Tuesday, 7 December 2010

CPGB Cuts Strategy Falls Between Scylla And Charybdis - Part 3

Mike says,

“We need broad mass unity to fight them. But if this broad mass unity is to require the far left, which in theory does advocate the overthrow of the existing capitalist system, shutting up about this for the sake of unity, and serving as bag carriers for those who advocate national solutions, it is actually a waste of time. It is true that people may be mobilised and so forth. But at the end of the day it will not prevent the cuts or result in the political defeat of the cuts project. It will be mere protest, ultimately ineffective: what columnists in The Times and The Daily Telegraph are calling 'nostalgia for the 1970s'.”

As an attack on those who simply want to build a broad movement, for the sake of it being broad, I'd agree. If the only purpose is like say the Stop The War Coalition, to hold bigger demonstrations, and shout political slogans, and recruit the odd person to one of the sects then again I'd agree. But, actually the problem with STW was not that it didn't have a program that dared to call for the overthrow of Capitalism as the only means by which to stop imperialist wars, but that it didn't have any program to offer people short of that other than yet another demonstration. What it really needed was a program like that I set out in Proletarian Military Policy, and people committed to building such things as neighbourhood policing from which could be developed the idea of defence squads and a militia in place of a national army stationed in other people's countries. What it needed was work to be done that could be linked into developing Workers Co-ops with alternative production to replace armaments. What it lacked was a campaign to win democratic rights for the armed forces, for a programme of democratic demands to elect the military top brass, for open diplomacy and so on – which we should advance now by building a campaign of mass support for Wikileaks. Just how much even a committed individual can achieve under the right conditions in that respect was shown by Tom Wintringham, as I set out in "Proletarian Military Policy".

It is not at all clear to me that, whilst I would not favour Popular Frontist politics, to limit the calls for the overthrow of Capitalism, how such calls have any immediate relevance to the need to fight the Cuts here and now. And, if not, why focus on that rather than attempting to build a broad movement that actually fights the Cuts in practice, by mobilising around individual struggles with a programme of limited reforms that ARE capable of being won. That was Marx's approach in the development of the Programme of the First International, and of the French Socialists, for example. Of course, Mike, can't do that, because he does not believe that any such reforms can be granted by Capital, because his catastrophist view insists that there is no way out for Capital from its global crisis other than to force these Cuts on to workers. In essence his message has to be revolution or nothing.

So for example, he writes,

“Looking forwards from where we are now, our aim is a mass campaign. It is not about small campaigns or about 'thinking global and acting local', and it is not about focusing on one particular campaign for a particular hospital or school which is being closed down and so on. In this cuts process, partial victories on single services which do not break the framework of the budget cuts would be like workers in a car factory winning no redundancies in the paint shop - on the basis that the same number of people would be made redundant on the assembly line.”

But, this is a false dichotomy. Marxists would not put forward a proposal to save jobs in the paint shop at the expense of jobs elsewhere, but if paint shop workers took action they would support them. As I have argued in relation to the Lessons Of UCS, the workers victory was limited, and was won at the cost of jobs in other shipyards. But, that would be no reason to not support such a struggle. The job of a Marxist would be to intervene in it to try to provide a basis for overcoming those limitations. As I suggested, it was a mistake for the workers to have seen their salvation in a State takeover, having already gained possession of the means of production themselves. Had workers established a Co-operative, and demanded the same level of support that private firms were receiving from the State, then they could have overcome that particular limitation. Of course, Mike McNair is right that no real solution on an individual basis is possible, but even a thousand mile march begins with a single step! Having taken over UCS, the workers there would have needed to link up with workers in other Co-ops, and private firms. They would have had to propagandise and physically assist workers in other shipyards to follow their example, not just in Britain, but at least throughout Europe where similar problems were being faced. Would this mean that no workers jobs would be lost? Probably not, but that is merely a reflection that we cannot achieve everything all at once, and that so long as Capitalism exists the conditions that lead to uncertainty and periodic crisis will remain. It is the growing consciousness of that reality, which forms the basis of driving workers forward to a more general solution, and the need to secure for themselves political power.

The same is true now in relation to the Cuts. If a School, or Library or Sports Centre is threatened with closure, it is no point saying to the workers employed there, or the workers who use it that their problem can only be solved on a macro level, by resigning themselves to being part of a mass movement, which is committed to attacking the underlying causes of the Cuts. That is to ask them to wait for the revolution, when what they really need is an immediate partial solution. We do have to recommend that here and now the solution is to occupy that school, library or sports centre, to establish workers control over its continued operation, and to establish a support committee for it from within the local community and users to defend it. From that point forward we can begin to outline the implications of that, what would be necessary to successfully defend it, by linking that struggle into the struggle to defend wider services etc. And starting from the lessons that Marxists can provide from previous struggles in that process, we also know that workers themselves will develop new tactics, new methods of struggle, new solutions, that Marxists themselves will learn from. That is praxis. Indeed, the method by which the necessary programme and tactics will develop, will be precisely from the generalisation of lessons learned in these individual struggles, the basis of the mass movement, its real strength and democracy can only flow from the ground upwards by building these individual local struggles, and linking them together. Moreover, we know from experience that any attempt to build from the top down could only be on the basis of action by the existing sects, and all we know demonstrates that such an approach is already doomed, because even now these sects main concern in such activity is to push forward their own interests, their own desire for “party building” over and above the needs of ordinary workers. The demand for creating mass united national campaigns is just a continuation of the sectarian Left's obsession with political debate and point scoring, with manoeuvre and party building, rather than getting their hands dirty with the day to day practical activity of working alongside ordinary workers – many of whom hold ideas that are anathema to that Left, and make it shy away – to provide immediate practical solutions to their problems. A mass united national campaign would be great if it is the product of ordinary workers themselves. It cannot come from the sects, which are a part of the problem, not part of the solution. It is not that within the sects there are not many genuine, committed revolutionaries, but that the sects turn them into automatons, unable to think independently, and like Sisyphus, emroiled in an endless and pointless round of activity, of paper selling, attending meetings, and parroting the party line at every opportunity. In the 19th Century when workers were beginning to recognise the need for their own Party in England, Engels told the Marxists to avoid these sects such as the ILP, and the SDF, and instead to go straight to the ordinary workers. That is what Eleanor Marx did. They went straight to where the ordinary workers were in the Liberal Clubs, and it was via this activity, and building support for a Labour Party in the Trades Unions that the LP was created. We have a similar situation today. It is necessary to give the sects a wide berth, and go straight to the workers in their communities, in the Labour Clubs and Workingmen's Clubs, on the shop floor, in the Branch Labour Parties, and in the individual struggles of those workers.

But, when Mike says,

“It is not that the alternative to this is a 'hard left' campaign. What we want to see is a democratic campaign, which means that the national organisation and leadership has to be based on delegates from the united campaigns in the localities and be answerable to them. To put it in a rather crude way, imagine that the local cuts campaigns are soviets and the central campaign is a congress of soviets”,

this does not fill me with confidence either. Just read Trotsky's account of the Soviets to see how undemocratic they were.

“There were over 150,000 soldiers in Petrograd. There were at least four times as many working men and women of all categories. Nevertheless for every two worker-delegates in the Soviet there were five soldiers. The rules of representation were extremely elastic (I’ll say AB), and they were always stretched to the advantage of the soldiers. Whereas the workers elected only one delegate for every thousand, the most petty military unit would frequently send two. The grey army cloth became the general ground-tone of the Soviet.

“But by no means all even of the civilians were selected by workers. No small number of people got into the Soviet by individual invitation, through pull, or simply thanks to their own penetrative ability. Radical lawyers, physicians, students, journalists, representing various problematical groups – or most often representing their own ambition. This obviously distorted character of the Soviet was even welcomed by the leaders, who were not a bit sorry to dilute the too concentrated essence of factory and barrack with the lukewarm water of cultivated Philistia. Many of these accidental crashers-in, seekers of adventure, self-appointed Messiahs, and professional bunk shooters, for a long time crowded out with their authoritative elbows the silent workers and irresolute soldiers.

“And if this was so in Petrograd, it is not hard to imagine how it looked in the provinces, where the victory came wholly without struggle.” (Trotsky – History of the Russian revolution pp234-5)

Anyone who has been involved in such organisations will recognise this picture. Under the cover of building “Rank and File” organisations in the Trades Unions, for example, the mainstay of activity of the Left Sects has been a form of electoralism to get themselves elected to leading positions, or to get various motions passed at Conferences way out of proportion to their actual support amongst rank and file memberships, whilst the real job of building rank and file movements at the shop floor level, capable of responding immediately to managements, has largely gone by the board. The same kind of electoralist activity is what characterised the role of the sects within the LP, and it was the removal of the possibility to continue that activity, and need to actually build something meaningful at the base within working-class communities, which caused them to leave in search of a cosier environment in which to debate.

Back To Part 2

Forward To Part 4

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