Tuesday, 23 December 2014
For me who has had a number of down times and felt very low at points due to various factors I do know how important it is to look out for our mental health. Often one of the most misunderstood forms of our health our mental well being is often over looked for someone just being a bit down or just needs to cheer up. As a society we simply do not understand mental health and this is no more so than for us living under the constant pressures and worries of life under capitalism. For me and many others mental health is an anti capitalist issue which must be firstly understood and secondly tackled as best we can on a day to day basis. Our small worries which can turn into bigger more long term problems must be understood and we must always try and reach out to those who are most in need. Not by preaching to them at what they need but offering our solidarity and support in any way we can if necessary. Sometimes just letting others know you are there if they need anyone to talk to can be a great comfort. I know many disabled people like myself who struggle day to day with what life has given them and the society which perpetuates disability and how they find it a constant challenge to “fit in” to a “normal” lifestyle whatever that means. I have had two blocks of councilling myself since loosing my eyesight 10 years ago now with that always be an issue for me which I return to a lot in my thinking other material conditions and daily situations also frustrate me and this can can come out in a multitude of ways. Learning to deal with your frustration and to channel it in to a positive direction for change is what I have tried to do. This is where my politics comes in. For me who has always identified myself with fighting injustice and unfairness I’ve taken a critical look at the society we live in. How society affects us on an emotional level and hew we can go about supporting each other in that transition to changing the world into a better place for all. A brilliant article found on www.libcom.org a few years back detailed a lot of where we are at in the current times the limits to our campaigns and where we could possibly improve in areas. When it comes to mental health and activism. “The ‘anti-capitalist movement’ we have been a part of in the UK (we offer this definition very broadly and with caution!) constantly strives to create its own infrastructure, whether this is motivated by apocalyptic visions of the future or autonomy from capitalist social relations (or both) everyone’s at it. Squats, housing co-ops and social centres. We build our networks to consist of people who can do accounting, plumbing, squat defending and cooking. We like doing things together and creating our own spaces, and we know how to do it. But for the past too many years we’ve arrived in fields around the UK and Europe, put up some tents, made the running water happen, fought the cops and then… invited a group of ‘action medics’ to set up a tent where we’ll later go to them with our splinters. On the one hand we strive for autonomy and on the other we treat some of our individual and social needs as services to be provided by others. The effect of this is not only that we hand over responsibility and control of our physical and mental health to others, but that we fail to engage with health as a political issue. For example, in another time and place, some people are starting a transition town group in their local area. In transition town collectives working groups for all the vital aspects of life are set up. This time we remember that health needs addressing. At our first transition town meeting, we attended the health brainstorm. We listened to people discuss the morally deplorable manner with which the NHS disposes of its waste, and casually (probably under-)estimate the amount of plastic that the NHS uses so irresponsibly, “How can we go about persuading them to return to sterilising metal equipment?” Beside providing another example of our obsession with carbon emissions at the expense of social issues, we again failed to identify health as political. We always seem to forget about health. We talk about authoritarian immigration laws, ID cards infringing on our civil liberties, incarceration of political prisoners (etc. etc.) but a quick look at the health section of Indymedia shows a fine example of the lack of debate there is in our movements around healthcare. There are hardly any posts under the health section of the web page and the ones that are there are mostly concerned with animal rights and incinerators. Why don’t we talk about how capitalism creates mental and physical health problems on both a global and individual level? Or health inequality? Or arbitrary diagnostic criteria that attempt to pathologise the personal burdens we carry from living in such a demanding society? Mental health and anti-capitalism When attempts are made to tackle issues surrounding mental health we seem more than happy to tolerate a conspiratorial understanding of society and power that we deplore elsewhere (psychiatrists controlling the masses etc. etc.). The authors believe it makes more sense to understand mental health discourses and practices as largely economically contingent, rather than as the result of some reactionary ideology peddled by a brain washing elite. Mental health practitioners are bound by the same economic limitations and requirements as everyone else, drugs are always the first port of call because they’re cheap, and, as we all know, medical science and research is dominated by pharmaceutical companies because the research just couldn’t happen without their money (significantly the majority of randomised clinical trials undertaken to evaluate the efficacy of drugs versus other forms of therapy are sponsored by the very same companies who manufacture the drugs). But the problem runs deeper than this, historically the industrial revolution facilitated new attitude to ‘madness’ and health, the transformation of nature through manufacture opened the way for ideas about the transformation of people, through transformative therapies and rehabilitation. We saw a move away from the view that madness was an incurable affliction and a move toward therapies intended to ‘cure’ what were now understood as mental illnesses with the view of rehabilitating people back into cooperative and productive members of society. Capitalism requires us to be productive and thus mental health practices and discourses are oriented towards this necessity. Attempts at reforming mental health services without addressing capitalism inevitably fail. Moves to community care were seen as a great success for the democratic mental health movement in Italy where psychiatric institutions were abolished and all psychiatric and mental health services were outsourced into the community. The eighties and nineties saw a similar move in the UK. Victorian asylums were closed and psychiatric and psychological services were moved into the community. Whereas there is no doubt that psychiatric services are now ‘better’ than they were in the sixties, the failure to challenge the entirety of the system within which mental health services are situated led to what has been described as the mere outsourcing of psychiatric services into peoples homes. The asylums may have gone but the institution hadn’t and couldn’t change. On a more grass roots level we also limit our potential for change when we revert to DIY life-stylism rather than radically critiquing the health service and the economic system and social processes that produce it. Anarcha-feminists are generally better at politicising health, it was feminists who focused the idea of autonomous health by starting to check their own breasts for lumps. But they also fall into a trap of lifestylism often talking about how to deal with ’so called’ PMT or how to make your own sanitary towels (we hope never to sit through one of these again) rather than how political and economic forces negatively affect people’s everyday experience of healthcare. Why do we never have a radical position on why most health resources are used treating the results of excessive food, alcohol and drug consumption? It’s not enough to encourage healthy, green, organic and active lifestyles or tell people to stop watching telly and get an allotment. In practice this is what doctors try to do everyday in order to lower peoples’ cholesterol and blood pressure, but after years of experience, they know they will always revert to drugs. Similarly it’s one thing to tell someone with high blood pressure to do a bit more exercise and quite another to tell someone suicidal who probably has inadequate housing and may be unemployed to radically change their lifestyle. That just doesn’t cut it for the majority of people. Instead let’s talk about society and what makes it that way. Consumer and individual choices alone do not carry the antagonistic element that would have the potential to realise change in our society. Whilst this reduction of social problems to the individual diverts attention it also places undue pressure on people who already live in a highly pressurised and externally managed environment. Many attempts at linking Marxist theory and mental health have identified alienation as having psychological or individual origins, but alienation originates from social organisation. Capitalism and the State require us to be active and productive citizens, to embrace our ‘rights’ and responsibilities and to participate equally in liberal democracy. We are dispossessed by society and labelled mad or unfit not then, because we are seen as being ‘possessed’ (as was once the case), but because we are no longer useful. Our focus therefore has to be on this form of social organisation that requires us to participate in limited and pre-determined ways. This leads us to one other concern, and that is the anti-medical, anti-corporate or anti-progressive streak that dominates some areas of mental health activism. A progressive socially critical position recognises that capitalism manifests in the ways we relate to each other in our everyday activities and not just in the big corporate monster or your local super-market. Rather than throwing the baby out with the bath water we feel that certain technological and social advances, whether that’s drug treatments, medical science or professionalised health services, should be embraced as the product of human creativity and innovation with a valuable and necessary role in society rather than purely as the product of an exploitative capitalist economy. For example rather than shouting down anti-depressants, we should talk about why capitalist economics make antidepressants the best and most ‘effective’ treatment for every person experiencing depression? Instead of criticising health and social care workers, we should recognise the time pressures on their work, the necessary corporate funding that keeps training courses, institutions and research centres afloat and the knock on effect this has on how health services are delivered. Finally, we feel it’s worth saying here that we are not denying the truly debilitating impact of some emotional and psychological experiences on people’s lives. By saying that mental health has a social and economic dimension we do not intend to belittle the experience of the individual, rather we are asking that our understanding of and activism on health issues has an antagonistic element and a social orientation. Continuing the conversation Like we said earlier we’re not pushing for another single issue campaign, rather we’re asking that when we are confronted with issues regarding mental and physical health we see them as political and as part of our struggle as anti-capitalists. Alternative approaches to a range of psychological ‘illnesses’ and experiences exist all over the country, the Hearing Voices Network works with people on an individual and collective level toward finding new ways of understanding and living with experiences of voice hearing. Mad pride and ‘bed pushes’ through city centres are examples of attempts to highlight the injustices experienced in the mental health system and to offer a voice for the ‘dispossessed’ to shout back. But rather than focusing too much on solutions and protest we want to continue exploring how ‘madness’ and health are embedded in social and political processes. We believe that the movement towards a truly democratic ‘mental health’ must be an anti-capitalist movement.” With thanks and extracts from the full version you can read over at https://libcom.org/library/possessed-or-dispossessed-jane-stratton-lauren-wroe Jane Stratton is involved in the No Borders network, an action medics collective, and studies Medicine. Lauren Wroe is co-editor of Shift magazine, researches in critical social psychology and is involved in the No Borders network.
Monday, 22 December 2014
SO the PCS union has alarmed many who care about union democracy and decency in the union movement w by suspending elections for a year all in the idea of "saving money". In a excellent article detailing the hows and why's PCS your voice a publication of the independent left in PCS who i believe have no party line as such wrote the following piece today i find it interesting reading given when i was a member of the socialist party it was talked for years there would be a situation like this happening. "The PCS National Executive Committee has taken the decision to suspend elections to the NEC and to Group Executive Committees for the coming year. Your Voice condemns this decision as a mistake and wholly unnecessary. The NEC made this and several other decisions at an emergency meeting on Thursday 18 December. The meeting also decided on staffing reductions and budget cuts, whilst confirming the sell off of the HQ building in Clapham. The rationale given for this was the scale of government attacks on PCS. A number of government departments are currently in the process of removing check-off, the facility to pay union subscriptions through payroll. This has left union reps rushing to sign members up to Direct Debit, with more and more other activity put on hold as the year has progressed, to combat a potentially massive loss of funds for the union. This threat, and in particular the fact that elections would take resources away from the Direct Debit campaign, has been used as justification for the suspension. The costs of elections were also brought up in favour of the decision. Whilst recognising dire threat that the removal of check off presents, alongside other measures such as union busting in HMRC, we nonetheless feel that suspending democracy was the wrong decision to take. On a practical level, we know that there is under-engagement in elections just as there is a shortfall of take up for Direct Debit. Could both issues not have been addressed together? An election campaign would surely present an ideal time to engage with members and promote the need to defend the union, while more simply Direct Debit forms and literature could have been included in the mail shots. In terms of cost cutting, there are no doubt any number of measures which could have made the ballots cheaper without doing away with them altogether. The savings may not have been as stark as the £600,000 quoted for this decision, but the loss wouldn’t be as great either. Democracy is not simply a cost to be reduced, but a necessary part of organising as workers. Your Voice believes in a union run by its members at a rank-and-file level, and that requires more democracy rather than less. This should be a fundamental tenet of what defines us, not a niceity to be discarded when inconvenient. There is much more that could be said on this issue. We are sure more will be in the run up to AGMs and Conference. In the meantime, we urge all those who oppose this decision to argue for their branch to adopt that same position and write to the NEC urging that they reverse it at their next meeting in January. Facing off the attacks on our union from this government mean not only standing our ground but advancing forward. If we take a single step backwards, in terms of democracy or organisation, then that is a concession too many to our foes. Further to this is the awkward situation or not so awkward if you are in favour of a lash up for the PCS with the unite union which for me has been the socialist partys aim for a long time to wrestle control of the biggest union in the country out of labours grasp. All this to aid in their dream of a new workers party i.e a labour party mark 2 but with the SP as its radical leadership of course. The independent left in PCS have wrote some good things on this issue and expose the sham for what it is. They continue. "The Independent Left believes that the NEC’s suspension of elections is related to the efforts of the central leadership to steer PCS into Unite (whatever NEC members were actually told regarding the suspension of elections – most of the 13 who voted for suspending democracy are voting sheep). The core leadership (the shepherds if you wish) need to submerge into Unite because: • Senior officers’ huge salaries and associated pensions would be protected. • They would be inside a financially secure trade union having handed over the proceeds from the sale of PCS HQ to Unite. • The ruling regime could look forward to running the Unite Public Sector Group and without having to ever accept its responsibility for the shockingly incompetent manner in which has led PCS (they would not willingly give up the leadership of an independent trade union to play second fiddle in Unite). • They would in fact preside over a wider and more securely based public sector membership. • The Socialist Party would have high hopes of dominating Unite’s own “left wing” grouping through the much bigger PCS Left Unity membership and indeed of linking up with those with an apparent desire to disaffiliate Unite from the Labour Party. • By effectively moving PCS elections to later in 2015 or indeed to 2016 (they are reserving the right not hold a vote for up to 12 months) the NEC move PCS more in line with the constitutional structures of Unite. • The suspension of elections and talk of bankruptcy might bring an otherwise recalcitrant PCS Conference into line on Unite merger and even if it doesn’t the self-elected NEC would be beyond Conference’s control if it steers PCS into Unite. The core leadership, Mark Serwotka and the Socialist Party, cannot risk an election as they might lose seats and so not be as dominant as presently they are, or worse still they might even lose the NEC. Rather than run that risk and therefore the chance to ‘save’ the union by destroying it by a lash up with Unite, they self-elect themselves into continuing power. If you can suspend elections you certainly ignore any conference decision regarding a (sub) merger with Unite. The core leadership is now going for broke; they are desperate to join up with that union. As their actions show they are sufficiently ruthless as to deny ordinary members a say in who runs the union; do you think they will allow delegates a greater say? Let members have a vote!! Further reasoning as to why the SP think this way and why they would set to benifit hugely from a potential PCS/Unite merger. Because they think they can take it over and break it from the Labour Party! Their analysis is that organised left grouping within Unite, the United Left is weak and they can take it over. As that grouping controls most of the Unite NEC they think they will take over the NEC. Once they have the NEC then they will break Unite from the Labour Party. Of course this is the sort of machine politics that the SP has successfully practiced in PCS (take over Left Unity, LU takes over the union etc). Therefore they believe that Unite will be just PCS writ large. Also they are pinning their hopes on all the public sector workers in Unite (council workers, NHS and former PCS) being put into one group. Such a hope is mentioned in a PCS bulletin and by their speakers. Of course they would hope to dominate this public sector group (PCS would be the biggest component of such a set up) and so be bigger fish in a bigger pond than at present in PCS. This group would be their power base within Unite and no doubt a source of full time officer jobs for their comrades. Of course all the above is mechanical (everything just follows from one thing to another; take over the United left, then the NEC etc.) and does not involve winning the members over but SP would believe that if you win the superstructure of the union and the organised left, then the members will follow – or at least they will not get in the way. We have a different conception of politics to the SP. Ours involves winning members and activists to ideas, creating a rank and file movement that really does control the leadership; not as a means to winning places on committees. Also as said the SP conception is mechanical. For example if they did succeed in winning the United Left in Unite they seem to think they could just take it over intact. But it is highly likely that the UL would split and a new ‘left’ would be created. Certainly the Labour Party and full time officials would not stand idly by and let SP operate unchallenged. So what would the members get out of all this? Well no doubt a SP comrade would argue that Unite under their control or if they had a significant voice within it, would be a radical union in the same way as PCS; that breaking from the Labour Party is a vital necessity for the working class. We have our doubts as to the former. Whilst PCS does take strike action it does not- as you would assume a radical union would- openly challenge other unions, appeal direct over the heads of other union leaders to the members in those unions, argue a radical change in the political system (the union’s demand for PR maybe part of such a change but in itself is not that radical change) and for a radical democratisation of the economy (saying that austerity should end is not the same thing as saying who should own what). The SP have made no substantive real case as to why a transfer to Unite would be better for members but, as we argue above, the proposed link up with Unite is not really for the members." This is not me having a swipe at my old party although i have many issues with them this should be something which concerns many union members who hold democracy close to their hearts of doing things. with thanks and solidarity to those over at your voice PCS and the independent left grouping in the PCS union their blog can be read at http://pcsindependentleft.com/2014/05/25/pcs-why-does-the-socialist-party-want-a-transfer-to-unite/?relatedposts_hit=1&relatedposts_origin=1342&relatedposts_position=1
While many on the left say they are "socialist" this can mean so many different things to different people. I've come across labour party members telling me they are socialist yet come out with some really reactionary ideas. For me it’s a broad term which can describe many strands of thinking but I’d like to look at the libertarian version of the term and why I feel it needs remembering. There are soft left sorts who just want the rich to pay their tax to hard left sorts who still support the state others are anti authoritarian who oppose the state and much more in between. Marxists are socialists but propose a hierarchical party quite often to change society there are some who propose council communism which takes the ideas of democratic soviets and recallable delegates as a version to work for which I think for me they are closer to anarchist thinking than Marxist as far as I can tell. While Marxists and anarchists talk about fighting for the same thing a class less society the methods and thinking is often very different in achieving this. Even anarchists are socialist of a sort although more link themselves to communism as choose to disassociate themselves with the state socialist thinking of many on the current left who seem to hold the dominant thinking at the time being. To quote from an anarchist FAQ which puts this in a far better way than I ever could. "Many anarchists, seeing the negative nature of the definition of "anarchism," have used other terms to emphasise the inherently positive and constructive aspect of their ideas. The most common terms used are "free socialism," "free communism," "libertarian socialism," and "libertarian communism." For anarchists, libertarian socialism, libertarian communism, and anarchism are virtually interchangeable. As Vanzetti put it: "After all we are socialists as the social-democrats, the socialists, the communists, and the I.W.W. are all Socialists. The difference -- the fundamental one -- between us and all the other is that they are authoritarian while we are libertarian; they believe in a State or Government of their own; we believe in no State or Government." [Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, the Letters of Sacco and Vanzetti, p. 274] But is this correct? Considering definitions from the American Heritage Dictionary, we find: LIBERTARIAN: one who believes in freedom of action and thought; one who believes in free will. SOCIALISM: a social system in which the producers possess both political power and the means of producing and distributing goods. Just taking those two first definitions and fusing those yields: LIBERTARIAN SOCIALISM: a social system which believes in freedom of action and thought and free will, in which the producers possess both political power and the means of producing and distributing goods. (Although we must add that our usual comments on the lack of political sophistication of dictionaries still holds. We only use these definitions to show that "libertarian" does not imply "free market" capitalism or "socialism" state ownership. Other dictionaries, obviously, will have different definitions -- particularly for socialism. Those wanting to debate dictionary definitions are free to pursue this unending and politically useless hobby but we will not). However, due to the creation of the Libertarian Party in the USA, many people now consider the idea of "libertarian socialism" to be a contradiction in terms. Indeed, many "Libertarians" think anarchists are just attempting to associate the "anti-libertarian" ideas of "socialism" (as Libertarians conceive it) with Libertarian ideology in order to make those "socialist" ideas more "acceptable" -- in other words, trying to steal the "libertarian" label from its rightful possessors. Nothing could be further from the truth. Anarchists have been using the term "libertarian" to describe themselves and their ideas since the 1850's. According to anarchist historian Max Nettlau, the revolutionary anarchist Joseph Dejacque published Le Libertaire, Journal du Mouvement Social in New York between 1858 and 1861 while the use of the term "libertarian communism" dates from November, 1880 when a French anarchist congress adopted it. [Max Nettlau, A Short History of Anarchism, p. 75 and p. 145] The use of the term "Libertarian" by anarchists became more popular from the 1890s onward after it was used in France in an attempt to get round anti-anarchist laws and to avoid the negative associations of the word "anarchy" in the popular mind (Sebastien Faure and Louise Michel published the paper Le Libertaire -- The Libertarian -- in France in 1895, for example). Since then, particularly outside America, it has always been associated with anarchist ideas and movements. Taking a more recent example, in the USA, anarchists organised "The Libertarian League" in July 1954, which had staunch anarcho-syndicalist principles and lasted until 1965. The US-based "Libertarian" Party, on the other hand has only existed since the early 1970's, well over 100 years after anarchists first used the term to describe their political ideas (and 90 years after the expression "libertarian communism" was first adopted). It is that party, not the anarchists, who have "stolen" the word. Later, in Section B, we will discuss why the idea of a "libertarian" capitalism (as desired by the Libertarian Party) is a contradiction in terms. As we will also explain in Section I, only a libertarian-socialist system of ownership can maximise individual freedom. Needless to say, state ownership -- what is commonly called "socialism" -- is, for anarchists, not socialism at all. In fact, as we will elaborate in Section H, state "socialism" is just a form of capitalism, with no socialist content whatever. As Rudolf Rocker noted, for anarchists, socialism is "not a simple question of a full belly, but a question of culture that would have to enlist the sense of personality and the free initiative of the individual; without freedom it would lead only to a dismal state capitalism which would sacrifice all individual thought and feeling to a fictitious collective interest." [quoted by Colin Ward, "Introduction", Rudolf Rocker, The London Years, p. 1] Given the anarchist pedigree of the word "libertarian," few anarchists are happy to see it stolen by an ideology which shares little with our ideas. In the United States, as Murray Bookchin noted, the "term 'libertarian' itself, to be sure, raises a problem, notably, the specious identification of an anti-authoritarian ideology with a straggling movement for 'pure capitalism' and 'free trade.' This movement never created the word: it appropriated it from the anarchist movement of the [nineteenth] century. And it should be recovered by those anti-authoritarians . . . who try to speak for dominated people as a whole, not for personal egotists who identify freedom with entrepreneurship and profit." Thus anarchists in America should "restore in practice a tradition that has been denatured by" the free-market right. [The Modern Crisis, pp. 154-5] And as we do that, we will continue to call our ideas libertarian socialism. A.1.4 Are anarchists socialists? Yes. All branches of anarchism are opposed to capitalism. This is because capitalism is based upon oppression and exploitation (see sections B and C). Anarchists reject the "notion that men cannot work together unless they have a driving-master to take a percentage of their product" and think that in an anarchist society "the real workmen will make their own regulations, decide when and where and how things shall be done." By so doing workers would free themselves "from the terrible bondage of capitalism." [Voltairine de Cleyre, "Anarchism", Exquisite Rebel, p. 75 and p. 79] (We must stress here that anarchists are opposed to all economic forms which are based on domination and exploitation, including feudalism, Soviet-style "socialism" -- better called "state capitalism" --, and slavery and so on. We concentrate on capitalism because that is what is dominating the world just now). Individualists like Benjamin Tucker along with social anarchists like Proudhon and Bakunin proclaimed themselves "socialists." They did so because, as Kropotkin put it in his classic essay "Modern Science and Anarchism," "[s]o long as Socialism was understood in its wide, generic, and true sense -- as an effort to abolish the exploitation of Labour by Capital -- the Anarchists were marching hand-in-hands with the Socialists of that time." [Evolution and Environment, p. 81] Or, in Tucker's words, "the bottom claim of Socialism [is] that labour should be put in possession of its own," a claim that both "the two schools of Socialistic thought . . . State Socialism and Anarchism" agreed upon. [The Anarchist Reader, p. 144] Hence the word "socialist" was originally defined to include "all those who believed in the individual's right to possess what he or she produced." [Lance Klafta, "Ayn Rand and the Perversion of Libertarianism," in Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed, no. 34] This opposition to exploitation (or usury) is shared by all true anarchists and places them under the socialist banner. For most socialists, "the only guarantee not to be robbed of the fruits of your labour is to possess the instruments of labour." [Peter Kropotkin, the Conquest of Bread, p. 145] For this reason Proudhon, for example, supported workers' co-operatives, where "every individual employed in the association . . . has an undivided share in the property of the company" because by "participation in losses and gains . . . the collective force [i.e. surplus] ceases to be a source of profits for a small number of managers: it becomes the property of all workers." [General Idea of the Revolution, p. 222 and p. 223] Thus, in addition to desiring the end of exploitation of labour by capital, true socialists also desire a society within which the producers own and control the means of production (including, it should be stressed, those workplaces which supply services). The means by which the producers will do this is a moot point in anarchist and other socialist circles, but the desire remains a common one. Anarchists favour directs workers' control and either ownership by workers' associations or by the commune (see section A.3 Of an anarchist FAQ". Moreover, anarchists also reject capitalism for being authoritarian as well as exploitative. Under capitalism, workers do not govern themselves during the production process nor have control over the product of their labour. Such a situation is hardly based on equal freedom for all, nor can it be non-exploitative, and is so opposed by anarchists. This perspective can best be found in the work of Proudhon's (who inspired both Tucker and Bakunin) where he argues that anarchism would see "[c]apitalistic and proprietary exploitation stopped everywhere [and] the wage system abolished" for "either the workman. . . will be simply the employee of the proprietor-capitalist-promoter; or he will participate . . . In the first case the workman is subordinated, exploited: his permanent condition is one of obedience. . . In the second case he resumes his dignity as a man and citizen . . . he forms part of the producing organisation, of which he was before but the slave . . . we need not hesitate, for we have no choice . . . it is necessary to form an ASSOCIATION among workers . . . because without that, they would remain related as subordinates and superiors, and there would ensue two. . . castes of masters and wage-workers, which is repugnant to a free and democratic society." [Op. Cit., p. 233 and pp. 215-216] Therefore all anarchists are anti-capitalist ("If labour owned the wealth it produced, there would be no capitalism" [Alexander Berkman, What is Anarchism? p. 44]). Benjamin Tucker, for example -- the anarchist most influenced by liberalism (as we will discuss later) -- called his ideas "Anarchistic-Socialism" and denounced capitalism as a system based upon "the usurer, the receiver of interest, rent and profit." Tucker held that in an anarchist, non-capitalist, free-market society, capitalists will become redundant and exploitation of labour by capital would cease, since "labour . . . will . . . secure its natural wage, its entire product." [The Individualist Anarchists, p. 82 and p. 85] Such an economy will be based on mutual banking and the free exchange of products between co-operatives, artisans and peasants. For Tucker, and other Individualist anarchists, capitalism is not a true free market, being marked by various laws and monopolies which ensure that capitalists have the advantage over working people, so ensuring the latter's exploitation via profit, interest and rent "So anarchists consider themselves as socialists, but socialists of a specific kind -- libertarian socialists. As the individualist anarchist Joseph A. Labadie puts it (echoing both Tucker and Bakunin): "It is said that Anarchism is not socialism. This is a mistake. Anarchism is voluntary Socialism. There are two kinds of Socialism, archistic and anarchistic, authoritarian and libertarian, state and free. Indeed, every proposition for social betterment is either to increase or decrease the powers of external wills and forces over the individual. As they increase they are archistic; as they decrease they are anarchistic." [Anarchism: What It Is and What It Is Not] Labadie stated on many occasions that "all anarchists are socialists, but not all socialists are anarchists." Therefore, Daniel Guerin's comment that "Anarchism is really a synonym for socialism. The anarchist is primarily a socialist whose aim is to abolish the exploitation of man by man" is echoed throughout the history of the anarchist movement, be it the social or individualist wings. [Anarchism, p. 12] Indeed, the Haymarket Martyr Adolph Fischer used almost exactly the same words as Labadie to express the same fact -- "every anarchist is a socialist, but every socialist is not necessarily an anarchist" -- while acknowledging that the movement was "divided into two factions; the communistic anarchists and the Proudhon or middle-class anarchists." [The Autobiographies of the Haymarket Martyrs, p. 81] So while social and individualist anarchists do disagree on many issues -- for example, whether a true, that is non-capitalist, free market would be the best means of maximising liberty -- they agree that capitalism is to be opposed as exploitative and oppressive and that an anarchist society must, by definition, be based on associated, not wage, labour. Only associated labour will "decrease the powers of external wills and forces over the individual" during working hours and such self-management of work by those who do it is the core ideal of real socialism. This perspective can be seen when Joseph Labadie argued that the trade union was "the exemplification of gaining freedom by association" and that "[w]ithout his union, the workman is much more the slave of his employer than he is with it." [Different Phases of the Labour Question] However, the meanings of words change over time. Today "socialism" almost always refers to state socialism, a system that all anarchists have opposed as a denial of freedom and genuine socialist ideals. All anarchists would agree with Noam Chomsky's statement on this issue: "If the left is understood to include 'Bolshevism,' then I would flatly dissociate myself from the left. Lenin was one of the greatest enemies of socialism." [Marxism, Anarchism, and Alternative Futures, p. 779] Anarchism developed in constant opposition to the ideas of Marxism, social democracy and Leninism. Long before Lenin rose to power, Mikhail Bakunin warned the followers of Marx against the "Red bureaucracy" that would institute "the worst of all despotic governments" if Marx's state-socialist ideas were ever implemented. Indeed, the works of Stirner, Proudhon and especially Bakunin all predict the horror of state Socialism with great accuracy. In addition, the anarchists were among the first and most vocal critics and opposition to the Bolshevik regime in Russia. Nevertheless, being socialists, anarchists do share some ideas with some Marxists (though none with Leninists). Both Bakunin and Tucker accepted Marx's analysis and critique of capitalism as well as his labour theory of value (see section C). Marx himself was heavily influenced by Max Stirner's book The Ego and Its Own, which contains a brilliant critique of what Marx called "vulgar" communism as well as state socialism. There have also been elements of the Marxist movement holding views very similar to social anarchism (particularly the anarcho-syndicalist branch of social anarchism) -- for example, Anton Pannekoek, Rosa Luxembourg, Paul Mattick and others, who are very far from Lenin. Karl Korsch and others wrote sympathetically of the anarchist revolution in Spain. There are many continuities from Marx to Lenin, but there are also continuities from Marx to more libertarian Marxists, who were harshly critical of Lenin and Bolshevism and whose ideas approximate anarchism's desire for the free association of equals. Therefore anarchism is basically a form of socialism, one that stands in direct opposition to what is usually defined as "socialism" (i.e. state ownership and control). Instead of "central planning," which many people associate with the word "socialism," anarchists advocate free association and co-operation between individuals, workplaces and communities and so oppose "state" socialism as a form of state capitalism in which "[e]very man [and woman] will be a wage-receiver, and the State the only wage payer." [Benjamin Tucker, the Individualist Anarchists, p. 81] Thus anarchists reject Marxism (what most people think of as "socialism") as just "[t]he idea of the State as Capitalist, to which the Social-Democratic fraction of the great Socialist Party is now trying to reduce Socialism." [Peter Kropotkin, the Great French Revolution, vol. 1, p. 31] The anarchist objection to the identification of Marxism, "central planning" and State Socialism/Capitalism with socialism will be discussed in section H. It is because of these differences with state socialists, and to reduce confusion, most anarchists just call themselves "anarchists," as it is taken for granted that anarchists are socialists. However, with the rise of the so-called "libertarian" right in the USA, some pro-capitalists have taken to calling themselves "anarchists" and that is why we have laboured the point somewhat here. Historically, and logically, anarchism implies anti-capitalism, i.e. socialism, which is something, we stress, that all anarchists have agreed upon (for a fuller "discuss of why "anarcho"-capitalism is not anarchist see section F). With thanks as ever to an anarchist far http://anarchism.pageabode.com/afaq/secA1.html#seca13
Sunday, 21 December 2014
Britain has never had a strong movement of Trotskyism let’s be clear. In 2014 with the two major forces on the left identifying as Trotskyist as the socialist party SP and the Socialist Workers party – SWP Both have had high points in their history to the leading of the Liverpool City Council in the 1980’s of the former Militant Socialist party to the SWP who claim to be the leaders of the stop the war movement in and around 2003 with the estimated march of over a million on the streets of London opposing the Iraq war. Both claim to hold true to the true meaning of Trotsky and his perspectives and look to replicate a Russia 1917 all over again and be the head of that movement. In the UK we have many Trotskyist groups claiming to be the one true revolutionary group yet none getting the irony that Marxism is all about a working class party which does not seek to create other party’s to oppose it. Yet in the UK we have so many little left sects who all believe they are right and all the other groups are wrong. For me I have only been a member of one trot party that being the Socialist party of England and Wales. The SP for ease of reference. This party while similar to its others on the surface likes to boost about its proud tradition in the unions and in leading mass campaigns. Trotskyists are not anything if they are not unique in explaining why they are the real followers of Leon Trotsky and that how their tradition follows in his footsteps not any other group. For me seeing the SP and the SWP go into battle for the same battle ground saddened me in many ways we were almost taught to hate the SWP much like if we were a rangers fan we were born to hate Celtic fans and vice versa. Despite many not even gaining an understanding as to why and how our party came to hate this other lot and we must oppose them wherever we can. It’s just something many did not and will not question but accept that they are not part of our party so must be against us. I did find a lot of good SWP members and I am still in touch with many now who have left their own party for all together other reasons but are still sound people and are committed to changing society for the better despite no longer being in a party like myself but most importantly not wishing to continue the SWP’s and trotskyist poisonous politics any further. For me they are better for this. The authoritarian nature of these groups is no coincidence for me. Having put a term to the experiences I came across in the SP authoritarianism is something which is think is deeply held within certain parts of Marxism and Leninism as an extension of this tradition. For me the blind loyalty to a leadership you may have elected your delegate of your branch to go to congress to decide on your behalf if its good enough or not despite not knowing much on their inn’s and out’s is something which troubled me deeply. I was once a branch sectary of a local branch and felt as though I was carrying my branch’s thoughts and opinions on my shoulders yet when I got to congress I ended up falling in line with the majority decision of our region who felt we should all vote a retain w ay. This for me was me being part of a hierarchical structure of following those on high as those higher up must understand more and I should back them. This for me was one of many points in which I found myself catching myself to ask am I doing the correct thing here. For me I felt my views my opinions were getting sub subsumed into the party line I was pumping out the party line instead of my own thought out views and opinions on things. For me a political organisation of any sort can’t have a dictated line of which all should follow us all have our own minds and thoughts which must be put forward if so desired we can’t just elect others to represent us to then vote on our behalf. This is not democracy and for me is the reason why representative democracy is a sham and will not ever worked for the many. I think in Britain due to so many failures and few success’s many identified trotskyists try to get back to what Leon himself felt to be the true path to victory yet forgetting Trotsky himself never won as such. He came under huge scrutiny from the then Stalinist dictatorship which his previous supporters of Lenin and co who formed the communist party set in motion. Trotsky eventually came to his end by a Stalinist agent who tracked him down due to his opposition to a leadership not run by him and of him. So today’s British trotskyist party’s wish to recreate a movement where they are against the so called Stalinist leadership of the “right wing trade union leaders” which for the SP was a long held up bogey man which is the eternal baddie in the struggle and only a left wing Marxist leadership i.e. a socialist party run union leadership can make things right. Of course this would not solve anything as the PCS union shows who is lead by a left wing fighting leadership we are told which is in affect a socialist party run union with many of its own members at the head of this union. Only this weekend we have been told the union is under attack from the government not surprisingly of course as it has tried to resist some of the cuts in rhetoric anyway and have been under financial attack by the go who wish to end their “check off” system of how subs are paid as a consequence the union as seen fit to suspend all group and sector elections for the next 12 months. Ok the union is under attack but to suspend elections come on this is nothing but a b bureaucratic stitch up to muffle descent in the union and to centralise the union to doing what the leadership feel is necessary which in its view is staff cuts and its own version of austerity More can be read at http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/news_and_events/pcs_comment/index.cfm/government-steps-up-political-attack-on-pcs One of the many irritating things about British Trotskyism as I cant speak for any other country’s own version is their dogmatic approach to selling papers and this idea of hyper activity if we are not filling our free days with activity of visiting a work place or having a paper sale we were wasting vital opportunities for convincing those mystic radical workers which were out there waiting for our call to come join us in our mission for global change. I spent many a morning on a cold damp paper sale trying to flog our latest line on why we need a “24 hour general strike” while ordinary people walked past wondering why we bother while they go about saving vital cash to afford their weekly shop. We rarely sold a paper when I was involved in a sale I gave away more than I sold I have to admit. Yes the paper fascinated me I contributed the odd article even but never did me feel this was vital to our work. The idea of pamphlets and literature explaining the current situation I’m not against what I am against is the contra sending shite we pumped out the stupid repetitive slogans of “strike now” “save our NHS” “vote for a socialist alternative against the boss’s party’s” and so on. I have been guilty of similar sloganeering on this very blog from my time in such party’s but stating the obvious has rarely got us anywhere in the past so why would it now? The political traditions that explicitly look towards the legacy of the Russian revolution have to some degree or another sought to replicate the political, ideological and organisational paradigms of Leninism. What is more, attitudes towards the USSR split the labour movement, sometimes in obvious ways such as attitudes to NATO, sometimes in less obvious ways, such as the anti-Communism of some union leaders being more motivated by opposing what they saw as outside interference in their own unions. Hugh Wilford’s excellent book “The CIA, the British Left and the Cold War: Calling the Tune?” highlights the degree to which British and American Trotskyism in the 1950s reflected the impact of individualist liberalism on the left, and itself reinforced anti-communism, and common sense misconceptions of “totalitarianism” that conflated communism and fascism, and overlooked the degree to which Western liberal freedoms were themselves founded upon the crimes of colonialism, and that the political liberties were predicated upon unequal economic power. Communism itself, in its Leninist form, assumed the overthrow of existing social relations, and therefore the need to create not only a new society but also a counter-hegemonic ideological project, founded upon a disciplined party. As Pierre Bourdieu has remarked “Once a system of mechanisms has been constituted capable of objectively ensuring the reproduction of the existing order by its own motion, the dominant class have only to let the system they dominate take its own course in order to exercise their domination; but until such a system exists, they have to work directly, daily personally, to produce and reproduce conditions of domination which are even then never entirely trustworthy”. I find many Marxists who define themselves as such today do not ever put their real politics to the front in arena’s such as elections in which they believe they can gain a platform from they always water down what they stand for to the supposed understanding of “ordinary people” this often comes across as highly condescending in my experience and does nothing to further their eventual goal. I still do know many good members of various British left sects and think they have a lot of good intentions but those with good intentions have been wrong in the past and directed us in a very dark direction. Taking a section of Trotsky’s many works on where he ended up and how many of today’s party’s follow such lines “In contrast to the Right Opposition, Leon Trotsky, ever since his expulsion from the Soviet Union in 1929, had worked strenuously to build up a Leninist faction internationally. The Trotskyists saw their prime task as the reform of the Comintern, with the idea of bringing it back onto the road of Leninism as well as the reintroduction of workers' democracy in the Soviet Union. Trotsky right up until 1933 and the victory of Hitler defended this perspective. The victory of Hitler constituted an historic turning point for Trotsky. The utter failure of the German debacle, which was caused primarily by the ultra-left policies of the Stalinists, to stir up any opposition or criticism within the ranks of the Communist International, meant that the Comintern was dead. Incredibly, the leadership of the Comintern declared their policies absolutely correct. "After Hitler", they said, "our turn!" The actions of the Stalinists were comparable to the betrayal of the social democrats in 1914. Trotsky drew the conclusion that reform of the Comintern was no longer tenable, and that new revolutionary parties would have to be built and a new international prepared. "After the shameful capitulation of the Communist International in Germany", stated Trotsky, "the Bolshevik-Leninists, without hesitating a moment, proclaimed: the Third International is dead!" “ Does this remind you of anything? The SP and its co thinkers now thinking the labour party is dead for workers and we no need a “new workers party” pumped out in article after article even from me at one point who was convinced “new workers party” is all we need to forward revolutionary matters for the working class in this country. If only we had a proper mass party to represent our views I used to think. Well creating a labour party mark 2 was my eventual conclusion and well if one labour party was bad enough why on earth were we trying to create another one on similar lines backed by the same tired out reformist bureaucratic union leadership who area apparently on the same left as us hilariously. The Left today is akin to ghosts which have arisen due to an improper burial service. Trotsky was never properly buried, so all sorts of distortions and revisions of his figure continue to haunt the scene of the Left to this day. His repressed legacy returns as the return of the repressed, which is what we find as the grotesque symptom of Leftist sectarianism in the contemporary political arena. I learnt a lot from my time in the SP and will be forever grateful for introducing me to class politics but the bad parts I will not take with me and will look to expose forever more and where I find it. A better world is possible, but not if we don’t learn from our past however uncomfortable that may be. I learnt many lessons inside and outside of various political party’s I conclude by thinking hierarchical political party’s have had their day in many ways and we need to start to think beyond them whilst not forgetting the good lessons they have taught us all.
Monday, 15 December 2014
This christmas many in this country will go hungry disgracefully. To be poor is not a crime – yet in Britain, the poor have been criminalized and demonized by a propaganda campaign that gives new meaning to the word 'vicious.' In the UK, with Christmas approaching, hunger stalks the land. An ever-increasing number of lives have been reduced to misery and despair, yet for those at the top, 'austerity' remains nothing more than a word in the dictionary. It is proof that British society has now officially departed the 21st century and is heading at high-speed towards the Victorian era of the late 19th century. This is the only conclusion to be drawn from a week in which it has been revealed that food poverty – or hunger, to use the proper word – is a fact of life for millions of UK citizens. A recently published report by an All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger and Food Poverty in Britain leaves no doubt that the UK in 2014 is governed by a gang of rich, privately educated sociopaths whose contempt for the poor is such that they are content to let them starve. That four million people in Britain are in danger of going hungry, that 500,000 children live in families that can’t afford to feed them, and that 325,000 adults do not get enough to eat, with close to a million forced to rely on food banks (charities set up to feed people unable to feed themselves), this is a despicable state of affairs. Moreover, the fact that it is happening in a country that presumes to lecture others on human rights and justice, this comes as yet more evidence of the rank hypocrisy and double-standards which lie at the heart of the British establishment. Compounding matters are the sentiments of Tory Baroness Anne Jenkin, which she expressed during the launch of the report. Calling to mind the infamous words of Marie Antoinette who, when informed of the desperate plight of the poor in Paris prior to the French Revolution, said, “Let them eat cake,” Baroness Jenkin postulated that one of the reasons was to claim that the poor do not know how to cook and should eat porrige . Tories breathtaking hate of the poor knows no boundaries. A recent excellent post by Johnny Void over at the void the report to food banks and their use has been published last week not surprisingly the real causes for food bank use's being on the increase were not spelt out. I'll allow Johnny to do this for us "The growth in foodbanks dates back to before the current Government weren’t elected as Labour’s decimation of the social security started to take its toll. The rise in benefit sanctions also began in the dying years of Labour’s administration as did the introduction of the despised Atos run Work Capability Assessment, designed to strip sickness and disability benefits from one million people. Alongside this Labour’s normalisation of workfare led to unprecedented numbers of people forced to work without pay. And then, as if things weren’t bad enough, along came Iain Duncan Smith. With him came the bedroom tax, council tax benefit cuts, the benefit cap, housing benefit cuts, freezes of almost all in and out of work benefits, more Atos tests for disability benefits, the scrapping of Crisis Loans and countless other measures all precision targeted at cutting the incomes of the poorest. Yet to read today’s report into foodbanks, you would think that none of this had ever happened. Instead it insists that the growth in people going hungry has been caused by market forces and modern economic conditions – beyond the control of us mere mortals and simply something that is here to stay no matter what we do. It is true that alongside the slow dismantling of the welfare state, the minimum wage stagnated whilst the cost of living for the very poorest soared. The erosion of social housing meant the greedy private rental sector became out of control as competition for low cost housing became ever more intense. As supermarket dominance grew, small local shops closed and with them out of the way food prices began to rise. A privatised energy market did exactly what you would expect from profit hungry vultures and fleeced their most voiceless customers, often elderly or disabled people who have no choice but to try and keep the heating on. Payday lenders and pawn shops started to appear on every high street. In some areas wherever you look you will see companies owned by the rich dressed up in pauper’s clothing as they attempt to wring every last penny of profit they can from the poor. All of these things are a direct result of government policies supported by all the major parties to allow the parasites of capital – landlords, supermarkets, energy companies and legal loan sharks – to run rampant in the name of the free market. But you won’t read that in today’s report either. Instead it proposes tinkering with the rules on prepay gas and electricity metres, vague and unspecific policies to slightly edge up the minimum wage and yet more patronising fucking garbage about cooking lessons and budgeting skills. Meanwhile calls for benefit payments to be made quicker are redundant when the government is planning a waiting period of up to six weeks for Universal Credit. This is not even mentioned in the report. They are not just willfully ignoring the cuts to social security that have already happened, but also the ones that are still set to come. The huge rise in the number of people who face benefits being stopped or sanctioned has mirrored almost exactly the growth of foodbanks. An ever more complex and draconian system now forces unemployed, sick and disabled claimants into pointless and irksome ‘work related activity’ for days, weeks and even months on end. Any breach of the rules means benefits are stopped. The report endorses this increased “responsibility to look for work”, calling it a “welcome move”. Instead it merely makes the same calls for improvements in communications with claimants and access to hardship payments that we have heard before. These bastards really think it is okay to leave someone in desperate poverty for missing a meeting with the Jobcentre as long as you write them a nice letter explaining why. This comes with a proposal for a condescending ‘yellow card’ warning system, which was first suggested by the Tory think tank the Policy Exchange. You can see their thinking on this one. Poor people like football after all, so it will be easy for our little minds to understand. Even this comes with conditions attached. Whilst they recommend claimants be given a warning with the chance to explain “their offence” before a sanction is applied, it suggests that this could come with an “additional requirement” to be met. This might as well be to go outside and hop on one leg for half an hour whilst quacking like a duck for all the good most Jobcentre requirements do to help people find work. Punishing people for their poverty is behind this idea, not helping them find jobs. Those behind the report are adamant that nothing can be done to halt the rise in the use of foodbanks. But abolishing benefit sanctions completely would slash the number of people going hungry in the UK overnight. As would scrapping the bedroom tax, council tax reform and halting George Osborne’s benefit freeze. In time honoured tradition however, politicians are clubbing together to say a functioning welfare state is over, time to move on and bring food parcels into the social security system. this. The growth of hunger in the UK did not happen by accident, it has been socially engineered. And the people who did that are the same vermin politicians who write reports telling us how terrible and inevitable it is." You can read the report at: http://foodpovertyinquiry.org/ with thanks to johnny void and his excellent blog over at http://johnnyvoid.wordpress.com/2014/12/08/savage-cuts-to-benefits-go-ignored-in-flagship-foodbanks-report-they-really-think-we-are-fucking-idiots/
How we perceive and interact with the state is key to many peoples politics. Some on the left and right call for a bigger better state while some want rid of it all together. Some even think it can be used to further the working class's own interests such as leninists who promote a workers state as a start to a transformation of society towards a state-less one. Is this even possible or more to the point desireable ? I quote from the introduction to the state piece over at www.libcomorg "States come in many shapes and sizes. Democracies and dictatorships, those that provide lots of social welfare, those that provide none at all, some that allow for a lot of individual freedom and others that don't. But these categories are not set in stone. Democracies and dictatorships rise and fall, welfare systems are set up and taken apart while civil liberties can be expanded or eroded. However, all states share key features, which essentially define them. What is the state? All states have the same basic functions in that they are an organisation of all the lawmaking and law enforcing institutions within a specific territory. And, most importantly, it is an organisation controlled and run by a small minority of people. So sometimes, a state will consist of a parliament with elected politicians, a separate court system and a police force and military to enforce their decisions. At other times, all these functions are rolled into each other, like in military dictatorships for example. But the ability within a given area to make political and legal decisions – and to enforce them, with violence if necessary – is the basic characteristic of all states. Crucially, the state claims a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence, within its territory and without. As such, the state is above the people it governs and all those within its territory are subject to it. The state and capitalism In a capitalist society, the success or failure of a state depends unsurprisingly on the success of capitalism within it. Essentially, this means that within its territory profits are made so the economy can expand. The government can then take its share in taxation to fund its activities. If businesses in a country are making healthy profits, investment will flow into profitable industries, companies will hire workers to turn their investment into more money. They and their workers will pay taxes on this money which keep the state running. But if profits dip, investment will flow elsewhere to regions where profits will be higher. Companies will shut down, workers will be laid off, tax revenues will fall and local economies collapse. So promoting profit and the growth of the economy is the key task of any state in capitalist society - including state capitalist economies which claim to be "socialist", like China or Cuba. The economy As promoting the economy is a key task of the state, let's look at the fundamental building blocks of a healthy capitalist economy. Workers The primary need of a sound capitalist economy is the existence of a group of people able to work, to turn capitalists' money into more money: a working class. This requires the majority of the population to have been dispossessed from the land and means of survival, so that the only way they can survive is by selling their ability to work to those who can buy it. This dispossession has taken place over the past few hundred years across the world. In the early days of capitalism, factory owners had a major problem in getting peasants, who could produce enough to live from the land, to go and work in the factories. To solve this, the state violently forced the peasants off common land, passed laws forbidding vagrancy and forced them to work in factories under threat of execution. Today, this has already happened to the vast majority of people around the world. However, in some places in the so-called "developing" world, the state still plays this role of displacing people to open new markets for investors. Property A second fundamental requirement is the concept of private property. While many had to be dispossessed to create a working class, the ownership of land, buildings and factories by a small minority of the population could only be maintained by a body of organised violence - a state. This is rarely mentioned by capitalism's advocates today, however in its early days it was openly acknowledged. As the liberal political economist Adam Smith wrote: Laws and government may be considered in this and indeed in every case as a combination of the rich to oppress the poor, and preserve to themselves the inequality of the goods which would otherwise be soon destroyed by the attacks of the poor, who if not hindered by the government would soon reduce the others to an equality with themselves by open violence. This continues today, as laws deal primarily with protecting property rather than people. For example, it is not illegal for speculators to sit on food supplies, creating scarcity so prices go up while people starve to death, but it is illegal for starving people to steal food. What does the state do? Different states perform many different tasks, from providing free school meals to upholding religious orthodoxy. But as we mentioned above, the primary function of all states in a capitalist society is to protect and promote the economy and the making of profit. However, as businesses are in constant competition with each other, they can only look after their own immediate financial interests – sometimes damaging the wider economy. As such, the state must sometimes step in to look after the long-term interests of the economy as a whole. So states educate and train the future workforce of their country and build infrastructure (railways, public transport systems etc) to get us to work and transport goods easily. States sometimes protect national businesses from international competition by taxing their goods when they come into the country or expand their markets internationally through wars and diplomacy with other states. Other times they give tax breaks and subsidies to industries, or sometimes bail them out entirely if they are too important to fail. These measures sometimes clash with the interests of individual businesses or industries. However, this doesn't change the fact that the state is acting in the interests of the economy as a whole. Indeed, it can be seen basically as a way to settle disputes among different capitalists about how to do it. State welfare Some states also provide many services which protect people from the worst effects of the economy. However, this has rarely, if ever, been the result of generosity from politicians but of pressure from below. So for instance, after World War II, the UK saw the construction of the welfare state, providing healthcare, housing etc to those that needed it. However, this was because of fear amongst politicians that the end of the war would see the same revolutionary upheaval as after World War I with events like the Russian and German revolutions, the Biennio Rosso in Italy, the British army mutinies etc. This fear was justified. Towards the end of the war, unrest amongst the working classes of the warring nations grew. Homeless returning soldiers took over empty houses while strikes and riots spread. Tory MP Quitin Hogg summed up the mood amongst politicians in 1943, saying “if we don't give them reforms, they will give us revolution.” This does not mean reforms are 'counter-revolutionary'. It just means that the state is not the engine for reform; we, the working class – and more specifically, our struggles – are. When our struggles get to a point where they cannot be ignored or repressed anymore, the state steps in to grant reforms. We then end up spending the next 100 years hearing people go on about what a 'great reformer' so-and-so was, even though it was our struggles which forced those reforms onto them. When as a class we are organised and militant, social reforms are passed. But as militancy is repressed or fades away, our gains are chipped away at. Public services are cut and sold off bit-by-bit, welfare benefits are reduced, fees for services are introduced or increased and wages are cut. As such, the amount of welfare and public service provision to the working class in a society basically marks the balance of power between bosses and workers. For example, the French working class has a higher level of organisation and militancy than the American working class. As a result, French workers also generally have better conditions at work, a shorter working week, earlier retirement and better social services (i.e. healthcare, education etc) -regardless of whether there is a right or left wing government in power. A workers' state? For decades, in addition to the struggle in workplaces and the streets, many workers have tried to improve their conditions through the state. The precise methods have differed depending on location and historical context but primarily have taken two main forms: setting up or supporting political parties which run for election and are supposed to act in workers' interests, or more radically having the party seize political power and set up a workers' government through revolution. We will briefly examine two representative examples which demonstrate the futility of these tactics. The Labour Party The Labour Party in the UK was created by the trade unions in 1906. It soon adopted the stated aim of creating a socialist society. However, faced with the realities of being in Parliament, and therefore the dependence on a healthy capitalist economy they quickly abandoned their principles and consistently supported anti-working class policies both in opposition and later in government . From supporting the imperialist slaughter of World War I, to murdering workers abroad to maintain the British Empire, to slashing workers' wages to sending troops against striking dockers. When the working class was on the offensive, Labour granted some reforms, as did the other parties. But, just like the other parties, when the working class retreated they eroded the reforms and attacked living standards. For example just a few years after the introduction of the free National Health Service Labour introduced prescription charges, then charges for glasses and false teeth. As outlined, this was not because Labour Party members or officials were necessarily bad people but because at the end of the day they were politicians whose principle task was to keep the UK economy competitive in the global market. The Bolsheviks In Russia in 1917, when workers and peasants rose up and took over the factories and the land, the Bolsheviks argued for the setting up of a "revolutionary" workers' state. However, this state could not shake off its primary functions: as a violent defence of an elite, and attempting to develop and expand the economy to maintain itself. The so-called "workers' state" turned against the working class: one-man management of factories was reinstated, strikes were outlawed and work became enforced at gunpoint. The state even liquidated those in its own quarters who disagreed with its new turn. Not long after the revolution, many of the original Bolsheviks had been executed by the government institutions they helped set up. Against the state This doesn't mean that our problems would be solved if the state disappeared tomorrow. It does mean, though, that the state is not detached from the basic conflict at the heart of capitalist society: that between employers and employees. Indeed, it is part of it and firmly on the side of employers. Whenever workers have fought for improvements in our conditions, we have come into conflict not just with our bosses but also the state, who have used the police, the courts, the prisons and sometimes even the military to keep things as they were. And where workers have attempted to use the state, or even take it over to further our interests, they have failed - because the very nature of the state is inherently opposed to the working class. They only succeeded in legitimising and strengthening the state which later turned against them. It is our collective power and willingness to disrupt the economy that gives us the possibility of changing society. When we force the state to grant reforms we don't just win better conditions. Our actions point to a new society, based on a different set of principles. A society where our lives are more important than their 'economic growth'. A new type of society where there isn't a minority with wealth that need to be protected from those without; that is, a society where the state is unnecessary. The state needs the economy to survive and so will always back those who control it. But the economy and the state are based on the work we do every day, and that gives us the power to disrupt them and eventually do away with them both."" With thanks to the guys over at libcom for their excellent work and reading material you can check out this article in full and more like it at https://libcom.org/library/state-introduction
Monday, 8 December 2014
I have fallen out with political partys it may or may not be clear to all. I have been on a political journey which started back in 2010 starting with the labour party embarrassingly for myself it was the first glimpse into politics and social structures I encountered. I didn’t spend long in this disgusting party which claims to represent the working class. I am now here today following a time in a trotskyist party called the socialist party of England and Wales having found that a Leninist party is not for me. I genuinely believed the SP was the revolutionary party and Marxism of the Leninist variety had all the answers if only we had a more militant left union leadership and a new workers party for the working class to feel represented by. For a while I was wondering where I should go next and I still do in many ways. I'm in a state of flux my ideas always changing my thoughts developing and learning new ideas and ways of thinking all the time. Theory is incredibly important to me politically. Spending time to read and discover what others are going through and are thinking is key to anyone’s development as a human being. I have come to the position of rejecting hierarchy and preferring situations where we are not controlled what we think by a group of self imposed leaders of the vanguard of the working class. I still do hold to allot of what I understand of Marxism especially the economic writings which are still by far the best analysis of capitalism and how it works and is prone to crisis's being hugely important for today. For example I still do support and lend my full solidarity to the remaining comrades in the CWI who are battling the leadership hard on the cause of the great recession and taking on their corrupt and bankrupt ideas on capitalist crisis being a crisis of under consumption. They have come under huge attack and two of their members are still suspended indefinitely some democratic organisation huh? But on the other hand I reject Marxism’s authoritarian tendencies. I have seen it put to use and abused against our own members of our own class. At the time, these groups represented everything I believed in and wanted to work towards: internationalism, anti-capitalism, anti-discrimination, anti-racism, a strong central government that would provide the needs to survive for everyone, and the like. One topic that would frequently come up within all of these groups - whether Stalinist or trotskyist - was how there is not a single marxist-leninist state around today (even North Korea calls itself "jucheist", not marxist-leninist), and that we could build a new one if we recruited enough people into a future vanguard party and sold them more papers. A huge portion of what these groups talked about was recruitment. Their members were always seeking out ways to recruit others into their groups, and with finding ways of having their organization members get into positions of power within the current political system. Even during that time I felt a bit disconnected; I completely understood that capitalism was a destructive and immoral system, but I wanted to do far more than just recruit and vote for members of particular political parties (and parties that had very little clout in the mainstream at that). I found the more I learnt about leninism the more questions would arise how could these projects of socialism in one country like Russia, Cuba and the former Eastern blocks all fall back to capitalism in the end ? was our thinking bound to fail and we were simply naval gazing for old times’ sake. During my time in the Socialist party I learnt a lot including methods of organising and methods which I now feel are detrimental to changing things for the better. I fully accept that we need to base ourselves on the type of society we wish to see. So by creating more hierarchical structures like political parties with a leadership how will this look once the working class is in power or so called power. The Russian revolution is key to many on the left and often defines your thinking. Mine included I read allot about Lenin and Trotsky and their roles in the 1917 uprising... But one thing never sat well with me despite my acceptance of the Russian revolution being a very good thing initially for the working class the first time the workers had over thrown elite and had gained power. Or had they? I could not get my head around how did the highs of 1917 turn into the Stalinist grotesque bureaucratic monster it turned into? How can things have gone so badly wrong? Was it simply due to what the trotskyists still say today that Russia was bound to turn in on itself being a backward country with little history of capitalism and the Russian revolution being isolated and this was unfortunate as the revolutionary wave did not spread across Europe as it should have done. This is what I believed up till recently when I’ve tried to look for answers as to why this happened and could this have been prevented in anyway. For me it comes down to democracy and who is in power and how they are using power. For me the Bolsheviks started off with good intentions but good intentions alone does not make you right in your analysis and your methods. Spending time in the Socialist party has enabled me to understand how Russia turned out the way it did party's like the SP, SWP and their other 57 varieties of vanguard party's work today and wishing to recreate Russia terrifies me as the same language same methods of closing down debate and devotion to the great leadership is exactly the route the Bolsheviks took and that lead to destruction and deaths on a incredible scale putting the working class back hundreds of years. Replying to this idea that Russia was bound to fail due to isolation and destruction of the economy made democracy alive and political progress to keep on track is taken up by the excellent guys over at anarchist FAQ http://www.infoshop.org/AnarchistFAQAppendix41 " One of the most common explanations for the failure revolution is that the Bolsheviks faced terrible economic conditions, which forced them to be less than democratic. Combined with the failure of the revolution to spread to more advanced countries, party dictatorship, it is argued, was inevitable. In the words of one Leninist: "In a country where the working class was a minority of the population, where industry had been battered by years of war and in conditions of White and imperialist encirclement, the balance gradually titled towards greater coercion. Each step of the way was forced on the Bolsheviks by dire and pressing necessities." [John Rees, "In Defense of October," International Socialism, no. 52, p. 41] He talks of "economic devastation" [p. 31] and quotes various sources, including Victor Serge. According to Serge, the "decline in production was uninterrupted. It should be noted that this decline had already begun before the revolution. In 1916 the output of agricultural machinery, for example, was down by 80 per cent compared with 1913. The year 1917 had been marked by a particularly general, rapid and serious downturn. The production figures for the principal industries in 1913 and 1918 were, in millions of poods: coal, from 1,738 to 731 (42 per cent); iron ore, from 57, 887 to 1,686; cast-iron, from 256 to 31.5 (12.3 per cent); steel, from 259 to 24.5; rails, from 39.4 to 1.1. As a percentage of 1913 production, output of linen fell to 75 per cent, of sugar to 24 per cent, and tobacco to 19 per cent." Moreover, production continued "to fall until the end of civil war . . . For 1920, the following indices are given as a percentage of output in 1913: coal, 27 per cent; cast iron, 2.4 per cent; linen textiles, 38 per cent." [Year One of the Russian Revolution, p. 352 and p. 425] According to Tony Cliff (another of Rees's references), the war-damaged industry "continued to run down" in the spring of 1918: "One of the causes of famine was the breakdown of transport . . . Industry was in a state of complete collapse. Not only was there no food to feed the factory workers; there was no raw material or fuel for industry . . . The collapse of industry meant unemployment for the workers." Cliff provides economic indexes. For large scale industry, taking 1913 as the base, 1917 saw production fall to 77%. In 1918, it was at 35% of the 1913 figure, 1919 it was 26% and 1920 was 18%. Productivity per worker also fell, from 85% in 1917, to 44% in 1918, 22% in 1919 and then 26% in 1920. [Lenin, vol. 3, pp. 67-9, p. 86 and p. 85] In such circumstances, it is argued, how can you expect the Bolsheviks to subscribe to democratic and socialist norms? This meant that the success or failure of the revolution depended on whether the revolution spread to more advanced countries. Leninist Duncan Hallas argues that the "failure of the German Revolution in 1918-19 . . . seems, in retrospect, to have been decisive . . . for only substantial economic aid from an advanced economy, in practice from a socialist Germany, could have reversed the disintegration of the Russian working class." ["Towards a revolutionary socialist party," pp. 38-55, Party and Class, Alex Callinicos (ed.), p. 44] Anarchists are not convinced by these arguments. This is for two reasons. Firstly, we are aware that revolutions are disruptive no matter where they occur (see section 1) Moreover, Leninists are meant to know this to. Simply put, there is a certain incredulous element to these arguments. After all, Lenin himself had argued that "[e]very revolution . . . by its very nature implies a crisis, and a very deep crisis at that, both political and economic. This is irrespective of the crisis brought about by the war." [Collected Works, vol. 30, p. 341] Serge also considered crisis as inevitable, arguing that the "conquest of production by the proletariat was in itself a stupendous victory, one which saved the revolution's life. Undoubtedly, so thorough a recasting of all the organs of production is impossible without a substantial decline in output; undoubtedly, too, a proletariat cannot labour and fight at the same time." [Op. Cit., p. 361] As we discussed in detail in section 2, this was a common Bolshevik position at the time (which, in turn, belatedly echoed anarchist arguments -- see section 1). And if we look at other revolutions, we can say that this is the case. Secondly, and more importantly, every revolution or near revolutionary situation has been accompanied by economic crisis. For example, as we will shortly prove, Germany itself was in a state of serious economic collapse in 1918 and 1919, a collapse which would have got worse is a Bolshevik-style revolution had occurred there. This means that if Bolshevik authoritarianism is blamed on the state of the economy, it is not hard to conclude that every Bolshevik-style revolution will suffer the same fate as the Russian one. " "moreover Peter Kropotkin had argued from the 1880s that a revolution would be accompanied by economic disruption. Looking at subsequent revolutions, he has been vindicated time and time again. Every revolution has been marked by economic disruption and falling production. This suggests that the common Leninist idea that a successful revolution in, say, Germany would have ensured the success of the Russian Revolution is flawed. Looking at Europe during the period immediately after the first world war, we discover great economic hardship. To quote one Trotskyist editor: "In the major imperialist countries of Europe, production still had not recovered from wartime destruction. A limited economic upswing in 1919 and early 1920 enabled many demobilised soldiers to find work, and unemployment fell somewhat. Nonetheless, in 'victorious' France overall production in 1920 was still only two-thirds its pre-war level. In Germany industrial production was little more than half its 1914 level, human consumption of grains was down 44 per cent, and the economy was gripped by spiralling inflation. Average per capita wages in Prague in 1920, adjusted for inflation, were just over one-third of pre-war levels." [John Riddell, "Introduction," Proceedings and Documents of the Second Congress, 1920, vol. I, p. 17] Now, if economic collapse was responsible for Bolshevik authoritarianism and the subsequent failure of the revolution, it seems hard to understand why an expansion of the revolution into similarly crisis ridden countries would have had a major impact in the development of the revolution." Since leninists can point to only one apparent success of their model, namely the Russian Revolution. However, we are warned by Leninists that failure to use the vanguard party will inevitably condemn future revolutions to failure: "The proletariat can take power only through its vanguard. . . Without the confidence of the class in the vanguard, without support of the vanguard by the class, there can be no talk of the conquest of power . . . The Soviets are the only organised form of the tie between the vanguard and the class. A revolutionary content can be given this form only by the party. This is proved by the positive experience of the October Revolution and by the negative experience of other countries (Germany, Austria, finally, Spain). No one has either shown in practice or tried to explain articulately on paper how the proletariat can seize power without the political leadership of a party that knows what it wants." [Trotsky, Stalinism and Bolshevism] To anarchist ears, such claims seem out of place. After all, did the Russian Revolution actually result in socialism or even a viable form of soviet democracy? Far from it. Unless you picture revolution as simply the changing of the party in power, you have to acknowledge that while the Bolshevik party did take power in Russian in November 1917, the net effect of this was not the stated goals that justified that action. Thus, if we take the term "effective" to mean "an efficient means to achieve the desired goals" then vanguardism has not been proven to be effective, quite the reverse (assuming that your desired goal is a socialist society, rather than party power). Needless to say, Trotsky blames the failure of the Russian Revolution on "objective" factors rather than Bolshevik policies and practice, an argument we address in detail in "What caused the degeneration of the Russian Revolution?" and will not do so here. So while Leninists make great claims for the effectiveness of their chosen kind of party, the hard facts of history are against their positive evaluation of vanguard parties. Ironically, even the Russian Revolution disproves the claims of Leninists. The fact is that the Bolshevik party in 1917 was very far from the "democratic centralist" organisation which supporters of "vanguardism" like to claim it is. As such, its success in 1917 lies more in its divergence from the principles of "democratic centralism" than in their application. The subsequent degeneration of the revolution and the party is marked by the increasing application of those principles in the life of the party. Thus, to refute the claims of the "effectiveness" and "efficiency" of vanguardism, we need to look at its one and only success, namely the Russian Revolution. As the Cohen-Bendit brothers argue, "far from leading the Russian Revolution forwards, the Bolsheviks were responsible for holding back the struggle of the masses between February and October 1917, and later for turning the revolution into a bureaucratic counter-revolution -- in both cases because of the party's very nature, structure and ideology." Indeed, "[f]rom April to October, Lenin had to fight a constant battle to keep the Party leadership in tune with the masses." [Obsolete Communism, p. 183 and p. 187] It was only by continually violating its own "nature, structure and ideology" that the Bolshevik party played an important role in the revolution. Whenever the principles of "democratic centralism" were applied, the Bolshevik party played the role the Cohen-Bendit brothers subscribed to it (and once in power, the party's negative features came to the fore). Even Leninists acknowledge that, to quote Tony Cliff, throughout the history of Bolshevism, "a certain conservatism arose." Indeed, "[a]t practically all sharp turning points, Lenin had to rely on the lower strata of the party machine against the higher, or on the rank and file against the machine as a whole." [Lenin, vol. 2, p. 135] This fact, incidentally, refutes the basic assumptions of Lenin's party schema, namely that the broad party membership, like the working class, was subject to bourgeois influences so necessitating central leadership and control from above. Looking at both the 1905 and 1917 revolutions, we are struck by how often this "conservatism" arose and how often the higher bodies were behind the spontaneous actions of the masses and the party membership. Looking at the 1905 revolution, we discover a classic example of the inefficiency of "democratic centralism." Facing in 1905 the rise of the soviets, councils of workers' delegates elected to co-ordinate strikes and other forms of struggle, the Bolsheviks did not know what to do. "The Petersburg Committee of the Bolsheviks," noted Trotsky, "was frightened at first by such an innovation as a non-partisan representation of the embattled masses, and could find nothing better to do than to present the Soviet with an ultimatum: immediately adopt a Social-Democratic program or disband. The Petersburg Soviet as a whole, including the contingent of Bolshevik workingmen as well ignored this ultimatum without batting an eyelash." [Stalin, vol. 1, p. 106] More than that, "[t]he party's Central Committee published the resolution on October 27, thereby making it the binding directive for all other Bolshevik organisations." [Oskar Anweiler, The Soviets, p. 77] It was only the return of Lenin which stopped the Bolshevik's open attacks against the Soviet (also see section 8 of the appendix on "How did Bolshevik ideology contribute to the failure of the Revolution?"). The rationale for these attacks is significant. The St. Petersburg Bolsheviks were convinced that "only a strong party along class lines can guide the proletarian political movement and preserve the integrity of its program, rather than a political mixture of this kind, an indeterminate and vacillating political organisation such as the workers council represents and cannot help but represent." [quoted by Anweiler, Op. Cit., p. 77] In other words, the soviets could not reflect workers' interests because they were elected by the workers! The implications of this perspective came clear in 1918, when the Bolsheviks gerrymandered and disbanded soviets to remain in power (see section 6). That the Bolshevik's position flowed naturally from Lenin's arguments in What is to be Done? is clear. Thus the underlying logic of Lenin's vanguardism ensured that the Bolsheviks played a negative role with regards the soviets which, combined with "democratic centralism" ensured that it was spread far and wide. Only by ignoring their own party's principles and staying in the Soviet did rank and file Bolsheviks play a positive role in the revolution. This divergence of top and bottom would be repeated in 1917. Given this, perhaps it is unsurprising that Leninists started to rewrite the history of the 1905 revolution. Victor Serge, a "Left Oppositionist" and anti-Stalinist asserted in the late 1920s that in 1905 the Petrograd Soviet was "led by Trotsky and inspired by the Bolsheviks." [Year One of the Russian Revolution, p. 36]. While the former claim is correct, the latter is not. As noted, the Bolsheviks were initially opposed the soviets and systematically worked to undermine them. Unsurprisingly, Trotsky at that time was a Menshevik, not a Bolshevik. After all, how could the most revolutionary party that ever existed have messed up so badly? How could democratic centralism faired so badly in practice? Best, then, to suggest that it did not and give the Bolsheviks a role better suited to the rhetoric of Bolshevism than its reality. Trotsky was no different. He, needless to say, denied the obvious implications of these events in 1905. While admitting that the Bolsheviks "adjusted themselves more slowly to the sweep of the movement" and that the Mensheviks "were preponderant in the Soviet," he tries to save vanguardism by asserting that "the general direction of the Soviet's policy proceeded in the main along Bolshevik lines." So, in spite of the lack of Bolshevik influence, in spite of the slowness in adjusting to the revolution, Bolshevism was, in fact, the leading set of ideas in the revolution! Ironically, a few pages later, he mocks the claims of Stalinists that Stalin had "isolated the Mensheviks from the masses" by noting that the "figures hardly bear [the claims] out." [Op. Cit., p. 112 and p. 117] Shame he did not apply this criteria to his own claims. Of course, every party makes mistakes. The question is, how did the "most revolutionary party of all time" fare in 1917. Surely that revolution proves the validity of vanguardism and "democratic centralism"? After all, there was a successful revolution; the Bolshevik party did seize power. However, the apparent success of 1917 was not due to the application of "democratic centralism," quite the reverse. While the myth of 1917 is that a highly efficient, democratic centralist vanguard party ensured the overthrow of the Provisional Government in November 1917 in favor of the Soviets (or so it seemed at the time) the facts are somewhat different. Rather, the Bolshevik party throughout 1917 was a fairly loose collection of local organisations (each more than willing to ignore central commands and express their autonomy), with much internal dissent and infighting and no discipline beyond what was created by common loyalty. The "democratic centralist" party, as desired by Lenin, was only created in the course of the Civil War and the tightening of the party dictatorship. In other words, the party became more like a "democratic centralist" one as the revolution degenerated. As such, the various followers of Lenin (Stalinists, Trotskyists and their multitude of offshoots) subscribe to a myth, which probably explains their lack of success in reproducing a similar organisation This is not to say that the Bolshevik leaders were 100% happy with the state of their revolution. Lenin, for example, expressed concern about the rising bureaucratic deformations he saw in the soviet state (particularly after the end of the civil war). Yet Lenin, while concerned about the bureaucracy, was not concerned about the Party's monopoly of power. Unsurprisingly, he fought the bureaucracy by "top-down" and, ironically, bureaucratic methods, the only ones left to him. A similar position was held by Trotsky, who was quite explicit in supporting the party dictatorship throughout the 1920s (and, indeed, the 1930s). Needless to say, both failed to understand how bureaucracy arises and how it could be effectively fought. "It is this insubordination, this local autonomy and action in spite of central orders which explains the success of the Bolsheviks in 1917. Rather than a highly centralised and disciplined body of "professional" revolutionaries, the party in 1917 saw a "significant change . . . within the membership of the party at local level . . . From the time of the February revolution requirements for party membership had been all but suspended, and now Bolshevik ranks swelled with impetuous recruits who knew next to nothing about Marxism and who were united by little more than overwhelming impatience for revolutionary action." [Alexander Rabinowitch, Prelude to Revolution, p. 41] This mass of new members (many of whom were peasants who had just recently joined the industrial workforce) had a radicalising effect on the party's policies and structures. As even Leninist commentators argue, it was this influx of members who allowed Lenin to gain support for his radical revision of party aims in April. However, in spite of this radicalisation of the party base, the party machine still was at odds with the desires of the party. As Trotsky acknowledged, the situation "called for resolute confrontation of the sluggish Party machine with masses and ideas in motion." He stressed that "the masses were incomparably more revolutionary than the Party, which in turn was more revolutionary than its committeemen." Ironically, given the role Trotsky usually gave the party, he admits that "[w]without Lenin, no one had known what to make of the unprecedented situation." [Stalin, vol. 1, p. 301, p. 305 and p. 297] Which is significant in itself? The Bolshevik party is usually claimed as being the most "revolutionary" that ever existed, yet here is Trotsky admitting that its leading members did not have a clue what to do. He even argued that "[e]very time the Bolshevik leaders had to act without Lenin they fell into error, usually inclining to the Right." [Op. Cit., p. 299] This negative opinion of the Bolsheviks applied even to the "left Bolsheviks, especially the workers" whom we are informed "tried with all their force to break through this quarantine" created by the Bolshevik leaders policy "of waiting, of accommodation, and of actual retreat before the Compromisers" after the February revolution and before the arrival of Lenin. Trotsky argues that "they did not know how to refute the premise about the bourgeois character of the revolution and the danger of an isolation of the proletariat. They submitted, gritting their teeth, to the directions of their leaders." [History of the Russian Revolution, vol. 1, p. 273] It seems strange, to say the least, that without one person the whole of the party was reduced to such a level given that the aim of the "revolutionary" party was to develop the political awareness of its members. Lenin's arrival, according to Trotsky, allowed the influence of the more radical rank and file to defeat the conservatism of the party machine. By the end of April, Lenin had managed to win over the majority of the party leadership to his position. However, as Trotsky argues, this "April conflict between Lenin and the general staff of the party was not the only one of its kind. Throughout the whole history of Bolshevism . . . all the leaders of the party at all the most important moments stood to the right of Lenin." [Op. Cit., p. 305] As such, if "democratic centralism" had worked as intended, the whole party would have been arguing for incorrect positions the bulk of its existence (assuming, of course, that Lenin was correct most of the time). For Trotsky, "Lenin exerted influence not so much as an individual but because he embodied the influence of the class on the Party and of the Party on its machine." [Stalin, vol. 1, p. 299] Yet, this was the machine which Lenin had forged, which embodied his vision of how a "revolutionary" party should operate and was headed by him. In other words, to argue that the party machine was behind the party membership and the membership behind the class shows the bankruptcy of Lenin's organizational scheme. This "backwardness," moreover, indicates an independence of the party bureaucracy from the membership and the membership from the masses. As Lenin's constantly repeated aim was for the party to seize power (based on the dubious assumption that class power would only be expressed, indeed was identical to, party power) this independence held serious dangers, dangers which became apparent once this goal was achieved." I now understand that the root issue of politics is not who is on top of the hierarchy but the fact that the hierarchy exists at all. You can paint the governmental state any color you'd want, christen it with any ideology you'd desire, but it is still a force that rules over you and others. That was the other big thing I remember when the topic of anarchists came up in the Marxist-Leninist circles I was a part of (usually online): the notion that anarchists were weak philosophically and that they depended on Marx and Marxist thinkers for most of their "good" theories. However, the historical reality is that a lot of Marxist ideas came from early anarchism, and if one takes a look at it they'll see how a lot of these arguments that Marx had come up with were arguments Proudhon came up with years before. For example, in Marx's early manuscripts from 1844 he talks about abolishing private property through its universalization. Of course, this was a political communism, since the state would still exist (not to mention, Marx would desire a socialist republic where the governmental principle would be present, though that's really not all that surprising when one considers the political situation of his home country Germany that existed at the time). What's striking is how this was essentially identical to Proudhon's early idea on revolution. Two years before, Proudhon had called for property to be universalized as a means to its abolition. It should be noted that Proudhon later changed his definition of "state" from a monopoly on force to a collectivity, so instead of a transition from a governmental "workers' state" to an era of "statelessness", he called for a transition from the governmental state to the "state" as a collective force. When reciprocal property relations are put into place, and new institutions based on these principles are formed, the oppressive hierarchies dissolve. With this comes the dissolution of the managerial class as workers appropriate the means of production. Credit is re-organized, so the money class dissolves as well. But all of that is beside the point; the real point here is that one can see a lot of instances where Proudhon's ideas are repeated in Marx. Theories of property (at least, early on) and theories of exploitation are very similar. It's all very weird. To sum it all up, what drove me away from Marxism and towards anarchism wasn't just the re-evaluating this whole concept of what would be called the governmental principle, or what's called the state in modern lexicon, but the history of these ideas as well. " I'm still on a journey learning all the time. I don’t reject all forms of Marxism allot of it is still very useful for today but we cannot be locked into some long time dead Russian or German to tell us what we should be doing today. We face very real and very different problems which neither Marx, Lenin nor Trotsky could ever have foreseen. We need to start in the here and now and not pretend we are in a better place than we are. We on the left are in a very low position having faced defeat after defeat over decades the unions in this country are pathetic on the whole in terms of mounting any fight back to austerity. I believe when Karl Marx rejected being labeled a Marxist too. He felt that any change in society must be brought about by the working class and the working class acting on its own not being lead by the nose by a self appointed vanguard of the working class. Nothing could be more patronizing than being told what to think and how to act. While not stating I’m any ism or it’s I am a free thinker and want to hold to that. I was close to joining the green party as seemed more left and had a chance of power but quickly realised where this would lead with them passing cuts in Brighton and various examples of greens in power across the world concerned me greatly . The Best description for Marxism and Leninism I’ve ever read has to be “analysing everything through the eyes of corpses.” Genius. This was a reference to the tendency of nearly all groups and currents (though far from all individuals, I hasten to add) which identify as Marxist to treat the writings of Marx, Lenin, et all as gospel. http://propertyistheft.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/leninism.jpg This for me is dangerous while allot of what these thinkers wrote can set you on a good path of class analysis repeating word for word a Lenin text in a meeting full of workers wishing to take action is not likely to mean much to them. Relating your everyday issues with your understanding of theory is the key to any good revolutionary. If you think reeling off a passage of Trotsky will win you support in the workers movement you are seriously out of touch. Yes, some dead guys with beards said some things which are spot on. But they were still flawed people who got things wrong as well. That’s why anarchists are anarchists and not Proudhonists, Bakuninists, Kropotkinites, etc. If you use the fact that some revered thinker of the past said it as proof of your argument instead citing them as someone who made a particular point more articulately, then what you have is dogmatism and not reasoned argument. History is something we should learn from, but we shouldn’t live our lives through it. Unless we’re after a career as an archaeologist. , the difference between anarchists and other flavours of communist to two sentences from Karl Marx can be summed up as; Between capitalist and communist society lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat. The most significant anarchist contention with Marxism is with the idea – solidified and put to brutal practice by Lenin, but originating with Marx – that the working class need a revolutionary leadership, and that rather than building the new world in the shell of the old we need this “transitional state” where a new elite takes over the state apparatus to run things in the interests of the workers before “true communism” can be achieved and the state magically “withers away”. We know this not to be true from history. The analysis of the state is what divides many authoritarian and non authoratiarian thinkers on the left. Some think we need a stronger state a "workers state" to work in the interests of the working class others see a state of any sort a block on progress. I'd tend to favor the later. "You can expand upon this, polemicise it, write gargantuan essays about it, (and – believe me – many have) but that’s about the crux of the thing. Non-anarchist communists, from this point referred to as Communists for ease, believe that a workers’ state led by a workers’ party is the necessary transition from a capitalist society to a stateless, “true” communism. Anarchists, on the other hand, believe that the state and capitalism must be dismantled simultaneously. All this does is supplanting one upper class with another. And their self-appointed role as “vanguard of the proletariat” gives them justification for self-righteous tyranny. In the words of Mikhail Bakunin, Marx’s anarchist contemporary; We do not admit, even as a revolutionary transition, either National Conventions, or Constituent Assemblies, or so-called revolutionary dictatorships; because we are convinced that the revolutionary is only sincere, honest and real in the masses, and that when it is concentrated in the hands of some governing individuals, it naturally and inevitably becomes reaction. The most obvious fulfillment of this prophecy comes in the form of Josef Stalin, with his murderous purges and the vast network of gulag slave labour camps. This is undeniable even to most Communists, who are more than eager to fling the term “Stalinist” at each other across party and factional lines. But are the other Communist leaders they exalt any better? Though Stalin was the most extreme despot of any Communist regime, save perhaps Pol Pot and Mao Zedong, the fact is that they are just the thick end of the wedge. The stage for Stalin was set by Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks.” "Lenin’s arrogant assertion that nobody else could rule would become Stalin’s iron-fisted tyranny. His fear-mongering that everyone who disagreed with him was with the capitalists would become Stalin’s paranoid, and bloody, purges. We can look at Leon Trotsky similarly. Today, he is the thinker that most Marxists and Communists look to, his exile and death at the hands of a Stalinist agent lending him some credibility. Trotskyism is perhaps the largest wing of the Communist movement today, but the same flawed principles of vanguardism and dictatorship of the proletariat dominate. For example, for Trotsky the mistake of the POUM in the Spanish Civil War was that they didn’t mobilise “the masses against the reformist leaders, including the Anarchists,” and “they did not form their own nuclei inside the CNT, and in general did not conduct any kind of work there.” In other words, they didn’t attempt an entryist takeover. This “isolates [end] the revolutionary vanguard from the class” and so “rendered the vanguard impotent and left the class without leadership.” Once again, the assertion that the working class need an elite (conveniently enough, the same people making this assertion) prevails, and even highly successful bottom-up organisations like the CNT require a “nuclei” of vanguardists pulling the strings. Forgetting, of course, that it was the self-organised militias and collectives which were most successful against the fascists, whilst the Liberal-Communist government was more concerned about destroying worker autonomy than about General Franco. Trotsky’s attitude her matches Lenin are to the Russian soviets. And, of course, he shared Lenin’s contempt for the rebels at Kronstadt. As Bakunin once so astutely noted, “no dictatorship can have any other aim but that of self-perpetuation, and it can beget only slavery in the people tolerating it.” Those who follow the vanguardist path are the elite who will lead the workers to utopia and nothing else (especially free self-organisation, can be tolerated. We can see this even today, where accusations of being “sectarian” (that is, diverting from the party line) are not yet the first step on the road to the gulag. Taking Britain as my example, as usual it is the one I am most familiar with; we can see this most explicitly in what are currently the two biggest “left” parties: the Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers’ Party. The present Socialist Party argues that its electoral policies are based on Trotsky’s transitional programmed, and it is at the forefront of the Campaign For A New Workers’ Party. After all, “in the absence of a mass workers’ party that had the confidence of the working class to fight on their behalf,” workers – whose role is reduced to that of “voters” – are simply left with “a deep sense of powerlessness.” The party almost seems proud it got itself expelled from the labour party and takes it upon itself to be the main promoters of the need for a "new workers party" which they see TUSC as a precursor of sorts. You just have to look back to last week to my post on "why we don’t need another left party" to see that the SP intend to create a labour party mark two only with them in the leadership and keen to lead the workers to grand victory. More overtly open to criticism are the SWP. Not just for their cheap and irrelevant stunts, or the engineering of pointless mini confrontations in order to appear “militant” or “radical.” They adhere to the vanguardist principle of “democratic centralism.” That is, traditional top-down authoritarianism and attacks on those who don’t adhere to the central party line. The crisis which has engulfed the SWP in the last few years of cover up's of rape allegations and rape apologism for leaders of their own party and their attitude to women stinks. I won’t expend a great deal of time drawing out the SWP’s laundry list of failures here, as they have been done to death a thousand times over. I will instead point, briefly, to members resigning over the lack of democracy and accountability, and its propensity for setting up front groups. The most notable of these, Unite Against Fascism, has a record of hijacking events [http://whitechapelanarchistgroup.wordpress.com/2010/06/21/whitechapel-united-against-division-reflections-on-the-anti-edl-mobilisations-on-sunday/ But, in the meantime, let’s return to that fundamental difference between anarchism and Marxism: bottom-up self-organisation versus the dictatorship of the proletariat in a transitional state. The latter is clearly a corruptible idea, but surely this doesn’t mean the idea itself is inherently flawed? After all, if it started with Lenin, he was only thirteen when Karl Marx died, and when he gained power the Communist Manifesto had been in print for 69 years! This point falls down when we realise that, unlike Lenin, Bakunin was contemporaneous to Marx. More than that, he was open and vocal in his disagreement with him. The result was Bakunin’s expulsion from the International Workingmen’s Association, along with all those who supported his position. We can only speculate what Bakunin’s fate might have been had their been a Communist revolution in Marx’s lifetime. Bakunin saw him as “a vain man, perfidious and crafty,” whilst noting that “the instinct of liberty is lacking in him; he remains from head to foot, an authoritarian.” It was, after all, Marx who provided the theoretical foundations upon which Leninism, Trotskyism, Stalinism, and Maoism are all built. It is Marx’s “revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat” to which those upholding that same mentality today aspire. As Bakunin asserts; "If you took the most ardent revolutionary, vested him in absolute power, within a year he would be worse than the Tsar himself. This is one reason why establishing a “workers’ state” will not lead to genuine, anarchist communism. If you establish “the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat,” Stalinist tyranny is the inevitable result. True revolution must come from below." with quotes and extracts from communism and the state blog post by Phil Dickens at http://propertyistheft.wordpress.com/2010/06/27/communism-and-the-state/ and an anarchist Faq at http://www.infoshop.org/AnarchistFAQAppendix41