Posts Tagged ‘Franco-Prussian War’

Lenin on the Russian Soviets as a New Form of Workers’ Democracy

July 4, 2016

The word ‘Soviet’, as in the name for the old USSR – the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics – meant a council. These were original councils workers, peasants and soldiers, which were set up by the Russian working people themselves during the 1905 and 1917 revolutions before the Bolshevik coup. The largest and most important was the Petrograd Soviet, in what is now St. Petersburg. They were composed of delegates elected by the workers, peasants and squaddies of the Russian Empire, in contrast to the Russian duma, the country’s parliament. The soviets were not originally the sole monopoly of the Bolsheviks. Their members included representatives from all of the Russian Socialist and revolutionary parties, including as well as Lenin’s Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, Socialist Revolutionaries and Trudoviks. They became a pillar of the monolithic, totalitarian Communist state after the Bolshevik coup and the dissolution of all parties except the Communists. Lenin deliberately changed the name of his faction from Social Democrats (Bolsheviks) to Communists to show that the model for the new, Marxist Socialist society was going to be the Paris Commune of 1872, which rose up in protest against both the French monarchy and the German invasion during the Franco-Prussian War.

Lenin made the ideological nature of the new, governmental system through workers’ councils clear in the section ‘A new Type of State Emerging from Our Revolution’ in his April Theses. He wrote

The Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers’, Peasants’ and other Deputies are not understood, not only in the sense that their class significance, their role in the Russian revolution is not clear to the majority. They are not understood also in the sense that they constitute a new form or rather a new type of state.

The most perfect, the most advanced type of bourgeois state is the parliamentary democratic republic: power is vested in parliament; the state machine, the apparatus and organ of administration, is of the customary kind: the standing army, the police, and the bureaucracy – which in practice is undisplaceable, is privileged and stands above the people.

Since the end of the nineteenth century, however, revolutionary epochs have advanced a higher type of democratic state, a state which in certain respects, as Engels put it, ceases to be a state, is “no longer a state in the proper sense of the word”. This is a state of the Paris Commune type, one in which a standing army and police divorced from the people are replaced by the direct arming of the people themselves. It is this feature that constitutes the very essence of the Commune, which has been so misrepresented and slandered by the bourgeois writers, and to which has been erroneously ascribed, among other things, the intention of immediately “introducing” socialism.

This is the type of state which the Russian revolution began to create in 1905 and in 1917. A Republic of Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers’, Peasants’ and other Deputies, united in an All-Russia Constituent Assembly of people’s representatives or in a Council of Soviets, etc., is what is already being realised in our country now, at this juncture. it is being realised by the initiative of the nation’s millions, who are creating a democracy on their own, in their own way, without waiting until the Cadet professors draft their legislative bills for a parliamentary bourgeois republic, or until the pedants and routine-worshippers of petty-bourgeois “Social-Democracy”, like Mr. Plekhanov or Kautsky, stop distorting the Marxist teaching on the state.

Marxism differs from anarchism in that it recognises the need for a state and for state power in the period of revolution in general, and in the period of transition from capitalism to socialism in particular.

Marxism differs from the petty-bourgeois, opportunist “Social-Democratism” of Plekhanov, Kautsky and Co. in that it recognises that what is required during these two periods is not a state of the usual parliamentary bourgeois republican type, but a state of the Paris Commune type.

The main distinctions between a state of the latter type and the old state are as follows.

It is quite easy (as history proves) to revert from a parliamentary bourgeois republic to a monarchy, for the machinery of oppression – the army, the police, and the bureaucracy-is left intact. The Commune and the Soviets smash that machinery and do away with it.

The parliamentary bourgeois republic hampers and stifles the independent political life of the masses, their direct participation in the democratic organisation of the life of the state from the bottom up. The opposite is the case with the Soviets.

The latter reproduce the type of state which was being evolved by the Paris Commune and which Marx described as “the political form at last discovered under which to work out the economic emancipation of labour”.

We are usually told that the Russian people are not yet prepared for the “introduction” of the Commune. This was the argument of the serf-owners when they claimed that the peasants were not prepared for emancipation. The Commune, i.e., the Soviets, does not “introduce”, does not intend to “introduce”, and must not introduce any reforms which have not absolutely matured both in economic reality and in the minds of the overwhelming majority of the people. the deeper the economic collapse and the crisis produced by the war, the more urgent becomes the need for the most perfect political form, which will facilitate the healing of the terrible wounds inflicted on mankind by the war. The less the organisational experience of the Russian people, the more resolutely must we proceed to organisational developments by the people themselves, and not merely by the bourgeois politicians and “well-placed” bureaucrats. Lenin: The April Theses, 3rd Edition (Moscow: Progress Publishers 1970) 36-8.

Plekhanov and Kautsky were two of the great leaders of European Marxism at the time. Plekhanov was one of the founders of Russian Marxism, while Kautsky was the leader of the Austrian Social Democrats. Both defended parliamentary democracy. The Cadets Lenin also criticises aren’t students at a military academy. They were the Constitutional Democrats, a liberal party and I think the largest party in the duma at the time. Most historians now also believe that Marx, Engels and Lenin were wrong about the Socialist nature of the Paris Commune. The Communards weren’t motivated by Socialism so much as the Parisian local tradition of political autonomy, against the rest of the France, and patriotic outrage at defeat by Prussia, and the government that had failed to defend France, during the Franco-Prussian War.

Parliamentary democracy is superior to a government by workers’ councils, in that it does allow everyone in the state a vote and the opportunity to participate politically. This was recognised by Kautsky, who was a bitter critic of Bolshevik tyranny. However, there is still something deeply attractive about a governmental system that allow working people some measure of direct political power, rather than relying on a class of MPs, who may become distant from their electors, as has frequently happened.

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Workers’ Self-Management in Communist Yugoslavia

February 21, 2014

Self-Management Yugoslavia

I’ve put up a lot of posts about Communist Yugoslavia recently, pointing out the similarities between the Coalition’s policies of Workfare and secret courts with the same policies there and the consequent abuses of human rights. The Yugoslav Communist party also used forced ‘voluntary’ labour after the War, and used secret courts to try dissidents, including one of the leaders and architects of the regime, Milovan Djilas. Although Yugoslavia under Tito was very much a one-party dictatorship, there is one policy, which I do find attractive. This was the experiment in Socialist self-management in which the regime attempted to withdraw partly from the economic and political control of the country and hand over some of that to the workers themselves. workers in particular business were given the power to supervise and alter the business plans of the managerial board through a system of workers’ councils, similar to the workers’ soviets in the Soviet Union before they were taken over by the Bolsheviks and turned into a rigid instrument of Communist political control. The Yugoslavian Communists went further and created a producer’s chamber in government, through which these councils and their workers were to be represented in central government. The architects of that aspect of the regime were Djilas and Edvard Kardelj.

Djilas

Milovan Djilas, Yugoslav Communist leader and architect of the Self-Management system.

In Rise and Fall, Djilas explains that they formulated the policy as a result of the Yugoslavian Communist party’s break with Stalin. They resented Soviet attempts to turn their country into a satellite of the USSR, dominating the country politically and economically so that it served Russian needs and interests, rather than their own. As they rejected Stalin, they also began to criticise Lenin and form their own, particular brand of Marxism. Djilas writes:

By late 1949 and early 1950, theoretical thinking among our top people not only had abandoned Stalin,, but als was working its way back to the roots, from Lenin to Marx. Kardelj maintained that one could prove anything with quotations, but that it was impossible to separate Lenin from Stalin completely. After all, Stalin was an outgrowth of Lenin.

As we made our way back to Marx, we often paused in our critical ponderings on the Leninist type of party. It was not only the source and instrument of victory, but a means of moving on after power had been seized. In accepting Marx’s theory of the withering away of the state- and the more decisively we broke away from Stalinism, the more firmly we believed Marx on that point – we realized that such withering away required a change in the role of the party. yet in the domain of party problems, progress was minimal and slow. We kept running up against a solid wall of ossified functionaries and a layer of party bureaucracy already formed and consolidated. (p. 267-8).

Djilas and his comrades found the solution in the passages in Marx’s Das Kapital dealing with associations of producers.

And so, as I perused in Marx those passages dealing with a future “association of immediate producers” as a form of the transition to communism, it occurred to me that our whole economic mechanism might be simplified by leaving administration to those who worked in the enterprises, the state only securing for itself the tax. One rainiy day in late spring, while we sat talking in a car in front of my villa, I presented this idea to Kardelj and Kidric. Both thought it premature. At the same time, trade union officials meeting with Kardelj proposed, among other things, discontinuing the workers’ councils, which had long existed as anemic, purely advisory forms. Kardelj, however, urged that the councils be strengthened. The one day Kidrc phoned me: “You know that idea of yours-now might be the moment to introduce it”. Kardelj was to link my idea to the workers’ councils. (p. 268). They then presented the idea to Tito and the other ruling Communists at the National Assembly’s Hall of Ministers. Tito adopted it, and then defended it to the National Assembly on June 26th 1950. (pp. 268-9).

Edvard Kardelj, in his essay ‘The System of Socialist Self-Management in Yugoslavia’, also points to the passage in Marx’s Das Kapital on social property as one of the influences on the self-management system in Yugoslavia, as well as the comments about the nature of capital in the Communist Manifesto. He also refers to the passage on the Paris Commune in Marx’s The Civil War in France.

The passage in Das Kapital runs as follows

The capitalist mode of appropriation, which springs from the capitalist mode of production, produces capitalist private property. This is the first negation of individual private property, as founded on the labour of its proprietor. But capitalist production begets, with the inexorability of a natural process, its own negation. This is the negation of a negation. It does not re-establish private property, but it does indeed establish individual property on the basis of the capitalist era: namely cooperation and the possession in common of the land and the means of production produced by labour itself.

In the Communist Manifesto Marx also discussed the nature of private property under capitalism.

Capital is therefore not a personal but a social power.
When, therefore, capital is converted into a common property, into the property of all members of society, personal property is not thereby transformed into social property. it is only the social character of the property that is changed. It loses its class character.

In the passage on the Paris Commune, Marx wrote

It wanted to make individual property a reality, by transforming the means of production, land and capital, which now represent the means of enslavement and exploitation of labour, into the instrument of a free and associated labour .. If cooperative production is not to be a falsehood, if it to repress the capitalist system, if the associated cooperatives are to regulate national production according to a joint plan and thus take it undere their own control and put an end to a continual anarchy and periodical convulsions, which are the inevitable fate of capitalist production – what, gentlemen, would this other than communism, the ‘possible’ communism. (See ‘Edvard Kardelj: The System of Socialist Self-Management in Yugoslavia’ in Blagoje Boskovic and David Dasic, Socialist Self-Management in Yugoslavia 1950-1980: Documents (Belgrade: Socialist Thought and Practice 1980) 9-49 (23-4).

Marx was wrong about the Paris Commune. The Communards were motivated less by Socialism – Socialists were in the minority – but by local, Parisian traditions of activism and a patriotic revolt against the regime that had been humiliatingly defeated by the Prussians during the Franco-Prussian War. The Yugoslavian self-management system is interesting as it went further than other experiments in workers’ control, in countries such as Germany and Austria, to try and give workers a larger degree of power in the administration of their businesses and the regulation of the economy. There was, however, a cost to this, in that when Djilas and Kardelj fell from power, the regime used the system they had created to accuse them of ‘Anarcho-syndicalist deviation’, and therefore Marxist heresy.

Dr Arnold Hutschnecker on the Psychology of the Tyrant

February 13, 2014

Alex de Jonge begins the last chapter of his biography of Stalin by discussing Dr Arnold Hutschnecker’s ideas about the psychology of the drive to power. Hutschnecker was at one time Nixon’s psychiatrist, and so presumably some of these insights came from his observation of Tricky Dicky’s own warped psyche.

According to de Jonge, Hutschnecker believed that the drive to power came from

‘a painful sense of one’s own insignificance, a fear of death and the wish to have others die. It is associated with a low sexual drive and an inability to love. ‘It moves on the wings of aggression to overcome inferiority … Those whose power to love and consequently create has been broken will choose war in order to experience an intoxicating sense of power or excitement.”

Now some of this is obviously true of Stalin. De Jonge points out in the book that Stalin had very strong feelings of inferiority due to his short stature, and his physical deformities. Two of the toes on one of his feet were fused, he had a withered arm and his face was pockmarked due to smallpox. He also had a bitter hatred of intellectuals, possibly dating from the time the Georgian Marxist Zhordania refused to allow him into his revolutionary group because he didn’t have the depth of understanding of Marxist theory he required. De Jonge also states that his attitude to the West was a mixture of the traditional Russian sense of inferiority at the West’s achievements mixed with a sense of spiritual superiority. This inferiority complex resulted in the Stalinist regime’s extreme xenophobia and nationalism, which saw millions of returning Soviet emigres, prisoners of war and troops from Europe after the Second World War imprisoned in the gulags or shot as potential traitors or otherwise culturally contaminated by anti-Soviet elements. It also resulted in the Soviet Union, not content with the brilliant achievements of its own citizens throughout their history, also appropriating those of the West, so that everything from the steam engine to the radio was held up as the invention of a Russian. Not that Stalin’s Russia was the only totalitarian state to do this. Mussolini’s Italy, one of whose leading scientists, Marconi, really had pioneered radio, also made the same extravagant claims. One of these was that Shakespeare was really Italian.

Stalin also recognised that he lacked the ability to love, especially after the death of his first wife. While he may not have feared death in his youth or middle age, when he was young kinto on the streets of Tiflis and gangster-cum-revolutionary holding up banks and repeatedly being exiled and escaping from Siberia, he certainly was terrified of it at the end of his life. He had the cypresses cut down on his summer estate of Kuntsevo because he found them too gloomy. Possibly some memory of his earlier Christian faith, and what he had learned at the seminary in Georgia came back to haunt him, and he began to fear that his victims would find justice against him in the hereafter. And he certainly did not lack the desire to have others die in their millions.

The description also reminds me of that of another public figure, much closer to home: Ian Duncan Smith, the head of the DWP.

Ian Duncan Smith pic

The man clearly suffers from a massive sense of his own inferiority. How otherwise can you explain his bizarre fantasies and lies, in which he has claimed, amongst other things, to have a degree from an Italian university that doesn’t grant them. He has furthermore declared that the introduction of Universal Credit and his other reforms are an advance as great as the abolition of slavery, as well as his highly dubious claim to have been an officer in the British army. And he does seem to have turned to a military career to give him the power and excitement that he lacked as a civilian.

As for the hardship and suffering his reforms in the DWP have caused, these certainly point to a large cruel and sadistic streak in his character. And while I’ve no doubt that he has a desire to cause anyone’s death, as shown in his refusal to release the figures for the number of people who’ve died after being thrown off their benefits by Atos, this is exactly what his reforms have done. You can find a list of names over at Stilloak’s blog. Some bloggers, such as Jaynelinney, have suggested that the figure may be as high as 38,000 per year.

The final chapter of de Jonge’s book also begins with a quote from Marx to Engels about the Paris Commune in 1871. This was the uprising by the citizen’s of Paris in which they tried to establish the city as an independent, revolutionary municipality after France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. It was brutally suppressed by the French monarchy. Marx said

‘We think of terror as the reign of those who inspire terror; on the contrary it is the reign of people who are themselves terrified. Terror consists of useless cruelties perpetrated by frightened people in order to reassure themselves.’

This statement not only describes the paranoid psychology of Stalin himself, but also that of the millions of Soviet citizens, who collaborated with his regime in spying on and denouncing their friends, family and neighbours as saboteurs, agents of Trotsky and the Western, imperial and capitalist powers, or for having an ‘anti-party’ conception of Marxism.

It also describes the psychology of IDS and his servants within the DWP. These are, after all, also demoralised, with those on the lowest ranks of the hierarchy forced to take out advances in their salaries just to ends meet till the end of the month. It also describes the atmosphere of backstabbing and suspicion that also pervades the DWP, and the way its employees take out their own fears, resentment and frustration on those unfortunates, who come to them for unemployment benefit.

Stalin was a monster, who terrorised and murdered millions. Ian Duncan Smith is a petty bureaucrat, but one whose reforms are killing people in their tens of thousands. They are at opposite ends of the political spectrum, but the psychology, the feelings of inferiority and the need to persecute, are exactly the same.

The angry Yorkshireman over at Another Angry Voice has posted a recent article showing the Stalinist assumptions behind IDS workfare schemes, and used Conservative arguments to demonstrate how anyone, who sincerely stands for the principles of the Right, should reject it. He also has this picture showing Smith as Stalin. This seems particularly appropriate considering the similarities between their psychologies.

IDS Stalin

And the Angry Yorkshireman’s question is all too valid. To see his article, ‘Why do Right-Wing People support Workfare’, go to http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/why-right-wing-support-workfare.html

Was Wissen Sie von England, Die Nur England Kennen?

November 21, 2013

This is my schoolboy German for ‘What do they know of England, who only England know?’

One of the major problems facing this country is the British refusal and apparently inability to learn other people’s languages. Having a second language can be immensely personally enriching, as it gives you a greater access to nations and cultures beyond your own. British visitors to the Continent, for example, can be pleasantly surprised and delighted by the way their stumbling attempts to speak the language of the country they’re visiting is appreciated by its people. Even if what you’re trying to say is halting and stumbling, the people you’re saying it to generally appreciate you’re making the effort, rather than arrogantly assuming that everyone speaks English. There have also been concerns for a long time that British industry is being held back by our collective reluctance to learn other tongues. Industrialists have long pointed out that if we want to sell our products to other nations, we have to persuade them to buy British in their own languages. And unfortunately, too few of us are studying another tongue.

This problem was being earnestly debated on breakfast television Tuesday or Wednesday morning. The Beeb were talking about the personal and professional advantages of speaking foreign tongues. One of their guests in this matter was a gentleman, one of those veritable ‘Briareus of tongues’, who could speak very many of them. In this case, the man could speak about eleven fluently. This is rather less than the eighteenth century Italian cardinal, who had mastered fifty, and who was therefore given the above nickname. Unfortunately, despite such multi-lingual experts as the Beeb’s guest a day or so ago, few people are following their example.

And it does shows, especially in some of the ideologues of the Right, who argue we should be following the employment practices of other nations, like the authors of Britannia Unchained. This bunch denounced British workers as lazy, and urged that the nation’s workforce copy those of the powerhouses of the developing world like China and India in working 19th century hours for miserable pay in the kind of conditions described and denounced by Charles Dickens and the other 19th century reformers. They are also doing the workers of the Developing World no service with their book either. Just as Britain and the rest of the Developed World has increased hours, so the working hours in India, China and the other developing nations have been massively extended. It’s a vicious circle, which seems to profit no-one except the multinational business elite now exploiting workers across the globe.

Of course, the author’s of Britannia Unchained seem unaware of this. If they are aware, they certainly don’t want you to be. And they also appear to be stunningly ignorant of business cultures much nearer home, like Germany.

In recent years the Germans have been doing their level best to challenge their image around the world. There has been a flow of steady articles and pieces in the German and foreign press challenging their image as the staunch incarnation of the Prussian virtues of hard-work and efficiency that created the Wirtschaftwunder. Rather than the dour, humourless drones slaving away all hours in the name of ruthless efficiency, the Germans are keen to point out that they do, in fact, enjoy a good joke. A few years ago there were adverts for Berlin, which boasted that it was the place where the art of living was practiced 24 hours a day, complete with a photo of a German rock star strumming out a mighty power chord on his electric guitar. The new Germany, the adverts said, stands for fun.

The punishing labour regimes of the Nazi and Communist dictatorships are similarly an image from the past that the Germans are increasingly challenging. Rather than spending their entire time grafting away at the workplace, German writers and commenters have pointed out that Germany has one of the shortest working weeks, and gives its workers longer holidays than many other countries. I can remember reading a piece by one German journalist in one of the British newspapers, which said that nothing contradicted the image of the hard-working German that the typical modern office in the Bundesrepublik. There, the staff quietly worked in comfort, with the coffee machine bubbling away to itself in a corner. And in such a relaxed, comfortable employment environment, it’s almost inevitable that someone would be going on about how lazy they all were. A few years ago, one of the German magazines ran a feature entitled ‘The German National Hobby: Krankfeiern‘, which I assume means ‘throwing a sickie’. The piece was accompanied by a photo showing an office worker crouched on a desk, surrounded by water, presumably to indicate the way German industry was being drowned by a flood of lazy workers, all skiving off work.

To Anglo-Saxon audiences, the idea that the Germans are all fun-loving with a relaxed attitude to work is almost comically bizarre. It runs directly counter to everything we know, or think we know, about the German character. After all, northern European nations are expected to be sober and hard-working, while it’s the Mediterranean south that’s all about fun and relaxation. It’s like the comment Badvoc made about the difference the Romans and ancient British in the 1980s Channel 4 comedy, Chelmsford 123: ‘We’re not like these hardworking Romans with their roads and efficiency. We have a more relaxed attitude to life. We say ‘manana!’ Yet, believe it or not, this was the German national image before the Prussian kings – one of whom had such a foul temper he was called ‘Die Bose Wetter von Hohenzollern’ took over the country. I was taught at school that in the 17th century the Germans were considered to be the most easy-going people in Europe. That was shattered by the rise of Prussia, the Napoleonic, Franco-Prussian Wars, and World Wars I and II. This has passed, on the Germans are going back to their national image in the 17th century, despite the horrors of the Gradgrinds of German industry.

So how does this new generation of relaxed funsters regard us across the North Sea? Well, as far as the work ethic is concerned, the attitude is now very much reversed, or so it seems. A few years ago a group of German financial workers and banking whizzkids from ‘Manhattan am Main’ were sent off to work in the company’s London branch. They were reported as making jokes about how, in England nothing worked properly. This seems to be pretty much a constant since Britain’s disastrous industrial performance in the 1970s. Unlike the 1970s, when we were the strike-ridden ‘sick man of Europe’, other jokes were about how hard we worked. We had, at least in the opinion of these employees, swapped places with their country as the nation, whose workers slave away driving themselves into the ground at work. Only without the efficiency and product quality.

All this appears to have been excluded from Britannia Unchained. After all, it would undermine their case if they compared us to the Germans, who now know how to combine a strong economy with a reputation for quality products and have a good time. After all, you can’t tell a country of miserable wage-slaves that they’re all skivers and malingers compared to their fun-loving EU counterparts across the Nordsee, regularly clocking with ruthless efficiency at a reasonable hour every day.

Way back in the 1980s Channel 4 briefly held won the rights to broadcast the cricket from the BBC, before they, in turn, were trumped by Murdoch and Sky. Their trailer for the test match season against the West Indies was, in its own small way, a work of art. It opened with pictures of sun-drenched beaches and tropic rainforests, while a female Caribbean face lilted the Kiplingesque lines ‘What do they know of England, who only England know?’ Hence the title of my piece. One of their innovations, I believe, was a female commentator, who had a West Indian accent. They take cricket extremely seriously over that side of the Atlantic. The University of the West Indies in Kingston has a department of Cricket Studies. One of the course’s professors appeared on TV over here a little while ago talking about how the West Indies team’s sporting excellence had boosted the region’s self-image and pride. And the quote used by the advert is still a very, very good question. Kipling himself held some extremely Right-wing views. In the 1920s he formed a group to fight the General Strike. This collapsed when their treasurer ran off with their funds. He wrote the poem with the lines ‘What should they know of England, who only England know?’ in response to riots in the north of England against working conditions there. Nevertheless, the question is a good one, and can be asked of the Right as well as the Left. ‘What do they know of England, who only England know?’ Going by the authors of Britannia Unchained, very little.