This is an extended version of a recent letter, to the Weekly Worker, responding to Mike McNair's argument in relation to the – Labour Party. Mike's article was itself a response to my earlier letter, which was, in turn, a response to a previous article by Mike. The issues raised expose serious questions that Marxists need to address in relation to the issues of the role played by both structure and struggle, and how we apply the theory of Historical Materialism, and the method of dialectical logic.
In his original article of 12th April, Mike set out the CPGB's attitude towards the LP. The CPGB adhere to the conventional Leninist description of the Labour Party as a “Bourgeois Workers Party”. This description, developed by Lenin, is based on the idea that the LP is a Party, which is based upon the working-class, particularly via its historic link, with the Trades Unions, its membership is drawn largely from the working-class, its voting base resides, largely, within the working-class, but the Party has never been founded upon the ideas of Marxism (or even Socialism), but has, from the beginning, been based on a bourgeois ideology, which commits it merely to seeking reforms within Capitalism. In fact, this ideology of reformism, or bargaining within the system, is merely an extension, into the political sphere, of the ideas which lie behind Trades Unionism. This makes the Labour Party different to the Workers' Parties developed in the rest of Europe, for example in Germany, which were founded upon Marxist principles.
Herein lies what I think is the crux of the argument. The distinction here is that the other Workers' Parties were established not on bourgeois ideas, but on Marxist principles. The reason these parties, every one, ended up indistinguishable from the LP, in the ideas they promote, is seen as being down to some kind of degeneration, rather than the actual nature of these Parties at inception, or the material conditions within society, which conditioned that. Often, the degeneration is laid at the feet of the leaders of these parties, who “betrayed” the working-class, and the principles they once proclaimed.
The implications, for the CPGB, of this, are clear. Those who declare that the Labour Party is not now a bourgeois Workers' Party, but a bourgeois Party pure and simple, are wrong, Mike argues – correctly. The Labour Party continues to attract the support of the vast majority of workers. Any attempt to create some new “Workers' Party”, that simply recreates the old Labour Party, is then not only pointless – because why would Marxists want to create a bourgeois Workers Party? - but is doomed to failure, because no space exists to create such a Party, given that workers continue to adhere to Labour. That has been repeatedly shown in the abysmal performances of the Left, where they have stood, and by the strong showing of Labour, in working-class districts, in 2010.
If Marxists are to seek to build a new Workers' Party then, Mike argues, they should build, not a new bourgeois Workers Party, not a LP Mark II, but a new Marxist Party, even if that Party is very small to begin with. They should begin by uniting their own forces for such a project. This doesn't preclude such a Party working within the LP, but they should do so on the basis that Lenin had proposed, by demanding to be allowed in, as an affiliated organisation, on the same basis as, say, the Fabian Society. In the meantime, those outside the LP are to be free to continue to act in such a way as to ensure no such demand would be granted, and to alienate ordinary workers within the LP, by, for example, standing their own candidates, in elections, against Labour, or supporting other candidates, against Labour, as the CPGB did in relation to TUSC.
|Hegel's Dialectic saw the |
material world as a reflection
of the unfolding of The Idea
There are a number of elements in this approach, which I would take issue with, as I set out in my letter of 19th April. It sees struggle almost entirely in ideological terms, and in the process also privileges struggle over structure, seeing the latter as almost entirely a function of the former, a shapeless form that can be simply given shape by a top down process of ideological determination. So, the primary task is seen as being the establishment of the necessary structure – the Marxist Party – and the means of achieving this is through struggle, which in turn is essentially reduced to an ideological struggle. So class struggle becomes primarily a struggle to “Build The Party”. The first thing to say is that this approach belies a strangely narrow Parliamentarist approach for a revolutionary organisation. Its whole emphasis revolves around seeing the activities of the revolutionaries in electoralist terms. That is not necessarily electoralism in the sense of winning bourgeois Parliamentary elections, but in the broader sense that the Left has consumed itself with. That is of seeing everything in terms of passing resolutions, through Trade Union or other Labour Movement bodies, and of getting its supporters elected to positions within it. This is the necessary consequence of privileging ideas over material conditions in the dialectical relation between the two. It also provides an explanation as to why each of the sects fails to unite with others, because each privileges its own ideas over the ideas of every other sect, as each seeks to build its own “Party”, as the necessary precondition for any further development. In his latest response, Mike seems to argue that, if material conditions have any role to play, it is in that they create conditions, in society, that necessarily lead the workers to oppose the bosses, and, on the basis of that opposition, to automatically be driven towards socialist ideas, thereby facilitating the work of the Marxists in winning them over. But, as I pointed out in my letter of the 19th April,
|"Revolutionaries" have often captured positions, |
but on what real basis, to what real effect?
In other words, as Marxists, we recognise that ideas do not spring into existence out of the ether as the Idealists suppose. Certain sets of ideas gain traction, not for wholly inexplicable reasons, but do so because they represent the real experiences of human beings in their everyday lives. But, this is not some mechanical process, whereby, for example, workers experience the horrors of Capitalism and automatically become Socialists! Were that the case, there would be no need for a Workers Party, and Capitalism would have been swept away long ago. In fact, quite the opposite is the case. It is the experience of every day life, under Capitalism, that, not only reproduces the material foundations of the system, that reproduces Capital and Wage Labour, but it is the fact, as Marx sets out in Capital, in the Grundrisse, and elsewhere, that these are, in reality, two sides of the same social relation, which ensures that it also reproduces the very ideological basis upon which it rests. To the extent that it does not, it has the fall back of the Capitalist State, whose function is also to ensure the reproduction of the material conditions of Capitalism (a Welfare State to ensure the adequate reproduction of Labour Power, a Warfare State to secure the external defence of domestic Capital, property laws to defend Capital internally, bodies of armed men to defend it physically from internal dissent, and a panoply of ideological means from the Schools and Universities, through the Churches, and the media to ensure conformity within the bounds of pluralism) as well as the continued dominance of bourgeois ideas.
|The Fabian view of Socialism was workers|
settling merely for an amelioration of their
condition under Capitalism through Economistic
distributional struggles over wages and the Social Wage.
As Marx and Engels pointed out, these kinds of struggles are extremely limited precisely because they occur within, and accept the continuation of the structures of Capitalism.
“The history of these Unions is a long series of defeats of the working-men, interrupted by a few isolated victories. All these efforts naturally cannot alter the economic law according to which wages are determined by the relation between supply and demand in the labour market. Hence the Unions remain powerless against all great forces which influence this relation. In a commercial crisis the Union itself must reduce wages or dissolve wholly; and in a time of considerable increase in the demand for labour, it cannot fix the rate of wages higher than would be reached spontaneously by the competition of the capitalists among themselves.”
“I think I have shown that their struggles for the standard of wages are incidents inseparable from the whole wages system, that in 99 cases out of 100 their efforts at raising wages are only efforts at maintaining the given value of labour, and that the necessity of debating their price with the capitalist is inherent to their condition of having to sell themselves as commodities. By cowardly giving way in their everyday conflict with capital, they would certainly disqualify themselves for the initiating of any larger movement.
At the same time, and quite apart from the general servitude involved in the wages system, the working class ought not to exaggerate to themselves the ultimate working of these everyday struggles. They ought not to forget that they are fighting with effects, but not with the causes of those effects; that they are retarding the downward movement, but not changing its direction; that they are applying palliatives, not curing the malady. They ought, therefore, not to be exclusively absorbed in these unavoidable guerilla fights incessantly springing up from the never ceasing encroachments of capital or changes of the market. They ought to understand that, with all the miseries it imposes upon them, the present system simultaneously engenders the material conditions and the social forms necessary for an economical reconstruction of society.”
In other words, here we have the question posed in stark contrast of structure and struggle. So long as workers remain within the structure of Capitalism, the limits of their struggles are defined. As Luxemburg put it,
“In other words, the objective conditions of capitalist society transform the two economic functions of the trade unions into a sort of labour of Sisyphus...”
|The Miners Strike was heroic but|
what has been the long term effect
on workers class consciousness?
As Marx put it,
“For revolutions require a passive element, a material basis. Theory is fulfilled in a people only insofar as it is the fulfilment of the needs of that people. But will the monstrous discrepancy between the demands of German thought and the answers of German reality find a corresponding discrepancy between civil society and the state, and between civil society and itself? Will the theoretical needs be immediate practical needs? It is not enough for thought to strive for realization, reality must itself strive towards thought.”
Forward To Part 2