Friday, 9 August 2013

The AWL and Workers Control

The AWL have reprinted on their website an article by Paul Hampton, from 2006, on the question of Workers Control. As with many of the AWL's articles it is based upon selectively quoting so as to provide a narrative that supports the AWL's particular brand of Stalinism.

The article quite rightly praises the workers of Zanon in Argentina who occupied the factory when it was threatened, and faced with the question what now, when they needed to continue making a living, began to operate again under their own control without bosses. The article then goes on,

“Zanon workers want the factory to be nationalised under workers’ control.”

But, what the workers actually demanded and obtained, was legal ownership of the factory, so that they could continue production as a co-operative. And, of course, it is only as a co-operative, under any conditions short of the establishment of Socialism, where workers can exercise any kind of meaningful workers control on a long-term basis.

However, that does not fit with the Stalinist politics of the AWL. Like the Stalinists of the British Communist Party, who advised workers at Upper Clyde Shipbuilders to give up their de facto ownership and control of the yard to the British capitalist state, the limit of the AWL's ambition for British workers is that they should swap exploitation by private capitalists, for the more effective exploitation by the capitalist state. The fact, that they dress up this betrayal of the interests and independence of the workers with meaningless demands that this state hand over control to the workers, is simply an indication of their bankruptcy.

Kautsky in the Erfurt Programme pointed out the truth about nationalisation by the capitalist state, and why Marxists do not demand it. He wrote,

“If the modern state nationalizes certain industries, it does not do so for the purpose of restricting capitalist exploitation, but for the purpose of protecting the capitalist system and establishing it upon a firmer basis, or for the purpose of itself taking a hand in the exploitation of labour, increasing its own revenues, and thereby reducing the contributions for its own support which it would otherwise have to impose upon the capitalist class. As an exploiter of labour, the state is superior to any private capitalist. Besides the economic power of the capitalists, it can also bring to bear upon the exploited classes the political power which it already wields.

The state has never carried on the nationalizing of industries further than the interests of the ruling classes demanded, nor will it ever go further than that. So long as the property-holding classes are the ruling ones, the nationalization of industries and capitalist functions will never be carried so far as to injure the capitalists and landlords or to restrict their opportunities for exploiting the proletariat.”

Yet, the AWL want workers to place their faith in this capitalist state, and expect it to hand over control of the means of production to them! In the article, the AWL quote Trotsky from his 1931 article - Workers Control Of Production. But, of course, in the AWL's usual manner of selective quoting, they do not quote the section of that article which undermines the AWL's calls for workers to submit to exploitation by the capitalist state. Trotsky says,

“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.”

But, of course, this begs the question to the AWL do they really believe that the situation we are in, or workers anywhere else in the world at the present time, is such a revolutionary situation? If they do, it only demonstrates just what fantasists they are. In fact, given that another central plank of their programme at the moment is the demand for a Workers' Government, there is every reason to believe that they really are fantasists, reminiscent of the same kind of nonsense that Gerry Healy used to come out with in the 1960's. A requirement for a Workers Government, of the kind Trotsky describes in the Transitional Programme, is again a revolutionary situation, but it also requires there to be mass, left-wing, centrist parties. Trotsky had in mind the large Stalinist parties that existed at the time, many of which still had within them large numbers of workers that were subjectively revolutionary, along with the left of the socialist parties. Even then he was not sure such a demand would have any chance of fruition.

But, today, such a demand is pure fantasy. It is not a revolutionary situation, and far from there being such mass left-wing parties, the workers are not even prepared to break with Ed Miliband's Labour Party! To the extent they do, it is to vote Tory or UKIP! The fantasies that the AWL put forward seem to be typical of the kind of nonsense such petit-bourgeois sects come out with, because based within a studentist milieu, they are completely removed from the real working-class and their condition, and their outlook is based instead on the kind of romantic dreams of revolution that sustain their young, student cadre, and without which the endless round of paper sales, meetings to attend and so on appear as the senseless waste of their time and energy they really are.

Trotsky in a further article outlines again what is wrong with the AWL's approach. Discussing the situation in Mexico where a left, nationalist regime was nationalising property, and sought support within the working-class, Trotsky argues that although Marxists could not advocate such a position, nor could they oppose the Government's offer of “Workers Control”, because the workers themselves would not easily understand why that was. It would be necessary instead to explain why such Workers Control would be a trap, and to go through that process with the workers. He writes,

“These measures are entirely within the domain of state capitalism. However, in a semicolonial country, state capitalism finds itself under the heavy pressure of private foreign capital and of its governments, and cannot maintain itself without the active support of the workers. That is why it tries, without letting the real power escape from its hands, to place on the workers’ organizations a considerable part of the responsibility for the march of production in the nationalized branches of industry.

What should be the policy of the workers’ party in this case? 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. But it is not a question of that. The bourgeois government has itself carried through the nationalization and has been compelled to ask participation of the workers in the management of the nationalized industry. One can of course evade the question by citing the fact that unless the proletariat takes possession of the power, participation by the trade unions in the management of the enterprises of state capitalism cannot give socialist results. However, such a negative policy from the revolutionary wing would not be understood by the masses and would strengthen the opportunist positions. For Marxists it is not a question of building socialism with the hands of the bourgeoisie, but of utilizing the situations that present themselves within state capitalism and advancing the revolutionary movement of the workers.”

Nationalised Industry And Workers Management

But, not even this case exists, other than perhaps in Venezuela, and we know there what the AWL think about workers giving up in any way there independence in relation to the state. The reality of nationalisation is, as the Erfurt Programme pointed out. It is always undertaken in the interests of capital not the workers. Those who propose to the workers that they should exchange their exploitation by one group of capitalists for exploitation by some other group of capitalists, particularly the capitalist state, only in Trotsky words perpetrate an “outright deception” of the workers. When the capitalist state nationalised UCS, all hope of workers control died with it. When that state nationalised the rest of the shipbuilding industry, it did so in the interests of capital. Its first act was to impose tens of thousands of job losses on the workers. That state had done the same thing in the 1950's and 60's when it nationalised the coal industry. Every nationalisation has followed the same route. Massive rationalisation at the workers expense, huge amounts of recapitalisation out of state funds, and ultimately return of the now profitable enterprises to the stock market wolves.

The same is essentially the case with the NHS and with the education system, which are run entirely in the interests of capital, to provide it with the supply of labour-power it requires. In the meantime, individual capitalist enterprises feed off the bones of these organisations, by selling them buildings, equipment, and supplies.

If workers want to exercise control over the means of production then as Marx and Engels pointed out they have to own those means of production themselves. They should reject the calls of Stalinists like the AWL to submit to the tender mercies of the capitalist state, and build and defend their independence from that state in every way.

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