Posts Tagged ‘Nechaev’

Bakunin on Class Oppression, Poverty and Suicide

December 23, 2018

Mikhail Bakunin was one of the towering figures of 19th century anarchism. A Russian aristocrat, he rebelled against tsarism after becoming a member of literary circle studying Hegelian philosophy, and threw himself passionately behind the worker’s struggle. He took part in many worker’s uprisings, and was captured when one of them, in eastern Germany, was put down. He was then sent back in chains to Russia, where he was goaled and exiled to Siberia. He escaped, took a ship to Japan, from whence he sailed to America. And from America he crossed the Atlantic to England, to call in at the home of his fellow Russian expatriate and anarchist, Peter Kropotkin. Although he is notorious for advocating violent revolution, particularly in a pamphlet he wrote with Nechaev, in some of his other writings he seems to believe that the revolution, which will overthrow capitalism, the state and the bourgeoisie, which will essentially peaceful. In one of his writings from the period 1869-1871 he argues for such a situation, and states that if there is violence, it will only be because the bourgeoisie want there to be.

He was bitterly critical of poverty that capitalism and the class structure of society and the state had created. And some of his descriptions of this poverty, and the despair and misery it caused, are still relevant today under Tweezer and the Tories. I found this passage in Mikhail Bakunin, From Out of the Dustbin, Bakunin’s Basic Writings 1869-1871, ed. and trans. by Robert M. Cutler (Ann Arbor: Ardis 1985):

This wealth, concentrated in an ever smaller number of hands and sloughing off the lower strata of the middle class, the petite bourgeoisie, into the proletariat, is wholly exclusive and becomes more so every day, growing in direct proportion to the increasing poverty of the working masses. Fro9m this it follows that the abyss which already divides the wealthy and privileged minority from the millions of workers whose physical labour supports them, is always widening, and that the wealthier the exploiters of the people’s labour get, the poorer the workers get. Simply juxtapose the extraordinary affluence of the great aristocratic, financial, commercial and industrial world of England to the wretched predicament of the workers of that country. Simply read once more the unpretentious, heartrending letter recently written by an intelligent, honest London goldsmith, Walter Dugan, who voluntarily poisoned himself, his wife, and his six children just to escape the humiliations, the poverty, and the tortures of hunger. You will have to acknowledge that from the material standpoint this vaunted civilization means only oppression and ruination to the people. (p. 112).

Dugan’s killing of himself and his children is truly horrific, and is probably better described as a murder-suicide, the type of crime that unfortunately appears every so often on the news. But as various left-wing bloggers like Stilloaks, Pride’s Purge and Mike over at Vox Political have shown, all too many people have died through misery and starvation due to the Tories’ destruction of the economy and the welfare state. Thousands of disabled people have been thrown off the benefits they need due to the Tories’ and New Labour’s fitness to work tests, and thousands of the unemployed have been left without money due to benefit sanctions. Thousands of people have died in starvation and misery, and some, like Dugan, have committed suicide. We have a quarter of a million people using food banks to save themselves from starvation. Something like 549 homeless people have died this year, including a Hungarian man, Gyula Remes, who died outside the House of Parliament. Mr. Remes had a job, but it didn’t pay enough for him to be able to afford accommodation. Meanwhile, Chris Skidmore, the Tory MP from Kingswood in Bristol, who said that austerity couldn’t be too bad because people weren’t lying dead in the street, has said nothing. Probably because he doesn’t want to remind even more people about his wretched comment, and can’t think of anything to say that wouldn’t put him deeper into trouble.

He’s only one of the Tories, who’ve made vile, sneering comments about the truly poor and desperate. I can remember another Tory a few years ago rhetorically asking who the homeless were, and replying that they were the people you stepped over coming out of the opera. And there are many others like him.

You don’t have to be an anarchist to want these people out of office. You just have to want a better Britain for working people, one that will give them proper rights at work, a living wage, a decent welfare system and a renationalized NHS and utilities industries that will safeguard and treat their health, and supply them with water, electricity and transport on the railways at proper prices, rather than exploiting them for the profit of private industry.

Get Tweezer and her profiteers out, and Jeremy Corbyn in!

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More ‘Red Tory’ Bilge from May – But Is Anyone Taken In?

July 14, 2016

Announcing that she had won the Tory leadership contest yesterday, Theresa May made a speech declaring that she was going to continue the Tories’ work making a more equal society, which would not just be for the privileged few. She had also uttered something on Monday about supporting workers’ representatives in the boardroom. This impressed one of the more gullible journos in the Independent. He raved about how, if he was May, he’d call a snap election and destroy the Labour party. After all, Labour was tearing itself to pieces in the fight between Jeremy Corbyn and the Blairites. And May’s promise to put workers in the boardroom, and support the working poor, were clearly policies that only the most tribal of Labour supporters would ever reject. If May did this, said journo boasted, she could knock down Labour to only 20 per cent of the vote.

I say the journo was ‘gullible’. Actually, I don’t think he was anything of the sort. I think he was a bog-standard cynical Tory propagandist, doing what the Tory press have always done: lying for their favourite party.

Labour considered introducing worker’s representatives into the boardroom in the 1970s. According to the Fabian pamphlet I blogged about the other day, there was even a White Paper drafted. This would have given workers up to fifty per cent of the members of the boardroom in the nationalised industries. There were even two trial experiments in workers’ representation at the time in the Royal Mail and British Steel. Both were discontinued. Tony Benn was a staunch supporter of worker’s boardroom representation, and he was thoroughly vilified for it by the Tory press. It was partly due to this, and his support for wider nationalisation, that every single paper in the 70s and 80s depicted him as a wild-eyed fanatic. The opposite was the truth. Benn was a considered, thoughtful man, who listened very carefully to everyone’s opinion before making up his mind. This was the opinion of those who worked with him, including the head of Bristol’s Chamber of Commerce.

There’s a kind of irony here, in which a policy, which terrified the Tories at the time, was trotted out by them to show that Theresa May somehow cares about us proles. It’s rubbish. She doesn’t, and the fact that she’s trying to con people with it says all you need to know about how little she differs from Cameron.

It’s more ‘Red Tory’ nonsense, the same kind of stuff Philip Blonde wrote about in the book of the same title, in order to get his protégé, David Cameron, elected. Blonde’s book plays up the support the early Victorian Conservatives gave to the nascent working class movement, for example in the passage of the Factory Acts and 10 Hour Bill. He also waxed glowingly about the virtues of Kropotkin, the great 19th century Anarchist. Kropotkin was and remains one of the great figures of Anarchist thought, and his book, The Conquest of Bread, has now been issued in Penguin Classics. Kropotkin was a bitter critic of the poverty and misery produced by capitalism and the state, but he was no advocate of violence, like Bakunin and Nechaev. In the last chapter of Fields, Factories and Workshops, he describes the anarchist workers taking the means of production into their hands, and peacefully extending the contact of the emerging anarchist commune into the surrounding countryside. It is the statists, the bourgeois parties, who are responsible for the killing during this Revolution. The Anarchists, meanwhile, simply go about their business of building the new, libertarian communist society.

Yes, ‘communist’. As well as criticising the state and capitalism, Kropotkin also believed, like other Anarchists, that the ideal society could only be created, and conditions for humanity genuinely improved, when everyone controlled the means of production, distribution and exchanged. He shared the same vision of the abolition of private industry and agriculture as the Marxist Communists. He just believed that it could be done directly, with no need to create a powerful centralised state.

While Tories like Cameron like the idea of ‘rolling back the frontiers of the state’, as Thatcher and a young William Hague once droned on about, none of the modern Tories has time for anything like the nationalisation or socialisation of industry. Indeed, they’re determined to privatise as much as possible. And anything they can’t privatise, they try to cut to the bone and close down. See the NHS, schools, and your local library, swimming baths and other local services for examples of this ad nauseam.

May’s utterances about workers in the boardroom is more of this sort. It’s an attempt by part of the Tory party to try to present itself as being ‘caring’ about working people. Cameron very carefully positioned himself as such in the run up to the 2010 election. He promised to ring fence funding for the NHS, and he and the other Tories campaigned against the closures of local hospitals. For a time, he looked more left-wing than Labour.

It was all a lie. Nothing new there generally, and it was just the first of many to come out of Cameron’s administration. Once through the front door of No 10, all this radical stuff evaporated, and it was full steam ahead with cuts, NHS privatisation and grinding the workers into the dirt. And it’s been like that ever since. May’s declaration that she’s in favour of workers in the boardroom, and helping the working poor, is just more of this ‘Red Tory’ mendacity. None of it is anything beyond PR, spin and doubletalk.

What she’s really going to be like can be seen from her cabinet. One of those to whom she gave a post, for example, was Priti Patel, the ‘curry queen’, and one of the authors of the infamous screed, Britannia Unchained. Patel and the rest of her cohorts argued in their wretched little book that British workers had better knuckle down, and work harder for less, just like the peoples of the Developing World. So, not the workers’ friend then.

Neither is Jacob Rees-Mogg, whose effortlessly genteel and condescending manner also hides – or not, as the case may be – the fact that he too is a member of the Tory right, who has backed Cameron’s policies of privatisation, cuts and immiseration all the way.

May has no interest in helping the poor, whether they’re working or not. And I do wonder at those, like the Indie journo, who would have us believe that she does. Do they really believe we’re that gullible? Is that how cynical they are about the British public. From all the evidence, it appears at the moment that they are.

Bakunin on Workers’ Suicide to Escape Poverty and Hunger

April 30, 2016

I read this passage from the great Russian Anarchist revolutionary, Mikhail Bakunin, and thought of the victims of the DWP’s sanctions regime, who have taken their own lives.

From this it follows that the abyss which already divides the wealthy and privileged minority from the millions of workers whose physical labour supports them, is always widening, an that the wealthier the exploiters of the people’s labour get, the poorer the workers get. Simply juxtapose the extraordinary affluence of the great aristocratic, financial, commercial and industrial world of England to the wretched predicament of the workers of that country. Simply read once more the unpretentious, heartrending letter recently written by an intelligent, honest London goldsmith, Walter Dugan, who voluntarily poisoned himself, his wife and his six children just to escape the humiliations, the poverty, and the tortures of hunger. You will have to acknowledge that from the material standpoint this vaunted civilisation means only oppression and ruination to the people.

Mikhail Bakunin: From out of the Dusbin: Bakunin’s Basic Writings 1869-1871, ed. and trans. by Robert M. Cutler (Ann Arbor: Ardis Publications 1985) 112.

I’m not a big fan of Bakunin. He’s a fascinating figure, who was absolutely dedicated to the Anarchist cause and fought in many of the great workers’ uprisings of the 19th century. He even surprised one of his Anarchist comrades in London – I think it might have been Kropotkin – by turning up on his doorstep after the Russian government had exiled him in Siberia. He’d escaped, got on a boat to Japan, and from then went to America and thence to England. One of the other revolutionaries said of him, ‘On the first day of the Revolution, he is a perfect treasure. On the second day he ought to be shot!’ Bakunin in many ways represents the purely destructive side of Anarchism. With Nechaev he produced a book that gloried in bloodshed and chaos, and some historians have wondered why he did so. He’s notorious for his statement that ‘Even destruction can become a creative act’.

But you can’t read that section without thinking of the 590 people, who have died from poverty thanks to DWP sanctions, some of whom have taken their own lives, like Walter Dugan, in sheer despair. And this is at a time when Britain is supposedly becoming richer, thanks to Neo-Lib economics. Mostly, we’re undoubtedly better fed, better educated and wealthier than our forebears in the 19th century. But poverty, real, grinding poverty, is returning. And while I don’t support Bakunin’s anarchism, his remarks on capitalism as the cause still remain fundamentally acute. Or at least in so far as it describes the capitalism of the Neo-Libs, Cameron, Osborne and the Blairites in Labour.

Are Cameron and Osborne Communists?

March 26, 2014

CAmeron Stalin

David Cameron: Stalin’s successor in the Tory Party?

‘If I was an Englishman, I would be a Conservative.’

– Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev during his visit to Britain in the 1950s.

The Coalition’s attack on the poor by forcing down wages and cutting benefits conforms so closely to Marx’s theory of the ‘Iron Law of Wages’ and the programme the Russian Revolutionary, Nechaev, suggested for the way the true revolutionary should undermine capitalism from within that I ended up idly wondering if the Tories really were aware of how similar they were. In fact, so close are they to those parts of revolutionary socialist ideology that I even wondered if they similarities were deliberate, and Cameron, Osborne and Clegg were trying to see how far they could go in showing that Marx and Engels were right before the workers finally revolted and the Chipping Norton Set were ejected from government. In fact, they are following Marx so closely that I wondered if they weren’t actually following Nechaev’s advice and deliberately trying to undermine capitalism from within.

The Iron Law of Wages

The ‘Iron Law of Wages’ is one of the main doctrines of Marxist ideology. According to it, as capitalism develops, the bourgeoisie attempt to maintain higher profits by deliberating forcing down wage to ever lower levels. Eventually wages will become so poor, and the working classes so miserable, that they will revolt and overthrow the government.

Nechaev and the Revolutionary Catechism

The Russian Revolutionary Nechaev believed that this process should be assisted by revolutionary conspirators. The 19th century Russian revolutionaries had repeatedly failed in their attempts to spread Socialism and overthrow the tsar as the Russian people, on whose behalf the Revolutionaries believed they were fighting, remained largely opposed to their efforts. In his Revolutionary Catechism, Nechaev therefore argued that the true revolutionary should become absolutely ruthless, ready to sacrifice and betray anyone and everyone in order to further the revolution, even create chaos and misery in order to harden and radicalise people to the revolutionary cause. He argued that revolutionaries should deliberately enter the government and try to make conditions as worse as possible for the people. Eventually the people would become so miserable and desperate, that they would revolt, overthrow the tsar and create the new, Communist society.

Revisionism and Rejection of Iron Law of Wages

In the later 19th and 20th centuries many Socialists, such as the German revisionist, Eduard Bernstein, criticised and rejected the ‘Iron Law of Wages’ as it did not seem to be born out by contemporary events. Rather than the workers becoming increasingly impoverished, wages were actually rising. Some of this may have been due not just to expansion of the European economies as capitalism developed, but also through the actions of the various Socialist and working class movements, like trade unions, in forcing industrialists to pay better wages. The post-War economic consensus also stressed the need for higher wages and better conditions for the workers, as this would allow them to purchase consumer products and so stimulate the economy and raise profits.

Return of Iron Law under Tories and Tory Democrats

Now, through globalisation and Neo-Liberal economics, the Iron Law of Wages is back with a vengeance. It’s at the very heart of the Coalition’s policies. They are determined to hold down wages below the rate of inflation, so that in real terms the working and lower middle classes are actually taking a cut in wages. At the same time, they are destroying the education system, the NHS and the welfare state in order to maximise the profits of private industry still further, and so creating a level of poverty and misery that has not been seen in decades. We really are heading back to the 19th century world of ruthlessly predatory capitalism at a rate of knots. So closely do their policies conform to Marx’s prediction, that it strongly reminds me of the slogan on one of the T-shirts sold by Red Molotov. This is a company that specialises in selling such shirts with quirky, and often left-wing or radical slogans. One of their shirts has a portrait of Marx, underneath which is the slogan ‘I told you this would happen’.

Quite.

Coalition Conscious of Own Predatory Nature

I don’t, however, seriously believe for one single minute that they are revolutionaries trying to provoke an increasingly impoverished British public into overthrowing capitalism and the state. They are simply ruthless, predatory capitalists doing what Marx believed ruthless capitalists would always do: exploit the poor and drive them to ever increasing depths of despair, insecurity and poverty, all for greater profits.

And they know this. Osborne had the temerity to quote Marx, while Philip Blond, Cameron’s mentor, liked and quoted the Russian anarchist, Kropotkin, in his book, Red Tory. They simply don’t care that they conform to Marx’s description of capitalist ruthlessness. All that matters to them is that the ordinary man or woman in Britain doesn’t, and continues to swallow all that nonsense that ‘we’re all in it together’, and that the cuts and the austerity drive are the result of high-spending by the previous Labour administration, rather than an integral part of their own Neo-Liberal economic policies.

The Way to Stop Them: Voting, Not Revolution

There is an alternative. Unlike the masses of 19th century Europe, who were largely excluded from participation in the electoral process because of property qualifications that excluded the poor, people don’t have to riot or revolt simply to make their voices heard. They can force out iniquitous and unpopular governments by simply voting them out. And we need to do so now, at every opportunity before the Tories and Tory Democrats make the situation very much worse.

Jason Read Capitalist Parasites