Posts Tagged ‘Workers’ Soviets’

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

April 19, 2016

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

Mike makes the point that it is wrong for the government to wish to keep this information secret on the grounds that its release would compromise Charles’ privacy, while seeking ever greater power to invade that of ordinary citizens. See his article:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Workers’ Self-Management in Communist Yugoslavia

February 21, 2014

Self-Management Yugoslavia

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The passage in Das Kapital runs as follows

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

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

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

In the passage on the Paris Commune, Marx wrote

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

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