Sunday, 11 August 2013

The AWL & Workers Control Again

A couple of days ago, I posted a blog relating to an article posted on the AWL website - The AWL & Workers Control - on the question of Workers Control.  My post criticised the way the AWL raise the demand for "Nationalisation and Workers Control", and the way their article selectively quoted from Trotsky's 1931 article on the question.  Now, the AWL have posted Trotsky's article in full.  It is published with no additional comments, it is not linked to the original article, so its not clear what point the AWL are trying to make with it.

A reading of the full article, however, shows that it undermines the AWL position further.  It does, however, give opportunity for a further discussion on the issue.

Trotsky, goes on to criticise the Stalinists for applying the concept of the demand for Workers Control in a mechanistic manner, by equating a revolutionary situation with the creation of Soviets.

"The epigones have purely mechanically adopted the notion that workers’ control of production, like soviets, can only be realized under revolutionary conditions. If the Stalinists tried to arrange their prejudices in a definite system, they would probably argue as follows: workers’ control as a sort of economic dual power is inconceivable without political dual power in the country, which in turn is inconceivable without the opposition of soviets to the bourgeois power; consequently – the Stalinists would be inclined to conclude – to advance the slogan of workers’ control of production is admissible only simultaneously with the slogan of soviets."

That, of course, is absolutely correct.  No serious Marxist would presume that there is some strict series of stages through which a pre-revolutionary situation must pass to become a revolutionary situation.  The whole period is one of flux, some forms, types of development will occur before others in different situations.  The demand for Workers Control in one situation may be a relevant transitional demand on the road to workers developing the kind of revolutionary consciousness that leads them to establish soviets etc.  In another situation the development of soviets may arise first, spontaneously.  For example, in 1984, it is possible that in certain areas, Miners Support Committees, based upon local Trades Councils, could have evolved towards something approaching a soviet.  That workers council could have been an organising centre for the occupation of collieries and other facilities, and the implementation of workers control of production.

But, what does this have to do with the current situation?  No one in contact with planet Earth believes that we are in anything like such a situation.  So, the demand for nationalisation under workers control is senseless.  But, that does not necessarily mean that Marxists, even now, cannot engage with struggles around the question of workers control, or even simply democratic control.  In fact, it doesn't even mean they cannot engage with struggles around demands for nationalisation, or to defend state capitalist property against overturn by private interests.  The point is how they do that.

Take the situation with the NHS, for example.  For Marxists the NHS is just another state capitalist organisation, whose existence is determined by the needs of capital.  But, that does not mean that Marxists are indifferent towards it.  Marxists are opposed to the privatisation of state capitalist forms such as the NHS in the same way that they are hostile to the opposition of small scale capitalist enterprises to capitalist monopolies.  That is because state capitalism and monopoly is historically progressive.  But, historically progressive here is a relative term.  They are historically progressive compared to small-scale or privately owned capital, but still reactionary compared to  workers ownership and control.  Opposing a move backwards to a more reactionary form is not at all counterpoised to our demand to move forward to the more progressive form of workers ownership and control.  On the contrary, the best means of achieving the former is to struggle for the latter.

In the meantime, if workers fight against the limitations of the NHS by demanding greater democratic control over it, it would be absurd for Marxists to oppose such a struggle on the basis that we demand only the purity of a worker owned and controlled health service.  Marx makes precisely this point in his article - Political Indifferentism.  Our basic principle is "stick with the workers".  That is the case, even though on many occasions the workers will engage in struggles on the basis of a false prospectus.  Their struggles may even be waged on the basis of what are reactionary demands, e.g. "British Jobs For British Workers".  Our task, in such situations is not to be sectarian purists, but to support the workers in their struggle whilst at the same time pointing out the limited, and even reactionary basis upon which they are conducting it, and thereby to provide them with an alternative more adequate perspective of struggle.

If workers demand democratic control of the NHS, Marxists obviously support such demands, whilst pointing out that the capitalist state will never concede such control in any meaningful sense.  We do not reject the idea of bourgeois democracy, simply because we recognise that it is sham, whilst the majority of workers, as yet do not, as Lenin pointed out in  - Left Wing Communism.  The fact, that we participate in bourgeois parliaments does not mean we stop pointing out to workers that bourgeois democracy is a sham.  On the contrary, that participation is undertaken as one means of demonstrating that it is a sham.  That participation does not stop us from advocating that workers go beyond it to establish workers democracy, it is one means of obtaining a platform for making such an argument.

Similarly, if workers demand democratic control of the NHS, Marxists support such struggles, and use their support and involvement the better to point out to workers that the capitalist state will never agree to any such meaningful control, and that in any case, if workers want to exercise real control over the NHS they can only do so in the long-term by removing it from the ownership of the capitalist state, and bringing it under their own ownership and control.

Similarly, if workers oppose the privatisation of the NHS or any other state capitalist enterprise, Marxists support their struggle.  But, they do so whilst pointing out that the NHS was never established for their benefit, but was always established in the interests of capital.  If workers want to prevent its privatisation, the only guaranteed basis for achieving that is if they take it out of the hands of the capitalists state, and bring it into their own ownership and control.

Take another example, council housing. Despite many weaknesses of the policy adopted by the Militant Tendency in Liverpool in the 1980's, one of the success stories they had was in the construction of council housing.  Yet, that success story was itself limited.  The Council Housing, under the control of the local capitalist state, suffered from the same problems of council housing and state capitalist provision in general.  That is it was geared to the interests of capital not to workers.  For workers, as tenants they faced all of the same problems of bureaucracy, and oppression that council tenants throughout the country faced.  But, even had that not been the case, the council housing faced an inevitable problem.  When Thatcher came to power, she was able to use the power of the central state to over ride the local state.  The houses were privatised.  The best guarantee against that would have been had a revolutionary leadership in Liverpool taken the council housing out of the ownership of the local capitalist state altogether and transferred it to the ownership of workers themselves, had they established locally based worker owned and controlled, co-operative housing, and estates.

That in itself is not foolproof as the privatisation of various co-operative and mutual organisations demonstrate.  But, the answer to that, as Marx and the First International proposed, is for such co-operative property to be vested with a co-operative federation.  What we need is for the Trades Unions and the Workers Party to take an active role in the development and activity of such a Co-operative federation, so that it is used as a positive force for extending worker ownership and control throughout the economy.

But, it is one thing for Marxists to lend their support to an existing workers struggle, conducted on an inadequate basis, and quite another for Marxists themselves to propose a struggle to the workers on an inadequate basis.  That would simply be a version of the Stalinist "stages theory", by which society must pass through various preliminary stages before it can move on to socialism.  It is ridiculous to suggest that workers must struggle for various forms of state capitalism only to move on to a struggle for worker ownership and control!  In a situation where workers are not even demanding democratic control, let alone workers control over the NHS or any other state capitalist enterprise, why would Marxists propose they do so, rather than proposing that workers struggle from the beginning for worker owned and controlled enterprises.

When Lenin proposed in "Left-Wing Communism" that Marxists had to participate in bourgeois parliaments, he did so on the basis that the majority of workers remained tied to such ideology.  But, in a situation where bourgeois democracy does not exist, it would be ridiculous, to demand that workers struggle for it so that they can then later be disabused of their belief in it!  That indeed, is precisely what the stages theory does.  Of course, its not the same thing as raising demands for workers to have the advantages of various bourgeois freedoms, such as the right to free speech, to assembly and so on.  Marxists obviously do the latter, the better that workers can organise and pursue their interests.  But, if workers are able to do that, and move straight to forms of workers democracy, it is the crassest form of formalism, to demand that they instead must go through a stage of bourgeois democracy!

In his - Action Programme For France - Trotsky proceeds on precisely that basis.  His method of defending the existing bourgeois democracy against fascism, gives no hostages to illusions in that bourgeois democracy.  His programme is a struggle for bourgeois freedoms for the workers conducted on the basis of the development of organs of workers democracy. 

Yet,  what the AWL do in both these kinds of situation is to adopt the Stalinist stages approach.  In Iraq, Libya and elsewhere, their political programme was reduced to economistic trade union struggle, combined with a stages theory approach to politics.  In conditions where there was no entrenched commitment of the working class to bourgeois democracy, and where no such bourgeois democracy existed, they limited themselves to demanding the workers struggle for it, rather than for their own forms of democracy and independence from the capitalist state.  They reduced their programme to that of radical Liberalism.  The task of struggling for workers democracy and socialism was postponed to the indefinite future.

The same applies to their approach to the NHS and other state capitalist enterprises.   Their programme is reduced to nothing more than the economistic, more militancy approach of trade union struggle that characterised the IS/SWP.  The limit of that trade union struggle is nothing more than that the capitalist state ride to the rescue of the workers - in the same way they call on that state to ride to the rescue of workers in Iraq, Libya etc - the question of workers ownership, workers democracy and socialism is thereby postponed for some date in the distant future.

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