The difference between the working class in Europe and in China

42 posts / 0 new
Last post
Marin Jensen
The difference between the working class in Europe and in China
Printer-friendly version

We should not certainly underestimate the importance of the emergence of a mass industrial (in the broadest sense) working class in countries like China, India, or Brazil. This means that the working class in Europe and the USA is not isolated in a huge world sea of peasantry as it was in 1917: the working class today is more a truly world working class.

However the numbers alone sometimes conceal more than they reveal, and one should not overestimate the political strength of the working class in China (for example):

  1. The working class in China has completely lost touch with its past history and experience. As far as one can tell, those who criticise the present situation in China generally tend to look back to... Mao. Memory of the appalling disaster of the Great Leap Forward (20 million deaths by famine) seems to be hidden by an omerta, and anything further back is lost to view.
  2. The Chinese working class is very new: mostly first or at best second generation. Hence with a "peasant consciousness" rather than a working-class consciousness, if I can put it like that.
  3. The Chinese workers generally are very isolated from the outside world by censorship and language.
  4. There is no mass immigration into China.

Compare that with the situation in Europe:

  1. Although the mass of workers certainly are not aware of the lessons of their history, those lessons are there for those who look. The groups of communists (and anarchists and others) are certainly very small, but they are there and they represent a storehouse of the seeds of class consciousness, ready to germinate when the conditions are ripe.
  2. The working class in Europe is the oldest in the world, with the oldest traditions and the most experience of confrontation with the two major mystifications of today: democracy and the trades unions.
  3. Europe is probably the one place in the world where internationalism in struggle is most able to be seen as most immediately necessary and most immediately possible, with 20-odd industrialised countries very close together and struggles going cross-border very quickly in some cases (the Continental tyre struggle for example). True, for the moment that is very much controlled by the unions, but it nonetheless represents a rich potential. It also encourages workers to see that their problems cannot be solved in a national context.
  4. Immigration has changed the face of the European working class. All the major industrial cities have seen an influx of immigrant workers since 1945, from Spain, Italy, Portugal, Greece, then more recently from Poland, the ex-DDR, and looking further afield from the Caribbean, Africa, Turkey, China, Latin America, India etc etc. Despite the difficulties this is fundamentally positive because it has the potential for breaking down barriers and giving the working class as a whole a much broader world view.

Another point I would add, is that the working class today is far better educated, in general, than it was 100 years ago. This is a result both of an increasing need for high-skilled workers, and the "proletarianisation" of jobs that were once considered "professional". And this is something important for the long-run too: remember that Lenin considered that the low cultural level of the Russian working class was one of its greatest weaknesses.

mikail firtinaci
That was just my point actually

Lone,

I think I have certain disagreements about your description of the situation in the East. First of all East is not only China. Second even your generalizations about China seem to me very very wide. For instance you claimed that:

The working class in China has completely lost touch with its past history and experience. As far as one can tell, those who criticise the present situation in China generally tend to look back to... Mao.

I don't know how you came to this conclusion. I am not very well informed about the Chinese situation but as far as I know, there are political tendencies inside the party or bureaucracy that might want a return to original "Mao." But really who knows what workers are thinking? And if they are attached too much to Mao (we don't know that) then the western worker is too much attached to the idea of democracy. It is paralyzed for very long by these bourgeoisie institutions, by parliaments, by "freedom of press and association" etc. However, in the east as you just pointed out, simply because there are no strong bourgeoisie liberal traditions democracy means very little and did not have any immobilizing effect on the workers as it happened in the western Europe.

About isolation of the Chinese worker; yes Chinese workers may be intellectually isolated - and again we don't know that for sure. But western European workers' are also isolated, perhaps not in the sense that being isolated from the "literature," but they are physically isolated from each other. Not only the numbers of the workers in the west is shrinking but also their contact with each other. Think about for instance the long periods of unemployement many young people have to endure... Of course there is unemployement in China also, but comparing this with the situation in the W.Eu. I think it is less damaging in terms of isolation.

Finally, about immigration; I think that point is also a bit far-stretched. China, is undorgoing a serious and huge internal migration for the last few decades.

--------------------

But overall, thanks for this post. I think now we start to understand each other. So if you remember my post in the other debate I was saying that:

So we are in a situation in which the communist thought is detached from the workers continentally. In the 19th century the divide was between the reading classes (middle class professionals) and manual laborers. Now it is geographically dispersed.

So returning to my original post; would you now agree with my conclusion?

However now, the challenge is then to unite the geography that accummulated the militants and the past experience (west) with the geography of militant spirit and struggle (East). Just as the communist movement  in 19th century had to bridge the class divide between the socialist intellectuals and the workers we have to bridge the geogprahy divide. This time hopefully with an international organization which is conscious of its obstacles and has a willlingness to set up a plan to overcome them.

jk1921
LL mentions the

LL mentions the proletarianization of professional jobs in the West. This may be true, but along with this--at least in the U.S.--there is a tendency to inculcate an ideology of professionalism around many of these jobs. Everyone is expected to be and act like a professional, even people who get paid shit and have no control over their own labor. Its part of a process that Foucault described as "bio-politics," basically getting everyone to be their own cop. I don't want to overestimate this, but it is real. If you are lucky enough to have a job today (especially among the younger generations) the last thing you want is to be labeled "cynical," "difficult," or god forbid "unprofessional."

Couple this with the explosion of student debt--at least in the Anglophone countries--where the younger generations are basically turned into state debt peons--in addition to being exploited workers--and one could be forgiven for wondering if there are not some serious changes going on today. Its stuff like this that leads someone like David Graber--speaking at Zuccotti Park--to wonder if this is even captialism anymore or something else? Of course, that is a major overstatement, but there do seem to be some important changes underway that might alter the relationship of the proletariat to the labor process and the state. Perhaps this also affects the process of politicization by which people become militants? Does the model of the generation of '68 even work anymore?

mhou
Workers in China, South

Workers in China, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, etc. have shown very advanced methods and forms of struggle, reminiscent of earlier generations in the central capitalist countries. The struggles at Honda in 2010, Foxconn in 2012, the long struggle at Hyundai, etc. had forms like worker-delegates, factory committee's outside and against the trade unions, inter-firm solidarity committee's, occupations, bossnappings, etc. I think the conditions of decadent capitalism have accelerated the development of consciousness in formerly underdeveloped nations which are today 'workshop nations'.

Quote:
Does the model of the generation of '68 even work anymore?

Depends on which aspects of 1968 you are referring to. I think the activity of the SI/Enrages in the May days is a good example of a communist minority being in the thick of events in a positive way (like starting the Committee for the Maintenance of the Occupations) with influence far outpacing their size.

But when it comes to the recomposition of the global proletariat, do we think there will be 1 model of revolutionary ferment that is applicable everywhere? I think soviet-type formations will be a feature of a future revolutionary crisis, but we won't see a "World Soviet" as envisioned by some left communists- that a consequence of recomposition is a probable diffusion of forms of struggle and means of struggle. I wouldn't be surprised to see soviet type organization in "worker fortresses" around the world (where they still exist in the West and all over China, India, etc.). But we may see neighborhood councils, city committee's, or just straight rioting etc. elsewhere, all happening around the globe.

 

baboon
I agree with the first part

I agree with the first part of Mhou's post above, and in some respects, not all, with Mikhail's points about the working class in China. For the reasons Mhou gives above about the depth and extent of class struggle in China, a struggle that is continuing unabated today, I think it's unlikely that, at some level, there are not wider political lessons and connections, implicit or explicit, being made from that struggle. The workers' delegates that we've seen elected against the unions is a case in point.  The wider struggles, involving and motivated by a very militant minority in the face of severe state repression, can only lay the ground, in my opinion, to give rise to some sort of discussion circles where deeper political questions are raised.

Fred
jk wrote: LL mentions the

jk wrote:
LL mentions the proletarianization of professional jobs in the West. This may be true, but along with this--at least in the U.S.--there is a tendency to inculcate an ideology of professionalism around many of these jobs. Everyone is expected to be and act like a professional, even people who get paid shit and have no control over their own labor. Its part of a process that Foucault described as "bio-politics," basically getting everyone to be their own cop. I don't want to overestimate this, but it is real. If you are lucky enough to have a job today (especially among the younger generations) the last thing you want is to be labeled "cynical," "difficult," or god forbid "unprofessional."

If the person who is paid shit, has no control over his own labour, ( in this he is like all workers! ) but falls for the idea that he is now a "professional", is at last an example of a "recomposed" member of the working class, then we have nothing of a sociological nature to fear. For all this guy has done is fall for the latest brand of bourgeois ideology, and he'll just have to see through it, in the good old traditional way of workers sussing out their exploiters. (I don't know whether "sussing out" sounds a bit like 1968, and if so whether it's okay to use it. Some comrades appear positively mesmerized by '68, and it's implications, as if humans are no longer the same kind of organism they were in those far off days. But damn it! People still buy Beatles music and pay to see the Stones. Even "recomposition" apparently has it's limits.)

As to mhou unable to envisage "a world soviet" ... does this mean we can't have a world party - the international communist party? Or is the comrade talking about something else?

mhou
I don't think the soviet form

I don't think the soviet form is necessarily as important to Marxism as the International. It was a widespread form at a particular time, that we really haven't seen since (not to say here haven't been "soviet-type" forms- like those in Iran in the late '70s), but I don't think we have to say "if there aren't workers councils, it isn't a proletarian revolution", or that it is the only kind of organization the working-class will create in a revolutionary crisis.

jk1921
Good Question

Fred wrote:

If the person who is paid shit, has no control over his own labour, ( in this he is like all workers! ) but falls for the idea that he is now a "professional", is at last an example of a "recomposed" member of the working class, then we have nothing of a sociological nature to fear. For all this guy has done is fall for the latest brand of bourgeois ideology, and he'll just have to see through it, in the good old traditional way of workers sussing out their exploiters. (I don't know whether "sussing out" sounds a bit like 1968, and if so whether it's okay to use it. Some comrades appear positively mesmerized by '68, and it's implications, as if humans are no longer the same kind of organism they were in those far off days. But damn it! People still buy Beatles music and pay to see the Stones. Even "recomposition" apparently has it's limits.)

As to mhou unable to envisage "a world soviet" ... does this mean we can't have a world party - the international communist party? Or is the comrade talking about something else?

 

I think you raise a good question as to whether this type of change is "sociological" or merely "ideological." What do others think? Is it even important?

jk1921
What workers think?

mikail firtinaci wrote:

 But really who knows what workers are thinking? And if they are attached too much to Mao (we don't know that) then the western worker is too much attached to the idea of democracy. It is paralyzed for very long by these bourgeoisie institutions, by parliaments, by "freedom of press and association" etc. However, in the east as you just pointed out, simply because there are no strong bourgeoisie liberal traditions democracy means very little and did not have any immobilizing effect on the workers as it happened in the western Europe.

How do we ever know what the workers' are thinking? But I suppose the typical Marxist response to this is that it is a non-question. We aren't supposed to care what individual workers think (either as individuals or as aggreates), we are only supposed to care about what is happening at the subterrean level, which is supposed to have a reality quite distinct from what workers think in their heads on a day to day basis. But I think you have highlighted one of the main problems with the entire SMC issue--we are simply not consistent when referring to the various levels of consciousness. When workers "empirical consciousness" seems to support a point we want to make, we tend to refer to it as if it it were some kind of authority, but when it seems to run counter to what we want to believe, we dismiss it as an epiphenomenon that is of no real importance.

 

mikail firtinaci wrote:

Finally, about immigration; I think that point is also a bit far-stretched. China, is undorgoing a serious and huge internal migration for the last few decades.

I think it is far from obvious that mass immigration to the central countries is some kind of positive for the development of workers' consciousness. It would be great if this meant that the working class was poised to accept internationalist solidarity, but in reality it doesn't seem to work out that way--at least at the level that can be measured empirically. It seems like it is one more obstacle for workers to overcome. Some even go so far as to say that the workers movement can only be successful within a national context. I think I even saw something once where the author argued that once immigrants reach a certain percentage of the population, the workers' movement will experience a crisis. This wasn't coming from some right-wing populist, but someone quite sympathetic to labor. Whatever one thinks of these ideas, it seems that mass immigration is one of the factors of the "sociological recomposition" that we need to come to grips with.

mhou
When talking of

When talking of recomposition, and restructuring, some have been quick to talk about the end of the proletariat (Marcuse), the end of the proletariat as revolutionary subject (late Camatte), etc. Even if we recognize that there has been a change in the central capitalist nations from industrial to service (industries based on the consumption of commodities and reproduction of the working-class), even if there are remnents of the "traditional proletariat" in the West, they are no longer the dominant face of the working-class there.

When we conceive worker's councils, I have a hard time seeing the masses of, for example, retail workers, in the large shopping complex's that dot the American landscape, organizing into soviets in the workplace. Geographical soviets may be a possibility, but isn't the traditional vanguard of soviet movements workers in traditional industrial jobs? In Russia and Hungary, metalworkers were the primary source of the councils movement in Petrograd and Budapest- workers in large plants like Putilov. In the late 60's, auto workers (or heavy manufacturing workers in general- like Sud-Aviation, Peugot, Renault) seemed to be at the head of events in Western Europe; like China and South Korea recently (Hyundai and Honda). Is there a specific link between the factory council and very specific industries? In India, Egypt and Bangladesh, the textile industry is a primary part of the national economies, and organized under modern industrial technique and conditions. I wonder whether the notion of a 'core proletariat', those involved in basic and industrial production, are by nature of the work different from the masses of workers not employed in productive industry. As LoneLondoner noted, there are masses employed in transportation and transit (the airports example)- but are the tens of thousands of workers (from custodial crews to front desk clerks to pilots) likely due to the nature of the workplace to establish councils?

jk1921
Mhou raised the issue of

Mhou raised the issue of councils not necessarily being the only form of revolutionary organization in an earlier post. What are the alternatives? I am not an expert on the communisation stuff, but isn't there a strain of it that sees communism sort of emerging from the economic crisis itself, as humanity is forced to find others ways of living outside of "commodity relationships"? Daily life is, in a sense, decommodified, because it is simply no longer possible to go on living in such a way. Obviously, this vision is quite distinct from left communism, which takes the issue of the state as paramount. An economic transition can only take place as a result of a conscious political act and for that there must be political organs that can offer an alternative form of soverignty to the bourgeois state. If we reject the substiutionist thesis that this can be done by a revolutionary party--then what other organs are possible if working class is no longer sociologically capable of forming soviets (of course, this point is disputable)?

mikail firtinaci
city or neighborhood wide soviets?

good points comrades. I think this discussion is also related to the question of tactics. So what forms of organisation best works for the seizure of power? Obviously these will emerge according to the complex needs of the proletariat and the necessities of struggle in the process leading towards the revolution. And I think the general rule is they should be unitary organs -including unemployed, students, housewifes-.

One instance brought all elements of the class in recent struggles is the occupation movement. In occupations a great variety of the segments of the class came together; they were not secterian but inclusive; they were aggresive in the sense that they claimed to take a hold of the city center. In Athens it was right across the parliament, in NY it was close to the Wall Street etc. So the political claim was assertive from the beggining.

The only problem I see with this dynamic is that it could not or did not established linked with the production and distribution spheres. So, it did not really disturbed the process of value production and exploitation. Only in Oakland/California there emerged the tendency to unite with the dock workers strike which shows the possibilities for the future of this kind of a struggle. So, there are certain limiations to the city center occupations but I am not sure if these are some kind of structural limitations or if they are conjonctural and if they can be overcomed through further radicalization.

 

mhou
Quote:Mhou raised the issue

Quote:
Mhou raised the issue of councils not necessarily being the only form of revolutionary organization in an earlier post. What are the alternatives? I am not an expert on the communisation stuff, but isn't there a strain of it that sees communism sort of emerging from the economic crisis itself, as humanity is forced to find others ways of living outside of "commodity relationships"? Daily life is, in a sense, decommodified, because it is simply no longer possible to go on living in such a way. Obviously, this vision is quite distinct from left communism, which takes the issue of the state as paramount. An economic transition can only take place as a result of a conscious political act and for that there must be political organs that can offer an alternative form of soverignty to the bourgeois state. If we reject the substiutionist thesis that this can be done by a revolutionary party--then what other organs are possible if working class is no longer sociologically capable of forming soviets (of course, this point is disputable)?

The way I understand it is capitalist crisis can create the conditions for a revolutionary crisis- and in the "crisis activity" that the class undertakes (all of the things workers wouldn't normally do but are compelled to do so by material conditions), the capitalist political economy dissolves as the economic and political terrains are no longer separated as they are today- so if the workers in a car factory occupy the plant and lock the owners and police out, masses of unemployed take to public spaces and protest/demonstrate and refuse to leave, workers in a textile mill start burning down factories, the free economy starts up first as looting then as embryonic consumer co-op type bartering centers- the working-class is taking political power away from the bourgeoisie, delegitimizing the state, dissolving the alienation of their labor and building communism. A combination of economic power and political power, the working-class as the dominant class, but not as a new ruling class.

But the description of the semi-state is still found in communisation texts (some anyway). They use the term 'para-state' which, in their description, is almost identical to the semi-state, left communist conception of the organized suppression of counter-revolution, coercive groups or actions to force non-proletarian strata and classes into proletarianization, etc.

You bring up a good point- I don't think it's necessary to have a 'World Soviet' vision of the proletarian revolution to be for the class party/International; or rather that they are mutually tied together, that you can't have 1 without the other. If other forms are taken by the working-class during the next revolutionary crisis, I still think the class party retains the same significance and largely the same place as seen by those who think the revolution has to be via councils. Even if we take it as a fact that the working-class in the West has changed in its industrial composition since the 1970's, and that this may put the gradually higher bodies of soviets that make up an international World Soviet vision into doubt as a universal model that is immutable and a 'class line', no ones suggesting that the proletariat has disappeared or that its revolutionary agency has changed, so the basis for the party and its rationale would still be in place.

Fred
free beer

Quote:
...so if the workers in a car factory occupy the plant and lock the owners and police out, masses of unemployed take to public spaces and protest/demonstrate and refuse to leave, workers in a textile mill start burning down factories, the free economy starts up first as looting then as embryonic consumer co-op type bartering centers- the working-class is taking political power away from the bourgeoisie, delegitimizing the state, dissolving the alienation of their labor and building communism. A combination of economic power and political power, the working-class as the dominant class, but not as a new ruling class.

This sounds rather like an anarchist paradise. Factories on fire; workers isolated in factories "they've taken over", the free economy suddenly starting up, just like that, and the startled bourgeoisie finds they've lost political power to the working class. All by magic. So do we end up for the moment with communism in one neighborhood, or one street? That sounds exciting! And no doubt free beer too. Even better. But wait! The beer will soon run out being free, and we then have the question of how to get more beer. Who's going to make it? Who will pick the hops; ensure an electricity and water supply; produce bottles,kegs and casks; make sure the delivery vans have fuel and a driver who can take the beer to the communized street? Perhaps I have misunderstood this approach to building communism, but it'll never work anyway! Communism isn't some daft free-for- all, like a hippie commune, or Robin Hood and his Merrie Mates living it up like socialists in Sherwood Forest. No. Communism is an advance on capitalist society. Power won't just fall into the hands of the working class by accident. The class needs sufficient consciousness of it's aims to remove the bourgeoisie from power and start to establish it's own proletarian rule, with a conscious intent of eradicating capitalist relations of production and beginning the task of building a new society. This requires much and very centralized planning and execution on a world scale. I don't know why or whether there would have to be a "world soviet" but surely there would have to be workers' organizations in most big cities planning and deciding on priorities for the maintenance and improvement of all human life; plus organizations at the international level; plus, vitally, the international communist party, tbere to ensure the maintenance of the communist vision and keep checks on the para-state and all those seeking a return to the selfish pursuits of capital.

Would free beer be a priority?

jk1921
Beer and Car Accidents

Fred wrote:

Would free beer be a priority?

Does that mean that there will still be car accidents under communism?

 

Seriously though, Fred's post sums up pretty concisely the left communist objection to certain tendencies in the communisation milieu or perhaps its the "change the world without taking power" crowd we are aiming at here? What's the relationship between that and communisation?

mhou
Quote:This sounds rather like

Quote:
This sounds rather like an anarchist paradise. Factories on fire; workers isolated in factories "they've taken over", the free economy suddenly starting up, just like that, and the startled bourgeoisie finds they've lost political power to the working class. All by magic.

I'm playing devil's advocate here; and since it is part of the recomposition of the working-class topic (though will stop that in this post if it's considered veering off topic) will respond. I think there are glaring weak spots in that milieu's accounts, but it is very 'young', only having recently been picked up internationally after a lull from the 1970's-today aside from a couple small groups. For the purpose of increasing understanding of Marxism, they seem useful (either to reinforce or add to ones personal understanding). I think the absence of a working definition of what they think the role of the communist minority is in these times and during revolutionary crisis is the biggest weak spot.

A realistic picture of what revolution looks like, from where we are today, is important. The struggles in certain parts of the world appear to have that 'classic workers movement' form- but others don't have that parallel; the textile struggles in Bangladesh, factory riots that the Chinese Stalinist government euphemistically calls "disturbances"; bank burnings in Greece, attacking ruling party HQ in the UK- these are just a few examples of struggles that are emerging that do not involve workers identifying with the working-class identity, and largely look like struggles against the proletarian condition, but not in the interest of unifying consciously as a class. While reading some of the communisation articles appear to put forward that the traditional forms of class organization (like worker's councils) are historical events at a time when the worker's movement was still 'alive'- I'm not sure about that; I do think it is a likely form of organization and struggle, but not in the expansive levels of delegated organization described by early writings from the Third International about a World Soviet Republic- a form that is still described in contemporary communist articles as the form of the proletarian revolution. It isn't magic if we have already witnessed these events in recent times, the factory burnings, the looting, rioting, mass occupation of public space and formation of assemblies. I'm not sure how that fits into a contemporary analysis of the class struggle, if we are looking only for councils to the exclusion of all other possibilities. How much weight communists should give to changes in struggle or increased instances of these "disturbances" which do not fit the forms of 1917-1927/36 (soviets, factory committee's).

What did we see in Egypt if not a state that became delegitimized and enter political crisis- where the regime was toppled by strikes and mass action? Sure, the army did not dissolve and the military leadership quickly regrouped the political power as head of the state (in the absence of a crumbling/dissolving regime). But there was hesitency in the peak weeks of the revolution about the use of force against the struggling proletariat and the inter-classist elements (the regimes-in-waiting that now comprise the official opposition). On a larger scale and spreading beyond regional boundaries, it is a "realistic" look into the state of struggle today, and possibly what it means when a state 'whithers away'.

Quote:
So do we end up for the moment with communism in one neighborhood, or one street? That sounds exciting! And no doubt free beer too. Even better. But wait! The beer will soon run out being free, and we then have the question of how to get more beer. Who's going to make it? Who will pick the hops; ensure an electricity and water supply; produce bottles,kegs and casks; make sure the delivery vans have fuel and a driver who can take the beer to the communized street?

Strawman; we're talking about the proletarian revolution, not alternativism or lifestylism. In the literature revolution is portrayed as some kind of orderly, well organized series of events which have a more or less linear quality. That gap between contemporary reality, and 'planning' based on a much different looking working-class than that of 1917-1927/36. I'm just putting forward that it seems dangerously close to 'revolutionary blueprints' to hold to forms of the past revolutionary wave to the exclusion of forms going on today, where in the West the largest sectors of the working-class are no longer involved in manufacturing or refining raw materials. Which is why I asked the question- were the soviet movements of 1917, or 1919, largely strong and successful due to the 'core' nature of the traditional industrial proletariat in the metalworking and manufacturing industries? The power of the Petrograd and Budapest soviets were largely built on the metalworkers; and these powerful soviets exerted influence on the rest of each country- like those of Hungary again in 1956. If the organization or composition of the global proletariat has changed a lot since those times, what do we base the appearance of soviets on in the new or growing industries of today (healthcare, transit/transportation, information technology, etc.)?

 

Quote:
vitally, the international communist party, tbere to ensure the maintenance of the communist vision and keep checks on the para-state and all those seeking a return to the selfish pursuits of capital.

 

I agree with you. But regarding the level of organization or how it will unfold during the next revolutionary crisis, I think we need to be able to apply Marxism to be at the head of events and perform the role of communists- and that it's possible different  forms are applied (just like the Bolsheviks weren't prepared or preconceived the appearance of the soviet form itself before it happened) in the next revolutionary crisis.

Quote:
Seriously though, Fred's post sums up pretty concisely the left communist objection to certain tendencies in the communisation milieu or perhaps its the "change the world without taking power" crowd we are aiming at here? What's the relationship between that and communisation?

No idea; I'd guess there isn't one.

ernie
Mass Strike in Poland demonstrated how the class can organise

Mhou raises important points about the ability of the working class to organise itself. We do not have to go back to 1917-23 only to find mass examples of the proletariat's self-organisation. The mass strike inn Poland 1980 demonstrated how the class can organise itself through mass assemblies, elected strike committees etc. This self-organisation went beyond the factories: it was said that society in Poland worked much better in this sort period of proletarian self-activity than during the rest of the time. Food was distributed, health, power etc maintained. This self-organisation stretched beyond the economic and included social measures such as the closing down of bars in order to try and control the terrible weight of alcoholism in the class that the Polish state actively encouraged. There is also the example of the movement in Spain in 2011 when tens of thousands took to the streets, organised mass assemblies. This movement did not involve a mass strike but the wave of discussions that swept over Spain during this period were extremely important because in towns, cities and even villiages people came together to discuss, including what can of future did people want.

The mass assemblies in Spain also pointed the way forwards for how the proletariat can give itself thel  means to allow all workers to engage in collective struggle. The mass assemblies were open to all workers, even though workers felt unable to strile they were able to come together inorder to discuss and demonstrate. This was what was also important about the occupy movement in the US and else where it provide the means for workers spread across many workplaces, faced with many different types of employment to come together. This desire to unite together and to discuss cannot be underestimated.

This relates to the question raised by Mhou about the core proletariat and the rest of the class. Productive workers certainly have an important role, but the distinction between productive workers/core proletariat and the rest of the class is not so clear. Production is dependent upon transport, communications, power, health care, education.

In Britain the largest workforce is the NHS with over a million workers, and any movement by health workers has a powerful impact on thhe rest of the class. Also as the miners' strike demonstrated no matter how militant a "core" part of the proletariat is, if it remains isolated it will be smashed. Interestingly one of the most interesting strikes in Britain in 1980's was the 88 wildcat strike by nurses in the North and Midlands of Britain. Drawing on the expereince of the miners' defeat nurses in some areas went to mines and car plants to call for solidarity. Here a non "core" part of the proletariat was determinant in seeking to mobilse the productive workers. The potential of this movement to gain the active support of workers workers, one of the main car plants in Liverpool and at least one mine, walked out in solidarity with the nurse on the day of a national demonstration, saw the unions and bosses working overtime to end this limited movement.

There is a real danger in dividing the proletariat up into core, productive etc. Clearly the concentration of certain industries have changed and there is a huge growth in precarious working conditions (which spreads across the whole of the  working class) but the proletarait is still the revolutionary class, and its only effective means of self-defense in the short and long term is its ability to overcome the barries between it in order to unite as a class. Thus, the Mass Strike in Poland and the mass assemblies in Spain express the efforts of the proletariat to go beyond its divsions and emerging problems such a percarious working.

One last point to illustrate this, the Heathrow workers struggle a few years ago when catering workers came out, or before that when ticket staff came out, these struggle were quickly isolated by the unions because they were terrified of any movement spreading across this massive concentration of workers. If a movement were to close down Heathrow it would be a massive boost to the confidence of the whole working class. The implications would roll out like waves across the whole world due to the inter-connection of the air transport industry. As a comrade said on another thread we should not underestimate the power of other sections of the class such as transport, power, health workers to generate important movements.

Alf
communisation tendency

Much to say about this thread, but one point for now.  Mhou's paragraph on party and soviet as two complementary instruments is very clear, but I have a question about this:  

 

"no ones suggesting that the proletariat has disappeared or that its revolutionary agency has changed" 

 

I am interested in what the communisation current has to say, and in what you think it is that they contribute to the communist movement, but isn't this question of the revolutionary subject a central weakness of all the 'modernist' (or perhaps 'post-modernist') communists (among which i would include the so-called 'nihilists' as well): that they either - as in the case of Camatte - flatly reject the proletariat as a revolutionary subject, or make key concessions to this idea by rejecting the need for the working class to affirm itself before it can negate itself?  And for that very reason, reject both party and soviet, as being expressions of mere 'politics'?

mhou
Very interesting points. As

Very interesting points. As for the actual organization of the proletariat during the next international revolutionary crisis, this is a weakness in the communisation conception (or some of them anyway, there is a good deal of diversity between groups and publications). Frankly I don't find either side convincing (the 'World Soviet' hierchical model or international immediate transition to communism with forms we can't see or predict today).

The idea of a core or essential proletariat has popped up in a few places- like the rest, have mixed feelings on the matter. I agree that the assembly/occupation movements and the quasi-mass strikes in recent years (1980-today), in both the central and peripheral countries, is a form of proletarian organization in struggle. An article in the last Internationalism describes the groups formed in the assembly/indignant movement in Spain. But if we are strictly talking about the soviet form, the traditional worker's council, it does appear strongest (historically) in those industries that fall in the core/essential proletariat definitions; and the power of the councils in the large cities/capital cities excersized tremendous influence over the rest of the working-class in that nation-state. There are orderly examples of the proletariat taking over the means of production and substinence and organizing strictly as workers in a soviet-type organization (the Seattle 1919 general strike is a prime example, and had its own embryonic worker's council along with the soviet-type body, the inter-trade strike committee which delegated goods and services exempt from the strike for the purpose of substinence).

We all seem to be in agreement that the entire proletariat is necessary for capitalism- from retail clerks to package handlers to nurses to custodians etc. But if we're talking about specific forms of organization like the worker's councils, is the changing industrial face of the central nations' working-class a decisive factor in whether or not we see a strong soviet movement in countries like the US and UK (and on the other side, the liklihood of soviet-type organization among the 'new' industrial proletariat in the BRICs/emerging nations)?

Examples like the ones you've mentioned, plus related ones like the CHAOS tactic of the flight attendents, the attempt to link Occupy to the dockworkers, etc, do present the working-class, even in service or emerging industries/not the traditional factory-mill-mine type industries, as just as capable of organizing itself and exerting class power but in ways that don't involve soviets. I don't mean to sound like a broken record, and a lot of ideas hashed out by communisation groups or insurrectionary anarchism and related tendencies do not find favor in left communism (modernism, etc.), but the composition of the class since the return of crisis does bring up questions about some things taken for granted (like the soviet form as the form of proletarian revolution- all else being outside of class lines or Marxism).

jk1921
Poland and Indignados/Occupy

Alf wrote:

 

I am interested in what the communisation current has to say, and in what you think it is that they contribute to the communist movement, but isn't this question of the revolutionary subject a central weakness of all the 'modernist' (or perhaps 'post-modernist') communists (among which i would include the so-called 'nihilists' as well): that they either - as in the case of Camatte - flatly reject the proletariat as a revolutionary subject, or make key concessions to this idea by rejecting the need for the working class to affirm itself before it can negate itself?  And for that very reason, reject both party and soviet, as being expressions of mere 'politics'?

I can imagine one of these "post-modernist communists" saying something like, "isn't clinging to a proletarian essentialist idea of a single revolutionary subject a central weakness of the left communist groups?" I think the question of revolutionary subjectivity is a central issue at this juncture and this comes through in Ernie's post about the Mass Strike in Poland, The Indignadoes and Occupy. The Polish events seem like the perfect example of a mass movement based on a proletariat whose sociological condition is still characterized by massive concentrations at the point of production. In this, the Eastern bloc was lagging behind the West in recomposing the proletariat which accounts for the relatively late date of these events (1980).

But the link between the Polish events to the Indignados and Occupy seems far more tenuous than say the link between Poland 1980 and May 1968. Its true that there are some red threads, but there also seem to be important differences that may reflect the sociological changes that have taken place since the early 1980s. The relative abscence of the point of production as a site of struggle in the recent events seems to stand out as begging an explanation.

It seems very indicatice of where we are right now that some might look at the Indignados/Occupy and see the continuation of Poland 1980/May 1968, while others see somthign fundamentally different that only emphasizes major changes in the nature of captialism and the proletariat itself. At some level, I think this boils down to some of the themes under discussion in another thread--the presuppositions we carry with us when we evaluate events, evidence, etc. We see what we want to see depending upon the importance we attach to various historical levels and time scales. For some of us, the last thirty years hasn't done much to change the fundamental basic contradictions of captialism as a system, while for others those thirty years are a very long time during which it seems something of historical importance has happened, but which we do not quite know how to adapt to yet. Can both of these perspectives rightfully make claim to being Marxist?

 

mhou
Quote:For some of us, the

Quote:
For some of us, the last thirty years hasn't done much to change the fundamental basic contradictions of captialism as a system, while for others those thirty years are a very long time during which it seems something of historical importance has happened, but which we do not quite know how to adapt to yet. Can both of these perspectives rightfully make claim to being Marxist?

That seems to be the central question of this thread.

Quote:
It seems very indicatice of where we are right now that some might look at the Indignados/Occupy and see the continuation of Poland 1980/May 1968, while others see somthign fundamentally different that only emphasizes major changes in the nature of captialism and the proletariat itself.

Some of the writings from 'dissident Marxists' like the operaists about the cycle of struggles in different eras of capitalism are interesting about points like this. During the Great Upheaval era, the years of the Paris Commune, the trade union and socialist movements (in the US for ex) were just starting to emerge, they were not mass movements yet. Masses of proletarians protesting in the streets, not over specific employers, conditions or wage-linked demands, but seemingly against the proletarian condition itself, seems very similar to what these forms of struggle (Occupy, the indignant, general assembly's) accomplish. They're not centered in the workplace (or exclusively centered in the workplace), do not have 'demands' like the history of labor unionism, and are not parliamentary or electoral efforts (like the socialist movement), but instead a more or less amorpheous, un-articulated anger and disgruntlement with the proletarian life that takes numerous forms in the course of those struggles (ranging from anger over particular eccentricities of the capitalist state or public policy, general demands for a better life, resentment at the prospect of unemployment, etc.).

Some of the communisation proponents are doing a re-reading of the German communist left. Pannekoek's concept of "Mass Action" was popular in the revolutionary circles of the Second International, and were a big part of the American socialist, syndicalist and later early communist Party's and organizations. I'm only vaguely familiar with it, but the concept seems to fit what happened with the indignant/occupy movements as a definition of 'mass action'.

mhou
This paragraph from

This paragraph from Pannekoek's 1912 "Marxist Theory and Revolutionary Tactics," is one of his texts on the 'mass action' theory (developed after Luxemburg's 'mass strike')- and seems pertinent to debates going on today:

"The source of the recent tactical disagreements is clear to see: under the influence of the modern forms of capitalism, new forms of action have developed in the labour movement, namely mass action. When they first made their appearance, they were welcomed by all Marxists and hailed as a sign of revolutionary development, a product of our revolutionary tactics. But as the practical potential of mass action developed, it began to pose new problems; the question of social revolution, hitherto an unattainably distant ultimate goal, now became a live issue for the militant proletariat, and the tremendous difficulties involved became clear to everyone, almost as a matter of personal experience. This gave rise to two trends of thought: the one took up the problem of revolution, and by analysing the effectiveness, significance and potential of the new forms of action, sought to grasp how the proletariat would be able to fulfil its mission; the other, as if shrinking before the magnitude of this prospect, groped among the older, parliamentary forms of action in search of tendencies which would for the time being make it possible to postpone tackling the task. The new methods of the labour movement have given rise to an ideological split among those who previously advocated radical Marxist party-tactics."

 

Fred
Weren't the Bolsheviks early

Weren't the Bolsheviks early if unknowing practitioners of communization? They knew the great insight gained from the Paris Commune: “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery and use it for its own purposes. For the political instrument of its enslavement cannot serve as the political instrument of its emancipation” (Marx) but ignored it in practice by seizing control of the bourgeois state which quickly seized control of them. Rather than "communizing" the bourgeois state apparatus from within, they ended up building state capitalism. It is clearly not possible to communize capitalism, or introduce effective communist measures, within the confines of the capitalist state. It is amazing that any one claiming to be a communist would think you could given the experiences of 1871 and 1917. Things may have changed a lot during the last 30 years (do we have to take this for granted now?) but the fact that, for the proletariat, "the instrument of it's enslavement" ( the bourgeois state and the capitalist system) "cannot serve as the political instrument of it's emancipation" remains true. Does it not?

mhou
It's not about changing the

It's not about changing the state apparatus; but destroying the economic base upon which it rests (which forces the state to whither away in a manner consistent with Marx). The question of political power doesn't come up in their writings- they reject this (I'd call that another weak spot in the theory). It's argued that questions of political power is what the Bolsheviks engaged in, while the Russian working-class engaged in enacting communist measures themselves immediately (which were then halted and reversed by the new state). But I don't think control of the state apparatus is the be all end all of the question of political power. Pannekoek and Luxemburg's debates with Kautsky (the mass strike debate in 1910, the mass action debate in 1912) are similar to the kinds of discussions going on here. Kautsky (at that time) agreed that a revolutionary overthrow was necessary for communism, but always said that the forces of revolutionaries was too small, too weak to engage, a question that was brought up in the long thread (too few forces for the party/too dispersed to have a larger impact on the class struggle).

Do you think the working-class hasn't changed Fred, or that the changes in the types of industries it works in and the type of housing circumstances of where it lives, etc. are not a big enough change to alter how communists analyze, theorize and act today?

jk1921
Affirming vs. Rejecting

mhou wrote:

Some of the writings from 'dissident Marxists' like the operaists about the cycle of struggles in different eras of capitalism are interesting about points like this. During the Great Upheaval era, the years of the Paris Commune, the trade union and socialist movements (in the US for ex) were just starting to emerge, they were not mass movements yet. Masses of proletarians protesting in the streets, not over specific employers, conditions or wage-linked demands, but seemingly against the proletarian condition itself, seems very similar to what these forms of struggle (Occupy, the indignant, general assembly's) accomplish. They're not centered in the workplace (or exclusively centered in the workplace), do not have 'demands' like the history of labor unionism, and are not parliamentary or electoral efforts (like the socialist movement), but instead a more or less amorpheous, un-articulated anger and disgruntlement with the proletarian life that takes numerous forms in the course of those struggles (ranging from anger over particular eccentricities of the capitalist state or public policy, general demands for a better life, resentment at the prospect of unemployment, etc.).

Is it fair to say then that the forms of struggle we see today are reflective of the sociological condition of the proletariat (in the West)? Of course, I think a standard Marxist analysis of the "Great Upheaval" would argue that communism was impossible then, precisely because the material conditions for it were not yet present (one of which I assume must be the development of a global proletariat). What does it say that we are now back to forms of struggle that once predominated during the period of ascendance, before the proletariat had been sufficiently formed as a class (if you accept this teleology)?

It seems there may be temptation emerging in the communisation literature (centered around the issue of affirming vs. rebelling against the "proletarian condition") to conclude that the entire period of the "classical workers movement" was a giant waste of time, but that we are now returning to conditions of struggle that are more favorable to a rejection of wage labor itself?

Fred
Basically I suppose I don't

Basically I suppose I don't think the working class has changed, though the places where it works may have. That many western workers now work for health services rather than on assembly lines doesn't change their existence as workers; they're still exploited. But they may be more educated, or not. Does that matter all that much? Once we workers all lived in terraced houses in long streets in slummy conditions. Now we live in tower blocks or council estates. What difference does it make? As housing, they're all pretty nauseous and the bourgeoisie wouldn't be seen dead in any of it, nor would anyone given the choice. Who wants to live like a battery hen? Isn't it bad enough having to go everyday, for ever and ever, like a moveable battery hen, to the same boring repetitive job, with the same people in the same monotonous place, doing the same thing over and over. This applies the same to teachers, doctors, lab technicians, super market employees, office workers, civil servants, factory workers, or whatever. Repetitive compulsory work, no matter how skilled, can become a bore and even life threatening. It makes a mockery of life and life's possibilities. We could all do so much better, for ourselves and each other, released from this capitalist hell.

So comrade mhou, no, I don't think the working class has changed much at all, though the environments where it works out it's dreary repetitive existence (I nearly said "life" but that would be to joke!) may have slightly. In which case I don't see either that communists would have any need, or even any possibilities given that they are responding to the class not concocting ideas out of the air, to suppose they need act or think any differently to the way the great communist theoreticians and militants of tge past acted. In other words to further the development of class consciousness and join in struggles wherever possible.

jk1921
I don't think anyone here

I don't think anyone here would take issue with your description of the proletarian condition under captialism Fred. In fact, whatever changes have taken place over the past thrity years have probably only made it more deadening. But the issue we are struggling with here is different, I think. It is whether or not the sociological conditions for revolution (or revolution on the model of the first revolutionary wave) still exist or not. Poverty, exploitation and misery are not the only requisites for revolution it seems. If it were, Africa would be the most revolutionary place on earth--yet it is not. In fact, a recent survey found Africans to be the happiest people on the face of the earth despite the predominant material conditions on that continent. (Of course, one could question the methodology of that survey).

The point is that there is something else, some other factor that appears to be necessary for a revolutionary movement to develop. What is it? It appeared it once existed in the central countries. Is it still there?

Fred
You sound mysterious jk.

You sound mysterious jk. "...it once existed in tge central countries. Is it still there?" I don't know jk, because I don't know what you're talking about. Can you give a hint?

jk1921
Not really

Fred wrote:
You sound mysterious jk. "...it once existed in tge central countries. Is it still there?" I don't know jk, because I don't know what you're talking about. Can you give a hint?

Nope. I really don't know. I suppose it begs a discussion of necessary vs. sufficient conditions for revolution.

mhou
Jk- the Pannekoek article is

Jk- the Pannekoek article is really good on this issue (the forms of struggle of the late 19th century):

"What Kautsky has to say about the most powerful form of mass strike, namely that we should “give it the most energetic support and use it to strengthen the proletariat”, does not go far enough for cases where this situation has already generated a mass movement; when conditions permit, the party, as the conscious bearer of the exploited masses’ deepest sensibilities, must instigate such action as is necessary and take over leadership of the movement — in other words, play the same role in events of major significance as it does today on a smaller scale. The precipitating factors cannot be foreseen, but it is we who act upon them. Secondly, in terms of those taking part: we cannot restrict our present demonstrations solely to party members; although these at first form the nucleus, others will come to us in the course of the struggle. In our last article we showed that the circle of those involved grows as the campaign develops, until it takes in the broad masses of the people; there is never any question of unruly street riots in the old sense. Thirdly, in terms of the effects such action has: the conquest of power by means of the most potent forms of action basically amounts to liquidating the powers of coercion available to the enemy and building up our own strength; but even today’s protests, our simple street demonstrations, display this effect on a small scale. When the police had to abandon their attempts to prevent demonstrations in sheer impotence in 1910, that was a first sign of the state’s coercive powers beginning to crumble away; and the content of revolution consists in the total destruction of these powers. In this sense, that instance of mass action can be seen as the beginning of the German revolution."

I don't know what it means in terms of the potential of revolution; but I'd guess that the experience of the classical workers movement, its rise and then decline, fulfilled the purposes described by Marx- that the political parties and labor unions contributed to the 'unification' of the proletariat along class lines. That these forms are no longer as dominant as a workers movement as they once were might be a sign that they have fulfilled this purpose; that the global proletariat is at a point where its development is past the terrain of political and economic battles and is formative enough to pose the question of power and communism. I'd like to think that's what it means.

Fred-

Quote:
So comrade mhou, no, I don't think the working class has changed much at all, though the environments where it works out it's dreary repetitive existence (I nearly said "life" but that would be to joke!) may have slightly. In which case I don't see either that communists would have any need, or even any possibilities given that they are responding to the class not concocting ideas out of the air, to suppose they need act or think any differently to the way the great communist theoreticians and militants of tge past acted. In other words to further the development of class consciousness and join in struggles wherever possible.

I agree with your description for the most part; but the conclusion is what has been bothering me lately generally- that everything communists need to know and do was worked out by the 1930's, and all we have to do today is propogate these analyses and principles until revolution happens, rather than do today what the animators of the young Third International did- apply Marxist analysis to contemporary conditions and act accordingly. Those same communists had lessons and theory from an earlier time, but when material conditions changed, they changed with them instead of trying to use the Second International as a body of invariant theory and practice. I worry that the tendency to absorb and apply valid lessons and ideas from the past turns into the historical reenactment so common among Trotskyism (apparently the UK-SWP recently put a motion forward censuring Zinoviev- a century later. . .). It looks like some of the Bordigist parties have done this- compiled and accumulated what are very valid and timeless Marxist theory and practice, but have built a wall around it and called it invariant, no room for dynamic analysis and thought.

I am really enjoying the ICC's articles concerning work done by groups like CoC and IP, about the formal/real domination of capital and decadence theory- those kinds of discussions are very enlightening, even though at times there's name calling and whatnot. I'd agree there is such a thing as 'modernism', taking a critical analysis too far and abandoning Marxism- but I don't think discussions which seek to further our understanding and be at the head of events can be called that.

You said in an earlier post that questioning soviets must mean questioning the party and Marxism itself. I'd still like to discuss whether or not the council form as it appeared historically was linked to a specifically productive (in the Marxist sense) industry, and specifically the 'worker fortresses' like the auto complex's of Detroit and Flint, Turin, etc. If this is the case, while we all recognize that workers in industries focused on reproduction and consmption (health care, education, service) are working-class, what does it say about their ability or likelihood of forming soviets if that form? Or, the appearence of forms that were common in that early 20th century period in emerging nations in these times (Honda in China, Hyundai in South Korea) in that kind of factory worker-fortress setting, whereas Western workers look more like the 'proletarian mob'/'Commune wretches', masses in the streets with rudimentary forms of self-organization outside of the workplace (the squares assemblies in Greece, the indignant, Occupy)?

 

jk1921
Workers' councils

mhou wrote:

I agree with your description for the most part; but the conclusion is what has been bothering me lately generally- that everything communists need to know and do was worked out by the 1930's, and all we have to do today is propogate these analyses and principles until revolution happens, rather than do today what the animators of the young Third International did- apply Marxist analysis to contemporary conditions and act accordingly. Those same communists had lessons and theory from an earlier time, but when material conditions changed, they changed with them instead of trying to use the Second International as a body of invariant theory and practice. I worry that the tendency to absorb and apply valid lessons and ideas from the past turns into the historical reenactment so common among Trotskyism (apparently the UK-SWP recently put a motion forward censuring Zinoviev- a century later. . .). It looks like some of the Bordigist parties have done this- compiled and accumulated what are very valid and timeless Marxist theory and practice, but have built a wall around it and called it invariant, no room for dynamic analysis and thought

I have to sympathize with mhou here; althoug perhaps I would move the date up from the 1930s to 1968-1980. So, perhaps we should simply ask the question: Are soviets, workers' councils, etc. the necessary forms of the proletarian revolution? Were they historical artifacts of a previous productive configuaration (which might still exist in the East)? Is the ICC platform wrong when it appears to identify the workers councils as the (only, final) unitary form of the proletarian revolution?

 

John Gaunt
Sympathise with what exactly?

And the award for the new political/organisational form, discovered during the course of proletarian struggle, goes to ....

The fact that some fundamental grooves were laid down eons ago doesn’t make them unfit for purpose today. Newton’s law of gravity (1687) may have been supplemented, complemented, enhanced and almost turned on its head (relatively speaking) but it still endures. Genetics has opened up multiple avenues of enquiry, but they augment, not overturn the fundamentals of the Origin of Species (1859). It’s true, as Mhou says, that clinging to old truths in new circumstances is death for the proletariat’s praxis. We don’t need ‘examples’ from decaying bourgeois organs like the SWP to know this. But independent strike committees; street assemblies open to all; neighbourhood councils; the mass strike or workers councils: no-one to my mind has advanced one substantial argument for saying these forms historically created by the proletariat are no longer possible or relevant today.

Difficulties of the struggle? Too true. But when was it ‘easy’ in decadence for the proletariat to assert itself, create its organs and enforce its perspectives? 

jk1921
Onus

John Gaunt wrote:

. But independent strike committees; street assemblies open to all; neighbourhood councils; the mass strike or workers councils: no-one to my mind has advanced one substantial argument for saying these forms historically created by the proletariat are no longer possible or relevant today.

I think once again the onus of proof may be inverted. Isn't it up to you to show why they are still relevant and possible, not the other way around?

mhou
Claiming that a communist who

Claiming that a communist who isn't a proponent of the 'World Soviet' is not a Marxist is not the same as someone saying "Newtonian physics is old; we need new science".

Are there examples of the soviet form created in settings like healthcare, education, retail, etc.? I'm sure that as the revolution was underway after February, that the soviet form spread outward from the metalworking mills and heavy manufacturing of Petrograd (the original soviets), same as those in Budapest, Berlin, etc.

But from the Seattle (1919), Budapest (1918/19), Petrograd (1905 & 1917), Berlin (1918), etc. the epicenter of the soviet movement was the stereotypical "factory-industrial proletariat" in very large factories or mills or shipyards/docks; even the soviet-type forms of organization (Iran in the late 70's, Poland in 1980-81) were also centered in these industries.

Is there any evidence that the council form took hold in industries outside of metal works, shipyards/docks, heavy manufacturing factories?

The other forms of organization you mention John aren't being called into question, or anyone saying that they won't appear (I think it likely the kinds of embryonic soviets seen in Iran and Poland, and recently Egypt if the accounts are correct, will manifest in a smaller or larger way)- the question is whether or not [i]the worker's council is the one form of proletarian revolution of today or the future[/i]? I'm not familiar with physics, so can't make an analogy. But if some force pulls the Earth closer or farther from the Sun, and our gravity shifts, I'd expect "science" to recognize and make adjustments; not say "the original theory of gravity is invariant; the change is not relevant. Anyone who asks about it is not a scientist."

If the soviet form is the one and only form of the workers revolution, what are we basing this on specifically? If it is not a phenomenon driven by particular industries or concentrations of workers (or any other variable) that may be different today in parts of the world where they had originally sprung up a century ago, I'm not sure where we draw that conclusion. Are other forms of organization in the central capitalist countries any less valid (you've mentioned several of them) for the purpose of exersizing power over all other classes/strata?

Then the other side is; if the soviet form is based on specific industry conditions, what do we make of the peripheral/emerging nations or new regional or world powers? China, India, etc. all have a much different class base than a century ago, and many of the types of workplaces that used to populate the West are found heavily concentrated geographically in South and East Asia; do the struggles in China and South Korea and Egypt mean they are more likely to adopt the soviet form as hinted at in how recent large struggles have been organized?

 

John Gaunt
The Soviet Form is Not Based on specific industrial conditions

 

Forgive the crude and unsubstantiated reply but those pesky strikers at Madrid airport have both thrown my travel plans into chaos and deprived me of sleep and my library.

So: “Claiming that a communist who isn't a proponent of the 'World Soviet' is not a Marxist is not the same as someone saying "Newtonian physics is old; we need new science".(Mhou)

I don’t understand this sentence at all. My problem no doubt. But I hope it’s not me who ‘accused’ someone of ‘not being a Marxist’ because, as far as I’m concerned, we’re all engaged in a fraternal, if sometimes frustrating debate.

But since Mhou mentioned the ‘World Soviet’, let’s go there.

Growing up in the 1950s, with lots of imaginative sci-fi (as well as some rather fanciful theories about the disappearance of the proletariat, amongst others) the notion of World Government was not so strange. ‘Take me to your leaders’ was what the spacemen uttered on landing earthside, and in ‘progressive’ stories and movies, those leaders at best spoke for all earthmen, or at worst, were sworn enemies forced into cooperation to converse with extra-terrestrial aliens for the benefit of humankind. The fact that most everybody had American accents is neither here nor there. Or can wait for the film studies collective.

But beyond these fancies, beyond attempts to develop a world language (Esperanto) to mirror the long-established world market, it’s long been Marxism which proposed a material basis for the harmonised development of human society – a development which, since capitalism, to a greater or lesser extent, had brought the entire planet, its industries and regions into one orbit, that of capitalist social relations, would for the first time in human history be a global society. And this society would, in the first instance, be created by the first truly global class, the international proletariat.

Because the proletariat, at root, has no competing interests, no regions, no industries, no particularities to defend, it is also able to centralise its political and practical struggle. It does not have the anarchists’ fear of ‘losing my religion’ or ‘local autonomy’ or ‘industrial specificity’. It is the class that transcends the dichotomy between local and global, between governing and the governed: between competing industries.

So the working class has no problem talking of ‘the world soviet’. It’s not a laughable thing, but a reality to be attainted: a centralised structure for consciously planning human activity which is not a vertical but a horizontal structure. Theories which deny the global and centralised structure of the future human society – theories which see something alien, inhuman, threatening in such a vision – in my view represent a break and a blockage on the consciousness of the proletariat.

The nightmare of Stalinism, one major practical organisation of the counter-revolution, weighs heavy on the brains of the living. The ICC was correct, in my view, when over a quarter of a century ago, it declared councilism – the fear of centralisation, the fear of ‘the party’ – to be a far graver risk to the theoretical and practical growth of proletarian minorities than the persistence of illusions in some omnipotent ‘party’. I believe the present ‘milieu’ bears witness to this.

But to address what you say Mhou: I can’t cite you a health sector that’s given rise to a Soviet, nor a retail sector. It’s true. But then again, how developed, compared to today, were these sectors in 1917, or even in 1953, or 1980?

And what difference does this make anyhow? Is the proletarian struggle and its forms in decadence determined by this or that region, this or that sector? Not for me. As Lone Londoner has argued, the proletariat of Europe has enormous reservoirs of consciousness it’s a ‘brand leader’ in this respect. As Mikhail has proposed, the proletariat of developing Asia has much to encourage us. Neither will feature the struggle of match girls.

So please don’t get me wrong: just as I’ve holidayed among the tin mines in Cornwall which centuries ago were essential to the development of capital and the working class, and which now lie derelict; just as I’ve toured the Gdansk shipyards (where my son has toiled) and witnessed the empty shell of today’s production, I know the meaning of ‘deindustrialisation’ in this or that area, just as I know the development of production and the extraction of surplus value from the masses in other areas of the globe.

The debate about whether the proletariat is still capable of making the revolution is one thing. We can discuss this. It’s a question of the balance of class forces and elements which underlie this. However, I have yet to be convinced that the forms such a revolution, if it’s still possible, might use has in any way been altered by developments over the last 30 or so years. 

Fred
jk asks: Quote: So, perhaps

jk asks:

Quote:
So, perhaps we should simply ask the question: Are soviets, workers' councils, etc. the necessary forms of the proletarian revolution?
>

Surely the answer is no. The necessary form of the proletarian revolution is that the working class should organize itself outside of the unions and any other bourgeois influence where possible, and start deciding what to do in the process of getting rid of capitalism, and bringing into being the seeds of communist society. The necessary requirement for proletarian democracy is self organization and some consciousness of what we're doing. The name given to the organization doesn't matter: but it's function, as an expression of proletarian autonomy is paramount. "Form" and appearances are irrelevant to the proletariat: it's our consciousness and the content of our discussion, which is all important, and our growing realization that we can change society, and make a better society, because we produce everything that keeps society going. In fact we are capable and can take charge of things despite years and years of being led to believe we can't by our exploiters. In fact THEY are the ones who've buggered everything up and now appear bent on world destruction.

What holds us back now is self-doubt. Up until c1985 we thought we could get worthwhile reforms to our pay and conditions through traditional industrial action. In the end that failed because capitalism couldn't or wouldn't pay. We had to rethink our purposes. Then "communism" died. More recently the capitalist crisis has become more staringly obvious, and we ourselves are no longer utilized by the bourgeoisie in the large industrial centers of yesteryear - except in the East. But we haven't gone away. We still do all the productive work: we are still the only revolutionary class: and we need to come to understand that while our traditional methodology for industrial disputes may be old hat, and reforms are off the agenda, unless we are to accept our pulverization under bourgeois decomposition, we are going to have to find our international solidarity again, and start to struggle. The forms our struggles take this time round may be different may be not. Their function will remain the same however. We have to discuss what we're going to do, and how to get rid of the bourgeoisie. We may do this in the market square, or in the local eatery. We may not call it a soviet or even a workers council because we may not all see ourselves as workers immediately. What matters is what we talk about, the degree of working class consciousness generated, and what we decide to do.

The reason our working class organizations, and our self organization is vital, jk and mhou, is that we can't have a working class revolution without them. Proletarian self organization is the way in which we think and act. It's different from the bourgeoisie. Without proletarian organization - never mind what it's called - there can be no revolution and no communism, because communism is all about the development and organisation of human thought and it's products.

John Gaunt
agree with this

Fred wrote: "The forms our struggles take this time round may be different may be not. Their function will remain the same however. We have to discuss what we're going to do, and how to get rid of the bourgeoisie. We may do this in the market square, or in the local eatery. We may not call it a soviet or even a workers council because we may not all see ourselves as workers immediately. What matters is what we talk about, the degree of working class consciousness generated, and what we decide to do."

My blather put in one para.

Fred
[John Gaunt= quote].The

[John Gaunt= quote].The debate about whether the proletariat is still capable of making the revolution is one thing. We can discuss this. It’s a question of the balance of class forces and elements which underlie this. However, I have yet to be convinced that the forms such a revolution, if it’s still possible, might use has in any way been altered by developments over the last 30 or so years. [/quote]

I agree.

baboon
self-organisation

Agree with the sense of the above posts. I'm not talking about a World Soviet today, but why look for a new, magic, non-existent formula for struggle when the main question is self-organisation at the beginning. From there the old, "primitive" form of soviets, self-organisation on a wider and deeper scale, has to be the only possible way forward for the working class to take power. In the meantime, in the west, we see self-organisation on the streets. An insufficient quality given that the working class is absorded into these struggles as individuals - however positive they are. And in China, a two-generation old proletariat, faced with obvious state unions, sets up self-organised, minority strike committees, elected or generally backed by the all the workers in that factory, etc., which, whatever their weaknesses, appear as embryonic expressions of the workers' soviets.

In the last few years in the UK, the only struggles that have been half-way successful, have been those that have the basis of self-organisation with a degree of extension. We know that the class is having difficulty struggling but what new forms of struggles are being proposed here? And are  these new, proposed forms, just attempts to try to short-circuit the difficulties of the class? What are they?

mhou
The last few replies have

The last few replies have been clearer as to what is up for debate- in a sentance, it'd be "are we trainspotting soviets, without them there is no revolution? No, but the kind of self-organization that gave rise to historical instances of soviet power are necessary". It may seem like a dumb observation, but in some places (either in discussion or in articles), there is a perspective that comes across as saying, "the worker's council is the be all end all of revolution; without it, it is not a revolution". That until there are 'Council of Worker's Deputies' in New York, London, Paris, etc. it is not a revolution; or rather, that eventuality is what we think will happen and what communists base their planning and activity (contemporary and future) around.

Quote:
In the last few years in the UK, the only struggles that have been half-way successful, have been those that have the basis of self-organisation with a degree of extension. We know that the class is having difficulty struggling but what new forms of struggles are being proposed here? And are  these new, proposed forms, just attempts to try to short-circuit the difficulties of the class? What are they?

No short-circuiting; a question of whether or not communists view other forms of self-organization as likely to happen, and are forms the class will take in a revolutionary crisis in the future. The vision that the working-class will create council's of worker's delegates, along the lines of Russia 1905/1917, in every major city and region, which will centralize into higher and higher and consolidated bodies, is being questioned based on a variety of factors based around how different industry in the central capitalist nations looks today compared to 1917 or 1968- not because the soviet form is old; it wasn't too old to be a realistic possibility in the late 60's (since the productive forces, while more developed and larger, were along traditional industrial lines), but less so today because these industrial conditions are no longer dominant in the central capitalist countries.

That bit is important given the importance of the central capitalist nations' working-class; seeing what has been happening in regions with a younger proletariat who is subjected to modern industrial conditions in decadence but within community along the lines of early 20th century Europe; mass working-class neighborhoods in large cities, 'worker-fortresses' with thousands or tens of thousands of workers in a single enterprise or factory complex, etc. brings up what the role of the central or peripheral working-classes are, and whether the hyper-centralization and internationalization of capital to a larger degree than ever before has changed the dynamic between central/peripheral workers.

Quote:
So please don’t get me wrong: just as I’ve holidayed among the tin mines in Cornwall which centuries ago were essential to the development of capital and the working class, and which now lie derelict; just as I’ve toured the Gdansk shipyards (where my son has toiled) and witnessed the empty shell of today’s production, I know the meaning of ‘deindustrialisation’ in this or that area, just as I know the development of production and the extraction of surplus value from the masses in other areas of the globe.

That's important: how much importance we give to changes that have taken place over the last 30 years. It's not about whether or not there is still a working-class, if the Party form is still valid, etc. but whether or not the changes in capitalism (and thus the working-class) require greater weight moving forward in the historic mission of the class to abolish class society and capital.

Marin Jensen
Form and content - and what is communism?

Fred wrote:

Are soviets, workers' councils, etc. the necessary forms of the proletarian revolution? Surely the answer is no.

I would just add briefly to this, that the form of organisation is not neutral: the form must conform to the content.

Fred wrote:

What holds us back now is self-doubt. Up until c1985 we thought we could get worthwhile reforms to our pay and conditions through traditional industrial action. In the end that failed because capitalism couldn't or wouldn't pay. We had to rethink our purposes. Then "communism" died. (...)

The reason our working class organizations, and our self organization is vital, jk and mhou, is that we can't have a working class revolution without them. Proletarian self organization is the way in which we think and act. It's different from the bourgeoisie. Without proletarian organization - never mind what it's called - there can be no revolution and no communism, because communism is all about the development and organisation of human thought and it's products.

This is very true. One of the biggest problems facing the working class today is its difficulty in seeing or having confidence in the possibility of creating a different kind of society. We want communism. But what is communism? Perhaps this is a discussion that would deserve its own thread.

mhou
Quote:I am interested in what

Quote:
I am interested in what the communisation current has to say, and in what you think it is that they contribute to the communist movement, but isn't this question of the revolutionary subject a central weakness of all the 'modernist' (or perhaps 'post-modernist') communists (among which i would include the so-called 'nihilists' as well): that they either - as in the case of Camatte - flatly reject the proletariat as a revolutionary subject, or make key concessions to this idea by rejecting the need for the working class to affirm itself before it can negate itself?  And for that very reason, reject both party and soviet, as being expressions of mere 'politics'?

 

That's an excellent question. Camatte's separation from the PCI seems to be a central reason he gradually (and then sharply) abandoned Marxism- reading his work from the period after he left the party (immediately after) is interesting, but as you go further away from his break with the PCI, the further he gets from Marxism. So far none of the communisation texts question the existance or role of the proletariat (Endnotes, TC, etc. haven't read Tiqqun), but all are very much lacking any thoughts on what it is 'they/we' (people who produce or read communist texts) are to do, now or in a revolutionary crisis.

This thread brings up a lot of questions. Historically, from the first one, soviets were a formation of the working-class in struggle. Some of the posts suggest there is a deeper link between the communist minority and council form- I may be missing a bigger point in this discussion; is the soviet form important to communists as a form we would propogate and agitate for in the event of a pre-revolutionary crisis? If so, I understand the importance given to them better. In that case it wouldn't be so much that we do nothing until the working-class forms councils, or deny revolutionary content in the absence of councils, but recognize it as the primary form for exerting class power?

That seems to be what revolutionary socialists and syndicalists did in the US; during the strike wave after WWI, agitating and organizing proto-councils in the form of joint-strike committee;s that were politicized in a socialist manner. Or a lot of Situationist leaflets from 1968 asking for the immediate establishment of worker's councils.