Saturday, 14 November 2015

Solidarity With French Workers

The first reaction of socialists to the murderous attacks, last night, in Paris, must be to offer both our condolences to, and our solidarity with, French workers. For there can be no mistake that this was an attack, by barbarians, upon ordinary French workers, and not upon the French state. The scum that perpetrated these atrocities, did so purposefully, and yet indiscriminately, against ordinary working-class men, women and children. Those of us who have opposed, and continue to oppose, the actions of imperialism, including French imperialism, will not cease to do so, as a consequence of these attacks, but they make such opposition that much harder. It is, of course, one reason that those that conduct them do, so, because they seek to ratchet up the attacks of imperialism, in response, as a means of gaining additional support themselves. They have no compunction against stirring up sectarian conflict, to achieve their aims. Socialists should not allow them to do so.

The attacks are an immediate attack on French workers, but they also represent a longer term attack on workers, in France and elsewhere. The consequence of these attacks, as in the past, will be to provide cover for the state introducing yet more repressive measures, which ultimately reduce the rights and freedoms that workers enjoy, and have gained as a result of the bourgeois democratic revolutions of the 19th century. That is not a problem for the barbarians who carried out these attacks, because not only do they have no concern for the workers they have attacked, but they have no concern for those basic rights and freedoms either.

On the contrary, wherever, they have gained power, they have acted to remove those rights and freedoms, and to take society back centuries to the kind of rule that the early feudal regimes imposed, and with all of the brutality to keep it in place, which that entailed. Even in developed societies, where they do not have power, they have sought to deny those rights and freedoms to others. That was what lay behind the previous attacks on Charlie Hebdo, as, before that, it lay behind the attacks following publication of the Danish cartoons. Socialists have no reason to support the actions of imperialism, but we do have every reason to oppose those who place no value on the basic bourgeois democratic rights and freedoms that were won at such cost.

Its true that the barbarism of the jihadists is not the only barbarism. If barbarism is measured purely on a numerical calculus of death and destruction, then it would take the jihadists several centuries to catch up with the barbarism of US imperialism, measured even just by the death and destruction caused at Hiroshima! But, to talk about barbarism in this way is to miss the significant differences. On the one hand, we can consider the point that the violence of the oppressed cannot be compared with the violence of the oppressor. On the other, we can consider that the violence and barbarism of the jihadists is not the violence of the oppressed, held back from freedom and development, but of a reactionary ideology, that seeks the opposite of even bourgeois democratic freedoms, and rather than development seeks to turn the clock back by a thousand years!

When Lenin, and the Communist International made these comments and distinctions, about the violence of the oppressed compared to the violence of the oppressor, they were talking precisely about peoples whose political freedoms were being denied by colonialism, and whose ability to develop economically, socially and culturally was suppressed as a consequence. They were clear about the conditions under which they identified with the violence of the oppressed as part of a progressive struggle for freedom, as opposed to those who would turn the clock back, or indeed who simply did not offer a truly revolutionary solution for the oppressed masses.

“With regard to the more backward states and nations, in which feudal or patriarchal and patriarchal-peasant relations predominate, it is particularly important to bear in mind:

first, that all Communist parties must assist the bourgeois-democratic liberation movement in these countries, and that the duty of rendering the most active assistance rests primarily with the workers of the country the backward nation is colonially or financially dependent on;

second, the need for a struggle against the clergy and other influential reactionary and medieval elements in backward countries;

third, the need to combat Pan-Islamism and similar trends, which strive to combine the liberation movement against European and American imperialism with an attempt to strengthen the positions of the khans, landowners, mullahs, etc...

the need for a determined struggle against attempts to give a communist colouring to bourgeois-democratic liberation trends in the backward countries; the Communist International should support bourgeois-democratic national movements in colonial and backward countries only on condition that, in these countries, the elements of future proletarian parties, which will be communist not only in name, are brought together and trained to understand their special tasks, i.e., those of the struggle against the bourgeois-democratic movements within their own nations.”

In short, there is a difference between the violence of those seeking freedom, in order to move forward, and that of reactionaries seeking to take it backwards. Engels had made a similar point earlier.

“Upon the whole it is, in our opinion, very fortunate that the Arabian chief has been taken. The struggle of the Bedouins was a hopeless one, and though the manner in which brutal soldiers, like Bugeaud, have carried on the war is highly blamable, the conquest of Algeria is an important and fortunate fact for the progress of civilisation. The piracies of the Barbaresque states, never interfered with by the English government as long as they did not disturb their ships, could not be put down but by the conquest of one of these states. And the conquest of Algeria has already forced the Beys of Tunis and Tripoli, and even the Emperor of Morocco, to enter upon the road of civilisation. They were obliged to find other employment for their people than piracy, and other means of filling their exchequer than tributes paid to them by the smaller states of Europe. And if we may regret that the liberty of the Bedouins of the desert has been destroyed, we must not forget that these same Bedouins were a nation of robbers, — whose principal means of living consisted of making excursions either upon each other, or upon the settled villagers, taking what they found, slaughtering all those who resisted, and selling the remaining prisoners as slaves. All these nations of free barbarians look very proud, noble and glorious at a distance, but only come near them and you will find that they, as well as the more civilised nations, are ruled by the lust of gain, and only employ ruder and more cruel means. And after all, the modern bourgeois, with civilisation, industry, order, and at least relative enlightenment following him, is preferable to the feudal lord or to the marauding robber, with the barbarian state of society to which they belong.”

Engels - “The Defence of Progressive Imperialism in Algeria”

Since Engels wrote that, huge working-class movements have developed, across the globe, as the working-class has become the largest class on the planet for the first-time, as part of the new long wave boom that started in 1999, bringing industrialisation to previously untouched parts of the globe. It is for that reason, that socialists look to this global labour movement, as the means of bringing further progress and development, and not to the bourgeoisie, as was still the case in the 19th century.

But, even bourgeois democracy requires a certain level of development to be sustainable, contrary to the moralistic hopes of the liberal interventionists. As Marx put it, in The Critique of The Gotha Programme,

“Right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and its cultural development conditioned thereby.”

In reality, bourgeois democracy can only exist in a relatively stable form, as social democracy, which requires that the working-class forms a majority of society, and is socialised and incorporated to provide political support for the interests of big, socialised, industrial capital. That in turn requires that capital itself has developed sufficiently to create such a situation, and to be able to provide the incentives to the working-class, through more or less continuous improvements in its standard of living, as to be able to achieve this socialisation and incorporation.

Bourgeois democracy cannot simply float in mid air, irrespective of the material conditions in society. There is a myth that Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “Democracy is two wolves and a sheep debating what to have for dinner, whereas liberty is a heavily armed sheep contesting the majority decision.”

In fact, Franklin never wrote any such thing, but it does illustrate the point. In a true democracy, where the conditions of development were such that those without even the basics of life predominated, that majority would simply resolve to “eat the rich”. In fact, as Marx demonstrated, doing so, at such a stage of development, would destroy all potential for capital accumulation, and future development, and thereby would be against the long-term interests of that majority itself. That is why, the first form of bourgeois democracy – liberal-democracy – took the shape of a democracy restricted only to the minority, and was backed up by a heavily armed state, that was permanently mobilised.

Liberal democracy is actually, more a form of Bonapartism, which is why it is not surprising that, at this early stage of capitalist development, Bonapartism is the actual form taken, whether it is Cromwell, Bonaparte, Louis Napoleon, Bismark, Nasser, Assad, Gaddafi, or Saddam. The idea that the kind of bourgeois social-democratic regime that exists in developed capitalist economies can somehow be simply established, almost by force of will, irrespective of the required development of capitalism within the particular society is sheer folly, which is why such attempts, including those most recently, in Libya, for example, have resulted in chaos, and barbarism. The main task of socialists in these societies is not a subjective, and moralistic pursuit of liberal-bourgeois democracy, but support for the objective development of the material conditions within those societies, which are the only real basis for the establishment of even bourgeois democracy.

The attacks in France, will strengthen the voices of reaction in the developed countries too. The immediate beneficiaries will be the Front National, but it will also be others such as UKIP, and those on the Tory Right, who will use it to argue for greater nationalism, for a withdrawal from Europe, for closing the borders, and like Donald Trump, for erecting physical barriers on those borders. It will strengthen the hand of those who want to impose more powers of surveillance through the Snoopers Charter, and those who want to draw the UK into the bombing of Syria.

Yet, logically, the opposite conclusions should be drawn. As argued recently, these attacks demonstrate that nuclear weapons, such as those possessed by the UK and France, are absolutely no deterrent against the very real threats that are being faced. In fact, what is required for a real defence is that society itself be permanently mobilised, via a citizen's militia, for its own defence. It is obvious that a relatively small number of armed men, employed by the state cannot provide that defence. A Citizen's Militia, which provided the policing of communities, would have both the numbers required, and the day to day knowledge of who and where the threats were, and be able to deal with them.

But, the state currently, is not designed to protect and defend the majority, but the minority. As the 1984 Miners Strike visibly demonstrated, that heavily armed state is there as much to defend the interests of the ruling class against the majority of the society, as it is against any external threats. And, for the same reason, conservatives would oppose such effective defence by the permanent arming, and mobilisation of society.

The other conclusion that should be drawn, is that the resources going to those who have promoted, financed, and recruited the jihadists should be cut off, so as to drain the swamp. But, who are they? It is the ruling families in Saudi Arabia, that are feted by Cameron and other western leaders. It is those same western leaders who provide the gulf regimes with the vast arsenals of weapons, which are also channelled to the jihadists so as to be able to carry out these atrocities. It is the CIA, which created Al Qaeda, as a means of attacking the USSR in Afghanistan, just as they created the KLA in Kosovo, which trains and equips these terrorists.

Those behind these attacks have no chance of success. Their disregard for the human life of others is demonstrated by the fact that whilst they take the greatest measures to protect their own skins, they are quite happy to send even children, and others of their supporters, to throw away their lives in suicide attacks. The attacks in Paris, have provoked considerable media attention, and for the families of the hundred or so people killed, it is devastating. But, objectively, it does not even represent a pinprick in the skin of the power of the French state. The attacks of the Provisional IRA, in the 1970's and after, with far fewer members, and much less in resources, resulted in much greater casualties, and without resorting to a requirement that those carrying out the attacks deliberately killed themselves in the process!  Yet, it too did not even make a dent in the power of the British state.

Even the 3,000 people killed in the 9/11 attacks had no real effect on the power of US imperialism, in fact, if anything, in the immediate aftermath it made it stronger, as a global wave of revulsion against the attackers, manifested itself in sympathy for the US and its citizens. These attacks have made the task of socialists more difficult, for all the reasons set out above. Our response must be to redouble our efforts to defend the bourgeois democratic freedoms we currently enjoy, both against infringements of those rights by conservatives in our own ruling class, and against those reactionaries, who set themselves up as opponents of that ruling class.

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