Sunday, January 23, 2011


A report from the Center for American Progress emphasized that minorities have had a harder struggle through the recession than the white population.

UNEMPLOYMENT: Unemployment stands at nearly 16 percent among blacks, about 9 percent for whites and 13 percent for Latinos.

PAY GAP: As of the third quarter of 2010, African Americans’ usual median weekly earnings were $623 in 2009 dollars; Latinos earned $532. In comparison, whites made $774 each week, while Asians earned $871.

POVERTY: In 2009, 25.3 percent of Latino families and 25. 8 percent of African-American families lived below the poverty line. Poverty rates were 9.4 percent among white Americans and 12.5 percent among Asian Americans.

HOMEOWNERSHIP: Nearly 75 percent of whites own homes, compared with 45 percent of blacks and 47 percent of Latinos.

HEALTH CARE: In 2009, 12.0 percent of white Americans lacked health insurance, compared with 21 percent of African Americans; 32.4 percent of Latinos, and 17.2 percent of Asian Americans.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Almost weekly Weekly Worker letters

Course of correspondence begins here

Clive Power calls on the far left to unite in order to avoid falling into even greater obscurity (Letters, November 11).
Surely, the lesson the left needs to learn from its consistently dreadful electoral performances is that it needs to stop playing the electoral game and chasing votes. Participating in elections simply validates a corrupt and dysfunctional political system. Instead, sincere revolutionaries should be organising on a non-hierarchical, anti-authoritarian basis, promoting direct action and mutual aid.
As Pannekoek wrote, “The belief in parties is the main reason for the impotence of the working class; therefore we avoid forming a new party - not because we are too few, but because a party is an organisation that aims to lead and control the working class.”
Jeff Steel

Jeff Steel’s letter raises an interesting point about the role of political parties or, more accurately, the non-role of them, and he use a quote from Anton Pannekoek to support his argument (November 18). May I counter with another?
Pannekoek, writing in the magazine Modern Socialism, said: “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.” But he qualified 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 today.”
I would suggest the model in keeping with Pannekoek’s ideal would be the Socialist Party of Great Britain and that it was not parties per se that had failed, but the form all parties had taken as groups of persons seeking power above the worker.
As a matter of political principle, the SPGB holds no secret meetings. All its meetings, including those of its executive committee, are open to the public (all EC minutes are available on the web as proof of our commitment to openness and democracy). In keeping with the tenet that working class emancipation necessarily excludes the role of political leadership, the SPGB is a leaderless political party, whose executive committee is solely for housekeeping and administrative duties and cannot determine policy or even submit resolutions to conference. All conference decisions have to be ratified by a referendum of the whole membership. The general secretary has no position of power or authority over any other member, being just a dogsbody, and despite some very charismatic writers and speakers in the past, no personality has held undue influence over the SPGB.
The SPGB does not ask for power, but exists 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”.
Because the establishment of socialism 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 to work and carry on as usual.

Alan Johnstone

Alan Johnstone wants to put us communists out of a job (Letters, November 25). Together with the rest of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, he believes that the working class do not need political leadership to overthrow capitalism.
This puts him and his group on the same level as the anarchists. Dialectically speaking, like the latter, Johnstone and the SPGB can only see the negative side of leadership and authority, never the positive side. Likewise, they only see the positive side of spontaneity, never the negative. Since Johnstone and the group of which he is a member appear to be opposed to all authority and leadership, and not only the counterrevolutionary variety, I fail to see what in essence differentiates the SPGB from the anarchist movement.
While we shouldn't worship authority or leadership, this doesn't mean that these things are all bad or negative. If workers can end capitalism without political leaders, as Johnstone claims, can he and the SPGB give us a convincing explanation why they have not already done so?

Tony Clark

The Alan Johnstone quote from Pannekoek is very apposite if applied to the left groups which dominate the British left today. However, a socialist organisation that subordinates the working class to its own leadership clique does not deserve the name of 'party'. 'Sect' is a better description, whatever size it may reach.
I agree with comrade Johnstone that the job of a party is to educate the class to take power in its own name, but his view that the best thinkers in the class (designated as such by their ability to give good advice) should sit on their backsides and view the revolution from the sidelines is bizarre. Surely they have a duty to get involved in the organisation of the revolutionary process in as democratic a manner as the political situation allows and their administrative talents permit.
The SPGB's commitment to openness is admirable in the present circumstances, but in other times they could well be viewing the world through prison bars or from the grave. Can an organisation that cannot give good advice to itself be trusted to give good advice to the class about the essential coerciveness of power?
At the end of the day the Communist Party must organise the class to take and keep power, not just educate it. Possibly under conditions where the SPGB's democratic structure is impossible.
The Communist Party does not ask for power over the working class, but as a part of that class and answerable to it. As CPGBers we would wish to be a part of such a democratic, internationalist, mass party, firmly implanted in the European working class. This, not the SPGB's abstract democratic abstentionism, is the best guarantor of working class power.

Phil Kent

Members of the Socialist Party of Great Britain believe that the working class can overthrow capitalism and build socialism without political leadership. Furthermore, they ascribe this anarchistic position to Marx and Engels. Stuart Watkins even suggests that it was Lenin who poisoned the working class with the idea of political leadership (Letters, December 9). This is probably the grossest falsification of Marxist history to date.
According to Watkins, Marx and Engels did not believe in political leadership in their later years because they argued that, “Where the question involves the complete transformation of social organisation, the masses must be consulted, must themselves have already grasped what the struggle is about, and what they stand for”.
So, according to the SPGB, grasping what the struggle is about and what they stand for in general terms, means that the masses don’t need political leadership. The SPGB has read into the above passage a repudiation of political leadership where none was intended. It’s even possible to argue that reference to the masses needing to be consulted seems rather patronising coming from Marx and Engels, although this would have been unintended.
The theory that the working class can end capitalism and start socialism without political leadership has nothing to do with Marxism. Even if Marx had argued this, he would have been wrong. Those who suggest that he held such a view need to explain why Marx sought to exclude anarchists from the International Working Men’s Association.
If the supporters of the SPGB choose to believe this nonsense, they should at least be consistent and dissolve their organisation immediately. If the working class does not need a political leadership, what use have they for a party? Why can’t the functions of, say, the SPGB be performed by other ad hoc bodies?

Tony Clark

The complaints of the many splinter groups of the left arise from disappointments and discouragements at their lack of results, despite their sincere and dedicated activism. One important factor is their feeling of being ‘leaders’ and ‘professional revolutionaries’. The careerists and cadres are forever taking credit for organising the workers. It is as though they were taking credit for the rising of the sun, forgetting their basic Marxism that it is not ideas that make material conditions, but material conditions that give rise to ideas.

Tony Clark and his ilk, instead of standing clearly for socialism, have aped official Labourism, seeking to influence non-socialist workers through tactical manipulation rather than convince them to change their minds. They argue that the ‘united front’ provides an opportunity for ‘revolutionaries’ to discuss and convert reformists and that the immediate aim of the ‘united front’ is to provide the most effective fighting organisation for both reformists and revolutionaries. Vanguardists accept the notion that the workers are incapable of developing socialist consciousness, and so the ‘revolutionaries’ have to work with reformists in order to influence them and draw off the active workers into their own ranks. That there is an ‘uneven consciousness’ among workers that necessitates the need for leaders and for an organisation that can bring it together with non-socialist workers in the name of immediate given ends, be those organisations trade unions or anti-cuts alliances.

The reality is that any sort of success involves hiding the disagreements between their constituent organisations, specifically about means and motives. They succeed by making demands that are supported by significant numbers of workers, meaning that any ‘revolutionary’ content will be buried into the need for immediate victory. As such, it is small ‘c’ conservative, taking political consciousness as it is found and seeking to manipulate rather than change it. Such a tactic, however, affords the ‘left’ an opportunity to extend their influence. As a tiny minority, they get to work with organisations which can more easily attract members and can thus be part of campaigns and struggles that reach out well beyond the tiny numbers of political activists in any given situation. But the relevant fact remains that, despite providing all this assistance, the ‘revolutionaries’ are incapable of taking these campaigns further than the bulk of the members are willing to accept.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain, however, argue that minorities cannot simply take control of movements and mould and wield them to their own ends. Without agreement about what it is and where it is going, leaders and led will invariably split off in different directions. We say that since we are capable, as workers, of understanding and wanting socialism, we cannot see any reason why our fellow workers cannot do likewise. The job of socialists in the here and now is to openly and honestly state the case rather than trying to wheedle and manoeuvre to win a supposed ‘influence’ that is more illusory than real.

Marx believed that, as the workers gained more experience of the class struggle and the workings of capitalism, it would become more consciously socialist and democratically organised by the workers themselves. The emergence of socialist understanding out of the experience of the workers could thus be said to be ‘spontaneous’ in the sense that it would require no intervention by people outside the working class to bring it about. Socialist propaganda and agitation would indeed be necessary, but would come to be carried out by workers themselves, whose socialist ideas would have been derived from an interpretation of their class experience of capitalism. The end result would be an independent movement of the socialist-minded and democratically organised working class aimed at winning control of political power in order to abolish capitalism. As Marx and Engels put it in the Communist manifesto, “The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority.”

One of the great strengths of the SPGB is our opposition to leadership and our commitment to democratic practices, so, whatever weaknesses or mistaken views we hold or get accused of by Tony Clarke, they cannot be imposed upon others with possible worse consequences. Can he claim the same for his own political pedigree? The validity of the SPGB’s ideas will either be accepted or rejected by discussion and debate, verified by actual concrete developments on the ground. The SPGB are not going to take the workers to where they neither know where they are going nor, most likely, want to go. This contrasts with those who seek to substitute the party for the class or who see the party as a vanguard which must undertake alone the task of leading the witless masses forward.

Alan Johnstone

By their own admission, the Socialist Party of Great Britain is not and cannot become the political leadership of the working class in the struggle for socialism in Britain.
In complete opposition to Alan Johnstone and Stuart Watkins (Letters, January 6), I will put forward what can be called the ‘iron law of leadership’, as far as the struggle for socialism is concerned. This law simply states that leadership is inevitable and cannot be abolished or circumvented. The inevitability of leadership arises from there being different levels of political understanding, ability, motivation and commitment in the working class.
Also, it is important to recognise that leadership may have deeper psychological roots. Human beings have always followed leaders, be it in politics, religion, scientific ideas or even fashion. So I am not going to place any bets on the wiseacres of the SPGB being able to get rid of it in the working class.
Those who are fighting against the idea of leadership in the working class are seeking to behead the proletariat, with a guillotine operated by the SPGB. However, Johnstone is right to point out that the validity of any idea can only be determined by practice, or “concrete developments on the ground”. Defending the scientific method may indicate that he is upholding the SPGB’s anti-leadership theory in a less dogmatic manner. The problem for Johnstone is that historical experience has already dismissed his anti-leadership ideas.
Finally, people who are fighting to destroy leadership in the working class are really opposing formal leadership structures where the leadership is open and accountable, as far as this is made possible by political conditions. While concealing themselves behind anti-leadership rhetoric, they replace open leadership with informal, secret and unaccountable leadership cliques. Unable to escape the iron law of leadership, they opt for informal leadership, behind the backs of the working class.

Tony Clark

Tony Clark writes that “people who are fighting to destroy leadership in the working class are really opposing formal leadership structures where the leadership is open and accountable, as far as this is made possible by political conditions.While concealing themselves behind anti-leadership rhetoric, they replace open leadership with informal, secret and unaccountable leadership cliques. Unable to escape the iron law of leadership, they opt for informal leadership, behind the backs of the working class” (Letters, January 13).

Surely, Tony is not accusing the Socialist Party of Great Britain of such practices. The SPGB expects any working class organisation to possess democratic self-organisation, involving formal rules and structures, to prevent the emergence of unaccountable, self-appointed elites, who may become the de facto leaders making decisions; and the SPGB endorses Jo Freeman’s Tyranny of structurelessness ( We’re not talking about the sort of structures advocated and practised by Leninist organisations, which are designed to enshrine control by a self-perpetuating elite. We are talking about structures that place decision-making power in the hands of the group as a whole, along the lines of the seven “principles of democratic structuring” listed by Freeman. Mandating delegates, voting on resolutions and membership referendums are democratic practices for ensuring that the members of an organisation control that organisation and, as such, key procedures in any organisation genuinely seeking socialism. Socialism can only be a fully democratic society in which everybody will have an equal say in the ways things are run. This means that it can only come about democratically, both in the sense of being the expressed will of the working class and in the sense of the working class being organised democratically without leaders - to achieve it.

The crucial part of the SPGB case is that understanding is a necessary condition for socialism and we see the SPGB’s job as to shorten the time, to speed up the process - to act as a catalyst. The SPGB views its function to be to make socialists, to propagate socialism, and to point out to the workers that they must achieve their own emancipation. To “make socialism an immediacy” for the working class, something of importance and value to people’s lives now, rather than a singular ‘end’. We await the mass ‘socialist party’. Possibly, the SPGB might be the seed or the embryo of the future mass ‘socialist party’ but there’s no guarantee that we will be (more likely just a contributing element, in my humble opinion). But who cares, as long as such a party does eventually emerge?

At some stage, for whatever reason, socialist consciousness will reach a ‘critical mass’, at which point it will just snowball and carry people along with it. It may even come about without people actually giving it the label of socialism. At the later stage, when more and more people are coming to want socialism, a mass socialist movement will emerge to dwarf all the small groups and grouplets that exist today. When the idea of socialism catches on, we’ll then have our united movement. With the spread of socialist ideas, all organisations will change and take on a participatory-democratic and socialist character, so that the majority organisation for socialism will not be just political and economic, but will also embrace all aspects of social life, as well as inter-personal relationships. We’re talking about a radical social revolution.

We actually have a knowledge test for membership. The SPGB will not allow a person to join until the applicant has convinced the party that s/he understands and accepts the party case for socialism. This does not mean that we have set ourselves up as an intellectual elite into which only those well versed in Marxist scholarship may enter. The SPGB has good reason to ensure that only conscious socialists enter its ranks, for, once admitted, all members are equal and it would clearly not be in the interest of the party to offer equality of power to those who are not able to demonstrate equality of basic socialist understanding. Once a member, s/he have the same rights as the oldest member to sit on any committee, vote, speak and have access to all information. Thanks to the test, all members are conscious socialists and there is genuine internal democracy. And we are fiercely proud of that. Consider what happens when people join other groups which don’t have such a test. The new applicant has to be approved as being ‘an okay comrade’. The individual is therefore judged by the group according to a range of what might be called ‘credential indicators’. Hard work (more often than not, paper selling) and obedience and compliance by new members are the main criteria of trustworthiness in the organisation. In these hierarchical, ‘top-down’ groups the leaders strive at all costs to remain as the leadership, and reward only those with proven commitment to their ‘party line’ with preferential treatment, more responsibility and more say. New members who present the wrong indicators remain peripheral to the party structure, finding themselves unable to influence decision-making, eventually resigning, often embittered by all the hard work they had put in and the hollowness of the claims of equality and democracy. (Does that sound familiar?)

The longevity of the SPGB as a political organisation based on agreed goals, methods and organisational principles and which has produced without interruption a monthly magazine for over a hundred years, through two world wars, is an achievement that most socialist organisations can only aspire towards. Tony Clark should be envious rather than dismissive. Meantime, the best thing we in the SPGB can do is carry on campaigning for a world based on the common ownership and democratic control of the Earth’s resources in the interests of all. We in the SPGB will continue to propose that this be established by democratic, majority political action. Other groups will no doubt continue to propose their own way to get there. And, in the end, we’ll see which proposal the majority working class takes up.

Alan Johnstone

Watch this space but i may not over-stay my welcome at the Weekly Worker's letter page and might not answer any replies to the above

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The New Atheists

I think this is worth quoting.

"Let me try to demonstrate the difference between "Atheism Lite" and atheism proper by means of a brief analysis of what is arguably the most powerful argument ever advanced for the eradication of religion: the introduction to Karl Marx's A Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right. Marx famously writes:

"The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusions about their condition is a demand to give up a condition that requires illusion. The criticism of religion is therefore the germ of the criticism of the valley of tears whose halo is religion."

His point is that religion acts as a veil draped across the cold severity and injustice of life, making our lives tolerable by supplying them with a kind of "illusory happiness." Hence, for Marx, religion is a palliative. But tear away the illusion, remove those narcotic fantasies to which people cling and from which they derive a sense of contentment, and they will be forced to seek out true happiness through justice and self-determination. And so he goes on:

"The criticism of religion disillusions man so that he may think, act and fashion his own reality as a disillusioned man come to his senses; so that he may revolve around himself as his real sun. Religion is only the illusory sun which revolves around man as long as he does not revolve around himself."

It is here that the great paradox of Marx's critique lies. The only way to effect change on earth is by waging war against heaven, that is, by abolishing religion and its every arcane form. In this way, Marx says, "the criticism of heaven is transformed into the criticism of earth."

But Marx's critique of religion has an unexpected twist, a barb in the tail that implicates the "Lites" by exposing the deeper complicity concealed by their cynicism. For, to be "dis-illusioned" in Marx's sense is not heroically to free oneself from the shackles and blinders of religious ideology and thus to gaze freely upon the world as it truly is, as Dawkins and Harris and even Hitchens would suppose.

Rather, to be "dis-illusioned" is to expose oneself to the anxiety of the bare, unadorned fact of one's existence, to live unaided beneath what Baudelaire called "the horrible burden of Time, which racks your shoulders and bows you downwards to the earth".

In Capital, Marx demonstrated that the advent of capitalism itself had the effect of denuding the world by ripping off the shroud of religion and dissolving the communal and familial ties that bind. But the mechanistic world laid bare by industrial capitalism induced madness among those that prospered from the wealth it generated and among those that found themselves dispossessed of the fruits of their labour.

Consequently, it is as if capitalism generated its own antibodies, a form of religion inherent to its processes of production, exchange and consumption that would guarantee its survival by palliating its devotees. Walter Benjamin developed this further, suggesting that "capitalism is probably the first instance of a cult that creates guilt, not atonement ... A vast sense of guilt that is unable to find relief seizes on the cult, not to atone for this guilt but to make it universal, to hammer it into the conscious mind."

And yet even the atonement for guilt comes within the purview of capitalism. This religion now has its own acts of penance for one's economic debauchery in the form of tokenistic charity, delayed gratification and the production of "green" or "fair trade" commodities.

The great irony of capitalism is that its progress has seen the corruption and fragmentation of morality and the decimation of institutional religion, but in their place persists the menagerie of pseudo-moralities and plaintive spiritualities (often in the form of so-called Western Buddhism or what Martin Amis calls "an intensified reverence for the planet") that somehow sustain, or perhaps lubricate, its global machinations.

To paraphrase Marx, the abolition of these false moralities and neo-paganisms would constitute the demand for the rediscovery of authentic reason, integral morality and sustainable, virtuous forms of communal life. And here the "New Atheists" fall tragically short."

Scott Stephens, Religion and Ethics editor for ABC Online

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The New Feudalism

In 1995, the average pay of Canada's highest paid 50 CEOs was $2.66 million, 85 times the pay of the average worker. In 2009, the average pay of the highest paid 50 CEOs had skyrocketed to 219 times the pay of the average worker. The ratio for the top 100 went from 104 times in 1998 to 155 times in 2009.

It is the modern equivalent of the power and arrogance of the robber barons of the 1920s.The CEOs' virtual control of the public policy process allows this obscene level of inequality. There is nothing in this compensation pattern that benefits the corporation itself or the economy more broadly. We are so accustomed to hearing about these gargantuan pay packages that we assume they are a global pattern. But in Japan the average CEO, by tradition, receives no more that 17 times the compensation of his lowest paid employee. In Germany (1999 figures) the ratio is twelve to one. There is no evidence that CEOs in these two countries suffer from lack of motivation or loyalty to their firms.

The pay levels, including bonuses, imply that the CEOs are geniuses, uniquely responsible for the success of their companies. But there is nothing in management theory or practice to support such a conclusion. One of the most famous management gurus, Peter Drucker, who conducted a ground-breaking study of General Motors, stated: "No institution can possibly survive if it needs geniuses or supermen to manage it. It must be organized in such a way as to be able to get along under leadership composed of average human beings. No institution has solved the problem of leadership... unless it gives the leader a sense of duty and a sense of mutual loyalty between him and his associates..."

It is not enough that the hundreds of top executives in the largest firms get huge salaries, something that was once enough to ensure loyalty. Now the financial firms that created the global meltdown claim they must pay huge bonuses to keep the loyalty of their highest paid employees. The leader who once inspired trust and loyalty of his employees has been replaced by what UBC psychologist Robert Hare calls the "sub-criminal psychopath" CEO. These men are extremely destructive to their companies and "... maneuver to have detractors fired and ruin the other peoples' careers without a hint of remorse." Former Harvard University president Derek Bok believes that CEOs are paid their huge bonuses precisely because they are being asked to work against their better judgement as managers and human beings -- and against the best interests of their companies. But being paid huge sums to focus on the short-term returns means managers must consciously ignore the interests of their employees, the community and the long term interests of the company which is paying them.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Diseased and infected at infancy

Taken from here .

What should be emphasised is that the rapid time-table of the Bolsheviks reveal they had no intention of having workers' rule but only party rule and such apologies as presented by Leninists and Trotskyists cuts no ice .
"... just four days after seizing power, the Bolshevik Council of People's Commissars (CPC or Sovnarkom) "unilaterally arrogated to itself legislative power simply by promulgating a decree to this effect. This was, effectively, a Bolshevik coup d'etat that made clear the government's (and party's) pre-eminence over the soviets and their executive organ. Increasingly, the Bolsheviks relied upon the appointment from above of commissars with plenipotentiary powers, and they split up and reconstituted fractious Soviets and intimidated political opponents." [Neil Harding, Leninism, p. 253] ...the Bolsheviks immediately created a power above the soviets in the form of the CPC. Lenin's argument in The State and Revolution that, like the Paris Commune, the workers' state would be based on a fusion of executive and administrative functions in the hands of the workers' delegates did not last one night. In reality, the Bolshevik party was the real power in "soviet" Russia. ...." From Anarchism FAQ

Wayne said " not doubt the authoritarianism of the Bolsheviks from the git-go. It was rooted in the authoritarianism of the Social Democratic 2nd International..."

And did the "authoritarianism" of Martov and the Left Mensheviks also arise from their roots in the 2nd International .
Was Rosa's critique of Lenin and his Blanquism not from her roots in the 2nd International ?
Was Kautsky's defence of the democractic social revolution not rooted in the 2nd International?

I think we can understand Leninism more by accepting that they made choices that other Marxists were not prepared to make .

The Bolsheviks 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? Marx himself answers this question in clear-cut terms in his article, “Moralising Criticism”. Briefly stated, his answer is the following: 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'....It appears therefore that Marx admitted the possibility of a political victory of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie at a point of historic development when the previously necessary conditions for a socialist revolution were not yet mature. But he stressed that such a victory would be transitory'" wrote Martov

We see the real content and meaning of the Russian Revolution. It was “only a point in the process of the capitalist revolution itself”. The Bolsheviks, finding Russia in a very backward condition, were obliged to do what had not been done previously, i.e. develop capitalism.The Russian Revolution was a bourgeois revolution without the bourgeoisie.The Marxist theory adopted by them was nothing more than an ideological garb .

Tkachev , sometimes known as "the First Bolshevik" , said “Neither now nor in the future is the people left to itself, capable of accomplishing the social revolution. Only we, the revolutionary minority, can and must accomplish the revolution and as soon as possible . . . The people cannot help itself. The people cannot direct its own fate to suit its own needs. It cannot give body and life to the ideas of the social revolution . . . . This role and mission belong unquestionably to the revolutionary minority.”

The tradition of the Bolsheviks is not based on the 2nd International [ which indeed possessed many failings ] but rather on the Narodnik principle of a professional revolutionary organisation. The Bolsheviks created their particular, typically Russian type of political organism.

“No less than mystic is the concept of a political form that, by virtue of its particular character, can surmount all economic social and national conditions” - Martov

"...Regarding A. Johnstone's comment ... I do believe he was arguing that the revolution was inevitably capitalist, and so the issue then as framed by Kautsky, Martov etc. was to make it democratic, something that was not possible in the Bolshevik scheme of a "proletarian" minority seizing power..."

Thank you Kevin for concisely explaining what i so obviously failed to demonstrate to Wayne's satisfaction . The point of a revolutionary movement in a pre-revolutionary situation is to ensure the growth of proletarian power and the defence of the class . The Bolsheviks failed to do so , emasculating what workers organisations existed , sacrificing their independence and strength to the altar of their One Party Rule .

Yes , Lenin was once an adherent of "stageism" if i recollect the term correctly , Wayne , and yes Trotsky did also critiqued Lenin as a Blanquist .
I may have mentioned this article before on Anarkismo . I certainly find it a very honest article by a Trotskyist . In my comment i stated that a choice was made by Bolshevism , nothing was inevitable . This article also emphasises that important point

"DURING the whole period I was active in the Trotskyist movement, I accepted the view that the revolution of October 1917 was a great leap forward on the road to socialism, and that the regime it established was a healthy workers’ state until it started degenerating from 1923-24 onwards with the ascendancy of Stalinism and the defeat of the Trotskyist opposition. Since then a closer examination of the actual history of the revolution has led me to question this view. As early as the summer of 1918, the Bolsheviks had lost the support of large sections of the working class and of the peasantry, and were ruling dictatorially...

...The disillusion of the workers was expressed in a declaration by the striking workers at the Sormovo factory in June 1918: "The Soviet regime, having been established in our name, has become completely alien to us. It promised to bring the workers socialism, but has brought them empty factories and destitution." A workers’ protest movement, the Extraordinary Assemblies of Factory and Plant Representatives, was formed in March 1918 with a membership of several hundred thousand at the height of its influence in June.

The response of the Bolsheviks was to nationalise the factories, replace workers’ control by one-man management, and dissolve the oppositional Soviets. By the summer of 1918 with the departure of the Left SRs from the government and the suppression of their uprising, and the Red Terror unleashed by the Cheka, the Bolshevik one-party dictatorship was in place. Any popular control from below of the Soviets or the government had disappeared.

In addition, there is ample evidence that the hard core of devoted self-sacrificing Bolshevik party cadres were already being swamped by careerists and corrupt elements in the party and Soviet institutions. In September 1919, a report landed on Lenin’s desk showing that the Smolny was full of corruption.

In the light of these facts, one can no longer uphold the Trotskyist thesis that from 1917 to 1923-24 the Soviet Union was a "healthy" workers’ state, and that the degeneration into bureaucratic dictatorship took off only afterwards...

...All one can say is that the "workers’ state" that was born in October 1917 was premature and infected from infancy. Unfortunately, as it degenerated, it infected the working-class movement internationally, and proved an obstacle on the road to socialism.

My old comrade, the late Alex Acheson, who joined the movement in the 1930s and remained a committed Trotskyist till his death last year, once said to me: "It might have been better if the October Revolution had never occurred."

What factors or actions by the participants might have resulted in the non-occurrence of October and a different outcome? Assuming that nothing is inevitable until it has happened, and that "men make their own history", there are three possibilities.

Firstly, that Lenin’s April Theses that set the Bolshevik party on the road to the October insurrection had been rejected by the party. Let us recall that up till Lenin’s arrival in Petrograd, the Bolshevik leadership was pursuing a policy of critical support for the Provisional government. They felt this was consistent with the view that since the Russian bourgeoisie was incapable of bringing about a bourgeois revolution, this task would have to be carried out by the proletariat supported by the peasantry, but that the revolution could not go immediately beyond the stage of establishing a bourgeois republic. In February, the Petrograd proletariat had carried out this "bourgeois revolution" with the support of the peasant soldiers. Now that the bourgeois republic was in place, the next stage was not the immediate struggle for working-class power, but a relatively prolonged period of bourgeois democracy. Lenin now abandoned this view which he had himself defended under the slogan of "the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry", and argued for no support for the Provisional Government, and for agitation for power to the Soviets. He swung the Bolshevik party to this policy. But it was not inevitable that he should have done. The Bolshevik party might have continued its policy of critical support for and pressure on the February regime.

Secondly, even after his steering the party on its new course, Lenin had to fight again in October to commit the party to insurrection against the opposition of Zinoviev, Kamenev, etc. It is not inconceivable that Zinoviev and Kamenev might have carried the day. Then there would have been no October.

Thirdly, even after October there was, as I have pointed out, a very real possibility of a coalition Bolshevik-Menshevik-SR government, based either on the Soviets or a combination of the Constituent Assembly and the Soviets as organs of local power and administration. This possibility foundered against the mutual intransigence of the Bolshevik hardliners on one side and the Menshevik and SR right-wing on the other. But in both camps there were conciliatory wings, the Menshevik Internationalists and some Left SRs and the Bolshevik "moderates" – Kamenev, Rykov, Nogin, etc....

....A coalition government of Bolsheviks, Mensheviks and SRs, having a much broader based support than a purely Bolshevik one, would have been able to confront the White Armies more successfully, and thus shortened the Civil War, and reduced the destruction of the economy....

....It can also be argued that the attitudes and actions of the Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, SRs, their leaderships and individuals, were themselves determined by the whole of their past histories and ideological roots, and they could not have acted otherwise than they did. That what happened was inevitable. But this is to look at events from a distance and with the hindsight of 1997. What happened happened. But in 1917-18, these parties, leaderships and individuals did have a choice of actions....."
The Taste of War: World War Two and the Battle for Food, by Lizzie Collingham,

Lizzie Collingham, a former research fellow at Jesus College, Cambridge, estimates that 20m people died from starvation and malnutrition during the war, slightly more than the 19.5m military deaths. Collingham estimates that an 60 per cent, or 1m of the total Japanese military deaths of 1.47m, were caused by starvation or the diseases associated with malnutrition. In a total war, controlling access to food is power so, as Collingham says: “Food was the fundamental basis for every wartime economy”. The Germans well remembered the first world war experience, when the Royal Navy’s blockade broke morale, and were determined to ensure that, in Hitler’s phrase: “If anyone has to go hungry, it shall not be the Germans but other peoples." Food production and consumption had always been the primary consideration behind Hitler’s plans for seizing Lebensraum (Living Space) in the east.

Herbert Backe was an agronomist who in early 1941 devised the “Hunger Plan” that concentrated on using the Soviet Union to solve the problem of Germany’s food shortages by “diverting food from the towns of the Soviet Union, which was estimated would result in the death by starvation of 30m Soviets” Backe’s plan would solve two of the Fuhrer’s problems simultaneously: it would annihilate the right number of Russians while feeding the right number of Germans. Hitler appointed Backe as his acting minister of food and agriculture in May 1942.

Backe argued that German agriculture alone could never produce the 3,000 calories per man per day needed by an active Wehrmacht, which at its peak numbered 9.5m men, a staggering one-seventh of the German population. Germany had already been forced to cut its bread ration by 600g in July 1940 and a further 400g the following June, and by early 1943 the Wehrmacht was consuming 62 per cent of all the meat in the Reich and 40 per cent of its grain. To close “the meat and fat gap” for the civilian population, Backe told Hitler and Goering that “the war can only be continued if the entire Wehrmacht is fed from Russia”. The campaign to exterminate “useless eaters”, as the Nazis termed them, such as the Polish Jews, can in part be traced to these calculations, and Backe’s obsession with gaining what he called, in a Nazi euphemism, the Reich’s “nutritional freedom”.

Starvation was also used as a military tactic in the far east; the callous requisitioning policies employed by the Japanese were responsible for killing 2m Vietnamese in the district of Tonkin alone in 1943-44, and between 2m and 3m in Hunan, China. Countless Chinese prisoners of war were deliberately starved to death by their Japanese captors who, by their surrender in 1945, could only find 56 alive to release.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Bono - the capitalist

U2 lead singer Bono, real name Paul Hewson, has revealed how last year he purchased a 1.5% share of Facebook for £130 million, and now 12 months later how it is worth around £485 million.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Doctors czeching out

Almost 4,000 doctors - one quarter of the total number working in the country's hospitals - tendered their resignations in protest at low wages. In one region, the Vysocina, 80% of all hospital doctors have handed in their resignations. If they do quit, some hospitals may be forced to close. The resignations are being co-ordinated by the doctors' union (Lok), which says successive Czech governments have done nothing to improve doctors' salaries.

Dr Martin Engel, a radiologist at Prague's sprawling Vinohrady Hospital and the chairman of the Lok. After 30 years of experience and numerous specialist qualifications, Dr Engel earns $2,230 per month, including overtime and before tax. "We want real change and we want it now," he explained. "We're not waiting for 'reforms'. We want money. Then we can talk about reforms."

Peter Papp, 31, is an oncologist working at a hospital in Usti nad Labem, an industrial city about an hour's drive north of Prague. He spent six years at medical school followed by three years on the cancer wards of two district hospitals. With maximum overtime, Dr Papp's gross salary is $1,165 (£750, 880 euros) per month, well below the national average. After tax, health and social insurance payments, he takes home around $900 dollars, less than a car mechanic or waiter. With rent in the Usti area at around $350 per month, he is left with slightly more than $500 to feed, clothe, transport and entertain himself. After devoting the last nine years of his life to medicine, Dr Papp has had enough. "I'm not willing to work for the salary of a McDonald's employee," pointing out that he had made more money teaching English to pay his way through medical school. "

"I wasn't trained to treat particular nations. A sick person is a sick person anywhere in the world."

Monday, January 10, 2011


Globalisation has brought us closer to “the end of geography”. The intensified cross-border exchange of goods, services, capital, technology, ideas, information, legal systems, and people — is irreversible. The outright rejection of globalisation and a retreat into autarky is neither practical nor desirable.

Globalisation is not uncontrolled. The movement of people remains tightly restricted. There is a growing divergence in income levels between countries and peoples, with widening inequality among and within nations. Assets and incomes are more concentrated. Wage shares have fallen. Profit shares have risen. Capital mobility alongside labour immobility has reduced the bargaining power of organised labour. The growth in transnational flows has not been matched by an equivalent growth in global governance mechanisms to regulate them. And yet the very nature of the structure of globalised networks, which intertwine global actors and interests, ensures that no single power is able to maintain its position within the newly emerging global disorder without making compromises with other global players.

Over the last two decades, overseas development assistance from the rich to poor countries has totalled $50-80 billion per year. In the same period, every year, $500-800 billion of illegal funds have been sent from the poor to rich countries. That is, for every one dollar of aid money over the table, the West gets back $10 under the table. Illicit trade, accounting for 10 per cent of global economic product according to some estimates, could be growing at seven times the rate of growth of legal trade.In Africa, home to 36 of the world's 50 least developed countries, state weakness often has opened the door to transnational crime and terrorism. Garth le Pere and Brendan Vickers highlight six pathologies that are particularly prevalent across Africa: illegal exploitation of natural resources, terrorism, the drug trade, illegal migration and human trafficking, gun running, and money laundering.

The benefits and costs of linking and delinking are unequally distributed. Industrialised countries are mutually interdependent; developing countries are largely independent in economic relations with one another; and developing countries are highly dependent on industrialised countries. Brazil, China and India are starting to change this equation. Even before the global financial crisis (GFC), many developing countries were worried that globalisation would impinge adversely on economic sovereignty, cultural integrity and social stability. “Interdependence” among unequals translates into the dependence of some on international markets that function under the dominance of others. The GFC confirmed that absent effective regulatory institutions, markets, states and civil society can be overwhelmed by rampant transnational forces. The growth of the transnational networks threatens state institutions and civil society in many countries.

The notion that endless liberalisation, deregulation and relaxation of capital and all border controls (except labour) will assure perpetual self-sustaining growth and prosperity has proven to be delusional. The three Baltic nations that embarked on this course (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) — to which, for good measure, they added the flat tax — all had double-digit negative growth in 2009. For developing countries, lowering all barriers to the tides of the global economy may end up drowning much of local production. Raising barriers that are too high may be counterproductive, if not futile. National-level progress in India has gone hand in hand with an ever greater gap between the prosperity of urban, middle-class Indians and the squalor still seen in many of its 600,000 villages where most Indians live. Uprooted from ancestral lands and unable to adapt to the demands of a modern economy, aboriginal populations (Adivasis) often see revolutionary redemption as the only way out of their predicament. 40% of Indians still live below the poverty line; 93 million live in slums; 128 million do not have access to clean water; and over seven million children are still excluded from education. The statistics for malnutrition among children, and for maternal deaths, remain equally distressing.

Jorge Heine holds the Chair in Global Governance at the Balsillie School of International Affairs and is a Distinguished Fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) in Waterloo, Ontario. Ramesh Thakur is Professor of Political Science at the University of Waterloo.

Taken from The Hindu

Friday, January 07, 2011

which way the wind blows

Mark Rudd was a student activist and organiser in the Students for a Democratic Society at Columbia University then helped found the “revolutionary” Weather Underground. "We claimed to be acting in solidarity with the oppressed people of the world; in actuality we were pretty much doing what we wanted, ie., posing as revolutionaries."

"Q. What is your view today of the acts of violence you and other members of weatherman engaged in?

A. Ridiculous. A total waste of time and energy. We should have been organizing on college campuses, which we were moderately good at, building the larger anti-war movement and pushing anti-imperialism. Instead we became incompetent terrorists. Had we actually organized an anti-imperialist movement with a widespread consciousness of the nature of US imperialism, perhaps we would have been successful at stopping the Central American war of the 80’s and even the current wars. We blew it.

Q. Is violence in the service of a political cause ever justifiable?

A. In theory, a small amount of violence might be moral to stop a larger violence. I have no problem with this. In practice in the U.S., violence only isolates the revolutionaries and gives a great big fat gift to the government: they can call us terrorists. I’ve become an advocate of nonviolent strategy because it’s been proven so effective in the 20th century—it is a zen answer to the militarism of the US. In addition to the pragmatic advantages of nonviolence, it also has certain moral and even spiritual advantages. I once heard the Dalai Lama answer the question of why he doesn’t hate the Chinese, despite what they’ve done to his country. He said, “They’re our neighbors, and when this is all over, we’ll have to live with them. One problem with violence is that it always breeds more violence, which means that revolutions need repression. That inherently makes them coercive and unstable.

Q. Weatherman were not the first or the last leftist group to abandon organising for the path of violent resistance. What do you think tends to breed the kind of mentality that prevailed in weatherman? Do you see elements of it, or the conditions for its development, today, and if so how can it be combated?

A. In our case, we fixated on the “central contradiction between US imperialism and national liberation movements” and concluded that it would be racist to stand on the sideline and applaud armed struggle. We figured that our white skin could be of help to armed revolutionary movements. It’s a perfect example of thinking your way into a corner. Anything less would be “liberal” and “wimpy.” (Note the macho implication). Plus, on top of all that, we had Che’s foco theory, which gave validation to our strategy. We hadn’t noticed that Che had already died, over two years before, behind the theory.

At a deeper level, we were responding to the challenge to white new leftists posed by black power: would we support black national liberation by any means necessary? Malcolm X used to say, if you want to find out which white people can be trusted, ask them what they think of John Brown. Well, John Brown took up the gun, so I guess that meant that we should. The Panthers taught us, “The revolution has come (Off the Pig!); time to pick up the gun (OFF THE PIG!). Would we have the balls (there’s the machismo again) to be real revolutionaries? Revolutionaries don’t talk about the revolution, they make it. Time to pick up the gun!

The foco theory, as transmitted from Fidel and Che via Regis Debray, was essentially a cult of the gun. Thousands died around the world following this theory. We were among the more timid adherents: the only people we killed were three of our own.

Organizing is slow and anonymous and difficult; being underground warriors is heroic and the insurrection happens quickly (one hopes). In organizing you have to talk with people, develop relationships; guerilla warfare is much more exemplary action approaching theater. We used to call it propaganda of the deed, meaning that we expected people to emulate us. (In fact, a small group in Madison, WI, did emulate us in the summer of 1970. They wound up blowing up a building used for math research for the army. They killed an anti-war grad student accidentally and debilitated the mass anti-war movement in Madison for several years).
One thing that underlies the turn away from organizing is the mistaken belief that the expression of one’s feelings and commitment alone will cause the movement to grow; that people need only see your example and they’ll join. Movements don’t work like that. They’re built on relationships and democratically developed strategy. The best that can be said of the kids who like to break Starbucks windows and wear bandanas and fight cops at demonstrations is that they are self-expressionists. I suspect, though that what they’re actually demonstrating is something much more base: how superior they are to the rest of us, who don’t feel the crisis as much and won’t take the same risks. Most of them have never experienced mass movements I guess, so they’ve just given up on other people. But of course this is all glossed with a theory of propaganda of the deed.

Another source of “left-wing infantilism” is the sense of crisis and impending disaster. Certain portions of the environmental and animal rights movements have that. They believe that if you can save one mountainside, for example, by burning down a development, you have a duty to do so. They downplay the potential power of mass movements, which take a long time to build, as too slow. We’ve got to do something now! We don’t have time! I’ve spent a lot of time in the Pacific northwest arguing with these kids, and it always comes down to their accusing me of not understanding how dire and serious the crisis is. I’m a complacent liberal...."

Some lessons learned but, of course, just what do we find behind his well-meaning self-reproach - the same old story of some radical reformism. Rudd continues:

"All I’m concerned with is building a mass-based center-left party which has a chance of achieving power. Such a thing does not exist. In theory, it could be a third party, but the system is totally stacked against the growth of third parties. The main result of third parties is to hurt the party closest to them. Oddly, the Democratic Party still has some attraction for millions as the party of the people. It’s probably a memory of the New Deal...The job will be to activate and mobilize the half the population that doesn’t vote. This will take an enormous community organizing effort, taking decades. I call it the second civil rights movement. It will also be to wage an enormous internal war within the Democratic Party, to turn it from center-right to center-left. "

See full interview here

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Missed opportunity

Unemployment remains at nearly ten percent, the highest level in almost 30 years; foreclosures have forced millions of Americans out of their homes; and real incomes have fallen faster and further than at any time since the Great Depression. Many of those laid off fear that the jobs they have lost -- the secure, often unionized, industrial jobs that provided wealth, security, and opportunity -- will never return.

Yet a curious thing happened in the midst of all this misery. The wealthiest Americans got richer. And not just a little bit richer; a lot richer.

In 2009, the average income of the top five percent of earners went up, while on average everyone else's income went down. The share of total income going to the top one percent has increased from roughly eight percent in the 1960s to more than 20 percent today. Income inequality in the United States is higher than in any other advanced industrial democracy and by conventional measures comparable to that in countries such as Ghana, Nicaragua, and Turkmenistan.

Labor policies have made it harder for unions to organize workers and provide a countervailing force to the growing power of business; corporate governance policies have enabled corporations to lavish extravagant pay on their top executives regardless of their companies' performance; and the deregulation of financial markets has allowed banks and other financial institutions to create ever more Byzantine financial instruments that further enrich wealthy managers and investors while exposing homeowners and pensioners to ruinous risks.

Policymakers have repeatedly failed to enact reforms that would have accommodated new union-organising techniques and empowered unions to counter the growing power of business to resist labor's demands. In this realm, the United States is running a twenty-first-century economy under 1940s rules. Obsessive obstructionism is not just a symptom of general crabbiness; it is a shrewd and sensible part of a larger strategy to enrich corporations.

Rather than titanic conflict between workers and capitalists, so the argument went, pluralist democracy would produce solid incremental policy changes that would inch American society forward toward security and affluence. The dramatic and decidedly nonincremental events of the 1960s and 1970s -- the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, and broader cultural upheaval -- punctured this view. But to business elites, the 1960s marked the nadir of their influence in American society, and they did not react passively. The era saw the stirrings of a conservative counterrevolution marked by ideological, political, and organizational developments, and particularly by the political awakening of business. So by the late 1970s, dissatisfaction with the state of the government, politics, and policy was rampant across the board, among the wealthy and the middle class alike, and the conditions were ripe for a turn against the political status quo. Conservatives, on behalf of the wealthy, were ready with ideas and organization to seize the moment

ROBERT C. LIEBERMAN, Professor of Political Science and Public Affairs at Columbia University and the author of Shifting the Color Line: Race and the American Welfare State.

Higher education

Imagine an economy set in a world where free trade in goods equalises product prices worldwide and free capital mobility sustains profits at global rates. The economy produces goods that require capital along with either skilled or unskilled labour. Unskilled labour is an undifferentiated mass without productivity differentials, where the headcount is all that matters. Skilled labour is heterogeneous and a college education is indispensable for it. The economy has a college system that caters to this demand. Colleges admit students on the basis of a test of their pre-college ability, accepting all those who score above a certain cut-off. They then train their students up to a final level of skill which is reflected in their eventual grades.

A firm that requires skill will hire a college graduate on the basis of his grade, which is the only signal it has of his ability and productivity. Firms have to match the global rate of profit if they are to retain their capital. Given their technology and the price of their product, this implies that they cannot afford more than a specific unit cost of work. Competition among firms for labour ensures also that they do not pay any less. So, in a globalised economy, the unit cost of work in each viable firm is set by global parameters. Now the unit cost of work is the ratio of the wage per head and the productivity of the worker. Thus, firms can absorb low-productivity workers, provided they pay them proportionately less. There is, however, a minimum below which wage per head in skilled industry cannot fall: this is determined by the wage in the unskilled sector plus the cost of college education.

Labour in the unskilled sector is homogeneous and earns a uniform wage, which represents the unit cost of unskilled work. This, too, is determined by global parameters: the imperative of paying the global rate of profit to attract capital dictates the wage of unskilled labour (given the technology and the product price). The global economy thus imposes the unskilled wage and sets a floor to the wage per head of skilled labour. Since it also determines the unit cost of skilled work, it fixes the minimum productivity of skilled workers. Skilled industry can only hire those graduates whose grades match this minimum productivity requirement. Since colleges are interested in the employability of their graduates, they will admit only those applicants whom they expect, on the basis of their admission test scores, to achieve such grades. Indeed, if the relationship between admission test scores and final grades, and that between final grades and employability, are common knowledge, the college need not have any admission policy at all. If it simply discloses the admission test scores, applicants who do not, on the basis of these scores, expect to achieve the grade-requirement for employability would simply select out of college education — they would prefer unskilled work to the pursuit of an expensive college education that would not culminate in a skilled job.

Taken from here