|Mondragon Workers Co-operative University|
“The point about cooperatives is that they typically operate in the market, facing constant pressures to function more and more like ordinary capitalist businesses or go under.”
They say this as though, whilst Capitalism continues, it is ever possible to escape the market! They say this as though they have not even noticed that the Capitalist State, they want the workers to place their faith in, is not currently cutting its workers' wages, and pensions, throwing hundreds of thousands of its workers on to the dole, as well as slashing the provision of the services it provides! Just look at the provision of Health and Education. Both of these commodities have been mass produced by the Capitalist State in the interests of Capital, in the interests of the market! Everyone knows that these commodities are not provided equally or on the basis of need, and every survey shows it. In affluent areas, not only is the need for Health, Education and Social Care less, because those in these areas already enjoy better lifestyles, access to culture, books, computers etc, and everything that goes with it, but these areas, DESPITE that, get better provision of these services than deprived areas. Some of that is due to simple things such as the fact that teachers generally prefer to teach in areas where they can obtain success, and there is no problem recruiting GP's to work in affluent areas, but always a shortage of GP's for deprived areas. But, the real reason is that in affluent areas, Labour-Power, particularly high value, skilled, educated, Labour-Power is in short supply, and it is in these areas that the high-value businesses tend to be located. In deprived areas, however, it is usually low value, low skilled industries, which have plentiful supplies of low-paid, low skilled, poorly educated workers, who can be easily replaced out of the Reserve Army of Labour, constantly available in such places.
One of the reasons that workers need to rescue important services such as Health, Education and Social Care out of the hands of the Capitalist State, is precisely so that they can begin to plan it, and provide it on the basis of their needs, and not the needs of the Capitalists. That can only be done if workers themselves have ownership of these services.
Or take another example, that of Coal. Immediately after Nation-alisation, it was geared to the needs of the market. Hundreds of pits were closed, and hundreds of thousands of miners were sacked. The “Plan For Coal” was never a strategic plan for Energy production and consumption, but merely a means of gearing Coal to meet market needs which ultimately led to the 1984-5 Strike, and the closure of nearly all the industry.
If the AWL think that the workers are treated badly at the Co-op or John Lewis, and argue,
“The Cooperative, which runs many supermarkets and other businesses, for instance, was founded by workers as part of the labour movement. But today, despite its lack of shareholders, it is hardly distinguishable from a normal capitalist firm. Its workers certainly do not see much difference; the GMB union has clashed more than once with Coop management. (Talk to anyone who’s worked at John Lewis for a similar, but worse, picture)”
then, in asking the workers to place their faith in the tender mercies of the AWL's friends in the Capitalist State, they should ask Miners from the time what they thought of having Maggie Thatcher for a boss!!!
Kautsky in the Erfurt Programme described this,
“If the modern state nationalizes certain industries, it does not do so for the purpose of restricting capitalist exploitation, but for the purpose of protecting the capitalist system and establishing it upon a firmer basis, or for the purpose of itself taking a hand in the exploitation of labour, increasing its own revenues, and thereby reducing the contributions for its own support which it would otherwise have to impose upon the capitalist class. As an exploiter of labour, the state is superior to any private capitalist. Besides the economic power of the capitalists, ii can also bring to bear upon the exploited classes the political power which it already wields.
The state has never carried on the nationalizing of industries further than the interests of the ruling classes demanded, nor will it ever go further than that. So long as the property-holding classes are the ruling ones, the nationalization of industries and capitalist functions will never be carried so far as to injure the capitalists and landlords or to restrict their opportunities for exploiting the proletariat.”
So speaks the revolutionary Kautsky against the reformist/Stalinist AWL. And, of course, the AWL are factually wrong when they say that the Co-op and John Lewis do not have shareholders. They do. In both cases the shareholders are the workers. In the first case, it is workers as consumers, in the second the workers of the firm itself. What the AWL are actually saying is that they have no faith in workers being able to act collectively, and democratically, and when a problem with that arises, rather than get their hands dirty by involving themselves with those workers to sort it out, they prefer to act like true sectarians, and go their own way. They operate the same method in relation to the LP. And, of course, a lot of the basis for this approach goes back to Rosa Luxemburg, who made the same arguments in relation to the Trades Unions, (See:Reform or Revolution) but whose comments have to be read in the context of the polemic she was waging against the Revisionists. Indeed, its true that workers fail to take part in the democracy of their Trades Unions, just as they do in relation to Consumer Co-ops, and Trades Unions, by their nature, are dominated by bourgeois ideology, by the need to operate within the constraints of the Capitalist Market. The logic of the AWL ought to be to leave the Trades Unions too, and set up their own “pure” unions, free from the problems that the real world imposes on real workers, and their struggles. Or, if they followed their logic consistently, they would argue that workers should avoid the problems the market imposes on organising Trades Unions, and instead demand that the Capitalist State nation-alise the Trades Unions – under Workers Control, of course!!!
There is none of the Lassallean, Utopian nonsense about the State being able to operate outside the market, prior to the establishment of Communism, in any of the works of Marx and Engels. In fact, in the Critique of the Gotha Programme and elsewhere Marx and Engels, argued specifically against such notions. Speaking not just of how things stand for workers now, or even under the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, but under the first stage of Communism, Marx writes,
“Here, obviously, the same principle prevails as that which regulates the exchange of commodities, as far as this is exchange of equal values. Content and form are changed, because under the altered circumstances no one can give anything except his labour, and because, on the other hand, nothing can pass to the ownership of individuals, except individual means of consumption. But as far as the distribution of the latter among the individual producers is concerned, the same principle prevails as in the exchange of commodity equivalents: a given amount of labour in one form is exchanged for an equal amount of labour in another form.
Hence, equal right here is still in principle -- bourgeois right, although principle and practice are no longer at loggerheads, while the exchange of equivalents in commodity exchange exists only on the average and not in the individual case.”
Nor, is the conflict between the interests of workers and the State restricted to just the Capitalist State. In the early 1920's there was a major dispute between Lenin and Trotsky over the question of the Trades Unions precisely on this question. (see: Lenin - The trade unions,
the present situation and Trotsky's mistakes. Lenin insisted that the workers needed their own independent Trades Unions to defend themselves against the Workers State, whereas Trotsky who had already introduced militarisation of Labour in the Transport Ministry, which he and his supporters controlled, saw the Trades Unions as acting as conduits for the Party, and for the State into the class. Lenin writes,
“Our Party Programme—a document which the author of the ABC of Communism knows very well—shows that ours is a workers’ state with a bureaucratic twist to it. We have had to mark it with this dismal, shall I say, tag. There you have the reality of the transition. Well, is it right to say that in a state that has taken this shape in practice the trade unions have nothing to protect, or that we can do without them in protecting the material and spiritual interests of the massively organised proletariat? No, this reasoning is theoretically quite wrong. It takes us into the sphere of abstraction or an ideal we shall achieve in 15 or 20 years’ time, and I am not so sure that we shall have achieved it even by then. What we actually have before us is a reality of which we have a good deal of knowledge, provided, that is, we keep our heads, and do not let ourselves be carried away by intellectualist talk or abstract reasoning, or by what may appear to be “theory” but is in fact error and misapprehension of the peculiarities of transition. We now have a state under which it is the business of the massively organised proletariat to protect itself, while we, for our part, must use these workers’ organisations to protect the workers from their state, and to get them to protect our state. Both forms of protection are achieved through the peculiar interweaving of our state measures and our agreeing or “coalescing” with our trade unions.”
Of course, one of the reasons that Trotsky had introduced militarisation of labour on the railways was precisely because the rail workers were one of the most educated and advanced sections of the class, and their support for the Mensheviks was long established. It was a means of undermining opposition within the class to the Bolshevik Government. As David Law wrote many years ago one of the reasons that it was Stalin, and not Trotsky, who was able to win the support of workers, within the Bolshevik Party, was precisely because, during all this earlier period, Trotsky had shown little concern for pushing the interests of the workers against the bureaucrats. It is for the same reason, as Trotsky himself admits, that it was to him, rather than Stalin, who those bureaucrats first turned in search of their own champion within the party. Critique 2, published in 1973 on the 50th Anniversary of the Declaration of the 46, carried an article by David Law entitled “The Left Opposition in 1923”. In it he writes,
“Besides considerable strength in Moscow, perhaps even an actual majority, the Opposition had managed to capture Party organisations in Ryazan, Penza, Kaluga, Simbirsk and Chelyabinsk. The Opposition’s strength in these provincial towns was plausibly attributed to there being, in those centres, a predominance of Party officials transferred as a reprisal for their dissident opinions. In Moscow the strength of the Opposition lay in the State administration (particularly in economic bodies), and student cells. The opposition was comparatively weak amongst the working class. No doubt this was partly a result of the past record of various members of the Opposition on questions of industrial management, and also partly because questions of immediate working class interest, such as wages, were not given any prominence. Whatever the reasons, in Moscow, at a time when it was gaining majorities among the students, the Opposition could only win 67 out of 346 cells of industrial workers.” (p47)
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