Thursday, 28 February 2008

The Workers State and the Vision of Perfection

This is a brief reply to a point made by USRed in a debate on Workers States here.

The discussion was essentially in relation to the nature of Cuba, and how could it be a Workers State when it upheld reactionary policies such as the illegality of homosexuality.

The essential answer to this is that there is a great divide between the fact that a State may be a Workers State i.e. that objectively the workers are the ruling social class, and it being socialist, which would imply that a whole series of other changes in the conscioussness of the working class have taken place. To view things in the terms USRed does is to surround the working class with an aura of perfection that certainly does not exist, and is unlikely to exist for some considerable time even after the working class take power. The historical answer is to look at the USSR not in its Stalinist form, but in the revolutionary form of 1917/18. Despite the mythology that Leninists try to surround this period with the actual leaders of the revolution at that time - Lenin and Trotsky - had no problem addressing the reality of the time, and the shortcomings of the working class and peasantry.

The fact is that in 1918 not only the Russian workers and peasants, but the supposed advanced workers, the actual rank and file members of the Bolshevik Party were riddled with Black Hundredism. Great Russian chauvinism ran rampant amongst them in Ukraine in 1918. And as I pointed out in the debate the fact is that the most militant section of the British working class, the most advanced workers that would have been at the spearhead of any revolutionary, political General Strike in the 1970's and 1980's - indeed did lead what was effectively a political General Strike in 1974 that brought down the Tory Government - the Miners were also riddled with a macho spirit, and sexism. Given the number of miners its likely that there were as high a proprtion of gay miners as in the rest of the population, yet it is amazing how a macho environment can intimidate people into conformity. Yes, the Miners Wives Groups did take on the question of sexism with some success, but largely in forcing the sexism underground rather than abolishing it, and even near the end of the strike there were still the Chants of "Get Your Tits out for the Boys."

Reactionary ideas are a function of the degradation of individuals that class society, and capitalism in particular engender. It is anti-materialist to beleive that such ideas can be adequately dealt with short of dealing with the underlying material causes of them. Capitalism is worse than most other class systems in this regard for the very reason that it is premised on the idea of EQUALITY. There is an excellent analysis of this in relation to RACISM by a black American Marxist sociologist called Oliver Cromwell Cox. Cox's argument is simple. In previous class systems there was no need of racism, because the basis of society WAS inequality, whether it be the master slave relation in Slave owning societies, or the division of society by rank in feudal society. The idea that someone should occupy a subordinate role did not require explanation or justification. IN Spain, for instance, he relates, it was quite common for rich women to marry one of their black slaves after their husband died. But capitalist ideology baases itself on the premise that each individual is equal to another. How then CAN the unequal treatment of some be justified EXCEPT by suggesting that they are somehow not the same as other individuals?

Now I accept entirely the idea that a SOCIALIST society cannot be created unless these ideas are overcome, but that can only arise in conjunction with the transformation of the material basis of society,and that requires that a Workers State is created first. As Marx put it "Right cannot be higher than the material basis of society." I agree that if Marx's vision of the transformation of society were to be adopted - the clawing back of the emans of production into the hands of the working class via the creation of co-operatives etc. prior to the political revolution - then the spirit of co-operation and solidarity this engenders, together with the necessary work of the Workers party in education would go a long way to overcoming such reactionary ideas, but we have seen - or at least I would argue we have seen USRed may disagree - the creation of workers states by methods other than this, and we may well if we live long enough see the creation of others by yet different means.

One of the problems with democracy is that it can turn out to be hell for Minorities, which is why real democrats have always argued that an essential aspect of democracy has to be the protection of the Rights of Minorities, but demanding that Right, and the Majority conceding it, are two different things. The fact that the Miners in 1984 still held to sexist ideas, did not prevent their wives,a nd other women, or gay miners, and gay socialists and Trade Unionists supporting them. And quite rightly so. Were a similar situation to erupt which spilled over into a revolutionary situation, I doubt too that women, or lesbians and gay class conscious workers would make their support conditional upon the immediate eradication of such ideas. They would almost certainly fight on the basis of being able to eradicate those ideas once the victory was achieved. But, there is absolutely no guarantee they would do so. Leninists can proceed on the basis of taking the question for granted, because they cannot conceive of such a revolution in which it is not actually they as opposed to the real working class that actually holds power, but they can't have it both ways. If they really mean that it is the workers that hold power, then they have to acccept the possibility, and in some cultures the probability, that such reactionary ideas will continue for some considerable time.

The real working class has been turned by the petit-bouregois socialists into a Philosopher's Stone. They beleive that it can only exist as some pure perfection, that putting the word "worker" in ffront of anything automatically acts to purify whatever it prefixes just as the Philosopher's Stone was supposed to purify everything, and turn base metal into gold. Down such a route can only lead dissapointment,and a rejection of everything that fails to meet up to the vision of perfection, a search to then describe it as soemthing else, in order to rationalise the rejection - as the Third campists did with the USSR - and the postponement of any real progress until some new dawn arises.

See Also: Cox 1948 - "Caste, Class and Race" here

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Stuffed Up

London is to replace the Congestion Charge with a charge on polluting vehicles. Sounds fine except that according to News reports not only will the new charge not do anything to achieve the original objective - to reduce the terrible congestion in London - but will also do little to reduce Carbon emissions either. The cars to be targeted by the charge apparently account for only a tiny percentage of the total CO2emissions from London's traffic. But of course, Environmentalism is the latest fad that the petit-bourgeois Left have caught on to, and elections are coming up. What better populist measure then than a token gesture in the direction of reducing Carbon Emissions, whilst appearing to tax the Chelsea Tractor brigade.

According to Ken Livingstone, responding to the criticisms that the measure will do little to reduce CO2 emissions, the money raised through the new tax will be used to invest in cycling etc., and this if succesful would reduce emissions considerably. The operative words here are "if succesful". There is an old proverb about horses and water. I doubt many people are fit enough to do much cycling let alone can be persuaded in sufficient numbers, in Britain's inclement weather, and on Britain's dangerous roads to do much cycling.

Some years ago I used to cycle to work and back - a round trip of 15 miles - every day. I lost count of the number of times that car drivers tried - and sometimes succeeded - in deliberately trying to knock me off, largely because they were obviously pissed about being overtaken while they sat in traffic jams. If you think Britain's roads are bad when you drive over potholes in a car try riding over them on a road bike with 3/4 inch rims, which cost you £25 every time you have to repalce them. Not to mention the drainage grids which still have slats in that your front wheel drops into. But oh yes cycle paths are being introduced. Yes and they are complete death traps. The people that introduce them should be made to ride on them for several months. A cycle path alongside the road made up of just a painted line is less than useless - its dangerous. Cars park in them, pull into them when they need to squeeze past etc. Then these lanes cut across the lines of traffic. Its no wonder that in the last year or so even experienced professional cyclists have been badly injured and killed on British roads. In Europe they have physically separated cycle paths, and that is what should be introduced in Britain. A few years ago I went as a Councillor to Chester where the Council has introduced such paths. They have fewer than in many other areas, but they are good physically separated paths, lit, and designed to go from housing estates to major workplaces and the town centre.

When I used to cycle to work I encountered other problems. Firstly, nowhere to change or shower - which is a definite requirement when you have cycled up some significant hills. Then I was told by the Council's Health and Safety Officer that I could not use my bike to travel to other venues in the Borough where I needed to go during work hours, because although the Council had a Green Policy of encouraging cycling, the Council itself couldn't insure its staff to do so, because it was too dangerous a mode of transport compared to driving!!!!

The reality is that most of these policies are a sham. There are real measures that could be taken to reduce the amount of trafic on the roads. In place of huge centralised public facilities such as hospitals and schools it would be far more sustainable,and far better for users of such facilities in terms of environment, to have smaller units located within local communties. The majority of workers now work in service industries rather than manufacturing,a nd much of this work does not require people to go to a physical place of work. A considerable amount of work can be done from home on a computer. For socialists and Trade Unionists this is problematic, because of questions of solidarity and organisation, but an increasing amount of social contact now is now virtual, and there is no reason why this cannot be the case in relation to workers. In fact it might increase contact and discussion.

All the evidence is that trying to price people off the roads does not work. Those that can afford to pay will pay. Those that cannot will probably still pay anyway, and cut back on something else, or else some will join the rest of the small percentage of the population that are socially excluded due to lack of adequate transport. What will not happen if history is anything to go by is that adequate replacements in the form of Public Transport will meet the gap. In fact, a far more effective method of getting people to move away from their cars appears to be when it becomes inconvenient. But it has to become very inconvenient. Ask any Headteacher of a school who will tell you that many parents would drive their cars into the Hall to drop offf their kids if they could. I have even seen people get into their cars with kids, drive 100 yards to the closest parking space they could get, and then walk 150-200 yds to the school!!! Recently, protesting parents at one school in Stoke - they were protesting about their school closing and the kids being moved to a nearby school, drove their cars slowly to the new school saying this is what it would be like if we had to take the kids to this school. Though I have sympathy with the parents over the school closure for the reasons given above, the fact is the alterbative school wasn't that far away, and it was a secondary school. The question is why were parents taking secondary school kids to school in a car in the first place!!!!

The fact is that a far better solution would be to let all the overgrown boils like London to just become totally congested. Then people would do the rational thing, and move to somehwere that did not have thse problems. Businesses would find it too expensive to stay there, workers would be able to find jobs in more pleasant locations, the over inflated housing bubble in London would collapse reducing the problems for those that can't buy property. Britain has vast swathes of land that could be used. Only 10% of the land is used for housing. A rational society as Marx said in the Communist Manifesto would abolish the distinction between town and country giving those in the country access to the facilities of the towns, and the towns the benefits of the environment of the Country. It is ridiculous to have so much economic activity concentrated into huge unhealthy cities. Yet the Country landowners etc. have conned people into the idea of preserving the Green Belt, and hog-tied into their petit-bouregois environmentalism the Left go along with it. Go to any Council Planning meeting where something unpleasnat is going to be built. Could it go in the Countryside miles from anywhere so it doesn't affect anyone. No, no, no that would spoil the environment. Shove it in the town after all the people there are used to living with shit around them.

A rational socialist society would make such changes to improve the environment, but for now we live under the irrationality of capitalism. TRying to make that system rational by tinkering with this or that measure will never work. In fact past experience suggests it will make matters worse. There is a certain rationality to the market, but one that only operates through contradiction and crisis. The best solution to City congestion is to let that mechanism operate.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

The Peasants Are Revolting

On Sunday we were trying to think of somewhere to go. One of my son's pulled up off Google a suggestion for a walk in the grounds of Calke Abbey. We'd been there before a few times as members of the National Trust. Its only about an hour's drive just on the border of east Staffordshire and South Derbyshire. So off we went. In fact the name is a misnoma. Its not an Abbey at all, but the stately home of the Harper-Crewe family now handed over to the National Trust. The Crewe bit of the name is the part of the family related to the Marquis of Crewe after whom the town better known for its many train lines takes its name, and which is only a few miles down the road from where I live.

I'll get to the relevance of this shortly.

I use a sat-nav for most journeys nowadays just for the novelty of what different roads it takes me to the ones I'd normally use. This time it took me through the South Derbyshire town of Melbourne. It brought back a few memories. In the late eighties one year close to Christmas. I went to Melbourne with another comrade one evening. I'd been shortlisted by a number of branches and CLP's for selection of the Labour Party candidate for the East Staffordshire seat in the European elections. The meeting in Melbourne was one of these meetings.

The evening stuck in my mind. Not so much for the success. I wasn't really expecting to get selected against the incumbent Labour MEP. In my speech the broad outlines went something like me beginning with setting out my working class background, and Labour Movement experience. I used that as the basis for setting out my central thesis that real change only comes from direct working-class activity, and the role of any elected representative is essentially no different than that of a shop steward - to act as a spokesperson, to lead, to encourage, to help organise, but above all to instill in those you represent that they should rely on their own strength. I outlined my recollection as a ten year old of sitting with a similarly politically motivated friend of watching the results of the 1964 General Election, and outlined the disappointment felt in the following years at the Labour Government, especially comapred with the great events that unfolded in Prague, and in France in 1968, and of the workers struggles in Britain at the time especially those against the anti-union laws that Wilson and Barbara Castle tried to impose. Extending this to Europe I noted amongst other things that unlike Britain many European countries still had large numbers of Peasants,and that a European socialist Programme should seek to mobilise those peasants by encouraging them to collectivise voluntarily, and that support should be given to them to do so by workers and socialists. (After all in Britain even today the biggest farmer is the Co-op). I went on to outline similar ways in which I would seek to use my position,a nd the resources available to support similar self-activity by workers in East Staffordshire.

I don't know how many votes I got, but clearly the idea of promoting such self-activity whilst it would have been undoubtedly accepted as commonplace in the 1920's or 30's was a bit too advanced for the 1980's. But according to the comrade who went with me the other problem was the reference to Peasants. Apparently, he saw people's faces look somewhat asconce at the reference, only recognising it as some form of abuse rather than the accurate description it was intended to be!

On the way home just as I came rather too fast around a bend in one of the many country lanes the darkness was lacerated by an aurora of startlingly red and blue lights. Fortunately, I wasn't being pulled over for speeding - strangely at the time along with having all my mail opened regularly, and people listening to my phone conversations, I was regularly stopped both in my car and on my motorbike by the police for no apparent reason or reasons such as, "There have been a lot of motorbike thefts", to which my obvious question was "And is this one on the list?" - but was part of South Derbyshire's blitz on drink driving. I'm glad to say that I passed, but apparently or so I was informed, about half an hour later Edwina Curry's - she was the Tory MP for the area - husband was pulled over and done. So there was a bright spot for the evening.

Anyway back to the peasants, and the Harper-Crewe's and Calke Abbey. The first time I went into the house the NT had only recently taken it over. There wasn't even electric lighting inside. The house was more like a junk shop than a stately home. All the accumulated junk of a few centuries of aristocratic decadence - the hundreds of birds eggs, stuffed birds and other creatures were fairly unceremoniously dumped in various rooms, a Snooker table looked like it had more likely been used in the same way the Clampett's used theirs than for leisurely pursuits - littered the house. In Russia in 1917 the Bolsheviks had taken over such places and put them to good use housing the homeless. But despite the housing problems in Britain today that would not be a sensible use. We have the resources to build better accommodation for everyone if we choose to do it. We don't destroy the relics of Roman and Greek civilisation even though its ampitheatres and so on are the expression of the lives of its ruling classes at the time. Nor should we destroy these old houses simply because of who used to live in them, but should preserve them to remind us of the fact that they did, and to celebrate the skill of the workers and artisans that built them.

One of the things I remember about the house was that it had a tunnel which ran from the bowels of the house the extent of around 300-400 metres through the front gardens to an ice-house, in which was stored large bocks of ice to adorn the G&T's of the Upstairs residents. The tunnel was not to save the servants from the effects of the English Winter weather when they needed to bring in the ice. No it appears that when the residents commented "the Peasants are revolting", it was not a sign that they had taken up arms, but really was the kind of term of abuse that the comrades at the aforementioned shortlisting meeting saw it as. The sole purpose of the tunnel was that the aristos did not have to actually see these lowly creatures going about the work which ensured that their household functioned smoothly, and their every wish was catered for!

The odd thing is - though probably it would give Edwina material for another pot boiler novel - the fastest groiwing area of occupation in Britain today is domestic service.