Friday, December 18, 2009

Russia and Lenin

An article on Libcom the Soviet State myths and realities 1917-21
Some extracts:-
"The history of the Russian Revolution as told in Soviet textbooks takes place in two phases: the rising of the masses against tsarist oppression, then against Kerensky's bourgeois democracy, engendered a process of radicalization of which the Bolsheviks were both inspirers and spokesmen, preparing the ground for the second phase of the revolution, October 1917. In other words, the communists perceive an historical and theoretical continuity between the autonomous origins of the councils and the Leninist theory of the State, a view which is held even by the anti-Stalinist Marxist-Leninists.
This misrepresentation of the true course of events was essential in order to paper over the divergences between the masses and Bolshevik policy insofar as the Bolsheviks claimed, and still do claim, to incarnate the dictatorship of the proletariat. It was vital to create harmony between Party and masses. But this version of the history of the Russian Revolution contains a double mystification. On the one hand, there was not one type of soviet, but two quite distinct types. The first made its appearance in Russia in 1905, and we find traces of it up to May 1907. These were councils that had arisen spontaneously out of the January-February 1905 strike. We may say that these soviets largely expressed the self-action of the Russian proletariat. Then there were the Russian soviets of 1917, followed by their central European counterparts. In Russia, at least, their emergence was supervised, provoked even, by all those bustling around the revolution in one capacity or another: politicians, trade unionists, journalists, adventurers and demagogues...
...According to a variety of matching accounts, the 1905 soviets arose absolutely spontaneously and were independent of any external 'initiatives'. The popularity of these soviets among the masses derived largely from the absence of political agitators and party representatives in their midst. They expressed the workers' political and economic demands in a situation where trade unions were non-existent and where the parties had little real influence over the masses...The situation was quite different in 1917. Although the February strikes were completely spontaneous (both the Putilov strikes on the 18th and the general strike on the 25th), the councils did not arise directly out of them as they had done twelve years earlier. This time they resulted from the combined efforts of politicians and workers' leaders... the politicians of the Duma Committee and the members of the Workers' Group sitting on the Central Committee for the War Industries (an employers' and State organization), attempted to organize elections in Petrograd for a Central Soviet. The impetus for this came from the latter group, which installed itself in the Tauride Palace on 27 February and set up a provisional executive committee of the council of workers' delegates, to which committee several socialist leaders and members of parliament attached themselves. It was this committee which called upon workers and soldiers to elect their representatives. This explains why, when the first Provisional Soviet met that very evening, it still contained no factory delegates! ...
...the 1917 soviets were neither an entirely spontaneous nor a completely original institution. It would be a mistake to think, however, that they were imposed from above: the idea of a central workers' council was in the air, and was widely favoured by workers and soldiers. What had changed was the way the parties now assessed this institution. Seeing in them a springboard to power, they wooed the councils from all sides, which explains why the intellectuals acquired decisive influence in the Petrograd Soviet and why this Soviet so rapidly lost contact with the masses....
....with Lenin still absent from the scene; Molotov's programme, drawn up on 28 February, did not even mention the soviets. On his arrival in Petrograd, Lenin astonished everyone with his slogan: 'All power to the soviets'. But, from the outset, he had identified the revolution with the seizing of power by his Party. The slogan he was now propagating with such vehemence was of a purely tactical nature. As if additional proof were needed, see the Bolsheviks' sudden volte-face after the events of 3-5 July 1917, organized under their auspices and designed to force the Petrograd Soviet's hand into seizing power. When the latter refused, the Bolsheviks resumed their old hostility to the institution of the soviets, calling them 'puppets, devoid of real power'...
...When the capital's council regained popularity after repulsing Kornilov's attacks, the Bolsheviks returned to their old slogan of 'All power to the soviets', at the end of September. This time, it was for good, especially now that Lenin's partisans had won a majority inside the councils.Power was seized in the name of the latter: the Party gave power to the soviets and thus established its superiority over them. They now served merely to confer legal form on the Party's power.As early as December 1917, Maxim Gorky was able to write in the newspaper Novaia Zizn (no. 195, 7 December 1917) that the revolution was not attributable to the soviets, and that the new republic was not one of councils, but of peoples' commissars. What follows is history: the councils were institutionalized by the July 1918 constitution, which voided them of all content. This was a superfluous precaution insofar as the Bolsheviks already had complete control over them...
... If the councils were still an independent expression of the Russian proletariat in the course of 1917, they only were so partially and ephemerally. Contrary to what happened in 1905, they became the scene of factional and partisan in-fighting: they were fought over partly for their historical prestige and partly for their real leading revolutionary role. The Bolsheviks played their hand masterfully in this struggle. They were unequalled as tacticians, but it would be presumptuous and a perversion of the simple historical truth to try to set them up as the defenders of the soviets if one sees in the latter the expression of the struggling masses...."
[my emphasis]

The article then goes on to counterpose the soviets with the factory committees

"The factory committees (fabzavkomii) (14) emerged in the wake of the January-February 1917 strikes. They mushroomed throughout Russia, taking on the role of workers' representation inside the factory....The role of the committees expanded throughout 1917 as the soviets increasingly lost contact with the mass of workers and stuck to political programmes proclaimed in advance....The Bolsheviks were naturally interested in these revolutionary bodies and conquered them from within more easily and earlier than in the case of the councils, inasmuch as the fabzavkomii were still free of any massive partisan intrusion. But they implanted themselves in the regional (subsequently national) coordinating bodies, which themselves had little influence over the local and factory committees. Thus, at the first conference of the Petrograd factory committees (30 May-5 June 1917), the Bolsheviks already possessed a majority, and the radicality of their slogans competed with those of the revolutionary left. They cunningly called for 'workers' control' in opposition to the Mensheviks and the social revolutionaries, without ever stating very clearly what they meant by it....
....Visibly moved by a desire to conciliate the masses, Lenin introduced workers' control into all enterprises employing more than five workers. While legalizing a defacto situation he provided for the annulment of decisions taken by the fabzavkomy, the 'congresses and the trade unions' and made the workers' delegates answerable to the State for the maintenance of order and discipline within the enterprise. This plan, which already marked a step backwards by comparison with the existing situation in certain factories, was still further watered down before being published in its final form on 14 November 1917. In its definitive version, the decree laid down that factory committees should be subordinate to a local committee on which would sit representatives of the trade unions; the local committees themselves would depend upon a hierarchy crowned by an All-Russian Workers' Control Council. Moreover, as Pankratova notes, this did not imply workers' management such as the anarchists had called for, but the supervision and control of production and prices...Lenin had never made much of a secret of the fact that he saw workers' control as a 'prelude to nationalizations' or that an accountable administration should exist alongside the factory committees....
...the fabzavkomy were heirs to an ancient tradition of delegation, of 'elders' (starosty), in short, of legal or clandestine workers' representation, whereas trade union organizations had been stimulated into life by the parties and were, as a result, battlefields in the struggle for influence between Mensheviks and Bolsheviks. At the moment of the conquest of power, the latter found themselves masters of the trade unions, still poorly represented in the factories. The conflict between unions and factory committees is therefore between a largely bureaucratic structure, without any real base, and the direct organs of political and economic struggle of the industrial proletariat.

The rest of the article has much to say about the manouverings and manipulations of workers organisation by the Bolsheviks.

The essence of the debate is simple , did the Bolsheviks desire the working class to control its own destiny or did it simply use the working class as stepping stones to political power and a totally different agenda from one of workers self management ? In retrospect , many early supporters of the Bolsheviks such as Pannekoek re-evaluated the role of them and grew critical . Who said , never judge from what people say but instead judge from what they do ? For me , its clear what judgement should be made on the Bolsheviks and Lenin . There were cross-roads and choices to be made and different roads to travel down .Some will defend the turnings that Lenin took , but where did the destination end up ?

The SPGB view as expressed repeatedly in the Socialist Standard is socialism could not be established in backward isolated Russian conditions where the majority neither understood nor desired socialism . The takeover of political power by the Bolsheviks obliged them to adapt their programme to those undeveloped conditions and make continual concessions to the capitalist world around them.In the absence of world socialist revolution there was only one road forward for semi-feudal Russia , the capitalist road , and it was the role of the Bolsheviks to develop industry through state ownership and the forced accumulation of capital .
For the SPGB the opportunism the Bolsheviks was demonstrated by the abolition of the workers councils and the instructions to its followers in the more advanced capitalist countries to adopt the policy of "revolutionary parliamentarianism" aiming not to smash the state and transfer power to (malleable) workers councils , but to capture state power without recourse to the supposed "universal form" of the soviet Those soviets originally thrown up as products of popular will and democratic intent under Tsarist autocracy proved to be the dispensable means to an end for the Bolsheviks .
The SPGB recognised the unique role of the soviets in the absence of legitimate bourgeois parliamentary government but as a product of backward political conditions they were easily used by the Bolsheviks .

Martov's critique was from a Marxian not a bourgeois one , as is the SPGB'S.
Marx knew from experience that before there could be a Socialist revolution, capitalism must have reached a high stage of development for "no social order ever disappears before all the productive forces for which there is room within it have been developed; and new higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society" The Bolsheviks, however, thought it possible for an active minority, representing the vague aspirations of the workers, to gain political power before the capitalist revolution itself had been completed.
What would happen if such a minority gained a political victory over the capitalist classes?
In those circumstances, the minority become merely the tools of the capitalist class, which has not been virile enough to gain or hold power. Such a minority finds itself in the position of having to develop and run capitalism for a class unable, at the time, to do it successfully itself. Hence, let it be remembered, in running capitalism, the minority will be compelled to use its power to keep the working class in its slave position. Says Marx: "its victory will only be a point in the process of the bourgeois (capitalist) revolution itself, and will serve the cause of the latter by aiding its further development. This happened in 1794, and will happen again as long as the march, the movement, of history will not have elaborated the material factors that will create the necessity of putting an end to the bourgeois methods of production and, as a consequence, to the political domination of the bourgeoisie"
The Bolsheviks, finding Russia in a very backward condition, were obliged to do what had not been done previously, i.e. develop capitalism. The Bolsheviks performed the task of setting Russian capitalism on its feet .

Lenin's concepts of the "dictatorship of the proletariat’" , and the leading role of the vanguard party, and a transitional society of "socialism" ( The Workers State and state capitalism ) are Lenin's main distortions of Marxism and severely damaged the development of a socialist movement when the radical wing of the international Social Democratic movement after 1917 were side-tracked into supporting the Bolsheviks. There are other things such as Lenin's anti-imperialism which is at variance with Marxist economic orthodoxy.

Paresh Chattopadhyay understands that the abolition of capitalism involves the disappearance of money, wage-labour, commodity production and buying and selling generally and that “Marx does not distinguish between communism and socialism. Both stand for the society succeeding capitalism. (The distinction was first to be made famous, if not introduced, by Lenin)”.

From the SPGB view , Lenin had got into an impossible position. Having seized power as a minority in a country where socialism was not possible for all sorts of reasons (economic backwardness, isolation from the rest of the world, lack of a majority underestanding for socialism), they had no alternative but to do the only thing that was possible: to continue to develop capitalism. Lenin found himself in the position of having to preside over -- and, in fact, to organise -- the accumulation of capital. But, as capital is accumulated out of surplus value and surplus value is obtained by exploiting wage-labour, this inevitably brought them into conflict with the workers who, equally inevitably, sought to limit their exploitation. Lenin justified opposing and suppressing these workers' struggles on the ground that the Bolsheviks represented the longer-term interests of the workers. The course of history has answered and it is a negative . The Marxist fact is that no force can cut short the natural development of society until it is ready for change.

In 1905-6 it has been argued that Lenin defended the need for the Soviets not to be seen as simply appendages to the party.But what do we actually read of Lenin , the Party and the soviets of the period ?

"...if Social-Democratic activities among the proletarian masses are properly, effectively and widely organised, such institutions may actually become superfluous...that a most determined struggle must be waged against all disruptive and demagogic attempts to weaken the R.S.D.L.p. from within or to utilise it for the purpose of substituting non-party political, proletarian organisations for the Social-Democratic Party...that Social-Democratic Party organisations may, in case of necessity, participate in inter-party Soviets of Workers’ Delegates, Soviets of Workers’ Deputies, and in congresses of representatives of these organisations, and may organise such institutions, provided this is done on strict Party lines for the purpose of developing and strengthening the Social-Democratic Labour Party "

An advocacy for them to be mere appendages to the Party !!

It is also argued that Lenin in the early 20's worried about how the working class could better gain control over an increasingly out of control state. I think its more a matter of re-organising the Party over the State since his writings concentrate upon the reform of State institutions by an improved Party-selected personnel . I don't see any real endeavour or evidence that Lenin was willing to go beyond the internal reform of the Party to establish any working class control over the State .

Conditions in Russia in 1917 weren't ripe for a socialist revolution there. The SPGB know people don't like being told "we told you so". But , we did . (And Victor Serge get -out clause that the Revolution had the seeds of Stalinism within it but that it held also many other different seeds flies in the face of Marxism but of course his pedigree was one of the ex -anarchists who joined the Bolsheviks )

Socialism can only be achieved by a politically conscious working class. It is the experience of workers under capitalism which drives them to understand the need for Socialism and this process is enhanced by the degree of democracy which they have won for themselves. Dictatorial power wielded by a vanguard minority, no matter how sincere its intentions, can never act as a substitute. That way the workers remain a subject class and the dictators, having acquired a taste for power, consolidate their own rule.

The SPGB meet frequently the put down that their analysis was that of armchair revolutionaries yet there is an advantage of distance , you can see the wood from the trees, but their view was also augmented by eyewitness accounts

" [ Bill ] Casey was expounding the S.P.G.B. position and as the Bolsheviks had just gained control in Russia, he lost no time in analysing the position. Probably aided by articles in the "S.S.", he became a caustic critic of the "Neo-Communists." He was delegate to represent the Seamen at an International T. U. Conference in Moscow. This, being one of the earliest "Missions to Moscow" was beset with difficulties all the way. Passports were forged; passages were "stowing away," Dutch, German, Polish and Russian frontiers had to be "hopped." Guides were often un-reliable; "go-betweens" were often in the pay of both sides; sometimes both had to be discarded until bona-fides were definitely established, a delicate job under the conditions then prevailing on the continent. The ultimate arrival in Moscow, after much suffering, danger and perseverance, was hailed as a masterpiece of undercover work. Once at the gates of the Kremlin, most delegates became insufferable Bolshevik "Yes-men" whereas Casey and his co-delegate, Barney Kelly (another adherent of the S.P.G.B.) soberly tried to obtain a truthful estimate of the position. A few days sojourn in Moscow drew the following observations from Casey:
"Production was in a straight-jacket, lethargy and indifference permeated the whole economy; the people were entirely lacking in a sense of time. Without the normal industrial development of production and some measure of buying and selling (war-communism was the order of the day) drift and indifference would gradually strangle the economy of the Soviet".
These observations were greeted with disgust and dismay by the other delegates. However, before they left Moscow, Lenin introduced his "New Economic Policy" which, in essence, provided for the very things which Casey opined was needed to stabilize the Russian economy. In contrast to their hostile reception of Casey’s prognostications, the "yes-men" cheered and echoed Lenin’s belated pronouncements. Back in Australia, he submitted his report to Tom Walsh (then a leading Communist and foundation member of the Australian Communist Party), General President of the Australian Seamen’s Union. Walsh rejected the report and refused to publish it on the ground that it criticized the Bolsheviks and the Russian system."
- from his 1949 obituary in Western Socialist "

Leninism has proved to be a political tendency that set the clock back for socialism . In claiming that socialism could be created by a political minority without the will of the majority of the population, and through their wilful confusion of socialism with nationalisation and state-run capitalism they shamelessly distorted the socialist political programme. The SPGB was the first organisation in Britain (and possibly the world) to foresee the disastrous state capitalist outcome of the Bolshevik takeover but we gained no satisfaction in doing so. Even now the association of socialist and communist ideas with state capitalism, minority action and political dictatorship is one of the greatest barriers to socialist understanding. As attempts to create socialism they didn’t just fail, they were positively injurious , regardless of how sincere many of their number may have been at the outset . The tragedy which befell Marx was that he was Leninised.

And for the SPGB view on Lenin himself , the article "The Passing of Lenin"
stated :-
The first thing Lenin did when in office was to keep his promise. He issued a call for peace to all the belligerents on the basis of’ “no annexations, no indemnities.” This astonished the politicians of the Western Nations to whom election promises are standing jokes.
It was at this point that Lenin made his greatest miscalculation. He believed that the working masses of the western world were so war weary that upon the call from one of the combatants they would rise and force their various Governments to negotiate peace. Unfortunately these masses had neither the knowledge nor the organisation necessary for such a movement, and no response was given to the call, except the snarling demands of the Allies that Russia should continue to send men to be slaughtered. This lack of response was a terrible disappointment to Lenin, but, facing the situation, he opened negotiations for a separate peace with Germany. And here he made a brilliant stroke. To the horror and dismay of all the diplomatic circles in Europe he declared that the negotiations would be carried on in public, and they were.
What then are Lenin’s merits? First in order of time is the fact that he made a clarion call for a world peace. When that failed he concluded a peace for his own country. Upon this first necessary factor he established a Constitution to give him control and, with a skill and judgement unequalled by any European or American statesman, he guided Russia out of its appalling chaos into a position where the services are operating fairly for such an undeveloped country, and where, at least, hunger no longer hangs over the people’s heads. Compare this with the present conditions in Eastern Europe!
Despite his claims at the beginning, he was the first to see the trend of conditions and adapt himself to these conditions. So far was he from “changing the course of history” was the course of history which changed him, drove him from one point after another till today Russia stands halfway on the road to capitalism. The Communists, in their ignorance, may howl at this, but Russia cannot escape her destiny. "

Martov critique of the Bolsheviks is summed up thus :-
"The idea that the "Soviet system" is equal to a definitive break with all the former, bourgeois, forms of revolution, therefore, serves as a screen behind which - imposed by exterior factors and the inner conformation of the proletariat - there are again set in motion methods that have featured the bourgeois revolutions. And those revolutions have always been accomplished by transferring the power of a "conscious minority, supporting itself on an unconscious majority," to another minority finding itself in an identical situation."
- Julius Martov

I think the case being made by myself is that the Bolsheviks supported soviets in order to help seize power as a minority and not as being inferred by others as a defence of working class interests.

Trotsky said “Could the Communist Party succeed, during the preparatory epoch, in pushing all other parties out of the ranks of the workers by uniting under its banner the overwhelming majority of workers, then there would be no need whatever for soviets..."

Overall , the SPGB argument is , that the material conditions in Russia meant the development of capitialism , which the Bolsheviks were unable to avoid. In fact, they became its agents .

Friday, December 11, 2009

Wobbly Days



" If a worker wants to take part in the self-emancipation of his class , the basic requirement is that he should cease allowing others to teach him and should set about teaching himself." - Joseph Dietzgen

As the postal workers' strike progressed in its stop-go fashion , it has become more and more evident that a power struggle was taking place within the union's National Executive . Those led by General Secretary Alan Johnson were reluctant from the outset of the dispute to confront Royal Mail with effective strike action, and have at every opportunity sought to minimise the effect of the strikes.
The strategy of a series of one-day strikes controlled by the union bureaucracy facilitated cancellation after cancellation of planned strikes to permit "negotiations", first with Royal Mail directly , then through the conciliation service , and back to Royal Mail. Having reached a settlement that he thought he could sell , Alan Johnson persuaded the Executive to call off a strike even though they had not seen the terms of the deal and had only a blank sheet of paper and his verbal interpretation to go on . (see article in our September issue ) Once the full details were available the deal was rejected and strike action resumed .
With a majority on the NEC determined not to compromise on the issue of team-working and not to be cowed by the government's threat to lift the postal monopoly , Royal Mail hacks set out to paint the strike as a personality conflict . The press blamed the strikes on "union militants" , personified by Johnson's heir-apparent , John Keggie .Royal Mail , the Tory government and aspiring "New" Labour prime minister, Tony Blair ,joined together in a chorus calling on the postal workers to hold a second ballot and to end the strikes . Now they have one , not because any postal workers wanted another vote but because of a convenient "irregularity " in the original ballot.
After throwing out Johnson's attempt to get team-working in through the back door , strike action resumed . A Friday/Monday strike hit the Post Office like never before . Almost two weeks were required to properly recover from the disruption , and members' morale was raised and confidence restored . More weekend strikes of this kind were in the offing and walk-outs from the floor in mid shift eagerly awaited . But the anticipated action was canceled. We were to be balloted once again, just to confirm to the Doubting Thomases that our resolve remained firm .That was the story for public consumption .
The truth of the matter smacks of intrigue , corruption and betrayal. Apparently , when the union informed Royal Mail of the original ballot results as the law requires , someone tippexed out the number of spoilt ballots-400-odd out of tens of thousands of a majority in favour of industrial action . This occurred only on Royal Mail's notification , no other . Lo and behold , Alan Johnson informs the Ntional Executive that he has legal advice from the union's lawyers that the strike ballot had been illegal ! If any more industrial action took place without a second ballot , then the CWU could be sued and made bankrupt ! Incredible as it may seem , Royal Mail with its extensive legal department had been oblivious to this tippexed "blunder" . In their ignorance , they had allowed damaging strike after strike to take place, costing them an estimated £100 million , and permitted British industry to suffer5 incalculable losses through the disruption of the post , all because some person or other had tippexed out a few spoilt ballot papers . Who , when , no-one knows . It just happened to be discovered just when the postal strike was entering a new phase - an increased offensive against out employer at a time when the " New" Labour Party ( Johnson is an executive member and ally of Tony Blair ) desired calm on the class war front to ensure election victory. Nor was Johnson finished there . If the majority on the National Executive dared to insist upon continuing the strike , then he would invoke the union constitution and call in the British Telecom executive members to overrule the Postal executive .
Naturally all of this was confidential , and ordinary members were to remain unaware of the realities. Fortunately , someone smelled a rat and had the honour to leak the details of this curious affair. Johnson is threatening all manner of dire consequences to whoever is responsible for leaking out this "accidental discrepancy".
So there you are . One unknown bureaucrat has "inadvertently" undermined the postal workers' struggle , a struggle which was in the process of breaking free of union leaders shackles.
Well aware that the tactic of one-day strikes possessed the advantage of minimum financial loss to members , activists also realised that it left control and coordination of the strikes in the hands of officials whose commitment to the dispute was questionable. Without the participation of the rank and file in the strike , a "holiday" feeling would pervade and apathy would grow alongside the union - authorised strike breaking and scabbing.
If ordinary members could not exercise for themselves the power they had when they withdrew their labour , and could no longer trust the union general secretary to represent them , then it is no wonder that the waverers and the indecisive mighty be expected to vote to end the strike and accept Royal Mail's proposals . Activists combated this trend . In Scotland , one branch embarked upon a campaign of flying pickets during strike days . Solid in their own office , members were able to send pickets to small isolated rural offices where management had persuaded workers that the "Employer Agenda" would not affect them too badly. Flying pickets pointed out that on the contrary smaller offices would be the first target for job losses . Their weakness would be exploited by the new breed of promotion-hungry managers. A show of strength was necessary , and the flying pickets continued in defiance of the law. Royal Mail resorted to using their private police to videotape those involved. CWU officials cooperated , issuing instructions that the secondary picketing was to cease. Needless to say , pickets have ignored this legal advice from the union.
Other forms of direct action have been used as well. Pillar box locks have been super-glued to frustrate scab managers clearing the letters. A few scab offices have had their entrance gates padlocked , offering pickets the amusement of seeing scum-bag managers scaling 12 -foot gates to get to work .
Throughout the country , there have been numerous unofficial strikes and walk-outs .Causes vary . Sometimes , as in the cases of Milton Keynes ( who were out for a week ) or Edinburgh the reason was victimisation of local union officials . Other times it is due to the improper use of casuals , as in Glasgow or the implementation of work practices not agreed locally . A number of unofficial disputes have now become official and are running concurrent with the national dispute. Many branches are demanding that the issue of dismissed or disciplined strikers feature in any future agreement with Royal Mail , something Alan Johnson is unlikely to do since he is perfectly willing to sacrifice loyal union members.
Nor have the activists ignored the wider implications of the postal strike for the union movement as a whole . In Edinburgh , a Workers Liason Committee has been set up to share experiences and provide assistance by joint actions to all unionists or others in struggle. The Committee has so far been involved in helping water workers resisting local re-organisation , the unemployed fighting new job-seeking rules, a Nigerian campaign against Shell oil , and against the closure of a local mental health hostel. Increasingly , it's become more and more clear to postal workers that we all face a common problem- capitalism and the drive for profits before peoples' welfare.The longer we fight Royal Mail in defence of our jobs and conditions , the more we come to understand that the established union organisation not only handicaps us in our fight , but actually acts against us . It's a lesson many of us have now learned , and now is the time for not just postal workers to endeavour to re-organise but for us all .



Despite an overwhelming yes vote for industrial action to press for a shorter working week and defend the second delivery , CWU leaders rejected an all-out strike , instead calling a series of one -day strikes .CWU General Secretary Alan Johnson and his bureaucracy of full-time officials made no secret of their reluctance to confront Royal Mail's "Employee Agenda " . They were forced into calling the strike ballot by rank-and-file activists and "leftists" on the national executive. But regardless of the pros and cons of one-day strikes , the end result for Royal Mail is a severely disrupted postal service. Or so the membership believed - the reality proved slightly different .
Well warned of the impending dispute , Royal Mail employed thousands of so-called "summer casuals" , hoping they would serve as strike breakers , but that hope was dashed by local management's treatment of them and the casuals' growing awareness that they were merely pawns . Almost all struck with the permanent staff.
Yet Royal Mail needn't have worried .CWU leaders were well qualified to sabotage the strikes' effectiveness and undermine workers' morale. They " failed " to implement an overtime ban and work-to-rule. After each strike the mail backlog was swiftly cleared by overtime work . CWU also instructed local officials to give management a clear hand in violating agreed procedures to deal with the mail backlog .
But it was on the picket lines that the ineffectiveness of the leadership's tactics became apparent. Instead of fixed time time starts to the strike , they chose a shift system - totally ignoring the varied shift patterns that made this completely unworkable . Perhaps an account of my own experiences will demonstrate the frustrations that ordinary postal workers faced .
Strike 1. Called to bring out the night shift first then the early and then the backshift , not finishing until 10pm. The first first of the nightshifts began at 5:30pm ! I was performing my own duties and covering the absences of my striking colleagues standing outside on the picket lines with the full approval of the union . The next day i was officially on strike , manning a picket line . Not only did i have to suffer the indignity of being unable to stop the streams of management drafted in from outlying administration offices to operate the sorting machines : fellow union members exempted from strike action under CWU orders to perform normally ( ie to actively assist the scabbing bosses by maintaining and repairing machinery being run by inexperienced and ill-trained scabs ) also crossed our lines . I also had to put up with the knowledge that canteen staff were dishing out free meals to the strikebreakers ! At one point , as i turned back a BT van ( in the same union , but a different industry ) , I had the embarrassment of explaining why my own engineer had driven through. I also met with the shame-faced apologies of Parcelforce drivers with written instructions from the union to ignore CWU pickets .
Strike 2. I'm backshift again , and the strike is supposed to commence with the backshift. The cutoff time is noon , so those who start work before this will be working until the end of their duty . This includes our local union officials .I'm on strike and my union rep is inside the office ! drivers with duties starting at 11:45am throughout the day are ferrying box and post office collections through my picket for management scabs to once again process. The drivers include some militant shop stewards suffering abuse from the public who believe they are scabs . The next day I'm back at work , the drivers are out on strike , the reps are too. Management brings in 20 new casuals to do driving and transfers ex-drivers onto driving duty . Angry and frustrated , we follow union orders and "bite the bullet ".
Strike 3. Suspended . Alan Johnson calls for consultation conference with the branch secretaries and field officers . Talks with Royal Mail resume, but no substantial progress is made and under NEC pressure Johnson sets four strike dates .
Strike 4. At last the union has got the message. It is an early shift strike . The members have also got the message. Dis-heartened , there is a poor presence on the picket . Not so management .Delighted with the strike- breaking success , managers are imported from Chesterfield to improve the scabs' performance .Too much for even the local officials , the talk is now of unofficial action and flying pickets to spread the wildcat strike . Whereupon appears a NEC member who threatens all manner of consequences if such an action is taken : we back down , but we ask the NEC to step up the action officially .The planned 36-hour strike has been downgraded to 24hrs.
Strike 5. Suspended again, on 12 hours notice. Union negotiators reached a settlement with Royal Mail and so without even seeing the agreement , the NEC supported canceling the strike. When they did get the details , the deal was rejected - but the planned 48-hour strike was already off. The NEC is unwilling to sign on to the bosses' plans , but also unwilling to commit itself to fighting them . No wonder that Royal Mail has decided to to halt further discussions , and that the membership is rapidly losing confidence in the unions' officials' will to win this struggle.
CWU leaders are ready to recommend Royal Mail's pay offer, but it is by no means clear if members are prepared to accept it .
Royal Mail had insisted that any pay raise be self-financing, stating that no extra money was available. But even before industrial action they conceded an extra 30 to 40 million pounds and withdrew some of the more unpopular elements .
But there is little support on the shop floor for what is on offer . CWU was pressing for a higher fully pensionable basic wage ( Royal Mail has paid nothing into the pension fund since the 1980s ) , offering to give up various allowances and bonuses. But many postal workers rely on overtime pay and holiday bonuses to make ends meet.
Royal Mail's feeble attempt to bribe workers into accepting an agreement which would lead to increased exploitation and job losses has not fooled most workers . Royal Mail's effort to sneak "team-working " arrangements into place has not escaped workers' attentions either.
So Royal Mail has resorted to another weapon in its arsenal- the "union". We possess a general secretary and a bureaucracy of full-time officials who from the very start of the dispute have done their very best to undermine resistance. Wheredoes this leave us ? Shall we submit to these manouverings and machinations , or do we carry on the fight ?
If the answer is fight , then the first order of the day is to organise. CWU branches must assert their independence from the official hierarchy . We should take control of the dispute locally and coordinate with other branches to make the strikes more effective , even if this involves presently illegal actions ( ie , no more exemptions for engineers or Parcelforce ) One out, All out .
Unions are not bricks and mortar. Unions are not bank balances. Unionism is about people - about expressing unity and solidarity .It's not about members in the same union , in the same workplace , being instructed to cross picket lines and strike break.
Throughout the dispute , the CWU leaders have used the Tory anti-union legislation to constrain and restrain the members. They have limited the numbers involved in the strikes, limited the picketing, and avoided secondary action.They have cooperated with Royal Mail's strike-breaking practices.
Will Strike 6 go ahead ? More importantly , can the membership assume the initiative, act with other workers in other industries , and transform our strike against management's " right to manage " into a fully conscious fight for workers' self-management and for social control over our industries ?
For the working class to defend our interests , we must organise outside the strictures of the official union hierarchy and confront directly the government's anti-union legislation. Only then will the employing class once again quake at the power of the workers

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Leadership test

From Red Menace , a Toronto-based libertarian socialist magazine published in the 70s.

PART ONE: Would you make a good Leader?
1. When I talk, people
(a) listen
(b) leave the room
(c) inspect their fingernails
(d) gaze at the ceiling
(e) I never talk
(f) I only talk to myself

2. My comrades are always telling me that I
(a) am intellectually advanced
(b) am ideologically advanced
(c) am sexually advanced
(d) have nice hair
(e) all of the above
(f) none of the above

3. People often come to me
(a) for advice
(b) for comfort
(c) for money
(d) to borrow something
(e) after they've gone to everybody else
(f) people never come to me

4. The most important quality in a leader is
(a) The ability to quickly grasp the significance of any situation at a glance, work out a detailed plan of action, and manipulate everbody into following it.
(b) To be able to complete a night compass course exercise at Ft. Benning, Georgia, without falling over a cliff or getting bitten by a rattlesnake.
(c) humbleness
(d) self-righteousness
(e) a big mouth

5. I am
(a) always right
(b) almost always right
(c) often wrong, but I seldom admit it
(d) always wrong, but I never admit it

6. People are always commenting that my eyes are
(a) filled with the steely light of strength and absolute determination
(b) evasive
(c) weak
(d) watery
(e) rheumy
(f) crazy-looking

PART TWO: Would you make a good follower?
1. The main responsibility for the administration of discipline should be left to
(a) the central committee at the local level
(b) the central committee at the district level
(c) the central committee at the regional level
(d) the central committee at the national level
(e) our Glorious Leader
(f) my Mom
(g) all of the above

2. The concept of "freedom of speech" is
(a) over-rated
(b) nice if the situation allows it
(c) a petty-bourgeois fetish
(d) hardly relevant in a well-led organization

3. The 'pursuit of happiness' means
(a) strictly adhering to the policies and cheerfully and diligently carrying out the orders of the central committee at the local level.
(b) strictly adhering to the policies and cheerfully and diligently carrying out the orders of the central committee at the district level.
(c) strictly adhering to the policies and cheerfully and diligently carrying out the orders of the central committee at the regional level
(d) Strictly adhering to the policies and cheerfully and diligently carrying out the orders of the central committee at the national level
(e) strictly adhering to the policies and cheerfully and diligently carrying out the orders of Our Glorious Leader
(f) all of the above

4. When a problem comes up I
(a) wait to see what our leader says about it
(b) wait to see what everybody else says about it
(c) stay out of sight
(d) pretend it doesn't exist

5. "Criticism/self-criticism" is
(a) a way of getting back at people
(b) a parlour game
(c) a kind of bloody show & tell time for grown-ups
(d) hardly relevant in a well-led organization

6. The Peoples' State will
(a) take care of the people
(b) take care of the leaders
(c) fuck over the people
(d) wither away

7. The "dictatorship of the proletariat" means
(a) the dictatorship of the Party
(b) the dictatorship of the central committee
(c) the dictatorship of Our Glorious Leader
(d) all of the above

8. When a person of authority says squat, I
(a) vote yes
(b) get confused
(c) vote no
(d) shit
(e) all of the above

Special Bonus Question
When I see a tall shiny pair of black boots, I feel like I want to
(a) stomp someone
(b) goose-step
(c) be stomped
(d) lick them


Also from the same magazine and issue -words words words

Rank and file: Phil Mailer points out in his excellent book 'Portugal: The Impossible Revolution' that the term 'ramk and file', so popular with trade unionists and socialists, masks an authoritarian conception, although many people who use the expression, having never thought about what it means, may not intend it that way. But 'rank and file' is a military term, referring to soldiers drawn up in rigid formation on the parade ground. It may accurately convey the ideas of those who think of themselves as leaders commanding their working class troops in the struggle, but it is a poor choice for those of us who have a libertarian view of working class organization.

Intervening: How many political groups describe their activity as 'intervention'? Too many, at any rate. Those who are fond of this word should pause to consider what it implies. The concept of intervention, whether or not the user realizes it, betrays a Leninist way of looking at class struggle. The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines 'intervene' as 'come in as something extraneous'. This is precisely the Leninist conception of revolution, as spelled out in 'What is to be Done' and adopted by every Leninist party since. According to Lenin, the working classes cannot develop socialist consciousness themselves; it has to be brought to them 'from without', by the socialist intellectuals organized in a vanguard party. The party represents the objective forces of history, as uncovered by the method of 'dialectical materialism'. This view places the revolutionary outside of and above social and historical forces, and then has him 'intervening' in them. It is a conception that is fundamentally elitist, undialectical, and ahistorical. It is neither libertarian nor Marxist.