Posts Tagged ‘Karl Kautsky’

Vox Political: Owen Smith Tries to Shut Down Criticism of Sadiq Khan

August 23, 2016

A few days ago, Sadiq Khan, the elected mayor of London, decided it would be best if he sided with the Blairites and attacked Jeremy Corbyn. This is after Corbyn fully supported and personally aided his campaign to become the capital’s mayor, and Britain’s leading local politician. Naturally, Corbyn’s supporters were outraged at this betrayal, and showed their disgust by booing him at a rally for the Labour leader.

This show of popular sentiment was too much for Owen Smith, who got on his high horse to demand that Corbyn should condemn anyone who booed Khan.

Mike over at Vox Political is not impressed with Smudger’s imperious attitude to the Labour grassroots and Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters. He points out that Sadiq Khan, through his treachery, has shown Londoners that he is a man unable to keep his word. He also points out that the Labour party was founded by working class people, who were fed up of their social superiors telling them what to do. And now Smudger is presuming to do just that.

And it’s also extremely hypocritical of Smiffy to demand that Corbyn stifle criticism of Khan and the Blairites, while they have smeared Corbyn supporters like Mike as ‘rabble’, ‘Trots’, ‘dogs’ and so on.

See the article: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/08/22/how-dare-owen-smith-think-he-has-a-right-to-tell-the-rest-of-us-what-to-do/

Mike’s quite right. And this is another example of New Labour, living down to the tactics practised by Blair, Brown & co. themselves. New Labour was notorious for carefully stage-managed displays of popular loyalty and approval to the Great Leader. When this wasn’t forthcoming, they threw a strop. Those parts of the Labour party and trade union movement, which proved awkward or embarrassing, were closed down or reformed, so that any recalcitrant official was removed and replaced by someone more malleable. This happened to the Student Union, which was reorganised under Blair to remove democracy. No longer were its national officers elected by its members. Instead, they were appointed by Blair and co.

Smudger and the Blairites have also shown themselves to be highly intolerant of the criticism that comes with politics. Back in the days when working class politicians stood on street corners making speeches, abuse, heckling and worse was all part of the job. A couple of my older relatives from my great-grandparents’ generation used to makes speeches arguing for the Labour party at Speakers’ Corner on the Downs in Bristol. My grandmother told me that her father, or whoever it was, actually wasn’t afraid if someone threw a stone at him, as this act of aggression gave him the sympathy of the rest of the crowd.

Oswald Mosley, baronet and Fascist thug, also talks about heckling and answering them in his autobiography, My Life. He made it plain that it was all part of the ‘rough and tumble’ of politics. I have to say I don’t like arguments and personal abuse, and far prefer genteel debate. But it shows how autocratic Owen Smith is in his determination to shut down any criticism from his opponents, when even a wannabe dictator and Nazi cheerleader like Mosley appears more willing to tolerate criticism from a crowd.

Of course, the whole point of this is that the Blairites don’t like democracy. They want the Labour grassroots to shut up and accept the rightful place of the very industrialists and big businessmen, who are driving them into poverty, at the head of the Labour party. But democracy has always been too important to the organised working class for this. I found this snippet on how authoritarianism is unacceptable to proper working class Socialists in Lucien Laurat’s Marxism and Democracy.

As far as democracy itself is concerned, together with Marx and Engels we consider it the sine qua non of all fruitful socialist activity, because without it collective property would be inconceivable. We believe, with Karl Kautsky, that “to doubt democracy is in reality to doubt the proletariat itself”, and that, in general, the existence of a dictatorial and authoritarian government at a given moment proves, for this moment at least, “the inability of the proletariat to emancipate itself, because no proletariat capable of doing so would tolerate for one moment any government determining what it should read, what it should hear, and what it should do.” (p.224)

Which is what Smudger is trying to do, because he and the Blairites ignore and despise the working class, and wish to capture the votes and interests of the middle classes. And the result is what happened at the Corbyn rally, when the crowd showed that it very definitely was not going to be told ‘what it should read, what it should hear, and what it should do’, and who it should support.

Thomas Sowell on Marx and Engels’ Support for Democratic Socialism

July 6, 2016

Sowell Marx Cover

For just about everyone born after the Russian Revolution, and particularly after the horrors of Stalin, Chairman Mao, Pol Pot and a myriad other dictators, who have claimed to govern on behalf of the workers and peasants, Marxism has appeared quite contrary to democracy. Marx and Engels stood for violent revolution, and their theories provided the basis for oppressive, oligarchies ruling through mass arrests, terror and murder.

Marx on Democracy

Thomas Sowell in his brief book on Marx and his theories, Marxism: Philosophy and Economics (London: George Allen & Unwin 1985) shows that while Marx and Engels certainly did not disavow violent revolution, and despite his sneers about it, like his quip that democratic capitalism was merely a case of ‘deciding once in three or six years which member of the ruling class was to misrepresent the people in parliament’, took democracy very seriously, and believed that Socialism could be achieved mainly through the victory of Socialist parties at the ballot box. He writes

To the French workers in 1870, on the eve of the uprising that produced the Paris Commune, Marx advised against an uprising as a “desperate folly” and urged instead: “Let them calmly and resolutely improve the opportunities of Republican Liberty.” He closed with the motto: ” Vive la Republique.” A quarter of a century later, Engels wrote in a similar vein that “the government came to be much more afraid of the legal than of the illegal actions of the workers’ party, of the results of election than those of rebellion.” In Britain, according to Marx, “the gradually surging revolt of the working class compelled Parliament to shorten compulsorily the hours of labour.”

Democracy was seen as a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for freedom. (p. 142).

The Dictatorship of the Proletariat Does Not Justify Dictatorship

He warns the reader not to read back into Marx’s discussion about the dictatorship of the proletariat – the period in which the working class will govern society before the achievement of true Communism – the all too real dictatorships of Stalin and its counterparts in eastern Europe and Asia. Sowell writes further

The Communist Manifesto described “the first step in the revolution” as being “to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, to win the battle of democracy.” In a preliminary draft for the Manifesto, Engels declared that a Communist revolution “will inaugurate a democratic constitution and thereby, directly or indirectly, the political rule of the proletariat.” the use of the phrase “dictatorship of the proletariat” – in Marx’s sense – is little more than a paraphrase of these statements

Between capitalists and communist society lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of one into the other. There corresponds to this also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.

In his correspondence, Marx asserted that “the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat, which in turn represents a “transition” to a classless society. How is this compatible with “winning the battle of democracy,” as mentioned in the Communist Manifesto? Because “the democratic republic,” as Engels explained, is “the specific form of the dictatorship of the proletariat.” Just as in a capitalist state “wealth exercises its power indirectly, but all the more surely”, so in a workers’ state the numerical superiority of the proletariat turns democracy in form to a class dictatorship. Marx’s contemporary, John Stuart Mill, agonised over precisely this point. The democratic republic under capitalism becomes the arena in which workers struggle to wrest political control from the capitalists. Once this is accomplished, then under socialism it is the workers’ state that exists as long as any state is necessary -i.e. until the “withering away of the state”. (p. 143).

The Revolution Could Be Peaceful

He notes that Marx admired the Paris Commune, because he believed it had universal suffrage, an open society, freedom of religion and separation of church and state, and a non-militaristic viewpoint. (p. 144).

On revolution, he quotes Engels as saying ‘the abolition of capital is itself the social revolution’, and later, at the end of his life, that ‘the bourgeoisie and the government came to be more afraid of the legal than of the illegal action of the workers’ party, of the results of lections than of those of rebellion.’ (p.148). Engels was also aware that it was extremely rare for civilian rebels to overcome an army in street fighting. (p.149). He also believed that violence was more likely to be started by the capitalists than by the workers.

The irony of world history turns everything upside down. We, the “revolutionists”, the “over-throwers”, – we are thriving far better on legal methods than on illegal methods and overthrow. The parties of Order, as they call themselves, are perishing under the legal conditions created by themselves … And if we are not so crazy as to let ourselves be driven to street fighting in order to please them, then in the end there is nothing left for them to do but themselves break through this fatal legality. (p. 149)

Democracy Draws the Working Class into Politics

He also quotes Marx as admiring democracy under capitalism for drawing the masses into politics and political discussion:

The parliamentary regime lives [according to Marx] by discussion: how shall it forbid discussion? Every interest, every social institution, is here transformed into general ideas, debated as ideas; how shall any interest, any institution, sustain itself above though and impose itself as an article of faith? The struggle of the orators on the platform evokes the struggle of the scribblers of the press; the debating club in parliament is necessarily supplemented by debating clubs in the salons and the pothouses; the representatives, who constantly appeal to public opinion, give public opinion the right to speak is real mind in petitions. The parliamentary regime leaves everything to the decision of majorities; how shall the great majorities outside parliament not want to decide? When you play the fiddle at the top of the state, what else is to be expected but that those down below dance?

Rejection of Terrorist Conspiracies

Marx and Engels contrasted the democratic nature of the Communist League, which had elective and removable boards, which ‘barred all hankering after conspiracy, which requires dictatorship, with revolutionary secret societies of Louis Blanqui and his followers. He stated that such conspiratorial small groups – such as those which Lenin would later advocate in his book What Is To Be Done? were “the fantasy of overturning an entire society through the action of a small conspiracy.” (pp. 150-1). He also notes that Marx did not see the workers as being automatically paragons of virtue from the very beginning, or would have to be led by a group of elite leaders. (p.151). Again, this is very in contrast to Lenin and his theories in What Is To Be Done? Engels said

The time of surprise attacks, of revolutions carried through by small conscious minorities at the head of unconscious masses, is past. Where it is a question of a complete transformation of the social organisation, the masses themselves must also be in it, must themselves already have grasped what is at stake, what they are going in for with body and soul. (p. 152).

He also notes that Engels did not abandon the possibility of armed revolution where the aims of the ‘workers’ party’ could not be achieved through democracy. And he also notes that Marx was quite happy for terror to be used against ‘hate individuals or public buildings that are associated only with hateful recollections’. Engels, however, had a much more critical attitude. He said

We think of this reign of people 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. (p. 153). It’s advice that far too few self-confessed Marxist regimes put into practice.

What makes this particularly interesting is that Margaret Thatcher tried to have legislation passed to ban Marxists from having positions in academia. Furthermore, radicals like Noam Chomsky point out that America did have a tradition of working class, left-wing politics, under this was destroyed by the anti-Communist hysteria of the Cold War. In all fairness, Thatcher and the Cold Warriors had a point, in that the Communist Party founded by Lenin was based on the monopoly of power by a small, revolutionary coterie, who jailed and persecuted their enemies, with horrific brutality. But many Marxists actively opposed them. Rosa Luxemburg was bitterly critical of the Bolshevik coup and the suppression of political freedom in the USSR. So was Karl Kautsky, one of the leading figures of Austrian Marxism, who occupied the centre of the country’s Social Democratic Party, the main Socialist party, and which today roughly corresponds to the Labour party in Britain. Kautsky wrote pamphlets and articles attacking the Bolshevik coup, and supported the break-away Menshevik regime in Georgia.

There are very many problems with Marxism, ranging from its rejection of eternal, objective moral values, to its conception of history as based on the class struggle and the Hegelian dialectic, as well as its materialism. But it also provides material for a democratic socialism, as against totalitarian tyranny and mass murder.

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.

Mikhail Gorbachev on Worker’s Control in Perestroika

May 31, 2016

One of the most interesting aspects of Gorbachev’s plan to restructure the Communist system in Perestroika was the re-introduction of workers’ control. Lenin briefly introduced this after the Bolshevik coup of 1917, but it was reversed when it was found that, contrary to Bolshevik expectations and dogma, the workers couldn’t manage industry on their own. Lenin himself was fiercely autocratic and intolerant, and the Bolshevik monopolization of power offended not only liberal democrats, but also other committed Marists, like Karl Kautsky and Rosa Luxemburg, who wrote articles denouncing it. Much of the intolerance and oppressive nature of the Soviet system came directly from Lenin and his doctrine of ‘democratic centralism’. This was the dogma that once the leaders of the Communist party had made a decision, no further discussion was permissible, and their commands should be carried out with any further debate or protest. Nevertheless, Gorbachev harkened back to Lenin and his supposed espousal of democracy in order to invigorate the moribund and sclerotic Soviet system. The reintroduction of workers’ control was part Gorby’s wider programme of democratizing Soviet society.

In his 1987 book, Perestroika: New Thinking for our Country and the World (London: Collins) Gorby writes

We are taking a new view of the correlation between one-man management and the participation of work collectives in handling production tasks. this is a topical issue. There will be no progress without workers’ involvement in management through the corresponding mechanisms – at the work team, factory shop, plant and integrated works level. Furthermore, a work collective must have the right to elect its manager. And the latter receives the right to one-man rule on behalf of the collective, uniting everybody by his willpower.

Elections of economic managers are direct democracy in action. Initially people were frightened by this, claiming that we had gone too far, that things could come to a bad end. But those who reason that way forget the main point, that common sense always prevails. Group interests, a practice of covering up for one another, will somewhere make themselves felt. But basically everyone wants his work team, factory shop, enterprise, collective or state farm to be headed by dependable, intelligent managers capable of leadership, of opening up vistas for improving production and life. Our people understand this, and they certainly do not need weak management. They need people who are talented, considerate, yet demanding in a fair way.

People want to see changed attitudes on the part of the plant manager, shop superintendent and foreman. People expect a moral example and they expect it particularly from their superiors. There are several such examples. Where there is a good manager, there is success. He takes care of people. Everyone wants to talk with him. He need not raise his voice in giving out orders. He may look quite ordinary, but he sees and can explain everything. It is now extremely important to be able to explain the situation. People will agree to wait if they see why some of their demands cannot be satisfied fully right away. (Pp. 103-4).

The former General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party also wanted to restore greater powers to the trade unions. These did not have the same roles and responsibilities as western trade unions. As the Soviet Union was a workers’ state, the Communists reasoned that trade unions should have no power to block or interfere with the authorities, who were the workers’ representatives. Nevertheless, the Soviet system granted them vast powers. The were to be consulted on economic planning, and the sacking of employees was only legal if the union had been consulted. The trade unions were also given the responsibility for running the health, medical and leisure programmes in Soviet plants, factories and industry. Gorbachev was concerned that the trade unions were acquiescing too much to the demands of management. He wished to alter this situation by giving them the power to represent the workers’ interests against management as well as improving healthcare and leisure at Soviet workplaces. He wrote

What our country is undertaking and the issues it is tackling implies a re-evaluation of the role of trade unions in social affairs.

It should be said first and foremost that our unions are a formidable force. No labour law can be drafted unless endorsed by the All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions. On all questions concerning labour laws, their enforcement and the safeguarding of the working people’s right the trade unions have the final say. If a manager fires a worker without asking the union for approval, a court of law automatically makes the decision invalid without any deliberation, inasmuch as the trade union has not been consulted for its opinion. No economic development plan, for one year or five years, is submitted to the Supreme Soviet unless approved by the trade unions. When the plans are in the making, the trade unions participate as well at all levels.

Social insurance, the running of sanatoriums and recreation resorts, tourism, physical training and sports, and the rest and recreation of children are all the responsibility of the trade unions. Consequently, they wield real power. But, all, over the past few years there has been less trade union activity. On some issues, they have yielded their prerogatives to economic managers, while not enjoying some rights effectively enough.

So, having set about restructuring, we saw that the work of the trade unions could not be termed satisfactory. During my trip to the Kuban region, I reproached trade union leaders for pandering to managers, sometimes going so far as dancing to their tune. I asked them whether it was not high time they took a position of principle, and stood up for working people?

The new role of the trade unions in conditions of perestroika should consist primarily of giving a stronger social orientation to economic decisions, offsetting technocratic encroachments which have become widespread in the economy in the last few years. this means that the trade unions should be more active in elaborating the social sections of economic plans, and, if need be, setting forth and upholding their own alternative proposals.

Trade union committees should have teeth, and not be convenient partners for management. Bad working conditions at some enterprises, a poor health service, substandard locker rooms- trade union organisations have got used to all this. but Soviet trade unions have the right to monitor managerial compliance with labour contracts, the right to criticise management, and even the right to demand that director who fails to comply with the legitimate interests of the working people be removed from office.

It would be wrong to think that under socialism the working people do not need any protection. They should be protected even more, for socialism is a system for the working people. Hence the tremendous responsibility of the trade unions. All Soviet society is vitally interested in more vigorous work being undertaken by the trade unions. (Pp. 113-4).

All this was discarded during Yeltsin’s administration, when the economy was privatised and the voucher system introduced, which transformed the co-operatives Gorby had been setting up into bog standard capitalist enterprises. If Gorbachev had been successful, he would have created a democratic Socialist state, very close to the vision of the ownership of the means of production by the workers themselves that motivated Socialists as far back as the Owenite John Francis Bray in the 19th century. While not demanding the abolition of capitalism, Ha-Joon Chang states in his book, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, that in countries where there is state interest in industry, or workers’ representatives on the boardroom, firms actually do better than when left simply to managers and shareholders. But unfortunately, that it what we are left with after thirty years of Thatcherism. And its continuing and accelerating under Cameron.

We need a change. British trade unionism needs to be revitalised, and we do need workers’ representatives in our boardrooms. As for Thatcher, her ideas were always bankrupt. They should have been thrown out before she ever took office.

The German Workers Who Struck For Peace

March 29, 2014

German War Corpse

Corpse of German trooper outside his dugout: a vivid image of the horrific carnage experienced by all the combatants in the ‘War to End All Wars’.

This year is the centenary of the beginning of the First World War. The BBC has already commemorating this by putting on numerous documentaries about the Great War, setting up on-line resources for schools so you can see what your particular bit of the country was like and did at the time. they’re also running trailers for forthcoming dramas where idealistic young nurses meet handsome soldiers in a saga of love amid the mass slaughter of the War. Documentaries about the World Wars are a staple of British television anyway. Dan Snow on the One Show has appeared several times striding across a World War I battlefield, while a few years ago Tony Robinson presented a Time Team special on the excavation of a system of WWI trenches in Flanders. Some of the coverage has already proven somewhat controversial. There was some comment a few weeks ago on television that something the BBC broadcast had provoked a complaint from the German embassy. There’s a difference of opinion here between German historians and the rest of the world. Most other nations see the War as being caused by Germany. German historians, on the other hand, believe that no single nation is to blame and that the growth of international tension and the web of alliances with which each nation surrounded itself led inexorably to the War. I really don’t know anything beyond the most general outline of events surrounding the First World War, and so leave it to people much better informed than I do to explain it.

One immediate result of the War was the break-up of international socialism. Previously the European Socialist parties had opposed working class involvement in any conflict between the European nations. For them, it would be a fratricidal conflict, as the working classes in each country had more in common with each other than with their rulers. The war would be a bourgeois war, started by the European ruling classes for their own further profit and enrichment, with the working class troops solely the exploited means by which they sought to do so. When the War finally broke out, however, the Socialist parties all over Europe joined the other parties in backing their governments.

Karl Kautsky, the head of the German Social Democrats, modified his party’s view of the conflict. He considered that Socialists in each country should now see the war only as defending their homelands. They should also campaign for a just peace, which would maintain the integrity of the defeated nations and avoid any cause for resentment on their part. This would prevent any further War from breaking out. He wrote

Further, the Social Democracy in every nation is obliged to consider the war only as a war of defence, and to set as its goal only defending itself against the enemy, not of ‘punishing’ or belittling the enemy. As this conception seeks the causes of the war not in the personal depravity or inferiority of the opponent, but in objective conditions, it will strive for the security which they conclusion of peace brings not by humiliating or mutilating its opponent, which would only cause new wars in the future, but by replacing those condition which led to the war – that is, imperialist conflicts and the armaments race.

Patrick Goode, ed. and trans., Karl Kautsky: Selected Political Writings (London: Macmillan Press 1983) 95.

It’s a pity that the Allies did not follow this advice when imposing the reparations and conditions on Germany afterwards. This could have removed some of the feelings of humiliation and resentment felt in Germany, feelings on which the Nazi preyed and used in their campaign to seize power.

Some Socialist parties continued to campaign against the War, such as the Bolsheviks in Russia, and the USPD – the Independent Social Democratic Party in Germany. One of those who campaigned against the War was the radical deputy, Karl Liebknecht, who went on to found the Spartacist League and the German Communist Party. There were also a number of strikes in Germany against the War. When Liebknecht was tried by a court martial for treason on the 28th June 1916, 55,000 workers went on strike in solidarity.

In April 1917 there was a much larger strike due to the government cutting the bread ration by a quarter. In Leipzig, the striking workers demanded in addition to the removal of their economic grievances the introduction of a direct, general and equal franchise, the removal of the state of siege, lifting of censorship, the release of all political prisoners, the re-instatement of the right to strike and hold political meetings. the government was also to make a declaration in favour of immediate peace without annexations.

On the 28th January 1918 a further mass strike broke out. In Berlin alone 200,000 workers downed tools and elected an action committee consisting of eleven Revolutionary Shop Stewards from The Turners’ union, and three delegates each from the pro-War Social Democratic and anti-War Independent Social Democratic Parties. Their demands included the

speedy conclusion of a peace without annexations and indemnities, on the basis of the nations’ right to self-determination, according to the provisions formulated by the Russian People’s Commissars at Brest-Litovsk.

They also wanted the removal of the state of siege and military control of the factories, the release of all political prisoners, the introduction of a general and equal franchise and a thorough democratisation of all institutions of the state. The strike spread rapidly to towns throughout Germany, including Munich, Mannheim, Brunswick, Bremen, Cologne, Hamburg, Kiel, Danzig (now Gdansk in Poland) Leipzig and Nuremberg. In all of these towns with the exception of Munich and Berlin the strike collapsed after a week. In Berlin Military Command suppressed it by placing the leading armaments factories under martial law. In Munich Kurt Eisner, one of the leading USPD politicians and opponent of the War, Kurt Eisner, was arrested before he could call for a general strike to bring down the government. The moderate Social Democrats were thus able to retake control and the Strike ended a few days later.

See F.L. Carsten, Revolution in Central Europe 1918-1919 (Aldershot: Wildwood House 1972) 14-15.

I’ve blogged about the bitterness caused by the First World War across Europe, and the anti-War poems of some of the soldiers, who fought in it, like Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. Germany also has its great anti-War work from the time of the First World War, Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front. The original German title is Nichts Neues Im Westen – ‘There is Nothing New in the West’. It’s also a bitter comment on the belligerent nature of Western civilisation. I think it’s also important At this time to recognise that Germany also had its campaigners for an end to the War and for a just peace that would establish friendship between nations afterwards. It’s a point that could easily get forgotten in the programmes, documentaries and debates about the War during this centenary.

Graduate Underemployment Today and in 19th Century Germany

March 19, 2014

Graduate Jobs diagram

Diagram of the various sectors of the economy employing graduates. The vast majority are ‘jobs graduates end up doing’.

Taken from ‘Graduates Aren’t What They Used To Be’ at http://www.workcomms.com/graduates/whitepapers/graduates/.

Yesterday’s I newspaper carried an article about the massive underemployment of educated workers, including graduates. These were workers performing jobs for which they were too highly qualified. In some parts of the North, the article stated, the number of skilled and educated workers in lower skilled jobs was around 50 per cent.

I am not remotely surprised. There has been a massive expansion in further and higher education from 1980s onwards. During Tony Blair’s administration, approving Fleet Street columnists like Polly Toynbee saw this as a major positive step. Britain was not only going to be better educated, but this would provide the skilled, intellectual workforce of tomorrow to fuel British industry. Computer skills in particular were in great demand, and there was much optimistic talk about the immense value of the knowledge economy. All this was, of course, just before the Dot.com bubble exploded, thus following in the long line of massively over-hyped investments schemes like the South Sea bubble and John Law’s Louisiana scheme. The only difference with that those was that instead of the being in some remote part of the Earth, the property being developed was in cyberspace.

In all of this there seems to have been little thought to how these graduates were going to be employed afterwards, nor how they were supposed to create the expected new jobs. It seems to have been simply assumed that the clerical, managerial or entrepreneurial sectors of industry would expand to take them on.

This simply did not occur, so that instead, educated, often highly educated people were forced to find work for which they were overqualified, simply to put food on the table. The SF novelist, Spider Robinson, in the foreword to his collection of short stories, Callaghan’s Crazy Crosstime Bar, describes how the only job he could get after leaving Uni was as a nightwatchman at a building site ‘Looking at a hole in the ground to make sure nobody stole it’. Other graduates have found themselves flipping burgers. Not only are these jobs wasting their talents, but the entry of graduates into them has put additional employment pressure on low qualified workers, for whom this is only type of job they can do.

The German Socialist leader Karl Kautsky remarked on a similar process occurring in late 19th century Germany. He remarked on the way the industrialisation of the country from feudalism to capitalism had encouraged the expansion of higher education. However, the new generation of graduates found that the expansion of education had deprived them of their privileged status, and they became white-collar workers, members of the working class. Kautsky wrote

Clearly the capitalist mode of production requires a massive intelligentsia. The educational facilities of the feudal state were incapable of catering for that need. Thus the bourgeois regime has always been in favour of improving and expanding not only elementary but also higher education. This was supposed to promote not only the development of production, but also to lessen class conflict; given that higher education was a way of gaining access to the professional world, it seemed self-0evident that the universal expansion of higher education would integrate the proletariat into the bourgeoisie.

But the bourgeois standard of life only becomes a necessary correlate of higher education when the latter is a privilege. When it becomes universal, far from integrating the proletariat into the bourgeoisie, it degrades him to a ‘white-collar worker’, to a proletarian. That too is one of the manifestations of the immiseration of the mass of people.

He then proceeds to describe how the intelligentsia of his day tried to block the entry into higher education of underprivileged groups, like women, Jews and the working class.

The strongest opposition to the education of women is expressed by university professors and students, and by the leading scientists. It is they who exclude the Jewish intelligentsia from all competition for position in the professional world, and who go to great lengths to make higher education more expensive and hence inaccessible to the poor.

Karl Kautsky, ‘The Revisionist Controversy’ in Patrick Goode, Karl Kautsky: Selected Writings (London: Macmillan 1983) 20.

The situation in Britain today is almost completely the opposite. There are now more women at university than men, and there are a number of campaigns to encourage women to take up traditionally male-dominated subjects, like engineering and science. Furthermore, most universities are extremely keen to encourage enrolment by members of ethnic or religious minorities. Furthermore, when student fees were introduced, the universities were worried that it would lead to education becoming the preserve of a privileged few. University administrators, in my experience, have also welcomed the greater opportunity of people from less privileged groups to go to university.

However, the massive expansion of tuition fees by the Tories and their Tory Democrat allies certainly seems to indicate that they see higher education as something that should remain the exclusive privilege of the upper and upper middle classes. Unable to oppose openly the idea that university education should be open to more than just a narrow elite, it appears that Cameron and Clegg, both blue-blooded aristos, are trying to price it out of the reach of the working and lower middle classes.

They also seem to see students as a further reservoir of debt slaves. With student debt now going up to 27,000 or more, I did read recently of the Coalition plan to sell their debts to private industry. Where once upon a time education was free, now it seems that not only is it extremely expensive, but students themselves are seen as a lucrative investment by the insurance industry.

In Germany graduate and university discontent led eventually to strong support for the Nazi party in the last years of the Weimar period and the years of the Nazi seizure of power. In Britain very few graduates have any sympathy for the Fascist radical Right, and racism and militant anti-feminism would not be welcome. Instead there is growing graduate poverty and discontent, as former students join their less-skilled fellows in poorly paid, unrewarding jobs, with the additional worries about paying off their student debt. Their needs should also be addressed by the politicos along with the rest of the working population. Unfortunately, as Tony Benn remarked about Maggie’s prime ministry,

Despite the fact that we have been told that this is an entrepreneurial society, Britain has an utter contempt for skill. If one talks to people who dig coal and drive trains, or to doctors, nurses, dentists or toolmakers, one discovers that no one in Britain is interested in them. The whole of the so-called entrepreneurial society is focused on the City news that we get in every bulletin which tells us what has happened to ¬£ sterling to three decimal points against the basket of European currencies. Skill is what built this country’s strength, but it has been treated with contempt.

There is an immense reservoir of talent, which is vastly underused in this country. For all the talk about expanding the knowledge economy, promoting science and creating a workforce with the skills needed by industry, there is little interest in actually using such a skilled workforce, and the Tory attitude seems to regard them merely as a suitably remunerative investment for the insurance industry. This has to change. We should be creating a nation, which can and does employ such people, or develop schemes by which they themselves can create the industries for which they have skills. I cannot see this happening under a government that sees no value in education beyond its monetary value, and indeed even views it as a threat when in the hands of anyone outside the privileged ranks of the aristocratic few.

I’ve taken the words of the speech from Another Angry Voice’s post, Tony Benn and Neoliberal Orthodoxy. This article, and other quotations from the speech, is at http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/tony-benn-and-neoliberal-orthodoxy.html.

Alternatively, a video of the speech can also be seen at Guy Debord’s Cat’s post ‘There’s only One Tony Benn’, which is at http://buddyhell.wordpress.com/2014/03/15/theres-only-one-tony-benn/.

The Russian Revolutionaries on the Democratic Right to Recall Politicians

March 19, 2014

Soviet Poster

Russian Revolutionary poster showing the slogan ‘All Power to the Soviets!’

One of the promises the Tories and Tory Democrats have also gone back on was that they would give people the right to have their MP suspended or dismissed if they were guilty of misconduct. The promise was made during the expenses scandal, and was obviously far too radical for the Coalition. In the words of Sir Humphrey in BBC’s political comedy, Yes Minister, it was very ‘courageous’. This meant that it might lose them the next election. After all, what would happen if even more Tory or Liberal MPs were caught fiddling their expenses or some other, worse activity, like sexual assault? And so it was announced the other week that the policy had been dropped.

The Russian revolutionaries also initially demanded the right to recall unsatisfactory delegates to their national assembly. On the 7th December the All-Russian Executive Committee of Soviets issued the following resolution, stating clearly their demands for such a right:

However a body of elected representatives may be constituted, it can only be considered truly democratic and representative of the will of the people when the right of the voters to recall their representatives is recognised and implemented. This founding precept of democracy applies to the Constituent Assembly as to all other representative bodies … The Congress of the Councils of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ delegates, which is constituted on the basis of parity, has the right to call for new elections to all bodies representative of citizens, peasants or any other groups, and this includes the Constituent Assembly. At the request of more than half the electors in the constituency in questions, the Councils must order new elections.

Karl Kautsky: ‘Dictatorship and Democracy’, in Patrick Goode, ed. and trans. Karl Kautsky: Selected Political Writings (London: Macmillan 1983) 124.

at the time the All-Russian Executive Committee of Soviets issued the demand, Russia was still in a state of turmoil. The Bolsheviks hadn’t yet seized power, although the Tsar had been overthrown. There were thus demands for the formation of a constituent assembly to decide the constitution and political form of the new Russia. In the event, this demand was also much too radical for the Bolsheviks. The provisional government and its elected ministers were overthrown, and the Bolsheviks installed as the only permitted political party. Nevertheless, the idea that citizens should have the right to recall their political representatives would be a powerful democratic right.

It will not, of course, ever be implemented in Britain, and especially not by the Tories or Tory Democrats. As has been shown by the government’s attitude to parliament, where demands for a cumulative impact assessment in to the terrible effect the government’s cuts to disability benefit was having on disable people and their careers, and Ian Duncan Smith’s refusal to explain his department’s conduct and policies before the Work and Pensions Committee, Cameron and the rest do not see themselves as responsible to the honourable gentlemen and ladies of parliament, let alone the British electorate. Cameron, Clegg, Osborne and IDS are all aristos who assume, they have a natural right to govern. They need to be shown that they do not, and that they are responsible to the people.

Lenin and Engels on the Corrupting Influence of the Banks

March 18, 2014

Osborne Pic

Chancellor George Osborne – the ally of big business and the rich against the poor

Since Margaret Thatcher successive governments in Britain have pursued Neoliberal and Monetarist economic policies, which have seen the rich become immensely richer at the expense of everyone else. Thatcher decimated Britain’s manufacturing industry, and attempted to make the financial sector the dominant force in the British economy. The government thus adopted, under both the Tories and New Labour, a series of policies designed to promote the finance industry, and in particular, the City of London. These had a further effect of damaging Britain’s manufacturing industry still further by making our exports uncompetitive. The current government in particular has very strong connections to the City and its financiers.

Engels observed the corrupting influence of the financial sector on government in both France and America in a passage cited by the German Socialist leader, Karl Kautsky, and then by the Russian Communist leader, Lenin, in his 1918 work on the class nature of the state, The State and Revolution:

In a democratic republic, Engels continues, “wealth exercises its power indirectly, but all the more surely”, first, by means of the “direct corruption of officials” (America); Secondly, by means of an “alliance of the government and the Stock Exchange” (France and America).

Cited in Lenin: Selected Works (Moscow: Progress Publishers 1968) 271.

The above passage could describe government policies today, when so much of government policy is formulated to be benefit the banks and the financial sector, so that senior bankers and financiers have been co-opted as government advisors on the regulation and policies for the industry.

In the Great Recession caused by the 1929 Wall Street Crash, the French Communist party had no hesitation in pointing the finger at the bankers they felt were responsible for their country’s economic slump for their own profit, as the poster below shows.

Communist Anti-Bankers pic

While clearly the financial sector is important, we do need government policies that instead once again promote manufacturing, and create properly paid jobs, rather than unemployment, instead of the current Neoliberal, Thatcherite policies that benefit only the very rich at the massive expense of the poor, the sick, disabled and elderly. But this definitely ain’t gonna happen under Osborne. Instead, we’ll see more of the same, and a growing gap between rich and poor and consequent more poverty and despair. The sooner the Tories go, the better.

Marx: State is Instrument Class Oppression – Now Proved by Tories

March 16, 2014

Marx pic

One of the fundamental doctrines of Marxism is that the state arose as a result of the class war, and its state structure and institutions are there to reflect and preserve the power of the ruling class. In the Middle Ages under feudalism, for example, the state represented and expressed the power of the feudal lords. With the development of capitalism and an industrial middle class, the state now serves to promote and preserve their power and interests. The Austrian Marxist, Karl Kautsky, described how this occurred, and the way competing social groups could sometimes achieve a balance of power within the state, in his 1912 remarks on the Paris Commune:

“…Because the state arose from the need to hold class antagonisms in check, but because it arose, at the same time, in the midst of the conflict of these classes, it is, as a rule, the state of the most powerful, economically dominant class, which, through the medium of the state, becomes also the politically dominant class, and thus acquires new means of holding down and exploiting the oppressed class…” The ancient and feudal states were organised for the exploitation of the slaves and serfs; likewise, “the modern representative state is an instrument of wage labour by capital. By way of exception, however, periods occur in which the warring classes balance each other so nearly that the state power as ostensible mediator acquires, for the moment, a certain degree of independence of both…” Such were the absolute monarchies of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Bonapartism of the First and Second Empires in France, and the Bismarck regime in Germany.

(Cited in V.I. Lenin, The State and Revolution, in Lenin: Selected Works (Moscow: Progress Publishers 1968) 270).

Marx took over this doctrine from a French Revolutionary lawyer, Antoine Barnave. Barnave had been president of the French Revolutionary Assembly in 1790. A political moderate, it was guillotined three years later because of his connection to the French monarchy. Barnave

had asserted that the difference between classes was the result of economic inequalities, that the class which was in power at any epoch not only made laws for the whole of society in order to guarantee its own hold it property but also “directed its habits and created its prejudices,”, that society was constantly changing under the pressure of economic necessities, and that the rising and triumphant bourgeoisie which had dispolaced the feudal nobility would in turn produce a new aristocracy.
(Edmund Wilson, To the Finland Station (London: W.H. Allen 1960) 147).

Owen Jones in Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class, in the chapter ‘Class Warriors’ quotes some of the leading Tory politicians, who have made it explicit that they are defending the interests of the upper classes, against the poor and working class. He describes how, despite the rhetoric of class reconciliation and understanding for the marginalised spoken by the Tories when David Cameron was elected leader in 2005, Tory politicians in private will reveal attitudes that are almost completely the opposite.

But as soon as they are safely behind closed doors, away from the cameras, the cuddly PR-speak can abruptly disappear. I witnessed the mask slip myself, when in my final year as an undergraduate, an extremely prominent Tory politician from the moderate wing of the party had come to deliver an off-the-record speech to students. So that he could speak candidly, aspiring student journalists were barred from reporting on the speech and we were sworn to anonymity. It soon became clear why. As the logs crackled in the fireplace on a rainy Novemeber evening, the Tory grandee made a stunning confession.

‘What you have to realize about the Conservative Party,’ he said as though it was a trivial, throwaway comment, ‘is that it is a coalition of privileged interests. Its main purpose is to defend that privilege. And the way it wins elections is by giving just enough to just enough other people.’

Here was an analysis that could have dropped out the pages of Socialist Worker. A doyen of the Conservative Party had more or less confessed that it was the political arm of the rich and powerful. It was there to fight the corner of the people at the top. It was waging class war. (pp. 39-40).

Jones then goes on to provide a series of quotes from leading Tory politicians from the 19th century onwards to support this.

For example, when confronted with the 1831 Reform Bill that would have given one out of five adult males the vote, one Tory politico denounced it as ‘a revolution that will overturn all the natural influence of rank and property’. Lord Salisbury, the future prime minister, stated of it that ‘First class men will not canvas mobs, and mobs will not elect first class men.’

The Tory government of Salisbury and Arthur Balfour supported the 1901 Taff Value judgement, which made unions liable for company profits lost during strikes. Stanley Baldwin, who in due course became prime minister during the General Strike, later said of it ‘The Conservatives can’t talk of class war. They started it.’

When the 1926 General Strike was broken, the leading Tory Arthur Balfour exulted ‘The General Strike has taught the working class more in four days than years of talking could have done. (All the above quotes are on p. 41).

Maggie Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher: Regarded the working class as ‘idle, deceitful, inferior and bloody-minded’. Sums up her entire career in government.

Jones also expertly despatches the propaganda myth that Margaret Thatcher herself was somehow working class, and image that was used to gain popularity with part of the working class:

To understand Thatcherism’s attitude to working-class Britain, it is important to start by looking at Thatcher herself. Some of her warmest admirers have been at pains to portray her-wrongly-as a person of humble origins. As the staunchly Thatcherite Tory MP David Davis told me: ‘Margaret was always a bit more middle class than she made out.’ It is almost a clich√© to describe her as a grocer’s daughter, but it was this that coloured her entire political outlook. Growing up in the Lincolnshire market town of Grantham, her father had instilled in her a deep commitment to what could be called lower-middle-class values: individual self-enrichment and enterprise, and an instinctive hostility to collective action. Her biographer, Hugo Young, noted that she had little if any contact with working-class people, let alone the trade union movement.

Her attitudes were undoubtedly cemented when in 1951 she married a wealthy businessman, Denis Thatcher, who believed that trade unions should be banned altogether. She surrounded herself with men from privileged backgrounds. In her first Cabinet, 88 per cent of ministers were former public school students, 71 per cent were company directors and 14 per cent were large landowners. No wonder, then, that one of her Cabinet ministers told a journalist just before the 1979 election: ‘She is still basically a Finchley lady … She regards the working class as idle, deceitful, inferior and bloody-minded’. (46-7). This last quote basically shows that with her contempt for them, it could be argued that many of the working class had a perfect right to celebrate her death, no matter how distasteful it may have been to everyone else.

Jones does also quote a number of other Tories today, who deny that the Tory party is determined to keep the poor and working class down. He notes that members of all the political parties feel they are doing something for the national good. Many Marxists have argued that the state does not automatically represent the interests of the ruling class, but can behave semi-independently. You could cite Tony Benn as an example of the latter. A member of the peerage, he resigned his seat in the House of Lords for a career was a brilliant and passionate Labour politician committed to improving the conditions of the working class, women and ethic minorities. Nevertheless, it is clear that the Tories, or at least of significant portion of them, have always regarded themselves as representing the interests of the ruling elite against the poor and working class.

140117democracy

David Cameron: Doing his best to demonstrate that under the Tories, the state really is the instrument of class oppression.

It is also abundantly confirmed by the composition and policies of the Coalition. Cameron, Osborne, Clegg and IDS are all aristos, and their policies are designed to keep the working class poor and powerless. They should be kicked out at the next election.

The British Financial Sector’s Role in the Promotion of Foreign Industry

March 3, 2014

Bank pic

In a previous blog post I mentioned the statement by the authors of Socialist Enterprise: Reclaiming the Economy (Nottingham: Spokesman 1986) Diana Gilhespy, Ken Jones, Tony Manwaring, Henry Neuberger and Adam Sharples, that one of the causes for the decline of British manufacturing industry was a lack of investment and the concentration on short term returns by British banks. Later in the book, the authors expand on this statement by showing how the lack of investment in British manufacturing by the British financial sector is actually a legacy from the days of the Empire. According to the book, most British financial institutions, in contrast to their German and Japanese counterparts, were geared to investing in and developing the former British colonies, at the expense of the ‘mother country’. They write

The City’s International Role

The British financial system has failed to meet the needs of domestic industry because historically it has been geared to financing trade, in particular within the British Empire. When capital was raised in London it was more often than not for foreign investment, such as the US railroads. The City is now an international centre for managing foreign currencies – ‘Eurocurrencies’. Banks operating in the UK lend vast amounts of money overseas, many of them foreign banks.

This international role has had far-reaching results. British investors divert more of the national income to overseas investment than any major nation. For example, the two largest insurance companies, the Commercial Union and the Royal, do 70 per cent of their insurance business overseas. Since the removal of exchange controls, 60 per cent of unit trust investment has gone abroad.

In Germany and Japan, by contrast, industrial reorganisation has been closely linked with the provision of long-term finance tailored to the needs of domestic industry. Financial institutions have accepted responsibility for industrial performance, and so developed a detailed understanding of the problems facing industry, both technical and managerial. This tradition of industrial banking laid the basis for special credit institutions. In West Germany, the Kreditanstalt fur Weideraufbau – owned by the federal and regional governments – concentrated on regional policies, with the banks focusing on industrial financing. The Japanese economy is dominated by large holding companies, which include both industrial and financial companies: these have worked closely with MITI, the main government department responsible for industrial policy.

This bears out the Austrian Marxists, Karl Kautsky’s observations about the role of British capitalists in developing and promoting overseas rivals to Britain itself from about the time of the First World War. If these policies have continued – and I really don’t expect they’ve changed much in the nearly thirty years since the book was written – there needs to be a complete revolution in the priorities of the British financial sector. One of the solutions the book proposes is the establishment of a state-owned national investment bank for domestic industry, as recommended by the Labour party and the TUC. I like the idea, but it would face strenuous opposition from the established, vested financial interests, who fear any criticism and encroachment on their domination of the financial sector and British industry.