Friday, 11 March 2011

The Politics of Pontius Pilate

In a discussion on Dave Osler's, blog recently, the AWL's Jim Denham asked the question whether if revolutionaries in Libya were calling for the US to impose a “No Fly Zone”, we shouldn't refrain from opposing it. The question was framed in the same kind of rhetorical vein as when the AWL asked if Israel bombed Iran, what grounds socialists would have to objecting to it!!!
Now, in an article, Chris Reynolds, which is a pseudonym that has been used by Martin Thomas, fleshes the point out. In fact, the political approach taken is one the AWL have adopted in the past. It is the politics of Pontius Pilate.

The AWL are careful not to call for action by powerful Capitalist States such as the US, in the way that their mentor Max Shachtman called on the US to intervene in Vietnam.
But, in instance after instance they have made it abundantly clear where their sympathies lie, and which social force they look to now as the means by which their goals are to be achieved. The AWL as Third Campists claim to be in favour of the independence of the working class, but in fact, you will search in vain for any evidence in the AWL's politics for any focus on the working class being the force, which they believe is capable of bringing about progressive change in the immediate future. If they still believe in that principle at all, it is, in practice something they only see as a potential in the far distant future. For now, their emphasis is placed on calling on the Capitalist State to act, with the working class at best reduced to the role of some kind of pressure group nudging that State in the right direction. Or as now, whilst not actually calling on the Capitalist State, in the form of the US etc., to act, is framed in terms of well, if it does, we shouldn't oppose it.
Of course, when the Capitalist State does act, and as could be expected the results are far from those which socialists would have desired, the AWL, like Pontius Pilate, washes its hands of the matter, and says not my fault, I didn't demand they did this.

In their article "Yes to Libya", not "no to the USA", the AWL say,

“Compare the "no-fly zone" operated against Saddam Hussein in the northern (Kurdish) part of Iraq by the US, Britain, and France from April 1991, after the Kuwait war. That "no-fly zone" provided some protection for the Kurds. To campaign for its removal would have been to campaign for Saddam Hussein to be free to bomb the Kurds.

We should support the people of Libya - and especially any democratic or working-class forces in the anti-Qaddafi movement. We should distrust the US government, but not let kneejerk "no to the USA" reactions dominate our thought.”

Now, of course, there is lots of times, where Marxists from Marx himself onwards, have pointed out that the actions of Capitalism, whilst brutal and oppressive in the manner in which they have been applied, are looked at objectively and historically progressive. For example, Chris Reynolds in another article written a few years ago refers to the stance adopted by Lenin in relation to the Stolypin reforms.
Those reforms were implemented by the Capitalist State, in Tsarist Russia, as a means of modernising Russian agriculture. As a consequence, they had implications for the small-scale, inefficient peasant farming in Russia, that would drive thousands of peasants off the land. Lenin's response was clear. We will not call for such reforms, because of the consequences they will have for the peasants, and because it is not our role to propose and support what are Capitalist measures.
However, because objectively in developing Capitalism in Russia, the measures are progressive, and, therefore, Lenin argued, we should not oppose them. Instead, the role of socialists he argued was to struggle for the interests of workers and peasants within that process of modernisation.

That is quite right. When Capitalists attempted to modernise production in Britain, through the introduction of new technology, it was not the job of Marxists to try to hold back this development, which was progressive, but to fight within the process of modernisation for the workers interests.
But, this is quite different from the way the AWL want to apply this type of reasoning to the intervention of powerful Capitalist States. Firstly, Lenin's response to Stolypin was not just to sit back while the reforms occurred, and wait for the results so as to criticise their effects. Despite the weakness at that time of the working-class, and of the Russian Socialists, it was to try to organise that struggle for the workers and peasants interests, and to set out clearly what a socialist alternative to them was.
In relation to the introduction of new technology, a Marxist response, is to fight for the workers interests within the process by advocating New Technology Agreements and so on, but precisely because of what Marx had to say in his arguments with Weston, precisely because of what he explains in Capital about the rising Organic Composition of Capital, whereby Constant Capital in the form of machines etc. pushes out living labour within the production process, we have to explain to workers that such a struggle is really at best a rearguard action, that the consequence ultimately has to be within the confines of Capitalism, job losses etc., and it is precisely for that reason that our task is to present workers with a credible immediate alternative, by explaining the need for them to establish Co-operatives in order that they have direct control over that process.

But, there is no way that workers can adopt this kind of approach when it comes to the intervention of powerful Capitalist States. In fact, Chris Reynolds himself in the current article sets that out. He writes,

“imagining that we could "fine-tune" a military intervention by pressure of demonstrations or petitions is a fantasy.”

Quite right, which is one of the many reasons we should OPPOSE such action. This is not like the introduction of new technology, where, if there is strong workplace Trade Union organisation, workers CAN have some chance of waging a struggle against job losses resulting from its implementation, and CAN have some hope of struggling – in the short term – to be able to force the bosses to share the benefits of that new technology with them, in the form of higher wages for raised productivity, or reduced hours to share out the available work.
And, such a struggle can be the basis within which Marxists are able to demonstrate to workers why such gains can only be short lived, and why they need to move forwards to defend those gains by taking over the means of production for themselves.

But, exactly how does the AWL think that workers in Libya, or anywhere else could adopt this approach in relation to the intervention of the US in Libya? It certainly offers no strategy, by which it thinks this could be achieved. But, this is the second reason that Marxists should oppose the intervention of the US or other powerful states in Libya. Our task, is to explain to workers around the globe, that the Capitalist State, be it their own, or some other, is their main enemy.
Our task is to demonstrate to workers that whether within their own country or internationally, the only force they can and should rely on is their own collective strength. In Libya, the focus of Marxists propaganda and activity now should be to try to assist the Libyan working-class in organising to defend itself. And that has to be understood in terms way beyond the purely Trade Unionist, Economistic sense that the AWL want to limit such action and support to.
The Libyan workers need to follow the example of Egyptian workers in establishing their own militias, they need to be developing their own neighbourhood committees that can democratically control those militias. They need to be establishing their own Factory Committees, and organising Workers Defence Squads for them. And workers, particularly in Egypt and neighbouring states, but also workers in Europe should be organising to send arms to those workers so that they can defend themselves.
In fact, if we had the kind of Labour Movement we had back in the 1930's even, we would be developing the equivalent of an International Brigade, which could make contacts with Libyan workers, and go to their assistance, in the same way that the Islamists organise throughout the globe, and send their supporters to fight for their ideology.

But, nowhere is such a perspective argued for by the AWL.
It was not argued for by them in relation to the choices workers faced in Russia faced with a coup attempt by Stalinist Generals, when instead they sided with Yeltsin who was acting as the representative of Imperialism, it was not argued by them in relation to Yugoslavia where instead of calling for a workers response they welcomed the intervention of Imperialism, it was not argued by them in relation to Iraq, where they not only failed to call for the Iraqi workers to mobilise to kick out Imperialism, but positively OPPOSED such calls being raised, it was not adopted by them in relation to the issue of possible Iranian nuclear weapons – which not even the US believes Iran yet possesses – where instead they preferred to justify an attack by Israel, it is not used in relation to Tibet, where they side with those reactionary forces seeking to restore Landlordism, and so on.
The instances where they DO positively oppose such outside intervention are:

1) the intervention of the USSR in Afghanistan, where the concern about the dangers of clerical-fascism, and a descent into Civil War, that were their focus for refusing to call for the withdrawal of US and UK forces from Iraq, were somehow seen not to be an issue

2) the intervention of Russia to stop the genocidal attacks waged by Georgia against South Ossetia.

In other words, intervention by “democratic imperialism” is fine, but not by anyone else! That is where the opportunist, subjectivist political methodology of the Third Camp leads you. Zigging and zagging, and lacking any anchor to your politics outside some kind of 18th Century Kantian Moral Imperative.
Not surprisingly, because it is the kind of Moral Socialism of Sismondi and the Narodniks against which Marx and Lenin battled intensely. Not surprisingly that Moral Socialism has its manifestation when it comes to the economic sphere too – what Lenin castigated in its Narodnik formulation as “Economic Romanticism”. It is characterised by a naïve and ultimately reactionary desire to hold back Capitalist development, rather than as Lenin argued to push it forward by progressive means, and by a debilitating belief in the power of the Capitalist State. That is why the AWL rather than calling for revolutionary action by workers to address their immediate problems by a revolutionary transformation of property relations – in the first instance establishing their own Workers' property – instead call on workers to place their faith in the good offices of the Capitalist State asking it to nationalise this, that and the other on their behalf. Worse they even then sow illusions in this state by asking the workers to believe that having done so this State could be persuaded to hand over control of its property to them!!!

Trotsky was clear about what this kind of politics amounted to.
He wrote,

“It would of course be a disastrous error, an outright deception, to assert that the road to socialism passes, not through the proletarian revolution, but through nationalization by the bourgeois state of various branches of industry and their transfer into the hands of the workers’ organizations.”

Nationalized Industry and Workers’ Management

Yet, time and again, the AWL – and they are not alone – perpetrate this deception of the workers, calling at the drop of a hat for the Capitalist State to nationalise this or that enterprise so as to exploit the workers more effectively than the former private Capitalists, and in the process miseducating the workers about the true class nature of that state, failing time and again to teach the workers to rely on their own self-activity.

As Marx, put it in his “Critique Of The Gotha Programme”, criticising that approach by the Lassalleans, they “attempt to cover their shame” in raising this demand, by adding in the vacuous demand for “Workers Control”, but Trotsky explained exactly what that demand means in these kinds of circumstances too. He wrote,

“If the participation of the workers in the management of production is to be lasting, stable, “normal,” it must rest upon class collaboration, and not upon class struggle. Such a class collaboration can be realized only through the upper strata of the trade unions and the capitalist associations. There have been not a few such experiments: in Germany (“economic democracy”), in Britain (“Mondism”), etc. Yet, in all these instances, it was not a case of workers’ control over capital, but of the subserviency of the labour bureaucracy to capital. Such subserviency, as experience shows, can last for a long time: depending on the patience of the proletariat.

The closer it is to production, to the factory, to the shop, the less possible such a regime is, for here it is a matter of the immediate, vital interests of the workers, and the whole process unfolds under their very eyes. workers’ control through factory councils is conceivable only on the basis of sharp class struggle, not collaboration. But this really means dual power in the enterprises, in the trusts, in all the branches of industry, in the whole economy...

However, a bourgeoisie that feels it is firmly in the saddle will never tolerate dual power in its enterprises. workers’ control consequently, can be carried out only under the condition of an abrupt change in the relationship of forces unfavourable to the bourgeoisie and its state. Control can be imposed only by force upon the bourgeoisie, by a proletariat on the road to the moment of taking power from them, and then also ownership of the means of production.
Thus the regime of workers’ control, a provisional transitional regime by its very essence, can correspond only to the period of the convulsing of the bourgeois state, the proletarian offensive, and the failing back of the bourgeoisie, that is, to the period of the proletarian revolution in the fullest sense of the word.”

Workers’ Control of Production

So, the AWL and the other Trotskysant organisations that raise these demands – should tell us, which of these it is they are basing themselves on. Are they telling us that we are actually in the kind of “period of the proletarian revolution in the fullest sense of the word” that Trotsky refers to here, in which case they are fantasists, and deluding themselves and were they to have any influence in the workers movement the workers as well, or are they really arguing for nationalisation under workers control in the other scenario, in which what they are calling for is “class collaboration, and not upon class struggle. Such a class collaboration can be realized only through the upper strata of the trade unions and the capitalist associations”, in which case they are exposed as out and out reformists and class collaborationists.

Given, the attitude to the intervention of the Capitalist State in relation to Iraq, Libya and so on it seems clear that it is the latter in relation to the AWL, and that is manifest in their attitude to Cuts, and Privatisation in Britain, where they have now formed a Popular Front with the State Capitalist bureaucracy, and do not even try to cover their shame by raising the demand for Workers Control, or even Democratic Control over services, let alone the transformation of these services into Workers Property, as Marx, Engels and the First International demanded.

A revolutionary strategy can only be built by placing the working-class at the centre, and insisting upon its complete independence from the bourgeoisie and its state.
The task of Marxists attempting to recover true Marxism from the shit of Lassalleanism and Fabianism that the Second, Third and Fourth Internationals, and worse the epigones of those organisations, like the AWL, have poured upon it over the last 100 or so years, is to demonstrate just how revolutionary action by the working class can be built, and how even in its current weakened condition, the working class can mobilise to defend and pursue its interests in opposition to its class enemies, and thereby build its forces, and make itself fit to rule.

1 comment:

Jacob Richter said...

To paraphrase Marx:

Considering, that against this combined power of the elite classes the primary producers or precariat cannot unite and act for itself except by constituting itself into a mass party-movement, distinct from, and opposed to, all old parties and movements, that this constitution of the precariat into a mass party-movement is indispensable in order to ensure the emancipation of its labour power,

That such labour power can be emancipated only when, at minimum, the precariat is in collective possession of all means of societal production, all commons, etc., that there are only two forms under which all means of societal production, all commons, etc. can belong to them or return to community:

1) The individual form which has never existed in a general state and which is increasingly eliminated by industrial progress;
2) The collective form the material and intellectual elements of which are constituted by the very development of capitalist society;


That again this collective re-appropriation, or political and economic expropriation of the elite classes, can arise only from the direct action of the primary producers or precariat, organized in a distinct mass party-movement;

Such permanent organization must be pursued by all the means the precariat has at its disposal.