Class Consciousness and The Workers Party
We are seeing once again the role of class consciousness and its determination by the material conditons in relation to Greece. In a report, from on the ground in Greece, - Dave Osler - writes,
“Many Marxists have described Greece as being in a pre-revolutionary situation, and I have even used that formulation myself. What has surprised me over the last week is that this is not reflected in an immediate transformation of working class consciousness.
Indeed, some local far leftists do not believe that the ‘pre-revolutionary situation’ label is immediately justified. The full implications of what has happened since 2010 have yet to sink in, they argue. Even after 17 general strikes and counting, Greek Trotskyist organisations have no more support at the ballot box than their British counterparts, and any signs of independent working class self-organisation outside official structures are embryonic and isolated...
Syriza is something of an unknown quantity. Many revolutionary socialists here, including SEK, the local equivalent of the SWP in Britain, and OKDE Spartakos, Greek section of the Fourth International, highlight its reformist limitations, maintaining that the Greek ruling class could happily live with a Syriza-led government. Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras may talk the talk, but is unlikely to walk the walk, they believe.
The two groups, together with around eight others, are putting forward their own slate this weekend. It is likely to secure the backing of just a fraction of one percentage point of the electorate, leaving the point of the exercise rather open to question.”
As Engels said about Workers' Parliamentary representation, it is nothing more than an index of the class consciousness of the workers. The programme and development of the Workers' Party, is in reality nothing more than that either, and cannot be if it is to be an actual reflection of the Workers as their Party, though, of course, this is not a mechanical one to one relation. The true function of a Workers Party in the Parliamentary sphere – both at a local and national government level - is to act to legitimise the actions of the workers outside those Parliamentary structures, to use them as a tribune to promote, and organise the workers struggle. But, it is necessary to understand by this that when we speak of the working class here, we are speaking of the class in its majority, not simply of the tiny minority of activists.
Mike believes that the German SPD was a Workers' Party founded on Marxist principles that won the support of millions of workers. I believe it was nothing of the sort, and that its “degeneration” to be indistinguishable from the LP was inevitable. As Hal Draper has pointed out,
“That very model of a modern social-democracy, the German Social-Democratic Party, is often represented as having arisen on a Marxist basis. This is a myth, like so much else in extant histories of socialism. The impact of Marx was strong, including on some of the top leaders for a while, but the politics which permeated and finally pervaded the party came mainly from two other sources. One was Lassalle, who founded German socialism as an organized movement (1863); and the other was the British Fabians, who inspired Eduard Bernstein’s “revisionism.””
If Mike really wanted to point to a Marxist organisation that differed from the LP, then he probably really ought to be looking to the Bolsheviks rather than to the German SPD. Yet, the reality, there is also rather different from the mythology that Leninists/Trotskyists have portrayed.
In the elections to the Constituent Assembly, after the seizure of power, by the Bolsheviks, they secured just 25% of the vote, the majority still going to the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries. Leninists/Trotskyists have always dismissed this, and the Bolsheviks response of shutting down the Constituent Assembly, by repeating Lenin's argument that the elections were invalid, because they were based on outdated electoral rolls etc. Moreover, a new higher form of democracy, based on the Soviets, had been established. In theory, the Soviets were a higher form of democracy, a direct workers' democracy, as opposed to a bourgeois representative democracy. But, what was the reality? In his “History of the Russian Revolution” Trotsky reports, on the situation prior to the Bolsheviks securing a majority in the Petrograd Soviet,
“There were over 150,000 soldiers in Petrograd. There were at least four times as many working men and women of all categories. Nevertheless for every two worker-delegates in the Soviet there were five soldiers. The rules of representation were extremely elastic (I’ll say AB), and they were always stretched to the advantage of the soldiers. Whereas the workers elected only one delegate for every thousand, the most petty military unit would frequently send two. The grey army cloth became the general ground-tone of the Soviet.
“But by no means all even of the civilians were selected by workers. No small number of people got into the Soviet by individual invitation, through pull, or simply thanks to their own penetrative ability. Radical lawyers, physicians, students, journalists, representing various problematical groups – or most often representing their own ambition. This obviously distorted character of the Soviet was even welcomed by the leaders, who were not a bit sorry to dilute the too concentrated essence of factory and barrack with the lukewarm water of cultivated Philistia. Many of these accidental crashers-in, seekers of adventure, self-appointed Messiahs, and professional bunk shooters, for a long time crowded out with their authoritative elbows the silent workers and irresolute soldiers.
“And if this was so in Petrograd, it is not hard to imagine how it looked in the provinces, where the victory came wholly without struggle.” (Trotsky – History of the Russian Revolution pp234-5)
|Soviets of Workers Deputies or|
I have been elected to many such bodies over the last 40 years, but I have never been deluded enough to believe that it meant that those who elected me did so on the basis of agreeing with my politics! Similarly, I was elected to two successive terms as a County Councillor, with votes on both occasions of over 3,000, securing more than 50% of the vote on each occasion. It wasn't an indication of the vote of 3,000 revolutionary workers. When I was elected to Stoke City Council I received one of the largest votes ever recorded for the seat, in an election with a record turnout. That was despite the fact that the former Labour Councillor stood against me as an Independent, and that, even had my politics not been loudly proclaimed by me, the fact that the local newspaper, nightly, ran stories, on their front pages, against me, would have left no one in doubt where I stood. But, I was in no doubt that had I stood as a member of the International Communist League, my vote would have been a fraction of that, though probably still, given my implantation, in the local working-class, at the time, still rather more, even in a City Council election, than the 75 votes the AWL managed to secure in a General Election!
Yet, many on the Left continue to be happy to delude themselves in that way. It can only lead to disaster. In May 1968, hundreds of thousands of French workers and students rose up in revolt. The workers occupied many factories, and the students the Universities. In the end, the workers were persuaded, by the French Communist Party, to hand back the factories, and the workers and students, once again, settled for reforms within the system. De Gaulle called elections, and the Right won handsomely. The Left's explanation for this, is that the betrayal of the Communist Party led workers to see no alternative but the status quo. The alternative explanation is that, even with hundreds of thousands of workers occupying the factories, a majority of workers, not to mention the middle class and peasants, were not involved. To them, the events, seen from the outside must have seemed chaotic, and anarchic. It is no wonder they turned to the Party of Order. Had the occupations continued, or if they had turned into Workers Ownership and Control, in the form of Co-ops, then what they might have seen was not chaos and anarchy, but a new kind of order, a glimpse at the future. Marxists have always had this problem with time scales, its partly what leads to the kind of Ultra-Leftism that Lenin describes in Left-Wing Communism. They think that because they see things clearly, then under the appropriate conditions the scales will be lifted from the workers eyes too, and they will see the same reality. But changes in workers consciousness do not occur on that kind of schedule.
In relation to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, for example Lenin sets out the discussions that were held. Trotsky's argument was to try to delay signing on the basis that it would give time for the German workers to revolt. But, as Lenin says, this was a mistake with hindsight, precisely because the pace of changes in workers consciousness is much slower than the pace of change on the battlefield. The German workers did eventually rise up in revolt at the end of the War, but that was long after the German army had already seized large amounts of Russian territory. Had Russia signed the Treaty sooner, they would possibly have lost less territory.
But, as Draper points out, the reality is that there is less difference between Bolshevik type organisations (though Draper phrases this in terms of Stalinism) and the Social Democrats than most Leninists care to believe. He writes,
“These two self-styled socialisms are very different, but they have more in common than they think. The social democracy has typically dreamed of “socializing” capitalism from above. Its principle has always been that increased state intervention in society and economy is per se socialistic. It bears a fatal family resemblance to the Stalinist conception of imposing something called socialism from the top down, and of equating statification with socialism. Both have their roots in the ambiguous history of the socialist idea...
What unites the many different forms of Socialism-from-Above is the conception that socialism (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) must be handed down to the grateful masses in one form or another, by a ruling elite which is not subject to their control in fact. The heart of Socialism-from-Below is its view that socialism can be realized only through the self-emancipation of activized masses in motion, reaching out for freedom with their own hands, mobilized “from below” in a struggle to take charge of their own destiny, as actors (not merely subjects) on the stage of history. “The emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves”: this is the first sentence in the Rules written for the First International by Marx, and this is the First Principle of his lifework.
It is the conception of Socialism-from-Above which accounts for the acceptance of Communist dictatorship as a form of “socialism.” It is the conception of Socialism-from-Above which concentrates social-democratic attention on the parliamentary superstructure of society and on the manipulation of the “commanding heights” of the economy, and which makes them hostile to mass action from below. It is Socialism-from-Above which is the dominant tradition in the development of socialism.”
So, it is no coincidence that the German SPD ends up in the same place as the British LP, because in reality, the starting position was not so different either. It is no surprise that the German SPD, or any of the other European Socialist Parties, and even Communist Parties, were able, like the Labour Party to win over the masses of workers. They were not being won over to a revolutionary, socialist programme, based upon their own self-activity, and a transformation of property relations, but only to a set of ideas, which their material conditions, under Capitalism, already led them, a set of ideas based upon an amelioration of their condition, and bargaining within the system. In fact, as Engels had pointed out, this set of ideas was not at all at odds with the ideas, or interests, of the dominant Capitalists.
“Thus the truck system was suppressed, the Ten Hours’ Bill was enacted, and a number of other secondary reforms introduced — much against the spirit of Free Trade and unbridled competition, but quite as much in favour of the giant-capitalist in his competition with his less favoured brother. Moreover, the larger the concern, and with it the number of hands, the greater the loss and inconvenience caused by every conflict between master and men; and thus a new spirit came over the masters, especially the large ones, which taught them to avoid unnecessary squabbles, to acquiesce in the existence and power of Trades’ Unions, and finally even to discover in strikes — at opportune times — a powerful means to serve their own ends. The largest manufacturers, formerly the leaders of the war against the working-class, were now the foremost to preach peace and harmony. And for a very good reason. The fact is that all these concessions to justice and philanthropy were nothing else but means to accelerate the concentration of capital in the hands of the few, for whom the niggardly extra extortions of former years had lost all importance and had become actual nuisances; and to crush all the quicker and all the safer their smaller competitors, who could not make both ends meet without such perquisites.”
Engels – The Condition of The Working Class in England
In other words, the ideas that the Social Democracy really represented were merely a reflection of the historic compromise between workers and Big Capital. In industry, this was manifested in Fordism, within the State it was manifest in the establishment of Welfare States. It was manifest in various examples of Corporatism and Social Contract, and, not surprisingly, Germany has been one of the classic examples of that, with the incorporation of the Trades Unions, through the Works Councils. The reality is, when Mike sees the old SPD as the model for building a new Marxist Workers Party, he is not as far away from those he criticises for wanting to create a LP Mark II, as he would like to think.
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