The AWL's claim that the Zanon workers have demanded the State take over their factory is false. See: Fasinpat. Even the AWL themselves recognised that back in 2009 when they wrote,
“Workers at Zanon, the occupied ceramics factory in Argentina, won a significant victory last week. The regional council administration agreed that the factory is now the legal property of the cooperative that runs it.”
Victory at Zanon - workers' control entrenched.
The example of Zanon, and the way they linked up with the wider community and class struggle is precisely the kind of example of how Co-operatives can integrate with, and be a fundamental aspect of class struggle. In fact, a reading of the experience of Zanon shows that the Capitalist State that the AWL want workers to place their faith in, was one of the main enemies of Zanon workers. Had they followed the example of the Stalinists of the AWL and simply handed the factory back to the ownership of the Capitalist State, then it is almost certain that now, not only would the workers there have no Workers Control, but that they probably would have no jobs either. That has been the experience of all nation-alisations.
What the AWL advocate is the same Stalinist policy that Jimmy Reid, and the Stalinists at Upper Clyde Shipbuilders put forward in the 1970's, when the workers there had occupied the shipyard. They too argued for the workers to give up their achievement in having seized ownership of the means of production, and to hand it back to the Capitalist State. That meant necessarily reducing the struggle to a sectional issue. See: Lessons Of UCS. The same approach was adopted by the French Stalinists in 1968, who advised the workers to hand back the factories they had seized. It is no surprise that the Stalinists of the AWL follow in this well worn path of class betrayal. In a war, had soldiers fought a hard battle to seize territory from the enemy, only to be told by some armchair general to hand it back to the enemy, the troops would know how to quickly deal with such advice. Nor would they be taken in by the idea that they should simply hand the territory back lest they might lose it!
But, this is consistent with the Menshevik “Stages Theory” that was adopted by Stalin, and is now used by the AWL. According to the “Stages Theory”, it was not possible to wage a struggle for Socialism until society had gone through a period of Bourgeois Democracy. The AWL apply this today in their approach to large parts of the world, such as in Iraq. They use it as the basis of arguing in favour of the progressive role of Imperialism. Having lost faith in the working-class, it is “Democratic Imperialism” they see as the vehicle for bringing bourgeois democracy, which they see as having to continue for some time, before a struggle for Socialism is possible. That is why they were opposed to demands for the Iraqi working-class to engage in its own self-activity to oppose the Occupation, as a means of winning the leadership of society, and seeking to transform it in a socialist direction. In other words, they have no conception of the idea of Permanent Revolution, or its associated concept of Combined and Uneven Development. The latter indicates that there is no reason whatsoever why workers who are in advance of other workers should not seek to push forward their advantage, where the possibility arises. If it is possible to develop a more advanced set of productive relations, and social relations based upon them, then it is their duty to do so, and that applies whether we are talking here about a group of workers in a particular enterprise or sector, or workers in a particular state.
This is no different than the argument over Socialism In One Country. Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky did not believe that Socialism was possible on anything less than an extensive international scale, but that did not at all mean that they believed workers had to wait until they could make a revolution everywhere simultaneously. That would never happen! All of the arguments the AWL raise against the idea of workers establishing Co-ops can be equally raised against them carrying through a Revolution to establish a Workers State. See: Proletarian Strategy. The argument is rather about ensuring that each of these bridgeheads is secured, and used to facilitate the workers struggle on a broader front.
What is the logic of the AWL's argument that the workers “do not want to operate in the market”? It is that workers producing goods that no one wants should respond by demanding that the State should pay them. But, what that really means is that other workers should pay them out of their taxes! It is a recipe not for forging unity between workers, but driving a wedge between them. In other words, workers could not be persuaded to voluntarily pay for these goods in the market, so the Capitalist State is asked to intervene to forcibly demand payment through the deduction of taxes. This is one reason that State Socialism has completely failed, and why so many workers completely reject it, whether it is in the form put forward by Stalinist States, or in its Social-Democratic guise. It is, in fact, why we see the current division between workers in the Private Capitalist and State Capitalist sectors. That phenomenon was clearly visible in Sweden, the country which for decades had, under the cover of the Long Wave Boom, built a large State Capitalist sector. If there was anywhere where the kind of approach the AWL advocate could have had traction it was Sweden. But, here too workers in the private Capitalist sector turned on the State Capitalist sector, when it became clear their taxes were continually rising to sustain it. Nor was it right-wing, or reactionary elements that were responsible for this. Rehn & Viklund wrote,
“The unions in private industry – mainly the Metalworkers Union – from having been the leaders of social reform inside the labour movement now appear as more self-centred and 'red-necked'. They play no role in the uphill fight for equal opportunity between the sexes, which many consider the most important issue in the labour market: they have come to accept employer proposals for higher wage differentials; and they have joined the liberal criticism of the public sector, using a rather tough language against their fellow workers.”
“Changes in the Swedish Model” - in G. Baglioni and C. Crouch (Eds) “European Industrial Relations: The Challenge of Flexibility”
But, if we continued the AWL's logic, then what we get is an economy where the production of goods, that no one wants, is generalised, with those producing them remaining content in the knowledge that the State will pay them anyway! It is Welfarism in the extreme, or to put it in its proper historical place, it is the economic system that we saw throughout the Stalinist States of Eastern Europe. Because, if the State will pay you anyway, why would you be bothered whether anyone wants what you produce, why would you be bothered what quality it was. After all, you would have no more connection to the workers, who were the end consumers of what you produce, than you do now. As for your relation to the boss, it would be no different than it is today. Anyone who doubts that should just look at the ubiquitous reports, now available, on workers in the area where, if anywhere, there should be some human connection – in the NHS. Every day we see reports of, particularly elderly, people treated with not even the most basic human dignity. And, why would you if your wage was being paid anyway? It is a well documented phenomena that economists, including Marx, have analysed wherever such monopolistic situations arise, that of rent-seeking.
What the AWL put forward is not Marxism but Idealism, a belief that workers can be something other than what the current society, the current set of property and productive relations makes them. It is not possible to replace these market relations, and the alienation that goes with them, with relations based on our common humanity until we have built new property relations, and new social relations. Even then as Marx sets out the transformation of human beings would be far from automatic, let alone immediate. In the Critique of the Gotha Programme, referring not even to the period of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, but the first stage of Communism, Marx writes,
“What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally, and intellectually, still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it emerges...
But these defects are inevitable in the first phase of communist society as it is when it has just emerged after prolonged birth pangs from capitalist society. Right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and its cultural development conditioned thereby.
In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labour, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labour, has vanished; after labour has become not only a means of life but life's prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly -- only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!”
In the meantime, it will absolutely be necessary to learn to work with the Market, and to utilise it for our own purposes. Lenin himself recognised that in his comments on the role of Co-operatives in the USSR. He wrote,
“We went too far when we reintroduced NEP, but not because we attached too much importance to the principal of free enterprise and trade — we want too far because we lost sight of the cooperatives, because we now underrate cooperatives, because we are already beginning to forget the vast importance of the cooperatives from the above two points of view...
Strictly speaking, there is “only” one thing we have left to do and that is to make our people so “enlightened” that they understand all the advantages of everybody participating in the work of the cooperatives, and organizes participation... There are now no other devices needed to advance to socialism. But to achieve this “only", there must be a veritable revolution—the entire people must go through a period of cultural development... In this respect NEP is an advance, because it is adjustable to the level of the most ordinary peasant and does not demand anything higher of him. But it will take a whole historical epoch to get the entire population into the work of the cooperatives through NEP... The thing now is to learn to combine the wide revolutionary range of action, the revolutionary enthusiasm which we have displayed, and displayed abundantly, and crowned with complete success—to learn to combine this with (I'm almost inclined to say) the ability to be an efficient and capable trader, which is quite enough to be a good cooperator. By ability to be a trader I mean the ability to be a cultured trader. Let those Russians, or peasants, who imagine that since they trade they are good traders, get that well into their heads. This does not follow at all. They do trade, but that is far from being cultured traders. They now trade in an Asiatic manner, but to be a good trader one must trade in the European manner. They are a whole epoch behind in that.”
Clearly, Lenin understood in order to progress to Socialism, even with the benefit of a Workers State behind you, it would not do for workers or peasants to simply feel that they “do not want to operate in the market”! That is all the more the case given the nature of the Market under modern day Capitalism. To listen to the AWL version you would think that the Market today is the same as that of the early 19th Century. That is the vision that the Neo-Classical economists portray not Marxists. As Engels says in his Critique of the Erfurt Programme,
“I am familiar with capitalist production as a social form, or an economic phase; capitalist private production being a phenomenon which in one form or another is encountered in that phase. What is capitalist private production? Production by separate entrepreneurs, which is increasingly becoming an exception. Capitalist production by joint-stock companies is no longer private production but production on behalf of many associated people. And when we pass on from joint-stock companies to trusts, which dominate and monopolise whole branches of industry, this puts an end not only to private production but also to planlessness.”
As Simon Clarke says, in the article referred to earlier,
“Indeed it would be fair to say that the sphere of planning in capitalism is much more extensive than it is in the command economies of the soviet bloc. The scope and scale of planning in giant corporations like Ford, Toyota, GEC or ICI dwarfs that of most, if not all, of the Soviet Ministries. The extent of co-ordination through cartels, trade associations, national governments and international organisations makes Gosplan look like an amateur in the planning game. The scale of the information flows which underpin the stock control and ordering of a single Western retail chain are probably greater than those which support the entire Soviet planning system.”
Moreover, the fact that the Market is abolished does not mean that the Law of Value itself ceases to operate. So long as relative scarcity continues, the value of goods produced, as Marx sets out in the Critique of the Gotha Programme, will continue to be determined by the amount of Labour-time required for their production, and this will mean that choices about how to distribute those goods will have to be arrived at accordingly - “Bourgeois Right” will continue. In other words, abolishing the market does not abolish the competition, which stands behind it. It only changes the form of that Competition. In place of the open competition over the allocation of resources that takes place in the market, what takes its place is hidden competition based upon competing claims by powerful groups – Ministries, powerful industrial groups etc. all of which encourage the rising up of a powerful State apparatus to arbitrate between these competing centres of power. Rather than democratic planning emerging gradually from the ground up, out of the organic links between groups of workers as producers and consumers, what we have is top down, bureaucratic planning – Stalinism.
Some time ago, I was questioned about a comment I had made over at Poumista, where I described the AWL as Stalinist. It is a description I have used in several concrete examples of the AWL's politics over the last few years, particularly in relation to their Popular Frontism. The description of the AWL as a Stalinist sect, as I hope I have demonstrated here, is not just a matter of that Popular Frontism, or their nature as a rather nasty and bureaucratic organisation. The description of Stalinism reflects the nature of the AWL itself, that stems from its sociological base, its weltenshauung, and from that the petit-bourgeois, bureaucratic-centrist politics, which in turn drive its organisational and political methods.
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