Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Proletarian Strategy - Part 1

Once More Into The Breach

“The history of these Unions is a long series of defeats of the working-men, interrupted by a few isolated victories. All these efforts naturally cannot alter the economic law according to which wages are determined by the relation between supply and demand in the labour market. Hence the Unions remain powerless against all great forces which influence this relation. In a commercial crisis the Union itself must reduce wages or dissolve wholly; and in a time of considerable increase in the demand for labour, it cannot fix the rate of wages higher than would be reached spontaneously by the competition of the capitalists among themselves.”

Engels Condition of The Working Class in England p243

”….It is far more important that the movement should spread, proceed harmoniously, take root and embrace as much as possible the whole American proletariat, than that it should start and proceed from the beginning on theoretically perfectly correct lines. There is no better road to theoretical clearness of comprehension than "durch Schaden klug tererden" [to learn by one's own mistakes]. And for a whole large class, there is no other road, especially for a nation so eminently practical as the Americans. The great thing is to get the working class to move as a class; that once obtained, they will soon find the right direction, and all who resist, H.G. or Powderly, will be left out in the cold with small sects of their own.”

Engels (ibid)

Marx and Engels, as the first of these quotes above demonstrates, rejected completely the idea that workers could advance their position as a result of “class struggle” via what Marx called “guerilla” actions through the Trades Unions. Lenin described such an approach as “Economism”. For Marx and Engels, the Trades Unions function was to act as organising centres for the working class from where support for workers actions elsewhere, that really did advance their position, could be launched. In short, the Trades Unions acted like a rallying point for irregular forces to come to the aid of workers in establishing bridge heads against Capital. Such an approach is far from the strategy of the Left today, which relies almost entirely on that “guerilla” strategy of repeated conflicts – which as Marx points out the Trades Unions lose in 99 cases out of 100 – in the hope of building their own organisations on an incremental basis, ready for the fateful day when the workers launch an all out assault on the Capitalist bastions of power.

As a strategy it sucks. I cannot think of a single instance in history where a war has been won by such tactics. In every War the victorious side has had to establish its own strongholds, not only win territory but be able to hold on to it. An important aspect of victory is the ability to be able to resupply your forces with food, clothing and ammunition. One of the most successful strategists and commanders of the Second World War, Irwin Rommel, could only survive for so long on the basis of launching scavenging raids. But, the holding of your own territory is important for another reason, besides the production of your own supplies, and that is that while guerilla raids can disrupt the enemy, an all-out assault on their power requires the ability to mass forces not in small bands of guerillas, but as a single fighting force. That concept is clear in Engels' quotes above. Firstly, he speaks about the Trades Unions themselves having to “reduce wages or dissolve wholly” in a crisis. That statement alone would be enough to get Engels vilified by today's Utra-Left as a class collaborator and sell-out. But, the reason for him making that statement is precisely because he and Marx had a much more strategic, much longer-term vision than just immediate economic struggles. Their aim was to weld the workers together as a single fighting force, to maintain their organisations for that purpose, because as he says in his second quote above, “ The great thing is to get the working class to move as a class.” There is not one single example in history of a victorious army either winning on the basis purely of a guerilla strategy, or of going straight from guerilla tactics to an all-out assault.

Yet, the working-class is involved in a War – a Class War. And, throughout history the same rules have applied. No revolutionary class has secured victory purely on the basis of launching “guerilla” raids, no revolutionary class has succeeded by launching an all-out assault on its enemy, without first having established its own territory i.e. in this case its own power bases rooted in its own property. The examples of where such revolutions have occurred, primarily Russia in 1917, are examples of failure. The Russian workers never secured control of property, even after the bourgeoisie and landlords had been deprived of it. The Russian workers became the ruling class by default, and the State became a deformed workers state, but for that reason it could never progress towards Socialism. Moreover, it is more correct to say that in Russia what occurred was a bourgeois revolution – Trotsky describes the first few years as precisely that – carried through largely by means of a Peasant War, and the Peasants, of course, did own property. Every revolutionary class has had to combine fighting those guerilla actions against its enemy with the building up of its own redoubts, its own territory from which it could build its own resources, and prepare the basis for its assault. In short, it has had to develop its own forms of property, and where possible its own forms of government, decision-making, and state as an alternative to those of its enemy. These are its best means of defence, its fortresses and redoubts against attack, but they are also the bases in which it can educate and organise its forces, can demonstrate in practice what they are fighting to defend and to extend, and they are the centres in which it builds up its resources, and musters its army as a single force ready to launch the all-out attack.

Its on that basis that Marx and Engels argued for the establishment of Workers' property, of Worker owned and controlled Co-operatives. They had no illusion that these Co-operatives could simply spread unopposed by Capital, though Marx did suggest that in Britain the size and power of the working-class could enable it to actually buy-out the Capitalists as an alternative to a violent revolution. It would be necessary for the Workers to develop such Co-operatives as part of a determined strategy of their extension nationally using Credit, and the centralisation of profits within a national federation. But, it would also be necessary to back that up with industrial struggle, and with political struggle via the establishment of a Workers Party that would fight within the corridors of bourgeois power against attempts by the representatives of Capital to frustrate the spread of workers' property. Just as the political power of the bourgeoisie had grown step by step with its advancing economic and social power, so would that of the workers, and the more Capital attempted to frustrate the spread of the workers' property, the more it would become apparent to workers that they were involved in a “class struggle”, as opposed to the merely sectional struggles of the Trades Unions.

Forward To Part 2

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