Tuesday, 7 November 2017

1917 Centenary Celebrations

Asked to assess the impact of the Great French Revolution, its reputed that the official Chinese position is that, “it is too early to tell.” Today marks the centenary of the “October” Revolution in Russia. It has provoked discussion of its own impact. For the bourgeois pundits and media, the very fact that such an event could be marked as a cause for celebration is anathema; for Stalinists the revolution and its aftermath are to be seen only in bright colours; for Marxists the question is more complex. The revolution, and its aftermath are a vindication of Marx’s own view that “Man creates his own history, but under conditions not of his own choosing.”

For the bourgeoisie, and its media the actual revolution itself cannot even be accepted as a revolution, but is described instead as a putsch or coup. That is nonsense. As Trotsky himself says in his “History of the Russian Revolution”, the events of 7th November were certainly an armed insurrection, but an insurrection is an inevitable element of every Political Revolution, and is not at all the same thing as a putsch or a coup. The only thing that the Bolsheviks could be charged with, in that regard, was that, having learned the lessons of previous revolutions, and of the fate of the Paris Commune, they tried to ensure that the insurrection itself was properly organised, and disciplined, so as to have a chance of being successful, and with the least possible spillage of blood. And, in that they were successful. Despite the images of the storming of the Winter Palace, in reality, having waited endlessly for the Provisional Government to stand down, the Bolsheviks faced no real opposition when they entered the building. The spillage of blood was entirely the consequence of the civil war that followed, as the old ruling class attempted, with the assistance of 17 imperialist armies, to overturn the revolution.

The bourgeois ideologists and media in attacking the revolution, use a familiar method. They argue, how can you celebrate a revolution that resulted in Stalin coming to power, which in turn resulted in millions of people being murdered, and millions more deprived of basic freedoms. You might as well argue, how can anyone celebrate the life of Jesus Christ every year, when Christianity has led to numerous religious wars, to the murder and torture of millions of people, as part of the Inquisition, and so on. Moreover, as with the murder of the Tsar and his family, a double standard is applied. Concern is shown for the Tsar, but no such concern is shown for the victims of the Tsar, and his regime. 

In its more intelligent variation, some of the bourgeois ideologists argue that well, yes, probably it was a good thing that the Tsar's regime was overthrown, but that was accomplished by the February Revolution, and its good work was undone by the Bolsheviks' undemocratic coup. It is to assume, as all such facile arguments do, that had the Bolsheviks not carried forward the revolution in November, Russia would simply have become a normal bourgeois democratic republic. No such possibility actually existed, and indeed it was because no such possibility existed that the second revolution became necessary, and inevitable. The fact that it became necessary and inevitable, in conditions that were wholly unfavourable, and where it was bound to fail without outside support, does not change the reality of the situation that the Bolsheviks were faced with.

In the period after 1890, a new long wave economic expansion took place with its centre in Europe, whilst industrial capitalism was also developing rapidly in the United States, and Japan. Russia also was drawn into that industrial revolution, in a similar way that Asian economies have developed since the 1980's, and today, some African economies are being drawn into the sphere of industrial capitalism. This economic expansion, brought with it renewed confidence for the working-class in these countries, as, in contrast to the great depression of the previous 25 years, they found it easier to find employment, and to begin to rebuild their organisations. There was a rapid growth not only of trades unions that began to organise unskilled workers, whereas previously they had been more or less confined to the better educated, better placed craft workers, but also of workers parties, in many cases nominally adhering to the ideology of Marx.

The German Social Democratic Party was emblematic of that development. By the early part of the 20th century, it had millions of members, and the support of millions more workers. When Lenin wrote “What Is To Be Done?”, in 1902, it was the German SPD that he had as his model of what a party of professional revolutionaries should look like, organised on an efficient, business like basis, with educated political representatives able to hold their own in debates with the bourgeois politicians, on any topic, and in any forum.

But, the reality was that none of these social-democratic parties actually adhered to the ideas that Marx and Engels had developed, as Hal Draper, has set out in The Two Souls of Socialism. Marx had warned against the danger of the German SPD adopting the ideas of state socialism as purveyed by Lassalle and his followers, in his Critique of the Gotha Programme, and Engels had followed up Marx's warnings with his his own communications to German comrades, warning about the dangers of adopting the ideas of state socialism, of nationalisation, state aid and so on. Even with the later Erfurt Programme, Engels was again led to warn against its proposals for nationalisation, for the creation of a welfare state, and national insurance scheme, and so on, saying,

“Can all this be entrusted to Mr. von Caprivi? And is it compatible with the rejection of all state socialism, as stated above?”

Yet, it was obvious why such views should develop during a period when the long wave boom meant that, on the one hand, workers were able to raise their wages via their trades unions, and when the same thing appeared possible on a social level, by a workers party that could, bit by bit, introduce reforms in workers interests, so that capitalism was gradually transformed, from above, by such means, into socialism. That indeed was the lesson drawn by people like Eduard Bernstein. A similar period, in the long post war boom, after 1945, led to the growth of similar reformist and syndicalist ideas. The problem in both cases arises when those economic conditions of the long wave boom come to an end, and so when the conditions that facilitate the provision of such reforms are reversed. In that case, these solutions become unviable, and either a solution must be found by pressing forward with more radical solutions, or else, the solution is provided by reaction.

The further problem with these reformist notions was that, because they focussed on the transformation of society from above, by the state, they were necessarily nationalistic solutions, in an era when the state was itself a nation state. A reflection of that can be seen in the nationalistic solutions of sections of the left today, whether it be in the form of the national roads to socialism, proposed by the Stalinists, and their fellow travellers, or the ideas for left social democracy within national borders that sections of the left have proposed as a justification for opposing the EU, or the calls for nationalisation by the capitalist nation state, to rescue individual capitals whenever they are in trouble. 

All of this is in contrast to the arguments put forward by Marx and Engels that were based upon a rejection of such state socialism, and nationalism, and instead were founded upon the need for workers themselves to liberate themselves, to develop their own co-operative property, and forms of self-government, and to do so on the basis of international co-operation with the workers of other countries.

When that long wave boom came to an end, therefore, in 1914, the working-class of Europe was ill prepared for the changed conditions it faced. The potential for living standards to continually rise, and for reforms to be implemented to improve the lot of workers began to falter. What is more, it did so at a time when the US was itself stepping forward as the new global industrial power. The US was around 10 years out of synch with the long wave cycle in Europe. In order to compete with it, now, the European powers themselves needed to move beyond the constraints of the old nation state, and to establish their own European state. Given the history of those states, it was unlikely that they would create such unity by friendly agreement amongst themselves. The First and Second World Wars, in Europe, were wars to create such a single European state under the domination of Germany, in the same way that Germany itself had been unified by Prussia, with France vying with it for that dominant position, and with Britain standing in the way of such unification, so as to protect its own global dominance. That same dynamic has governed Britain's attitude to Europe in the post-war period, when such voluntary unification was at last attempted by the European states, within the EU, under Franco-German leadership.

When World War I broke out, the domination of the consciousness of the European working-class by nationalism, including this nationalistic notion of a top down social transformation, undertaken by the nation state, under the control of social-democratic governments, which was also a reflection of a sectionalist, trades union consciousness, whereby class struggle was confused for what was really just a sectional, economistic struggle by groups of workers to improve their own condition, often at the expense of other groups of workers, assumed its logical, extreme form. The socialist movement broke into two camps. On the one hand, those who saw the future as being one in which they would simply continue to make these gradual improvements in workers conditions, saw the winning of elections, so as to form governments, as paramount. On the other, there were those like Lenin, Luxembourg, Liebknecht and so on, who saw the unity of the working-class, as an international class as the most important task.

Lenin, and those in this latter camp saw the decision of those in the former camp as a betrayal, of them leading the working-class to line up behind their respective ruling classes for fratricidal slaughter. What is more, having noted the changed conditions of the global economy, Lenin and those who supported him, saw capitalism as entering its death spasm, a situation in which imperialism represented the highest stage of a capitalism that had now reached its limits, and in which the war was merely the manifestation of that decay and irreconcilable contradictions. They believed that this meant that the end of capitalism was nigh, that the world had entered a period of proletarian revolution, in which the old reformist solutions were no longer possible, and only the seizure of power by the working-class, and revolutionary transformation of society could save the world from a relapse into a period of terrible reaction. It was a choice of socialism or barbarism, and the war itself was an indication of just how barbaric that barbarism could be.

Today, we look at the barbarism that takes place in certain parts of the world, and contrast it with the relative peace and civilised conditions of life in North America, the EU, and other developed economies. But, in 1914, not only was mediaevalism and reaction manifest in the great empires of the Russian Tsars, the Ottomans, and the Hapsburgs within Europe itself, but across the globe, that barbarism was manifest in the millions of colonial slaves held in chains by the British, French, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese and German empires. The Russian serfs had only been “emancipated” fifty years earlier, on terms that made them even more dependent and oppressed by the feudal landlords than they had been before. The prospect of the fate awaiting the peoples of backward nations could be seen in the condition of the people of China that had been carved up by the big nations for their own benefit, and Russia itself had seen the prospect of such a fate, as Japan on one side, and Germany and Austria-Hungary on the other exhibited their designs upon it. Even before World War I, the degree of barbarism that was possible as existing ruling classes attempted to hold on to power, and to prevent peoples liberating themselves had been seen in the massacre of thousands of Parisians as the Commune had been suppressed, in 1871, and in the devastation that resulted from the Balkan Wars.

Within the ranks of the European socialists, the memory not only of the massacre that followed the defeat of the Commune was fresh, but so also was the memory of the reaction that followed the defeat of the revolutions of 1848. Those revolutions had been bourgeois democratic revolutions of the type that the bourgeois pundits posit as the alternative to the Bolshevik Revolution of November 1917. They were revolutions set within the confines of bourgeois democracy and ideology, to bring to an end the political power of the old feudal ruling classes, in which not only workers, but also the industrial bourgeoisie itself was denied basic bourgeois liberties, and rights. But, by the time these revolutions took place, the working-class itself had become a large social-class, with significant economic and social weight in society. It was impossible for the industrial bourgeoisie, which was very small in numbers, to bring about such a revolution without the support of the working-class. The consequence of that, as Marx describes, was that as soon as that working-class began to assert its own interests within the context of those revolutions, their allies within the industrial bourgeoisie took fright, and abandoned them, leaving the old feudal ruling class to wreak reactionary vengeance upon them. It is a lesson also that was drawn out by Trotsky in “Results and Prospects”, and “Permanent Revolution”.

For the Russians, that experience was even fresher in the mind, because such a revolution had been undertaken in 1905, and resulted in the creation of the Duma, but which, once again, as soon as conditions allowed, had been thrown back by the Tsarist regime, and a period of reaction introduced, which led to the exile and imprisonment of large numbers of those that had been involved. The idea that the alternative to the pushing through of the February Revolution into the October Revolution, was just a bourgeois-liberal republic, has already been disproved many times by history. The experience of Spain in the 1930's, was a further example. If we want more recent examples, we could look at the experience of the “Arab Spring”, in 2011, particularly in Egypt, Libya and Syria.

Bourgeois democracy in the modern world can only take the form of a social democracy. That is it must take the form of a bourgeois parliamentary system, in which the working-class is enfranchised and socialised within the norms of bourgeois democracy. But, that very process of socialisation and incorporation of the working-class requires that capitalism itself has developed to a sufficient degree that it enables the working-class to feel that it has some stake in the society, that it can expect that the system will provide it with gradually rising standards of living, and so on. It requires that the society be more or less homogeneous, or at least that the dominant cleavages within society are horizontal along the lines of class, or status, rather than vertical along the lines of religion, ethnicity and so on. That is why bourgeois democracy could not be stabilised, even in Europe, until the latter part of the 19th century, and why it has not been established in the Middle East, and elsewhere, where not only is industrial capital often not sufficiently developed, but these other vertical cleavages in society, are often more significant than the division of society on the lines of class. It is also why Russia could not have established a bourgeois social democracy in November 1917.

In August 1917, Kerensky's government faced with a growing power of the soviets had looked to the army, and General Kornilov to come to his assistance. In other words, Kerensky was ready to organise an actual military coup to put an end to the revolution. As he began to recognise the threat to his own position from such a coup, he sent out instructions for Kornilov's forces to stop their advance on Petrograd. Kornilov countermanded the order, and his forces continued their march. Indicative of the actual situation was the fact that Kornilov's forces contained British armoured cars, manned by British troops. 

“The head of the English military mission in Russia, General Knox, reproached the American Colonel Robbins, for not supporting Kornilov: “I am not interested in the government of Kerensky,” said the British General, “it is too weak. What is wanted is a strong dictatorship. What is wanted is the Cossacks. This people needs the whip! A dictatorship – that is just what it needs.” All these voices from different quarters arrived at the Winter Palace, and had an alarming effect upon its inhabitants. The success of Kornilov seemed inevitable. Minister Nekrassov informed his friends that the game was completely up, and it remained only to die an honourable death. “Several eminent members of the Soviet,” affirms Miliukov, “foreseeing their fate in case of Kornilov’s victory, had already made haste to supply themselves with foreign passports.”

(Trotsky – History Of The Russian Revolution, p 724)

Knox was right that Kerensky was weak. In fact, it was Bolshevik units that went out to stop Kornilov's forces advance on Petrograd, and thereby to save the bourgeois democratic government from the reaction that would otherwise have crushed it into the dirt.

But, the truth was also that Lenin and his co-thinkers also misunderstood the nature of the conjuncture they faced in 1914. They mistook what was only the latest downward phase of the long wave, for some ultimate collapse of capitalism itself, a sign that it had reached the limits of its own historical potential. It wasn't, and it hadn't, as the even greater development of the productive forces that has occurred since has demonstrated. Lenin in his propaganda pamphlet “Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism”, produced as a polemic against his opponents such as Kautsky, within this global debate, was thoroughly flawed. It saw the war not for what it actually was, a need to establish the state superstructure within which capital accumulates, on a much larger scale, to meet the needs of this much greater productive potential for 20th century, socialised industrial capital, but as an indication of decay, of the need for competing national capitals to carve up the world once more into colonial empires. In fact, the development of this new large-scale, multinational, socialised industrial capitalism, spelled the death knell for the era of those old colonial empires, constructed in the era of feudalism and mercantilism, to meet the rent seeking needs of the old landed and financial oligarchies, via unequal exchange. In fact, as Marx and Engels describe, the interests of these classes were totally antagonistic to the interests of the industrial capital, which becomes dominant in the latter part of the 19th century, and whose interests were to increasingly dominate the 20th century.

Lenin and his co-thinkers believed that the leaders of the Second International had betrayed the working-class, by leading them into the slaughter of the First World War, but the reality was that the working-class of Europe was already lining up behind its own ruling classes to fight that war, whatever the leaders of the Second International would have said. The betrayal of the Second International leaders was to their principles, as international socialists. They allowed themselves to be led by the reactionary nationalist sentiments of their respective working-classes, rather than standing out against them, in much the same way that their modern day counterparts argue the need to tail the working class in its reactionary calls for immigration controls etc., for fear of losing electoral support, and thereby denying itself the possibility of forming a government. But, it was utterly wrong to believe that this was a “crisis of leadership”, in which the global working-class was straining at the leash to engage in socialist revolution, only held back by these treacherous leaders.

These misconceptions, together with the revolutionaries' memory of the fate of past revolutions explain the reason they pushed forward with the actions they did. Convinced that global socialist revolution was at hand, the revolutionaries pushed forward with driving a split in the global labour movement, and the creation of the Third International. And again, it was not surprising that having done so they felt vindicated in their actions, as millions of workers changed their affiliation from the Second to the Third International. The responsibility for the split was not all on one side, as some of the Second International parties also expelled revolutionaries from their ranks. In some places, by contrast, almost the entire Second International section affiliated to the Third International. But, this was part of the problem, as they did so without in any way challenging the inadequate programme and principles upon which the Second International itself had foundered. As Draper points out, the Third International inherited the same Lassallean, statist policies of the Second International.

This division of the global labour movement into two competing camps of reformists and revolutionaries was the greatest tragedy of the 20th century. It acted to consolidate the power of a right-wing, conservative layer within the reformist parties, and acted to isolate the revolutionaries from the working-class, leaving them to periodically seek to overcome that isolation by “entering” the reformist parties, which increasingly entrenched themselves, particularly after World War II, and the new long wave boom, as the real mass parties of the working-class. By contrast, the isolated revolutionaries became not just isolated from the working-class, but increasingly isolated from reality, as they consoled themselves with the delusion that the problem was still simply one of a crisis of leadership, that given the right formulation of demands, the strategic insertion of levers into the class struggle, the working-class would leap forward once more into revolutionary struggle, and a re-run of 1917. This delusionary state led them to believe that the problem in their own ranks was one of a lack of purity in the formulation of theory and practice, which together with personal motivations of some of their leaders, led to repeated further splits, so that each sect became even more irrelevant. Lenin and his comrades had an excuse for misunderstanding the nature of the reality that confronted them in 1917, and led them into the mistakes they made. The Marxists of the last seventy years have no such excuse.

The reality of Russia in 1917 was that its economy was not developed enough to sustain a bourgeois social democracy, as existed in Britain, France, Italy, and Germany. Moreover, Russia faced other problems. The Tsarist Empire was the greatest prison house of nations in history, each of which had their own demands for national self-determination, and so on. It was a sea of contradictions including some of the most advanced industry in some of its cities, sitting side by side with handicraft production, and mediaeval agriculture. The weak government of Kerensky could not even grant the workers and peasants the most basic demands such as a rise in wages, and a shortening of hours, the provision of adequate food, or even a withdrawal from a war that was crippling the country. That was why, it faced a Peasant War on the one hand, and the movement of millions of workers in the large towns and cities behind the banner of the Bolsheviks.

In 1871, Marx had advised the Parisian workers not to rise in revolt, because he believed that such a revolt was premature, that they lacked the power to carry through such an uprising, particularly given the potential for the Prussian army to move against them. He was right, in his predictions. The result was that thousands of Parisian workers and artisans were murdered, in an orgy of vengeance by the bourgeoisie, after the Commune was put down. But, once the Parisians had risen up, Marx felt bound to throw all of his support behind them, despite his warnings. In July 1917, the Russian workers in the large cities like Petrograd had moved prematurely too. Lenin had cautioned against such a move, knowing that it risked a similar reaction. Once underway, however, Lenin too had argued the need for the Bolsheviks to take part in the action, so as to minimise the damage from it. And, again he was right, as the forces of reaction used the workers actions as justification for imprisoning large numbers of workers leaders, sending Lenin and other revolutionaries into hiding.

But, Lenin also understood that the workers can only be led up the hill and back down again so many times before, they become disillusioned and apathetic. In November 1917, the choice was to push forward with the insurrection, and to replace the weak Kerensky government, that was constantly in danger of being overthrown by Kornilov and the generals in conjunction with the armies of foreign imperialism, or else to risk the disillusion of the masses, providing an invitation for a reactionary coup, or for Russia to be simply turned into a replica of China, carved up by these large imperialist armies. The potential for that was made clear by Germany's annexation of large parts of European Russia, via the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, and the threat that came to Russia in the East from the US, and from Japan. At the same time, the threat to Russia's southern flank, and its oil and mineral riches came from the destruction of the Ottoman Empire, by the British and French, who similarly carved up the Middle-East via the Sykes-Picot agreement.

Lenin knew from the outset that Russia presented the worst possible set of conditions for creating socialism, let alone communism. So, why did he push forward the revolution? The reason should be clear from the above. He argued in the April Theses that carrying through the revolution in Russia would break the capitalist chain at its weakest link. He believed that capitalism was in its last days, and that global revolution was imminent. By breaking the chain at its weakest link, he thought, as had been the case in 1848, that revolution would become infectious, spreading across the whole continent, if not wider. Once that revolution took place, the Russians would hand over the baton to their more developed European comrades, who would in turn provide the Russian revolution with the technology and means to carry forward the construction of Socialism. It was only in that context that Lenin argued for them to commence the task of socialist construction within their own country, and to hold on to power for as long as possible until that international revolution came to their rescue. It is a totally different concept to the idea of building “Socialism In One Country”, that was put forward by Stalin, and which is totally alien to the ideas of Marxism.

Lenin was wrong in his understanding of the global conjuncture, but understandably so. After the end of the war, revolutions did indeed break out across Europe, in Germany, Hungary and so on, and in Italy workers established workers control in many of the large factories. After a short economic upswing the European economy sank into crisis and recession in the 1920's. The reversal of these economic conditions, compared to the period after 1890, meant that bosses were more likely to resist workers demands. It led to big industrial disputes in the rail, and coal industries in Britain, and ultimately to the 1926 General Strike. In place of the social-democratic reforms, for the creation of a welfare state, put forward by Neville Chamberlain, workers instead found themselves facing wage cuts, and austerity, including a reduction in unemployment benefits when unemployment reached its peak in the early 1930's.

But, even had Lenin known that by the 1920's, the working-class would be forced back on to the defensive, as this change in the long wave cycle asserted itself, let alone had he known that the divisions in the socialist movement would create the conditions in which fascist reaction would be able to assert itself across much of Europe in the 1930's, the reality of the situation in Russia in 1917 left the Bolsheviks with little alternative but to push through with the October Revolution. The alternative was not the establishment of some congenial bourgeois democracy, any more than that was the alternative to a socialist revolution in Germany or Spain, in the 1930's, but was a vicious reaction. In the past, the imposition of such a reaction had seen it spread to other European countries, as happened after the defeat of the Revolutions of 1848, and as Marx and Engels had outlined, it was often Russia itself that had been the vehicle for the export of such reaction across the continent.

The Russian Revolution was always likely to fail, but its failure is as much to do with the inadequacy of the socialist movement in general as with the Bolsheviks. Lenin and the Bolsheviks had inherited the same top down, statist model of socialist revolution and construction that infected the Second International. On the basis of that model, a revolution in Britain or Germany would equally have failed. On the basis of such a model, the party as a vanguard necessarily ends up substituting itself for the class. At each step that the class comes into conflict with the party, the party always sees itself as representing the real interests of the class. As Simon Clarke put it,

“For the working-class the Party is a means of mobilising and generalising its opposition to Capital and its State, and of building autonomous forms of collective organisation, while for the intellectual stratum it is a means of achieving power over capital and the state... As soon as the party has secured state power, by whatever means, it has fulfilled its positive role as far as the intellectual stratum is concerned. The latter's task is now to consolidate and exploit its position of power to secure the implementation of the Party's programme in the interests of the 'working class'. Once the Party has seized power, any opposition it encounters from the working class is immediately identified as sectional or factional opposition to the interests of the working class as a whole, the latter being identified with the Party as its self-conscious representative...

“The distinction between the Bolshevik and social democratic variants of state socialism should not be ignored, but it is more a matter of degree than of substance. The 'degeneration' of the Russian Revolution was not a matter of Lenin's intolerance, nor of Trotsky's militarism, nor of Stalin's personality, nor of the economic backwardness nor of the relatively small size of the Russian working class, nor of the autocratic character of the Russian State, nor of the embattled position of the revolutionary regime, although all these factors played their part in determining the extent of the degeneration. The degeneration was already inherent in the class character of the revolution which underlay the statist conception of socialism which it adopted as its project.” 

(Capital and Class 42, Winter 1990)

We should celebrate the centenary of the October Revolution, because it was, perhaps the most momentous event of the twentieth century. It involved the mass action of millions of ordinary people, standing up, against the odds to fight for their liberation, and to create a new kind of society. The fact that those millions overwhelmingly did so, behind the banner of the Bolsheviks during the civil war, against the massive military potential of the invading imperialist armies, lined up alongside the forces of Tsarist reaction, and that in those areas where peasants had fallen again under the dominance of the old landlords, they quickly aligned themselves with the Red Army, shows the mealy-mouthed nature of the bourgeois apologists description of the revolution as a coup! But, we should also learn the lessons of the revolution, and of its failure. We should learn the lesson that socialist revolution is a process not an event. It is a process in which the working class increasingly develops its own form of property, of socialised capital, and particularly of worker-owned co-operative property, alongside its development of workers self-government, and the development of alternative forms of democracy, and state in opposition to those of the capitalist state.

The political revolution is only the culmination of this process, not its starting point, as Lenin believed. Indeed, the political revolution should amount to little more than, as Marx described it, the putting down of a slaveholders revolt, once the working-class has developed its own economic and social power within society, and de facto already become the ruling class. In the words of Sun Tzu,

“Thus it is that in war the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won..” 

(The Art of War)

1 comment:

Mike Smith said...

A problem with Clarke’s paper is that he tends to simply counterpose ‘working class self-organisation’ to Stalinist and Social Democratic statism.

This is a very abstract approach. The experience of statism was (and remains) a response to a set of historical tendencies and circumstances – inevitably so given the weak and highly uneven nature of self-organisation as a practical political alternative.

It is not clear how such self-organisation would work, nor how it would emerge in actual historical circumstances.

For example, Clarke argues that such self-organisation would operate without ‘the state’ as a form of alien social power. And yet, any workable form of socialist society will require a set of rules, regulations, laws and instruments of coercion/sanction. While the organisation that enforces such laws and rules may not be a ‘class state’ in a Marxist sense, it is very likely to be viewed by those who disagree with it as the alien instrument of those social groups that tend to dominate policy and rule-making.

Also, what is a plausible scenario for the triumph of working class self-organisation as the dominant global mode of production?

I can’t think of one.

Limited and uneven forms of self-organisation did emerge during the 19th and early 20th centuries. However, in the advanced capitalist countries they have been largely replaced by statist and market forms of organisation and service provision.

Unions remain forms of self-organisation, but for political and practical reasons they are almost exclusively concerned with securing statist solutions to workers’ problems.

The working class, as a self-conscious class with its own collective modes of social reproduction, has been effectively disorganised – and partially integrated into the logics of capital by the greater use of credit and debt.

All this can change. However, capitalism has historically proven most vulnerable to socialist attack only during periods of intense crisis and war. In other words, such attacks are periodic and usually short-lived until a new phase of expansion unfolds. Such periods do not provide much space for the mature and widespread development of working class self-organisation to present itself as a viable and immediate alternative to either capitalism and/or statism.

So while I agree with Clarke that working class self-organisation is the only basis for a successful transition to a viable and sustainable socialism, such a basis is so abstract and unlikely to emerge in the foreseeable future that it does not currently provide the foundation for a political strategy of relevance to the mass of the working class whose historical interests it claims to represent.

We need stepping stones from where we are to forms of self-organisation that may provide the basis for an alternative to capitalism. History, as we know it so far, does not provide much comfort that such a basis will appear.