Midlands Discussion Forum - Workers Councils or Parliament?

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slothjabber
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Feb 22 2014 12:13

'Socialism' as a form of social organisation consists, basically, of the working class expropriating the capitalist class, taking over production for need not profit, destroying all states ('how' is not important for the discussion at the moment) and generalising its own condition of productive labour as widely as possible while simultaneously improving its own (and every one else's, just about) condition through the massive reorganisation of 'labour' from an alienating activity to the creative engagement that will be possible when we're freed from the ridiculous shackles of the current society. Apologies if this is a little 'early Marx' for you alb, but some of us don't see the distinction.

If workers come to the conclusion, during the course of struggling against their bosses for better conditions, or against worsening conditions, or whatever the first cause is, that they need to band together to increase their chances of fighting effectively; that there is little chance of getting lasting satisfaction from the bosses; that the organisation of society is stacked against them; and that the working class needs to radically change society - then they have achieved the necessary 'socialist consciousness'. This does not need to have any connection with others propagating 'socialist ideas'. These ideas are not hard for workers to generate themselves, without reference to others thinking the same thing. If they were hard (or impossible) then there would be no socialists.

So while the role of 'pre-existing socialists' is useful, it isn't indispensable. Theory (and this is to Alf as well) is indispensable, but the class can generate that itself without reference to pre-existing organisations and theories. The argument is about whether pre-existing theory is necessary.

On 'socialist consciousness as you see it' and 'socialist consciousness as I see it' - you see socialist consciousness as something that needs to be generalised before the working class can begin the task of overthrowing capitalism. This, I think is impossible. The capitalist class is much more firmly in control of a vast propaganda apparatus than all the socialists put together (even if the SPGB and AF and ICC and all the other organisations embodying fragments of revolutionary consciousness around the globe could organise their propaganda resources as efficiently as possible, the combined resources of what I referred to earlier as 'the socialist truth machine' would be dwarfed by the capitalist ideology machine - the state, the News Corps and Daily Expresses, the education system, the whole mess). So mass (or majority if you prefer) socialist consciousness is not possible under the conditions of the domination of capital.

'Socialist consciousness as I see it' is more changeable, which is why I think it's an idiocy to presume that my view is that the working class will need to be 'taught about socialism after the revolution'. The working class will have been teaching the 'socialist educators' about socialism, by actually building a socialist society. Most people learn by doing, not by studying. I can read a lot of books of driving theory, but not be able to drive. I can read 'How to Make a Baby' until I understand all the ins and outs, and yet somehow fail to impregnate anyone. On the other hand, without studying biology at all, without having much idea of what you're doing at all, it's possible to make a baby. It's even possible to learn to drive without studying any textbooks, by practising what you're doing, by learning 'on the job'.

The result of this is that it's in the process of making a revolution that the working class needs to go through in order to move from 'socialist conscious as I see it' - a situation where (because of specific experiences particular to them) only a small number of workers are 'conscious socialists' (related to the fact that experience generates theory and therefore limited struggles produce limited numbers of workers with limited consciousness, because most of our experience is patterned by the overarching ideological might of capitalism) - to 'socialist consciousness as you see it' - a situation where the majority of workers understand 'the case for socialism'. The generalisation of consciousness happens as a result of the process of the working class fighting capitalism, not as a precondition.

Spikymike
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Feb 22 2014 17:47

slothjabber in their post 62 above puts it well. However it's not just a matter of the weight and preponderance of capitalist propaganda but rather that in much of our individual everyday activity in capitalism that we are all re-producing, and thereby effectively reinforcing, capitalist social relationships irrespective of whether or not we hold with some particular pro-revolutionary 'ideology'. So it is only in those situations where we are able to collectively in either a small or larger way practically undermine our everyday activity ( for instance in strikes, occupations, refusals to pay, riots, non-cooperation, abstention, mutiny etc) and seek to provide for ourselves in mutual co-operation outside of the state and commercial apparatus, that our collective material experience ( if still within the framework of capitalism) is likely to open up the possibility of communism as a practical alternative rather than just a nice idea.. Past experience suggests that such activity on a mass scale only occurs under the stimulus of other 'external or objective' conditions of crisis but that is a separate discussion.

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Alf
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Feb 22 2014 17:55

I agree that mass revolutionary consciousness can only become a reality during the course of a revolution, and that the SPGB approach seems to be 'educationalist' in the worse sense. It's a hang over from the old degenerating social democratic worldview which, for one reason or another, was unable to assimilate the importance of the mass strike as the soil on which the revolution grows.
This historic development in the class struggle - in which the unifying economic/political organisations are forged during the mass strike - liquidated the old social democratic and anarcho-syndicalist ideas of gradually building up the mass organisations (whether party or union) in the framework of bourgeois society. But it did not, as Rosa Luxemburg understood, obviate the need for the party to assume 'political leadership' within the mass movement. This is founded on the recognition that as the proletariat comes to consciousness - which is a historic, and not an immediate process, one which is not entirely identical with the moments of revolutionary upsurge - it engenders political organisations because it needs to hold on to the gains in consciousness which at one moment are generalised on a mass scale and at another shrink to a tiny minority; and that minority has the specific task of developing communist theory in preparation for the future reappearance of the mass movement. Reducing the role of these minorities to an 'add-on', 'nice but not necessary' severely underestimates the task of constructing a revolutionary organisation outside of the openly revolutionary period. The prevalence of this councilist approach, which is ultimately the product of an enormous mistrust for revolutionary political organisations, has in my opinion become a serious obstacle to the development of such organisations.in this period.

slothjabber
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Feb 22 2014 19:19

Does the working class both produce, and need, political minorities? Yes, of course. Does it need the specific existing minorities? No, if they didn't exist, the working class could through a long and difficult process produce new ones. It will produce new ones.

Nothing to do with a 'councilist distrust of existing political organisations', more to do with the absolute centrality of the proletariat's ability to produce its own theory and practice without reference to anyone who considers they have some sort of expert, privileged status as a revolutionary.

Some minorities are necessary. These particular minorities are not necessary, though they may be helpful (I'm rather of the opinion that they are helpful, which is why I spend so much time trying to engage with them).

Can the working class survive without the ICC and SPGB? Yes. Can it still fight and ultimately bring about a revolution? Yes. Is it easier to see how to do that with the ICC and SPGB? Yes.

alb
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Feb 22 2014 21:34
slothjabber wrote:
On 'socialist consciousness as you see it' and 'socialist consciousness as I see it' - you see socialist consciousness as something that needs to be generalised before the working class can begin the task of overthrowing capitalism. This, I think is impossible. The capitalist class is much more firmly in control of a vast propaganda apparatus than all the socialists put together (even if the SPGB and AF and ICC and all the other organisations embodying fragments of revolutionary consciousness around the globe could organise their propaganda resources as efficiently as possible, the combined resources of what I referred to earlier as 'the socialist truth machine' would be dwarfed by the capitalist ideology machine - the state, the News Corps and Daily Expresses, the education system, the whole mess). So mass (or majority if you prefer) socialist consciousness is not possible under the conditions of the domination of capital.

That's what I thought was your underlying position. Thanks for confirming it. Now we know where each of us stands. You think a revolution can begin with "unconscious masses". I don't but think that would be a recipe for disaster. I'm with this 19th century socialist:

Quote:
The time of surprise attacks, of revolutions carried through by small conscious minorities at the head of unconscious masses, is past. Where it is a question of a complete transformation of the social organization, the masses themselves must also be in it, must themselves already have grasped what is at stake, what they are going in for [with body and soul]. The history of the last fifty years has taught us that. But in order that the masses may understand what is to be done, long, persistent work is required,(Engels, 1895 Introduction to Marx's Civil War in France)

I'm not convinced either with you theory of how humans learn, i.e that it's mainly from direct experience. That's how other animals do but humans have the ability to accumulate knowledge and pass it on to future generations by means of the spoken or written world. Which means you don't have to learn not to put your hand in the fire by putting your hand in it.

slothjabber
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Feb 23 2014 14:02

Yes we can pass on knowledge to future generations. No-where have I claimed otherwise. But you think that knowledge must be passed on. In practice, you deny that the creation of new knowledge, new theory, is possible (if it were possible, the working class could create a socialist society even without the previous acquisition of 'socialist theory'). You don't believe that workers can learn in struggle, that they can create new knowledge and new theories in struggle; you think that must do their socialist homework before they can go out to play. You still see the problem as being one of spreading socialist 'enlightenment' to an uneducated mass, hence your insistence that education must happen (from above, from outside) 'before' or 'after'. There is no recognition that (self-)education (education from below) can happen during. Ultimately, because you don't see the working class as creative, but only the passive reflectors of 'knowledge' derived from outside, you have an elitist conception of consciousness which relies on the bourgeoisie to provide 'theoreticians' for the dumb mass - assertions about Marx learning from the working class notwithstanding. If workers in 1846 could develop socialist theory through their own struggles and educate Marx in socialism, then workers in 2014 can develop socialist theory through their own struggles and educate anyone else in socialism. And they don't need the existing socialists or their theories to do that.

alb
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Feb 23 2014 14:46
slothjabber wrote:
You still see the problem as being one of spreading socialist 'enlightenment' to an uneducated mass, hence your insistence that education must happen (from above, from outside) 'before' or 'after'.

I have not been arguing "from above, from outside" but rather "from inside, by fellow workers".

slothjabber wrote:
There is no recognition that (self-)education (education from below) can happen during.

It could and probably will happen in some cases, but there is no recognition on your part that it could happen to a large number of workers "before".

This is what the whole argument has been about.

Spikymike
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Feb 23 2014 15:04

alb posits two diametrically opposed situations - one involving a revolution beginning with ''unconscious masses'' and the other with a revolution only beginning with a majority of fully conscious communists, whereas in reality there is always something in between those two extremes - and people don't just sit on their hands thinking about a socialist future in between.. The latter of the two extremes represents the formal SPGB position (even if members often speculate on there being something in between the two) whereas neither slothjabber (in his clarifications) nor I have I have suggested the former extreme. As to the role of pro-revolutionary minorities both in terms of prior 'persistent work' and 'leadership' during a revolutionary process there are clearly some differences between myself and both the SPGB and the ICC, except that I consider in both situations we are talking about minorities of some sort being the key active factor. Of course a minority may be today's tiny dispersed and isolated mix of pro-revolutionary groups or it could in the future be a very much larger ( in the millions?) mix of different groups influencing events through both propaganda and practical organisation of struggle.

slothjabber
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Feb 24 2014 00:09
alb wrote:
slothjabber wrote:
You still see the problem as being one of spreading socialist 'enlightenment' to an uneducated mass, hence your insistence that education must happen (from above, from outside) 'before' or 'after'.

I have not been arguing "from above, from outside" but rather "from inside, by fellow workers"...

Funny, 'from inside, by fellow workers' is what I've been arguing. Odd that you can't see that 'from inside' is the same as 'during' - perhaps because you only think that there is 'before' or 'after'. Peculiar that you don't see that 'from inside' is the same as 'from reflection on their experience' - perhaps because you think that the organisation is the bearer of consciousness. Weird that 'from inside, by fellow workers' is the exact opposite of the position that you have been arguing, 'by the enlightened socialists, to the inert mass of non-socialists'.

alb wrote:
slothjabber wrote:
...There is no recognition that (self-)education (education from below) can happen during.

It could and probably will happen in some cases, but there is no recognition on your part that it could happen to a large number of workers "before".

This is what the whole argument has been about.

You may think it's about timing, but really it's about consciousness. Your view of timing is wrong because your view of consciousness is wrong.

If consciousness is achieved by learning, rather than doing, then majority consciousness cannot happen before a socialist revolution because the bourgeoisie controls the means of production of ideas. Your ideas will lose, because you don't have the material resources to out-compete the capitalists in the 'war of ideas'. If consciousness is a process of acquiring the 'right ideas' then it's impossible for a majority to acquire them before the workingclass is in a position to control the machinery of the manufacture of such ideas.

If consciousness is achieved primarily by doing, then majority consciousness is still impossible before a revolution, because it is in creating a socialist world that the working class will learn about socialism. It is only in the process of revolting against capitalism and the state, and beginning the creation of a new society, that the working class will learn how to do it.

What we are arguing about, is whether the working class is capable of generating its own theory. If it is, if it has done it before, then it can do it again - if necessary. This is what I've been saying all along, and you have been claiming that you believe, and even quoted the SPGB to prove it - unfortunately this is only 'in theory' because in practice you claim that the working class needs pre-exiting theory. So obviously you think that the working class can't learn from its own experience. It needs 'socialist teachers'.

If it is not possible for the working class to generate 'socialist theory' from its own experience than it needs theory from elsewhere - from the bourgeoisie, if it cannot generate it on its own, because where else?

It doesn't seem to me that there are other choices. If workers need 'socialist ideas' before the revolution, then it can only be because the working class is incapable of generating theory from its own experience and therefore it needs theory from outside of the working class and thus the bourgeoisie - so, workers are only capable of trade union cosnsciouness.

If on the other hand workers are capable of generating their own theory, then they do this in fighting the class war and they can't do this before the revolution because it is the revolution which is the greatest generator of experience that feeds the creation of theory. Workers are capable of going beyond trade union consciousness - indeed, the working class creates class consciousness; but it does it by rebelling against capitalism, not the other way around.

Seems to me the only way the SPGB can save its insistence that consciousness comes first is to admit that consciousness comes from outside the working class.

alb
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Feb 24 2014 05:32

We seem to be agreed that the emergence and spread of the desire for socialism is a case of "from within, by fellow workers", Some workers (ie "from within") become socialists and organise themselves to spread socialist ideas amongst other workers (i.e "by fellow workers").

But there is still a difference over the speed at which we see socialist ideas as likely to spread. You see it as happening fairly quickly over a short period provoked by some outside event such as an economic crisis or the aftermath of a war. I see it as happening over a longer period, in fact that it is happening now and has beeen for 150 or so years (and that the revolution will be provoked when a critical mass of workers have become socialist, i.e by the spread of class consciousness itself rather as a sort of reflex action to some outside event).

Since you hold that under capitalism ruling class ideas will always predominate you have a problem to explain: how come that despite this a minority of workers have come to want socialism? I suggest that very few Left Communists will have become so through their experiences of struggles at work (much more likely that they did through reading Marx at university smile ) In any event, it will have been a combination of our experience of capitalism plus (or, rather, including) talking to socialists and reading. If we can do this why can't other workers? What's so special about us?

One practical consequence of your extreme "spontaneist" position (and eccentric theory of how humans learn anything) is that us minority of socialists are superfluous and needn't do anything except sit back and wait for capitalism to provoke a revolution. But in fact you don't practice what you preach. You do engage in trying to spread socialist ideas. In practice you behave in the same way as the dreaded SPGB even if you are unable to give a coherent reason why.

And this of course is the real point. We can speculate about how a future socialist revolution can come about, but what do those of us who have already become socialists do now today? What can we do other than propagate socialist ideas through publications, meetings and talking to fellow workers? In other word, engage in the battle of ideas.

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Fnordie
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Feb 24 2014 19:56

Question for slothjabber:
At what point does new theory become pre-existing theory? If you read, say, something by Stan Weir (or anything by a militant worker), is that pre-existing, or is it organic and rooted in the class struggle?

Question for alb:
Do a majority of people need to be committed revolutionaries before a social revolution can happen, or would a large active minority do the trick? If it's the first one - can you point to any revolution in history where an actual majority of the population was "activated"?

slothjabber
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Feb 24 2014 09:58

All theory is rooted in the class struggle, Fnordie, that's my point. Unlike the SPGB which believes the two contradictory positions that 1-all theory is rooted in people learning from the material conditions that they find themselves in and 2-workers are so incapable of learning from their own material conditions that they need to be educated from outside (even though there is no explanation of where this socialist theory is supposed to come from), I hold that socialist theory comes from the working class. Therefore, if all the socialists died, all our libraries were burnt and all the websites closed down tomorrow, the working class would still develop socialist theory, just as it did 200 years ago. The facts would be different - there's no reason to suppose it would be called 'socialism' - but the working class would be compelled to develop a political theory that says; 1-current society is organised for the benefit of a tiny fraction of humanity; 2-this organisation proceeds from the laws of property; 3-re-organisation of society by those who produce social wealth is in the interests of the whole of humanity; 4-the working class needs to band together to do this.

I stressed 'pre-existing' for two reasons. The first is because of what I see as the inconsistency of the SPGB's position. There was no 'pre-existing theory' for the first socialists. They made up socialist theory, from reflections on the class struggle around them. They didn't get it from someone else. And yet the SPGB insists that workers must get theory from somewhere else, while also saying that they can generate their own theory. Not sure how socialist theory can be both the workers' own product of understanding society, and some philosophical first cause sprung from the head of Zeus.

The second is that alb consistently misrepresents my argument about the necessity of socialist theory. I'm not at all opposed to the idea of convincing workers of the necessity of socialism. To read alb's posts, you might think that I'd argued against it. Obviously I've done no such thing. I'm very much in favour of 'socialist theory', of workers deepening their understanding of society, history, economics, politics, of workers discussing with each other. And I think that workers actually do this, thereby creating 'new socialist theory' all the time. I'm - let me stress this again - very much of the opinion that socialist theory is absolutely vital to the working class. All I'm stressing is that the socialist theory that both alb and I are so keen to spread is the product of class struggle, the product of these discussions among workers, not the creation of dismbodied brains in jars devoid of context (or of the bourgeoisie). Thus, because the working class is compelled not only to struggle but to try and understand its struggles, 'new' socialist theory is generated all the time, just as the first socialist theory was generated through trying to understand struggle.

If then the working class can generate socialist theory from its attempts to understand society in 1800, it can in 2014. If it can generate socialist theory in 2014, it doesn't need the theory generated in 1800. It can, if necessary, generate new theory. I think the theory generated in the 1800s and elaborated further in the 1900s is very useful and spend a lot of time trying to spread it; but I don't think that the working class is doomed without my efforts, or even doomed without Marxism. Even if (as I said above) we (all the 'pre-existing theorists and their theories') were erased from history, the working class would still produce socialist theory - 'new socialist theory'. It would be a long process to get even to this stage and involve much re-invention of the wheel, but the working class could still do it. Therefore the SPGB's idea that 'pre-existing theory is necessary' is obviously false. If 'pre-existing theory' is necessary because the working clas cannot generate the necessary theory from attempting to understand its own conditions, then 'pre-existing theory' preceeds class struggle. If this is the case, 'socialist theory' isn't the product of the working class at all, it's the product of the bourgeoisie.

slothjabber
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Feb 24 2014 13:31
alb wrote:
...

Since you hold that under capitalism ruling class ideas will always predominate you have a problem to explain: how come that despite this a minority of workers have come to want socialism? I suggest that very few Left Communists will have become so through their experiences of struggles at work (much more likely that they did through reading Marx at university smile ) In any event, it will have been a combination of our experience of capitalism plus (or, rather, including) talking to socialists and reading. If we can do this why can't other workers? What's so special about us?...

I have no idea how 'most Left Communists' became socialists, but I've been one since long before I went to university, and it's pretty directly as a result of trying to understand the class war of the early 1980s. Growing up in the North East at the time of closures in the pits, the shipyards and the steelworks, seeing my parents go on strike, and trying to make sense of what was happening in society. So, yes, personally, very much related to actual class struggle. Not sitting in a library going 'oh I'm a being with no social context, I shall read this chap Marx just for fun, next I shall read this chap Hitler and after that this Dr Suess, I wonder what my brain will be like afterwards?'.

alb wrote:
... One practical consequence of your extreme "spontaneist" position (and eccentric theory of how humans learn anything) is that us minority of socialists are superfluous and needn't do anything except sit back and wait for capitalism to provoke a revolution...

If I thought you really had any concern for the 'practical' rather than the entirely abstract, I might take seriously the fact that yet again you've misrepresented my position.

What would be the point of us sitting back and waiting for a revolution? That's particularly stupid. The working class produces socialists. Even you, though you may believe that you've got some secret gnostic enlightment that you have to share. You are a product of the working class trying to understand itself. Why would you then not try to share that? The thing I'm stressing is that you are a product of the working class trying to understand itself (contrary to your insistence that the working class is incapable of understanding without 'theory' derived from outide of the working class's own experience, ie from the bourgeoisie); however you are not the only possible product. Even had you not become a socialist, even if the SPGB didn't exist, even had Marx not been born, the working class would still produce socialist theory.

alb wrote:
... But in fact you don't practice what you preach. You do engage in trying to spread socialist ideas. In practice you behave in the same way as the dreaded SPGB even if you are unable to give a coherent reason why...

I think your strawman rode off on your horse, alb, and all it left behind was a steaming pile of manure. Point out once, please, from any post in this thread (or any other I've made on LibCom) where I 'preach' that we should not try 'to spread socialist ideas' (which would in itself be a laughably un-self-aware position). I behave in the same way as the SPGB because that's all there is; we can't make class struggle (contra the SPGB's insistence that class struggle is the result of class consciousness) but we can help with the generalising of class consciousness. I'm not criticising the SPGB's behaviour ('trying to spread ideas'), I'm criticising the ideas that it's trying to spread (some of them at least), and the theory that underpins those ideas.

alb wrote:
...And this of course is the real point. We can speculate about how a future socialist revolution can come about, but what do those of us who have already become socialists do now today? What can we do other than propagate socialist ideas through publications, meetings and talking to fellow workers? In other word, engage in the battle of ideas.

Of course we should. What possible reason can you have for thinking that I oppose the idea of propogating socialist ideas 'through publications, meetings and talking to fellow workers'? You have failed to grasp the point of this entire discussion. It's not 'the real point' that we agree about the need for the working class to generalise its consciousness. The 'real point' is that we disagree about the necessity of 'socialist theory' that arises, the SPGB insists, from outside of the working class's attempts to understand its own situation.

alb
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Feb 24 2014 11:03
Fnordie wrote:
Question for slothjabber:
At what point does new theory become pre-existing theory? If you read, say, something by Stan Weir (or anything by a militant worker), is that pre-existing, or is it organic and rooted in the class struggle?

Question for alb:
Do a majority of people need to be committed revolutionaries before a social revolution to happen, or would a large active minority do the trick? If it's the first one - can you point to any revolution in history where an actual majority of the population was "activated"?

Good questions, even if mine requires me to speculate. I speculate that once a large active minority has evolved then things will move fairly quickly after that but that the revolution to socialism won't succeed unless a majority of people have come to want it and understand its implications.

Can I point you to any such majority revolution? No, but I can point you to this passage in a manifesto two persons from the educated section of the bourgeoisie drew up on behalf of a group of German communist workers:

Quote:
All previous historical movements were movements of minorities, or in the interest of minorities. The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority.

I will leave Slothjabber dig himself deeper into the hole he has got himself into, except to make this point. He admits that socialist ideas were first generated by workers in the 1830s and 1840s but why, once generated, could they not be codified into a theory or set of principles and then propagated, by workers organised to do this, to other workers. Why does each generation of workers have to generate them all over again? Why can they learn, by the normal process of cultural transmission, from previous generations of workers?

This debate about the origin of socialist ideas is a bit like the one that once raged about of the origin of life, with Slothjabber defending the (long discredited) theory of continuous spontaneous generation.

Spikymike
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Feb 24 2014 11:58

As long as capitalism lasts some of it's basic features will remain as will the theory that reflects that. On the other hand capitalism does change and develop in different ways through a combination of capitalist competition and class struggle thus changing the material conditions in which further class struggle takes place along with our understanding of the potential for and nature of revolutionary change. There is 'socialist theory' and then there is 'new socialist theory' reflecting the experience of active participation in, as well as reflection on, the class struggle, but the SPGB for all it's strengths contributes little to the latter.
Unfortunately this discussion seems to be going round in circles now with even some of the earlier clarity being lost in the process.

alb
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Feb 24 2014 12:54
Spikymike wrote:
Unfortunately this discussion seems to be going round in circles

Some truth in that. He keeps accusing me of wanting to introduce workers to ideas from outside the class struggle (and therefore necessarily "bourgeois") while I accuse him of not attributing any importance to ideas at all. Both are caricatures but I still claim mine is the less inaccurate since it is patently absurd to describe the ideas the SPGB is trying to propagate as "bourgeois" or of "bourgeois origin".

slothjabber
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Feb 24 2014 13:34

Of course it's absurd, which is why I keep pointing out to you that it's absurd. But it's the only logical consclusion from your stance that workers are too stupid to produce their own theory from trying to understand their own experience, and must instead be taught about socialism. Either socialist theory comes from class struggle, as I've been claiming all along, or it springs from the head of Zeus; you have to chose which you believe.

I have come to one realisation about this argumant though, and why you seem convinced - because you just made it up and told yourself it must be true - that I am somehow 'anti-theory'. Nothing of the sort. I'm not even 'anti-SPGB-theory'. Some (probably in the vicinity of 80%) of the SPGB's theory I think is spot on. I'm just 'anti-wrong-SPGB-theory'. But so invested are you with the theory of the group you're a member of (glaring contradictions and all) that you can't even conceive that someone could oppose your bad theory without opposing all theory for ever.

alb wrote:
... Slothjabber ...admits that socialist ideas were first generated by workers in the 1830s and 1840s ...

The word you're looking for is 'insists' rather than 'admits' alb, against your view that these first socialists were 'taught about socialism' (the only way the working class can acquire socialist consciousness) by... person or persons unknown.

alb
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Feb 24 2014 14:22

Where have I ever said that workers are too stupid to produce their own theory? I've been arguing that socialist theory was originally produced by workers and has been transmitted from worker to worker down the generations (and, yes, Spiky, adapted to take account of changing circumstances and experiences) and is still being (even if workers could re-invent the wheel and would do if they had to, e.g if all the socialists in the world today were to drop dead tomorrow).

You are the one who has been arguing that workers cannot do this under capitalism (or at least that the great majority can't) because of the overwhelming influence of the capitalist media. If you and me can escape this influence, why cannot the rest of the working class? We're not cleverer than them, are we?

Glad that you have made it clear that you are not against all theory, just bad theory. So it's ok to propagate theory to other workers as long as it is "good"? Then we are agreed that it is ok to propagate theory, if not on what is "good theory".

slothjabber
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Feb 24 2014 20:50

We never disagreed on whether 'propogation of theory' was a suitable task for socialists. Which is why despite claiming repeatedly that it's my position, you've not produced a single quote to show where I claim that theory is worthless or anything of the kind.

It is because we're not cleverer than the rest of the working class that our theory (that you think is vital) is not necessary. You're not priviliged to be a socialist. You're no more special than any other worker. The fact that because of particular and specific circumstances, you've come to an appreciation of socialist theory before other workers means nothing other than you happened to become a socialist before the majority of others. I'd call that the 'vanguard'. That only means we're in front. Not because we're cleverer - just because of historical accident. Presumably you didn't read the part where I argue that small struggles produce small advances in consciousness (the situation we have now) and large struggles produce larger advances in consciousness, but it's not until the most massive struggles (ie, a revolution) that the most massive advances in consciousness will occur.

Workers constantly come to socialist positions, as a result of trying to understand class society and their place in it. What they don't do is come to socialist positions in large numbers, due to the almost overwhelming weight of capitalist ideology and capitalist social relations (that we replicate just by living in a capitalist system as Spikymike rightly points out). I have at no point denied that workers can become conscious in capitalist society, indeed, I argue they can even if there are no other socialists around to 'convince' them, which is contrary to the position you've been arguing (though not the position you actually claim to hold). But what they can't do is become socialists in the kind of numbers you see as necessary. The capitalists still control the means of communication. Weight of numbers suggests that capitalism will recoup more than 'socialism' will; in a stand-up ideological battle between 'socialist truth' and 'capitalist lies' capitalism will win time and time again (incidently why the SPGB will never even be able to get a majority in parliament).

It's logical really. If, as you're now claiming (and I have been claiming all along) workers produce class consciousness from their own experience of class struggle it is only struggling in the revolution that will produce the revolutionary consciousness you seek. Not because the working class has been 'convinced' by an educated elite but because it will have been constantly generating new political minorities in the way it di you and me and everyone else here.

alb
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Feb 25 2014 08:36
slothjabber wrote:
Workers constantly come to socialist positions, as a result of trying to understand class society and their place in it. What they don't do is come to socialist positions in large numbers, due to the almost overwhelming weight of capitalist ideology and capitalist social relations (that we replicate just by living in a capitalist system as Spikymike rightly points out). I have at no point denied that workers can become conscious in capitalist society, indeed, I argue they can even if there are no other socialists around to 'convince' them, which is contrary to the position you've been arguing (though not the position you actually claim to hold). But what they can't do is become socialists in the kind of numbers you see as necessary. The capitalists still control the means of communication. Weight of numbers suggests that capitalism will recoup more than 'socialism' will; in a stand-up ideological battle between 'socialist truth' and 'capitalist lies' capitalism will win time and time again (incidently why the SPGB will never even be able to get a majority in parliament.

Change "SPGB" to "a socialist political party" (the SPGB position anyway) and this is a clear statement of the position that a majority of workers can never come to want and understand socialism under capitalism. I think it is wrong and will be rejected too by others who envisage a majoritarian revolution such as the IWW, many syndicalists and anarchists and even Pannekoek. It has its origins in the perception of revolutionaries in backward Russia and southern Italy and makes no sense in more developed, modern capitalist conditions. In fact, until the idea was re-introducted following the Bolshevik victory in Russia it had virtually died out in Western Europe and North America. As Spikymike and you have pointed out, history does not always move in a straight line. It sometimes goes backwards.

slothjabber
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Feb 25 2014 09:47

Yes, and in the Western Europe where the idea of a revolutionary rupture had died out, the Labour Party and the SPD enrolled millions of workers for war - and, not incidently, the SPGB denounced the IInd International as irredemably reformist. Hardly the revolutionary Marxist tradition that the SPGB would be keen to associate itself with, I'd have thought, but if it is, it is at least a demonstration that the 'theoretically conscious socialists' that you see as the working class's saviours can lose consciousness (if your theory is right, the SPGB's growth would be linear and no-one would ever leave, because 'consciousness' is just a matter of filling empty vessels with the right dose of theoretical knowledge).

Anyway, this debate has grown both circular and purposeless. I'm not going to admit that the working class needs theory derived from anywhere other than its own experience; I don't suppose that you're going to recognise that your notion that the working class needs to be 'educated' is elitist, indeed the worst form of 'vanguardism', and ultimately rests on a notion that the working class needs to have 'theory' ported in from outside - from the bourgeoisie in fact. In capitalist society there isn't anywhere else it could come from, if not from the experience of the working class - and if it's from the experience of the working class, the working class doesn't need to be 'educated' in it anyway, it will instead be 'educating the educators'.

And that - getting back to the overarching subject of workers' councils, ostensibly the subject that was being discussed at the meeting - is in my view an important 'lesson' from Russia in the early 20th. The workers' councils are outside the SPGB's frame of referrence, because it refuses to see that it has to learn from the working class, believing instead that it has the 'theory' and the working class's job is to learn it. The workers' councils were formed by the working class and 'theory' had to catch up with the working class's own experiments, or become obsolete. Sadly the SPGB chose to hang on to 'theory' rather than learn from the working class's own experience.

To quote someone else...

To the people that want to "teach" to the proletariat how it must beheave:

"This does not mean that we shall confront the world with new doctrinaire principles and proclaim: Here is the truth, on your knees before it! It means that we shall develop for the world new principles from the existing principles of the world. We shall not say: Abandon your struggles, they are mere folly; let us provide you with true campaign-slogans. Instead, we shall simply show the world why it is struggling, and consciousness of this is a thing it must acquire whether it wishes or not."

https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1843/letters/43_09-alt.htm

alb
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Feb 25 2014 10:31

We've been here before (even discussed what's not so special about "soviets") and no doubt will again !

https://libcom.org/library/role-soviets-russias-bourgeois-revolution-poi...

Spikymike
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Feb 26 2014 10:59

At the risk of continually repeating myself I will just remind everyone that the history of the assembly and worker council form of struggle is not the preserve of the conditions in Russia circa 1905/1917 but something continually emerging from and re-invented by the working class in struggle repeatedly throughout the capitalist world right up to to-day irrespective of the existence or otherwise of various levels of capitalist political democracy.

alb
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Feb 26 2014 11:27

Yes it has been an occasional political form some workers have adopted but I take it you don't mean this occasion or this one.

ajjohnstone
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Feb 26 2014 13:24

I think we have all agreed that we share an overlap of positions. Can i pose a question?

What effect has our differences got in regards to the popular (populist) protests of Venezuela, Ukraine, Thailand, (and Egypt and Syria ?). I am aware they are not identical but all share the same anti-parliamentarianism and includes many workers from both right and left forces. Where does our agreement diverge?? How wide is our separation in comparison to the real politik politics taking place right now in the name of workers democracy.

For instance, could a joint statement be formulated that could be acceptable to anarcho-communists, the Left-Communists and the SPGB. Or do our views conflict too much for any chance of adopting a shared analysis on revolutionary (counter-revolutionary?) events.

Making it even more appropriate, what about the recent Occupy movement. We all sympathised but we ll had our reservations too. In practical terms could there have been co-operation and collaboration amongst ourselves on what we agree and leaving our disagreements for our target audience to choose between them as secondary and not a primary concern. Maybe that's expressed badly...but do you get the general drift of what i am asking...??...Could we reach a compromise on our principles and re-order our priorities to do what we are all miserable at...influencing the actions of our our fellow workers.

Spikymike
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Feb 26 2014 17:04

alb,

I have not suggested that the 'form' determines' the 'content' only that some forms are better suited to promoting class struggle than others and have proven value. Interestingly the 'Ulster Workers Council' strike which was effective in it's own terms did lead (most of) the old Solidarity group to re-evaluate it's approach to it's related concept of workers self management. I'm sure you know all that.

ajj,

Whilst there are areas of agreement across the libcom' spectrum of politics that would allow for some level of co-operation this seems to be mostly in the negative areas of our critique of capitalism - reformism, nationalism, nationalisation, labour party, co-ops, money/bitcoins, etc. When it comes to what we might say about the particular political/economic struggles of workers I think the disagreements that were touched on at the MDF meeting would prevent any effective common approach and might even find us on opposing sides in our practical activity.

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Alf
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Feb 26 2014 17:04
slothjabber wrote:
Does the working class both produce, and need, political minorities? Yes, of course. Does it need the specific existing minorities? No, if they didn't exist, the working class could through a long and difficult process produce new ones. It will produce new ones.

Nothing to do with a 'councilist distrust of existing political organisations', more to do with the absolute centrality of the proletariat's ability to produce its own theory and practice without reference to anyone who considers they have some sort of expert, privileged status as a revolutionary.

Some minorities are necessary. These particular minorities are not necessary, though they may be helpful (I'm rather of the opinion that they are helpful, which is why I spend so much time trying to engage with them).

Can the working class survive without the ICC and SPGB? Yes. Can it still fight and ultimately bring about a revolution? Yes. Is it easier to see how to do that with the ICC and SPGB? Yes.

Sorry about the delay in replying. I would argue that this is a an example not of councilism in the full sense, but of the much wider tendency to make concessions to the 'proper' councilist idea that, in the final analysis, we can do without and would indeed be better off without a specific organisation of revolutionaries. It certainly deeply underestimates the work carried out by the actual, concrete revolutionary organisations, for all their flaws, and by the militants who have worked to construct the political organisations of the class. And it does not seek to measure the negative effect of the disappearance of the actual revolutionary organisations. The working class does not 'create' these organisations on the scale of the immediate, but on the scale of history.

I will come back when I can on the question of democracy, which seems to be at the heart of the disagreement with the SPGB

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Alf
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Feb 26 2014 17:21

just read Alb's post, reminding us once again about the South African miners' councils of 1922 which raised the infamous slogan 'workers of the world unite for a white South Africa', and the 'Ulster Workers Council', an organ of paramilitary terror gangs. I wonder if I can dig out an article about the UWC I wrote in 1974 for the paper of the old Workers' Voice group in Liverpool, called 'Will the real workers' councils please stand up?' That is some decades ago, and we were all very young and naive, but we already understood that the 'form' of the council can perfectly well be used directly by the forces of capitalism, as in this example, or so deeply penetrated by bourgeois ideology that proletarian forms can effectively dig their own grave, as in the 1922 strike. We were also aware that the same thing had happened in Germany in 1918, when instead of moving towards taking the power into their own hands, and thus taking the world revolution onto a momentous next step, the German councils allowed themselves to be deceived by the democratic religion peddled by the SPD, and persuaded to subordinate the councils to the new parliamentary regime created by capital in order to obstruct the progress of the revolution.

If councilism doesn't understand the importance of the party, what do we call it when comrades don't understand the significance of the councils?

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Fnordie
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Feb 26 2014 23:10
ajjohnstone wrote:
Could we reach a compromise on our principles and re-order our priorities to do what we are all miserable at...influencing the actions of our our fellow workers.

That's a great question. The same kind of thinking is why I'm not a platformist anymore. I've been in a few groups that have a high level of theoretical unity on paper, but suddenly when it's crunch time and shit's really going down, contradictions abound. I guess Makhno and Arshinov might call that a lack of "tactical unity"?

At Occupy, it was almost the exact reverse. Every night's GA was a nightmare. Nobody agreed on anything, pacifist factions and trot sects obstructed the process, psychotics showed up and attacked people on more than one occasion...it sucked. Yet somehow every time a specific action was called ("Shut down X, Occupy Y"), everyone would rally behind it. Then when the cops finally attacked and evicted us, it reinforced everybody's solidarity. All the most important direct action we did, including the bulk of the aid to labor struggles, we did in the month following the eviction.

The one thing that class struggle anarchists seemed to all get behind was the "Build Power, Show Power" campaign - the idea was to build shopfloor committees leading up to the May 1st general strike. I think there were only 4 of us, including me, at my job - and I got fired before May Day anyway.

It's wishful thinking to hope the entire libertarian Left could agree on a single course of action inside a fluid popular movement. The only thing to do is watch what "camps" form within the internal debates, and join the ones most closely aligned with your politics. That means you lose old comrades and make new ones, but that's how it goes.

Personally, in any movement I would support A) refusal to compromise with police and local authorities, B) no electoralism, C) the formation of committees to self-manage industries or regions. In Occupy, I think that's a fair description of a general tendency that included, but was not limited to, anarchists. Other recent movements seem to follow a similar trajectory, at least based on conversations I've had with Turks and Brazilians.

Spikymike wrote:
alb,
the disagreements that were touched on at the MDF meeting would prevent any effective common approach and might even find us on opposing sides in our practical activity.

I'm curious, what were those disagreements?

slothjabber
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Feb 27 2014 10:08
Alf wrote:
... I would argue that this is a an example not of councilism in the full sense, but of the much wider tendency to make concessions to the 'proper' councilist idea that, in the final analysis, we can do without and would indeed be better off without a specific organisation of revolutionaries...

Which would be a valid crtiticism if I didn't specifically state that I thought the existing organisations were a gain for the working class, and haven't said over and over again that I support the coming together of revolutionaries in an organisation or organisations. I may lose Spikymike as my last ally at this point but I'll repeat again that I'd prefer a single revolutionary oganisation. The fact that we're nowhere near that point is neither here nor there for me (though it could be taken as a sign that the working class doesn't need political organisations). I'm for 'the historic party' or perhaps 'the immanent party'.

Alf wrote:
...It certainly deeply underestimates the work carried out by the actual, concrete revolutionary organisations, for all their flaws, and by the militants who have worked to construct the political organisations of the class. And it does not seek to measure the negative effect of the disappearance of the actual revolutionary organisations. The working class does not 'create' these organisations on the scale of the immediate, but on the scale of history...

Which is why in another post I said that if the organisations disappeared it would take the working class decades to to build new ones.

I'm not opposed to organisation. I'm not even opposed to these organisations (the SPGB included - I think the existence of the SPGB is on the whole a positive gain for the working class). But I'm absolutely convinced that the political theories that the organisations have are a product of the working class's own struggle and not handed down from on high. If they're a product of the working class's own struggle then the working class can re-create both the organisations and the theory. Does it need to? No, because the organisations do exist (for all their faults, as you say). But could it? Yes.

One of the implications of the SPGB's theory that the working class needs to 'accept the case for socialism' en masse is that the organisation has a privileged place in the dissemination of 'theory' - its role is somewhat evangelical, and the working class is reduced dto the role of passive receivers of enlightenment. I oppose that notion. Not by claiming that organisations don't need to exist but by opposing the idea that the existing organisations have a monopoly of theory.

Alf wrote:
...I will come back when I can on the question of democracy, which seems to be at the heart of the disagreement with the SPGB

I'm not sure it is. I think the heart of the disagreement is consciousness. To argue that the problem is 'democracy' (which is what I suspect that the SPGB thinks it is) is to stand the argument on its head, I think. The SPGB seems to think that 'democracy' is the problem because it doesn't understand the idea of ruptures in consciousness, how consciousness can change, except by the acquisition of 'theory' as an additive and pedagogic process. Even the language of 'accepting the case for socialism' relies on a notion of a wise dispensor of intellectual bounty convincing a dumb mass in order to raise them up. Thus, the SPGB sets great store by the notion that the more socialists it makes the closer we are to a socialist society (hence, 'democracy').

To me, the notion of the revolutionary organisation acting as 'an active factor in the generalisation of class consciousness' is far more appealing. It recognises that the revolution and socialist society are made by the working class and it recognises that consciousness can change as circumstances change. There is a relationship between the class and the organisation that isn't all one-way. The idea that the working class will change itself in the revolution is not one that fits with SPGB's schema. If the working class learns its theory from 'socialists', then it can only concieve of that happening 'before' the revolution (what the SPGB is trying to do) or 'after' the revolution (which is what it accuses the 'Leninists' of trying to do). There is no 'during' because there there no notion of the working class 'changing itself'. In the end the SPGB believes the working class has to 'be changed' by another source of consciousness.