Tuesday, 1 May 2012

AWL Stalinism, Once More - Part 2

Third Period Ultraleftism and the Requirement For Purity and Perfection

Of course, there are parts of what the AWL say, which is correct. They are correct to point to the inadequacies of the John Lewis model, and of the Co-op. Neither of these organisations are the kind of Worker Owned Co-operative advocated by Marx and Engels. But, it is typical Stalinist, Third Period Ultraleftism to reject out of hand the experiments of the workers in this manner, simply because they do not yet conform exactly to the perfection that the sectarians demand! That is not at all the method of Marx and Engels, who argued that workers would have to make such mistakes in order to learn and progress from them. It is for that reason that in the Programme he wrote for the First International, Marx argued against being prescriptive about the forms of Co-operative the workers should establish. He wrote,

“It is the business of the International Working Men's Association to combine and generalise the spontaneous movements of the working classes, but not to dictate or impose any doctrinary system whatever. The Congress should, therefore, proclaim no special system of co-operation, but limit itself to the enunciation of a few general principles.”

But, that did not prevent him, as part of those general principles, from arguing that workers should establish productive Co-operatives rather than consumer Co-operatives. As he puts it,

“We recommend to the working men to embark in co-operative production rather than in co-operative stores. The latter touch but the surface of the present economical system, the former attacks its groundwork.”

And of course, they are right to say that “Marx also argued that they cannot conceivably replace the capitalist economy, bit by bit.” Yet, unlike the Stalinists of the AWL, who openly argue against the building of Worker Owned Co-operatives, wherever Marx makes this statement it is combined with an open demand that workers SHOULD establish such Co-operatives. Rather than arguing that workers should not establish Co-operatives, because they cannot simply replace Capitalism, Marx argues that ultimately, this limitation will mean that workers have to struggle to win State power, and that they will be better placed to do that, the more they advance their own economic and social position, transforming themselves into becoming fit to rule in the process, and a central component of doing that will indeed involve the building of Worker Owned Co-operatives, as part of the overall class struggle. Moreover, Marx makes clear that he does see the building of such Co-operatives both as occurring within the continuation of the market, and extending nationally on a gradual basis. In Capital Vol.III, which was published by Engels near the end of his life, and without any note to say that changes had invalidated Marx's earlier argument, he writes,

“The co-operative factories of the labourers themselves represent within the old form the first sprouts of the new, although they naturally reproduce, and must reproduce, everywhere in their actual organisation all the shortcomings of the prevailing system. But the antithesis between capital and labour is overcome within them, if at first only by way of making the associated labourers into their own capitalist, i.e., by enabling them to use the means of production for the employment of their own labour. They show how a new mode of production naturally grows out of an old one, when the development of the material forces of production and of the corresponding forms of social production have reached a particular stage. Without the factory system arising out of the capitalist mode of production there could have been no co-operative factories. Nor could these have developed without the credit system arising out of the same mode of production. The credit system is not only the principal basis for the gradual transformation of capitalist private enterprises. into capitalist stock companies, but equally offers the means for the gradual extension of co-operative enterprises on a more or less national scale. The capitalist stock companies, as much as the co-operative factories, should be considered as transitional forms from the capitalist mode of production to the associated one, with the only distinction that the antagonism is resolved negatively in the one and positively in the other.”

He goes on,

“The two characteristics immanent in the credit system are, on the one hand, to develop the incentive of capitalist production, enrichment through exploitation of the labour of others, to the purest and most colossal form of gambling and swindling, and to reduce more and more the number of the few who exploit the social wealth; on the other hand, to constitute the form of transition to a new mode of production. It is this ambiguous nature, which endows the principal spokesmen of credit from Law to Isaac Pereire with the pleasant character mixture of swindler and prophet.”

So, it is clear that far from arguing for nationalisation by the Capitalist State, or even by a Workers State, Marx and Engels saw the transition to Socialism being achieved by “the gradual extension of co-operative enterprises on a more or less national scale”, and this would be achieved by the use of the Credit System, which “constitute(s) the form of transition to a new mode of production.”

This conforms to Marx's statement in the Grundrisse, where he writes,

"As the system of bourgeois economy has developed for us only by degrees so too its negation, which is its ultimate result." p712.

Similarly, Engels wrote later in a letter to Bebel,

“the workers should operate the factories shut down by the factory-owners on a cooperative basis. That is the great difference. And Marx and I never doubted that in the transition to the full communist economy we will have to use the cooperative system as an intermediate stage on a large scale.”

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