Saturday, 29 August 2009

Proletarian Military Policy

The last few weeks have seen a large number of British Troops being killed in Afghanistan. It has raised questions amongst the Public about what Britain is doing there, with about half the population believing that Britain should pull out. But, an even bigger concern has developed about the way in which the British State has equipped and taken care of the troops it has sent into battle. Some of that is simple political point scoring by the Government’s opponents, who have jumped on to a bandwagon. For, example, all of the talk, about the need for helicopters, misses the point that, when the USSR was in Afghanistan, its use of helicopters just provided the Taliban with the opportunity to kill large numbers of troops, in one go, by shooting those helicopters out of the sky, using, US supplied, Stinger Missiles. There seems no doubt that, if British Troops were transported, in helicopters, the Taliban would similarly change their tactics away from IED’s to shoulder launched missiles. Nevertheless, the essential criticism about ensuring that troops are properly equipped, to be as safe as anyone can be, sent to fight a war, remains. The last few days have seen reports that the Ministry of Defence has “lost” several billion pounds worth of equipment, and the Gray Report apparently criticises the Ministry of Defence for the fact that equipment is taking five years to procure, and is 40% above the estimated cost.

The Inadequacy of the Left

The attitude of the Left is generally to ignore these issues, in large part because in opposing the War, and opposing the British State, as an aggressive imperialist state, it has little interest in dealing with the needs of British troops sent to fight on behalf of that state. Indeed, large sections of the Left, who can see no further than a crass anti-imperialism, and who misunderstand and misrepresent basic Marxist principles in that regard, and in relation to “Revolutionary Defeatism”, have ended up taking the attitude of “My enemy’s enemy is my friend”, and so ended up as the military and political allies of forces which are the enemy of the working class and of socialists. In so doing they have frequently confused the actions of the British State, and the actions of the individual soldiers sent to fight on its behalf. Even if they have not themselves lined up with those forces, that have grotesquely gone to protest when British troops have returned, as a result of the cross class nature of the anti-war movement, they have allowed themselves to be tarred with the same brush.

I would argue that this position has nothing to do with the politics of Marxism, nor with the politics, on these issues, of the revolutionary traditions of Lenin and Trotsky. The Left’s position has been a mish-mash, a combination of Ultra-Leftism, Moralism, and Pacifism, which is nothing more than the political expression of that Moralism. As a consequence, it cuts itself off from large sections of the working class, in Britain, and gives the opportunity for Nationalist and fascist forces to intervene opportunistically in that space. Moreover, it boycotts its own politics in providing a working class solution and response to issues, which deeply concern the working class, not just in relation to questions of Defence, but in relation to day to day issues such as Terrorism, short of a millenarianist call for Socialism.

Engels on The Military Question

The idea that Marxists should not be interested in such questions of how their own bourgeois state organises in this manner can be countered simply by referring to Engels excellent pamphlet The Prussian Military Question and the German Workers' Party where he makes this statement that would be anathema to today’s pacifists of the Left,

“Universal conscription — incidentally the sole democratic institution existing in Prussia, albeit only on paper — marks such an enormous advance on all previous forms of military organisation that, having once existed, even if its implementation left much to be desired, it cannot again be permanently reversed. An army today must be based on one of the two clearly defined systems: either the recruitment of volunteers — which is antiquated and only possible in exceptional cases such as England — or universal conscription. All conscriptive systems and ballots 33 are after all no more than very imperfect forms of the latter. The basic idea behind the Prussian law of 1814 is that every citizen who is physically capable of bearing arms thereby has the obligation to do so personally in defence of his country, during his years of military fitness; this basic idea is far superior to the principle of purchasing substitutes which we find in every other country having a conscriptive system, and having existed for fifty years it will undoubtedly not succumb to the bourgeoisie's burning desire for the introduction of the "trade in human flesh", as the French call it.

However once we accept that the Prussian military system is founded on universal, compulsory service without substitution, the only way it can be further improved without its own spirit being breached is for its basic principle to be put increasingly into practice. Let us consider how things stand in that respect.”

Engels goes on to take the opportunity of pointing out how the workings of Capitalism meant that large numbers were unfit for service, but also says in relation to draft dodging,

“All that is needed is to insist strictly and without mercy that men who have avoided recruitment should make up the time afterwards, and then the whole rigmarole of harassment and paperwork would be unnecessary and there would be more recruits than previously.”

Again pointing to the inefficient means by which the Capitalist state dealt with this issue.

He makes clear why for a socialist this is important.

“Whether reorganisation means some slight increase to the military burden or not, will make little difference to the working class as a class. On the other hand it certainly cannot remain indifferent to the question of whether or not universal conscription is fully implemented. The more workers who are trained in the use of weapons the better. Universal conscription is the necessary and natural corollary of universal suffrage; it puts the voters in the position of being able to enforce their decisions gun in hand against any attempt at a coup d'état.

The only aspect of army reorganisation in Prussia which is of interest to the German working class is the increasingly thorough Implementation of universal conscription.”

Once again demonstrating how far Marx and Engels were from today’s Statists who masquerade as Marxists, Engels adds,

“It seems that the most advanced workers in Germany are demanding the emancipation of the workers from the capitalists by the transfer of state capital to associations of workers, so that production can be organised, without capitalists, for general account; and as a means to the achievement of this end: the conquest of political power by universal direct suffrage.”

If we look at the other question, which occupied a great deal of Marx and Engels attention, Ireland, we find that although, they give support for the struggle of the Fenians, for Irish liberation, their emphasis, from beginning to end, in achieving that aim, is to win the British workers over to that goal. In opposing the role of the British State, in oppressing Ireland, there is nothing in their writing, which suggests opposition to the ordinary British soldiers required to implement that policy. How could there be, when those soldiers were drawn almost exclusively from within the ranks of the British working class that Marx and Engels sought to win over!

The Great Schism

The great schism in the “Marxist” movement arose over the attitude to the First World War. Although, all Marxist parties had opposed the War prior to its commencement, the main Social Democratic Parties of Europe, along with the Labour Party in Britain, all lined up behind their own ruling classes at the outbreak of War. Only a minority continued to oppose the War, and to argue that for the working class, “The Main Enemy is at home”, as the German socialist Karl Liebknecht put it. Even amongst the “revolutionaries”, of the Russian Bolsheviks, that position held, as their representatives in the Duma lined up with the Mensheviks to support the War, despite Lenin’s protestations.

The opponents of the War were represented by eight Left organisations at the Zimmerwald Conference. However, it should be recognised that this opposition to War, was not a Pacifist opposition. In one speech Lenin commented,

“Coming out for peace does not mean much in itself. David also writes: we are not for the war, but only against defeat. Everyone wants peace. Taking account of the new situation, we should use new and specific means of struggle which should not be similar in any way to the old German or Russian methods.”

And Karl Liebknecht who had made the statement, “The Main Enemy is at home”, was unable to attend the Conference, because he had himself been conscripted. The opposition to war, was as Lenin pointed out predicated on the idea that the world had entered a revolutionary phase,

“The Basle Manifesto of 1912, adopted unanimously in anticipation of precisely the kind of war between the great powers which has in fact come about, definitely recognised the reactionary and imperialist character of the war, and clearly announced the approach of a proletarian revolution in connection with such a war. In effect, the war has created a revolutionary situation, and has generated revolutionary sentiments and discontent. It is the task of Social-Democrats to maintain and develop these, help to clear the revolutionary awareness of the masses and purge their minds of the falsehood of bourgeois and socialist chauvinism, promote every effort at revolutionary mass struggle against imperialism, for socialism, and to work to transform the imperialist war into a civil war for socialism.

To intensify their revolutionary agitation, Social-Democrats must make use of the growing massive desire for peace, which expresses the disappointment of the masses and the clearing of their revolutionary consciousness. But in so doing, Social-Democrats should not deceive the people by holding out hopes for any kind of stable democratic peace, that would rule out the oppression of nations, and that would come soon and without the revolutionary over throw of the present governments.”

See: The Zimmerwald left

Revolutionary Defeatism

This fundamental difference between then and now has to be taken into consideration by Marxists in shaping their tactics and strategy in relation to military policy. It is also within this context that the concept of “Revolutionary Defeatism” has to be understood. Revolutionary Defeatism did not at all signify a desire for the military defeat of your own State at the hands of its enemies. It did signify the need for a revolutionary struggle by the working class against the ruling class of your own state despite the existence of an external threat, of turning the War into a Civil War in each of the bourgeois states. And part and parcel of that policy of revolutionary defeatism was precisely to demonstrate – in the same way that Engels had done in his pamphlet on the Prussian Military Question – that the ruling class was incapable of truly defending the State effectively, that its military policies would always be restricted and constrained by its own immediate economic and class interests at the expense of the ordinary workers conscripted to go and fight for it. There is no part of Lenin’s policy or the policy of any of the Zimmerwald Left that calls either for a Pacifistic policy of draft dodging, of desertion, and certainly no suggestion of blaming and attacking the workers and peasants so conscripted, for taking part in the fighting.

It is inconceivable, for instance, that the Bolsheviks would have organised protests to greet returning Russian troops when they arrived in their towns and villages on leave! Far from it, the Bolsheviks themselves were carrying out their revolutionary duty within those forces fighting alongside the working class – sticking with the workers as Bolshevik policy required – and attempting to build support within their units for the idea of turning the War into a Civil War against the bosses.

Trotsky Against Pacifism

Later Trotsky was to write about how the Bolshevik sees this duty,

“We must of course fight against the war not only “until the very last moment” but during the war itself when it begins. We must however give to our fight against the war its fully revolutionary sense, opposing and pitilessly denouncing pacifism. The very simple and very great idea of our fight against the war is: we are against the war but we will have the war if we are incapable of overthrowing the capitalists.”

See: On Conscription

And he wrote,

“The workers should not fear arms; on the contrary they should learn to use them. Revolutionists no more separate themselves from the people during war than in peace. A Bolshevik strives to become not only the best trade unionist but also the best soldier.”

See: Proletarian Military Policy
He elaborates in his article, “On The Question of Workers Self Defence”

“We Bolsheviks also want to defend democracy, but not the kind that is run by the sixty uncrowned kings. (NB. Trotsky was writing to his US supporters, and this reference is to the 60 top financial families) First, let’s sweep our democracy clean of capitalist magnates, then we will defend it to the last drop of blood. Are you, who are not Bolsheviks, really ready to defend this democracy? But, you must at least, be able to the best of your ability to defend it so as not to be a blind instrument in the hands of the sixty families and the bourgeois officers devoted to them. The working class must learn military affairs in order to advance the largest possible number of officers from its own ranks.

We must demand that the state, which tomorrow will ask for the workers’ blood, today give the workers the opportunity to master military technique in the best possible way in order to achieve the military objectives with the minimum expenditure of human lives.

To accomplish that, a regular army and barracks by themselves are not enough. Workers must have the opportunity to get military training at their factories, plants and mines at specified times, while being paid by the Capitalists. If the workers are destined to give their lives, the bourgeois patriots can at least make a small material sacrifice.

The state must issue a rifle to every worker capable of bearing arms and set up rifle and artillery ranges for military training purposes in places accessible to the workers.

Our agitation in connection with the war must be as uncompromising in relation to the pacifists as to the imperialists.

This war is not our war, the responsibility for it lies squarely on the Capitalists. But, so long as we are still not strong enough to overthrow them and must fight in the ranks of their army, we are obliged to learn to use arms as well as possible….

Just as every worker, exploited by the Capitalists, seeks to learn as well as possible the production techniques, so every proletarian soldier in the imperialist army must learn as well as possible the art of war so as to be able, when the conditions change to apply it in the interests of the working class.
We are not pacifists. No we are revolutionaries. And we know what lies ahead for us.”

See: Writings 1939-40 pp104-5.

And, in a series of discussions, in June 1940, with US comrades, Trotsky outlined his position further, which whilst recognising the continuing degree of patriotism that infused the workers, keyed into it without making any concessions to principle.

“We must oppose sending untrained boys into battle. The Trade Unions not only must protect the workers in peaceful times and protect their industrial skill, but they must now demand the possibility of learning the military art from the state.”

“For instance, in the Trade Unions we can argue like this: ‘I am a socialist and you are a patriot. Good. We will discuss this difference between us. But, we should agree that the workers be trained at Government expense to become military experts. Schools should be set up in connection with the trade unions – at government expense but under the control of the trade unions.’ This kind of approach would give us access to the workers, who are 95 to 98% patriotic even at the present time.”

“But, we place our whole agitation on a class basis. We are against the bourgeois officers who treat you like cattle, who use you for cannon-fodder. We are concerned for the deaths of the workers, unlike the bourgeois officers. We want workers officers.”

And tying into the present conflict in Afghanistan, and the lack of support provided by the British Capitalists and their state to the troops sent to fight to protect their profits, one of Trotsky’s supporters at the discussion, the Trade Union leader Farrell Dobbs, says,

”Men were drafted in May and within two or three months were dead in France. They were not properly trained to take care of themselves. We can compile material on how officers have wasted material.”

And, following Engels comments,Trotsky says,

“As for the escapists – including those in our own Party – we must speak about them with full contempt. They are deserters. Likewise with the conscientious objectors who accepted everything in peacetime but don’t want to accept war. Escapists are deserters from their class and their revolution.”

And for Trotsky, the revolutionary in the armed forces, had a specific role, just as they did as Bolsheviks in the Tsar’s Army.

“In the union I can say I am for the Fourth International. I am against War. But, I am with you. I will not sabotage the war. I will be the best soldier just as I was the best and most skilled worker in the factory. At the same time, I will try to convince you that we should change our society.”

(ibid pp 253-8)

In these writings and discussions Trotsky outlines the real meaning of revolutionary defeatism not as being in favour of the military victory of your opponent, but working for the revolutionary overthrow of your own Capitalist class, recognising the limitations on being able to achieve that under the given circumstances, but using those circumstances in a way that enables the development of the forces which will in turn change those conditions.

That concept was developed elsewhere by Trotsky in criticising the Pacifist policy of the Stalinist Comintern in relation to War, and control of the military. He wrote,

"Where and when has an oppressed proletariat “controlled” the foreign policy of the bourgeoisie and the activities of its arm? How can it achieve this when the entire power is in the hands of the bourgeoisie? In order to lead the army, it is necessary to overthrow the bourgeoisie and seize power. There is no other road. But the new policy of the Communist International implies the renunciation of this only road.

When a working class party proclaims that in the event of war it is prepared to “control” (i.e., to support) its national militarism and not to overthrow it, it transforms itself by this very thing into the domestic beast of capital. There is not the slightest ground for fearing such a party: it is not a revolutionary tiger but a trained donkey. It may be kept in starvation, flogged, spat upon it – it will nevertheless carry the cargo of patriotism. Perhaps only from time to time it will piteously bray: “For God’s sake, disarm the Fascist leagues.” In reply to its braying it will receive an additional blow of the whip. And deservingly so!"

See: Trotsky - An Open Letter to the French Workers.

This is essentially the criticism of the strategy of organisations like the Stop The War Coalition whose protests and demonstrations amount to nothing more than this kind of Pacifist sloganeering. They seek to influence and control the Military Policy of the Capitalist State i.e. “Stop The War”, “Troops Out” etc. without pointing out that such control can only come about if the bourgeois state controlling those troops is overthrown! Moreover, because such campaigns are cross class campaigns seeking to mobilise a wide range of bourgoeois Public Opinion, drawing in various bourgeois and petit-bourgeois forces, the clergy etc., and indeed in the case of STW allying with reactionary Islamist forces, the kind of clear proletarian policy and strategy outlined by Trotsky, Lenin and Engels above is impossible, precisely because these bourgeois forces are never going to adopt a strategy that revolves around class action not just against War, but against the fundamental cause of War in the age of Imperialism – Capitalist society!

Building A Workers Alternative

Practically, then what conclusions can be drawn from this about how Marxists should relate to current conflicts in which British workers are being asked to fight and die for the greater glory of British Capitalism? A number of points immediately arise.

1. Marxists are opposed to wars conducted by imperialist states whether they be wars between such states as was the case in WWI and II, or wars conducted by such states to subjugate non-imperialist states e.g. Iraq, Afghanistan.

2. However, we recognise that short of overthrowing the Capitalist State, we are powerless to prevent such wars where the State is determined to undertake them. We make that point clearly to the working class, in contrast to the various genera of Pacifist and reformist whose politics imply the class neutrality of the State.

3. In the meantime we conduct our activities on the basis of class. We point out that the Capitalist State systematically fails to properly train those it sends to die, that it systematically does what it does in the realm of industry i.e. cuts costs at the expense of the workers whose lives it places little value upon. That Capitalist State talks about defending the country, but the main thrust of its military activity is geared not to a defence of Britain, but to an extension of British military power overseas, in ways, which can only antagonise the inhabitants of those foreign lands, and thereby encourage retaliation, putting in danger not protecting the lives of British workers.

Both Britain and the US have explained the terrorist attacks upon them by claiming that they are a response to the prosperity and democracy of the UK and US. But, that is clearly false. Switzerland has both a higher per capita standard of living, and a greater claim to democracy than either the UK or US. Yet, it has faced no such terrorist attacks. That fact can hardly be divorced from the fact that it has not been involved in the repeated invasions of other countries that has marked the foreign and military policy of the UK and US.

4. As Marxists we insist that any policy of Defence should be precisely that a policy designed to defend the rights and freedoms of ordinary British workers. We have no faith in the bourgeoisie or its State implementing such a policy. Our position as with our politics in general is based no on a reliance on or misguided belief in the bourgeois state, but in the necessity of the working class looking after its own needs and interests through independent working class action. On that basis, and in the tradition of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky as set out above, we believe in the need for Universal Military Conscription for the purpose of defending workers interests against their enemeies at home and abroad. But, such conscription cannot be left in the hands of our class enemies. All such conscription must be undertaken by the working class under democratic, Trade Union control.

The consequences of this are clear that all British troops should be withdrawn from foreign lands and returned to Britain where they can be engaged in actual defence rather than offence. The present standing army should be phased out as Universal Conscription provides the forces necessary to create a National Militia under Trade Union control. Even the US Constitution states that there should be a right to bear arms for all as part of a well-regulated militia. There is nothing outlandish about such a demand it is a basic bourgeois democratic demand.

5. In fact, the development of Co-operative housing, and the Co-operative management of estates provides the basis for the policing of such estates to be brought directly under the control of the workers on those estates, and taken out of the hands of the Capitalist State, and its Police Force. Participation in such activity should be a Civic Duty of each citizen, in the same way that is serving on a Jury. Such organisation at a local level can form the basis for the development of a National Militia under Trade Union Control.


An understanding of the strategy and tactics to be adopted can be gained by looking at how workers have resolved these issues in practice, and how Marxists have approached them in the past. In WWI, in 1917, Russian soldiers having overthrown the Tsar, shouted across to their German counterparts in the trenches,

“We have overthrown our Tsar. If you do the same with your Kaiser, we can end the War, and all go back to our families.”

In his History of the Russian Revolution Trotsky relates the solution provided in practice by the Russian Troops.

‘“The soldiers are definitely expressing the opinion,” reports the chief of the Grenadier Division on the 23rd March , “that we can only defend ourselves and not attack.” Military reports and political speeches repeat this thought in various forms. Ensign Krylenko, an old revolutionist and a future commander in chief under the Bolsheviks, testified that for the soldiers the war question was settled in those days with this formula “Support the front, but don’t join the offensive.” In a most solemn but wholly sincere language, that meant defend freedom.’

(Trotsky. “History of the Russian Revolution” p278).

In other words the working class resolved this question for themselves in practice by saying we have no interest in the imperialist ambitions of our own bourgeoisie, we do not seek your land and property, we hope you take the same attitude, as our brothers and sisters, but if you do not, be aware we have no intention of becoming slaves of your rulers, we will defend our freedom.

And in France, Greece, Yugoslavia etc., the main fighting force for the Partisans and Resistance fighters came from the “Communists”, who laid down their lives in small actions against the overwhelming might of the German army. In fact, its interesting to compare the actions of the Communists in attempting to offer up such defence against invasion compared to the actions of the bourgeoisie, who were quick to save their skins and their property once the Germans invaded. Capital, in Occupied states, continued to exploit the domestic workforce equally, if not even more brutally, under the German jackboot as it had done previously. Its no wonder that amongst sections of the French bourgeoisie content with the Vichy regime, that even the forces of DeGaulle and the Free French army were not applauded, let alone those of the Communists and resistance fighters.

That, of course is the nature of Capital, which is very strong on requiring the workers to demonstrate their patriotism, but which is less keen to do so itself when it threatens its own property. Not only did, the various Capitalist states jockey for position in deciding who to enter an alliance with during the 1920’s and 30’s, free from any concern about whether its partners were “democratic” or “dictatorial”, but concerned solely with what was economically advantageous, but even when the War began attacks were initially prohibited on German arms factories, because of the Capitalists concern that property was sacrosanct. Up until the US entered the war, the German plants of General Motors and Ford continued to produce military vehicles for the Nazis, and the US sued the UK for damage caused to those plants in bombing raids!

Tom Wintringham

In Britain, there is an even more interesting story. During the 1930’s repeated demands had been raised, by Tom Wintringham, for Britain to introduce adequate Air Raid Protection (ARP) measures. Wintringham had been a founding member of the British Communist Party. On the outbreak of the First World War he had given up his studies at Oxford University and signed up for the Royal Flying Corps. His politics are somewhat eclectic. Long before the policy was adopted by the Comintern he argued for cross class Popular Fronts. But, Wintringham also seems to have developed fairly early on some unease at the polciies being adopted by Stalin, and his Popular Frontism seems also to have been driven by a concern that change should be driven from the bottom up, rather than from the State down, as his later political activity demonstrated.

In the 1930’s he went to fight on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War, and became the Commander of the English Battalion of the International Brigade.
See: Wintringham .

There he learned guerilla tactics, and as WWII loomed he argued not only the need for ARP measures, but also that the British people should be trained in such tactics to fight against any invaders. He argued strongly in favour of the Local Defence Volunteers (LDV), which was to become the Home Guard. But, when the LDV was first established it was a haphazard affair, much like the portrayal in “Dad’s Army”. Wintringham was brought in to organise proper training at Osterley Park.

See: Wintringham and the Home Guard .

Wintringham worked for the Picture Post, and when the film “The Life and Times of Colonel Blimp” was made it was Wintringham whose role was portrayed.

See: Picture Post

Ironically, although a large part of the initial organisation and training for the Home Guard is attributable to Wintringham, he was not allowed to join it himself, because he was a member of the Communist Party!!!! Again, this demonstrates the real nature of the bosses patriotism. A similar thing could be seen after the War in Germany. The Allies completely turned a blind eye to the Nazi industrialists, because they were more concerned to ensure that German Capitalism once again began to function as part of the world Capitalist system. At the same time Nazis were allowed to take up positions as judges, and Civil Servants. Yet, those forces in Germany in the Communist underground that had continued to fight the Nazis throughout the War were the ones who were blacklisted. A policy called “Berufsverbot” was introduced that restricted Communist activity, and even into the 1960’s opposition to the attacks on democracy by the State could get you murdered as happened to Rudi Dutshcke.

See: Here ,


Rudi Dutshcke.

In Spain, Wintringham had an affair with an American Trotskyist, Kitty Bowler, who became his wife. His refusal to leave her led to his expulsion from the Communist Party. Wintringham’s political trajectory then led him to advance positions close to what would today be called Libertarian Socialism. His Popular Frontism led him into an alliance with Liberals, and together with J.B. Priestley he set up the Commonwealth Party, which sought to advocate politics based upon Co-operation. Having said that, at a time when the LP itself was in a Popular Front, National Government with the Tories, and the Communist Party was banned, the Commonwealth Party, did stand candidates in elections against the National Government candidates, in order to provide a socialist choice for workers, and did achieve some degree of success.

See: Commonwealth party

For more information on Wintringham and his writings see:

Wintringham Index

Tom Wintringham .

Democratic Rights and Marxist Politics

This shows how, under conditions of War, Marxists can determine their politics in such a way as to address the immediate concerns of workers, advancing a Proletarian Policy of Defence, that offers the potential for workers to assert their own class interests, and to demonatrate why workers can never rely on the bourgeoisie to provide such defence. It demonstrates how, under these conditions, the potential exists for undertaking class struggle politics within the armed forces, and all sections of society mobilised for Defensive purposes. The main requirement here is that Marxists have correctly oriented themselves to the conditions, and created the conditions under which they can engage in action to organise, and develop the working class in these areas around such a class struggle perspective.

Under current conditions, its necessary to recognise basic facts and frame tactics and strategy accordingly. Although, the development of Co-operative Housing and Estate Management – perhaps through a development of existing Tenants and Residents Associations, and their closer linking to Trades Councils, and other Local Labour Movement bodies – offers the potential for developing local workers defence as the bais of a Militia, we are clearly a long way from such a development. Although we are in favour of Universal Conscription, we are not in favour of that outside the context set out above. And, although we argue for the basic rights of troops, we recognise that the reality of the current military, as a professional army under the direct control of the bosses state, is that it is the physical force intended for use by that State against the working class, whatever the politics or intentions of the individual soldier. We cannot then, under current conditions, be in favour of a Military Trade Union, or its integration into the Labour Movement, when part of its function is to act AGAINST the Labour Movement. We have to differenetiate between our attitude to the military as an organisation, as an arm of the State, and our attitude to the individual soldier on whose side we must be as against that State. Our task is to change those conditions.

We can then demand that the same rights be applied to soldiers as to any other worker in regard to, for example, Health and Safety. Just as no worker should be asked to perform any duty without the necessary safety equipment and clothing, so no soldier should be asked to undertake actions without similar protection. Soldiers should have the right to establish their own Health and Safety representatives and Committees to determine what such equipment should consist of, and should have the right to refuse any activity without the provision of the equipment they deem necessary. In the same way they should have the right to determine what training is required to undertake particular types of activity, and to demand that it be provided prior to any soldier being asked to undertake such action.

Soldiers should have the right to hold regular mass assemblies to discuss action they are being asked to undertake, and the review those they have undertaken. Partly in order to ensure that from such experience the best officers are selected, and to remove those that have proved inadequate, and partly so that soldiers should feel free to express their views without fear of reprisals from above, they should have the right to elect their immediate commanders.

Clearly, operationally, it is not possible to engage in fighting on a democratic basis. There has to be a clear chain of command, but that is precisely why the individual soldiers need to have the utmost confidence in those giving the orders. This was one of the main strengths of the Red Army created by Trotsky. The effectiveness of that was demonstrated by the fact, that despite the terrible devastation that Russia had suffered during WWI, despite the attempts of the old Tsarist rulers and the bourgeoisie to sabotage production and the fucntioning of the State, despite the crushing war weariness that weighed on the Russian people, the thousands of workers and peasants that flocked into the Red Army, were able not only to defeat the forces of the counter-revolutionaries, but also to defeat the armies of the 18 imperialist powers that invaded Russia to try to overturn the revolution.
Similarly, society as a whole should have the right to elect the Military Top Brass, and given the links between the Military and defence companies that exists in every Capitalist State as demonstrated by Galbraith, society should demand the opening of the books of all Defence contractors, and the disclosure of all such links in the same way that we are now demanding that MP’s come clean about their expenses.

On this issue as on many others the Left needs to move away from the Statist, and petit-bourgeois conceptions that have debased it for too long, and to return to the path of proletarian policy, and its scientific elaboration according to the principles of Marxism. On this issue as on others we do not have to simply accept that all that is possible is to call for reforms by the existing State, which sow illusions both in the neutrality of that State, and the fallacy of being able to control its actions short of its overthrow. We can advance an independent working class solution that not only is not dependent upon that State, but is in opposition to it! We do not have to settle for simply hanging on to the coat-tails of the Moralists and Pacifists, but can address the real fears and concerns of the working-class in a way that undermines the Nationalists and Fascists, who otherwise play upon and exploit those fears. In fact, in so doing, in orienting towards a proletarian military policy of the kind outlined here, we set the basis for its extension across borders, building on the natural co-operative instincts of the working class and its desire for peace and security. In fact, we provide the basis for establishing the kind of international working class force that can intervene to assist workers facing oppression at the hands of vicious dictators and militarists without relying on intervention by some supposedly “progressive”, or “democratic” imperialism.

We lay the basis in military terms for implementing the basic idea – “Workers of the World Unite”, and thereby of preventing those workers being slaughtered in some new conflagration.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

US Healthcare, The NHS and The Left

To the vast majority of people, in Europe, the current debates, in the US, over Healthcare Reform, appear bizarre. There again, a lot of US politics appears bizarre to Europeans. Although there have been fairly recent times, when, in various European countries, the Catholic Church has had a powerful influence on politics, there is nothing like the kind of relationship between fundamentalist religion and politics that exists in the US. Not even the Catholic Church denies the theory of Evolution, or clings to the idea that the Earth is only a few thousand years old and was created in just 6 days! As rich Capitalist states, money plays a big part in open political activity, but nothing like the almost flagrant buying of votes that occurs in the US. You might also think that, given the almost complete identity of the politics of the Democrats and Republicans, the US State apparatus and the ideological apparatus of the media, which is an integral part of it, could afford to be that much more objective in its analysis; instead, the mainstream US media appear crude in the extreme, compared to Europe. The most glaring example being Murdoch’s US media empire, and Fox News in particular, which is grotesquely partisan. Not even Murdoch’s British outlets, like the Sun, or Sky News, would resort to the kind of activities that Fox engages in, including the recent stories about the NHS, about their being “Death Lists” for patients in the UK, administered by Government bureaucrats.

Faced with the unbelievable comments that Republican backwoodsmen, and the right-wing media, in the US, have been making, on the NHS, and European socialised healthcare in general, its understandable that the first reaction of socialists is to counter these lies with a defence of the NHS. Understandable, but largely wrong. There is a difference between defending the principle of socialised healthcare, of the principle that healthcare should be free at the point of use, and uncritically defending the NHS, or any other State Capitalist health provision. What is somewhat hypocritical is the fact that some of the organisations, which uncritically defend the NHS against privatisation or against these recent attacks from the Right, are themselves Third Campist organisations, who argue/d that State Capitalist property in say the USSR or Cuba, COULD NOT/CANNOT be defended, because it is no more progressive – in fact, possibly less progressive – than the “democratic” imperialist states, and their capitalist property relations, that confront/ed it!

Some time ago, I had a discussion on this, on the AWL website, in relation to Cuba. The argument went like this. AWL: We will not defend Cuba as a State Capitalist economy, but we will oppose foreign intervention as we would for any other small state. Me: So if attempts other than foreign intervention were made to overthrow Cuba’s healthcare system you would not defend it? AWL: Yes, we would because it is progressive like the NHS. Me: Why is a State Capitalist hospital progressive, but a State Capitalist Pharmaceutical Company, or Steel Works, Not? AWL: No answer. Me: If insurgents were attacking would you only put your forces around hosp[itals and not factories? If the Cuban State sent troops to defend the hospital too, would you join them in defending it, or also fight them as the State Capitalist class “enemy”? AWL: No answer.

In fact, the logic, of the Third Camp position, is to offer no opposition to the privatisation of State Capitalist enterprises, because the basis of their argument is that if anything State Capitalism or its twin Bureaucratic Collectivism are, if anything, more reactionary than bourgeois democratic, market Capitalism! The fact, they do so simply demonstrates the petit-bourgeois, Opportunist nature of Third Campism, which basis itself, not on principle, but on tailing the working class.

The Marxist position is clear. State owned property is historically progressive for the reasons Engels sets out in Anti-Duhring. Not because, it is more efficient, not because it offers workers better conditions etc., but simply because it represents the more mature form of Capital, and is thereby closer to its own demise. As Engels puts it, in “Anti-Duhring”, State Capitalism exposes clearly the exploitative relationship, as the Capitalists are reduced to a class of “Coupon Clippers”. For that reason, just as Marxists oppose measures to limit Monopoly, Marxists oppose attempts to turn the clock backwards, to convert Capital to more primitive forms. But, defence against attempts to turn the clock back, does not at all imply refraining from attempts to turn the clock forward. On the contrary, the Marxist position has always been that the best means of defeating such threats is to attack, to set out why the existing set-up is inadequate and why only a more socialist, a more democratic solution can be successful.

In setting out his argument for Defence of the USSR, Trotsky was not at all committed to defending Stalinism. He set out clearly, that the Stalinists were not capable of providing a real defence of the USSR, and that it was necessary in order to provide that defence, to remove the Stalinists, to replace the existing bureaucratic structures, with real workers democracy, and so on.

The same is true with the NHS. A progressive alternative to the NHS does not lie in a return to private Capital, and Marxists should oppose every attempt to bring that about. But, the best way to prevent such a change is not to give uncritical support to the current State Capitalist regime, but to argue the need for a wholesale “political revolution” within it, to remove the top bureaucrats, and to bring it under some form of working class democratic structure.

The reality is that some of those critics of the NHS do have a point. The NHS, like all State Capitalist enterprises, is massively top heavy and bureaucratic. However well-meaning the vast majority of its staff, they work in an authoritarian, highly structured regime, in which the top bureaucrats are driven like all bureaucrats to build their own internal empires in which the number of highly paid staff beneath you, the impressiveness of the buildings you control etc. are the indicator of the extent to which you have scaled the greasy pole. This is one reason that investment is directed heavily towards new sexy, large hospitals rather than towards the far more effective use of resources in Primary Care. It is why this kind of huge investment stands in contrast to the lack of hygiene, and other necessities, and which leads to thousands of workers dying from MRSA, and C-Diff etc. Infection rates in UK private Hospitals are much lower than in the NHS, and one reason for an increase in the number of people taking up Private Medical Insurance. Other Socialised Healthcare systems in Europe, which often work on the basis of a National Insurance scheme, but with actual provision undertaken by private hospitals and clinics, provide generally better levels of healthcare, and at lower costs. In many of these countries, waiting lists are pretty much unheard of.

The history of all State Capitalist enterprises in Britain has been one in which the industry is run by, and in part for the benefit of, its bureaucratic top management, drawn from the private sector and retaining close links with it. Not surprisingly then, there is also a history of such enterprises also being run for the benefit of Capital as a whole at the expense of the enterprise’s workers, and non-business consumers. State Capitalist energy suppliers systematically overcharged domestic consumers, whilst subsidising large Capitalist users of energy. Nationalised industries were required to set their prices equal to their Marginal Costs, whilst, for British Capital as a whole, prices were, on average, around 10% above Marginal Costs. This can be seen again with the NHS, which is widely regarded as being ripped off on a big scale by the pharmaceutical companies. A look at the prices for many drugs, that individual patients have to buy for themselves, in Europe, shows them to be a fraction of the prices charged for exactly the same drugs provided on prescription in Britain. The reason is simple. In Europe the individual patient either will not, or is unable to pay high prices for drugs they require on a regular basis and so, prices are set accordingly. In the UK, the Government is seen to have an almost bottomless pit, with which to buy drugs, and the pharmaceutical companies know that, if it refuses to provide them, their will be a Public outcry. Of course, in reality it is not the Government or the NHS that buys the drugs, but the individual worker who pays for them along with the bloated bureaucracy of the NHS and Department of Health in high taxes.

Anyone who has worked in the State Capitalist sector, knows how this works. Let me give an example from my own experience. One day, I was asked, by a Manager in my Department, how much the Maintenance Contract for his PC cost. I told him that all PC’s were covered under a General Maintenance Contract, dealt with by the Central IT Department, and along with all Central IT costs were recharged to all other Departments. He said there must be a figure for his particular PC, and he’d like to know it. So, I went to ask, and was amazed at the answer, despite the fact that my previous dealings, with the IT Department, had demonstrated waste on a massive scale. The Council had a Maintenance Contract for all its PC’s with ICL. For this PC the cost was £150 per quarter or £600 a year. This was around 1995, and the value of this particular PC was probably only about £150! Given that their were several hundred PC’s in the building, this amounted, on my calculation, to around £120,000 a year that was being spent for Maintenance Contracts on PC’s that were worth only a fraction of that cost. Had each individual Department had control over its own IT expenditure it would never have done that, because it would have been much cheaper to simply have a few replacement PC’s on hand to replace any that were faulty! I could give many similar examples, some of which are even worse than this.

Nor can you imagine that, if workers actually had direct ownership and control of such activities, they would allow their money to be wasted in this way. In fact, in regard of the NHS, things have moved backwards not forwards. At least with the old local elected Health Boards, and the more recent elected Health Authorities there was some semblance of Public democratic control and oversight, even if it was more appearance than reality. The creation, instead, of Primary Care Trusts, made up of Health professionals, is rather like asking the poacher to work part-time as the Gamekeeper. There is no reason why, at least, some semblance of democratic control could not be exercised by transferring this responsibility to Parish and Town Councils, and by beefing up those bodies in order that they could undertake this task. In addition, one of the selling points, of establishing Foundation Hospitals, was that they should be run by a democratically Board – though like with democratically elected School Governors the whip hand would remain with the hospitals top doctors and bureaucrats – but, why should this only apply to Foundation Hospitals? There is no reason, here and now, why all hospitals should not be run by democratically elected Boards made up of the hospitals workers, at all levels, and patients elected within a given radius of the hospital.

No reason, that is, other than that I have pointed out in relation to calls for Workers Control appended to demands for nationalisation by the Capitalist State; it has no reason to concede such demands, other than in a completely neutered form – and there is no way under present conditions that the working class could force the State to accede to such a demand. That is why, although such demands can be raised, Marxists should point out why the State will not accede to them, and why, instead, workers have to look to the development of their own healthcare systems directly under their ownership and control. Ironically, the organisations like BUPA, which are the bette noir of the Left, show that such developments are well within the possibility of workers and their organisations to create.

In the 19th century, workers not only created Trade Unions, to defend themselves in the workplace, but also developed a wide range of other social institutions to cater for their wider needs as workers. They developed Friendly Societies, through which they were able to make provision for Unemployment, Sickness and Old Age, (out of which the various Provident and Mutual Associations like BUPA emerged) they developed various educational institutions and so on, demonstrating clearly that workers could build on their natural inclinations towards solidarity and self-reliance to posit their interests in opposition to the Capitalist Class and its State. It is perhaps, then, no coincidence that, at the very time when the prosperity of the Long Wave Boom, that began around 1890, meant that workers' rapidly rising living standards could put real resources into these worker owned and controlled institutions, the Capitalist State intervened to draw off these funds with the establishment of National Insurance, bringing nearly all of these functions under the dead-hand of the State. Of course, the role of Lasalleanism and Fabianism, which ideologically dominated the political wing of the workers movement, including those organisations which claimed to be Marxist, played its part in undermining the workers own independent development, and instead pushed them into a belief in the power of the bourgeois state, which was to create a relationship of dependency much akin to that of the medieval serf and his master.

Under these conditions, of misleadership of the movement, by the Lassalleans and Fabians, the potential, for independent working class organisations, withered and died. The only remains were the Mutual organisations such as the Building Societies, which, in a culture of reliance upon the State, which undermines independent working class activity and self-reliance, came to simply mirror their private Capitalist equivalents in the Commercial Banks. The Provident Associations like BUPA, became the mirror-opposite of what they started out as. Instead of being workers organisations, they became the instruments of private Capital, reliant on, and determined by the large employers who filled their coffers in order to provide for the needs of their Managers.

But, that fact should not be an impediment for Marxists learning the real lesson of that experience, nor for workers to once again build their own organisations, through which they can exercise their own interests, and control. After all, the same thing could be said, of other workers organisations – the Trade Unions and the LP. Only when it has to does the bourgeois state come out in open class warfare against the working class and its organisations. Its method, from the inception of bourgeois democracy, at the end of the 19th Century, has rather been to subvert the workers' organisations, to infuse them with the dominant bourgeois ideas, to incorporate them into the State, and thereby to neuter them. That does not lead us to abandon the idea of Trade Unions, or the Workers Party! It does teach us that workers have to remain as separate from the State as they possibly can be, and that Marxists have to teach the workers that the State is their mortal enemy on which they should place no reliance, and whose role and influence in society they should try to diminish at every opportunity. Not, of course, in the way that the Right advocate, by postulating a crass individualism, but, instead, by postulating that which makes the working class strong, that which makes it the revolutionary class, its solidarity, its innate need to co-operate, and its need to liberate society by liberating itself from all oppression, not least that imposed upon it, by the crushing weight of the Capitalist State, which controls and shapes its daily life, in order to make it a fit collective servant of Capital.

In that context, I’ve been interested to hear that one option being discussed in the US Healthcare debate is that of establishing Co-ops. But, there are Co-ops and Co-ops. As I have said before, there is nothing automatically socialist about a Co-op. The billionaire swindler Bernie Mahoff, lived in a housing Co-op in Manhattan. I doubt there was anything particularly socialist about that. There are many peasant distribution Co-ops in Southern Europe, but if anything they can tend to reinforce typical peasant, petit-bourgeois ideas and values. If I understand the proposals correctly, the suggestion is for the establishment of Purchasing Co-ops. That would mean that people could come together to create their own collective fund, which they control and administer to then buy healthcare from the private sector. There are a number of problems I can foresee with this.

Theoretically, there could be a problem that such a Co-op could be dominated by the wealthier, middle class members if it were successful. I doubt that would be the case, because those sections of society already tend to have good healthcare insurance. But, the obverse of that is the case. If those who join such a Co-op are only those who currently have no insurance and are not covered by Medicaid, then it is unlikely to be able to acquire the necessary resources to be able to buy healthcare from the private sector on decent terms. Only if large numbers of workers could be won to the idea of a large Co-op, probably established on the basis of local federations, each under effective, working class, democratic control, could the necessary resources and efficiencies be established, which would enable it to bargain, with private healthcare providers, on a reasonable basis. As the demonstrations at Town Hall meetings across the US have shown – though clearly much of this seems to have been orchestrated by the Republicans and other Right-Wing organisations – the fact that a large number of US workers DO have Health Insurance, provided by their employers etc., is a major obstacle in bringing that about. The more the big employers ditch Health Insurance for their workers, the less that will be an obstacle, but that could take some time.

Of course, that is no reason why the Trade Unions could not organise a drive to establish a Co-operative Insurance scheme in competition with the private insurance companies, and simply demand that employers switch their payments in to that. That would provide the financial resources necessary, and be a means of then winning over other workers to join. But, such Purchasing Co-ops inevitably face the same kinds of problems that the NHS faces when dealing with private companies. Only if this culture were transferred into a drive to also establish Co-operative provision of healthcare – a start would be to copy the example of the UK’s Co-operative Pharmacies – and to infuse these with a real local working class democracy could a real progressive alternative begin to develop. But ultimately, the power of the big drug companies pose a major problem, especially in the US where Protectionist legislation defends the profits of US drug companies, by making it almost impossible to buy imported drugs. Creating new worker owned drug companies is not feasible. But, US workers, like their European counterparts, have huge amounts of savings accumulated in their Pension Funds, and 401K’s. A systematic campaign by the Trade Unions for control of those funds, and their mobilisation to buy up, and gain control over one or more of the large drug companies, could begin to undermine that stranglehold, as well as demonstrating the way that Labour can begin to challenge, at a fundamental economic level, the power of Capital. That would be to do what Marx spoke about when he said that,

“They (the workers) ought, therefore, not to be exclusively absorbed in these unavoidable guerilla fights incessantly springing up from the never ceasing encroachments of capital or changes of the market. They ought to understand that, with all the miseries it imposes upon them, the present system simultaneously engenders the material conditions and the social forms necessary for an economical reconstruction of society”

Whilst workers, in Britain and Europe, have the task of defending socialised healthcare against a return to more primitive forms of Capital, whilst attempting to establish a more progressive worker owned and controlled healthcare system, that more adequately meets their needs, in a way that present systems cannot, workers, in the US, have the opportunity to counterpose, to the current private capitalist healthcare system – which is effective for many, ineffective for many more, and non-existent for perhaps a majority – a real independent, working class solution, based upon the establishment of worker owned and controlled Healthcare Co-operatives. No Marxist would have advised workers in Russia that they had to struggle for a deformed Workers State, let alone a State Capitalist or Bureaucratic Collectivist State, only then to try to redeem it. Nor should workers, in the US, be advised to settle for the kind of State Capitalist systems that exist in the UK or Europe, for their healthcare, simply as some kind of stop-gap short of socialism. Creating the Socialism of tomorrow entails fighting for it today, in establishing worker-owned property, and independent working class organisation in militant opposition to the bosses state, not in deference to it.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Beware Greeks Bearing Gifts

The tactic of the Trojan Horse is by no means a new one. In recent days, there has been a lot of talk about introducing controls on high end pay. Partly, this can be explained by the fact that we are in the long run-up to a general Election, and the undoubted populism that will go with that. Partly, it is a follow on from the Financial Meltdown, and furore over Bankers Bonuses, and the intermingled outcry over MP's Allowances. But, I fear there is a much more sinister reason.

At the moment the talk only seems to surround the high pay of people in top Executive positions. The Labourite Compass Group have been talking about the establishment of a High Pay Commission. Its not clear how the extraordianrily high pay of Pop Stars would be controlled, for example. Would it just mean setting a limit, and then allowing the recording company to make even bigger profits from not having to pay the singers so much? Or would it mean introducing some kind of sliding scale of prices of music so that the more succesful a record, and the more a singer would make from it the lower the price of that son became to reduce the income? Would this High Pay Commission decide how much different footballers were worth, and thereby set the transfer fees accordingly?

Its unlikely. Its unlikely, that any such controls over the high pay of top bosses would be effective either. They never have been in the past, and the bosses State is not going to introduce any measure that would be. Its unlikely that this is really just about the outcry over Bankers Bonuses, or MP's Allowances either. The Norwich By-Election showed that the main reaction of voters was to respond with apathy by staying away from the polls. Even the effect of that in the Euro-elections was contradictory when the furore was at its height. Although, a lot of attention was given to the BNP gaining two Euro seats there performance udner the circumstances was quite poor. In fact, their votes fell. The main beneficiaries were UKIP, but they didn't benefit in Norwich, and its likely that come a Genral Election those votes will just go back to the Tories. In Norwich the fact that the Euro elections represented the peak of the BNP's fortuens was again demonstrated by the fact that had it been a normal turnout their share of the vote would have been less than 1%, and in any case was as abysmal as that of Left candidates, and only a fraction of the vote that went to the Greens. So come a General Election its likely that it is going to be fought out between Labour and Tories on the issues of the economy not peripheral populist gimmicks.

No the real reason for the introduction of a discussion on controlling pay at this moment was hinted at by today's UK inflation figures. As I have said previously once the economy begins to recover, the vast amounts of money pumped into the economy will be circulating at a faster rate, and prices will begin to rise rapidly. Because, the pound is likely to fall in value against currencies such as the Chinese Remnimbi, and otehr Asian economies where many manufactured imports are now produced, and because rising economic activity will begin once again to push up world food prices and other input prices, and because China and those other manufacturing centres are themselves likely to experience rising inflation pushing up the prices of their exports furher, UK inflation will rise sharply.

Again, as I have said previously, this is not something the Government of any complexion will be sorry to see. It is the means by which all Governments throughout history have dealt with any huge amounts of debts they have previously run up. They depreciate the currency, and pay back their creditors with funny money. Three years of 20% inflation would reduce the UK Government's debt in real terms back down to manageable elvels without the need for it to engage in swingeing cuts in Public Spending, which would be likely to threaten economic and social stability. But, in order to pull that trick off they need all those small savers who have their money in Deposit accounts to keep it there where that inflation will wipe out its value. More importanly, they need workers not to respond to the inflation with demands for wage rises that protect them from it.

There is plenty of form for Governments doing this at previous equivalent points of the cycle. They are preparing the ground for the idea that pay should be controlled in order to introduce a Wages Freeze, or other form of Pay Control when that inflation arises. Marxists have always argued against giving the State this kind of power when it comes to things such as imposing bans on fascists, because we know that such power will always be turned against us. We shouldn't be conned into thinking proposals to limit top bosses pay is any different. The best way to control top bosses pay is for workers to demand democratic control over their money in their pension funds that is invested in all these big companies, then WE could determine how much we think they should be paid, as well as determining other things about how OUR money is used by them. In addition we should be directing much of that money to companies wholly owned and controlled by workers, in which as marx showed in Capital in his review of the Lancashire Textile Co-operatives, workers are always able to find good managers willing to work for much less than the extortionate fees paid to them by Capitalist enterprises.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

The Left And Vestas

The dispute at Vestas on the Isle of Wight is, perhaps, the most important in Britain for many years. There have been a series of other disputes recently such as at Visteon that have raised similar issues, and led to similar tactics such as the sit-in, not seen for many years in British industrial relations. There have been disputes involving larger, more organised groups of workers. But Vestas has not only demonstrated that an underlying militancy and class consciousness has begun to re-emerge in the British working-class, submerged for the last two and a half decades, brought together a number of issues that pose questions for the Left, its politics and strategy. The fact, that it takes place in an industry that will be in the forefront of western industrial development in the period ahead – alternative energy – not only comes as no surprise to me, because it is something I have been theorising for the last twenty odd years, but also enriches the lessons to be learned, because of the way it has involved the Environmentalist movement too, and because it also poses questions about how the Left should develop its strategy in relation to Environmental issues. As on many other issues, I believe that it has demonstrated the weakness of the ideas and strategy of most of the Left.

The main reason for that weakness is I believe that which I have argued many times in the past; it is the fact, that the Left’s politics is dominated by a debilitating reliance on statism. Even those groups whose politics have historically been based on essentially syndicalist principles, such as the SWP, and whose solution to any industrial problem has come down to “more militancy”, have relied for the object of this militancy to be nothing more radical than that the bourgeois state take over the running and exploitation of the workers in place of the less effective exploitation by private capitalist owners. If the political programme of such organisations amounts to nothing more than a crude Economism, then the political programme of the other main “Trotskyist” organisation, formerly the Militant, now transformed into the Socialist Party, has only transcended this crudity in order to make the adulation of the power of nationalisation and the bourgeois state into its own fetish, in demands for “Nationalising The Commanding Heights”, or the passing of “Enabling Acts”, through Parliament, so that this bourgeois state becomes the means of creating socialism! In other words, on the one hand crude Economism, on the other crude Parliamentary cretinism and reformism. Both strands are forced into such positions, because neither can come up with anything in between existing Capitalist relations, and the socialist revolution, no strategy that relies on the working class resolving its problems by relying on its own strength and organisation, and developing its own property, and productive relations within existing Capitalist society.

In reality both stand on what is the old Minimum and Maximum programmes of Social Democracy. Both have a view of socialism arising via a socialist revolution similar to Russia in 1917, but arrived at by different roads. For the Luxemburgists of the SWP that road, amounts to repeated mass strikes, each more militant than the last, through which new layers of workers are radicalised, pushing on and/or replacing the vanguard. Demands such as nationalisation are not really seen as solutions in themselves, but only demands, which act to mobilise workers for some higher goal, requiring more militant action, and if possible direct conflict with the State. This approach to demands for nationalisation is common to many of the “Trotskyist” groups who see it in that light as a “Transitional” demand, not realising that according to Trotsky such demands can only have this “Transitional” character under certain historical conditions – essentially conditions of widespread class action, such as existed in 1917, or say in Italy in 1920, that is when the question of dual power is being posed. Outside such conditions, these demands amount to nothing more than either simple reformist demands, or else are utopian and reactionary. Frequently, in defence of such demands you will hear the argument put forward that its necessary to raise them in order to divorce workers from their belief in the socialist credentials of the Labour Government!!! That was the defence of such demands put forward by Bill Jeffries of Permanent Revolution in a discussion I had with him some months ago over the question of the housing crisis.

See: Northern Rock & Manchester Housing .

But, this same ridiculous argument about exposing the nature of the Capitalist State or of a Labour Government is not the preserve of PR, it is common to nearly all the “Trotskyist” groups. Yet, as I said in that discussion such “solutions”, are no solutions for workers at all. They amount to nothing more than petit-bourgeois games by the revolutionaries. The task of Marxists is not to play these games with workers for the very dubious, and limited goal of “exposing” the bourgeois state – dubious because its not clear workers will draw that conclusion, and because its just as likely that the lesson workers will draw, from revolutionaries putting forward such demands, is that they too expect the State to respond to them, to act in workers interests!! – but to actually provide workers with workable solutions here and now. Petit-bourgeois dilettantes may have time for such infantile games, workers do not. If you do not believe that the bourgeois state will act progressively – and no Marxist has reason to believe it will – then you should not raise such demands, and your duty is to expose such demands for what they are. No Marxist, would for example, raise the demand that workers take a dispute to some bourgeois Arbitration Service, rather than rely on their own, immediate strength in the workplace, simply in order to disabuse workers in the idea that such institutions are impartial! If a worker decided to adopt such a course of action, a Marxist would advise against it, saying exactly why i.e. that such institutions are NOT impartial, and so on. If the worker insisted the Marxist would give every assistance to the worker, and wait for their advice to be vindicated by the worker’s experience.

The consequences of this approach were demonstrated a few years ago when I had a debate with comrades from the AWL on precisely this point, and where the “Letting The State Off The Hook” argument was explicitly stated. The consequence was that in one of her responses, Janine Booth, commented,

“I work for London Underground (a state-owned enterprise). It doesn't always run the most reliable, safe, accessible, value-for-money Tube service that I think people are entitled to expect (understatement). So what should London's working-class communities do? Come on, show some self-reliance - dig your own tunnels and run your own underground railway?!!"

See: Shoplifting, Prison and Drugs .

But, the implication of this comment is not only that Socialism is impossible, viewed as a society in which workers own and control the means of production, because it implies they are incapable of performing such a function absent some Capitalist or Stalinist Manager overseeing and directing their actions, but that here and now, it is not workers on London Underground and elsewhere, who are ALREADY, the ones who are digging the tunnels and running the railways!!! This is the real anti-socialist nature of such statist notions.

There is another part of that discussion which I think is relevant here. In response to the idea that workers have certain “Rights” under Capitalism, such as the “Right” to “free” healthcare, or “free” education I replied,

“In short we cannot simply say that rights we believe ought to accrue to workers and which are appropriate to socialism actually exist now under capitalism. Capitalism has its own set of rules, which are different from those for socialism just as the rules for football are different from the rules for rugby. There is no point telling people playing football that they have a right to pick up the ball and run with it as they would have a right to do if they were playing rugby. They can do it, but they will be penalised.

In a way if you get free healthcare you get penalised some other way too under capitalism. As Marxists we believe in the idea that over a period labour-power as a commodity is sold at its value. True that value has an historical component, but in a globalised market it is the value of labour-power on a global scale that is icnreasingly determinant. Just as the MG workers who lost their jobs because MG are now produced in Nanjing by workers earning a tenth of the wages. Free healthcare - and this applies also to the health insurance provided by employers to US workers - forms part of the wage, part of the price of labour-power as a commodity. If that social wage is high then the money wage must be reduced, or alternatively as with the MG workers or the US workers that have lost jobs by the tens of thousands, Capital will simply refuse to pay over the odds for labour-power as a commodity and move to where it can buy it at the market rate. The only "right" in this regard that workers have under capitalism is that which belongs to the seller of any other commodity to receive the value of the commodity they are selling.

Trying to tell workers any different as I said before amounts to either saying Capitalism should dissolve itself - Socialism Now - or else it is complete reformism putting over the idea that capitalism can simply set aside all of the economic laws under which it functions and accomodate the interests of the working class.”

It should not be necessary to explain this to another Marxist, because it is a basic truth of Marxism. In his Critique of The Gotha Programme, Marx wrote,

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

He was speaking here of the limitations that would exist for the first stage of a socialist society, still limited in what it could do, by the inadequacy of the productive forces, in going beyond “bourgeois right”, let alone going beyond bourgeois right within the confines of Capitalism! He goes on,

“In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life's prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly -- only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!”

The important words, in this context, here being “only then”. Furthermore, in Value, Price and Profit , Marx in demonstrating that Capital will force down wages to the Value of Labour Power says,

“Take, for example, the rise in England of agricultural wages from 1849 to 1859. What was its consequence? The farmers could not, as our friend Weston would have advised them, raise the value of wheat, nor even its market prices. They had, on the contrary, to submit to their fall. But during these eleven years they introduced machinery of all sorts, adopted more scientific methods, converted part of arable land into pasture, increased the size of farms, and with this the scale of production, and by these and other processes diminishing the demand for labour by increasing its productive power, made the agricultural population again relatively redundant. This is the general method in which a reaction, quicker or slower, of capital against a rise of wages takes place in old, settled countries. Ricardo has justly remarked that machinery is in constant competition with labour, and can often be only introduced when the price of labour has reached a certain height, but the appliance of machinery is but one of the many methods for increasing the productive powers of labour. The very same development which makes common labour relatively redundant simplifies, on the other hand, skilled labour, and thus depreciates it.”

He goes on, rightly to say that this does not mean that workers should simply curl up and die rather than resisting, but makes the important point,

“At the same time, and quite apart from the general servitude involved in the wages system, the working class ought not to exaggerate to themselves the ultimate working of these everyday struggles. They ought not to forget that they are fighting with effects, but not with the causes of those effects; that they are retarding the downward movement, but not changing its direction; that they are applying palliatives, not curing the malady. They ought, therefore, not to be exclusively absorbed in these unavoidable guerilla fights incessantly springing up from the never ceasing encroachments of capital or changes of the market. They ought to understand that, with all the miseries it imposes upon them, the present system simultaneously engenders the material conditions and the social forms necessary for an economical reconstruction of society. Instead of the conservative motto: “A fair day's wage for a fair day's work!” they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword: “Abolition of the wages system!"

After this very long and, I fear, tedious exposition, which I was obliged to enter into to do some justice to the subject matter, I shall conclude by proposing the following resolutions:

Firstly. A general rise in the rate of wages would result in a fall of the general rate of profit, but, broadly speaking, not affect the prices of commodities.
Secondly. The general tendency of capitalist production is not to raise, but to sink the average standard of wages.

Thirdly. Trades Unions work well as centers of resistance against the encroachments of capital. They fail partially from an injudicious use of their power. They fail generally from limiting themselves to a guerilla war against the effects of the existing system, instead of simultaneously trying to change it, instead of using their organized forces as a lever for the final emancipation of the working class that is to say the ultimate abolition of the wages system.”

This is not the place to go into what Marx means here in terms of relative and absolute levels of wages, and how this fits with his statements about the “Civilising Mission” of Capital to raise workers living standards, but it does make the point that within the confines of Capitalism what “Rights” can be established is heavily circumscribed by the needs of Capital accumulation, and that in a world where a global Labour and capital Market has been established the ability of Capital to locate and purchase Labour anywhere in the world, makes Marx’s argument here all that much more relevant.

His comments in relation to Trade Unions also bring us back to the specific issue of Vestas.

A look at the attitude of the Left in relation to Vestas, and the demands it has raised once again expose the weakness that flows from its Statism.
Socialist Worker has rightly stated that its important for there to be industrial action.

“There needs to be a strong industrial element at the heart of this campaign.

That means not only raising funds and giving full support to Wednesday’s day of action, but also pulling together a plan to stop the wind turbine blades and other machinery being moved out of the Newport site.

In order for this to be successful it will need solidarity action from workers on barges, canals, ferries and lorries as well as a blockade of the site.”

This view is also expressed by many others on the Left. It is of course, necessary, but in and of itself inadequate. At the end of the day Vestas, whose main business is in Scandinavia, and who have already set up a plant in the US to meet the orders previously manufactured in the Isle of Wight, could probably just walk away from its stock and equipment, waiting for an opportune time, to repossess it. In the meantime the Vestas workers are without work, and potentially useful production of alternative energy equipment that could benefit the environment is being lost! The only solution to this offered by SW as stated above is appeals to tbe bourgeois state to intervene.

“Action so far has forced the government to talk about what is happening at Vestas. The RMT union and two Vestas workers last week met with climate change minister Joan Ruddock. She claimed that the government had tried to buy Vestas but the company refused to sell.

She also claimed to be working on better redundancy terms for the workers.
While this may just be government hot air, it nevertheless shows that ministers do not want to be exposed as hypocrites over their talk of a green economy.”

And, if the bourgeois state DOES intervene, DOES nationalise Vestas, what lesson does that provide for workers? Surely, then rather than leading workers to learn the lesson that the Capitalist State is a class state opposed to their interests, it will mean that the “Marxists” have led the workers into a belief that the Capitalist State is their friend!!!! And, of course, there is no reason why the Capitalist State WILL NOT nationalise Vestas. The Heath Tory Government nationalised Rolls Royce, Tory Governments failed to denationalise most of the industries nationalised by Attlee’s Government until the 1980’s, even the Tories are today “defending” the State Capitalist NHS against attacks by rabid Republicans in the US. Brown’s Government nationalised Northern Rock, and its first act, as has been the case with all previous nationalisations was to decimate the workforce!!! This is the “solution” that the Left is offering to Vestas workers.

SW does note even accompany its demand, that the exploitation of the Vestas workers by private Capitalists be replaced by exploitation by an even more powerful Capitalist State, with a face-saving call for Workers Control as do many others on the Left.

The Socialist Party in similar vein write,

“The best solution to save jobs and the environment is nationalisation.”

Why is it? As said above every other nationalisation has been accompanied by massive redundancies and attacks on workers. Thatcher was not the first politician to attack Miners Jobs. Pits were closed on a massive scale under the Nationalisation of Attlee, and many more were closed by Tony Benn as Minister of Energy. It wasn’t a private Capitalist that forced Miners into the twelve month long strike of 1984, but the British State Capitalist owner! Nor has state ownership of industry by the Capitalist state any great record on protecting the environment either!!! The job of Marxists is to expose the class nature of the Capitalist State not sing its praises!!

They go on,

“At present, there isn't a mass political party in Britain that stands in workers' interests. Rather, New Labour helped push through the pro-market employment laws that make it legal for Vestas to dump workers in the Isle of Wight and move to the United States without so much as a by-your-leave.

When it comes to the next elections, why shouldn't one of the Vestas workers consider standing? A workers' councillor or MP on the island would be an important step towards a working class party that could play a decisive role in struggles like this one in the future.”

The implication is clear, if the strike wins that will be great, but in any event the potential arises for new recruits to the “Party”. I’m not attacking the Socialist Party specifically for that approach, because that kind of mindset is also what stands behind the idea of raising demands like nationalisation. At the back if not the front of the mind of all these organisations is the potential for “building the Party”, and in order to do that what is needed is to win over a few militants by “exposing” the Government, exposing the LP, exposing the union leaders. In fact, it extends to inter group rivalry by exposing each other. It is classic sectarianism, putting the interests of building your own organisation above the objective interests of the class.

Permanent Revolution comment,

“We have to keep the fight firmly focused on the demand for Labour to nationalise the firm, keep the jobs in place and undertake whatever re-engineering is necessary (for example to make offshore wind turbines) that will give Britain’s renewable energy industry the kick start it needs.”

They are right to say that maintaining the Occupation was important, because it provided workers with a bargaining chip, but if as the Socialist Party stated Vestas have basically decided to mothball the plant, then just Occupation is not sufficient. The real solution revolves around restarting production at the plant under workers control, and developing the idea put forward by PR here of looking at what other production could be undertaken from the plant that would be viable, such as land based turbines. That was the lesson that French workers learned in 1968 when they occupied the factories. At some point those factories have to be put back to work, and for a Marxist the obvious demand is for them to begin work again under the control of workers. At that point the question of ownership of the means of production is immediately posed. Even if the Capitalist State does intervene then to nationalise the plant it is dealing with workers who are already in control of production. Once production has restarted under these conditions it opens the possibility of bringing in other forces, such as the environmental movement, the Co-operative Movement, and the Trade Union Movement, as well as left academics to discuss what to produce, how to produce, and how this production can be linked with other Co-operative production etc.

The Weekly Worker adopt a similar stance,

“There ought to be nationalisation without compensation and the whole enterprise placed under workers’ control - the best “option” for the working class as a whole and, of course, the 625 Vestas workers.”

They too add in the demand for Workers Control, and upbraid Bob Crow for not adding the phrase to his demands, pointing out that it is not in his usual lexicon. Again its not explained why replacing exploitation by private Capitalists with more effective exploitation by State capitalists is the best option for the working class as a whole or for the Vestas workers. Its simply assumed in the same way that having got so used to reading the liturgy for so long Catholic Priests take it for granted as being inherently true. But, whilst a case could be made at least for any Vestas workers who kept a job under State Capitalist ownership that this was a lesser evil to no job at all, it is not at all the case that strengthening the power of the Capitalist State through such actions, is in the interests of the working class as a whole. Quite the opposite is the case. As for the possible rejoinder to this objection that this is the function of adding “Under Workers Control”, I have dealt with that previously in my blog Nationalisation and Workers Control , and I will come back to it later.

The issue was also raised by the AWL who reported,

“At the 6pm rally on Friday 31 July outside the occupied Vestas factory in Newport, Isle of Wight, a letter of support was read out from the Danish Red-Green Alliance.
Once nationalised, the letter said, the wind turbine blade factory should be run under workers' control.

The call for workers' control brought loud applause from the whole crowd.”

Now make no mistake, the fact that workers begin to recognise not only that they could control production, but that it would be a good thing is indeed a progressive development. But, the task of Marxists is not just to hang on to the coat-tails of workers as they make such advances in conscioussness, it is to be leading the way, showing how such advances can be put into practice. But, the fact is as set out in the post given in the link above states that nationalisation by the Capitalist State is certainly not the means by which Workers Control can be effected, certainly not in present conditions.

“No one hands over control of their property unless they are forced to do so. To say, when we call for nationalisation what we mean is nationalisation under workers control, is simply as Marx put it to cover your shame with mealy-mouthed words that can have no real meaning. Under certain circumstances it may be possible to force a weak employer to concede a measure of workers control, a real Workers Government might introduce Workers Control, but the full force of the Capitalist State is NEVER going to concede Workers Control over State property. Either the demand for workers control under these conditions means either mealy-mouthed words used to cover the demand for nationalisation with some pseudo radicalism, or else it is effectively a demand for revolution NOW, for the overthrow of the Capitalist State and its replacement with a Workers Government, or a Workers State.”

It is essentially that same kind of utopianism, and phrase-mongering for which Trotsky denounced the Stalinist Third International when it spoke about “controlling” the military actions of the bourgeois state. He wrote,

"Where and when has an oppressed proletariat “controlled” the foreign policy of the bourgeoisie and the activities of its arm? How can it achieve this when the entire power is in the hands of the bourgeoisie? In order to lead the army, it is necessary to overthrow the bourgeoisie and seize power. There is no other road. But the new policy of the Communist International implies the renunciation of this only road.

When a working class party proclaims that in the event of war it is prepared to “control” (i.e., to support) its national militarism and not to overthrow it, it transforms itself by this very thing into the domestic beast of capital. There is not the slightest ground for fearing such a party: it is not a revolutionary tiger but a trained donkey. It may be kept in starvation, flogged, spat upon it – it will nevertheless carry the cargo of patriotism. Perhaps only from time to time it will piteously bray: “For God’s sake, disarm the Fascist leagues.” In reply to its braying it will receive an additional blow of the whip. And deservingly so!"

See: Trotsky .

But, there is no more reason to believe that the working class can control bourgeois property in the hands of such a state, than that it can control the military!!!!

Where Trotsky DOES speak about raising a demand for Nationalisation under workers control in the Transitional Programme, he is clear to delineate precisely the conditions under which such a demand can be raised. 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.

Now, Martin Thomas in one article writes,

“As he came out, I said to one of the occupiers, Mark Smith, that he and the other occupiers had done what Hugh Latimer famously claimed to have done in 1555: "light such a fire in England as shall never be extinguished".”

But, back on Planet Earth, it is clear that, much as the dispute might be termed a Black Swan Vestas moment (using the terminology of Nicholas Taleb) the Peasants are not revolting. It is possibly a Black Swan moment because just as the discovery of a Black Swan overturned the established truth that “All Swans Are White”, the dispute is challenging the established truth valid for the last quarter century about the hegemony of Capital, and the “End of History”. But, marxists should not get carried away with that, this is not in any shape or form the beginning of some pre-revolutionary situation, of the kind described by Trotsky as the conditions under which “Transitional Demands” can be utilised.

The fact remains that the best option for the Vestas workers under current conditions remains that put forward by Marx and Engels, to take over the factory and its production themselves, and to establish a Workers Co-operative. By all means demand the same kind of treatment and financial support for such a Co-operative that the bourgeois state has offered Vestas and other Capitalists, provided that such demands imply no controls by the bourgeois state, but do not base your strategy around such support being given.

See: For A Vestas Co-op .

This idea was developed by US Comrades actively involved in attempting to build such Co-operative solutions. See: here . The US comrades have been in contact with me over this following my initial blog. A number of points I think arise from it.

The Government says it is committed to the establishment of land based wind farms, and has changed Planning Laws to speed up their establishment. The Government blames NIMBYISM, and some of the Green groups, also have made similar comments, though they also tend to blame the Government, which has to be viewed from the perspective of political point scoring too, to some extent. Meanwhile, various residents groups say, "No, we are not opposed to wind farms, but we are opposed to them in inappropriate places." Of course, the inappropriate places are always where those opposing them actually live. Given the nature of wind farms, these sites will be in rural areas, and there is a history of opposition from such areas to any kind of development. Partly, that is because the middle classes that have moved there from Urban Areas, do not want their monopoly of the countryside infringed by development, and partly because Agricultural Capital does not want development that might create competition for its current supply of cheap labour. This has manifested itself in Planning terms by a view that if there is any development that produces any kind of shit or pollution then even if it could be situated in the countryside so as to be away from major populations and minimise the effects, it should still be situated in an urban area, because people in those areas - workers - already live with a load of shit so a bit more won't make any difference! Unfortunately, the demands of the Environmental Movement have tended to support such views - no doubt partly because most active environmentalists, certainly the opinion formers are themselves middle class!

My feeling is that in order to overcome this, once again Co-operatives are a good solution. One of the reasons that people oppose the siting of wind farms is the actually positive attitude of opposing things being imposed on them. A look at people's attitudes where they own a bit of land, and have the potential to make money from a phone mast being sited on it, is completely different! A Co-operative community would have positive incentives to develop their own alternative energy production and distribution, because it would be theirs, under their control, and directly providing benefits to them. As the US comrades rightly state, the Co-op in Britain is a large organisation with considerable resources, some of which it already allocates for Community Development projects. The merger of the Co-op Bank with Britannia has now created an organisation with £75 billion of assets. We desperately need a radical vision of how these resources could be mobilised to encourage the development of such local Co-operative communities that could begin to develop their own energy systems - and other types of Co-operative production. Unfortunately, at the moment the Co-operative Movement as largely a consumer Co-op lacks the necessary democratic structures in practice, and the dynamic to develop in such a direction of producer Co-ops, and the forces that could change that - the Left, and the Trade Unions - either are removed from the Co-op Movement, or in the case of large sections of the Left, hostile towards it.

As the current debate over healthcare in the US shows, the dominance of bourgeois property forms, and bourgeois ideology always put workers on the back foot. The natural response to the attacks on the NHS by right-wing Republican backwoodsmen is to come to its defence. But, why? It is a lesser evil than the privatised healthcare systems that dominate the US, but the job of Marxists is not to advocate lesser-evils.

Marxists have to provide solutions for workers such as those at Vestas that are immediately achievable, and achievable by the workers themselves, not by asking them to rely on some other social force, least of all their class enemy, and its state. In doing so, those solutions should as Marx and Engels argued in the Communist Manifesto, look after the movement of tomorrow as well as dealing with today. They should lead workers forwards naturally, building up the economic and social position of the working class, and thereby strengthening its position in society, as well as creating the material conditions upon which are built the ideas of socialism. This is the true meaning of a social revolution, a transformation in the productive relations bringing them into alignment with the new productive forces, within the old society, and out of which grow the new social relations that erupt in contradiction with the old. As Marx describes it in Capital,

“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.”

See also: Save Vestas Website

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