Posts Tagged ‘Anthony Wright’

Useful Book: Socialisms: Theory and Practices, by Antony Wright

July 2, 2016

Socialisms Cover

(Oxford: Oxford University Press 1987)

I was asked a few weeks ago by some of the commenters here what the difference between Socialism and Communism was. In fact, apart from democratic Socialism, which most people understand as Socialism, there is a bewildering variety of difference types of Socialism, and socialists have often strongly disagreed with each other about what it means and how it should be carried out, while advocating the collective ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange. Anthony Wright was the lecturer in political studies at the Department of Extramural Studies at Birmingham University. His book, published nearly three decades ago, has the subtitle on its front cover ‘Why Socialists disagree – and what they disagree about’. It discusses the different forms of Socialism, and the disagreements between them.

The blurb states:

One third of the world’s population now lives under a regime which describes itself as socialist. But what precisely is socialism? Marxists claim that they are the only true socialists, but this is hotly denied by Trotksyists, Anarchists, Fabians, Collectivists, Syndicalists, Social Democrats and members of the many other ‘socialist’ movements.

In this lucid and unintimidating introduction to the subject Anthony Wright argues that the contradictions, rivalries, and antagonisms within socialism arise from the absence of a single socialist tradition. The very word ‘socialism’ has (as R.H. Tawney put it) ‘radiant ambiguities’.

Socialisms develops this theme throughout a wide-ranging analysis of socialist theories and practices, and concludes, provocatively, with a look at the future prospects of contemporary socialisms.

As you can see, the book was written before the collapse of Communism, and neoliberal economics had infected the western socialist parties with different forms of the ‘Third Way’. It’s quite short at 137 pages, with different chapters on ‘traditions’, ‘arguments’, ‘doctrines’, ‘methods’, ‘actors’ and ‘futures’. In his conclusion, Wright looked forward to the rigid divisions between the different varieties of socialism breaking down, so that socialists of different persuasions can learn, and profitably borrow from each other.

Lenin and Workers’ Control of Industry

March 17, 2014

Lenin Pic

Lenin: Leader of the Russian Communist Party

One of the motives of the workers joining and leading the February 1917 revolution, which established the duma – the Russian parliament – and which overthrew the Tsar was for the control of industry by the workers themselves. The system of soviets – workers’, soldiers’ and sailors’ councils set up during the Revolution organised the control of industry, including the railways, factories and other services. Lenin initially supported and looked forward to the management of industry by the workers themselves through elected councils, with the managers merely their paid officials. He wrote

We the workers, shall organise large-scale production on the basis of what capitalism has already created, relying on our own experience as workers, establishing strict, iron discipline backed up by the state power of the armed workers. We shall reduce the role of state officials to that of simply carrying out our instructions as responsible, revocable, modestly paid ‘foremen and accountants’… This is our proletarian task, this is what we can and must start with in accomplishing the proletarian revolution. Such a beginning, on the basis of large-scale production, will of itself lead to the gradual ‘withering away’ of all bureaucracy, to the gradual creation of an order … under which the functions of control and accounting, becoming more and more simple, will be performed by each in turn, will then become a habit and will finally die out as the special functions of a special section of the population.

From: Anthony Wright, Socialisms – Why Socialists Disagree – and What They Disagree About (Oxford: OUP 1987) 85-6.

Soviet Poster

Russian Revolutionary Poster: the slogan on the banner says ‘All Power to the Soviets’.

This led to the Decree on Workers’ Control, issued on the 14th November 1917. This stated:

1. In the interests of a systematic regulation of national economy, Workers’ Control is introduced in all industrial, commercial, agricultural (and similar) enterprises which are hiring people to work for them in their shops or which are giving them work to take home. This control is to extend of the production, storing, buying and selling of raw materials and finished products as well as over the finances of the enterprise.

2. The workers will exercise this control through their elected organizations, such as factory and shop committees, soviets of elders, etc. The office employees and the technical personnel are also to have representation in these committees.

3. Every large city, province and industrial area is to have its own Soviet of Workers’ Control, which, being an organ of the S(oviet) of W(orkers’) S(oldiers’), and P(easants’) D(eputies’), must be composed of representatives of trade-unions, factory, shop and other workers’ committees and workers’ co-operatives…

6. The organs of Workers’ Control have the right to supervise production, fix the minimum of output, and determine the cost of production.

7. The organs of Workers’ Control have the right to control all the business correspondence of an enterprise. Owners of enterprises are legally responsible for all correspondence kept secret. Commercial secrets are abolished. The owners have to show to the organs of Workers’ Control all their books and statements for the current year and for the past years.

8. the rulings of the organs of Workers’ Control are binding on the owners of enterprises and can be annulled only by decisions of the higher organs of Workers’ Control.

From Robert V. Daniels, A Documentary History of Communism, Vol.1: Communism in Russia (London: I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd 1987) 89.

Lenin eventually abandoned workers’ control of industry, as contrary to his expectations the workers were largely unable to run it efficiently. Nevertheless, it later influenced the Yugoslavs and other Communists to develop similar systems. Gorbachev was also planning to introduce it into Russian factories under perestroika to transform them into co-operatives.