Thursday's meeting on 'Communism is not just...' at Tent City University

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Alf
Thursday's meeting on 'Communism is not just...' at Tent City University
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I just posted this on libcom, with the aim of preovoking some discussion prior to thursday's meeting on the book Communism is not just......(see page one for details)

 In 2005, I wrote a retrospective summary of the series (initially conceived as just one or two articles)so far, explaining the circumstances in which it came to be written - the need to respond at the theoretical level to the vast bourgeois campaign, after 1989, about the 'death of communism', by tracing the history of the real communist movement to its roots in the distant past (for example, the early hunter gatherers), through its return as a dream in the minds of the exploited in pre-capitalist civilisations, to the emergence of the 'modern' proletariat and therefore to the breakthrough achieved by Marx in his vision of communism. The first volume then looks at the further efforts made by those who sought to continue and develop Marx's contribution, such as Engels and Morris, but ending in the late 19th century, on the verge of betrayal by social democracy.

The second volume begins with the mass strikes of 1905, centres on the 1917-20 revolutionary upsurge and the communist political programmes it gave rise to - Communist International, KPD, KAPD, Russian Communist Party -and ends with the efforts of the left communists to understand the degeneration and defeat of the revolution. Volume three mainly seeks to show how the communist left of the 1930s began, along with their balance sheet of the defeat'. to look forward to what an authentic and victorious proletarian dictatorship would look like: thus the translation and publication of the series 'Problems of the period of transition', first published in Bilan between 1934 and 1936 (ish) and written by the Belgian communist Mitchell. And that's where the series stalled. But the next task would be to show that there was a genuine proletarian debate on this question between the eItalian/Belgian left and the 'Dutch internationalists', who had produced the Ground principles of communist production and Distribution. (Any ideas about that discussion would be very welcome....).

just thinking aloud about what I am going to say on Thursday.

Here is the summary to volume one and you can find the rest sumamrised in the next two issues of the International Review

https://en.internationalism.org/ir/124_communism

d-man
2 cents

I remember a little comment in an ICC text which distanced itself from the 'Ground principles' because of its labour scheme system. Also Mattick was critical about that (in German section of Marxists.org). The 'Ground principles' is the only attempt I know of at a critique of Kautsky's major book 'Labour revolution' (1922).

The 5th part in the Italian left's 'Bilan d'une revolution' is maybe also relevant:

http://www.sinistra.net/lib/bas/progco/qini/qininlacaf.html

Alf
labour time vouchers

 There are some very pertinent criticisms of the Ground Princples in our book on the Dutch/German left: in particular, the argument that with the Dutch left the revolution was seen as essentially an 'economic' affair, which reduces both its political and social dimensions. They tended to see the degneration of the revolution in Russia as the result of its failure to carry out a communist 'economic' programme (based on labour time vouchers) rather than in what was fundamentaly a political question: its failure to spread beyong Russia and the proletariat's loss of political power, the two main preconditions for a successful social/economic transformation.

The question of labour time vouchers is complex but secondary, because it's not possible to be certain in advance what exact forms the workers' councils will use, in the transition period, to ensure a mode of distribution that is in conformity with the principles of communism.    

Alf
last night's meeting

 This was the third time an ICC comrade had spoken at the Tent City University in the St Paul’s occupation. The previous two meetings, introduced by a visiting French comrade, had been on the economic crisis of the system and the ecological question. I hadn’t been able to attend, although I did see some video footage of the first one.

This time I went along with another ICC comrade from London and my two sons, who are sympathetic to the ICC’s politics. One of them filmed the meeting and we can see whether it’s feasible to publish parts of it. I won’t try to give a blow by blow account but will just make a few synthetic points:

1.     the meeting turned out OK in the end, despite some dodgy moments at the beginning. There were about 20 people all told, with some comings and goings. I already knew some of them: two comrades from the Communist Workers Organisation and the one who posts as Pingu on libcom, and would also see himself as a communist, influenced by the autonomist current. He is involved in the organisation of the occupation. The others were an even mix of ‘residents’ and visitors;

2.     there were definite problems with the organisation of the event. There was little evidence of publicity around the organising tents and the bookshop/university, and no one knew where the microphone was – the mic being useful even in a small meeting because of the amount of outside noise intruding into the tent (such as the bells of St Paul’s). But the main problem was the presence of a ‘resident’ (I think) who made persistent low level interruptions as I was trying to give what was intended to be a short summary of the book. Along with going around sticking for ‘sale’ labels on books and papers and even people attending, he tried to get people to ‘vote’ (wavy hands and all that) on things I was saying, like why we need a revolution He said the Occupation had agreed on non-violence, so he was against it. In sum, using the ‘forms’ of open discussion to make actual discussion very difficult. So I gave up trying to make the presentation and opened up the discussion, which went on quite intensely for the hour and a half, and improved greatly when the interrupter lost interest and left. But I am not saying he was representative of all the organisers. Pingu in particular expressed his irritation with the interruptions and wanted to hear the presentation, and was also annoyed about the absence of the mic, which would have made the interruptions less possible;

3.     despite all this, the discussion mostly stayed on topic, and through the responses given by the communist ‘contingent’ to some of the questions, a number of the themes of the book (and subsequent volumes of the series on communism) were incorporated into the meeting, such as:

-        ‘doesn’t communism mean making everyone the same, which goes against the fact that people are all different?’. Comrades referred to Marx’s early writings to say that he had been explicitly opposed to what he called ‘crude’ or barracks communism. The aim of the communist revolution was to resolve the problem of labouring to produce life’s necessities and thus create a society where wealth is measured not in labour time but in free time, and where individuals can develop their full potential;

-        ‘can’t we change things without violence?’ Several comrades responded that no ruling class had ever given up without a fight, but it was also pointed out that the more organised and conscious the revolution is, the less it will get bogged down in violence. And whether or not Occupy London had agreed on non-violence, the other occupations in Spain, North Africa, Greece and the USA had all faced police or army violence when they tried to take over ‘public’ spaces. And they had been obliged to defend themselves. Posed with a concrete situation like this, there was a wider level of agreement that we could not avoid the question of force, above all if we were talking about taking over the whole of the means for producing wealth;

-        ‘how can we make a revolution which doesn’t end up with new Stalins?’ In response to this, reference was made to the actual experience of past workers’ revolutions, such as the Commune and the workers’ councils of 1905 and 1917, which had not been ‘invented’ by Marx or other revolutionaries but had emerged from the struggle itself and expressed the need of the working class to create forms of organisation that could be under its direct control. The re-appearance of the general assembly form in the occupations movement was, whether its participants were aware of it or not, a continuation of the same dynamic. Of course there can be no guarantees that a revolution won’t degenerate, but we can certainly learn from the failures and errors of the past, such as the mistaken idea that the role of the communist political organisation is to take state power into its own hands. The participant who raised the question, someone who might have termed himself  a ‘sceptical marxist’, seemed happy with this last response;

-        ‘isn’t there a subjective element to the crisis?’ This was raised in response to the point I had made about Marx’s analysis of the economic crisis, which in his view and ours derives from contradictions inherent in the system and are thus ultimately beyond the control of the capitalists or the state. But it was posed from two very different angles: Pingu wanted to discuss the subjective role of the working class in either provoking or aggravating the crisis through its own struggles. Some answers to this were given, such as a reference to the 1930s when you had a defeated working class and yet an economic crisis that was extremely deep. But the discussion was pushed into another direction by two or three people who thought that I was being naive to think that the ruling elite had not engineered the crisis: in other words, they held to the classic conspiratorial view of history: there is a continuing elite passed down through blood lines over hundreds of years, who manipulate the world’s finances to bring about the crisis and thus shore up their power. The main spokesman for this viewpoint had also been the one most in favour of non-violent resistance.  In response a number of points were made: the ruling class is profoundly divided along national lines, hence their imperialist rivalries and their total inability to come together to do anything about the ecological crisis; the crisis is not benefiting the ruling class because it is creating the conditions where people are indeed resisting capitalism and posing questions about the future; and, even if there was a single, secret elite running the world, we would still need a revolution to overthrow them. When you discuss with people who hold to the full-blown conspiracy viewpoint , you usually get the impression that this is ultimately an ideology of resignation: nothing can be done because the elite (the Illuminati, etc) are so all-powerful.

 

This topic was, unsurprisingly, not resolved and we ran out of time. But these kinds of ideas are extremely widespread and they need to be answered  They are connected to a growing disillusionment with the democratic facade and an attempt to make sense of an increasingly chaotic world. The response is a false one but revolutionaries have to respond to the underlying questions being posed (just dismissing people as ‘conspiraloons’ isn’t really what’s needed here).

 

All in all, worth doing and it might be a good idea to repeat the talk, or something similar, at the Bank of Ideas in the new year.   

    

Fred
Your meeting sounds pretty

Your meeting sounds pretty good Alf. But Ive never heard of this before: " there is a continuing elite passed down through blood lines over hundreds of years, who manipulate the world’s finances to bring about the crisis and thus shore up their power." It sounds like something out of the Da Vinci code, or the darkest recesses of the Vatican vault! Yet I would have thought the contradiction between the crisis these manipulators want, and tbe effect it's producing - world wide protestations and increasing resistance to the crisis - might have disproved their 'theory'. But apparently not. For myself I find it difficult to comprehend what "the underlying questions" underpinning this view - of an all- powerful elite (a bit like god)) who run everything - might actually be. Does religion have anything to do with it? In any case another similar meeting at the Bank of Ideas (what's that?) or elsewhere, sounds good.

Alf
conspiracy

 Yes, conspiracy world views are often strongly tinged with religion - I find it very prevalent among the Muslim and Christian students where I work, for example.  The 'power' behind the throne is often seen as Satan - or the Jews, of course. Another version is that stuff about the Lizards.....My point is that many young people are totally disillusioned with the idea that we live in a democratic system and rightly feel that there is a lot being decided in secret and not in the general interest. But lacking a communist framework they are easy prey to the conspiratorial approach, which can lead to the most reactionary politics.  

jk1921
Does the Ruling Class Want the Crisis?

The idea that the ruling class, or elements thereof, is actually engineering the crisis is not limited to far out conspiracy theories. In U.S. political culture, there is a narrative that say the Republicans want the crisis to get worse because it will make it easier to get rid of Obama in November, so they pursue policies detrimental to the recovery. There may actually be some truth to this argument.

In a less political argument, some economists have argues that Wall Street doesn't really care about the overall health of the national captial. All they care about is profits; if a crisis economy helps them increase their short term profits they are all for it. Again, there may be some truth here. Although, this is not quite the same as saying that the crisis is actually planned for in advance by an elite clique.

ernie
We need to change the system but how?

Good to hear that the meeting went well. The questions that came up at the meeting are almost the same as those raised at the General Assembly of the Exeter Occupy on Nov 30th. The comrades of the ICC in Exeter had proposed to a General Assembly on the weekend before the 30th that they hold a general assembly on the afternoon of the 30th on the topic of the strike and what next in order that those participating on the local demonstrations  could have somewhere to discuss after enduring the union speeches. This was accepted by the GA, especially by the younger participants. These participants also made a real effort to call on those participating in the local demo to come to the assembly; they took banners on the demo call on people to come to the assembly, and they had a stall at the trade union demonstration with a big banner saying about the assembly.

About 4000 workers participated on the demonstration, which is a very big turn out for this area.

In the end between 30 - 40 people (numbers fluctuating all the time) most had participated in the demo and strike and several who had never been to a general assembly before and had come because of the call to attend the assembly.

The discussion began with the question of the strike. Everyone felt that the turn out for the demonstration had been impressive. The great majority backed the unions, but our position on the need not to trust the unions and to struggle autonomously was listened to and discussed. We did not change anyones minds but it is not every day that 30-40 people discuss this question in the open air!

The discussion also took up the question of can the system be reformed, and someone asked us what our alternative was. The meeting then spent the next 45 minutes discussing whether communism is the real alternative. As at St Paul's the questions raised were;

- look what happened in Russia, if that was communism I want none of it

- can we really change the system

- do we need violent revolution

- coudl there not be a more peaceful way of changing things

The discussion was very intense, with people joining in who would not usually participate in political meetings let alone in a public space (the assembly was held on the Cathedral Green). Almost everyone was agreed on the need to change the system. Only one person felt we could not change the system. In response a very young guy said "They used to say that about slavery but it was got rid of". Many agreed that Communism was a good idea but the terrible historical weight of the defeat of the Russian Revolution was ever present. There was a real fear that a revolution would only lead to another set of leaders etc. These are important questions and express that people are actually thinking about the need for change.

Exeter is hardly a proletarian heartland so the fact that 30 odd people were willing to discuss the need for an alternative to capitalism on a cold November afternoon shows that under the surface there is a very real and profound process of subterrean maturation going on.

Alf
Exeter experience

 This was in many ways several steps ahead of 'my' meeting, which reflects a phase of retreat in the Occupy movement. Although a phase of retreat can also be a phase of reflection. 

There is one item of the St Paul's meeting I didn't include, as I was not sure how to present it. But here goes anyway. There was a lot of interest in the connection that virtually all the 'left communists' at the meeting made between economic crisis and war.  There was even a specific request to one of the CWO comrades to elaborate on the argument that war restores the rate of profit, and even initiates a new cycle of accumulation,  through the massive physical destruction of capital.  He did so very succinctly, and a number of people semed to find that it fitted in with many of their own thoughts. The problem was how to integrate this question - which is an issue of disagreement and debate among marxists themselves - into a more general discussion where few of the most basic postulates of marxism were close to being accepted.   

Alf
a few moments off

 The above was posted in a few moments of escape under the relentless drive of Christmas and its vampire quest for surplus-happiness.

 

Solstice greetings to all!