where next for the LRC?

29 11 2008

This article was commissioned as a discussion item for Stroppy Blog and as such only represents my own opinions, not necessarily those of anyone else from The Commune – David Broder.

The turnout at the Labour Representation Committee conference on November 15th reflected the role of the current economic crisis in pushing people long involved in the left back into activity: numbers were up from 200 last year to around 270 (not as reported on our website), even though the number of young people involved has declined.

There were several positive steps made at the conference that could breathe fresh life into the organisation, not least its call for a series of discussions on workers’ self-management, social ownership and what we mean by socialism – developing the work begun by the Left Economics Advisory Panel on breaking from Old Labour and Stalinist conceptions of socialism – and the LRC’s affiliation to Hands Off the People of Iran. Hopefully both steps will allow the membership of the LRC to be more involved week-to-week and month-to-month.

Indeed, the LRC has suffered from a lack of regular activities in between conferences, and despite the relatively large number of people signed up (as high as 1,500) it currently lacks enough of the character of an activist organisation, or indeed one where people come together to develop their ideas. A large number of individuals are involved in their own trade unions as well as campaigns such as Stop the War, Feminist Fightback, Campaign Against Immigration Controls, HOPI, etc., but the LRC itself neither mobilises its members for such initiatives nor has much “profile”. Chris Ford and I were elected to the National Committee at the 15th November conference, and will be looking to encourage far more activities and using the LRC banner more prominently, including building union rank-and-file networks. (As an aside, it wouldn’t hurt the LRC to produce more materials, such as a newsletter, to encourage people to take part in discussions and participate in events organised by LRC affiliates).

Most importantly, we will be encouraging a re-evaluation of the politics which dominate the left of the labour movement, and hoping to overcome the current vogue for left-Keynesian “answers for the crisis” as opposed to developing our case for an alternative society. These are fundamentally incompatible – to say that a series of “policy changes” are the answer to the economic crisis (e.g. the Socialist Appeal slogan “Labour: socialist policies, now!”) implies a vague albeit top-down understanding of “socialism” wedded to the continuing existence of the nation-state.

Clearly posed too in terms of what the LRC does next is the question of our broader strategy as regards the Labour Party and Labourism. This question must be answered by the whole left, not just the LRC. Unfortunately, the fault lines in this discussion are not really over what politics we should advocate and organise for, but rather whether we want to keep a foot in the Labour Party or instead create a Labour Party mark II. Although I am more adamant than anyone else that it is totally illusory to believe that we could “reclaim the Labour Party”, i.e. take it over, and so utterly disagree with Socialist Appeal, the CPB etc., the alternatives suggested by some others are also a dead-end.  The Convention of the Left initiated in Manchester in September may lack the decision-making powers necessary to actually create a new organisation, but certainly there is a strong current of opinion arguing that the “big” Trotskyist groups, the left wing of the trade union bureaucracy and some Labour lefts ought to set up a new left party. Sect competition there may be, but to the extent that they have real existence, such a formation is the dream of the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party, Left Alternative, Respect Renewal, etc. It is clear that a party based on national trade union affiliations or national trade union funding would necessarily rest on the bureaucracy. Not only current weak participation in unions, but the institutional control of the bureaucrats and the lack of democracy within trade unions, would guarantee this.

This question arises when we read Sean Matgamna writing an open letter to Tony Woodley (‘Why won’t the unions fight for a workers’ party?‘). Of course this article’s tone is light-hearted and he is not really trying to “win over Brother Woodley”, but nonetheless everything he writes talks in such terms, e.g. “The unions need to act: if not the unions, no force in the labour movement can do it”: quite why a workers’ party ought to be based on trade unions wanting political representation (rather than people who have common political aims uniting around a specific project/programme) is not clear. Throughout history such formations have been very rare, except the British Labour Party and parallel organisations in former British colonies.

For all of the criticisms I personally would have of its (more or less Trotskyist) politics, I think a formation like the French LCR’s New Anti-Capitalist Party, which has won a section of the union rank-and-file, unemployed, disabled and retired people, youth etc. to local committees arguing for  a fairly specific political project, is a model far more susceptible to democratic culture and member-control of the organisation than one created by (and as a result expressing the interests of) trade union bureaucracies. If such a formation came about it would be foolish to ignore it or stand aside – which is why at the conference we voted for the LRC to be open to supporting certain socialist or trade-union backed candidates who stood against New Labour – but why should we positively go about arguing for its creation?

Furthermore, when thinking of our broader strategy, we must also take stock of the question of the current lack of democracy within left groups: this problem, after all, means that their participation is subordinated to the leaders’ desire to hold their own organisations in hand, as was the case when the Socialist Party clique abandoned the Socialist Alliance for fear of their own group’s dissolution.

Therefore it seems that the argument poses false alternatives and only seeks to answer the question ‘ought the unions back the Labour Party, or ought they establish a new one?’ Tweedle-dum or Tweedle-dee? This is linked to the left’s failure to take serious stock of the changes that have taken place in the trade union movement and left as a whole, rather than just (however correctly) proclaiming the death of the Labour Party. The current state of the left leaves it in no position to establish a real alternative to Labourism, and indeed the next few years are bound to see yet more social-democrat electoral slates and initiatives to create Labour Party mark IIs which have no real existence beyond Trotskyist groups and their periphery.

What can the LRC do about this? To ask this question is to ask other fundamental questions about what the left exists for, not merely the organisational question of “in or out” of the Labour Party. We need to discuss what politics socialists should argue for; our attitudes to the trade union bureaucracy; the value of placing demands on the government; the value of left “programmes for the crisis” and programmes for alternative governments, and so on. Bottom-up rethinking is necessitated by the left’s continuing loss of numbers and weak ideas and tactics. LRC members will be better able to answer all these questions if we sink roots in trade union rank-and-files, have a much stronger orientation towards campaign work, and participate in the forthcoming forums on what we actually mean by socialism. We should encourage self-organisation in our movement, building unity “from below” on a principled political basis, not sit waiting for the existing left group leaderships and left trade union bureaucrats to thrash out a deal for yet another Labour Party mark II.

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20 responses

3 12 2008
Sacha Ismail

See here for a critique of the Commune motion passed by the conference.

3 12 2008
josfen

Sasha, why didnt you join in the discussion taking place on this site? Is it true that AWL doesnt let its members comment here? AWL certainly deletes all my posts on there site about Iran and workers management

3 12 2008
Chris Kane

Dear oh me, the AWL seems to be seriously retrogressing – I recall a leaflet being distributed at the SLP launch conference in 1996 boldy entitled ‘State Ownership Is Not Socialism’. Just as we are making the first moves in developing a ‘movement for workers control’ as John McDonnell calls it, and to develop a discussion to learn from our past and develop new ideas for the 21st century – we have one group of orthodox Trotskyites after another lining up to attack it and wishing they could have killed it at birth. Its very disappointing but not surprising. Hopefully those members of the AWL at the LRC conference who voted for the motion will remedy this opposition to workers self-management in their group so they can contribute constructively to the implementation of LRC policy.
In the meantime we have now revealed before us the hidden political economy which stood behind all the facade of third-campism – which is the empty negative of private-capitalism which is so champoined by state-socialists – state-capitalism. Sean Matgamna himself openly states ‘we are state-socialists’ and denounces Draper as an anarchist for his Socialism from Below. Sashas article overall epitomises what Blake called the ‘mind forged manacles of unfreedom’.

4 12 2008
David Broder

The exchange Sacha has linked to is indeed is worth a look. Unfortunately two comments by myself as well as one by AWL member Daniel Randall responding to them were deleted by the website admin, despite the fact they included no abusive language or anything like that.

4 12 2008
Chris

I had exactly the same problem with their web site. readers of The Commune can be confident we dont apply such editorial policies.

5 12 2008
paul m

You guys really do have a high opinion of yourselves if you think you’re “starting a movement for workers’ control.”

I think you need to take a collective cold shower.

5 12 2008
David Broder

Paul, in the sentence

“Just as we are making the first moves in developing a ‘movement for workers control’ as John McDonnell calls it, and to develop a discussion to learn from our past and develop new ideas for the 21st century”

The “we” obviously does not mean The Commune/us by ourselves.

I think you ought to pay attention to what’s being said.

5 12 2008
paul m

You might want to write more clearly. There’s still the strong smell of your ‘group’ having a rather inflated sense of its own importance. And that’s the kind-hearted version.

So who’s “we” and what does left statist -reformist McDonnell got to do with it?

5 12 2008
Chris Kane

If that is what you think and all you have to say then why are you contributing to our site. We want to develop a different culture of debate free from such abuse which does not help in the development of ideas.

6 12 2008
paul m

Don’t make me laugh Chris. The way Broder slid out of the AWL, spreading gossip to web left opinion and half arsed attempts to make yourself a niche on the left smacks of opportunism. I’ve said his before, but if you think my post is abusive you’ve led a very sheltered life.

6 12 2008
josfen

What – you reckon David B. should have written a loyalty statement to Sean Matagamna and carried on? Who could better accuse people of carving out a “niche” than the AWL (Paul M[xxxxx] is a AWL hanger-on) and their very special oppositon to “troops out now” and claim the USSR was bureaucractic collectivist, loudly differentiating themselves from the “anti-semitic” “kitsch left”…

6 12 2008
Chris Kane

Paul your contributions have nothing to do with ‘Where next for the LRC’ – they are simply abuse this is not the culture of discussion and debate, no matter how strong the polemic – that we wish to develop on our site or in our discussion forum Uncaptive Minds. If you want to continue personal smears and abuse do it somewhere else. This is not the purpose of The Commune.

8 12 2008
Arthur Bough

Its also interesting that the Stalinnists of the AWL have now formed a lash up with the outright tankies. Now, who could have seen that coming?

9 12 2008
Arthur Bough

The adoption of the resolution on workers self-management, by the LRC is a great step forward. If workers actually began to establish worker-owned enterprises, and began to develop a strategy for their development it would be an even greater step forward.

A couple of years ago, I was looking at this question, and began to research what Capital workers have to bring about such a strategy. After all, in the Grundrisse, it is the mobilisation of workers savings as Capital rather than them remianing as savings, which Marx saw as the means by which Labour could cease being “not-Capital”, and Capital could cease being “not-Labour”, via the establishment of Co-operatives as he later set out in Capital, and as he and Engels continued to argue for in theirlast writings in opposition to the statism, and appeals to the bourgeois state of the Lassalleans, and other reformists.

A look at the Capital locked up in workers Company Pension Schemes showed a figure of around £500 billion. That was enough to buy up outright more han half the companies in the FTSE 100 list of the largest British firms. The £500 billion is probably less today given the falls in the Stock Market – though additional contribuitons will have been made to this fund – but as share prices have fallen this figure is still likely to be able to buy up at least as many firms as then.

On any rational basis, and even on the basis of Capitalist rationality and ideology, this workers Capital should be at the disosal of the workers that own it. That is a fundamental tenet of Capitalist ideology and property law, property owners can dispose of their property.

Yet, workers are not allowed to dispose of this property. The funds are managed and controlled by professional fund managers, not udner the control or direction of the workers whoe Capital it is. No Capitalist would accept that state of affairs so why should workers. A basic democratic right, which the Trade Unions nd the rest of the Labour Movement should be arguing, and should have been arguing for the last two decades at least, is that workers should have democratic control over their pension funds.

Imagine the economic and social power that would give to workers immediately were such a demand won. And in gaining, such control why should we accept that the day to day management of these funds should be done by the same capitalist financial institutions that have currently caused the worst financial crisis in modern history? Why not insist that these funds be invested through a Worker Owned fianncial institution, most obviously a combined UnNity Trust/Co-op Bank and Financial Services brought under full democratic control by the Labour Movement.

Such funds could invest directly in strategic companies where workers demonstrated a real desire to exercise their own direct democratic control over their means of production e.g. where they had begun to establish factory committees and other democratic means of exercising workers control, similar to the strategy set out by Gramsci in Italy. In this way not only could it be possible to ensure that such Capital was allocated to where it was most effective in being able to compete with private Capital, but it would be allocated to where the most advanced sectors oft he working class were, where real direct workers democracy was being established, and where therefore, real means of combatting the establsihemnt of bureaucratic structures existed.

The advantage of such a strategy is not only that there should be no real problem in arguing to workers that they should have control over ther money – that idea is already embedded in them by Capitalist ideology itself – but that in order to establish such Co-operative enterprises no new saving, hardship or investment is required by workers to bring it about. This Capital already exists in workers ownership. Indeed, it is already invested in many of the Companies that a Worker Owned and Controlled Pension Fund would want to invest in. It is simply that control of this Capital has been conceded to Capitalists and their agents, and workers need to take back that control. If socialists are to argue for Workers Control then this is the first palce it has to be established. If workers cannot argue for and gain control over their own Capital, then there is no way they can gain Workers Control over the Capital of the Capitalists.

On what basis could the Capitalists or their state object to such a basic democratic demand? That Capitalism grants such control over property only to Capitalists?

But, I would go further. What was Marx’s attitude to wage struggles. It was, Communists have to support them for a number of reasons, but because Communists realise that such skirmishes will always result ultimately in the victory of the bosses who will claw back any gains, the Communists whilst supporting the struggle have to point out in advance that basic fact, have to use the experience thereby to convince workers that only by taking control of the means of production themselves, only by establishing their own Co-operatives, could they prevent the annual struggle with the bosses over pay, and the periodic struggles over jobs and so on. But, the same is true of many other things ceded to the State of the Capitalists – the social wage, pensions, and other similar provision. Workers can never get very fa, if like the struggle over wages they are left continually fighting rear-guard actins to defend things previously won, and as with the struggle over wages they can only guarantee that if they take these things out of the hands of the Capitalists’ State, and bring them under their own ownership and control.

Pensions is a good example. Workers have no real control over the way in which the State uses the Capital built up in the State pension scheme, anymore than in Company Pension schemes. The State uses that money to finance Trident submarines etc. not projects useful to workers, and when consequently the funds that should have been created from productive use of that Capital do not exist, the State responds by cutting the State Pension, again leaving workers with only the possibility of a defensive struggle.

Once a Worker owned pension Fund is establishd we should demand that the funds workers and their employers have contributed to the State pension Scheme through Tax and national Insurance be transferred to it so that never again will workers be dependent upon the good graces of the Capitalists State, which only a few years ago offered retired workers just 70p as their pension increase.

I have set out these ideas and more in a blog some time ago:

Thinking Outside the Box

9 12 2008
Llin Davies

I notice the Tankies of the AWL have now also deleted my comments on their Board in respect their EuroComm position of calling on the bourgeois State to bail-out the Banks. How long do we guess before they adopt the Alternative Economic Strategy and British Road as their programme.

Oh that’s right, looking at their action plan they already have without putting a name to it.

10 12 2008
David Broder

I have also had some comments deleted on the AWL’s article – repeatedly – and indeed they cut out chunks of individual comments.

Nevertheless I would encourage people with views on workers’ self-management to participate in the “debate” (in the broader scheme of things, not just replying to Sacha Ismail’s piece denouncing us!), either by writing discussion articles, and sending them to our uncaptiveminds@gmail.com account, or by commenting on the articles on this site on the subject of workers’ self-management.

11 12 2008
Arthur Bough

I read the debate at the AWL website before the varius quotes wre deleted. I would make the following points.

1. Sacha Ismail denies Marx’s position on sel-managment (Co-operatives mainly though Marx did actually also speak about workers buying up Joint Stock Companies), claiming that Marx’s posiiton was the same as Lenin’s and the AWL’s. That is there first has to be a political revolution, which creates a Workers’ State, which then nationalises the means of production.

A look at Marx’s writings shows this to be false. The only place you could get that interpretation of Marx’s position is from the Communist Manifesto. But, the manifesto was written before marx and engels had fully developed there ideas. It still contained a huge amount of hegelian hangover, and the Hegelian view of top-down change brought about by a State, imbued with revoluitonary ideas by a select few. Marx and Engels in developing their ideas about the revoluitoanry role of the working-class moved increasingly away from that. Just look at Marx’s critique of those ideas continued by Lassalle and his followers in “The Critique of the Gotha Programme”.

Marx’s words there could today be read as a direct critique of the AWL’s – and most others on the Left – top-down statist views. It is often said that Marx had little to say about the way he saw socialism being constructed. IN part that is true, but also its true that Leninists have tried to hide what he did say. Where he does set out how he believes that transformation will occur h is clear. His opus work, not some obscure tract of which it could be argued a quote has been taken out of context, spells out that Marx saw the workers own actions in establishing Co-operatives as the means by which that transformation would be achieved. He calls them the transitional forms.

What he says in the “Critique of the Gotha Programme” also confirms this view of Co-operatives representing historically the means by which the proletarian social revolution is brought about, as the way in which the new mode of production grows within the old, and why such a trasnformation cannot be brought about from on high – and Marx makes it clear here that he is not talking about even just the possibility of a transformation from above by the current State, but by the future State too. In his Addres to the First International he repeats this position saying that the fdevelopment of Co-operatives was far more important than the passing of the Ten Hours Act – and of course he would, because in Capital he relates how the Capitalists with the connivance of their State simply ignored the latter.

Having set out the role they saw Co-operatives playing in developing the economic and social power of the workers under Capitalism, of brinnging about the necessary revolution in social relations, and also setting out how the bouregoisies resistance to such developments inevitably drives workers towards a conscioussness of the need to deft such resistance by striving themselves for political power, Engels himself sets out the role which he and Marx saw such Co-operatives playing after workers have won political power, and how that relates to the role of the Workers State.

“And Marx and I never doubted that in the transition to the full communist economy we will have to use the cooperative system as an intermediate stage on a large scale. It must only be so organised that society, initially the state, retains the ownership of the means of production so that the private interests of the cooperative vis-a-vis society as a whole cannot establish themselves. “

See: Letter II Engels to Babel

In other words Marx and Engels saw the process as being one in which the Co-operatives already established by the workers would come under the legal ownership of the State now established by the workers, but the role of that State was not some top-down directing function, but merely to act as a holder of the deeds to the property, whilst the day to day management of the enterprise rested with the workers themselves. On this basis the spread of Co-operatives throughout society is the result of action by the workers themselves not the State, and the gowing integration and Co-operation between enterprises which provides the basis for the gradual repalcement of market relations with planned relations is also a bottom-up process brought about by the workers themselves.

This is completely at odds with the Statist position of the AWL, and most leninist sects.

2. Sacha criticises Dave for opposing nationalisation, whilst supporting anti-privatisation struggles. This is rich coming from the AWL given their semantics over Iraq where they claim their opposition to calls for a struggle by Iraqi Workers for Troops Out is not the same as them calling for Troops In or for Troops to stay. Marx noted in his writings tht certain forms of Capitalist production were more progressive, i.e. more historically mature, than others. For example, Monopolies, cartels and so on. Its on that basis that Engels in “Anti-Duhring” argues that State Capitalism is the highest most mature, and progressive, the most logical development of capitalist enterprise. On that basis Marxists argue against a return to less progressive forms. Yet, you will search in vain for a passage where marx or Engels argues in favour of Monopolies, cartels Trusts, or state Capitalism! Marxists defend what is progressive against a return to less developed forms i.e. argue against privatisation of state capitalist enterprises, but argue for the forms that correspond with the workers needs. Against privatisation yes, for nationalisation no, rather for workers ownership as the workers alternative to both.

3. Sacha could perhaps explain why the AWL are in favour of opposing the privatisation of state capitalist forms and enterprises in capitalist Britian, and yet refuses to defend such forms and enterprises against privatisation in the USSR or Cuba!!!! After all, privatisation in Britain only involves a social struggle, privatisation in Cuba could involve a war by imperialism to bring it about! Yet, in the USSR the AWL stood not on the side of those opposing privatisation, but on the side of yeltsin, and his imperialist backers that were intent on that privatisation.

4. Finally, the AWL in their Action Plan say that when they call for Nationalisation in Britain of the Banks they mean nationalisation under workers control. Its interesting that still in their programme for opposing privatuisation in the NHS they do not call for workers and patients control, still line themselves up with the NHS bureaucrats that leach off the workers.

But, what are we to make of this demand for workers control of the banks. I’d suggest just what marx made of the same call by the Lassalleas in the Gotha Programme. It is an empty pious statement intended to cover their shame. In Iraq, the AWL say you can’t call for Troops Out because it would mean calling for the clerical-fascists to bring that about given the weakness of the Labour Movement. I don’t beleive that is true as marxists address their slogans and demands to the workers to mobilise around not to other social forces. That is not important here.

The point is if the AWL applied that logically how does that relate to their call for nationalisation of the banks. For the call to mean what the AWL want it to mean then using their logic it would have to mean that British workers here and now are strong enough, consciouss enough to ensure that the Banks were nationalised udner Workers Control. If they are not then the call could only be understood as a demand not for workres o bring that about, but for Brown’s Government to bring it about. Are British workers here and now strong enough, class conscious enough to enforce nationalisation udner workers control? No, of course, not, and no rational person beleives they will be in the near future.

So, if we use the AWL’s logic as applied to Iraq, we can only udnerstand their slogan as meaning – Gordon Brown, nationalise the banks, make thousands of workers redundant, pay out huge sums to the financial capitalists!!!

But, that is where the statism oif the AWL leads. Their petit-bourgeois politics has led them to lose faith in the working class, and time and again to see the only force capable of implementing a progressive course as being the bourgeois state. That is why in Iraq, in Palestine-Israel, in dealing with the Iranian mullahs, and so on to almost every instance you can mention there slogans are directed towards a call for the bouregois state to act, dressed up in mealy-mouthed phrases intended to give a faux-Marxist veneer.

13 12 2008
Arthur Bough

You might find my latet blog Nationalisation, Workers Control and Workers ownership of some interest.

14 12 2008
Chris Kane

Arthur, your latest essay is an extremely interesting contribution to the debate on workers self-management, I recommend it to all readers of The Commune.
I particularly agree with you on workers ownership, for communists in the 21st century we need to develop a clear conception of social ownership which is based on the self-organisation of the workers producers not fetishisation’s of the capitalist state.

14 12 2008
Arthur Bough

Chris, thanks for that. Just on the question of nationalisation of the banks I thought it was interesting to give this quote from Trotsky, from the Transitional programme. It follows a similar demand for the nationalisation of the banks under workers control. He says,

““However, the stateisation of the banks will produce these favourable results only if the state power itself passes completely from the hands of the exploiters into the hands of the toilers.”

In other words even Trotsky is making the point that such a demand is only meaningful under conditions which amount effectively to a pre-revolutionary situation. State control can only be “progressive” if the state itself comes under workers control.

The question the AWL and others that make these appeals to the bouregois state to act is do you want us to beleive that we are in a pre-revolutionary period? Do you want us to beleive that the requirement that Trotsky specifies here is about to come to pass i.e. power is about to fall into the hands of the workers?




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