Can we ever escape Leninism?

150 posts / 0 new
Last post
fingers malone's picture
fingers malone
Offline
Joined: 4-05-08
Jul 30 2017 16:44

deleted

Haust
Offline
Joined: 20-05-12
Jul 30 2017 23:16
el psy congroo wrote:
Do you have anything to say regarding your disingenuous behavior in this thread, which I can only now view as an attempt at trolling or disruption?

no comment necessary

ajjohnstone
Offline
Joined: 20-04-08
Sep 2 2017 17:52

Worth a read new online articles from the SPGB articled dated 1919 displaying its scepticism not so much from the luxury of hindsight but a belated contemporary analysis hindered by access to full information on the ground.

http://socialiststandardmyspace.blogspot.com/2017/09/ten-days-that-shook-world-1919.html

http://socialiststandardmyspace.blogspot.com/2017/09/democracy-and-dictatorship-in-russia.html

Jacob Richter
Offline
Joined: 13-07-08
Nov 7 2017 04:33
Noa Rodman wrote:
If we just accept those figures for a moment (and Britain is perhaps an exception – such figures could be realistic in other countries), that means that an extreme scenario is possible where the majority of the workers is socialist (eg the socialist workers could be 32% of total population), but they could face compact bourgeoisie+petit-bourgeosie classes totally opposed to socialism, i.e. 37%. So even if the majority of workers is socialist, they would still be a minority in the population. But the Marxist argument is that the working class due to its position in the economy can exert power even beyond its number.

And now, comrade, we get to the heart of the matter of what this scenario really means for small-r revolutionary Marxist politics vs. parliamentary cretinism and other cheap electoralism.

[Although, to be fair I'd prefer the "socialist workers" to be at least two-thirds of broadly-defined proletarian voters.]

In a geopolitically revolutionary period for the broadly defined proletariat, with that kind of support a mass party-movement of the class would be more than justified in launching what the other side, including the SPGB folks, would undoubtedly call an "unconstitutional coup." IIRC, in political science this kind of majority is a form of "plurality."

Why? Majority proletarian support isn't enough to overcome electoral and constitutional amendment-making hurdles. The electoral socialists would insist on 50%+1 of general voters backing them.

mn8
Offline
Joined: 21-06-16
Nov 7 2017 17:07

That is broadly correct. The revolution can't always wait on an electoral system, especially if its enemies are in charge and legislating to undermine the movement. You might as well force the revolution to be constitutional!

ajjohnstone
Offline
Joined: 20-04-08
Nov 7 2017 21:32

Many disparage the SPGB "fetishism" to majority revolution and the Parliamentarian process but overlook the fact that in 1904 when we laid down our position and principles, more than half the working class did not possess the vote - all women and a still a quarter of men were deprived of it. We were never adherents to the number game.

Nevertheless what existed was suffice according to the SPGB for the working class to use to capture political power. Our aim is achieve a "functional" majority, rather than advocate as many did in the past, action by a self-defeating minority, hence many often misconstrue our emphasis on the term "majority revolution".

Many gradualists insist we should carry on the campaign to perfect the electoral system with various constitutional amendments such as an assortment of PR proposals, the SPGB continues to maintain that what we have can be used and what is missing is understanding an knowledge among or fellow workers.

What is essential is that the numbers are sufficient for the revolutionary process to succeed and to make socialism work, either as active participants or otherwise fully acquiescing to the events taking place around them.

I cannot recall any member of the SPGB decrying the fall of state-capitalism when fellow-workers in Eastern Europes Soviet satellite countries voted with their feet (and some with their fists) for not following constitutional methods of voting and elections. Different strokes for different folks.

Jacob Richter
Offline
Joined: 13-07-08
Nov 8 2017 02:32
mn8 wrote:
That is broadly correct. The revolution can't always wait on an electoral system, especially if its enemies are in charge and legislating to undermine the movement. You might as well force the revolution to be constitutional!

You have to be careful with your response.

The Bolsheviks themselves started losing majority proletarian support itself as early as March 1918. What they did in response is something I can't condone, but in fairness to the revolutionaries, given today being the centenary of the October Revolution, I shouldn't bring 1918 up. sad

I will say, however, the crucial, fundamental importance of securing majority proletarian support beforehand in order for a revolution to be genuinely proletocratic or ergatocratic. Both Kautsky the Marxist and Lenin nearly hit the spot on this crucial issue (in 1909 and 1917, respectively), then shot themselves in the foot afterwards.

Noa Rodman
Offline
Joined: 4-11-09
Nov 8 2017 07:59
ajjohnstone wrote:
the SPGB continues to maintain that what we have can be used and what is missing is understanding an knowledge among or fellow workers.

What is essential is that the numbers are sufficient for the revolutionary process to succeed and to make socialism work, either as active participants or otherwise fully acquiescing to the events taking place around them.

I cannot recall any member of the SPGB decrying the fall of state-capitalism when fellow-workers in Eastern Europes Soviet satellite countries voted with their feet (and some with their fists) for not following constitutional methods of voting and elections. Different strokes for different folks.

Voting isn't an indication of active participation or socialist understanding, otherwise the SPGB would grant membership to anyone who, presented with the question: do you support socialism or capitalism?, picks socialism (allowing Sanders and Xi Jinping to join the SPGB). By the way, it is simply impossible/forbidden to ask questions (even so vague as the above) in elections: it just is voting for names/parties, who can't be mandated to any policy. (To draw out the comparison, if a group, of say a hundred people, wants to join the SPGB, it would be enough that 51 of them claim to be socialist in order to allow them all in.)

And to be clear, voting "with their feet" is not a good indication of socialist understanding either, because you disillusionally end up ascribing to any "popular" street movement the label socialist.

Jacob Richter wrote:
The Bolsheviks themselves started losing majority proletarian support itself as early as March 1918. What they did in response is something I can't condone,

What does "majority proletarian support" for the Bolsheviks concretely mean? And what do you think they do in response to apparently losing it?

Bordiga is still correct: https://www.marxists.org/archive/bordiga/works/1922/democratic-principle.htm

Spikymike
Offline
Joined: 6-01-07
Nov 8 2017 10:42

Don't wish to get drawn again into a long repetitive debate with the spgb over it's 'democratic fetishism' but ajj's last post illustrates exactly that organisations confusion over the relevance of relying on capitalist state constitutional legalities in terms of measuring so-called 'socialist consciousness' and the practical exercise of class power. It also covers over the (rather formal) disputes and arguments within the spgb previously over whether or not to support the various later democratic reform movements in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere that were one of the early elements in the eventual expulsion/split that lead to the formation of two equally mistaken spgb's! Today formal democracy is of course the norm in most capitalist states from the USA to China but we are wasting our time if we either rely on that as it is or spend all our time trying to reform it. The class struggle does and will find it's own means of expression in forms which need to retain their autonomy from the capitalist state.

Mike Harman
Offline
Joined: 7-02-06
Nov 8 2017 15:21

On majoritarianism and voting, I really like this passage from Glaberman:

Martin Glaberman wrote:
They had a membership referendum, which was the perfect sociological survey. Every member got a secret ballot which was filled out in the privacy of a, kitchen or living room and which was mailed back in. The secrecy was protected because both sides were represented on the committee that ran the referendum. It was a pretty fair count as these things go. When the ballots were counted, the membership of the UAW had voted two to one to reaffirm the no-strike pledge. It was rather reasonable to draw the conclusion that the cons9iousness of auto workers was that they placed patriotism before class interest; that in a major war workers should not strike; no matter what the provocation, war production had to continue.

There was, however, a slight problem. Before the vote, during the vote, and after the vote, the majority of auto workers wildcatted. What then, was the consciousness of the auto workers? Were they for or against the no-strike pledge? There is a further problem. As in most votes, most people did not vote. The majority which voted for the pledge was not a majority of the members of the UAW. But the strikers did include a majority of the UAW. Experience in a factory can give you insight into how these things work. Some guy sitting in his own living room listening to the casualties and the war reports, votes to reaffirm the no-strike pledge. The next day, going in to work, the foreman cusses him out, and he says, "To hell with you," and out he goes. And you say, "I thought you were for the no-strike pledge." And he says, "Yeah, sure, but look at that son of a bitch." To workers, workers do not cause strikes. Capitalists cause, strikes. So if strikes are to be prevented, the thing to do is to get rid of all these grievances. It's these foremen who 'do net want to get rid of all these grievances who cause all these strikes.

What then was the consciousness of auto workers? Were they patriotic or class conscious? It seems necessary to say, as a start, that what workers do is at least as important as what workers say. But much more than that is involved. The whole idea of consciousness is more complex and is a much larger totality than simply formal statements of belief, which would be sufficiently dealt with by having a survey, or that postcard ballot, or whatever.

https://libcom.org/library/working-class-social-change-martin-glaberman

Also the Johnson-Forest lot are interesting because they broke with Trotskyism, Trotsky and Leninism but never really with Lenin as a thinker. Just added this to the library: https://libcom.org/library/silences-suppression-workers-self-emancipation-historical-problems-clr-jamess-interpreta

Jacob Richter
Offline
Joined: 13-07-08
Nov 13 2017 03:10
Noa Rodman wrote:
Voting isn't an indication of active participation or socialist understanding, otherwise the SPGB would grant membership to anyone who, presented with the question: do you support socialism or capitalism?, picks socialism (allowing Sanders and Xi Jinping to join the SPGB). By the way, it is simply impossible/forbidden to ask questions (even so vague as the above) in elections: it just is voting for names/parties, who can't be mandated to any policy. (To draw out the comparison, if a group, of say a hundred people, wants to join the SPGB, it would be enough that 51 of them claim to be socialist in order to allow them all in.)

And to be clear, voting "with their feet" is not a good indication of socialist understanding either, because you disillusionally end up ascribing to any "popular" street movement the label socialist.

Indeed, comrade. Protest votes are the worst kind of "socialist understanding" there is.

Quote:
Jacob Richter wrote:
The Bolsheviks themselves started losing majority proletarian support itself as early as March 1918. What they did in response is something I can't condone,

What does "majority proletarian support" for the Bolsheviks concretely mean? And what do you think they do in response to apparently losing it?

You'll find out in early March 2018, that tragic centenary - if you haven't found out already by my previous posts on the subject (here, on RevLeft, and maybe RevForum, too).

Noa Rodman
Offline
Joined: 4-11-09
Nov 9 2017 06:52
Quote:
You'll find out in early March 2019, that tragic centenary - if you haven't found out already by my previous posts on the subject (here, on RevLeft, and maybe RevForum, too).

You often wrote how peasants' vote counted for less than workers' in the soviets, but I have no idea about your view on how "majority proletarian support" was apparently lost already by March 1918. Perhaps you just misspoke I thought, but if not, I'm sure you are allowed here to link to a revleft thread once.

ajjohnstone
Offline
Joined: 20-04-08
Nov 9 2017 16:54
Quote:
The SPGB would grant membership to anyone who, presented with the question: do you support socialism or capitalism?, picks socialism (allowing Sanders and Xi Jinping to join the SPGB).

Just to be pedantic, the questions we present prospective members which they must answer and satisfy the Party is here.

https://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/membership-application

What are the basic economic features of capitalism?
Explain what you understand by the terms “capitalist class” and “working class”
Do you consider that the working class is exploited? If so, then briefly explain how this takes place
What do you understand by the word “socialism”?
Why do socialists say that there will be no trade or money in a socialist society? On what basis will wealth be distributed?
Has socialism been established in any part of the world?
Why do socialists say that socialism cannot exist in one country alone?
Why do socialists maintain that democratic methods such as parliamentary elections, must be used to capture political power for the achievement of socialism?
Why do socialists not take sides or willingly take part in wars?
What is your attitude to other political parties? Do any of them stand for socialism?
Why does the Socialist Party not campaign for reforms?
What are your views on religion and its relation to the Party’s case for socialism?

I think we would all be interested in reading Sanders and Xi Jinping responses to many of those questions. But none of us really believe they would be eligible for membership, do we?

An applicant need not have read a word of Marx, though. The acid test of socialist convictions hinges on such views as: Capitalism cannot be reformed or administered in the interest of the working class or of society; Capitalism, as a social system, is in the interest of the ruling class (albeit that capitalism, historically, was an essential stage of social evolution) and it is incapable of eliminating poverty, war, economic crises; Socialism is the solution to the social problems and irreconcilable contradictions of capitalism; Socialism cannot be rammed down the workers’ throats against their wishes; Socialist success is dependant upon the fervour and enthusiasm of the determined, conscious socialist majority. These are the characteristics of a socialist; a coupling of the head and the heart, theory coupled with action.

I see the work of the SPGB to be a trigger that transforms majority ideas from bourgeois into revolutionary ones by education and campaigning and when our numbers arrive, progressing from a propagandist party to a class organising one, such as shown by the attempt of the Socialist Party of Canada and its relationship with the One Big Union.

I think there has been a purposeful misinterpretation of what i was meaning when i gave an example of the fall of state-capitalism in Eastern Europe in that (to quote Spiky Mike) it was not "relying on capitalist state constitutional legalities" for legitimacy.

And as SpikeyMike also refers to " long repetitive debate with the spgb over it's 'democratic fetishism' " people should already know that we always add caveats to our support for the ballot box - one being that the most important factor is the knowledge and understanding of the person placing the X. Which is why we insist that you don't vote for the SPGB unless you agree with us and your vote is that indication of socialist understanding.

ajjohnstone
Offline
Joined: 20-04-08
Nov 9 2017 17:19

As an afterthought, i think the important Marxist ideas we try to convey in or education are the Materialist Conception of History and the Labour Theory of Value, using those concept in arousing socialist consciousness, on the basis of evidence and unfolding events, that capitalism has outlived its historic usefulness and is now ripe for burial. We, as socialists, are catalytic agents, acting on our fellow-workers and all others to do something about it as speedily as possible. The barest minimum of socialist principles are: socialism is a product of social evolution; the socialist revolution is inherently democratic because of its nature of being conscious, majority, and political; and that socialism is based on the social relations of a community of interests between all the members of society and society as a whole. There can hardly be any compromise or concession on these general principles.

Working-class understanding is at a very low ebb, therefore the membership of the SPGB is pitiful (and on a downward spiral) but i see no great difference in the number of adherents to AF or ICC to demonstrate they have any better strategy than ourselves. And the declining popularity of this Libcom website is also an unwelcomed trend. (i stand corrected if traffic figures dispute my opinion but i'm going by my impression of the number and variety of posts and exchanges)

To the accusations from Leftists that we are sectarian and enthralled to dogma we do unrepentantly oppose all the so-called working-class parties which compromise with capitalism and do not uphold the socialist case.

Noa Rodman
Offline
Joined: 4-11-09
Nov 9 2017 19:41
Quote:
we always add caveats to our support for the ballot box - one being that the most important factor is the knowledge and understanding of the person placing the X. Which is why we insist that you don't vote for the SPGB unless you agree with us and your vote is that indication of socialist understanding.

You thus of course admit that a vote isn't an indication of socialist understanding (and to be fair, the SPGB's justification for electoral participation boils down to petty pragmatism, ie for some money you buy the opportunity to have letters sent to a number of electors).

Elections aren't about raising understanding, so the people who receive your literature will view it just as an attempt to win their vote – even this you may admit (whereas if they received that same literature outside an election period, they would be more open to it): so granted, the point of elections isn't about raising understanding, it is just to capture political power.

But it is not certain whether the SPGB candidates actually will capture political power, ie take their seat in the House of Commons, for that would be to use state power (and only Leninists believe in a transitional state), but lets skip this catch-22: they will enter parliament solely to issue a decree of its own abolition, along with the entire state. True, this can also be done outside parliament, but that involves violence, which is something only Leninists believe in. So the SPGB's reasoning in sum reads: parliamentary participation is the only way to abolish parliament.

Quote:
I cannot recall any member of the SPGB decrying the fall of state-capitalism when fellow-workers in Eastern Europes Soviet satellite countries voted with their feet (and some with their fists) for not following constitutional methods of voting and elections. Different strokes for different folks.

That's because your inconsistency and prejudice to choose to respect the constitutional rules in democratic capitalist Britain, but not in the evil SU. And the dissolution of the SU didn't abolish the Russian state AFAIK – things would have gotten a bit more violent/Leninist then.

ajjohnstone
Offline
Joined: 20-04-08
Nov 10 2017 03:27
Quote:
Elections aren't about raising understanding, so the people who receive your literature will view it just as an attempt to win their vote – even this you may admit (whereas if they received that same literature outside an election period, they would be more open to it):

I do not accept your premise here. I think election periods are the time when workers are more receptive to political discussions, even if it is to explain their apathy and non-involvement. Of course, the importance of election issues and the importance of the casting individual votes will affect the turn-out.

At the moment, you are correct that our involvement in the electoral process is a token one to take advantage of not just the free postage but also to participate in the numerous hustings that are organised in election campaigns. Outside election times, open public political meetings are rare occurrence except as PR events for the established politicians

But as you infer later our support for parliamentary action is to capture political power, not just a mere propaganda tactic. And we have explained frequently why we see it as a necessity to have control of the State, rather than pursue other anti-parliamentarian strategies.

As we are in the UK, our analysis and practice are based on the reality of that. We have built an organisation that we feel is best suited and fit for purpose to express and act as an instrument of our class.

How a socialist party behaves in other countries with different political structures, we do not lay down any strictures on others except to broadly insist that they democratically reflect the will of the majority.

This is what we said in 1937 about Spain "... It must be assumed that the Spanish workers weighed up the situation and counted the cost before deciding their course of action. That is a matter upon which their judgement should be better than that of people outside the country..."

And i have already defined a majority as a politically functional one, not a number or percentage, in an earlier post.

Whether we take our seat if elected or exercise the Sinn Fein policy has long been discussed within the Party and the culmination of these debate has always been the elected SPGB MP would take the oath of loyalty to her majesty and sit in the Commons.

And while still a minority, they will not sit on their hands and do nothing. The Party has also decided that SPGB MPs will vote for any reform seen to be in the interest of the working class.
As the Socialist Party of Canada member elected to the State Legislature of Albert said:
"When I voted on the last division I did so because I saw an opportunity to benefit a few of my class, the laborers in the construction camp. There is no opportunity to get anything for the workers on this vote, and I shall not vote. On every vote where there is no opportunity to get something for my class, I shall not vote. On every vote where there is no opportunity to get anything for my class, I shall leave the House and refrain from voting."

Nor do SPGBers require reminding of the disappointments workers around the world have experienced when overthrowing dictatorships only to have them replaced by other ones. Just a look now at the nationalist-right wing governments of all those ex-satellite countries. Even re-unification of the Germany's has led to the rise of neo-fascist xenophobia in the former GDR.

Noa Rodman
Offline
Joined: 4-11-09
Nov 10 2017 08:41
Quote:
I think election periods are the time when workers are more receptive to political discussions, even if it is to explain their apathy and non-involvement.

Their apathy and non-involvement is explained precisely by the nature of elections themselves. A quote from a review of a classical work in political science: Ostrogorski's 1902 Democracy and the organization of political parties Volume I: England: https://libcom.org/library/democracy-inside-out-fedor-kapelusz

To complete the picture we must mention the luring balagan at elections, for example, the candidate is accompanied by his performing wife, she is a cabaret singer before the voters, or the public is shown the grandchildren of an illustrious candidate and so on. The elections of 1910 in London were described (by reactionaries – does not matter), as a 'riotous celebration of crazies'...

However, this latter should not be interpreted in the sense of activity of the voting mass. It is extremely apathetic. On this a representative picture is given by the party régime, which Ostrogorski describes, not sparing colours. This is a 'machine for voting resolutions', here everything is fashioned in advance by 'whips' and 'wire-pullers', meetings occur before the already converted, this is a 'grand deception', 'ceremonies of party worship and piety', there is no debate, on the annual congresses of parties also are heard only speeches of the leaders, at the congress of the liberal party in Newcastle the President said: 'It is not a meeting for the discussion of subjects', the delegates barely are given five minutes. In the country, too, everything is operated by the 'machinists' of the party, a core of 20–30 people in each urban district; even in the hearth of liberal agitation, Birmingham only eight to ten per cent of electors was affiliated to the party Organisations, nevertheless 'the party machine wholesale supplies public opinion'. 'The multitude's taste for political reports has been perverted', propaganda pamphlets are little read, newspaper editorials are no longer credible, everyone knows that they 'consist of crying up the doings of the party in question'; even the supposedly spontaneous outbursts and demonstrations of public opinion are ordered from the centre by the 'whips' and 'wire-pullers', wherewith throughout one and the same slogan is upheld; moreover, the centre fabricates also the so called heckling, those questions, by which some audience member dumbfounds the enemy candidate...

Quote:
How a socialist party behaves in other countries with different political structures, we do not lay down any strictures on others except to broadly insist that they democratically reflect the will of the majority. This is what we said in 1937 about Spain "... It must be assumed that the Spanish workers weighed up the situation and counted the cost before deciding their course of action. That is a matter upon which their judgement should be better than that of people outside the country..."

Of course even revisionists/reformists Socialists, like Caballero in Spain, – it (falsely) earned him the nickname of Spanish Lenin – can resort to violent means. Another example were the socialists in Austria 1934, and, at least in principle/words, even Léon Blum in France recognised the dictatorship of the proletariat in the sense of non-consitutional means (but with the presence of Bonapartist traditions in France he urged caution in criticising parliament). These remain parliamentary socialists, just as any bourgeois politician isn't afraid to break the law and resort to murder (who's being naive).

Quote:
the elected SPGB MP would take the oath of loyalty to her majesty and sit in the Commons.

That oath is an example of how limited the room is for raising socialist understanding.

The justification for marxist participation in elections in the past (under the anti-Socialist law in German) was based among other reasons, on such facts that socialist propaganda was forbidden, and only members of parliaments had freedom of speech.

Anarcho
Offline
Joined: 22-10-06
Nov 10 2017 18:35
Noa Rodman wrote:
The justification for marxist participation in elections in the past (under the anti-Socialist law in German) was based among other reasons, on such facts that socialist propaganda was forbidden, and only members of parliaments had freedom of speech.

Marx was in favour of standing in elections in all countries and at all times. He saw the vote as being a means of achieving socialism -- both before and after the Paris Commune. He helped shape social-democracy into what it became -- which simply confirmed Bakunin's critique of his electioneering (namely, it would become reformist).

In short, the SPGB are far more orthodox than the so-called Marxists who attack them.

Noa Rodman
Offline
Joined: 4-11-09
Nov 10 2017 21:06
Anarcho wrote:
Marx was in favour of standing in elections in all countries and at all times.

Not quite. Max Beer (An Inquiry into Dictatorship, 1922) said:

The successful by-elections of the French socialists in 1850 inspired them with the democratic idea that socialism could, after all, be realised by the ballot. Marx, commenting on this, declares:

Marx wrote:
The new electoral victory of April 28, 1850, imbued the montagnards (the democrats) and the petty bourgeoisie with wanton optimism. They exulted in the thought that they would arrive at the goal of their desire without a new, revolution in which they might have again to push the proletariat into the forefront: they calculated that at the general elections of 1852 they would have the majority in Parliament and make their hero, Ledru-Rollin, President of the French Republic. What happened then? The Party of Order replied to the electoral successes of the petty bourgeoisie by the abolition of the universal suffrage! .... On May 8, the new Electoral Bill was brought in. The whole social democratic Press rose as one man in order to preach to the people the necessity of dignified behaviour, calme majestueux, passivity, and complete confidence in its representatives. Every article of those journals was a confession that a revolutionary upheaval would destroy the “revolutionary” Press, and that it was now a question of life and death of the people’s Press. The alleged revolutionary Press betrayed its secret. It signed its own death sentence.

On May 21, the Montagne initiated a debate and demanded the rejection of the Bill, arguing that it represented a flagrant violation of the Constitution. The Party of Order replied that, if necessary, the Constitution would be violated, but meanwhile such a necessity did not arise, since the Constitution admitted of various interpretations, and that the majority of the Chamber was the competent authority to decide on the proper interpretation. Against the unbridled and wild attacks of the leaders of the Right, the Montagne appealed to the principles of equality and humanity, they took their stand on the ground of legality. The leaders of the Right likewise planted their feet on the ground on which legality grows and flourishes, namely, on the soil of bourgeois property. On May 31, 1850, the Bill was passed into law.... An army of 150,000 men in Paris, the dilatory debates, the appeasement by the Press, the pusillanimity of the Montagne and of the newly elected representatives, the majestic calm of the lower middle class, and, above all, the commercial and industrial prosperity prevented any revolutionary attempt on the part of the proletariat.

The universal suffrage had served its historic purpose. The majority of the people had passed through an instructive stage of development, to which the suffrage, in a revolutionary epoch, had supplied the materials. It had to be ended, either by revolution or reaction.

--

And this wasn't just Marx, not just in 1850, but also Engels, and still in 1865:

Engels wrote:
And regarding universal direct suffrage itself, one has only to go to France to realise what tame elections it can give rise to, if one has only a large and ignorant rural population, a well-organised bureaucracy, a well-regimented press, associations sufficiently kept down by the police and no political meetings at all. How many workers' representatives does universal direct suffrage send to the French chamber, then? And yet the French proletariat has the advantage over the German of far greater concentration and longer experience of struggle and organisation.

...
Now even in France, where after all virtually all the peasants are free and own their land and where the feudal aristocracy has long been deprived of all political power, universal suffrage has not put workers into the Chamber but has almost totally excluded them from it. What would be the consequence of universal suffrage in Germany, where the feudal aristocracy is still a real social and political power and where there are two agricultural day labourers for every industrial worker? The battle against feudal and bureaucratic reaction — for the two are inseparable in our country — is in Germany identical with the struggle for the intellectual and political emancipation of the rural proletariat — and until such time as the rural proletariat is also swept along into the movement, the urban proletariat cannot and will not achieve anything at all in Germany and universal direct suffrage will not be a weapon for the proletariat but a snare.

(last word emphasised by me)

So both Marx and Engels rejected electoral politics in Germany and France, at least from 1850 to 1868). Of course political action is not synonymous with electoral participation, so they didn't become Proudhonists.

For England, Marx simply followed the Chartists (who in turn followed Major Cartwright 1776), i.e. he didn't "shape social democracy". Quote from Marx in 1868

Quote:
With Buchez' state aid for associations he [ie Lassalle] combined the Chartist cry of universal suffrage. He overlooked the fact that conditions in Germany and England were different. He overlooked the lessons of the Second Empire with regard to universal suffrage.

On the Chartists (Marx in 1855):

After the experiments which undermined universal suffrage in France in 1848, the continentals are prone to underrate the importance and meaning of the English Charter. They overlook the fact that two-thirds of the population of France are peasants and over one-third townspeople, whereas in England more than two-thirds live in towns and less than one-third in the countryside. Hence the results of universal suffrage in England must likewise be in inverse proportion to the results in France, just as town and country are in the two states. This explains the diametrically opposite character which the demand for universal suffrage has assumed in France and England. In France the political ideologists put forward this demand, which every "educated" person could support to a greater or lesser extent, depending on his convictions. In England it is a distinguishing feature roughly separating the aristocracy and bourgeoisie on the one hand, and the people, on the other. There it is regarded as a political question and here, as a social one. In England agitation for universal suffrage had gone through a period of historical development before it became the slogan of the masses. In France, it was first introduced and then started on its historical path. In France it was the practice of universal suffrage that failed, whereas in England it was its ideology. In the early decades of this century, universal suffrage as propounded by Sir Francis Burdett, Major Cartwright and Cobbett was still a very vague and idealistic concept, so that it could become the pious wish of all sections of the population that did not belong directly to the ruling classes. For the bourgeoisie, it was in fact simply an eccentric, generalised expression of what it had attained through the parliamentary reform of 1831. In England the demand for universal suffrage did not assume its concrete, specific character even after 1838. Proof: Hume and O'Connell were among those who signed the Charter. The last illusions disappeared in 1842. At that time Lovett made a last but futile attempt to formulate universal suffrage as a common demand of what are known as Radicals and the masses of the people[see footnote]. Since that day there has no longer been any doubt about the meaning of universal suffrage. Nor about its name. It is the Charter of the people and implies the assumption of political power as a means of satisfying their social needs. Universal suffrage, which was regarded as the motto of universal brotherhood in the France of 1848, has become a battle cry in England. There universal suffrage was the direct content of the revolution; here, revolution is the direct content of universal suffrage. An examination of the history of universal suffrage in England will show that it casts off its idealistic features, at the same rate as modern society with its immense contradictions develops in this country, contradictions that are produced by industrial progress.

footnote by MECW editor:

In 1842 the radical and liberal Free-Trade circles made several attempts to enlist the working-class movement in the campaign for the repeal of the Corn Laws and for moderate reforms. To distract the workers from the struggle for the implementation of the Chartists' social- and political programme, they put forward the vague demand for "full suffrage". With the aid of some conciliatory Chartist leaders (Lovett, Vincent and others) the radicals succeeded in convening in Birmingham two conferences of representatives of the bourgeoisie and Chartists (in April and December 1842) which discussed joint campaigns for electoral reform. However, on December 27 the Chartist majority at the conferences rejected the proposal to replace the People's Charter with a new "Bill of Rights" and the demand for "full suffrage". From then onwards the Charter was the exclusive demand of the proletarian masses.

--

Keep in mind that the Charter's universal suffrage demand included also annual parliaments, which "remains the only Chartist demand not to be implemented" (wiki). Check Major Cartwright's Take your choice! (1776) (or in old spelling here).

I further point out that the struggle for the right to vote is not the same as approval of electoral politics. One can oppose e.g. unsafe nuclear procedures like waste transportation through cities, without therefore necessarily being a believer/supporter of nuclear energy.

I think it's clear that for Marx the demand for universal suffrage in England was important for it's meaning in the political struggle, not as an end itself.

Noa Rodman
Offline
Joined: 4-11-09
Nov 11 2017 07:29

In order to not let my long previous post be the end of this thread, I suggest Anarcho leaves the task of proving Marx/Engels's positive view on elections to the SPGB posters here. In turn Anarcho can perhaps show us where Proudhon or Bakunin specifically criticised parliamentary elections (instead of any idea of a transitional state in general); it's important to know on what arguments they based their stance (e.g. perhaps Proudhon opposed universal suffrage because it would allow women the vote?).

ajjohnstone
Offline
Joined: 20-04-08
Nov 11 2017 07:39

I am always reticent to cite the authority of Marx and Engels since as you pointed out their views differ with time and circumstances. I made that very point in my last letter to Weekly Worker regards Marx support for some nationalisms and not for others.

Elections were less a matter of principle but more of tactical importance rather than a strategy. Marx not only supported, the campaign of the Chartist in the 1850s for universal suffrage, but also, through the IWMA, the similar campaign of the Reform League in the 1860s.

But out of balance, i think we should include other quotes, don't you?

" As far as possible they should be League members and their election should be pursued by all possible means. Even where there is no prospect of achieving their election the workers must put up their own candidates to preserve their independence, to gauge their own strength and to bring their revolutionary position and party standpoint to public attention. They must not be led astray by the empty phrases of the democrats, who will maintain that the workers’ candidates will split the democratic party and offer the forces of reaction the chance of victory. All such talk means, in the final analysis, that the proletariat is to be swindled. The progress which the proletarian party will make by operating independently in this way is infinitely more important than the disadvantages resulting from the presence of a few reactionaries in the representative body. If the forces of democracy take decisive, terroristic action against the reaction from the very beginning, the reactionary influence in the election will already have been destroyed." Marx Adress to the Communist League 1847

Marx’s view of universal suffrage was clearly given in his article on the Chartists, in which he said:

“But universal suffrage is the equivalent for political power for the working class of England, where the proletariat forms the majority of the population, where, in a long, though underground civil war, it has gained a clear consciousness of itself as a class, and where even the rural districts know no longer any peasants, but landlords, industrial capitalists (farmers) and hired labourers. The carrying of universal suffrage in England, would, therefore, be a far more Socialistic measure than anything which has been honoured with that name on the Continent. Its inevitable result here, is the political supremacy of the working class.” ‘N.Y. Tribune,’ 25th Aug. 1852;

"The irony of history turns everything topsy-turvy. We, the ‘revolutionists’, thrive better by the use of constitutional means than by unconstitutional and revolutionary methods. The parties of law and order, as they term themselves, are being destroyed by the constitutional implements which they themselves have fashioned.” 1895, the year of his death, Engels in an introduction to a reprint of Marx’s Class Struggles in France

"The possessing class rules directly through universal suffrage. For as long as the oppressed class—in this case the proletariat—is not ripe for its emancipation, just so long will its majority regard the existing form of society as the only one possible, and form the tail, the extreme left wing, of the capitalist class. But the more the proletariat matures towards its self-emancipation, the more does it constitute itself as a separate class and elect its own representatives in place of the capitalists. Universal suffrage is the gauge of the maturity of the working class. It can and never will be that in the modern State. But that is sufficient. On the day when the thermometer of universal suffrage reaches its boiling point among the labourers, they as well as the capitalists will know what to do.” Engels, Origin of the Family

Since you took the liberty of citing Max Beer others i will quote another Max - Rubel
“The economic and social barbarism brought about by the capitalist mode of production cannot be abolished by a political revolution prepared, organized and led by an elite of professional revolutionaries claiming to act and think in the name and for the benefit of the exploited and alienated majority. The proletariat, formed into a class and a party under the conditions of bourgeois democracy, liberates itself in the struggle to conquer this democracy; it turns universal suffrage, which had previously been ‘an instrument of dupery’, into a means of emancipation”

And did Marx not assist in drafting write the election manifesto for Guesde's French Workers Party in 1880 where the preamble includes the above quote of converting universal suffrage in France "from the instrument of fraud it has been up till now into an instrument of emancipation"

As Anarcho suggests, the SPGB reflects - although not identical - the overall thinking of Marx and Engels regarding elections

Noa Rodman
Offline
Joined: 4-11-09
Nov 11 2017 13:50

The context for that quote from the 1880 French party program:

Quote:
That this collective appropriation can arise only from the revolutionary action of the productive class – or proletariat - organized in a distinct political party;
That such an organization must be pursued by all the means the proletariat has at its disposal including universal suffrage which will thus be transformed from the instrument of deception that it has been until now into an instrument of emancipation;

So still in 1880 Marx regarded suffrage as an instrument of deception (at least in France). He doesn't say that it has already become an instrument of emancipation.

How does it become an instrument of emancipation? To the extent to which electoral participation advances the building of a party organisation. The main point here is to establish/preserve the independence of workers, i.e. a distinct political party. Those who from some radical principle reject standing their own workers' candidates in elections, but quietly feel compelled to vote for a lesser bourgeois evil, are just tail-ending liquidators.

After the first world war even Kautsky still considered a revolution (in the 1880 program referred to as "revolutionary action") necessary in France (the empire without emperor).

Marx's criteria for electoral participation is whether it will encourage the growth/formation of an independent organisation. It thus is the opposite position to that which regards the party merely as an election machine: ask not what the party can do for elections, ask what elections can do for the party. And that seems a very concrete, tangible question to investigate; does the SPGB gain new members by participating in elections, does it strengthen the SPGB's experience and resources, or does it not rather dull and exhaust them, is its combativeness outside election periods enhanced or not, etc.?

Quote:
Marx not only supported, the campaign of the Chartist in the 1850s for universal suffrage, but also, through the IWMA, the similar campaign of the Reform League in the 1860s.

It would be good if you can find quotes on the Reform League in 1860s, to see if he was still so full of expectation about suffrage's effect as in 1852.

btw, here are sentences preceding that 1852 quote:

Marx wrote:
We now come to the Chartists, the politically active portion of the British working class. The six points of the Charter which they contend for contain nothing but the demand of universal suffrage and of the conditions without which universal suffrage would be illusory for the working class: such as the ballot, payment of members, annual general elections.

Annual general elections, as I pointed out, are listed as a condition "without which universal suffrage would be illusory for the working class". The Erfurt program included the demand for a 2-year maximum parliamentary term.

ajjohnstone
Offline
Joined: 20-04-08
Nov 12 2017 01:14

Precedents are only of value when the conditions are the same.

Indeed the SPGB involvement in electoral process is still trying to transform it from being a tool to fool us and to rule us. We are not yielding or surrendering its potential usefulness to our class enemies.

The constitutional weapon is condemned because the class that controls it use it in their own interest. Thus the blame is placed on the weapon, when we should rather be blaming ourselves for not organising to control it, and instead, leaving it in the possession of our class enemies. The State machine that enables a class to rule is clearly an instrument of repression, and must be subverted before the oppressed class can be free.

Another analogy would be a bad tradesman blaming his tools.

The political machine has never helped the working class because they have never controlled and used it; they have never been conscious of the necessity.

Critics of the SPGB believe our concept of a revolutionary working-class party, politically organised, is impossible, purposely ignoring the wide difference that exists between the Socialist Party and other organisations. We, in the SPGB, await our anti-parliamentarian critics to demonstrate how, without political organisation of the workers, the machinery of government can be captured and rendered ineffective.

There is no doubt that capitalist politicians will exercise all their cunning against the working class party as it advances, the wiles of the politicians will become more subtle, but the Socialist Party is proof against every form of trickery. It carries on the work of organisation openly, free from the suspicion of undemocratic practices.

Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life, By Jonathan Sperber
"Marx vigorously endorsed campaigns for a more democratic franchise, in the hope of increasing worker' parliamentary representation. He was particularly proud of the prominent role of the English leaders of the IWMA in the newly founded Reform League that advocated universal manhood suffrage for Great Britain..."

On the IWMA executive the Reform League, was represented by Dell, Cowell Stepney and Lucraft, all three are also on the Executive Committee of the Reform League Also, the National Reform Association, set up by the late Bronterre O'Brien, by its President A. A. Walton and Milner.

" In the spring of 1865 the Central (General) Council of the International initiated, and participated in, the setting up of a Reform League in London as a political centre of the mass movement for the second election reform. The League’s leading bodies – the Council and Executive Committee – included the General Council members, mainly trade union leaders. The League’s programme was drafted under Marx’s influence. Unlike the bourgeois parties, which confined their demands to household suffrage, the League advanced the demand for manhood suffrage. This revived Chartist slogan won it the support of the trade unions, hitherto indifferent to politics. The League had branches in all big industrial cities. The vacillations of the radicals in its leadership, however, and the conciliation of the trade union leaders prevented the League from following the line charted by. the General Council of the International. The British bourgeoisie succeeded in splitting the movement, and a moderate reform was carried out in 1867 which granted franchise only. to the petty bourgeoisie and the upper layers of the working class."

https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/iwma/archive/eichhoff/iwma-history/notes.htm#n418

And yes he was disappointed by the weakness of the reforms of 1867. But i have already stated that once the working class had the majority vote in elections, the SPGB did not campaign for its extension to everybody. As i keep saying - we are not obsessed by numbers.

I await your response to an earlier question...Can you demonstrate your own organisation's approach as being any more successful than the SPGB's?

Noa Rodman
Offline
Joined: 4-11-09
Nov 12 2017 12:01

Entering into comparisons with other (non-parliamentary) organisations is besides the point. I don't mean to single out the SPGB for criticism of electoral participation, nor did I intend to imply its numerical size is the key criteria for success in revolutionary politics. It is just a general observation (made e.g. by Bernstein in the pre-WWI SPD) that for electoral parties outside election periods, their internal party life (and consciousness among the members) is almost non-existent.

ajjohnstone
Offline
Joined: 20-04-08
Nov 13 2017 02:12
Quote:
Entering into comparisons with other (non-parliamentary) organisations is besides the point.

I didn't mean it to be a contest as who can piss the higher.

I can fully accept that the SPGB has not got all the answers for every situation and i judge that others on the "thin red line" also cannot supply solutions, either. Our lack of numbers reflect something deeper, a more fundamental malaise

The fact is that our respective traditions are on the decline and we should all be asking ourselves why that is. Neither the SPGB-style of political action or anti-parliamentarianism is resonating with our fellow workers. The syndicalists and industrial unionists of SolFed and IWW are not achieving any real measure of success, either. That was what i was really getting at when i raise my question about member strengths and the impact of our activities.

I keep trying within my party to raise the issue as a priority. I am sure there are many in the anarchist/councilist/left communist groups that also recognise that we have a problem in recruitment.

We simply all have failed to make ourselves heard while the nationalists, the religious extremists, the racists are growing in strength globally. The opposition to those are turning out to be the usual liberal bourgeois reformers offering tried and tested and always found to have failed remedies from the past, re-branded as somehow new with re-vamped language to make it sound novel.

As for a personal observation, i think the SPGB always held the German SPD as a model, hence its early pamphlets were translations of Kautsky.

In a way, i think the representation is accurate. Ignore the reformism and we have in the SPD a class political party with hundreds of newspapers and journals, wide-ranging expressions of cultural life in the arts, sport and pastimes. The Party encompassed the whole of the working class across all its elements. The social life of the working class was enriched via the Party. Being a party member was an educational experience and gave the Gramsci hegemony analysis the organisation that did challenge the prevailing dominance of the capitalist ideas in all areas of or lives. In recent years i note when trade union branch concentrate on the welfare of the members, it too benefits from increased unity.

I think it is a fraternal bond that has helped the SPGB (and others) to go on existing. (One time it was also family links but i think these have dwindle and nearly disappeared)

But if a species does not reproduce, it reaches an extinction point where those still members cannot carry out its functions and maintain a healthy life. Participation and involvement die off. We have the ILP and the SLP as examples of the disappearance of prominent political parties becoming defunct. Once the SPGB treasury is drained of its funding of a head office and monthly magazine, it will not suffice to substitute for few members.

I'm well known in the SPGB for my doom and gloom prognosis for its future...and by extension, my pessimism does not stop at just my own organisation. I cannot hep but regret the divisions with in the IWA or the Bookfair as also being symptomatic of a downward trend, at a time in the world when our understanding of Marxism and social evolution should tell us we should be experiencing great growth.

I am also seen as someone who wishes us to re-define what we intend by our hostility clause. I think there has been a sea-change in or attitudes over the last couple of decades to other organisations but sometimes i wonder if a reciprocal rapprochement has developed. It is why i have an instinctive urge to defend my party from what i think is unfair criticism that does not take into account the very nuanced conclusions we have made over the past century. I make no apology for the repetitiveness of what i keep posting...but sometimes my tone should be softened.

There is a place in proletarian politics for a party such as ours that engages in elections. Is it the only weapon or tool?..of course not. But it would be a more effective one if it had more support from the adherents of "the thin red line" and less deriding and derision from them when it does take part in elections.

ajjohnstone
Offline
Joined: 20-04-08
Nov 13 2017 02:31

Oh i should add that I have a fondness for old Solidarity's principle

Quote:
7. Meaningful action, for revolutionaries, is whatever increases the confidence, the autonomy, the initiative, the participation, the solidarity, the equalitarian tendencies and the self -activity of the masses and whatever assists in their demystification. Sterile and harmful action is whatever reinforces the passivity of the masses, their apathy, their cynicism, their differentiation through hierarchy, their alienation, their reliance on others to do things for them and the degree to which they can, therefore, be manipulated by others - even by those allegedly acting on their behalf.

Now, for those following this thread, they must decide if the SPGB is actually harming the working class or, to the contrary, by its practice acting beneficial to working class confidence in the manner it organises itself and the way it conducts its activities.

Is the SPGB anti-working class...anti-socialist...anti-revolutionary?

Jacob Richter
Offline
Joined: 13-07-08
Nov 13 2017 03:12
Noa Rodman wrote:
Quote:
You'll find out in early March 2019, that tragic centenary - if you haven't found out already by my previous posts on the subject (here, on RevLeft, and maybe RevForum, too).

You often wrote how peasants' vote counted for less than workers' in the soviets, but I have no idea about your view on how "majority proletarian support" was apparently lost already by March 1918. Perhaps you just misspoke I thought, but if not, I'm sure you are allowed here to link to a revleft thread once.

I made a typo in the post you quoted. I meant "you'll find out in early March 2018," not 2019.

Unequal suffrage yields a very different lesson for revolutionary Marxists. I'll touch on that next year, too.

Noa Rodman
Offline
Joined: 4-11-09
Nov 13 2017 09:21
ajjohnstone wrote:
Ignore the reformism and we have in the SPD a class political party with hundreds of newspapers and journals, wide-ranging expressions of cultural life in the arts, sport and pastimes. The Party encompassed the whole of the working class across all its elements. The social life of the working class was enriched via the Party. Being a party member was an educational experience and gave the Gramsci hegemony analysis the organisation that did challenge the prevailing dominance of the capitalist ideas in all areas of or lives. In recent years i note when trade union branch concentrate on the welfare of the members, it too benefits from increased unity.

Is this relevant to the party's electoral campaigns, our point at issue? If it was just FYI, okay.

Jacob Richter wrote:
Unequal suffrage yields a very different lesson for revolutionary Marxists. I'll touch on that next year, too.

So you're making some different claim, the reasoning for which you expect me to be familiar with based on your previous posts at revleft, yet do not link to it (let along provide a direct answer, how silly of me to expect that on a discussion forum).

hierarchy is chaos
Offline
Joined: 12-11-17
Nov 19 2017 14:31

Few random comments.

In Leninst theory pre the revolution, the transitional state was described in terms of a hollowed out structure in which much of the functions had been taken over by popular organisational forms, eg. people's militias substituting for the regular army, factory committees substituting for private and state control, and so forth. The state was supposed to 'wither away' because there wasn't supposed to be much of it left to begin with. This seems to have been the approach that some such as Victor Serge found seductive enough to support at the expense of their former anarchist convictions.

In practise of course the Bolsheviks centralised everything at the first opportunity they could, Trotsky reorganised the regular army, threw in some political commisars and stuck the label 'Red' on it, and so on. Even at their own former ideological formulations it was a stretch; they just did whatever the fuck they wanted and called it socialism. The factory committees were dismantled, state capitalism reintroduced, cream of the revolution butchered, was all for the greater good.

As for historical materialism, Silvia Federici's work on the European Witch Hunts absolutely annihilates the vulgarism that economic development was the result of rational forces overcoming the bounds of feudalism, a mythology that liberal political economy and the communist manifesto share in common. All the talk about 'bursting asunder' of fetters on progress is ahistorical noise; the only thing that was burst asunder between the end of the middle ages and the early modern period were the peasant rebellions resisting the imposition of class power.