Sunday, 12 June 2011

The AWL's Idiot Reformism

Is it any wonder that the vast majority of workers reject the solutions put forward by the Left sects? Is it any wonder that, despite their illusions, that the majority of workers are just gagging for a revolution, and their revolutionary leadership, the left sects, whenever they stand candidates, fail to even register on the electoral seismometer?
The AWL, at the last General Election, received just seventy-five votes; the kind of vote you'd expect to get from a single street, not an entire Constituency. Why is it no wonder? Because these sects are not just totally removed from the lives of ordinary workers, but they increasingly seem removed from reality, or any kind of rationality. The AWL's response to the Care Home crisis is a case in point. In an article setting out the extent of the Liberal-Tory cuts in social provision they put forward as a solution to the situation in the Care Homes,

“Expropriate Southern Cross and all the private care-home chains, with no compensation for the profiteers. Reorganise care homes, and professional care provided to elderly people in their own houses, as a public service, free at the point of use, and staffed by qualified workers paid at trade-union rates.”

This is not just Reformism, it is “Idiot Reformism”.
It does not seem to occur to the AWL that there is any kind of logical contradiction between setting out the extent of the Liberal-Tory attacks on the working-class, attacks which are, in part, themselves responsible for the crisis in Social Care, and at the same time calling on that Government to resolve the crisis in workers interests by the kind of measures the AWL ask them to introduce!!! As I pointed out in my blog, Occupy The Care Homes, asking Cameron to intervene to rescue the Care Homes – a reformist policy the AWL share with Dave Prentice – is like asking Hitler to intervene to stop the Brownshirts attacking Jewish property.

If Cameron, and the Liberal-Tory Government, did intervene to take over Care Homes, it would not be in order to meet the needs of workers. If Hitler had intervened to stop attacks on Jewish property, it would only have been in order to ensure its more efficient transfer into the hands of non-Jews. If Cameron intervenes it would be to avert an immediate crisis, in order to introduce a vicious rationalisation, mass redundancies, a recapitalisation, paid for out of workers' taxes, prior to selling the homes off again on the cheap to their friends in the City and Big Business.
For every nationalisation that the Capitalist State has undertaken, not just in Britain, but throughout the Capitalist world, that has been the experience. The only people who can propose such a course of action, are people who are content to settle for workers being exploited in one form rather than another, in the hope that it might prove a lesser evil – i.e. Reformists.

I was reading an article from “Capital & Class 29”, from 1986, the other day. It was entitled “Nationalised Industry policies and the destruction of communities: Some evidence from North-East England” by Huw Beynon, Ray Hudson and David Sadler.
It looked at the nationalised industries that dominated the economy of the North-East at the time, Coal, Steel, Shipbuilding and Electricity Generation. Far from being any kind of progressive force, acting in workers interests, they were the very opposite. Ian McGregor, who, the year before the article was written, had successfully smashed the NUM, and begun the process of the final rationalisation of the mines out of existence, had, before joining the NCB, carried out a similar task in British Steel.
The article shows, not only how these processes of Capitalist rationalisation were introduced, by a powerful State Capitalist employer, to undermine workers interests, but how the more general policies of these industries acted against workers interests in the area in relation to the environment etc.

They conclude,

“In the British experience 'nationalisation' has been a form of 'state capitalism', and in their world of operations these publicly owned trusts have danced to the tune of the market. In this process what has been lost is an important critical sense of the purpose of production and the nature of a socialist or communistic alternative to capitalist forms of organisation and life. This - in the face of a rampant privatising tendency in the Tory government – is a major requirement for progressive forces in Britain. And the starting point for such a programme and a rethink is an open and honest appraisal of the experiences to date of the state sector industries. In such an appraisal the nagging reality from the North of England is that it is just these industries (state owned coal, steel, railways, shipyards) and not the multinationals which have heaped most havoc upon the local economy. This is the fact which socialists need to come to grips with and go beyond.” (p55)

So, even were it not absurd to demand that a right-wing, privatising, Tory Government nationalise the Care homes without compensation etc., it would still be an idiot form of reformism to raise such a demand, precisely because all experience of such nationalisation, of State Capitalism, demonstrates that, contrary to the implication of the AWL's demand, it will be merely a means by which to make the working-class pay for the crisis that has erupted within them.
After WWII, when Attlee's Government nationalised the mines, it not only paid out massive, on going compensation to the former owners, but its first acts were to introduce massive rationalisation. It closed far more mines than Thatcher managed, and that continued under the Labour Government of Harold Wilson, when Tony Benn was Energy Minister. If those Labour Government's used State Capitalist nationalisation to carry out such anti-working class measures, what hope do the AWL have that Cameron's Government will be more amenable to workers interests???

But, the idiot reformism of the AWL is manifest in this instance in other ways. There are a number of ways in which revolutionaries can raise demands for reforms.
Marx argued that in order to avoid “revolutionary phrase mongering” - which is essentially what the AWL's demand here amounts to – demands for reforms should be ones that Capital CAN concede. These demands should be ones that enable or facilitate the workers own organisation and struggle, their self-activity and government.
As Lenin points out some demands for political reforms, such as those for national and minority rights, can be a stepping stone to a revolutionary break of oppressed minorities from an oppressing majority.
Finally, as Trotsky sets out in the Transitional Programme, there are demands, which, during specific periods i.e. revolutionary periods, where dual power exists in society, which have a transitional nature forming a bridge from the programme of reforms, to a programme of revolution.

The AWL's demand here is revolutionary phrase mongering precisely because there is no way the Capitalist State is going to concede it. At least certainly not in workers interests. But, there is no means by which the AWL could force them to accede to it either. There is probably no way they could have forced Wilson's or Attlee's Government to accede to it either, under current conditions. In other words, it is just meaningless hot air – revolutionary phrase mongering. The AWL's response would probably be that they anticipate it as a demand that a Workers Government would introduce. But, where is this Workers Government???
They can neither tell us how a working-class that has just voted in a Liberal-Tory Government, whilst giving the AWL just 75 votes, is going to magic this Workers Government into existence, nor tell us who the Left MP's are, who are going to comprise it!

But, let us assume that, by some miracle, the Government accepted this demand. Let us assume, by some further miracle, that it did not do what has been the experience of all nationalisation, and start cutting jobs and wages, and rationalising the provision. What then? Marx in his debates with Weston showed why such a situation is unsustainable. The laws he uncovered in relation to the way the Capitalist system works, show why, over a period, that reduction in wages, that rationalisation and so on, would be inevitable. It is because, so long as capitalism exists, the laws relating to Capital Accumulation, and which in turn determine the laws of Supply and Demand for Labour-Power, will assert themselves, and that applies as much to the State Capital-Labour relationship as it does to the overall Capital-Labour relation. What makes the AWL form of reformism idiotic, is precisely that it tries to counter the laws of Capitalism while remaining within a Capitalist framework, whilst continuing to accept the Capital-Labour relation itself.

Virtually all Marxist economists accept the view that the reason for the Thatcherite revolution was because, for a considerable period, prior to Thatcher, there had been a virtual stalemate between workers and bosses.
Workers had been able, as a result of strength built up during the post-war, Long Wave Boom, to utilise their organisation to resist attempts at rationalisation by Capital. That stalemate could not continue. Either workers had to make a revolutionary break with Capital, or Capital would be forced to inflict a crushing defeat on workers. The latter was the result, carried through by Thatcher. It meant using North Sea oil to finance mass unemployment, to break the power of organised Labour, with the consequent effect on the British economy, which could otherwise have benefitted from those revenues to carry through a capital restructuring. But, it also meant that changes in work practices that not only could, but had been introduced in Germany and elsewhere, in a more rational, gradual manner, were instead introduced brutally – the changes in the print industry were a good example, but the car industry was another.
In Germany, the reformist agenda had incorporated workers into the process, changes were introduced more smoothly, and the consequence was a more vibrant German economy, which was able to then raise German workers living standards by higher wages, and better welfare. If you are going to be a reformist then it makes sense to be a reformist along the German model, not the idiot model proposed by the AWL.

But, ultimately, as Marx pointed out, in response to both Lassalle and to Weston, our objection to Capitalism is not that it lowers workers' living standards – on the whole it does not, it raises real living standards – our objection is that even an affluent worker remains a slave under Capitalism, forced to hand over a part of the product of his Labour to the Capitalist for free, in order to be allowed to work. That is why Marx emphasised the need to break the Capital-Labour relationship, including the State Capital-Labour relationship. It is why Marx argued that workers have to free themselves by establishing their own Co-operative property, and developing their own self-government in opposition to that of Capital.
That is the essence of revolutionary programme and practice, to break from the Capitalist norms and regulations, by acting to transform/revolutionise existing property forms and relations, and on that basis to create new social relations.

That is why a revolutionary praxis here and now has to reject reformist demands for the bosses state to intervene, and instead calls on the working class to occupy the Care Homes, to establish new worker owned property relations within that important sector of production, and to build new social relations upon it, spreading out into ever increasing areas of workers lives.


Jacob Richter said...

Again, please note the inconsistency of your criticism of the AWL's "idiot reformism."

Except for the first sentence, the care homes slogan sounds reasonable, but from my perspective, falls way short in terms of not impacting society enough (like comparing mere labour disputes with the broader "tenants rights" economic struggles).

"Marx argued that in order to avoid “revolutionary phrase mongering” - which is essentially what the AWL's demand here amounts to – demands for reforms should be ones that Capital CAN concede. These demands should be ones that enable or facilitate the workers own organisation and struggle, their self-activity and government."

Demands of an immediate, intermediate, and threshold nature should be about concessions and class struggle at the same time.

Yet you say re. my points that "All of those things can only properly be addressed by a Workers State." Obvious not. They can only be properly addressed by [genuine, political/"politico-political"] Class Struggle.

I'm just going by all the "dynamism" arguments about bourgeois society and by your own belief in the Kondratiev cycle (which says that right now we're not in a downward trend, and I don't subscribe to this specific cycle btw), taking the optimistic assessments to their logical conclusion.

Re. the UK nationalizations: obviously they were blind to the possibility of a tax-to-nationalize setup.

Boffy said...

If we take your last sentence the implication is that the Governments that carried out these nationalisations were simply inept, that they lacked the advice of someone like you to tell them how to go about it! But, that is not at all the case. They failed to act in ways that impacted the rights of Capital, precisely because they were bouregois Governments, and had they been anything like a Workers Government, the State itself would have frustrated, and prevented them from implementing any measures that really did challenge Capital. That is the reality, for example, of Allende's Chile. As Engels put it, quoted by Lenin, bouregois democracy is a measure of the maturity of the working-class, and nothing more. But, like the reformists, as lenin puts it, it is precisely this MORE that you seek from it.

You do not say why it is only the first sentence of the AWL's demand you find unreasonable. In reality, they seek to have all these other measures performed by that same bourgeois state, and introduced by Cameron's Government. And, given that it is that Government which is implemenbting the cuts and privatisation, are you really saying you see nothing faintly ridiculous in making such a demand???

You would have to explain how you think that class struggle alone can implement the measures you previously listed, and which I believe are the preserve of a Workers State. Given that most if not all these aspects are to do with legal relations, I find it hard to see your argument here.

I don't see what the Long Wave cycle has to do with any of this. You would need to elaborate your point, for me to respond.

Boffy said...

I'd point out that in your previous comment setting out your position on that you said yourself,

"Cannot be addressed by self-proclaimed "Self Help" cooperative movements or by most forms of labour unions, because of the intimate relationship between Politics and the State (with the accompanying State Aid)."

I would like to know how you think these things that you admit here cannot be dealt with because of the relation between Politics and the State can be controlled by workers WITHOUT a workers State. The implication is that workers can control the actions of a Capitalist State i.e. the basic position of Reformism.

We saw all of this kind of nonsense in the past in the Stalinist reformist "Roads To Socialism", and in the documents such as the Alternative economic Strategy, which like most of the things you write, took up reams of paper in esoteric, academic schemas, none of which had one iota of realism to them, or any hope of being adopted, precisely because it is not a matter of persuading the bourgeoisie and its state of some clever solution, but of convincing the working-class of the need to overthrow the rule of the bouregoisie and its state!