Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Power and Principles

The Tory Media, as well as the Blairite right of the Labour Party, set up a false dichotomy between power and principles.  They suggest that principles have to be secondary to power, because without power, principles cannot be put into practice.  In the process, they forget that if principles are subordinated to the search for power, then the gaining of power leads not to the implementation of your own principles, but to the implementation of someone else's principles.

One young delegate to Labour's conference was quizzed on this today, by the BBC's "Daily Politics", and argued that power is more important, because "if we did not have power in 1945, we would not have been able to introduce the NHS in 1948."  That is, of course, true, but begs the question.  If in order to obtain power in 1945, Labour had to ditch the principle of the NHS, should it have done so, just in order to win the election?

There are many policies that today are considered to be popular, which not always have been so.  The only reason that such ideas become popular is because someone has been prepared to put them forward, and argue for them consistently.  In the early 1980's, when I was a City Councillor, I argued that the Council should organise a creche so that parents were able to attend Council meetings without worrying about whether they could organise child care for their children.  For putting forward such radical suggestions, I was attacked by the right of the party, and by the local newspaper as a dangerous revolutionary.  In fact, when I along with another Labour Party member took our toddlers along to the Full Council meeting, (which ended up with the sitting being suspended, and child care provided) the response of the local newspaper was to run a cartoon in its Saturday Sports edition, with a Stoke City player coming on to the pitch carrying a child on his back!

Similarly, some of the worst telephone abuse I received as  Councillor came in response to my objection at a Council meeting to a proposal for the Council to give a subsidy to the running of the Miss Stoke on Trent competition.  Yet, today such principles, not only are not considered to be ones only proposed by members of the loony left, but are mainstream ideas, objection to which would make their opponents appear to be completely out of step.

In fact, its only because some people stuck to their principles, and continued to argue for their acceptance that today we have things such as creches as standard, that the idea of beauty contests are recognised as offensive, and indeed that things such as homophobia and other forms of gender discrimination are considered unacceptable.

Moreover, the idea that it is necessary to obtain power (actually only governmental office) as the only means of bringing about such change is wrong.  It has frequently been the case that ideas in society have been changed, before any governmental action catches up to rubber stamp it.  An important aspect of that is that members of society often organise themselves in accordance with these principles, and thereby demonstrate the need for their generalisation.

In Greece, for example, a plethora of co-operatives have grown up in response to the crisis faced in the country caused by austerity.  In the 18th. and early 19th century, workers formed trades unions, even when it was illegal to do so.  It is not at all necessary to have governmental office, even to create a National Health Service, free at the point of use.  Workers have the ability to create such an organisation by their own hands, based upon the principles of workers' self government, and co-operation.  Indeed, in the 19th century, workers did precisely that, creating their own Friendly and Mutual Societies alongside the Trades Unions, to provide social insurance to cover periods of sickness, unemployment and old age.

Workers in the mid 19th century also created their own education facilities, often using Co-op premises, at a time when the capitalist state had no interest in providing such facilities.  In fact, workers fought hard at the start of the 20th century, via the Plebs League, and the National Labour Colleges, to keep that education in workers hands, and out of the control of the capitalist state, even in respect of the WEA, which was supported by the TUC bureaucracy, and funded by the bourgeoisie, and staffed with bourgeois teachers.  It is also why Marx and Engels argued for keeping control of the Friendly Societies, and against the introduction of National Insurance schemes.

That is not to say that winning governmental office is unimportant. Marx argued,

""Elementary education by the state" is altogether objectionable."

For the same reason he believed that the intervention of the state in all such aspects of society was objectionable. But, he also argued,

"Defining by a general law the expenditures on the elementary schools, the qualifications of the teaching staff, the branches of instruction, etc., and, as is done in the United States, supervising the fulfillment of these legal specifications by state inspectors, is a very different thing from appointing the state as the educator of the people!"

That is because,

"Government and church should rather be equally excluded from any influence on the school. Particularly, indeed, in the Prusso-German Empire (and one should not take refuge in the rotten subterfuge that one is speaking of a "state of the future"; we have seen how matters stand in this respect) the state has need, on the contrary, of a very stern education by the people."

Socialists do not believe that the state should have a role in negotiating between workers and employers, but we do believe that its necessary to have laws that enable trades unions to operate freely, and conduct free collective bargaining, as opposed to having anti-union laws, which restrict the rights of workers.

Herein, resides the difference between the revolutionary politics of Marxism, and the reformist politics of statism in its various forms.  Marxists are in favour of the self-activity, and self-government of workers as the means of the own emancipation.  The only role of governmental office in that respect is to facilitate that self-organisation and self-government.  We do not require a labour government to do things for us, such as nationalising and running businesses, providing us with education, health and housing and so on.  Indeed, we know that the capitalist state, even with a labour government will only provide these things in a bureaucratic and inefficient manner, only to meet the needs of capital, and thereby susceptible to being withdrawn whenever they no longer fulfil that function.

We only need governmental office to limit the extent to which the capitalist state can stand in the way of us organising for ourselves, collectively providing for ourselves, governing ourselves, and thereby liberating ourselves.

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