Sunday, 16 February 2014

For A Political Revolution At The Co-op - Part 13

Trotsky argued that because a social revolution had been completed in the USSR, the underlying productive and social relations had been transformed making the workers the ruling-class, all that was required was a political revolution that brought control of the political regime directly under the control of the workers, removing it from the hands of the Bonapartist apparatus. The more entrenched the position of the bureaucracy was to become, the more such a revolution would appear like a social revolution, because it would need to be more thoroughgoing, ripping out the social roots of the bureaucracy itself.

In the same way that a Bonapartist bureaucracy exerted control over the political regime in the USSR, the same thing can be seen in other parts of the workers movement. The Trades Unions are organisations created by the workers for their self-defence, yet powerful bureaucracies grow up within them, whose social function is to mediate between the workers and capital, and which have a vested interest for their own continuation, therefore, in perpetuating the wages system, especially as increasingly the lifestyle of this bureaucracy is indistinguishable from that of the petit-bourgeois managers and administrators of capital. The Workers Party, whether, as with the Labour Party, it is based upon these trades unions, or whether, as with other European parties, it arises as a means of transforming society from above, even with a nominal affiliation to the ideas of Marx, itself adopts this same kind of social function, and within it, a similar petit-bourgeois social strata arises, for whom political representation is a career. And, as the Co-op Bank demonstrated, where ownership of Co-operative or Mutual enterprises is in the hands of members rather than workers, the same forces facilitate the rise of a similar social stratum.

But, Trotsky's call for a Political Revolution in the USSR itself suffered from the same weakness as Lenin's initial perspective. That is it was a call for a political revolution by a class that was too weak to bring it about. The real reason that a petit-bourgeois layer is able to arise and exercise control in the trades unions and in the workers parties has the same material basis. The working-class in the developed capitalist economies is not weak in the numerical sense that it was in the USSR, but it is weak in the sense of its economic and social position, and in terms of its ideology and class consciousness that arises out of it.

The Trades Unions whole perspective from the beginning was rooted in bourgeois ideology, because their function was only to negotiate for a better price for the workers' labour-power. As Marx put it,

“...the working class ought not to exaggerate to themselves the ultimate working of these everyday struggles. They ought not to forget that they are fighting with effects, but not with the causes of those effects; that they are retarding the downward movement, but not changing its direction; that they are applying palliatives, not curing the malady. They ought, therefore, not to be exclusively absorbed in these unavoidable guerilla fights incessantly springing up from the never ceasing encroachments of capital or changes of the market. They ought to understand that, with all the miseries it imposes upon them, the present system simultaneously engenders the material conditions and the social forms necessary for an economical reconstruction of society. Instead of the conservative motto: “A fair day's wage for a fair day's work!” they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword: “Abolition of the wages system!" ...

Trades Unions work well as centers of resistance against the encroachments of capital. They fail partially from an injudicious use of their power. They fail generally from limiting themselves to a guerilla war against the effects of the existing system, instead of simultaneously trying to change it, instead of using their organized forces as a lever for the final emancipation of the working class that is to say the ultimate abolition of the wages system.”

So, this perspective always means that, however numerous, however militant, the working-class, is ideologically weak, because it can never escape the bounds set by the limits of Capital, and its need to accumulate. In fact, it is frequently the right-wing of social-democracy that is most foresighted within this perspective, because if the aim is only to bargain within the system, it makes sense to do all in your power to maximise profits and accumulation to produce a bigger cake from which the workers in turn obtain a larger amount, even if a proportionately smaller slice.

The function of the Trades Unions can never be to provide a base for changing capitalist society, because they are themselves thoroughly saturated with bourgeois ideology. As Marx points out, they can only fulfil a progressive function if they act as means of organising the workers for a much wider purpose. They must be the means of mobilising workers to fight on a range of fronts, and most notably the building of those social forms necessary for an economical reconstruction of society”, i.e. the workers co-operatives.

As Marx puts it in the Programme of the First International,

“Apart from their original purposes, they must now learn to act deliberately as organising centres of the working class in the broad interest of its complete emancipation.They must aid every social and political movement tending in that direction. Considering themselves and acting as the champions and representatives of the whole working class, they cannot fail to enlist the non-society men into their ranks. They must look carefully after the interests of the worst paid trades, such as the agricultural labourers, rendered powerless [French text has: "incapable of organised resistance"] by exceptional circumstances. They must convince the world at large [French and German texts read: "convince the broad masses of workers"] that their efforts, far from being narrow -- and selfish, aim at the emancipation of the downtrodden millions.” 

But, the bourgeois, trades unionist perspective, criticised here by Marx, also limits the workers horizon in other ways as I will examine next.

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