Thursday, 30 April 2015

Cops Out Now

Once again, a US city is burning. Once again, the spark has been the death of a black man, at the hands of cops. This time, the city is Baltimore, yet another former industrial hub, that has been gutted. This time, the man is Freddie Gray. Once again, the response has been to send in more cops, and more heavily armed cops and troopers. In the end, the state is likely to mobilise sufficient violence, against the community, to suppress the protest, but it represents no solution. For workers, the solution, as was seen with the UK riots, in 2011, resides not in the mobilisation of more force by the capitalist state, but in organised workers taking back control over their lives and their communities. The cops are an obstacle to that process. Our aim should be to establish organised workers control of our communities, and self-policing of those communities, based upon it, and, on that basis, to get the cops out.

As in the riots of 2011, in the UK, these riots are an illustration of the weakness of the labour movement, and the breakdown of the kind of organised structures, which, in the past, could direct opposition in a positive direction. Whatever the subjective motivations and intentions of those involved in such riots, the reality is that, objectively, they are reactionary. They are a very understandable response to the situation that individuals have found themselves in, and who have no organised structures through which to respond – other than neighbourhood gangs, which themselves are a part of the problem not the solution. This kind of individualistic, violent, destructive response, is the kind of response seen before in history, on the part of other groups who lacked an organised, solidaristic culture. Most notably, it was the response of the peasantry, which went in for things such as barn burning, or the burning down of manor houses.

But, in general, if you do not have something better to put in the place of what you are opposing, simply lashing out at the status quo, whilst understandable, is always objectively reactionary, because into the resulting vacuum will step other organised forces, and that alternative, by definition, will represent a step backwards.

There is a parallel with the labour process itself. In The Communist Manifesto, Marx refers to the situation that workers found themselves in, at the start of the 19th century, as new machine production, especially based around the power of the steam engine, was introduced. Up to that time, the growth of productive capacity had been pretty much in line with the growth of population and of the market. In fact, as new overseas markets developed, production could not keep up with demand, and the machines simply acted to make up for that shortage. In Capital I, Marx says that the opposition to the machines, at that point, came not from workers, who benefited from their introduction, as industry expanded, but from the old monopolies, the guild producers, who found themselves being undercut. But, when machine industry proper comes in, backed by steam power, production increases so rapidly that not only do markets become glutted, but, as a consequence, workers themselves start to be replaced and laid off. But, Marx says,

“They direct their attacks not against the bourgeois conditions of production, but against the instruments of production themselves; they destroy imported wares that compete with their labour, they smash to pieces machinery, they set factories ablaze, they seek to restore by force the vanished status of the workman of the Middle Ages.”

and, as Marx says,

“It took both time and experience before the workpeople learnt to distinguish between machinery and its employment by capital, and to direct their attacks, not against the material instruments of production, but against the mode in which they are used.” (Chapter 15, p  404)

And here too this is true. It is not against workers interest to have order and control within their communities. The point is whose order, whose control? In a modern bourgeois social democratic state, big industrial capital has no desire for bigotry amongst its cops, or other state functionaries, whether that bigotry is manifest as racism, homophobia or whatever. It provides no financial benefit for that big industrial capital. On the contrary, by provoking antipathy, social unrest and violence, of the kind being seen, it undermines the kind of harmony that it requires to socialise the working-class, to incorporate it, and to facilitate increased social productivity and capital accumulation. Outright violence and destruction, in fact, represents a direct cost and reduction in capital, for it.

For that reason, a modern bourgeois social democracy is quite happy to establish rules and regulations, which outlaw such bigotry and other attitudes and behaviour that cause such disharmony and limitations on its ability to maximise profits. It is also happy to introduce elements of democracy and control, so as to implement such laws and regulations. But, this democracy, this control can only ever be partial, for several reasons.

The state, even a bourgeois social democratic state, remains a capitalist state. It exists to protect the property and rule of capital. Capital could never, therefore, concede real control over that state to the majority of the population, the working-class, because to do so would be to write its own suicide note. The democracy and control that exists, is, and can only ever be, limited to within the confines of the basic social democratic compromise, between big industrial capital and the organised working-class. That is to bargain within the system, on the basis of a shared interest, dependent upon the continuation of the system. It, therefore, requires the involvement of that working-class, via its social democratic organisations, such as the trades unions and political parties.

But, the ruling class could never actually hand over real democratic control over the state, even if it wanted to, because such real democratic control requires that the working-class itself be continually mobilised, and actively involved in that process. But, the basis of social democracy is that the working-class is not permanently mobilised, in its entirety, but that it remains inactive, docile, and operates through the channels of its organisations, and their bureaucracy. The very functioning of the capitalist mode of production, conditions workers to operate on that basis – excluded from democracy and control at the point of production, and only required to respond periodically. Similarly, they are only required to be mobilised periodically, every few years, to vote in elections, and so on.

The nature of the capitalist mode of production conditions workers to such an approach, which is why, for example, after the Russian Revolution, the vast majority of workers were prepared to sink back into the old routine, leaving the factory committees and so on to fall into the hands of careerists and bureaucrats.

Again a parallel can be drawn with the labour process. Marx, in Capital I, describes the fact that, under slave production, productivity is very low. The slave unable to respond in any other way to their situation, sabotages production wherever they can, works inefficiently, mistreats animals and equipment and so on. Machines have to be made more robust, and less sophisticated, far more time has to be spent on providing supervision and so on. A similar thing was noted in relation to workers in the USSR and other Stalinist states.

By contrast, Marx notes the conditions under which production occurs, within worker-owned co-operatives. There, a labour of superintendence is still required, but only in so far as its necessary to have a “functioning-capitalist”, i.e. manager, who acts like the conductor of an orchestra, to organise and direct production, not to discipline the workers, which function is now either removed entirely, or carried out collectively by the workers themselves, as part of the labour process.

But, similarly, within the big industrial capital, the role of “functioning capitalist” remains the same, in terms of organising and coordinating production, but, without actual workers control of production, must also include the task of superintendence and discipline over the workers. In many ways, such an enterprise is a microcosm of the bourgeois social democratic state itself. This function of superintendence and control is itself regulated via social democratic organisations, i.e. the trades unions, and, indeed, the “functioning capitalists” will often be members of trades unions themselves, a condition which exists not just in the workplace, but within the state itself.

It was in this context, as Engels states, that this big industrial capital actually welcomed the role of the trades unions in enabling this regulation to occur. What big capital really dislikes is the inability to undertake such regulation whether it comes from disruptive individualist responses, or, as happened in the 1960's and 70's, where workers do become more permanently mobilised, on a wide scale – for example, through rank and file movements, the shop stewards movement and so on – and it is this they try to constrain within these organisational channels of social democracy.

To the extent that attacks on trades unions and other social democratic institutions went beyond that, in the 1980's and 90's, it was objectively not in the interests of big industrial capital, but the interests of small capital, and those sections of capital that actually stand outside the productive process. It was in the interests not of the “functioning capitalists” - many of whom, as stated above, are themselves members of trades unions – who represent the interests of that big industrial capital, but of the money capitalists, the share and bondholders, whose interest is to leach ever increasing amounts of interest or capital gain from businesses, and whose representatives sit in the ivory towers of Board Rooms, and on the trading floors of stock exchanges.

Capital could never give full democratic control to a permanently mobilised working class, in either the work place, or within the state, but without such control, there will inevitably arise functionaries who hold views, which are themselves counter-productive to the interests of big industrial capital. That is because of the nature of the state, and the nature of the relation between these functionaries and those over whom they have to exercise control, as well as the fact that capitalism itself does not come into existence spotless and untarnished, but carries with it the shit of past ages, of which this bigotry is an excrescence.

As Marx put it in his Preface to the First German Edition of Capital Volume I,

“In all other spheres, we, like all the rest of Continental Western Europe, suffer not only from the development of capitalist production, but also from the incompleteness of that development. Alongside the modern evils, a whole series of inherited evils oppress us, arising from the passive survival of antiquated modes of production, with their inevitable train of social and political anachronisms. We suffer not only from the living, but from the dead.” 

Workers cannot exert meaningful control over capitalist property, nor can they exert meaningful democratic control over the capitalist state, or its various institutions. We have to build our own forms of property, and our own forms of democracy and state resting upon that property. We have to take back control of our own communities, establishing co-operative forms of community, within which the working-class is permanently mobilised and actively involved. Having done so, we will be able to begin to provide the forms of order that meet our needs.

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