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Ian Pirie – School Report

January 29, 2011 2 comments

I. Pirie, Social Revolution, No. 5 (1976), pp. 4-5 and 7

COMPREHENSIVES

Tameside has become the focus of the latest stage in the long battle over comprehensive education. In the press, and in public discussion generally, the affair has led to argument about the constitutional powers of Ministers, and the merits or otherwise of selection on the basis of reports rather than an 11-plus exam. In fact the only question the Lords, as the ‘highest court in the land’, were asked to consider was the reasonableness of the proposed selection on the basis of reports.

The Lords’ verdict was delivered in record time, and they sat at a time of year when they are normally on holiday, and all this added to the drama of what everyone wanted us to see as democracy in action – a test-case for our legal and constitutional machinery.

The lessons we should be drawing from Tameside seem to me to be quite different. What kind of selection procedure children are put through is almost a detail: in fact the Lords’ verdict could be seen as underlining what some of us have been feeling about selection procedures for a long time. The system has you sorted out well before the age of eleven, and almost anyone could sort out ‘potential Grammar school material’. Or, if you can’t tell how a child is going to ‘turn out’ (i.e. he/she has been moulded), it doesn’t matter anyway and they can be sent wherever the authorities decide, as they will almost certainly have learnt not to complain, and to respect the decisions of those who know best. . .

In the public debate, these questions were avoided. Who asked about the effect of the mess-up und the retention of Grammar schools on those who do not get places? How often did we hear questions about the kind of education the kids of Tameside are getting, which ever system they end up with, and the relevance of their education to their future lives and happiness?

What really has been going on in Tameside shows through from time to time, behind some of the things said. For instance, at one point the chairman of the Education Committee said the next step was to ‘stop the Labour Government’s Education Bill’. Delusions of grandeur? Or was the whole thing a battle between different power-groups, with the dice loaded in favour of the ‘middle classes’, and the children being kicked around in between? Certainly the Labour Party has been pushed into revealing the lack of real commitment to any educational ideals in its position; the Labour MP was actually saying he was angered when not enough children had been found for the Grammar places…..

This is to me a classic picture of the way decisions are made in capitalist society. The system is fundamentally class-ridden, but everyone tries to pretend it’s fair. In Tameside, as throughout the country, worker is pitted against worker in the struggle for the few crumbs to be had.
And all are under the illusion, because the crumbs are very few: only a very small section of even the Grammar-educated children will make it to the ‘top’ – and once there, I’m sure they will wonder what they fought so hard for.

I believe libertarians must take part in the fight for Comprehensive education – it is at least some improvement aver the branding of kids ‘or life as either ‘Grammar’ or ‘Secondary Mod’, But of course we don’t see this as the end of the road. There is a great deal that we can do, in the course of fighting for real Comprehensive education, both to emphasise our basic criticisms of the education system under capitalism, and to explain how we see capitalist values and forms of organisation running through the schools and college We have to support those who are pressing for greater equality in education – but stressing that we believe this to be impossible without total equality – socialism – in all aspects of life. We can support those who want to see education cater more for the needs of the individual – but pointing out that in capitalism it is not needs but profits that call the tune. We can support those who want more money spent on education but again emphasising that the order of priorities in this society is not determined by social need, so we will only get improvement in education when the system can afford it; a just at the moment we have international bankers to think of!

Similarly, we can support these who are opposed to the constant grading and marking in education – showing the links between this and competition, and how the education system spends a lot of its effort on producing people to fit pre-determined holes in society.

As I see it, there is nothing wrong with supporting reformist pressure groups, such as the pre·comprehensive lobby, because it provides opportunities to contact people who have started to think along the same lines as ourselves, and who only need to meet our arguments to encourage them to take their own positions further. Obviously, in working with non-libertarians we have to make it quite clear where we stand. I am totally opposed to the kind of manipulative use of movements such as the ‘Right to Work’ campaign, where, as I see it, people are encouraged to make impossible demands of the system, in order to show them that the system cannot give them what they want. We can join in the fight for comprehensives, provided we make it clear that our support is not unconditional, that we see each reform as only a small-scale change, and that we are concerned with promoting a particular kind of large-scale and fundamental change; and provided that we make it clear that we believe only a socialist perspective can fully explain the need for the kind Of changes we are fighting for, and the nature of the resistance we will meet.

OCCUPATIONS

For two or three weeks during May and June this year, a hundred or more colleges up and down the country were occupied by students, in protest at the cuts being made in expenditure on education. This time the press used the tactic of ignoring the events – although all those involved would testify to the very impressive sense of solidarity, and the high degree of anger behind the demonstrations.

The occupations were carried out with considerable tactical skill. Although they started just before the exams, student support remained solid and exams went ahead without disruption. (Maybe it was a pity the exams were allowed to go ahead, but we’ve not yet reached the position of students in France in May ’68, when the protest ran deeper, and was aimed at the system as a whole . . . . maybe that day will come!

The main theme of the campaign was the rising unemployment of teachers, so most of the occupations took place in Colleges of Educatron, or in Education Departments in bigger Colleges; but attempts were made to broaden the aims. At NELP (North East London Poly), for instance, the issue of racism was tied in – as limits on the number of overseas students (either by quotas or higher fees) can be seen as part of the same move to cut down education in a time of ‘financial stringency’. However, this argument did not always get across; even some lecturers at NELP – which has a high proportion of foreign students – argued that it would have been better to stick to the teachers’ issue alone, as it was more sure of getting support. This was depressing, as the lecturers’ union, NATFHE, has been campaigning on the cuts issue for some time, and one would have expected lecturers to have been more aware of the possibility of their own unemployment if overseas student numbers are cut back – quite apart from any more radical arguments!

One implication of this is surely that all those involved in the fight against cuts in education must look very closely at their publicity and propaganda methods. People not actively involved in the campaign still seem not to understand the connections between the different forms of cutback, or the place of the cuts in the economic situation as a whole. Considering the length of time the campaign has been going on, this is serious, and it would seem that a good deal more talking and arguing has to go on to get these points across.

On the positive side of the Occupations. though, there was some staff, and the co-ordination that developed between different colleges. For example, London colleges in occupation had joint meetings, and it was as a result of these that the Director of NELP received a number of telegrams threatening to occupy his office if he did not withdraw the legal action he was threatening against students occupying the Barking precinct of NELP. He did not withdraw the injunctions, but the telegrams he received could have been a factor in persuading the authorities not to act immediately.

However, the way the campaign developed in relation to NELP can be used to show what were some of the key problems in this kind of struggle. For although there was a delay, in the end the authorities were prepared to call in the police: everyone not actually in occupation was advised to leave the precinct by the end of a certain day, and then an ominous atmosphere developed as the students waited. Exams due to be held on the precinct the next day were abruptly moved elsewhere – thus the only disruption of exams was as a result of the authorities taking legal action.

‘Moderate’ lecturers were considerably shocked that the Directorate were apparently prepared for a situation to develop in which their students were put in jail. It is to be hoped that more people have now learned to what lengths the authorities are prepared to go, and how much power is on their side. Several student ‘ringleaders’ (i.e. officers of the Students’ Union) are under threat of suspension as a result of their part in the occupation, and it remains to be seen whether anyone can get the suspensions withdrawn.

So, apart from these lessons, and the growth of rank and file solidarity, it is difficult to see what has been achieved. I think the most significant other gains were those which came indirectly from the occupations. Thus, those involved have gained a lot of practical knowledge about how to start and keep an occupation going, and it is to be hoped that this knowledge is shared out! In addition, some useful information was gleaned from files in occupied offices – a practical contribution to the ‘open the books campaign’?!

Another useful spin-off was the ‘flying’ occupation, which individual bureaucrats found when they sat back and relaxed after the occupation was apparently over! The element of surprise was perfect, and I hope will be used in the promised occupations next term.

I hope, too that rank and file students and lecturers have gained a healthy distrust of their own union bureaucrats. . . This is suggested by the occupation that took place of NUS offices, when the NUS tried to call off the occupations.

The problems remain, of course, of finding ways of countering the power of College authorities, of putting the arguments across to non-activists and others, and of making any impact on the Government. I think part of an answer to all this lies in finding more imaginative forms of demonstration – and this also implies recognising that this is the main role of occupations at present:apart from their value as practise-runs for the time when we start the Final Occupation of all our work-places, they are simply a way of demonstrating strength of feeling, and thus trying to pressurise the authorities. In this, unfortunately, they were not very successful, and this is where the main problem lies.

The other important answer lies in learning not to be led into thinking that we can change education on its own, or on our own. The government’s attack on education, we must repeat, is part of a broad capitalist crisis, and must be seen as such, and fought as such, by the broad mass of the victims of capitalism. This means strengthening the solidarity that is developing among those involved in different aspects of education, reaching out from education to other public sector workers and consumers, and finally enlisting the support of all workers in the fight against the system as a whole.



LIBERTARIAN STUDENTS NETWORK

A welcome move in the development of a libertarian presence in education is the setting up of a Libertarian Students’ Net· work. At the time of writing, a founding conference has been held, a newsletter IS planned for late August, and another conference planned for 12th/14th November, at Bradford University. Discussion so far has produced agreement on a number of organisational and theoretical guidelines with which we would agree, in particular: 1) the need to involve the whole the whole of the libertarian left, and all those involved in the whole gamut of the educational process who are sympathetic to the aims and principles of the LSN;
2) the aim of working within existing organisations such as the NUS, not setting up a separate, elitist body, but working for democratic control of the N US by the student body;
3) the necessity of adopting a specific class line and relating the struggle in education to the general struggle against capitalism;
4) the need to mobilise on specific issues and campaign collectively, as well as co·ordinate local initiatives;
5) the importance of antonomous local groups.
All these points indicate an approach which I share, as a member of a libertarian socialist group, and which I welcome as someone involved in education. Th.is kind of development is badly needed: I am convinced that libertarian ideas are fairly widespread in education, and on the increase, but libertarians are very often isolated – usually unnecessarily, as they simply have no way of knowing that there is someone nearby with similar ideas. Whatever can be done to bring libertarians together is welcome, and I hope that anyone sympathetic to the LSN will contact the acting secretary:

XXXXX XXXXXXXX
XXX XXXXXXXX XXXXXXX
XXXXXX XXX XXX

Finally I would like to quote from the provisional aims of the LSN, as I think this is a good start to a definition of a libertarian socialist position on education. I think such a position has yet to be worked out in detail, and I would welcome any comments, which we could publish in future issues of Social Revolution, which would contribute to such a definition. It is hoped to make articles on all aspects of education a regular feature in SR – so please send ’em in!

“, , , revolutionary educational change can only be effected when linked to the wider struggles of the entire working class. The long-term objective must be a classless society wh ich has common control of the means of production . . . the LSN is totally opposed to the competitive, elitist and hierarchical nature of the present educational system. Instead, it declare~ for a free !’Ion-discriminatory educational system, open to everyone at all levels, and under the direct control of all participants and workers within all educational institutions.”

Ian Pirie.

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Social Revolution – Where We’re At

January 28, 2011 2 comments

‘where we’re at’, Social Revolution, No. 4 (June 1976), p.2

Throughout the world a small minority of bosses – private capitalists or State bureaucrats – own and control the means of life: the factories, laboratories, communications and all the other resources we depend on. They leave the rest of us with no choice but that of working for them – in boring, usually socially useless or harmful, and often dangerous jobs outside the home, and bringing up kids for the same kind of life inside the home. They let us produce goods and services only when they can make a profit by selling them, in complete disregard of human needs, so that mountains of food are destroyed while millions starve who can’t afford to buy it, so that people rot in slums while building workers are laid off. And when the trade wars between the bosses of different countries hot up into the real thing, it’s the rest of us, the working people, who have to make the weapons and are sent off to kill one another.

Throughout the world a small minority of bosses – private capitalists or State bureaucrats – own and control the means of life: the factories, laboratories, communications and all the other resources we depend on. They leave the rest of us with no choice but that of working for them – in boring, usually socially useless or harmful, and often dangerous jobs outside the home, and bringing up kids for the same kind of life inside the home. They let us produce goods and services only when they can make a profit by selling them, in complete disregard of human needs, so that mountains of food are destroyed while millions starve who can’t afford to buy it, so that people rot in slums while building workers are laid off. And when the trade wars between the bosses of different countries hot up into the real thing, it’s the rest of us, the working people, who have to make the weapons and are sent off to kill one another.

But plenty of us refuse to put up with it all without a fight.
In our workplaces we organise to defend living standards and to gain some control over conditions of work. In the community we form tenants’ associations, resist motorways and try to stop pollution. School and college students challenge the way they are indoctrinated. Women, gays, black people fight the discrimination they suffer. Socialists try to spread awareness of the need for a complete change to a free classless society.

These, and others, are all valid ways for working people to express their needs as human beings and resist their conditions of life. Members of the SOCIAL REVOLUTION group are all involved in one or more of these movements. We aim to encourage people to organise democratically without leaders, and to exchange experiences and understandings so that all the different struggles can merge, with one another and across national frontiers, into a united and conscious movement for world social revolution.

The liberation of the working class can only be the work of the majority of working people themselves. The manipulation of self-appointed leaders can only hold back this work. We expect that the main form of organisation for carrying out revolutionary change will be some kind of WORKERS COUNCILS – that is, councils of delegates based on workplaces and neighbourhoods, elected by and under the direct democratic control of working people. These councils will co-operate to produce and distribute the goods and services needed by the community, which will be made freely available as the waste of capitalism is done away with. Work will be the voluntary and varied activity of people controlling their own creativity for agreed human purposes. The united world, without money, Government or war, will belong for the first time to the people of the world.

SOCIAL REVOLUTION group will not be telling anyone to “follow us”, or issuing calls to “build the revolutionary party” as if it were some universal panacea to the problems facing our class. But revolutionary groups do have a role to play in the struggle for socialism. These groups should attempt to clarify issues, to attempt to show the links between seemingly isolated and unconnected activities and struggles – to show that these are linked in the overall fight to overthrow this rotting corpse of a social system, capitalism, and replace it by a democratic society with people producing for use not profit.

“SOCIAL REVOLUTION” is produced by different local groups taking it in turn to edit and layout each issue. We do this in order to attempt to break down the divisions of labour imposed by modern society.

We have decided to increase the size and frequency of “Social Revolution”, and to discontinue production of “Libertarian Communism”, our discussion journal. We are investigating the possibility of producing a libertarian discussion journal jointly with the Anarchist Workers Association and Solidarity. We are aiming to bring out the new “Social Revolution” once every two months, with 16 or 20 pages. We have not yet decided on a price but the larger size will inevitably mean an increase on the present 8p. Our aims in making this change are to use our limited resources more effectively and to use the space in the gibber SR to go into more issues in more depth.


Editing and lay-out of this issue of Social Revolution was by Aberdeen Group. Published June 1976.

Social Revolution – NUS: What Now?

January 27, 2011 1 comment

‘NUS: What Now?’, Social Revolution, No. 4 (June 1976), pp. 10-11

As the economic crisis deepens, and cuts in the education sector intensify, the National Union of Students, far from reacting as a confident, effective fighting organisation of students, is facing a severe crisis of its own. Two university unions, Aston and St.Andrews, have voted to disaffiliate: a number of other unions are considering such a move. Others, notably Manchester, have rejected disaffiliation, yet the movement in the constituent organisations of NUS for separation from the national union is gaining support from a considerable minority of students. In the Manchester disaffiliation referendum over one third of the votes cast were for disaffiliation. Why is this happening in such a ‘militant’, ‘marxist’ union? Can the ‘moderate’ reaction be stopped and what prospects are there for students?

DEVELOPMENT OF THE NUS

Until the late 60’s NUS was little more than a travel bureau/debating club, controlled by a right-wing bureaucracy. This situation changed with the radicalisation of students by such movements as the anti-Vietnam war campaigns. Since then, NUS has been controlled by the Broad Left, an alliance of ‘Ieft-Iabourites’ and Communist Party members. It has launched a number of successful campaigns; around the issue of student autonomy under the last Tory government and more recently the annual grants and Education Cuts campaigns. Significant victories were scored in the early days of these campaigns: Thatcher’s plans to destroy union autonomy were stopped, annual reviews of student grants were conceded. Now, however, the campaigns are being fought primarily to defend existing gains rather than achieve more.

The political inspiration behind the moves to disaffiliate is clearly provided by the Federation of Conservative Students: although they favour working within NUS in order to cripple it, it is their policies that are the main influence for disaffiliation: propaganda about a ‘pro-Soviet’, undemocratic NUS, etc, etc, is having the obvious effect of encouraging students to desert NUS. At the moment they seem to be losing influence to an extent, or at least when faced with active pro-union agitation. However, they could easily gain ground again in the near future.

Yet students do not basically form a reactionary mass; on the contrary, the political ideals of the average student are mildly radical social-democratic. The FCS and their more fascist hangers-on are making advances because there already exists a profound disillusionment amongst students with the NUS itself. The blame for this must lie within the NUS itself and with the leftist politicians who dominate it.

Anatomy of a Successful Campaign

In the early days of the NUS campaigns, significant successes were scored. The reason for this was primarily the real mass involvement of students. We saw widespread rent strikes, refectory boycotts and strikes/occupations in support of higher grants, as well as the regular mass demonstrations. Combined with the fact that the depression had not yet set in completely, these campaigns wrung concessions from the state. Recognising that mass self-activity leads to militancy and radicalisation, the state tried to buy off its future generations of technical and white-collar workers and management with more money: in reality this ideological
‘ideological’ weapon was probably the strongest in the students’ armoury.

It would seem apparent that in times of crisis this kind of mass involvement is all the more necessary to halt the decline in students’ living standards. To successfully do so would require an even greater consciousness, a realisation that a society based on exploitation and profit making cannot automatically satisfy our needs.

NUS Steps In . . . . .

Faced with this new militancy, the state found itself with an unusual ally – the NUS itself. The leftist politicians running NUS were as frightened as the state of mass self-activity by the students. Like all good union bureaucrats they only feel safe when they dominate struggles, for then they can keep it within safe confines and retain their own power. To channel student discontent along ‘safe’ lines, the mass demonstration was developed.

Originally seen by students as a sign of their solidarity and anger, it became for NUS the focus of the campaign. All else was to be subordinate to getting students out on the streets of central London; to march past Centrepoint and down Oxford Street once a year. Having mobilised their camera-fodder, the bureaucrats would then go along to the Department of Education and Science with their figures to haggle over sums. Thus the ‘mass demonstration’ became a way of ‘heading-off’ student militancy. After four years of grants campaigns, what it had boiled down to is demoralisation and confusion amongst the mass of students, while NUS considers it’s had a successful campaign if it’s got 20,000 out on the streets!!

An Irrelevant Union . . . .

Having effectively demoralised the mass of students, NUS then proceeded to alienate them too. NUS conferences are dominated by inter-policy haggling and discussions on issues such as Ireland, Vietnam, anti-fascism, etc. These issues are important but in many ways are ‘safe’ issues, since students can do little about them in practice: meanwhile issues on which direct action are possible are ignored. These party battles are very satisfying to the bureaucrats and would-be bureaucrats; action is seen as passing resolutions and ‘supporting’ this or that struggle, usually safely tucked away in another part of the world. Students are, of course, quite unable to affect these struggles anyway, but they serve the purpose of diverting attention from real issues affecting themselves. Few discussions are held on the meaning of what we’re taught or our role in society (except that leftists like to see students as some intelligentsia to lead the revolution – masturbatory dreams of Russia in 1917); how we can develop inks with other workers, especially in our own colleges, instead of through ‘safe’ channels of union bureaucrat to union bureaucrat; developing educations as a social right for all – throwing open our facilities, etc.

Little wonder that students see little relevance in what NUS discusses and that a growing feeling of alienation from the union develops. This leads to demoralisation and support for ‘moderate’ politics as exemplified by the FCS, Labour Party, etc. The role of the left in NUS is one of weakening and confusing the student body at a time when unity and strength is required beyond all else.

Can NUS Change?

Given the will, students can force NUS to act in a more militant way; but this sould be only a temporary gain. NUS is not anti-student because it is controlled by nasty people, but because of the social role it plays, along with all other unions. If an organ of struggle is created in the course of a dispute it will reflect the wishes of its membership. When this dispute is over, the struggle dies down. Then, despite the best will in the world; bureaucratisation sets in. The elected representatives, no longer having to justify themselves constantly to the rank-and-file, fall into a position of becoming permanent negotiators with the employers, in this case the state as personified by the DES.

No longer is the issue what the membership wants, but what the employer can afford. The result is haggling over figures and then selling the compromise to the members. They begin to see things in the terms of the bosses, and ultimately become their agents. It is just possible that this process can be averted to a greater or lesser extent in a small union (like one of NUS’s C.O.s) but in a union of 770,000 meeting only twice a year it is near impossible to prevent.

What Future for Students?

The fight against education cuts, and for unity in the student movement, cannot be won within the context of the present social system. To the state, students represent a long-term investment that will payoff in the future in terms of higher profits derived from the highly-skilled nature of their training. But we are in an acute economic crisis, and the first things that are cut-back are long-term investments. If this means that education suffers, then it suffers; this takes the form of college closures, layoffs of staff or leaving posts vacant and decreases in the real value of grants.

Only militant direct action can prevent this from being too drastic, and then only if real links based on solidarity, friendship and understanding are forged between students and other workers. The idea that students are some kind of elite must be got rid of.

At best though, this will leave students still on the treadmill of constantly fighting to maintain their standards: real gains will be almost impossible to achieve: students must actively work to maintain living standards in order to avoid demoralisation and keep their confidence. The only genuine struggle with any chance of success is that for a social revolution: only a libertarian communist society can free students from the constant need to battle authority, and make genuine creative study possible. This will involve the abolition of students as a separate sector of society, education will be open to all when required and not restricted to a young, small and relatively privileged group.

A Strategy?

The first priority must be to restore morale and confidence amongst the mass of students, and agitating for this could centre around the following points:

** rank-and-file control over all disputes and campaigns
** real links between students and college workers, academic and non-academic and with the wider working class, community
** union policy within C.O.’s to be decided by regular mass meetings open to all students, and with union executives being unable to independently place motions before meetings.

This fight will have to take place in all areas, including within the local union bodies. We must not argue for leaving unions – such a move will only strengthen the forces of right-wing reaction; rather we should realise that success will transcend the bounds of the present structures and render them meaningless; we must constantly argue the point that capitalism offers no progressive solution to the problems students face.

Of immediate necessity is an organised libertarian communist presence within the student movement; only when we re-group our scattered forces will any progress be made. Anyone (individuals or groups) interested in building such a presence should write to us C/O London Group.

Introduction to Social Revolution

January 26, 2011 1 comment

INTRODUCTION TO THE POLITICS OF SOCIAL REVOLUTION

PREFACE

The final draft of this pamphlet was agreed, after a great deal of discussion over a period of 18 months, at our conference in Aberdeen in July 1976.

The different sections were written by different members and although some attempt has been made to unify them, there is still unavoidably a certain amount of repetition of arguments and diversity of styles. Furthermore the wide scope of this pamphlet which is fairly short, has led to some oversimplification of ideas. Readers will find an expansion and illustration of the views expressed here, in our magazine SOCIAL REVOLUTION. We also welcome letters of enquiry and criticism, since we do not claim to be expert in every fiend or to have the ‘whole truth’.

Still we think the pamphlet is a fairly comprehensive introduction to our politics. If you find yourself in general agreement with the views expressed we hope you will consider joining our group and helping our activities.

CAPITALISM

Never has the bankruptcy of our social system been more widely realised. Even in the “affluent 60’s” the need for change was clear. Workers rebelled against boring, pointless work. Students attacked an educational system training them for such work. The problems of cities multiplied regardless of a superficial affluence. Meanwhile the majority of the world’s population went without the basic needs of life.

The basic similarity of the supposed alternatives became obvious. The USSR, long the hope of opponents of western capitalism, was shown to be a rather more brutal variation on the same theme. Its replacement as supposed Utopia, Red China, showed for example by its policy in support for reactionary governments in· Pakistan and elsewhere, that it played the same game by the same rules.

Today even the limited gains of this period are fast disappearing. Unemployment and inflation attack peoples’ living standards, and produce anxiety even amongst those not directly affected. Civil rights are under attack in many countries. The ruling class turns away from its old Liberal Democratic traditions towards either the left or right proponents of totalitarianism. Aspects of this in terms of ideology and organisation are militarism, chauvinism and racism.

It is not enough to bemoan this situation; we must try to analyse its causes. These lie, not in the faults of leaders or the formal relations of property, for these things may be varied without making any difference. Rather, the cause is the nature of capitalism, a system based on the appropriation by a minority (the capitalist class) of the wealth created by the work of the majority of the people in society. Out of this economic relationship arises the alienation of people from themselves, each other and their world. Since its inception, capitalism has relied on competition, not only the economic competition between companies, nation-states and blocs: e.g. Ford against Leyland, Britain against Germany, NATO against Warsaw Pact, Russia against China; but also competition at all levels, e.g. man against woman, black against white, protestant against catholic. Look at the way workers are told that they must work harder, not because we need more cars, etc., but in order to compete with other countries. In the past, economic competition has, in human terms, been progressive in that it laid the material foundations for the transition to Socialism, but now it leads only to waste, war and slump.

The struggle takes place for control of wealth, material resources, land, population and markets. Those who do not compete simply go under: therefore capitalism imposes its rule upon the whole world and it cannot be transcended except on this basis. It is this competition – cold, impersonal and ruthless – which is the real master, and keeps us all in slavery, both economic and social. However, in all parts of the world capitalist system, there are those who are in a position of power and privilege – whether businessmen, generals or bureaucrats, together with those who own capital but perform no Social function at all, who as the ruling class have a vested interest in maintaining the system.

WAR

The capitalist system is divided into nation-states, blocs and alliances. These, generally speaking, exist to support and defend their own local sectors of capitalism against the interests of rival sectors. As markets become saturated, or raw materials scarce, so the rival sectors of capitalism must seek new outlets for commodities they produce, new sources of raw materials and inevitably new trade routes to utilise them. They increasingly find that their rivals have the same objective or that the local ruling class does not wish to be dominated. From this situation the outbreak of a trade war is likely as nation-states, blocs or alliances step in to assist their interests. Trade wars have a tendency to hot up into real shooting wars as the problems facing the capitalists become too severe to be overcome by negotiation.

Thus, wars are fought over capitalist interests – capturing new markets, sources of raw materials, or defending or capturing trade routes. Inevitably, it is not the bosses who get themselves kilted in these disputes, but the workers who have been duped by talk of “national interest”, patriotism, defence of the “fatherland”, etc. But the workers’ real class interests lie not in supporting the efforts- of one ruling class to wipe out their competitors, but in the success of the social revolution to destroy social classes which are the cause of war.

Revolutionary socialists, therefore, do not support the wars of capitalism, but urge class unity between workers of all lands against their common enemy – the world’s ruling class. Instead of inter-imperialist war we urge class war and social revolution, solidarity of the world’s workers and the ~subversion of the armed forces. Therefore we urge rank and file soldiers to see their identity of interest with the working class against the top-ranking officers who form part of the ruling class and to eventually form soldiers’ councils which will act together with the workers councils. To this end we are prepared. to work with soldiers for full trade union and political rights.

STATE CAPITALISM

Capitalism is a social system in which productive enterprises employ wage and salary workers in order to realise a profit by selling goods and services on the market. The basic relationship between the enterprise and its workers (exploitation), and the basic relationship among different enterprises, or capitals (ruthless competition to expand) remain the same, no matter who owns or controls the enterprise. In different situations, private entrepreneurs, shareholders, managers, State or “Communist” Party bureaucrats, or even the workers of an enterprise (acting collectively as their own boss in “workers’ cooperatives”) have directed the process of capital accumulation – that is, have represented the dominant social relationship of capital.

In the nineteenth century capital took the form of small units, directly controlled by the factory owner, which competed in local, regional or at most national markets, for the main part. Thus social revolution seemed to theorists such as Marx mainly a task to be carried out within each country separately, the international aspect being important but secondary. The national State seemed the most convenient instrument for this purpose.

In the last part of the nineteenth century and the first part of the twentieth century, capital became more and more concentrated in the hands of gigantic industrial empires corporations, trusts and cartels – controlled by’ industrial and banking interests remote from the workforce and connected to it through vast hierarchies of managers and supervisors. These international concerns compete (and still compete) on world markets, as capitalism developed into a single inter-connected system dominating the whole world.

The other unit, in the capitalist competition on the world market, which came into at least as great a prominence as the multinational corporation, was the nation-State. The nation can be viewed as the alliance of the capitals based in one geographical area, which is defined in the course of continual conflict between its ruling groups and the ruling groups of other nations. The national State developed essentially as the central organisation promoting the interests of this alliance – against other national units, against the working class, and against “unpatriotic” sections of the capitalist class – that is, those whose interests were asserted in oppositi9n to the perceived interests of the national capital as a whole. Thus Marx called the State “the executive committee of the capitalist class as a whole”.

To the extent that the national State takes upon itself some of the tasks involved in directing capital, we can speak of “State capitalism”. However, while private capital still dominates its partnership with the State, this is a weak form of State capitalism.

The capitalist functions taken on by the State in this weak form may include –
regulation of international trade, control of the currency; provision of health, welfare, insurance and education services for the upkeep of the workforce;
collection of statistics;
control of essential services, such as post, rail and coal, to provide private capital with cheap reliable support; centralised police, security forces;
increasing military backup to national commerce.

These functions became substantial in the industrially developed countries for the first time in the decades leading up to the First World Imperialist War.

When this weak form of State capitalism comes to include the nationalisation of large areas of industry – that is, their control through State bureaucracies – we have the “mixed economy”. The next logical step in the development of State capitalism is for the State to take direct control of the major part of the national capital – what we can call the strong form of State capitalism.

The advantage of strong State capitalism to the national unit is that it can help make the nation more competitive on the world market and in the fight for expansion by:-

enormously reducing the resources and energies spent on competition within the nation;
eliminating “unpatriotic” and unproductive capitalist interests;
possibly reducing the private consumption of the capitalist class in the interest of accumulation; strengthening the centralised control of the State over the working class and reinforcing nationalist ideology.

However, the replacement of weak by strong State capitalism is a difficult task, requiring radical reorganisation of the national life, and in particular the replacement of “private” capitalists as the ruling group personifying capital by State and Party bureaucracies. The social system and the position of the working class in it remain basically the same as before, but the change concerns the life and death (even literally) interests of the existing and the aspiring ruling groups.

We have historical experience of this false “revolution” occurring in three different ways:-
1} As the end result of an unsuccessful attempt at socialist revolution which remains hopelessly isolated in one country. The only example of this type of attempt which was not brutally suppressed by reaction is the Russian revolution of 1917. Here material, social and cultural backwardness combined with isolation and the elitist bureaucratic methods of the Bolsheviks to crush the working class element in the upheaval, and eventually install the totalitarian Stalin regime. Within this regime a privileged bureaucratic class directed the modernisation and industrialisation of the country in often insane haste and brutality.
2} As the consequence of military conquest of a nation by the armed forces of an existing State capitalist power – East Europe, South Vietnam etc.
3} In underdeveloped areas where private capitalism never strong enough to overcome imperialist domination by the great powers, and native feudalism, despotism or tribalism. Here national capital is represented by nationalist intellectuals using the State machine (China, Third World countries).

Two powerful factors which work in favour of a nation becoming State capitalist are:-
1) War. When the rivalry among nation-States takes on its most ruthless and all-out form, the forces representing State capitalism become stronger and the need for Statist rationalisation of the national economy is felt most clearly. For example – the Bolshevik economy of Russia was based on that of World War 1 Germany; the Welfare State and mixed economy in Britain grew out of the Second World War.
2) The weakness of a national economy relative to others also makes the advantages of State capitalism more compelling. The US, for example, at most times a very strong power, is one of the least Statified.

The important differences between private and State capitalism – in social structure, in internal economy, in ideology etc – should not be ignored or minimised. At the same time, the State capitalist regimes are an integral part of the world capitalist system, based on capital accumulation by competing enterprises and wage labour. A State Capitalist country, like a multinational giant corporation, can be regarded as a single vast firm. Thus we cannot accept the theories that Russia, China and so on are socialist, communist, or “Workers’ States”, or that they are based on a new non-capitalist mode of exploitation called (say) State-bureaucratic.

Bitter experience shows that State capitalism in the twentieth century is not a step on the road to socialism. This is the most fundamental point at dispute between genuine socialists and the left wing (of capitalism). Unfortunately many workers in private capitalist countries who are critical of their conditions of life see the leftist programme of State capitalism as a way out. Similarly, working class discontent in State capitalist countries often takes the form of admiration for private enterprise and the West. In this confusion about the nature of possible alternatives to the existing way of life, it is up to socialists to make the real choice clear.

NATIONAL LIBERATION AND IMPERIALISM

Around the turn of the century, capitalism became the dominant social system in the world. This necessitated a change in the outlook of revolutionary socialists to the question of national liberation struggles. Prior to 1900, capitalism had been a new social system; moreover, was fighting to secure dominance over other, reactionary systems such as feudal and despotic societies. Capitalism then had a useful role to play in as much as it was developing the productive potential of abundance necessary for the establishment of socialism and brought into being the class whose interests lay in the overthrow of capitalism – the workers.

At this time, socialists could still postulate the theory that workers could support local capitalist revolutions and still maintain autonomy as a class. The theory was probably correct, though it never seems to have been applied in practice. Nonetheless, at this time the capitalist system could still expand outwards, and as a result the workers could make real, permanent gains from the system, which allowed them to develop their autonomy. Indeed, support by the workers for the system was at times necessary for their own survival, for conquest by one of the reactionary social system would have brought their class destruction.

But around the turn of the century all this began to change. Either by means of local capitalist revolutions-or by the importing of capitalism through foreign investment (imperialism), most of the world had come under the control of the capitalist mode of production. Even the peasants of the most backward countries were being drawn into the sphere of the market. Capitalism was successfully established, with no other social system as competitor. The world became divided into rival blocs of national capital isms; today these are represented by NATO, the Warsaw Pact and the Chinese bloc. The local units of capitalism are still expansive, but in the process they came into conflict with the other blocs – this is the reason behind the two world wars of this century; they were essentially inter-imperialist wars. Moreover, with its dominance of the world, capitalism had established the conditions necessary for the successful establishment of a socialist society, whilst at the same time becoming a system based on the positive destruction of social wealth through its internecine rivalries and conflicts, as well as the ‘normal’ workings of the system in boom, with the destruction of food; waste production; armaments expenditure; etc. No longer can local proto-ruling classes set themselves up outside the influence of one or other of the imperialist blocs. For the working class there is only one alternative – socialism. We no longer have any interest in supporting one or other ruling clique.

However, in some “third world” countries there exist movements claiming to be struggling for “national liberation”. They seek to make their state independent but in practice they are forced from the sphere of influence of one imperialist bloc to that of another. These “liberation” forces derive their support either from the military might of some other power, or by channelling the grievances of the local peasants and workers in their own direction. Experience has taught us that whenever these workers and peasants attempt to assert their own class interests, then the forces of “national liberation” reveal their true class interests by brutally suppressing them.

Many leftists argue that the workers should support such struggles for “national liberation”; this in practice means that they want the workers to support one side or another in an inter-imperialist war. In doing so they reveal themselves as the left agents of Soviet or Chinese capitalism, and therefore as the enemies of the world’s working class and peasantry. The workers and peasants of the “third world” countries will play their part in the world revolution by forming their own revolutionary socialist organisations. In the meantime, we will aid them by struggling to overthrow capitalism in our own situation, and we will attempt to provide whatever practical solidarity is possible – (for example by blacking armaments or other commodities during particular struggles).

RACISM

The ruling class has always tried to divide the workers, in order to maintain its control over us. This is demonstrated in the strategy of ‘divide and control’ so often used in colonial conquest, but it applies equally at home. In a work· place, for instance, management often tries to playoff skilled workers against ‘unskilled’_ in order to defeat the struggles of both. Racism and other attitudes alleging the superiority of one group of workers over another are particularly vicious weapons used by the bosses all over the world to set us fighting amongst ourselves.

From its earliest days, capitalism has relied upon the exploitation of people all over the world. The slave, colonialism, the appalling conditions of British workers during the industrial revolution, all helped to build up the modern industrial economies. In order to maintain this system of exploitation, the ruling class have tried to persuade each group of workers that they are threatened by the others. When Jewish workers began to come to Britain from East Europe at the end of the last century to escape oppression there was a massive anti-immigration campaign, resulting in the Aliens Act.

Today there is massive immigration into all industrial nations in Europe. In all of them there have been strong movements against it, which have served to divide workers in many industries.

In periods of expansion highly industrialised nation-states reach a point where there exists a ‘labour shortage’ either in the economy as a whole or in sections of the economy (e.g. amongst unskilled workers).

To overcome this ‘shortage’ the countries attempt to encourage unskilled foreign immigrants to enter their country to fill the shortage (e.g. London Transport’s recruitment campaign of the fifties in Jamaica). In times of crisis there appears again a ‘labour reserve army’. Then the presence of ethnic minorities can be used by sections of the ruling class as scapegoats for the workers’ problems. Racism is used to head off class struggle.

In modern society most immigrants are worst off in every respect – housing, education; unemployment etc. At the same time, they are let down by the official working class organisations even more than are white workers. Consequently they are forced to organise themselves. In the attempt ideas of inverted racism naturally occur, such as those of Malcolm X.

Being proud of being black and re-asserting black culture is a definite step forward but blacks cannot go it alone. Black racism is no answer. However it cannot be overcome by pious lectures from white ‘revolutionaries’, it can only be overcome in the development of the class struggle.

SEX ROLES

How often have you heard things like this? Women are ‘natural’ mothers, home-makers, domestic, passive, helpless, subjective, emotional, soft, romantic, responsive, dependent, clothes-conscious, empty-headed, etc. Men are ‘natural’ businessmen, decisive, independent, active, strong, hard, brave, adventurous, objective, dependable, etc. None but the most blatant male chauvinist would maintain that adjectives applied to women suggest her inferiority to men. Yet many people believe that these adjectives correctly describe the characteristic differences between the sexes and that these differences are both natural and desirable. However although people naturally must sleep, eat, reproduce, etc, how we carry out these functions and how we live generally is not inevitably and naturally determined.

We start to learn our role in society from the moment we’re born, our sex and our class determine what our role shall be. A few will move from one class to another and some women will ‘conquer’ male preserves and be looked on as unnatural. The socialisation process starts first with our parents in the home, then the school, the church and finally the workplace then back to the home with our own children’ and so on. This process of socialisation or of learning behaviour acceptable to societies’’ dominant class, has been laid down year after year, century after century, so that indeed, certain behaviour patterns do appear ‘normal’ even ‘natural’ and such beliefs are encouraged by the dominant (economic) class. However the dominant class moulds society in its own interests. As neither the dominant class or its interests remain static, so neither does the socialisation process; though the subjective response to these changes tends to lag behind.

Capitalism’s necessity for economic growth required the absorption of an ever increasing workforce utilising female labour along with the rest, and in so doing undermining the previously accepted concept of a woman’s place being in the home. But just as easily in times of economic crisis for the dominant class, women can be the first out. Besides women have another role which can be emphasised or ignored depending on economic boom or slump, that of reproducing and servicing the labour force. This is woman’s most important role to’ capitalism, though it is not afforded much economic recognition. It is at the point of child· rearing, where the socialisation of women into the role of mother; childminder, teacher, domestic, and economic dependent; pays off for capitalism. Mother does her duty without question, without financial incentives. From birth girls are trained for this role, employment is only incidental. It doesn’t matter if she gets a good education or a good job, her role is to reproduce and serve the male worker, while his role is to make her role possible by working. Also capitalism has another role for him apart from worker. Boys especially are taught to repress their fears and emotions and adopt an aggressive attitude. This serves its purpose in both work and war time. Working class men are expected to do their duty, in the role of soldier and are thus encouraged from childhood to play war-games. The division of workers into sex roles causes them to think mainly of their own sex and makes women and men undermine each others’ struggle. Today some people are questioning these roles. Homosexuals have never fitted into sex roles. Even those into role-playing demonstrate how flexible and therefore how pointless these roles are. Because of this homosexuals are oppressed. Though most of the laws and violence are directed against gay men, it’s perhaps lesbians who most undermine sexism, many lesbians are active in the Womens Liberation Movement. Though the Gay Liberation movement has lost impetus, and never included more than a small number of gays, its existence has gradually affected the rest of the community. Gay men are often still male chauvinist but the militancy of lesbians has forced them to challenge this to an extent heterosexual men do not usually have to. It is now far more than just the G LF who see gay, oppression as part of the wider oppression of women. Action has been organised against specific cases of discrimination and the Gay Trades Union groups are directly affecting people who the movement has not previously included in the whole century of its existence.

The womens liberation movement has grown firstly among women who have been through higher education and who are bored by their role of mother. They miss the ‘freedom’ that economic independence allowed them prior to ‘ marriage. Secondly by poorer-educated women both encouraged by and resentful of their better-off sister. It is important that we strive to achieve as great a measure of sexual equality within capitalism as possible. Demands for equal wages, equal job opportunities, free contraception and abortion facilities, free crèches in every locality, and so on, should be pushed as much as we can. But if we stop at achieving these demands we will only have substituted the oppression of women in the nuclear family by the more direct oppression of the state and commodity, society in general. Authoritarian sexual relationships in the family which reflect and reinforce authoritarianism in other aspects of life, can and must be broken down, but capitalism will only co-operate in allowing this to the extent that it can substitute other means of authoritarian conditioning, through its control of the state and the media in particular.

Capitalism is capable of accommodating many of women’s desires for equality with men, without harming the interests of the dominant Class. It would not be especially difficult for a state capitalist country to allow mothers some economic independence from men by paying them a ‘wage’, as indeed some women’s liberationists are demanding. Fathers could equally apply for the job without in any way undermining the economic organisation of society. Attitudes that have taken centuries to congeal take time to break down, meanwhile capitalism is quite capable of co-opting attempts to break down repressive sexist relationships. Socialists must encourage those who are questioning their role to link up their struggle with the struggles of other workers, to see the oppression of workers by capitalism as a whole and to seek to counter that oppression by revolution. However we can’t show workers how they are oppressed or how they oppress others unless we consciously fight sexism in ourselves and the group. Socialism is only possible when most workers become conscious of the oppressive nature of capitalism, not just how we’re oppressed but also how we oppress others.

Sexism cannot be explained comprehensively in purely economic terms, economic independence from men will not alone liberate women. Only the complete overthrow of capitalism through social revolution will free us all from the repressive roles we are socialised into. Then we can make our own decisions to live as we desire. By producing what we need, the way we want, taking what we want. Women won’t need to be dependent on’ men, restrictive sex-role training will lose its function and be made redundant.

EDUCATION

The ‘education’ system we see today is really a process of social engineering or training people to fit into society as it already exists without criticising or wanting to change that system. We would me more accurate to refer to this system therefore as a training or schooling system because education should be a process whereby people become critically aware of reality, which can lead to effective action upon it. Obviously this does not happen in our schooling system, which merely ties us to present society and encourages its prolongation.

Our present schooling system is based on compulsion, not free choice – by law we are forced to attend. The school system holds a monopoly on knowledge and the student has little choice in what is learned. Youth is crammed with what it does not want at a time when it cannot appreciate it. Enquiring minds are often dulled by this process (very necessary, of course, if we never want effective changes in society). Young children learn many things without formal teaching because they have enquiring minds.

This so-called ‘education’ system is completely institutionalised (education is seen as taking place within four walls at set times for set ages). The system is also identified with hierarchy and privilege and exclusion as in wider society, educational institutions become dominating institutions rather than opportunity networks. Here the young are concentrated on with parents pushing for the prizes they have been socialised into wanting for their children.

This institutionalised system then helps to perpetuate and foster the type of society we have at present. This involves fitting individuals into certain roles and putting over only socially approved values, those of conformity, hierarchy, leadership and authority being prime examples, (this is not done in a conspiratorial way but nevertheless the result ensues). If education did help people to be critical about society and through this to make improvements, we would not be educated to maintain the status quo by the indoctrination of the socially approved values of an unjust society. If education is to be a major instrument in developing a ‘just’ world then a basic objective should be an understanding of the world in which we live and the one we hope for. Why does the schooling system avoid linking together crucial present day problems ego starvation while food is destroyed, pollution amidst advanced technology.

Of course we only have to look briefly at the history of education to see the links it has with industry. Mass education developed along with the production line and the mechanical age. As industry became more developed so more schooling was needed. At first only basics were necessary;
as industry advanced so did schooling eg typing was introduced into the curriculum when needed by industry.

Specialisation and standardisation in industry seem to be mirrored in the educational institution at all levels. Of course the competition in industry is also prevalent in education, whether it’s competition in exams or sports or collecting for charities.

There is a marked similarity between a forced 9am to 4pm school day and a forced work-day in an office or boring job. We cannot help but see schooling as a ‘good’ training for later work.

Of course in mirroring society the education system helps perpetuate sex roles. There are still boys’ and girls’ subjects and jobs in schools. How can the young develop as they wish if they have roles forced on them at an early age?

For the sake of morale everyone is made to think there is equal opportunity in the school system. It is not hard to see however that social class is maintained even through the system – and this is no accident. Finance, parental pressure, aspirations, different values and expectations all contribute to this.

Education should be a life-long experience of critical development. It can be gained from many sources; maybe one of these could be a teacher/student relationship with students having choice in what THEY want to learn. The world itself has much to offer, and education through experience is surely vital to all and not to be dismissed as it tends to be today. The education system we have needs radically altering, but the structures of wider society try to prevent this. Both need changing as both bolster each other up.

Today we see the beginnings of a desire for change. Not everyone involved in education accepts it in its present form. Students for instance in the class room often rebel against authority and the work they are forced to do, or they miss lessons, lectures, etc .. A school students’ union exists to try to fight for better conditions and more rights for young students, as unions exist for older students. Teachers too, both individually in their places of work and collectively in teachers’ action groups, through magazines, etc. try to initiate changes to the system both on the academic and the personal side of the system. Some disillusioned teachers have set up free schools to experiment with alternative educational systems.

We believe that both fighting within the state educational system and trying out alternatives outside it, are valuable as starting points for the creation of a socialist form of education. We consider this struggle to transform education to be part of the wider class struggle to change relation· ships throughout society.

If people are trained to obey, to distrust their own decisions, and robbed of their initiative, confidence and ability to criticise and tryout alternatives by the schooling process, then it will be all the more difficult for them to take part in the transformation to a socialist society.

We encourage these trends in education because they contain elements of what we think education in a socialist society will be trying to do; but also, we welcome them because they bring a socialist society closer.

REFORM & REVOLUTION

By reforms we mean changes in society, whether or not achieved by legislation, which leave the basic structure of capitalism intact. We describe ourselves as revolutionaries not because we consider all reforms worthless and to be opposed, but simply because we think that most of the major problems afflicting working people are incapable of solution within the framework of present day society. This society cannot be made to work against its fundamental nature by a straightforward accumulation of reforms. Islands of socialism cannot exist within an ocean of capitalism. Thus, although we may be involved in organisations, campaigns and experiments of a predominantly reformist nature, our activity is guided by a set of priorities different from that of the majority of participants.

Many “left” groups, who see themselves as vanguards, get involved in or promote campaigns even when they know that the aims are unrealistic in present circumstances – for example, while we urge people to resist the present cuts in our living standards and in public services, it would be hopeless in a recession to demand reforms which would involve vast increases in public expenditure. The leftists make such demands in order to recruit, or with the idea that people will have their eyes opened by hitting their heads against brick walls. We only get involved if the objectives of a campaign are on the whole worthwhile and realistic and we have a genuine personal interest in them.

Since socialist ideas do not spring up from nowhere, but develop through a complex process of personal and learned experience, advances in the class struggle will inevitably be linked, to a greater or lesser degree, to demands for reforms. The working class has emerged from the early stages of capitalism tied to the ideology of the ruling class, but has through experience, gradually become a more independent force. Now, however, the organisations such as co-operatives, trade unions, and labour parties, created by workers as an expression of their growing power within the system, have become integrated into the administrative structure of capitalism. The major reforms and material improvements achieved through these organisations have strengthened workers and enlarged their vision of what to expect from life, but continued attachment to the decayed shells of these organisations now acts as a barrier to further advancement.

Increasingly, groups of workers are acting independently and directly through occupations, squatting etc to take what they require and institute themselves the changes they consider necessary. “Demands” made on supposedly authoritative bodies, such as Parliament, trade unions or religious and political hierarchies, are receding into the past, although these two kinds of activity are not yet completely distinct. An example is legalised squatting. So our activity in other campaigns and organisations is aimed at strengthening these trends towards democratic forms of direct action. We also seek-to break down the isolation of different struggles by developing links between them, both theoretically and practically. So long as these struggles remain isolated, their victories will be very short-lived ~-it is essential that their participants develop an awareness of the need to aim at a simultaneous transformation of the whole of society, and not simply chip away at its parts.

Workers gained major reforms during capitalism’s periods of expansion, precisely because these also helped in capitalism’s own development and modernisation. Today, with each recession, even these basic reforms come under attack. Reforms of benefit to workers are not impossible now, but they are certainly hard to come by. The old merry-go-round offers less and less; revolution becomes more and more obviously the solution.

THE PARLIAMENTARY ROAD TO SOCIALISM

Many well meaning people who advocate the abolition of the capitalist system and its replacement by a free socialist society maintain that a successful social revolution can be fought by capturing seats in the various parliamentary bodies of the world.

Others, less naive, but also having no clear conception of what socialism means, maintain that by gaining seats in Parliament the working class can materially improve its position, indeed through a process of reforms can make capitalist society “just” and “fair” to all. Leninist groups either advocate supporting the Labour party in elections, or putting up “working class” candidates from their own sects. Indeed they often follow the apparently contradictory policy of doing both at the same time. These groups either follow such a policy from naivety, or by following the outmoded concepts of Lenin, in assuming such action will allow them to use elections and parliaments as “revolutionary tribunals”, or for blatantly manipulative purposes. The result of all these policies is to aid reaction and counterrevolution, to put back the day of socialism. SOCIAL. REVOLUTION GROUP categorically rejects such a basis for activity. We do so because :-

1) Parliament can never serve as an organ for socialist revolution. Based on a nebulous “representative” democracy, calling on people to hand over their power to others once every few years, it has nothing whatsoever to do with the revolutionary democracy of the working class during social revolution. Socialist revolutionary democracy will be based on the direct power of the working class. It will function through democratically elected, mandated and REVOCABLE DELEGATES, based on workplaces and communities.

2) Success in revolution will require majority communist consciousness AND preventing the expropriated ruling class from crushing it. Such work requires the conscious subversion of the armed forces, and the willingness where necessary to counter force by force, whether by sabotage, disruption or in the last resort armed resistance. Nominal control of Parliament and other elected bodies is no substitute for such action, indeed to advocate such control serves to weaken the workers by spreading confusion about the nature of the state. Today the state consists of the monarchy, both Houses of Parliament, the local authorities, the church, the State mental hospitals, the media, the education system and the political organisations of the bourgeoisie – from the fascists through the Labour Party to the factions of leftist State capitalism (CPGB, Trotskyists, Maoists, etc) – in short, all those institutions which take us conform to the norms imposed by the ruling class.

3) Parliamentary activity hinders the development of majority communist consciousness. Such consciousness requires self-activity and confidence in our own ability to change society. By handing over power to others these important requirements are not achieved, rather it leads to docility, inactivity and cynicism.

TRADE UNIONS

With the growth of industrial capitalism and the transformation of the majority into wage labourers. there arose. in the first instance mainly amongst skilled workers. trade unions whose aim was to defend the economic interests in this or that trade against the interests of the employers. Later, trade unionism grew among unskilled workers. In Britain. this began in ‘the 1880’s. in some cases with the help of socialists such as Eleanor Marx.

Often today. at the workplace. trade union activity still forms the workers’ front line of self-defence against capitalism. This struggle. however. the vague commitments to a new society in the constitutions of some TU’s notwithstanding. is not for Socialism but for more within capitalism. Because they have to mediate between workers and capitalism. trade unions contain within themselves contradictions. Whilst they can represent the interests of workers against capital. often they work the other way round and become tools for the control of the workers. We see this occurring in many disputes where the unions sell out and sabotage the actions of the workers in dispute.

We see it also in the way that unions divide the working class. cultivating sectional interests and craft-consciousness. For example. there exist separate unions for manual and white-collar workers in local government. We see it in the collaboration of unions with management in running industry. and therefore exploiting workers. by agreeing to lay-offs. productivity deals. etc .• and in co-operation with governments (particularly Labour governments) in wage control policies; rationalisation programmes and import controls which only hinder the development of world working class unity. In many countries the trade unions are completely integrated into the state machine (as in the state capitalist regimes of Russia and Eastern Europe) or act quite openly as policemen in the workplace (as in the USA). These factors result in workers having to fight the union bosses as well as the employers and the state.

Indeed. often the union bureaucracies only intervene to give ‘support’ in order to defuse the situation and channel protest along easily-controlled respectable paths – thus attempting to keep the struggle within the bounds of the system. To counter this. workers have developed new. organisations such as shop stewards committees. In recent years. many strikes’ have· been organised on this level against unions and bosses together. but even the shop stewards’ organisations are now being co-opted in many cases.

The class struggle occurs not only through trade unions but within them. This is a result 0.1 their social role. rather than faulty leadership. Thus the manipulative use (as by Leninist groups) of ‘rank and file’ groups to try to capture the union apparatus or change the leadership is futile from a socialist point of view: as are attempts at setting up alternative unions (eg. the Glass and General Workers’ Union after the Pilkington strike). The extent to which individual unions are co-opted differs but the trend is the same.

As libertarian communists we participate in all the struggles of our class. and so in the trade unions. We do so. not with any illusions. but in order to assist the class struggle. Revolutionaries should not, in our opinion, become fulltime, paid union officials or take up any trade union post which carries any substantial privileges. We do not seek to become leaders and manipulate workers; instead we support the fights of workers against both bosses and trade union leaders. We also seek to develop an awareness of how each individu1l1 dispute is part of an overall class struggle, and how true struggle can only be resolved by the creation of a socialist society. We attack the undemocratic manipulations of both the right and the left and do not pretend that revolutionary motions passed by tiny meetings are the real voice of our class. Campaigns, strikes and occupations should, where possible, be run by general assemblies of the workers involved and by directly elected and immediately revocable rank and file action, strike and occupation committees, which we see as the forerunners of genuine workers’ councils in industry.

We recognise that trade unions of their nature cannot be used to destroy capitalism. This is the task of the workers’ councils.

WORKERS COUNCILS

The revolutionary transformation of society from capitalism to socialism is not simply a change of political power, or even economic organisation, but involves a conscious effort to revolutionise all the relationships of every day life – to humanise the way we relate sexually; the way we educate ourselves; the way we work and live together; and simultaneously to alter the physical layout of society.

Such a task is incapable of achievement through any of the existing governmental forms or permanent working class organisations within capitalism. It is no parliamentary party, or trade union affair, but requires forms of organisation which allow maximum involvement of the entire working class, unleashing the huge reservoir of creative energy that is bound within each of us.

There is no detailed blueprint that can be drawn up to suit the varied historical, geographical and technological conditions that exist throughout the world, but there are numerous examples that can be drawn from the experience of working class struggle at its height, which can be used as a guide to the immediate future. In Russia 1905 and 1917; Hungary 1919 and 1956; Germany 1918-1919; Italy 1920; Spain 1936; France 1968; Chile 1971-1973; Portugal 1975-76; and in thousands of other more localised struggles workers have established their own organs of power. These factory committees and workers’ councils have been made up of directly-elected delegates, immediately revocable at the will of their electors and accountable to general assemblies of the workers involved. It is these simply understood and easily organised democratic forms which workers themselves have created to extend their struggles against capitalism which we think offer the greatest possibilities for revolutionary change. Extended to cover the whole working class through a network of workplace and neighbourhood councils, linked nationally and internationally, these organisations will enable both the overthrow of the old order and the practical reorganisation of the new.

However, the workers’ councils, originating in capitalist society, inevitably embody the occupational and territorial divisions of capitalism. As socialist society matures, it will gradually break down such divisions between city and countryside, between industrially overdeveloped and industrially underdeveloped regions, between ‘intellectual’ and ‘manual’ functions, between what are at present industrial, agricultural and domestic production, between labour and leisure and so on. The replacement of alienated wage labour by freely associated effort allows people in socialism to overcome the needless overspecialisation and division of labour. Men, women and children will develop all faculties of human personality in an integrated social life. Councils, then, will certainly be superseded by more advanced types of organisation as the new conditions become established.

SOCIALISM

Workers in capitalist society struggle in many ways to assert their needs as human beings against the profit-making motives of capital, to defend their conditions of life and work, and to contest the total control over production and society exercised by the capitalist class. To make advances in these struggles, especially during a period of crisis, workers have to develop the capacity to organise in a democratic and autonomous way, and unify struggles in different industries, areas, nations and aspects of life (work, neighbourhood, personal relationships, ideas). This requires that understanding of the nature of these struggles, as connected parts of a general movement against capitalist domination, grow and spread.

This process, of which the activity of socialist groups is a part, leads to a clearer view among increasing numbers of workers of a new classless society (socialism or communism) as the aim of the struggle. The experience of democratic organisation (eg. workers’ councils) makes the possibility of a fully democratic society more apparent, while the growing understanding of capitalism emphasises the urgent

necessity for socialism in order to solve working class problems and to safeguard the future of humanity.

Socialism has nothing to do with nationalisation or the state capitalist set-up in the USSR and China. SOCIALISM IS A SOCIETY IN WHICH THE WHOLE WORLD COMMUNITY OWN IN COMMON AND CONTROL THROUGH AGREED DEMOCRATIC PROCESSES THE MEANS FOR PRODUCING AND DISTRIBUTING WEALTH – such as factories, laboratories and telecommunications. The aim of productive effort and of all other democratically administered social affairs (education, health, design of the environment, planning), is the satisfaction of the real, self-determined needs of human beings, and the fullest possible development of individuals and society. Thus goods and services are produced solely and directly for use, instead of for profitable sale on the market as commodities.

During the revolution, we see the workers’ councils taking responsibility for continuing socially-useful production and re-organising it on a socialist basis. Wide areas of useless or harmful work required by capitalism will become unnecessary – the armed forces and armaments production; the protection of private property; advertising; banking and other financial work; most of the state bureaucracy; mass motor production; and so on. Where possible, productive machinery will be adapted to useful purposes. Useful work will be re-organised to gear technology to human needs by automation of boring and dangerous tasks, by making goods to last much longer than at present (ending built-in obsolescence) by eliminating wasteful packaging, by conserving energy, etc ..

As the working class abolishes all classes, including itself, and integrates their members into a single human community, the need for armed forces (for example, workers’ militias to be used against violent anti-socialist minorities} disappears. We see workers’ councils transcending the division between work and the rest of life, and co-ordinating by congresses and councils at industry, area, region, continent and world level.

The councils will use whatever aids are available such as computer and statistical systems through which the community can plan, assess and monitor its needs and productive efforts, discuss and make decisions on social issues; though not indiscriminately, taking into account the possible dangers of a specialist elite in control of advanced technology. Decisions about production will take into consideration peoples desires and needs as voluntary producers, as consumers and as residents, and short and long term environmental and social consequences.

Different types of decision will be made and different types of activity co-ordinated at different levels, with the aim probably of arranging matters at the ‘least central level consistent with the effective use of technology- For example, although broad energy policy may be decided at world level, the use of local energy sources (solar, wind, geothermal) could enable local communes to satisfy many of their own needs.

The councils will rapidly overcome during the revolution the division of the world into nations and blocs, and establish a world community. The community will face enormous problems left by capitalism. It will have to co-operate with the inhabitants if the underdeveloped parts of the world to relieve their impoverishment as rapidly as possible, and enable them to participate fully in social administration. It will have to salvage and protect the ravaged natural environment, re-build the worlds’ cities and integrate city and countryside. It will have to reconstruct transport and energy systems, and provide better facilities for children. Priorities will have to be set for concentrating resources on the most urgent problems first – for example, the first problem is to guarantee basic necessities to the whole world population. Although money becomes obsolete when socialism is established, democratically agreed rationing of some goods and services may be necessary for some time until free access to everything becomes possible. In socialism, people will be able to experiment with a great variety of ways of living, working and playing together, and society will develop in ways we cannot now forsee in detail.

OTHER GROUPS

We are not the only which claims to want socialism, and we do not claim a monopoly of correct ideas. We do assert our right to put forward our views in our own manner, and do not believe that suppressing real differences for the sake of supposed unity of any benefit to our class. On this condition we are willing to co-operate with any other group or individuals on issues on which we agree. Also we are willing to discuss our ideas with others to find possible basis of agreement. However, we urge all those who are in general agreement with the ideas expressed in this pamphlet to join us in furthering our aims.

The points on which we differ with others will generally be clear from the rest of what we have written, but certain points can be made here. Leninism is an ideology of state capitalism and so those who claim to be revolutionaries must break, theoretically and practically with its authoritarian and reformist tendencies or they will be forced into a position of opposition to the working class.

The anti-organisational and anti-theoretical tendencies of traditional anarchism not only render it incapable of serious intervention, but encourage the elitism to which it claims to be opposed.

The dogmatic approach of certain left-communist groups, and their perpetual production of theoretical jargon, conceals a lack of any theory relevant to the class struggle today, and an inability to develop one. Likewise their sectarian approach reveals a lack of a serious account of the real development of consciousness and an inability to understand their own situation.

AND US

Our group exists to-assist the class struggle and the destruction of capitalism.

We reject both the bureaucratic conceptions of Leninists who seek to lead the working class into what they think is socialism by bureaucratic manoeuvres, and the traditional ‘anarchists who oppose all serious political organisation.

Our members participate in the day-to-day class struggle, both in organisations such as trade unions, tenants’, squatters’, and womens’ groups, and independently where we live and work. The aim of our work is to encourage the democratic organisation and understanding necessary for the working class to achieve its own emancipation. We fjght against the division of people into theorists and activists and leaders and led, within and outside the group.

SOCIAL REVOLUTION is itself a democratic organisation composed of local groups acting autonomously, but within the framework of an agreed policy. We believe that socialism in one country is an impossibility; therefore we seek to encourage the growth of libertarian socialist groups in other countries and to work with them towards the goal of world socialism.

Solidarity (Swansea) – Comments on Organisation

January 25, 2011 2 comments

S.A.C., Comments on Organisation (Swansea: Solidarity, 1976)

The expedience to scan up this document kindly lent to me came from The Hobgoblin re-publishing David Brown’s resignation letter from Solidarity recently, which is mentioned in this text.

SOLIDARITY AND ELITISM.

This small piece is occasioned by the’ Solidarity’ Conferences of Liverpool and Oxford, both 1976, and by the written offerings of some of the members that appeared during the same period.

Although the supposed topic for discussion at Liverpool was the events in Portugal, the conference was dominated by the recent expulsion from its ranks by Solidarity (London), of Joe Jacobs. It seemed to be resolved in the light of discussion, that, while there was no question of expelling Joe from the national organisation, the time was ripe for a discussion on the problems of elitism within any organisation such as Solidarity, and that this discussion should take place in Oxford. We were given to understand that many of Joe’s ideas were in sympathy with those expressed in a pamphlet by Henri Simon, entitled “The New Movement”.

Some time before the Oxford conference, “The New Movement” was circulated, followed shortly by a justification of resignation from the, London group by Dave Brown, entitled “The Illusions of Solidarity”.

The Oxford conference signally failed, in my view, to discuss very much of what it was supposed to. Quite apart from this fact – which will be returned to – the pamphlet “The New Movement” failed to add anything of significance to the Solidarity critique – it was largely unexceptional. What seemed to me to be one of its main points of issue ( at the end of Section 21 ) – whether Henri Simon was arguing for an end to groups, or for a plurality of them – didn’t even get discussed ( or if it did, then it was in such abstract terms as to be missed by me.) Simon himself seemed to see little point in coming over to play the expert ( a category of the division of labour if ever there was one!) to a Solidarity conference ( “Talk us through this one, Henri?” ), and I agree with him. However, I hope he found the experience of meeting and talking to Solidarity members worthwhile.

To return to “The Illusions of Solidarity”. There seem to be two aspects to Comrade D. Brown’s offering – or rather to my criticism. Firstly, an internal critique (that word again), and secondly, an external one, although the two cannot really be distinct. The first would involve refutation of the ideas, examination of the internal logic, criticisms, etc. That, we in Swansea have every intention of doing, but not here. The external criticisms are ones of style and presentation. Comrade Brown’s piece could have been a brilliant theoretical masterpiece – but you would never have known! The document featured, consecutively ( within 11 pages) an “Explanatory Introduction”,”Footnotes” to the. E.I., then, at last, the actual article, “To the membership of Solidarity (London)”, “Footnotes” to the article, “Afterword” and “Appendix”. The major grouse seemed to be, that an article for publication had been rejected by the London group without “adequate” reasons. If this was so, it is in itself, of course, lamentable. However, we in Swansea feel justified in suggesting that any article written in such a manner should be rejected on grounds of style, and we would. like confirmation or denial as to whether the article in question was in fact rejected on such grounds – either wholly or in part. Furthermore, Comrade Brown’s(?) contribution at Oxford demonstrated that the style of “Illusions..” was for him, a normal mode of discourse. Quite apart even from its inappropriateness in an academic context, such a style is quite out of place in Solidarity – verbally or in writing. And this brings us directly to the original raison d’etre ·of the Oxford conference: Joe Jacobs’ comments and criticisms at Liverpool: Is Solidarity (London) an elitist organisation? – and by implication any other autonomous group, or the national organisation in time, or any other group like Solidarity?

It seems to me that elitism can arise in two main ways, neither of which excludes the other. Hopefully, some of you reading this may be able to suggest aspects that I have missed.)

"... You know, man, unless you've read Kant's reply to Herder's 'Metakritik' of his 'Critique of Pure Reason' ( in the original German of course - I mean you just lose it ALL in the translation) I really don't know how you can even begin to say what it means to be a human being... " "It obviously turns him on, but it does fuck all for me ... Lysistrata: The Examination of the Herald.

 

The first follows from my comments on “The Illusions of Solidarity”, and also from the Oxford discussion on “The New Movement”. Elitism can be intellectual, in this case. I would characterise intellectual elitism as the domination of a small number of people within a group, by virtue of academic training and familiarity with philosophical concepts – bolstered and worsened by the use of what amounts to the use of a linguistic secret code ( or ‘jargon’, to be rude ), which is virtually indecipherable to the majority of members, and, which. is worse, to the rest of humanity. ( And here I add perhaps an obvious point, that if this small contribution is just as indecipherable, then I shall accept richly deserved criticism.) The Oxford discussion on “The New Movement” positively oozed this sort of elitism, and this was reflected in a mood of frustration at the end of the conference. We shared that mood, were amongst those who voiced it, and have written this in consequence. Intellectual elitism ultimately leads to the domination of a few self-appointed gurus, and a rapidly dwindling majority of pissed-off members with no access to the jargon. And unless Solidarity wants to become a sort of libertarian “New Left Review”, it must recognise that in voting with their feet, the pissed-off majority are in the right. ( By implication, of course, this holds true for the rest of humanity, except for a few thousand parasitic academics who get, their buzz from mental wanking. ) Emphatically, this does not mean an end to theorising. What it does mean’ is that all members have the right to discuss ideas they are all fully capable of understanding in the sort of language that is acceptable to the world at large. Any ideas or theories worth discussing can ultimately be translated into everyday language, and as far as I am concerned, this applies in principle even to Hegel! Perhaps a few of us should try? We need no intellectual vanguards, and one of the conditions of dispensing with them is to render any decent ideas from the past (let alone the present!) into normal language so that the gurus are out of a job for good. I scarcely need add that this does not mean churning out quotes and challenging the rest to go and look them up in Volume XXXVIII, p.387 para. (2) of the Collected Works or whatever. But until they are comprehensible, these thinkers will remain unread – deservedly so, since they never wrote for a mass audience in most cases. Most nembers of society are capable of learning through experience anyway. Nevertheless, it is often helpful, even in the University of Life (as they say), to know that others have been there before, and tried to give an answer. But the ability to give the answers of the past sone thoughtful consideration is crucially dependent on finding out what the hell they really said. Solidarity should not be in the business of adding more bloody jargon to what is already there!

The second way in which elitism can arise is the source of Joe’s concern. Where an autonomous group has existed for a number of years, it is almost certain that those who helped found- it will develop a psychological (if not a financial) commitment to the group they kept going. Such commitment, probably unconscious, would be quite compatible with an intellectual conviction that the group must not become an end in itself – it would merely be yet one more manifestation of the alienation of social relationships that exists in our society. While it makes a conscious effort to be less so than most, internally Solidarity can no Dore he totally free from this alienation than any other organisation, otherwise there would be no need for a revolution. But the manifestation of commitment may be elitist in the sense that control of the group passes into the hands of those with such commitment, alienating those new to it, or less committed, so that the group becomes a tight-knit nucleus, around which floats an unstable periphery. It is unstable in the sense of having a high turnover of members while staying roughly the same size. Here it must be admitted that peripheral members may not in fact leave through dissatisfaction, but rather feeling that, while they have gained something through membership, it is time to move on. This would however, indicate a rather static, “educational’ role for the group?

My conclusion is briefly stated. The only preventive to elitism is ultimately the level of consciousness of members (all members!) and their readiness to say “Enough!”. In a practical sense this may mean different organisational forms at, for example, a national conference. It seems obvious that the large meeting inhibits many people from participating, in a way that small groups do not. Many people are naturally diffident, and hesitate to try out their ideas. Such diffidence cannot but be reinforced if a discussion is characterised by a high degree of jargonising and general mental wanking. This being so, the majority stays quiet, and. the way is open for the rise of the guru (or bore). Unlike Joe, I am reasonably optimistic that Solidarity can cope. Those with tendencies to elitism are, in principle, capable of recognising it in themselves, and everyone else is capable of pointing it out to them, and, I think, must, and will, do so.

S.A.C.                                                                    7. April, 1976

Footnote: (for those who feel a piece of writing is naked without)
A.B.’s wardrobe by “Orgasm” of Port Tennant, Fabian Way, Swansea.

Paul Cardan – The Fate of Marxism

January 23, 2011 2 comments

P. Cardan, The Fate of Marxism (London: Solidarity)

Between 1961 and 1965 ‘Socialisme ou Barbarie’ published (in its issues 36-40) an important article by Paul Cardan entitled ‘Marxisme et ThÈorie RÈvolutionnaire’. Part I dealt with ‘the historical fate of marxism and the notion of orthodoxy’ and this pamphlet is based on that section. Part II went on to discuss ‘the marxist theory of history’. We published it under the title ‘History and Revolution’ in August 1971. Further sections, not yet translated, deal with ‘the marxist philosophy of history’, ‘the two elements in marxism and what historically became of them’, ‘the balance sheet’, and ‘the nature of revolutionary theory’.

The present text first appeared in Solidarity (London) vol.IV, no.3 (August 1966). A later reprint was produced by Solidarity (Clydeside).

which marxism?

For anyone seriously concerned with the social question, an encounter with marxism is both immediate and inevitable. It is probably even wrong to use the word ‘encounter’, in that such a term conveys both something external to the observer and something that may or may not happen. Marxism today has ceased to be some particular theory or some particular political programme advocated by this or that group. It has deeply permeated our language, our ideas and the very reality around us. It has become part of the air we breathe in coming into the social world. It is part of the historical landscape in the backgrounds of our comings and goings.

For this very reason to speak of marxism has become one of the most difficult tasks imaginable. We are involved in the subject matter in a hundred different ways. Moreover this Marxism, in realizing itself, has become impossible to pin down. For with which marxism should we deal? With the marxism of Khruschev or with the marxism of Mao Tse Tung? With the marxism of Togliatti or with that of Thorez? With the marxism of Castro, of the Yugoslays, or of the Polish revisionists? Or should one perhaps deal with the marxism of the Trotskyists (although here too the claims of geography reassert themselves: British and French trotskyists, trotskyists in the United States and trotskyists in Latin America tear one another to pieces, mutually denouncing one another as non marxist). Or should one deal with the Marxism of the Bordighists or of the SPGB, of Raya Dunayevskaya or of CLR James, or of this or that of the still smaller group of the extreme ‘left’? As I well known each of these groups denounces all others as betraying the spirit of ‘true’ marxism which it alone apparently embodies. A survey of the whole field will immediately show that there is not only the abyss separating ‘official’ from ‘oppositional’ marxisms. There is also the vast m plicity of both ‘official’ and ‘oppositional’ varieties each seeing itself as excluding all others.

There is no simple yardstick by which this complex situation could be simplified. There is no ‘test of events which speaks for itself’. Both the marxist politician enjoying the fruits of office the marxist political prisoner find themselves specific social circumstances, and in themselves these circumstances confer no particular valid to the particular views of those who expound them. On the contrary, particular circumstances ma] essential carefully to interpret what various s men for marxism say. Consecration in power gives no more validity to what a man says than does the halo of the martyr or irreconcilable opponent. For does not marxism itself teach us to view with suspicion both what emanates from institutionalized authority and what emanates from oppositions that perpetually fail to get even a toe hold in historical reality?

a return to the sources.

The solution to this dilemma cannot be purely and simply a ‘return to Marx’. What would such a return imply? Firstly it would see no more, in the development of ideas and actions in the last eighty years, and in particular in the development of social democracy, leninism, stalinism, trotskyism, etc, thann layer upon layer of disfiguring scabs covering a healthy body of intact doctrine. This would be most unhistorical.

It is not only that Marx’s doctrine is far from having the systematic simplicity and logical consistency that certain people would like to attribute to it. Nor is it that such a ‘return to the sources’ would necessarily have something academic about it ( at best it could only correctly re-establish the theoretical content of a doctrine belonging to the past – as one might attempt to do, say, for the writings of Descartes or St. Thomas Aquinas). Such an endeavour could leave the main problem unsolved, namely that of discovering the significance of Marxism for contemporary history and for those of us who live in the world of today.

The main reason why a ‘return to Marx’ is impossible is that under the pretext of faithfulness to Marx – and in order to achieve this faithfulness – such a ‘return’ would have to start by violating one of the essential principles enunciated by Marx himself. Marx was, in fact, the first to stress that the significance of a theory cannot be grasped independently of the historical and social practice which it inspires and initiates, to which it gives rise, in which it prolongs itself and under cover of which a given practice seeks to justify itself.

Who, today, would dare proclaim that the only significance of Christianity for history is to be found in reading unaltered versions of the Gospels or that the historical practice of various Churches over period of some 2,000 years can teach us nothing fundamental about the significance of this religious movement? A ‘faithfulness to Marx’ which would see the historical fate of marxism as something Un important would be just as laughable. It would in fact be quite ridiculous. Whereas for the Christian the revelations of the Gospels have a transcendental and an intemporal validity, no theory could ever have such qualities in the eyes of a marxist. To seek to discover the meaning of marxism only in what Marx wrote (while keeping quiet about what the doctrine has become in history) is to pretend – in flagrant contradiction with the central ideas of that doctrine – that real history doesn’t count and that the truth of a theory is always and exclusively to be found ‘further on’. It finally comes to replacing revolution by revelation and the understanding of events by the exegesis of texts.

All this would be bad enough. But there is worse. The insistence that a revolutionary theory be confronted, at all stages, by historical reality (1) is explicitly proclaimed in Marx’s writings. It is in fact part of the deepest meaning of Marxism. Marx’s marxism did not seek to be – and could not be – just one theory among others. It did not seek to hide its historical roots or to dissociate itself from its historical repercussions. Marxism was to provide the weapons not only for interpreting the world but for changing it. (2) The fullest meaning of the theory was, according to the theory itself, that it gave rise to and inspired a revolutionary practice. Those who, seeking to exculpate marxist theory, proclaim that none of the historical practices which for 100 years have claimed to base themselves on marxism are ‘really’ based on marxism, are in fact reducing marxism to the status of a mere theory, to the status of a theory just like any other. They are submitting marxism to an irrevocable judgment. They are in fact submitting it, quite literally, to a ‘Last Judgment’. For did not Marx thoroughly accept Hegel’s great idea: ‘Weltgeschichte ist Weltgericht’. (3)

marxism as ideology

Let us look at what happened in real life. In certain stages of modern history a practice inspired by marxism has been genuinely revolutionary. But in more recent phases of history it has been quite the opposite. And while these two phenomena need interpreting (and we will return to them) they undoubtedly point to the fundamental ambivalence of marxism. It is important to realise that in history, as in politics, the present weighs far more than the past. And for us, the present can be summed up in the statement that for the last 40 years Marxism has become an ideology in the full meaning that Marx himself attributed to this word. It has become a system of ideas which relate to reality not in order to clarify it and to transform it, but on the contrary in order to mask it and to justify it in the abstract.

It has become a means of allowing people to say one thing and to do another, to appear other than they are.

In this sense marxism first became ideology when it became Establishment dogma in countries paradoxically called ‘socialist’. In these countries ‘marxism’ is invoked by governments which quite obviously do not incarnate working class power and which are no more controlled by the working class than is any bourgeois government. In these countries ‘marxism’ is represented by ‘leaders of genius’ – whom their successors call ‘criminal lunatics’ without more ado. ‘Marxism’ is proclaimed the ideological basis of Tito’s policies and of those of the Albanians, of Russian policies and of those of the Chinese. In these countries marxism has become what Marx called the ‘solemn complement of justification’. It permits the compulsory teaching of ‘State and Revolution’ to students, while maintaining the most oppressive and rigid state structures known to history. It enables a self-perpetuating and privileged bureaucracy to take refuge behind talk of the ‘collective ownership of the means of production’ and of ‘abolition of the profit motive’.

But marxism has also become ideology in so far as it represents the doctrine of the numerous sects, proliferating on the decomposing body of the ‘official’ marxist movement. For us the word sect is not a term of abuse. It has a precise sociological and historical meaning. A small group is not necessarily a sect. Marx and Engels did not constitute a sect, even when they were most isolated. A sect is a group which blows up into an absolute a single side, aspect or phase of the movement from which it developed, makes of this the touchstone of the truth of its doctrine (or of the truth, full stop), subordinates everything else to this ‘truth’ and in order to remain ‘faithful’ to it is quite prepared totally to separate itself from the real world and henceforth to live in a world of its own. The invocation of marxism by the sects allows them to think of themselves and to present themselves as something other than what they are, namely as the future revolutionary party of that very proletariat in which they never succeed in implanting themselves.

Finally marxism has become ideology in yet another sense. For several decades now it has ceased to be a living theory. One could search the political literature of the last 30 years in vain even to discover fruitful applications of the theory, let alone attempts to extend it or to deepen it.

We don’t doubt that what we are now saying will provoke indignant protests among those who, while professing to ‘defend Marx’, daily bury his corpse a little deeper under the thick layers of their distortions and stupidities. We don’t care. This is no personal quarrel. In analysing the historical fate of max we are not implying that Marx had any kind of moral responsibility for what happened. It is marxism itself, in what was best and most revolutionary in it, namely its pityless denounciation of hollow phrases and ideologies and its insistence on permanent self-criticism, which compels us to take stock of what marxism has become in real life.

It is no longer possible to maintain or to rediscover some kind of ‘marxist orthodoxy’. It can’t be done in the ludicrous (and ludicrously linked) way in which the task is attempted by the high priests of stalinism and by the sectarian hermits, who see marxist doctrine which they presume intact, but ‘amend’, ‘improve’ or ‘bring up to date’ on this or that specific point, at their convenience. Nor can it be done in the dramatic and ultimatistic way suggested by Trotsky in 1940 (4) who said, more or less: ‘We know that marxism is an imperfect theory linked to a given period of history. We know that theoretical elaboration should continue. But today, the revolution being on the agenda, this task will have to wait’. This argument is conceivable – although superfluous – on the eve of an armed insurrection. Uttered a quarter of a century later it can only serve to mask the inertia and sterility of the trotskyist movement, since the death of it’s founder.

a marxist ‘method’?

Some will agree with us so far, but will seek final refuge in the defence of a ‘marxist method’ allegedly unaffected by what we have just discussed. It is not possible, however, to maintain ‘orthodoxy’ as Lukacs attempted long before them (in 1919 1 precise), by limiting it to a marxist method, which could somehow be separated from its content and which could somehow be neutral in relation to its content. (5)

Although a step forward in relation to various kinds of ‘orthodox’ cretinism, Lukacs’ position is basically untenable. It is untenable for a reason which Lukacs forgets, despite his familiarity with dialectical thinking, namely that it is impossible, except if one takes the term ‘method’ at its most superficial level, to separate a method from its content particularly when one is dealing with historical and social theory.

A method, in the philosophical sense, is defined by the sum total of the categories it uses. A rigid distinction between method and content only belongs to the more naive forms of transcendental idealism (or ‘criticism’). In its early stages this method of thought sought to separate and to oppose matter or content (which were infinite and undefined) to certain finite operative categories. According to this permanent flux of the subject matter could not alter the basic categories which were seen as the form without which the subject matter could not be grasped or comprehended.

But this rigid distinction between material and category is already transcended in the more advanced stages of ‘criticist’ thought, when it comes under the influence of dialectical thought. Formerly the problem arises: how do we determine which is the appropriate analytical category for this or that type of raw material? If the raw carries within itself the appropriate ‘hallmark’ allowing it to be placed in this or that it is not just ‘amorphous’; and if it is genuinely amorphous then it could indifferently be in one category or in another and the distinction between true and false breaks down. It is precisely this contradiction which, at several times in the history of philosophy, has led from a ‘criticist’ type of thinking to thinking of a dialectical type. (6)

This is how the question is posed at the level of logic. When one considers the growth of knowledge as history, one sees that it was often the ‘development of the subject matter’ that led to a revision of the previously accepted categories or even to their being exploded and superseded. The ‘philosophical’ revolutions produced in modern physics by relativity theory or by quantum theory are just two examples among many. (7)

The impossibility of establishing a rigid separation between method and content, between categories and raw material becomes even more obvious when one passes from knowledge of the physical world to understanding of history. A deeper enquiry into already available material – or the discovery of new material – may lead to a modification of the categories and therefore of the method. But there is, in addition, something much more fundamental, something highlighted precisely by Marx and by Lukacs themselves. (8) This is the fact that the categories through which we approach and apprehend history are themselves real products of historical development. These categories can only become clear and effective methods of historical knowledge when they have to some extent become incarnated or fulfilled in real forms of social life.

Let us give a simple example. In the thinking of the ancient Greeks the dominant categories defining social relations and history were essentially political (the power of the city, relations between cities, relations between ‘might’ and ‘right’, etc.). The economy only received marginal attention. This was not because the intelligence or insight of the Greeks were less ‘developed’ than those of modern man. Nor was it because there were no economic facts, or because economic facts were totally ignored. It was because in the social reality of that particular epoch the economy had not yet become a separate, autonomous factor (a factor ‘for itself’ as Marx would say) in human development. A significant analysis of the economy and of its importance for society could only take place in the 17th century and more particularly in the 18th century. It could only take place in parallel with the real development of capitalism which made of the economy the dominant element in social life. The central importance attributed by Marx and the marxists to economic factors is but an aspect of the unfolding of this historical reality.

It is therefore clear that there cannot exist a ‘method’ of approaching history, which could remain immune from the actual development of history. This is due to reasons far more profound than the ‘progress of knowledge’ or than ‘new discoveries’ etc. It is due to reasons pertaining directly to the very structure of historical knowledge, and first of all to the structure of its object: the mode of being of history. What is the object we are trying to know when we study history? What is history? History is inseparable from meaning. Historical facts are historical (and not natural, or biological) inasmuch as they are interwoven with meaning (or sense). The development of the historical world is, ipso facto, the development of a universe of meaning. Therefore, it is impossible radically to separate fact from meaning (or sense), or to draw a sharp logical distinction between the categories we use to understand the historical material, and the material itself. And, as this universe of meaning provides the environment in which the ‘subject’ of the historical knowledge (i.e. the student of history) lives, it is also necessarily the means by which he grasps, in the first instance, the whole historical material. No epoch can grasp history except through its own ideas about history; but these ideas are themselves a product of history and part and parcel of the historical material (which will be studied as such by the next epoch). Plainly speaking the method of the biologist is not a biological phenomenon; but the method of the historian is a historical phenomenon (9).

Even these comments have however to be seen in proper perspective. They don’t imply that at every moment, every category and every method are thrown into question. Every method is not transcended or ruined by the development of real history at the very instant it is being utilized. At any given moment, it is always a practical question of knowing if historical change has reached a point where the old categories and the old method have to be reassessed. But this judgment cannot be made independently of a discussion of the content. In fact such an assessment is nothing other than a discussion on content which, starting with the old categories, comes to show, through its dealings with the raw material of history, that one needs to go beyond a particular set of categories.

Many will say: ‘to be marxist is to remain faithful to Marx’s method, which remains valid’. This is tantamount to saying that nothing has happened in the history of the last 100 years which either permits one or challenges one to question Marx’s categories. It is tantamount to implying that everything will forever be understood by these categories. It is to take up a position in relation to content and categories, to have a static, non- dialectical theory concerning this relationship, while at the same time refusing openly to admit it.

conclusions

In fact, it is precisely the detailed study content of recent history which compelled us to reconsider the categories – and therefore the method of marxism. We have questioned these categories not only (or not so much) because this or that particular theory of Marx – or of traditional marxism – had been proved ‘wrong’ in real life, but because we felt that history as we were living it could no longer be grasped through these traditional categories, either in their original form (10) or as ‘amended’ or ‘enlarged’ by post-marx marxists. The course of history, we felt, could neither be grasped, nor changed, by these methods.

Our reexamination of marxism does not take place in a vacuum. We don’t speak from just anywhere or from nowhere at all. We started from revolutionary marxism. But we have now reached the stage where a choice confronts us: to remain marxists or to remain revolutionaries. We to choose between faithfulness to a doctrine which, for a considerable period now, has no longer been animated by any new thought or any meaningful action, and faithfulness to our basic purpose revolutionaries, which is a radical and total formation of society.

Such a radical objective requires first of all that one should understand that which one seeks to transform. It requires that one identifies what elements, in contemporary society, genuine challenge its fundamental assumptions and are in basic (and not merely superficial) conflict with its present structure. But one must go further. Method is not separable from content. Their unity, namely theory, is in its turn not separable from the requirements of revolutionary action. And anyone looking at the real world, must conclude that meaningful revolutionary action can no longer be guided by traditional theory. This has been amply demonstrated for several decades now both by the experience of the mass parties of the ‘left’, and by the experience of the sects.

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(1) By ‘historical reality’ we obviously don’t mean particular events, separated from all others. We mean the dominant tendencies of social evolution, after all the necessary interpretations have been made.

(2) K. Marx. Eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach.

(3) ‘Universal History is the Last Judgment’. Despite its theological form, this statement, expresses one of Hegel’s most radically atheistic ideas. It means that there is nothing transcendental; that there is no appeal against what happens here and now. We are, definitively, what we are in the process of becoming, what we shall have become.

(4) In his ‘In Defence of Marxism’.

(5) See the essay ‘What Is Orthodox Marxism?’ Lukacs’ book ‘History and Class Consciousness. An English translation of this essay was recently published by ‘International Socialism’, Nos. 24 and 25 (obtainable from 36 Gilden Rd., London NW6 ) C. Wright Mills adopts a rather similar viewpoint in his book ‘The Marxists‘.

(6) The classical example of such a transition is the passage from Kant to Hegel, via Fichte and Schelling. But the basic pattern can be discerned in the later works of Plato, or among the neo-Kantians, from Rickert to Last.

(7) It is obviously not just a question of turning things upside down. Neither logically nor historically have the categories of physics been ‘simply a result’ (and even less ‘simply a reflection’) of the subject matter. A revolution in the realm of categories may allow one to grasp raw material which hitherto defied definition (as happened with Galileo). Moreover advances in experimental technique may at times ‘compel’ new material to appear. There is therefore a two-way relationship – but certainly no independence – between categories and subject matter.

(8) See Lukacs ‘The Changing Function of Historical Materialism’ (loc. cit.).

(9) These considerations are developed mo on p. 20 et seq. of the French text.

(10) In the present article we cannot enter into a detailed discussion as to which of the concepts of classical marxism have today to be discarded for a real grasp of the nature of the modern world and of the means of changing it. The subject is discussed in detail in an article ‘Recommencer Ia Revolution’ (published in January 1964 in issue No.25 of ‘Socialisme ou Barbarie’) of which we hope to publish extracts in forthcoming issues.

Some thoughts on the UK Uncut demonstrations

January 3, 2011 Leave a comment

Stolen from Django’s blog on LibCom.org.

The UK has seen a wave of high-street demonstrations under the banner of the UK uncut campaign, many of which have been organised locally following call outs distributed through the internet. The protests have seen a number of stores associated with Tax-Dodging picketed, occupied and flyered in cities and towns up and down the country.

The targets of the campaign have been pretty specific. The most high-profile company to be taken on has been the UK-based telecoms giant Vodafone, which is the most profitable mobile phone operator in the world. Earlier in the year veteran investigative magazine Private Eye broke a story on Vodafone’s successful tax-dodging, which had involved setting up a subsidiary company in Luxembourg purely to route profits from the company’s acquisition of Mannesman through a country with a more agreeable tax regime. After a lengthy legal battle, which apparently was going HMRC’s way, the taxman agreed to let Vodafone pay a tax bill of £1.2 billion, rather than the full £6 billion in estimated tax. Vodafone have since dismissed the £6 billion figure as a “urban myth”, despite the fact their accountants projected for it in their own bookeeping. Understandably, the story produced a groundswell of anger, of which these demonstrations are a product.

Target number two is head of the Arcadia group empire – and author of the Efficiency Review advising the government on how to shape its cuts – Sir Philip Green. Green, who made his fortune on the back of workers in South Asia working 12 hour shift for poverty wages, took home a paycheck unprecedented in UK history when in 2005 he paid himself £1.2 billion. This was paid to his wife, living in the tax-haven of Monaco so as to avoid tax.

The demonstrations have garnered a good deal of attention from the authorities and the media, both of whom have launched investigations into the “ringleaders” of the protests. On their own, the demos have caused a fair bit of disruption, and brought the fact that the same government seeking to impose historic cuts in the standard of living in the UK is also allowing its friends in business to avoid fulfilling their tax obligations, if nothing else shattering the great lie that “we’re all in this together”.

There are evidently positive aspects to the protests, but some of their limitations are immediately striking. Fundamentally, the protests don’t push beyond the logic of social democracy, in fact, playing devil’s advocate one could go further and argue they are compatible with a right-wing populist analysis of the crisis: tax-avoiding multinational companies are sucking money from the country, unlike the hard done-by ‘British taxpayer’, forming another fundamentally alien parasite on the country’s back – add it the the list with the EU, immigrants, etc…

Furthermore, the basic logic of the callouts is the need to uphold the rule of law – these companies have a legal obligation to pay their taxes, which they shirk. This much is stated up front by UK Uncut, who, styling themselves as “big society revenue and customs”, state that “if they won’t chase them, we will”. Essentially, the argument as it stands is for the state to live up to it’s promise and to actually deliver on the idealised face of its material function. The role of the state in capitalism is to underwrite the functioning of the capitalist market. The state is a prerequisite of capitalism in that the ability to guarantee private property rights and therefore the ability to buy and sell requires a legal and judicial system and repressive state body there to make those rights possible. What makes any property yours or mine, but much more importantly what makes the property of the capitalist his is ultimately the ability of the state to adjudicate and guarantee that he can dispose of his accumulated wealth as he pleases. In practice this means the need to mediate parties and maintain the social fabric in the face of potential unrest – translated into bourgeois ideology in its current, successful iteration as an even-handed regime of “fairness” where we are all taxed, prosecuted, and end up on the receiving end of cuts fairly. Witness every political party attempting to outdo one another by positing the “fairness” of their plans for the economy and attacks on working class living standards in the UK. The state is a subject of criticism because it fails to fulfil its promised role correctly, not because this promised role, along with the toleration of tax avoidance and the regime of austerity all step from its role as a key actor in the continued existence of capitalism.

However, saying this is not to dismiss these protests out of hand or deny they have positive aspects that can be built on, and that there is no space for growth and dialogue. To remain aloof to nascent movements and all the inevitable contradictions real people in the real world bring with them as they become politically engaged is to condemn ourselves to irrelevance.

One positive feature of the demonstrations is the fact that protesters in many cases are willing to create disruption as a tactic. Effective direct action, be it in the form of strike action, demonstrations or occupations is effective by virtue of its ability to disrupt the normal functioning of society. In a society entirely based on the accumulation of capital, this means the disruption of the economy. Occupations of high-street stores have the capacity to inhibit buying and selling and affect directly the normal working of parts of the economy. If we are to effectively resist these cuts, we will have to recognise that ultimately symbolic protests and petitioning representatives to manage capitalism differently isn’t going to cut it. The rowdier of the UK Uncut protests have involved high-street linchpins like Topshop being effectively shut down and unable to trade. Such disruption needs to take the form of mass action, and links need to be built with shop workers – the vanguardist paradigm of a few activists on an “action” supergluing themselves to things is no basis for a mass movement.

Another positive aspect of the protests – with qualification – is the fact that the line spun by the government, opposition and media on the ultimate inevitability of the cuts agenda is being rejected. Clearly, the “there is no alternative”, “Britain is bankrupt” line on cuts to public services isn’t washing with people, and with good reason – it’s hardly a convincing argument when HMRC is haemorrhaging billions in unpaid tax. This rejection is obviously positive. However, this needs to be qualified. Ultimately, if those on the receiving end of these attacks feel the need to balance the state’s books on capital’s behalf by offering alternate solutions to Britain’s deficit there is a problem. Firstly, because we can question the degree to which public debt is a “problem” for capital anyway, as opposed to an integral part of the functioning of states in today’s world which is neither inherently “good” or “bad”.[1] Secondly, the overall subordination of everyday life and our needs to those of the economy needs to be questioned. Many attacks on tax-avoidance take the desirability of a healthy national economy as a given, with tax-dodging companies being seen as at least in part to blame for capitalism’s present difficulties.

Of course, nascent movements are going to be full of contradictions. People don’t develop a perfect analysis (if such a thing exists) overnight, and any mass movement against the cuts that may appear is going to be full of all kinds of illusions in social democracy, the labour party, the petitioning of our representatives, the rule of law and order and so on. Communism is the real movement against things as they are, and role of communists is to draw out the elements of movements like this which have potential, and agitate for their development and advancement. There remains the possibility of escalation and radicalisation, that participants in such campaigns can move beyond the initial limitations they have. There are a number of positives to such protests which can be built on without tempering criticism, and the role of communists should be constant engagement and dialogue.

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1. http://libcom.org/library/public-debt-makes-state-go-round

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