Wednesday, 30 September 2020

What The Friends of the People Are, Part III - Part 52

There was nothing socialist about these petty-bourgeois theories, just as there is nothing socialist about the petty-bourgeois politics of the “anti-capitalists” and “anti-imperialists”, or the social-democratic reformists. Their political outlook is that of the petty-bourgeoisie, as an intermediate class that tries to look both ways, towards the proletariat and towards the bourgeoisie, and ends up with a reactionary and constrained form of bourgeois development. 

“And this question cannot be answered unless the dual character of this class is taken into consideration (here in Russia this duality is particularly marked owing to the antagonism between the big bourgeoisie and the petty bourgeoisie being less developed). It is progressive insofar as it puts forward general democratic demands, i.e., fights against all survivals of the medieval epoch and of serfdom; it is reactionary insofar as it fights to preserve its position as a petty bourgeoisie and tries to retard, to turn back the general development of the country along bourgeois lines. Reactionary demands of this kind, such, for example, as the notorious inalienability of allotments, as well as the many other projects for tutelage over the peasants, are usually covered up by plausible talk of protecting the working people but actually, of course, they only worsen their condition, while at the same time hampering them in their struggle for emancipation.” (p 288) 

A good example of this is also Marx's approach to the question of free trade. On the one hand, bourgeois liberals advocated free trade, because they saw in it the basis of a more rational development of capital. But, they tried to sell this idea to workers on the basis that it would mean cheaper food and so on. Marx illustrates that this liberal argument in favour of free trade is a fraud, because cheaper food would mean that the value of labour-power fell, and so wages would fall leaving workers no better off. Indeed, the lower wages was one reason the bourgeoisie wanted it, so as to raise surplus value. Conservatives and reactionaries opposed free trade, because they sought to protect the rents of landlords, which rested on high food prices, and surplus agricultural profits. Protectionism was a way of protecting inefficient domestic capitalists and rents. But, the conservatives also sought to sell this idea to workers on the basis that such protectionism was really about protecting their jobs against foreign competition. This debate was again played out over Brexit. Marx demonstrated that this latter argument was also fallacious, because, by protecting inefficient capitals and monopolies against competition, it raised prices and lowered profits, which meant that capital accumulated more slowly, which meant that employment was curtailed, and living standards for workers grew more slowly. 

Instead, Marx put forward the socialist argument for Free Trade, which was that it encouraged a more rapid and rational development, and accumulation of capital, which itself means that more labour is employed, but that, more importantly, in bringing about this development, it more rapidly develops the contradictions inherent in capitalism, and so hastens its replacement by Socialism. 

“But, in general, the protective system of our day is conservative, while the free trade system is destructive. It breaks up old nationalities and pushes the antagonism of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie to the extreme point. In a word, the free trade system hastens the social revolution. It is in this revolutionary sense alone, gentlemen, that I vote in favour of free trade.” 

(Marx – Speech on Free Trade) 

To put it in the terms of natural science, it acts in the same way as providing seeds with a conducive environment, so that they more quickly become transformed into the plants that develop from them. As Lenin puts it in Two Tactics of Social-Democracy, 

“And from these principles it follows that the idea of seeking salvation for the working class in anything save the further development of capitalism is reactionary. In countries like Russia, the working class suffers not so much from capitalism as from the insufficient development of capitalism. The working class is therefore decidedly interested in the broadest, freest and most rapid development of capitalism. The removal of all the remnants of the old order which are hampering the broad, free and rapid development of capitalism is of decided advantage to the working class.”

Labour, The Left, and The Working Class – A Response To Paul Mason - The Programme of the Early Comintern, and the Transitional Programme (14/18)

The Programme of the Early Comintern, and the Transitional Programme (14/18) 

The Spanish revolution begins in 1931. At this time, the Stalinists have entered the sectarian Third Period, following the debacle of the defeat of the Chinese Revolution. The Third Period ran from 1928 to 1934. As a result of Stalin's apparent left turn, the United Opposition dissolved, with Zinoviev and Kamenev returning to the Stalinist fold. They were to be repaid when Stalin once more made an abrupt turn to the Right. In 1935, they were executed as the Stalinist show trials got under way. In 1931, republican parties win majorities in elections, and almost immediately face opposition from the fascists (falangists). 

The Republican government is a Popular Front comprising the Socialist Party, as largest party, and bourgeois-liberal, republicans. The Left Republican Manuel Azana became Prime Minister. As is the nature of such governments it acts to demobilise the workers' struggles themselves. A general strike in Seville, in July-August 1931, is crushed by military force by the republican government. As a result of the Stalinist Third Period, the Spanish Communist Party refuses to offer any support for the Republican government against the growing fascist threat. In August 1932, there is an unsuccessful Monarchist coup, and in the municipal elections, the following Spring, rightist forces show big gains. Another big change in 1933, is that, in Germany, Hindenberg makes Hitler Chancellor. Hitler begins to remove opposition to him in the Reichstag, organising the Reichstag fire as pretext to remove the Communists, and secure a majority. Germany joins with Japan, and Italy in forming an “anti-Comintern Alliance”

This is the start of Stalin's switch back to the former position, as he now seeks to win support from the camp of “democratic imperialism”, i.e. Britain, France, and the US against Germany, Japan, and Italy. He seeks to do this by convincing the former that he has no intention or desire to ferment or support proletarian revolution anywhere in the world, but seeks to promote and defend bourgeois-democracy against the rising threat of fascism. In fact, Stalin also in secret, worked with the fascists to destroy his enemies to the Left. When Trotsky moved to Norway in 1935, the GPU worked with the fascists to break in and steal his archives, for example. But, this shift back to the Popular Front strategy was formalised by the Seventh Congress of the Comintern in 1935. 

In September 1933, Azana resigned as Prime Minister. The following month, the fascist Falange Espanola was founded in Madrid. In the November elections, the rightists and Monarchists won a majority in the Cortes, as the Anarchists of the CNT abstained. The following year, this right-wing government, which has been repealing the reforms previously introduced by the republicans also acts to crush a rising strike wave by both industrial and rural workers. It calls on Franco to crush the rising of Asturian miners. In the aftermath, 5,000 are killed in a vicious reprisal reminiscent of the aftermath of the Paris Commune, and 30,000 political prisoners are incarcerated. But, it is a Pyrrhic victory for the Right, as it provokes a new upsurge. Elections, in February 1936, bring the Popular Front back into government, and now the Spanish CP, is providing uncritical support to it. However, at this time, the Spanish CP is tiny. In 1931, it had only about 800 members, which had grown to around 10,000 by the beginning of 1936, but this number was overshadowed by the 40,000 members of the centrist POUM, let alone the 1.5 million members of the anarchist CNT. The Spanish Socialist Party, which was on the left of most of European social-democracy, had several hundred thousand members. The Trotskyists of the Spanish Bolshevik-Leninist group were even more tiny. The Stalinists and bourgeoisie attempted to portray the centrists of the POUM as Trotskyists, but they were not. They were centrists wavering between reformist and revolutionary politics, that led them into providing support for the Popular Front, which led to disaster. 

Understanding the disaster of the Popular Front strategy in Spain, the strategy that Paul now wants the Left in the LP to adopt, requires examining it from the perspective of the attitude of the centrists of the POUM, as well as the Anarchists, to the Popular Front government, i.e. the alliance between the Stalinists and bourgeois liberals, as well as from the perspective of the Stalinists to the bourgeois-democratic parties themselves. The former made a terrible mistake that Trotsky had warned them against, in a calculation that they could draw revolutionary forces to their side, and in overestimating their own social and political weight as against the CP, which, as stated above, was, in 1936, still small in comparison. By the end of the Civil War, the Stalinists had become by far the biggest element of the Popular Front, whilst those to its Left had been destroyed. They failed to take into account, as Trotsky pointed out, that the Spanish CP had the full might of the USSR standing behind it, and of its ability also to mobilise from amongst global Stalinist parties, reflected in the International Brigades. By contrast, the position of the Stalinists was not one based upon error, but one based upon being the active executioner of proletarian revolution, as it sought an alliance with democratic imperialism to fight Germany and Japan in particular. The Stalinists were more concerned to defeat their political opponents to their Left than defeating the fascists, as a number of writers described. 

“To [the CP], winning the war meant winning it for the Communist Party and they were always ready to sacrifice military advantage to prevent a rival party on their own side from strengthening its position.” 

(Gerald Brennan, The Spanish Labyrinth) 

“[The infantry were far worse armed than an English public school Officers' Training Corps with worn out Mauser rifles which usually jammed after five shots; approximately one machine gun to fifty men; and one pistol or revolver to about thirty men. These weapons so necessary in trench warfare were not issued by the government and could be bought only illegally and with the greatest difficulty... 

A government which sends boys of fifteen to the front with rifles forty years old, and keeps its biggest men and newest weapons in the rear, is manifestly more afraid of the revolution than of the fascists.” 

(George Orwell, Controversy, August 1937)

Tuesday, 29 September 2020

A Socialist Campaign For The US Elections - Part 2

A model for the US elections could be the Socialist Campaign For Labour Victory that some on the Left, including myself, established in 1979. Obviously, conditions in the US are different, and so it can only act as a framework, a conceptual model, rather than a blueprint. Moreover, the recent events in the US mean that certain elements of that model have to take precedence. There was no doubt that, in 1979, if Labour won the election, the Tories would concede defeat, despite the fact that it was known that some sections of the ruling class had discussed a coup against Harold Wilson's government, some years before. But, today, in the US, we have Donald Trump openly preparing the ground for refusing to accept the election result, by measures including stuffing the Supreme Court with his toadies, using the Presidential pulpit to describe postal ballots as voter fraud, warning that a Democrat win will lead to violence in suburbs, whipping up racial hatred against black and Hispanic voters, and all supported by his promotion of white nationalist and fascist gangs of heavily armed thugs.

In 1979, the left was of course, aware of the potential of a coup against even a moderately radical Labour government, but the main threat of violence came from the fascists of the NF, whose members moved seamlessly back and forth into the Tory Party, and its right-wing organisations like the Monday Club, the Young Conservatives and Federation of Conservative Students, as well as into other right-wing groups such as the National Association for Freedom. The NF, as with conditions in the US and Britain today, was, however, backed up by a racist police force, which on every occasion came to the defence of fascist thugs, whilst locking up anti-fascists for resisting them. The US is different, today, in that one element of the SCLV model, the establishment of Workers Defence Squads, has already been developed to a material degree in the US, with the creation of Black armed militia groups, in response to the actions of the right-wing militia, and heavily armed, racist cops. That means that the emphasis on a socialist campaign for the US elections, must give far more weight to this demand for the creation of workers' and black defence squads, and socialists must stress the need for the labour movement, in the US, in creating such defence squads, to actively seek to join them with the Black militia groups, and to ensure that they are democratically controlled. Socialists operating in every Democrat Block Committee, should begin to establish democratic organs of struggle, able to join with local Black Militia to confront the fascists, as Trotsky describes in The Action Programme for France.

Channel4 News, along with investigative journalists, have found that in 2016, the Trump campaign, obtained computer data on virtually every voter in the US.  Some of this was uncovered in the investigations into the activities of Cambridge Analytica and its other front organisations, which also played a role in the 2016 UK EU referendum.  Channel 4 News found that this data was used to specifically target certain Democrat voters - overwhelmingly Black voters - to deter them from voting.  In fact, the Republicans have used a wide range of means of voter suppression to prevent Black and Hispanic voters from even being able to vote.  Trump's manoeuvres, now, in the courts are part of this same process.  But, where that is not sufficient, its almost inevitable, given how Trump has whipped up hysteria, that his armed supporters will try to physically prevent Black and Hispanic voters from voting.

It seems inevitable that the fascists, backed up by the racist cops, will try to prevent socialists, and even just Democrats, from campaigning in the elections. The imposition of lockdowns of social and political activity is already doing that. The lockdown has been one of the greatest recruiting and strategic tools there could ever have been for Trump's re-election.

It will be necessary for Black and Workers Defence Squads and militia to be prepared to stop the fascists attacking campaigners, as well as their inevitable attempts to prevent postal balloting, and voting by blacks and Hispanics at polling stations. The conditions of the election means that no result is likely on the day, and could be as long as a month before its announced. Trump, backed with tens of thousands of heavily armed militia, and a Supreme Court of his own creation, will try to steal the election, by declaring victory on election day, in the spirit of all such prospective dictators. That means that any socialist campaign must be geared to such an eventuality. The Democrat establishment response to that will be to try to get US workers to respond peacefully, and rely on lawyers to fight it out in the courts. That would be a disaster. As Trotsky puts it, in the Action Programme,

“All the police executors of the capitalist will, of the bourgeois state, and its cliques of corrupt politicians must be disbanded. Execution of police duties by the workers’ militia. Abolition of class courts, election of all judges, extension of the jury for all crimes and misdemeanours; the people will render justice themselves... 

...We refuse to spread the criminal illusion that a capitalist government can actually proceed to the disarming of the capitalist bands. The exploited must defend themselves against the capitalists. 

Arming of the proletariat, arming of the poor peasants! 

People’s Antifascist Militia! 

The exploiters, who are but a tiny minority, will recoil before the unleashing of civil war; the fascist and reactionary bands will lose their audacity only if the workers are armed and lead the masses.” 

Socialists, in the US, must be prepared for the fact that even progressive social-democrats like Bernie Sanders, as well as reformist democratic socialists, will baulk at such actions, as they inevitably try to fight an extra-parliamentary enemy by remaining entirely within the constraints of bourgeois democracy. Such an approach would be disastrous and lead to the victory of the reaction. But, millions of American workers, will see for themselves, at first hand what is happening in their communities. It will be up to socialists to prepare them, in advance, for the inadequate response not just of the Democrat establishment, but also of these other bourgeois representatives of the workers. 

In fact, those conditions, if the socialists organise themselves appropriately, and avoid the sectarianism that has often plagued sections of the Left, will be able to make great strides forward. Now is not the time to stand aside from the main organisation of workers inside the Democrats, but to double and redouble activity at the grass roots level of the Democrats, to turn those local committees outwards to engage directly in action on the streets in support of communities under attack from fascist gangs and racist cops. Now is the time to also, thereby, draw in those activists from within the oppressed communities to revitalise moribund Democrat political structures, and to create the conditions for the establishment of a real fighting Workers' Party. 

In that respect, too, socialists have to take notice of the development not just of the Black Militias, but also the return of the Black Panther Party. Socialists should offer to join in a United Front with the Panthers for the purpose of fighting the fascists and racists.

Back To Part 1

Forward To Part 3 

Labour, The Left, and The Working Class – A Response To Paul Mason - The Programme of the Early Comintern, and the Transitional Programme (13/18)

The Programme of the Early Comintern, and the Transitional Programme (13/18) 

The principle of the United Front could also be expressed as unity from below, or “unity with the workers always, with the workers leaders sometimes.” The whole point, here, is that the United Front is intended to unite the working class in action, and is, thereby, differentiated from purely parliamentary alliances. It was necessary, for the reason that Trotsky elaborates above, which is that, in countries where the Communists represent only a quarter, third or half of the working-class, that leaves the majority still affiliated to the reformists and centrists. Unity of the working-class in action requires, in practice, a unity of these different organisations, and thereby, with their leaders. But, such unity in action does not mean unity with the leaders of those other parties on the basis of their politics. On the contrary, it means that, whilst undertaking joint activity, the Communists dissociate themselves from the reformist and centrist politics of the leaders of those other parties. If fascists are attacking a neighbourhood, communists do not have to agree with the politics of the leaders of a reformist party in order to fight alongside the workers who still have illusions in those leaders, so as to defeat the immediate enemy. On the contrary, such joint activity is the best way of winning those workers away from those leaders, and their reformist politics, but it requires that the communists use the opportunity to expose those politics and explain the necessity of their own, for that to happen. 

In the US, currently, communists working inside the Democrat party, at local level, would organise workers defence squads to offer support to black communities under attack from racist cops, and fascists, they would encourage the reformist workers who still have faith in the Democrat Party to join them in such action, and use that action to expose the bourgeois politics of Biden et al.  

Trotsky, in later years, contrasts this revolutionary tactic with the approach of the Stalinists, for example, in relation to the alliance with the TUC leaders in the Anglo-Russian Committee. (See: The Anglo-Russian Committee) In place of unity from below, which would have led communists to have warned the British workers about the bourgeois nature of the politics of the TUC leaders, who would sell them out in the General Strike, the Stalinists instead led the workers to place faith in those very leaders in order to retain a purely diplomatic alliance with those reformist leaders. Trotsky and the Left Opposition repeatedly called for the communists to break with the TUC leaders, but Stalin refused. This experience was totemic, because it symbolised the method that Stalin would use also in China in 1927, in its revolution, and his instruction to the Chinese Communists to form an alliance with Chiang Kai Shek, and the Kuomintang. (See: Problems of the Chinese Revolution)  In essence, Stalin had now reverted to the stages theory that he, Zinoviev and Kamenev had applied in February 1917, in relation to the provisional government, whereby, they saw the need for society to pass through a long period of bourgeois democracy before socialism became possible. Such alliances are not a manifestation of the United Front of workers parties, but of a Popular Front, a cross class alliance in which the interests of the workers are always subordinated, and which invariably lead to the bourgeois forces within them turning on the working-class. 

Part of the reason for Stalin's attempt to continue the diplomatic alliance with the TUC leaders was, indeed, the hope that it might facilitate the Chinese revolution, as a bourgeois-democratic revolution. In fact, the trajectory was predictable. The social-imperialists who had been opposed to the Bolsheviks in 1917, and some of whom organised Labour Battalions to fight alongside the Whites against the Bolsheviks, were hardly going to be reliable allies for the Chinese revolution. At a time of its choosing, the TUC leaders themselves broke with the Anglo-Russian Committee, and, at a time of his choosing, Chiang Kai Shek broke with the Chinese Communists. 

At the time, in 1927, Trotsky and the Left Opposition were allied with Zinoviev and Kamenev in the United Opposition against Stalin, following his rightward turn in alliance with Bukharin. Trotsky points out later that, as a result, the criticism of Comintern policy, in relation to China, was muted in order to obtain the agreement of Zinoviev and Kamenev, who themselves still held to their 1917 positions in relation to the Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Peasantry. 

Trotsky points out that Lenin, in The Theses on the National and Colonial Questions had said that it was necessary not to allow the bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie to cloak the anti-colonial struggles under the banner of communism. It was necessary for communists to retain political and organisational separation from such forces, But, Stalin and Bukharin, in the same way they had formed a disastrous diplomatic alliance with the leaders of the TUC, not only formed such an alliance with Chiang Kai Shek, but also, on his insistence, allowed the Kuomintang into the Communist International. They did this at the very moment when the Left Opposition, and Trotsky were being expelled from it! At the time of his choosing, however, Chiang Kai Shek repaid Stalin by organising a coup and turning his forces on the Chinese Communists who were murdered in their thousands. Unable, to admit their mistakes, Stalin then repeated it, forcing the Chinese communists into an alliance with the “Left Kuomintang”

Having expelled the Left Opposition, Stalin changed the direction of his fire, now aiming at Bukharin and the Right Opposition. Having attacked the Left for proposing a more rapid pace of industrialisation, Stalin now embarked on the programme of break-neck industrialisation, and forced collectivisation. The former required that a larger social surplus was extracted from the agricultural sector, whilst that, plus the forced collectivisation, provoked a response from the peasants, a collapse in agricultural production, and famine that killed millions. Similarly, having opposed the Left's criticism of the Popular Front strategy, Stalin now swung to the opposite extreme rejecting any kind of alliance, including the United Front of workers' parties, to confront the rising menace of fascism that had been established already in Italy, and was on the rise in Germany, and other parts of Europe. This was the start of the so called Third Period. Any organisation other than the Communist Party was described as some kind of fascism. The social-democrats were social-fascists, Trotskyists were Trotsky-fascists, and so on. 

Part of the reason and justification for the United Front tactic was that, in 1914, the socialist movement had split, the split being formalised by the creation of the Communist International. Many workers remained confused about the need for such a split which divided their forces. With hindsight, Lenin and the other revolutionaries who pushed through that split – though again in some countries, the reformists themselves forced it by expelling groups of organised revolutionaries – was a mistake. They overestimated the likelihood of global revolution, and could have better concentrated larger groups of workers around them had they been operating as a disciplined revolutionary wing of the existing reformist parties, a fact that the Trotskyists were forced to accept, in practice, in the 1930's, with “The French Turn”. Indeed, Lenin advised the British Communist Party to apply for affiliation to the LP, which it could easily have done, by simply informing the LP that it had changed its name. The British Socialist Party, which became the Communist Party, was already affiliated to the LP, in the same way as was the ILP etc. But, it was an indication of the sectarianism of the British CP that it refused to do that, and phrased its application for affiliation in terms that would inevitably be rejected. In other instances, virtually the whole of the existing socialist party became affiliated to the Comintern without, in fact, changing its reformist politics. Had the split not occurred, its unlikely that Stalinism would have arisen as such a powerful force, or that the Left Oppositionists could have been isolated in the way they were. 

In the big confrontations that emerged, those workers inevitably asked why their could not be some form of joint action. The tactic was devised by the Communists to address that by the Communists themselves proposing such joint action, whilst explaining their differences with the leaders of reformism that led them to create separate organisations. To be fair, it was not just the Stalinists that were responsible for the resultant sectarianism. The united front presented a problem for the reformist leaders, precisely because their sphere of operation was in parliaments and corridors of power, not on the streets, or in the workplaces. The united front dragged them out of their places of comfort to take part in direct action in struggles of the workers themselves. That meant that their actions could be compared to their words, and their ideas could be tested and challenged in practice in front of the gaze of the workers. When the Stalinists refused to engage in any such united front, it gave the reformist leaders the perfect opportunity to follow suit. 

The consequence was inevitable, the fascists took control of the streets, and then of the Reichstag. For a time, the Stalinists tried to brazen out the extent of the catastrophe they had wrought, claiming that after Hitler it would be their turn. Instead, they found themselves sent to the concentration camps, followed soon after by the socialists, then the trades unionists, and then by the Jews, Gypsies and homosexuals. Inevitably, Stalin changed course again, reverting to the earlier position of opportunism and the Popular Front. But, as with the experience of the Anglo-Russian Committee, and with the Chinese Revolution, it led once more to disaster, this time in Spain.

Monday, 28 September 2020

Agents Provocateurs

In the 1980's, many on the Left believed that the Revolutionary Communist Party were agent provocateurs. The state was already known to have massively infiltrated the labour movement, with hundreds of union and LP officials on the payroll of Special Branch and the Secret Service, and with sleepers, and undercover agents infiltrating any and every organisation even mildly critical of the status quo, many of them literally “sleeping with the enemy”. The police state openly had its representatives in post office sorting offices, as one CWU member told me, which opened and read communications going to known activists. They routinely tapped phones, and bugged the offices of trades unions, as happened with the NUM during the 1984 strike. The use of agents provocateurs and false flag operations, both to gain information on your opponents, and to muddy the waters, bringing opprobrium and ridicule on to them, is a well established tactic in the armoury of the state. So, it would not have been surprising for the state to have at least sown the seeds to create the strange plant that appeared in the form of the RCP, whose positions were from the beginning, to say the least, bizarre.

Today, the RCP goes under a profusion of different names, having gone through the stage of the Living Marxism magazine, and then appearing as the Institute of Ideas, Academy of Ideas, Spiked amongst a plethora of other persona. Indeed, not only do its members operate in exactly the same way that Internet trolls do, by their continual interventions that seem designed only to be controversial and provoke a response, but they mirror the actions of trolls who also assign to themselves a huge array of different persona through which they make their interventions into debates, the result always being to muddy the waters and to make rational debate difficult. Moreover, one has to wonder why it is that those associated with the RCP and its numerous front organisations, like Claire Fox, Ella Whelan, or Brendan O' Neill have been able to obtain the fawning of the mainstream media, when they represent so very little. Even in terms of the micro sects that littered the landscape of the British far left, the RCP were always at the most micro end of the spectrum, and yet, barely a day goes by when the BBC or Sky does not have one of these individuals gracing our screens, and that was even before Lady Fox, joined with Farage to promote ultra nationalist reaction.

But, whether the RCP and its inheritors were, or are, agent provocateurs in the pay of the state is really irrelevant. Their activities amount essentially to the same thing. Their weird and wacky politics have always acted to muddy the waters, to discredit the Left, and to provide succour to the Right. Like the trolls, they act to make it more difficult for rational discussion, and they tie up the real Left in clearing away all of the shit they throw over that rational discussion. It is, of course, also the method used by the Russian trolls used by Putin to muddy the waters in democratic debate, particularly during elections, or as in the EU referendum. Its no wonder that so many of these elements found their way into the camp of Putin's friend Farage. The way these trolls and agents provocateurs muddy the waters, and undermine the Left can be seen in this comment by Labour MP Johnathan Reynolds, and the response to it, by some on the Left.

Responding to the “Resist and Act for Freedom Rally”, Reynolds commented,

I choose the opposite side to these people, on all matters.”

Hiscomment was quoted approvingly by Andrew Coates on his blog. But, Reynolds approach demonstrates precisely what has been wrong with the mindless approach of much of the Left on a whole series of questions. It is the opposite of the approach that a Marxist should take, of analysing the facts, and then coming forward with an independent working-class position, based upon it. We do not say, “our enemies enemy is our friend”. In the 19th century, as Marx describes in The Communist Manifesto, after capitalism had become dominant, the landed aristocracy continued to undertake a rearguard action against it, trying to defend its own established privileges, and prevent the further forward development of capital. But, just, because, by this time, a large working-class had begun to confront the forces of capital that did not in any way mean that they would ally with the landed aristocracy in that endeavour. The bourgeoisie was now the enemy of the working-class, and the landed aristocracy were the enemy of the bourgeoisie, but that did not in any way make the working-class the friend of the landed aristocracy or vice versa.

And, that same idea was pursued by Lenin, in the 1890's. The Narodniks presented themselves as the enemies of the bourgeoisie, but they did so by trying to hold back the further development of capitalism, and by promoting the interests of the small producers. However, as Lenin points out the interests of the independent small producer was inseparable from the social conditions under which it existed, that of Russian landlordism. Socialists certainly had no interest in promoting that as against the development of capitalism, which was, in fact, the means of the further development to Socialism.

As Trotsky points out in “Learn To Think”, we do not determine our positions by simply placing a minus sign wherever our opponents place a plus sign. The positions adopted by the trolls, the agent provocateurs, or simply the seriously deluded and confused are idiotic, but simply adopting, as a knee-jerk response, the opposite of those positions, means that you end up with equally idiotic positions yourself, now simply with a positive rather than a negative sign in front of them! So, for example, we see some people adopt a position of opposition to imperialism, and on that basis, they conclude that their friends must then also be, other enemies of imperialism. Yet, just as Marx points out that the landed aristocracy were enemies of the bourgeoisie, but no friend of the working-class, just because someone is an enemy of imperialism, also does not make them a friend of the working-class. Pol Pot was an enemy of imperialism, but he was no friend of the working-class. The mullahs in Iran are enemies of imperialism, but they are no friends of the working-class. Yet, sections of the Left have allied themselves with these reactionary class forces, simply on this basis of placing a plus sign where there enemies place a minus sign. If Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas etc. are enemies of imperialism, they conclude, then they must be friends of ours!

A good example of the mindlessness of that approach is illustrated by the comment in the above post by Jim Denham, who responded to my comment along the above lines. Denham says,

Of course, you’re correct about the “anti imperialist” left’s asinine record of siding with all sorts of reactionaries on the basis of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” (cases in point: the SWP, the Stop the war Coalition, etc, etc) … but in the case of pro-Trump conspiracy theorists, I for one have no objection to operating on that general principle.”

Of course, that was not what Trotsky had in mind when he advised his followers to Learn To Think, and Denham's mindless approach collapsed on first contact with reality. The organisation he belongs to the Alliance for Workers Liberty, bases itself on the ideas of the petty-bourgeois Third Camp of James Burnham and Max Shachtman. As Trotsky described at length, it abandoned Marxist materialism in favour of petty bourgeois subjectivism. But, the SWP is also part of that tradition. As subjectivists and moralists, their starting point is always some Kantian Categorical Moral Imperative. For the SWP that is opposition to imperialism, for the AWL it is opposition to anti bourgeois-democratic forces. Of course, in practice, this is not absolute either. The SWP does not seem to oppose Iranian or Russian expansionism, for example, whilst the AWL does not seem to mind backing anti-democratic forces provided they are the allies of the democratic imperialism it now sees as the rightful agent of progressive change in the world.

So, for example, the AWL is a big supporter of Israel, and the Israeli state. And, likewise, it is a big opponent of Iran. But wait. Trump and his supporters are also big supporters of Israel, and Israel is a big supporter of Trump (and likewise with Johnson), so then, mustn't Denham and the AWL, place a minus sign where Trump and his supporters have placed a plus sign? Mustn't Denham and the AWL declare that, if Trump is a friend of Israel, the AWL must surely now be its enemy? And, likewise, Trump is an enemy of Iran, and vice versa. So, now, must not the AWL declare itself a friend of Iran? Of course, the question was asked of Denham, but answer back came there none.

I watched the interviews with some of the people who turned up to Trafalgar Square this last weekend to protest about the lockdowns, and of course, the media picked probably the nuttiest of the nutty, so as to make their case, but it is quite clear that most of those that turned up are at best highly deluded, and at worst they are acting like every other troll, and agent provocateur to muddy the waters, and prevent rational debate. You can't rationally debate COVID19 or the lockdown, if you start from the premise that the virus does not exist, when clearly it does, any more than you can rationally debate climate change if you deny it is occurring when clearly it is. The role of the agent provocateur is to provide Aunt Sallies that can be easily knocked down, and in the process to demonise others who challenge the dominant ideas of society. So, for example in a discussion on Sophie Ridge on Sunday, Professor Sunetra Gupta, who has argued that the lockdown is ineffective, and damages the interests of the poorest and most vulnerable, was attacked for putting forward a position based upon Libertarian principles. Quite the opposite was true. As she said her position was based upon communitarian principles of protecting the vulnerable. But, attacking her on the basis of some supposed Libertarian motives acted to muddy the waters, and avoided the need to actually answer the facts and the science that she put forward.

The vast majority of those that turned up to the rallies organised by the Right are people who are highly deluded, some will have some kind of mental disorder. The Ickeheads who think that there is some global conspiracy by alien lizard people clearly need some kind of treatment. But, these people are also being manipulated by people who do not believe any of that nonsense, but are prepared to draw in others to give them influence, or the appearance of having support. Fascists have always worked in that way. But fascist organisations are also infiltrated and manipulated by the state. What is clear is that powerful forces created a moral panic in relation to COVID19. Pressure from a mass, as a result of that moral panic, forced an elite to respond by imposing lockdowns. The lockdowns inevitably failed to deal with the virus, whilst equally inevitably causing global economic catastrophe that capital cannot allow to continue. It is desperately trying to avoid lockdowns, but cannot admit that its representatives made a once in a century mistake in imposing them in the first place. It is looking to other alternatives such as test and trace, which will also inevitably fail.

In the meantime, those that promoted and pursued these insane policies must prevent rational discussion of them, and their failure. The actions of the conspiracy nutters, the pro-Trump supporters, the Ickeheads and so on, act as a convenient distraction and Aunt Sally, discrediting any rational opposition to the current failed strategies. A left that has learned to think has to cut through all of that crap, and instead of simply adopting the position of my enemy's enemy is my friend, it must calmly analyse the facts, and develop an independent working-class position. That position most certainly is not to simply call for the failed lockdowns to be implemented more harshly, or for a test and trace strategy, which has also failed miserably, and will continue to fail miserably, to replace it. The only rational strategy as it has always been, is to protect the vulnerable minority, the 20% of the population actually at serious risk, and to allow the 80% to go about life as normal, so as to rapidly create herd immunity, thereby preventing the further spread of the virus.

What The Friends of the People Are, Part III - Part 51

Those that came forward, then, with proposals for general reforms that were supposed to benefit the whole “people”, and who presented the state that would implement these reforms as being a class neutral state, were reactionaries. The same approach is taken by reformists today, whether it is the kind of general liberal reforms proposed by liberal-democrats, and conservative social-democrats, or those put forward by left social-democrats such as the Communist Party, and the Bennites, calling for extensive measures of state capitalism to be instituted from above by that capitalist state, and by those "Marxists/Trotskyists" who similarly call on the capitalist state to act in workers' interests via nationalisation, liberal intervention and so on. 

“They are reactionary in depicting our state as something standing above classes and therefore fit and capable of rendering serious and honest aid to the exploited population. 

They are reactionary, lastly, because they simply can not understand the necessity for a struggle, a desperate struggle of the working people themselves for their emancipation. The “friends of the people”, for example, seem to think they can manage the whole thing themselves. The workers need not worry.” (p 286) 

Phrasing these reforms in radical language, be it Wilson's “White Heat of Technology”, Long Bailey's “Green New Deal”, or the idea of Planning Agreements and Enterprise Boards of the Bennites, and the AES, does not change the essentially petty-bourgeois nature of these schemes that seek to simply find a managerialist-bureaucratic compromise between workers and bourgeois within the framework of the existing system. 

“Why, an engineer has even visited the offices of Russkoye Bogatstvo, and there they have almost completely worked out a “scheme” for “introducing capitalism into the life of the people.” Socialists must make a DECISIVE and COMPLETE break with all petty-bourgeois ideas and theories—THAT IS THE PRINCIPAL USEFUL LESSON to be drawn from this campaign.” (p 286) 

The “friends of the people” were just one of the trends of petty-bourgeois socialism. In the same way, the petty-bourgeois socialism of the “anti-capitalists” and “anti-imperialists” is different to the petty-bourgeois socialism of social democracy, be it conservative social-democracy or progressive social democracy, though sections of the latter can also be found amongst the ranks of the “anti-capitalists” and “anti-imperialists”. Their progressive social-democracy is always constrained, and made reactionary by an economic nationalist wrapping. 

A criticism of petty-bourgeois socialism always has to be nuanced in its application to the specific manifestation in these different trends. Hence, also, Lenin, in his critique, distinguishes between the “friends of the people”, and the old Russian petty-bourgeois socialists, even though the inadequacy of both stemmed from the same root, its assumptions founded on the nature of the peasantry and peasant socialism. 

“I have throughout tried to show that such a degeneration of the old theories was inevitable. I have throughout tried to devote as little space as possible to criticism of these gentlemen in particular and as much as possible to the general and fundamental tenets of the old Russian socialism. And if the socialists should find that I have defined these tenets incorrectly or inaccurately, or have left something unsaid, then I can only reply with the following very humble request: please, gentlemen, define them yourselves, state them fully and properly!” (p 287) 

Indeed, Lenin says the Marxists would welcome the opportunity to debate with the socialists rather than have to respond to the “friends of the people”. But, it was only the latter who had come forward to attack the Marxists, and it was only to them that the Marxists could then address their response. 

“Surely, we are not to blame for the fact that only such gentlemen now take upon themselves the job of vindicating and expounding these ideas. I ask you also to note that I speak of the need for a break with petty-bourgeois ideas about socialism. The petty-bourgeois theories we have examined are ABSOLUTELY reactionary INASMUCH AS they claim to be socialist theories.” (p 288)

Labour, The Left, and The Working Class – A Response To Paul Mason - The Programme of the Early Comintern, and the Transitional Programme (12/18)

The Programme of the Early Comintern, and the Transitional Programme (12/18) 

But, the fundamental theoretical premise upon which Paul bases his argument is itself wrong, as I have indicated above. In 1848, as Marx pointed out, such a popular front with the forces of petty-bourgeois democracy led to the defeat of the proletariat across Europe. Marx and Engels, as Engels states, joined the bourgeois Democrats for the simple reason that their own political forces were tiny. They needed to “gain the ear” of the workers, in order to win them away from their existing affiliation to the liberal and social democrats. As I will indicate later, its the same reason that, in the 1930's, led the Trotskyists into “The French Turn”, whereby they entered the socialist parties, and it is the reason Marxists are in the LP today. But, they did not do that, by abandoning their own programme and organisation. What would have been the point? As Marx and Engels point out, they were able to do that as a wing of the Democrat party openly, but had such open activity not been possible they could have retained their organisation in secret. 

The Communist International discusses the Workers Government in several contexts. Firstly, it cannot be divorced from the United Front tactic, which again Paul confuses with the Popular Front.  Trotsky discusses the United Front tactic as follows:

“In cases where the Communist Party still remains an organisation of a numerically insignificant minority, the question of its conduct on the mass-struggle front does not assume a decisive practical and organisational significance. In such conditions, mass actions remain under the leadership of the old organisations which by reason of their still powerful traditions continue to play the decisive role. 

Similarly the problem of the united front does not arise in countries where – as in Bulgaria, for example – the Communist Party is the sole leading organisation of the toiling masses. 

But wherever the Communist Party already constitutes a big, organised, political force, but not the decisive magnitude: wherever the party embraces organisationally, let us say, one-fourth, one-third, or even a larger proportion of the organised proletarian vanguard, it is confronted with the question of the united front in all its acuteness. 

If the party embraces one-third or one-half of the proletarian vanguard, then the remaining half or two-thirds are organised by the reformists or centrists. It is perfectly obvious, however, that even those workers who still support the reformists and the centrists are vitally interested in maintaining the highest material standards of living and the greatest possible freedom for struggle. We must consequently so devise our tactic as to prevent the Communist Party, which will on the morrow embrace the entire three-thirds of the working class, from turning into – and all the more so, from actually being – an organisational obstacle in the way of the current struggle of the proletariat.” 

(The term centrist, here, means wavering between reformism and revolutionary politics) But, the basis of this United Front is that it is a united front in action. The Comintern stresses the need for the Communist parties wherever it is adopted to be mature, cohesive and disciplined so that they are not drawn into opportunism as a result of any such alliance. It is a tactic designed to expose the bourgeois nature of the reformists and centrists the better to win over the workers in their entirety to the Communist Party, and that cannot be done by surrendering your own independent organisation or principles. 

“We broke with the reformists and centrists in order to obtain complete freedom in criticising perfidy, betrayal, indecision and the half-way spirit in the labour movement. For this reason any sort of organisational agreement which restricts our freedom of criticism and agitation is absolutely unacceptable to us. We participate in a united front but do not for a single moment become dissolved in it. We function in the united front as an independent detachment. It is precisely in the course of struggle that broad masses must learn from experience that we fight better than the others, that we see more clearly than the others, that we are more audacious and resolute. In this way, we shall bring closer the hour of the united revolutionary front under the undisputed Communist leadership.” 


Of course, Paul says that the Left is free to raise its own demands. The problem is that he then wants them to refrain from doing so in order to build this broad illusory unity!

Sunday, 27 September 2020

A Socialist Campaign For The US Elections - Part 1

Socialists in the US face almost the same problems that socialists in Europe face. Thirty years during which conservative social-democracy (neoliberalism) was dominant came to an end with the global financial crisis of 2008. It meant that the material conditions that underpinned it – essentially the ability to rely on ever rising asset prices, and the conversion therefrom of capital gains into revenues, as an alternative to generating revenues from the creation of new value – collapsed. In reality, the material conditions were themselves simply a mirage, amounting to nothing more than asset stripping, a huge unsustainable bubble that facilitated the operation of a global Ponzi Scheme.

Conservative social-democracy, such as that represented, now, by Biden, Starmer, Macron, Merkel, Sanchez, and so on, has no answer. To continue to try to pursue the same conservative social-democratic policy after 2008 – and between 2008-2010 it had to be abandoned entirely in favour of a return to Keynesian fiscal intervention, to stabilise the global economy, in conditions of near collapse – has only been possible by actively seeking to reduce global economic growth, via austerity, and to print money tokens, to buy up the worthless paper assets on such a scale that the yields on them, in the majority of cases, have now become negative! As each day passes, it becomes clear that this conservative social-democracy has no answer, and, as it tries to continue ruling in the old way, it simply illustrates its own bankruptcy; it creates ever greater levels of disillusionment, and that disillusionment has led to the growth of alternatives to it. The most notable growth has been amongst those reactionary trends based upon the petty-bourgeoisie that constitutes the second largest social grouping after the working-class. It constitutes about a third of the population. These reactionary trends are marked by their attempts to appear as anti-establishment, and “anti-capitalist”, as they seek to turn the clock backwards to a world in which the economy was dominated by such small producers, engaged in dog eat dog competition, and that this was reflected globally, by the domination likewise of nation states each engaged in such dog eat dog global competition.

What makes this petty-bourgeois opposition dangerous is not just the fact of its size – which as Marx pointed out is mitigated by its heterogeneous composition – but the fact that, in opposing the current state of things, and, in particular, the trend towards large transnational companies, and likewise transnational economic blocs, it cloaks itself in an aura of radicalism, of anti-establishmentism, and even of Socialism. It is, however, the kind of reactionary Socialism described by Marx in The Communist Manifesto, and critiqued by Lenin, in his writings against the Narodniks, in the 1890's, and early twentieth century.

At the other pole, however, this dichotomy has seen the return of progressive social-democracy in the form of Syriza, Podemos, the Left Bloc, Corbyn and Sanders and the DSA, a progressive social-democracy that has, likewise, been marginalised for thirty years.. But, compared to the rise of the reactionary, nationalist Right, the labour movement has been much less successful in building an alternative behind this opposite pole of attraction. Part of the reason for that is that this progressive social-democracy is itself inadequate for the tasks presented to it, just as is conservative social-democracy.

Large parts of the forces of progressive social-democracy, as seen by Corbyn and Sanders, is itself infected with the virus of economic nationalism. As a whole, it remains tied to the old Lassallean/Fabian notions of statism, notions that also cripple much of what claims to be the Marxist or revolutionary Left. In part, it is also a result of the fact that the owners of fictitious capital, whose longer term interests are served by this progressive social-democracy – as it boosts capital accumulation, and the profits required to pay revenues – are led to oppose it, because their short term interests, dependent upon the continued inflation of asset prices, are threatened by it. They continue, therefore, to try to ensure that the workers' parties are dominated by conservative social-democrats like Biden and Starmer, which, at best, creates the possibility of a short-term respite for them, at the cost of both further fuelling the growth of the reactionaries, and also of creating the conditions for another, even larger, financial crisis to that of 2008.

The abject failure of the Corbyn project in Britain, followed the cowardly desertion of the field of battle by Syriza in Greece. It proves once again the validity of Trotsky's statement that these petty-bourgeois forces can never create a Workers' Government that will work in the interests of the working-class, but will always fall back on the support of the bourgeoisie.

But it was exactly because of this that the leadership of petty bourgeois democracy resisted with all possible strength the establishment of its own government. The experience of Russia demonstrated, and the experience of Spain and France once again confirms, that even under very favourable conditions the parties of petty bourgeois democracy (SRs, Social Democrats, Stalinists, Anarchists) are incapable of creating a government of workers and peasants, that is, a government independent of the bourgeoisie.”

(The Transitional Programme)

Syriza failed to build any kind of European socialist movement that was the minimum required to provide the support needed to confront the forces of conservatism inside Greece, and that dominates the EU national governments, and, thereby, the EU itself. Having marched the Greek workers up the hill, and the Greek workers giving it their overwhelming backing in a referendum, it then marched them right back down again, opening the door once again for the Right. Corbyn, having mobilised hundreds of thousands of young workers, continually appeased the Right inside the LP, and in society in general. In doing so, and attempting to appease the reactionary nationalists, his own economic nationalism led him to promote the reactionary policy of Brexit, which stands in direct opposition to the internationalist policy required to build an EU wide socialist movement required even to pursue a progressive social-democratic agenda.

But, there is a positive element to the experience of Syriza, of Corbynism, and of Sanders in the US. As described above these new political forces that have developed on both Right and Left did not appear at this point in time purely accidentally, simply as the subjectivists would explain it as a result of some different set of “values” or ideas taking root in people's heads. They arose at this particular time, for the simple reason of the changed set of material conditions described above, the same change in material conditions that meant that conservative social-democracy could no longer dominate, and so the political centre, constructed around it, had to collapse.

It means society is faced with two choices. Either it suffers a catastrophic reactionary counter-revolution that seeks to turn social relations back to those of the 18th/early 19th century – represented by the Libertarians/Anarcho-capitalists (Tea Party in the US, Moggies in the UK), or else it moves forward on the basis of progressive social-democracy. There is one alternative to both these options. It is that to avoid either, the owners of fictitious capital, who constitute the dominant section of the ruling class, but who are tiny in number, utilise their control of the state, to suspend democracy and rule by the introduction of some form of Bonapartism. The removal of civil liberties with the active support of large sections of the labour movement, under cover of measures in response to COVID, provides them with a clear opportunity to follow that course if they feel the need.

The positive elements arising from the experience of Syriza, Corbyn, Sanders et al, is that they all created large mobilisations of newly radicalised youth, as well as pulling back into political activity some of the generation of '68, who had been marginalised over the last thirty years. In fact, at the time that Corbyn's nomination for Leader was made, I argued that the most important aspect of it, was the potential to build a movement, not whether Corbyn himself actually won. Indeed, I argued that the danger was that his campaign might become yet another example of cultism, of people looking for the next Messiah to lead them, rather than engaging in the required political work of building the labour movement once more from the grass roots upwards. Unfortunately, I was proved right on that too.

The opportunity that presents itself now, the task that lies ahead is to focus on precisely that building of a principled, and clear headed proletarian vanguard within the grass roots of the labour movement, and its organisations. Liquidating and diluting the ideas of Socialism in order to chase after the chimera of building some broad alliance, purely for the purpose of winning an ephemeral electoral majority is the opposite of what socialists should be doing at the moment. We have a golden opportunity to address directly all of these hundreds of thousands of newly radicalised young workers drawn into political activity, and who have just witnessed first hand the inadequacy of progressive social-democracy, in the form of Syriza and of Corbynism. The last thing we should be offering them is yet more inevitable disillusionment as a result of asking them to pursue a set of even more diluted social-democratic measures. We need to renovate the labour movement in North America and in Europe, and indeed across the globe; we need to rebuild it from the grass roots upwards.

The US elections – not just the Presidential and Congressional elections, but also the gubernatorial, state legislature and local elections offer a perfect opportunity to begin this process of rebuilding. The task of socialists in the US is to reject the idea that they have to abandon their politics, and subordinate themselves to the official campaign of the Democrats. On the contrary, they should go out with a clear political programme that demonstrates why they are calling for support for the Democrats despite the inadequacy of its conservative social-democratic agenda. They should set out why it is necessary to draw in many millions more into political activity, so as to create the conditions for the establishment of a real Workers Party, to sweep away the likes of Biden and Harris. The basic principle should be “Vote Democrat, but prepare to fight.” And, the role of socialists, now, should be to offer up the alternative Action Programme required to mobilise millions of workers for that fight. The conditions in which these elections are being fought, with Trump refusing to commit to a peaceful handover of office, and with thousands of right-wing, armed militia standing behind him, makes such an Action Programme even more vital. We need not just a Socialist Campaign for the US Elections, but also something akin to Trotsky's Action Programme for France, written in 1934.

Forward To Part 2 

Labour, The Left, and The Working Class – A Response To Paul Mason - The Programme of the Early Comintern, and the Transitional Programme (11/18)

The Programme of the Early Comintern, and the Transitional Programme (11/18) 

Paul confuses the Workers Government with the Popular Front, and again the Popular Front with the United Front. He wants to build such a Popular Front to oppose what he sees as the potential for similar developments to those of the 1920's and 30's, which saw the rise of fascism. He does not actually speak openly of such an alliance being to fight fascism, but proposes that the basis of this alliance should be that of opposing “neo-liberalism”. The basis of this seems to be an equation of neo-liberalism, as representing the interests of the big multinational companies and global financiers with the support for fascism by the financial oligarchy in that earlier period. But, its not clear exactly who then would comprise this alliance, because such neo-liberalism is the guiding ideology of the large majority of the PLP, and much of the LP establishment in the country. It is certainly the guiding ideology of the other “progressive” parties that Paul sees as potential allies, such as the Liberals, Greens, SNP, Plaid. They would undoubtedly deny it, but we should judge them by what they do not what they say. 

Moreover, the equation of big capital and the financial oligarchy with fascism is itself facile. If this association were so straightforward, then why does not the former always seek to promote fascism, rather than preferring to operate via bourgeois democracy? Fascism represents the interests of the owners of fictitious capital, by seeking to prevent a forward movement in social development, towards Socialism, when such a development appears likely. No such movement currently appears likely, and so the owners of fictitious-capital have no need of fascism from that perspective. The bigger threat to the owners of fictitious-capital, currently, comes from the opposite direction. The failure of socialists and of progressive social-democrats to push forward social development, even within the bounds of capitalism, by transforming the political and juridical relations, in line with the material productive and social relations, means that it hit a roadblock. 2008 was its clearest manifestation to date. 

The failure to transform the EU into a functioning European state, is a manifestation of that. The fact that there has been a failure to implement even the limited proposals on industrial democracy put forward by the EU, and by the Bullock Report in the 1970's, is another. It has meant that the owners of fictitious capital continued to exercise control over real socialised capital. But, their short-term interests in maximising revenue from interest/dividends, and and nominal wealth from capital gains, is inimical to the interests of real socialised capital, and, thereby, also to their own long-term interests. When in the 1990's, the drive for ever higher asset prices, inflated by the action of central banks, led to ever falling yields on those assets, they sought to compensate by continually increasing the proportion of profits devoted to dividends/interest, so that less was devoted to real capital accumulation. According to Andy Haldane at the Bank of England, in the 1970's, dividends accounted for about 10% of profits whereas today they account for around 70%. As Marx pointed out 150 years ago, in this relation, the interests of this fictitious-capital, the interests of the owners of interest-bearing capital are diametrically opposed to the interests of real capital for this very reason. 

In the 1980's and after, this failure of progressive social-democracy to move forward led to conservative social-democracy (neo-liberalism) filling the void. But, it had no way forward, and that led, in turn, to an increased support for reaction, for the interests of the small capitalists, and all those who sought to turn the clock back to an earlier version of less mature forms of capital, whose interests are represented by the Libertarians, the Moggites, Miseans, Brexiteers and so on. It is actually those elements that currently pose a bigger threat to multinational capital, and the owners of fictitious capital, not the proletariat and Socialism. If the owners of fictitious-capital need to resort to some form of Bonapartism today, it is not fascism they require, which is specifically aimed at the physical destruction of the labour movement, but something more akin to the role of Cromwell or Napoleon I. In other words a Bonapartism whose aim is to prevent not a further forward movement, but to prevent a move backwards, to prevent a social counter-revolution. In that sense, and that sense alone, even such a regime would be historically progressive, compared to the alternative. 

A look at current political reality rather than trying to fit current reality into the boxes of the 1920's/30's, shows that it is the representatives of that reaction, those that represent the interests of the plethora of small capitals, of the white van man, of the attempts to turn back social developments, such as represented by the EU, that are mobilising all of the tools of fascism, and not surprisingly, because fascism itself also always uses these elements as its initial footsoldiers in order to defeat the workers. But, today, unlike the 1920's/30's, when the fascists did so on the basis also of an “anti-capitalist programme” required to draw in the petty-bourgeoisie, only in order to defeat the workers, it is the petty-bourgeoisie that is organising with the sole purpose of actually defeating large-scale capital. There is no reason whatsoever why multinational capital or the owners of fictitious capital should seek such a development and they don't! They have used their chosen tools – their entrenched power in the state – to oppose it, as I wrote a few months ago. They have used the courts to restrict the ability of government to push through Brexit without parliamentary approval, they used the inbuilt conservative social-democratic majority in parliament to frustrate it further. They have undoubtedly used the permanent state machinery to slow down and frustrate the Brexit process and so on. Similar measures have been used in the US against Trump who represents the same reactionary interests as the Brexiteers in Britain. 

If Paul were consistent, and wanted to form a real Popular Front against reaction, then he would not make “anti neo-liberalism” the basis of any such alliance, but would indeed propose an alliance with those very neo-liberal forces in order to defeat the actual forces of reaction! Instead, rather like the reactionary “anti-capitalists” and “anti-imperialists” who seek to oppose capitalism and imperialism by allying with more reactionary petty-bourgeois forces, purely on the basis of their own proclaimed “anti-capitalism” or “anti-imperialism”, Paul also makes the touchstone “anti neo-liberalism”, and so aligns with even more reactionary forces on that basis, accepting the reactionary agenda of Brexit, and end to free movement and so on.

Saturday, 26 September 2020

What The Friends of the People Are, Part III - Part 50

The 1860's, Lenin says, represented a period in which the feudal landlords suffered a series of defeats, and the liberal bourgeoisie were the beneficiaries of that defeat. 

“Although “the clear light of the open class struggle” did not shine in Russia at that time, there was more light then than there is now, so that even those ideologists of the working people who had not the faintest notion of this class struggle, and who preferred to dream of a better future rather than explain the vile present, could not help seeing that liberalism was a cloak for plutocracy, and that the new order was a bourgeois order.” (p 285) 

Its on this basis that the class nature of the Russian state is thereby defined by Lenin, as a capitalist state, irrespective of the fact that the political regime in Russia took the form of Tsarist autocracy, resting upon that same old semi-Asiatic landlordism and despotism. 

“But although our democrats of that time knew how to denounce plutocratic liberalism, they could not understand it and explain it scientifically; they could not understand that it was inevitable under the capitalist organisation of our social economy; they could not understand the progressive character of the new system of life as compared with the old, feudal system; they could not understand the revolutionary role of the proletariat it created; and they limited themselves to “snorting” at this system of “liberty” and “humanity,” imagined that its bourgeois character was fortuitous, and expected social relations of some other kind to reveal themselves in the “people’s system.”” (p 285) 

And, this same kind of “snorting” at “liberty” and “humanity” can be witnessed today amongst the “anti-capitalists” and “anti-imperialists”, who align themselves with with those who would all too willingly undermine such liberty and humanity, in their reactionary drive backwards in history, to reverse the progressive achievements brought about by capitalist development. And, the consequence of their reactionary drive backwards, is also described by Lenin, in relation to the experience in Russia. 

“And then history showed them these other social relations. The feudal landlords, not completely crushed by the Reform, which was so outrageously mutilated in their interests, revived (for a time) and showed vividly what these other than bourgeois social relations of ours were, showed it in the form of such unbridled, incredibly senseless and brutal reaction that our democrats caught fright, subsided, instead of advancing and remoulding their naïve democracy—which was able to sense what was bourgeois but was unable to understand it—into Social-Democracy, went backwards, to the liberals, and are now proud of the fact that their snivelling—i.e., I want to say, their theories and programmes—is shared by “the whole serious and respectable press.”” (p 285-6) 

The assumptions about the inherently socialist nature of the peasant had been exposed. So had the idea that the development of the bourgeoisie and proletariat were somehow unnatural. 

“... one would have thought that the facts could now be looked straight in the face and the admission be openly made that there had not been and were not any other social economic relations than bourgeois and moribund feudal relations in Russia, and that, therefore, there could be no road to socialism except through the working-class movement. But these democrats had learned nothing, and the naïve illusions of petty-bourgeois socialism gave way to the practical sobriety of petty-bourgeois progress.” (p 286)

Labour, The Left, and The Working Class – A Response To Paul Mason - The Programme of the Early Comintern, and the Transitional Programme (10/18)

The Programme of the Early Comintern, and the Transitional Programme (10/18) 

Paul's prescription in relation to Brexit for the next election, leaves a big gap between now and then. It also means a craven capitulation to the reactionary minority of the working-class, at the expense of alienating the progressive majority of the class, for whom EU membership and free movement are totemic. Even in terms of the psephological analysis that Paul cites that seems totally irrational, let alone the question of socialists arguing from the standpoint of principle and long-term interests of the working-class, rather than short term electoralism.

What should Labour be arguing in the intervening period? Its clear that Starmer is not really closing the gap with the Tories. At the General Election the Tories had 44%, and Labour 32%. Today the Tories still have 42%, despite all of the COVID chaos, whereas Labour has risen to just 37%, which represents the 4% points the Liberals have dropped, since the election, which, in turn is equal to the 4% points, the Liberals regained in 2019 from Labour, compared to 2017. But, that does not represent all of the Liberal votes that Labour gained from the Liberals and others in 2017. Part of the reason is precisely that he is not offering to the Liberal, SNP, Plaid or Green voters the potential of reversing Brexit, which is what won over millions of them in 2017.  Even the most optimistic polls for Labour put them neck and neck on 40%, despite the fact that Johnson has led a chaotic government that even the Tory newspapers are now attacking for its incompetence and handling of COVID.  Under these conditions, Labour should have been at least 20 points ahead of an incompetent Tory government in the middle of an epidemic, and having caused the worst economic slowdown in 300 years, as a result of the government imposed lockdown.

Continuing to roll over on Brexit, when the idiocy of it becomes ever more exposed, seems even more masochistic, and sure to prevent Labour being able to garner a coalition sufficient to win in 2024. The Liberals et al, must certainly see the potential to win over large numbers of progressive, internationalist, Labour voters, i.e. all those young workers in the metropolitan areas, on which Labour's future should be built, precisely by filling that void and fighting on the basis of reversing Brexit. It will be totally superficial, and based on a neo-liberal version of EU membership and internationalism, but that will not change its effect in stripping those votes from Labour. The same has already proved the case in Scotland. These supposedly “progressive” forces outside Labour are anything but, and searching after them, or their equivalents inside Labour, by watering down your own politics so as to create some vacuous broad alliance, is precisely the disastrous error that has resulted from such Popular Fronts in the past. 

Unfortunately, what Paul sees as “progressive nationalism” in Scotland, and Wales, is, of course, nothing of the kind, because all such nationalism, today, is reactionary, as, indeed, is the nationalism of Brexit itself. But, by failing to address the concerns of progressive voters in Scotland and Wales, in relation to Brexit, Paul's strategy would, indeed, only act to encourage such reactionary nationalism in those countries as the only means of escaping it.

The policy of devolution in what was already a unified British State, has proved a disaster in encouraging such nationalism and regionalism, whereas it was supposed to undermine it. But, Paul's suggestion of federalism is even worse. It further undermines the unity of the state, whilst failing to address the main issue for many of those in those countries, i.e. the imposition of Brexit upon them. The real problem is the class nature of the British state itself, and the solution to that problem cannot come by simply replicating that class state on a smaller scale in Scotland and Wales, just as replicating it in Ireland has not resolved that problem for Irish workers. Seeking salvation in devolution or federalism is just a diversion from the real task of a unified struggle of all British workers against the British capitalist state itself, just as Brexit could never be a solution for British workers, when the real solution can only come from a united struggle of all EU workers to create a Workers' Europe. 

As Marx puts it, warning against such federalism, as against a unified indivisible republic, 

“The democrats will either work directly towards a federated republic, or at least, if they cannot avoid the one and indivisible republic they will attempt to paralyse the central government by granting the municipalities and provinces the greatest possible autonomy and independence. In opposition to this plan the workers must not only strive for one and indivisible German republic, but also, within this republic, for the most decisive centralisation of power in the hands of the state authority.” 

Federalism can be accepted as a compromise position in the process of forming a one and indivisible Republic, such as in the case of the United States, or in creating a United States of Europe, but it can never be proposed by socialists to move in the opposite direction.