Posts Tagged ‘Left Communists’

The Success of Workers’ Industrial Management in the Spanish Civil War

December 27, 2018

I found this passage about how the anarchist workers in Catalonia were able to manage their firms and industries successfully during the Spanish Civil War in David Miller’s Anarchism (London: J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd, 1984).

The problems of collectivization in the cities were in many respects greater than those encountered in the countryside. Collectivization followed one of two paths, depending on whether the previous owner of the factory or workshop in question stayed put or fled. If he stayed, the C.N.T. encouraged him to continue with his management functions, while installing a ‘control committee’ of its own members to supervise the general running of the enterprise. If he left, the union quickly developed its own management structure, promoting technicians and skilled workers in positions of responsibility. These measures appear to have struck a sensible balance between industrial democracy and the requirements of efficient production, and eye-witness accounts (such as Borkenau’s) testify to their success. After visiting the workshops of the Barcelona b8us company, he wrote that, ‘It is an extraordinary achievement for a group of workers to take over a factory, under however favourable conditions, and within a few days to make it run with complete regularity. It bears brilliant witness to the general standard of efficiency of the Catalan worker and to the organizing capacities of the Barcelona trade unions. For one must not forget that this firm has lost its whole managing staff. In addition, whole branches of industry were reorganized. Contrary to what one might have expected, this took the form of combining small workshops and businesses into larger establishments. For instance in Barcelona the number of plants in the tanning industry was reduced from seventy-one to forty, and in glass-making from one hundred to thirty; over nine hundred barber’s shops and beauty parlours were consolidated into some two hundred large shops.

Barcelona was the main scene of urban collectivization, though a number of other cities (such as Alcoy) also witnessed developments of a similar kind. In the Catalonian capital it embraced all forms of transport, the major utilities, the telephone service, the textile and metal industries, much of the food industry, and many thousands of smaller enterprises. Orwell has left us a memorable picture of life in a city ;where the working class was in the saddle’. As a demonstration of the creative capacities of that class, it is surely impressive. (pp. 164-5).

However, Miller goes on to say that it was less successful as a vindication of anarcho-communist theory, because of the problems of coordinating the various stages of the process of production and the collapse of the banking industry, with the result many firms were unable to obtain the raw materials they needed and had to work part time. The other problem was the difference in wealth between the workers taking over the factories and workshops. Some were comparatively well off, while others were in serious debt, and this disparity continued after collectivization.

The Russian experiment in workers’ control after the October Revolution collapsed because the workers’ didn’t have the skills and education to manage industry. It was also crushed by the rapidly increasing grip and monolithic control of the Bolshevik party and bureaucracy, so that the Left Communists, who still advocated it, were crushed for supporting ‘anarcho-syndicalist deviation’. However, the Yugoslavian communist made workers’ control part of their ‘self-management’ system. In Argentina after the last recession earlier in this century, many of the failing firms were handed over to the workers to run by their management, and they were largely successful in turning the fortunes of these companies around as Naomi Wolf observed in one of her videos. They’ve since been handed back to their former management after the economy recovered. However, the Mondragon cooperatives founded in the Basque region of Spain are a continuing success.

As the defenders of capital and the rights of owners and management, the Tories will do everything to discredit organized labour. One of their favourite weapons against the trade unions has been making sure that the public remembers the 1970s as a period of strikes and industrial disruption, and constantly playing up the ‘Winter of Discontent’ in 1979. The results of this has been that worker’s rights have been continually eroded as the power of the unions has been curtailed. Millions of people are now trapped in insecure jobs in the gig economy, with no set hours of work or rights to sick pay, holidays, maternity leave and so on. This should be ended now.

I’m not advocating anything as radical as the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of an anarchist utopia. But the example of the Catalan experiment in workers’ control shows that worker managers can conduct industry responsibly, efficiently and with proper care for their workers. There should thus be absolutely no objection to putting employees on the boards of the companies they work for.


Lenin on Worker’s Industrial Management, Government and the Withering Away of the State

December 24, 2018

One of the central tenets of Marxism is that the period of socialism ushered in by the seizure of power by the workers will eventually lead to the withering away the state and begin the transition to the period of true Communism. This will be the ideal, final phase of society when the government of people will be replaced by the administration of things.

Lenin seems to have believed that the transition to this ideal society would begin after everything had been nationalized and placed in the hands of the workers. The workers would then be able to manage the economy and society through the way capitalism had simplified the management of industry so that it could be performed by the workers themselves. This is explained in a passage from his The State and Revolution, reproduced in Lane W. Lancaster, Masters of Political Thought, Vol. 3: Hegel to Dewey (London: George Harrap & Co. Ltd 1959), pp.193-4.

Accounting and control – these are the chief things necessary for the organizing and correct functioning of the first phase of Communist society. All citizens are here transformed into hired employees of the State, which is made up of the armed workers. All citizens become employees and workers of one national state ‘syndicate’. All that is required is that they should work equally, should regularly doe their share of work, and should received equal pay. The accounting and control necessary for this have been simplified by capitalism to the utmost, till they have become the extraordinarily simple operations of watching, recording and issuing receipts, within the reach of anyone who can read and write and knows the first four rules of arithmetic.

When the majority of the people begin everywhere to keep such accounts and maintain such control over the capitalists (now converted into employees) and over the intellectual gentry, who still retain capitalist habits, this control will really become universal, general, national; and there will be no way of getting away from it, there will be ‘nowhere to go’.

The whole of society will have become one office and one factory, with equal and equal pay.

But this ‘factory’ discipline, which the proletariat will extend to the whole of society after the defeat of the capitalists and the overthrow of the exploiters, is by no means our ideal, or our final aim. It is but a foothold necessary for the radical cleansing of society of all the hideousness and foulness of capitalist exploitation, in order to advance further.

From the moment when all members of society, ore even the overwhelming majority, have learned how to govern the State themselves, have taken this business into their own hands, have established control over the insignificant minority of capitalists, over the gentry with capitalist leanings, and the workers thoroughly demoralized by capitalism-from this moment the need for any government begins to disappear. The more complete the democracy, the nearer the moment when it begins to be unnecessary. The more democratic the ‘State’ consisting of armed workers, which is no longer a State in the proper sense of the term, the more rapidly does every State begin to wither away.

for when all have learned to manage, and independently are actually managing by themselves social production, keeping accounts, controlling the idlers, the gentlefolk, the swindlers and similar ‘guardians of capitalist traditions’, then the escape from this national accounting and control will inevitable become so increasingly difficult, such a rare exception, and will probably be accompanied by such swift and severe punishment (for the armed workers are men of practical life, not sentimental intellectuals, and they will scarcely allow anyone to trifle with them), that very soon the necessity of observing the simple fundamental rules of every day social life in common will have become a habit.

The door will then be open for the transition from the first phase of Communist society to its highest phase, and along with it to the complete withering away of the state.

Lenin’s ideas here about industrial management and the withering away of the state are utopian, despite his denials elsewhere in his book. Lancaster in his comments on the passage points out that industrial management required to feed, clothe and house a society is far more complex than simply ‘watching, recording and issuing receipts’. Lenin in fact did try to put workers’ control into practice, with the result that industry and the economy almost collapsed completely. The capitalists and managers, who had been thrown out of the factories and industries in wheelbarrows by the workers, were invited back in afterwards, and restored to their former power. At the same, Alexandra Kollontai and the Left Communists, who wanted the workers to run the factories through trade unions, were gradually but ruthlessly suppressed as Lenin centralized political decision making.

Lancaster also points out that the administration of things nevertheless means government, and that it is very hard to convince a man, who has just been refused permission to open a new bus route or produce as many shoes as he can, that he is not being governed. Lancaster also argues that practice in both the democratic west and the USSR shows that a truly ‘stateless’ society impossible. He also states that the reduction of society to one enormous factory or office will repulse the normal mind, as it resembles a colony of insects, and that the similar routinization of the fundamental rules of normal social life into a habit destroys the autonomous individual and reduces them to a machine. He could also have mentioned, but doesn’t, the very sinister implications of ‘armed workers’ and the use of military force. The USSR was created by violent revolution, and maintained itself through force. Those attempting to set up their own businesses were arrested for ‘economic sabotage’ and sent to the gulags, where they were treated worse than ordinary criminals.

However, workers are capable of participating in government. One of the points Anthony Crossland made in one of his books was that the American unions had a large measure of industrial democracy, all though it was never called that. He was arguing against worker’s control, considering it unnecessary where there were strong unions, a progressive income tax and the possibility of social advancement. The unions have since been all but smashed and social mobility has vanished. And under Thatcherite tax reforms, income tax has become less progressive as the rich are given massive tax cuts, while the tax burden has been shifted on to working people. But the point remains: workers are capable of becoming managers. It was demonstrated by the anarcho-syndicalists in Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War. And Red Ken, when he was once asked by a journo why he supported worker’s management, said that it came from his experience as had of the GLC. Livingstone was now the head of a vast local government system, but there was nothing special about him. So, he believed, could ordinary people run a business. I think Leninspart was probably too modest, and he possessed managerial talents others don’t have, but the point’s a good one.

If the ability to make managerial and governmental decisions were broadened, so that they included employees and members of the public, this would empower both groups. It would make the domination of the rich 1% more difficult, and lead to a more equal, less class-ridden society. A truly classless, stateless society is probably impossible, as the example of the USSR shows. But introducing a measure of workers’ control is surely worthwhile in order to make things just that bit better.

Of course, to do so properly might mean giving working people management training. Well, Thatcher tried to turn British schoolchildren into a new generation of capitalists by making business studies part of the curriculum. She stressed competition and private enterprise. But it would turn her ideas on its head if such education instead turned workers not into aspiring businesspeople, but gave them the ability to manage industry as well as the elite above them.

That really would be capitalist contradiction Marx would have enjoyed.

Radio 4 Programme on British Invasion of Russia to Overthrow Russian Revolution

October 13, 2017

Also on Radio 4 next week, on Friday, 20th October 2017 at 11.00 am., is a programme on the British invasion of Russia. This followed the Bolshevik coup of 1917, and was intended to overthrow the new Communist regime. The blurb for the programme in the Radio Times states

The story of a little-known war that took place a century ago along the frozen rivers of the Russian Arctic and transformed Russia’s relations with the West for decades to come. After the October Revolution, thousands of foreign troops under British command fought Russians on Russian soil for more than 18 months. Lucy Ash meets the 93-year-old son of General Edmund Ironside, who wrote at the time that he was in charge of “a tiny army of not very first class troops” stranded in the icy vastness of Russia “in the midst of a bitter civil war”. (Page 139).

Again, there’s a bit more information on the facing page, 138, written by Tom Goulding. This reads

The UK’s relationship with Russia has always seemed cold – coloured by by decades of menacing but empty rhetoric on both sides. so it’s often overlooked that just under 100 years ago a real and bloody conflict took place between Britain and the Bolsheviks in the frozen Arctic. Journalist Lucy Ash investigates this infamous incursion of British boots on Russian soil by speaking to the 93-year-old son of Edmund Ironside, the general who led Churchill’s crusade to put down the fledgling Bolshevik state. The intervention was a disaster, and the resulting mistrust between the two countries looms large to this day.

With 20/20 hindsight, it could be said that it’s a pity that the invasion didn’t succeed. The Bolsheviks were authoritarians from the start. They suppressed the other political parties and organisations, including left-wing and socialist groups such as the Mensheviks, Trudoviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries. Strict discipline was reintroduced, and the Bolsheviks reinstated the same proprietors and managers to manage the factories and other industrial concerns that they’d nationalised, against the desires of the anarchists, syndicalists and Left Communists, who wished to create a genuine worker’s state with worker’s control of industry. These were also suppressed, and their leaders and members arrested.

And if Bolshevik rule had been overturned, the Nazis may never have come to power as there would not have been a Communist threat that they could claim to be protecting Germany and the upper and middle classes from. And Stalin would not have come to power, to kill and imprison something like 30 million Soviet citizens – although some estimates put the death toll higher at 45 million – in the gulags and purges.

On the other hand, the Whites were also extremely brutal and oppressive. They, like the Bolsheviks during the Civil War, also held out the prospect of restoring democracy. However, the leader of one of the White counter-revolutionary bands was a maniac, who I think believed himself to be Jesus Christ or Buddha – or both. This butcher used to throw cold water over his prisoners’ naked bodies in the depths of the Russia winter so that they froze to death, and snap pieces of their bodies. Tony Greenstein in a recent blog post describes how the Zionist leaders approached another anti-Semitic White General, Petlyura, about sending Jews from Russia to Palestine. The Russian novelist Mikhail Bulgakov vividly describes the outbreak of anti-Semitic violence during the Civil War in the Ukraine in his classic, The White Guard, adapted from his play, The Days of the Turbins. He mentions the lynching of Jews by the peasants, and one of the characters killed by the mob in this way is a Jewish man, whose only crime was to have left his home to try to buy food and medicine for his family.

And if you read accounts of the Russian Revolution, it’s very clear why the peoples of the Russian Empire rose up, even if they mostly didn’t support Lenin and the Bolsheviks: they were pushed to the end of their tether through losing a war for which the ordinary squaddies were poorly treated and equipped, and by social conditions of horrendous poverty and near starvation in industry and the countryside. Russia was beset by strikes, and their were hundreds of peasant uprisings that occurred one after the other in the Russian countryside.

As for the British invasion, it seems to me it had two objectives. These were to keep the Russians in the War, fighting the Germans and Austrians, and to overthrow the Bolshevik state as a threat to capitalism. I dare say that it was accompanied with claims that it was about defending democracy, but as it wasn’t until the ’20s that all men got the vote regardless of property qualifications, and women finally gained the suffrage, such claims are probably rather specious.

Pat Mills, in one of the interviews I put up a few weeks ago, mentioned that he wrote a story for the First World War strip, Charlie’s War, in the comic Battle, which dealt with the British invasion of Russia. Mills is very left-wing, and says in the interview that the British officers ‘behaved like animals’. Which I don’t doubt they did, considering the stupid brutality they later unleashed in Ireland during their Revolution, though this was mostly done by the auxiliary units, the Black and Tans, rather than the regular army.

Credo! Pat Mills on 40 Years of Thrillpower!

September 14, 2017

Pat Mills is one of the great creators of the British comics industry. In this video from 2000 AD on YouTube, he talks to host Tony Esmond about his career in the comics industry, politics and his determination to give readers working class heroes. The interview was at the 40 Years of Thrillpower convention earlier this year (2017).

Mills is best known as one of the creative forces who seriously upset the establishment with Action before going on to reoffend with 2000AD. Before then he started off writing for the 1970s children’s comics, like Corr! The experience of writing for them was not happy for him. He states that the people behind them had no particular interest in them and very much had a production-line mentality to their creation. He describes how one writer once asked him how many stories he could write in a day. When he said about one every two or three days, the other writer boasted that he wrote three in a day. And then went on to say, probably quite truthfully, that he was making more money than the prime minister. Mills states that the writers at IPC were able to do this because they wrote very much to a formula. He preferred the stories their competitors at DC Thompson produced. Although their comics were also stuck in the past, the stories were better crafted. He describes one strip about a man going around the country having adventures with a horse. As a concept, he says it wasn’t even at the level of afternoon television. But it was well done. The IPC comics, on the other hand, were soulless. It depressed him so much, that, when he and John Wagner, who also later went on to become one of the founders of 2000AD, were writing in a garden shed, he wrote all his scripts on a roll of wallpaper so they formed a continuous strip and he wouldn’t have to go back and read them all again.

British comics in this period were very much stuck in the past, even as British society changed. This was a time when the German experience of the war was appearing in the books of Sven Hassel, reflected in Action’s strip, Hellmann of Hammer Force. But yet Mills found it impossible to launch a strip whose hero was Black. This was to be a strip about a Black boxer. He was told that it wouldn’t work. People would not accept a Black hero. They’d accept a Black supporting character or friend. But as the central character, never. He also thought of introducing one about a Black football player, and that would have been even more controversial. There was a Black football player in one of the London clubs at the time, and he had been treated with racist abuse from the balconies.

Politics and satire have always been an important element of Mills’ work. He says that at one point he became dissatisfied writing for 2000AD, as the management were trying to shift the comic away from its traditional satirical stance, and this very much went against Mills’ own nature. He and Esmond discuss at one point Mills’ memory that, when they launched 2000AD, the management told him that they should imagine a future that they would actually live in. And now, he states, they’re living in it with Donald Trump’s presidency of the US, which Mills compares to the infamous Judge Cal. Cal was the mad Chief Judge in Judge Dredd, modelled on Caligula, who appointed his pet fish as a judge, called in the alien Kleggs to suppress any opposition in Mega City 1, and had another judge pickled. Perhaps we need to be very glad that NASA hasn’t made contact with intelligent aliens yet.

Mills remarks on how very many of the heroes of British literature, from Sherlock Holmes to John Buchan’s Hannay, have been members of the upper and upper middle classes. There are too many of them, and too few working class heroes. He’s been actively trying to redress this imbalance in his strips. It’s why Marshal Law, in his alter ego, used to be unemployed, but is now a hospital orderly. He’s not even a nurse.

He states that as he grew up in the ’50s and ’60s, he read many the authors that were around then, like Dennis Wheatley and John Buchan, all of whom were members of the upper classes. And with some of them, it was actually quite sinister. Buchan was a major propagandist for the First World War, in return for which he was rewarded with the governorship of Canada. And he did it very well. Later on in the video, in response to a question from the audience he remarks on how there is a very definite campaign in this country to suppress anything with an anti-war message. He was asked what the research was for his story in Charley’s War about the British invasion of Russia in 1918-19. He states that there were only two books he was able to get hold of at the time, but since then he got hold of a very good book, which is a much fuller description. This describes how the British officers sent in to overturn the Russian Revolution behaved like absolute animals. This episode has largely been airbrushed from British history. He contrasts with the British media’s refusal to publicise anti-war stories with that of our cousins across le manche. Attitudes there are much different, and Charley’s War, which ran in Battle and was about the experiences of a working-class Tommy in the First World War, is more popular in France even than Britain. This bias against anti-war stories is why you didn’t see Blackadder Goes Forth repeated in the centenary year of the War’s outbreak.

Mills is also critical of the way the indigenous mythology and legend of the British Isles has been suppressed in favour of myths from further south – Greece and Rome, and ancient Egypt. Mills’ background, like Kevin O’Neill, was Irish, and his family were very patriotic. He grew up knowing all about Michael Collins, and his middle name is Eamon after the first president of Eire, Eamon de Valera. Yet it wasn’t until he started researching the Irish, as well as the Scots and Welsh legends, that he learned about any of those stories, and was shocked. Why didn’t he know about the warpspasm – the ultra-berserker rage that transforms the Celtic hero Slaine as he goes into battle? He also talks about how, in legend, London was founded by the Trojans as New Troy, and briefly mentions his treatment of this in the story he is or was currently writing for the Slaine strip. He states he wanted to produce a barbarian strip that was set in this country, complete with its grey skies and rain.

Mills has a deep admiration for these Celtic legends, but remarks on how they differ considerably from the other mythological tales. They don’t share their structure. If you read the Norse tales or Beowulf, there’s a structure there. But the Irish – which he uses to include also the Scots and Welsh stories – read like they’re on acid. He’s particularly impressed with the Tain, otherwise known as the Tain Bo Cualnge, or in English, The Cattle Raid of Cooley, and recommends the translation by Kinsella. He’s also particularly interested in finding the bits that were suppressed by the Christian clergy who wrote them down in the Middle Ages. He gleefully quotes one clerical writer, who says that the stories contain much that is true, much that is false, some lies, and some devilish invention, and some which is only fit to be read by idiots. Yeah! he shouts, that’s me!

He has the same mischievous joy when telling how he came to be persuaded to write the Invasion strip, in which Britain was invaded by a thinly disguised Soviet Russia. The management asked him if he wanted to write it. He said he couldn’t get up much enthusiasm. They urged him to read Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago. So he worked his way as best he could through that. He still wasn’t enthusiastic. Then they asked him if he’d like to write a scene with Maggie Thatcher being shot by the Russians on the steps of St. Paul’s. His response: Yeahhh!

He also talks about how the brutal education he received at a school run by the De Lazare order inspired him to write the Nemesis the Warlock strip. The Terminators, and to a lesser extent Judge Dredd, were modelled on them. They were fanatical, and were quite sinister. He remarks that if you go on the internet you can find all sorts of tales about them.

He also talks about an abortive crossover story planned for Marshal Law and Batman. Marshal Law was a bitterly satirical, extremely violent and very funny strip published in the 1990s about a superhero in the devastated San Francisco of the early 21st century, who hates other superheroes. The superheroes in the strip were created for a Vietnam-like war in South America, and have come back disillusioned and traumatized by the conflict. As a result, they form violent street gangs, and Marshal Law is recruited by the police to clean them up. It was a very dark comic that relentlessly parodied superhero comics from a left-wing, feminist perspective. When DC announced they wanted to make the crossover, Mills thought that they weren’t really serious. But they were. So he and O’Neill decided that for the cover, they’d have the Marshal standing on a pile of bodies of the different versions of Batman from all across the alternative Earths of the Multiverse. Then DC’s management changed, and their story policy did too, and the idea was dropped.

Mills also discusses the various ways comics have been launched, only to be merged with other comics. With 2000AD the comic was merged with Tornado and then Starlord. It was a very cynical policy, as from the first these comics were intended to fail, but by merging them with 2000AD and other comics, the management presented it as giving their readers something new, even though it wasn’t, and they felt it was an intrusion. He also responds to another question about which comic he felt folded before its time. The obvious answer to this was Action, which upset the establishment so much that it was banned, before being sanitized and relaunched. Mills said that they knew the comic was doomed. The new editor, who was given control of it had previously edited – and this is almost unbelievable – Bobo the Rabbit – and so didn’t know what he was doing. Mills said that before then they had skated over what was just about unacceptable and knew just how far you could go. Because this new editor hadn’t had that experience, he didn’t, and the comic folded.

The comic that he really feels shouldn’t have folded, and could still have carried on today, was Battle. As for which comic he’d now be working on instead of 2000AD, if it had proved more successful, these were the girls’ comics, like Misty. They vastly outsold the boys’ comics, but ultimately folded because ‘the boys took over the sandbox’. The video ends with his answer to the question, ‘What is his favourite strip, that he wrote for?’ He thinks for a moment, before replying Nemesis the Warlock to massive cheering.

It’s a very interesting perspective on the British comics industry by one of its masters. Regarding Slaine, Mills has said before in his introduction to the Titan book, Slaine the King: Special Edition, that the achievements of our ancestors, the Celtic peoples, has been rubbed out of history in favour of the ‘stern but fair proto-Thatcherite Romans, who built the roads and made the chariots run on time’. I think part of the problem is that the legends Mills draws on – that of Gaelic Ireland and Scotland, and Brythonic Wales – are those of the Celtic peoples, who were defeated by the expanding Anglo-Normans, who made a concerted attempt to suppress their culture. As for the very frank admiration for the Romans, that partly comes from the classics-based education offered by the British public schools.

As for the very staid attitude of British comics in the 1970s, this was a problem. It was actually a period of crisis, when many of the comics were folding because they hadn’t moved with the times. Mills’ idea for a strip about a Black boxer is clearly modelled on Mohammed Ali, the great African-American athlete of the ring. Everyone knew Ali, and he was universally admired, even by kids like me, who didn’t understand or know much about the racial politics behind Ali’s superstardom. Ali said that he wanted to give his people a hero.

Even so, the idea of having a sympathetic Black supporting character was an improvement. Roger Sabin, in his book Comics, Comix and Graphic Novels: A History of Comic Art, published by Phaidon, notes just how racist British comics were in the 1960s. This was very controversial, as Black people naturally objected. Sabin cites one strip, in which the White hero uses two racial slurs for Blacks, and another abusive term for Gypsies. And showing the type of strips that appeared in the 1920s, there’s an illustration which shows the Black characters from a strip in one of D.C. Thompson’s comics, either the Dandy or Beano at the time. This was The Colony N*gs. Only they don’t use an asterisk to try to disguise the term.

As for his experiences with the monks running his school, unfortunately he’s not the only one, who suffered in this way. I’ve met a number of former Roman Catholics, who were turned off religion, and in some cases became bitterly against it, because of their experience being taught by monks and nuns. Several of Britain’s most beloved broadcasters from the Emerald Isle were also turned off religion because of this. Dave Allen, who regularly poked fun at religion, and particularly the Roman Catholic church, said that he became an atheist because of the cruelty and the way the priests tried to scare their young charges at his old school. And that mainstay of British radio, Terry Wogan, in a series he presented about Ireland and his life there, said exactly the same about the effect the hard attitude of the teachers at his old Roman Catholic school had on him.

The Roman Catholic church does not have the monopoly on the abuse of children, and I’ve heard some horrifying tales of the brutal behavior of some of the teaching staff – and prefects – in some of the British grammar schools. Dad has told me about the very harsh regime of some of the teachers at his old school – not Roman Catholic – in Somerset. He describes the teachers as sadists, and has a story about how one of the teachers, when one of the boys couldn’t answer a question, threw the lad out of window. Brutality seems to have been built into the British educational system, leaving mental scars and bitter memories.

I’ve very mixed feelings about the British force sent against revolutionary Russia. Perhaps if we’d succeeded, the forty million Soviet citizens butchered by Stalin would have been able to live out their lives, and the peoples of the Russian Federation free of the shadow of the KGB and gulags.

But that’s with hindsight. That’s not why British troops were sent in. The Bolsheviks were anti-democratic and determined to suppress all other parties and factions except their own, even when these were Socialist or anarchist, like the Mensheviks, the Trudoviks, the Socialist Revolutionaries the Left Communists, Anarcho-Communists and syndicalists. But we sent in troops because Britain and the rest of the capitalist world felt threatened by the emergence of a working class, aggressively socialist state. Britain had many commercial contacts with pre-Revolutionary Russia, and Lenin had argued in his pamphlet Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism that global capitalism depended on European imperial expansion. These nations enslaved and exploited developing nations like Russia. A socialist revolution in these countries threatened international capitalism, as it was here that the capitalist system was weakest. Hence the Bolshevik slogan, ‘Smash capitalism at its weakest link!’

Ordinary Russians, let alone the conquered nations of the Russian Empire, were oppressed and exploited. If you want an idea how much, and what ordinary Russians endured and struggled to overthrow, read Lionel Kochan’s book, The Russian Revolution, published by Paladin. This was the grotty system British troops were sent in to restore.

On a more positive note, one member of the audience in the video thanks Mills for encouraging him to read. The man says he was dyslexic, but it was the comics he consumed as a child that got him reading. He is now a teacher, who specializes in helping children with reading difficulties, and uses comics in his teaching.

This is really inspiring. Martin Barks in Comics, Ideology and Power, discusses how comics have always been regarded with suspicion and contempt by the establishment. They were regarded as rubbish, at best. At worst they were seen as positively subversive. I can remember how one of the text books we used in English at school included a piece of journalism roundly condemning comics as rubbish literature with bad artwork. And this was reprinted in the 1980s! My mother, on the other hand, was in favour of comics because they did get children reading, and used to encourage the parents of the children she taught to buy them when they asked her advice on how they could get their children to read if they wouldn’t read books. This shows how far comics have come, so that they are now respectable and admired.

Solidarity Pamphlet on Bolsheviks’ Destruction of Workers’ Control in Russian Revolution

September 24, 2016


Maurice Brinton, The Bolsheviks and Workers’ Control/ 1917-1921/ The State and Counter-Revolution (London: Solidarity 1970).

I picked this short book – 89 pages – in one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham. Solidarity were a libertarian Communist group that believed that the workers should operate and manage the means of production. In their statement of beliefs at the back of the book, they state in point 9 ‘We do not accept the view that by itself the working class can only achieve a trade union consciousness.’ (p. 89). This is a direct contradiction of Lenin’s belief, firmly expressed in his 1905 pamphlet, What Is To Be Done?, that the workers could only achieve trade union consciousness, and needed to be led to Socialism by a group of dedicated revolutionaries. The book itself states that it is a work of history, which intends to show how the Bolsheviks betrayed the revolution of 1917 by suppressing the movement for workers’ control in the factories and the workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ soviets.

The Revolution had begun when Russia’s working people rose up against Tsarism and the Kerensky government that replaced it. They formed factory committees which took over the management of the factories to various degrees in industry, and formed the soviets – councils – of working people across Russia, which formed a parallel system of popular government to that of the duma, the Russian parliament. Communist historiography has presented Lenin as fully behind these developments. He passed a decree stating that ‘workers’ control is established in the factories’ and praised the soviets, proclaiming the slogan, ‘All Power to the Workers’ Soviets’. The conventional historical view states that the workers were in fact unable to run industry, and so the government was forced to reintroduce the entrepreneurs, managers and technicians that the workers had previously turfed out of the factory gates in wheelbarrows.

This pamphlet shows that the opposite was true. From initially supporting them as a bulwark against the return of capitalism, and a necessary precondition for the nationalisation of industry, Lenin turned to active dislike and opposition, but was forced to support them for reasons of expediency. Lenin, Trotsky and their faction in the Bolsheviks really wanted Russian industry to be managed by a state bureaucracy, with a single person in command of individual factories and enterprises. Lenin adopted the slogan to present himself and his faction as fully behind the soviet revolution, while doing everything he could behind the scenes to reduce this to a mere slogan. Their practical strategy for destroying the factory committees involved incorporating them into the trade unions. These had always been under political control in Russia, partly through necessity as for most of the time they were illegal. The Bolsheviks in turn transformed these from popular organisations to campaign for better wages and conditions, to instruments of the Bolshevik party to discipline and organise Russian labour, so that it obeyed the state and the managers. It was the trade unions that set wages and determined working conditions. At the same time as they were being absorbed by the unions, the committees were gradually stripped over their powers until they were finally dissolved following the Kronstadt rebellion, which was intended to restore democracy to the Revolution by overthrowing Bolshevik rule. The Bolsheviks were also actively destroying democracy throughout the system of government and industrial management by gradually removing elections and replacing them with political appointments. As part of this, the trade unions could elect their members to the various Bolshevik political organs, but this became subject to the party’s veto. Candidates elected by the unions not approved by Lenin and his faction could be blocked.

This resulted in the construction of the totalitarian, monolithic Soviet state, while industry saw the removal of workers’ power and the return of the very industrialists and entrepreneurs, who had been overthrown. Indeed, after the failure of authoritarian ‘war communism’, with its forced requisitions of food from the peasantry during the Civil War, 1921 saw the limited return of capitalism itself in the establishment of a private sector as part of the New Economic Policy.

Not all of the Bolsheviks were in favour of this policy, and Lenin, Trotsky and their faction faced bitter opposition from a series of groups and individuals within the party, including Preobrazhensky, Osinsky, Bukharin and Alexandra Kollontai, in the ‘Democratic Centralists’ and ‘Left Communists’. Despite their efforts, theirs was a losing battle and in the end they were fighting a series of rearguard actions to preserve the last vestiges of the factory committees and the autonomy of the trade unions.

Outside the party, the Bolsheviks also faced opposition from anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists, who also wished to preserve the factory committees from attacks from the party and the trade unions. The booklet discusses the increasing mass arrests of these, and the closure of a range of anarchist newspapers and magazines, such as Burevestnik, Anarkhia and Golos Truda (Workers’ Voice). The final demands of the Left Communists for trade union autonomy and its management of industry was also denounced by Lenin as ‘anarcho-syndicalist deviation’.

Apart from its description of the way the Bolsheviks overturned the founding principles of the revolution, supplanting control and management by the workers themselves, with a system of control and management by the party, its functionaries, and returned capitalist businessmen in the name of the workers, the pamphlet’s also interesting for discussing the various literature produced by the revolutionaries and their plans for instituting practical system of workers’ control. For example, the Exploratory Conference of Factory Committees of Petrograd War Industries, convened on April 2nd, 1917, issued the proclamations that

From the Factory Committee should emanate all instructions concerning internal factory organisation (i.e. instructions concerning such mattes as hours of work, wages, hiring and firing, holidays, etc.) The factory manager to be kept notified…

The whole administrative personnel (management at all levels and technicians) is taken on with the consent of the Factory Committee which has to notify the workers of its decisions at mass meetings of the whole factory or through shop committees…

The Factory committee controls managerial activity in the administrative, economic and technical fields … representatives of the Factory Committee must be provided, for information, with all official documents of the management, production budgets and details of all times entering or leaving the factory … (p.2).

The Kharkov Conference of Factory Committees, held on May 29th that same year, declared that the committees should become

organs of the Revolution… aiming at consolidating its victories. The Factory Committees must take over production, protect it, develop it. They must fix wages, look after hygiene, control the technical quality of products, decree all internal factory regulations and determine solutions all conflicts. (p.4).

The Second Conference of Factory Committees of Petrograd, held at the Smolny Institute from the 7th-12th August, also stipulated that

‘All decrees of Factory Committees’ were compulsory ‘for the factory administration as well as for the workers and employees – until such time as those decrees were abolished by the Committee itself, or by the Central Soviet of Factory Committees’. The pamphlet states that

the committees were to meet regularly during working working hours. Meetings were to be held on days designated by the Committees themselves. Members of the Committees were to receive full pay – from the employers – while on Committee business. Notice to the appropriate administrative personnel was to be deemed sufficient to free a member of the Factory Committee from work so that he might fulfil his obligations to the Committee. In the periods between meetings, selected members of the Factory Committees were to occupy premises, within the factory, at which they could receive information from the workers and employees. Factory administrations were to provide funds ‘for the maintenance of the Committees and the conduct of their affairs’. Factory Committees were to have ‘control over the composition of the administration and the right to dismiss all those who could not guarantee normal relations with the workers or who were incompetent for other reasons’. ‘All administrative factory personnel can only into service with the consent of the Factory Committee, which must declare its (sic!) hirings at a General Meeting of all the factory or through departmental or workshop committees. The ‘internal organisation’ of the factory (working time, wages, holidays, etc.) was also to be determined by the Factory Committees. Factory Committees were to have their own press and were ‘to inform the workers and employees of the enterprise concerning their resolutions by posting an announcement in conspicuous place’. (pp. 8-9).

The Wikipedia entry on Solidarity states that the group was always small, but played a disproportionately large role in the industrial disputes of the 1970s and the campaign for workers’ control and management in industry. The system of complete workers’ control set up during the Russian Revolution is far too extreme to be popular in Britain, at least at present and the foreseeable future. Worker’s involvement in management has still been put back on the agenda, even if in a half-hearted way by Theresa May, no doubt as a calculated deception. The pamphlet itself remains a fascinating description of this optimistic movement in Russian revolutionary history, and its betrayal by the Communist party, and is an important corrective to the standard view that workers’ control was fully supported by them.