Sunday, 6 April 2014

For A Political Revolution At The Co-op - Part 20

In the preceding parts I have demonstrated that workers democracy is incompatible with bourgeois property relations. As with all such statements that should be understood dialectically. That is there are no absolutes. As Trotsky points out, real workers control over bourgeois property is inconceivable so long as the bourgeoisie feels itself secure in its seat. In a revolutionary situation, workers may impose control on the bourgeoisie by force, but such a situation can only be temporary. It requires that workers go on to take ownership of that property, or else their control will become impossible once again. Moreover, workers democracy within their own organisations, trades unions, co-ops, workers parties, is possible, but is itself continually undermined by the fact that these organisations exist within the context of a bourgeois society, and the dominance of bourgeois ideas.

As far as trades unions are concerned, they are undermined by the competition between workers that bourgeois property relations engender. The conditions that workers face under Capitalism mean that not only will only a minority of workers belong to unions, but the number actively involved will be even smaller, which facilitates the development of control by elites, and the establishment of a bureaucracy. The same is true of the workers party, and of member owned co-operatives.

It is only worker-owned co-operatives, where the very functioning of the co-operative, its daily labour process, the need to make collective decisions, as part of the normal functioning of the enterprise, the material incentive for all workers within it to take an active part in decision making, that the conditions exist for fostering genuine workers democracy. But, the same law applies here in reverse as to Trotsky's comments about workers control in conditions of bourgeois property. If with worker-owned property, workers are led to abandon direct workers democracy in favour of some form of bourgeois representative democracy, then the logical outcome of this is to lead to the break down of the worker-owned property itself, and for it to be converted back into bourgeois property.

Within a worker-owned co-operative, there is a need for management as much as under bourgeois property relations. As with an army, decisions have to be taken, and once taken someone has to ensure their implementation. The decisions can be taken democratically by a process of direct workers democracy. Some decisions are implemented by everyone as part of the work process, but other decisions can only be implemented by specific workers (technicians, administrators, managers) whose function it is. As Marx discussed in relation to the Lancashire textile co-operatives, where these managers etc. are employed by the workers themselves this need pose no problem. 

The situation was set out by Engels in a letter to Bebel of 1891, which presages the outbreak of WWI 15 years later.

“In order to take possession of and set in motion the means of production, we need people with technical training, and masses of them. These we have not got, and up till now we have even been rather glad that we have been largely spared the "educated" people. Now things are different. Now we are strong enough to stand any quantity of educated Quarcks and to digest them, and I foresee that in the next eight or ten years we shall recruit enough young technicians, doctors, lawyers and schoolmasters to enable us to have the factories and big estates administered on behalf of the nation by Party comrades. Then, therefore, our entry into power will be quite natural and will be settled up quickly – relatively, if, on the other hand, a war brings us to power prematurely, the technicians will be our chief enemies; they will deceive and betray us wherever they can and we shall have to use terror against them but shall get cheated all the same. It is what always happened, on a small scale, to the French revolutionaries; even in the ordinary administration they had to leave the subordinate posts, where real work is done, in the possession of old reactionaries who obstructed and paralysed everything. Therefore I hope and desire that our splendid and secure development, which is advancing with the calm and inevitability of a process of nature, may remain on its natural lines.”

Over time, as Engels suggests here, as the workers become stronger, and the ideas of socialism become stronger with them, these petit-bourgeois layers can be dealt with. It is the same problem Trotsky identified about the need to prevent revolutionary groups being dominated by students. Moreover, as the Mondragon University demonstrates, the more worker-owned, co-operative production expands, the more the workers in these industries can themselves be educated and trained to take on these functions, so that they are less liable to be duped. But, if workers were to assign the task of making some of these technical decisions to specialists, as for example, was proposed with some of the Yugoslav worker-owned enterprises, rather than keeping that power of decision-making within the remit of all the workers, then this would be to move away from workers democracy, to a form of bourgeois representative democracy. It would inevitably mean that, over time, those specialists, to whom this decision making had been delegated, would consolidate themselves as an elite, and the process would be set in place for the gradual disintegration of the worker-owned property itself. In fact, Engels describes a similar process occurring under primitive communism, in “Anti-Duhring”.

Just as the progress of the bourgeoisie proceeded not in a straight line, but via advances and retreats, as its political development accompanied its economic and social development, so the development of the working-class will proceed in a similar fashion. It will require repeated struggles to regain control over worker-owned property, as the inevitable pressure of bourgeois property, and the dominance of bourgeois ideas impacts upon it. The political revolution we need to carry through in the Co-op, and the need to make its structures more adequate to our needs, along with the concomitant political revolution required within the trades unions and the Labour Party, is just the latest such struggle we need to undertake as part of that process.

Back To Part 19

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