Wednesday, 5 May 2010

A Greek Tragedy

Three Greek bank workers have been killed, during today's protests. Were that not tragedy enough, what makes it a further tragedy is the fact that it appears that they were killed as a result of the Bank, where they worked, being fire-bombed by Anarchist protesters, the same Anarchists who claim to be protesting in support of workers such as those who were killed. From the TV pictures, it also appeared that some workers, already suffering due to the austerity measures, had their problems added to by their cars being set alight. Such events are inevitable during revolutionary situations, and form part of the overhead costs.

But, it is typical of the outbursts of the petit-bourgeois, of which the Anarchists are the political representatives, that they are marked by a lack of any clear political direction, and excess of mindless destruction. In the Great French Revolution, the peasants would march at night and burn down the chateaux and farms of the aristocrats. During the Russian Revolution, Lenin and Trotsky had to continually try to argue against similar acts by the Russian peasants. After all, if you want to build a new society, it does not help if you have destroyed the very elements of the economy you need to bring that about. Whereas the working class is concentrated in large factories and other such enterprises, where they can simply seize this property, and place it under their own control, where they can strike against the economic interests of the Capitalist owners, the same is not true of peasants, or other sections of the middle classes. The peasant or small business person, or student cannot strike against anyone's economic interest but their own! They have no other means of production that they can occupy and place under their control. That is why working class revolution takes the form of the mass strike, the Occupation, the creation of Workers Councils in order to begin bringing the levers of economic and political power under their control, whereas the traditional form of rebellion by the petit-bourgeois is the street demonstration, and acts of violence.

But, the events in Greece have other lessons. In other posts, I've pointed out that the way that the current crisis can, and probably will, be resolved is through the monetisation of the debt. But that can only be a way of resolving the CURRENT crisis. The underlying problem in Greece arises because of the contradiction at the heart of the EU of a single market and single currency, but without a single state. But, the specific problem in Greece also arises because it has a huge unproductive Public Sector that cannot be maintained by its small productive sector. For those who think that the situation could be resolved by a really socialist Government, by a Workers' Government, or even the establishment of a Greek Workers' State, think again.

Lenin argued that politics dominates economics. The experience of the aftermath of the Russian Revolution proved otherwise. Political action and structures cannot override the laws of economics. Trying to do so can only ever lead to the resolution of economic problems by methods of political authoritarianism, which ultimately lead to further economic and social problems that lead to collapse. If a Workers' State were established in Greece tomorrow, the basic economic problems would remain. That state could default on its debts, but that would simply mean that the international markets would stop all lending to Greece. The basic problem is that of the Law of Value. To support the needs of unproductive workers - be it those employed in whatever form of administration, those that do not work for whatever reason, or who simply produce no new value - for food, shelter, clothing etc, then, those that work in the productive sector of the economy, must be able to produce enough, of those things, to meet their own needs AND enough to meet the needs of those unproductive workers, AND enough to replace what has been used up, AND enough to enable investment in new production.

The basic problem in Greece is that the productive sector cannot do that, and so the needs of the unproductive sector have been financed by borrowing. Now, of course, as socialists we believe that workers could produce more efficiently, and thereby resolve some of those problems. But, such efficiency is unlikely to resolve such a deficit quickly. In fact the early period of change always sees some inefficiency. Only by increasing the size of the productive sector, relative to the unproductive, could a Workers State resolve that basic problem. But, that would not be possible straight away. It requires investment in the productive sector, and that would almost certainly mean a reduction, first, in how much went to the unproductive sector, in order to create the resources for that investment - particularly if all foreign loans and investment ceased. That would mean in effect a Workers' State imposing pretty much the kind of austerity measures now being proposed! It would also mean the interests of workers in the productive, private sector of the economy being counterposed to the interests of workers in the unproductive State sector. A recipe for conflict.

But, in fact, Greece is just a small mirror of the situation that exists in most developed Capitalist economies. Late capitalism has seen the continual growth of an unproductive State sector that acts to stabilise the capitalist economy in the interests of the big monopolies. But, in doing so, it sits like a fat man on the chest of the rest of society. In creating a Workers' State, and an efficient socialist economy, workers would have to deal with that problem, and would face many of those same problems facing Greek workers today. In the 19th century, the first, most militant, most advanced Trade Unions and workers were those organised in the craft unions. It was from such sections of workers that the Communist League was formed. They also provided the backbone for other workers' political organisations during the rest of the century, and indeed into the twentieth century. But, these workers enjoyed a privileged status, compared to the ordinary unskilled workers, who for much of that time were unorganised. They formed an "Aristocracy of Labour" that ultimately acted as a drag on the development of socialist politics.

Today, it is no coincidence that much of the Left, where it is not composed of students, is heavily concentrated in workers employed in the State sector. That too is where most of the Labour Movement's organisation is based, in large Public Sector unions. It forms a similar aristocracy of labour to that of the 19th Century, and, today, it is no wonder that it seeks to defend state capitalism, and statist concepts of socialism. It does nothing other than defend its own sectional interests. Yet, the majority of the class is employed in small to medium enterprises, many indeed in McJobs where even basic Trade Union organisation is difficult. A clear division in the Labour Movement is opening up that poses a significant danger.

Once again, the basic requirement to reject statism, and to begin to look for an alternative based on direct working-class action, on developing enterprises, based on workers ownership and control, tied closely to workers, in their communities, shows its merit. By developing those services such as health, social care etc. on which workers depend so much, and by developing those areas, such as the insurance against unemployment, illness, and old age under workers ownership and control, not only can we ensure that we run these areas efficiently, thereby not placing burdens on ourselves, as producers, that we cannot meet, but we also build the necessary fusion between productive and unproductive workers, and between producers and consumers necessary to overcome the alienation of labour, and the potential for division within the class. It was always argued that whilst it would be more difficult for a revolution to occur in a developed economy, the flip side was that after the revolution the construction of socialism would be made easier, by that development. But, that is only true if the kinds of problems outlined above do not stand in the way. If we want to make the transition to a socialist economy easier tomorrow we have to begin by creating the socialist economy today.

5 comments:

Jacob Richter said...

"That is why working class revolution takes the form of the mass strike, the Occupation, the creation of Workers Councils in order to begin bringing the levers of economic and political power under their control."

Isn't that the traditional ultra-left strategy? This practically ignores the political struggle so emphasized by the Marxist center and elevates strike action from the level of tactics to the level of strategy.

Arthur Bough said...

I am speaking here of the actual Political Revolution as an event, not the Proletarian Social Revolution, which like all social revolutions is a process. The process is the long drawn out class struggle during which workers begin to claw back the means of production via Co-operatives etc., to establish the economic forms of the new society, the new material conditions upon which workers economic and social power rises, and upon which socialist ideas begin to be seen as rational, and superior to bourgeois ideas.

But all such processes terminate in the need for a Political Revolution, for the new class to acquire political power on the basis of its new State forms. In fact, historically what we have seen is that it requires several such attempts. Political revolutions are frequently launched prematurely by the advanced sections of a class, and by sections of the old class that have changed allegiance. Such revolutions have always failed precisely they are premature, because the material conditions do not exist for the revolutionary class to hold on. The english Civil War, the French Revolution, the Peasant War in Germany (to an extent) and to the same extent even the English Peasants Revolt, are of that type. I would also cite the Russian revolution etc. as being the proletarian equivalents. Engels comments in regard of the Peasant War in Germany, and the consequences of such premature events are I think instructive.

They usually result in some form of Bonapartism, which gives way to a restoration. But, they also give notice to the old class, and in doing so constrain its future actions. But, it has always been the further development of the material conditions, the strengthening of the economic and social position of the revolutionary class that has resulted in the actual transfer of political power - usually some considerable time later. The industrial bouregoisie did not consolidate its political pwoer in Britain until the end of the 19th Century, 200 years after the Civil War. The same is true in France where it took until the establishment of the Third Republic.

Jacob Richter said...

I sent you my newest programmatic update (Transformative Critique: Direction on Syndicalism and Revisiting Mass Strike Strategies).

Mass strikes have their place, but not during the conquest of political power.

I know that you are speaking of the political revolution, and it is this manifestation that worries me.

I'll quote Mike Macnair as I did in my newest programmatic update:

"But if the workers’ party already had majority support, where was the need for the general strike? The workers’ party would start with [...] a mandate for socialism, rather than with the strike."

"The second limb of the fork was that the strategy of the working class coming to power through a strike wave presupposed that the workers’ party had not won a majority. In these circumstances, for the workers’ party to reach for power would be a matter of ‘conning the working class into taking power’. However formally majoritarian the party might be, the act of turning a strike wave into a struggle for power would inevitably be the act of an enlightened minority steering the benighted masses."

Arthur Bough said...

Still no permanent Internet yet so a holding comment for now. I think that this is basically parliamentary cretinism. It misses the whole question about the real sources of power in society. It is quite easy in my opinion to envisage a situation in which various forms of workes property have developed, and upon which has developed various forms of worker democracy, and along with that a real majority support for a Workers Party, and yet in a situation in which Capitalist property still dominates, in which the real levers of Capitalist economic and Social power e.g. within the mass media, not to mention State power remain as powerful obstacles to workers advance.

Indeed, I can well foresee that workers still employed in large private enterprises seeing the example their comrades in Co-operative industries might demand better pay and conditions, might begin to demand some say over the work process, and the bosses would undoubtedly refuse by all possible means as Marx spoke of in his Address to the First International. The fact that the Workers Party has a majority, might even form a Workers Government is irrelvant to this outside the fact that it would be able to act to support by legal, politial means the elemental wave of working class action.

I have never argued that its necessary to transform the whole of the basis before the superstructure can be transformed only that a certain degree of such transformation is required. The process from their takes on its own dialectic.

Jacob Richter said...

"I think that this is basically parliamentary cretinism. It misses the whole question about the real sources of power in society."

Whenever you have time, please read that update, as I have addressed issues there with "electoral support" and with "point of production" arguments.