Midlands Discussion Forum - Workers Councils or Parliament?

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Spikymike
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Feb 27 2014 11:54

slothjabber,

Well you haven't lost me yet!! but 'preferring a single revolutionary organisation' doesn't get us very far in terms of the reality either now or in the throws of revolutionary change - we might encourage a degree of unity but it's rather just wishful thinking to imagine we could ever achieve a single theoretically and tactically united revolutionary organisation. I also value the contributions of the many different pro-revolutionary groups around today (including but not restricted to some of those associated with MDF meetings) but historical factors aside, I'm afraid it's the groups themselves which much take much of the blame for the lack of involvement and distrust in them though some have more to answer for than others.

Fnordie,

You make some interesting observations in relation to the 'occupy' movement you were involved with, but I wonder if you have really taken the time to listen to the MDF discussion or fully consider the discussion here and on the two related threads as your summary points, whilst perhaps agreeable to those in our milieu from class struggle anarchist and council/left communist tendencies would appear to be well outside the framework of the SPGB's mode of operation.

ajjohnstone
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Feb 27 2014 18:10

"outside the framework the SPGB's mode of operation" - Spikeymike

Umm and just what are they? ...that decision-making should be made as democratically as possible and any delegation of responsibility be accountable to the participants and recallable (even rotating if feasible)...that in certain situations the rights of the majority prevail over the minority if action is taken under the name of the movement generally and voting is the most appropriate way of measuring who has the majority and who has not, the form of voting being variable, from show of hands at a meeting or by ballot...that protest and resistance is more effective and more successful if it is non-violent but force used in self-defence is not to be excluded depending on circumstances....direct actions such as occupations, sit-downs non-injurious sabotage are valid forms of expression but violent acts and purposeful confrontation to lead to violence as propaganda by the deed is self-defeating... that ideas should be spread by word, spoken and written, and all voices to be heard even disagreeable ones otherwise the censorship can just as easily be turned against ourselves....i could go on and perhaps there may be some variation in interpretation i think we can all accept those frameworks of practical application of struggle. Would they be really drastically different from your own position and your own groups realist contribution? Perhaps some emphasis will be different but i already acknowledged that.

I really wonder what you actually think is outside our mode of operation...you know yourself that we will not arrogantly and undemocratically parachute ourselves into struggles but we will participate. We will involve ourselves as individuals and do not try to hi-jack campaigns for party gain. Members have been as equally active in unofficial union activity as official, as again you know, from the rank and file initiatives they took in the past, but the desire for unity and discourage division determined party policy as a whole...so much for our supposed sectarianism.

You also know the average age/health of our members and their other commitments ...family, job...plus our personal histories and experience so i doubt that you will find many martyrs nor manipulators amongst us so our suggestions will be likely to be on the more reasonable side of the debate. We are hardly suitable candidates for the Black Bloc - even if we wished to, which frankly i doubt any of us would want to.

Our mode of operation is concentrated in the sphere of ideas, that is undeniable, providing ideological succor and support to our class (I have suggested, as others have, within the party, that we have the facilities to offer more tangible practical aid and assistance)

i see little evidence of any activities of the organised groups on Libcom outside these frame-work and that they too operate within within the same framework of mode of operation as ourselves.

The SPGB don't make grandoise claims and are fairly humble in what we say we can do to influence the workers movements. But we do lay out certain sound lines of organisation that many workers would benefit from ...and we explain just where we should be going to get the workers off the treadmill of continual struggle, expounding an aim and a goal to strive for.

Don't you do the exact same and don't you also accept that to achieve this object workers will have to organise in much the same manner as our recommended sound lines.

I think i have previously in the past on Libcom expressed hopes of not unifying our various groups in a single party but coming together in a unity of purpose, collaborating where we can as one sector...the thin red line...while at the same time engaging in comradely debate over issues that separate us, allowing the working class to be our judge and jury.

I have yet to convince my own party of such an approach and certainly no where succeeding here on Libcom gauging by past reactions but i will continue testing the water, checking which way the wind blows. Nothing stays the same. We'll all adjust in due course to one another's nuances and gradually accept them. We do so within our own groups with our own comrades, i see no reason why this cannot be extended to outside the group where there exists no insurmountable differences.

Spikymike
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Feb 27 2014 19:25

ajj,

I was addressing Fnordie's post 90 and specifically their points A, B and C including reference to electoralism and more broadly the actual disagreements expressed in the MDF meeting, to which I could add the SPGB's democratic formalism in relation to the political/economic split and the role of trade unions (perhaps expressed for instance in the past by it's lining up with those demanding a national NUM ballot after the strike was in progress). This isn't about the rights and wrongs of individual SPGB members activity but the formal organisational positions adopted by your organisation - I am aware that some members of the SPGB do not conform 100% with those positions - perhaps you are one of those?

ajjohnstone
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Feb 28 2014 07:03

Well, in regards to the Miners Strike i can refer you to this discussion thread.
There is no 100% agreement at least on that discussion list. Nor would i place it in terms of conformity or non-conformity. I await tomorrow's online March issue of the Socialist Standard to see what time has done to the analysis. (BTW,a great front cover again, though)

But i am still unsure of the things you call formal organisational positions adopted by your organisation (elections and parliament put aside, that is, or we will go around in circles) I was trying to concentrate on tactically, on-the-ground practical responses to events around us.

Again from your wealth of knowledge about the party you know that it takes conference and referendum to establish formal positions. Something arising like Occupy or a particular strike, it is up to individual members and branches and editors to best determine opinion that generally reflects the party's principles...that does mean there is accepted scope for divergence and if someone or a branch is said to be contrary to the Party's principles then the process of establishing a formal party position takes its course.

Imagine a SPGBer, an ICCer and AFer working in the same factory, living in the same street, drinking in the same pub, would they not put aside reservations about one another's political position and reach an accommodation in the best interests of fellow worker at the work-place, and with the welfare of the community ...and reach a mutually acceptable way of deciding who's round it is in the pub.

If we believe this is possible on an individual basis (perhaps you don't) i suggest it is not beyond the realms of possibility that organisations with considerable agreement can do the same for our shared class interest when it is deemed necessary and is required.

I'm not saying this would lead to some great momentous event. Even if in one coordinated call, our combined voices would not be heard from afar by an attentive audience but it will be better than the impact our separate whispering has now. But the more we practice and rehearse, the better we will be heard on the day it perhaps becomes decisive.

ajjohnstone
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Feb 28 2014 07:26

I re-read our pamphlet on the Miners Strike.

It begins

Quote:
"This pamphlet is not about how the miners should have conducted their strike or how it might have ended differently. There are plenty of individuals and organisations which, both during the strike and since, have appointed themselves as advisers to the strikers, either counselling ‘moderation’ or urging tactics of senselessly heroic adventurism. The 1984-85 miners’ strike is now part of working-class history – the experiences received from it are not going to disappear from the memories of those who took part. Lessons must now be learned, for if history is to be of any importance, it must be as a guide for what we do now in making the future."

Once again averring our position of "non-interference" and accepting the decisions made by participants who are the ones who stand to win or lose by their decisions, whether right or wrong.

Nowhere in the pamphlet do we say a national ballot was needed or choose to apportion blame for not having a national ballot. You could probably refer me to particular article from the time in the Socialist Standard that suggested otherwise but our pamphlet has more authority as an expression of our formal party position than a contemporary article would do.

alb
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Feb 28 2014 09:09

Here's a new book just out about the miners strike in South Wales whose authors share some of the SPGB's analysis:

http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/forum/events-and-announcements/miners...

It's followed by a lively discussion of the NUM's tactics amongst SPGB members and sympathisers including ex-miners.

I'm not sure that the authors would have appreciated Left Communist attacks on the NUM as the enemy and part of the State

Spikymike
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Feb 28 2014 14:29

alb is no doubt aware that most miners as most workers don't appreciate the political analysis of the SPGB either. We in the old UK Wildcat group and also in co-operation with the left communist CBG and others at the time, persisted in our analysis of the strike and the role of the NUM whilst at the same time being active supporters of the strike. What we said wasn't always popular but we were generally respected for our position, at least by the more militant strikers. I mentioned the SPGB's past approach to that strike as just one example of our differences to what you call 'economic' struggles and the role of trade unions and trade unionism, but I didn't intend this to result in a whole separate discussion thread on that particular strike.

ajj, Whether or not individual members of the SPGB, ICC, AF, SolFed and others in our milieu might work together to some degree in a particular workplace during a dispute would depend very much on the particular situation at the time. It's not impossible to imagine but the differences in attitude to the trade unions and more fundamentally to the economic-political divide would and has limited such co-operation when struggles have escalated. There has on occasion been some limited organisational co-operation across the anarchist/syndicalist- council/left communist spectrum in both economic (eg in Education), and political spheres (eg the 'No War but the Class War' campaign), but I'm not aware of any such organisational co-operation involving the SPGB, though you may have encouraged that.

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Alf
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Feb 28 2014 15:01

Slothjabber:
I don't want to derail this thread, so it would probably be better to carry on the discussion about councilism elsewhere. I will only say that it is a mistake to underestimate its pervasive influence, even in organisations and among militants who are 'for the party'. It's also relevant to the question of democracy: like anarchism, councilism is one of the ransoms paid by the workers' movement to the enormous weight of democratic ideology in capitalist society. The SPGB has the merit of not hiding its commitment to democratism but 'parliamentary cretinism' is only its more evident form. It is also closely related to the problem of consciousness, since it in turn reflects the domination of equivalent exchange, which creates a mystified view of social life. But that can also be for another discussion.

alb
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Feb 28 2014 15:46
Spikymike wrote:
I didn't intend this to result in a whole separate discussion thread on that particular strike.

I'm not surprised you want to beat a hasty retreat on this one as the SPGB's position on unions is shared by many others here. In fact every time the ICC, etc have expressed their anti-union position, which extends to any permanent economic defensive organisation of workers (including the IWW and breakaway unions), they have suffered a real bollocking.

Spikymike wrote:
There has on occasion been some limited organisational co-operation across the anarchist/syndicalist- council/left communist spectrum in both economic (eg in Education), and political spheres (eg the 'No War but the Class War' campaign), but I'm not aware of any such organisational co-operation involving the SPGB, though you may have encouraged that.

But there wouldn't be, would there, as you always emphasising that the SPGB draws a clear distinction between political action and defensive action on the industrial front. The SPGB doesn't issue instructions to its members in trade unions as to how to act. We leave it to them to act in conjunction with their fellow union members or work colleagues as they think best to further their common interests in the light of the circumstances in which they find themselves. And we leave it to workers involved in an industrial dispute to decide democratically (sorry, Alf) how to wage this.

Years ago when I worked in the newspaper industry I was involved in a rank and file printworkers group, which included anarchists and syndicalists, which campaigned for a single union for all printworkers. I co-operated with the anarchists and syndicalists to urge disaffiliation from the Labour Party as well as this but we were opposed by the Trotskyists who were also part of the group. But I was acting as a worker, not as a member of the SPGB.

slothjabber
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Feb 28 2014 17:50
Alf wrote:
Slothjabber:
I don't want to derail this thread, so it would probably be better to carry on the discussion about councilism elsewhere...

As far as I'm concerned, it isn't derailing. It comes from discussing consciousness, which was one of the themes that came out of the meeting. And anyway, there are people who particiapte in the MDF that have 'councilist' positions. So it's all relevant, I would argue.

ajjohnstone
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Mar 1 2014 01:36

My last word on the miners' strike and bit of shameless blog promotion.

http://socialismoryourmoneyback.blogspot.com/2014/03/the-great-class-war...

I've made my position clear that i do identify certain scope for co-operation and co-ordination when the situation calls for it. If asked to provide it, i expect the SPGB to offer material assistance in certain circumstances to deserving non-members and other organisations, not as individuals but as an organisation, such as a meeting hall, such as printing facilities, such as publicity, nor would i expect it to act contrary to workers interests in regards of crossing picket lines, for instance, in its daily tasks of running an organisation.

Once more a historical precedent by the SPGB that it can put the interests of our class ahead of party differences.

http://socialismoryourmoneyback.blogspot.com/2014/02/what-we-said-7.html

I for one hope that the MDF is not the end of the dialogue and i hope our branches will endeavour to engage with local groups. Edinburgh branch hosts its monthly discussion meetings at the Autonomous Centre and always welcomes activists from it to participate in the talks. From sharing space, hopefully there will be a sharing of ideas and eventually a merging of opinion.

Today my glass is half full ...tomorrow the glass will be half empty again

alb
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Mar 1 2014 09:26

Personally I don't see how it would be possible to collaborate at work with people who are anti-union, won't join the union themselves and urge others not to. They would be weakening the bargaining power of the rest of the workforce. If they claimed to be socialists they would also be discrediting the idea of socialism.

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Alf
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Mar 1 2014 10:14
alb wrote:
Personally I don't see how it would be possible to collaborate at work with people who are anti-union, won't join the union themselves and urge others not to. They would be weakening the bargaining power of the rest of the workforce. If they claimed to be socialists they would also be discrediting the idea of socialism.

This sounds exactly like what the leftists and trade unionists say. It's based on the idea that the bigger the union, the stronger the 'bargaining power of the workers'. It's a bit like the delusion that real political power lies in parliament. For me it's not a question of 'encouraging people not to join the union' (although I certainly don't encourage them either) but of arguing that the union won't defend their interests and this is why it's necessary to organise ourselves.

There is clearly a link here between the SPGB's attachment to the unions and their inability to understand the significance of the workers' councils.

slothjabber
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Mar 1 2014 12:33
ajjohnstone wrote:
...
I for one hope that the MDF is not the end of the dialogue...

Not sure about the different views that might exist as to the usefulness of continuing dialogue among different members of the SPGB, but the Birmingham SPGB and MDF are formally committed to another joint meeting in the future (exact date to be arranged but I expect in a few months, probably). In the mean time, at least some members of the Birmingham Branch have expressed a desire to attend future MDFs, to which all SPGB members are welcome and always have been.

So, no, it shouln't be the end.

ajjohnstone wrote:
... and i hope our branches will endeavour to engage with local groups. Edinburgh branch hosts its monthly discussion meetings at the Autonomous Centre and always welcomes activists from it to participate in the talks. From sharing space, hopefully there will be a sharing of ideas and eventually a merging of opinion...

Well, if the current debates are anything to go, by I'd settle for understanding each others' views which I feel is still a long way off. But the discussions are even more necessary given the levels of mutual incomprehension.

ajjohnstone
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Mar 1 2014 14:49

Coincidentally this article has been posted and relates to what i have been talking so obviously there is a feeling in the air at the moment that people are asking questions about.

http://libcom.org/blog/unity-what-whom-polemic-against-left-unity-280220...

Quote:
Well, if the current debates are anything to go, by I'd settle for understanding each others' views

Actually, i'd just settle for you and Spikeymike buying me a beer in the pub !! laugh out loud

In vino veratas

Spikymike
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Mar 1 2014 17:00

1.Strange schizophrenic idea from alb that his position on Labour Party disaffiliation when involved in the printworkers rank and file group was him acting as an individual worker and not a member of the SPGB - do other SPGB members agree with TU/LP affiliation - would an SPGB member discussion of such a party strategy be out of the question? Apparently so as the political and the economic are supposedly separate spheres of activity to be kept in different parts of ones brains!!

2. Just remember that the ICC position of their members only joining TU closed shops is not typical of Left Communist politics.

3. slothjabber - not sure if it's me who you refer to as a 'Councilist' involved with the MDF? but if I am such then despite my criticism of to-days tiny pro-revolutionary groups I don't think I would entirely fit Alf's categorisation, especially given my extensive criticism of democratic formalism/fetishism on numerous discussion threads hear in relation to a broad range of political expressions within our milieu.

Well I did buy alb a pint at the MDF and would happily buy ajj one as well if they are back over here sometime, though I doubt it would temper my views in this area of discussion.

Spikymike
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Mar 3 2014 15:54

Since Paul Mattick Jnr (even if not benefiting from the direct experience of his father) has some following amongst Council and Left Communists as well as the SPGB both may find this interesting and relevant to our discussion:

http://libcom.org/news/more-business-usual-paul-mattick-02032014

proletarian.
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Mar 25 2014 11:57

And it rumbles on...

This from the recent edition of Weekly Worker

Quote:
Not astounding

In spite of all the evidence that I have put forward from Lars T Lih’s study, Lenin rediscovered, in particular, Carl Simmons doggedly insists on asserting that Karl Kautsky, VI Lenin, Lars Lih and I hold the working class “in disdain” by arguing that “the working class is ‘only capable of trade union consciousness’ without the intervention of the intelligentsia from without” (Letters, March 13). The problem for him, however, is that none of us actually argue this, whether in What is to be done?, Lenin rediscovered, the letters pages of this paper or the passage from the CPGB’s Draft programme I pointed him to by way of an explanation of how I understand the “from without” passage (and which he has revealingly ignored).

Like so many - too many - on the left today, comrade Simmons takes Lenin’s “from without” passage to mean “the workers have to receive the message from intellectuals”, because without these intellectuals the best they can achieve is trade union consciousness. But take a look at the offending Karl Kautsky passage quoted by Lenin. Kautsky maintains that “modern socialism” - ie, not socialism in general, but Marxism specifically - was invented by individual members of the intelligentsia (ie, Marx and Engels), who then communicate it to proletarians “who stand out due to their mental development” and who then “bring it into the class struggle” (that already exists “spontaneously” as a natural feature of class society), “where conditions allow”. How could Kautsky, and thus Lenin, be any more clear that “bringing into the class struggle from elsewhere” - ie, merging socialism and the workers’ movement - does not mean “workers have to get the message from intellectuals”?

In this understanding, intellectuals (particularly great ones) only come up with historical materialism, the theory of surplus value and so on, and everything else is due to proletarians telling other proletarians. This is just one of the many reasons for my “astounding claim” (why “astounding”?) that Trotsky’s later account does not fit with the sources from the time. Lenin and Kautsky are simply making the point that a rounded Marxist outlook, a deep sense of history and so on, do not emerge spontaneously in the elemental fight over wages and conditions that would occur in class society even if there was no such thing as Marxism. The fact that today “the works of Marx, Lenin and others [are] freely available on the internet” changes nothing in this regard, except for the fact that uploading material onto a website makes it much easier for us “social democrats” to bring the revolutionary Marxist message to the struggles of the workers’ movement than it was for previous revolutionaries, using hand-operated printing presses or other such equipment. Unfortunately, Web 2.0 does not obviate the need for revolutionary political parties, programmes, theory and so on.

Two other points on Lenin and comrade Simmons. There is a difference between an unsuccessful or clumsy formulation of a valid point, and making an invalid point in the heat of polemic. Lenin, as we have seen in the exchange with comrade Simmons thus far, admitted to the former, but never to the latter. In the quotes I have provided, Lenin is simply stating that in taking on the economists he was making a point that needs to be seen in context. Nor did Lenin think that his readers were confused at the time, because everybody was stressing the “other side” of the argument - not least Martov and Plekhanov. Comrade Simmons and I actually agree on this latter point.

Doubtless with the aim of discrediting my argument by appealing to the lazier reader, comrade Simmons then rolls out the bugbear of Joseph Stalin. I would point readers to Lars Lih’s discussion (pp657-58 of Lenin rediscovered) of what Stalin actually said about WITBD in 1905. Lih convincingly shows that Stalin did not think that intellectuals were needed to carry the revolutionary message and also that Lenin explicitly approved of the young Georgian activist’s defence of WITBD. Trotsky had to explain this away by saying that Lenin actually did not mean what he was saying here, but was merely seeking to encourage a keen young supporter.

To conclude, maybe we can briefly put the history to one side. Could comrade Simmons perhaps explain just how, by effectively banning the public airing of political discussion within their organisation, comrade Peter Taaffe and the Socialist Party are exhibiting faith in the capacity of working class people to assimilate complex political ideas and the shades and nuances of Marxism? Is this not more in keeping with the approach of Stalin in the 1930s than that of 1905?

Ben Lewis