Saturday, November 15, 2008

Views on Trade Unions

Trade unions arise out of the wage-relation that is at the basis of capitalism.When we say that labour-power has the commodity nature , it must express its value through a struggle in the labour market. Combining together in trade unions to exert collective pressure on employers is a way workers can prevent their wages falling below the value of their Iabour-power. It is a way of ensuring that they are paid the full value of what they have to sell. This is the usefulness of trade unions to the working class but they can do no more than this. The competition of individual workers for jobs enabled employers to take full advantage of their strengthened position. If, however, the workers unite and agree not to sell their labour-power below a certain price, the effect of individual competition for jobs can be, at least in part, overcome. Organised workers can ensure that the wage they get is the current value of their labour-power and, at times when the demand for labour-power exceeds the supply, they can temporarily push wages above the current value of labour power or even, in the longer term, raise its value. This was, and still is, the economic logic for the working class of trade union organisation.They cannot substantially increase the living standards of their members under capitalism but they can ensure that wages are not reduced below the subsistence level. The trade unions are essentially defensive organisations with the limited role of protecting wages and working conditions and it is by this criterion that their effectiveness or otherwise ought to be judged.
Trade Unions can - and do - enable workers to get the full value of their labour-power, but they cannot stop the exploitation of the working class.

Workers may influence their wages and working conditions only by collective effort and only by being in the position to stop working if their demands are not met. The ability to withhold their service in a strike is one weapon in their possession ( work-to-rules and overtime bans are others) . It is the only final logic known to employers. Without it, wages tend to sink below subsistence level. With it , a substantial check can often be placed on the encroachments of the employers and improvements both in wages and working conditions can be made. The strike is not a sure means of victory for workers in dispute with employers. There are many cases of workers being compelled to return to work without gains, even sometimes with losses. Strikes should not be employed recklessly but should be entered into with caution, particularly during times when production falls off and there are growing numbers of unemployed. Nor should not be thought that victory can be gained only by means of the strike. Sometimes more can be gained simply by the threat of a strike. The most effective strike as the one that did not take place .Workers must bear all these things in mind if they are to make the most effective use of the trade union and the power which it gives them.

The non-revolutionary phase of the struggle between the classes is as inevitable as the revolutionary one . Therefore we should not reduce the trade unions to impotence by by getting them to avow principles and policies which are not necessary to their object and reason for being - and also to which their members do not hold. We, therefore, accept trade unions as they are, and, realising that all their grave and undeniable faults are but the reflection of the mental shortcomings of their members.The Socialist Party is not antagonistic to the trade unions under present conditions, even though they have not a revolutionary basis but we are hostile to the misleading by the trade union leaders and the ignorance of the rank and file which make such misleading possible. Workers must come to see through the illusion that all that is needed in the class war are good generals. Sloganising leaders making militant noises are impotent in the face of a system which still has majority support – or at least the acquiescence – of the working class.

It would be wrong to write off the unions as anti-working-class organisations. The union has indeed tended to become an institution apart from its members; but the policy of a union is still influenced by the views of its members. It may be a truism but a union is only as strong as its members.Most unions have formal democratic constitutions which provide for a wide degree of membership participation and democratic control. In practice however, these provisions are sometimes ineffective and actual control of many unions is in the hands of a well-entrenched full-time leadership.It is these leaders who frequently collaborate with the State and employers in the administration of capitalism; who get involved in supporting political parties and governments which act against the interest of the working class.

Under present conditions, trade unions are non-revolutionary but as far as the socialist thinks them necessary to his personal economic welfare and as far as economic pressure forces him to, he is right and justified in using them. The class struggle has to be carried on by socialists and non-socialists alike and because of the very nature of the workers' economic struggle under capitalism it compels socialists to associate in a common cause with the non-socialists during strikes, lock-outs and all the other activities on the economic side of the class struggle.

The Socialist Party urges that the existing unions provide the medium through which the workers should continue their efforts to obtain the best conditions they can get from the master class in the sale of their labour-power.We do not criticise the unions for not being revolutionary, butwe do severely criticise them when they depart from the principle of an antagonism of interests between workers and employers; when they collaborate with employers, the state or political parties; when they put the corporate interests of a particular section of workers above that of the general interestof the working class as a whole.

Trade unions , in general , have languished in a role which provides little scope for action beyond preparing for the next self-repeating battle with employers. They tended to be bogged down in bureaucracy and run by careerists and timeserving officials for whom the future means little more than their pensions and peerage . It has to be admitted that this does present itself as a sterile accommodation with the capitalist system.

However , and this should be emphasised .

Trade unions can bring a great deal of experience to bear on the question of how a new society could be organised democratically in the interests of the whole community. Certainly in the developed countries they have organisation in the most important parts of production. They have rulebooks that allow them to be run locally and nationally in a generally democratic manner and they also enjoy fraternal links across the globe. All this is already in place , ready to be applied . If only trade unions set their sights beyond the next wage claim and by becoming part of the socialist movement, they could so easily become part of the democratic administration of industry that would replace the corporate bosses and their managers who now organise production for profit.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The role of the SPGB

The main purpose of the SPGB at the moment is to (a) argue for socialism, and (b) put up candidates to measure how many socialist voters there are.

It is NOT the party's task to lead the workers in struggle or to instruct its members on what to do in trade unions, tenants' associations or whatever , because we believe that class conscious workers and socialists are quite capable of making decisions for themselves. The SPGB doesn't go around creating myths of false hopes and false dawns at every walk-out or laying down of tools but will remind workers of the reality of the class struggle and its constraints within capitalism and as a party unfortunately suffers the negative consequence of this political honesty .

A May 1942 Socialist Standard article discussed Anton Pannekoek's position on political parties:

"Anton Pannekoek, the Dutch writer on Marxism, states his position in the bluntest of terms. Writing in an American magazine, Modern Socialism, he says: 'The belief in parties is the main reason for the impotence of the working-class . . . Because a party is an organisation that aims to lead and control the workers'.
Further on, however, he qualifies this statement:
'iF . . . persons with the same fundamental conceptions (regarding Socialism) unite for the discussion of practical steps and seek clarification through discussion and propagandise their conclusions, such groups might be called parties, but they would be parties in an entirely different sense from those of to-day'.
Here Pannekoek himself is not the model of clarity, but he points to a distinction which does exist"

The article went on to say that it was not parties as such that had failed, but the form all parties (save the SPGB) had taken “as groups of persons seeking power above the worker” and the SPGB continued:

"Only Socialism can guarantee the conditions of a life worth living for all. Because its establishment depends upon an understanding of the necessary social changes by a majority of the population, these changes cannot be left to parties acting apart from or above the workers. The workers cannot vote for Socialism as they do for reformist parties and then go home or go to work and carry on as usual. To put the matter in this way is to show its absurdity . . . The Socialist Party of Great Britain and its fellow parties therefore reject all comparison with other political parties. We do not ask for power; we help to educate the working-class itself into taking it"

Pannekoek wished workers' political parties to be “organs of the self-enlightenment of the working class by means of which the workers find their way to freedom” and “means of propaganda and enlightenment”.

Almost exactly the role and purpose we envisaged for the Socialist Party .

Monday, November 10, 2008

socialist consciousness

Socialist consciousness involves understanding socialism which means talking about it, sharing ideas about it - in short educating ourselves and our fellow workers about it.But some detractors, have the mistaken idea that the Socialist Party of Great Britain thinks selling a copy of the Socialist Standard and holding meetings is the key to revolution.If that really was the case, the world would be in for a very long wait. People become socialists from their experiences; meeting socialists is part of that experience, and socialist thought is merely distilled experience from the past.

The SPGB has always guarded against appearing to be the sole agent of the socialist transformation. In fact , that nobody knows how revolutionary class consciousness is going to arise and the WSM/SPGB has the intellectual honesty to admit this.

I don't think anybody here denies that socialism will be established by the working class and that its establishment will result from an intensification/escalation of the class struggle. That follows almost by definition--obviously, if the working class are going to overthrow capitalism and capitalist class rule the class struggle is going to be stepped up. That's not the interesting question. The real question is what is it that is going to provoke the working class into intensifying/escalating the class struggle and/or acquiring socialist consciousness .
I understand that socialist consciousness comes from life experience, but that being said, why are not more people achieving this consciousness? I guess we all know the answers - everything from education, prevailing and accepted customs, the prevailing capitalist ideology and cultural hegemony .We can say that socialist consciousness comes from life experience, but then that automatically implies that every worker should achieve it, it should have happened. And I see this as a problem. It leads to a belief of the old "historical inevitability" of Socialism, that inevitably people will come around to becoming Socialists. That would indeed leave no role for a Socialist Party . We can join a Party and then watch it all unfold before our eyes .However many have not accepted this inevitability and wonder what exactly is our role? Where do we "intervene" to raise consciousness and how do we intervene? What practical measures can we take as a Party?

Workers don’t just wake up one morning and think to themselves - "Ah that’s it! Eureka! Socialism is the answer!" This is the mechanistic theory that a socialist consciousness can somehow materialise by circumventing the realm of ideology. We come to a socialist view of the world by interacting directly or indirectly with others, exchanging ideas with them. And that is perhaps the role of the revolutionary group as being - as a catalyst in the process of changing consciousness.

Class struggle without any clear understanding of where you are going is simply committing oneself to a never-ending treadmill. This is where the Leninists and Trotskyists go wrong. They think mechanistically that a sense of revolutionary direction emerges spontaneously out of the struggle per se circumventing the realm of ideology -the need to educate - as such. It does not. The workers can never win the class struggle while it is confined simply to the level of trade union militancy; it has to be transmogrified into a socialist consciousness.Conversely, socialist consciousness cannot simply rely for its own increase on ideological persuasion; it has to link up with the practical struggle. The success of the socialist revolution would depend on the growth of socialist consciousness on a mass scale and that these changed ideas can only develop through a practical movement:

As Marx explains it
“Both for the production on a mass scale of this communist consciousness , and for the success of the cause itself , the alteration of man on a mass scale is necessary , an alteration which can only take place in a practical movement , a revolution. The revolution is necessary , therefore, not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way , but also because the class overthrowing itcan only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself all the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew” Feurbach and Materialist Outlook

Socialist consciousness on a wide scale is not going to emerge from mere abstract propagandizing or proselytizing . All we are doing in the SPGB , essentially, is trying to help the emergence of majority socialist consciousness, but even if the sort of activities we engage in can't be the main thing that will bring this consciousness about , it is still nevertheless essential. People can, and do, come to socialist conclusions without us, but they can come to this more quickly if they hear it from an organised group dedicated exclusively to putting over the case for socialism. We can't force or brainwash people into wanting to be free , they can only learn this from their own experience .We see majority socialist consciousness emerging from people's experiences of capitalism coupled with them hearing the case for socialism (not necessarily from us, though it would seem that we are the only group that takes doing this seriously).Socialist consciousness emerges through discussion and analysis. Our main task is to find better ways of expressing our message to as many workers as possible, to evolve a strategy so that we use our resources to most effect.

Some in our party have the view the problem with the SPGB's theory is NOT because it emphasises education but because it inadequately theorises the relationship between education and struggle/practice. For example, it has little or nothing positive to say about what workers are to do in the meantime. Neither do you apparently. You emphasise militant class struggle but there are clear limits to what this can achieve on its own and most workers know this full well. The working class is simply the working class, a bundle of contradictions and yet a very real thing. It is both the most conservative class because they have the most to lose AND , at the same time , the most revolutionary because they have the most to gain. Marx put it as, it is a class "in itself" and not yet a class "for itself".We don't have to lead, or intervene, or integrate into it. That was the role of the Social Democrats and the Leninists. What we have to be is the movement (as Marx said in "The Communist Manifesto") that group which points out the way, which "pushes forward".
The question comes to making Socialism an “immediacy” for the working class , something of importance and value to people's lives now , rather than a singular "end".
Socialists are not "superior to society". We understand how the class society basically works. That is the difference to the majority of the working class, which do not understand and therefore do not see the need to abolish capitalism.

We have yet to hear a convincing argument how you are supposed to become a "revolutionary" without engaging - and eventually agreeing - at some point with the IDEA of what such a revolution would entail. There is no logical imperative embedded in the material circumstances of capitalism that dictates that we must necessarily become revolutionary socialists . Our experience of these circumstances could just as easily turn us into Fascists , Tories or Liberals. In other words, our engagement with the world around us is always mediated by the ideas we hold in our heads; we cannot apprehend this world except through these ideas .

We agree the majority will not understand Socialism from the campaigning and educational effort of the SPGB , but from the potential effect of the social practice particularly of the class struggle.

“A period of revolution begins not because life has become physically impossible but because growing numbers of workers have their eyes suddenly opened to the fact that problems hitherto accepted as part of man’s unavoidable heritage has become capable of solution…No crisis of capitalism , however desperate it may be , can ever by itself give us socialism ” Will Capitalism Collapse ? Socialist Standard April 1927

If we hoped to achieve Socialism ONLY by our propaganda , the outlook would indeed be bad .But it is Capitalism itself unable to solve crises , unemployment , and poverty, engaging in horrifying wars , which is digging its own grave . Workers are learning by bitter experience and bloody sacrifice for interests not their own . They are learning slowly. Our job is to shorten the time , to speed up the process” Socialism or Chaos ,Socialist Party of Australia

We can quote from Paul Mattick who too can lay the roots of his understanding to his own political experiences of the 20s and 30s to 70s and 80s

“There is no evidence that the last hundred years of labour strife have led to the revolutionizing of the working class in the sense of a growing willingness to do away with the capitalist system…In times of depression no less in than these of prosperity , the continuing confrontations of labor and capital have led not to an political radicalization of the working class , but to an intensified insistence upon better accommodations within the capitalist system…No matter how much he [ the worker ] may emancipate himself ideologically ,for all practical purposes he must proceed as if he were still under the sway of bourgeois ideology .He may realize that his individual needs can only be assured by collective class actions , but he will still be forced to attend to his immediate needs as an individual .It is this situation , rather than some conditioned inability to transcend capitalism. He may realize that his individual needs can only be assured by collective class actions , but he will still be forced to attend to his immediate needs as an individual .It is this situation , rather than some conditioned inability to transcend capitalist ideology, that makes the workers reluctant to express and to act upon their anti- capitalist attitudes ” Marxism, Last Refuge of the Bourgeoisie

Sidney Hook in his From Hegel to Marx said--( perhaps not the best scholar to quote but also see the later Pannekoek quote)
“…the struggle to achieve institutional change produces changes in those who participate in the struggles .The Praxis of trying to bring about a new order , no abstract doctrine , educates the workers ..Marx‘s great insights that human beings cannot change the world without changing themselves , and that social struggles , under certain conditions, are the best school for acquiring an education in social realities are not isolated thoughts but organically connected with his materialistic theory of history .… The class struggle is not a doctrine , but the school in which doctrines arise Are tested and used or discarded . The working class not only becomes conscious of itself in these struggles , but it changes and re-educates itself by its revolutionary practice"

From Hegel -----Philosophy of the Mind ( another perhaps unwise choice of quote and i'm not pretending to have read him , just came across this apt extract , thats all)
“If , therefore man does not want to perish he must recognize the world as a self-dependent world which in its essential nature is already complete , must accept the conditions set for him by the world and wrest from it what he wants for himself .As a rule ,the man believes that this submission is only forced on him by necessity .But ,in truth , this unity with the world must be recognized , not as a relation imposed by necessity , but as the rational ...therefore the man behaves quite rationally in abandoning his plan for completely transforming the world and in striving to realize his personal aims , passions and interests only within the framework of the world in which he is a part”

And from the pen of Anton Pannekoek ------The Workers Council

“[class consciousness ] is not learned from books or through courses on theory and political formation , but through real life practice of the class struggle”

Lets not forget Wilhelm Reich --------Some quotes from Sex-Pol---

“Everything that contradicts the bourgeois order, everything that contains a germ of rebellion , can be regarded as an element of class - consciousness ; everything that creates or maintains a bond with the bourgeois order , that supports and reinforces it , is an impediment to class consciousness”

and again

“Against the principle of self-denial preached by political reaction , we must set the principle of happiness and abundance …Any socialist political economist can prove that sufficient wealth exists in the world to provide a happy life for all workers .But we must prove this more thoroughly , more consistently , in greater detail than we generally do”

and again

“Question : If two human beings , A and B , are starving , one of them may accept his fate , refuse to steal , and take to begging or die from hunger , while the other may take the law into his own hands in order to obtain food. A large part of the proletariat , often called the lumpenproletariat, live according to the principles of B .Which of the two types has more elements of class consciousness in him ? Stealing is not yet a sign of class consciousness but a brief moment of reflection shows , despite our inner moral resistance , that the man who refuses to submit to law and steals when he is hungry, that’s to say , the man who manifests a will to live , has more energy and fight in him than the one who lies down unprotesting on the butchers slab ..we have said that stealing is not yet class consciousness .A brick is not yet a house , but you use bricks to build a house”

Finally From Murray Bookchin -------Listen Marxist !

“ The Marxian doctrinaire would have us approach the worker , better still - enter the factory - and proselytize him in preference to anyone else . The purpose ? to make the worker class conscious . In the end , the worker is shrewd enough to know that he can get better results in the day-to-day class struggle through his union bureaucracy than through a Marxian party bureaucracy …the worker becomes revolutionary not by becoming more of a worker but by undoing his ‘workerness‘. His ‘workerness’ is the disease he is suffering from , the worker begins to become revolutionary when he undoes his ‘workerness‘ , when he begins to shed exactly those features Marxists most prize him - his work ethic, his character-structure derived from industrial discipline , his respect for hierarchy, his obedience to leaders , his consumerism, his vestiges of Puritanism . In this sense , the worker becomes a revolutionary to the degree that he sheds his class status and achieves an un-class- consciousness .He degenerates and he degenerates magnificently .What he is shedding are precisely those class shackles that bind him to all systems of domination .He abandons those class interests that enslaves him to consumerism , suburbia and a book-keeping conception of life”

Friday, November 07, 2008

Intelligence enough to conceive, courage enough to will, power enough to compel.

This month's Socialist Standard has an apt quote from William Morris but to quote more fully from the original Morris article

"I confess I am no great lover of political tactics; the sordid squabble of an election is unpleasant enough for a straight-forward man to deal in: yet I cannot fail to see that it is necessary somehow to get hold of the machine which has at its back the executive power of the country, however that may be done, and that the organization and labour which will be necessary to effect that by means of the ballot-box will, to say the least of it, be little indeed compared with what would be necessary to effect it by open revolt; besides that the change effected by peaceable means would be done more completely and with less chance, indeed with no chance of counter revolution..."

“... In short I do not believe in the possible success of revolt until the Socialist party has grown so powerful in numbers that it can gain its end by peaceful means, and that therefore what is called violence will never be needed; unless indeed the reactionaries were to refuse the decision of the ballot-box and try the matter by arms; which after all I am pretty sure they could not attempt by the time things had gone so far as that.”

The Revolutionary Vote 3

Further to this and this

I'd rather vote for something I want and not get it than vote for something I don't want, and get it. Eugene V. Debs

Even where there is no prospect of achieving their election the workers must put up their own candidates to preserve their independence, to gauge their own strength and to bring their revolutionary position and party standpoint to public attention. They must not be led astray by the empty phrases of the democrats, who will maintain that the workers' candidates will split the democratic party and offer the forces of reaction the chance of victory. All such talk means, in the final analysis, that the proletariat is to be swindled. Karl Marx

Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost. John Quincy Adams

Democracy under capitalism is reduced to people voting for competing groups of professional politicians, to giving the thumbs-up or the thumbs-down to the governing or opposition party . Political analysts call this the "elite theory of democracy" since under it , all that the people get to choose is which elite should exercise government power. This contrasts with the original theory of democracy which envisages popular participation in the running of affairs and which political analysts call "participatory democracy".

This is the sort of democracy Socialists favour but we know it's never going to exist under capitalism. The most we will get under capitalism is the right to vote, under more-or-less fair conditions, for who shall control political power—a minimalist form of democracy but not to be dismissed for that since it at least provides a mechanism whereby a socialist majority could vote in socialist delegates instead of capitalist politicians.

The original Marxist Social Democratic parties had in addition to the “maximum” programme of socialism what they called a “minimum programme” of immediate reforms to capitalism. What happened is that they attracted votes on the basis of their miniumum, not their maximum, programme, i.e. reformist votes, and so became the prisoners of these voters. In parliament, and later in office, they found themselves with no freedom of action other than to compromise with capitalism. Had they been the mandated delegates of those who voted for them (rather than leaders) this could be expressed by saying that they had no mandate for socialism, only to try to reform capitalism. It was not a case of being corrupted by the mere fact of going into national parliaments but was due to the basis on which they went there and how this restricted what they could do. In short, it is not power as such that corrupts. It is power obtained on the basis of followers voting for leaders to implement reforms that, if you want to put it that way, “corrupts”.

We advocate only socialism and nothing but (the so-called “maximum programme”)

When the worker acquires revolutionary consciousness he is still compelled to make the non-revolutionary struggle of every-day life . It is the propagating of the idea that THROUGH a policy or programme of reforms that the workers' situation can somehow be intrinsically improved or that it can progress towards the establishment of a socialist society that the SPGB adamantly refuses to recognise . The conditions of existence of the wage-workers depends upon their wages. It is not determined by the legal law, but by the economic law of supply and demand.The condition of existence of the wage-workers is determined by the progress of the development of machinery, the concentration of capital, the proportion of the unemployed industrial reserve army.Social realities are outside parliaments. Although the bettering of the conditions of existence by way of political reform is impossible, it is not the same as regards the conditions of fighting. To distinguish between the conditions of fighting and the conditions of existence is not to split hairs. The difference is real. Some reforms would render the attacks of the proletariat more powerful, those of capitalism weaker- the right to strike , the right to picket , for instance . The class struggle is, therefore, both industrial and political but the SPGB consider the latter as being its ultimate form and its revolutionary form .The SPGB reject ALL forms of minority action to attempt to establish socialism, which can only be established by the working class when the immense majority have come to want and understand it. Without a socialist working class, there can be no socialism. The establishment of socialism can only be the conscious majority, and therefore democratic, act of a socialist-minded working class. Whereas you can make people do what they do not wish to do, you cannot make them adopt a set of social relations whichrequire their voluntary co-operation if they do not voluntarily co-operate .In these circumstances the easiest and surest way for such a socialist majority to gain control of political power in order to establish socialism is to use the existing electoral machinery to send a majority of mandated socialist delegates to the various parliaments of the world. This is why we advocate using Parliament .Not to try to reform capitalism (the only way Parliaments have been used up till now ), but for the single revolutionary purpose of abolishing capitalism and establishing socialism by converting the means of production and distribution into the common property of the whole of society.No doubt, at the same time, the working class will also have organised itself, at the various places of work, in order to keep production going, but nothing can be done here until the machinery of coercion which is the state has been taken out of the hands of the capitalist class by political action.
Naive reformism , if you wish , but what are the alternative strategies which are themselves not flawed .

The vote is not a gift to the masses from the Government out of the beneficence of its heart . We don't advocate de facto disenfranchisement of the worker by promoting political abstention . The right to vote can become a powerful instrument to end our servitude and to achieve genuine democracy and freedom. Working people with an understanding of socialism can utilise their vote to signify that the overwhelming majority demand change and to bring about social revolution. The first object of a socialist organisation is the development of the desire for Socialism among the working class and the preparation of the political party to give expression to that desire. What our capitalist opponents consequently do when the majority wish to prevail will determine our subsequent actions . If they accept defeat , well and good . If they choose not to accept the verdict of the majority which is given through the medium of their own institutions and contest that verdict by physical force, then the workers will respond in kind , with the legitimacy and the authority of a democratic mandate . The important thing is for the workers to gain control of the political machinery, because the political machine is the real centre of social control - not made so by capitalist rulers but developed and evolved over centuries and through struggles .The power over the means of life which the capitalist class has, is vested in its control of the political machinery. Ownership of the world's economic resources is certainly an economic factor, but that ownership, if challenged, will find its means of enforcement by and through the State political machine, which, as everybody should know, includes the armed forces.Of course, an elaborate legal machinery exists whereby claims on private property are settled among the capitalists themselves, but behind the Judicary and the Legislature stands the means of enforcing the decrees. The political arm of capitalism rules the economic body of the system in the final analysis: which reveals the chief reason why the capitalist class concern themselves so much about political action; they realise that in this field their economic interest finds its ultimate, if not immediate, protection. Thus, the political organisation of the workers for Socialist purposes is thrust upon us as a primary and imperative necessity. The SPGB, in aiming for the control of the State, is a political party in the immediate sense. (No doubt, at the same time, the working class will also have organised itself, at the various places of work, in order to keep production going, but nothing can be done here until the machinery of coercion which is the state has been taken out of the hands of the capitalist class by political action ) .The workers' political organisation must precede the economic, since, apart from the essential need of the conquest of the powers of government, it is on the political field that the widest and most comprehensive propaganda can be deliberately maintained .It is here that the workers can be deliberately and independently organised on the basis of Socialist thought and action.

"The irony of history turns everything topsy-turvy. We, the ‘revolutionists’, thrive better by the use of constitutional means than by unconstitutional and revolutionary methods. The parties of law and order, as they term themselves, are being destroyed by the constitutional implements which they themselves have fashioned.” - Engels .

To sum up , our so-called parliamentarianism transforms elections from a means of deceit into a means of emancipation
"...the more the proletariat matures towards its self-emancipation, the more does it constitute itself as a separate class and elect its own representatives in place of the capitalists. Universal suffrage is the gauge of the maturity of the working class. It can and never will be that in the modern State. But that is sufficient. On the day when the thermometer of universal suffrage reaches its boiling point among the labourers, they as well as the capitalists will know what to do.” - Engels .

The SPGB position is consistent with Marx's presuppositions to recognise parliament as an institution geared to the needs of capitalism, and therefore inappropriate as the vehicle for a fundamental transformation of society , but that its connected electoral practices coincide with the principles involved in that transformation which creates the possibility of a peaceful transition to a new society .

The institution of parliament is not at fault . It is just that people's ideas have not yet developed beyond belief in leaders and dependence on a political elite .Control of parliament by representatives of a conscious revolutionary movement will enable the bureaucratic-military apparatus to be dismantled and the oppressive forces of the state to be neutralised , so that Socialism may be introduced with the least possible violence and disruption. Parliament and local councils , to the extent that their functions are administrative and not governmental , can and will be used to co-ordinate the emergency immediate measures to transform society when Socialism is established . Far better , is it not , if only to minimise the risk of violence, to organise to win a majority in parliament , not to form a government , but to end capitalism and dismantle the state.

I qualified my endorsement of parliamentarianism , criticising bourgeois democacy as the best we can hope for under capitalism but not the ideal model possible for the revolutionary . Capitalist democracy is not a participatory democracy, which a genuine democracy has to be. In practice the people generally elect to central legislative assemblies and local councils professional politicians who they merely vote for and then let them get on with the job. In other words, the electors abdicate their responsibility to keep any eye on their representatives, giving them a free hand to do what the operation of capitalism demands. But that’s as much the fault of the electors as of their representatives, or rather it is a reflection of their low level of democratic consciousness. It cannot be blamed on the principle of representation as such. There is no reason in principle why, with a heightened democratic consciousness (such as would accompany the spread of socialist ideas), even representatives sent to state bodies could not be subject – while the state lasts – to democratic control by those who sent them there. The argument that anarchists sometimes raise against this is that “power corrupts” . But if power inevitability corrupts why does this not apply also in non-parliamentary elected bodies such as syndicalist union committees or workers councils?

I believe that the Socialists will certainly send members to Parliament when they are strong enough to do so; in itself I see no harm in that, so long as it is understood that they go there as rebels, and not as members of the governing body prepared to pass palliative measures to keep Society alive." William Morris

Additional reading
Government or democracy
Sit -down strikes in America
The mass debaters

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Chinese Bubble Pricked

China's manufacturing contracted by the most on record last month as the global financial crisis cut demand for exports, a second survey showed. A government-backed survey released on Nov. 1 also showed a record contraction, adding to concern that the world's fastest- growing economy may slump.

With export orders falling because of the global slowdown and rising raw material and labor costs, more than 68,000 small companies nationwide collapsed in the first half of 2008 and about 2.5 million jobs in the Pearl River Delta region may be lost by the end of the year, according to government and industry estimates.

As the economy has soured, dissatisfaction has grown: Since mid-October, there have been dozens of labor protests involving thousands of workers at major exporters, including several publicly listed companies. China needs to grow in order to keep generating enough factory jobs to maintain stability in the labor market, as millions of peasants continue to pour into Chinese cities in search of work.In Jiangsu province, the government extended unemployment benefits to migrant workers laid off from ailing factories; these workers had previously been shut out of public services because they don't have residency cards.
The Guangdong provincial government in the south is scrambling to set up a special fund to compensate laid-off workers in order to "protect against some of the financial and social problems caused by such closures."
In the eastern city of Wujiang, nearly 1,000 workers from bankrupt Chunyu Textile Co. received four months' salary on Oct. 27 after they swarmed the area's four main roads to draw attention to their cause. After more than 1,000 workers for home appliance maker BEP International Holdings gathered outside the factory to protest, district officials gave them $44 each late last month. The employees were also allowed to continue living in the defunct factory's dormitories for free. The same week, the government offered three months' back pay to the 900 workers at Gangsheng, an electronics supplier, after they staged a protest at a shop near their factory.
In the neighboring city of Dongguan, the local government handed out about $3.5 million on Oct. 21 to the employees of Smart Union -- which sold its toys to Mattel , Disney and Hasbro -- after the 7,000 workers staged a strike.Employees became nervous when the owners slipped three months behind on salary payments. The workers occupied the factory and the surrounding streets until government officials promised them they would be paid.

China's most revered companies, whose growth once seemed limitless, have reported surprising losses in the past few days. Air China , the nation's biggest international carrier, posted its first loss in seven quarters because of declining passenger numbers and wrong-way bets on fuel prices.Bank of China , the nation's largest foreign-exchange lender, said that as credit-market losses went up, its profit growth went down to its slowest in two years.

China's leaders have made a variety of moves to try to stabilize the economy -- three interest rate cuts in six weeks, new export tax rebates, reduced costs for home buyers, and billions spent on infrastructure.

"...What the government fears most is workers making trouble..." Hu said.
" one wants to hire you because they know about the blockade and now we have a bad reputation..." Jia said.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Another Dig at Parecon

"how do you calculate and factor in scarcity?" asks Mantar .

First we have to define what scarcity is . Orthodox economics and Parecon argue it is limited supply - versus- boundless demand . Our wants are essentially “infinite” and the resources to meet them, limited , claim the economists . Von Mise and Parecon claim that without the guidance of prices socialism would sink into inefficiency . According to the argument , scarcity is an unavoidable fact of life .It applies to any goods where the decision to use a unit of that good entails giving up some other potential use. In other words, whatever one decides to do has an "opportunity cost" — that is the opportunity to do something else which one thereby forgoes; economics is concerned with the allocation of scarce resources .I have a feeling that this is the issue Mantar is raising .

However in the real world , abundance is not a situation where an infinite amount of every good could be produced . Similarly, scarcity is not the situation which exists in the absence of this impossible total or sheer abundance. Abundance is a situation where productive resources are sufficient to produce enough wealth to satisfy human needs, while scarcity is a situation where productive resources are insufficient for this purpose.Abundance is a relationship between supply and demand, where the former exceeds the latter. In socialism a buffer of surplus stock for any particular item, whether a consumer or a producer good, can be produced, to allow for future fluctuations in the demand for that item, and to provide an adequate response time for any necessary adjustments.Thus achieving abundance can be understood as the maintenance of an adequate buffer of stock in the light of extrapolated trends in demand. The relative abundance or scarcity of a good would be indicated by how easy or difficult it was to maintain such an adequate buffer stock in the face of a demand trend (upward, static, or downward). It will thus be possible to choose how to combine different factors for production, and whether to use one rather than another, on the basis of their relative abundance/scarcity.

Whereas capitalism and Parecon relies on mostly monetary accounting , socialism relies on calculation in kind . This is one reason why socialism holds a decisive productive advantage over capitalism AND Parecon because of the elimination for the need to tie up vast quantities of resources and labour implicated in a system of monetary/pricing accounting. In socialism calculations will be done directly in physical quantities of real things , in use-values , without any general unit of calculation . Needs will be communicated to productive units as requests for specific useful things , while productive units will communicate their requirements to their suppliers as requests for other useful things .

To address Mantar's more specific questions " How do you tell when something is becoming scarce, and how do you pass this information on to others?"

Well , we use the tools and systems that capitalism bequeathes us ,which will be suitably modified and adapted and transformed for the new conditions . There is stock or inventory control systems and logistics . The key to good stock management is the stock turnover rate – how rapidly stock is removed from the shelves – and the point at which it may need to be re-ordered. This will also be affected by considerations such as lead times – how long it takes for fresh stock to arrive – and the need to anticipate possible changes in demand. The Just- In- Time systems are another well tried and trusted method of warehousing and lInkIng up supply chains which can be utilised . If requirements are low in relation to a build-up of stock , then this would an automatic indication to a production unit that its production should be reduced . If requirements are high in relation to stock then this would be an automatic indication that its production should be increased .

And there will be the existence of buffer stocks to provides for a period of re-adjustment.It may be argued that this overlooks the problem of opportunity costs . For example, if the supplier of baked beans orders more tin plate from the manufacturers of tin plate then that will mean other uses for this material being deprived by that amount. However, it must be born in mind in the first place that the systematic overproduction of goods – i.e. a buffer stock – applies to all goods, consumption goods as well as production goods. So increased demand from one consumer/producer, need not necessarily entail a cut in supply to another or at least, not immediately. The existence of buffer stocks provides for a period of re-adjustment. Another point that this argument overlooks the possibility of there being alternative suppliers of this material or indeed, for that matter, more readily available substitutes for containers (say, plastic).

Some kind of “points system” might be used to evaluate different projects facing society - cost-benefit analysis which is not dependant upon dollars and cents calculations .Under capitalism ( also read Parecon) the balance sheet of the relevant benefits and costs advantages and disadvantages of a particular scheme or rival schemes is drawn up in money terms , but in socialism a points system for attributing relative importance to the various relevant considerations could be used instead. The points attributed to these considerations would be subjective, in the sense that this would depend on a deliberate social decision rather than on some objective standard. In the sense that one of the aims of socialism is precisely to rescue humankind from the capitalist fixation with production time/money, cost-benefit type analyses, as a means of taking into account other factors, could therefore be said to be more appropriate for use in socialism than under capitalism. Using points systems to attribute relative importance in this way would not be to recreate some universal unit of evaluation and calculation, but simply to employ a technique to facilitate decision-making in particular concrete cases. The advantages /disadvantages and even the points attributed to them can, and normally would, differ from case to case. So what we are talking about is not a new abstract universal unit of measurement to replace money and economic value but one technique among others for reaching rational decisions in a society where the criterion of rationality is human welfare.

There is the The “Law of the Minimum” which was formulated by the agricultural chemist, Justus von Liebig in the 19th century. Liebig’s Law can be applied equally to the problem of resource allocation in any economy.For any given bundle of factors required to produce a given good, one of these will be the limiting factor. That is to say, the output of this good will be restricted by the availability of the factor in question constituting the limiting factor. All things being equal, it makes sense from an economic point of view to economise most on those things that are scarcest and to make greatest use of those things that are abundant.

Priorities can be determined byapplying Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” as a guide . It would seem reasonable to suppose that needs that were most pressing and upon which the satisfaction of other needs are dependant would take priority over those other needs. We are talking here about our basic physiological needs for food, water, adequate sanitation and housing and so on. This would be reflected in the allocation of resources: high priority end goals would take precedence over low priority end goals where resources common to both are revealed (via the self regulating system of stock control) to be in short supply .

Since the needs of consumers are always needs for a specific product at a specific time in a specific locality, we will assume that socialist society would leave the initial assessment of likely needs to a delegate body under the control of the local community . In a stable society such as socialism, needs would change relatively slowly. Hence it is reasonable to surmise that an efficient system of stock control, recording what individuals actually chose to take under conditions of free access from local distribution centres over a given period, would enable the local distribution committee to estimate what the need for food, drink, clothes and household goods would be over a similar future period. Some needs would be able to be met locally: local transport, restaurants, builders, repairs and some food are examples as well as services such as street-lighting, libraries and refuse collection. The local distribution committee would then communicate needs that could not be met locally to the bodies charged with coordinating supplies to local communities.

Production and distribution in socialism would thus be a question of organising a coordinated and more or less self-regulating system of linkages between users and suppliers, enabling resources and materials to flow smoothly from one productive unit to another, and ultimately to the final user, in response to information flowing in the opposite direction originating from final users. The productive system would thus be set in motion from the consumer end, as individuals and communities took steps to satisfy their self-defined needs. Socialist production is self-regulating production for use.

To ensure the smooth functioning of the system, statistical offices ( and those exist now in a variety of forms ) would provide estimates of what would have to be produced to meet peoples likely individual and collective needs. These could be calculated in the light of consumer wants as indicated by returns from local distribution committees and of technical data (productive capacity, production methods, productivity, etc) incorporated in input-output tables. For, at any given level of technology (reflected in the input-output tables), a given mix of final goods (consumer wants) requires for its production a given mix of intermediate goods and raw materials; it is this latter mix that statistical offices would be calculating . Such calculations would also indicate whether or not productive capacity would need to be expanded and in what branches. The centres would be essentially an information clearing house, processing information communicated to it about production and distribution and passing on the results to industries for them to draw up their production plans so as to be in a position to meet the requests for their products coming from other industries and from local communities. As stated before the only calculations that would be necessary in socialism would be Calculations -in- Kind. On the one side would be recorded the resources (materials, energy, equipment, labour) used up in production and on the other side the amount of the good produced, together with any by-products.Each part of of production would know its position . If requirements are low in relation to a build-up of stock , then this would an automatic indication to a production unit that its production should be reduced . The supply of some needs will take place within the local community and in these cases production would not extent beyond this , as for example with local food production for local consumption .Other needs could be communicated as required things to the regional organisation of production. Regional manufacture would produce and assemble equired goods for distribution to local communities .

To repeat , given that socialism will still need to concern itself with the efficient allocation of resources and this will be achieved mostly through calculation in kind. Decentralized production entails a self-regulating system of stock control. Stocks of goods held at distribution points would be monitored, their rate of depletion providing vital information about the future demand for such goods, information which will be conveyed to the units producing these goods. The units would in turn draw upon the relevant factors of production and the depletion of these would activate yet other production units further back along the production chain. There would thus be a marked degree of automaticity in the way the system operated. The maintenance of surplus stocks would provide a buffer against unforeseen fluctuations in demand .The regional production units would in turn communicate its own manufacturing needs to their own suppliers , and this would extend to world production units extracting and processing the necessary raw materials .

Decisions will be made at different levels of organisation: global, regional and local but with the bulk of decision-making being made at the local level. A socialist economy would be a polycentric not a centrally planned economy. Socialism will be a self regulating , decentralised inter-linked system to eventually provide in due cours for a self-sustaining steady-state society.Imagine a situation where human needs were in balance with the resources needed to satisfy them. Such a society would already have decided, according to its own criteria and through its own decision-making processes, on the most appropriate way to allocate resources to meet the needs of its members. This having been done, it would only need to go on repeating this continuously from production period to production period. Production would not be ever-increasing but would be stabilized at the level required to satisfy needs. All that would be produced would be products for consumption and the products needed to replace and repair the raw materials and instruments of production used up in producing these consumer goods. This has been called by some economists a 'steady-state economy' and what Marx called 'simple reproduction'.

In capitalism people's needs are not met and reasonable people feel insecure. People tend to acquire and hoard goods because possession provides some security. People have a tendency to distrust others because the world is organized in such a dog-eat-dog manner. In capitalist society there is a tendency for individuals to seek to validate their sense of worth through the accumulation of possessions. In socialism, status based upon the material wealth at one's command, would be a meaningless concept. Why take more than you need when you can freely take what you need? However, this does require that we appreciate what is meant by "enough" and that we do not project on to socialism the insatiable consumerism of capitalism. The establishment of socialism presupposes the existence of a mass socialist movement and a profound change in social outlook. It is simply not reasonable to suppose that the desire for socialism on such a large scale, and the conscious understanding of what it entails on the part of all concerned, would not influence the way people behaved in socialism and towards each other. Why would they want to jeopardise the new society they had just helped create?

In a particular situation of actual physical shortage perhaps resulting from crop failure we can assume that the shortage can be tackled by some system of direct rationing such as prioritising indviduals needs by vulnerability , and if there is no call for that criteria , by lottery , or first come first served
Related Link:

The Revolutionary Vote 2

Further to this article

The vote is a gain, a potential class weapon, a potential "instrument of emancipation" as Marx put it. Despite Lenin's distortions , Marx and Engels always held that the bourgeois democratic republic was the best political framework for the development and triumph of the socialist movement. This is another pre-1914 socialist position we see no reason to abandon.

Certainly, political democracy under capitalism is not all that it is purported to be by many supporters of the system and it is severely limited, from the point of view of democratic theory, by the very nature of capitalism as an unequal, class-divided society. Certainly, "democracy" has become an ideology used to give capitalist rule a spurious legitimacy . But it is still sufficient to allow the working class to organise politically and economically without too much state interference and also, we would argue, to allow a future socialist majority to gain control of political power.

In a vote between lesser of two evils , " Vote Cholera or Vote for Typhoid" , ( btw , someone once said "Those who choose the lesser of two evils soon forget that what they chose is an evil" )Not voting at all is valid, but casting blank ballots or some other form of actively announcing not voting is better .One or two spoilers/blank voters can be ignored, tens of thousands or even millions could not be - especially if backed by a vocal movement explaining the situation. ( see the Argentinian example , for instance ) .
In Britain, Canada and most of America, etc I don't think we've any fundamental objection to the electoral system; the provisions for voter registration, nomination of candidates, counting of votes, declaration of result,etc can be inherited by socialism and, with modifications, continue to be used. We also think, of course, that the present electoral mechanisms can be used to express and count, more or less fairly and accurately, a majority desire for socialism. So we've no interest in running down the system as such. The way to show that you accept the electoral system but reject the sham choice is to go and use it but not vote for any of the candidates.

There is nothing inherently elitist about the electoral approach. It is how you use that approach that makes it elitist. The World Socialist Movement is not asking people to vote for them so they can solve the problems the electorate have to contend with. The WSM it is saying quite clearly that workers need to understand and support socialism themselves in order for it to come about It cannot be imposed from above. Furthermore, we constantly makes the point to workers in elections that if they dont understand or support socialism then they should not vote for the WSM. The WSM does not propose to come "into office", ie to form a government and so does not propose "to vote itself into office". Nor to we propose that other people should "vote us into office" either. What we do propose is that people should, amongst other things, use the vote in the course of the social revolution from capitalism to socialism; that they should, if you like, vote capitalism out of office. To do this they will need to stand recallable mandated delegates at elections but these will be just this: messenger boys and girls, not leaders or would-be government ministers, sent to formally take over and dismantle "the central State". The situation we envisage in which a majority vote in socialist delegates is one where the revolution ,in respect of socialist ideas has already begun to accelerate.The vote is merely the legitimate stamp which will allow for the dismantling of the repressive apparatus of the States and the end of bourgeois democracy and the establishment of real democracy.It is the Achilles heel of capitalism and makes a non-violent revolution possible.What matters is a conscious socialist majority outside parliament, ready and organised to take over and run industry and society; electing a socialist majority in parliament is essentially just a reflection of this. It is not parliament that establishes socialism, but the socialist working-class majority outside parliament and they do this, not by their votes, but by their active participating beyond this in the transformation of society.

Basically, there are only three ways of winning control of the State: (a) armed insurrection; (b) more or less peaceful mass demonstrations and strikes; (c) using the electoral system.

The early, pre-WWI members of the WSM adopted, in the light of then existing political conditions, for (c), but without ruling out (b) or even (a) should these conditions change (or in other parts of the world where conditions were different).But this was never understood as simply putting an "X" on a ballot paper and letting the Socialist Party and its MPs establish Socialism for workers. The assumption always was that there would be a "conscious" and active Socialist majority outside Parliament, democratically organised both in a mass Socialist political party and, at work, in ex-trade union type organisations ready to keep production going during and immediately after the winning of political control.Having adopted (c), various other options follow. Obviously, if there's a Socialist candidate people who want Socialism are urged to vote for thatcandidate. But what if there's no Socialist candidate? Voting for any other candidate is against the principles. So what to do? The basic choice is/was between abstention and spoiling the ballot paper (by writing "Socialism" across it). The policy adopted and confirmed ever since was the latter, ie a sort of write-in vote for Socialism.

The first step towards taking over the means of production, therefore, must be to take over control of the state, and the easiest way to do this is via elections. But elections are merely a technique, a method. The most important precondition to taking political control out of the hands of the owning class is that the useful majority are no longer prepared to be ruled and exploited by a minority; they must withdraw their consent to capitalism and class rule-they must want and understand a socialist society of common ownership and democratic control.We need to organise politically, into a political party, a socialist party. We don't suffer from delusions of grandeur so we don't necessary claim that we are that party. What we are talking about is not a small educational and propagandist groupsuch as ourselves , but a mass party that has yet to emerge. It is such a party that will take political control via the ballot box, but since it will in effect be the useful majority organised democratically and politically for socialism it is the useful majority, not the party as such as something separate from that majority, that carries out the socialist transformation of society.
They will neutralise the state and its repressive forces and as stated there is no question of forming a government , and then proceed to take over the means of production for which they will also have organised themselves at their places of work. This done, the repressive state is disbanded and its remaining administrative and service features, reorganised on a democratic basis, are merged with the organisations which the useful majority will have formed to take over and run production, to form the democratic administrative structure of the stateless society of common ownership that socialism will be.

This is perhaps a less romantic idea of the socialist revolution but a thousand times more realistic. Which is why we think this is the way it will happen. When the time comes the socialist majority will use the ballot box since it will be the obvious thing to do, and nobody will be able to prevent them or persuade them not to. At that time it will be the anti-electoralists who will be irrelevant. A real democracy is fundamentally incompatible with the idea of leadership. It is about all of us having a direct say in the decisions that affect us. Leadership means handing over the right to make those decisions to someone else. We have at our disposal today the very means, in the form of modern telecommunications, that could enable us to resuscitate the ancient model of Athenian democracy on a truly global level.