Borders protect the rich: Workers should demand freedom of movment

Last year, the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union delivered a  victory to the Leave Camp. The result may have been clear but the effects are still uncertain; the relationship between the UK and the EU’s free trade zone, the rights of EU nationals living in the UK, and the whole immigration policy of the British state are open questions. These are discussed behind the closed doors of government offices in all member states and board rooms of international capitalism.

The EU vote is one symptom of a growing nationalism, world wide, which has seen the rapid growth of far-right. There is a increasing number of populist anti-immigration parties that seem to stand on the precipices of power: Austria’s Freedom Party only narrowly lost the presidential election last year, Marie La Pen and Gert Wilders are now among the most prominent faces of European politics. On top of this, ‘strong men’ presidents have come to power in India in the form of the Hindu Nationalist Narendra Modi; and last but not least, Donald Trump will ride into the white house at the end of January. In the UK alone, we have seen a nearly 50% rise in racist hate crimes in the aftermath of the vote last June.

While most of the established media and political elite saw this and other votes last year as bolts from the blue, the political, social and economic situation has really been driving these forces forward for years.

The politics of chauvinism and xenophobia had been whipped up by all main parties in the UK. Gordon Brown took up the British National Party’s slogan of “British Jobs for British Workers“, while David Cameron referred to refuges, often fleeing from his government’s bombs as a “swarm“. The establishments racism hasn’t just stopped at rhetoric, with tens of thousands of deportations every year since records began and the Home Office’s immigration enforcement vans becoming a regular site in some communities. The immigration detention centres are nightmare for those trapped inside, where suicides and hunger strikes are a regular occurrence.

Even those who the left have championed as radical have changed tone. Jeremy Corbyn who said in a speech earlier this week:

Labour is not wedded to freedom of movement for EU citizens as a point of principle… Labour supports fair rules and the reasonable management of migration as part of the post-Brexit relationship with the EU, while putting jobs and living standards first in the negotiations.

While couched in terms of protecting living standards, it is a climb down from his previous defence of immigration. He offers the rights of a section of workers as a bargaining chip in negotiations with Europe. His speech lays the basis for further betrayals and strengthens those inside and outside of the Labour Party who want to use the whip of the state against foreign workers.

This is the pattern of reformist parties coming to power. In Greece, Syriza promised to close the detention centres that imprisoned those refugees fleeing across the Mediterranean. Years latter, the government of Tsipras are expanding their detention program.

No defence against the undercutting of wages can be achieved by a capitalist government restricting immigration.  Any such measures would simply allow bosses to drive down the conditions of immigrants already working in the UK. Immigration controls are an attack on workers on both sides of the border.

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A refugee forced to survive without shelter in Belgrade

What drives anti-immigrant feeling and actions?

Real term wages have fallen by over 10.4%, the joint lowest in OECD countries since 2007. Casualisation of vast swaths of the economy has been in full force. With Social care, education and the service sector leading the way in short term contracts and sham self employment. We’ve seen a return of the ‘company store’, with delivery drivers renting the vans they drive and carers buying the uniforms they work in. Not only are workers forced to sell their labour power, but be forced to buy the tools of the job. A massive increase in self employment has meant bosses dodging inconvenient employment laws like the minimum wage and contracts of employment.

The worsening conditions of British workers has coincided with the collapse of the traditional trade union movement. Not only has this meant workers being next to powerless in defending their working conditions, and even the idea of struggling to improve conditions seems alien to many. Social solidarity, something formally inherent in many working class communities has been eroded. This is at a time of massive cuts in public spending which has left many without the safety net of benefits and welfare, or even the support of fellow workers and their community.

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Class struggle in decline

People have turned against immigrants in response to a working class crisis in confidence, while at the same time, traditional routes of struggle are being lost. The ossifying of the workers parties and unions, has meant rather than a struggle against capitalism, we struggle amongst ourselves.

Why do capitalists lean on racism?

As Marxists, the divisions in society are clear. We live in a system geared towards profit; workers sell their labour power to bosses to survive. Bosses thrive from exploitation: a commodity produced by an immigrant will be sold at the same price on the market. Race doesn’t appear on a balance sheet.

So why have capitalists states turned to racism? The capitalist class, including the politicians, Judges, Police etc., are numerically small. To increase the social basis of capitalism lines of demarcation must be used to cut across class lines. Racism, and other oppressive ideologies employed by the capitalist state are political expediency. While not directly increasing profits, these policies create social ‘peace’ and distract workers from the real divisions in society.

“Your boss isn’t the problem, the polish worker who’ll replace you if you complain is.” “Austerity ain’t the problem, the Somali family getting a home before you are.” “The problem isn’t capitalism, it is the foreigner.”

The nation state is a construction of capitalism, built to defend its ruling class. Any defence of border controls places you firmly on the ramparts of capital’s walls. And by dividing ourselves along lines of race and nationality we play the capitalist game.

United working class action is the only solution!

Super exploited immigrant workers make up a significant proportion of our class. In 2014 non-British born workers made nearly 50% of unskilled factory work and over a third of cleaning and housekeeping jobs.

They’ve also proved to be some of the most combative elements in the trade union movement. Cleaners at SOAS won the living wage despite the university and cleaning company using tactics that included UKBA raids at meetings with management. New unions like United Voices of the World Union and the Independent Workers of Great Britain have lead militant strikes in predominantly immigrant workplaces. Demanding restrictions on immigration only strengthens the bosses hand.

But how we go from a situation of record low industrial action and huge alienation and isolation amongst workers to a mass and militant workers movement is an open question. But the answer to that question is unequivocal on the questions of defending every member of our class, to see that all of our struggles are ultimately against the same enemy.

A revolutionary tradition of defending migrants

Those on the left who bemoan the “Neo-Liberal” demand of freedom of movement should pay attention to the history of the workers movements response to immigration. If immigrants are used to drive down wages as a weapon against other workers, then that weapon must be snatched out of there hands. During the 2nd International’s Stuttgart Congress of 1907 the congress adopted the following motion:

The congress does not seek a remedy to the potentially impending consequences for the workers from immigration and emigration in any economic or political exclusionary rules, because these are fruitless and reactionary by nature. This is particularly true of a restriction on the movement and the exclusion of foreign nationalities or races.

Instead, the congress declares it to be the duty of organised labour to resist the depression of its living standards that often occurs in the wake of the mass import of unorganised labour. In addition the congress declares it to be the duty of organised labour to prevent the import and export of strike-breakers. The congress recognises the difficulties which in many cases fall upon the proletariat in a country that is at a higher stage of capitalist development, as a result of the mass immigration of unorganised workers accustomed to lower living standards and from countries with a predominantly agrarian and agricultural culture, as well as the dangers that arise for it as a result of a specific form of immigration. However, congress does not believe that preventing particular nations or races from immigrating – something that is also reprehensible from the point of view of proletarian solidarity – is a suitable means of fighting these problems.”

Lenin fully supported the motion and saw it in a context of a battle between the social democratic right, who went on to support their own narrow national interests in WW1 while the left of the social democratic movement defended the principle of internationalism.

Eugene Debbs, a revolutionary member of the US Socialist party, made clear that no compromise could be made for short term gains.

Let those desert us who will because we refuse to shut the international door in the faces of their own brethren; we will be none the weaker but all the stronger for their going, for they evidently have no clear conception of the international solidarity, are wholly lacking in the revolutionary spirit, and have no proper place in the Socialist movement while they entertain such aristocratic notions of their own assumed superiority.”

There can be no question that being a revolutionary socialist means defending the rights of workers crossing borders to better their existence. The same way that there would be no question of defending and supporting strike action. But the struggle cannot be limited to defending and extending rights under capitalism.

Freedoms under capitalism are not free; most migrants will flee poverty, war and repression. The only true freedoms can come from the abolition of class, the dissolution of borders and the establishment of a society free of want and deprivation; a Communist society.

Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!

EU or GB? A plague on both your houses!

 

I will be abstaining in the EU referendum taking place this month. A vote for EU Austerity and Capital versus Great British Austerity and Capital is not a choice I want any part of. The entire basis of the referendum is based around a factional struggle between capitalists grounded in appeals to nationalist populism. Neither option will provide any kind of victory to the working class, in fact one way or the other, we’ll lose.

Most on the left seem completely split over the issue with various arguments called up in favour of leave, remain and abstain. All have some good arguments as well as bad.

Those arguing to leave highlight the reactionary nature of the EU as an institution, that it is in no  way shape or form a friend of workers (the fact that the TUC argues it is, is testament to their pathetic capitulations). It is responsible for deposing democratically elected governments in Greece and Italy, it enforces extreme degrees of austerity, it acts as an Imperialist mechanism to extract wealth from its own periphery as well as further afield into the pockets of bankers in the core countries. Its fortress nature and hostility to immigration and asylum seekers further afield is well documented. The EU also has the illegality of public ownership enshrined in law; it is a ‘neo-liberal’ free trading union, absolutely hostile to the working class. Nobody can deny that this is true.

Framed in this way, it would seem to suggest the right thing to do is to vote to leave. I don’t think that is in fact the case. A leave vote would be perfectly justified if there was a genuine militancy, a real workers movement in the ascent who could in fact take advantage of the political and economic crisis it would lead to – without such a movement it becomes a political bluff; knowing your own hand is weak, yet hoping your opponent doesn’t realise that. However terrible the EU is (and it is!) the alternate option is no better.

What would this alternative look like? Even if the EU demanded it or not, Austerity has been the main economic doctrine of all the main parties in this country. Whether inside or outside of the EU, no break from this is likely to take place. Certain rights of movement are provided, which the entire (right dominated) out campaign is based upon scrapping i.e. it could very well ruin thousands of peoples lives. Just here in Wales turning this into a principled question means some workers would be voting for their own redundancies. These are genuine concerns for many people. Glibly dismissing them as ‘project fear’ just denies the facts.

Further to this point, for these with utopian illusions in a Corbyn led “anti-austerity” government (whatever that is…), sweeping into power as the Tory party crumbles after an out vote: they need to heed the lessons of Syriza in Greece. On the basis of Capitalism and the current state of the global economy there is no possibility that sustained large scale welfare and jobs projects can be implemented. Politicians can make as many promises as they like, it is only the working class as a movement who have the real potential to change anything. Once a militant mass movement is under way, no law, whether EU or British could get in its way. Appeals to abolish the legal restrictions the EU imposes misses the point entirely and to a certain extent goes to show the limited ambitions of the Left arguing these things i.e. what kind of rubbish knock off Socialism is compatible with legal restrictions of the UK constitutional monarchy?!

The EU is a reactionary capitalist institution, but outside of it we’re still in a reactionary capitalist institution – the UK. I oppose both. There is no benefit to working class people in terms of their living standards, development of their political strength or further development of productive forces by leaving on a Capitalist basis. In fact I suspect the opposite, that living conditions will get much worse. I don’t believe our class has the strength to take advantage of the political crisis an out vote will likely lead to. If we had real strength I’d favour provoking such a crisis.

In spite of the revival of social democracy and the doctors strike, I see a workers movement on life support which will take decades to rebuild whereas many seem to see a workers movement in real ascendancy with potential seismic shifts in militancy and consciousness potentially around the corner of each new political-crisis.

What does it say about how theoretically inept and strategically delusional the Left is that they’re goading us into a situation where everything by every measure could get much worse for working class people – not only will it lead to job losses, deportations and more austerity here, it could lead to the break up of the EU on far right nationalist terms.

‘Trotskyist’ dogmatists constantly see militant mass movements arising from every new political crisis, which will then set the ground for socialist revolution. After 70 odd years in the wilderness, with little to no success, no mass bases, no rising tide of militancy you’d think they would actually start taking that materialist analysis of the balance of class forces seriously. Yet these concerns are just flippantly disregarded as “middle class squeamishness” and quickly replace by some fantasy that “there should be a general strike”. Well of course there should be a general strike, but are our forces going into battle strong, well rested and with better numbers or are we wandering into the abattoir blindfolded!

Most people I’ve spoken to about the referendum, who aren’t socialists and are considering a leave vote, don’t usually say anything about Austerity or EU Public ownership law. What they do say is something along the lines of ‘the Turks are coming’. Which isn’t exactly grounds for faith in some immediate post-election proletarian mass movement. In fact, I suspect that fears that a leave vote will exacerbate nationalist currents are perfectly well grounded.

I have concentrated on the leave campaign as most of the remain camp is split over two positions one is either that the EU is a friend of workers or it could be if reformed it; this is so obviously false that I will not waste my time arguing against it. The other position amounts to many of the arguments I have made above regarding the balance of class forces and the rise of nationalism except rather than abstaining they, in disgust, will vote to remain. I cannot bring myself to play their game, to put my name to the status quo; I will abstain. People should vote how they please but they should do it with the sure knowledge that this referendum is about a factional struggle by the ruling class and that either way we lose.

As Communists we should counterpose the nationalistic character of this referendum with the idea of working towards organising and coordinating a European wide militant workers movement. Our slogan should be for a European general strike to bring Capitalism down. The workers struggles taking place in France at the moment is an inspiration to us all and must be generalised across the continent towards the goal of overthrowing those who would impose Capitalist austerity upon us, whilst introducing international socialism back on the agenda.  This is the real proletarian alternative to such a base and venal referendum.

Allan

In the Shadow of October

The Marxist Left, for the most part, still lives in the first quarter of the 20th century as though little has changed. In spite of the colossal changes that have taken place since then it struggles to situate itself in the 21st century. We often get accused of living in the past, of not moving on and asked “what’s with all the dead old white men?”. We cannot articulate our ideas without reference to past betrayals, historical disputes and attempting to provide clean cut narratives, drawing a red thread from historical struggles to struggles today. This is a problem. A problem which makes the initiation into Communist ideas inherently problematic and arduous to communicate with those who haven’t read the canonical works of Marxism (then there is the question of exactly who’s canon is the true one…).

We don’t claim to have solved this issue, however we think it worth explicitly articulating these problems for further discussion among those interested parties who do in fact want to see Communist ideas popularised. We are also aware that we are living in the shadow of these problems as much as any other group and also situate ourselves in similar ways. We’d like to avoid any sort of demand that unified action among ourselves and others be predicated upon complete agreement with any single historical narrative but a narrative is nevertheless what we are presenting here.

There are a number of events which roughly took place in the first 25 years of the 20th century which define us whether we like it or not. We are still very much living in their shadow: the formation of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), the outbreak of World War I, the October Revolution, the formation of the Communist International, the final defeat of the Commune State and the dream represented in the slogan “All Power to the Soviets” with the consolidation of the Stalin regime (though the roots for this defeat were set long in advance of Stalin’s rise).

The Social Democratic Party of Germany

The rise of the SPD and its subsequent collapse of its revolutionary potential, by voting for the war credits in August 1914, has left the Marxist-Left disorientated to this day. The Party prior to this event was considered the greatest organisational achievement of the Proletariat, achieving millions of votes, publishing hundreds of newspapers, organising mass strikes and protests with hundreds of thousands of members, while (on paper at least) upholding an explicitly revolutionary programme (1). It had led international conferences where the European Social Democratic Parties were all in agreement that in the event of the imperialist bloodshed of world war breaking out, they would, to paraphrase Lenin, turn the bourgeois imperialist war into a proletarian civil war; i.e. stage socialist revolutions to bring the war to an end.

As it transpired the social democrats sided with their own capitalist class (2). Initially, Lenin famously believed that the newspaper announcements that the SPD had supported the war were a forgery. Rosa Luxemburg and Anton Pannekoek on the other hand were less surprised having broken with the SPD centre a number of years before the war. Karl Kautsky the leading Marxist at the time had refused to publish Luxemburg’s republican call for mass strikes to achieve universal suffrage; opposing her ‘strategy of overthrow’ to his ‘strategy of attrition’ (3). Ostensibly this was not a rejection of the seizure of power by Kautsky. He claimed to favour a final decisive rupture with the Capitalists once the time was right, on paper at least. With the start of the Imperialist slaughter his deeds would suggest otherwise. The SPD would later see Rosa Luxemburg murdered by fascists rather than seek Socialist revolution in Germany. They had absolutely and decisively gone over to the forces of counter-revolution.

Historical detail aside the dilemma stands: how do we build an organisation that will actually carry out its revolutionary programme? The response of the lefts at the time was to break with old Social Democracy and its reformism decisively; to found a new international communist organisation and fight for a revolutionary defeatist programme. That meant to take neither side in the Imperialist conflict but that of the international proletariat, i.e. they upheld the very resolutions voted upon by international social democracy before the outbreak of the war (4).

The Russian Revolution

This programme, though a very small minority trend at its inception (in fact a minority of a minority (5)), was the programme which won out and led directly to the Bolshevik seizure of power in the October Revolution of 1917. We refuse to degrade this magnificent world changing event with the epithet of it being a military coup. The Bolsheviks, having finally won a majority in the Soviets (the workers councils) unlike other groups, actually saw through their programme. The Working Class were in control; their democratic councils ruled over Russian society. For a short time Russia was perhaps the most democratic society that has existed, where the toilers called all the shots. This was the first time in world history the proletariat as a class ruled an entire national territory, where it looked likely the forces of international communism could in fact win.

Unfortunately as we all know it was not to be. In the words of Lenin “without a German revolution we are doomed” (6), and doomed they were (towards achieving this the Communist International was founded, see below). This isn’t the place for a full assessment of the defeat of the Russian Revolution but a few words are necessary. The priority for the Bolsheviks was to essentially hold the fort at whatever cost until the German Revolution succeeded. Whatever was deemed necessary to defend the fledgling Workers State was ruthlessly pursued. The Bolsheviks ended up adopting an anti-Marxist voluntarism to see this through, even prior to the banning of factions in 1921 (I believe this year marks the point of no return (7)) a whole series of democratic procedures had been abandoned and the Bolshevik central committee was essentially in control of the country.

Workers strikes were suppressed, peasant uprisings drowned in blood, Anarchists and Communist opposition were rounded up, elected management was abolished, Taylorist work methods introduced, etc. This was done all in the name of instituting labour discipline conceived as a pragmatic (though anti-communist) response to alleviate mass starvation and restore absolutely impoverished Russian industry. Trotsky infamously called for the full scale militarisation of labour in pursuit of this, a policy Stalin later adopted.

With the end of the civil war and adoption of the ‘New Economic Policy’ (introduction of pro-market reforms) and the defeat of the German Revolution in 1921, there came relative economic and social stability to the Soviet state and a lull in the International revolutionary movement. This set the stage for Stalin’s infamous ‘Socialism in One Country’ thesis in 1924 (after the death of Lenin and completely unheard of at the time). There were no immediate prospects for invasion from without, with growth taking place domestically and international trade deals in place, national industrial development became paramount. This brings us to the Communist International and its simultaneous collapse into full scale counter-revolution following the events of the Russian Revolution.

The Communist International

The Third Communist International, or Comintern, was founded in 1919 with the express goal of coordinating the world revolution. It saw the formation and affiliation of Communist Parties all around the world. The founding congress represented a gathering of forces, the second its consolidation with a definite revolutionary programme and mandate established (famously demanding 21 strict conditions for affiliation along the lines of an intransigent pursuit of socialist revolutions). The third and fourth congresses reversed course in response to the lull in the workers movement with a policy of conciliation with the Social Democrats adopted; the conception of forming a ‘workers government’ with the murderers of Luxemburg and Liebknecht was called for. The fifth congress saw the consolidation of Stalin’s forces.

What was once the glorious Revolutionary high command of the world Proletariat became a tool in the service of the national interests of the Soviet State where national sections of the Comintern were subordinated absolutely to the defence of the Soviet Union at all costs (i.e. at the cost of Socialist revolution elsewhere). This was shown most clearly in the policy of the ‘Popular Front’ where Communists were told to join Capitalist governments ostensibly to prevent the rise of fascism, but primarily to try and secure alliances with the Imperialist powers. This transformation wasn’t a simple matter, as some would have it, of Stalin’s rise to power. We see the early start of this for example in Lenin congratulating the king of Afghanistan (8), Trotsky’s calls for caution in the pursuit of revolutions in the East (9) and Soviet diplomacy to Ataturk’s Turkey.

Amadeo Bordiga was the last of the Revolutionary lefts to directly confront Stalin about the fate of the Russian Revolution and destruction of the Revolutionary potential of the Comintern in 1926. He famously called for the Communist International’s independence and it’s rule over the Soviet Union, or anywhere else Revolution broke out, to counter the nationalist tendencies of subordination of world revolution to defending the Soviet fortress state (10).

The long shadow

The rise of the SPD and its betrayal; the October Revolution and its collapse; the Communist International and its collapse. These events and their subsequent degeneration into counter-revolution haunt the Revolutionary left to this day. How we mean to achieve Socialist Revolution, where all the roads travelled historically have failed, is the question.

Should we take on the task of building a rejuvenated Social Democracy, build a popular party of the entire class and follow a strategy of reformist attrition till the time is right for insurrection, at some undesignated future date (and hope they don’t join imperialist governments and murder us again)? Should we instead seek to build a military like Communist Party on the basis of those founded in the wake of the October Revolution (and hope they don’t join imperialist governments and murder us again)? What, if any, material basis is there to really expect the coalescence of such forces?

We can see today the revival of a form of Social Democracy, with the rise of parties like Syriza, Die Linke, Rifondazione, Podemos, etc. we even see Social Democrats in the Labour Party leadership and in the Democratic US presidential race. Is there any hope for them in pursuing Socialism (11)? Not at all if historical precedence is anything to go by. One of those parties, which many so called Marxist groups backed is currently pursing austerity measures in Greece.

Which brings us back to the shadow of October. What have we learned from those tumultuous first decades of the 20th century? Apparently very little! Though Social Democracy has been a “stinking corpse” since 4 August 1914 (12), many on the Revolutionary Left are spending their precious time providing Left cover for outright Imperialist Parties by backing Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders. Small top-down hierarchical Parties, inspired by those from the early Comintern, are being put to work to reforge Social Democratic Parties. This is without question a mistake and counter productive towards achieving our final goal, a goal which cannot be pursued without maintaining our intransigent revolutionary independence and programme.

The disorientation entailed by the failures of the early 20th century still live with us, the Marxist Left is incredibly confused as to which course to follow. It keeps attempting to circumvent the void that has been left of the Worker’s movement since the 1970s by finding short cuts to the Socialist Revolution. It’s quite easy to get exited at Sanders and Corbyn’s campaigns, and it’s certainly correct to see this as a necessary part of some form of working class reawakening. But it is our role to provide clarity and revolutionary guidance, not to get lost in the euphoria (or huffing on their superglue). Expedients and tactical manoeuvres may increase our numbers but if our numbers rise on the basis of compromising Marxist ideas then how can we ever see through our goal?

We need to draw a line of demarcation between Revolutionary independence of the proletarian class struggle and conciliation with the class collaborators. We need to be an inviting open place for Workers to come and discuss; we need to learn to articulate our ideas without either losing people with our jargon (yes I know!), or pursuing people with soft misrepresentations of what our ideas really are. We need to abandon the top-down undemocratic party line group-think form of political organisation currently dominant on the left. We need to get our act together and emerge from the shadow.

allan

 

(1) The Erfurt Programme, 1891
https://www.marxists.org/history/international/social-democracy/1891/erfurt-program.htm

(2) See Lenin’s The Collapse of the Second International, 1915
https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1915/csi/
and Rosa Luxemburg’s Junis Pamphlet, 1915 https://www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/1915/junius/

(3) Karl Kautsky Selected Political Writings, ed Patrick Goode, Macmillian Press, 1983

(4)”In case war should break out anyway it is their duty to intervene in favor of its speedy termination and with all their powers to utilize the economic and political crisis created by the war to arouse the people and thereby to hasten the downfall of capitalist class rule.” Manifesto of the International Socialist Congress at Basel, 1912
https://www.marxists.org/history/international/social-democracy/1912/basel-manifesto.htm

(5) See the differences between the stand of the Zimerwald Left and the final manifesto adopted at Zimerwald in 1915
https://www.marxists.org/history/international/social-democracy/zimmerwald/

(6) Extraordinary Seventh Congress of the R.C.P.(B.)
https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1918/7thcong/01.htm

(7) 1921: Beginning of the Counter-revolution?
http://www.leftcom.org/en/articles/2001-08-01/1921-beginning-of-the-counter-revolution

(8) The National Liberation Movement in the East, Vladimir Lenin, Progress Publishers, 1952

(9) “All information on the situation in Khiva, in Persia, in Bukhara and in Afghanistan confirm the fact that a Soviet revolution in these countries is going to cause us major difficulties at the present time… Until the situation in the West is stabilized and until our industries and transport systems have improved, a Soviet expansion in the east could prove to be no less dangerous than a war in the West…a potential Soviet revolution in the east is today to our advantage principally as an important element in diplomatic relations with England. From this I conclude that: 1) in the east we should devote ourselves to political and educational work…and at the same time advise all possible caution in actions calculated to require our military support, or which might require it; 2) we have to continue by all possible channels at our disposal to arrive at an understanding with England about the east.”

BOOK REVIEW: John Eric Marot, The October Revolution in Prospect and Retrospect: Interventions in Russian and Soviet History (2012)

(10) The Communist Left in the Third International Bordiga at the 6th Enlarged Executive Meeting of the Communist International, 1926
https://www.marxists.org/archive/bordiga/works/1926/comintern.htm

(11) Good piece against Social Democratic entry work
Are there stages of consciousness? What do they mean for entryism as political strategy? by DGS_TaP and systemcrash

Are there stages of consciousness? What do they mean for entryism as political strategy?

(12) Rosa Luxemburg’s Junis Pamphlet, 1915 https://www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/1915/junius/

“Why the CWI Russian section does not suit us”

Comrades in Russia have written a brilliant article about their decision to leave the Committee for a Workers International (CWI); re-linked here (as we can’t re-blog it for some reason!): Why the Russian CWI section doesn’t suit us.

(The Socialist Party (England and Wales), SP, the party which the members of this discussion group left, is also part of the CWI)

 

It is interesting to read the above article and learn what disagreements a significant section of the Russian party had towards the CWI as an organisation and specifically the leaders of the Russian section. Some of these are the same disagreements we had when we decided to leave the British section of the CWI.

The part entitled ‘Stereotyped Analysis’ sums up many of the socialist parties approach to protest movements and demonstrations. The point that these parties have no real analysis of any of these ‘mass movements’ and as a result will apply the same formula to each; that is try and win over the majority to socialism and try to lead the movement. [By ‘real analysis’ I include, at least, perspectives on historical analysis and situation, class and political composition of the movement.] Usually this leads to a few party contacts being made, but nothing more. The questions should be asked: How much effort should be spent intervening and what goals can we achieve from doing this? Is this useless activism?

The biggest and most recent example of this being the Scottish referendum in 2014, where the party membership was told that if we supported the ‘yes’ result, the working class of Scotland will see how good socialism is and support it on mass. More examples are given in the original article above and in a earlier article here.

Another issue that we also experienced in our party branch was the hostility to other views and ideas. We would run and advertise the ‘Marxists Discussion Group’ biweekly, where similar to now, we would discuss Marxist theory that wasn’t covered in weekly branch meetings. On several occasions we were criticised for reading articles that weren’t written by the CWI, regardless of quality, and for discussing/criticising theories about the Soviet Union that weren’t orthodox Trotsky. We can only assume that our leadership feared we might suddenly join the Spartacist League (a crazy ultra sectarian cult organisation) or the like!

Ultimately the Russian comrades focus on the lack of democracy in the organisation; to challenge and discuss new ideas and points of view. We certainly experienced this in the SP’s move towards Labour after the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of said party. Apart from token discussion (one meeting was had for the South of Wales), the leadership of the SP had already decided our approach to the Labour party and we as members were obliged to follow what they thought best. We disagreed on this issue as being reformist in nature.

интернационал
CWI International Summer School

The article linked above is well worth a read, especially if you are involved in the CWI worldwide. There are a few points in it which we have not experienced in Britain. Our leaders were not hypocrites like the Russian leadership. However there will be a lot of points many people will have experienced as part of the organisation.

These few words are not meant to be just another point scoring exercise (something common among all socialist organisations). It is hoped that some of these prevalent grievances are recognised as real issues and not something to be swept under to carpet till ultimately comrades feel they can not continue as part of the the CWI.

Notes on Socialist Strategy, a short History Lesson

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One of the most perplexing things about the Socialist Left is its disregard for considering something that should be fairly obvious, that is how we conceive of the Socialist Revolution as actually happening and what we intend to do to move us from where we are in the here and now to the future Communist promised land. That is, what is our strategy? Through consciously intervening within the class struggle as it actually exists, how do we intend on eventually seizing power? What hurdles must we climb to get there, what stages must we pass through. Lets have a short and somewhat crude history lesson.

The Germans

The old Socialist movement at the turn of the 20th Century had a fairly simple but empirically justifiable conception at the time, to put it somewhat crudely, with the further proletarianisation of the non wage-laouring population, brought about by the domination of the Capitalist mode of production, the Social Democrats would eventually win parliamentary elections with outright majorities ushering in the new age. Social Democratic votes were increasing over time, they were able to force concessions previously thought impossible to achieve under Capitalism from the Capitalist State. Perspectives were this could, in an evolutionary manner lead to a post-Capitalist society. Parliament was considered a neutral organ through which the Proletariat could exercise their ‘dictatorship’, that is, their majority rule.

This didn’t quite go as planned. The proletarianisation of the peasant and petty bourgeois took far longer to happen than was expected. To gain majorities would require waiting a long time or compromising the Communist programme of the proletariat to non-proletarian forces, layers of the skilled semi-proletarian, petty bourgeois, peasantry, etc. It also bought out the problem of amelioration, that is some workers did have more to lose than their chains and didn’t see the necessity for revolutionary upheaval. The concept of Aristocracy and Bureaucracy of Labour, that is the privileges of the skilled worker and the leaders of newly formed trade unions deal with these problems.

The old Socialist movement abandoned for the most part the conception of working towards a post-capitalist, prior to their betrayal in August 1914 of their internationalist programmes. This event forced a dramatic split within the international Socialist Movement, with Rosa Luxemburg denouncing it as a “stinking corpse” and Lenin demanding a complete rupture. Having seized power in Russia this old evolutionary framework of slowly subsuming the bourgeois state to proletarian interests was destroyed. Lenin famously in polemic with Kautsky relentlessly attacked the notion that the parliamentary form of government was somehow a neutral organ in the class struggle, it was necessarily a bourgeois institution which must be overturned root and branch, in Marx’s words “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes.”. The revolutionary state must be grounded in the new organs of proletarian power, the workers councils.

The Russians

The strategy proposed by the Russian Revolutionary victory was essentially, do as we did. Organise around a Marxist programme, struggle through the trade-unions and bourgeois state institutions in an explicitly revolutionary manner towards educating the proletariat of the folly of reformism and necessity of revolution, “Agitate, Educate, Organise” as the old dictum went. Eventually the multiplication of the Proletariat and Capitalism producing crises endogenously will lead to the outbreak of mass strike waves and the formation of workers councils. On the basis of gaining proletarian majorities within these councils the Communist Party must take initiative and practice the art of insurrection.

The Russian Revolution and ascent of the Third Communist International did indeed transform Communism from the spectre Marx mentions into a real material force in society which looked very much at the time like it could win, with Revolutions breaking out throughout all of Europe bringing WWI to an end. Unfortunately, as we can all attest, they did not win. Not only did they not win but we saw the rise of Fascism and Stalinism. Where exactly the blame for this lays is not the subject of this article but I would suggest that contrary to many accounts the betrayal of individuals in positions of responsibility is not sufficient explanation.

With the rise of Stalinism the two main strategies for the most part coalesced into one, following the Social Democrats the Communist Parties under orders from Moscow more and more transformed themselves into tools of Soviet foreign diplomacy. The Dictatorship of the Proletariat as the goal of the Communist Parties was repudiated in deeds (and later explicitly in words). Work towards guaranteeing Bourgeois ‘Peaceful-Coexistence’ with Russia was the order of the day, evidenced in the tactic of the so-called Popular Front. Both Social-Democrats and Official Communist Parties now were quite simply the Left of Capital, they did not represent a threat of rupture with the Capitalist mode of production – though their grassroots membership would periodically contest this, the upper echelons utterly rejected Socialist revolution. Much good work was done, and much can be gained from studying the history of these movements but fundamentally they were no longer capable of seizing power.

Trots and LeftComs

Which brings us to the two main breakaway Marxist trends from the Social Democrats and Official Communists; Trotskyism and Left-Communism. Trotskyism developed as the International Left Opposition to the rise of Stalinism in Russia (contesting the lack of democracy and Soviet economic policy) and the subordination of Communist Parties to the national interests of the Soviet Union (particularly the Popular Front). They considered themselves the inheritors of the banner of Marx and Lenin, they upheld the decisions of the first four congresses of the Communist International.

Realising the limitations inherent in the fact that the parliamentary arena was already occupied by Social Democrats and Communists, that independently their ability to challenge them was basically futile, after all as Trotsky said Socialism had demonstrated itself “not in the language of dialectics, but in the language of steel, cement and electricity”. Combating the influence of the Stalinists while the Soviet Union was empirically before the very eyes of the world Proletariat advancing industrially at breakneck pace was not easy to say the least. Attempting to work within the official communist parties was considered something of a non-starter, the absurd lies and falsifications the Soviet Union pumped out about Leon Trotsky as a Nazi wrecker of the Communist movement meant that the Communist Parties would physically attack the Trotskyists making it near impossible to actually intervene. Instead they opted for work within the Social Democratic parties with the so-called ‘French Turn’.

With the perspective of Imperialist decay, the inability for the Capitalists to any longer develop the productive forces, the staggering growth of the Soviet Union and the oncoming world war the Trotskyists took the stand point of making ‘transitional demands’ proving themselves the most revolutionary wing of the worker’s movement, waiting for the catastrophe to come, on the back of which the Fourth International would lead the world Proletariat to victory. The spontaneous rising of the revolutionary proletariat would be the result of the catastrophe, the role of the Trotskyists was considered as essentially pushing them along, ‘transitionally’ closer and closer to revolutionary consciousness at which point the insurrection would be organised.

Given the situation at the time I think this somewhat justifiable, the Left-Communists trends, primarily split between the Partyist Italians under the leadership of Amedio Bordiga and the German-Dutch Council Communists under the leadership of Anton Pannekoek, though absolutely repudiating Social Democratic entry work took a similar stand of biding their time and awaiting the great spontaneous rising. In this respect the two trends have more in common than they’d like to admit, the primary difference being that the Left-Communists rejected outright United-Front work, conceiving the Popular Front as its child. Observing the reactionary nature of the period in question Bordiga famously just went back to his day job mocking those who persisted “To wait, not for this generation, but for those of the future. The situation will change. I preserve intact my mentality: the men do not count, they do not represent anything, cannot have any influence; the facts determine the new situations. And when the situations are ripe, then the men emerge”.

After the War

World War 2 ended with Revolutionary outbreaks throughout Italy, Greece, Eastern Europe and the revolutionary victory of Mao in China and Kim in Korea. The so-called golden age of Capitalism after the war pulled the rug from under the Trotskyists and Left Communists alike. Through the rise of the Eastern Bloc and the perceived threat of Communism it represented, the rise in profitability (caused by destruction of Capital Value from the war) and the development of the mixed economy on the back of such developments the dominance of Social Democracy rose again through the forging of welfare states undermining almost totally those genuine forces which stood for Communism be they Trotskyist, Left-Communist or somewhere in between. The catastrophic downturn Trotsky had predicted did not take place, this massively disoriented the Trotskyists. Both trends suffered terrible bouts of the most bizarre and hostile sectarianism remaining largely totally irrelevant.

But with the perspective of the growth of the proletariat over time and economic development along Capitalist industrial lines common to all in one way of another there still remained hope. With the development of Keynesian mixed economy, the policy of full employment and high levels of accumulation by Capital the proletariat managed to rise again with the industrial Class Struggle peaking throughout the mid 60s to the mid 70s. Low levels of unemployment and huge factories allowed workers to gain the upper hand, realising all that “supply and demand” stuff the economists go on about could actually work in their favour, if the workers were in low supply and high demand then they could demand more in exchange for their labour. The proletariat took the initiative, the strength and confidence of which informed the various civil rights struggles.

The various trends of Socialist groups through this period did indeed grow, as you’d expect but not substantially. Few actually notice this as an issue, instead simply putting the blame of failed revolutions to the betrayals of the official communists, echoing Trotsky in arguing that “The historical crisis of mankind is reduced to the crisis of the revolutionary leadership”, without providing much explanation as to why there is such a crisis of revolutionary leadership. The Left-Communists in different forms to that of the pre-war years became more exiting and eccentric as the Situationists in France and the Autonomists in Italy, managing to have a real impact upon the Italian strike waves up to 1977 but as far as my limited understanding goes retreating into academia after this. Though it should be emphasised the importance of feminist autonomist thought in developing Historical Materialism to account for the oppression of women in the works of Federici, Dalla Costa, etc.

The 70s to Now

Then everything got a lot worse. So called ‘Neo-Liberalism’ (which we’ll discuss more at length another time) happened in the wake of the profit crisis of the early 70s. From then to now, with all the massive changes that have taken place particularly deindustrialisation, global proletarianisation, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the post-industrial reconfiguring of high income economies around finance and service sectors and fundamentally the secular collapse of profit rates and accumulation, the left still soldiers on almost as though nothing has changed.

In terms of strategy the Left marches on like zombies blissfully unaware and unquestioning of their social irreverence and ineffectiveness, expecting the tide to change in the undesignated future. Since the collapse of the old workers movement, the economic reonfigurations which have taken place and the compositional changes within the working class we need to quite seriously and in open dialogue discuss these issues. The precarious zero hour worker and surplus populations to Capital’s requirements (trends groups like Endnotes elaborate upon) need to be looked at. Where the left could await the rising workers movement based as it was upon large-scale industry with some confidence in empirical developments, the configurations and historic tasks Capitalism has managed to achieve severely limits the strength of workers in industrial disputes.

The Left today in this country, in fact in most of Europe and the US, maybe further, are for the most part (unfortunately) gambling all their hopes on Social Democratic revival in response to austerity measures, Corbyn, Tsipras and Sanders form a rather boring treacherous triumvirate of well-intentioned but fundamentally of the system soft (at best) reformists. The Socialist Left has done entry work within Social Democratic organisations before and it was a failure. Why expect any different today when the odds are stacked so much more against them (the contingencies that allowed for long-term reformist projects are no longer in place). The goal of attempting to seize control of these groups or even split away large portions, again seems like old hat to me. How this figures into proletarian seizure of power at some indistinct point in the future I have no idea. Nobody I am aware of even explicitly discusses hypothetical ways this could even work. To be frank, I have absolutely no desire to simply make Capitalism less shit, it needs to be destroyed.

This is by no means to reject struggle in place of reading books and having discussions or to disparage Union struggles, that would be absurd. We obviously should support day to day struggles against low wages, high rents, cut-backs, etc. There can be no Communist victory if such day to day reformist struggles do not form a unity with our revolutionary goals. Reforms are necessary to inform the strength and confidence of the Proletariat in struggle and to reject them would only isolate us. It’s not to disparage the fact that there is some good work being done by various socialist and anti-austerity groups either but to point out limitations.

The question then is What is to be Done, we’re back in 1902 again – though without the advantage of witnessing the working class movement empirically grow from strength to strength. We need to reconceptualise what the material source of Socialist Revolution can be now Capitalist reconfiguration has thrown into question the expectancy of old workers movement eventually reviving itself again. We need to think strategically.

Unfortunately with all the criticisms outlined I do not know what the answer to these questions is. It seems apparent to me that Revolutionary regroupment of all trends interested in a Socialist society is necessary, we need to face these issues head on rather than hide from them. In the here and now actually arguing for Communism (raw and uncut) as an educative project uniting together and confronting these issues together seems to be a start. We need to put Socialism back onto its scientific footing discovered by Marx and as in his words “There is no royal road to science, and only those who do not dread the fatiguing climb of its steep paths have a chance of gaining its luminous summits.” It’s a bleak picture I know but hiding away from it won’t make it go away.

Allan

Who are we?

We are a small group of like-minded people convinced that:

1. The Capitalist system is threatening our very existence.

2. Communism is necessary in response to this existential threat.

3. With advanced technology, building a Socialist system is technically more feasible than it ever has been.

4. However, the Left as it currently exists is not fit for purpose. It is for the most part irreverent and ineffectual; the way things currently are, a Socialist Revolution is almost politically inconceivable. We propose the modest response of openly admitting this inadequacy and through frank open discussion and critically engaging with the ideas and history of the Left ask ourselves: what is to be done?

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The Impending Catastrophe

We are fast facing an unparalleled and cataclysmic series of events which more and more openly throw into question our very existence as we know it. Every other Hollywood film seems to be about the end of the world; there’s open talk about World War 3 everywhere – as a species we are essentially sleep walking to our doom with no alternative raising its head. The onset of global warming and the destruction left in its wake, the terminal decline of precious resources, China’s challenge to the global political and economic domination by US Imperialism, the scramble for resources and proxy wars potentially developing into wars of global involvement, the profound refugee crisis and population movements rising sea levels and wars will cause. Automation threatening massive economic restructuring with further development of precariousness and atomisation of the working class, increase in population ‘surplus’ to capital’s requirements, potential semi-annihilation of the middle classes etc. More than ever we must stand up and bring this system to an end.

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The chaos in the Middle East has caused thousands to flea and risk death.

Instead? 

This crisis ridden system is grounded in the exploitation of the workers by the capitalists for the incessant production of profits; profits which override all concerns for humanity and the environment. Where the capitalists have complete monopoly over the means of reproducing our existence and the workers are forced to sell their labour to survive, socially produced wealth is more and more concentrated in the hands of a tiny elite. This is not an aberration, this is the normal and proper functioning of the capitalist system. We demand social appropriation and direct control over social wealth. In Engels‘ words,

“Take the control of industry and of all branches of production out of the hands of mutually competing individuals, and instead institute a system in which all these branches of production are operated by society as a whole – that is, for the common account, according to a common plan, and with the participation of all members of society.

What’s going on?

How exactly are we supposed to go about bringing this system to an end then? The technology necessary to build a Socialist society is available today and progressively becoming more and more advanced as time goes by. It is perfectly conceivable that by using modern robotics, cybernetic communicative technologies, 3D printing, smartphones, etc. we can massively reduce the work week, make the basic necessities in life available to all and collectively and democratically plan and control the production and distribution of social wealth. The concept of ‘Fully Automated Luxury Communism’, of a democratic society of super abundance is possible.

But Capitalism works in the opposite direction. Intuitively productivity increases should lessen the burden of labour in terms of intensity and shorten of the workday. In fact, as Marx explained in Capital, advanced machinery is used as a weapon against the worker; it increases the working day and increases intensity of work. For the production of profits no sacrifice is too great.

All this being so, how are we supposed to overthrow the Capitalist system and build a Communist society? Short answer is: we’re not quite sure. One thing we are sure of is that whatever the Left is doing, it doesn’t appear to be working. The workers movement has been on the descent roughly since the 70’s with the development of so called ‘Neo-Liberalism’, the Socialist organisations are unable to mobilise around their programmes anyone but their small memberships, membership which remain low due to high turn over.

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We would tentatively suggest that this is due to a series of issues both internal and external to the Left as it exists; internal issues like bureaucratic top down party regimes (authoritarianism), unity based around dogmatic adherence to historical/theoretical narratives, tactical considerations rather than programme (dogmatism, sectarianism), the treatment of female survivors of abuse, ineffective activism, substitutionalism for the class, work within and around the Imperialist Labour Party, etc.

We don’t know what to do about this situation. We do not wish to perpetuate the problem by forming an irrelevant sect ourselves. We know something must change and through open, critical and non-dogmatic discussion we hope to begin to address the problem.

Without admitting the problems of the Left today, we will never be able overcome them.