left of capital

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commiegal
left of capital
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I know you must have been asked this question before many times so apologies in advance. I hope you do not mind me asking again.

I have been part of a trotskyist organisation for quite a few years. They have some internationalist positions on many issues and tend not to take sides in for example imperialist wars etc. They are also harassed by the state on many occasions. Many people within trotskyist organisations are I think real communists and want the best for the working class.

I am starting to have some theoretical disagreements with them and am considering whether to leave since there have been a few things recently which I really am not happy about, I feel I am starting to move closer to a left communist position although I do not agree with left communists on everything, such as anti-fascism for example. 

I also think that many of the people who are in the leadership of these left wing organisations are very well intentioned and view what they are doing as helping to create communism.

I was wondering what your thoughts were on this. Some of the things I have read on the ICC website seem very harsh and I do not think that the majority of trotskyists for example consider themselves as part of the "left of capital" many of them would probably consider joining organisations such as yours if they knew that they were an option.

mhou
The concept is about the role

The concept is about the role the extra-parliamentary Stalinist, Maoist, Trotskyist, etc groups (as well as the parliamentary Trotskyist, Social Democratic and 'Official' Communist Partys) play in bourgeois politics: not the individuals that make up these organizations (many of whom are well-intentioned and probably all think they are being model communist militants). In the past, Trotskyist groups were a loud voice on the left trying to sign workers up for the Second World War, the largest imperialist war in history. Their policies on trade unions involve giving a gloss of leftism or militancy to organizations which have been integrated into the state since the onset of decadence- today this is seen with 'radical' unions and union leaders. In the US, the 'To The Factories!' movement of the 1960's-1970's, where all of the left of capital ('New Left', 'New Communist Movement', Stalinists, Maoists, Trotskyists) sent their members en masse into industrial jobs to salt, into the unions to become pie-cards. Organizations in the US like Teamsters for a Democratic Union were founded by Trotskyists parachuting into industrial jobs and backing the trade unions- even when those unions were actively against the interests of the workers.

The 'left-wing of capital' concept is a means to understand why class lines exist- that opportunism, voluntarism, substitutionism, etc. engaged in by nominal communists puts them outside of the proletarian political camp, the organizations and tendencies which represent the communist minority. By rallying for imperialist war, making excuses for the so-called 'Socialist' states and regimes, supporting anti-worker organizations like the trade unions, etc. these groups play a significant role in the bourgeois political regime, and obfuscate and confuse workers and those who want to come to communist positions as an alternative to the bourgeois politics exposed to everyone everyday.

MH
Don't apologise!

Commiegal, you don't have to apologise for questioning bourgeois ideology and wanting to discuss with proletarian polititical organisations! If this question keeps coming up it's because the cracks in bourgeois ideology, and with it the political assumptions of leftism, are becoming wider as the capitalist crisis accelerates.

As mhou says, we recognise that many individuals in leftist organisations are well-intentioned, and genuinely believe they are defending the working class. As and when the working class enters into struggle in a massive way the best of these militants may well side with the proletariat. In Britain particularly it is likely to be the issue of the trade unions that will be decisive because of the depth of the historic attachment of the workers to these institutions and the fact that in the face of massive class struggle, it is the TUs that will be brought forward as a last card to defend capitalism.

It is encouraging to believe that, as you say, many current Trotskyists would then join the left communists. Some members of left communist organisations today have indeed come from leftism. But experience so far suggests that we can't underestimate the difficulties involved in this process, which is why this discussion is so important for the whole revolutionary milieu today.

I know there are some on this forum who have experience of trying to raise left communist positions within leftist organisations and it would be good to hear from them on their experience. In the mean time, perhaps you could say what some of your theoretical disagreements with Trotskyism are and why - even though you disagree on anti-fascism - you have been led to approach left communism?

 

 

 

 

   

 

commiegal
Thanks for the reply. I would

Thanks for the reply.

I would say that my main disagreements would be with the approach to the unions and electoral strategy and democratic centralism. Regarding the unions I would say that i think that the organisation I am in tends to confuse the interests of union bureaucrats with the interests of the class sometimes, they seem to want to recruit people who have leading positions in the unions already. Sometimes they will say things like "So and so just joined us and he/she is a branch secretary, so that means we've got 1000 workers across the region". Thats not in itself a good thing because they might be crap at what they're doing. While I am not sure I agree with you 100% and I think I agree more with the CWO's position on unions I think a left communist view is in general a lot more realistic. It's also because a lot of what we do seems to be about taking control of trades councils and so on whereas many workers would not even know of their existence or not be in a union.

I think that once you are in a leading position in a trade union you don't necessarily represent the class any more because you are in a different position, you have a better salary, a more secure job and standard of living. Of course there are demands that they should be on a workers wage but I don't know what happens if they don't follow this, whether they are punished or not. And also it is not just the wage but the conditions, whether they are on precarious contracts like the rest of us are!

Also I do not think the answer to our problems is to create a reformist party that is similar to the Labour party with a lot of union bureaucrats involved. I am not sure what the solution is but this seems quite misguided to me especially when it leads to us toning down what we say, when in actual fact a lot of people who come up to us on street stalls and so on are much less reformist than what we're saying in the paper and say we should go further.

I also do not think the organisation is as democratic as it says it is, I don't think that we should have a slate system for example, and I think resolutions should be voted on via a secret ballot and everyone should get a chance to vote, not simply people who were at a conference (and were able to stay for all of it).

There are lots of other criticisms I have; but we do do some good work and I am feeling quite torn at the moment.

commiegal
As for why I have been led to

As for why I have been led to approach left communism I would say that having read the articles on your and the CWO's website the analysis is in a lot more in depth than in most trotskyist literature, I would also say that perhaps you do not censor yourselves as much about subjects like the unions because you're not trying to remain on good relations with them or get your members into leading positions.

I like the fact that even though you agree with much of what Lenin and Trotsky did and said you do not turn it into some sort of dogma.

In addition I like the fact that rather than having "transitional demands"; which are unachievable under capitalism (and people know they are unachievable, which is why I think our views get met with scepticism) the CWO and yourselves are quite honest about the need to overthrow capitalism and link the current struggles with this demand. For example if you say that the average wage should rise to £10 per hour and the cuts are not necessary (under capitalism) most people will be sceptical about how people will manage to do this and why they are not necessary, not because they agree with them but because they don't see that the things they're asking are possible, which they're not. Somebody said to me on another forum that I am on that transitional demands were lying to the class and I think he is right.

In all honesty I am quite sympathetic to the council communists and views such as Paul Mattick's, I read a critique of leninism by him and it made so much sense and it expressed things that I had been thinking for a while.

I am not looking to join any organisation - I am not even sure whether to leave tbh. I just want to clarify a few things in my head!

commiegal
class lines

mhou wrote:

The concept is about the role the extra-parliamentary Stalinist, Maoist, Trotskyist, etc groups (as well as the parliamentary Trotskyist, Social Democratic and 'Official' Communist Partys) play in bourgeois politics: not the individuals that make up these organizations (many of whom are well-intentioned and probably all think they are being model communist militants). In the past, Trotskyist groups were a loud voice on the left trying to sign workers up for the Second World War, the largest imperialist war in history. Their policies on trade unions involve giving a gloss of leftism or militancy to organizations which have been integrated into the state since the onset of decadence- today this is seen with 'radical' unions and union leaders. In the US, the 'To The Factories!' movement of the 1960's-1970's, where all of the left of capital ('New Left', 'New Communist Movement', Stalinists, Maoists, Trotskyists) sent their members en masse into industrial jobs to salt, into the unions to become pie-cards. Organizations in the US like Teamsters for a Democratic Union were founded by Trotskyists parachuting into industrial jobs and backing the trade unions- even when those unions were actively against the interests of the workers.

The 'left-wing of capital' concept is a means to understand why class lines exist- that opportunism, voluntarism, substitutionism, etc. engaged in by nominal communists puts them outside of the proletarian political camp, the organizations and tendencies which represent the communist minority. By rallying for imperialist war, making excuses for the so-called 'Socialist' states and regimes, supporting anti-worker organizations like the trade unions, etc. these groups play a significant role in the bourgeois political regime, and obfuscate and confuse workers and those who want to come to communist positions as an alternative to the bourgeois politics exposed to everyone everyday.

 

sorry i hope i dont sound stupid but what are class lines?

 

and i dont think trotskyists always start out supporting trade unions etc, they often enter these groups trying to change them from within. unfortunately, it doesn't work that way!

mhou
I'd say that having the

I'd say that having the notion that there is something that can be done about or changed about trade unions to make them better in some way is a form of support- it keeps the illusion alive that it is all a matter of leadership; that the trade union as an institution is somehow 'neutral' and can be used for 'good' if only the right leaders get elected or take control of them.

Sorry about that; class lines is a concept the ICC uses- they are principles which separate communists from 'The Left'. Things like participation in bourgeois elections (which includes publishing statements calling on members or supporters to vote in any bourgeois election, even on a 'critical' basis), supporting one side or another in an imperialist war, etc.

It is what separates what the ICT (CWO-PCInt) calls the 'proletarian political camp', which includes groups that disagree with each other on a great many things, from leftists (Trotskyists, Maoists, etc.). It's a kind of litmus test to determine whether an organization is trying to break from leftism and come to communist positions, or if a communist group is engaging in opportunism and going over to the 'left-wing of capital'.

MH
class lines

My first attempt at a response seems to have vanished into the void, so here goes again...

Yes, for us the point about 'class lines' is that they are based on the actual historical experience of the working class. The fundamental principle of the workers' movement has always been the defence of internationalism and the definitive tests for proletarian organisations are therefore war and revolution. Social democracy and the trade unions definitively passed onto the camp of capital by their support for the first world war, and confirmed their active counter-revolutionary role for the bourgeoisie by helping to defeat the revolutionary wave of 1917-21. Similarly, the Trotskyist movement passed into the camp of capital by abandoning internationalism and 'critically' supporting the second world war under cover of 'defence of the USSR' and supporting the democratic imperialist camp as a 'lesser evil'. The point is, once they have passed over to the capitalist camp, organisations cannot pass back - elements can only break from them.

So the political positions defenced by the ICC (and similarly the ICT) are if you like a simply summary of the key political experiences of the working class, especially since the first world war, all underpinned by our understanding that capitalism has been a decadent social system since 1914.

I'll come back on the trade unions...

 

MH
on the unions

commiegal wrote:

...if you say that the average wage should rise to £10 per hour and the cuts are not necessary (under capitalism) most people will be sceptical about how people will manage to do this and why they are not necessary, not because they agree with them but because they don't see that the things they're asking are possible, which they're not.

Exactly. I referred earlier to the gap opening up between bourgeois ideology and reality and this is really blinding when you look at the position of the official unions on the crisis. You've got the more intelligent representatives of the world bourgeoisie in effect saying (and I'm paraphrasing here...) 'we're pretty fucked, this is really serious and we have no idea what's going to happen next...'  to which the response of the unions is to say 'crisis, what crisis?'  'Debt? Not a problem...'  Which of course makes perfect sense for them because if the system really is in terminal decline what's the point of workers getting behind the unions to ask politely for a few crumbs? But to workers it patently makes no sense. Many are undoubtedly aware of the seriousness of the whole situation, even if they don't understand its causes, and this is one reason why they are hesitating to enter into struggle today.

The role of the leftists today is precisely to prevent workers from deepening their understanding of the significance of the crisis and its implications for their struggles, and to keep them confined within a union framework. But the contradictions of this role become more and more glaring as the crisis deepens.

This is not to underestimate the ability of the unions to radicalise their language in the face of future workers' strugles, in order to recuperate them - we saw their ability to do this in the struggles of the 70s and early 80's. And that's when the leftists, particularly embedded in the local union apparatus, will come to the fore, inside the local committees, councils of action, mass assemblies etc that will appear as expressions of the tendency towards workers' self-organisation, in order to derail them from within.

Then, the question for individual leftist militants will be clear - am I with the workers in trying to extend and control the struggle, or am I with the unions trying at every turn to prevent this?

 

 

commiegal
Yeah and I think the whole

Yeah and I think the whole "transitional demand" thing is quite flawed, on one hand they are saying inside the party that there is a need for socialism but then they are arguing this stuff outside, which seems quite deceitful. I don't understand why they think that working people wont agree with them if they just came out with their real views, the "transitional approach" doesnt seem to win them much support either.

On one hand I can understand not wanting to scare people off and start talking about a revolution without talking about how to achieve it, but people think their views are unachievable anyway!

Also its the way that they always say things like how people "dont want to go too far ahead of the class" (ie be too ultra left and start talking about communism) and how "consciousness is lagging behind" because people think the unions are crap and so on. And how whenever somebody does direct action (i'm not saying this is always a good thing) it's always criticised with reasons like "it's not organised".

Er ...

I don't really understand to be honest!

commiegal
*Don't understand why they

*Don't understand why they think it's necessary to hide their real views when people think the views they say they hold are already extreme!

commiegal
does this make sense?

does this make sense?

MH
transitional demands

I think it's worth pointing out that 'transitional demands' are not the essential reason why Trotskyism plays a reactionary political role today. There are, after all, 'unorthodox Trotskyists' like the SWP who are not wedded to his particular tactic.

I've had some conversations with SWPers who are not entirely hostile to what we argue about the role of the unions, at least in the abstract, or the need for workers' councils etc at some (distant) point in the future, but who still argue that, given the 'low level of class consciousness', today we have to support the unions... 

The essence of Trotskyism is really the politics of the 'lesser evil', based on a completely false, reactionary linear vision of class consciousness which justifies their support for the left of capitalism: today we call for a vote for Labour because they're not as bad as the Tories, then we develop a radical alternative to Labour; today we call for a TUC-called general strike, 'tomorrow', we call for a more radical alternative...etc - as if the bourgeoisie itself isn't pefectly capable of playing such cards in order to derail and divert the class struggle.

It's the leftists' own political practice that helps to keep the workers permanently imprisoned in the unions today, and actively prevents the development of class consciousness tomorrow. 

commiegal
what's your view on things

what's your view on things like TUSC etc?

MH
what next?

commiegal wrote:

I am not looking to join any organisation - I am not even sure whether to leave tbh. I just want to clarify a few things in my head!

That sounds absolutely right. Left communist organisations certainly need new members but we are not like leftist groups looking for the next recruit to help sell the paper. The most important thing is to continue to clarify the political issues you are raising, because these are not simply an individual thing but an integral part of the development of class consciousness today. And there are other people who have been down the same road in the past, or who are struggling with the same issues .

You don't say if there are others around you who have similar ideas, or who may be sympathetic; if so I'd encourage you to discuss with them and, if possible, and without having any illusions, to raise these issues within the organisation - not to try to change it but to give your own ideas a wider audience.

Elsewhere you say you currently feel 'torn'. That's not surprising, not just because there may well be personal questions of loyalty (and guilt?) involved, but fundamentally because this is a question of a political struggle between the viewpoints of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, and the two are irreconcilably opposed! What is it the Yeats poem says?  'The centre cannot hold'...

commiegal
personal issues

MH wrote:

commiegal wrote:

I am not looking to join any organisation - I am not even sure whether to leave tbh. I just want to clarify a few things in my head!

That sounds absolutely right. Left communist organisations certainly need new members but we are not like leftist groups looking for the next recruit to help sell the paper. The most important thing is to continue to clarify the political issues you are raising, because these are not simply an individual thing but an integral part of the development of class consciousness today. And there are other people who have been down the same road in the past, or who are struggling with the same issues .

You don't say if there are others around you who have similar ideas, or who may be sympathetic; if so I'd encourage you to discuss with them and, if possible, and without having any illusions, to raise these issues within the organisation - not to try to change it but to give your own ideas a wider audience.

Elsewhere you say you currently feel 'torn'. That's not surprising, not just because there may well be personal questions of loyalty (and guilt?) involved, but fundamentally because this is a question of a political struggle between the viewpoints of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, and the two are irreconcilably opposed! What is it the Yeats poem says?  'The centre cannot hold'...

 

that is a really good post and sort of sums up a lot of what I'm thinking.

there are a few people i know who have similar ideas but they're not in the party. I haven't really tried to raise this stuff in the party although I have had discussions on class consciousness and so on in the past. so they know my views are a bit different. I might try and do this next time and suspect there are lots of people who agree with me.

yes there are questions of loyalty/guilt involved, I feel bad because I have a lot of friends in the party and I've done a lot of work to help it grow and so on over the last few years. But recent events are leaving me questioning the entire thing, there have been a lot of things I've been really unhappy at recently especially the fact that like you say recruitment is viewed as being at the heart of everything they do, and they are  willing to be quite ethically flexible at times. I think there are lots of very good activists in the party and we've done a lot of good work. It also helped me develop my politics.

Interesting about what you say about the paper, I suppose one of the things is that I want my political independence back and having to worry about a "party line" much of which I don't even agree with or worrying about critcising them publically, I want to take the lessons from the things we do right and not from what we don't. The fact is that I think much of their aims and objectives are quite misguided and the way of doing them is ineffective even on their terms (assuming its the right thing to do they're not going about it in the right way).

It is the crisis in the SWP that's really got me thinking about all this. I'm not in the SWP, I'm in another organisation but I think we face a lot of the same issues and I also think a lot of the cover ups and so on were able to happen because of democratic centralism and the idea that the party is the vanguard and maintaining the party rather than heping the class struggle is the most important thing of all

commiegal
party and class

I think the reason for the coverups etc being able to go on for so long is because the interests of the party are viewed as the same as the interests of the class, they think they are a vanguard so they think that whatever "helps" the partyis good and other stuff like public criticism is very very bad ...

radicalchains
I agree with commiegal, you

I agree with commiegal, you don't even have to be in the leftist organisations like the ones you are talking about to see they have a completely myopic view of themselves and revolution. As you say they (at least their leadership, official press etc) give the impression they are THE leaders of the working class, they are THE (ONLY) PARTY and they will make the revolution, given a bit of time. Ironic really that some of these organisations don't even bother with programmes. I think they are truly cynical organisations and it is no wonder the working class don't flock to them. One of the prime reasons they go in for inexperinced and often apolitical student recruitment. Who are then used as cannon fodder. At least by looking at and criticising how these organisations function we know how we don't want to do things. It's not just for the sake of it like some leftists will tell you.

commiegal
yeah it's always stuff like

yeah it's always stuff like "the best elements will join us" etc ...

LBird
In addition to clarity, humour wouldn't go amiss

commiegal wrote:

yeah it's always stuff like "the best elements will join us" etc ...

commiegal, I'm just awaiting the call:

'We're so desperate, we need scum like you, LBird!',

and I'll know I've found the dream proletarian organisation!

commiegal
What I find sort of

What I find sort of refreshing about the ICC and ICT is that when I emailed both organisations they were immediately interested in my views and what I did and did not agree with, they seemed genuinely interested in my views and experiences and it really impressed me. I am very far from being a doctrinaire left communist or trotskyist or whatever if anything I am more sympathetic to council communists but I'm sure there's lots of things I'd disagree with there too. Whereas trot groups seem to operte on a view of recruit first and ask questions later, with some being better than others (I'd say the organisation Ive been a member of are probably the sanest trots - but it's all relative).

commiegal
I also find the concept of

I also find the concept of class consciousness as put forward by trot groups to be so insulting and patronising, I never agreed with it the whole time I was a member, and the way that other traditions such as anarchists (prior to joining the majority of my exposure to the left had been from having mates in anarchist groups) are just dismissed as "petty bourgeois" or whatever and their views are caricatured in party literature rather than being seriously engaged with. I think all this recent sex scandal stuff in both the SWP and SP proves that nobody has the right to say they are an "advanced layer" or a "vanguard" of the working class, in fact I am finding the philosophy of trotskyism (tho not the many good activists I have met in the party) increasingly repellent.

radicalchains
My first encounter with the

My first encounter with the SWP consisted of their cadre for the region almost harassing me to go to their fucking Marxism 'conference'. Not just go, but buy a ticket in advance there and then. I was running out of ways to tell him that I didn't want to because after all I had simply come to a discussion for the very first time and wanted to check the SWP out. In fairness he did listen to things I had to say and seemed to make notes but without my approval or permission. The second time I ran into the same guy I just about escaped giving him my telephone number but he foisted his on me. Naturally, I didn't call. Not really even because of their politics which I probably didn't fully understand at the time but more because of the zealotry of the SWP member. And by all accounts this is the bsaic style of most members/recruiters. Naturally, he did me out of a quid each time for a paper. I later read many terrible accounts of personal experience and the political activities of the SWP. I concluded it was probably the worst approach and questioned whether they were actually try to fuck working class people off. If they were they were doing a very good job indeed. In fact he had mentioned the first time that they did get a few people turn up to their meetings but not many came back a second time, I don't think he had reflected on whether it might be his personal approach.

commiegal
yeah i'm in the socialist

yeah i'm in the socialist party and we are a lot better as far as that's concerned. But ...

mhou
I had a similar experience as

I had a similar experience as you commiegal; the approach of a 'confrontation of ideas' generally does one of 2 things: makes you more secure and confident in your existing principles and ideas, or win you over to new principles and ideas. The patience that members of the ICC/ICT demonstrate is seemingly endless. Quality over quantity; you figure history has given us so many Togliatti's & Thorez's (and so few Bordiga's and Damen's), that politically mature and well developed militants are harder to come by, so it's worth it to aid this process as a central part of communist activity.

LBird
Exploration of 'class consciousness'

MH wrote:
The essence of Trotskyism is really the politics of the 'lesser evil',...

I like this initial explanation to help orientate enquirers, MH, but would it be fairer to say 'the politics of the 'currently achievable lesser evil'?

Of course, this brings in a judgement by Communists of what comprises 'currently achievable'.

MH wrote:
...based on a completely false, reactionary linear vision of class consciousness...

Yes, often these issues resolve themselves (as do arguments about Leninism) into debates about 'class consciousness' and its possibilities ('in the here and now'?), and the 'forcing of history' by voluntarist means, to 'shepherd' the proletariat along the 'correct' path.

Could someone say a little more about the ICC's view of 'class consciousness'? I don't mean a huge post, or extensive quotes from Marx or Lenin, but just enough suitable to an internet discussion. The simple response can be deepened as the thread continues, if posters wish to discuss it further.

Alf
A few basic points about

A few basic points about class consciousness and no quotes:

 - it is a product of the condition of the working class and its struggle against capitalism, so no injection of consciousness from the 'outside'

 - at the same time it is not only a product of the workers' immediate situation (eg this or that strike) but has a historical dimension which draws lessons from the past and evolves a perspective for the future

 - it can only emerge in an uneven and heterogenous way because the working class as a whole is subject to the domination of the existing ideology

 - revolutionary minorities are generated by the class movement faced with the need to overcome this heterogeneity, and are therefore essential for deepening and generalising class consciousness

 - class consciousness is not ideology; it is a clear and lucid view of reality because the working class has no privileges to defend. It can therefore not be spread through tricks and concealment

 - the revolution, like any class struggle, will begin with a minority but it can only be victorious by 'conquering' the majority

 - this cannot be achieved by the revolutionary organisation controlling struggles or taking power 'on behalf' of the workers because that would merely replicate the alienated relationships typical of capitalism

I've tried to make this relevant to the discussion about the left of capital, because the left by definition reproduces the bourgeois vision of the working class as a mass to be 'delivered' (in reality, manipulated) from on high

 

LBird
A few basic comments on

Thanks for your pleasingly brief reply, Alf. I’ll make some tentative comments, and then other comrades can shoot me down in flames if they disagree.

I think, with few quibbles, I can go along with your first 4 points. But I have some comments about the other points.

Alf, point 5, wrote:
- class consciousness is not ideology; it is a clear and lucid view of reality …

When asked, I always reply that ‘Yes, Communism is an ideology’. This is linked to my view of science, discussed at length on the other thread, that ‘truth’ is always ‘partial’ and can never be completely ‘objective’. I would amend what you’ve said to ‘it is the most clear and lucid view of reality that it is presently possible for humanity to achieve, as compared with other ideologies’. The prevents, I think, any notion of ‘Communists have access to the Truth’, and leaves open to criticism just exactly what ‘class consciousness’ entails, and leaves open to discussion just what is possible for humanity. Workers who come to me get told that they are adopting an ideology, because I don’t want them thinking I know ‘The Truth’, and it leaves open to them the freedom to later reject my version of an ‘ideology’. ‘Class consciousness’ is not ‘The Revealed Truth’.

Alf, point 6, wrote:
- the revolution, like any class struggle, will begin with a minority but it can only be victorious by 'conquering' the majority

I think that this point would be better phrased “by ‘being freely adopted by’ the majority”.

Alf, point 7, wrote:
- this cannot be achieved by the revolutionary organisation controlling struggles or taking power 'on behalf' of the workers because that would merely replicate the alienated relationships typical of capitalism

So, at what point in the revolutionary process does ‘the revolutionary organisation’ do as it’s told by the ‘workers’? Unless it’s made clear to the members of the revolutionary organisation that their organisation will be dissolved by non-members at some point, I fear that a sense of elitism will develop amongst the ‘clever early-adopters of Communism’. With the spread of class consciousness throughout the working class, the role of the ‘revolutionary organisation’ is no more. The r.o. is ‘a temporary a leg up for’, not ‘a permanent pack on the back of’, the proletariat.

To relate it to the wider thread, I’m inclined to think that the ‘Trotskyists/Leninists/Left of Capital’ regard themselves as the proletariat’s ‘permanent backpack’ (filled with useful equipment). And a heavy burden it is.

MH
on the role of revs

LBird wrote:

With the spread of class consciousness throughout the working class, the role of the ‘revolutionary organisation’ is no more. The r.o. is ‘a temporary a leg up for’, not ‘a permanent pack on the back of’, the proletariat.

To relate it to the wider thread, I’m inclined to think that the ‘Trotskyists/Leninists/Left of Capital’ regard themselves as the proletariat’s ‘permanent backpack’ (filled with useful equipment). And a heavy burden it is.

We don't see the role of the revolutionary organisation as 'ending' with the spread of class consciousness but continuing throughout the struggle for political power, which will inevitably involve all kinds of refluxes, retreats and temporary defeats for the working class before its final victory.  

I think the leftists are not quite so modest as to regard themselves as 'the proletariat's backpack' - more like 'The Vanguard' or 'The Party'...   

LBird
The root of legitimate power?

MH wrote:
We don't see the role of the revolutionary organisation as 'ending' with the spread of class consciousness...

What if 'we' comes into conflict with 'them'? Surely 'they' have the final say, not 'the revolutionary organisation'?

MH wrote:
...but continuing throughout the struggle for political power, which will inevitably involve all kinds of refluxes, retreats and temporary defeats for the working class before its final victory.

And that's when the class dissolves the revolutionary organisation? But who determines the point of 'final victory' - the class or the r.o.? If the class, they can declare 'final victory' without the say-so of the r.o.

Where does 'sovereignty' lie: in the proletariat or in the r.o.?

MH wrote:
I think the leftists are not quite so modest as to regard themselves as 'the proletariat's backpack' - more like 'The Vanguard' or 'The Party'... 

It comes to the same thing. Something separate from the proletariat.

LBird
Party or Class?

Some 'Council Communist' context for my position. Apologies for the length.

Anton Pannekoek, Party and Working Class, wrote:
We are only at the very earliest stages of a new workers' movement. The old movement was embodied in parties, and today belief in the party constitutes the most powerful check on the working class' capacity for action. That is why we are not trying to create a new party. This is so, not because our numbers are small -- a party of any kind begins with a few people -- but because, in our day, a party cannot be other than an organization aimed at directing and dominating the proletariat. To this type of organization we oppose the principle that the working class can effectively come into its own and prevail only by taking its destiny into its own hands. The workers are not to adopt the slogans of any group whatsoever, not even our own groups; they are to think, decide and act for themselves. Therefore, in this transitional period, the natural organs of education and enlightenment are, in our view, work groups, study and discussion circles, which have formed of their own accord and are seeking their own way….

The basic theoretical idea of the 'revolutionary party' is that the working class could not do without a group of leaders capable of defeating the bourgeoisie for them and of forming a new government, in other words, the conviction that the working class is itself incapable of creating the revolution. According to this theory, the leaders will create the communist society by means of decrees; in other words, the working class is still incapable of administering and organizing for itself its work and production.

Is there not a certain justification for this thesis, at least provisionally? Given that at the present time the working class as a mass is showing itself to be unable to create a revolution, is it not necessary that the revolutionary vanguard, the party, should make the revolution on the working class' behalf? And is not this valid so long as the masses passively submit to capitalism?

This attitude immediately raises two questions. What type of power will such a party establish through the revolution? What will occur to conquer the capitalist class? The answer is self-evident: an uprising of the masses. In effect, only mass attacks and mass strikes lead to the overthrow of the old domination. Therefore, the 'revolutionary party' will get nowhere without the intervention of the masses. Hence, one of two things must occur.

The first is that the masses persist in action. Far from abandoning the fight in order to allow the new party to govern, they organize their power in the factories and workshops and prepare for new battles, this time with a view to the final defeat of capitalism. By means of workers' councils, they form a community that is increasingly close-knit, and therefore capable of taking on the administration of society as a whole. In a word, the masses prove that they are not as incapable of creating the revolution as was supposed. From this moment, conflict inevitably arises between the masses and the new party, the latter seeking to be the only body to exercise power and convinced that the party should lead the working class, that self-activity among the masses is only a factor of disorder and anarchy. At this point, either the class movement has become strong enough to ignore the party or the party, allied with bourgeois elements, crushes the workers. In either case, the party is shown to be an obstacle to the revolution, because the party seeks to be something other than an organ of propaganda and of enlightenment, and because it adopts as its specific mission the leadership and government of the masses....

[My bold]

http://www.marxists.org/archive/pannekoe/1936/party-working-class.htm

Demogorgon
The term "vanguard" does not

The term "vanguard" does not necessarily imply something separate from the proletariat at all. It derives from a military term, in that it's the advance guard of a formation, scouting the area ahead and securing vital points.

In other words, it refers to a specific function within the whole. Similarly, the revolutionary organ can be considered a vanguard in that it is the fraction of the class that is most advanced in terms of class consciousness and sets itself the task to warn the rest of the class of the pitfalls that lie in the way of its advance.

This should not imply any sort of control over the rest of the class, although historically, those armies with rubbish scouts (or who failed to heed their reports) usually didn't end their battles happily.

The leftists, of course, tend to have a rather different conception in that they see themselves leading the class more in the sense of a General Staff, if we want to carry on with our military metaphors.

 

LBird
Scouting for the big chiefs

Demogorgon wrote:
The term "vanguard" does not necessarily imply something separate from the proletariat at all. It derives from a military term, in that it's the advance guard of a formation...

That's right: a 'military vanguard' is under the command of the main body. From this, I take it you agree with me that the class main body must dictate to the party vanguard?

Demogorgon wrote:
This should not imply any sort of control over the rest of the class...

We seem to be singin' from the same hymn-sheet, Demogorgon. We are implying that the class has control over the 'revolutionary organisation'.

Demogorgon wrote:
The leftists, of course, tend to have a rather different conception in that they see themselves leading the class more in the sense of a General Staff, if we want to carry on with our military metaphors.

Quite. Whereas our conception is that the r.o. is a mere scout for the class. And scouts report back to their commanders, where decisions are taken based upon the scouts' reports, and they then return to their subordinate and most dangerous position in the 'vanguard'.

The moral? If you don't like a scout's function, exposed position in the van and absence from HQ where the real decisions are being taken, don't volunteer for 'point man' duty in the first place.

Demogorgon
The party (or whatever we

The party (or whatever we call it) isn't under the command of the main force, in some senses though. The organisation often has to set itself against the stream of the class - refusing to pander to wider illusions, always pointing to the class's historic interests, etc. If the mass of the class starts demanding a return to capitalism in all but name, it's our function to resist this every step of the way. The question is how this is done.

The biggest error the Bolsheviks made, in my opinion, was in the way they tried to tackle the counter-revolutionary impulse that spread through the Soviets from 1918 onwards. As the Soviets began to elect Menshevik deputies, the Bolshevik state (which they controlled directly) simply ignored the elections or told the Soviet concerned try again until it came up with the right answer. Bit-by-bit, the impulse to "patiently explain" errors to the masses was replaced the need to dominate and control the class organs "for the good of the masses".

From this experience, we should learn certain lessons about the function of a revolutionary organisation: it's not organising struggles themes, running the soviets, or controlling a post-revolutionary state. Individual revolutionaries will be involved in all these things but their responsibility in those functions is to the mass of the class, not the party.

Ultimate decisions about the struggle are in the hands of the masses. The party will have view on what to do and to a certain extent can point the way - but its the class as whole that has to actually carry out the struggle itself. If the masses don't want to play ball, there's little the revolutionary organisation can do.

LBird
Backtracking or just confused?

Demogorgon wrote:
The party (or whatever we call it) isn't under the command of the main force, in some senses though.

Ahhh... then this is a backtrack on your earlier post, then. A 'scouting unit' is always under the command of the main body, for which its function is to scout.

This is when, as a worker, I get uneasy with explanations from self-proclaimed Communists. They tell me that my class interests and aims are paramount, in one breath, but, in the next, not so paramount as other workers and I can identify our class interests for ourselves. On the contrary, we can seek advice, but we make the decision.

Demogorgon wrote:
The organisation often has to set itself against the stream of the class - refusing to pander to wider illusions, always pointing to the class's historic interests, etc. If the mass of the class starts demanding a return to capitalism in all but name, it's our function to resist this every step of the way.

No, this is the signal that the proletariat is not developed enough as to be ready to embrace Communism. From this point, a party 'resisting' the majority will have similar problems to the Bolsheviks.

I differ with you here: to me, 'the mass of the class' has the final say. If, as a scout, I do my duty and report 'Danger ahead, sir!', and I am ignored, I can't halt the main body's advance.

I think 'redirection of the line of march of the main body' by a small scout unit is Leninism. I'm not a Leninist.

Demogorgon wrote:
Ultimate decisions about the struggle are in the hands of the masses. The party will have view on what to do and to a certain extent can point the way - but its the class as whole that has to actually carry out the struggle itself. If the masses don't want to play ball, there's little the revolutionary organisation can do.

Now, you seem to be agreeing with me, again.

I'm asking a simple political question: 'Where does power lie?'

If the answer is 'the class', then logically the 'revolutionary organisation' must be under the political direction of the class, and can only play an advisory role to the class.

For me, the answer to this question determines whether an organisation is Leninist (r.o. 'resists') or Marxist (r.o. 'advises'). I think my earlier quoting of Pannekoek puts me on authoritative 'Council Communist' ground for my position.

Don't let my tone put you off, Demogorgon. I value your responses, which are helping me to think.

Demogorgon
"Ahhh... then this is a

"Ahhh... then this is a backtrack on your earlier post, then."

The point I was making there was that the party isn't separate from the class, but performs a specific function for it. Revolutionaries form a vanguard in that they move ahead of the class.

"No, this is the signal that the proletariat is not developed enough as to be ready to embrace Communism. From this point, a party 'resisting' the majority will have similar problems to the Bolsheviks."

As I tried to make clear in my last post, it's how you resist this phenomena that matters. Substituting the party for the class - as the Bolsheviks did - is a betrayal of the revolutionary organisation's function. The party's resistance is at the level of consciousness and is absolutely essential.

"I differ with you here: to me, 'the mass of the class' has the final say. If, as a scout, I do my duty and report 'Danger ahead, sir!', and I am ignored, I can't halt the main body's advance."

Which is what I said. We do not disagree here.

"Now, you seem to be agreeing with me, again."

We weren't disagreeing before.

"I'm asking a simple political question: 'Where does power lie?'"

In the mass assemblies of the working class which hold even the councils to account.

"If the answer is 'the class', then logically the 'revolutionary organisation' must be under the political direction of the class, and can only play an advisory role to the class."

What do you mean by political direction? If you mean the assemblies and councils determine the political positions of the party then absolutely not. If you mean that the mass organs decide how to actually run society, then yes.

The party's role in mass organs is the same as it is in a strike - to push class positions, call for the extension of struggles, attack anti-proletarian prejudices, etc.

LBird
Sovereignty of the class

To ease off on the aggressive tactics and questioning a little, I'll adopt a softer and more comradely approach with this post, Demogorgon! I, too, don't think we're very far apart, comrade.

But...

Demogorgon wrote:
What do you mean by political direction? If you mean the assemblies and councils determine the political positions of the party then absolutely not.

'Absolutely'?

If we uphold this as an axiomatic principle, then the organs of workers' power will not be able to prevent a resurgent Fascist political party from determining its political positions.

No, we must place the final say about the activities of any political organistaion within a Communist society in the hands of the proletariat.

Does this mean, for example, the ICC, will be constrained in their freedom to determine their political positions? No, of course not. We'd expect the organs of workers' power to encourage the formation and development of groups/factions/parties, etc., to actively disagree with majority positions. We'd have no time for 'The Truth'. Humanity can always learn.

But 'power', the final say, will not reside in a party. Not even the ICC.

Demogorgon wrote:

[LBird] "I'm asking a simple political question: 'Where does power lie?'"

In the mass assemblies of the working class which hold even the councils to account.

Yes, so contrary to your other assertion, there is some body which can 'determine the political positions' of a party.

Demogorgon
"If we uphold this as an

"If we uphold this as an axiomatic principle, then the organs of workers' power will not be able to prevent a resurgent Fascist political party from determining its political positions."

If enough workers support fascist ideologies and start returning fascist delegates to mass organs that's ... well, that's just tough luck.

I suppose that you could, while you still have a majority in the soviets, vote for a ban on those parties and use the organs of the state to suppress them. That's what the Bolsheviks did with the Mensheviks, of course, when the latter started to gain dominance and called for the return of the pre-revolutionary municipal (i.e. capitalist) state.

Ironically, defending the autonomy of all political forces within the mass organs is essential in order to defend the autonomy of the mass organs from the domination of one of those political forces.

LBird
The Heart of Darkness?

Demogorgon wrote:
Ironically, defending the autonomy of all political forces within the mass organs is essential in order to defend the autonomy of the mass organs from the domination of one of those political forces.

I must say, as comradely as possible, that this could be interpreted as 'Leninist special pleading'!

The only really 'autonomous' political force under Communism must be the victorious proletariat. To have two, is to separate society into two halves... (where else have I quoted Charlie, recently, on this issue?)...

I think Leninists pay 'lip-service' to the political authority of the class, and then spend eternity trying to justify why 'power' should be invested in a (well, they mean 'their') party.

Personally, I think that anyone who is suspicious of the outcome of democracy, is infected with bourgeois thinking. Does that place those people within the 'Left of Capital'?

I thought that what marked Council Communism off from Leninism was this very question of 'the source of legitimate power', as Pannekoek outlined, in my earlier post.

Does the 'class conscious', victorious proletariat need protecting from itself,  a protection which will be altruistically given by 'a political force autonomous from itself'?

As many workers now would say, 'Pull the other one, mate!'.

Demogorgon
"I must say, as comradely as

"I must say, as comradely as possible, that this could be interpreted as 'Leninist special pleading'!"

In what way?

The mass organs are unitary organs that allow the class to come together, discuss the issues of the day and agree on joint actions. For them to be true unitary organs of the class, membership can only be on the basis of whether or not you are a worker, not the political positions you hold.

The politics of the mass organs of the class will vary depending on the breadth and depth of class consciousness within the mass of the proletariat. They are not automatically revolutionary, just as the working class doesn't automatically have a developed class consciousness.

So within those organs there will be a wide diversity of political positions including organised tendencies embodied by "parties" and other more nebulous currents. These political currents will include revolutionary currents, bourgeois currents and centrist ones (by this I mean those that have both revolutionary and reactionary elements to their thinking).

What you seem to be suggesting is that the mass organs can ban some of these political currents and say "you're not allowed to think or say that". This immediately excludes all those workers who hold those positions and is thus no longer a vehicle for the whole of the class.

What I am saying is that under no circumstances can the working class start excluding this or that ideology from its ranks. If anti-proletarian ideologies exist, they must be confronted and defeated through discussion within the mass organs, persuading workers of the revolutionary point of view. If we attempt - and fail - to persuade the mass of the class of our point of view, then that's tough luck.

And the process of actually excluding a tendency can only work something like this: the Reactionary party gain a majority in the soviets; they call for a vote to exclude the Revolutionary Party; the vote carries because they have a majority. The Revolutionary Party is now utterly excluded from the soviet, the only way back in is if the Reactionary Party lets it.

The only way prevent any one tendency using the machinery of the soviet to exclude others is to make it impossible to exclude anyone.

LBird
Reminiscing about old comrades

Thanks for your response, Demogorgon.

I've had a good run at this topic, so I'll let other readers pick up and run with it, now.

At least, anyone in the ICC thinking of trying to persuade me to join has had a taste of what would follow: Class before Party.

When I was persuaded into joining the SWP, after about three years of diligent pursuit by them, I (jokingly) asked one fellow-member 'What's the process for getting rid of Cliff*?'.

His face was a picture to behold. It was as if I'd been recruited as a 13th apostle, and immediately asked 'How do we get rid of that bastard Jesus?'.

That taught me something about 'revolutionary parties'. I didn't last long.

*For the younger comrades, Tony Cliff was the 'leader' of the SWP (aka IS) from the 1950s until his death in 2000.

Fred
Demogorgon wrote:What I am

Demogorgon wrote:
What I am saying is that under no circumstances can the working class start excluding this or that ideology from its ranks. If anti-proletarian ideologies exist, they must be confronted and defeated through discussion within the mass organs, persuading workers of the revolutionary point of view. If we attempt - and fail - to persuade the mass of the class of our point of view, then that's tough luck.

Well said Demo. Communism is about the replacement of ideology with consciousness as the next step in human evolution. If it can't be done we're doomed.

Alf
'joining'

Lbird:  I understand very well that being pursued by the SWP and joining them has made you very wary of any repeat mistake. But you seem to be assuming that we are already tyring to persuade you to join. This would make sense if there was a high level of agreement on political positions and you wanted to get actively involved, but we are nowhere near that point, and in any case 'that point' may never arrive. But that doesn't mean we see no point in discussing with you. These discussions are important not just for you and us but for all those others who are trying to clarify the same issues. For us the discussion itself is an acquisition and we understand perfectly well that the revolutionary movement will always  be made up of different currents of thought, even if there is an underlying need for and movement towards unity.  

Alf
'joining'

double post