civil War to prevent, the workers had recognised that their real strength lay in their collective action rather than in the individual action of casting a ballot. Suppose that in addition to relying on their industrial muscle in Trade Union struggles to win higher wages, they had adopted some of Owen’s ideas, and those put forward by Marx and the First International on forming Co-operatives.

Suppose that they had extended these principles into forming their own committees within the workers districts demanding improvements to their environment, demanding or providing for themselves through co-operative efforts decent housing, that they had established their own neighbourhood patrols to cut down on the rampant crime in the workers areas etc., in short that they had established their own system of workers democracy alongside the bourgeois democracy of the bosses.
Such a development would not have meant that the workers needed to mount an immediate challenge to the rule of Capital. There would be no reason the bosses should be threatened by workers policing their own districts (particularly at a time when no police force existed), there is no reason that the spread of other forms of co-operation such as co-operative enterprises should cause them to see socialist revolution on the horizon either, particularly those finance capitalists making money from lending to the workers. Because such a situation did not directly threaten the overall rule of Capital, this would not be a situation of dual power, merely the development of alternative forms of administration and control within the workers districts etc.

Now if that were the case, and the majority of the working class recognised the advantages for controlling its own life and destiny through such means, would Marxists have argued for an extension of bourgeois democracy to give workers the vote? I would suggest that to do so would have been stupid. It would be to demobilise that very workers democracy we seek to develop as the basis of the new society. It would be to suggest to workers that they could have some shared interests with their class enemy that could be debated, discussed and worked out within the context of a bourgeois Parliament, and that such means were better than their own workers democracy. It would be like those revolutionaries who call the workers out in a period of intense class conflict for a General Strike, only to limit its demands to that of a change of Government!
The only reason we would have for arguing that it was necessary for Workers and their Party to contest bourgeois elections would be because the bourgeoisie, and their State, openly declared war on the Workers property, in the way Marx said they would, in his Inaugural Address to the First International. It would be necessary, to the extent that the workers did not respond to such a declaration of War, by themselves responding with open warfare, fought not in the Chambers of Parliament, but in the factories, on the street, and supported from the workers communities.

My reason for opposing raising the idea of bourgeois democracy in Iraq, several years ago, in debating the issue with the AWL, and the same applies today in respect of Libya, where similarly no history of bourgeois democratic illusions within the working class exist, is for precisely the same reason. The first task is to develop the workers democracy, to encourage workers to see workers democracy, not bourgeois democracy, as the solution to their problems.
If, despite our best efforts in that direction, the workers still become imbued with bourgeois democratic illusions – and the main reason for that would be because reformist workers leaders, the agents of the bourgeoisie within the Labour Movement, as Trotsky described them, had sown those illusions, rather than developing the workers democracy as an independent force – then, of course Marxists would have to relate to that in line with the argument set out by Trotsky above, and by Lenin in Left-Wing Communism, where he argues that the Communists would use the elections to expose the class nature of the bourgeois democracy, would use its platform to argue for Communism, and for Soviet democracy etc.

In fact, it is in this area of established bourgeois democracy that I disagree with Lenin. In his argument with Kautsky, set out in “The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky”, Lenin argues that no meaningful advances can be achieved through bourgeois Parliaments. The reason for this argument is effectively two-fold.
Firstly, Lenin believes that workers cannot achieve full class-consciousness within capitalism. The ruling ideas will continue to be the ideas of the ruling class. Only a minority of the working class will achieve class-consciousness, and of those only a minority will be sufficiently class conscious to join its vanguard i.e. to become Bolsheviks. That is basically the position Lenin had developed when he wrote “What is to be Done?” It is the basis of his vision of the revolutionary party that, because the workers will continue to be dominated by bourgeois ideas, the socialist revolution must be carried through by a determined and well organised minority dragging a large section of the working class behind it, with a much larger section remaining passive. On that basis socialism can never be achieved through Parliament, or any really meaningful advance made, for the simple reason that there can never be a sufficiently large number of truly class-conscious workers to ensure the electoral victory of a truly revolutionary party. Workers Parties can be elected to government, but these workers parties can only achieve such victories by putting forward a programme that is short of a socialist transformation of society, it has to be a reformist programme seeking not to replace capitalism, but merely to ameliorate its worst effects for the workers. If it seeks to go beyond such a programme not enough workers will vote for it. The second leg of the argument is that even were such a government to try to implement policies which seriously challenged the rule of Capital, then Capital would simply undermine this government by one means or another including the use of force.

I think that Lenin is wrong in the first part of his argument, because I think he underestimates the potential for the working class achieving a sufficient level of class consciousness, to enable it to proceed to socialism, without the need to resort to a vanguard party, to carry through a political revolution, to seize state power, as the precondition for bringing about the social revolution i.e. the transformation of economic and social relations. Lenin’s ideas were influenced by the fact that he drew conclusions from the condition of the working class in backward Russia, rather than the experiences of the working class in more advanced capitalist countries. To the extent that he did take into account the experiences of workers in the advanced countries, he saw the extent to which they had been influenced by bourgeois democracy, and their Labour Movements led into reformism, as further vindication of his thesis.
He was also influenced by the idea of the working class as a slave class, and one, therefore, denied access to education and culture, the very things necessary, and which had enabled the bourgeoisie to develop its own ideology as a class, and which had allowed it to become class conscious in fighting for that ideology.

I think that in respect of large parts of Western Europe, and of the US Lenin was wrong in 1903 let alone 1918. I am absolutely sure that his perspective is wrong for today. It is, however, necessary to be careful in this not simply to accept the other side of the coin, the basic ideas of reformism. Looking back on the last 50 years in particular, it is clear that considerable reforms have been implemented through bourgeois Parliaments, reforms which have benefited the working class. To simply argue that these reforms have been implemented because in some way they were clever ruses by the bourgeoisie, that they in some way were things the bourgeoisie wanted, that they enabled them to extract more surplus value or whatever, is in my opinion facile.
As I have argued in many posts, the Welfare State, which is essentially an application of the principles of Fordism at a state level, is a construct of the bourgeoisie, and in particular the Big Bourgeoisie. It is a reflection of that Social-Democratic consensus, forged by Big Capital towards the end of the 19th Century, and identified by Engels. But, that is not to say that these issues did not form, and continue to form an arena of class struggle. Many of these reforms were introduced in the face of opposition from the bourgeoisie, or sections of it, or its political representatives, particularly reforms introduced by the 1945 Labour Government such as the Welfare State, and we only have to look at the current attacks on the Welfare State and the NHS to recognise that. And even the mildly reforming Government of Harold Wilson in the 1960’s was too much for some sections of the bourgeoisie, which were seriously plotting, with sections of the state, for a military coup to overthrow him.
The second part of Lenin’s argument that the bourgeoisie will not allow a bourgeois Parliament with a workers majority to simply legislate away its power remains completely valid. The experience of the Allende Government is clearly proof of that.

Back To Part 2

Forward To Part 4

Marxists And Bourgeois Democracy - Part 2

In Part 1 I asserted the basic Marxist position, as set out by Marx, Engels and Lenin, that the State is an instrument of class rule, and Bourgeois Democracy is a form of class rule by the bourgeoisie, and that consequently our task is to move beyond it to workers democracy and to socialism.
The debate then centres around the issue of whether Bourgeois Democracy can be seen as good in itself, simply on the basis that it is relatively progressive vis a vis more authoritarian forms of regime, such as feudalism, fascism, clerical-fascism or Stalinism, which also implies that capitalism/imperialism is more progressive than a mode of production based on nationalised and collectivised property, but which forms a separate debate. The consequence of answering yes to the above question, even if it is a conditional yes, is that Marxists should argue in favour of bourgeois democracy in conditions where socialism is not possible.

My answer to this above question is a categorical no. In stating that my answer is a categorical no, however, that does not at all preclude me from arguing for a defence of bourgeois democracy against say fascism or feudalism in conditions where the working class remain ideologically tied to bourgeois democracy, where they have not yet achieved a sufficient level of class consciousness to recognise that it merely masks the bourgeois dictatorship in a velvet glove, where they have not yet recognised the superiority of their own form of democracy – workers democracy – and the ability of such a method of administration to far better meet their immediate needs, and to provide the basis for the transformation of society. In short to quote Trotsky in the Transitional Programme,

“One thing can be stated with conviction even at this point: once it breaks through, the revolutionary wave in fascist countries will immediately be a grandiose sweep and under no circumstances will stop short at the experiment of resuscitating some sort of Weimar corpse.

It is from this point onward that an uncompromising divergence begins between the Fourth International and the old parties, which outlive their bankruptcy. The emigre “People’s Front” is the most malignant and perfidious variety of all possible People’s Fronts. Essentially, it signifies the impotent longing for coalition with a nonexistent liberal bourgeoisie. Had it met with success, it would simply have prepared a series of new defeats of the Spanish type for the proletariat. A merciless exposure of the theory and practice of the “People’s Front” is therefore the first condition for a revolutionary struggle against fascism.

Of course, this does not mean that the Fourth International rejects democratic slogans as a means of mobilizing the masses against fascism. On the contrary, such slogans at certain moments can play a serious role. But the formulae of democracy (freedom of press, the right to unionize, etc.) mean for us only incidental or episodic slogans in the independent movement of the proletariat and not a democratic noose fastened to the neck of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie’s agents (Spain!). As soon as the movement assumes something of a mass character, the democratic slogans will be intertwined with the transitional ones; factory committees, it may be supposed, will appear before the old routinists rush from their chancelleries to organize trade unions; soviets will cover Germany before a new Constituent Assembly will gather in Weimar. The same applies to Italy and the rest of the totalitarian and semi-totalitarian countries.”

Trotsky – The Transitional Programme – The Programme Of Transitional demands In Fascist Countries

That is the level of significance that Trotsky gave it, even in 1938, when all forms of democracy were in retreat against fascism and Stalinism.
Bourgeois democratic demands were to comprise merely episodic slogans, no more than a tactic to win workers away from their illusions in bourgeois democracy, and to set them on the road to establishing workers democracy. And that is the crux of the debate. It is not about the relative progressive merits of bourgeois democracy vis a vis fascism, or feudalism – it may have been in the 18th and early 19th century, but not now – but about the best tactic for winning away the workers from illusions in the dominant ideas of the ruling class whether they be bourgeois democratic or fascistic. In short, our politics are determined not by considerations of the best form of capitalist rule, but by putting the working class at the centre of our politics, and the best way of winning them to us. As I wrote several years ago, as part of a debate on these issues with the AWL in relation to Iraq,

“To do anything other is to lead us into the camp of bourgeois reformism. It is to go down the road of the Euston Manifesto, whose logic must be to support a war of imperialist bourgeois democracy against the clerical-fascist regime in Iran, for instance, and which has already led to them supporting bourgeois-democratic Israel against Lebanon in order to defeat the clerical-fascist forces of Hizbollah. That is the logic of socialists giving support to one camp of the bourgeoisie over another camp of the bourgeoisie, the democratic camp of the bourgeoisie over the fascistic camp of the bourgeoisie. Its logic is the very opposite of what is required, and the consequences are clear. Instead of winning the workers to the banner of socialism they are driven even more into the hands of the fascists.”

Back then, at least, the AWL had opposed the Imperialist War against Iraq. Only a few years before that, they had argued that, in the event of such a War, socialists would have had to support Saddam against Imperialism – an argument I disagreed with at the time, and disagree with now, because support for Iraq was not the same as support for Saddam, just as support for Libya against Imperialism today is not the same as support for Gaddafi – even if they subsequently refused to call for Imperialism to be booted out of Iraq.
This was before they descended further into the slime of social imperialism, before they started to argue that socialists could have no reason to oppose Israel bombing Iran, before they joined the Imperialists in backing Fatah against Hamas, and before they argued that there was no reason to oppose an Imperialist War against Libya. In other words, before their politics simply descended into choosing one Camp of the bourgeoisie over another, and thereby acting as apologists for it.

Trotsky was quite clear what such defence of bourgeois democracy within the ranks of the Labour Movement represented. He set it out in his Theses on Fundamental Tasks for the Second Congress of the Comintern.

“Hence, preparation for the dictatorship of the proletariat entails not only explanation of the bourgeois character of all reformism, of all defence of democracy, while private ownership of the means of production is preserved;
it entails, not only exposure of such trends, which are in fact a defence of the bourgeoisie within the labour movement; it also calls for old leaders being replaced by Communists in proletarian organisations of absolutely every type—not only political, but also trade union, co-operative, educational, etc.”

To summarise, Marxists main task is to win the working class to our banner. That is the central aim of our tactics. In conditions where the majority, or a sizeable number, of workers are, for whatever reason, imbued with illusions in bourgeois democracy then we have to win them away from those illusions. In conditions where that bourgeois democracy is under attack from fascists, we are not likely to win over those workers if we remain indifferent. We defend the bourgeois democracy, in which they have illusions, against the fascists, but such defence does not at all require us to reinforce the illusions they already hold, does not require us to emphasise the relative progressiveness of the camp of the democratic bourgeoisie over the fascistic camp of the bourgeoisie. On the contrary, in defending the bourgeois democracy, in forming a United Front with the workers that retain those illusions, we encourage them to join us in its defence not by means of bourgeois-democratic institutions, but by them joining us in organisations based on workers democracy, in workers militia, factory committees, peasant committees etc. and in so doing demonstrate in practice to them the superiority of these forms of workers democracy over bourgeois democracy, and the irrelevance to their needs of that bourgeois democracy.
That is the method Trotsky proposed in the Action Programme for France, which has many aspects of it relevant to Libya today. He sets out his tactic right at the beginning of the section where he advocates defence of the bourgeois democracy against the French fascists.

”We are thus firm partisans of a Workers and Peasants State, which will take the power from the exploiters. To win the majority of our working class allies to this program is our primary aim.

Meanwhile, as long as the majority of the working class continues on the basis of bourgeois democracy, we are ready to defend it with all our forces against violent attacks from the Bonapartist and fascist bourgeoisie.”

There is nothing in Trotsky’s argument here that gives succour to the idea that we defend bourgeois democracy because of its relative progressiveness vis a vis fascism.
We defend it because we are “with the workers” and if the workers retain illusions in bourgeois democracy we have to stay with them in order to win them away, but we do not win them away by accommodating to those illusions, we win them away by merciless criticism of bourgeois democracy, by exposing its class nature as merely a class dictatorship in democratic clothing, and by exposing those representatives of the bourgeoisie within the Labour Movement that foster those illusions.

But the illustration of the possibility of a war between a bourgeois democratic imperialism and a clerical fascist Iran, or a totalitarian Libya, illustrates the issue from the other side of the coin. If Marxists attitude is determined by the relative progressive nature of bourgeois democracy compared to say the clerical-fascist regime in Iran rather than a concern to be with the workers and to win them away from illusions of either of these forms of bourgeois rule, then the Euston Manifesto group are right. Marxists should support a war of US imperialism against fascist Iran, or totalitarian Libya, because it would be “progressive”.
But abandoning the Iranian or Libyan workers or any other group of workers just because they are attached to some reactionary ideology has nothing to do with Marxism. We do not simply write them off as a “bad” working class, as for example the idiot anti-imperialists do in respect of the Protestant working class in Northern Ireland. Its rather like when during the 1960’s, my old man who had been a militant all his life, but who was beginning to despair of the British working class, said to me one day, “The only way the British working class will get off its knees is when the Red Army marches in.” It is to abandon the idea that progress can only come from the independent class action of the working class, and to slide into a reliance on alien class forces and institutions. It is typical of the kind of ideas that creep into the Labour Movement after a period of successive defeats such as that of the last 25 years or so.

Our tactic is not to side with bourgeois democracy or with the opponents of bourgeois democracy, but to side with the workers even where those workers are confused and give their support to a reactionary, clerical-fascist regime. Only on that basis can we have any hope of relating to those workers and dragging them away from their confusion and those illusions, whether they be illusions in bourgeois democracy or in clerical-fascism. We do so by giving no succour to the ideas in which they have illusions be they bourgeois-democracy or clerical-fascism, but by counterposing to both workers democracy, exposing the class nature of both the bourgeois democracy and the clerical fascism, by encouraging the workers to form their own organisations based on workers democracy as the best means of their defence.

Back To Part 1

Forward To Part 3

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Marxists And Bourgeois Democracy - Part 1

Like the invasion of Iraq, the Imperialist War against Libya has meant that the question of Marxists attitude to many basic issues is raised. Fundamentally, it raises questions in relation to our attitude to Bourgeois Democracy, the Capitalist State, and the actions of that State at an international level i.e. Imperialism. Mostly, the answers to those questions provided by the Left, including the Left that considers itself to be “Marxist” have been inadequate, confused, and wrong-headed. In a series of posts I want to look at these issues, and ask what a Marxist position should be. I will be drawing, in part, on some posts I wrote several years ago on the AWL website, as part of a discussion in relation to them over Iraq.
Anyone, interested in the question, however, could also do worse than to read Lenin's “The State And Revolution”, and in particular those sections where he sets out the Marxist theory of what the State is, what Bourgeois Democracy is, and why, therefore, Marxists have to adopt a position of extreme revolutionary opposition to both. It is important, because, in those sections, Lenin dismantles the reformist ideas on these questions perpetrated by Kautsky and the Second International. He seeks to restore the revolutionary attitude of Marx to these questions, which he says has far more in common with the Anarchists such as Proudhon and Bakunin, than the reformists care to admit. After Lenin, Stalinism restored the ideas of the reformists on these questions. And today, much of the Left, including that part which claims to be in the tradition of Lenin and Trotsky, also operate within that same framework.

A fundamental aspect of the Marxist theory of the State is that it is an organ of class rule. It is the means by which a ruling class maintains itself in power. It does that in a number of ways, most brutally in the sense described by Engels, as through “bodies of armed men”.
But the State is much more than just these bodies of armed men. As Engels also set out in “Anti-Duhring”, in the sections on The Force Theory it is not the monopoly of violence that explains the existence and continuation of ruling classes. Ruling classes arise, and are sustained in that position, because of the development of particular sets of material conditions within society. Different sets of productive forces create particular sets of property relations, which in turn create particular types of classes, and different types of social relations between these classes. So long as these material conditions within society reproduce themselves, then the classes and the social relations based upon them will continue.
This is a self-reproducing system. Yet, as we now understand from Science – See Professor Jim Al khalili's recent BBC programme: The Secret Life Of Chaos what on the surface appear to be stable, unchanging systems, are in reality a seething mass of chaos and change at a quantum level, with infinitely small differences and changes leading, via feed back loops, into evolutionary, and then revolutionary changes. The role of the State is to facilitate this process of reproduction of social relations, and to attempt to counter-act those tendencies, that arise naturally, out of the process of change, which threaten that reproduction. That is why the Capitalist State, for instance, intervenes in the economy at a macro-economic level to counter-act economic crises, it is why it intervenes to establish Welfare States whose purpose is to ensure the adequate reproduction of Labour Power, of the right kind for Capital.
And, of course, a ruling class does not need armed men most of the time to maintain itself in power, or at most only requires their use in a limited and sporadic fashion – e.g. during the Miners Strike – because it has far more powerful tools on a day to day basis to ensure that its rule is not threatened.

In feudal times, although the Feudal Lords had large armies to protect themselves – in fact, they were largely used to protect themselves from other Feudal Lords who sought to increase their wealth and power by extending their dominion – a far more powerful weapon for maintaining their rule, and continued exploitation of the peasants was the Church. The Church purveyed the ideology that the rulers were anointed by God, that there was an established order created by God, and based upon rank, with God at the top, the King beneath him, and so on.
At a time when religious superstition held massive sway over men's minds, that was a powerful means to ensure that the lower orders remained in their place. Only by conveying the idea that the King had upset this order in some way, had disobeyed God, could a challenge be made, and then normally only to install some other King in their place. Today, the same function is played by the ideological apparatus of the State.
Not only does the Welfare State ensure that sufficient, and the right kind of Labour Power is reproduced for Capital, but coupled with Bourgeois democracy, and the illusion that workers are able to have some control over the State that it instils, the Welfare State acts to convince workers that the State is neutral, that it can be utilised to work in their interests too. Just look at the number of people even on the Left, who talk about the NHS in terms of it being "Our NHS" when, of course it is no such thing, and if it were we should be ashamed for running such a poor service, that treats our elderly in such an atrocious manner!!! Like the Church under Feudalism, it helps reproduce the idea that how things are, is a natural order of things.

That is all the more the case in relation to the State's Education Factories, which mass produce bourgeois ideology, and feed it directly into the heads of each new generation of workers.
It is part of what the US socialist, Max Shachtman, called “Capitalism's head-fixing industry”. And, on top of that, Capital can also rely on other means by which these ideas are automatically reproduced. Parents, who have had a life time of being fed on this ideology, automatically pass it on to their children. Peer group pressure itself acts as a reinforcing mechanism to ensure that anyone with ideas that do not conform to this norm is made into an outsider. In fact, just think about how anyone who is seen to have an interest in politics in general is seen to be somewhat abnormal, or must, like all politicians, only be interested for their own benefit. The ideology of bourgeois democracy requires that like the application of the Division of Labour in the rest of Capitalist society, it be left to the preserve of the specialists, and that we only trouble ourselves with it every five years.
And then it is to be sold to us as a commodity like any other, by vendors who appeal to us on the basis not of anything meaningful, but on the basis of their TV appeal, their charm, their charisma, their personality, their looks and so on. Remember Cleggmania!!!

The fundamental nature of Bourgeois Democracy then for a Marxist is that described by Lenin in State and Revolution.

“A democratic republic is the best possible political shell for capitalism, and, therefore, once capital has gained possession of this very best shell (through the Palchinskys, Chernovs, Tseretelis and Co.), it establishes its power so securely, so firmly, that no change of persons, institutions or parties in the bourgeois-democratic republic can shake it.”

Chapter 1, Section 3 - The State: an Instrument for the Exploitation of the Oppressed Class

Yet, as Lenin sets out the reformists see the State as something different, and they see bourgeois democracy as something different. They denude both of their class content.
Frequently they do not talk of bourgeois democracy, but merely of democracy, as though democracy itself were not merely a means of one class exercising its class domination over another. To an extent, there was also a Feudal Democracy. The Parliament in England goes back 1,000 years, but it was a parliament only of the landlords, of the aristocracy, excluding the Commoners, including the bourgeoisie, when they arose, from its deliberations. Only bit by bit as the power of the bourgeoisie grew did it begin to develop its own forms of democracy, based in its stronghold in the towns and cities, and gradually winning elements of representation in Parliament, often only after violent struggle, such as the Civil War.
The working-class rightly denies the bourgeoisie access to our own forms of Worker Democracy in our Trades Unions, and worker owned Co-operatives. Democracy is only a particular method, its real content is determined by whose democracy it is, which class interests is it designed to serve.

The reformist view can be seen in the positions adopted by Stalinists like the AWL, or the CPB and others. For them “democracy” is an end in itself, a moral imperative.
In reality, having lost faith in the working-class, they see its salvation by other means. For the AWL, they have essentially thrown in their lot with “Democratic Imperialism” certainly at an international level. In reality, even at a national level their programme amounts to nothing more than reformist demands for wage militancy, and collective bargaining, and pleas to the Capitalist State to act in the workers interests. For the CPB it amounts, as it has for many decades, to building Popular Frontist alliances to achieve “progressive” changes.

At an international level it amounts to nothing more than what Trotsky described as the Stalinist “Stages Theory”.
That is the idea that society has to pass through given stages on the road to Socialism. Before Socialism is possible, society first has to pass through a stage of Bourgeois Democracy. In 1917, Stalin, Kamenev, and Zinoviev, argued this position prior to Lenin's return. At this time Lenin essentially adopted the idea of Permanent Revolution previously developed by Trotsky on the basis of the ideas discussed by Marx and Engels after the defeat of the Revolutions of 1848. Lenin had to wage a bitter struggle against these “Old Bolsheviks”, to win the Party over to his ideas as set out in April Theses. The basic idea was that given the weakness of the bourgeoisie in Russia, even a bourgeois democratic revolution was impossible without the support of the workers. However, as in 1848, it was inevitable that the bourgeoisie, faced with demands from the workers for things such as higher wages, shorter hours, and so on, that the bosses could not meet, or believed they could not meet, let alone demands by workers to have a real say in the way society, including their workplaces, were run, would run scared, and align themselves once again with Tsarism, or Landlordism.
Instead of Bourgeois democracy, the workers would face a terrible reaction. Lenin's prognosis was proved correct when Kerenky began locking up and exiling Bolshevik leaders, and when he made a deal with the Tsarist General, Kornilov, to organise a military coup.

As Trotsky later pointed out, in relation to the positions adopted by the Stalinists, in relation to these questions, and the Popular Front, in fact Stalin, Kamenev, and Zinoviev, never gave up their attachment to the ideas they held prior to the April Theses, and their positions later were merely an application of them. But, in reality, the ideas put forward by the AWL and others in relation to Iraq, and now to Libya are also an application of those same Stalinist politics. Having lost faith in the working-class, and seeing “Democracy” not in terms of it being merely a form of class rule by Capital, but solely as some kind of Moral Imperative that everyone should want, and seek to achieve, they make it their overriding obsession, and subordinate the interests of the working-class to it, by seeking an alliance with Democratic Imperialism, in order to achieve this Moral Imperative.

In reality, I have sympathy for the view that in instances, like Russia in 1917, and in other instances where the bourgeoisie is weak, it is still not likely that workers can go straight to Socialism via a process of Permanent Revolution. When Trotsky made that case, we had large revolutionary parties in many developed economies throughout Europe. We had powerful, organised working-classes that had demonstrated, frequently, their revolutionary vigour.
It was possible, under those conditions to envisage that, as Lenin argued in 1917, such a revolution, breaking Capitalism at its weakest link, could be the first spark in a chain of revolution across Europe, such that those revolutions could come to the rescue of those in less developed economies. But none of that exists today. Largely due to the mistakes of Marxists in the last century, those large revolutionary parties have disappeared completely. For the same reasons, the working-class today is less well organised, less powerful, more imbued with bourgeois ideas than it was 100 years ago!
Even the self-proclaimed revolutionaries have adopted the statist/reformist programmes of the Fabians and Lassalleans based on income redistribution, rather than challenging the fundamental property relations of Capitalism, and as a result have pushed increasing numbers of workers away from the idea of Socialism, and into the hands of right-wing opportunists.

A look at the experience of Russia after 1917, shows the problem of permanent revolution in the absence of those further supporting revolutions. But, a look at the Colonial Revolutions emphasises the point too. The first Colonial Revolutions took place in Latin America during the 19th Century. The “Bolivarian Revolutions”, however, did not result in the establishment of bourgeois democracy. They led to the establishment of Bourgeois Bonapartist regimes. That should not have been a surprise. Britain too went through a stage of Bonapartism under Cromwell. France went through similar periods under different superficial appearances – Napoleon, Louis, Louis Bonaparte – before eventually establishing a stable Bourgeois Democracy in the form of the Third Republic, on the bones of the defeated Communards.
Germany too went through such a period under Bismark. Egypt followed a similar course to Latin America, having freed itself from the Ottoman Empire, but only to go through the Bonapartism of Muhammad Ali, and his descendants. Like most of the Bonapartist regimes established in Latin America, economic mismanagement, combined with the existing economic conditions, led to economic disaster and indebtedness. In the case of Egypt, it was the spending of Ismail in building the Suez Canal, and in waging a Colonialist War against a number of African countries such as Sudan and Ethiopia, which bankrupted the economy, and led to the installation of the British Protectorate.

But, the Colonial revolutions of the post WWII period have shown a similar feature. None of them resulted in the establishment of bourgeois democracies. They all ended in the establishment of some form of Bonapartism. If they were lucky these Bonapartist regimes were of the modernising kind, if not they were simply brutal dictatorships, that drained resources from the economy for the greater glory of the regime.

Yet, the conclusion that a Marxist should draw from this is not that, which the AWL and others draw, which is that even bourgeois democracy would be an advance, even if it requires the intervention of Democratic Imperialism to bring it about. The conclusion that a Marxist should draw, basing themselves on the theory of Historical Materialism, is that you cannot simply impose the political regime of bourgeois democracy on societies that lack the fundamental basis of such a regime i.e. a developed, extensive, and stable bourgeoisie! Organisations like the AWL make that mistake, precisely because they have ceased thinking in Marxist class terms, and simply adopted a Moralistic approach to their politics. Bourgeois Democracy for them is no longer merely a form by which the class dictatorship of the bourgeoisie is exercised in its most effective way, but is reduced merely to a class neutral “democracy” that is a moral good that we should all strive for!
For a Marxist, basing themselves on the theory of Historical Materialism, it is no mystery as to why societies that do not have developed industrialised economies, that do not have developed and stable bourgeoisies based upon that economic base, and do not have the kind of economic base that facilitates the kind of “social-democratic consensus”, of the kind described by Engels in relation to Britain in the late 19th Century, that is capable of integrating the working-class and middle class into the State by means of a Welfare State and so on, do not establish functioning bourgeois democracies. All of the former material conditions are a precondition for the establishment of the latter political regime!

Attempts to impose a Bourgeois Democracy on societies that lack those material conditions are exercises in Idealism, and Utopianism. They belong to those kinds of 18th Century philosophies that held that the driving force of history was the unfolding of the Idea, which was a process that went on in the Minds of Philospher's, and was then made real by the State. It is a throw back to the Bishop Berkeley, and to Hegel.
In this schema, the State can then be a means of progressive historical change. It is no wonder that Stalinists, and Statists such as the AWL are attached to such an approach. It is difficult to know what Marx's reaction to such people would be, who think that you can have Bourgeois Democracy without a bourgeoisie! Perhaps, with his comment “If this is Marxism, then I for one am no Marxist!”

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