Sunday, 2 December 2007

The Tendency For the Rate of Profit to Rise

In Capital Vol III Part III, Marx sets out his theory on “The Law of the Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall.” See: Capital Vol III.

Right at the beginning Marx shows how the same quantity of Variable Capital (Labour Power), and the same rate of surplus value creates varying rates of profit depending upon the division between Constant Capital (machinery, buildings, raw materials) and Variable Capital, or as Marx calls it the Organic Composition of Capital. So:

If c = 50, and v = 100, then p' = 100/150 = 66⅔%;
c = 100, and v = 100, then p' = 100/200 = 50%;
c = 200, and v = 100, then p' = 100/300 = 33⅓%;
c = 300, and v = 100, then p' = 100/400 = 25%;
c = 400, and v = 100, then p' = 100/500 = 20%.

Marx demonstrates that as a result of progress this Organic Composition naturally increases, and so there is a tendency over time for the Rate of profit to fall. As with many other parts of Marx’s Capital, this part has caused some controversy over the years. For some Marxists the “Tendency” bit of Marx’s description of his theory has been ignored turning it simply into a “Law” that the rate of profit must fall, and this has been placed at the heart often of these Marxists explanations of Capitalist crises, and also of the need for imperialism i.e. for Capital to seek out new sources of Labour Power to consume. What such writers tend to minimise is the other parts of Marx’s theory here where he outlines why the Theory is only a tendency, why there are countervailing effects which mitigate this tendency. I intend to demonstrate here why not only does modern capitalism have features which mitigate the tendency for the Rate of profit to fall, but why the very nature of modern capitalism means that these countervailing effects result not in a tendency for he rate to fall, but for it to rise.

First, let us consider why it is that the Organic Composition of Capital rises. Marx sets out a number of causes I intend to concentrate on just some, the reader can investigate all of them via the link above. Firstly, Capital needs to create a Reserve Army of labour. It needs this for several reasons. IN the first place capitalism is a dynamic system. Capital moves from one area of production to another in search of higher rates of profit, which in part are a function of changes in consumer demand. Not only Capital as Constant Capital has to move, but Capital in the form of Labour Power has to move too. But, there must arise necessary frictions. Labour will not be in the right place, will not be of the right type etc. Moreover, Capital expands as economic growth takes place, and this expansion will continually mean that more labour power is required. The movement of Capital from one area to another, and the expansion of Capital can only take place if there is available Labour Power to be employed i.e. if there is always a reserve of Labour. Secondly, if wages are to be kept down to the Value of Labour Power then the demand of Labour Power must not exceed its supply, and preferably if workers are to be forced sellers of their Labour Power – and they must be so if they can be persuaded to remain wage slaves i.e. to provide part of their Labour Power gratis to the Capitalist – Supply must be greater than demand. For example, Marx sets out that even as late as the last third of the 18th century, even landless labourers still had the ability through the utilisation of the Common Land etc. to provide enough of their daily requirements for themselves that Capitalists could only persuade them to work 3 days a week to cover their additional needs. The result was that the supply of Labour Power remained low, and the conditions upon which it was sold were so favourable to the workers that Marx says Capitalists found they were unable to make any sizeable profit. The early industrial Capitalists were forced to accumulate Capital not as they do today through the appropriation of Surplus Value from many workers, but by keeping their own consumption to a minimum, often below that of their workers. This was despite Laws remaining on the Statute book from the 15th century setting a Minimum length of Working Day etc.

One means by which Capitalists can create this Reserve Army of Labour is by utilising where possible machinery instead of Labour Power. Provided the cost of the machinery (which ultimately means the amount of Labour Time needed for its production) is less than the cost of the Labour Power it displaces there is an incentive for the Capitalist to make this substitution. Consequently, there is a natural tendency for the amount of machinery used in production to rise, and for Labour Power to fall. As Marx sets out above, the consequence must be that the Rate of profit declines.

Secondly, technological developments mean that improved machinery can hugely increase the productivity of labour. Even if we assume that this technological development causes the cost of the machinery to remain constant, the same amount of Labour Power will now consume a much larger quantity of raw materials etc. Suppose the Capital of a firm is made up of £100 of machinery, £100 of Materials and £100 of Labour Power. With a 100% rate of Surplus value the Surplus Value will be £100. The Rate of Profit will be 100/300 or 33.3%. Now assume a new machine is developed which costs the same as the previous machine, but which doubles the productivity of the Labour Power consumed. The same amount of Labour Power now requires twice the materials previously used up. The situation now is £100 in machinery, £200 in Materials, and £100 in Labour Power. With the rate of Surplus Value remaining the same the Rate of Profit is now 100/400 or 25%.

This is the basis for the Tendency of the rate of Profit to fall, and there are strong empirical grounds for believing that over a long period Marx’s theory here is valid. But Marx also sets out the reasons why this theory is no “Iron Law”. One of the first reasons that can be cited is that outlined above. The process of utilising machinery is not merely a matter of utilising more machinery of the same type. This will tend to be true for particular periods, but due to innovation there will be entire periods when the Value of Constant Capital in the form of machinery is depreciated. The very process of development reduces the Value of Constant Capital, and with this falling Value comes also a fall in the Organic Composition of Capital. If we take the example above, but with a slight modification we might have:
£50 Machinery, £100 Materials, £100 Labour power, £100 Surplus value. Rate of profit 100/250 = 40%.

Here the new machine does not enhance the productivity of Labour and so the same quantity of labour does not set in motion more materials, it is simply that the cost of the machine has fallen, causing a fall in the Organic Composition of Capital and a consequent rise in the rate of profit. But, the same can be said of the other inputs too. Increasing productivity can also reduce the amount of Labour Power required to produce not just the machinery, but also the materials consumed. Increasing productivity can result in the wage goods bought by the worker becoming much cheaper, and so the Value of Labour Power falls meaning that in a given working day the worker reproduces their wages in a shorter period, and so more of the working day is appropriated by the Capitalist as Surplus Value. So we have.

Machinery £50, Materials £50, Labour Power £100, Surplus Value £100 – Rate of profit 100/200 = 50%.

Machinery £50, Materials £50, Labour Power £50, Surplus Value £150 – Rate of profit 150/150 = 100%.

Here if we assume a working day of 8 hours then formerly the worker worked for 4 hours to reproduce their Labour power, and provided the remaining 4 hours gratis to the Capitalist. If rising productivity means that the Value of Labour Power is halved, the worker now reproduces their wages in just 2 hours, the remaining 6 hours now being appropriated by the Capitalist i.e. the rate of Surplus Value rises from 100% to 300%.

Over a long period as Kondratieff demonstrates there is clear evidence of this countervailing tendency to operate too. At the end of the periods of Long Wave expansion when demand for Labour Power has reached a peak, when the cost of all inputs including machinery and materials are at their highest, and consequently when the Rate of profit is lowest, there is a strong incentive for innovation, for means to build a better mousetrap, to find cheaper materials, cheaper labour power, or to be able to use less labour Power etc. But innovation does not happen to order. The innovation cycle tends then to correspond more to periods of downturn, and the base technologies developed during this period are taken up only sporadically. It is the new Long Wave upswing which sees them incorporated into new products and new methods of production – just as the base technologies of IT and biotechnology developed over the last 20-30 years, are only now beginning to revolutionise production, and to be incorporated into ever new items of consumption. As Kondratieff also shows the position in respect of materials is more complex. During the Long downswing demand for materials necessarily falls at least relatively. But, the producers of these materials having invested huge amounts of Capital in new mines etc. need to operate this Capital at pretty much a constant level. Supply remains constant or slightly increases at least for part of the time, whilst demand falls. Prices fall. The response is for raw material producers to abandon the search for new materials, to stretch out existing machinery to the end of its life etc. By the end of the Long downswing Capital investment in these industries is low, and exploration is almost non-existent. Existing mines are becoming exhausted, and marginal production costs rising. When the new long upswing arrives then Supply cannot increase rapidly enough to meet demand. Prices rise – just look at the rise in the price of Copper, Lead and other metals over the last 7 or 8 years corresponding to the beginning of the new K cycle. As the demand for Labour Power rises and new reserves of labour are employed the demand for wage goods such as food increases – again look at the rise in soft commodity prices over that period as demand from the millions of new workers in India and China raises demand – the current rise in the price of wheat is a special case caused not just by the above, but the additional effect of the demand for alternatives to oil through bio-fuel causing a switch of production from food to ethanol. It is only the more than compensating effect of the rising productivity caused by the introduction of new production methods developed in the Innovation cycle which prevents these rising prices from choking off the new upswing, together with the fact that at the beginning of the upswing not only is Labour Power still in abundance – because the existing workers now form a bigger reserve - but also because new sources of Labour Power – for example China, India – now provide a new source of Labour power where the Value of labour power is lower, and consequently the Rate of Surplus Value – particularly as the latest techniques can still be employed to gain the highest productivity from this labour – is much greater.

Marx, however, also sets out limits to the compensating effects. The simplest example is in relation to the degree to which Labour Power can be exploited. Machinery can replace Labour Power in the Production process, and in so doing raise the productivity of Labour Power. The result is that the Rate of Surplus Value rises, thereby causing the rate of profit to rise. But as Marx, explains there are limits to this. The working day cannot be longer than 24 hours. Even if the productivity of Labour rises so that the amount of time out of this 24 that a worker requires to meet their own needs falls to just 1 hour, leaving 23 hours to be appropriated by the capitalist, the amount of surplus value appropriated will still be less than from 24 workers who provide just 1 hour of surplus value for the Capitalist.

This then in brief – as I said above the reader should read Marx’s theory in detail at the link to Capital provided above – is Marx’s theory. I now intend to set out why modern Capitalism rather than having a tendency for the rate of Profit to fall, has trhe opposite a tendency for the rate of profit to rise.

1) The cost of Capital. In the last 20 years the rate of technological change has speeded up considerably. In the last 10 years it has speeded up even faster, and in the last 5 faster still. The reason for this is quite simple – the development of cheap computing power, whose power doubles every 18 months. This cheap computing power now means that its application to a whole range of other technologies has revolutionised them too, in a way that a reliance purely on human brain power could never have done. The unravelling of the human genome is a striking example with the actual task accomplished ultimately within about 18 months, when it was first considered when the task began that it would be either impossible or a lifetime’s work. Yet during the time from the beginning of the project, just a few years, computing power had increased so exponentially that in the end the sequencing became quite easy. The ability then to use this power in relation to other technologies, bio-technology for instance, or in relation to nano-technology, has revolutionised production already, and is revolutionising consumption too. The consequence is that the cost of Capital is being reduced dramatically, whilst the effectiveness of that Capital is rising exponentially.

2) The Nature of Production and Consumption. A recent survey reported by CNN stated that by 2012 30% of Britons would be dollar millionaires. A look around any estate other than the most deprived shows a working class that can no longer be described meaningfully as a slave class, other than in Marx’s restricted meaning of that term as having to give part of its labour away free to the capitalist as a condition of employment. Marx’s working class spent most of its wages on the basics of living, food, shelter and clothing. That is no longer the case. Although the recent rise in house prices – itself a function of the fact that an increasing number of single people who in previous generations would have lived with their parents now demand a home of their own, along with the increasing number of people with two or more homes – means that a large portion of workers income is spent on shelter, the proportion spent on food has continued to decline, and even here at least some is spent not on food itself, but on eating out i.e. entertainment really. Similarly with clothing an increasing amount is spent not just for the necessity of clothing but on paying for a designer label, or the latest fashion etc. On top of that is an increasing amount spent on things such as mobile phones and other electronic gizmos, on entertainment, and other services.

The nature of this consumption is completely different from the type of consumption theorised by Marx, and the nature of the production of these items of consumption is different too. Marx looked at the consumption of luxury goods by the rich. In general he concluded the organic composition of Capital in these industries was lower than in the production of wage goods. The reason was that the nature of the production required a higher degree of skilled labour power. One of the reasons a luxury good is a luxury good is because it is more unique than something mass produced. An expensive piece of jewellery cannot simply be reproduced over and over again by a machine, cannot be churned out by unskilled labourers. It requires the labour power of a skilled artisan. Such workers do not abound, their labour power is not simple labour but complex labour valued at several multiples that of an unskilled worker. An 8 hour day of such a worker might then be equal to 72 or 144 hours of an unskilled worker. The Surplus Value appropriated in a single day might amount to 36 or 72 hours, even allowing for the higher wages of the artisan.

In the BBC’s Money programme last week an example of this in relation to consumption under modern capitalism was given. It looked at the phenomena of the new super rich celebrity. Take one example, David Beckham. 50 years ago the equivalent was say Stanley Matthews. Yet Stanley Matthews made nothing like the money of David Beckham, nor did the companies – football teams – to whom he sold his Labour Power make the kind of profits that modern football clubs make. Why? Fifty years ago, the income that a football club made was derived from the fans coming through the turnstiles. Even allowing for average gates twice the size of today that was a limited source of income. But today, the rapid development of technology means that via the Internet, via satellite TV around 3 million Chinese workers alone watch English Premier League football every week – why is another matter. Yet there are a limited number of David Beckham’s and Premier League matches to watch. Marx said that it was only possible to determine the multiple of complex labour to simple labour a posteriori by what the market was prepared to pay for the complex labour in relation to simple labour. The vast expansion of the market due to new technology means that this multiple has expanded hugely. Or more correctly, it might be that the Value of David Beckham’s labour power is no greater than that of Stanley Matthews other than for the natural rise in the value of labour power over time, but were Beckham to be paid at the same rate then the Football Companies would make much bigger profits still. The limited availability of the Labour power needed enables the suppliers of the labour power to negotiate a higher wage out of those much larger profits. The Programme gave many other similar examples. Vanessa may, for instance who demonstrated that the Internet means that where she would have been able to sell her albums much less widely had she had to tour the world to promote them the global village removes that necessity. Or the celebrity chefs, or the celebrity fund managers looking after the wealth of that increasing number of super rich or British dollar millionaires, and so on. In short the nature of consumption for these types of goods on a much larger scale is more like the kind of Luxury consumption described by Marx, where the most important aspect of the cost is not the Constant Capital or materials employed, but is the complex labour of the worker. As this type of consumption takes up a larger and larger proportion of consumption overall then this must because of the lower organic composition of Capital in these industries result in an increasing rate of profit.

But this tendency can be seen in many other forms of consumption. The designer label clothes consume no more material, require no more and no more expensive machinery to produce than some non-designer clothing. The higher price comes from no other reason than that some consumers can be conned into paying over the odds for the label, and the designer’s labour likewise becomes more valuable. A Jaguar S type consumes no more materials than a Ford Mondeo, and probably no more expensive materials either. The higher price arises from the label, and the higher price with effectively no greater employment of Constant Capital means a higher rate of profit. Whereas at one time the Jaguar was once a luxury brand, consumed only by a few, now it is fairly commonplace.

Similarly, if we look at other items of consumption we find that in fact the materials used are negligible. A mobile phone, a PC, an LCD TV, the various services we use such as cinema, theatre etc. In fact a mobile phone probably uses far less materials than did the old type of land line, the LCD certainly less than a CRT screen. Again the largest component in the value of these products is not the Capital or material used in the production, but the intellectual labour that went into their development etc. Look at the huge amounts now spent on Computer games, yet a CD or DVD takes very few material resources to produce, very little in the way of Constant Capital. But it does take the labour of skilled games programmers. Or music. When I was first collecting records 40 years ago to amass 1,000 records consumed a fair amount of vinyl. Now 20 times that amount can be stored on a tiny stick, instead of the cost of transporting all the vinyl etc to record shops the music can be downloaded all over the world instantaneously over the Internet.

In short the nature of consumption has changed naturally as a result of rising living standards. The basic requirements for existence that once composed the majority of consumption are almost taken for granted by workers in developed economies, increasingly by workers in developing economies, and probably in 50 years time by workers everywhere as economic growth speeds up, and Africa is industrialised. As Marx predicted when he criticised Lassalle’s Iron Law of wages the natural tendency of capitalism to raise living standards means that expenditure on these previous types of consumption increasingly diminishes. An increasing proportion is spent on other goods and services whose nature is more akin to the luxury goods formerly only consumed by the rich, and the nature of these goods and services is that they have a higher component of complex labour, and a lower component of Constant Capital. In addition the exponential development of technology has revolutionised production techniques massively reducing the cost of Capital – I have previously referred to the Media for instance, where the cost of Media Production equipment has fallen so much that rather than this being an industry where the normal process of concentration of Capital occurs, almost anyone can set up their own Media Production company, and sell their product to the TV or Internet. According to one recent TV series – “Visions of the Future – the development of nano-technology, means that in the not too distant future every home will be able to have their own fabricator like that on Star Trek, which will simply manipulate individual atoms to produce whatever you want. We are seeing bio-technology used to produce alterntive to fuels, and bio-technology and nano-technology will long before domestic fabricators are available produce for Capitalist enterprises cheap alternatives for any materials they require.

For all these reasons modern capitalism is characterised increasingly not for a Tendency for the rate of profit to Fall, but for it to rise.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Why Marxists Do Not Call for Nationalisation by the Capitalist State

”5. Centralisation of credit in the banks of the state, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.

6. Centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State.

7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the bringing into cultivation of waste-lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.”

“The Communist Manifesto”

These lines are often cited as giving a broad outline of the way Communists seek to replace the private ownership of the means of production with state control i.e. the nationalisation of the means of production. In the “Transitional Program” Trotsky outlines further demands for the nationalisation of the Banks and finance houses, and of the “expropriation of these 60 or 200 feudalistic capitalist overlords (in the US)”, and so on.

In the USSR the process of socialist construction set out by Lenin was clearly one by which the State would guide economic activity, and impose its will upon any remaining capitalist enterprises, including the confiscation of such capitalist property. A look at the propaganda and programmes of virtually all Left wing groups shows the repeated demand for the nationalisation of private capitalist property as a solution to this or that immediate problem, or even as was the case with the Militant in their call for the nationalisation under workers control of the commanding heights of the economy served as the actual Socialist Revolution istelf implemented through Parliament.

But, in fact all of these demands show just how far modern day Marxism has veered away from the Marxism of Marx and Engels. The truth is that not only did Marx and Engels not call for such nationalisations, but they in fact argued against nationalisation by the capitalist state! These demands for nationalisation are not the demands of Marxism, but the demands of Lassalleanism, a trend within the workers movement that both Marx and Engels went out of their way to combat.

Marx, the Manifesto and the Critique

If we take that first quote from the Communist Manifesto what is it that Marx and Engels ACTUALLY say. Prior to the above quote Marx and Engels state,

“The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the proletariat organised as the ruling class; and to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible.”

In other words these actions are not demands for reforms to be implemented by the capitalist state they are actions to be undertaken by a workers state, by the working class organised as the Dictatorship of the Proletariat after it has won the battle of democracy i.e. after it has not only already become socially the dominant class, but has also conquered for itself political power.

A further ryder has to be added here too. Marx and Engels were later to say that large parts of the Communist Manifesto had become out of date. Indeed, even at the time they wrote it they themselves had in reality moved beyond it. The Manifesto was written on behalf of the Communist League, which still bore many of the defects of the League of the Just, outlined by Engels in his “History of the Communist League.” The League still represented some of the ideas of Young Hegelianism, it was in large part a self select organisation representing the continuation of the idea that change is brought about by “wise men” to whom the “Idea” is revealed. For Hegel that meant the State, for the Young Hegelians it was radical philosophers. Socialism remained something that was brought about from the top down, and was, therefore, necessarily statist. IN 1848 Marx and Engels thought Socialist Revolution was imminent – an idea that Engels himself was to argue later was ridiculous as at the time only England was a developed capitalist economy with a sizeable working class – that the bourgeois revolutions occurring throughout Europe would necessarily roll over by Permanent Revolution into Socialist Revolution.

But, even as they were writing the Manifesto, Marx and Engels were rapidly moving away from such notions. The implication of their theory of Historical Materialism demonstrated to them that the episodic eruptions of class struggle were no coincidence, but were merely the reflection of the fact that the vehicle of socialist revolution was no group of philosophers, no “wise men”, or State, or even professional revolutionary organisation, but was the working class itself, and on that basis it is only the working class that can liberate itself through its own action. Only by such action can it effect the social revolution, win the battle of democracy and make itself the dominant social class; only then can it create its own state, and only then can it begin to use that state as the means of its political domination of society. The roots of this movement can be seen in Marx’s Critiques of Hegel in which Marx dismantles both the form and content of Hegel’s dialectic. Indeed, as Colletti argues, in his Introduction to Marx’s Early Writings (Pelican Edition), Marx, the Historical Materialist, points out the necessity of the two things being inextricably linked, form and content cannot be separated for a materialist. The law of dialectics is not like say the law of gravity. We say that things are pulled towards the centre of the Earth due to the law of Gravity. But gravity is a material force. It is this force that causes an effect. But change does not occur due to the dialectic. The dialectic is not some mystical let alone material force that causes this change. Change occurs in the material world simply because that is the nature of matter itself. The dialectic is merely a description of the process of change not its cause. To consider it otherwise is indeed to give the dialectic some mystical power, some objective existence, and that can only be the case if it is conceptualised in the Hegelian sense as existing independently in the realm of ideas.

Indeed, this is important for this discussion. Behind the calls for nationalisation or other such reforms by the bourgeois state lurks the notion of petit-bourgeois socialism that the State can be seen outside class. In a number of works Lenin argues agianst the petit-bourgeois socialism of the Narodniks who held this view of the Russian State. But for a Marxist, for a Historical Materialist, the State cannot be analysed or viewed as some abstract form. It can only be seen as the State of some definite social class at some definite point in history. It is not only pointless and utopian, but harmful to the working class struggle to make calls on a capitalist state to undertake actions which are against its very nature as the State of the the Capitalist class, whether such calls are for this State to act progressively in Iraq or in domestic affairs. Such calls can only demobilise the working class, sow illusions in the nature of the State, and at the same time, as Marx was to explain, merely demonstrate to the workers how powerless they are, and how omnipotent the capitalists and their state. The starting point for all Marxists is to reject such formulas, and instead begin by helping the working class to get up off its knees by its own actions.

There are two clear examples of where Marx sets out this approach. In the Critique of the Gotha Programme, and in Capital. In the Critique of the Gotha Programme Marx writes,

“The German Workers' party — at least if it adopts the program — shows that its socialist ideas are not even skin-deep; in that, instead of treating existing society (and this holds good for any future one) as the basis of the existing state (or of the future state in the case of future society), it treats the state rather as an independent entity that possesses its own intellectual, ethical, and libertarian bases.”

Part IV

“Instead of arising from the revolutionary process of transformation of society, the "socialist organization of the total labour" "arises" from the "state aid" that the state gives to the producers' co-operative societies and which the state, not the workers, "calls into being". It is worthy of Lassalle's imagination that with state loans one can build a new society just as well as a new railway!
From the remnants of a sense of shame, "state aid" has been put -- under the democratic control of the "toiling people". …

Second, "democratic" means in German "Volksherrschaftlich" [by the rule of the people]. But what does "control by the rule of the people of the toiling people" mean? And particularly in the case of a toiling people which, through these demands that it puts to the state, expresses its full consciousness that it neither rules nor is ripe for ruling! ….

That the workers desire to establish the conditions for co-operative production on a social scale, and first of all on a national scale, in their own country, only means that they are working to revolutionize the present conditions of production, and it has nothing in common with the foundation of co-operative societies with state aid. But as far as the present co-operative societies are concerned, they are of value only insofar as they are the independent creations of the workers and not protégés either of the governments or of the bourgeois.”

Part III

Marx’s position here is clear. All talk of the State, without making clear that it is a class state, is meaningless. For socialists to make demands upon the “present state”, which is a capitalist state, which are appropriate for a workers state to undertake are both utopian and reactionary. In another part of the Critique Marx makes this abundantly clear.

“Right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and its cultural development conditioned thereby.”

Part I

It is, therefore, utopian to demand that bourgeois society grant as “Rights” those things, which only some future socialist society can provide. Indeed, as Marx sets out in the section here even the first stage of socialist society will be limited by “bourgeois” Right for the simple reason that until and if Man reaches the higher stage of Communism the whole basis of distribution must remain unequal for the simple reason that the Law of Value will require that even where “formal” equality prevails actual inequality will remain as a result of the unequal nature of Men’s abilities and talents.

In fact, Marx sets out so clearly how far he holds this belief that his ideas here would no doubt cause some consternation amongst the socialists of today infused with petit-bourgeois moralism. In relation to child labour under capitalism for instance, he says,

“"Prohibition of child labour." Here it was absolutely essential to state the age limit.

A general prohibition of child labour is incompatible with the existence of large-scale industry and hence an empty, pious wish. Its realization -- if it were possible -- would be reactionary, since, with a strict regulation of the working time according to the different age groups and other safety measures for the protection of children, an early combination of productive labour with education is one of the most potent means for the transformation of present-day society.”

So for Marx, the state cannot be viewed as simply an abstract form separate from the society of which it is part. The State under capitalism is a capitalist state. For socialists to suggest that this State can guarantee “Rights” – Marx outlines Rights such as free education etc. – which are not compatible with the development of the productive forces achieved by that Society, “Rights” which can only be guaranteed under socialism is to empty out the State of its class content, to reduce it to an abstract, and thereby miseducate the working class. Moreover, for Marx the revolutionary the capitalist state is the arch enemy the direct representative of capitalist power, its Executive Committee, and its bodies of armed men. Far from socialists advocating that such a state should be made more powerful by handing over to it, not just political power, but economic power it is the job of socialists wherever possible to argue for the minimisation of state power, and indeed, for it to be smashed. In relation to education for instance Marx states that the involvement of the state in education is “wholly objectionable”.

Not only is Marx opposed to socialists calling for nationalisation of the means of production by the capitalist state – even under workers control – but he is opposed even to the establishment of co-operatives under the tutelage of the capitalist state, and utilising state aid. Not because he is opposed to co-operatives – on the contrary – but because he is wholly opposed to the capitalist state being in any way involved in the process. Such involvement not only necessarily gives that state an increased hold over the working class through the control of the finance, but it also did nothing to develop the consciousness of the working class as providing its own solutions by its own actions.

“But as far as the present co-operative societies are concerned, they are of value only insofar as they are the independent creations of the workers and not protégés either of the governments or of the bourgeois.”

It is this clawing back into its own hands of the means of production by its own self-activity that is vital for Marx as integral to the class struggle, because it is only by this means that the working class can raise itself from a condition of subservience, and in the process create the material conditions for raising its own class consciousness. And it is clearly this method that Marx sees as the vital process of Social Revolution by the working class, the means by which it transforms property relations, thereby changing the objective material conditions upon which the ideological and political superstructure is created, the means by which the working class becomes socially dominant, and wins the battle of democracy, the means by which the ideas built upon co-operative production become dominant, and thereby enable the working class to carry through its political revolution. In Capital Marx writes,

“The co-operative factories of the labourers themselves represent within the old form the first sprouts of the new, although they naturally reproduce, and must reproduce, everywhere in their actual organisation all the shortcomings of the prevailing system. But the antithesis between capital and labour is overcome within them, if at first only by way of making the associated labourers into their own capitalist, i.e., by enabling them to use the means of production for the employment of their own labour. They show how a new mode of production naturally grows out of an old one, when the development of the material forces of production and of the corresponding forms of social production have reached a particular stage. Without the factory system arising out of the capitalist mode of production there could have been no co-operative factories. Nor could these have developed without the credit system arising out of the same mode of production. The credit system is not only the principal basis for the gradual transformation of capitalist private enterprises. into capitalist stock companies, but equally offers the means for the gradual extension of co-operative enterprises on a more or less national scale. The capitalist stock companies, as much as the co-operative factories, should be considered as transitional forms from the capitalist mode of production to the associated one, with the only distinction that the antagonism is resolved negatively in the one and positively in the other.” (emphasis added)

(Capital Vol III pp441-2)

The implication is that for Marx the process of social revolution is a long drawn out one, just as it was in fact for the bouregoisie. It implies a long period of class struggle. Co-operatives will be created, and some will fail. Workers conscioussness will be raised, and will fall. But through this process lessons will be learned. This outlook is also described by Marx in “The Grundrisse”. It is a completely different perspective to that on which Leninism has developed. There is one similarity, however. Trotsky in a number of his writings particularly in relation to the Chinese Revolution argues that the call for Soviets is important whether or not these Soviets actually achieve or even struggle for power. It is important he says because of the lessons that workers learn in creating them. In 1917 Soviets were able to arise quickly and effectively precisely because of the experience of establishing them in 1905. The more workers through their own actions take back control of their lives whether it is in establishing a co-operative, taking control of their estate or community, or establishing a Soviet or other form of Workers Democracy the more they learn how to do these things, the more they build their own self confidence and raise themselves off their knees. Demands placed for the bourgeois state to do any of these things for them have the exact opposite effect.

“And particularly in the case of a toiling people which, through these demands that it puts to the state, expresses its full consciousness that it neither rules nor is ripe for ruling! ….”

Engels and State Capitalism

But what then of Engels and his comments in regard of State Capitalism i.e. of the progressive nature of state capitalism, of nationalised industry compared to private ownership? Didn’t Engels write this in “Anti-Duhring” approved by Marx? Don’t Marxists have a duty to defend nationalised industry? Haven’t you said so yourself? The answer is yes. Engels is absolutely correct that nationalised industry and state capitalism represents as Marx himself had predicted a more mature form of capitalism, its logical progression. As Kautsky described the capitalist state is a far more powerful employer than any private capitalist, far better placed to effectively squeeze surplus value out of its employees. And yes socialists defend nationalised industry against a return to a more reactionary, less mature form of capitalism represented by private ownership, just as socialists defend capitalism itself against a return to feudalism. But once, the working class has reached a stage where socialism is possible, socialists do not argue for capitalism, do not argue for its more developed forms as a means of progress, but rather argue for socialism. A nationalised capitalist enterprise is progressive historically compared to a private capitalist enterprise – not because it treats workers or consumers better, usually the opposite is the case, but only because it represents the more mature form of capitalism and thereby is closer to its own demise – but socialists have no reason to argue for the creation of such enterprises. The job of socialists is rather to argue for socialist forms of property, for as Marx argued, the workers through their own self-activity to take back the means of production through the utilisation of their own Capital and savings, and through the use of commercial credit.

Incidentally at this point it is useful to note that modern socialists seem to have adopted the ideas of Lassalle rather than Marx in another respect here, and that is in relation to the denial of the possibility of workers accumulating Capital because of them remaining a slave class. The comments such as “Capitalism creates poverty” are replete within the literature and slogans of modern “Marxists”. Yet such ideas have no grounding in Marx himself. Quite the contrary. This idea of immiseration was developed by Marx’s adversary Lassalle in his “Iron Law of Wages” much criticised by Marx.

“It is as if, among slaves who have at last got behind the secret of slavery and broken out in rebellion, a slave still in thrall to obsolete notions were to inscribe on the program of the rebellion: Slavery must be abolished because the feeding of slaves in the system of slavery cannot exceed a certain low maximum!”

Part II

But as Marx points out although there is a minimum for wages determined by the subsistence needs of the working class as historically determined, there is no maximum for wages to rise to provided that labour continues to fulfil the requirement that it provides surplus value for the capitalist. It is only in this sense that the working class is a slave class that it can only work provided it provides a certain amount of free labour. But wages can rise without limit within that constraint both as a result of class struggle, and as a result of the natural development of the productive forces. Wages necessarily fall over time as a proportion of the total output, but if total output is expanding exceedingly rapidly that is wholly compatible with a large increase in absolute wages, and workers living standards, as indeed has been witnessed over the last 150 years. For anyone under such conditions to claim that “Capitalism creates poverty” is then a mockery of Marxist teaching, and a return to Lassalle’s “Iron Law”.

Lenin, The State and Revolution

Nor did Lenin vary in this respect from Marx. As was stated above in his early writings against the Narodniks Lenin repeatedly argues against the petit-bouregois subjectivism of Narodnik social and economic theory. In relation to the Narodniks various schemes for the Russian state to intervene Lenin again and again points out that this state cannot be seen outside of its class nature as a capitalist state, that the Narodniks place faith in this state as being in some sense an empty shell without class content. And in “The State and Revolution” Lenin is even more forthright. Marxists are not Anarchists he argues in relation to the proletarian state, we have no truck with the idea that the working class has no need of a state – at least as long as class society continues to exist – but he elaborates we are Anarchists in relation to the Capitalist state, we have no interest in encouraging it to become stronger to take on more control over society. Appeals to the capitalist state is the method of Opportunism not the method of the revolutionary.

"Marx agreed with Proudhon in that they both stood for the 'smashing' of the present day state machine. Neither the opportunists nor the Kautskyites wish to see this resemblance between Marxism and Anarchism (both proudhon and Bakunin) because they have departed from Marxism on this point."

Lenin - "The State and revolution" pp 64-5

Lenin’s concept of revolution and socialist construction is wholly consistent here. His approach to the agricultural reforms undertaken by Stolypin are a good example opf his approach, and of that I have outlined above. Some of those reforms taken from a purely analytical perpsective, from the perspective of historical materialism were progressive. They represented a natural development of capitalism within Russia. From that perspective there was no point in socialists OPPOSING such reforms. But that did not mean that socialists should SUPPORT them either, for the simple reason that these reforms were merely capitalist reforms. To the extent that they were progressive they should be DEFENDED against being rolled back, but socialists only role was to analyse them to explain to workers and peasants what they really meant, and to argue instead for socialism. But Lenin, faced with particular condiitons in Russia, did not have the same perspective of socialist revolution that Marx had based upon Marx’s analysis and perspective of socialist revolution in developed capitalist states, where a workingc lass with access to savings and credit could develop its own co-operative enterprises as an integral aspect of class struggle. Lenin reecognised the significance in such developed economies, of co-operative enterprise, but at the same time recognised its restrictions in the conditions of Russia.

"It goes without saying that Kautsky very emphatically maintains that communal, collective large-scale production is superior to capitalist large scale production. He deals with the experiments in collective farming made in England by the followers of Robert Owen* and with analogous communes in the United States of North America. All these experiments, says Kautsky, irrefutably prove that it is quite possible for workers to carry on large-scale modern farming collectively, but that for this possibility to become a reality "a number of definite economic, political, and intellectual conditions" are necessary. The transition of the small producer (both artisan and peasant) to collective production is hindered by the extremely low development of solidarity and discipline, the isolation, and the "property-owner fanaticism," noted not only among West-European peasants, but, let us add, also among the Russian "commune" peasants (recall A. N. Engelhardt and G. Uspensky). Kautsky categorically declares, "it is absurd to expect that the peasant in modern society will go over to communal production" (S. 129). “
* On pages 124-26 Kautsky describes the agricultural commune in Ralahine, of which, incidentally. Mr. Dioneo tells his Russian readers in Russkoye Bogatstvo,[51] No. 2, for this year. ___________________________________________________________________________________

Lenin Capitalism in Agriculture page 122

The point that Lenin makes here is important that the condition is the absence of an “extremely low development of solidarity and discipline, the isolation, and the "property-owner fanaticism,"” It was that which made the development of the co-operative at Ralahine in Ireland, the co-operatives in Lancashire, set out as examples by Marx, and the various other co-operative ventures established by Owen – and also less well known ones by the Chartists – successful. By the same token it was the absence of all those factors in Russia after the Revolution which meant that collective production both industrial and agricultural did not take root within the consciousness of the working class – largely made up of peasants that had recently moved to the towns and cities, and even more within the peasantry, and which led instead to the need for Managers etc. which itself led to bureaucratisation of the economy.

It was inevitable then that Lenin’s concept of socialist construction was highly statist that the workers state had to make up for that “extremely low development of solidarity and discipline, the isolation, and the "property-owner fanaticism”.

Trotsky and the Transitional Programme

Finally, then what about Trotsky and his calls in the Transitional programme for the expropriation of the top capitalists, of the financial institutions etc. The simple answer I could give here is that Trotsky as a good Leninist shared Lenin’s statist view of socialist construction. That would be true, but as I have said above Lenin only had that view of socialist construction AFTER the workers had gained control of the state. He was as he says in “State and Revolution” an anarchist in relation to the capitalist state. In short his position was the same as that outlined by Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto.

In fact, the fuller answer has to be in relation to the nature of Transitional Demands themselves. The problem I have with Trotsky’s Transitional demands is not with the demands themselves particularly, but with the method of these demands. The whole basis of Transitional Demands methodically is to lead the working class by the nose to the point at which revolution becomes necessary. It is to put forward demands which appear reasonable, but which necessarily contradict the interests of capitalism, and thereby drive a deeper and deeper wedge between the workers and capitalists. As such they have less to do with treating the working class as the revolutionary agent, which transforms society through its own self-conscious activity, and more with treating the working class as a Pavlovian dog. The aim is not to bring about a social revolution of the type envisioned by Marx, i.e. a long drawn out process of class struggle during which time the working class increasingly draws back into its control the means of production and control over aspects of its life via various forms of workers democracy, but is to bring about a political revolution similar to that of 1917 in Russia.

And that logic is summed up by Trotsky at the end of the section in which he calls for the expropriation of these capitalists and of the financial institutions, and at the same time explains why such a demand is utopian on its own. He says,

“However, the stateisation of the banks will produce these favourable results only if the state power itself passes completely from the hands of the exploiters into the hands of the toilers.”

In short the demand is utopian unless seen as part of the series of Transitional Demands as a whole, and thereby outside effectively a struggle for power by the working class. To raise such a demand outside such conditions is meaningless if not reactionary.


The working class can only emancipate itself through its own conscious activity. Not only can it not achieve this via demands placed upon the capitalist state, but as Marx points out such demands only emphasise the extent to which the working class is not currently the ruling social class, but that in raising such demands “nor is ripe for ruling! ….” The working class can only raise itself up from that position as Marx argues by taking back control of the means of production via its own efforts through the establishment of co-operatives, and by the development of its own workers democracy. For the very reason that as Marx puts it, “the ruling ideas of every age are the ideas of the ruling class”, it is not possible for the working class as a whole to raise itself at once to the level of consciousness whereby it recognises the need to do this across society as a whole. The development of class-consciousness is uneven. It is possible, particularly with the assistance of a Workers Party to help educate the workers and point the way, for groups of workers to establish co-operatives, and thereby begin to change the basis of the productive relations, and thereby social relations. It is on this basis through a prolonged period of class struggle and using the experience gained in this process that wider and wider groups of workers can be drawn into the process, and co-operative enterprise spread throughout the economy. For the historical materialist it is this changed material condition, which provides the basis of the ideas, which come to be dominant within society, it is this, which is the real social revolution.

In Marx’s time the ability of the workers to achieve this was limited because of the low level of wages, and of education, though clearly not impossible as the number of co-operatives established during his time demonstrated, and indeed as the number of capitalists like Wedgwood who had themselves been workers also demonstrated. In the developed economies of today the process is much easier in some respects much more difficult in others. It is more difficult for the simple reason that capitalism is now a truly global economic system, and the amount of Capital required to produce many commodities is now incomparably higher than in Marx’s time. Yet it is easier because not only are workers themselves overall the possessors of individual savings, but also collectively through their pension funds, they are the owners of a large amount of Capital. In Britain around 500 billion pounds worth.

The individual worker with a few shares, that the bourgeois always pointed to as being the victim of “socialist” nationalisation, never could have any power compared to the wealth and power of the capitalists. Indeed, compared to the wealth of the very top few thousand capitalists even the funds available in workers pension funds are small. But that relative weight does not take away from the actual potentiality of these funds for workers, particularly as these funds are collectively owned rather than individually owned, and thereby enable collective decision making over their use. To simply write off this Capital because of its relative weight compared to that of the major capitalists would be to make the same mistake in relation to wages that Marx criticised in the Lassalleans.

“It is as if, among slaves who have at last got behind the secret of slavery and broken out in rebellion, a slave still in thrall to obsolete notions were to inscribe on the program of the rebellion: Slavery must be abolished because the feeding of slaves in the system of slavery cannot exceed a certain low maximum!”

500 billion pounds is sufficient to buy up 100% at least the bottom 50 of the FTSE 100 companies. In reality the figure is much larger than that, and with the use of leverage, the need only to buy up around 30% of shares for a controlling stake, and the utilisation of credit, these workers pension funds could buy up and place directly in the hands of workers a large part of the most important sections of British industry. The same is true of Western Europe, and to a lesser extent the US. The condition is that workers gain the fundamental democratic right to have collective control over their own money tied up in these pension funds. Were workers to not rely on the capitalist state for their pensions, and instead to be able to pay their National Insurance contributions into their own pension funds, democratically and collectively controlled by them, the funds available would be far greater still.

Within what is still supposed to be part of the Labour Movement there is more than 100 years experience of Co-operative forms in the Co-op, and even within the realms of finance through the Co-op Bank and Co-operative Insurance Services, and through Unity Trust. Even within the private banks and financial institutions it is workers that on a daily basis do the work of financial transactions. There is no shortage of skill and expertise within the working class to run such businesses efficiently. Indeed, when it is the workers that own and control such businesses themselves they will run them far more efficiently than their present private capitalist bosses do.

Such is the power of the working class today to effect almost overnight, and by entirely peaceful and legal means its own emancipation. Of course, though this method itself provides the basis of such a legal and peaceful transformation that is no reason to beleive that the capitalists will not try to frustrate such a process. As marx described the co-oepratives of the 19th century faced much higher rates of interest on their Credit than did private capitalists. Were Co-operatives to attempt to replace competition between them with co-operation the existing reactionary laws of capitalist states in relation to monopolies would be used against them, and so on. The bourgeoisie faced similar obstacles palced in its path by the feudal rulers. But finding ways around such obstacles, promoting a Workers Party as the political representative of the class to wage a political struggle against such laws etc. is part and parcel of that long class struggle that Marx describes. Ultimately, if it felt that it was going to be removed from history even by such peaceful and legal means the capitalist class would resort to violence to save its own priviliges. It then becomes necessaary just as the bouregoisie was forced to do when the feudal aristocracy made a similar attempt to cling to power, for the working class to put down such a slaveholders revolt, and establish its own state and politial rule.

Under such conditions to call for the capitalist state to nationalise property is in effect to call for that capitalist state to confiscate what is theoretically already in large part workers property. It is a reactionary demand on so many levels.

No to calls for nationalisation by the capitalist state. Yes to workers ownership and management. For the basic democratic demand that workers have control of their money in their pension funds.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

McCann's Friend CERTAIN of What She Saw

In an interview with Panorama, clips of which were shown on the News yesterday, a friend of the McCanns, Jane Tanner, says that she is certain that she saw Madeleine being abducted - see Panorama. This surely raises more questions than answers.

My first response to the story was, "If I saw my friend's child being abducted, I would try to prevent it. I would at least shout to the abductor to stop, chase after them, raise an alram, see where they went, take down the deatils of any car they went to etc." My second response was, "How come she is still the McCanns friend? If my friend watched my child being abducted and did nothing about it, I don't think I would consider them a friend any longer."

But reading the small blurb on the web site above - we'll have to wait for the programme for the full details - it becomes clear that Ms Tanner was not certain at the time she saw a man walking down the road that the child they were carrying was Madeleine. Its only later that this certainty has arisen!

Anyone that has seen the film "My Cousin Vinny", will be aware of a similar scenario. Two boys are accused of a robbery and murder at a petrol station. There is circumstantial evidence pointing to them, and thinking they were being pulled over for something else have already admitted guilt. Finding themselves facing the Chair if convicted they call in one of the boys cousins to defend them, who turns out to be an extremely inept lawyer. A variety of witnesses take the stand to say they were CERTAIN they saw the boys, and postively identify the boys green car at the scene. Fortunately, for the boys Vinny's girlfriend grew up working in her father's garage and is an expert mechanic. From a photograph of the tyre marks left by the car used by the actual robbers she is able to prove for definite that the real car used in the robbery was not the boys.

Of course, none of the witnesses that took the stand under oath gave false witness out of any malice they were certain that what they had seen was the boys car. They had convinced themselves of that after the fact because it seemed to fit. But they were wrong! Had one of these witnesses AT THE TIME have made a note not just of the fact that there was a green car, but had made a note of the make, registration number etc. then that would have been certainty. But humans do it all the time our minds cause us to fit facts to what we think fits.

The only way that Ms. Tanner could actually be certain of what she saw would be if she had made a positive identification of Madeleine at the time she saw someone walking down the street with a young child. But had that been the case then my first set of questions above apply. Why not stop the abduction, why not intervene?

But if what we have is a situation similar to that in Cousin Vinny being convinced after the fact that you have seen something based on some other details why come to THIS particular conclusion? When I am on holiday I see lots of adults carrying young children at all hours of the day. It never occurs to me that there is anything out of the order with that, let alone that someone is being abducted. If I saw someone walking down the street with a young child in their arms, particularly if the child did not appear to be resisting the person etc. I would assume it was that person's child. If it was nine or ten o'clock at night and they were walking away from a restaurant in particular I would assumne that probably like most people on holiday with their children that they had been with their child to eat, and the child was tired.

I can understand that had a friend of mine's child disappeared, and my friend said the child must have been abducted, that despite the fact that abductions of children by strangers are very, very rare in this country let alone in Portugal, I would want to beleive them, but that still would not cause me to jump from that to beleivng that what I had seen was the actual abduction, especially as at the time I had no cause to beleive that, and especially as the least likely explaantion of someone walking down a street in Portugal or anywhere else with a young child in their arms is that they have abducted the child. After all as I said abductions of children by strangers are exceptionally rare so why beleive that this man was abducting a child, let alone a particular child rather than the more likely case that this was just someone on holiday - after all there were lots of other people on holiday with their children it was a holiday resort after all - with their child???

The final question is, the police must realise all the above, so must any experienced investigative journalist, so why make such a big thing about such evidence? Audience figures perhaps as with previous examples of moral panic.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Return of the Idiot Imperialists

Sacha Ishmail of the Alliance for Workers Liberty recently posted a quote on their site from Lenin, which he believed demonstrated that the AWL were not “pro-imperialist”. His post can be viewed here.

As I have written elsewhere, for example, here the AWL are not “pro-imperialist”, in the sense of those such as LFIQ or the Euston Manifesto group, who openly argue for support for Imperialism in Iraq, and proclaim that it is fulfilling a progressive function. The AWL’s position is more that of Pontius Pilate, which continually “hopes” that imperialism might do something good – for example, in a recent article, Martin Thomas argued that it would be “good” if imperialism were able to bomb Iran surgically! – but then wrings its hands when, not unexpectedly, it doesn’t work out so well. It is not that they WANT to side with imperialism, but are logically driven towards that position by their political method. I have outlined what that method is in the piece referred to above. They view the world, not as Marxists do, in terms of class struggle, but in terms of a moral crusade. There are various injustices that must be put right, various good causes that must be supported. It would be good, they believe, if the working class could provide the solution to these problems, and in their propaganda they continue to proclaim that they are in favour of such working class solutions, but time and again whether it is Yugoslavia, the USSR, Iraq, Iran, Israel/Palestine, or even on issues here in the UK they are led to the conclusion, “the working class is too weak, so we have to rely on the bourgeoisie/imperialism.”

The AWL do not like extensive debate on their discussion board, which is they say purely for the indoctrination of their new members, rather than real debate, so rather than continue the discussion I began with them there, and to avoid the possibility of my posts being deleted for being too detailed or too numerous, I am relating the discussion here. They can choose to reply or not.

The problem that they have with the quote, which began the discussion, is that it actually completely contradicts their position.

Here is what Lenin says,

“The several demands of democracy, including [national] self-determination, are not an absolute, but only a small part of the general-democratic (now: general-socialist) world movement. In individual concrete cases, the part may contradict the whole; if so, it must be rejected. It is possible that the republican movement in one country may be merely an instrument of the clerical or financial-monarchist intrigues of other countries; if so, we must not support this particular, concrete movement, but it would be ridiculous to delete the demand for a republic from the programme of international Social-Democracy on these grounds.”

This is of course entirely logical. But how does it relate to Iraq. Socialists are, of course, concerned for the Labour Movement in Iraq. That Labour Movement faces two mortal enemies – the clerical-fascists (those of the Sunni variety, the foreign fighters, and the Shia variety including those in the Government who previously the AWL had claimed were really constitutionalist and not at all like their brethren in Iran!) and the forces of the Occupation. Socialists, of course, wish, as far as possible, to defend this Labour Movement from these two enemies, and if possible to enable it to develop. The question here is, if we adopt the position of Lenin, in the quote above, to what extent can that desire to defend the particular interests of the Iraqi working class, override the General interests of the working class as a whole.

In fact, the irony I have referred to, in my blog “The Idiot Imperialists”, can be seen clearly in relation to Iraq. On the one hand the Third Campist SWP has fixed its sights on a “good” objective being the struggle against imperialism. Consequently, they are prepared to side with one set of the workers enemies in Iraq – and elsewhere – provided they are involved in such a fight. As the AWL correctly state the SWP effectively ignores the Iraqi working class in order to side with the clerical-fascists of the “Resistance”. The AWL, on the other hand, has as its “good” objective the defeat of the clerical-fascists, which is why they believe it would be “good” for the US to bomb Iran surgically. In specific cases, such as Iraq, they proclaim their support for the workers against these clerical-fascists, but in Iraq this support actually amounts to a Programme which is Economistic, limited almost entirely to routine Trade Unionism. Why is that? The answer is two-fold. Firstly, in the same way that the SWP does not believe that workers are strong enough to provide solutions, and so reliance on other forces has to be adopted, so the AWL do not believe that the workers in Iraq or elsewhere are strong enough to provide a solution so reliance on some other force again has to be the way forward, in this case reliance on the Occupation. The SWP ally openly with the clerical-fascists to achieve their goal the AWL tacitly with imperialism to achieve theirs.

In fact, the AWL has not so much zigged and zagged as danced a jig from one position to another as facts have contradicted their arguments in Iraq. Initially, the argument was that removal of the Occupation should not be called for because it was providing a “breathing space” for the Labour movement to develop in Iraq. A rather strange thing for any socialist to claim one would have thought, that imperialism here was the friend and protector of the Labour Movement! Yet that is precisely what the AWL claimed. In one reply to me Martin Thomas went into detail of the Trade Union meetings that were taking place in the Green Zone as proof of this new worker friendly imperialism. That argument has been allowed to wither away not surprisingly in the face of the effective legal outlawing of Trade Unions, the repeated attacks on Trade Unionists and their offices by Occupation forces etc.
The Occupation were not the only ones that were going to provide this breathing space, of course, because in this initial scenario the “Resistance” were defined solely as the Sunnis, and the foreign fighters. The Occupation’s allies within the Shia were going to create some kind of constitutional framework within which workers could develop their organisations, and the main Shia forces such as those around Sistani and the Dawa Party were described as Constitutionalist, not at all like their Iranian counterparts.

But, of course this was all nonsense as anyone could have seen, and as I pointed out at the time. The SWP idea that the “Resistance” is some kind of joint Sunni/Shia force is arrant nonsense, but the idea that the “Resistance” is or was just the Sunnis is equally arrant nonsense. As the BBC’s latest two-part series “No Plan, No Peace” demonstrated, within a few months, “Resistance” attacks on the Occupation came equally if not more from Shia fighters than from Sunnis. It is Shia fighters not Sunnis, in the South, supported by Iran, which have, effectively, driven out the British forces – and, incidentally, since the British troops have withdrawn to barracks, violence in the South appears, if anything, to have declined, as some US military analysts argued, a long time ago, would be likely.

The idea that the elections, promoted by the US and the Shia leaders, would create some kind of Constitutional framework was also clearly not going to work. Anyone, without blinkers, could see that the result of these elections would be the creation of a sectarian bearpit, the legitimiation of the Shia clerical-fascists – who were clearly not Constitutionalist, in any meaningful sense, and closely tied to the Iranian regime – and an understandable reaction by Sunnis that they were going to get royally screwed. But as one AWL comrade commented at the time, demonstrating a complete class blindness, and, clearly, having absorbed the AWL’s descent into bourgeois Constitutionalism as the only way ahead in the immediate future, “elections are better than no elections.”

The only progressive solution, that could have been argued for, in these conditions, was one that tried to cut across sectarian divisions – something Parliamentary elections certainly was not going to do – and which sought to unite workers and peasants across those divisions, which sought to assuage Sunni fears by a programme to defend Regional autonomy and the rights of minorities. It required a programme that combined a struggle for basic workers and peasants democratic rights, for a struggle for land reform, for workers control or ownership of Iraqi assets, particularly in the oil industry, against the plundering of the imperialist Occupation, for a programme of Public Works, directed by workers and protected, against attack, by workers guards organised in militia, with a struggle against the forces which stood in the way of such a Programme, the clerical-fascists of whatever denomination, and the Occupation. It required that instead of Economism and a simple call for routine Trade Union support for Iraqi workers, that, alongside the demand for the withdrawal of the Occupation – a basic requirement for any socialist in an imperialist country wanting to win the confidence of an oppressed people that in its vast majority wants and demands the withdrawal of those forces – that workers internationally organised to protect Iraqi workers and peasants against their other enemy, the clerical-fascist bandits.

But the AWL could not argue for such a Programme beyond saying that such things would be nice, both because they lack the faith in Iraqi workers and the international working class to mobilise around such a programme, and because following on from that, and having then put their faith in the Occupation and its Shia clerical-fascist allies to bring in some form of bourgeois Constitional arrangements, such a programme would have been, from the beginning, anathema to those forces. The AWL’s argument that, despite the accumulated knowledge, of the very knowledgeable cadre of AWL leaders, the accumulated knowledge of how Marxists and revolutionaries have responded in similar situations over the last 100 years, despite its connections with workers and socialists in Iraq, it was not possible to develop a Political programme, such as this, because of a lack of knowledge about what was the actual situation, was and is nothing more than a very small fig-leaf. Yet, despite the fact that it is me that has been arguing for such support for the Iraqi workers, that has been arguing truly for an independent working-class solution – which the petit-bourgeois Third Campists can only retain as a mantra not as a guide to action – rather than relying on the good graces of imperialism as the AWL does, in a recent post Clive Bradley accuses me of having no concern for the Iraqi workers!!!!

In fact, even from the perspective of simple bourgeois political science the AWL’s perspective was naïve at best. A decent 3rd year Politics student should have been able to identify what was wrong with it. From a Marxist perspective it was a betrayal of socialist principles.

Having identified the “Resistance” as being only the Sunnis and foreign fighters, and then, faced with the fact that the Occupation was not succeeding in introducing some form of effective Constitutional arrangement – even the AWL was forced to recognise eventually that the elections had been a sham, that the Parliament and Executive were a farce – and faced with increasing attacks by the Occupation and its puppet Government on workers, and on basic democratic rights – the declaration by the not at all Iranian like, and Constitutionalist Sistani that gays should be killed on the streets etc. – the AWL were faced with having to come up with an alternative argument to the idea that the Occupation should stay because they were providing a breathing space for the Iraqi Labour Movement. The first attempt was to declare that well okay the Occupation might not be actually helping the Labour movement develop, but they are still providing a breathing space in the sense that if they leave the “Resistance” will come to power, and crush the workers movement.
But this was clearly false too. The Sunnis, because many of the previous members of the armed forces were drawn from their ranks, were certainly able to punch above their weight when it came to fighting. But, it was in the Sunni heartlands that the US Occupation had its greatest concentration of firepower. From almost Day One of the Occupation the Shia militias had been obtaining support and weapons from Iran, and also from the Occupation that was also busily training them, and equipping them with all the panoply of means of repression of the State. If the US left, it would not have been the Sunnis who came to power, but the Shia, with the Kurds making official their de facto separation from Iraq, probably with a large garrison of US troops stationed there, ostensibly to prevent a Turkish incursion, but in reality to protect Kurdish oil. The US’s Sunni allies in the region have certainly said that they would not let the Iraqi Sunnis be the victims of a Civil War, but even they would not engage in such a war for the purpose of putting the minority Sunnis back in control of the State, particularly if it led to the instalment of another Saddam like strongman who might challenge their own regimes some time later.

Having, ultimately, to accept the fact that increasingly the real “Resistance” was not the Sunnis, but was in fact the Shia forces of Sadr, and of SCIRI, that far from the Sunnis assuming control it would be this alternative “Resistance” who were now recognised as just as much clerical-fascist as the originally described “Resistance”, not at all really Constitutionalist, and not only not unlike their Iranian counterparts, but in reality armed, fiannced, trained and supported by the Iranians, the AWL performed another hop, and a twirl to another position. Now the Occupation couldn’t leave because it would lead to a Civil War.

When an organisation keeps its position the same, but continually changes its justification for that position you have to ask just how solid was the political method that led to the formulation of that position in the first place.
If we come back to Lenin’s quote then the question is this. Given that, as socialists, we are clearly concerned with the Iraqi Labour Movement, to what extent should this concern dictate our politics in general? In the best of all possible worlds there is no contradiction between the particular and the general. It is clearly desirable that where possible the interests of the working class as a whole should coincide with those of a particular group of workers. Lenin in the above piece goes on to say,

"But we cannot be in favour of a war between great nations, in favour of the slaughter of twenty million people for the sake of the problematical liberation of a small nation with a population of perhaps ten or twenty millions! Of course not! And it does not mean that we throw complete national equality out of our Programme... Let us assume that between two great monarchies there is a little monarchy whose kinglet is "bound" by blood and other ties to the monarchs of both neighbouring countries. Let us further assume that the declaration of a republic in the little country and the expulsion of its monarch would in practice lead to a war between the two neighbouring big countries for the restoration of that or another monarch in the little country. There is no doubt that all international Social-Democracy, as well as the really internationalist section of Social-Democracy in the little country, would be against substituting a republic for the monarchy in this case. The substitution of a republic for a monarchy is not an absolute, but one of the democratic demands, subordinate to the interests of democracy (and still more, of course, to those of the socialist proletariat) as a whole. A case like this would in all probability not give rise to the slightest disagreement among Social-Democrats in any country. But if any Social-Democrat were to propose on these grounds that the demand for a republic be deleted altogether from the programme of international Social-Democracy, he would certainly be regarded as quite mad. He would be told that after all one must not forget the elementary logical difference between the general and the particular.”

Does the fact that the particular interest of the Iraqi working class (that it not be destroyed), conflicts with the General interest of the working class (to oppose imperialist agression and colonialism) mean that socialists should remove from their programme the defence of the labour movement from attack??? No, of course it doesn’t. It does not even mean arguing for no defence of the Iraqi Labour Movement. It does mean that the method of that defence should be developed by means which do not contradict the General interest of the working class as a whole, if possible, along the lines I have outlined via real political and military support by the international working class, and not the Economistic programme of routine Trade Unionism, alongside a call for the working class to abandon its General interest to fight imperialism, indeed to rely on that imperialism to provide the solution to the workers problems, proposed by the AWL. But Lenin is right, in war there is no room for sentimentalism and moralising, and the working class is engaged in a long class war against the bourgeoisie, and the ultimate form of its political and economic power – imperialism. In war there are casualties, sometimes, what has come to be called collateral damage. If the cost of a serious blow being inflicted on imperialism, on its current ability to stride like a collossus on the world stage, could be inflicted upon it by the workers of Britain or the US, if, as would be the case, the morale and combativity of those, huge and potentially powerful, working classes could be raised as the result of such a victory over imperialism, then, in the balance of war, if the Iraqi labour movement perished, as a consequence, that would be regrettable, but a price that would have to be paid, just as the failure to replace a Monarchy in the small state was a price that the people of the small state would have to pay in Lenin’s example.

The reality is, of course, that as things stand no such movement by workers to inflict a blow on imperialism in its heartlands exists. On the one hand the Third campists of the SWP prefer to oppose imperialism by appealing not to the working class in whom they have lost faith, but to any rag, tag army of liberals, Islamists, Stalinists and petit-bourgeois they can drag in. The Euston Manifesto group have no desire to oppose imperialism because they still hold out the hope that they can persuade it to bring about a progressive solution. The AWL do not mobilise the working class, for such a perspective, because they too have lost faith in the working class, and, in any case, have no desire to see such an outcome, which would lead to a result they do not desire, the removal of the imperialist Occupation, which they like the LFIQ still hope against hope might offer some solution, if only that the situation gets no worse.

The analogy made by Lenin then is that whatever the particular interests of the Iraqi labour movement, it cannot be an argument for socialists ditching their position of opposition to imperialism, to the working class internationally opposing the ability of imperialism to walk into and occupy any country it wishes, least still that those socialists should be in favour of that imperialism surgically bombing other states as a means of extending its domination.

That was the logic of Lenin’s quoatation, and one that is diametrically opposed to the position and method of the AWL. The AWL have not only danced a jig with their positions over Iraq, but they have also tried to combine it with covering their antics with a veil. For example, Sacha Ismail, in one of his replies, says, trying to gain cover from Marx, that Marx did not call for the withdrawal of British troops from India. The implication is that the AWL do not call for the withdrawal of troops because at the present moment the British workers will not back such a call, and are unable to enforce such a demand. If that were the real reason the AWL did not raise the demand it would not be so bad – though still an abandonment of the commitment the Communist International demanded of its national affiliates to raise and struggle for such demands – but that is NOT the reason the AWL does not raise the demand, a fact demonstrated by its opposition to anyone else raising the demand, and a principle it holds so sacred that it used it as the basis for not joining the “Hands Off Iran” campaign. The AWL does not fail to raise the demand for the withdrawal of troops because it does not believe it is unachievable, but because it actually opposes the withdrawal of the troops. In actual fact, Engels DID call for the withdrawal of Britain from India despite knowing that such a withdrawal would result in extreme violence there, but even were that not the case it is hard to believe that were either he or Karl Marx asked the question, “Are you in favour of Britain leaving India?”, either of the two great men would have had any doubt of the answer to give, and it would not have been the same answer the AWL give in respect of Iraq.

In WWII the Stalinists argued that workers in Britain should not take action against the British state for fear that such action might weaken the British war effort, and thereby strengthen Nazi Germany, so placing the USSR in greater jeopardy. In actual fact, using Lenin’s argument above, and given the size of the Russian working class, and the existence of a deformed workers state in the USSR, there could have been some justification for this argument. It is not an argument the AWL agree with. They argue, in that instance, that the particular interests of the Russian workers and their state could not be placed above the interests of the working class in general – which in reality at that time meant just the English workers as the US was not in the War, and the rest of Europe was under Nazi occupation. It is they say a manifestation of “Socialism in One Country”. Yet that is precisely the AWL’s method in relation to Iraq. Don’t call on workers in the UK and the US to oppose their own imperialism and mobilise for its withdrawal because the consequence will be the Occupation can’t provide a breathing space/help the labour movement develop, a victory for the “Sunni Resistance”, a Civil War – take your pick of reason from the variety given by the AWL over the last couple of years. IF the AWL applied the logic they use in relation to Iraq, they would in WWII have argued that we are in favour of the defence of Soviet workers against the possibility of being overrun by the Nazis, so workers in the West should not oppose the war efforts of British imperialism against the Nazis, and should do nothing to impede those war efforts!!! The Euston Manifesto people have, of course, taken the Third Camp logic to the conclusion Trotsky said it naturally led, and indeed do argue that socialists should not have opposed British imperialisms war against the Nazis.

Well, it might be argued, (wrongly) this is a bit academic because the working class are not taking action for such withdrawal – and, of course, they are unlikely to if socialists do not try to mobilise a campaign for such a struggle. But there is a more immediate aspect in which Lenin’s argument above applies. Alan Greenspan has recently said that he does not understand why it is not accepted and stated openly that the real reason for the war against Iraq was over oil. Personally, I think the argument is often put rather crudely. What the US is looking to is protecting its strategic interests in the area, in particular Saudi Arabia, rather than just a grab for Iraqi oil. That is the message outlined in the “Project For a New American Century”. It is also clear that, in relation specifically to Iraq, what we have is probably a good example of a conflict between, what I shall, shortly, in a separate blog, describe as, the three sources of power – in this case the State Power, and the Political or Governmental Power, the potential within a bourgeois democracy for an ideologically driven government with backing from some sections of the bourgeoisie or working class, to act independently and contrary to the will of the State Power acting as the Executive Committee of the ruling class. The recent BBC Programme referred to earlier illustrated the manifestation of this via the conflicts between various Governmental and State bodies, and which can become more intense within political systems with strong Executive branches such as Presidential as opposed to Parliamentary systems.

Within that context, US imperialism clearly has a vision which extends way beyond Iraq, and even beyond its listed next targets of Syria and Iran. It has already established bases in most of the “Stans” – irrespective, of course, of the democratic credentials of their regimes – and the tentacles of US imperialism now stretch out across the new Gold Rush territories of Central Asia, where it competes directly with China, and to some extent Russia and India, for natural resources in a frenzy reminiscent of that which occurred at the end of the 19th century,and which was a prelude to the First World War. Central to such a project is to have, either compliant regimes on which it can rely, or, in the absence of that, local regimes which lack the power to act as regional powers or sub-imperialisms. The fact that the invasion of Iraq has had the effect of strengthening Iran can only be viewed as a serious blunder if you do not start from the premise that the US intends to either invade Iran to bring about regime change, or else intends to undertake such an attack that Iran is forced into the same kind of chaos as exists in Iraq and Lebanon thereby removing it as a threat to US interests.

This long term goal of US imperialism is no secret, it has long been discussed by academics within the context of the New World Order, and the concept of The End of History. But Marxists are not interested in the niceties of such debate, but with the practical consequences of such a programme. Immediately, they should be concerned with the next target of US imperialism in fulfilling their plan – Iran. In fact, Iran has a bigger, and more powerful Labour movement than Iraq, despite the attempts of the mullahs to crush it. If we apply Lenin’s doctrine we should be more concerned with the future of this Labour Movement than with that of Iraq. Yet clearly, any invasion of Iran by imperialism, any action by imperialism which drives Iran into chaos will be detrimental to the Iranian labour movement, will undoubtedly unleash forces that will press even more harshly on that labour movement than it faces currently.

Its clear that the presence of a huge armed encampent on the Iranian border poses a huge threat to Iran. We also know that already the US has used its position in Iraq to launch covert attacks against Iran, has kidnapped Iranian government officials etc., and we have seen a few months ago incursions into Iranian territorial waters by the British navy etc. None of this can be described as hypothetical, yet what is the AWL response. The AWL refused to join the “Hands Off Iran” campaign because it called for “Troops Out of Iraq Now”, not an unreasonable demand if you consider the potential for launching an attack across the Iraq/Iran border. At a time when the US has an increasing number of huge warships stationed off the Iranian coast, is daily stepping up its war rhetoric against Iran, the AWL runs headlines not denouncing the gathering imperialist threat against Iran, not even focussing on the support of Iranian workers, but “Against the Iranian Regime”.

Faced with this situation Martin Thomas a few weeks ago argued that the current mess that the US was in in Iraq probably meant that it would not want to attack Iran. I replied at the time that this was naïve. Bush wants to attack Iran, because it is still part of the US overall gameplan. There is still considerable support in the US for an attack on Iran that is viewed as a serious threat because of the US’s past conflict with it, in a way that Iraq, which had been a US ally, was not. US policy in Iraq would be seen as a failure if it did not do what it claimed it would do, and build a viable state. But if the aim in Iran is merely to overthrow the regime then that is a far easier goal to achieve without being committed to an occupation, and the success of which could be used politically by Republicans in next year’s elections. Now several months later even Martin has to accept that such a US attack is increasingly likely. It doesn’t lead the AWL to conclude that to weaken the possibility of such an attack the working class should organise a campaign against the imperialist occupation of Iraq on the Iranian border, on the contrary still looking to imperialism to hopefully do something progressive, given the AWL’s lack of faith in the working class achieving that goal, instead they proclaim that were the US to surgically bomb Iran and throw it into chaos through the removal of the regime, to be replaced by God knows what, then this would be good.

The AWL proclaim this is Marxism Jim, but if it is its not Marxism as we know it.