Tuesday, 8 May 2012

AWL Stalinism, Once More - Part 4

The Reality of Worker Ownership & State Ownership

Co-op Consumer Research & Protection
But, the AWL's argument is factually and historically wrong anyway. Take the example of the Co-op itself, which, as a Consumer Co-op, is the least favourable variant of Co-op for those who work for it. In her book, "The Co-operative Movement and Communities in Britain, 1914-60", Nicole Robertson sets out a number of ways in which the Co-op certainly did not simply respond to the needs of the market, as I set out in my review of the book in The Weekly Worker.

From the beginning, the Co-op provided Education and Healthcare both for its members and its workers long before the Capitalist State did so. It also provided social facilities within working class communities, providing them with a focus around which to organise their activities from weddings to Trades Union meetings.

Co-op International College
As early as the 1850's, the Co-op had built extensive international links, including the establishment of its International College at Stanford Hall. It continued to argue its internationalist message during the two World Wars, including sending educational and propaganda material to its members fighting at the front. In fact, the Co-ops history of internationalism is far better than that of either the Trades Unions, or any of the Internationals.

After WWI, the Co-op began an open political campaign against Capitalism, and against the rampant profiteering of the time. It provided its resources, and knowledge of prices obtained from the CWS, to create a workers cost of living index, which it implemented with the London Trades Councils through the London Food Vigilance Committee.

During the 1919 railway strike, co-ops supplied food to the strikers. The shopworkers union in 1921 devised a plan to get supplies to members of the Triple Alliance, in case of a strike, via a national strike food committee, made up of the alliance, the co-operative movement and its employees. Co-op societies would be urged to move stocks lying at railways and in warehouses, “so that stores can be in our hands before the government commandeers the larger accumulation of supplies”. In case of shortages, committees would rely on the wartime experience of co-ops in organising rationing.

During the General Strike retail societies contributed £48,000 to national appeals, food and clothing worth £131,000 was handed over, and trade union credit of nearly half a million pounds was extended. It was alleged that £400,000 was transferred from the USSR to the Miners’ Federation, through the Co-operative Wholesale Society.

When the Tories attempted to prevent a repeat by introducing the Trades Dispute and Trades Union Bill in 1927, the central board of the Co-operative Union noted that “capitalist interests that have demanded this bill from the government are the same business and political interests that are striving to hamper the legitimate development of co-operation” and called upon “all co-operators to assist the trade unions in every possible way to defeat this reactionary measure”.

In the 1930s the Co-op Union organised support for the National Unemployed Workers Movement and the hunger marches, even though they were ignored at a national level by the Trades Unions and Labour Party.

At the beginning of the twentieth century the Co-op was the first to introduce a 48 hour week for its workers when most other workers were still working a 50-60 hour week. That went along with paid holidays, the provision of health insurance and more.

But, of course, none of this is of concern to the Stalinist sectarians of the AWL, whose vision remains constrained within the limits of a purely Trades Union consciousness at best.

The AWL talk about,

“the socialist demand for publicly-owned, publicly-funded services run under democratic control.”

The Popular Front
That again is a clear example of the Stalinist nature of their politics. Talk of the “Public” or “The People” is common coin amongst all Stalinists, precisely because it is a class neutral term that disguises the true nature of the class politics that underlies it. For Marxists, all talk of “The People” or “The Public” is meaningless precisely because it hides the fact that society is divided into classes with contradictory interests. In a society where the Capitalist Class is the dominant class, what such terms are cover for is action in the name of that dominant class. Ownership by the Capitalist State can never be in the interests of the vast majority of that “People” or “Public” - the workers – but is always carried out by that State in the interests of the dominant class i.e. the Capitalists!

And as Anton Pannakoek described it,

“The acknowledged aim of socialism is to take the means of production out of the hands of the capitalist class and place them into the hands of the workers. This aim is sometimes spoken of as public ownership, sometimes as common ownership of the production apparatus. There is, however, a marked and fundamental difference.

“Public ownership is the ownership, i.e. the right of disposal, by a public body representing society, by government, state power or some other political body. The persons forming this body, the politicians, officials, leaders, secretaries, managers, are the direct masters of the production apparatus; they direct and regulate the process of production; they command the workers. Common ownership is the right of disposal by the workers themselves; the working class itself — taken in the widest sense of all that partake in really productive work, including employees, farmers, scientists — is direct master of the production apparatus, managing, directing, and regulating the process of production which is, indeed, their common work…

“As a correction to State-managed production, sometimes workers’ control is demanded. Now, to ask control, supervision, from a superior indicates the submissive mood of helpless objects of exploitation. And then can you control another man’s business; what is your own business you do not want controlled, you do it. Productive work, social production, is the genuine business of the working class. It is the content of their life, their own activity. They themselves can take care if there is no police or State power to keep them off. They have the tools, the machines in their hands, they use and manage them. They do not need masters to command them, nor finances to control the masters.

Public ownership is the program of “friends” of the workers who for the hard exploitation of private capitalism wish to substitute a milder modernized exploitation. Common ownership is the program of the working class itself, fighting for self liberation….”

The AWL, are usually not averse to quoting the words of US Third Campist, Hal Draper, but on the question of Statism and Plannism even Draper speaks against them. In his pamphlet The Two Souls Of Socialism, Draper writes,

“These two self-styled socialisms are very different, but they have more in common than they think. The social democracy has typically dreamed of “socializing” capitalism from above. Its principle has always been that increased state intervention in society and economy is per se socialistic. It bears a fatal family resemblance to the Stalinist conception of imposing something called socialism from the top down, and of equating statification with socialism. Both have their roots in the ambiguous history of the socialist idea...

“But at least he seems to have read Marx, and realized that nowhere, in acres of writing and a long life, did Marx evince concern about more power for the state but rather the reverse. Marx, it dawned on him, was not a “statist”:” … (Ch. 5)

“But Marx made no fetish of “total planning.” He has so often been denounced (by other Marx-critics) for failing to draw up a blueprint of socialism precisely because he reacted so violently against his predecessors’ utopian “plannism” or planning-from-above. “Plannism” is precisely the conception of socialism that Marxism wished to destroy.” (ibid)

Its no surprise that the original State Socialist, Ferdinand Lassalle, was, like the AWL, led into advocating Nationalistic and Imperialist positions. Draper cites Lassalle's biographer,

“This is what made Marx and Lassalle “fundamentally opposed,” points out Lassalle’s biographer Footman, who lays bare his pro-Prussianism, pro-Prussian nationalism, pro-Prussian imperialism.”

Rather than seeking to build up the power of the State by encouraging it to take on a greater role in society, Marx's position was the very opposite. In, The 18th Brumaire, Marx writes,

“All revolutions perfected this machine instead of breaking it. The parties, which alternately contended for domination, regarded the possession of this huge state structure as the chief spoils of the victor.”

Marx recognised in his analysis of the State that it continually attempted to set itself free from Civil Society, and to stand over it. That is what Bonapartism is. It can only be held in check by a strong and secure ruling class. But, the working-class can never be in that position. In respect of the Capitalist State it is an oppressed class, and, even after the Revolution, its position as ruling class is necessarily neither strong nor secure. By the time it is strong and secure, the need for such a State no longer exists. It can never be in the interests of workers then to make the State strong by ceding to it increasing amounts of economic power, from which it derives social and political power. Lenin seems to have realised that too late in relation to the Russian Revolution. In 1923, in his speech On Co-operation he said,

“We went too far when we reintroduced NEP, but not because we attached too much importance to the principal of free enterprise and trade — we want too far because we lost sight of the cooperatives, because we now underrate cooperatives, because we are already beginning to forget the vast importance of the cooperatives from the above two points of view.”

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