Wednesday, 4 December 2013

For A Political Revolution In The Co-op - Part 3

Statists and Stalinists like the AWL, relish in the
failure of workers to establish their own independently
owned property, because for them Socialism is not
something created by workers themselves, but is
something done to workers by the State under the control
of those elitists.
The Tories were not the only opportunists, in relation to the failure of the Co-op Bank. The sectarians, statists and Stalinists, like the AWL, were also quick to relish in the workers' failure, in order to promote their own sectarian dogma. Instead of helping workers understand what went wrong at the Co-op Bank, and how to avoid those errors, in building a more resilient, worker-owned sector of the economy, they simply took the opportunity to, once more, gloat and proclaim that workers cannot build such an alternative. Only when the sectarians have control of the state, you see, will it be possible for them to establish such state owned property over the workers' heads. Socialism not created by workers for workers, but Socialism done to workers by an over-bearing state.

So, the AWL, for instance write,

“Like most would-be islands of socialism within capitalism, the Co-op was eventually soaked through by the capitalist sea around it.

Socialists and the labour movement should demand and campaign for the only rational and humane solution to the financial crisis — the expropriation of the banking sector under democratic control.”

Marx and Engels argued for
workers to establish worker-
owned Co-ops.  The Marxists
that followed them did likewise.
A single Co-op, just like a single Workers State, in a sea of Capitalism, if considered from the position of the kind of bourgeois, syllogistic logic that the AWL uses, is, of course, subject to intense pressures that will, in the end, if nothing else changes, result in it succumbing. But, do the AWL, and those that think like them, believe that Marx and Engels were unaware of that, when they encouraged workers to establish such Co-ops? Do they think that Kautsky, Pannakoek, Gramsci and most other Marxists of the time were similarly unaware, when they too encouraged workers to establish Co-ops. Even Lenin, encouraged workers to establish Co-ops, and Trotsky in many of his writings, sees Co-ops as an integral element of the Labour Movement. 

Lenin advocated that the Second International promote
 co-operatives, he also advocated co-ops after the revolution
in Russia, and he argued for a revolution in Russia, despite
opposing building "Socialism In One Country", because he
recognised that its necessary to try to create worker owned
property as part of changing the material conditions of the
workers, and the ideas built upon them.
But, what these Marxists understand, that the AWL, with its formal logic, cannot, is that the whole point of establishing Co-ops, as indeed with the establishment of trades unions, and a Workers Party, is not that they lead in some mystical fashion, that the sectarian purists desire, in a straight line, to Socialism, but that they are a vital part of the class struggle, as a long drawn out, and complex process, in which the qualifying assumption that “nothing else changes” does not hold. It is precisely why Lenin, who opposed the idea of “Socialism In One Country” could apply that principle on a larger scale, and even argue for the carrying through of a proletarian revolution in immensely backward Russia.

In May '68 workers occupied many factories in France, and operated
 them under workers control.  They did the same thing at Upper
Clyde Shipbuilders.  In both cases the Stalinists of the Communist
Part advised the workers to hand them over to the Capitalist State, just as
the Stalinists of the AWL do today.  The consequence was inevitably
that the struggle was demobilised, and the state showed again that
workers can never exercise control without ownership themselves
of the means of production. 
The sectarian stance of the AWL, and other statists, amounts to the idea that workers should not attempt to take ownership, because they may fail, they may be thrown back. On that basis they would never engage in any strike either. What the sectarians really oppose is the idea of workers taking matters into their own hands, rather than being directed by them. They understand that when workers do begin to take matters into their own hands on a substantial scale, it will not just be the end of Capitalism, but also of the petit-bourgeois dilettantes, the toy town revolutionaries, and their fairy-tale fiefdoms. Its no wonder that from Gerry Healy's WRP, through to the SWP, and a Maoist cult, building slavery in one bedsit, we see such organisations degenerate in the most grotesque fashion.

But, even on the basis of facts, rather than dogma, the AWL statement is nonsense. The Co-op itself, far from being soaked through by the Capitalist sea around it, grew throughout the 19th Century, becoming the biggest retailer and wholesaler in Britain. It beat off the capitalist competition encircling it, introduced many innovations, including those that benefited its workers such as welfare and educational provision, shorter hours, higher pay, and for the first time, paid holidays. It built an international movement that opposed imperialist wars, and continued its education and propaganda even during those wars, for the benefit of its members fighting at the front. It provided vital support for workers on strike, as well as logistics and finance for unions during the General Strike. 150 years after it was established, it still continues as a Co-operative, and it is still the biggest farmer in Britain. It has many failings that will be discussed, but the sectarian notion that it must fail, is simply disproved by the facts.

And, its not just the Co-op, and not just in Britain that this is true. Marxists are supposed to analyse the actions of the workers, the solutions the workers come up with, to codify them, and analyse their weaknesses in order to make them stronger. But, the sectarians misread somewhere that Marx was opposed to Co-operatives, and so they simply repeat mindlessly their own opposition, and glory when workers attempts in that regard fail. Yet, the truth about the success of worker co-operatives is the opposite of what the sectarians would proclaim.

As Ed Mayo points out,

“For all the troubles that have hit the Co-operative Bank, as earlier with other banks, there are over six thousand co-operatives across the UK, owned in turn by 15.4 million people.
Workers at Tower Colliery in Wales, in 1984, first faced the
oppression of the Capitalist State that the statists, like the AWL,
want workers to place their faith in.  When that state failed
to operate the pit efficiently and wanted to sack the workers
they took it over.  Not only did they run it efficiently and
profitably, but they increased the workforce.  When the pit
 was eventually exhausted, the feelings of the workers were in
stark contrast to those of miners who lost their jobs after
1984-5, at the hands of the state.

Co-operatives are businesses that are owned by the people that are involved in the everyday life of the business. One new co-operative starts every working day.

The survival rate for new co-operatives is also far higher than for business at large. One in three conventional businesses goes out of business within three years of starting. For co-operative enterprises, that is only one in twenty.

For five successive years the co-operative sector has outperformed the UK economy, growing by 20% since 2008. Across the nations of the UK, our turnover is now £36.7 billion. Worldwide, the co-operative sector has a turnover 54 times the global turnover of Coca-Cola.”

Far from being soaked through by the sea of Capitalism that surrounds them, the workers of the world are steadily getting on with the job of building a co-operative future without the assistance of the sectarians and statists. There are, in fact, more people employed by Co-operatives globally than are employed by the multinationals! (Co-op Facts)

But, the AWL comment is arrant nonsense from another perspective. It does not even call for the firms it pleads with the bosses state to nationalise, to be put under workers control. It instead talks about “democratic control.” I will examine why that is nonsense in Part 4

Back To Part 2

Forward To Part 4

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