The BART STRIKES: Once again on the relevance and the method of Trotsky’s Transitional Program November 3, 2013Posted by raved in Uncategorized.
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US/NATO HANDS OFF SYRIA! VICTORY TO THE SYRIAN REVOLUTION! September 9, 2013Posted by raved in Uncategorized.
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UPDATED Egypt: Haitham Mohamedain released, but charged with “terrorism” against the state September 9, 2013Posted by raved in Uncategorized.
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Originally posted on MENA Solidarity Network:
Updated 11 September – Click here for a video interview with Haitham giving full details of his arrest
Labour lawyer Haitham Mohamedain has been released by Suez prosecutors without posting bail, but according to his lawyer, Ramy Ghoneim, he was read a list of very serious charges, including:
- “Leading and joining a secret organisation called the Revolutionary Socialists, the purpose of which is to deny the authority of the state, assault citizens and damage social peace”
- “Incitement by verbal and written means for the purposes mentioned in the first indictment and possessing publications inciting violence”
- “Attempting to change the form of government by terrorist means through the organisation you lead”
- “Jointly inciting and assisting in the destruction of state property, facilities and institutions with the intention of damaging the nation”
- “Jointly inciting and assisting in the occupation of a number of public buildings and public facilities”
- “Establishing and leading the Revolutionary Socialists organisation which agitates in favour imposing a specific social class on the whole of society and overthrowing the social order of the state”
Haitham’s arrest has drawn condemnation from trade unionists and activists across the world. Hundreds have already signed a statement in protest in the 48 hours since his detention on Thursday afternoon. He is a well-known labour lawyer who has represented hundreds of striking workers in court, and is also well-known for his work with victims of torture through El-Nadeem Centre.
Prospects for Syria’s revolution March 14, 2013Posted by raved in Uncategorized.
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The number of fighters in the armed popular resistance is estimated at more than 100,000, while most reports indicate that Jihadist fighters number around 5,000. Let’s assume double that number. Whatever the media may claim, these groups are miniscule compared to the size of the armed popular resistance. They have no tangible presence or popular influence.
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Originally posted on Welcometotheneworldisorder\'s Blog:
Narrated by Oscar winning actor Morgan Freeman, “Breaking the Taboo” is produced by Sam Branson’s indie Sundog Pictures and Brazilian co-production partner Spray Filmes and was directed by Cosmo Feilding Mellen and Fernando Grostein Andrade. Featuring interviews with several current or former presidents from around the world, such as Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, the film follows The Global Commission on Drug Policy on a mission to break the political taboo over the United States led War on Drugs and expose what it calls the biggest failure of global policy in the last 40 years.
FOR A CITYWIDE GENERAL STRIKE TO DEFEAT CON ED’S LOCKOUT July 27, 2012Posted by raved in Uncategorized.
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Occupy MayDay! Occupy Lenin! July 4, 2012Posted by raved in Uncategorized.
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First, let’s get this idea that Occupy is finished out of the way. It hasn’t finished and this is why. You can’t evict an idea when that idea is to make the Bankers pay for their crisis. They won’t and they can’t without renouncing the whole basis of capitalism – making profits. Therefore Occupy is forced to confront the system in all of its dirt and blood. Physically Occupy lives on in the many actions and meetings that are taking place globally. Occupy is outreaching to working class struggles in workplaces, education, housing, unions, media etc and much of this activity is live-streamed, twitted or blogged continuously.
The #OccupyMaydayGeneralStrike call is an attempt at a global general strike. There is intense political and theoretical discussion among liberals, radicals and Marxists about what Occupy is, its class composition, its demands, its prospects, and so on. This is not new as liberals, radicals and Marxists have had to debate Occupy’s progenitors – the Arab Revolution and the European revolt of the Indignados and the British youth riots. So what do revolutionary communists make of Occupy as a social movement and the ideological struggle between reformists, radicals and revolutionaries?
Those who want to challenge capitalism have to take power and that means the class conscious, organised armed insurrection to take power. So how is the revolutionary left working towards this? Let’s look at a discussion kicked off by Pham Binh that is directed at the failure of the organised ‘Leninist’ left to relate to Occupy fruitfully. Binh argues that is because today’s Leninists are a caricature of Lenin. He remonstrates that Lenin would have done a much better job. So the question is what would Lenin have done? At its heart this is the question posed by many revolutionaries today. Let’s look at the three positions in turn.
The reformists in Occupy are trying to turn Occupy into a support base for the re-election of Obama. Leading this co-option is the 99Spring which is a “campaign” fronted by organizations like MoveOn, Jobs with Justice, Greenpeace and others who have signed the 99% Spring pledge? It claims to be a broad base movement based on the grass roots. The 99% Spring label attempts to trade off both the Arab Spring and the 99% concept of Occupy. Yet it’s objective is to coopt Occupy behind Obama. That is why it has not endorsed the MayDay General Strike. That is the test. Since the call for the reclaiming of MayDay is a radical initiative to put International Workers Day on the agenda of Occupy and making clear that Occupy and the base of the labor movement must join forces, this will embarrass the machine politics of the Democrats. So 99Spring is using its training schools for “nonviolent direct action” as a way to divert Occupy from MayDay. There is also the Occupy NATO in Chicago, but that would be too close to the bone for the party of Bomber Obama!
At the same time we don’t want to write off Occupy just because it has a large number of reformists. This is a factor of the backwardness of US political culture where no workers party exists and the weak unions act as conveyor belts into the Democrat Party. But Occupy signals a huge upwelling of anger at the effects of the capitalist crisis especially as it effects middle class youth. The whole point is that Occupy has the capacity to develop into a revolutionary movement.
Chomsky is a classic case of the celebrity anarchist who is trapped in the petty bourgeois politics of individualism that offers no way out of the existing state apparatus other than to adapt to it. Much pseudo radicalism is based on the notion of ‘horizontalism’ ostensibly directed at the ‘hierarchy’ of political parties. It implies Occupy can operate without a leadership and function on the basis of direct democracy. It can build a ‘counter-power’ that does not need to challenge the bosses’ state power. But inevitably if you don’t contest the power of the state uncompromisingly then you end up joining that state. Chomsky and Co are the reverse side of the anarchist coin to the Black Block. Both offer no alternative to capitalism because they have no program to replace it.
Occupy proved in a few short weeks that the reformist platform is bankrupt. This is why reformists like Hedges attacked the Black Bloc. But the Black Bloc is an easy target and does not represent more than a tiny minority of Occupy. The reformists have more difficulty in neutralising the real breakthrough which is the radical unity of Occupy with union rank and file. This proved to be the ‘circuit breaker’ that built mass support for port closures and forced the ILWU union bosses to expose themselves as in the bosses’ pocket at Longview. That is to say, as soon as Occupy, rebounding from the vicious attacks of the state forces, joined up with the militant union rank and file, the reformist’s strategy to recruit Occupy to Obama was blown out.
What was blown out was the pacifist politics of electoralism where ‘Violence’ is reserved for Obama’s bombs and drones. In its place Occupy found that the mass picket justifies violence in defence of the 99%, and in the process confronting state violence put them in solidarity with the ‘wildcat’ strike at Longview! The linking of Occupy and the ILWU rank and file at Longview also exposed the union officials who panicked by the fear of losing control of the dispute signed a sell-out deal with the EGT bosses. To its credit Portland Occupy who were not shown the rotten terms of this deal, saw it as a small victory as part of the ongoing war against the 1%. There is a long way to go to build solidarity to the point where the unions take strike action against Taft-Hartley and return to the militancy of the early days of the US labour movement.
The Occupy decision to reclaim MayDay as a general strike follows directly from the experience of solidarity with workers in struggle. It’s a first attempt at a national strike which falls far short of a general strike. But it is a political strike that prepares the ground for a political general strike at the power of the 1%. But the labour solidarity at Longview and other struggles may not lead directly to militant class conscious struggle in the ranks of the unions or Occupy unless revolutionaries intervene directly. This is because neither the unions or Occupy as yet has a Marxist analysis which explains that the labour bureaucracy act as the labour lieutenants of capital that keep the unions confined to the labour law. The labour bureaucracy is no friend of the workers!
Fortunately Occupy has labour solidarity groups like #OOlaborsolidarity where revolutionaries can put forward analyses of what must be done. It requires the revolutionary Marxists to speak plainly and tell the truth. So this means Marxists advocating labour solidarity actions that unite workers’ strikes against the employers with Occupy’s commitment to ‘breaking the law’ to advance the 99%. In essence it means making Occupy MayDay General Strike the launching pad for an unlimited political general strike for an insurrection to bring down the ruling class and put a Workers’ and Oppressed peoples’ Government in power!
The radical reclaiming of MayDay by Occupy is an attempt to generalise this revolutionary thrust. But it’s not enough. Lenin and Trotsky recognised the limits of Trade Union Consciousness as falling short of revolutionary consciousness. Trade unions operate as economist institutions that negotiate wages but do not fight to end the wage system! Without a revolutionary Marxist party neither the unions or Occupy cannot develop beyond an economist consciousness of capitalism into a class conscious revolutionary movement. Let’s examine this point because it is central to the debate on what kind of revolutionary party is needed to lead workers to revolution.
What would Lenin have done?
The need for a revolutionary Marxist party is the need for a revolutionary Marxist program. Capitalism throws up a smoke screen that hides the class basis of exploitation. A Marxist program proves that capitalism cannot be reformed and that to survive the working class must become class conscious and overthrow it. The program also spells out how to go about making a revolution. Such a program needs to be kept alive and kicking by a revolutionary party. Whether a program works or not is decided by testing it in practice. So a revolutionary party must be organised to put the program into practice, and to change it if it doesn’t work. The Marxist left sees the need for leadership and a revolutionary party, but what does this party look like.There are two basic models of a Marxist party. The first is a ‘class party’ (or “multi-tendency” party) including reformists, radicals and Marxists. The second is the so-called ‘vanguard’ party of class conscious Marxists. The question of how Marxists should intervene in Occupy has raised this question again. And the advocates of both types of party both claim to be Leninists.
For the class party side is Pham Binhwho argues against le Blanc and others that the idea that Lenin built a new type of vanguard party is a myth. He claims Lenin didn’t form a party of Bolsheviks separate from the broad party of the class in 1905 or 1912. The Bolsheviks in 1905 were a small minority inside the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party (RSDWP) which was a mass party including a number of currents which shifted course so that both Bolsheviks and Mensheviks (minority) where never actually distinct or separate parties.
What Binh is arguing here is that today left parties are tiny sects modelling themselves on the mythical Leninist ‘vanguard’ and competing in a sectarian way to win support in Occupy and meeting resistance. He looks back to Leninism as he understands it for the model of a broad class party, that contains workers at different levels of political consciousness, where the different factions compete to demonstrate how a Marxist program can be applied to solve the problems of the 99%.
There is some truth in this as the Bolsheviks did function as a faction in the old RSDWP until 1917. Yet that faction acted more as a vanguard party within a much broader party from 1905 when it declared itself to be a separate party, and after 1912 when it actually became a separate party. The Bolsheviks growing split from the Mensheviks was necessary to defend the Marxist program. The basis on which the Bolsheviks formed a faction/party distinct from the rest in the RSDWP was a programmatic principle: the refusal to ‘liquidate’ the proletarian class into subordination and even political alliances with the exploiting classes. In other words the Bolshevik faction stood for the independence of the workers as the revolutionary class against those who ‘liquidated’ this class independence into cross-class or popular fronts with the bourgeoisie. Allied to the ‘liquidators’ were the ‘conciliators’ who while formally opposed to liquidation, in practice vacillated towards the ‘liquidators’. The liquidators in various degrees all took the Menshevik position that ‘backward’ Russia would have to go through a prolonged bourgeois revolution before it was ready for a socialist revolution.
The long battle against ‘liquidationism’ faced the critical test over the question of whether the RSDWP would give ‘conditional support’ to the bourgeois Provisional Government in Russia after the February 1917 Revolution. Up to that point the Bolsheviks had won support for a Bourgeois revolution led by the workers and peasants (the ‘Revolutionary Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Peasants’) since the bourgeoisie was too weak and dependent on Tsarism. The Bolsheviks would give ‘conditional support; to a bourgeois government ‘insofar as it acts in the interests of the revolution’. That is, mobilise workers and peasants to control it and push it left (for peace, land, and bread) to complete the tasks of the Bourgeois revolution and so prepare for the socialist revolution.
The lesson for Leninism in Occupy today is that after 1903 the Bolsheviks formed a faction in which the principle of revolutionary independence of the working class against any political alliances that subordinated it to the bourgeoisie was the test of membership. When revolution broke out in Russia the Bolsheviks had the history of building an organisation with a long experience of both democracy and discipline to act to defend this principle and change its program from one which involved a ‘popular front’ with the bourgeoisie, to that of socialist revolution. The change in program defeated the counter-revolution and made the revolution. So if this is the Leninist party we need today how do we go about building it?
The global capitalist system is facing a terminal crisis. The world economy must go through a deep depression to restore the rate of profit. No bourgeois or capitalist party can stop this, only a working class revolution. We face socialism or barbarism. The bourgeoisie cannot rule without invoking extreme repression, first smashing of democracy and then unless workers stop it, fascism. The workers cannot live with capitalism. For workers to live, capitalism must die. Lenin would call it a revolutionary situation where the extreme rottenness of global capitalism threatens destruction of humanity and where the working class is ready and willing to fight to the death but has yet to overcome a huge lack of class consciousness and organisation.
So Lenin would recognise Occupy as a spontaneous mobilisation of objectively anti-capitalist youth and other workers but with its majority trapped into an economist ideology and still misled about the possibility of reforms. However the severity of the crisis means that the capitalist attacks and resistance of Occupy to them will quickly prove that the capitalists must destroy rather than grant reforms. One term of Obama has gone a long way to destroy economist illusions. Several social democratic government in Europe have been voted out after imposing drastic austerity programs. Even so the reformists are fighting like hell to hijack Occupy and stop its revolutionary development. So Leninists must join in this fight against all attempts to subordinate the working class to the bourgeoisie via the Democrats, Social Democracy and the labour bureaucracy, and raise instead the need to build an independent mass workers party with a revolutionary program.
Leninism is about how Marxists lead in the wider working class struggles. This means a program for socialist revolution. It means to fight against today’s liquidators and conciliators who want to bury the Marxist program into the popular front of the workers, petty bourgeois and bourgeois elements who make up the 99%. Leninists intervene to oppose the politics of all those who claim to be anti-capitalist yet act as the agents of the popular front with the bourgeoisie.
Lenin’s tactic of a Bolshevik faction engaging in patient explanation combined with contesting the leadership of the class struggle would weed out those among the 99% who are agents of the bourgeoisie. Cops, Ron Paulites, libertarians, etc. yes. But more dangerous are those that pose as workers. We oppose pacifist and reformist appeals to the 1%, the cops, the middle class, the Democrats, Social Democracy and the labour bureaucrats of the trade union federations.
We do this by calling on Occupy to follow Occupy Oakland’s lead and unite with the union rank and file members to Occupy all the strategic sites of production of profits – the workplaces, the banks, transport and communications, schools, hospitals etc – to demand workers administration and control. Reformists will oppose such direct action, and radicals will join with Leninists to build workers councils and workers militias capable of smashing the capitalist state and installing the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.
We advocate reading Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, and Luxemburg but not the petty bourgeois radicals Zizek or Chomsky, Bourdieu or Badiou. The latter offer no revolutionary answers as in their various ways they oppose the Leninist-type party and the practice of democratic-centralism. For us the only way that the Marxist program can be tested is if a majority agrees to unite in action to test it, and then to debate the results democratically to see if it works or not. That is the basis of democratic centralism, or, dialectics – which in its highest form is the class conscious intervention of the vanguard of the working class to resolve the contradiction between socialised production and private profit by means of a socialist revolution.
That is the method of Leninists in Occupy. The crisis of capitalism is destroying the working class and driving it to resist it’s destruction. Leninists are Marxists; we do not separate ourselves from the masses, but champion their class interests locally and globally. We intervene only to help workers become class conscious fighters, organised in strike committees, democratic councils of action, defence militias, and as militants of an international party of socialist revolution, able to unite internationally as a force to smash the capitalist system and its military machine and replace it with a socialist society producing for need and not profit!
Turn Occupy into revolutionary workers councils!
For a new World Party of Socialist Revolution!
Review of Maurice Brinton’s “The Bolsheviks and Worker Control” October 23, 2011Posted by raved in Uncategorized.
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The document has become a standard anarchist text on the subject of workers control during the early days of the Russian Revolution. It makes all the usual arguments that the Bolsheviks were always an elitist vanguard expropriating the democracy of the workers. The long drawn out ‘crisis of Marxism’ that Trotsky spoke of in 1940 continues. Today its main result is a debasement of Marxism to an anti-capitalist exchange theory that we have referred to many times in Class Struggle as the basis of the WSF theory/program of ‘market socialism’. Another effect of the crisis of Marxism is to give anarchism a new lease of life among young people who swallow bourgeois lies about Marxism. Thus the ‘Leninist Party’ is portrayed as a ‘dictatorship’ over the workers. What Brinton’s article reveals is that his charge of Leninist party ‘conspiracy’ is nothing other than a defense of bourgeois democracy against workers democracy.
In his Introduction to this document Brinton states:
“Two possible situations come to mind. In one the working class (the collective producer) takes all the fundamental decisions. It does so directly, through organisms of its own choice with which it identifies itself completely or which it feels it can totally dominate (Factory Committees, Workers’ Councils, etc.). These bodies, composed of elected and revocable delegates probably federate on a regional and national basis. They decide (allowing the maximum possible autonomy for local units) what to produce, how to produce it. at what cost to produce it, at whose cost to produce it. The other possible situation is one in which these fundamental decisions are taken ‘elsewhere’. ‘from the outside’, i.e. by the State, by the Party, or by some other organism without deep and direct roots in the productive process itself. The ‘separation of the producers from the means of production’ (the basis of all class society) is maintained. The oppressive effects of this type of arrangement soon manifest themselves. This happens whatever the revolutionary good intentions of the agency in question, and whatever provisions it may (or may not) make for policy decisions to be submitted from time to time for ratification or amendment.”
Here Brinton is setting up an abstract template of the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ of workers control.
‘From below’ is good and ‘from above’ is bad. Notice how he builds an anti-party anti-state state ideology into the definition. Party and the state are ‘outside’ alien institutions which are separated from the working class. They do not have “deep and direct roots in the production process itself”, but instead separate the workers from the ‘means of production’. Notice too that this separation does not mean ‘exploitation’ by the party or the state but ‘oppression’. I suppose that’s because the party is not located at the ‘point of production’ so we have to be thankful for that!
Brinton gives us a running account of events year by year. In June 1917 at a conference of Petrograd Factory Committees he comments on Lenin’s position on workers control at that time.
“Lenin’s address to the Conference contained a hint of things to come. He explained that workers’ control meant “that the majority of workers should enter all responsible institutions and that the administration should render an account of its actions to the most authoritative workers’ organizations”. (13)Under ‘workers’ control’ Lenin clearly envisaged an ‘administration’ other than the workers themselves.”
Brinton seems to think that ‘authority’ cannot be delegated by workers if it is in a party or state. Yet he quotes with approval a resolution passed by the conference that states in part: “for a proletarian majority in all institutions having executive power”.
He also quotes Lenin producing a draft [!] for a new Party program on ‘workers democracy’ in the previous month [May]:
“The Party fights for a more democratic workers’ and peasants’ republic, in which the police and standing army will be completely abolished and replaced by the universally armed people, by a universal militia. All official persons will not only be elected but also subject to recall at any time upon the demand of a majority of the electors. All official persons, without exception, will be paid at a rate not exceeding the average wage of a competent worker”.
Here Brinton introduces another little preconception and snide remark:
“At the same time Lenin calls for the “unconditional participation [my emphasis] of the workers in the control of the affairs of the trusts” - which could be brought about “by a decree requiring but a single day to draft”. (8) The concept that ‘workers participation’ should be introduced by legislative means (i.e. from above) clearly has a illustrious ancestry.”
For Brinton, it seems that workers are too stupid to be able to delegate ‘authority’ in a party or a state to ‘legislate’ (i.e. from above) without losing control of the party or the state.
Brinton then moves on to look at the unions and the struggle for control inside them.
“On the one hand the unions were the auxiliaries of the political parties, which utilized them for recruiting purposes and as a mass to be maneuvered. On the other hand the union movement, reborn in a sense after February 1917, was pushed forward by the more educated workers: the leadership of the various unions reflected the predominance of a sort of intellectual elite, favorable at first to the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries, but later won over, in varying proportions, to the Bolsheviks.
It is important to realize that from the beginning of the Revolution the unions were tightly controlled by political organizations, which used them to solicit support for their various actions. This explains the ease with which the Party was able – at a later date – to manipulate the unions. It also helps one understand the fact that the unions (and their problems) were often to prove the battleground on which political differences between the Party leaders were again and again to be fought out.
Taken in conjunction with the fact that the Party’s whole previous development (including its tightly centralized structure and hierarchical organizational conceptions) had tended to separate it from the working class, one can understand how heavily the cards were stacked against any autonomous expression or even voicing of working class aspirations. In a sense these found a freer expression in the Soviets than in either the Party or the trade unions.”
So unions were politicized. If the Bolsheviks didn’t fight to win control this would leave the Mensheviks (reformists) or SRs (petty bourgeois peasantry) in control. What to do? Fight for ‘autonomy’! But from what? From class! Why? Because the party is centralized and hierarchical it cannot represent a class.
But these are scare words that patronize workers as led by the nose first by reformists and liberals and then by revolutionaries. Too bad workers are so easily led. Repeat after me, Party bad, Union good. How come workers don’t get the message? OK let’s see if things go better in the soviets where the parties are not so firmly established.
Meanwhile before things got out of hand completely the Second Congress of Factory Committees resolved to pay 0.25% of their wages to support the ‘Central Soviet of Factory Committees’. Surely this was a mistake, due to the undue influence of that Bolshevik hierarchical party? What was going on?
“The Conference resolved that 1/4% of the wages of all workers represented should go to support a ‘Central Soviet of Factory Committees’, thus made financially independent of the unions. (23) Rank and file supporters of the Factory Committees viewed the setting up of this ‘Central Soviet’ with mixed feelings. On the one hand they sensed the need for co-ordination. On the other hand they wanted this co-ordination to be carried out from below, by themselves. Many were suspicious of the motives of the Bolsheviks, on whose initiative the ‘Central Soviet’ had been bureaucratically set up. The Bolshevik Skrypnik spoke of the difficulties of the Central Soviet of Factory Committees, attributing them “in part to the workers themselves’. Factory Committees had been reluctant to free their members for work in the Centre”. Some of the Committees “refrained from participation in the Central Soviet because of Bolshevik predominance in it”. (24) V. M. Levin, another Bolshevik, was to complain that the workers “didn’t distinguish between the conception of control and the conception of taking possession”.
In other words the majority supported funding the Central Soviet, but some (“many”) expressed doubt about the role of the Bolsheviks who had “bureaucratically” set up the soviet. Once again, the stupid workers pay for something that was bureaucratically set up by the Bolsheviks. What were they thinking?
When the Bolshevik, Levin, ventures to suggest that some members of factory committees were jealous in guarding their “possession” of the factories, and that they were uneasy about handing over this new property right and sending members to help administer this property right at the center! In other words the center stood for subordinating the factory committees to a centralizing of all factories, and this ran into the petty bourgeois concept of the factory committees being all powerful on their own factory floor!
We might call this conception of factory committees ‘workshop parochialism’, or more generously, ‘socialism in one factory’.
Brinton does not make this connection. When he wrote the pamphlet in 1975 the question of factory occupations and the question of coordination between factories, regions and nations (the world!), was barely on the agenda. Today is certainly is, in Latin America at least. In the factory occupations in Argentina for example, there is a tendency for factory committees to also be ‘cooperatives’ that are actually made up of workers as individual shareholders. And inside these factory committees are reformists that advise workers to use the law to protect their ‘cooperatives’, and revolutionaries that call on workers to fight for real workers control by expropriating capitalist property in the name of the working class.
But back to Russia. The question of how socialism in single factories and farms might be made to work everywhere is suggested, vaguely, by an anarcho-syndicalist publication on August 25, 1917.
“Golos Truda, in a famous article headed ‘Questions of the Hour‘, wrote: “We say to the Russian workers, peasants, soldiers, revolutionists: above all, continue the revolution. Continue to organize yourselves solidly and to unite your new organizations: your communes, your unions, your committees, your soviets. Continue, with firmness and perseverance, always and everywhere to participate more and more extensively and more and more effectively in the economic life of the country, continue to take into your hands, that is into the hands of your organizations, all the raw materials and all the instruments indispensable to your labor. Continue the Revolution. Do not hesitate to face the solution of the burning questions of the present. Create everywhere the necessary organizations to achieve these solutions. Peasants, take the land and put it at the disposal of your committees. Workers, proceed to put in the hands of and at the disposal of your own social organizations – everywhere on the spot – the mines and the subsoil, the enterprises and the establishments of all sorts, the works and factories, the workshops and the machines”. A little later, issue No. 15 of the same paper urged its readers to “begin immediately to organize the social and economic life of the country on new bases. Then a sort of ‘dictatorship of labor’ will begin to be achieved, easily and in a natural manner. And the people would learn, little by little, to do it”
Notice that while you are grabbing your factory or farm there is no talk of coordination, of the central soviet, of any organized workers’ or peasants’ militias or peoples’ army. The “organizations” are all of the same weight. Somehow they are going to ‘self-administrate’. Workers and peasants, but…no soldiers! This is at the same time that General Kornilov is marching on Petrograd to smash, not workers’ autonomy, but … the soviet! Why? Because the soviet has proven that it is not only organizing a centralized working class led peasant revolution and military mutiny, but is the general staff of that enemy class insurrection. And the Petrograd soviet proves that it is the general staff because it organizes a centralized, armed rout of Kornilov. Not by autonomous, decentralized, non-hierarchical methods. No, by planning a defense that involves sending messengers to the soldiers’ soviets, propagandists to win Kornilov’s troops, and by sheer coordination and centralism telegraphing messages and organizing the railway workers to re-route the enemy troops in the wrong direction. When Kornilov found that he troops were deserting him he gave up.
Brinton has left out a little bit of history [quite a large chunk if you read Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution] here, all to do with the centralized, coordinated and hierarchical ‘top-down’ central soviet of Petrograd making the defeat of the counter-revolution possible.
But each factory and farm that the anarcho-syndicalists had occupied could now live another day and “the people would learn, little by little”. Just as well some other people at the center learned a hell of a lot in one hell of a hurry!
Part of that rapid learning curve at the center was the planning of the insurrection by the Bolsheviks who had won a majority for “all power to the soviets” in the … soviets. The actual seizure of power was the result of a conspiracy by the Military Revolutionary Committee led by Trotsky (not as Stalin would have it, himself). Like all military campaigns, the authority to make the battle plan was in the hands of a few experts, linked by a chain of command to the most loyal elements of the armed forces such as the sailors of the Kronstadt fortress. The insurrection was as a result of this secret, centralized planning and coordination of the revolutionary workers, peasants and soldiers soviets already won over to the revolution, victorious and almost bloodless.
Meanwhile Lenin’s mind is racing ahead. While writing The State and Revolution which was rudely interrupted by the revolution, Lenin was also thinking of how the revolution would survive the first rough months and years. In ‘Can the Bolsheviks retain State power?‘ published on October 1 just before the insurrection, Lenin states:“When we say workers’ control, always associating that slogan with the dictatorship of the proletariat, and always putting it after the latter, we thereby make plain what state we have in mind… If it is a proletarian state we are referring to (i.e. the dictatorship of the proletariat) then workers’ control can become a national, all-embracing, omnipresent, extremely precise and extremely scrupulous accounting of the production and distribution of goods”.
Brinton thinks that these passages are very revealing of the top-down state dictatorship of the party in the making.
“In the same pamphlet Lenin defines the type of ‘socialist apparatus’ (or framework) within which the function of accountancy (workers’ control) will be exercised. “Without big banks socialism would be impossible of realization. The big banks are a ‘stable apparatus’ we need for the realization of socialism and which we shall take from capitalism ready made. Our problem here is only to lop away that which capitalistically disfigures this otherwise excellent apparatus and to make it still bigger, still more democratic, still more comprehensive…” “A single huge state bank, with branches in every rural district and in every factory – that will already be nine-tenths of a socialist apparatus“. According to Lenin this type of apparatus would allow “general state book-keeping, general state accounting of the production and distribution of goods”, and would be “something in the nature, so to speak, of the skeleton of a socialist society”.
Brinton comments; “No one disputes the importance of keeping reliable records but Lenin’s identification of workers’ control in a ‘workers’ state’, with the function of accountancy (i.e. checking the implementation of decisions taken by others) is extremely revealing. Nowhere in Lenin’s writings is workers’ control ever equated with fundamental decision-taking (i.e. with the initiation of decisions) relating to production (how much to produce, how to produce it, at what cost, at whose cost, etc.).” [Reviewer's emphasis]
Well of course not. The soviets have taken over as the representative organizations of the workers. The soviets have taken power and now are the basis of the state. The dictatorship of the proletariat is exercised through the soviets. Here the planned socialist economy will take shape. The factory committees never coordinated anything before, during or after the revolution, and preferred their autonomous ‘socialism-in-one-factory-or-farm’ everywhere. They were admirably suited to their basic duty– to administer and control their factory or farm production according to the overall plan. Why, once a plan is underway should factory committees have any say in whether they fulfill it or not – especially since the economy is almost wrecked by war and headed for a civil war?*
Brinton semi-recognizes these problems in a back handed way.
“Other writings by Lenin in this period reiterate that one of the functions of workers’ control is to prevent sabotage by the higher bureaucrats and functionaries.“As for the higher employees… we shall have to treat them as we treat the capitalists – roughly. They, like the capitalists, wiill offer resistance… we may succeed with the help of workers’ control in rendering such resistance impossible”. (36)
He goes on: “Lenin’s notions of workers’ control (as a means of preventing lock-outs) and his repeated demands for the ‘opening of the books’ (as a means of preventing economic sabotage) referred both to the immediate situation, and to the months which were to follow the revolution. He envisaged a period during which, in a workers’ state, the bourgeoisie would still retain the formal ownership and effective management of most of the productive apparatus. The new state, in Lenin’s estimation, would not be able immediately to take over the running of industry. There would be a transitional period during which the capitalists would be coerced into co-operation. ‘Workers’ control’ was seen as the instrument of this coercion.”
Brinton still can’t see it. He is so enraged by the party conspiracy of the Bolsheviks to impose a party dictatorship on the workers, he overlooks that what is going on is a class war in which the vast majority of workers are fulfilling their various tasks, authorized by the soviets. The factory committees are not rendered powerless by this, but able to exercise their power at the point of production in fulfilling their assigned tasks. In other words we have a semi-militarization of industry in which the factory committees are the workers brigades on the front line of production in the overall battle plan of the transition to a socialist economy. And Brinton is still moaning about book-keeping!
To prove the Bolshevik conspiracy that he his hunting out, Brinton writes:
“As already pointed out, the Bolsheviks at this stage still supported the Factory Committees. They saw them as “the battering ram that would deal blows to capitalism, organs of class struggle created by the working class on its own ground”. (38) They also saw in the slogan of ‘workers control’ a means of undermining Menshevik influence in the unions. But the Bolsheviks were being “carried along by a movement which was in many respects embarrassing to them but which, as a main driving force of the revolution, they could not fail to endorse”. (39) During the middle of 1917 Bolshevik support for the Factory Committees was such that the Mensheviks were to accuse them of ‘abandoning’ Marxism in favor of anarchism. “Actually Lenin and his followers remained firm upholders of the Marxist conception of the centralised state. Their immediate objective, however, was not yet to set up the centralised proletarian dictatorship, but to decentralise as much as possible the bourgeois state and the bourgeois economy. This was a necessary condition for the success of the revolution. In the economic field therefore, the Factory Committee, the organ on the spot, rather than the trade union was the most potent and deadly instrument of upheaval. Thus the trade unions were relegated to the background…” (4) [Pankratova]
Did Brinton want the revolution to fail? Note 39 is a quote from EH Carr, a bourgeois professor of history and an acknowledged authority on…what? That the Bolsheviks had planned a top down revolution and were ‘embarrassed’ by the bottom up groundswell? The only embarrassment here surely, is that Carr can be taken at his word by a libertarian socialist. The reason is that they share the same anti-Bolshevik prejudice. The only time the Bolsheviks were embarrassed was when they were lagging behind the workers, something Lenin commented on frequently.
The quote from Pankratova states the obvious. How could the Bolsheviks take power and form a dictatorship of the proletariat without the proletariat?
You can only think it strange that the Bolsheviks first tried to promote the Factory Committees, and then seize power, if you think that they were planning to manipulate not only the Factory Committees but the Soviet majorities in a cynical exercise of substituting of party for class. Where were the workers while this maneuver was going on? These same workers, who ran rings around Kornilov and were voting for the seizure of power in the soviets, were simultaneously blind to their status as the puppets of Lenin and Trotsky etc. Who has an interest in promoting the ridiculous view that Lenin and the party necessarily rode roughshod over workers democracy? Only the bourgeoisie who promote their brand of democracy, one man-one vote! No wonder the organizers of the Kronstadt rebellion wanted to return to the ‘constituent assembly’.
Brinton concludes with a flourish
“This is perhaps the most explicit statement of why the Bolsheviks at this stage supported workers’ control and its organizational vehicle, the Factory Committees. Today only the ignorant or those willing to be deceived can still kid themselves into believing that proletarian power, at the point of production was ever a fundamental tenet or objective of Bolshevism.” Yeah right.
The ‘point of production’ is a romantic conception of the shop floor, abstracted from ‘production, distribution and exchange’ which has to be taken as a whole, not only in Russia and the other socialist republics that made up the USSR, but most immediately in Europe, where socialist revolution would have created a continental division of labor capable of meeting the needs of all European and Asian workers and thus overcoming the ‘scarcity’ which was the root cause of the degeneration of the revolution in Russia.
This brings us to the seizure of power – another supposed top-down stunt behind the backs of the masses.
In this second part of the review of Brinton’s pamphlet covering 1917 we see the theory and practice of anarcho-syndicalism in opposition to the dictatorship of the proletariat put to the test of events and failing that test.
The All Russian Conference of Factory Committees – October 17-22 was convened by Novy Put, an anarcho-syndicalist paper.
“According to later Bolshevik sources, of the 137 delegates attending the Conference there were 86 Bolsheviks, 22 Social-Revolutionaries, 11 anarcho-syndicalists, 8 Mensheviks, 6 ‘maximalists’ and 4 ‘non-party.”
On the eve of the revolution Brinton points to the importance that the factory committees had in Lenin’s thinking:
“Lenin at this stage saw the tremendous importance of the Factory Committees… as a means of helping the Bolshevik Party to seize power. According to Ordzhonikidze he asserted “we must shift the centre of gravity to the Factory Committees. The Factory Committees must become the organs of insurrection. We must change our slogan and instead of saying ‘All Power to the Soviets’ we must say ‘All Power to the Factory Committees’”.
Yet at the same time factories committees must be centralized:
“A resolution was passed at the Conference proclaiming that “workers’ control – within the limits assigned to it by the Conference – was only possible under the political and economic rule of the working class”. It warned against ‘isolated’ and ‘disorganised’ activities and pointed out that “the seizure of factories by the workers and their operation for personal profit was incompatible with the aims of the proletariat”.
On October 25 the Provisional Government was overthrown. On the next day at the Second All Russian Congress of Soviets the Bolsheviks proclaimed:
“The Revolution has been victorious. All power has passed to the Soviets… New laws will he proclaimed within a few days dealing with workers’ problems. One of the most important will deal with workers’ control of production and with the return of industry to normal conditions. Strikes and demonstrations are harmful in Petrograd. We ask you to put an end to all strikes on economic and political issues, to resume work and to carry it out in a perfectly orderly manner… Every man to his place. The best way to support the Soviet Government these days is to carry on with one’s job”. Without apparently batting an eyelid Pankratova could write that “the first day of workers’ power was ushered in by this call to work and to the edification of the new kind of factory”.
Clearly the revolution was the work of the workers organized in soviets, but also in factory committees. The importance of keeping production going under workers control would be a responsibility of such factory committees but under the centralized laws of the Soviet government. The prospect of central state control over the factory committees is the problem for Brinton. He documents the development of the laws governing worker control which follow. He approves of Lenin’s first draft on workers control published on November 3 because it recognizes what the workers have already achieved themselves.
The “publication in Pravda of Lenin’s ‘Draft Decree on Workers’ Control’ provided for the “introduction of workers’ control of the production, warehousing, purchase and sale of all products and raw materials in all industrial, commercial, banking, agricultural and other enterprises employing a total of not less than five workers and employees – or with a turnover of not less than 10,000 rubles per annum”. Workers’ control was to be “carried out by all the workers and employees in a given enterprise, either directly if the enterprise is small enough to permit it, or through delegates to be immediately elected at mass meetings. Elected delegates were to ‘have access to all books and documents and to all warehouses and stocks of material, instruments and products, without exception”.
Great, already done, says Brinton, only to then condemn the following provisions:
“Point 5: “the decisions of the elected delegates of the workers and employees were legally binding upon the owners of enterprises but that they could be “annulled by trade unions and congresses” (our emphasis). This was exactly the fate that was to befall the decisions of the elected delegates of the workers and employees: the trade unions proved to be the main medium through which the Bolsheviks sought to break the autonomous power of the Factory Committees.”
“Point 6: that “in all enterprises of state importance” all delegates elected to exercise workers’ control were to be “answerable to the State for the maintenance of the strictest order and discipline and for the protection of property”
“Point 7: Enterprises “of importance to the State” were defined – and this has a familiar tone for all revolutionaries – as “all enterprises working for defence purposes, or in any way connected with the production of articles necessary for the existence of the masses of the population”.
“In other words practically any enterprise could be declared by the new Russian State as “of importance to the State”. The delegates from such an enterprise (elected to exercise workers’ control) were now made answerable to a higher authority. Moreover if the trade unions (already fairly bureaucratized) could ‘annul’ the decisions of rank-and-file delegates, what real power in production had the rank-and-file? The Decree on Workers’ Control was soon proved, in practice, not to be worth the paper it was written on.”
So the new workers state must not attempt to coordinate and discipline the working class other than by following the decisions taken at the level of factories (not to mention the farms, military, post-office etc). Here the direct democracy of the workplace is the universal panacea to the authoritarian state and the bureaucratized unions. What, then, of the role of workers in electing delegates to soviets and officials to unions? It seems these are not within the scope of workers democracy because they, state and unions, are by definition alien to workers control. Workers therefore confine their democratic decision making to the workplace. In which case how would those decisions be coordinated into an overall plan for a socialist economy?
These questions were central to the debates on Lenin’s draft document on worker control.
“…Lozovski, a Bolshevik trade unionist, was to write: “To us, it seemed that the basic control units should only act within limits rigorously determined by higher organs of control. But the comrades who were for the decentralisation of workers control were pressing for the independence and autonomy of these lower organs, because they felt that the masses themselves would incarnate the principle of control”. Lozovski believed that “the lower organs of control must confine their activities within the limits set by the instructions of the proposed All-Russian Council of Workers Control. We must say it quite clearly and categorically, so that workers in various enterprises don’t go away with the idea that the factories belong to them”.
A compromise position was arrived at:
“Milyutin, who presented the revised decree …explained somewhat apologetically that “life overtook us” and that it had become urgently necessary to “unite into one solid state apparatus the workers control which was being operated on the spot”. “Legislation on workers’ control which should logically have fitted into the framework of an economic plan had had to precede legislation on the plan itself”. There could be no clearer recognition of the tremendous pressures from below and of the difficulties the Bolsheviks were experiencing in their attempts to canalise them… The new decree started with the ingenious statement that: “In the interests of a planned regulation of the national economy” the new Government “recognised the authority of workers’ control throughout the economy”. But there had to be a firm hierarchy of control organs. Factory Committees would be “allowed” to remain the control organ of each individual enterprise. But each Committee was to be responsible to a “Regional Council of Workers’ Control”, subordinated in turn to an “All-Russian Council of Workers’ Control”. (58) The composition of these higher organs was decided by the Party…For instance the All-Russian Council of Workers’ Control was to consist of 21 ‘representatives’: 5 from the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of the Soviets, 5 from the Executive of the All-Russian Council of Trade Unions, 5 from the Association of Engineers and Technicians, 2 from the Association of Agronomists, 2 from the Petrograd Trade Union Council, 1 from each All-Russian Trade Union Federation numbering fewer than 100,000 members (2 for Federations of over this number)… and 5 from the All-Russian Council of Factory Committees! The Factory Committees often under anarcho-syndicalist influence had been well and truly ‘cut down to size’.”
The reason, says Brinton, was the antagonism between the centralized party apparatus and the democratic national federation of factory committees. He quotes Deutscher on the Bolshevik position:
“anarchic characteristics of the Committees made themselves felt: every Factory Committee aspired to have the last and final say on all matters affecting the factory, its output, its stocks of raw material, its conditions of work, etc., and paid little or no attention to the needs of industry as a whole” . Yet in the very next sentence Deutscher points out that “a few weeks after the upheaval (the October revolution) the Factory Committees attempted to form their own national organization, which was to secure their virtual economic dictatorship. The Bolsheviks now called upon the trade unions to render a special service to the nascent Soviet State and to discipline the Factory Committees. The unions came out firmly against the attempt of the Factory Committees to form a national organization of their own. They prevented the convocation of a planned All-Russian Congress of Factory Committees and demanded total subordination on the part of the Committees”.
Brinton seems to think that the national organization of factory committees would somehow represent an adequate basis for national economic planning. Deutscher however is clear that the federation of factories would be a virtual ‘economic dictatorship’ i.e. impose the economic decisions of the factories for the whole of Russia as a parallel structure to the soviet state.
Brinton claims this is why the Soviet state prevented a federation from forming to coordinate the national economy:
“Some comments are called for in relation to these developments. The disorganization created by the war and by the resistance of the employing class (manifested as sabotage or desertion of their enterprises) clearly made it imperative to minimize and if possible eliminate unnecessary struggles, between Factory Committees, such as struggles for scanty fuel or raw materials. There was clearly a need to co-ordinate the activity of the Committees on a vast scale, a need of which many who had been most active in the Committee movement were well aware. The point at issue is not that a functional differentiation was found necessary between the various organs of working class power (Soviets, Factory Committees, etc.) or that a definition was sought as to what were local tasks and what were regional or national tasks. The modalities of such a differentiation could have been – and probably would have been – -determined by the proposed Congress of Facttory Committees. The important thing is that a hierarchical pattern of differentiation was externally elaborated and imposed, by an agency other than the producers themselves.”
For Brinton a Congress of Factory Committees had it not been stopped by the imposition of the ‘hierarchical’ All-Russian Council of Workers Control, could have overcome the local, parochial interests of the factories, farms and post offices and arrived at a national planned economy. Thus, at the first meeting of the Council:
“Zhivotov, spokesman of the Factory Committee movement, declared: “In the Factory Committees we elaborate instructions which come from below, with a view to seeing how they can be applied to industry as a whole. These are the instructions of the work shop, of life itself. They are the only instructions that can have real meaning. They show what the Factory Committees are capable of, and should therefore come to the forefront in discussions of workers’ control”. The Factory Committees felt that “control was the task of the committee in each establishment. The committees of each town should then meet… and later establish co-ordination on a regional basis”.
In December with the formation of the Vesenka (Supreme Economic Council) the All-Russian Council of Workers Control, in which the Factory Committees were already buried, was put to rest. It became one of many organs that underwent a transition from “workers control to the Supreme Council of National Economy”. Brinton sums up what he sees as:
…a process which leads, within a short period of 4 years, from the tremendous upsurge of the Factory Committee movement (a movement which both implicitly and explicitly sought to alter the relations of production) to the establishment of unquestioned domination by a monolithic and bureaucratic agency (the Party) over all aspects of economic and political life. This agency not being based on production, its rule could only epitomise the continued limitation of the authority of the workers in the productive process. This necessarily implied the perpetuation of hierarchical relations within production itself, and therefore the perpetuation of class society.
Incredibly what is missing from this analysis is the seizure of state power and the formation of a Soviet state representing the workers organized in Soviets. The Bolshevik Party is referred to a “bureaucratic agency…not based on production”. Counterposed to this “bureaucratic agency” imposed on “production” is the “authority of the workers in the productive process”. But what is that “authority” in isolation of the Soviet state? The Party that wins the support of the workers, poor peasants and soldiers in the Soviets now lacks “authority” and instead imposes a “rule” over workers and a “perpetuation of class society”! How can a Party which represents the revolutionary majority that overthrows the ruling class and creates a workers government now “perpetuate class society” over the workers? Let us see how Brinton’s arrives at this conclusion.
“…The problem can be envisaged in yet another way. The setting up of the Vesenka represents a partial fusion – in a position of economic authority – of trade union officials, Party stalwarts and ‘experts’ nominated by the ‘workers’ state’. But these are not three social categories ‘representing the workers’. They were three social categories which were already assuming managerial functions – i.e. were already dominating the workers in production. Because of their own antecedent history each of these groups was, for different reasons, already some-what remote from the working class. Their fusion was to enhance this separation. The result is that from 1918 on, the new State (although officially described as a ‘workers’ state’ or a ‘soviet republic’ – and although by and large supported by the mass of the working class during the Civil War) was not in fact an institution managed by the working class.”
Brinton states that the Vesenka is the creation of the ‘workers state’. The trade union “officials”, Party “stalwarts” and “experts” appointed by the state don’t represent the workers because they are already “managers…dominating the workers in production”. The state cannot supply such ‘managers’ because they are drawn from “social categories” “remote from the working class”. He thinks Workers Committees alone should have the authority to appoint managers. But this is a utopian position contradicted in the very next sentence. If the state managers are so “remote” from the workers, then what can be said of former Tsarist officers recruited to the Red Army to fight the Civil War which Brinton claims was “by and large supported by the mass of the working class.”
Despite the urgent overwhelming task of organizing the wrecked economy and fighting a civil war, notwithstanding the support of the working class, Brinton persists in claiming that the Soviet state usurped and trampled on the “authority” of the factory committees. He may as well say that the Red Army trampled on the democratic rights of the rank and file to elect their officers and debate military strategy! In fact he does so later in his pamphlet.
Here we have the utopia of the parallel syndicalist state versus the dictatorship of the proletariat.
To be continued for years 1918-1920.
Footnotes in Brinton