What is the day-to-day work of SPGB militants?

31 posts / 0 new
Last post
LeninistGirl's picture
LeninistGirl
Offline
Joined: 27-04-18
Oct 18 2019 13:48
What is the day-to-day work of SPGB militants?

After seeing the SPGB-twitter go on about the failed XR-stunt I became more curious about what it is that SPGB militants strive to actually do in the day-to-day struggle. Tweets like this make me curious the most,

I've tried reading documents on the website but it has not made me any wiser except on what the historical analysis of SPGB is. This quote from another libcom thread also made me somewhat confused,

Quote:
For the typical Left party, all activity should be mediated by the Party (union activity, neighbourhood community struggles or whatever) , whereas for us, the Party is just one mode of activity available to the working class to use in their struggles. We are blamed for no entryism/intervening in workers struggles and trying to dominate the unions. But our position is that shared by the IWW when they decided unions should not be used as vehicles for political parties and decided upon no political party manipulations of workers self-organisation. Very authoritarian of us not to impose our political programme on the unions as many would like to.

What is the mode of activity of the Party? Do militants in the SPGB take part of labor union struggles but keep it separate from the Party? Does workplace struggle have a part in the "ballot box" strategy? Does the SPGB do "election campaigns" during elections?

ajjohnstone
Offline
Joined: 20-04-08
Oct 18 2019 21:15

What is the mode of activity of the Party?

Mostly educational and agitational in the sense that the task of socialists is to make more socialists. How that will change when we become a mass class party is something that can only be speculated about at this moment in time.

Do militants in the SPGB take part of labor union struggles but keep it separate from the Party?

That is exactly the attitude, and it applies to those of us also active in community struggles, as well. Over the decades many SPGBers have been involved in trade union struggles, and even the creation of new unions, but they do so as individuals. The Party reflect the IWW principle where unions are independent of political parties as unions to be effective against employers bring together workers with diverse political views while the SPGB insists that socialist party is not a broad church.

Our companion party in Canada, many members were instrumental in creating the One Big Union but the Socialist Party of Canada remained separate. There was no question of affiliation.

Does workplace struggle have a part in the "ballot box" strategy?

Economic action Versus political action has been a debate the Party has had since its foundation since 1904. All manner of groups and parties have challenged the SPGB on its insistence that capturing the State is the primary aim. Some parties have been hybrids such as the now defunct De Leon's SLP. Some organisations distance themselves from any political objectives entirely.

Does the SPGB do "election campaigns" during elections?

We contest a couple of token constituencies such as Vauxhall since our HO is situated within it and others in the SE and S Wales and have concentrated on those on a number of elections, both in general, Euro, and local. It has been a fairly targeted electoral strategy. So people have been leafleted several times over recent years. Although hustings are now poorly attended, they are a means where the local press report our existence and a brief summary of our political positions. It hopefully creates a certain level of name recognition.

I thought the extract you quoted is fairly succinct. Unlike many on the Left, we have no aspirations to manipulate the unions into taking various political positions most of its members are not necessarily willing to take. I've witnessed myself (and I am sure many here have, too)SPEW members pushing one candidate for a union position and SWP promoting another for their own partisan motives. Our only intervention is advisory in that unions must run on sound lines such as democratic procedures. Something we also apply to other social movements.

darren p's picture
darren p
Offline
Joined: 5-07-06
Oct 18 2019 17:28

I doubt many SPGB'rs would refer to themselves as "militants" either.

Spikymike
Offline
Joined: 6-01-07
Oct 19 2019 12:52

The spgb is unable to distinguish acting collectively to influence working class action within capitalism consistent with it's socialist politics (as in the referred workplace and community) from typical vanguardist manipulation of existing trade union and campaign organisations that it rightly rejects. So for example (as ajj indicates) even active involvement with say the IWW or some other workplace strategy is also just a matter for individual members rather than collective discussion and resolution. As far as the class struggle is concerned the economic and the political for the spgb remain in separate compartments. Efforts have been made in it's past to try and move beyond this self-imposed restriction but without any sustained progress.
And it seems that many of their members take little part in their own organisations activities let alone those of the rest of their fellow workers.

ajjohnstone
Offline
Joined: 20-04-08
Oct 20 2019 03:55

When resisting the effects of austerity government policies, the SPGB does make a clear distinction between individuals acting to defend their immediate interests and the actual solution to these attacks on working conditions and standards of living - the reality that the working class can only try to minimize the pain, not cure it.

Many are acquainted with the our opposition to reformism, seeking pollical remedies for social ills. But at the same time acknowledging that certain reforms can be beneficial. We won't cut off our nose to spite our face.

What the issue for non-SPGBers is that the Party as a whole will not campaign for specific palliatives or amelioration and "delegates" or "seconds" this task to those who are directly impacted or seek to be involved in particular movements as being probably the best qualified to achieve them and the participation of a socialist organization with aims and goals that go much further may well be a hinderance in recruiting support and sympathisers to any action for reforms. So we stand aside and let those who are going to dedicate their time and energy to get on with it.

Our duty is keep indicating the limitations of any reform in the betterment of the working class generally and globally. We are a class party not one that pushes for sectional advantages such as a trade union or groups striving to end its own hardships.

I was once told many years ago, that socialism is the science of generalization, and I think it also bases its practice upon generalizing the class struggle. It seems now we are all involved in accepting that the Revolution might not be centred on the industrial front of the extraction of surplus vale and what not but now upon the environment and those eco-activists who surely must come to the conclusion eventually that their demands upon government for action cannot be met because of the imperatives of the profit system.

As I hinted at when (okay, a big IF) the SPGB becomes a mass Socialist Party encompassing a significant number of the working class then I believe Spikeymike's observation about this separation of between individual members and the Party's role overall will be subject to adaptation, to become the best fit. For now the primary purpose of the SPGB is to grow. It is doubtful that any Party involvement in grassroots struggles will result in any difference in the rate of recruitment. It hasn't worked that well for those groups here on the Libcom forum who too are suffering a problem of lack of members and an absence of influence within the broader workers movement.

To the dismay of my comrades and some here who possess their own version of the SPGB's hostility clause, I frequently propose a coming together to what John Crump called the Thin Red Line - but it takes two to tango and a real shift in the positions of all those who are part of it. This can only be done by debate and discussion conducted as comrades and not adversaries. The SPGB moves at a glacial pace but move it does. Our critics can determine the speed by their own willingness to re-shape their own politics by finding that common ground which so often eludes us all. As any mediator would say, getting the first physical meeting is the first step in progress to actual talking.

As Spikey correctly assessed the SPGB level of activity has dropped but I note from my first arrival on this forum, it too is none too healthy when it comes to exchanges and engagement. I detect a similar malaise. I'm not acquainted with the recent developments, but can it be truthfully said that the anarchist/Left Communist community is thriving? Or is the same with ourselves, the burden being placed upon the backs of the usual stalwarts and a severe lack of new activists to lighten the load? It seems very much as if it is the back and forth journeys of the same fellow-travelers rather than the infusion of new blood.

darren p's picture
darren p
Offline
Joined: 5-07-06
Oct 20 2019 08:23
ajjohnstone wrote:
I was once told many years ago, that socialism is the science of generalization

What does that mean?

R Totale's picture
R Totale
Offline
Joined: 15-02-18
Oct 20 2019 09:36

The OP may find these critiques useful and/or interesting: Socialist Substandard: 100 years of the socialist party of 1904 - Paul Petard

Monument or movement?

As regards AJJ's post above, I don't really have any hostility to the SPGB and am happy enough to chat with them if I get someone offering me a leaflet, but I think there's a bit of a contradiction between "I frequently propose a coming together to what John Crump called the Thin Red Line" and "the primary purpose of the SPGB is to grow [rather than] involvement in grassroots struggles".

Spikymike
Offline
Joined: 6-01-07
Oct 20 2019 09:37

Part (only) of the criticism of the vanguardist approach to the class struggle in the 'workplace and community' shared by many across the 'thin red line' is precisely that it prioritises recruitment to the particular small political groups involved rather than the broader aim of defending or advancing the class struggle as a material force. I mention this only in reference to ajj's alluding to an assumed failure to recruit members to our own varied groups from such activities. Actually such recruitment goes up and down mostly in relation to the extent and depth of the class struggle as a whole, although it's true that at present our tiny groups get overexcited in their claims of growth ( especially in relation to competition with each other) from largely insignificant figures. Web Forum activity in itself mind is no real indication of overall activity levels anyway.

ajjohnstone
Offline
Joined: 20-04-08
Oct 20 2019 11:16

Darren, the way I took it to mean was that Marxism lays out broad outlines in its theory, not laying down specifics. We are not in the business of deterministic predictions nor advancing one rule to fit all but accept the diversity of options and strategies depending on situation and circumstances. That doesn't mean with discard principles for temporary tactical advantage

What the SPGB does today in the UK is not what other Marxists must do elsewhere under different tradition and conditions. The SPGB's weakness as I see it is that it remains an Edwardian-era Euro-centric party. Its approach does not resonate with workers elsewhere who have had different histories and different experiences. We cannot be a Universal Socialist Party although our aim is to be a World Socialist Movement

Totale, I think you misunderstand what I am getting at. At this level of SPGB organization, 100 out of 300 active members (and that is an over-estimate) involving ourselves in what some describe as interventions will not be fruitful way of increasing numbers. It would be a token gesture when you consider the actual concrete realities.

But nor is our theory dependent on any one plus one arithmetical incremental view of socialist consciousness growth. We still hold to the Marxist idea that workers' own experience, singly and collectively, draws them towards socialist conclusions. Whether they choose to organize for change with ourselves or accept the claims of the Left as the answer is the battle of ideas, the ideological war, we engage in, in addition to the one we wage against the overtly pro-capitalist ideologues.

Again, Spikey brings up a relevant point.
"...recruitment goes up and down mostly in relation to the extent and depth of the class struggle as a whole..."

As someone who came into the socialist movement in the 70s and those who arrived earlier in the 60s, there was a cultural and political evolution that we were all part of, a popular optimism. We were a reflection of it. (Until the day I discovered that Tory supporters also smoked dope)

But as I suggested, sometimes struggle transforms into something very different that what we anticipated or expected. I refer to the emergence of the environmentalist movement demanding social and society change rather than the industrial based conflicts we envisaged being the motor of change in the past.

Perhaps he is right that forum participation is no gauge of strength or influence but overall presence on the internet and social media is the best thermometer we do possess right now.

I shall remind the OP my views are my own interpretation of events and I do not speak for the SPGB. In fact, many would disagree with me which disproves that we are all clones of one another, following a Party line

BigFluffyTail
Offline
Joined: 23-08-17
Oct 22 2019 07:44

The discussion seems to have taken off with the question of party activity so I'm sorry for re-centering it on the tweets at the beginning of LeninistGirl's post but I feel I have to address this because stuff like "Destructive capitalism would not exist without the working class voting for its continuation" sounds really odd to me. I already gave my thoughts on twitter but that platform is limited and hostile to any discussion so it's best I reformulate here.

The SPGB seem to believe that a revolution is possible only after a majority of the working class become convinced socialists. Hence the tweets on workers voting for capitalism (this wasn't the first time). I take issue with the view expressed. Paul Mattick sums the situation up neatly in Marxism - Last Refuge of the Bourgeoisie ? :

Quote:
The ruling class has all the advantage, since with the means of production and the forces of the state it controls instrumentalities for the perpetuation and dissemination of its own ideology. As this condition persists until the actual overthrow of a given social system, revolutions must take place with insufficient ideological preparation. In short, the counter-ideology can triumph only through a revolution that plays the means of production and political power into the hands of the revolutionaries. Until then, revolutionary class consciousness will always be less effective than the ruling ideology.

I also think the SPGB's parliamentarism affects their understanding of the working class. What of the underage, homeless and immigrant workers? They can't vote. Is capitalism their fault too? In their propaganda the SPGB will shift from saying the working class is 75% of the population, to 90% and I also saw a 99% (yes, that slogan). It seems to depend upon the weather (or perhaps electoral season). I'm in fact amazed that the British population can undergo such drastic changes in its class configuration in such a short period of time without anybody noticing. It's obvious this view stems from a need to mitigate criticism that parliamentarism is interclassist. If 99% of voters are working class, it's almost as if the UK parliament is actually one big workers' council.

The most alarming thing I saw in SPGB propaganda is the following from their twitter (they were replying to some sort of Maoist I believe):

Quote:
The military and the police are working class organisations. When there is substantial support against capitalism, and for socialism, do you think those working for the state machine will happily use violence against people who will be family members, relatives and friends?

First of all, whoever was in control of the account at the time seems to ignore the common and well known police tactic of having police from city/region A repress protests and such in city/region B and police from B repress in A. This ignorance might be a consequence of the lack of activity described in the comments above. I would also like to point out that "the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes". The Paris Commune showed the way by suppressing the police and the standing army of the bourgeois State. It's really a shame, apart from this the SPGB seem to understand Marx well. Especially when it comes to understanding capitalism and thus communism (or rather, what it is not).

ajjohnstone
Offline
Joined: 20-04-08
Oct 22 2019 09:12

"What of the underage, homeless and immigrant workers? They can't vote."

As you point out. the franchise, even when considered "universal", always excludes large sectors of our class. However, it was also very obvious to the SPGB.

After all, the SPGB was founded and developed their principles in 1904 - long before women and almost a fifth of males had been given the vote.

The vote was seen as a tool for emancipation and soon as the working class had the vote in enough numbers to take political control then it was viewed as sufficient.

"The SPGB seem to believe that a revolution is possible only after a majority of the working class become convinced socialists"

What is a majority is subject to internal debate within the SPGB. Many of us do not hold that it is an arithmetical majority. Our emphasis on being a majoritarian party is a reaction to those vanguard parties who are devoted to minority action by professional revolutionary cadres in control.

Our pamphlet explained that when

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

https://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/pamphlet/whats-wrong-with-using-parl...

What matters is that we should hold the support of a "functional" majority

We should also allow for the large possibility that any transition will not be that orderly - by the time we have succeeded there will be no need for such a ballot because the outcome will be obvious and have been the result of class warfare. It is essential for the revolutionary process that this majority is suffice to make socialism work as a system of society and the deciding factor on the 'majority' is going to be how many of the population will be willing to make socialism actually work.

Today XR base their actions on 3.5% being enough to change a system. I'm not so sure but I do think that in all previous social revolutions it may be about 30% participants.

Regard our attitude to workers in uniform, I think it is incumbent as the author of the latest article on the topic to defend that position

https://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/socialist-standard/2010s/2019/no-138...

Certainly the working class is not a homogenise mass and that isn't limited to just those possessing conservative right-wing politics in the police, army or prison service.

I appreciate the ruling class is not dumb. When Beijing garrison showed a reluctance to put down the Tiananmen Sq. protests, the authorities deployed non-Han, non-Chinese-speaking provincial troops, in effect foreign troops, to suppress it. In our own history there is a myth that the 1919 Glasgow George Sq riot English troops was used as local garrison troops were prone to being subverted. It isn't true. Local Scots regiments patrolled the streets.

The 2002 coup against Chavez failed because people were prepared to take to the streets to back up their vote and because the bulk of the armed forces remained loyal to the constitution and the constitutionally-elected president.

When the time comes, the scenario of the military and police being turned loose on the workers doesn't stand up, at least in many of the developed nations, since they too would be influenced by socialist ideas, just as civil servants and administrators and all who work within the state-machine will adopt socialist views.

We are engaged in a battle of ideas and as you say, the ruling class are holding all the best cards. Marx after all declared that the ruling ideology to be that of the ruling class. Our task is even more difficult since we ourselves are divided and in an ideological war with one another.

The ruling class are also in possession of the media. But we now witness the rise of the social media, something they are still striving to control - see how Hong Kong protesters and many others around the world are circumventing attempts to contain it.

As Victor Hugo says “No force on earth can stop an idea whose time has come”

Before I ramble on any more you cite Mattick approvingly. I think his reliance on the theory of the declining rate of profit leading to a crisis which sparks a growth in political consciousness rather than socialist education and agitation stems from this position of his:


Quote:
“There is no evidence that the last hundred years of labour strife have led to the revolutionizing of the working class in the sense of a growing willingness to do away with the capitalist system…In times of depression no less in than these of prosperity , the continuing confrontations of labor and capital have led not to an political radicalization of the working class , but to an intensified insistence upon better accommodations within the capitalist system…No matter how much he [the worker] may emancipate himself ideologically, for all practical purposes he must proceed as if he were still under the sway of bourgeois ideology. He may realize that his individual needs can only be assured by collective class actions, but he will still be forced to attend to his immediate needs as an individual. It is this situation, rather than some conditioned inability to transcend capitalism. He may realize that his individual needs can only be assured by collective class actions, but he will still be forced to attend to his immediate needs as an individual. It is this situation, rather than some conditioned inability to transcend capitalist ideology, that makes the workers reluctant to express and to act upon their anti- capitalist attitudes ”

Marxism, Last Refuge of the Bourgeoisie

alb
Offline
Joined: 28-03-10
Oct 22 2019 10:23

Spikey has understood the SPGB position more or less correctly even though he disagrees with it:

The SPGB. as an organisation, "militates" (if that's the word) only for socialism or, the same thing, communism, (though it also opposes all wars and supports struggles for political democracy where it doesn't exist) and does not get involved, as an organisation, in day-to-day struggles under capitalism.

Individual members, as workers, are inevitably involved in workplace struggles over wages and working conditions and many SPGB members are or have been active trade unionists. But in the existing trade unions -- for which they get stick from ultra-left communists who see these as reformist, even an arm of the capitalist state. There's no pleasing some people.

Spikymike
Offline
Joined: 6-01-07
Oct 22 2019 12:11

Reform movements aimed at establishing or extending political voting rights within capitalism are and should be open to communist criticism whilst encouraging the fullest and open expression of independent working class organisation and struggle. The spgb has had an internally contested, confused and contradictory approach to such movements from it's earliest response to movements for women's and equal suffrage rights in the UK through to the movements in Eastern Europe around the breakup of the old Soviet Union and beyond that reflects it's problem with being only in existence for socialism and nothing else. Percentages are still a big issue for spgb members though they may argue amongst themselves what number would prove to be sufficient for the changes they envisage. and how many countries in the world that would have to involve, with or without assumed control of the relevant state machinery!

ajjohnstone
Offline
Joined: 20-04-08
Oct 22 2019 15:36

Aren't these issue also relevant to either the anarchists or the Left Communists?

Don't they also have theories dependent upon adherence to and the popularity of their views?

However, let us be quite clear. The revolution will not be anarchist if the masses are not anarchist, as unfortunately it is presently the case. Malatesta

These straightforward conditions of production and class relations, apparent to everybody, mean that a small party or its leadership cannot exercise dictatorship here during and after the revolution. The adversary is much too powerful and the proletariat too numerous for that. In Germany, for example, all the capitalist classes are united against communism, which is nevertheless very powerful! And the proletariat makes up at least three-fifths of the population, between thirty and forty millions. A small party or leadership clique cannot rule over this mighty proletariat: neither during nor after the revolution.
Who must rule here, during and after the revolution? Who must exercise dictatorship?
The class itself, the proletariat. At least the great majority of it.
Gorter

The SPGB is "...only in existence for socialism and nothing else..."

While there are plenty of reform organizations that exist for every manner of demand imposed upon capitalism, some which strengthen the capitalist system, some that are unrealizable under capitalism and a few which will be granted since they do not threaten capitalism which can adapt itself.

Of those who claim socialist credentials, just how many actually seek to overthrow the capitalist system and not modify it with some sort of reform? Of those parties who struggled to achieve their reforms, have any progressed to working for socialism?

Has the Labour Party evolved into a revolutionary Party? Have the Trots who seem to have given up any hope of being the vehicle of revolution and have grown into a part of the Labour Party?

Regards our comrades on the Thin Red Line, have they prospered any better than the SPGB?

Something is awry with the libertarian communist tradition and I have no answer why. I can offer no diagnosis but I can present a prognosis...and it is that none of us are in a particularly healthy condition and we are on the decline. We are none the closer to any revolutionary moment recognizable to any of our groups. Occupy was the first signal of our redundancy in organizational structure. Now it is the environmentalist movement that are by-passing us in mobilizing the masses. (i'm purposefully ignoring the rise of the right and nationalist racist movements that too has left us at the starting gates.)

Having been corrected that Einstein never said it, we nevertheless do have the truism that the height of insanity is doing the exact thing and expecting a different outcome...

alb
Offline
Joined: 28-03-10
Oct 22 2019 16:38
Spikymike wrote:
Reform movements aimed at establishing or extending political voting rights within capitalism are and should be open to communist criticism whilst encouraging the fullest and open expression of independent working class organisation and struggle.

Is this "confused and contradictory approach" meant to reflect the other ultra-left view that the vote and the legal right to organise and express views is of no significance to workers and revolutionaries and that there is no difference, as far as workers are concerned, between a fascist state and "bourgeois democracy?

R Totale's picture
R Totale
Offline
Joined: 15-02-18
Oct 22 2019 18:56
ajjohnstone wrote:
Aren't these issue also relevant to either the anarchists or the Left Communists?

Don't they also have theories dependent upon adherence to and the popularity of their views?

...Something is awry with the libertarian communist tradition and I have no answer why. I can offer no diagnosis but I can present a prognosis...and it is that none of us are in a particularly healthy condition and we are on the decline. We are none the closer to any revolutionary moment recognizable to any of our groups. Occupy was the first signal of our redundancy in organizational structure. Now it is the environmentalist movement that are by-passing us in mobilizing the masses. (i'm purposefully ignoring the rise of the right and nationalist racist movements that too has left us at the starting gates.)

Having been corrected that Einstein never said it, we nevertheless do have the truism that the height of insanity is doing the exact thing and expecting a different outcome...

There's the thing: the formal groups that exist to promote communist (or whatever label) ideas are doing badly, but working-class self-activity, while perhaps not being at the highest level it's ever been, is certainly in a much better position. I think the question is less "what happens to the groups that exist today?" and more "what new organisational forms, and indeed theoretical perspectives, will the proletariat create in the course of its struggles tomorrow?"

Spikymike
Offline
Joined: 6-01-07
Oct 23 2019 11:36

alb's ''..other ultra-left view...'' is a strange reduction of different perspectives to a simplified dogma for the purpose of ridicule that I do not recognise. My own views are closer here as previously mentioned on another recent thread to that of Dauve and Troploin and the contradictions I referred to are quite specific and internal to the spgb, but enough on the spgb and it's problems.

ajjohnstone
Offline
Joined: 20-04-08
Oct 23 2019 15:42
Quote:
but enough on the spgb and it's problems.

Just to remind you, Spikey, the topic was not raised by any SPGBer, and my original answer I believe was a fairly accurate response to the actual questions asked about it. Should it have been ignored since it has been discussed so many times before?

My subsequent posts were again in reply to others observations albeit my analysis were more a personal one than a packaged Party answer and as R Totale acknowledged introduced wider aspects that involved more organisations than just the SPGB's limitation, problems that go beyond the SPGB internal debates.

My fear is that the OP has deserted her own topic without offering her own response to what was explained to her.

alb
Offline
Joined: 28-03-10
Oct 23 2019 17:34
Spikymike wrote:
Reform movements aimed at establishing or extending political voting rights within capitalism are and should be open to communist criticism

Ok. But what then is your criticism of such movements?

Spikymike
Offline
Joined: 6-01-07
Oct 24 2019 09:28

alb. Well I gave a clue in my post #17 but I guess maybe alb and I would agree as a starting point that these reform movements for establishing or extending forms of political democracy are not in themselves socialist or communist in content? But beyond that we would have to consider which movements in which places and period of history to examine our different approaches, and this then delves into the whole issue of what we consider the relationship between 'democracy' and class struggle and indeed communism or the process of communisation. So then as in previous extensive discussions on ' workers councils or parliament' and the murky world of 'fascism and anti-fascism'. 'Criticism' may imply support, opposition or neither in each case. Don't think this is the place for that really.

LeninistGirl's picture
LeninistGirl
Offline
Joined: 27-04-18
Oct 24 2019 18:46
Quote:
My fear is that the OP has deserted her own topic without offering her own response to what was explained to her.

I am still reading the responses but haven't managed for formulate any real response.

I do agree with the stance on unions in so far as I don't think one should push political lines onto it. Though I think it gets a bit more muddled when trade unions already take political lines themselves and to some degree one might have to try and go against the social-democratic hegemony. Like how does one push for politics that strengthen the positions of the working-class and not the "economic democracy" that unions(in Sweden) push for that makes workers more responsible for upholding profits and peace on the labor market in general. In my organisation, which is neither libertarian communist nor left-communist(also not "stalinist") there is no real stance on what the strategy is in regards to trade unions, though I am trying to push for more concrete politics on it. My own stance is that militants of our organisation should primarily act as "support" in workplaces, a lot of local trade unionists have from my experience don't know how to really "run" a democratic organisation or how to get people to attend meetings. Which is where people with a routine of organizing can play an important role in helping. It was not addressed in your comment but I also reject the idea that socialists should try and grab important positions in trade unions as a way to change it, which some people seem to hold. Most often the ability to do anything from the positions is very limited and often ends up with the socialist becoming a run of the mill labor bureaucrat.

One thing I do miss in the left, that was a larger thing back in the 70's, is that there were larger debates on what the socialists should be in the trade unions, and in general that one had actually had debates. Groups like Förbundet Kommunist(splinter from the euro-communist party's youth league that went from quasi-council communist to "orthodox leninist" with connections to Avanguardia Operaia and then dissolved into the environmentalist movement) hosted group debates between trade union activists, both communist and non-communists on the reforms that have been won and what the path ahead is.

I disagree on the relation between the political and the economical though. I think having a political party is important but I think the party should be a worker's party, and such a party can only come about if there is a strong base at workplaces. Furthermore, struggles for democratic rights, such as universal suffrage, was fought for through the "combination" of both, the political mass strike.

The Gorter quote is interesting though I do think it is very reminiscent of the old social-democratic party-form, i.e "parties of the whole class". But I think that ties more into the relation between economic and political organizing again, you can't really build this mass party if there is no strong organisation in the broader working-class. Social-democracy grew to the seizes it did because it 1) had strong "economic" organisations, 2) it had a well organized parliamentary fraction and 3) had a very strong focus on political education. Pannekoek wrote this in The Social Democratic Party School in Berlin,

Quote:
It is easy to see, therefore, why those words of Engels, in which he exalted the German workingman’s ability to use and understand theories, are no longer true, no longer hold good. There was no time for theories — practical work absorbed all their strength. But little by little it began to be apparent that even for practical work, this state of things was dangerous. We make use of the theories of socialism not alone to argue with the bourgeois parties, but also in order to correctly determine our own tactics. We must clearly understand the nature of capitalism not simply to incite the workingmen to fight against it, but also to find out for ourselves the best method of fighting it. Wherever this knowledge is lacking, tactics will be governed by established tradition or by superficial empirics. Only the present, the immediate, will be taken into account, appearances will deceive, and deep-lying cohesiveness will be lost sight of.

[...]

Everywhere committees are springing up, mostly from unions and party branches, whose object is to provide lectures, courses and lessons for the workingmen. Interest in theory, in the theoretical question is awaking everywhere; libraries are being founded and lecturers provided. In this way the German working class is preparing itself for the hard battle of the future; and the hardest task it will have to accomplish, is to be well armed.

In this sense I think SPGB, and most other organisations in general, are very limited.

Quote:
There's the thing: the formal groups that exist to promote communist (or whatever label) ideas are doing badly, but working-class self-activity, while perhaps not being at the highest level it's ever been, is certainly in a much better position.

I think this has most often been the core of the problem for socialist groups. This is the main issue for Lenin in What is to be done?: the struggle of the workers is developing, they are going out in larger and more well organized strikes, putting forward lists of demands, at the same time the socialists are not well organized enough to help develop the struggle further, they are either rejected or swept up into "economism". Trotsky posits the same in his writings on the transitional program: the workers are going out in sit-in strikes while the "official" communist parties are too focused on entering into popular fronts and the old worker's parties are trying to rein the workers in. Today we face the same problem: insurrections and strikes are happening more and more in both the center and periphery of capitalism while most communist groups are stuck in a sect-form unable to productively engage with the workers.

ajjohnstone
Offline
Joined: 20-04-08
Oct 24 2019 23:48

I'm glad you are still with us Leninist Girl

Quote:
Today we face the same problem: insurrections and strikes are happening more and more in both the center and periphery of capitalism while most communist groups are stuck in a sect-form unable to productively engage with the workers.

As it always has been, sadly. But the process is a two-way one. Socialists can take workers to the water but cannot make them drink, and the reformist solution of adding more water to the trough also has not gotten them to drink.

Its has been an eternal debate about how we progress towards a mass party. It engaged the thoughts of both Marx and Engels and every socialist.

We have had basically two models. The Social Democratic and the Bolshevik. Neither involved the self-emancipation which we consider essential for an authentic socialist revolution and both eventually resulted in failure.

We look around the contemporary world and we see a promising development. The ecology movement emerging as a prominent political force. We can perhaps approve of their organizational style, a sort of Occupy non-leadership non-party framework - but the lack of structure can be its flaw. Its rise demonstrates that consciousness is based on their perception of the realities of the world. From ineffectual road-protest eco-warriors to a massive campaign across the globe where they are consciously challenging the power of the State such as XR direct action.

But our issue is , are they challenging the power of capitalism? Certainly some of the demands of Thunberg and XR cannot be reconcilable with the basic laws of capitalist economics. Their hopes are not compatible with capitalism. But from my view of someone outside the movement looking in, those who are participating in the Friday for Climate strikes and XR protests don't fully appreciate this contradiction in demanding their reforms from governments, albeit a small number of eco-socialists do make reference to Marxist analyses but in the end, their policy appears to be merely more radical wish-list of reforms as an immediate transitional programme (a la Trotskyism) instead of placing socialism itself as the primary objective and the only solution to the climate change problem.

I have myself been wondering where all this puts the traditional Marxist socialist idea of the economic struggle when it comes to founding a new society. Certainly the Green New Deal appeals to trade unions and workers with policies of full employment but still within the confines of capitalism. But those striking school students, those eco-activists glueing themselves to doors care little of the class struggle.

Their struggle is entirely different basis but it seems it must lead to the same conclusion - capitalism cannot deliver a permanent solution. So is this the end of building our revolutionary hopes on the realization of the economic class struggle and the primacy of the class politics in the sense of working class in the unions or workers councils, which simply no longer relate or resonate with those out on the streets denying the legitimacy of the State over the environment ( a bit of exaggeration there I know for they are still calling for the State to intervene) Their case is a worldwide one, no longer can answers be found within context of the national State.

I think I have gone far beyond the scope of Leninist Girl's question but I think it may touch upon why we and not just the SPGB are still on the far fringes of relevance for many people, something that people here can add to and perhaps by a synthesis and the coalescence of opinion and views, we might reach better cooperation regards addressing what is the biggest political movement I have seen being developed, and unlike one-off one issues like the Iraq war, climate change isn't going away and the therefore the protests won't be disappearing either. But may well begin to develop into a much more defined anti-capitalist movement as all those young eco-activists become increasing aware of the motor of capitalism is fueled not just by oil and coal,but at its core, by anti-environment capital accumulation, market expansion and the profit system which means governments can only offer the planet palliatives, not cures.

NB once again I have ignored another movement which is gathering strength - the right-wing nationalist movements - which isn't just about white supremacy or Eastern European populism but ethno-religious ideology such as Modi's Hindutva, Islamism, even Buddhist extremism. We need to formulate a strategy to counteract those negative ideas that are spreading globally.

Apologies for this off-topic and a bit muddled ramble but hopefully it serves Spikey's wish that the debate goes beyond the SPGB internal discussions and encompasses the concerns of all the Thin Red Line.

alb
Offline
Joined: 28-03-10
Oct 25 2019 18:15
Spikymike wrote:
I guess maybe alb and I would agree as a starting point that these reform movements for establishing or extending forms of political democracy are not in themselves socialist or communist in content?

Agreed.

Spikymike wrote:
But beyond that we would have to consider which movements in which places and period of history to examine our different approaches,

Agreed too. Which brings us back to something you raised earlier: your criticism of the position that the SPGB took up towards the Suffragettes as confused and contradictory. The Suffragettes were campaigning for votes for women on the same terms as then obtained for men, a limited franchise which left about one-third of men without the vote; their demand would have left most women still without the vote and increased the proportion of capitalist voters compared with worker votes. So the SPGB was quite consistent in opposing the Suffragettes campaign as one of "Votes for Ladies". What attitude are you saying that socialists/communists should have taken?

Meanwhile in Germany ,Rosa Luxemburg and Anton Pannekoek were arguing for a militant campaign in Prussia to remove the rich having multiple votes. Again, what are you saying they should have done? Were they right or wrong?

Spikymike
Offline
Joined: 6-01-07
Oct 26 2019 14:39

alb. Ok this is stuck on spgb problems so just on that first part of alb's question I think much of the spgb's criticism of the early Suffragettes politics was right but the spgb on it's own terms might still have taken a more robust campaigning approach to other equal suffrage arguments if it wasn't stuck so rigidly on the voting percentages issue taking into account all the other factors making an existing majority vote for socialism at that time being such a nonstarter! The various campaigns at that time had significance in terms of peoples changing consciousness beyond the particular legal aspects of the reforms. I may be old but I wasn't around at that time and just considering it in retrospect, so it's only relevant as a pointer if we are considering a critical socialist/communist approach today towards other political voting reform movements in other areas of the world. Of course political reforms such as these can be lost or taken away - advances or declines in the class struggle and levels of socialist/communist awareness are not dependent on the particular form of the capitalist state. I understand Rosa and Anton tended to take on different approaches dependent on the specific conditions and level of class struggle at the time and I'm in no position to say now how useful such a campaign was or wasn't in retrospect, but such campaigns might well in some circumstances be considered as a deter from pursuing independent class struggle. In today's world most capitalist states are formally democratic but still in all relevant respects authoritarian or plain dictatorial as far as any independent class struggle is concerned - but prioritising campaigns for the political reform of such states would seem misplaced from a communist perspective. As alb is aware support for democratic campaigns within capitalism has been a contentious issue from time to time within the spgb itself.

ajjohnstone
Offline
Joined: 20-04-08
Oct 26 2019 21:53
Quote:
Ok this is stuck on spgb problems

Spikey, you might not have noticed but I have tried to open up the discussion to wider issues that involve the attitudes of non-SPGB bodies. Hopefully, Leninist Girl acknowledges the broader context being included in the response to her original query.

This is Libcom, not the SPGB forum where your and ALB's exchanges would be greatly welcome so exchanges should try and involve those other individuals and organisations involved in Libcom. But ALB's and Spikey's exchanges does demonstrate the SPGB positions can initiate debates on deeper differences and of course things where there are no disagreements.

alb
Offline
Joined: 28-03-10
Oct 27 2019 17:40
Spikymike wrote:
I may be old but I wasn't around at that time and just considering it in retrospect, so it's only relevant as a pointer if we are considering a critical socialist/communist approach today towards other political voting reform movements in other areas of the world. Of course political reforms such as these can be lost or taken away - advances or declines in the class struggle and levels of socialist/communist awareness are not dependent on the particular form of the capitalist state. I understand Rosa and Anton tended to take on different approaches dependent on the specific conditions and level of class struggle at the time and I'm in no position to say now how useful such a campaign was or wasn't in retrospect,

That's a bit of a cop-out isn't it? Especially as you presumably feel able to take up a position with regards to events in Germany in 1918 and 1919 to justify your general anti-vote posirion.

Spikymike wrote:
but such campaigns might well in some circumstances be considered as a deter from pursuing independent class struggle. In today's world most capitalist states are formally democratic but still in all relevant respects authoritarian or plain dictatorial as far as any independent class struggle is concerned

Presumably you do remember the collapse of the state-capitalist dictatorships on Russia and Eastern Europe thirty years ago. True, from an economic point of view the situation in the West was the same as there -- with the working class economically exploited via the wages system -- but you can't deny that the coming of some form of limited political democracy there has made it easier to wage both the industrial class struggle and to propagate revolutionary ideas. I know there is another thread running on this issue but I don't think your indifference to the political form of the capitalist state is tenable even from your particular perspective.

Spikymike wrote:
but prioritising campaigns for the political reform of such states would seem misplaced from a communist perspective.

Agreed, but who's talking about "prioritising" them? Obviously, the priority for socialists/communists should be the campaign for socialism/communism, but we can't be indifference or dismissive of campaigns by workers for this.

Spikymike
Offline
Joined: 6-01-07
Oct 27 2019 18:34

alb. We will annoy ajj if we keep this going, but I will just say that the collapse of the old Soviet Eastern block was a result of some inherent features of the form of state capitalism there and the pursuance of the class struggle through a whole range of strikes, occupations, boycotts and other forms in which the campaigns for liberal reforms of the state were secondary (open to manipulation) and whilst not irrelevant were rightly subject to criticism from a communist perspective.

alb
Offline
Joined: 28-03-10
Oct 27 2019 19:29

Fair enough but we are agreed on the aim of a world of common ownership, democratic control, production directly to satisfy people’s needs, and distribution on the principle of ‘from each according to ability, to each according to needs’. After all we both used to speak for this at Hyde Park in the late 60s and early 70s (which no other group then was). Those were the days. What we are discussing here is the best way to get there. Which in the end the working class will decide but — last barb — I can’t see them not using the vote too if only because it’s there.

ajjohnstone
Offline
Joined: 20-04-08
Oct 27 2019 22:54
Quote:
After all we both used to speak for this at Hyde Park in the late 60s and early 70s (which no other group then was). Those were the days. What we are discussing here is the best way to get there.

This conciliatory tone is what is needed to bring the Thin Red Line together and our disagreement imho is not one of principle but of tactics and strategy that is not universal nor applicable to every situation and circumstances. The vote can still be revolutionary.

Quote:
Which in the end the working class will decide but — last barb — I can’t see them not using the vote too if only because it’s there.

ALB is echoing James Connolly's position when the IWW jettisoned its political clause when he said "just try and stop them [from using the vote]"

He later said

Quote:
"I am inclined to ask all and sundry amongst our comrades if there is any necessity for this presumption of antagonism between the industrialist and the political advocate of socialism. I cannot see any. I believe that such supposed necessity only exists in the minds of the mere theorists or doctrinaires. The practical fighter in the work-a-day world makes no such distinction. He fights, and he votes; he votes and he fights. He may not always, he does not always, vote right; nor yet does he always fight when and as he should. But I do not see that his failure to vote right is to be construed into a reason for advising him not to vote at all; nor yet why a failure to strike properly should be used as a gibe at the strike weapon, and a reason for advising him to place his whole reliance upon votes."

Upsurges in class struggle and periods of crisis in capitalism provide a POTENTIAL revolutionary springboard. The contradictions, class relationships and miseries inherent to capitalism inevitably lead the workers to confront capital and when this happens there is, of course the POTENTIAL for revolutionary consciousness to grow through the realisation of class position and the nature of capitalism. As the current recession within capitalism continues, squeezing and stamping down upon the working class ever more relentlessly, alongside the growing realisation of the failure of all forms of running the system; then there is definitely a growing POTENTIAL for the escalation of struggle towards the overthrow of the system. However, how many times has the potential been there in past moments of escalated struggle and capitalist crisis only to disappear or to be channelled into reformist, pro-capitalist directions? Discontent over wages or conditions can be a catalyst for socialist understanding but so can many other things such as concern about the environment or war or bad housing or the just the general culture of capitalism. Our interaction with the world around us is mediated by ideas. How are we supposed to become "revolutionary" without engaging - and eventually agreeing - at some point with the IDEA of what such a revolution would entail.

Workers must acquire the consciousness which can enable them to do the above. This consciousness must comprise, first of all, a knowledge of their class position. They must realise that, while they produce all wealth, their share of it will not, under the present system, be more than sufficient to enable them to reproduce their efficiency as wealth producers. They must realise that also, under the system they will remain subject to all the misery of unemployment, the anxiety of the threat of unemployment, and the deprivations of poverty. They must understand the implications of their position – that the only hope of any real betterment lies in abolishing the social system which reduces them to mere sellers of their labor power, exploited by the capitalists. A class which understands all this is class-conscious. It has only to find the means and methods by which to proceed, in order to become the instrument of revolution and of change. class-consciousness is the breaking-down of all barriers to understanding. Without it, militancy means nothing. The class-conscious worker knows where s/he stands in society. Their interests are opposed at every point to those of the capitalist class. Without that understanding, militancy can mean little. Class-conscious people need no leaders. The SPGB does not minimise the necessity or importance of the workers keeping up the struggle to maintain wage-levels and resisting cuts, etc. If they always yielded to the demands of their exploiters without resistance they would not be worth their salt, nor be fit for waging the class struggle to put an end to exploitation.Class struggle without any clear understanding of where you are going is simply committing oneself to a never-ending treadmill. Many activists still think mechanistically that a sense of revolutionary direction emerges spontaneously out of "the struggle" thus circumventing the realm of ideology - the need to educate. It doesn't is the opinion of the SPGB.

We come to a socialist view of the world by interacting directly or indirectly with others, exchanging ideas with them. And that is perhaps the role of the revolutionary group as being - as a catalyst in the process of changing consciousness. Conversely, socialist consciousness cannot simply rely for its own increase on ideological persuasion. It has to link up with the practical struggle. That last poit in crucial and perhaps the bone of contention between our different groups. Perhaps the SPGB doesn't fully appreciate the nuances of involvement with the reformists. The success of the socialist revolution will depend on the growth of socialist consciousness on a mass scale and that these changed ideas can only develop through a practical movement. Ant here perhaps the SPGB has still got something to learn from others

Spikymike
Offline
Joined: 6-01-07
Oct 28 2019 11:58

So this very short exchange of views fits well with ajj's last contribution illustrating some points of both agreement and disagreement:
https://libcom.org/history/democracy-ballots

ajjohnstone
Offline
Joined: 20-04-08
Oct 29 2019 01:44

An interesting exchange.

I recall the period fairly well. My union branch took part in the Liverpool Dockers marches and when it morphed later into a joint venture with Reclaim The Streets, the branch also participated in the RTS London march. Perhaps, an example of how an simple economic struggle to show solidarity for sacked workers can result in a broader political action.

For sure, "we have debated this issue to the point of mutual exhaustion!" and we are always covering old ground. But perhaps our attitudes and receptiveness to one another's ideas does change.

Or are we just mellowing because of age and advancing years?