Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Workers States and Perfection Part II

USREd says that my previous blog didn’t answer his point. For me to answer that he’d have to say why it doesn't answer his point. A while ago I asked if he beleived that a Workers State had EVER existed in the USSR, and he said, following Shactman, "Yes, but only very briefly." He now appears to agree with me that it was deformed from the beginning. But the working class in Russia constituted only a tiny fraction of the population. The working class, and even many in the rank and file of its supposed vanguard Party were still riddled with these reactionary ideas - the peasantry without whom the revolution would have been impossible even more so. If a Workers State - however briefly - could be established by such forces then his thesis fails. Moreover, to say but the USSR was deformed from the beginning does not deal with his problem here. It was deformed precisely because it was the Bolshevik PARTY not the working class that wielded power. If the Bolsheviks held more reactionary positions than the actual working class this would be one thing, but the opposite is the case. The fact is that had the Revolution resulted in the actual Russian workers holding political power all of the reactionary ideas would have ran rampant.

If a successful revolution can be carried through by a tiny, backward working class, and remember that both Trotsky and Lenin argued that the necessary condition is not that a majority support you, but that the majority do not actually OPPOSE you, I think it is quite clear that such revolutions can take place where the working class constitutes a much more powerful force. The chances they will progress to socialism is a completely different question. Remember in Britain the ethnic community represents only around 10% at most of the population. It is quite conceivable that a revolution could occur where the majority of the population are merely passive, but who subsequently begin to challenge the new polity, especially if and when things are not going so well. Then, as now, the backward elements that took no active part will look for scapegoats, and easy answers. Lenin recognised this, and argued that the State would have to act not just against other class forces, but also against reactionary and backward elements within the working class itself. But there lies the rub. If those elements constitute or can gain a majority, how can the State, in the terms the Bureaucratic Collectivists want to define it, then be a Workers State?

My point remains. Take the struggle for almost anything you care to mention - let us take the right of workers to vote. The Chartists believed that this demand was synonymous with bringing the working class to power. At the time the bourgeoisie did too. Although, Chartism was a mass movement, and the Charter obtained millions of signatories, the number of people that were activists was a minority of the working class. But the majority of Workers when they did get the vote did not continue in their non-activity. They voted. I guess they probably voted in ways the Chartists didn't expect. The Suffragettes were a minority of women, but the majority of women once the vote was won took up the opportunity to vote, again probably in ways the Suffragettes had not anticipated.

I believe that a successful socialist revolution cannot be achieved without the majority of the working class being won to the idea that society can be organised in a different way. I believe as a Marxist and a materialist that such a change of consciousness can only arise when workers see for themselves the operation of such a system through the extension of co-operative production, and co-operative means of organising communities even if only on a sufficient scale to demonstrate its superiority. As Marx put it in his Address to the First International such experience in practice is worth a thousand expositions on paper. I agree that such a development will be the best basis for Marxists through the Workers Party to extend those lessons to the general principles of socialism. BUT.

We have seen Workers States arise by other means. The Paris Commune, the Bolshevik Revolution. As Lenin points out history has seen many forms of transformation. And as he also says, Marxists have to deal with the human raw material as it is, not as we would like it to be, not as it should become under socialism. History does not proceed in a straight line. There are setbacks, and human beings respond to them. It seems to me:

Even where revolutions are carried through by classes that overwhelmingly support the change the actual forces that carry through the revolution are almost invariably minorities that rest upon the sympathy, or disinterest of the majority. Social revolutions are nearly always about the basic aspects of life, that is a concern for life, liberty and economic well-being. Everything else is secondary. The revolutionary elite will often - particularly if it is astute like the Bolsheviks - also address itself to other interests, but for the majority the question is, "Will this party end the War, bring bread, bring land reform?" Once the revolution is consolidated, and the majority believes that it is safe to poke its nose above the parapet it will take advantage of the opportunities the new relations offer. It will take part in workplace meeting particularly if this is now not on their own time. But those who were previously in opposition are now the ones who have to take responsibility for things that go wrong. The formerly passive mass once it is a matter of only electing new representatives rather than risking its own life and livelihood can easily take part and elect new representatives more to its choosing, will look for solutions of its own for problems that arise. There is no guarantee such solutions will be progressive.

If our belief in socialism is justified the material changes in society will create the conditions in which the degradation of the individual that leads to sexism, racism, homophobia etc. will be overturned, and the effects of that degradation with them. But to suggest that such a transformation can occur prior to that is to suggest that the eradication of such degradation that flows from class society is compatible with, and can be overcome by bourgeois society itself! In other words it is a reformist vision. And if that reformist vision holds, then it begs the question as to what other aspects of class society can be likewise overcome without socialist revolution! Could we not perhaps in like manner simply convince the bourgeoisie that socialism is better than capitalism? It reduces everything to a moral argument that all that has to be done is to win a majority to a new moral code, without considering the fact that all moral codes are a function of the class society in which they reside.

Of course, that is not to say that even within bourgeois society some inroads cannot be made against racism, sexism, homophobia etc. In general the greater the degree of economic development, the higher the level of culture and civilisation the working class itself achieves. The less it is degraded, the more it can replace the vestiges of ignorance with science, and understanding the more these prejudices can be overcome. But, there are limits, just as there are limits to the economic and social power the working class can achieve under capitalism without having to actually move from the ground of partial reform to the ground of revolution. It is no surprise that the greatest swamp of these prejudices remains in those areas where such development is least to be found. That includes in the US where the great wealth of the nation is so enormously concentrated in the hands of a few. Even for some intelligent Americans it still remains a wonder, however, that in the world’s most technologically advanced nation 70% of people believe that humans walked the Earth alongside Dinosaurs, and a similar majority believe the Bible Story that the Earth is no more than 7,000 years old!

But as Lenin said we cannot simply skip over this human material, and look for some working class more to our liking – though that is what Ultra-lefts have always tried to do, and what the AWL does in Venezuela for instance. Even after the revolution, and no matter what process it arrives by that will remain true. Moreover, even in so far as these prejudices and reactionary ideas are challenged and partially overcome within bourgeois society the process itself is necessarily contradictory, and uneven. Not only do such ideas go through generational shifts, but they are necessarily influenced by other material factors, changes in economic conditions etc. But more complex processes occur too. A look at the way the overcoming of traditional religious ideas can occur alongside the adoption of other forms of New Age mysticism demonstrates that.

Leninists beleive the limits within which such changes of conscioussness can occur under capitalism are fairly tight as Shactman argued. He repeated the mantra that the ruling ideas are always those of the ruling class, and as a good Leninist viewed the ruling class not as that which was socially dominant, but that which held state power. On Shachtman’s basis the majority of the working class would remain subject to these bouregois ideas – which must include all of those ideas which divide the working class in toto – until after the seizure of state power. Only the Vabguard would have freed itself from them. I beleive that following Marx the development of an alternative co-operative economy within capitalism means those limits can be stretched further than the Leninists consider possible. The basic condition of the working class creates the basis for the development of solidarity, but the reach of that solidarity is itself limited. Indeed it can be, and has been counter to the development of a socialist conscioussness, for example when it manifests itself in the support of overt racists like Enoch Powell, or when it is used directly for racists objectives for example when it was used to guarantee jobs for white drivers at the expense of black drivers. Even within communities that can be the case, for example, the instances I have quoted of Tenants and Residents Associations that have raised the demand for white only estates. Yet, the fundamental basis of solidarity action as the best means of achieving the needs of workers cuts across this, and is a powerful lever for socialists to intervene via a mass workers Party in such struggles to educate workers away from such prejudices.

A Trade Union struggle is limited. Most of the time the majority of members take no active part. Even during a strike only a Minority are active. But a Co-operative enterprise, or community organisation is a permanent structure within which the fullest participation of all members is a pre-requisite. The very basis of such organisations when combined with the active involvement of Marxists via a Workers Party is the strongest tool we have for making the working class fit to become the ruling class, of building up its resources, training and educating its cadres not only for the assumption of power, but for the responsibility of administering society. But the likelihood is that workers will have to transform their growing economic and social power into an outright struggle for political power long before they could simply transform the whole of society by such means.

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