There is no escaping it, life is hard for third campists at present.
Whilst the SWP and friends, via RESPECT, attempt to redefine socialism within the politics of petty bourgeois radicalism and religious reaction, others now try and define it in terms of a liberalism compliant with Blairite capitalist renewal.
The Euston Manifesto has recently been launched. It proposes a 'fresh political alignment'... of 'democrats and progressives' reaching ' beyond the socialist Left towards egalitarian liberals and others of unambiguous democratic commitment'. It claims to want 'to draw a line between the forces of the Left that remain true to its authentic values'... but against whom?
After all in the periods of faith schools, accelerated dismantling of the Welfare State, the glorification of capitalist greed and privilege by New Labour, the brutal and arrogant occupations by re-invigorated imperialist powers, the attack on civil rights in Britain; there are a lot of lines to be drawn. But there is only one line to be drawn by the Eustonites, the line against the pro-Islamist left.
Now we at Workers' Liberty are very happy to draw, and redraw, the line against accomodation with political Islam. We draw it in order to help build an independent and internationalist working-class movement, not because we want to give any credence either to what Blair’s government is doing in this country or to what they do with their US right-wing Republicans friends throughout the world.
But the Euston Manifesto is not interested in such delineation. The alignment it seeks is markedly different.
The re-alignment we call for is defined by what the manifesto pointedly does not mention. Class. Working-class struggle. Working-class interests. For the Eustonites, maybe in their younger days, history was the history of class struggle, but today it has become the history of the struggle of "genuine democrats" against... the SWP and its friends!
Having completely dispensed with class as a political criterion - the only glancing reference to class is where "working people" are included as one of various groups deserving better treatment - what do they propose to replace it?
The new credo is entirely in line with one of the Manifesto's authors, Alan Johnson, behaviour in relation to the 25 March "March For Free Expression" against the Islamist attempt to ban mockery or lampooning of religion.
We, the AWL, protested - and demonstrated against the attempted, and de facto, ban, with others such as the Worker-communist Party of Iraq. We did it on an independent working-class basis, not as part of a coalition with strike-breakers, free-marketeers, and British nationalists who promenaded on 25 March.
Alan Johnson first gullibly offered his name to be a "left-wing" buttress and balance to the "right-wing" Freedom Association in the coalition for "freedom of expression" against those who wanted to suppress the Muhammad cartoons. But he then withdrew. But if this is his credo, on what logical basis did he then withdraw? He offered no explanation at the time, and the manifesto does not make it clear either.
The manifesto desires a bloc of "genuine democrats" of all class alignments - and leaving questions of economic organisation aside as something utterly secondary - it also declares: "we pay attention to liberal and conservative voices and ideas if they contribute to strengthening democratic norms and practices and to the battle for human progress".
Now, any scrupulous investigator will "pay attention" to serious right-wing thinking, so either they are issuing an empty manifesto against know-nothingism - i.e. paying no attention to any thinking that clashes with their basic prejudices - or by "pay attention to" they mean something more than that.
Presumably they would say that Peter Risdon, the Freedom Association, etc. are not "genuine democrats", and their call is for "making common cause with genuine democrats, whether socialist or not".
But who are the "genuine democrats"? After 7 July last year, Alan Johnson, speaking in the name of another of their regroupments, Unite Against Terror, hailed Tony Blair as "bloody marvellous". So Blair - anti-union laws, anti-"terror" laws, and all - is a "genuine democrat". Who else?
There is a wide constituency on the left in the UK, understandably repelled by the degeneration of the SWP, and their associated brain-dead ideologues, into apologia for political Islam. The crisis that this has brought on, particularly in the British left, tragic though it is in many ways, is indeed a challenge and throws up opportunities.
But this is a manifesto for leading people away from a working-class-based socialism back towards bourgeois liberalism.
Some of the writers of the Euston Manifesto, notably Alan Johnson and Jane Ashworth, learned their opposition to "reactionary anti-imperialism" from us. That was many years ago. It is as long ago as 1994 that Alan Johnson quit the AWL (to join the SWP! and he has oscillated frequently since then!), and much longer ago that Jane Ashworth and others left us to join the tame-Labourite remnants of the ILP.
But they turned against us in a big way, with heat and vehemence, more recently, in 2004, when they denounced us for not giving critical support to the US/UK occupation of Iraq. They refused to collaborate with us on building towards the launch of Iraq Union Solidarity, and instead launched their own Labour-leadership-loyal outfit, Labour Friends of Iraq, oriented towards the most "moderate" wing of the labour movement in Iraq (IFTU) to the exclusion of other wings (FWCUI, UUI, IFOU).
They exulted that they were now in the big time. Why, New Labour had cited Labour Friends of Iraq as its "website of the week"!
We replied politically, in our pamphlet Solidarity With Iraqi Workers.
And what do we see now? No political reply. But Johnson and Ashworth have quietly quit Labour Friends of Iraq, leaving it to tick over even more quietly.
Why have they quit? Even with their naively over-optimistic faith in Bush and Blair bringing democracy to Iraq, they can hardly believe that the Iraqi unions are in less need of support now than they were in 2005 or 2004.
They have announced no reason. In effect, however, what they have done is shy away from the sharp issue of Iraq - where events have so cruelly confirmed our polemics against them - and retreated to a "blogosphere" of liberal abstractions.
The 'blogosphere', which the statement draws encouragement from, includes many socialists who have already made a semi-withdrawal from active politics into commentary and independent journalism.
A movement, though, cannot be built from web commentaries no matter how witty or scathing. A political movement is built from people organising internationally around their class interests. But the Euston Manifesto does not call for people to organise on the streets against the callous disregard of its own government and for the international class interests of the working class. What does it do?
- It calls, in the abstract, for recognition of labour rights but says nothing about Blair's maintenance of anti-union legislation.
- It condemns tyranny, but only mentions Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and rendition in passing as it defends the US administration from Amnesty International's comparisons of those acts with the human rights violations of the Gulags.
- It defends liberal and pluralist democracies whilst acknowledging their 'deficiencies and shortcomings'. But says nothing about their international role that couldn't be said by most Labour or Liberal MPs. Fair trade, more aid, debt cancellation - good; reform (but only reform?) of the WTO, IMF and World Bank.
- It opposes anti-Americanism without mentioning once the nature of the Bush regime, its economic driving force, its promotion of religious reaction and most notably its foreign policy. It merely mentions, almost painfully, the fact that the US is not a 'model society' and 'has often supported regressive and authoritative governments'. Note the use of the past tense here.
- It condemns racism but doesn't attack the inhuman treatment of asylum seekers by the UK regime.
Whenever and wherever a clear denunciation of the UK and or US government - or, call it by its right name, the capitalist class! - might be called for, the Euston statement backs away.
The Euston statement utilises obvious truths about the stupidity of the SWP-led left, which the AWL has articulated for many years, as a means to make peace with the establishment. It is a latter-day version of the apologies and explanations with which, during the Cold War, socialists used truths about the horrors of Stalinism - including those which some of them had learned from the Trotskyist movement - to rationalise rallying to US-led capitalism.
Euston may be a station to catch fast trains to the North West of the UK but it seems also be a congregation point for former socialists travelling fast to oblivion.
One doesn't support the existence of statified property of the USSR variety. One doesn't support its privatisation either. Neither option is desirable. Neither option is acceptable. One supports the democratic socialisation of property.
In the quote from Engels that you use, Engels is talking about how both the private monopolies and state industries which eventually emerge under capitalism help make planning possible and are, therefore, a harbinger of the planning that will exist in the "invading socialistic society." Note that Engels talks not just about state property providing the material basis for socialism, but private monopoly, also. He emphasizes that statified capital doesn't resolve capitalism's contradictions, but merely creates the "technical conditions" for its abolition. It does not follow that every every push in the direction of state-ownership is good for workers. (Was Japan's nationalisation of private banks in the late 90s in any sense progressive, from a socialist point of view?)
The NHS was the result of a Labour government which, in however reformist and insufficient a fashion, represented the British working class. And the NHS served the needs of workers. Nationalisation in Russia may have initially been the result of a workers' revolution but by the time Stalin and his allies consolidated power, nationalised property had been drained of any inherently proletarian content. Big difference. Hence one could not simply "defend nationalised property" where the USSR was concerned, even less so in Stalinist states which were by no means the result of workers' revolutions (Eastern Europe, China, etc.). The demand "oppose privatisation" HAD to be linked to the demand for real socialism, not just to the acceptance of authoritarian nationalisation as a lesser evil. (I don't know what the AWL said at the time, but this is what I would have said.)
I'm willing to grant that you're more up on the state of the NHS than I am. But most everything that's currently wrong with the NHS could be changed if a genuine socialist government were elected in Britain, yes? I.e. the NHS is reformable. If it's reformable then it still in some sense serves workers, just as bureaucratized-but-reformable unions do. (Yes I realize that the NHS is part of the British bourgeois state and the unions aren't, but again, the NHS was the result of an admittedly-reformist workers' party forming a government in Britain.)
Obviously all socialists oppose privatisation and unemployment in Russia, or anywhere else. But how were Stalinist bureaucrats any more philanthropic than the Japanese companies that adopted so-called "lifetime employment" after WWII? Even Japanese companies that did not practice permanent employment were more reluctant to lay off workers than U.S. or British firms. Large companies that utilized this practice were assured of a stable workforce. Also, because the fortunes of workers with permanent employment were tied to the company, employers were also confident that for the most part their workers would be loyal and hard-working. Perhaps even more importantly, employers who utilized permanent employment practices enjoyed a tremendous education and training advantage compared to either domestic or foreign competition. but eventually Japanese capitalism gave up this practice as a whole -- just as Russan (state-)capitalism did.
It's important to understand that various Soviet enterprises bid for labour, often in contradiction to the state plan--to keep sufficient qualified workers at their factory. Different bureaucrats, enterprises, ministries and localities inside the Soviet economy did, in fact, compete with each other. Imported techniques normally did not spread within the USSR from one firm to another. Competitive secrecy prevented such dispersion, and technological conservatism frequently prevented spin-offs from the new technology. Under Stalinism the primary goal of national capital accumulation had to operate in conjunction--and often at variance--with the narrower goals of local and sectoral bureaucrats: maximizing the value of the firm or sector they were responsible for. Individuals and small groups continued to appropriate the results of state industry.
To me, this does not sound like an economic system that was in a "blocked" transitional state from capitalism to socialism (as Ernest Mandel used to put it). It sounds like a system that was always in transition to...capitalism, capitalism as everyone recognizes it. When the USSR turned to free-market capitalism, this was not an arbitrary choice, but was based on the evolution of market solutions that Soviet bureaucrats had been experimenting with for a long time.
"You say that everything that is wrong with the NHS could be resolved if a genuine socialist government were elected in Britain. Yes I suppose that is true, but then I suppose that Marxists believe that most problems could be resolved if only we had socialism. That’s why we are socialists. But by the same token couldn’t everything that was wrong with nationalised property in the Soviet Union have been put right similarly by a genuine socialist government there?"
Except that fixing everything that was wrong with state property in the USSR would've required a revolution. And you're right, the NHS has never been socialist in the sense that Marxists mean it (recall Shachtman's idea that the Labour Party might bureaucratically-collectivize Britain. Overstated, but with some truth to it regarding how Labour conducted nationalisations.) Fixing the NHS -- and we're talking about one specific industry here, not capitalism-in-general -- would require reform.
Again, I think you overstate the differences between the USSR and private capitalism. In the USSR and like states, enterprises were to a large extent required to be "self-financing" -- their success was to be judged by whether they showed a profit. Depending on circumstances, an economic enterprise may not necessarily be shut down for not turning a profit. Unprofitable enterprises were sometimes kept running with state aid. Nevertheless, the success of the careers of enterprise managers rested upon showing a profit. "Self-financing" came to be relied upon as something that would automatically insure the economic plan was met, ignoring that without the workers actively overseeing the economy, all plans would come to naught. Indeed, unless the workers were also assuming more control over the economy, self-financing couldn't help but lead to enterprises being out for themselves at the expense of others, to the squandering of resources, to massive deception in enterprise reports, to conflicting interests between the economic ministries and the individual factories and plants, etc. -- in short, to anarchy of production. This anarchy expressed itself differently than it did in the Western capitalist countries, but it was an elemental force all the same. It might not necessarily have led to the shutdown of unprofitable enterprises as in the West. But, in itself, this is hardly proof of non-capitalism. After all, to a lesser extent even in the Western capitalist countries, there are state-financed industries or bailouts such as those given to the Chrysler auto capitalists in 1979, or more recently the U.S. airline industry.
USSR-style capitalism may be deformed capitalism, but it's capitalism regardless. Private interests are rampant in the state sector, so that state property is in reality the property of a small class of bureaucrats in the ministries and enterprise managers, who treat their own sectors or plants as their own property and employ capitalist methods toward their workers. This position allows them to allocate wealth and privileges for themselves.
Regarding support for Yeltsin: your debate is with the AWL, not me, assuming that the AWL did in fact support Yeltsin, which they shouldn't have done.
Regarding COMECON: I don't see your point. No one thinks that the USSR was imperialist vis-a-vis Cuba, Vietnam, etc. But I don't see how one can seriously argue that the USSR wasn't imperialist towards Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan. Tanks speak more loudly than subsidies.
Yes, the USSR subsidized national liberation struggles, for political and not obviously profitable reasons. The U.S. does the same with Israel.
Regarding Rolls-Royce: one doesn't demand that a bourgeois government nationalise, or not nationalise, anything. If the workers don't control the enterprise then the formal/legal/jurudicial part matters little. One only opposes privatisation in the sense that one opposes unemployment.
Regarding inheritance of property, etc., I'm surprised you don't remember Trotsky's words from The Revolution Betrayed. Trotsky shows that the bureaucrats can pass on to their children, if not property in the means of production, then status and future membership in the elite: the ruling caste 'almost monopolise the highest institutions of learning'. And for me it was proved that the bureaucracy did, in practice, own the USSR's means of production, when Gorbachev and Yeltsin, not the workers, made the decision to engage in mass privatisation.
As for Soviet health care: yes, under Stalinism, health care was theoretically free to everyone. However, even during those times, some got better treatment than others, depending on what bribes could be paid.
I think I've spent too much time responding to Arthur as is, and I don't seem to be getting my points across very well (certainly not where the NHS is concerned), so this should probably be the end from me. Forgive me for not being able to address every specific question.
I'm not advocating "socialism in one health service." I don't particularly disagree with anything you say regarding the NHS or reform and revolution. By "fixing" I just mean returning it to what it once was. I don't doubt that achieving workers' control of the NHS would be extraordinariliy difficult and could not be conducted separately from the struggle to overthrow capitalism generally. I didn't mean to imply otherwise.
If Stalin "resume[d] the course of transforming property relations once more in the direction of socialism, but in a bureaucratic top down manner" then it follow that Stalin was in some sense a representative of the working class. This, I do not believe. Stalin was completely unaccountable to the Russian working class and he had the power to jail and kill workers. He therefore could not have been a representative of the workers. By extension the Eastern European Stalinist states must have been workers' states even though the workers had nothing to do with those "revolutions." The objections to this view and its logical conclusion -- that it would have been "progressive" for Stalinism to expand over all of Europe -- are well known and I need not repeat them.
You ask "why on earth were capitalists, albeit state capitalists bothering to try to plan in the first place, which implies an attempt to replace the anarchy of the market, the imperative of profit maximisation and commodity production, with some other determinant of social welfare, when the whole basis of capitalism is the operation of the market, and commodity production."
To define capitalism as a profit-driven system based on private property and the "anarchy of the market" is too empiricist and misses the real essence of the system. The essence of capitalism is the dominance of the social relations of capital. But what is capital? From Marx's Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts we learn that capital's essence is not private property but the self-expansion of alienated labour: the creative and productive powers of human activity that becomes an alien force that subsumes human will and needs to its own autonomous expansion.
The alienation of labour presupposes wage-labour which itself presupposes the separation of the direct producers from both the means of production and the means of subsistence. This social relation is not fundamentally altered simply by state ownership of the means of production and subsistence. The Soviet working class did not own their factories, just as British workers did not own the nationalised versions of British Steel, British Coal or British Leyland. State ownership, whether in Russia or elsewhere, was merely a specific institutional form through which the working class was excluded from both the means of production and the means of subsistence and therefore obliged to sell their labour-power. Workers did not work to produce their own needs, nor for the needs of their own families or communities, but for some alien other. In producing products that were not their own they served to reproduce their position as workers on an ever expanding scale.
In the USSR the capitalist class was constituted through the state and as such collectively owned and controlled the means of production. Nevertheless, by making the Russian working class work longer than that necessary to produce the equivalent of their labour-power the Russian state enterprises were able to extract surplus-value just as the counterparts in the West would do. Furthermore, while a part of this surplus-value would be used to pay for the privileges of the 'state bourgeoisie', as in the West, the largest part would be reinvested in the expansion of the economy and thus ensuring the self-expansion of state-capital.
As I believe Martin Thomas has already explained, in the backward conditions that prevailed in Russia, capitalist economic development could only have been carried out by through the forced development of the productive forces directed by the concentrated and centralised direction and power of the state. It was only through state-led capitalist development that both the internal and external constraints that blocked the development of Russian capitalism could be overcome. Yes, there were major distortions in the political economy of the USSR. But rather than seeing such distortions as arising from the degeneration of a society stuck between capitalism and socialism (which is what I take Arthur to be saying) they can be more adequately seen as distortions arising from an attempt to make a forced transition to capitalism from a position of relative underdevelopment.
But there was no real commodity production in the USSR, Arthur might say. Yes, there was. The workers alienated their labour. As such they did not produce for their own immediate needs but worked for the management of the state enterprise. Equally, the management of the state enterprise no more appropriated the labour from its workers for it own immediate needs any more than the management of a Western capitalist enterprise. The labour appropriated from the workers was used to produce products that were objects of use for others external to the producers. The USSR's state managers sought to make the workers produce a mass of products that were worth more than the labour-power and means of production used up in their production. As such the labour process was both a process of exploitation and alienation. State planning may have largely supplanted the market as the regulator of commodity production but as such it did not overcome the separation of labour from social needs that remained alienated from each other.
(Even Western capitalists want to plan -- they just don't want the workers to do the planning. Monopolies seek to remove as much uncertainty as possible from their economic calculations. Investment decisions and profit projections are vulnerable to the anarchy of market forces and competition from rivals. By capturing as much as possible of a given market or supply of raw materials, by engaging in “price-fixing” with their supposed rivals, monopoly firms attempt to inject as much certainty and planning into decision-making as they can.)
As for Arthur's statement that "a ruthless state capitalist has no logical reason to spend more than they need on providing healthcare for the workers" -- if it helps hold the entire system together (which, in the USSR, it did), then there is a logic to it. And the carrot (full employment, free education and health care, cheap housing and transport and an egalitarian wage structure) should never be separated from the stick (brutal police repression which served to atomize the working class and prevent it from becoming a revolutionary class-for-itself).
And Arthur makes too much of the "inheritance" notion which supposedly proves that the Soviet elite wasn't a ruling class. While I think that the "bureaucratic collectivist" analysis of Stalinism has been discredited (there was no overthrow of one class by another in the USSR, for one), and I think that he is too uncritical of Lenin and Trotsky, but Sean M. is largely correct in the following paragraphs:
"The bureaucracy extracted surplus product. There can be no doubt about that. The bureaucracy was a ruling class, a ruling class with peculiarities. It was not the same as most ruling classes, but the idea that it was somehow not a class system is ridiculous. I cannot think of anything that corresponds more to the worst features of capitalist class society than the Stalinist system.
For example, some people say that the ruling class did not pass on property. This is not the case. It did pass on property - not formal ownership of property as such, but the privileges that gave access to it: educational possibilities, membership of the elite. It would obviously have been better from their point of view to have had money in the bank that they could have used to control the means of production...But they had heirs. There was no question of them not being able to pass anything on.
This was a system that controlled the surplus product. Did they control all of it? Well, no. Black marketeering had an increasingly powerful role to play after the ending of the high terror period. But the Soviet ruling class controlled a very large part of the surplus product. They used it for their own purposes. They decided what to do. They decided what to reinvest. They decided what to have in the bureaucrats' private shops."
Anyway, enough from me on this topic. Funny how we went from the Euston Manifesto to "what was the USSR?" I guess it really does all come down to working-class independence...
"In many, many instances where a business is about to go bankrupt, and the workers lose their jobs Marxists call for nationalisation of the enterprise in order to insist that the workers do not take responsibility for the vagaries of capitalism, and that the capitalists state pick up the tab. Yes they call at the same time for such nationalisation to be under workers control, but conversely when Thatcher began privatising industries during the 1980’s – not because of a need to make workers redundant, but purely on ideological grounds – Marxists opposed such privatisation even though it clealry was not under workers control, and in my opinion quite rightly, because Marxists as I said before are not agnostic when it comes to property forms."
I don't mean to sound like I oppose demands for nationalisation under workers' control even when there's a bourgeois party governing. But it seems to me that opposition to Thatcher's privatisations could, again, be made purely on the ground of opposition to sacking workers, not because socialists believe that state property (without workers' control) is innately superior or preferable to "traditional" capitalist property.
Being at work right now I can't gather more references to very effectively continue the argument. (By the way, Arthur, I meant that Sean M. was too uncritical of Lenin and Trotsky, not you.) I must say I fail to see how my reasoning is Proudhonian -- the question is WHY are the workers producing more than they consume and FOR WHOM.
On Russia's pre-Stalinist industrialization -- I believe that's it's been proved that Lenin overstated the degree of Russia's industrialization in 1899. Sadly I can't find the reference, at least not online.
Diane Flaherty wrote an article in NEW POLITICS years ago about the class structure of the USSR, and who it was that constituted the ruling class within the bureaucracy; I'll try to find it. (Although I'm no ultra-leftist I've always appreciated the comment by Amadeo Bordiga, who when pressed to identify the capitalist class in his analysis of the USSR as capitalist, said that it existed in the interstices of the Russian economy, as a class in formation.)
The Stalin-as-trade-union-boss analogy still doesn't hold water for me. An autocratic trade union is only still a union if it's reformable, if there's at least some possibility of changing the leadership and expanding internal democracy. Otherwise it's no longer a real union, it's no longer a genuine working class organization. Same with a workers' state. If the workers' state has become so politically autocratic, so unreformable, that the extra-legal forcible overthrow of those who run the state is required, then it can't be a workers' state anymore; it's something else.
Regarding the Kulaks: what I've read is that their importance has been overstated. Rather there was an extension of production by the small and middle peasants, whose very existence considerably slowed up the indispensable condition for the progressive elimination of small production in the countryside--the devolvement of wage labour. Under these circumstances, collectivisation is the only means available in the backward conditions of the Russian countryside, to impel--in an emergency and in response to a severe crisis--the general course of the economy towards capitalism.
Again on the USSR as transitional-to-socialism: a state which is really transitional to socialism has an increasing workers' control that is incompatible with any stable capitalism. If more and more workers become active participants in directing the economy and society, this moves the society closer to socialism. It does this even if the system of distribution moves somewhat backward in order, say, to accommodate a large influx of the petit-bourgeoisie into the working class.
It is hard to say that the Stalinist states ever exhibited such tendencies; if anything, the direction was always in the opposite direction.
Furthermore, I don't understand how there could be a peaceful transition from an ostensible workers' state to a capitalist state, as happened in Russia and is happening in China. Everyone who held to the "bureaucratised workers' states" thesis explicitly ruled this possibility out, yet it occurred. It was precisely this lack of a real revolution in Russia and China that led me to the conclusion that these societies were always state capitalist, for want of a better term -- socities not between capitalism and socialism, but between pre-capitalism and what we all recognise as capitalism. If it wasn't state capitalism, then it's time to look again at Hillel Ticktin's "non-mode of production."
I was going to write another detailed response to Arthur, but for now I'd be curious to hear what he thinks of Mike McNair's analysis of the Stalinist states: http://www.cpgb.org.uk/cu/USSR-Mike.doc
It's different from all the previous assessments (deformed workers' states, bureaucratic collectivism, state capitalism) though it has some resemblance to Ticktin's take.
Go back and read the debate between SM and Foot; read the Irish articles about consistant democrats. Its obviously true that I have politically changed in many ways, but unlike you I havent forgotton the basic lessons I learnt in the AWL.
But more importantly think about it: EM is not a socialist project. It defends liberal democracy. You still havent said what's wrong with that other than to point out its not a socialist project.
Do you not think our times demand the reinforcement of bourgeois democratic ideals? Do you think that a fight with the Guardian oped writers isnt worth having?
Why don't you challenge us to a debate in your AWL branch?
It would be good if you could help arrange a Euston-supporter to come and debate the manifesto at the summerschool. We've already asked Nick Cohen but he can't make it.
Sorted. No bother.
I dont know what Daniel is going on about, 'Draw your own conclusions' Ok - I will, the people you asked couldn't make it - that's my conclusion!
...neither Marx nor Engels ever use the phrase "nationalised property relations." To say that they were in favor of nationalising property doesn't prove your point. There can be only capitalist or socialist property relations. "Nationalised property relations" means...nothing, really.
Nor is the argument about the NHS being a needs based service valid either. Are you saying that Marxists should have been happy or neutral over whether the Coal Industry remained as nationalised or private, because that was not needs based.
I think that no one should have to work in mines, period! In any event, the point was to keep them open so that miners wouldn't lose their jobs, yes?
As for it being easier for workers in a bourgeois democracy to control nationalised property for their own interests than in a Stalinist state, tell that to the Miners that faced the full force of Thatcher's boot boys during the 84-5 Miners Strike.
I said it was somewhat possible,i.e. not easy or automatic. It is conceivable that workers in a bourgeois democracy with a (geniune) socialist government could increase their control over nationalised property rather than simply ceding it to a state-appointed manager.
To say there are only capitalist or socialist property relations is completely undialectical, it suggests that these relations can change suddenly overnight.
You say this and then quote Lenin, who argued that the Soviet Union's economy was "state capitalist with bureaucratic deformations." Yes, that's right. The economic form was state capitalist; the political form was that of an increasingly deformed and distorted workers' state. By the time that the Soviet Union became unreformable all that was left was state capitalism(for want of a better term). And the "planning" that occurred in the USSR was not a malfunctioning version of socialist planning; it was something else all together. Central planners and unelected political authorities "planning" for the workers is not socialist and has no innately proletarian character.
To speak of "nationalised property relations" is to elide the question of the class character of those "relations." Martin Thomas has already explained how capitalist economies can be predominantly state-owned.
In reply to Pete by jane ashworth
As I understand it, the AWL has "challenged" several "Eustonites" to debate us - not just in our branches but at Ideas for Freedom, our most prominent national public event. I don't know if we've now found someone willing to do it, but I do know that several people refused. Draw your own conclusions.
The thing that's "wrong with defending liberal democracy" is that you defend it uncritically, unconditionally and by abandoning the notion of political class independence without a squeak.
It is not as if there are hordes of cultural-relativist barbarians about to batter down the gates of western bourgeois democracy (or "liberal democracy" as you've taken to calling it). In a context in which the forces of bourgeois democracy (in Britain, in America and throughout the world) are exposing their true nature - viciously and relentlessly anti-working class - the idea that the first job of socialists is to defend these people (especially when that defence requires a political alliance with the bosses) is ridiculous.
I'm sure the administrators of "liberal democracy" will thank you for your impassioned defence of their position when they're shackling the British labour movement, introducing brutal employment legislation in France or looting and pillaging in Iraq. Our class, however, may not be so grateful.
Alan Johnson appears to have always been a "political Mexican jumping bean" (as Sean M. once put it, I think). His political evolution isn't all that surprising. But can anyone explain why Norman Geras, one of the UK's best Marxist writers, has ended up where he's ended up? Because I honestly don't understand it.
In reply to Question by USRed
Geras spoke at the AWL summer school in 2003 (I think). It was evident then that he had evolved politically some way towards liberalism. As he presented it, one impulse in this was the idea that the only protection against barbarism was a form of social contract in which individuals were committed to protecting one another. A major ground given for this was his study of the Holocaust and what he sees as the failures of Marxist analysis in relation to it, which he attributed to Marxism's failure to see the possibly evil side of human nature. The wars in the former Yugoslavia and the failures of most of the left to support the Bosnians, Kosovars etc led him to grant to the US and other powers the right of humanitarian intervention as the only way to prevent genocides.
These are at least some of the steps, though I am sure there is more to it than this. One interesting aspect of Euston Manifesto is how they and the SWP are in a symbiotic relationship - each needs the other to justify their own stupidities!
Perhaps more interesting in general is why the lines between socialism and liberalism are blurred for so many leftists of a certain kind today. But that is a big subject and it's already past midnight...
In reply to Part of an answer by Bruce
I think what Bruce says is partly true. But for myself, much of what Geras has to say about human nature is entirely convincing.
Isn't the answer basically simpler? The world sees many awful atrocities. There is no socialist movement able to act, immediately, to do anything about it. Cut adrift from any attempt to (re)build such a movement, talk of it sounds completely abstract - and the atrocities continue. In Iraq, for instance, there was - empirically is maybe the word I want - a choice: leave Saddam in power (with all that entails in terms of torture, violence, quasi-totalitarian rule, etc), or remove him, that is, accept that only one force on earth, now, was going to be able to remove him. It doesn't seem to me a *stupid* argument.
It seems to me you *could*, in theory, hold this view and maintain the attempt to build an international socialist movement. The centrifugal forces, or whatever they are, preventing this, are formidable, though. I think the Euston Manifesto shows how formidable: it is, essentially, the abandonment of any specially *socialist* project, at least until some uncertain future. (That to me is what's wrong with it: the various points it makes about the left are largely true, but only worth making if your project is to build a socialist movement. Cut from that project - and the Manifesto seems to be explicitly non-socialist - it simply becomes a statement of liberal/Blairite opinion, whose object of complaint, fundamentally, is the opinion pages of the Guardian and the editors at the BBC and Channel Four.)
But it doesn't seem that mysterious to me how people reach the conclusion they have reached.
In reply to Simpler...? by CliveBradley
I'll leave a discussion of human nature for now – just to say that anyone who looks at the history of the 20th (and now 21st) century without recognising that humans are capable of terrible atrocities is deluding themselves. What conclusions one draws from it for the 'socialist project' is another matter.
Despair is an understandable reaction – probably any socialist who is honest about their reactions to the events of the last 25 years has felt it at some time – but it does not form the basis for orienting oneself in the world unless you are planning to stay in bed for the rest of your life or throw yourself off a tall building.
I think you are too understanding of Geras and co. 'Stupidity' may have been the wrong word to describe their evolution. It may be excusable if you are very naïve to expect that the 'one force on earth' capable of overthrowing Saddam (i.e. the US) should behave so as to ensure democracy in Iraq and be given positive credit for that. However these are not naïve people – most of them got their training in the Marxist movement and should know how and why imperialist powers act. Rather their evolution takes on the nature of a collapse (particularly marked in the case of someone like Alan Johnson) which may lead them far away from their starting point. To defend their initial position they get drawn into apologetics for 'their side'. It is not a coincidence that they see the manifesto as an opening to the right - towards all people of 'good faith' who defend a classless democracy: conservative, liberal or socialist. (Ironically, this approach is a legacy of Stalinist popular frontism!)
I think you are wrong when you write: "It seems to me you *could*, in theory, hold this view and maintain the attempt to build an international socialist movement." It is not just a question of 'pressures'. Such a view compromises the political independence of a socialist movement from the ruling class, in theory as well as in practice.
In reply to Clive, by Bruce
I meant you could take a position over Iraq rather like we took over Kosova: we don't support this miltary intervention (because we understand who these people are and we oppose them in general), but we're not going to support campaigns against it, because of the practical effects should they be successful.
(I was very critical of that position on Kosova at the time. I think in retrospect I was seriously wrong).
In reply to Part of an answer by Bruce
The critique of the Euston Manifesto is certainly welcome. Unfortunately, I think that the AWL's "little bit Zioninst and not particularly third camp" politics are far too close to the Manifesto in the first place. It is telling that Norm Geras recently spoke at an AWL event. Nevertheless, the critique is well written. To more clearly make the distinction, the AWL should be endorsing a "troops out now" slogan (especially when the occupation has been such a disaster) as New Politics editor Barry Finger has eloquently argued on this web site in the past.
In reply to Euston by rman
I think, from one point of view, the Manifesto is useful. It makes clear the distinction between the route that those who signed it have been on and where we are.
We have a tradition at our Summer Schools of listening to anyone, if we think that the debate will be educational. We have had political islamists, ulster unionists etc. It never means we endorse their views.
Geras, who I don't pretend to know much about, has turned a bit of a corner since that particular summer school, in any case.
AS for Barry's argument with us, it might be an idea to reopen that discussion at some stage but for te moment I think there is little that could be added to what Sean wrote here.
The "little bit Zioninst and not particularly third camp" bit is intended to be a wind-up, right?
In reply to Things are clearer now by Pete
Oh I am well aware of the Ulster unionists. What political islamists has the AWL debated? I am not sure what the term wind-up means (not British) but I think it's fairly accurate. I don't see the AWL as a third camp organization but a rather confused one and the Alan Johnson evolution (directly related to Euston of course) is just one especially sad feature of this. To be more specific, while I of course support a two state solution in the Middle East(as does Euston and the AWL), I don't think the average apolitical reader would get that impression from reading your web site. If you are serious about being third camp, you would have to spend a lot more time on descriptions of atrocities experienced by Palestinians in the West Bank. Do you not consider say Chomsky to be a third camper and hardly an islamist (to say the least)? I don't see any similarity between Chomsky's writings on Israel and the AWL's.
In reply to Re: Things are clearer now by rman
rman, it seems to me that Chomsky's position on Israel/Palestine is very close indeed to the AWL's. He supports 2-states and opposes the Palestinian right to return to Israel 'proper' as being entirely impractical and counterproductive. (He also describes himself as a Zionist, although he says that term has now become so deformed as to be useless).
Where he may differ is that as an anarchist he opposes the concept of nation states generally (as does AWL in the long term), but in terms of immediate practical politics there is hardly a cigarette paper's breadth between the two positions.
In reply to Chomsky by losttango
Actually the link below my signature suggests that Chomsky in the past has supported a binational solution. I am not advocating a binational solution; merely saying Chomsky's historical position is much more complex and nuanced than the rather blunt "little bit Zionist" AWL position. Perhaps it is a matter of presentation but the AWL press comes across as rather one-sidedly pro-Israel at times, finding fault even with Hal Draper's analysis. When I compare the AWL press with say articles in New Politics by brilliant scholars such as Barry Finger or Jason Schulman (essential reading for anyone interested in this question), they seem much more critical (as well as more lucid) of Israel.
In reply to Chomsky by rman
Chomsky's historical position and his present position are different. I think his view now is that while a binational solution is a nice idea, the objective situation precludes it. His recent writing in Z-Mag is very clear on this and says that encouraging Palestinians to have illusions in a one-state solution in the foreseeable future is condemning them to a losing fight and therefore deeply irresponsible.
It seems to me there is a range of opinion within the AWL on Israel, and that Sean Matgamna in particular is way more pro-Zionist than the majority. You have to distinguish between signed articles and 'the line'.
Also, much of what is in "Workers Liberty" is polemic against the UK Socialist Workers Party. There is a tendency on the left to "bend the stick" - to overstate arguments for tactical reasons - and I think that is partly what is going on here.
The Manifesto does not set out to be a socialist programme so there isn't much point in condeming it for not being.
It would be more interesting to hear why you think the time isn't right for an alliance of the decent left to combat the corrosive muck that has taken over the rest of the socialist-left and the liberal-left.
Martin may well be right that here and there improvements could have been made to the Manifesto. Perhaps some will be incorporated later. But that is hardly the point. I doubt there will be many big-picture issues (like defending bourgeois democracy and liberalism, international relations, jew-hating, cultural relativism) where the awl and the EM are going to be at daggers drawn.
Its odd that none of your commenters have noticed such a huge underpinning similarity.
In reply to Euston Manifesto by jane ashworth
Jane, you argue that our politics are similar to those of the Euston manifesto because on the big picture issues we agree. But that's simply making the same mistake as the rest of the left but reversing it 180 degrees in it's application. We only agree on our enemies; the AWL and the authors of the Euston manifesto disagree on pretty much everything else - including on who our friends are.
It may seem that the AWL and the Euston manifesto authors agree on issues like democracy, but it also seems like the AWL agree with the bourgeoisie on that - we're both in favour of it on the face of things. But appearances are deceptive, as we mean very different things from the bourgoiesie when we defend democracy. The job of Marxists and socialists has always been to uncover the meaning, in bourgeois ideology, of terms like "democracy" and "liberty", to show what is really meant by them. We don't accept our skin deep similarities on these issues, as our disagreements on them are fundamental and lead us into direct opposition in the immediate struggle. I find it odd that you consider that: "hardly the point".
With all due respect, the AWL are the 'consistant democrats', more in favour of bourgeois democracy than the bourgeoisie. Your allegience to bd is not 'skin deep' at all, it is a profound part of your dna.
Your job is not to 'show what is really meant' by bourgeoise democracy as though it is a hoax. It is to defend bd at all costs against reaction. Period.
You will also want to paint a picture of a more thorough form of democratic collectivism.
Please tell me what is wrong with an alliance of the left and liberal left to defend bd and its attendant norms.
Someone will have to remind where exactly in the Marxian corpus does Karl M. speak of "nationalised property relations." I sure never found it. I remember reading about "the State, i.e. the proletariat organized as the ruling class" (hard to say that the USSR etc. were ruled by their workers) and "cooperatives united by a common plan" (hard to say that the industries in Stalinist countries were run on cooperative lines).
Then again, most 20th century Marxists (including Lenin, I think) conflated the dictatorship of the proletariat with the first stage of communism.
Sure, one defends the NHS from privatisation because one opposes private property and one demands that human needs be met regardless of ability to pay. But most state-owned industries in the USSR etc. were not needs-based in this sense and represented nothing innately superior to Western capitalist private property, just as authoritarian central planning is not innately superior to market forces. They are both alien powers that coerce workers; they both ensure that most labour is alienated labour.
In a bourgeois democracy it is at least somewhat possible for workers to have some influence over state sectors such as the NHS. Not so in Stalinist countries, where "universal suffrage" is a much bigger sham that it is under bourgeois democracy.