Sunday, 5 January 2014

For A Political Revolution At The Co-op - Part 7

In previous parts I have demonstrated that the argument put by statists, that the problems that arose at the Co-op Bank should be addressed by workers demanding nationalisation, by the capitalist state, has nothing to do with Marxism. State Capitalism may represent a relatively progressive form, just as do monopolies, compared to the less developed forms of Capitalism that arose in the 19th century, but it is only a relatively more progressive form due to the fact that state capitalism, like monopoly, is more mature. Relative to worker owned property, such forms are not progressive at all, but reactionary. Far from advocating state-capitalism as an alternative to the development of worker owned property, Marxists advocate worker owned property as the alternative to state capitalism. A good account of that is given here – Reforming The Northern Irish Economy - A Job For The State.

But, in doing so, Marxists do not in any sense believe or suggest that such a course of action is free from problems. If constructing Socialism was easy, workers would have done it long ago. Marx was certainly under no illusion that the process of creating Socialism was easy, straight forward, or could proceed quickly or in a straight line. In the Grundrisse, for example, he wrote,

"As the system of bourgeois economy has developed for us only by degrees so too its negation, which is its ultimate result." (p 712).

Why is it that bourgeois economy is only negated by degrees rather than being overthrown overnight by some kind of top down, statist conception of the “expropriation of the expropriators”? It is precisely because Socialism can only be created by the workers themselves from their own independent actions, it can only arise on the back, as with every other mode of production, of the development of these new productive and social relations, which prove themselves, in practice, to be superior to those they replace. Marx describes in Capital not only the theory of why the worker-owned co-operatives were more efficient than capitalist enterprises, but also describes the facts of how they were in practice more efficient, and more profitable than capitalist enterprises.

“It is manifest from the public accounts of the co-operative factories in England that — after deducting the manager's wages, which form a part of the invested variable capital much the same as wages of other labourers — the profit was higher than the average profit, although at times they paid a much higher interest than did private manufacturers. The source of greater profits in all these cases was greater economy in the application of constant capital. What interests us in this, however, is the fact that here the average profit ( = interest + profit of enterprise) presents itself actually and palpably as a magnitude wholly independent of the wages of management. Since the profit was higher here than average profit, the profit of enterprise was also higher than usual.”

Capital Vol III

James Connolly described the same thing in relation to the Ralahine Co-operative.

“To those who fear that the institution of common property will be inimical to progress and invention, it must be reassuring to learn that this community of ‘ignorant’ Irish peasants introduced into Ralahine the first reaping machine used in Ireland, and hailed it as a blessing at a time when the gentleman farmers of England were still gravely debating the practicability of the invention. From an address to the agricultural labourers of the County Clare, issued by the community on the introduction of this machine, we take the following passages, illustrative of the difference of effect between invention under common ownership and capitalist ownership: –

“This machine of ours is one of the first machines ever given to the working classes to lighten their labour, and at the same time increase their comforts. It does not benefit any one person among us exclusively, nor throw any individual out of employment. Any kind of machinery used for shortening labour – except used in a co-operative society like ours – must tend to lessen wages, and to deprive working men of employment, and finally either to starve them, force them into some other employment (and then reduce wages in that also) or compel them to emigrate. Now, if the working classes would cordially and peacefully unite to adopt our system, no power or party could prevent their success.”

But, of course, as Marx described in his Inaugural Address to the First International, as he describes in Capital, in relation to the Lancashire Co-ops, and as Connolly describes in relation to Ralahine, the capitalists will not make this process easy. They will charge the workers high rates of interest on money bororwed, they will deprive them of credit, charge higher prices for materials etc., where they can, as well as using more overt methods to frustrate the efforts of the workers. This is no different from the problems every other rising class has faced in trying to develop its forms of property in opposition to the existing forms.

But, worker owned property, precisely because it is based upon co-operation and collective ownership, does face additional problems to these previous forms of property, precisely because it requires a much higher level of development, not just of the productive forces, but also of the workers themselves, as the new ruling class. Feudal landlords and individual capitalists can pursue the task of developing their private property almost subconsciously, on the basis of personal self-interest. But, workers must almost forego the idea of self-interest in favour of collective interest, in order to develop worker-owned, co-operative property. It requires a significant level of cultural and political development, and a recognition that their own self-interest can only be furthered by that very pursuit of collective interest. Lenin describes precisely this factor. He discusses Kautsky's demonstration once again of the superiority of worker owned co-ops in agriculture. But, Lenin points out the condition for their success, and the problem this posed for Russia.

"It goes without saying that Kautsky very emphatically maintains that communal, collective large-scale production is superior to capitalist large scale production. He deals with the experiments in collective farming made in England by the followers of Robert Owen* and with analogous communes in the United States of North America. All these experiments, says Kautsky, irrefutably prove that it is quite possible for workers to carry on large-scale modern farming collectively, but that for this possibility to become a reality "a number of definite economic, political, and intellectual conditions" are necessary. The transition of the small producer (both artisan and peasant) to collective production is hindered by the extremely low development of solidarity and discipline, the isolation, and the "property-owner fanaticism," noted not only among West-European peasants, but, let us add, also among the Russian "commune" peasants (recall A. N. Engelhardt and G. Uspensky). Kautsky categorically declares, "it is absurd to expect that the peasant in modern society will go over to communal production" (S. 129)."

On pages 124-26 Kautsky describes the agricultural commune in Ralahine, of which, incidentally. Mr. Dioneo tells his Russian readers in Russkoye Bogatstvo,[51] No. 2, for this year. 

But, of course, this highlights Marx's point precisely. The workers do not arrive at this higher level of consciousness overnight. It is something that can only develop gradually on the back of their own direct experience of attempting to develop their own forms of property themselves, and in seeing other workers engaged in that process. The problem that the Bolsheviks faced in Russia was that the Political Revolution they carried through occurred before the social revolution had been completed, which would have established the material conditions for such a transformation of workers consciousness. It was not just Russian peasants that were imbued with "property-owner fanaticism,", the small working-class was itself still dominated by bourgeois ideas. As Trotsky points out the first two years of the Revolution and Civil War were essentially a Peasant War. The workers that rallied to the ranks of the Bolsheviks, the ones that carried the day for Lenin in his battle over the April Thesis, were not the long-standing members of the Party, but newly radicalised workers drawn in as part of the revolutionary fervour to overthrow the existing regime. Indeed, many of the longer standing members, of the Bolsheviks, left to join the Mensheviks as a result of Lenin pushing through the April Thesis, and most of the more educated, more long standing members of the labour movement, like the Rail workers, were already Menshviks.

I will examine the consequences of that in relation to the Russian revolution, and the parallels with the Co-op in Part 8.

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