Saturday, 14 August 2010

Proletarian Strategy - Part 6

The Weakest Link

In Part 5, I made the comparison between the strategic nature of a Workers State, and a Co-operative. Both represent a physical manifestation of Workers Property, of territory that can be won and held, and developed as a power base by workers. In the first case that is true not just in the sense of property in the form of enterprises, but in the fuller sense of actual geographic territory. There is another similarity. Lenin argued that the Russian revolution occurred because it was Capitalism breaking at the weakest link. It was easier for the Russian workers to carry through the revolution, precisely because of the condition of Russian Capitalism and the weakness of the Russian bourgeoisie. But, for the same reasons, it would be more difficult to construct Socialism – or even to compete effectively with the surrounding Capitalist States – than for a more developed economy. Similarly, the most frequent places where workers might establish Co-ops will be where they have been led to as a result of that firm collapsing. In a vibrant, dynamic, and profitable firm the existing Capitalist owners are not likely to voluntarily hand ownership to the workers. That doesn't make it impossible. Most such firms are publicly listed companies, and can be bought out. Indeed, I've suggested that if workers had control of the £800 billion in their pension funds, they could mobilise these funds to take over such companies on a strategic basis, and then use these companies as further leverage to take over further companies. But, as yet, we have not won that basic democratic right to control the money in our pension funds. The other alternative is to use the funds in the Co-op Bank, but currently there is no real workers democracy exercising control over the Bank, or the Co-op. As with the Trades Unions and Labour Party, a key part of working-class strategy involves a struggle for greater democracy within the Labour Movement.

However, as I have suggested, the development of modern industry has led to a situation in which the old argument about size being a limit to entry does not necessarily apply. The most profitable, most dynamic industries in the modern economy are those involved in high-technology of various kinds. Many of these industries require little in the way of Constant Capital (buildings, machinery, materials), but do require very highly skilled, complex labour-power. In fact, many of them are based on, and have been developed by Universities and their academics. There is considerable scope here, for a determined socialist, co-operative strategy. By developing worker-owned co-operatives in these enterprises, the kinds of problems encountered by the Worker Co-ops of the 1970's can be avoided. In addition, as the Lucas Plan demonstrated, the fact that workers take over a firm in a failing industry does not mean that they have to simply try to make what is failing under Capitalism succeed. Workers can switch existing production to other channels, where the specific benefits of a Co-op can be maximised.

Of course, none of that in any way suggests that none of these Co-ops will fail, or that there is some kind of linear progression. That is not true of any War, or very few. Every war sees advances and retreats. Territory is gained, and territory is lost. But, it is a very strange War, in which one side decides on principle, not to attempt to seize and hold on to territory for the fear of losing it! In many ways, this is the distinction that Gramsci made between a “War of Position”, and a “War of Movement”. In reality, people only adopt a strategy of war of movement, or guerilla tactics, because they begin from a position of weakness, a position in which they have no territory of their own to base themselves in and upon. That was the position that workers found themselves in, having been deprived of their means of production. But, it is ridiculous to make a virtue out of necessity, and refuse to establish your own territory. And unless you are an Anarchist, any force that did establish its own territory would not want to see it as just a piece of property in which everyone simply went about their activities as individuals. As soon as possible, it would be necessary to establish some form of Government, it would be necessary to establish means of making decisions, and of enforcing them. It would be necessary to look at how best production could be organised to strengthen your defences, and war fighting ability. It would be necessary to make alliances with others, and to consider how your forces could be combined to best effect. And, any kind of strategy would have to look at where further advances could be made, how the enemy could be undermined.

That is the whole point about the strategy that Marx and his followers adopted in relation to Co-operatives. Just as Trades Unions were rallying points to assemble the troops for the task of conducting battles that could establish some meaningful progress for workers, some advance that they could hold on to, so the Co-operatives were not the end in themselves, but the territory that the workers need to seize in order to make these further advances. The workers in the Co-op would need to establish a form of Worker Democracy to make the decisions, just as a force having seized territory would need to establish its method of decision making. In fact, the extent to which that form of Workers Democracy was seen by Workers as furthering their interests, the more it would be a reason for workers having secured it to defend it, and at the same time would be an inspiration to workers still exploited by Capital, to want to emulate it. That was the experience of the French Revolution, which even on the basis of a limited bourgeois democracy gave French workers something to defend, and acted to inspire workers in Britain. The same was true of the Russian Revolution. One of the biggest factors that led Peasants to support the Bolsheviks against the Whites, was the experience of how quickly the Whites reinstalled all of the cruelties of the old Tsarist system in those areas they were able to recapture. In WWII, as with any such War, a central aspect of strategy was to ensure that lines of communication were kept open, and that territory captured that was under attack could be supported. The same is true for a strategy of developing workers property. As Marx pointed out, the whole point of each Co-op being an integral part of a National Federation, was that not only could the surpluses be centralised so that they could be used to expand the number of Co-ops, and the degree of the economy in the Co-op sector, but it also meant that any individual Co-op could be provided with resources to overcome a short-run setback, rather like the system of Lend-Lease operated by the US towards its Allies in WWII. Moreover, the more different territories combining to provide such mutual support, means that the normal operations of specialisation, and exchange can operate. Similarly, a wide range of Co-ops involved in a range of activities can support each other, each using its specialisation to provide at lower costs for its partners within the Federation.

Back To Part 5

Forward To Part 7

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