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Social Revolution – The Problem of Organisaiton (and the organisaiton of problems)

January 16, 2013 Leave a comment

I think this was an internal document, there are typos that are my fault. May have been written in response to proposal to merge with Solidarity.

1. What is a ‘socialist organisation, a ‘revolutionary group’, a ‘communist tendency’, when we come down to it?

Just a number of people with the same political views. A shared outlook on the world, expressed in a ‘platform’ of ideas, written or unwritten. A tiny number of individuals who’d like to take part with millions of others in the building of a new society to replace the glittering ‘super-‘rational’ chaos of contemporary capitalism.

2. Unlike the Social Democrats or Leninists, we have confidence in people’s capacity to develop in themselves and generate in others the consciousness that will ultimately lead to our freeing ourselves by our own collective activity from the various synthetic chains which bind us, without any assistance from would-be benefactors, the ‘professional revolutionaries’, ‘revolutionary leaders’ drawn from the ‘professional’ intelligentsia.

CATALYSTS

3. Not being – or wishing to be leaders, we regard ourselves as ‘catalysts’, our function that of spreading ideas of the free communist society, not that of attempting to seize power on our own account, whether by conspiracy, civil war or even the electoral carnival. ‘The emancipation of the working class must be the work of the working class itself.’ Ultimately it is our class as a whole that decides the fate of the issues we perennially discuss – not us.

4. It is our view that the working class can – and will – create all the organisations needed for the socialist transformation of society in the process of its own struggles to do so, resulting from its conditions of life and its growing consciousness as a class for – rather than in – itself. Without losing ourselves in the confusionist cul-de sac of organisational fetischism, we suggest that well-coordinated networks of what are known historically as ‘workers councils’, ‘soviets’ or ‘councils of action’, councils of delegates mandated for specific tasks in workplaces, regions, industries etc – non-heirarchical, democratic, involving voluntary participation – will in the beginnings, means and ends of intensifying class struggle nationally and internationally, the basic organs of any post-revolutionary society in its development of communism.

PART OF THE PROBLEM?

5. We say this on the basis of accumulated historical evidence, having noted how on innumerable o occasions large numbers of workers have fought their own battles against their exploiters. We note also how, in many ‘revolutionary situations’, the ‘revolutionaries’ seem to have been part of the problem, not part of the solution, […….] how the workers councils of the past have been destroyed by the bureaucratic organisational forms of Trade Unions, and political parties, even those styling themselves ‘Socialist’ and ‘Communist’. No matter what organs exist to ensure that the continuity of the revolutionary process remains unbroken, the conscious self-management of each ultimately becomes a condition for the conscious self-management of all.

6. The triumph of socialism is ultimately dependent on the consciousness of the working class rather than any specific organisational form. It is when we forget this that we become obsessed with organisation itself, losing sight of what it is for. It is a means to an end. Just that. The only end that any ‘organisation’ of socialists should wish for is its dissolution into the period, noting with dismay the more or less successful recuperation of what seemed to be quite promising – although fragmented – movements – squatting, ‘sexual liberation’, ‘workers control’, ‘community politics’, together with numerous other ‘rank and file activities’, noting the seeming apathy and the continued passivity of our class in the face of all the gyrations of ‘decadent’ capitalism, where are we left, if not in a kind of limbo? The current frenetic debates on ‘organisation’ – for what? – between assorted little groups, each denouncing the others as ‘sectarian’, ‘monolithic! etc are the living proof of this.

MINI PARTIES

8. Looking around we can see that most organisations that libertarian communists create are, like those of the Leninists we mercilessly criticise, mini-political parties. This is so in practice, if not in theory. Impatient, we fall into the same incestuous practices of unnecessary and premature centralisation, justifying our existence in selling papers to one another, haranguing one another at meetings on the sidelines of life. Unconsciously, our pasts remain with us. We are still party-builders of a sort. The last shreds of false consciousness, the quantitative rationales that we ‘council’ communists’ have inherited from our pasts in party politics’ lead to the re-creation of unnecessary formalism, unnecessary paperwork, and other latent bureaucratic trappings in recreated false collectives whose members come to devote most of their time to what become alienated, routine tasks – ‘just keeping the organisation going’.

9. ‘Revolutionary organisation’, this point has nothing to do with organising a revolution. Even if it did, that’s not just up to us, as all that the phrase can mean now is the ways in which we individuals – get together to discuss, clarify, develop our our ideas, try to spread them around as wide as possible, given our limited energy, resources. We should not ashamed of doing this because when we want to.

COME TOGETHER

10. To me ‘regroupment’ – how ‘principled’ – just ain’t on. ‘Del ment’ and a coming together is.

experience something more than ‘self-managed boredom’, a network in which groups of socialist friends swop experiences, ideas and from which specific projects emerge. (rather than with ideas or relationships it is with projects that a need for organisation appears, in earnest, it seems to me. Organisation with an immediate purpose, consequently with no need to justify itself). The biggest problem that we face is that there are so few of us. Scattered groups here and there […] to be aware of each others’ existence and in contact with each other. And of contact and ongoing dialogue leads to inertia and isolation. The ludicrous attempts to create formal centralised organisations with enormous ‘platforms’ and a multitude of ‘lines’ on this and that lead to the same kind of failure to do what is intended – to bring libertarian communists together – by strangling the babes of initiative and individual at birth.

11. Our movement today needs unification, but not on that basis! What libertarian socialist movement that exists should try to foreshadow that which it hopes to create. It should take the form of a ‘coordinating network of ‘councils’ in miniature, social network as much as anything else, flexible and claiming as its raison d’etre the desire for a meaningful social life, the only real basis which any movement becomes and remains meaningful for its participants.

CHARLIE BLOGGS

The ‘Solidarity’ Group: Not so Solid (SPGB – 1969)

January 10, 2013 Leave a comment

‘The ‘Solidarity’ Group: Not so Solid’, Socialist Standard, No. 774 (February 1969)

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Men will never be free from exploitation and oppression until all work is voluntary and access to all goods and services is free. “Socialism” means a world-wide society, democratically controlled, without profits, wages or money. This is a practical proposition now.

All attempts to solve such problems as war, poverty, loneliness, miserable and degrading toil, inside a society based on wages and profits are sure to fail. We, alone of all political organisations, use Marx’s slogan “Abolition of the wages system!”

Thousands of people come forward with plans to re-arrange the wages system. They imagine that slavery can be operated in the interests of slaves! They are wasting their time.

One such school of thought is the political group which calls itself “Solidarity.” Their case is presented in a pamphlet entitled The Meaning of Socialism, which declares that the root of misery in work is, not wage-slavery, but the system of management.

The author, Paul Cardan, proposes to keep the compulsion to work through threat of starvation. He even quotes approvingly St. Paul’s injunction “He that does not work, neither shall he eat.” Production for the market is to be retained in Cardan’s “Socialism” but it is to be “a genuine market for consumer goods, with consumers’ sovereignty.” The wages system is to be retained. We are still to be hired and fired, disciplined and dragooned—but with a difference which Mr. Cardan sees as important: instead of the majority of workers being supervised by a specially trained section of workers (management) the entire work-force in each place of production will manage itself democratically, through workers’ councils. The key feature of “Socialism” is that it will “eliminate all distinct strata of specialised or permanent managers.”

The Socialist Party rejects “workers’ management” as a solution to workers’ problems. We insist on the abolition of wages.

It is to be feared that the tyranny of your mates might prove as terrible as the tyranny of your manager, if your mates are equally as bound up with production for sale on a market. This is the crucial difference between “Solidarity” and us. We say that tinkering with administrative forms is of no use. Buying and selling must be abolished. The wage packet—the permission to live—must be abolished.

The most crucial error in Cardan’s analysis is his belief that the essential features of capitalism can be retained, and can be guided by “workers’ management” towards humane and liberating ends. The market is to remain, but not, apparently, its laws. It should be obvious that if any enterprise produces to sell, and pays its bills out of its revenue, it will be subject to the same basic market laws as any other enterprise. Of course, at the moment these laws are observed and interpreted by management, which then makes the decisions and’ imposes them on the other workers in the interests of the shareholders. But it should have occurred to Cardan that these same laws might have the same force whoever does the managing and even if the shareholders, so to speak, are the workers. This is a suggestion which members of “Solidarity” ought at least to consider.

Perhaps they will say that the important thing is the removal of the ruling class. It is true that the capitalists, like all ruling classes, live in great luxury and possess immense power. But it is a mistake to think that the workers are poor because the capitalists consume so much. On the contrary, the wealth actually consumed personally by capitalists is an insignificant (and diminishing) fraction of total wealth produced. Taking the consumption of the capitalists and sharing it out amongst the workers would result in a rise for us all of only a few shillings a week. It is a fact that our masters live off the fat of the land, but if they starved in garrets we should still be slaves. Socialists an not primarily concerned, like vulgar moralists and apostles of “fair play,” to indict the caviar and yachts of the Paul Gettys, but rather the misdirection of production: the subordination of consumption to accumulation and the immensity of organized waste and destruction.

Similarly, though the capitalist class has power, we do not merely condemn the arbitrary, irresponsible decisions of those in high places. We condemn also the decisions which capitalists and workers are forced to make as a result of the workings of capitalism’s laws of motion.

“Capitalism without capitalists” could never in fact come about. Should the working-class reach a level of understanding where they could pressurize the ruling class out of existence, they would long since have passed the stage where they would have abolished the wages system and established Socialism. And there are several purely economic arguments why escalating differences in access to wealth would always result from a wages-profits system. But even if we suspend these judgments, and consider “Capitalism without capitalists” in our imaginations, we can see it would be no improvement on capitalism with capitalists. Workers collectively administering their own exploitation not a state of affairs Which Socialist aim for.

Some advocates of “workers’ control” advance the argument that although it wouldn’t solve workers’ problems it should still be supported because workers are too simple- minded to understand the abolition of wages, and must therefore be given “workers’ control” as the sugar on the pill (except that these gentlemen invariably then forget about the pill altogether). Cardan cannot use this line argument, and this is to his credit, for he has quite correct debunked it:

“The Party . . . “knows” (or believes that it knows) that the sliding scale of wages will never be accepted by capitalism. It believes that this demand, if really fought for by the workers, will lead to a revolutionary situation and eventually to the revolution itself. If it did it would “scare the workers off” who are not “yet” ready to fight for socialism as such. So the apparently innocent demand for a sliding scale of wages is put forward as feasible . . . while “known” to be unfeasible. This is the bait which will make the workers swallow the hook and the revolutionary line. The Party, firmly holding the rod, will drag the class along into the “socialist” frying pan. All this would be a monstrous conception, were it not so utterly ridiculous.”

We would certainly endorse this attack on Vanguardism, but it is hardly enough to compensate for the page loads of absurdities which Cardan peddles.

In order to make credible his notion of “Socialism” (capitalism minus capitalism’s laws) he says that modern techniques of production are introduced under capitalism more to reduce the freedom of workers than to increase profitability:

“Machines are invented, or selected, according to one fundamental criterion: do they assist in the struggle of management against workers, do they reduce yet further the worker’s margin of autonomy, do they assist in eventually replacing him altogether? . . . No British capitalist, no Russian factory manager would ever introduce into his plant a machine which would increase the freedom of a particular worker or of a group of workers to run the job themselves, even if such a machine increased production.”

This astonishing claim is made without the smallest shred of evidence being supplied. Whilst it is possible that a few shrewd managers may accept a cut in short-term profits for the sake of insuring long-term profits by fragmenting workplace organization, the intricate conspiracy necessary for Cardan’s sweeping statement to be true would be humorous to contemplate. It borders on paranoia to attribute “ever minute division of labour and tasks” to the management‘s conscious attempts “to combat the resistance of the workers.” Division of labour, and other atomizing and features of modern techniques, are primarily the results of attempting to maintain or increase the level of profits. Modern productive methods are dictated, at a given of technology, by market laws (that is, from the management’s point of view, laws of costs and revenue) and largely outside the will of the capitalists themselves, or that of the managers.

A lot of Cardan’s propositions are developed in contrast to what he calls “Marxism.” It is quite apparent that he is abysmally ignorant of Marx’s theoretical system; the “Marxism” he denounces is the crudest mish-mash of fifth-rate Bolshevism. That is doubtless a further condemnation .of the dire results of Bolshevik confusion-mongering, but it hardly excuses Cardan for making statements about Marx without having read him.

For example, in The Meaning of Socialism, we read:

“By “Socialism” we mean the historical period which starts with the proletarian revolution and ends with communism. In thus defining it, we adhere very strictly to Marx. This is the only “transitional period” between class society and communism.”

Marx of course, never drew any distinction between Socialism and Communism, and always gave these words identical meanings. “Solidarity,” like the “Communist” Party and Trotskyists, concede that it is necessary to abolish wages and money, but say that this is an “ultimate aim” (translation: not an aim at all).

It is also claimed that Marx has been proved wrong by what happened in Russia, because private property was abolished there without his predicted results. Cardan ought to consider Marx’s statement that as long as power over people exists, private property exists. Cardan further believes that Russia has abolished unemployment, which is admittedly not ignorance of Marx, but of Russia.

It is alleged that Marx saw the domination of men by machines as an inexorable consequence of the advance of technology, as a fact which had to be accepted even in Socialism. This is an outrageous howler. Marx was at great pains to stress that the domination of living labour by dead labour was in point of fact an optical illusion. When the instruments of labour appeared to be outside the control of Man, it was in actuality the case that Man’s social relations were outside his control. Thus when Engels talks about the “mastery of the product over the producer” he does not mean that the products are actually the masters, but simply that they seem to be, as long as producers cannot control their social organization of production. They will remain unable to do so as long as these are commodity relations (1). Socialists have always emphasised that in Socialism production will be organized not just to make more goods, but also to make work itself enjoyable.

Like most Left-wingers, “Solidarity” believe that the Russian Revolution was Socialist. This belief is not an accident, but is closely related to their other misconceptions. “The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living,” wrote Marx. The Nightmare of Leftism, which weighs so heavily on the brains of today’s Romantic Revolutionaries, is the tradition of capitalist revolutions: the glorification of bloody insurrection, a mystical “Peoples Will” or “Proletarian Consciousness” which has no connection with what people actually will, or what workers actually understand, and hence the disparaging of political democracy, and the theory that revolutionary workers can be “held back” by a Party apparatus. “Solidarity” is no exception. Its ideas belong to the past; they have no future.

On the October Revolution Mr. Cardan comments:

“Many people (various social democrats, various anarchists and the Socialist Party of Great Britain) have said that nothing really happened in Russia except a coup d’état carried out by a Party which, having somehow obtained the support of the working class, sought only to establish its own dictatorship and succeeded in doing so.

We don’t wish to discuss this question in an academic manner. Our aim is not to decide whether the Russian Revolution warrants the label of proletarian revolution. The questions which are important for us are different ones. Did the Russian working class play a historical role of its own during this period? . . . The independent role played by the proletariat was clear-cut and undeniable.” (From Bolshevism To The Bureaucracy.)”

To this we can only retort that the view attributed to the Socialist Party is surely too silly to have even been held by anyone. All capitalist revolutions are highly complex phenomena, and 1917 was no exception. Cardan’s aim “is not to decide whether the Russian Revolution warrants the label of proletarian revolution,” despite the fact that in his writings he persistently refers to it as such, no less than four times in this particular pamphlet prior to the above excerpt! Of course workers played an independent role in 1917. Workers have played an independent role in every capitalist revolution without exception. That should be elementary.

Two questions have to be asked; they answer themselves. Had Russia in 1917 reached a level of development where abundance for all was possible? And did the Russian working-class in 1917 possess a clear understanding of the need for a wageless, moneyless, stateless society?

To sum up, movements for “workers’ management,” “workers’ participation” and “workers’ control” (though their various adherents distinguish very loudly between these three) will probably be used by capitalism, as in Yugoslavia, to give workers the impression that the enterprise they work for in some way belongs to them. If all employees can be drawn into the process of management, and can be given the illusion of an identity of interests between workers and employers, this helps to muffle the trade union struggle and enhance the process of exploitation. This is not what the members of “Solidarity” want, but then neither is the present structure of the steel industry what Labour Leftists wanted. “Workers’ management” is a cul-de-sac, to replace the cul-de-sac of nationalization. Please, don’t take another fifty years to see through this one. . . .

We say that in an epoch of potential Plenty the cry should be, not “workers’ management,” but “To each according to his wants!”

(1) This point is made abundantly clear in Marx’s Wage Labour And Capital, and Engels’ Socialism, Utopian and Scientific, and is frequently stressed throughout Marx’s writings.

Maurice Brinton interview (1990)

January 5, 2013 Leave a comment

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Interview with Chris Pallis (aka Maurice Brinton) produced by Agora International during the Cerisy Colloquium. He talks about the importance of Cornelius Castoriadis’ (aka Paul Cardan)’s ideas in his break from Trotskyism, and the ‘Solidarity’ group, of which he was the most prominent member.

Source: Agora International

Solidarity Minutebook

February 20, 2012 3 comments

I may be breaking a promise I made to someone by putting these pictures online, but things like this shouldn’t be hidden away, they should be available for everyone to know about.

Ian Bone – Carbon Black

January 2, 2012 1 comment

Taken from Solidarity: For Workers’ Power, Vol. 6, No. 10

This article is a follow-up to the one on the ‘Politics of Community Action’, published in our last issue, in which we sought to demystify people concerning the activities of well-meaning but misguided radicals, busying themselves in the ‘community action’ field. The present text counterposes to such activity a form of direct action, initiated and kept under the control of the people themselves. It also shows how ordinary people are beginning to struggle against pollution.

Worker at carbon black plant, Sunray, Texas (Library of Congress)

The United carbon Black factory, situated in the Port Tennant area of Swansea, produces carbon blacks for use in car tyres. It is American controlled, Although large in size it only has a small, non-union labour force.

Besides carbon blacks the factory also produces clouds of black smut and dirt which constantly rain down on the houses nearby. This makes it impossible for washing to be hung outside. Within an hour it is filthy, so all washing has to be dried indoors. But the dirt also comes indoors, covering food, furniture, children and babies. A local manager of the factory once remarked that the people of the area were living in slums anyway, we why were they complaining about dirt?

Port Tennant is a working class area composed of rows of terraced houses. It has returned Labour councillors since time immemorial. Twenty years of protests to the Labour Council have not however changed the situation as regards the pollution.

In January 1970 local housewives dumped their dirty washing at the Guildhall and temporarily blocked the road leading to the factory. In response to this the management installed a new burner in March 1970, claiming this would end the “muck-spreading”.

By January 1970 the situation was as bad as ever. Having tired of useless protests to the Council, to M.P.s and to the local Health Department to people of Port Tennant decided to act on the own behalf. At a meeting on January 26, it was decided to block the road leading to the factory indefinitely, until the filth it spewed out ended.

To maintain surprise a Committee consisting of one representative from each street in the area was elected to decide the time of the action. When the time came each Committee members would inform all the households in his or her street.

On February 1 it was announced at a Council meeting that the Carbon Black factory was planning to increase production by 25%. At 9.30 a.m. on February 3, fifty housewives moved onto the road leading to the factory and stayed there, The aim was not a symbolic temporary blocking of an entrance. It was to be permanent obstruction until production was brought totally to a halt or the pollution ended. The housewives were also determined to remain until the plans for expansion had been scrapped.

Cars and lorries bringing in supplies were turned away, but police escorted empoyees and others through the crowd on foot. The blockage continued throughout the night, much to the annoyance ad surprise of the management who had confidently told lorry drivers to park ‘round the corner’ and deliver during the night. If the management had any further doubts that the road blockers were there to stay these were son dispelled. A large tent was pitched on that road and a fire built up. Chairs, stores and radios were brought in. Meals were cooked on the spot. Local trades-men brought in wood, coal and other supplies. A fish ad chip shop sent a huge tray of free pies and another small shop stayed open till 4.00 a.m. to supply the night shift with tea and sandwiches.

As the days went by, the organisation improved. To combat the cold weather – there were strong gales with driving sleet and rain throughout the first weekend of the protest – ropes were slung across he road at head hight, and large tarpaulins draped over them. To one of these tarpaulins was attached a notice reading “We’re not budging, even if we catch pneumonia”.

Shifts of fifty a time were organised on an informal basis – “We just dash round each others’ houses to see who can or can’t go on blockade duty”. The whole pattern of everyday life was changed. The women were getting up early to cook breakfast for husbands and children, then going immediately to guard the factory entrance against lorries trying to enter. Then, sometime during the day, they would take a two-hour break to do essential housework. At night the men took over – often coming straight from work.

Even the local newspaper was moved to write “It is in the evenings that the comradeship is most evident. Fighting spirit becomes akin to party spirit as people bring portable record players and share their food.”

Many of the men took their winter holidays to take part, though one remarked “We don’t normally spend our holidays on the Port Tennant Riviera”. The humour of those taking part was apparent throughout.

On Shrove Tuesday a fancy dress and hot pants pancake race was run round the factory and the residents turned out en masse to join in the fun. By staging such events the road blockers were able to keep their morale high at a tie when lack of sleep and terrible weather could easily have dampened enthusiasm.

During all this time no vehicles of ay kind were allowed to enter or leave the factory, though employees were able to come and go. It was not long before this had an effect on production, although a full week elapsed before the management admitted that production had been cut back.
At the end of three weeks several departments had bee closed down and the employees were being put on maintenance work. Since no lorries could leave the factory all finished products were being stockpiled.

At this stage the management proposed a “truce”. This was immediately rejected. The management then stated that they were meeting their legal requirements (and they were). They appealed to the Secretary of State for Wales to back them up. Swansea Council had also referred the matter to the Welsh Office, being only too pleased to pass the buck. The fact that the management were not taking some initiatives revealed that they were not seriously concerned at the protesters threat to stay till Christmas (“the one after next”, as the local people were at pains to point out).

Peter Thomas, Secretary of State for Wales, (and also Chairman of the Conservative Party) stated on February 12 that the report of a Welsh Office Alkali Inspector showed that the factory was indeed meeting its legal requirements. Some interesting facts then emerged about Thomas’ position. The Carbon Black parent company is Anchor Chemicals Ltd. The Deputy Chairman of Anchor Chemicals is Sir Clyce Hewlett, an active member of the Conservative Party and friend of Peter Thomas, whom he met at the young Conservatives’ Conference at Eastbourne, during the blockade Thomas’ decision came as no surprise.

There followed another report, this time by Britain’s Deputy Chief Alkali Inspector. This ended with the same result. Edgar Cutler summed up the thoughts of the road blockers when he said “We’ve not been hanging around here 24 hours of the day for 17 days for nothing. We will continue our stand”. It was noted that as the Inspector arrived, the works momentarily went out of production; no smoke come out of the stack that day. As soon as the Inspector left; production started up again.

Production was now being increasingly affected. On February 26 a meeting was held in Cardiff, between the road blockers, the management and Swansea Council. The management made some concessions. The promised to control the smut and grime more effectively, stating that they were to spend £200,000 on pollution-control. The factory was to be thoroughly spring-cleaned. Lorries would be re-routed. More importantly it was agreed to half production when strong easterly winds were prevalent (surely a unique agreement in British industry). A Liaison Committee was to be formed consisting of the management, the Port Tennant residents and the council. This Committee was to keep a continual watch on the pollution situation, enabling the residents to exert some control over the situation. It was hinted that the expansion plats were to be dropped.

Were these proposals a victory for the residents or not? Obviously this would depend on how they were interpreted. What constitutes “a strong easterly wind”? Would the decisions of the Liaison Committee have any weight? Would the new expenditure by the management really take place? And it so, would it be any more effective than previous expenditure in stopping pollution? Only time would tell.

Given these terms, the residents reluctantly agreed to life the blockade. Howard Bevan spoke for many when he said “A lot of us are not satisfied. We’ve heard all these promises before. Although we have taken down our shelter we have stored it near the entrance. If Carbon Black don’t keep their promises we won’t take long to erect it again. All we can do now is wait and see what the outcome will be If we blockade again it will be on a much larger scale than during the last three weeks.” Three days later it was announced that the plans for the extension of the factory had been shelved.

The blockade had lasted 24 days, in the middle of winter. After years of asking the Council to do something for them the people of Port Tennant had acted unitedly, on their own behalf. At the end of it many who had taken part were despondent about what they had achieved. But they were not despondent about the type of action they had undertaken. All were contemptuous of the Council and confident that in the future it would only be by their own action that they could change the situation. If they had not got all they wanted it was because their action had not been strong or direct enough, not because it what been the wrong type of action.

The people of Port Tennant had however established some important principles, and shattered some myths in the process. The management of a large factory has been forced to allow those who lived near it to have some measure of control over its production (i.e. no production when there was an easterly wind, and shelving of the plans for expansion).

Direct action has gone beyond the range of the symbolic protest:
You don’t show that you could close the factory if you wanted to – you try and do it!

The concern of politicians and businessmen over “pollution” has been expressed for the sham it is. The Carbon Black factory was operating quite legally as its filthy much ruined the peoples’ homes and health. Peter Thomas, one of the Tories whose concern for the environment is never off his lips, was quite happy to see the pollution continues. The pollution could be stopped entirely if the management was willing to spend the money. The people of Port Tennant knew this. The management had been refusing as this would have meant cutting into profits.

Mrs Barbara Davies summed it up simply: “I remember picking water lilies, wild irises, bulrushes, and blackberries from the banks of the canal. As children we swam there. There were swans and we held fishing competitions. Now we have to wash our windows every day, spend at least 15/- a week on a family wash at the launderette and dare not put a baby in its pram in the garden. All this when everyone’s talking about pollution ad conservation.”

Finally, and most important, the people of Port Tennant have discovered in themselves a new sense of comradeship and self-conficen in their own ability to take action and change their surroundings. This will not quickly be lost.

A few weeks ago the Chief Public health Inspector of Swansea referred to the smashing of pollution-deposit gauges on an old cinema in Port Tennant. He said “it seems that out attempts to look after the interest of the community are not appreciated”. He can say that again! As one of the women said: “I don’t need an Alkali Inspector to tell me if my babies’ nappies are dirty”. Now she can add that she doesn’t need a Councillor to tell her how to put an end to it, either.

Ian Bone.

McIver – Revolution Re-Affirmed: Mysteries of Cardanism Part 2

December 31, 2011 Leave a comment

Showing his profound ignorance of Marxism, Cardan asks the following theoretical questions in Revolution Re-Affirmed (RR):
“Where, since 1923 (date at which Lakacs’ “History and Class Consciousness’ was published) has anything been produced which has advanced Marxism? Where, since 1940 (date of Trotsky’s death), has a single text been written defending traditional Marxist ideas at a level which allows one to discuss them without blushing? Where, since the Spanish Civil War has a self-styled Marxist group participated in any meaningful way – and according to its own principles -in a genuine activity of the masses? Quite simply: nowhere’.” (p6)

The ultimatistic, categorical flavour of these statements shouldn’t terrorise the reader of Cardan. We are used to his grandiose oversimplifications paraded as “new” theories. The best way to begin to bring together the loose ends in the above quoted paragraph is to subject Cardan’s assertions to a rigorous historical analysis.

Firstly, we are puzzled at the assertion that Lukacs’ 1923 book “advanced” Marxism. In what sense are his forumulations about reification superior to Marx’s? It indeed was revolutionary for Lukacs to bring back – philosophically at least – some of the cornerstone of Marx’s methodology. This was especially so when the doctrinaire and positivistic practice of Social Democracy had buried that revolutionary kernel, and the Leninism of the Comintern had proven to be merely voluntaristic Kautskyism. So, Lukacs was in a way being “traditional”, – in what way does that amount to an “advancement”? Lukacs also posed the question of reification in an entirely a-historical way, which allowed him to become a rabid ultra-Leninist when the pressing issues of the day confronted revolutionaries. On the question of the party vanguard, on the question of the trade unions, his views were not an “advancement” but rather a retrogression – a retrogression towards Leninism, the ideology of state capitalism today. It is no accident that the latter-day “Lukscsians” are in agreement with Leninists on the fundamental issues of the class struggle. Philosophically, people like Leszek Kolalowski and Lucien Goldman are cases in point. If Cardan wants to mention “advancements” of their sort, we recommend Antonio Gramsci’s The Modern Prince. A more down to earth apology for centralised state bureaucracy.

Unfortunately for Cardan, after 1940 many texts were written that allowed one to discuss without “blushing”. As a matter of fact. Trotsky’s writings do produce blushings, and did produce blushings in many revolutionaries at the tine of their publication. Trotsky’s discussions on bureaucracy, for example, are sophomoric and actually were retrogressions theoretically and practically. His refusal to accept that a private-propertyless bureaucracy could be a class ignored the historical precedents of Asiatic formations, or Engels’ statements about the capitalist nature of the bourgeoisie’s “official representative”: the state. Many revolutionaries were able to see the Russian bureaucracy as a capitalist class, or as a stratus dedicated to capital accumulation. Socialists didn’t have to wait to read Chalieu’s 1949 writings on the Russian relations of production o become aware of these problems.

The term “Spanish Civil War” in itself is a mystification. When we talk about the 1917 Russia Revolution we don’t allude to it as the “Russian Civil War – it was a working class revolution. The same goes for Spain, it was a proletarian revolution. For Cardan, the use of Republican verbiage in this case is a natural mistake, a corollary to his assumption that the POUM participated “according to its principles” in the Spanish Revolution. Was joining the Catalonian Generalidad part of its “principles”? Was such a reactionary section (plus many others) a “meaningful” participation with the masses? The POUM may have been “self-styled” Marxist, but was that Bukharinist bloc really Marxist?

The examples that Cardan cites to prove “the end of classical Marxism” are all suspect, partly due to omission of relevant historical data and mainly due to Cardan’s own political views. What he understands as “classical Marxism” is perhaps his own past “Marxism”, a misunderstanding one can put up with but not excuse.

The Marxism Cardan should have been attempting to criticise is the one expressed by diverse oppositional currents in the 3rd International which held revolutionary positions on the question of the workers councils. On the nature of reformism; some were against the Russian ruling class explicitly before and after Kronstadt. But Cardan never wastes time with such currents. Like Deutscher. He probably thinks that those “sects” were not influential enough or were perhaps utopian. Ultra-left marxism wasn’t historically “successful’. But then neither has a world proletarian revolution. [???] political practice, however, means nothing if we don’t assume [???] such development, such ‘success’. Is possible and necessary to [???]

Cardan’s arrogant disregard for the ultra-left could be understood as rejection of even the heritage of Socialisme ou Barbarie when it still thought itself as Marxist. After all, the review appeared after 1923, not to mention 1940! The many excellent essays by Cardan himself, by Mothe, Lefort, Bricianer and others, were advancements in Marxism in the early 50’, in spite of their implicit acceptance of Leninism. The Cardan of the 60’s is no longer the same thing.

The treatment of ‘modern capitalism’ in RR is inferior in quality to Cardan’s previous text, Modern Capitalism and Revolution. A Critique of the latter is included in this collection of documents, so we won’t dwell on Cardanite ‘economics’ here. What is important in RR is its treatment of classes. On p9 we read: ‘For classical Marxism the division of society was between capitalists, who owned the means of production, and property-less proletarians. Today the division must be seen as between order-givers (dirigeants_ and order-takers (executants).’

And ‘Society was seen as dominated by the abstract power of impersonal capital. Today we see it dominated by a hierarchical and bureaucratic structure, affecting all aspects of social life.’ (ibid, p9)

Thus for Cardan the dominant contradiction ‘…within capitalism is exemplified in the type of cleavage between management and execution which modern capitalism brings about.’ (p10)

Cardan’s views of bureaucracy remain hopelessly trapped within a Trotskyist framework. In the 50’s, Cardan began to talk of bureaucracy as something which Marxism hadn’t predicted, a category which couldn’t be dealt with ‘traditional’ methods of thinking. In this he was simply following a long tradition in the Trotskyist movement. When Trotsky was defending his views of Russia as a ‘degenerated workers state’, he inevitably showed an incapacity to understand an alternative critique: that one provided by the theory of state capitalism. Instead, he gave signs that he would have accepted a view of Russia as a sort of ‘bureaucratic-collectivist’ society, a ‘new’ type of exploitative society. In Trotsky’s views, capitalism can only be the impersonal power of capital expressed through private property. Cardan’s views of the 50’s don’t challenge this methodology. According to him, the bourgeoisie was abandoning the historical arena to the ‘bureaucracy’. Empirically, such a view contains a lot of truth, but it fails to understand why this is so.

Cardan’s early views were challenged by many revolutionaries: by Munis, by Bordiga (the latter wrote a very biting polemical attack against Cardan’s ‘new’ ideas in an essay called ‘La Batrachomyomachie’) and others. Cardan’s views on bureaucracy failed to stress that bureaucracy has always existed in capitalism (the enlightened monarchs. The Prussian bureaucracy, the Meiji technocracy, etc.) The need to accumulate and concentrate capital in a period of capitalist decadence brings also the emergence of totalitarian political forms. The frenzied need to accumulate or facilitate accumulation. Required a centralised state machine which can (not without creating serious social upheaval) attempt to accumulate capital on its own, liquidating the old bourgeois class. The crux of the question here is not the ‘bureaucratisation of the world’ but rather the mechanisms of capital formation which facilitate or require a historical tendency towards bureaucracy.

The question of classes and Cardanism’s rejection of the relationships created by ownership/control of the means of production is crucial to Solidarity’s practice.

At times Cardan in RR engages in this type of sophistry: ‘…to speak today of the proletariat as a class is to indulge in purely descriptive sociology: what united workers as identical members of a group is imply the sum total of the common passive features imposed on them by capitalism [and by Cardan, We should add], and not their own attempt to define themselves as a class, united and opposed to the rest of society, either through their activity-even peiecemeal-or through their orgaisation-even that of a minority.’ (RR,p17)

What the hell is this supposed to mean? That we can’t refer to the working class? Should we instead relate to the ‘piecemeal’ efforts of each Cardanite to bore us to death?

Some London Cardanites believe that the working class are ‘order-takers’ and that the capitalists are the ‘order-givers! This permits them to continue to believe that the notion and reality of the working class as the only revolutionary class has some place in Solidarity’s theory and practice. This allows them to present their faces with some air of credibility to workers, particularly in factories. At this point the right-wing Cardanites (ie, the real, consistent ones keep their heads down.

The middle-of-the-road Cardanites recognise that he situation is not too clear-cut. They try to unite that which can’t be united. A populist approach (the ‘authority’ question) and a revolutionary materialist one. Thus these Cardanites have many revolutionary agencies: students, teachers, Cardanites, priests, schoolchildren, ‘youth’, some workers (those who aren’t ‘sociological’) and who knows what else.

But the real Cardanites. Those who accept Cardan’s latest viewpoint, still haven’t taken over the group completely, though this is just a matter of time. With Cardan, they hold that the important division now (the most ‘modern’ one that is ) is between ‘those who accept the system and those who reject it! This is a vulgar psychological banality and we shouldn’t waste too much time with it. It means that Cardanites have theoretically prepared themselves to enter into all kinds of populist experiments, reactionary alliances and organisational demise. There is no need to have a group if the ‘acceptance or refusal’ view point is held. Each Cardanite can say that he or she ‘refuses’ the system and leave it at that. Many of Dostoevsky’s heroes, Genet’s Queens, lumpenproletarians. Manson’s friends could apply for membership in Solidarity. Why not? A lunatic or an assassin certainly ‘refuse’ the system more than any loud-mouthed Cardanite! Moral stances would now be the criteria for being a revolutionary.

As a final point we should say that the marxist concept of the division of society into materially determined class does include authority relations. It also provides a framework to analise and relate to other social groups which Cardan stupidly assumes were ‘marginal’ to Marxism. The ‘order-giver order-taker’ equation doesn’t give us a clue as to why orders have to be given or what kinds of orders are we referring to . As in all categories of Cardanism, we begin from subjective and arbitrary definition, devoid of material foundations.

JM

McIver – Revolution Re-Affirmed : Problems of Method (Part 1)

December 30, 2011 4 comments

This newly translated essay by Cardan has been presented to the London group. Actually, the essay says nothing that Cardan hasn’t said before. To answer all the questions posed by the essay is not possible here, though such a critique is indeed necessary. However, it is possible to answer some points, especially on the method used by Cardan, which determines the way he presents facts.

MARXISM
Cardan’s approach to Marxism is highly contradictory. On p2 he remarks that “What was best in Marx’s writing may…serve as an inspiration…” for analyses of phenomena previously considered “marginal.” On p6 we read:”…one of the most indestructible principles taught by Marx himself [was that’ an ideology was not to be judged by the words it uses but what it became in social reality.| Lukacs HISTORY AND CLASS CONSCIOUSNESS is considered by cardan as an advancement of Marxism (p6). There is, apparently, a dimension in Marxism which should be followed (maybe) or developed. What exactly it is is not made clear.

But the dimension which shouldn’t be accepted is the “economic system” developed by Marx in Capital (Modern Capitalism and Revolution, p33) Marx’s economic conception “…are equivalent to treating the workers in theory as capitalism would like to treat them in practice …but cannot: that is, as mere objects.” (MCAR, p23) Cardan also holds that bureaucratic politics “objectively flow” from Marx’s economic ideas: “These are the ideas that have finally culminated in Stalinism and which-shared by Trotskyism-have made it impossible for Trotskyism to clearly differentiate itself as a political tendency. For objectivist views of economics and history can only be a source of bureaucratic politics,…” MCAR, p35) This is so even if Marx himself didn’t draw such political conclusions from his economic theories. Cardan here doesn’t go far enough as some anarchists who claim that those views explain Marx’s dictatorial machinations in the First International, or that those views are some how connected to anal-eroticism.

We hold that there’s a revolutionary continuity in Marx’s writings,from the 1840’s to his death. Volumes have been written on this, and we believe that analyses such as provided by Dunayevskaya or David McLellan, Korsch, Goldman and others, are more historically accurate than Cardan’s mechanical construction of “two” Marxes. This doesn’t mean that the whole, or any. Of Marx’s works shouldn’t be continuously re-examined. We simply disagree with Cardan’s methodology. All of Marx’s writings are historical evidences. Some of his programmatic ideas can only be reactionary today – such as those expressed in The Communist Manifesto. Many of his personal scheming in the First International was unprincipled (though there’s much historical debate here, not only among “defenders of the faith”). But we refuse to allow a simplistic and reductionist theory a la Cardan, which neatly attempts to tidy up revolutionary theory by constructing a direct bridge from Marxism to state capitalism, or bureaucratic capitalism as Cardan would prefer.

Cardan’s description of Marx’ theory of wages is a more adequate description of Lasalle’s doctrinaire nonsense about “The Iron Law of Wages”. Of course, depending upon one’s personal predilections on method, it is possible to create a view of Marxism which corresponds closely to Lassalleism or Stalinism, using the appropriate dose of quotations. This approach is applicable to any social theory, including Cardan’s ideas. Humanist liberalism, grass-roots reformism and all sorts of populist experiments can easily be construed from Cardan’s views, and he will need to say ”I’m not a Cardanist”. It would be unfair. However, to draw a parallel between Marx and Cardan here. Marx was always able to quote his sources in a rigorous and scholarly manner. Cardan, who undoubtedly has learned a lot from Weber, Rizzi, Marcuse, Aron and others, usually never quotes any philosophical source. One gets the impression that his theoretical development has occurred in a vacuum or perhaps through intuition (for an incomplete through quite perceptive analysis of Cardan’s views, it is useful to read George Litchteim’s Marxism in Modern France, pp 184-192).

Having said this, nobody can deny that Marxism indeed has become a theology and a “system” of fanatical faith. However, it will take a lot more work to understand why this is so than Cardan’s unilinear explanations. Marxism is the dogma of many state capitalist societies, but it is not simply “Marxism” or “Marxism in general” (as Korsch aptly put it). “…duly edited and purged of their real theoretical content [Marx’s observations of historical development] have become the foundation of an ideology which has replaced other modes of thought over a third of the globe.” Observes George Lichteim in Marxism (pp 146-147). Similarly, Panekoek was able to analyse Lenin’s version of Marxism as a philosophical response springing from Russia’ bourgeois backwardness. Interestingly enough, in Revolution Re-Affirmed Cardan spares no detachment and even contempt for hat he calls “the ultra-left” sects without specifying who these people were or are. Is the ultra-left of the 20s meant here? Various council communists such as Pannekoek and Mattick The fact that the continuity of Marxism as a living revolutionary theory was maintained (however distortedly) by the ultra-left from the 20’s, is of no importance to Cardan.

The term “classical Marxism” used by Cardan (as a system of ideas and action which presumably was destroyed in 1939) only mystifies the historical problem. A lineal continuity is swiftly established between Marxism-Leninism-Trotskyism (pp 1-2). A scientific approach would requite an establishing not so much of common denominators between these components of “classical Marxism” but of actual differences. Even what is common to these components has varying historical nuances.

This methodology is correctly grasped by Lucien Goldman when he writes: “At any given historical moment every writer, thinker and likewise, every social group, is surrounded by a large number of ideas and positions that are religious, moral, political, etc.. and these constitute so many possibly influence. From among them the writer, thinker, or social group selects only one system, or a small number of them, and this selection will really be influential. The problem posed to this historian and socialistic then is not that of knowing whether Kant was influenced by Hume, Pascal by Montaigne, Descartes, the Third Estate of France before the Revolution by political thinkers, but why they sustained precisely this influence in this particular period of this history or their life.” (The Human Sciences and Philosophy, p92)

Lichteim observes that “Social Democracy was older than Marxism,…” (Marxism, p90) The inter-relationships, influences, and tensions which existed between Marx and Engels and the existing European labour movement have been extensively documented and that history continues to be enriched by today’s experiences and research. How and when did Marxism begin to develop as a church within Germany, or as a conspiracy in Tsarist Russia, has to be grasped in its contemporary development. To be sure, for Stalinism, that history is an inevitable progression towards the Moscow autocracy. From a different angle, Cardan arrives at a similar conclusion What we could say is that the canonisation of Marxism is a partial reflection of terrible working class defeats throughout 3 generations. To infer that Marxism is actively responsible for these defeats (because of Marxism’s economic theories) is to give too much weight to Marxism. First, it has to be proven that an “un-alloyed” Marxism was the practice of the 2nd and 3rd (or 4th) Internationals and secondly it has to be proven that millions of people actually read, discussed, adsorbed, developed, digested and criticised the texts of “classical Marxism” The idea that claims that “the working class movement, seen as an organised class movement explicitly and permanently contesting capitalist exploitation has disappeared.” (Revolution Re-Affirmed), p1) is a myth. Such a working class didn’t exist in the first place, except at the realm of production, where the nature of contestation is quite different. In an article on the working class, Paul Mattick Jr. (an unknown ultra-left sectarian) presents a different view to Cardan’s:
“What gave the appearance of a non-intergration of the working class in the past was the existence of ideologically revolutionary organisations ‘of the working class’ – the social democratic trade unions and parties the Communist parties and the unions of the Third International (and Soviet Russia itself in the age in which it was easier to believe in it as bastion of world revolution). In fact these very organisations were, at their moments of strength, also instruments for the integration of the working class. “(New Politics, Vol VIII, N3, p32) Cardan’s assumption that such an organised movement was contesting capitalist exploitation is objectively untrue, and it amounts to an implied apology for Leninism and Trotskyism,. To be sure, there were politically motivated contestations against capitalism, but these occurred mainly in revolutionary periods and in spite of Leninist of Anarchist reformism. All this is clouded by the simplistic terms “classical Marxism”.

Part 2 of this critique will bring out some of the impliations of Cardan’s ideas about “modern capitalism” and his concept of “order giver-order taker”.