Midlands Discussion Forum - Workers Councils or Parliament?

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Spikymike
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Feb 17 2014 17:49

Although there are, and were, some important points of agreement between the SPGB members (well represented at this meeting) and the other 'anti-parliamentarians' on our understanding of a future socialist/communist society this didn't translate into anything much in the way of a common understanding of the practical relationship between class struggle and class/communist consciousness. Indeed despite the 'anti-parliamentarians' efforts I think it's fair to say that most of the SPGB members present seemed to find our arguments in this area more-or-less incomprehensible. This was in part perhaps a reflection of the difference between the unified ideological approach of the SPGB and the variations in approach and presentation of the 'anti-parliamentarians' present ranging through anarchist/libertarian, council and left communism (for want of any better labels). Still one or two outbursts aside the meeting was friendly and at least useful in clarifying some limited areas of misunderstanding on both sides. .

slothjabber
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Feb 18 2014 00:47

Sadly, there were some very unedifying moments, and questions that really need another approach I think to even finding a way to discuss them. Consciousness, I think, will remain a question where the SPGB's approach (though alb in his summing up put the anti-SPGB position perfectly coherently and even seemed to agree with it) and the approach of the other participants, whether anarchist, council communist or left-communist (or inspired to some extent by those positions) remain a long way apart. Being involved in the 'who's got the more Leninist approach to consciousness' conversation was a low point of political clarification I think. Just, talking past each other there.

But I think most of the participants from both the MDF and the SPGB found it a useful an interesting discussion, and I think there's a will to have more meetings of a similar kind. Not every month, but I hope the SPGB members are aware that they're welcome (and always have been) to attend the MDF whenever it meets. But certainly another 'joint meeting' is on the table for later in the year.

alb
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Feb 18 2014 05:05
slothjabber wrote:
Consciousness, I think, will remain a question where the SPGB's approach (though alb in his summing up put the anti-SPGB position perfectly coherently and even seemed to agree with it) and the approach of the other participants, whether anarchist, council communist or left-communist (or inspired to some extent by those positions) remain a long way apart.

Yes, the only point at which the discussion became heated was over the question of how does socialist consciousness arise. This happens to be a key difference between the SPGB and Left Communists (as the CWO are always insisting), though not necessarily with anarcho-communists.

Somebody accused the SPGB of taking the same approach as Lenin in What Is To Be Done? that left to themselves the working class is capable of evolving only a trade union consciousness and that socialist consciousness therefore had to be brought to them from outside by "educators". He argued that socialist consciousness would evolve spontaneously from working class struggle without the need (he seemed to imply) for any activity by conscious socialists. A member of the SPGB retorted that this was an elitist Leninist position as while the speaker himself had somehow become a conscious socialist he was implying that the rest of the working class didn't need to or was incapable of doing so. He added that if there was no need for the activity of conscious socialists as such why was there a table full of Left Communist literature in the room?

The actual position of course was that no one in the room accepted Lenin's ideas on trade union and socialist consciousness set out in his notorious What Is To Be Done?

alb in his summing up put the position that the SPGB has long held: that the working class is capable of evolving a socialist consciousness on its own and that what conscious socialists are doing is, as workers who have already reached this position, to convey the destilled past experience of the working class to their fellow workers with a view to hastening the emergence of socialist consciousness amongst them too. So, the emergence of socialist consciousness on a mass scale is the product of both the experience of life under capitalism (in general, not just in the workplace) and hearing arguments for socialism from fellow workers (which is also part of their experience). No doubt, in the absence of all existing socialist propagandists and organisations, socialist consciousness would still evolve but this would take longer and would amount to re-inventing the wheel. He added to this "perfectly coherent" (SPGB) position that, far from socialist theory having been conceived and brought to the working class by "educated members of the bourgeoisie" like Marx, as Lenin claimed, it had been the other way round. Marx himself had learned communist ideas from French and German workers he had met in Paris in the mid-1840s. That this is a long-held SPGB position can be seen from this 1970 review of a new edition of Lenin's work.

Quote:
While it is true that the advantages of education and leisure enabled men such as Marx and Engels to study and formulate in detail a comprehensive theory of Socialism it is not true that it is beyond the capacity of workers independently to move towards the same kind of theoretical comprehension, nor is it beyond the capacity of the working class as a whole to understand the broad outlines of Socialist theory.

Lenin covered himself on this by arguing that when workers do participate in working out Socialist theory they do so "not as workers but as theorists of Socialism". (Footnote on Page 89). He mentioned Proudhon and Weitling; there are many other examples of workers who helped to develop Socialist theory.

The London Communist Club was formed in 1840 by three German workers who had been active in the revolutionary movement and had been expelled from France in 1830 for participating in the Blanquist conspiracy. The three founders of the Club were Karl Schapper, a proof reader, Heinrich Bauer, a shoemaker, and Joseph Moll, a matchmaker.

This club, which had become the centre of revolutionary activity decided at a conference with the German Workingmen's Club of Brussels, in 1847, to invite Marx and Engels to prepare the Communist Manifesto.

Another example is Karl Pfaender, a journeyman printer, who was prominent in the Communist League before he encountered the views of Marx. This was also true of Frederick Lessner, a tailor. Some of the workingmen active in the Chartist movement had also developed communist views, among them J. F. Bray, believed to have been a journeyman printer, and of course Robert Owen, originally a mill worker.

Incidentally where did Marx and Engels learn their Socialism? Partly, at least, from inside the Chartist Movement and from German journeymen workmen; before then they were mainly concerned with philosophy and anti-religious ideas.

There is also a "philosophical" problem in the claim that workers, in fact any individual or groups of humans, learn by pure experience without reflecting on it, as is well explained in this contribution (by a non-SPGBer) to a discussion of the meeting on the SPGB discussion forum.

But this isn't just a question of philosophy (epistemology) as the two different theories of how socialist consciousness arises lead to different conceptions of the conditions required before a socialist revolution can take place, the Left Communist view leading to the dangerous conclusion that this can be attempted while only a minority of workers are consciously socialist. It would also leads to a position, openly contemplated by the CWO and ICC, of workers councils having to administer for a number of years (while a majority socialist consciousness does arise) an economy in which commodity-production, wage-labour, value and money still exist.

proletarian.
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Feb 18 2014 14:31

The argument has been made by some but seems to get wholly ignored, Lenin meant in WITBD (incorrect/bad translation/interpretation etc) that workers couldn't come to full communist consciousness (not just in the realm of ideas) purely through workplace experience but needed experiences and reflection outside of the sphere of work.

If this is correct it seems to me the SPGB agree with Lenin on this question. Equally, depending on what that experience consists of it would tally with other comrades. I tend to think consciousness in some cases in the workplace becomes objectively communist whether workers declare themselves socialist or not. And besides, this consciousness whether fully developed or not becomes much more important and significant than the most ideological communist comrade.

On the subject of councils, one stumbling block seems to be that most if not all SPGB can only conceive them as purely economic bodies. Which is probably a result of them insisting politics takes place elsewhere, in Parliament and governments. At one point someone from the SPGB says:

it's essential to capture political power of the state by Parliament so the Socialists could run the military!,

I think it was a very good recording, were more of the nasty bits edited out? I would have liked to have attended it personally as I think it would have been very worthwhile. There was a natural question that arose towards the end which the chair suggested could be the topic of the next meeting? For those who did not attend, what do you think?

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Theft
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Feb 18 2014 11:48

Just to add there was no editing at all, everything was left in.

alb
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Feb 18 2014 12:01
proletarian. wrote:
The argument has been made by some but seems to get wholly ignored, Lenin meant in WITBD (incorrect/bad translation/interpretation etc) that workers couldn't come to full communist consciousness (not just in the realm of ideas) purely through workplace experience but needed experiences and reflection outside of the sphere of work.

If this is correct it seems to me the SPGB agree with Lenin on this question.

Yes, that particular point of Lenin's is correct (and the SPGB won't be alone in saying so), but not his other points that the working class left to itself is incapable of evolving beyond a trade union consciousness or that socialist ideas were originally the work of sections of the bourgeoisie rather than of a section of the working class.

So, yes, workers do need "experiences and reflection outside of the sphere of work" (as well as inside it). Socialist consciousness will emerge out of the workers' total experience of capitalism not just workplace experience, i.e. will include experience of other effects of capitalism such as, for example, war, pollution, commercialisation, inter-personal relations.

If in fact you really meant to say that it can only come from workplace experience, then you have a problem that was recognised at the meeting and for which "neighbourhood councils" were seen as the solution -- the fact that today a majority of the working class do not work in huge factories or industrial complexes, that some don't work at all (unemployed, disabled, retired) while many do work which will have no place in socialism (banking, insurance, finance, for example). This means that many workers (perhaps a majority) won't have the workplace experience that those who originated the idea of "workers councils" assumed and which you have given expression to. The experience of "neighbourhood councils" , as "experiences and reflections outside the sphere of work", certainly couldn't be a substitute (at least, not on the theory of working-class consciousness you seem committed to).

proletarian.
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Feb 18 2014 12:53

I think the point the 'Leninist's' are making re new or 'true' interpretation of WITBD is that Lenin meant workers don't only become conscious in the workplace. That "trade union consciousness" comes from the workplace but that doesn't mean the same workers don't become also conscious outside of it. And therefore can have socialist consciousness in the workplace! And another point that Trade Unionism isn't a threat to capitalism. The argument seems to be a technical one that several different points are jumbled up with Russian words having several meanings or there being no English equivalent.

I'm skeptical of these new translations and interpretations of WHAT LENIN REALLY MEANT but there you go, just bringing it up as it seems relevant.

Spikymike
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Feb 18 2014 16:30

Sadly alb above, and the SPGB generally, correctly understand working class experience as a whole to be the key factor in the development of class and socialist/communist consciousness, but as a purely contemplative process, rather than an interactive process of practical class struggle through periods of advance and retreat - I'm sure some of us tried to explain this distinction at the meeting, which remains at the heart of the SPGB incomprehension of our differences in this area.

slothjabber
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Feb 19 2014 01:43
alb wrote:
...

So, yes, workers do need "experiences and reflection outside of the sphere of work" (as well as inside it). Socialist consciousness will emerge out of the workers' total experience of capitalism not just workplace experience, i.e. will include experience of other effects of capitalism such as, for example, war, pollution, commercialisation, inter-personal relations...

I don't think anyone at the meeting was arguing otherwise, except for the SPGB comrade who was arguing that socialist conciousness can only come from being taught theoretically about socialism, which is obviously nonsense, and indistinguishable from the parody of Lenin that says workers by their own efforts can only come to trade-union consciousness and need an educated elite to somehow infect them with the proper consciousness.

This is where the notion of 'a majority that accept socialism' leads. Action is impossible until the mass is convinced (by the socialist educators), because the mass is incapable of changing in action.

alb
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Feb 19 2014 06:55
Spikymike wrote:
Sadly alb above, and the SPGB generally, correctly understand working class experience as a whole to be the key factor in the development of class and socialist/communist consciousness, but as a purely contemplative process

I honestly and genuinely don't know what you mean by this. I thought that disagreement was not about the psychological process of learning, but about when and how quickly workers would come to want and act for socialism, specifically whether this would be before, during or after the revolution.

The SPGB argument is that, if the revolution is to be successful, a majority of workers must have already come to want socialism. There is nothing in this position which precludes workers coming to this conclusion as a result of their experience of struggles or it coming about fairly rapidly. On the other hand, your theory that majority socialist consciousnesss (for want of a better term) will come about during the revolution (and the ICC/CWO theory that it will come about after the revolution) must still involve individuals thinking about and coming to this conclusion (aka "contemplating"). Unless, that is, you subscribe to the bizarre idea that the working class has a collective mind or the naive idea that ideas are a simple knee-jerk reaction to external stimuli. Which I'm beginning to think might be the case.

slothjabber wrote:
the SPGB comrade who was arguing that socialist conciousness can only come from being taught theoretically about socialism, which is obviously nonsense, and indistinguishable from the parody of Lenin that says workers by their own efforts can only come to trade-union consciousness and need an educated elite to somehow infect them with the proper consciousness.

That's not a bad parody itself. You seem to be assuming that people can only "learn" by being taught, but this is not the case. People can also learn from experience, in this case their experience of life and struggle under capitalism including hearing and thinking about arguments for socialism. What the SPGB is saying is that this process needs to have taken place before the socialist revolution is attempted. And it is this that you disagree with.

slothjabber wrote:
This is where the notion of 'a majority that accept socialism' leads. Action is impossible until the mass is convinced (by the socialist educators), because the mass is incapable of changing in action.

This doesn't follow either. What you call "the mass" could have been convinced by their experiences, but the real point here is that you don't accept that a majority needs to accept socialism to carry out the revolution. You envisage a revolution in which only a minority have accepted socialism while the majority are merely discontented with some aspect of capitalism and that this non-socialist "mass" can be used to overthrow capitalist rule and that it is only after this that they will be "educated" (in the teacher sense) into understanding socialism. I think it was this that led the SPGB comrade to make the counter-accusation of Leninist vanguardism.

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Alf
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Feb 19 2014 10:09

I think part of the problem is what you actually mean by 'the majority of the workers acquiring socialist consciousness'. How is it measured? In the view of the left communists, it can't be measured by voting for parliamentary candidates, an act which can be carried out with virtually no political consciousness at all, and we can even argue that participating in the whole farce shows a definite lack of revolutionary consciousness. Socialist consciousness is not something fixed and, in a revolution, what was a majority one day can, after a few set backs, become a minority the next, only to return to being a majority some time later. Indeed, one of the advantages of the council form of organisation is that the possibility of revocability makes it a far more sensitive measure of the actual level of consciousness in the class than the parliamentary form. The political organisations of the class are a more 'permanent' embodiment of socialist consciousness but they too can degenerate and fail in their role, since the pressure of bourgeois ideology - and thus its expression in opportunism - is constant and doesn't disappear by magic in a revolution.

alb
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Feb 19 2014 10:37
Alf wrote:
I think part of the problem is what you actually mean by 'the majority of the workers acquiring socialist consciousness'. How is it measured?

That's easy, almost a gift. Here's one suggested way:

Engels wrote:
Universal suffrage is thus the gauge of the maturity of the working class. It cannot and never will be anything more in the modern state; but that is enough. On the day when the thermometer of universal suffrage shows boiling-point among the workers, they as well as the capitalists will know where they stand.(The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State).

ajjohnstone
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Feb 19 2014 15:34

I too don't quite understand Spikemikes remark "but as a purely contemplative process".

Are we saying friends, family, work colleagues, party comrades don't share views and instead an SPGBer like some guru sits atop a mountain in a lotus position in quiet contemplation. Of course not.

People are engaged with society simply by the fact that we are part of it, and that means interacting in every day life, and it means doing things, exactly just as Spikeymike says.

I think perhaps he may be getting at the fact that the SPGB does not intervene collectively under a banner in class struggles. We however do present an agreed position to others of our class and strive wherever we can to explain that analysis - as the expression of an already organised and united section of the working class, a political party, not a discussion group or debating club, and suggesting it as an example to be emulated by others if our class is to go forward...[cue for the philosophers have interpreted the world quote]

It won't just be the vote that will reflect socialist consciousness, but the numbers who will join our own party or form a new one, or join yours, Alf. We will gauge it by when we have to shut the doors at our meetings to overflowing audiences...just as today we measure our influence by the dozen and half that turned up at the MDF, and not the hundreds or the thousands.

If the workers who align and participate with the anti-parliamentarians of the Thin Red Line do so in significant numbers and reject the SPGB option offered at the ballot box then i think there will be a reappraisal of our politics and a shift in the focus of our activity. But i can only speculate.

And i need not add that the SPGB stand by certain principles and do not court popularity for the sake of success otherwise earlier members too could have been swept away with the optimism of industrial unionism/syndicalism then the pro-Bolshevik euphoria and other such events that proved to be false representations of rising socialist consciousness. I think it was the SPGB who highlighted Lenin's failure as one of serious misjudgement on the likelihood of a revolutionary period in the Western Europe and its non-appearance resulted in the Bolshevik back-tracking. Perhaps he should have looked at election results a bit more rather than the sloganising of the Left. So perhaps we will go through a re-evaluation of our ideas but it may not necessarily lead to them changing...only the seeing the evidence of the success of the development of the working class emancipating themselves will guarantee that....and we will be very happy to say ...we were wrong and you were right!! At this moment in time , all we ask for is convincing evidence that others hypothesis holds more validity than our own. If we receive such proof then of course we shall change the party position....but until then, as said in an earlier post, i look forward to more meetings in the future and a more contemplative assessment of the debate!

Spikymike
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Feb 19 2014 16:32

To alb, and for the record, my view is closest to his description of those who see 'mass' 'effective' (if not necessarily 'majority') socialist consciousness arising ''during a revolution'' - though such consciousness will not necessarily express itself in the rather ideological language we politicos tend to use today and it leaves so much more to say about the material nature of a revolutionary process. Workers are not part of the hive so do not possess a ''collective'' mind, but certainly ideas can change 'more rapidly' in the process of collective class struggle. Unfortunately that change is not necessarily always progressive or stable ie one directional towards the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism - otherwise we would have succeeded long ago. The influence of pro-revolutionary minorities in the process of class struggle both today and in the future can be helpful in strengthening the progressive direction of change, preferably 'intervening' collectively and not to reinforce illusions in either parliamentary politics or trade unionism. I have tried to explain this in various ways both in my posts on the three related discussion threads on libcom and at the MDF meeting. Frankly I don't expect to change the views of long-standing members of the SPGB in this way but hopefully some others on the fringes of these discussions will have been influenced more favourably.

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Feb 19 2014 17:30

Not so easy, Alb, because it never happened the way Engels anticipated. When the workers actually reachied boiling point, as in 1905, 1917-1919, their consciousness was expressed in entirely different ways than trooping off to the polling booths. Hence the unseemly haste of the bourgeoisie in the wake of World War One to extend the franchise beyond its pre-war limits (the great 'gain' of women's suffrage, for example). It was at precisely the same moment that the Labour Party incorporated 'socialism' into its programme.

alb
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Feb 19 2014 20:47

What you mean workers reached boiling point in 1905? It's true that elections about that time resulted in a Liberal government in Britain and an anti-clerical government in France. Hardly poiling point ! "Soviets" only arose in Russia following the Japanese victory in the Russo-Japase war because there was no other way of expressing discontent with the regime. Engels wasn't talking about conditions in a politically and economically "backward" country like Russia which didn't even have a constitution led along votes fot workerd, but abour "advanced" countries like Britain, France and Germany.

I'd go so far as to say that the so-called Russian revolutiin (Bolshevik coup) put the clock back as it diverted revolutionary socialists in western Europe into supporingt old-fashioned ideas of revolution imported from backward Russia. But there's not all that point crying over spilt milk or trying tp put humpty dumpty together again. The 20th century was the wasted century that it was largely due to the baneful influence of the Bolshevik coup and its ideology. Let's not repeat this mistake this century. Let's dissolve the Dead Russians Society.

proletarian.
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Feb 19 2014 22:45

slothjabber
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Feb 20 2014 00:19
alb wrote:
Spikymike wrote:
Sadly alb above, and the SPGB generally, correctly understand working class experience as a whole to be the key factor in the development of class and socialist/communist consciousness, but as a purely contemplative process

I honestly and genuinely don't know what you mean by this. I thought that disagreement was not about the psychological process of learning, but about when and how quickly workers would come to want and act for socialism, specifically whether this would be before, during or after the revolution...

No, it's about how the working class comes to consciousness. Whether or not the SPGB's position is actually that workers are incapable of coming to socialist consciousness without the intervention of the party, that is how it comes across.

alb wrote:
...The SPGB argument is that, if the revolution is to be successful, a majority of workers must have already come to want socialism. There is nothing in this position which precludes workers coming to this conclusion as a result of their experience of struggles or it coming about fairly rapidly. On the other hand, your theory that majority socialist consciousnesss (for want of a better term) will come about during the revolution (and the ICC/CWO theory that it will come about after the revolution) must still involve individuals thinking about and coming to this conclusion (aka "contemplating"). Unless, that is, you subscribe to the bizarre idea that the working class has a collective mind or the naive idea that ideas are a simple knee-jerk reaction to external stimuli. Which I'm beginning to think might be the case...

I don't think any of us think that ideas are a simple knee-jerk reaction to external stimuli. Of course we think that the working class can come to consciousness as a result of experience. Indeed, that's the only way - even reading socialist propaganda involves 'reflecting on experience', in this case the experience of reading.

What we argue is that the 'mass consciousness' that you're after is going to happen in the process of making a revolution, not before, because the 'experience' that workers will be reflecting on is more likely to be their own experience of organising against capitalism than reading the Socialist Standard.

alb wrote:
slothjabber wrote:
the SPGB comrade who was arguing that socialist conciousness can only come from being taught theoretically about socialism, which is obviously nonsense, and indistinguishable from the parody of Lenin that says workers by their own efforts can only come to trade-union consciousness and need an educated elite to somehow infect them with the proper consciousness.

That's not a bad parody itself. You seem to be assuming that people can only "learn" by being taught, but this is not the case. People can also learn from experience, in this case their experience of life and struggle under capitalism including hearing and thinking about arguments for socialism. What the SPGB is saying is that this process needs to have taken place before the socialist revolution is attempted. And it is this that you disagree with...

Not at all, I'm saying that's the position that the SPGB puts across. I believe that working class is perfectly capable of having a revolution without having read a word of Marx, precisely because people are capable of learning by methods other than reading. Hence the accusation that the SPGB's line is that the stupid proles need to acquire 'socialist theory' from the SPGB educational elite.

alb wrote:
slothjabber wrote:
This is where the notion of 'a majority that accept socialism' leads. Action is impossible until the mass is convinced (by the socialist educators), because the mass is incapable of changing in action.

This doesn't follow either. What you call "the mass" could have been convinced by their experiences, but the real point here is that you don't accept that a majority needs to accept socialism to carry out the revolution. You envisage a revolution in which only a minority have accepted socialism while the majority are merely discontented with some aspect of capitalism and that this non-socialist "mass" can be used to overthrow capitalist rule and that it is only after this that they will be "educated" (in the teacher sense) into understanding socialism. I think it was this that led the SPGB comrade to make the counter-accusation of Leninist vanguardism.

No, I don't accept that a majority needs to accept socialism before a revolution, because I don't think that workers are incapable of learning from their experiences and I don't think that 'discontent' is unconnected to consciousness. I don't think workers need to be educated in a 'teacher sense' by a socialist educational vanguard such as the SPGB, because in the process of resiting capitalism and then moving beyond resitance to overthrowing capitalism, the working class will already have gone far beyond any of the nostrums cooked up by the socialist sects.

Socialist society will exist when the working class does away with capitalism and states worldwide and organises production for need not profit. It can do that without ever having read any Marx, Engels, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Luxemburg or Lenin or anyone else.

'How can workers create socialism without understanding it?' cry the SPGBers. 'By doing it' is my answer. I know Milton Keynes exists, I know if I go 40 miles south, I'll get there. But I also know that if someone else goes 40 miles south, they will also get there. The existence of Milton Keynes doesn't depend on looking at a map, and the existence of socialist society doesn't depend on the working class doing its homework.

alb
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Feb 20 2014 03:44
slothjabber wrote:
Whether or not the SPGB's position is actually that workers are incapable of coming to socialist consciousness without the intervention of the party, that is how it comes across.

It's more what critics of the SPGB put across so they can have a strawman to knock down. Of course socialist consciousness has, can, does and will arise independently of the SPGB, though not, as you yourself go on to point out, independently of hearing "socialist propaganda" from some source:

slothjabber wrote:
we think that the working class can come to consciousness as a result of experience. Indeed, that's the only way - even reading socialist propaganda involves 'reflecting on experience', in this case. the experience of reading.

So do we. In fact, that was the point I was making: that hearing "socialist propaganda" has to be part of the experience that leads to "socialist consciousness". In practice of course you do too. You too are engaged in socialist "education". Otherwise, why do you hold meetings, publish a magazine, etc? It's just that the SPGB is more honest about what it is doing.

slothjabber wrote:
What we argue is that the 'mass consciousness' that you're after is going to happen in the process of making a revolution, not before, because the 'experience' that workers will be reflecting on is more likely to be their own experience of organising against capitalism than reading the Socialist Standard.

This process too would involve workers hearing arguments for socialism, maybe not from reading the Socialist Standard, but at least from hearing speeches, reading leaflets and talking to fellow-workers. It couldn't come about any other way. This confirms that the argument is really about when and under what circumstances and with what speed this develops. There is nothing in the SPGB position which says that this couldn't happen fairly rapidly at some stage or that it couldn't happen independently of the SPGB. In fact SPGB members have speculated about two different ways in which it might happen: the snowball theory and the avalanche theory, neither of which involves the delusion of grandeur that it's going to come about as a result of our puny efforts.

slothjabber wrote:
I believe that working class is perfectly capable of having a revolution without having read a word of Marx, precisely because people are capable of learning by methods other than reading.

Of course you don't have to have read Marx to become a socialist. You don't even have to have read Marx to join the SPGB. I still say, though, that people will have to have at least heard socialist arguments.

slothjabber wrote:
I don't accept that a majority needs to accept socialism before a revolution [my bold]

That's the crux of the matter ! You envisage a revolution starting with only a minority of socialists. We don't.

ajjohnstone
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Feb 20 2014 04:34

Hate to throw a spanner into the works but when ALB says

Quote:
I don't accept that a majority needs to accept socialism before a revolution [my bold]
That's the crux of the matter ! You envisage a revolution starting with only a minority of socialists. We don't.

I am one who goes along with emphasising an effective or a functional majority, not necessarily a numerical majority and i have argued this on Libcom as has the SPGB itself.

Quote:
"we use terms such as “majority” and “majoritarian” this is not because we are obsessed with counting the number of individual socialists, but to show that we reject minority action to try to establish socialism – majority as the opposite of minority....a majority (yes, but in the democratic rather than mere mathematical sense)...."
http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/aug04/icc.html

A 1955 SPGB EC Statement says "The overwhelming mass of the people will participate, or fall in line with, the process of reorganisation " [my emphasis].

It is not the Iron Heel that sustains capitalism but the adherence to it by most folk who understand it as the only system possible.

Yes, they will increasingly realise there is an alternative through their own experiences but also by exposure to other views and opinions which reinforce and strengthen any self-realisation. I don't think any of us walked into the socialist movement off the street , so to speak, but had already begun the journey and happened upon future comrades who had already reached similar ideas and expressed them publicly for us to actually encounter them. So i rarely understand this put down of the SPGB that it is a purely propagandist organisation. We are not a think-tank but set up as a political party which means we aspire to act,

alb
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Feb 20 2014 08:51
ajjohnstone wrote:
.

Quote:
"we use terms such as “majority” and “majoritarian” this is not because we are obsessed with counting the number of individual socialists, but to show that we reject minority action to try to establish socialism – majority as the opposite of minority....a majority (yes, but in the democratic rather than mere mathematical sense)...."
http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/aug04/icc.html

That link doesn't seem to work, but the article can also be found here:

http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/socialist-standard/2000s/2004/no-1200...

The introduction to the part of the article on "Consciousness" is also relevant to the discussion here:

Quote:
The ICC attributes to us a caricatured position of seeing “the development of consciousness as an accumulation of individual socialists”, as the conversion of workers one by one to socialism until there’s a “mathematical majority”, as if anyone could hold such an absurd position. Of course, as Marxists, we hold that socialist consciousness develops out of the workers’ class experience of capitalism and its problems.

How many times do we have to repeat this to get "Left Communists" to understand what our position is (the absurd caricature about converting workers one by one to socialism until the figure of 50% + 1 is reached was repeated at the meeting by someone from, I think, the CWO)?

slothjabber
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Feb 20 2014 23:30
alb wrote:
slothjabber wrote:
Whether or not the SPGB's position is actually that workers are incapable of coming to socialist consciousness without the intervention of the party, that is how it comes across.

It's more what critics of the SPGB put across so they can have a strawman to knock down...

With the best will in the world, alb, you don't get to decide how the rest of the world sees you. You might mean intend that people understand that the SPGB isn't necessary to propogate consciousness, but that is not what comes across.

alb wrote:
...
Of course socialist consciousness has, can, does and will arise independently of the SPGB, though not, as you yourself go on to point out, independently of hearing "socialist propaganda" from some source...

And you manage to construct a strawman of your own. I didn't say anything like what you claim i have said. Workers can acquire consciousness solely as a matter of theoretical learning, but they don't have to. The SPGB's position is that workers have to learn about socialist theory before the revolution; my position and I think the position of all the non-SPGBers at the forum is that workers can create socialist theory for themselves in the course of the revolution. No socialist propaganda necessary. Helpful, yes, in my opinion; but necessary, no. You understand the difference between the words 'helpful' and 'necessary', yes?

alb wrote:
... hearing "socialist propaganda" has to be part of the experience that leads to "socialist consciousness"...

So where id the first socialist propaganda come from? Did it come from the working class creating their own theory (in which case they can do it again and don't need the socialist theory that has gone before), or did it come from outside the working class, becasue the working class can only reach trade union consciousness? Can't see what other choices there are.

alb wrote:
... In practice of course you do too. You too are engaged in socialist "education". Otherwise, why do you hold meetings, publish a magazine, etc? It's just that the SPGB is more honest about what it is doing...

At what point have I ever said that propaganda can't be useful? We all agree that 'socialist education' is useful. But you think that is necessary; you think that revolution is impossible without it. I don't. I think it might go more quickly or smoothly or in a bit nicer fashion; but even if I never took part in any kind of conscious-generalising action at all for the rest of my life, the working class would still be able to revolt.

alb wrote:
...
slothjabber wrote:
What we argue is that the 'mass consciousness' that you're after is going to happen in the process of making a revolution, not before, because the 'experience' that workers will be reflecting on is more likely to be their own experience of organising against capitalism than reading the Socialist Standard.

This process too would involve workers hearing arguments for socialism, maybe not from reading the Socialist Standard, but at least from hearing speeches, reading leaflets and talking to fellow-workers. It couldn't come about any other way. This confirms that the argument is really about when and under what circumstances and with what speed this develops. There is nothing in the SPGB position which says that this couldn't happen fairly rapidly at some stage or that it couldn't happen independently of the SPGB. In fact SPGB members have speculated about two different ways in which it might happen: the snowball theory and the avalanche theory, neither of which involves the delusion of grandeur that it's going to come about as a result of our puny efforts.

slothjabber wrote:
I believe that working class is perfectly capable of having a revolution without having read a word of Marx, precisely because people are capable of learning by methods other than reading.

Of course you don't have to have read Marx to become a socialist. You don't even have to have read Marx to join the SPGB. I still say, though, that people will have to have at least heard socialist arguments.

slothjabber wrote:
I don't accept that a majority needs to accept socialism before a revolution [my bold]

That's the crux of the matter ! You envisage a revolution starting with only a minority of socialists. We don't.

No, the crux of the matter is that you see 'consciousness' as coming from outside of the working class. If you didn't you wouldn't fetishise 'the case for socialism' so much. The working class can make a revolution without learning how from some self-appointed 'socialist teachers', indeed, is was the working class who taught your 'socialist teachers' their socialist theory, as you were happy enough to state at the forum.

Class struggle produces class consciousness, has produced class consciousness and will produce class consciousness (prediction that may turn out to be incorrect if we all die next week let's say); 'socialist theory' that you think is necessary for class struggle, is only a reflection on that class struggle, it doesn't pre-date it.

alb
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Feb 21 2014 08:29

Actually, the actual SPGB analysis agrees with yours on a number of points, namely:

1. That modern socialist ideas first arose from the early workers movement not in the brains of the educated section of the bourgeoisie as Lenin (and Kautsky) claimed; and that Marx himself got his in part from German and French workers.
2. That socialist ideas arise out of the class struggle (if you don't believe this see this article from 1920).
3. That this is why socialist ideas will arise independently of the activities of any particular socialist organisation including the SPGB. (So even if the SPGB had never been founded or had not survived socialist ideas will still arise, in fact still are.)
4. There is no need for workers to read Marx or any other socialist writer to become a socialist.

But

1. Part of the spread of socialist ideas does involve workers propagating them amongst their fellow workers. This is what the minority of socialists who now exist are doing.
2. They are not bringing socialist ideas to the workers from outside, but communicating to them the accumulated past experience of the class struggle.
3. This is part of the process of workers becoming class-conscious (even "trade union consciousness" spread in this way).
4. The socialist minority are not "creating" or "making" socialists but playing a part in the process of the development of socialist consciousness; in fact they are a part of that process.
5. (a bit of an abstract point but worth making because some of the formulations in this discussion ignore it):Humans don't learn anything from pure experience; all learning involves thinking. No idea is a simple reflection of experience.

Also

There is no reason why the development of socialist consciousness cannot take place under capitalism, despite what you claim:

slothjabber wrote:
No, I don't accept that a majority needs to accept socialism before a revolution, because I don't think that workers are incapable of learning from their experiences

But why not? Why can't a majority of workers learn this from their experiences under capitalism before the revolution? (Or, put the other way round, why can only a minority do so? What's so special about them/you?)

The SPGB is in the socialist tradition, going back to Marx and Engels, which says they can. You are in a tradition that does back to Bordiga (who was a super-Leninist on this point), and through him back to pre-Marxian socialists like Blanqui and Buonarotti, which says they can't. It commits you to envisage a revolution starting without a socialist majority (hence your opposition to elections, which you know you would lose if held at that poinmt) and even finishing one without it (hence the view that the working class need to be educated in socialist ideas after the overthrow of capitalism).

Spikymike
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Feb 21 2014 16:58

Well I suppose as there have only EVER been genuine socialist/communist minorities even if in the history of capitalism the size of those minorities has gone up and down from time to time, whilst there have at those different times been disproportionately bigger variations in the size, extent and depth of militant collective class struggle, then it is at least not unreasonable to think that such a relationship between the two might persist right up to the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism on a world scale. ''Needs to be educated in...'' and other such language used by alb is it seems chosen to imply support for a specialist/privileged role for the communist minority as the educators in the course of revolution, but all that has been described by slothjabber and myself in different words is a process of self-education, in which communist minorities (in the plural), both formerly organised and not, play one role amongst many. That role however is not limited to abstract propaganda but to active practical participation in the expanding cycle of class struggle.

Spikymike
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Feb 21 2014 17:03

I'm surprised alb hasn't mentioned the two related discussion threads on their own SPGB Forum - one on the MDF meeting and one titled 'the spatial spread of socialist society' which highlight the differing, sometimes useful but more often confused and contradictory, views of their members and supporters on these and related issues.

slothjabber
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Feb 21 2014 19:59
alb wrote:
Actually, the actual SPGB analysis agrees with yours on a number of points, namely:

1. That modern socialist ideas first arose from the early workers movement not in the brains of the educated section of the bourgeoisie as Lenin (and Kautsky) claimed; and that Marx himself got his in part from German and French workers.
2. That socialist ideas arise out of the class struggle (if you don't believe this see this article from 1920).
3. That this is why socialist ideas will arise independently of the activities of any particular socialist organisation including the SPGB. (So even if the SPGB had never been founded or had not survived socialist ideas will still arise, in fact still are.)
4. There is no need for workers to read Marx or any other socialist writer to become a socialist...

And I have no argument with any of that. It's what I have been arguing all along, against the supporters of the SPGB.

alb wrote:
...But

1. Part of the spread of socialist ideas does involve workers propagating them amongst their fellow workers. This is what the minority of socialists who now exist are doing...

This isn't in antithesis to what went before, it doesn't need a 'but'.

Yes it does involve the spread of 'socialist ideas', because there are a bunch of socialist sects out there putting forward these ideas; but the very fact that you admit that the working class is capable of generating socialist theory without being 'given' it from outside means that workers don't need other socialists to generate socialist theory. We (the socialists) can surely help, but in line with your 3 & 4 above, we are not necessary. So, workers can become socialists not through larning about pre-existing socialist theory, which is the position of the SPGB that we're attacking, but through their own efforts at fighting capitalism and coming to a collective understanding of what they're doing. In other words, it is class struggle that generates socialist theory (in line with 1 & 2 above) not the other way around. Thus, in a revolutionary confrontation with capitalism and the state, workers don't need pre-existing socialist theory (as the SPGB claim) because they can generate theory through collective discussion of their experiences.

alb wrote:
...
2. They are not bringing socialist ideas to the workers from outside, but communicating to them the accumulated past experience of the class struggle.
3. This is part of the process of workers becoming class-conscious (even "trade union consciousness" spread in this way).
4. The socialist minority are not "creating" or "making" socialists but playing a part in the process of the development of socialist consciousness; in fact they are a part of that process.
5. (a bit of an abstract point but worth making because some of the formulations in this discussion ignore it):Humans don't learn anything from pure experience; all learning involves thinking. No idea is a simple reflection of experience...

It is precisely because we (the non-SPGBers) belive that workers are capable of thinking and talking about their experiences that we think they do not need to 'have consciousness, will struggle'. Their experiences of fighting the class war are the source of any necessary 'socialist theory'. They do not need to learn it beforehand (as you rightly say in part 2 of the first section - socialist consciousness arises from class struggle).

alb wrote:
...Also

There is no reason why the development of socialist consciousness cannot take place under capitalism, despite what you claim:

slothjabber wrote:
No, I don't accept that a majority needs to accept socialism before a revolution, because I don't think that workers are incapable of learning from their experiences

...

Yet again, you're arguing against something I didn't say (or at least attacking point I don't make in the quote you used).

'Socialist consciousness' as you see it can't take place under capitalism, because the capitalist ideological machine is much bigger than the socialist truth machine. Even if all the socialist sects could agree, the combined propaganda output they could generate would be a billionth of capitalism's output, because the ruling ideas of any epoch are the ideas of the ruling class.

Socialist consciousness as I see it can develop under capitalism because it depends on the working class's capacity to reflect on learn from its experiences - which in capitalist society, are experiences of class oppression and struggle.

alb wrote:
...But why not? Why can't a majority of workers learn this from their experiences under capitalism before the revolution? (Or, put the other way round, why can only a minority do so? What's so special about them/you?)...

Because if we learn from our experiences, it is precisely the experience of class struggle that allows for the conditions to produce socialists. When there are small struggles, small numbers learn (something) from them. when there are larger struggles, larger numbers learn from them. When there are massive struggles, massive numbers learn from them. It is the struggles that produce the consciousness, not the consciousness that produces the struggles. Which is why a revolution (the most massive struggles imaginable) produces the greatest changes in consciousness - not, as the SPGB has it, the greatest changes in consciousness that produce the revolution.

alb wrote:
... The SPGB is in the socialist tradition, going back to Marx and Engels, which says they can. You are in a tradition that does back to Bordiga (who was a super-Leninist on this point), and through him back to pre-Marxian socialists like Blanqui and Buonarotti, which says they can't. It commits you to envisage a revolution starting without a socialist majority (hence your opposition to elections, which you know you would lose if held at that poinmt) and even finishing one without it (hence the view that the working class need to be educated in socialist ideas after the overthrow of capitalism).

You're still thinking like a Leninist here, insisting that the working class can't make its own socialist theory, still insisting that 'learning about sociaism' is something that happens to the working class and is brought from outside.

No: the working class makes its own socialist theory as it makes its own revolution - not your revolution or even my revolution. No teachers necessary, before or after, because the working class is capable of creating for itself and doesn't need your revolutionary pedagogy.

alb
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Feb 21 2014 19:21
Spikymike wrote:
''Needs to be educated in...'' and other such language used by alb is it seems chosen to imply support for a specialist/privileged role for the communist minority as the educators in the course of revolution, but all that has been described by slothjabber and myself in different words is a process of self-education

I don't recall using that particular phrase, but no matter. I can go along with the workers "self-educating" themselves, but I don't see why this cannot happen under capitalism before the revolution. You will need to explain why not.

Quote:
That role however is not limited to abstract propaganda but to active practical participation in the expanding cycle of class struggle.

I got to laugh at this one. Left Communist publications are much more abstract than the Socialist Standard (though I agree that Subversion wasn't as bad as World Revolution is) and the ironic thing is that, while SPGB members take part in the class struggle as active members of their trade union, Left Communists stand on the sidelines carrying out abstract propaganda against workers having anything to do with the unions !

proletarian.
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Feb 21 2014 22:09

alb says,

Quote:
while SPGB members take part in the class struggle as active members of their trade union, Left Communists stand on the sidelines carrying out abstract propaganda against workers having anything to do with the unions !

This is a similar formulation to that of your understanding of politics. Because leftcoms and anarchists do not try and enter parliament to abolish the state they are not doing anything political. Because some leftcoms don't join unions (official workers organ under capitalism) they cannot involve themselves in workplace struggle. Which is obviously nonsense because leftcoms and others argue their case against union control, discipline and so on during the struggle highlighting what impedes workers in practice. You can hardly do this that successfully while in the union that is doing what you are criticising! It is par for the course though for those hung up on legality. Many of the necessary actions and struggles that develop now and in the future will be against the law and thus for the SPGB wrong, illegal, foolish and dangerous.

Alf's picture
Alf
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Feb 21 2014 22:58

Slothjabber wrote:
"At what point have I ever said that propaganda can't be useful? We all agree that 'socialist education' is useful. But you think that is necessary; you think that revolution is impossible without it. I don't. I think it might go more quickly or smoothly or in a bit nicer fashion; but even if I never took part in any kind of conscious-generalising action at all for the rest of my life, the working class would still be able to revolt".

While I agree with most of what you write in response to alb, there is a tendency in several passages, like the one above, towards underestimating the role of communist theory and communist organisation in the revolution. The working class gives rise to both - on that we are agreed - but it does so with considerable pain and hardship because they are not just "useful" but indispensable. Revolt and revolution are not the same thing.

alb
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Feb 22 2014 06:24
slothjabber wrote:
the very fact that you admit that the working class is capable of generating socialist theory without being 'given' it from outside means that workers don't need other socialists to generate socialist theory. We (the socialists) can surely help, but in line with your 3 & 4 above, we are not necessary.

We, the socialists who exist today, may not be necessary, but at some stage in the future self-education of the working class there will have to be workers who have become socialists getting together to put this to their fellow workers. I can't see any other way in which "socialist consciousness" (or "trade union consciousness" or any idea for that matter) can spread. In that sense hearing socialist arguments from fellow workers is a necessary part of the development of a majority (or, if you prefer, "mass") socialist consciousness. This would still be the case in your revolutionary situation. I see Alf concurs.

slothjabber wrote:
So, workers can become socialists not through larning about pre-existing socialist theory, which is [a caricature of -- my insertion, alb] the position of the SPGB that we're attacking, but through their own efforts at fighting capitalism and coming to a collective understanding of what they're doing. In other words, it is class struggle that generates socialist theory (in line with 1 & 2 above) not the other way around. Thus, in a revolutionary confrontation with capitalism and the state, workers don't need pre-existing socialist theory (as the SPGB claim) because they can generate theory through collective discussion on their experiences.

That's not much different what I'm saying, i.e that workers "can generate theory through collective discussion of their experiences", but I keep asking (but without getting any answer) why this cannot happen before the "revolutionary confrontation". I can only assume that your reference to "pre-existing socialist theory" means that you don't think that "socialist theory" can pre-exist the "revolutionary confrontation", i.e that it is not necessary (or possible?) for the working class to develop it under capitalism. But then you say:

slothjabber wrote:
'Socialist consciousness' as you see it can't take place under capitalism, because the capitalist ideological machine is much bigger than the socialist truth machine. Even if all the socialist sects could agree, the combined propaganda output they could generate would be a billionth of capitalism's output, because the ruling ideas of any epoch are the ideas of the ruling class.

Socialist consciousness as I see it can [d]evelop under capitalism because it depends on the working class's capacity to reflect on learn from its experiences - which in capitalist society, are experiences of class oppression and struggle.

Well, can it or can't it? I don't see the difference between "socialist consciousness" as "you see it" and "as I see it". In both cases, we are talking about a recognition of the need to replace capitalism by socialism and to self-organise to bring this about (aren't we?). But if the working class can "reflect on learn from its experience" to reach this conclusion even under capitalism, then this is tantamount to saying that it can overcome capitalist propaganda in favour of ruling class ideas. I can see a let-out for you -- if you argue that only a minority can do this under capitalism with the rest only getting as far as a heightened trade-union consciousness.

I'm still not clear either whether you think that by the end of the revolution, i.e. the overthrow of capitalist rule, there still only be a minority of conscious socialists.