Friday, 26 August 2011

Marxists And Bourgeois Democracy - Part 4

The degree to which the bourgeoisie will accede to such reforms depends upon the nature of the reforms, and the particular conditions under which they are put forward. For example, it is ironic that at the very moment when the bourgeoisie in Britain is seeking to privatise the NHS, large sections of Big Capital, in the US, are arguing for the introduction of some form of socialised healthcare. Their reason for doing so is simple. Private healthcare provision in the US is bureaucratic, and hugely expensive. As workers in the US have, in many large companies, negotiated deals, whereby the employer meets the costs of private medical insurance, these costs are crippling US corporations, making them unable to compete on the world market.
The companies are trying to get out of such deals with their workers, but to do so means large confrontations with workers who are the most organised section of the working class. Moreover, even if they get out of the deals, the likelihood is that workers will simply demand larger wage increases in order to cover the costs of taking out their own cover. The logical answer for big US Capital is socialised healthcare.

In the 1930’s Roosevelt in the New Deal introduced a whole raft of measures in support of workers, including minimum wage rates etc. But the background was rapidly rising membership of the US Communist Party, even amongst members of the middle class, the thought in the mind of the Russian Revolution that had happened only 16 years earlier, a Soviet Union whose economy was booming whilst the US and the rest of the capitalist world was in what looked like possible terminal decline.
Meanwhile, of course, other sections of the bourgeoisie were making other arrangements just in case these reforms did not buy off the workers. Henry Ford a long time anti-semite and perpetrator of the idea of the world-wide Jewish conspiracy, from whom Hitler took many ideas, was giving financial and political support to US fascists.

In short, in times when the working class is strong, and the ruling class see the potential for trouble they have learnt to tack and to allow, even considerable, reforms to the working class, provided those reforms do not seriously threaten the existence of Capital. In fact the reforms are the best guarantee of its continuation by avoiding revolution, and indeed as with the Welfare State, Capital was able not only to utilise it to ensure the reproduction of Labour Power, but it also meant it could head off existing attempts by workers to develop their own independent provision.
Its notable, in fact, that in Britain where the Labour Movement was in disarray during the 1930’s, the Labour Party having split etc. the ruling class did not feel compelled to introduce the same kinds of reforms that Roosevelt had done with the New Deal, or even to use the kinds of Keynesian economics introduced in the US or in Norway. Though as I have argued elsewhere in large part this is also explained by the different economic conditions existing at that time in the US compared to Europe, which made a Keynesian solution impossible in Europe. At times when the working class is weak, as it has been for the last 25 years, the bourgeoisie rolls back those reforms as it has done in relation to Trade Union rights, welfare rights etc.

In a situation where the majority of workers remain tied to these bourgeois democratic illusions then, I would argue that it is not only the task of Marxists to try to win workers away from them, not only to build the workers democracy as the alternative to that bourgeois democracy, but is to also utilise the bourgeois democracy, where possible to win reforms, and thereby to exacerbate the contradiction between the form of bourgeois rule – the bourgeois democratic Parliament – and the instrument of that rule – the bourgeois state. Contrary to Lenin’s formulation, which tends to conflate the Parliament and the State, workers can take control of one, but not the other. But, those reforms should not be of the kind that the reformists advocate, which sow the illusion that the Capitalist State can act to further their interests. Those reforms rather should as Marx advocated be ones that merely facilitate the self-activity, and self-government of the workers, developing it in opposition to the State.

Let me try to explain how I see that in a situation like Britain today through a number of examples. Take an example like the Miners Estate in the ward where I lived. The estate has been run down, the Coal Board sold the houses, it continued to own, to absentee landlords in London, who frequently sell them to other absentee landlords so that its impossible to keep track of who is responsible for them.
The landlords put in tenants that no one else wants, because they are anti-social etc., who then cause problems for other tenants, or home owners, who then move out leaving further properties vacant for the absentee landlords to fill with even more anti-social elements.

The tenants and residents on the estate formed a TRA to take up these problems. Some of the leaders of the TRA are current or ex union branch secretaries etc. Like most British workers they remain tied to the Labour Party and to bourgeois democracy. But that democracy was not resolving their problem. They elected Labour Councillors and a Labour MP but the problem persists. So they took it into their own hands and established a form of workers democracy to resolve it. I went to one of their first meetings, and argued that they had done the right thing setting up their TRA, that by taking matters into their own hands they had given themselves the best chance of resolving the problem, and that they should rely on their own strength and organisation rather than on the possibility that I or any other Councillor or MP could wave a magic wand, make some amazing speech in a Council Chamber and resolve their problem for them.

The Tenants began to do things for themselves. Plots of land on the estate, that were derelict, were cleaned up, and turned into play areas for the kids.
As a Councillor, I provided them with funding, first for a computer to do their administration, then for a big mower for dealing with their grounds maintenance, and for a shed to keep their equipment in. There are of course other measures that they could take. They could, for instance, begin to police the area themselves, and in short put the entire estate under their own management, and they could go on from there to argue that as they are doing this for themselves they will withhold a part of their Council Tax that should have gone to the Council to undertake these tasks it was failing to do.
There is a precedent for this. Town and Parish Councils are entitled to raise their own local rate to raise money for the specific area, which is then paid to them as a precept, by the Council that collects the money.

But short of a social revolution, some of those things would bring them directly into conflict with the Council, and with the bourgeois state. In order to legitimise some of those things it is necessary to actually utilise the structures of the Council. If we had a real Workers Party what would it say to those workers on that estate in those conditions? It would say (though not in these actual words)“Look you have proved that you can run your own lives, and your estate without the need for Landlords, for Council officials, for police or any of the other panoply of capitalism and bourgeois democracy. Unfortunately, for some of the other things we need to do we need to have them legitimised. So, although we have shown we have no need of the Local Council to run our lives it will make lives easier if we get the Council to legalise some of the other things we need to do. The best way to do that is for us to take control of the Council, and to put that legal seal upon it.” That, in itself, of course, would require that the Workers Party was able to extend such examples across the area, linking up each group of independently organised workers, and would in turn require the establishment of wider forms of workers democracy across the area. (The reason I argued that this does not apply in Iraq nor now in Libya is precisely because these alternative structures of bourgeois democracy such as Local Councils do not exist, and so workers could quite legitimately in the first place establish control of their communities through their own Workers Committees and allocate funds to them accordingly). It is interesting that in Benghazi, which has been in rebel hands for six months, the supposed desire for democracy has not yet extended to the establishment of any democratic institutions, be they bouregois democratic, or forms of workers democracy, as, for example sprung up spontaneously in the form of Soviets, Factory Committees and so on in Russia in 1905, and 1917, and similarly in the other European and Asian revolutions in the 1920's.

That gives no credibility to bourgeois democracy. It means the Workers Party takes its strength directly from the workers democracy below it, it merely says we are not ready for a struggle for power yet, and so we will legitimate the actions we have already decided upon. And if the bourgeois state then tries to ignore that legitimation it further drives a wedge between the bourgeois form of rule through bourgeois democracy, and the instrument of rule through the bourgeois state, it demonstrates even more clearly the fact that bourgeois democracy is merely a façade hiding the bourgeois class dictatorship.

But Marxists within this Workers Party would at all times be arguing for it not to limit its programme simply in order to obtain a majority of seats. The primary task of the Workers Party they would argue would be to build the Workers Democracy outside Parliament, to utilise elections for that purpose to propagandise for that workers democracy as an alternative to bourgeois democracy, to expose at every opportunity the sham nature of the bourgeois democracy. Only on the basis of the strength of the workers democracy outside Parliament would the strength of the Workers Party inside Parliament be reflected.
As Engels put it the Parliamentary representation is an index of the maturity of the working class for socialism, and nothing more. Only at the point where the class consciousness of the working class, developed through that workers democracy, is sufficiently developed that a majority of the class have been won to the need for a socialist transformation, would a Parliamentary majority become possible, and that Parliamentary majority would then simply legitimise the dismantling of the bourgeois state, an action which would inevitably lead to an attempt at counter-revolution by the bourgeoisie, but who would then be the ones seen to be acting illegally, and whose slave-holders revolt would be the more easily subdued precisely because of the strength of the workers democracy built up outside Parliament, and educated in the inevitability of such a response.

In short, the attitude of Marxists to Bourgeois Democracy depends upon the conditions they find themselves in. At all times their attitude is determined not by some need to defend bourgeois democracy as progressive vis a vis other forms of class rule, but is determined to win the working class to its banner to become an independent force against Bourgeois Democracy and other forms of class rule.

For us, winning the working class is the primary task, and at times, in order to be with the workers, in order to win them over, will require us to defend bourgeois democracy against fascism, when the workers are attached to bourgeois democracy. If the workers are themselves struggling for Bourgeois Democracy then we will join in that struggle, whilst giving no ground to the idea that it can resolve the workers problems. As Lenin argued in Two Tactics Of Social-Democracy

“A Social-Democrat must never for a moment forget that the proletariat will inevitably have to wage the class struggle for Socialism even against the most democratic and republican bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie. This is beyond doubt. Hence the absolute necessity of a separate, independent, strictly class party of Social-Democracy. Hence the temporary nature of our tactics of “striking jointly” with the bourgeoisie and the duty of keeping a strict watch “over our ally, as over an enemy,” etc. All this is also beyond the slightest doubt. But it would be ridiculous and reactionary to deduce from this that we must forget, ignore or neglect these tasks which, although transient and temporary, are vital at the present time. The fight against the autocracy is a temporary and transient task of the Socialists, but to ignore or neglect this task in any way would be tantamount to betraying Socialism and rendering a service to reaction. The revolutionary-Democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry is unquestionably only a transient, temporary aim of the Socialists, but to ignore this aim in the period of a democratic revolution would be downright reactionary...”

Equally, it may require us to defend a country ruled by a fascistic regime against bourgeois democracy, e.g. Iran or Libya, if doing so enables us to win the workers in that country to us, and where it is a case of an Imperialist State waging a war against a non-imperialist state.
In neither case do we defend by giving credence to either bourgeois democracy or to fascism, in neither case do we utilise the ideas or institutions of our class enemy for such defence, but on the contrary organise that defence on the basis of socialist ideas, and organs of workers democracy, because that is the basis of proving the superiority of those ideas and those forms of organisation to the working class, and that is the basis of winning them to our banner.

In countries where bourgeois democracy is established, and where the working class has illusions in that bourgeois democracy, then generally we will use elections within that bourgeois democracy as a platform to expose its true nature, and to propagandise for workers democracy. Where elected we continue to use that position to support the self-activity of the class, to emphasise its need to organise its own democratic structures, and to put no faith in the bourgeois democracy resolving its problems. We recognise that without a strong workers democracy, outside Parliament, representing the development of a well entrenched class consciousness, Parliamentary majorities for a Workers Party are meaningless, because such a party would be forced either to limit its actions in Parliament to what the ruling class will allow it to get away with, or will simply sweep that Government away without the necessary forces existing outside Parliament to defend it. We recognise, however, that in conditions where the class consciousness of the class has reached a level, where it recognises the need for a transformation of society, such a transformation can be facilitated by a Workers Party legitimating the actions of the workers democracy, outside Parliament, and legislating away the bourgeois state apparatus, thereby forcing the bourgeoisie to be the ones acting illegally when it tries to organise a counter-revolution.
Such legitimation is not irrelevant in winning over other classes in society to the working class, or in minimising the basis of foreign intervention. However, as Engels pointed out, it is likely that the Bourgeoisie would resort to extra parliamentary action long before any such party began such a process via parliament.

In conditions where bourgeois democracy is not an established fact, where the working class does not, therefore, suffer from illusions in it, and where bourgeois democratic forms – local councils, bourgeois parliaments etc. – do not exist, we should focus primarily on the development of workers democracy immediately as the basis for workers resolving their immediate problems, and organising their own self-administration.
The development of such workers democracy does not at all equate to the need for an imminent struggle for power or overthrow of the rule of Capital. There may be many instances where the working class is too small for that to be a feasible proposition e.g. Libya now, but there is little point in imbuing such a working class with illusions in bourgeois democracy, when their problems can be better addressed by workers democracy even within capitalism, only to have to then wage a fight against those illusions at some later date.

The best guarantee of reforms being maintained i.e. not taken away, is when those reforms are based on the strength of the working class outside Parliament, when those reforms bring about some real change in the ability of the working class to defend itself, and to increase its social weight. That has been true of many of the most important reforms that have taken place, they came about due to extra-Parliamentary activity by the working class. Whether they were the result of real concessions, or were concessions granted by the bourgeoisie in the context of a situation where they could benefit too - for example Engels comments about the conversion of the Big Bourgeoisie to supporting Trades Unions, to Factory Legislation and so on - is irrelevant if it brings about a real improvement of the class's ability to defend itself, and increases its relative weight.

However, these kinds of changes are most solid where they bring about some kind of change that it is difficult for the bourgeoisie to take away at some point in the future. The bourgeoisie cannot easily take away the right of people to organise collectively within their own community, to manage their estates etc., indeed to a certain extent they condone it with things like Neighbourhood Watch schemes. It is up to socialists to put the necessary class content into such bodies, to use them as means of living and breathing with the class and raising their class consciousness. And even with TU's the bourgeoisie have found it difficult even in limited ways to take away the right to belong to a Trade Union, though they have reduced the extent of Trade Union rights.
Partly that is because Trade Unions themselves took on a corporatist nature seeing their role as negotiating completely within the system, individual members were encouraged to see paying union subs as an insurance policy. Once that breaks down and the rank and file of trade unions begin to reassert themselves and get back to what Trade Unions are about - solidarity - no amount of legislation will prevent ordinary workers supporting other groups of workers as the Gate Gourmet dispute began to demonstrate.

It is that kind of collective self-activity of the class that I emphasise, and which bourgeois democracy mitigates against. My conception is a more gradualist conception than the Leninist big bang violent revolution led by a small revolutionary party. It is about building up a solid, socialist class consciousness within the working class based on the self-activity of the class whether that be workers forming collectives as co-operatives for their employment, to manage their housing, to control their estates, or other forms of co-operative action that is based on workers democracy.
But that self-activity still requires a Workers Party to draw out the lessons of all those struggles, codify it for the class in order that lessons already learned do not have to be learned again, it does require co-ordination - it is not a proposal for anarcho-syndicalism - and given the fact that the majority of British and European workers still believe in the need for Parliamentary action, it would require such a Party to reflect these real changes in the workers consciousness and strength in Local and National government. It would also require that in the event that some revolutionary outbreak occurred, sparked by some unforeseen event, that this Party was ready to take advantage and push the workers forward, to develop the workers democracy it had helped develop to a much higher degree, to begin to establish higher forms of workers democracy such as the Workers Council/Soviet to put on the agenda there and then the question of who rules.

So my proposal is both gradual and revolutionary - it is dialectical. It recognises that the class struggle does not take place at the same tempo all the time, and that indeed if socialists do develop a strong class consciousness within the working class by pushing forward the kind of Marxist strategy I have outlined, the changes brought about will inevitably lead to a quickening of that tempo, will inevitably lead both to a situation where the workers recognise they have no need of bourgeois democracy or of capitalism, and where the capitalists recognise that their rule is threatened. In short will lead to a revolutionary situation.

Back To Part 3

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