Posts Tagged ‘Council Revolution’

The Demands of the Independent Social Democrats during the 1919 German Council Revolution

August 20, 2016

I found this statement of the political demands of the Independent Social Democratic Party in J.W. Hiden’s The Weimar Republic (Harlow: Longman 1974), pp. 78-9. The Independent Social Democratic Party – USPD – were the left-wing of the main German Socialist party, the SPD, which split in 1919 over the issue of the workers’ councils. These had sprung up across Germany following the defeat in the First World War, and were modelled on the workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ councils that had been set up in 1917 during the first phase of the Revolution, which eventually ended in the Bolshevik coup. Hiden in his comments notes that at the time the USPD issued their demands, there was actually no chance of it being implemented. The elections to the National Assembly had already been held, and the Spartacist Uprising, which was intended to establish Germany as a Communist state, had been quelled. Nevertheless, he considers it important as the kind of state that the Revolution could have created.

The immediate demands of the USPD are:

1. Inclusion of the Councils system in the constitutions. Decisive participation of the Councils in legislation, state and municipal government and in industry.

2. Complete dissolution of the old army. Immediate dissolution of the mercenary army made up of volunteer corps (Freikorps). Disarming of the bourgeoisie. The setting up of a people’s army from the ranks of the class conscious working sector. Self-government for the people’s army and election of officers by the ranks. The lifting of military jurisdiction.

3. The nationalist of capitalist undertakings is to begin at once. It is to be executed immediately in the sphere of mining, and of energy production (coal, water-power, electricity), of concentrated iron and steel production as well as insurance. Landed property and great forests are to be transferred to the community at once. Society has the task of bringing the whole economy to its highest degree of efficiency by making available all technical and economic aids as well as promoting co-operative organisations. In the towns all private property is to pass to the municipality and sufficient dwellings are to be made available by the municipality on its own account.

4. Election of authorities and judges by the people. Immediate setting up of a Supreme Court of Judicature which is to bring to account those responsible for the world war and the prevention of a more timely peace.

5. Any growth of wealth achieved during the war is to be removed by taxation. A portion of all larger fort8unes is to be given to the state. In addition, public expenditure is to be covered by a sliding scale of income, wealth and inheritance taxes.

6. Extension of social welfare. Protection for mother and child. War widows, orphans and wounded are to be assured a trouble-free existence. Homeless are to be given the use of the spare rooms of owners. Fundamental reorganisation of public health system.

7. Separation of state and church and of church and school. Public, standardised schools with secular character, to be developed according to socialist educational principles. The right of every child to an education corresponding to his ability and availability of the means necessary for this end…

The programme’s clearly a production of the revolutionary ferment at the end of the First World War. But much of it remains acutely relevant for today. For example, we do need the nationalisation of public utilities – electricity, gas and water – as millions are being overcharged and exploited by these companies. The railways are notoriously expensive and inefficient. Under private management they consume three times more money from subsidies than they did when it was a nationalised industry as British rail. At the same time, Britain’s forests are being privatised, to the public’s disadvantage, by the Tories.

Similarly, there does need to be increased taxation of the super-rich. Under Blair and the Tories the rich have benefited from massive tax cuts, and the tax burden has been unfairly passed to the poor. Inequality has massively increased, so that a vanishingly small minority of people own far more than the rest of us combined. This was shown very clearly last week when the Duke of Westminster died, leaving £9 billion to his son.

Social welfare certainly needs to be extended. Blair and the Conservatives have consistently cut benefits for and demonised the poor, disabled and unemployed as ‘scroungers’. The result is that some 4.7 million are living in ‘food poverty’, and hundreds of thousands are only kept from starving by food banks. As for the war wounded, and the widows and orphans produced by Blair’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, I wonder how much help they are receiving, despite charities like Help For Heroes. Many of the squaddies that fought for their country during Gulf War I were left homeless. I have a strong feeling that many of their comrades in these wars have also been left, discarded by the state, in similar poverty and destitution. We also need a profound reorganisation of the public health services, as these are being privatised by Blair and the Tories.

There’s an irony here in that USPD wanted homeowners to have to take in the homeless. This is the precise opposite of what the Tories have been trying to do to those in council houses with the ‘Bedroom tax’. Millions are being left without homes, not just because they aren’t being built, but because many properties were bought as part of the buy-to-let market. Rents have risen, so that many people can no longer afford them, let alone think of owning their own home. But the Tories are the party of business and property, and something like this measure would fill them with panic. After all, it’s why they have a fit of the vapours every time someone talks about the ‘Bedroom tax’. They definitely don’t want to give the rest of the population the terrible impression that they are going to tax everyone’s bedroom. But doing it to the very poorest is perfectly acceptable.

I went to a church school, and don’t agree with the complete separation of church and state or absolutely secular schools, although I understand the reasons why many do. But I do support their statement that every child has right to the education that corresponds to his ability, and the means necessary for that end. It should be an automatic right. Unfortunately, this is also being undermined by the academies, that were brought in by Blair and which the Tories want to expand. They’d also like to bring back grammar schools, which were abandoned in favour of comprehensives because they did discriminate against working class children achieving a high education. And the introduction of tuition fees by New Labour and then increased by the Tories is leaving students with crippling debts, which are actively leading a quarter of graduates to stick to low paid jobs in order to avoid the extra burden of paying them off.

As for the most radical proposal, the inclusion of workers’ council in the political system – there’s a very, very strong argument for that too. The massive corporate corruption of parliament has shown that it increasingly does not represent the working class or their interests. It represents the power of big business, and their campaign to have a poor, desperate, poverty-stricken working class willing to be exploited through workfare, zero-hours and short-term contracts and the like.

Private Eye on Corbyn and Trotskyite Anti-Parliamentarianism

August 20, 2016

Private Eye was running the old Blairite line yesterday that under Corbyn, Labour was being infiltrated by Trotksyites from the Socialist Worker’s Party. In the ‘Focus on Fact’ strip, which seems to be just the Blairites trying to have their revenge against the old Labour left for slights and incidents in the 1980s, they quoted the Socialist Workers’ a saying that all Momentum events were open to them. As proof of this, they further cited the SWP as saying that they’d managed to sell 127 copies of their paper at Momentum rally Newcastle, and about 20 or 30 odd in one of the southern towns.

Now I might be missing something, but this seems less than conclusive proof that they’ve infiltrated the Labour party. The fact that they are not thrown out of Momentum might show that there is some sympathy for them in Momentum, but it does not show that they have infiltrated it. Look at what was not said: the Socialist Workers did not say that they had infiltrated Momentum, only that they weren’t kicked out of Momentum’s rallies.

As for selling newspapers, at one time all Labour party or trade union events attracted people from the extreme left-wing parties. Way back in the 1980s a friend of mine went to a demonstration in Cheltenham against the banning of trade unions at GCHQ. He came back with a stack of papers being sold by people from the Communist party, including a copy of Worker’s Dreadnought, which was the paper of the ILP, still just about hanging on at that stage. And the Anarchist Ian Bone on his website talked about heckling Ed Miliband when Not So Red Ed came to speak out at an anti-austerity rally.

All this piece really showed is that there were some in Momentum, who weren’t completely hostile to the SWPs attending. But that’s quite different from infiltrating Momentum. If the story is true, of course. And given the fact that the Blairites have lied and lied again as if it’s going out of fashion, there’s no reason to believe that it is.

Elsewhere, the Eye also saw fit to mention that the SWP was against parliamentary democracy. This was to frighten us all again with the spectre of Trotskyites worming their way into Momentum to seize control of the Labour party, win power, and turn this country into Marxist dictatorship. It’s the kind of stupid, paranoid conspiracy theory that the Scum ran in the 1987 General Election, Frederick Forsythe turned into a thriller, and Maggie read and approved. It’s classic Thatcherite scaremongering. But it perversely had the effect of making me actually think higher of the SWP for a moment.

I don’t have much sympathy for the Socialist Workers’ Party. Their leader, Dave Renton, has written some excellent articles for Lobster, but the part itself is a threat and a nuisance because it does try to infiltrate and take over other left-wing protest groups and organisations. I’ve mentioned before how they broke up Rock Against Racism by infiltrating it and turning it into front organisation. There was also trouble on campus in Cheltenham in the 1990s when some of the students organised a demonstration against student fees. Unfortunately, someone also naively invited the Socialist Workers, who turned up with their megaphones haranguing the students, before being chased off by College and NUS staff.

Despite their stupid and destructive tactics, they’re right about parliamentary democracy. The corporate domination of parliament has shown it to be increasingly corrupt. 78 per cent of MPs are millionaires, holding between them 2,800 directorships in 2,400 companies, with a combined workforce of 1.2 million people and £220 billion. The laws passed by parliament reflect this corporate dominance – pro-free trade, anti-welfare, with a concern for ‘flexible labour markets’ through zero-hours and short term contracts. This bears out the Marxist idea that the state is an institution of class oppression.

As for the horrors of soviet-style government, Trotsky and Lenin were champions of the workers, soldiers’ and peasants soviets set up spontaneously by Russia’s working people during the first phase of the 1917 Revolution. Before the Bolshevik coup, these were genuinely democratic institutions. Apart from the Bolsheviks, there were other Socialist parties elected to them, including the Mensheviks, Socialist Revolutionaries and Trudoviks, parties later dissolved and purged by the Bolsheviks. Now I think we need a genuinely democratic system of workers’ assemblies and a workers’ chamber in parliament in this country, because of the overwhelming upper class bias of existing parliamentary institutions. And it isn’t just the Trotskyites in the SWP, who want a system of worker’s soviets. I think Dennis Skinner says something positive about them in his autobiography. And I have the impression that the Tribune group within the Labour party also support this form of government. On their books website they offer a documentary history of the Council Revolution in Germany. This is interesting, because one of the major supporters of the council system, the Bavarian premier Kurt Eisner, did so not because he wanted to destroy democracy, but augment and buttress it using the workers’ and peasants’ soviets.

The Bolsheviks effectively neutered the workers’ council in Russia by taking them over and turning them into the instruments for exclusive Bolshevik government. But this doesn’t mean that they originally weren’t a good idea. And the Eye’s denunciation of the anti-parliamentary attitude of the Socialist Workers to my mind actually makes them look good when parliament is so corrupt, unrepresentative and increasingly hostile to working class representation and policies.

Vox Political: Simon Wren-Lewis on the Spectre of Fascism Behind Brexit

June 23, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has also put up a very important piece by the economist, Simon Wren-Lewis, on the terrible racism and lies behind the Brexit campaign. He notes that not only has the Brexit campaign lied massively, the fact that their lies have been repeatedly revealed as lies does not seem to have stopped them or their campaign. Despite being repeatedly told the truth, the supporters of Brexit continue to believe that migrants are all a strain on the economy and the NHS. He discusses the way the centre right here and in the US are being taken over by extremist, populist politicians – meaning the Republicans and Trump across the Pond, and BoJo, Gove, Patel and the Conservatives over here, as well as the murder of Jo Cox, a politician, who stood against it. He also makes the point that this racism could become even more vicious and extreme if Britain does leave the EU, and the trade deals that the Brexiters have promised don’t materialise. He makes the point that Britain doesn’t have any immunity from the rise of such pernicious racism, and it cannot be allowed to pass.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/06/23/euref-why-defeating-brexit-is-so-important/

Mike has illustrated this piece with a picture of Enoch Powell, whose infamous ‘rivers of blood speech’ is still referred to as a telling prediction of the truth by right-wingers like Nigel Farage. Mike’s absolute right here. The NF used to sell a Union Jack badges. Around the edge of them was written the slogan ‘Enoch was right’. In fairness to Powell, before he completely lost his sense politically, he had done much that was admirable. He was a member of CND, and in 1959 made a speech attacking the British abuse of Mau-Mau prisoners at the Hola Camp in Kenya. This is included in The Penguin Book of Twentieth Century Protest, edited by Brian MacArthur, pp. 254-6. He wasn’t personally racist, and could speak Urdu. Nevertheless, his speech, and his absolute opposition to non-White immigration, gave an immense filip to the racist right and other Conservative opponents of immigration like the right-wing journalist, Simon Heffer.

The prof’s piece is also interesting for some of his remarks of his commenters. Most seem to be Brexiters absolutely outraged that anybody could decently oppose their plans for Britain. But one comment especially caught my eye because of what it said about Maggie’s favourite economist, von Hayek.

The commenter quoted the ideologue of neoliberalism from a piece he wrote to one of the papers supporting Maggie Thatcher’s anti-immigration stance in 1979. Hayek claimed that respectable society in Austria wasn’t anti-Semitic, and deplored attacks on Jews, before the First World War. It was only when ‘unassimilable’ Jewish immigrants flooded into Austria after the First World War that attitudes towards them changed. The commenter states that this was also Thatcher’s attitude, and has been the attitude of people like the Brexiters ever since.

The commenter’s right, but I found von Hayek’s claims that there was little anti-Semitism in Austria before World War I unconvincing. Hitler claimed in Mein Kampf that he only became an anti-Semite after he saw a Jew dressed in a kaftan while wandering through the backstreets of Vienna. This was when Hitler was a tramp, and his biographer, Joachim C. Fest, has made the point that the Jew he saw was probably a refugee displaced from the eastern provinces of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which stretched as far as Ukraine, by the pogroms which broke out in the late 19th century. Many of the ethnic German schoolchildren and younger generation in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the late 19th century were Pan-Germans, wishing to unite with the Wilhelmine Empire further north, and with a racist hatred of Slavs and Jews. Discussing his experience of late 19th century Vienna, Hitler describes his admiration for Karl von Lugerer, the mayor of Vienna and leader of an anti-Semitic party. Apart from von Lugerer’s anti-Semitism, Hitler also admired his mastery of propaganda. Nevertheless, anti-Semitism increased in Austria considerably during the Council and Communist Revolutions that broke out there, as in Germany, just after the First World War. These were initially popular, but were increasingly resented after a series of church burnings. Many of the Communist battalions responsible were led by Jews, and although the Communists in the Soviet Union and elsewhere were militant atheists, who attacked and persecuted all religions, this was particularly blamed on the Jews. Gentile Austrians also felt themselves threatened by Jewish success in business, especially in banking.

Despite von Hayek’s comments, the rise of anti-Semitism in Austria was not simply a result of the sudden influx of ‘unassimilable immigrants’. It was partly due to the strained ethnic tensions caused by rising nationalism amongst the various peoples of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and a reaction to the anti-religious activities of committed Communists during the 1919 revolutions. Nevertheless, von Hayek’s comments supported Thatcher’s anti-immigration policy, just as fears of unassimilable immigrants now fuel the Brexit campaign.

Vox Political on The Government’s Victory to Keep Discussions with Prince Charles Secret

April 19, 2016

Earlier today Mike put up a piece reporting that the government had won its battle to keep details of discussions between Prince Charles and government ministers out of the press, despite the fact that the Information Commissioner has stated that it is in the public interest for it to be released.

Mike makes the point that it is wrong for the government to wish to keep this information secret on the grounds that its release would compromise Charles’ privacy, while seeking ever greater power to invade that of ordinary citizens. See his article: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/04/19/it-is-wrong-for-the-taxpayer-to-fork-out-for-prince-charless-privacy-when-the-tories-are-trying-to-take-it-from-us/

Mike’s correct, of course, but this is the way government works in Britain. It has a profound fear and suspicion of the people it governs, and is perpetually concerned to protect its secrets while trying to garner as much information as possible on the rest of us. Under Thatcher this mania for secrecy became so extreme, that the various cabinet ministers, who were members of different cabinet groups, could not tell their cabinet colleagues what was being discussed in these different committees, despite the glaringly obvious fact that as cabinet ministers, they should all automatically have been expected to have had the clearance to share the information with their colleagues, who were at the same level of trust.

Bliar’s introduction of the Freedom of Information Act was a step in the right direction, but it was weak even when it was introduced. And since then, the Tories and New Labour apparatchiks like Jack Straw have been determined to make it even weaker. It’s not hard to see why both political groups distrust the Act. It makes government difficult, because it opens it up to public scrutiny. It’s so much easier to ride roughshod over people by not letting them know about important government decisions, and taking the attitude that, as members of the public, they cannot possibly know what is really in the public interest. Or in the case of Thatcherites everywhere, the private good of big business.

And they definitely, really don’t want information about Prince Charles’ dealings with the government getting out at all. The monarchy and royal family is supposed to be above politics, and they are not supposed to influence government policy. It’s probably because they are supposed to be apolitical, that the monarchy has survived in this country, while other nations have become republics. Political interference from an unelected source is always resented. And so the concern to keep the monarchy out of politics. Hence the monarchy’s ire when Gove or whoever it was in the ‘Brexit’ campaign claim that the Queen also wanted us to leave the EU.

Charles’ negotiations are sensitive, because he’s violated that cardinal rule. The Independent, some of whose columnists had a strongly republican bias, covered several stories in which Charles’ correspondence with various governments over the years was a source of embarrassment, and which they were desperate to stop being released to the public. Among his pet subjects were the closure of the grammar schools. Lugs was thoroughly against this, and wrote numerous letters to the government to try to get them to change this policy and reopen them. The ministers at the receiving end of his correspondence were forced to reply that this was no longer an option.

This is why the government really doesn’t want to release the details of Prince Charles’ discussions with ministers about the environment to the Mail on Sunday: it compromises the position of the monarchy. Not that the Daily Heil is necessarily worried about this in the specific case of Prince Charles. From what I can remember, it has had a profound dislike of the heir to the throne, and has run no end of stories about how he is an embarrassment to the Crown. At one point it ran a story that ‘ministers’ were considering amending the rules of succession, so that it could skip a generation and go either to his sons, or it would pass to the eldest child. In which case, Princess Anne would succeed her mother.

There was a rival of these stories of constitutional tinkering in Private Eye last week in connection to the Commonwealth. The Eye claimed that many Commonwealth countries aren’t impressed with him either, and would also like to change the constitution of the Commonwealth, so that its head was elected. I can see how the various independent countries across the globe would prefer this system, rather than be ruled by the hereditary monarch of the country that invaded and colonised them, as a general principle. But the Eye didn’t mention any of that. Instead, it was just about stopping Charles becoming head of the Commonwealth.

And so the government remains desperate to keep a lid on whatever it is that Prince Charles has said to ministers, while even more enthusiastically snooping on everyone else. And I’m sick of it. I’d far rather we had a government like that of Kurt Eisner, the German Socialist head of Bavaria during the ‘Council Revolution’ of 1919. Eisner was a Jewish theatre critic, who saw Russian-style workers’ soviets not as a replacement for democracy, but as extension. And he had no time for government secrecy. His office was open to everyone, and he quite happily showed members of the public papers marked ‘government secrets’. Unfortunately, he was beaten to death by the Freikorps when they stormed Munich to put the Revolution down. Eisner and his regime may well have been too extreme, but we desperately need some of his faith in genuinely popular and open government here across the North Sea in the 21st century.