revolutionary strategy

david broder reviews revolutionary strategy, a new book by the cpgb’s mike macnair

There is much of value in any serious attempt to talk about the tasks of the left today, and what exactly the purpose of its existence is: Mike Macnair’s new book, which carries the subtitle “Marxism and the challenge of left unity” is certainly this. The left sects are crying out for some ideas and some definition for their project: what we have at the moment is a maelstrom of sectarian and internally undemocratic groups, with philistine hostility towards discussion and utter disdain for ideas other than those quoted from the holy texts of Lenin and Trotsky.

Mike himself makes many apt criticisms of the left groups of today, for example in terms of their bureaucratism, their pretentious “internationals” and their fake “broad left” unity initiatives. He criticises statist ideas of workers’ power. Clearly there is much to say on these matters, and this book is an important contribution to the debate: or, should I say, it is to the extent that there is any debate, since none of the left groups concerned are likely either to respond to the book or take stock of its arguments. Furthermore, as I shall describe, Mike’s own vision for the strategy for communism is in several areas somewhat mechanical, and he says little about the tasks of communists in the workers’ movement – as opposed to the arguments to be had among the organised far left – in the here and now.


Surely a central part of elaborating a strategy for revolution should be some analysis of what is happening in the world economy and the objective changes in the British, European and world working class. This should include both commentary on the current crisis, and on broader changes in class composition. If I were to write a piece on Marxism today, or how the left should organise and what its objectives and project should be, this would be the first thing I’d write. But Mike does very little of this, and draws most of his arguments and conclusions from debates had during the revolutionary wave of 1916-21, and to a lesser extent, the period of struggles between the general strike in France in May-June 1968 and the Portuguese revolution. But a lot has changed even in the last thirty years.

The working class is ever more international, and the number of people who have to sell their labour power has massively increased and now represents a majority of the world population; in the most developed capitalist countries there are increased numbers of migrant workers; significant technological advances as well as outsourcing have shrunk the industrial working class, while activities like manufacturing and mining are in sharp decline; welfarism and state capitalism, both in the former Eastern Bloc and in the West, are much weaker than thirty years ago; and many jobs have been casualised. All of these changes, allied with attacks on the workers’ movement’s rights to organise, have impacted on working-class consciousness to the extent that there is a wide current of opinion believing that the working class either barely exists or has disappeared altogether.

My point is emphatically not that economic changes have put revolution off the agenda, and neither does the changed world situation automatically disqualify past arguments about what tactics we need. Similarly, I am far from being an economic determinist: certainly I do not believe that large economic crises necessarily lead to heightened class struggle and revolutions even if the working class lacks confidence in itself and ideas for change. Such – economistic – views of “spontaneous combustion” have nothing to do with Marx’s method.

Nevertheless, changes in class composition do mean that the workers’ movement has to organise differently and alter its priorities. I am sure that one of the main subjects of discussion at the commune’s upcoming series on class struggle in the 1970s will be what has changed since then, and in what ways it is possible to import lessons of that time to today. The only reference I could find in Revolutionary strategy to this subject was a paragraph (pp. 29-30) asserting that the “growing fragmentation of labour”, i.e. smaller workplaces, means that “the means of struggle need to change: they need to shift from workplace collective organisation to district collective organisation”. Mike writes that, in this vein, trade unions ought to organise the unemployed and furthermore “perform significant welfare and education functions rather than simply being an instrument of collective bargaining on wages and conditions”.

But although community organising is all very well and good, Mike just sidesteps the question of organising workers in their workplaces too, and how to do that today. The recent – successful – London Underground cleaners’ strike shows both the possibility and necessity of organising more diverse groups of workers than the ‘classic’ industrial working class. Indeed, to use a crude phrase, the Tube cleaners ‘tick several boxes’ in this regard, in that they work in small numbers, on shifts; they are almost exclusively migrant workers; they are mostly women; the job is badly paid and it is easy to get sacked, particularly when Tube bosses raise questions over their immigration status. Of course, despite the other political issues directly relating to the strike – activists from the Campaign Against Immigration Controls and Feminist Fightback were very much involved in organising and publicising it – it does not automatically lead to some sort of “revolutionary consciousness”: but this sort of struggle is extremely important for breathing energy into trade unions and facilitating the recomposition of the workers’ movement.

What is the left for?

Presumably the reason why Mike’s book about strategies for revolution is largely about the debates of yesteryear is that the left today simply has no strategy for revolution all, and so there is nothing much to argue with. It is barely even true that the SWP envisage a mass strike followed by a seizure of power by themselves, since in fact they never talk about revolution or communism and have hardly any perspectives beyond their latest electoral manoeuvre or activist initiative designed to party-build and give their students ‘something to do’.

Similarly, although the supporters of Hugo Chávez’s “Bolivarian revolution” can at least claim to have some engagement with reality, given that Chávez is in power and enacting some meaningful reforms, they do not have any idea of what their “revolution” is actually for. All that matters is that Chávez is in power. The problem is not just, as Mike comments, that Chávez “offers no real strategic lesson for the left” (p.9) but rather that the “Bolivarian revolution” does not have any variant of the objective of working-class power at all – in fact, Chávez’s rule has not even seen expropriations and state commandism. The resurgence of the Venezuelan workers’ movement owes much to the response to the 2002 attempted coup and lock-out, but that does not reflect working-class control over the “Bolivarian revolution”. The way that Mike criticises Chávez – for not having a strategy – is off the point, and reminiscent of both the way in which Trotsky criticised Mao for not “participating actively in the front lines” of the Kuomintang and the way in which Mike has commented on that discussion in the Weekly Worker. In the WW article Mike does of course clearly assert his hostility towards Maoism and bureaucracy – much as Revolutionary strategy makes some apposite criticisms of bureaucratic ‘socialism’ – but the way he reads off tactical and military lessons from the Maoists is abstract and makes no attempt to differentiate between purely military tactics and the strategy for class struggle. Mao’s insistence on the independence of his forces is not parallel in any shape or form to third campism.

Indeed, a central difference between Mao’s ‘independent course’ and that of third camp class struggle politics is that, unlike a clique’s military efforts to seize control of government by force, which could take any number of forms and include any alliances, a working-class revolution necessarily relies on class independence (or at least vis-à-vis the bourgeoisie, if we assume that the petty bourgeoisie will just be pulled along by either the bourgeoisie or working class). If it is not an all-out class struggle, then it will not be able to abolish the state or reorganise the economy to overcome the law of value, but rather replace one set of rulers with another. As the Solidarity group once wrote in a different context, “Means and ends are mutually dependent. They constantly influence each other. The means are, in fact, a partial implementation of the end, whereas the end becomes modified by the means adopted.”

If Mao’s forces really had been a workers’ movement with a revolutionary project, then it would still have been wrong to ally with the Kuomintang – even regardless of military considerations – since it would have undermined the confidence of the working class in itself, derailed the objectives of the struggle, and the Kuomintang would have been able to ‘veto’ any manner of demands, most importantly the revolution itself. Indeed, this had more or less played out already, in 1927. But as we know, Mao was not leading a working-class or communist movement, and the problem with “surrounding the cities” was not its impractability, but that the objectives of the “people’s war” were reactionary! Obvious as it is that Mike Macnair is not a Maoist, he talks about Mao’s strategy with a somewhat detached air, and I find it hard to see any value in such discussion.

In his discussion of communist attitudes towards war, Mike writes as if a series of correct manoeuvres and alliances could bring the revolution to its conclusion. This is problematic since on the Trotskyist left undue stress is often laid on the idea that the problem with cross-class alliances is that they are inoperable and fail, as in the case of the Spanish civil war, rather than that they are unprincipled. In fact the problem here was not that popular fronts are inadmissible because the bourgeoisie will not consistently fight fascists – for sure they cannot be relied on, but may well do so, as in the case of World War II – but rather that the formation of the alliance is in itself puts the idea of fighting capital as such off the agenda. In the case of Spain, the working-class revolution was crushed thanks to the anarchist (CNT-FAI) and centrist (POUM) leaders’ participation in the popular front. Not only was there the problem that the bourgeois Republicans made tactical errors because of their class standpoint, for example their delay in arming the working class and their refusal to grant Morocco independence and thus curry favour with Arab troops, but also that to maintain alliance with them the far left had to demobilise the revolution.

The belief that we should not bloc with sections of the bourgeoisie to fight imperialism, fascism and so on just because they are inconsistent or vacillating lends itself to support for them when they are waging such struggles. The author writes that although Trotsky’s analysis of the USSR as a gain for the working class was wrong, and so a “revolutionary defencist” attitude towards its attacks on Finland, Poland and the Baltic States in autumn 1939 would be misplaced, he would take a revolutionary defencist attitude to the USSR “in some circumstances (like the 1941 German invasion)” (p.82). Quite why he would do so is not explained.

Without exception, support for bourgeois forces means a partial abandonment of class struggle. I will clarify that by saying that in some circumstances it may be temporarily useful to “point your guns in the same direction” as a section of the ruling class – it is interesting that Hal Draper specifically counterposes this to his idea of “military support” in the ABC of National Liberation movements. Doing this is not “support” though, in terms of propping up someone else’s fight: it is merely a tactic used when fighting your own struggle for your own objectives. There is an article by the International Communist Current about Lenin’s supposed “alliance” with Kerensky against Kornilov which is quite useful on this score.

The state

Mike is right to point out flaws with the “mass strike” idea of revolution, particularly in that the unravelling of the economy does not necessarily mean that any alternative centre of authority is posed. This was most obviously the case in the general strike in France in 1968, which I debated Mike on at the CPGB summer school this month. However, although the term “workers’ government” is abstract (indeed, the JCR, now the LCR, called for this in June 1968 while refusing to call for a vote for either major workers’ party), Mike’s alternative is not that far from it.

He criticises the left for its exaggerated interest in workers’ councils (this is hardly the case in Britain today), and argues “Workers’ councils and similar forms have appeared in many strike waves and revolutionary crises since 1917. In none have these forms been able to offer an alternative centre of authority, an alternative decision-making mechanism for the whole society. This role is unavoidably played by a government – either based on the existing military-bureaucratic state core, or on the existing organs of the workers’ movement” (p.49).

This is quite a conclusion to draw from history, given that – of course – revolutions where parties based themselves on the existing state machinery, or the existing organisations of the workers’ movement took power, have also all failed. And there is no evidence that revolutions with workers’ councils failed because these organs are unable to assert their authority: despite enjoying high degrees of authority across Germany and Russia in their brief existence, these organs were crushed by counter-revolutions.  It is not the case that “it was Sovnarkom, the government formed by the Bolsheviks and initially including some of their allies, and its ability to reach out through the Bolshevik Party as a national organisation, which ‘solved’ the crisis of authority affecting Russia in 1917″: this was an undemocratic manoeuvre against the soviets and grassroots power, and indeed within months – before the civil war – had bureaucratically centralised economic control and pulled the rug from underneath the factory committees.

The author has also elsewhere criticised workers’ councils as undemocratic on the grounds that they do not represent working-class people who do not have jobs (students, pensioners, disabled people, the unemployed etc.): but in fact there is no reason why workers’ councils should just be composed of workplace delegates, and in Russia such people as Mike mentions had every right to vote in soviet elections. The point about workers’ councils is not some organisational fetish – indeed, “workers’ council” would be a somewhat inaccurate characterisation of the 1871 Paris Commune, but it was still an organ of workers’ power – but that they have in history arisen in struggle and proven to be armed organs of working-class power counterposed to the bourgeois state machinery.

Mike’s alternative is only vaguely defined: he calls for a “democratic republic” with a “people’s militia”. He criticises those who hold both that a workers’ government would incite class struggle and also that it would only be a workers’ government if it was created on the basis of class struggle: but it is not clear whether the democratic republic is meant to be the product of the revolution, or whether it is a taking-over of the existing state bureaucracy. I am opposed to the state monopoly of gun control, but the idea of a “people’s militia” has no particular relation to the working class or communism. We are not for popular sovereignty, but rather the smashing of the state machinery and of capital.

He says that “workers’ control” cannot be imposed from above, and wants the working class “to lay its hands collectively on the means of production” (p.162), “this does not mean state ownership of the means of production, which is merely a legal form. Without democratic republicanism, the legal form of state ownership means private ownership by state bureaucrats”. But the problem with state ownership in history has not just been a lack of democracy in the state, but the continuation of the law of value and wage labour. We do not just want the working class to “control” capital “democratically”, but to uproot it. Indeed, although he says he is opposed to the rule of law, throughout the book Mike again and again refers to “democracy”.

Marx poses the question far better (I have lifted these quotes from Cyril Smith’s Marx at the Millennium):

“The working class, in the course of its development, will substitute for the old civil society an association which will exclude classes and their antagonism, and there will be no more political power properly so-called, since political power is precisely the official expression of antagonism in civil society. … It is only in an order of things in which there are no more classes that social evolutions will cease to be political revolutions.” (Poverty of Philosophy)

“The Commune – the reabsorption of the state power by society as its own living forces instead of as forces controlling and subduing it, by the popular masses themselves, forming their own force instead of the organised force of their suppression – the political form of their social emancipation, instead of the artificial force (appropriated by their oppressors) (their own force opposed to and organised against them) of society wielded for their oppression by their enemies.” (Civil War in France)

“All France organised into self-working and self-governing communes … the suffrage for the national representation not a matter of sleight-of-hand for an all-powerful government, but the deliberate expression of organised communes, the state functions reduced to a few functions for general national purposes.

“Such is the Commune – the political form of the social emancipation, of the liberation of labour from the usurpations (slave-holding) of the monopolists of the means of labour, created by the labourers themselves or forming the gift of nature. As the state machinery and parliamentarism are not the real life of the ruling classes, but only the organised general organs of their dominion, so the Commune is not the social movement of the working class and therefore of a general regeneration of mankind, but the organised means of action.” (Civil War in France)

Smith also quotes Bakunin writing “There are about 40 million Germans. Does this mean that all 40 million will be members of the government?”, to which Marx responds “Certainly! For the system starts with the self-government of the communities… When class rule has disappeared, there will be no state in the present political sense.”

Indeed, nowhere in the Civil War in France does Marx refer to the idea of a workers’ state, and for that matter doesn’t criticise the communards for their lack of a revolutionary party, much unlike Trotsky’s Lessons of the Commune which exaggeratedly fetishises the question.


A strategy for communism must not only be centred on a working-class struggle for power, but an understanding of what this power would consist of. The point is not to draw up blueprints – for example, it would be meaningless to draw up a grand plan for rule by workers’ councils unless these organs actually arose in the revolutionary struggle itself – but rather to overcome the terrible failures of the past and restore the idea that working-class rule, and thus communism, is still both possible and desirable.

There will be no “spontaneous combustion” crisis-followed-by-revolution, and nor do parliamentary “enabling acts” and Chávez-style statism have anything to do with working-class self emancipation. Both of these scenarios are élitist and deny the working class, i.e. the participants in the revolution, any subjectivity of their own. Arguing against these left commonplaces is an enormous challenge, and Revolutionary strategy, in parts, goes some way towards doing that.

But the starting point for strategy cannot just be analysis of where the left is at now. The left has poor ideas and poor implantation in the working class, and there is very little prospect of changing its sectism and sectarianism any time soon. We should not in the slightest abstain from that struggle, but two other important tasks also impose themselves: first to outline our vision for society and what alternative we actually have to capitalism, and second to take part in a recomposition of the workers’ movement which gives due attention to the changes in the working class that have taken place in recent decades.

75 thoughts on “revolutionary strategy

  1. But you seem to have missed the main thing – McNair’s attempt to revive Kautskyism.
    If there is a theme to the book, which I’ll grant you is not exactly clear, it is an uncomfortable mish mash of history and theory, with random interjections littered throughout and a determination not to explain what he really thinks in words of one syllabol, it is that Lenin was wrong to split with Kautsky. Socialists need to go back to Kautsky’s pre-WWI social democracy and establish a new “centre”.
    McNair, an old IMGer obviously hasn’t broken from the centrism of his former organisation nearly as much as he’d like to pretend. The obscuring of the fundamental divide between reform and revolution, which was Kautsky’s life work, is no way forward for the working class, socialism or anyone else. It is paradoxically a modern day version of Mandelite centrism, which McNair claims to hate so much.
    All very odd.


  2. Macnair’s criticism of the workers councils is not borne out by history – two examples which the Weekly Worker no doubt find problematic as they woud be on the other side – are Hungary in 1956 the workers self-management movement – Solidarnosc – centred in the Gdansk shipyard in August 1980. Teh problem was clearly not the ability of workers to organise themselevs effectively but a crisis of ideas in the latter case – i.e self-limiting revolution and the in the former the presence of the Russian Army.


  3. I think it’s a little late in the day to be fetishizing soviets. There’s never been been a country in which councils actually governed for a substantial amount of time — certainly they never ruled the Soviet Union. There’s also no evidence that workers today — particularly those in the advanced capitalist countries — would find the vision of the council republic attractive anyway, as most of them don’t work in factories.

    Yes, the workers’ state must be different from the capitalist state. That’s McNair’s main point against Kautsky. That’s what “the democratic republic” is — the workers’ state. That’s what the CBGB’s minimum program is. (The replacement of the standing army with a people’s militia is NOT something that’s going to happen in a capitalist Britain!)

    Even if workers’ councils ever again appear it is unlikely that they will be the ONLY structure that makes up the workers’ state. There’s little that suggests that they can handle — all by themselves — a complex economy.

    I also don’t understand Chris’s comment that the WW would have been on the other (Stalinist) side in Hungary ’56 or Poland ’80. That’s not the WW I’ve been reading.


  4. “If there is a theme to the book, which I’ll grant you is not exactly clear, it is an uncomfortable mish mash of history and theory, with random interjections littered throughout and a determination not to explain what he really thinks in words of one syllabol, it is that Lenin was wrong to split with Kautsky. ”

    I’m sorry Bill J, but this is the exact opposite of what Mike says – he states explicitly that Lenin was correct to split from Kautsky, as the centre threw its lot in with the Right, and whatever its own ideas was practically an agent for the bourgeoisie through this capitulation.

    Comrade Broder, a thoughtful review with many interesting points made, id like to offer my view on a number raised.

    “The way that Mike criticises Chávez – for not having a strategy – is off the point, and reminiscent of both the way in which Trotsky criticised Mao for not “participating actively in the front lines”

    As far as I know the views about Chavez expressed in the WW are that he is a sort of ‘left-bonarpate’ or some such thing. Also Macnair expresses in the book that allying with class alien elements, such as the worker-peasant alliance , is unprincipled and doomed from the outset. I think he discusses this with reference to Maoism the video of his talk at the ‘launch’ of his book. Needless to say he is against it for that reason, not for some unspecific or vague one as your review ponders on.

    “The author writes that although Trotsky’s analysis of the USSR as a gain for the working class was wrong, and so a “revolutionary defencist” attitude towards its attacks on Finland, Poland and the Baltic States in autumn 1939 would be misplaced, he would take a revolutionary defencist attitude to the USSR “in some circumstances (like the 1941 German invasion)” (p.82). Quite why he would do so is not explained.”

    I agree with you here that the matter is not clearly taken up from start point to conclusion, i’ll have to re-read, though it may be a gap in the argument as you point out.

    On the criticism of ‘workers councils’ and the fetishising of them. The way I see this is that it relates to the Party, and to the creation of a new type of state run by the working class on the principles of republican democracy and all the stuff which that entails (peoples militia, recallability,average wage for delegates, elected judges etc etc) as the form in which the working class can wield political power for itself in a revolutionary fashion. The point being that workers councils alone cannot co-ordiante working class power across the whole society and manage all of its complaex functions which would immediately pass from the bourgeois state to the organisations of the working class with the smashing of the bourgeois state.

    In a similiar vein, when you bring up the criticism that we don’t want the workers ‘managing’ capitalism the matter is of how a transisiton can be made until the law of value is unable to operate. All mike is saying, again as I see it, is that the law of value cannot be abolished overnight, important expropriations will have to be made immediately, but the market will continue to operate in a way until it can be replaced – which is of course a complex matter of national, national-international co-operation and the working through of socialising the whole global economy the elimination of petty bourgeois business etc under the oversight of the victorious working class.

    Hope I’ve said something useful.


  5. I think we should abandon the term ‘workers state’ to start with – communists to not intend to create a state – even a democratic republic in that sense – rember what Marx wrote in his criticism of the Gotha Programme. As regards fetishising workers councils, the creation of organisations created by the working class itself is I believe a proven necessity to sucessfully urpoot capital, start the de-alienation of society. Its not a question of whether people work in factories or not, the workers of the Paris Commune were very different from the Russian soviets etc etc. But it still remains a fact that a working class exists and it cannot use the capitalist state machinery as it stands, we need to replace it with communal forms of self-management. Such bodies are not a fetish, that is bodies of self-alienation but the opposite
    As regards the WW, I was not making a cheap shot but it is the case that when this organisation has said anything on the subject of Solidarnosc, Prague Spring etc, it has not been to side with the actual workers struggling against the regimes but to view such movements as part of the “democratic counter-revolution”. Their words not mine.


  6. “I’m sorry Bill J, but this is the exact opposite of what Mike says – he states explicitly that Lenin was correct to split from Kautsky, as the centre threw its lot in with the Right, and whatever its own ideas was practically an agent for the bourgeoisie through this capitulation.”

    My reading of it, and I think its the conclusion, even re-stated in the last sentence, that what we need is a new Kautskyite centre. Or something along those lines.
    Difficult to reconcile this with the idea that McNair believes Lenin was correct to split with the Kautskyites.
    As for abandoning the workers state, I’d say yes, if we were anarchists. But we’re not. Of course you may already ben an anarchist, in which case you will have already abandoned it.
    To be fair, after reading Mike McNair’s discussion of the Comintern resolution on the workers state, is enough to make anyone give up on the idea. But frankly, I don’t really think we should take McNair’s word for it. Given that he claims that the resolution – which is after all about the tasks of a workers government – is unclear about who should control production. Might it be the workers? Or indeed the workers government, which is simply the state form of soviet power, transitional to the dictatorship of the proletariat.
    But I daresay you reject that too. As indeed does Mike McNair. (From what I can tell.)


  7. Bill, you write that production should be “controlled” by …. “the workers government, which is simply the state form of soviet power, transitional to the dictatorship of the proletariat.”

    Do you mean that capitalist production should be subject to controls and checks and balances by the workers’ government? That the economy should be nationalised? Or what else?

    What does the expression “the workers’ government is the state form of soviet power, transitional to the dictatorship of the proletariat” mean? So it’s something apart from the soviets then? And it’s not itself the “dictatorship of the proletariat” – by which I presume you mean working class rule?


  8. All McNair is saying is that it is necessary to build a mass party based on Marxist principles well in advance of any possibly revolutionary situation. Hence the reference to Kautsky. It isn’t exactly part of the Trotskyist (let alone Left Communist) program to build MASS parties in advance of crisis situations.

    Regarding “workers’ state.” I’d sooner use that phrase rather than “dictatorship of the proletariat.” It invites less confusion. And what does Marx say in the Critique of the Gotha Programme? “Freedom consists in converting the state from an organ superimposed upon society into one completely subordinate to it.” Such is the workers’ state — subordinate to the will of the workers.


  9. Actually its far from clear that that is what McNair is saying. A Kautskyite party is not a Marxist one. That’s why it was necessary to split from it.
    Kautsky established a centre to negotiate between the Bernstein reformists, generally trade union officals and the revolutionary Marxists, Luxemburg et al. When the chips were down, he supported reformism.
    Allegedly breaking with reformism was Lenin’s big mistake.
    There is no particular time scale on when it is possible to establish a mass party. The Bolsheviks had done so by 1910. Not a revolutionary situation.
    The Workers Government is not the dictatorship of the proletariat, this is another disservice McNair has provided by his utter confusion on the subject.
    See point 11 The Workers Government

    The Workers Government can consist of a variety of different combinations, but a genuine workers government rests on workers councils and breaks the power of the bourgeoisie, as the Left SR/ Bolshevik workers government did in October 1917. As indeed the theses state;

    “The most elementary tasks of a workers’ government must be to arm the proletariat, disarm the bourgeois counter-revolutionary organisations, bringing control over production, shift the main burden of taxation onto the propertied classes and break the resistance of the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie.”

    McNair claims that this statement is unclear, and the final point not even worthy of comment. No wonder he wants to revive Kautsky!


  10. Bill J is still misrepresenting McNair. McNair is not arguing for a 100% “Kautskyite” party. He is essentially saying that we should learn from Kautsky’s accomplishments — which were genuine — as well as his errors. McNair is explicit in saying that Kautsky’s THEORY OF THE CAPITALIST STATE — which is what led him to social-pacifism and reconciliation with Bernstein — must be rejected. (And he notes that the Bolsheviks had, yes, built a mass party before 1910 — using methods that were taken from the “Kautskyan center” of the SPD.) It’s all spelled out here:

    Who said anything about “workers’ government”? We were talking about the workers’ STATE.


  11. Bill,

    “the European working class in 1914-18 paid the price of ‘unity at all costs” (p. 36)

    “In August 1914 these commitments [to the nation-state and national roads] left the centre as badly enmeshed in the defence of ‘national interests’ as the right, and led them to support feeding the European working class into the mincing machine of the war.” (p65)

    “In the concrete conditions of 1914-21, fighting class-collaborationism did indeed mean an organisational split with most of the centre as well as with the right. After the split, the centre promptly proved the point. …” (p91)

    “The split in the Second International was not a sectarian error on the part of the communists” (p99)

    “The split between communists, loyal to the working class as an international class, and coalitionist socialists, loyal to the nation-state, will never be ‘healed’ as long as communists insist on organising to fight for their ideas. The policy of the united workers’ front is therefore an essential element of strategy in the fight for workers’ power” (p. 114)

    Pretty clear on Kautsky and the Kautskyite centre, I think.

    Put another way. I am with Kautsky on the ground he shared with Lenin against Trotsky and Luxemburg in 1904-1916 – the struggle for a mass workers’ party, on the basis of a political programme as opposed to ‘what the mass struggle throws up’, *before* conditions of revolutionary crisis.

    On the state, nationalism and national roads, I am with Lenin, Luxemburg and Trotsky against Kautsky.

    On the necessity for a split with Kautsky and the Kautskyites in the conditions of World War I and given the Kautskyites’ refusal to split with the right, I am with Lenin against Kautsky and (until 1917) Luxemburg and Trotsky.



  12. Actually no, not clear. Unfortunately, your book is riddled with contradictions that’s part of the problem.
    But lets examine the article on line which defends the centre against the left claiming;
    “The centre tendency in the German Social Democratic Party and Second International was also its ideological leadership. In spite of eventually disastrous errors and betrayals, this tendency has a major historical achievement to its credit. It led the building of the mass workers’ socialist parties of late 19th and early 20th century Europe and the creation of the Second International. The leftist advocates of the mass strike strategy, in contrast, built either groupuscules like the modern far left (such as the De Leonists) or militant but ephemeral movements (like the Industrial Workers of the World).”
    So left advocates of the mass strike strategy like Luxemburg, Lenin and Trotsky, did they not build something? I beg to differ. Not only did they build something, they build something far more substantial than the centre?
    Kautsky summarized the political philosophy of the centre well in his comment to Edouard Bernstein. Complaining about Bernstein’s reformist honesty – the movement is everything the final goal is nothing – Kautsky retorted such things are not said, they are done.
    Kautsky was the left cover of the counter revolutionary reformist wing the social democracy. This centre was able to build something, or rather assist in building something, after all the Left and Right also built the social democracy, but ultimately it failed. In the end its major organizational achievement was building a chauvinist party supported World War I.
    Your adoption of Kautsky’s parliamentary line, is neatly exemplified your fetish of the majority. You write;
    ““This strategic line can be summed up as follows. Until we have won a majority (identifiable by our votes in election results) the workers’ party will remain in opposition and not in government. While in opposition we will, of course, make every effort to win partial gains through strikes, single issue campaigns, etc., including partial agreements with other parties not amounting to government coalitions, and not involving the workers’ party expressing confidence in these parties.”
    In other words only once the workers have won a parliamentary majority – something impossible in capitalist society – will they be able to take power. You counterpose this to the “undemocratic” mass strike strategy;
    “The second central feature of the strategic understandings of the centre tendency was that the socialist revolution is necessarily the act of the majority.”
    This is simply wrong. The Bolsheviks won the majority of the working class, through soviets not parliament but it was a minority who took power. This is why it was necessary to smash the capitalist state and not take it over. In contrast you advocate exactly the opposite;
    “What distinguished the centre tendency from the later Leninists most fundamentally was the belief that the working class could take over and use the existing capitalist state bureaucratic apparatus, a view developed most clearly in Kautsky’s The road to power. This, too, had its roots in claims made by Marx and – particularly – Engels. ”
    So the Kautskyite method you propose is the antithesis of Marxism, it propose the reform of the capitalist state, to captured through a majority in parliament. To be sure your book is far from clear. That’s part of its method. No one would propose the re-adoption of Kautskyism outright.
    The workers government – which Mike talks about in his book – and which he venomously polemicises against, is the form of the united front through which the working class take class power. Its no surprise that it is the particular target of Mike’s ill judged disdain.


  13. Bill J writes: “The Bolsheviks won the majority of the working class, through soviets not parliament but it was a minority who took power. This is why it was necessary to smash the capitalist state and not take it over.”

    Does this mean that Bill thinks that in countries where the working class the working class is the overwhelming majority in society it is not necessary to smash the capitalist state?


  14. Mike McNair wrote “Put another way. I am with Kautsky on the ground he shared with Lenin against Trotsky and Luxemburg in 1904-1916 – the struggle for a mass workers’ party, on the basis of a political programme as opposed to ‘what the mass struggle throws up’, *before* conditions of revolutionary crisis. ”

    Mike do please read Lars Lihs book and you will find you are wrong in fact as regards your assertion here.


  15. Another interesting point is, that if the socialist revolution needs the prior approval of the majority, then obviously the October insurrection was illegitimate. The Bolsheviks and Left SRs lost the constituent assembly elections of August 1917.
    This is I think also implied elsewhere in the new book, when I get a chance I’ll find some quotes.


  16. Bill,

    1. You quote my contrast of the centre with the ‘mass strike’ left, but fail to quote the immediately following paragraph:

    “Down to 1914, Russian Bolshevism was a tendency within the centre, not a tendency opposed to it – even if Kautsky preferred the Mensheviks. Without the centre tendency’s international unity policy there would have been no RSDLP; without the lessons the Bolsheviks learned from the international centre tendency, there could have been no mass opening of the Bolshevik membership in 1905, no recovery of the party’s strength through trade union, electoral, and other forms of low-level mass work in 1912-14, and no Bolshevik political struggleto win a majority between April and October 1917.”

    I repeat: “Put another way. I am with Kautsky on the ground he shared with Lenin against Trotsky and Luxemburg in 1904-1916 – the struggle for a mass workers’ party, on the basis of a political programme as opposed to ‘what the mass struggle throws up’, *before* conditions of revolutionary crisis. ”

    If you think the fruits of Luxemburg’s policy – the SDKPiL hyper-centralist sect in Poland, no *organised* left in Germany before the war broke out – or those of Trotsky’s policy – the August bloc, perhaps? – are comparable to the construction of the Bolshevik party to the point where it had the majority in the workers’ curia before the outbreak of war and still had tens of thousands of members, under complete illegality, at the outbreak of the February revolution – then you are certainly no Trotskyist, since Trotsky criticised both himself and Luxemburg for their attitude to the party question before 1917 (e.g. on himself, in My Life, in several places)

    2. Yes indeed, the Bolsheviks fought to win a majority. And the Congress of Soviets showed that they, together with the Left SRs, *had* won a majority. The Constituent Assembly, in contrast, was unrepresentative, because the party list system used in the elections gave the *Right* SRs represenatives on the basis of votes cast for the *left* SRs. Even Rabinowitch, who is inclined to explain events by undemocratic “manoeuvres” by Lenin, recognises this fact and that for this reason the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly passed off without more than a whimper of protest.

    If the Bolsheviks had been advocates of minority action to take the power, they would have attempted to take power in the July Days, instead of arguing that Petrograd workers needed to wait for the majority to catch up with their political development.

    *During* the crisis the Bolsheviks paid enormous attention to whatever electoral opportunities existed. They also did so *before* the crisis. It is not about waiting for a *parliamentary* majority – which might happen if the capitalist class falls into severe enough crisis, but is always unlikely. It is about waiting for and fighting for *political* majority support.


  17. To imply there was some Lenin Kautsky bloc is to re-write history. Kautsky sided with Luxemburg against Lenin in the intra-RSDLP party dispute.
    Lenin built the Bolshevik wing of the RSDLP against the centre not with them.
    This is not surprising, Kautsky was a centrist, someone who wanted to mediate between the right wing and the left wing, but who in the last analysis always bowed to the right.
    This is according to you his great strength.
    Trotsky certainly criticised the party question and the Bolsheviks prior to 1917. What did his criticism amount to? He explains it in his introduction to Permanent Revolution, amongst other places, namely that because the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks shared the mistaken analysis of the Russian revolution as a bourgeois one, then there was no principled difference between them and events would force them together.
    Pardoxically, you too reject Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution as well as Lenin’s theory of the party. So where does that leave you?
    Neither a Leninist or a Trotskyist but a Kautskyite.
    Lenin was not part of the Kautsky centre, although he didn’t realise it at the time. Hence his remark after the outbreak of war how Luxemburg had long realised the tendency for Kautsky to show the poverty of the theoretician. In other words Lenin conceded that Luxemburg, not him, had had a better understanding of Kautsky’s wretched betrayal before 1914 – the very time when you claim that Kautksky represented Marxism in alliance with Lenin!
    The tragedy of Luxemburg and Liebknecht, part of the mass strike left wing, who you deride as having built nothing, was that they did not fight for a Bolshevik faction within the Social Democracy, hence they were unprepared for the war and then the revolution.
    And what did the Bolsheviks propose as their solution to the crisis of the revolution – the foundation of a workers government – the very tactic you denounce in your book!
    Not surprisingly because if you are a consistent Kautskyite, you cannot escape from the “undemocratic” nature of the Bolshevik mandate.


  18. Sorry Mike but Lih argues that Luxemburg stood on substantially the same ground as Lenin and Kautsky prior to 1914. It is for this reason that Lih dismisses her criticism of Lenin around the time of the split in the RSDLP. He goes on to argue that Trotsky, Luxemburg and the Mensheviks were not spontaneists as many seek to portray her or the Trotsky of those years.

    As for your idea that there was a Bolshevik Party prior to, at the latest 1912, Lenin would turn in his grave! The Bolsheviks always portrayed themselves as a FACTION of the RSDLP. To suggest otherwise is a trqavesty of the truth and falls into the very worst cliches associated with the Stalinist school of falsification.


  19. I meant of course the servility of the theoretician.
    But just to add, its important to remember that Kautsky moved to the right after 1907, when he alongside Lenin, Trotsky and Luxemburg, proposed the mass strike and workers government, for the Russian revolution. His position was very close to that of the revolutionary left wing. In effect he proposed a variant on permanent revolution.
    From 1910 onwards as war approached, as in other words his politics were faced with a real test, his true compromist, indeed centrist, nature came ever to the fore and he made more and more concessions to the right.
    Trotsky describes him quite well here;

    “Kautsky resembles to the life a miserable schoolmaster, who for many years has been repeating a description of spring to his pupils within the four walls of his stuffy schoolroom, and when at last, at the sunset of his days as a teacher, he comes out into the fresh air, does not recognize spring….”


  20. Not really clear how these echo Mike’s critique given that they are from a Luxemburgist perspective and Mike thinks she was completely wrong against Kautsky prior to WWI.
    But I was struck by another thought – bearing in mind that Lenin said that the last Marxist work Kautsky wrote was in 1910 The Road to Power, yet Mike claims that Lenin and Kautsky were in some kind of bloc up to WWI – what was Kautsky’s role in this period?
    Essentially it was to provide a Marxist gloss to bourgeois liberal reformism. It is ironic, that the book is posed as a break from Trotskyism – and it certainly is – but in this respect – providing a Marxist gloss to bourgeois reformism/radicalism, is certainly not something alien to the post WWII Trotskyist centrist tradition.
    Centrist Trotskyism described all sorts of radicals as unconscious revolutionaries from Tito to Che, to Castro, to the Sandinistas, to the Mullahs in Iran, the Vietcong etc. the list literally goes on and on.
    It is paradoxical is it not that the element of Mike’s theory which chimes in with this method is precisely Kautsky pre WWI.
    In other words Mike is not nearly as far methodologically from centrist Trotskyism as he would like to make out.
    What he has ditched is the revolutionary essence of Trotskyism, the workers government, soviets, workers revolution, transitional demands, permanent revolution etc. what he has kept is the centrist break from Trotskyism expedited by the various Fourth Internationals after WWII, but dressed it up as a rediscovery of Kautksy.
    Weird how things go around eh?


  21. Mike repeats
    “I am with Kautsky on the ground he shared with Lenin against Trotsky and Luxemburg in 1904-1916 – the struggle for a mass workers’ party, on the basis of a political programme as opposed to ‘what the mass struggle throws up’, *before* conditions of revolutionary crisis.”

    So was Kautsky on common ground with Lenin against Trotsky and Luxemburge between 1904-1916.
    Kautsky writes commenting on the split in 1905;

    “Your split is an unheard of scandal…EVeryone will laugh at you, when they ask me why the Russian Marxists are quarrelling in the middle of the Rusian revolution, and I can only answer; beause Axelrod and Plekanov think Lenin is an intriguer, and from what I know about they’re probably right.” (May 1905)

    And Kautsky writes;
    “Whatever you think of Lenin, and I don’t have a high opinion of him…”

    Or when Kautsky’s position is summarised as;
    “1.He always believed that Lenin’s behaviour was unjustified and pernicious and he had told the local Vpered (Bolshevik) supporter as much.
    2. He was not only in total agreement with the Mensheviks on questons of principle and tactics, but also he regaded the Isrka organisation (Menshevik), as the ‘centre of gravity’ of the movement in Russia and the rightful leaders of the movement.”

    (Quotes from Marxism and Revolution Karl Kautsky and the Russian Marxists Moira Donald.)

    Then I for one can only conclude that Kaustky was not on common ground with Lenin against Trotsky and Luxemburg. In fact the joke is Trotsky and Luxemburg were on common ground with Kaustky! They, like Kautsky, agreed with the Mensheviks criticisms of Lenin.
    How could someone who has, let’s face it, just written a book in large part referencing Kaustky get things so completely the wrong way round?
    Please can someone, maybe Mike, explain?


  22. Dear David,

    This is going to be rather long for a comment, but Ben suggested that you would welcome a substantial response from me to your review of my book. I am going to post it in a number of chunks ….

    1. Political economy and changes in the working class

    The reasons for the historical cast of my book are given in two places: on page 5: “Humans have no guide to action in the future other than theorising on what has happened in the past, and we do it all the time we are awake.”. And on page 26: “When you are radically lost it becomes necessary to retrace your steps.” To offer yet another version: the left is currently screwed up; in part it is screwed up by clinging to ideas which have been tried and failed. “How far are the fundamentals of Marx and Engels’ political strategy still relevant to us today? What should we maintain, and what should we throw out, from the subsequent elaboration of strategy by socialists and communists from the late 19th to the late 20th century?” (p19).

    This exercise is largely an exercise in clearing the ground in relation to strategy – long term politics. Assessing the present political economic dynamics and the dynamics of the immediate class struggle comes after this exercise.

    That said, my overall judgment is that present global conditions are not in an absolute sense new, and are more like the later 19th century than they are like any part of the ‘short 20th century’ (1914-1991). The exception to this judgment is, however, the dead weight of Stalinism and Social-Democracy (and, to a lesser extent, syndicalism) which still weighs down on the workers’ movement. The US is, as Britain was then, in relative decline but still dominant: we are not, I think, on the verge of a new 1914. Globally, capitalism, and with it the proletariat – the class dependent on wage-earning – has grown dramatically at the expense of peasant and artisan production. There has been a major shift to financial globalisation. These features were also characteristic of the later 19th century. So – as you quote me – is the fact that workplaces are commonly smaller than the giant factories of the 20th century. (Richard Price, Labour in British Society (1990) is a mine of relevant material). Hence, the ‘new’ is less new than it appears.

    Overall patterns and dynamics, of course, have their limits and are translated into differing forms at more local levels. Jamie Gough’s Work, Locality and the Rhythms of Capital (2003) demonstrates brilliantly on the micro-scale of London how geographical shifts and forms of organisation of production are adapted and re-adapted by capital to address the problem of controlling the workforce.

    As to a couple of particular points in your comments on changes in the working class. (i) On migrant workers, in fact what is involved is a permanent dynamical contradiction of capitalism, not a novelty. More in my 2006 Yürükoğlu lecture, ‘Fortress the West’ ( (ii) Your statement that “manufacturing and mining are in sharp decline” is obviously true of the UK, but certainly not true of the global economy.

    On the London Underground cleaners’ strike, this seems to me to be atypical rather than typical. The reasons are, first, that the underlying institution – the Underground – is public monopoly infrastructure, whatever ‘contracting out’ arrangements have been made in the legal forms, and Tube shut-downs by industrial action are very seriously disruptive to the City finance capitalist core of the UK economy. Second (and connected to the first) the railworkers are one of the best organised sections of the British working class and among the most militant. The cleaners are at the fringe of this system relative to drivers, etc, but they are nonetheless in a very different position to workers in small factories, offices, shops, etc., who form the clear majority of the UK working class.

    Your emphasis on this point seems to me to contain an implicit syndicalism, which is the common coin of the far left: workplace organisation of the employed workers is to be the centre of any revival of the class movement. The economic conditions between the opening of the arms race around 1900 and the 1920s, and again from the beginning of rearmament in the mid 1930s, through the ‘Keynesian’ period, down to the crisis of 1981-2 and Thatcherism, strongly favoured trade union organisation at the point of production and shop-stewardism. But we are not in those times now, and the cases where workplace organisation alone will build the movement are limited. In order to rebuild the class movement from its present weak situation we are going to have to relearn lessons from a much earlier stage of its history.


  23. 2. Chávez and Mao, or “What is the left for?”

    These are extremely secondary issues. My discussion of Chávez is addressed to the Chávez fan-club among leftists who take Chávez’ leftist and “Trotskyist” rhetoric as representing a political alternative. Now it may be that (as you appear to argue) Chávez is merely a bonapartist demagogue who doesn’t believe what he says. I don’t think this is proved: for all I know, Chávez himself may be sincere in his belief in his “21st century socialism”. The point I am making is that even if he is, it still doesn’t lead anywhere – precisely because it is about moral sentiments rather than strategy. “Create two, three, many Venezuelas” is rather less compelling than “create two, three, many Vietnams” (which was always an illusory strategy, but at least looked like a strategy).

    The stuff about Mao is even more secondary. My primary point is that Trotsky’s argument for automatic defencism in colonial and semicolonial countries attacked by imperialism does not hold water. The defencist line, and even ‘pointing your guns in the same direction’, might merely result in tying the workers’ movement to a collapsing state regime ¬- however much the left took political distance from the regime. Secondly, the far left has been recently faced with choices like those that faced Chinese communists. Taleban-defencism in Afghanistan, joining ‘the resistance’ in Iraq, are roads to extermination of the left however much the left took political distance from the Taleban or ‘the resistance’. (Quote-marks because ‘the resistance’ in Iraq is a variety of separate warlord groups with opposed interests and opposed political ideas.)

    However, though I reject automatic colonial-country defencism, I do not reject revolutionary defencism as a tactic in all circumstances. Revolutionary defencism does not mean supporting the existing state or bourgeois leadership. It means addressing masses who are want to defend their country against a foreign invasion or liberate it from foreign occupation, where this attitude is justified (i.e. we are not merely in a war for redivision of the world between rival imperialists) with the idea that in order to defend against attack, it is necessary for the working class to take power away from the existing capitalist (etc.) regime.

    On this I agree with Trotsky’s turn to the ‘proletarian military policy’ after the fall of France partially reshaped the political character of World War II (in Writings 1939-40). The point is that the question is in each case one of tactical judgment of how to get over to the broad masses in the concrete situation the idea that the working class needs to take power. In no case is political support for the capitalist, etc., government/ state acceptable. In some cases ‘pointing your guns in the same direction’ is right. It’s a matter of tactical judgment. In the particular case of the Hitler-Stalin pact and its subsidiary aspects, the occupation of the Baltics and eastern Poland and the invasion of Finland, it would have been right for any Russian left opponents of the regime who were able to do any sort of political work to call these scab acts even if the regime was a workers’ state. On the other hand, in the case of the German invasion of the USSR in 1941 I think it is blindingly obvious that the only way any such left opponents could reach the masses would be by a revolutionary-defencist policy, even if the Stalinist regime was properly characterised as ‘state capitalist’ or ‘bureaucratic collectivist’ or whatever.

    I don’t think that such tactics compromise proletarian class-political independence from the bourgeoisie. Equally, pointing out that the bourgeoisie, or whatever, are inconsistent or vacillating in the defence of what needs to be defended does not amount to giving them political support.


  24. 3. The state

    This is the central question. It involves some historical issues (the first four paragraphs of this part of the review) and some theoretical ones (the remainder of the section, including the Marx quotes selected by Cyril Smith).

    (A) Historical evidence

    (a) “Revolutions where parties based themselves on the existing state machinery, or the existing organisations of the workers’ movement took power, have also all failed.” True, but the Russian revolution got further than others: the earliest point at which it can really be said to have failed is the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and the turn at this time to overriding the working class majority and alliance with the spetsy to create a bureaucratic state; IMO it was still possible down to 1921 that the Russians could be saved by the revolution in western Europe, in which case the Red Terror, and so on, would be remembered merely as regrettable but unavoidable emergency measures.

    (b) “there is no evidence that revolutions with workers’ councils failed because these organs are unable to assert their authority: despite enjoying high degrees of authority across Germany and Russia in their brief existence, these organs were crushed by counter-revolutions.” The Hungarian Soviet Republic was indeed crushed by counter-revolution. The German and Austrian Räte were, on the contrary, in their large majority incorporated behind the Social-Democrats. (The Berlin uprising of January 1919 was a ‘July Days’, i.e. localised; the Bavarian ‘Soviet republic’ was merely a short-lived minority putsch, not a mass movement.) Most other revolutionary movements (Italy, Spain, etc.) have not got even this far with the council form.
    In this respect, my point about the Russian soviets’ form of organisation is that a Congress of Soviets which met infrequently could not hold its Executive Committee to account – let alone the Sovnarkom which was theoretically accountable to the Executive Committee. In order to hold the government to account, the congress would have needed to become a standing body which met every weekday apart from holidays, like a parliament. But the form (infrequently meeting congress/ soviet – more frequently meeting executive committee, + daily meeting government) is copied from the form of workers’ organisations (trade unions and parties). The point is that the organisations of struggle are inappropriate in their forms to the task of exercising power, i.e. taking coordinating decisions for the whole society.

    (c) Sovnarkom “was an undemocratic manoeuvre against the soviets and grassroots power”. This is illusory. OK, Rabinowitch argues that Lenin wanted an all-Bolshevik government and manoeuvred to seize power before the Congress of Soviets in order to get this. But in fact – as he makes clear – Lenin did not win his proposals in the Bolshevik CC; and the Left SRs and others agreed to the October pre-emptive strike against Kerensky, because there was a real risk that Kerensky would prevent the Congress from meeting. All parties at the Congress except the anarchists, who were numerically trivial, wanted a government to be formed. The majority certainly favoured a government of the ‘broad left’, but it was the Mensheviks and Right SRs who refused to participate in a government which included the Bolsheviks (who were either the majority or the largest minority) and therefore made such a government wholly impossible.

    (d) Sovnarkom “within months – before the civil war – had bureaucratically centralised economic control and pulled the rug from underneath the factory committees.” False, for two reasons.
    The first is that the civil war started with the attack of Krasnov’s Cossacks on 28-29 October, or the beginning of the operations of Alexeev’s Volunteer Army and Kaledin’s Don Cossacks in December 1917. Allied military intervention against the revolution arguably began with British political and (attempted) military support for Kornilov’s attempted coup in September 1917; certainly, the British secret service was supporting efforts to organise White military forces and paying for industrial sabotage operations from the end of October (Kettle, The Allies & the Russian Collapse).
    Second, Lenin’s (and Trotsky’s) turn away from workers control is datable to March-April 1918, i.e. is intimately connected with the Brest-Litovsk treaty and the associated (i) removal of Left SR support, (ii) Menshevik political revival in soviet elections, and (iii) expansion of White military operations (which is taken by anarchist and Liberal/ social-democratic critics of the Bolsheviks, though not by open rightists and military historians, to be the start of the civil war).

    (e) “The author has also elsewhere criticised workers’ councils as undemocratic on the grounds that they do not represent working-class people who do not have jobs (students, pensioners, disabled people, the unemployed etc.): but in fact there is no reason why workers’ councils should just be composed of workplace delegates, and in Russia such people as Mike mentions had every right to vote in soviet elections.” My point is not directed primarily against the Russian Soviets – which were, in substance, (as Trotsky says, below) united fronts of all sorts of class organisations (parties, factory committees, trade unions, and some sorts of campaign groups). It is primarily directed against western interpretations of these bodies as purely delegates of workplaces.
    Both the 1918 Soviet constitution, and Marx’s interpretation of the Commune constitution, propose self-government of localities (including the workplaces in those localities) through universal-suffrage councils, with the central decision-making body government taking the form of delegates from the local councils.

    (f) “The point about workers’ councils is not some organisational fetish – indeed, “workers’ council” would be a somewhat inaccurate characterisation of the 1871 Paris Commune, but it was still an organ of workers’ power – but that they have in history arisen in struggle and proven to be armed organs of working-class power counterposed to the bourgeois state machinery.” Actually, however, this is still a fetish, in this case a fetishism of ‘organs arising from the direct class struggle’.
    Compare Trotsky on Spain (1931): “We succeeded in creating Soviets in Russia only because the demand for them was raised, together with us, by the Mensheviks and the Social-Revolutionaries, although, to be sure, they had different aims in mind. We cannot create any Soviets in Spain precisely because neither the Socialists nor the syndicalists want Soviets. This means that the united front and the organizational unity with the majority of the working class cannot be created under this slogan.” ( Trotsky’s judgment was confirmed by the later events of the revolution and civil war: though the workers created militias and in places seized factories, etc., they did not create soviets. What was missing was “a party, a party, and again a party” (Trotsky).
    Subsequent events have in my opinion confirmed and reconfirmed this judgment: the mass desire for revolutionary change after 1945 was overwhelmingly expressed through the revived workers’ parties and trade unions – who, of course, betrayed the masses either by restoring capitalist order, or by creating Stalinist regimes; the Hungarian workers’ councils in 1956 did not even aspire to take power; the role of the ‘committees for the defence of the revolution’ in Cuba was entirely secondary (and in any case they were created in response to government appeals); David’s own work on 1968 shows that any tendency towards the creation of workers’ councils was completely secondary in the course of events; and so on …


  25. (B) Theoretical

    (a) The core of the issue is this. Is the proletarian revolution the immediate abolition of all states and classes and the leap into the kingdom of freedom and truly human relations? Or is it merely a moment in transition in this direction, one which ‘sets free’ the logic of development:
    “The working class did not expect miracles from the Commune. They have no ready-made utopias to introduce par decret du peuple. They know that in order to work out their own emancipation, and along with it that higher form to which present society is irresistably tending by its own economical agencies, they will have to pass through long struggles, through a series of historic processes, transforming circumstances and men. They have no ideals to realize, but to set free the elements of the new society with which old collapsing bourgeois society itself is pregnant.” The Civil War in France, ch 5,
    Or a moment in which the working class becomes strong enough to employ general means of coercion:
    “[Bakunin]: If there is a state [gosudarstvo], then there is unavoidably domination [gospodstvo], and consequently slavery. Domination without slavery, open or veiled, is unthinkable — this is why we are enemies of the state. ¶ What does it mean, the proletariat organized as ruling class?
    [Marx:] It means that the proletariat, instead of struggling sectionally against the economically privileged class, has attained a sufficient strength and organization to employ general means of coercion in this struggle. It can however only use such economic means as abolish its own character as salariat, hence as class. With its complete victory its own rule thus also ends, as its class character has disappeared.” (Conspectus of Bakunin’s Statism and Anarchy,
    In the first case – that the proletarian revolution is the immediate abolition of all states and classes and the leap into the kingdom of freedom and truly human relations – an essentially spontaneist or Bakuninist approach is appropriate. The mass movement, set free of the constraints of the capitalist state system, will work out its own solutions.
    In the second case, the revolution is merely the creation of “the political form at last discovered under which to work out the economical emancipation of labor” and “a lever for uprooting the economical foundation upon which rests the existence of classes, and therefore of class rule.” (both from The Civil War in France, ch 5). The revolution is then not in itself the abolition of classes, but the creation of stronger means for the proletariat to fight for its interests – to expropriate the capitalists where they have already socialised production, as in the natural monopolies and the giant oligopolistic corporations, and to subordinate the petty proprietors, (including managers, etc.) to the proletariat. The result is that it is necessary to consider the question of what political forms will have the effect of subordinating – primarily – managers and bureaucrats to those they manage.

    (b) Marx is ambiguous on this issue. Alongside the quotations I have just given are those used by Cyril Smith, which you cite. My opinion is that these probably mean less than Cyril made them mean.
    In the quotation from the Poverty of Philosophy Cyril cut out a large part of the passage which is about coercion, as distinct from the immediate passage to the end of classes: see the text at
    The quotations from The Civil War in France are not from the published text but from the first draft ( The published version reduces considerably the idea of the Commune as representing the immediate transition beyond the class order, as opposed to the beginning of the proletariat working out this transition. Since the published text was sufficiently ‘scandalous’ it is unlikely that the changes in question are made in order to ‘tone down’ Marx’s ‘real’ positions: more likely that Marx concluded that the original text overstated the point or was too close to Bakunin’s views.
    The remark on Bakunin is from the Conspectus of Bakunin’s Statism and Anarchy (1874) ( A full reading of this text is in my opinion flatly inconsistent with the use Cyril makes of it in the passage quoted. More generally, the reading of Marx as proposing the proletarian revolution as an immediate leap beyond class society seems inconsistent with Marx’s practical politics in the First International, in the various correspondence with the Germans including the Critique of the Gotha Programme, and in the Programme of the Parti Ouvrier.
    Nonetheless, a reading of Marx in these terms is a possible reading.

    (c) The underlying reason for supposing that the proletarian revolution is not in itself and immediately the abolition of classes is the limits – to date – of the capitalist socialisation of small-scale property and production, and particularly of small-scale intellectual property in the form of specialist skills and its concomitant, the proletarianisation of intellectual labour.
    We have progressed a long way forward on this front from winter 1917-1918, when the resistance of the managers, civil servants and peasants completely dislocated the Russian economy. The Bolsheviks were then forced – and any regime whatever would also have been forced – to make major concessions to spetsy in order to get access to the information the spetsy possessed so as to get production started again, the cities supplied with food, etc. Otherwise the cities would have starved and the Whites would have won the civil war. The concessions were both in wages/ salaries/ rations, and in authority relations in the workplace and the army. That was the real reason, not ‘elitist’, ‘partyist’, or ‘vanguardist’ malevolence, for Lenin’s April 1918 turn against workers’ control.
    But though we have progressed a long way, we are not yet in a place where any group of train drivers could jump into the role of general managers of a renationalised railway and run it without assistance from the technical staff – or, equally important, where any group of urban workers could go out to take over the running of a family farm (whose owner has cut production in order to coerce the workers’ regime). We are moving in that direction, both through increased general education, and through the production of books (and web materials) through which technical information can be picked up. Probably, even in a full socialist system training periods will be needed for particular tasks as well as general education and access to published information.
    But let us assume for the moment that the fall of the US world-hegemony turns out to be the fall of capitalism also and the working class takes over in the coming century. It is clear that there will still be major skills and training bottlenecks, and that large areas of production will still operate on the basis of small family enterprises. The small un-socialised private ownership of information, therefore, will continue to be the basis of a class of petty proprietors separate from the proletariat – including managerial and bureaucratic specialists (and probably also one of small capitalists). The problem is how to subordinate these groups to the interests of the working class.
    In fact, this is also a present problem of the workers’ movement before it gets to the point of overthrowing the capitalist state regime (as I argue in the book at pp 45-47, 62, 90-98, and 108-110). We can’t do without trade union, party, etc., full-time or part-time officials: the result of trying to do so is the ‘tyranny of structurelessness’. But the officials – even of the SWP or LCR or AWL – have common interests with managers and state bureaucrats antagonistic to the interests of the working class. The capitalist class rules through the support of the labour bureaucracy. So the problem is how to subordinate the bureaucrats to the ranks. Marx clearly thought it was easy, as can be seen in several points in the Conspectus of Bakunin’s Statism and Anarchy. He was wrong …

    (d) The idea of the “democratic republic” is shorthand – as, in fact, the ideas of ‘soviet power’, ‘workers’ councils’ or a ‘workers’ government’ also are. What is it shorthand for? It is not a rigid blueprint for a new state, but shorthand for a set of political principles and some relevant institutions.
    Republicanism is a body of political ideas, distinct from, prior to, and opposed to Liberalism, which was current between the late 17th and the mid 19th century. In the course of the 19th century fell out of favour, first among bourgeois politicians, and then (in the generation of Kautsky) in the workers’ movement. It has been revived as a modern academic political theory, alternative to Liberalism, by Philip Pettit (Republicanism (1997)) and others.
    The reason for taking it seriously in connection with Marxism is that Marx and Engels grew up when Republicanism was still politically current and were part of the ‘democratic’, i.e. democratic-republican, movement in their youth; the Chartists were certainly Republican in their political ideas; and the republican principle of freedom from domination is a recurrent theme in Marx and Engels’ work. It’s one which they don’t, however, often refer to explicitly: the reason is that modern Liberal political theory, as distinct from Liberal political economy, was only beginning to emerge during their lives.
    The central idea of Republican political theory is opposition to permanent relations of domination and subordination among humans: the lifelong authority of kings and aristocrats, and in modern times that of permanent general secretaries and ‘cadres’. Unlike Liberalism, Republicanism does not seek to escape from this problem by creating a ‘private sphere’ in which the individual is free, but by creating generalised participation in political decision-making and accountability from below.
    Classical 17th-18th century republicanism held that this was only possible in a society composed of small owners. It therefore opposed large concentrations of landholding and wealth as tending to corrupt politics; but also supported the exclusion from political rights of ‘dependents’, i.e. women and wage-workers.
    Democratic Republicanism broke through this barrier to advocate a republican polity which included all adults. The class fear this engendered among the capitalists led them to break off from Republicanism in favour of Liberalism. Consistent democratic republicans – like the part of the Chartist left, and like Marx and Engels – meanwhile became communists, seeing that private property in general tended to oppose the republican principle of opposition to permanent relations of domination and subordination among humans.
    The core democratic republican political principles are therefore at the heart of the Marxist communist goals – as opposed to the hierarchical socialisms of Saint-Simon, etc. Democratic republican institutional forms – like the militia and the election of all state officials – also formed part of the common core programme of the early ‘Marxist’ socialist parties, the French Parti Ouvrier and the Eisenach, Gotha and Erfurt programmes.
    We need to retrieve this inheritance of the past of our movement, not out of traditionalism, but because the principles and institutional ideas of democratic republicanism are powerful weapons in the battle of ideas against both the capitalists’ rule-of-law state, and against the labour bureaucracy which supports it.
    Some secondary points in this context:
    (i) “Mike’s alternative is only vaguely defined: he calls for a “democratic republic” with a “people’s militia”.” In fact, at pp128-129 I give a list of five bullet points including not only demands about the military but also e.g. “election and recallability of all public officials; public officials to be on an average skilled workers’ wage” and “abolition of official secrecy laws and of private rights of copyright and confidentiality.” My five bullet points are themselves examples, and I cross-refer to the CPGB’s Draft programme.
    (ii) “it is not clear whether the democratic republic is meant to be the product of the revolution, or whether it is a taking-over of the existing state bureaucracy.” In fact, it should be clear that the actual creation of the democratic republic would be, amount to, the smashing-up of the existing bureaucratic-coercive state. Here I follow Engels in describing the Paris Commune as a “democratic republic”. But, as with the minimum programme in general, individual democratic-republican demands could be won under capitalism – and, if won, would strengthen the position of the working class in future class struggles.
    (iii) “Indeed, although he says he is opposed to the rule of law, throughout the book Mike again and again refers to “democracy”.” Democratic Republicanism is opposed to the rule of law. I have argued the point more extensively in an article on the Labor Tribune website:
    (iv) “the problem with state ownership in history has not just been a lack of democracy in the state, but the continuation of the law of value and wage labour.” I think arguments that the law of value operated internally within the USSR after the forced collectivisation turn, or in Maoist China, are so unreal as to end up destroying the explanatory value of the ‘law of value’ as a theory. I agree broadly with Ticktin’s argument that the wage in the USSR was something more like a pension (“we pretend to work and they pretend to pay us”); or with the view that the relationship of the worker to the firm was analogous to the serf industrial production of 18th century Russia. My point in the passage criticised (p162) is that without accountability of the bureaucrats from below, state ownership is de facto private ownership by the relevant bureaucrats. It is not capitalist ownership (which would be subject to the law of value) but pre-capitalist ownership.


  26. Mike says that his Kautsky line only applies to the period before 1914 when Kautsky formed the orthodox “centre” of German social democracy. As I have pointed out, this centre acted to appease the right wing, by dressing up bourgeois democracy in Marxist language.
    That Mike’s espousal of the Kautskyite programme is not limited to a historical question is clear from his explanation of the strategic line where he says;

    “This strategic line can be summed up as follows. Until we have won a majority (identifiable by our votes in election results) the workers’ party will remain in opposition and not in government. …when we have a majority, we will form a government and implement the whole minimum programme; if necessary, the possession of a majority will give us legitimacy to coerce the capitalist/pro-capitalist and petty bourgeois minority. Implementing the whole minimum programme will prevent the state in the future serving as an instrument of the capitalist class and allow the class struggle to progress on terrain more favourable to the working class.”

    Like Kautsky Mike has a purely parliamentarian conception of the class struggle. Through a “struggle” for votes, the working class will win a majority in parliament – until it does it will remain in opposition. This is exactly the criticism Kautsky made of the Bolshevik insurrection of 1917. Remember the Bolsheviks did not win a majority, they lost the constituent assembly elections of August 1917, but seized power because they had won a majority of soviets based in the cities. This was nonetheless the minority of the Russia population.
    If Mike was consistent, he would condemn the Bolshevik seizure of power, like Kautksky did, as a putsch.
    But Mike then continues, once the socialists have won a majority in parliament, they will implement the democratic minimum programme. But they will not seize power. They will not smash the state – even if Mike rather contradictorarily claims elsewhere they will – according to Mike implementing the minimum programme will “prevent the state from acting as an instrument of the capitalist class”.
    The capitalist state remains in tact albeit nutured.
    The experience of over a century of struggle proves this is absolutely not true. A democratic capitalist state remains a capitalist state. Unless the working class destroy the capitalist state, then at the first propitious moment it will be used to destroy the working class. Hence the need for soviets and a workers government. Which of course Mike denounces so strongly.
    As Marx and Engels explained in the 1872 intro to the Communist Manifesto;
    One thing especially was proved by the Commune, viz., that “the working class cannot simply lay hold of ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes.” (See The Civil War in France: Address of the General Council of the International Working Men’s Assocation, 1871, where this point is further developed.)
    Rather the state has to be smashed. This was precisely the lesson of the Commune, because they did not seize the banks and destroy capitalism they were destroyed. Implementing the minimum programme did not prevent the capitalists from using the state against them.
    Comrades in the CPGB need to explain why they have published a book which advocates nothing more than warmed up left reformism.
    If the left followed this line they would be lead to disaster.
    Mike rejects the struggle of the left against Kautsky before WWI; he rejects the Marxist theory of the state as explained by Lenin in the state and revolution; he rejects the Bolshevik struggle against the Mensheviks before WWI and claims that Kautsky supported the Bolsheviks when he opposed them; he rejects the workers government, soviets and transitional demands; Mike rejects permanent revolution; Mike advocates a purely parliamentary conception of struggle.
    The fact that its dressed in Marxist language makes it less not more palatable.


  27. Mike (P)

    On your 1 Sept post … in reverse order

    (1) Faction and party: you are entirely correct on this (should be Bolshevik faction, not Bolshevik party). In the particular context it is immaterial,because the Bolsheviks were a *public* faction of the RSDLP which claimed (probably correctly for most of the time between 1903 and 1917) to be the party majority.

    (2) On Lih on Luxemburg. I assumed in my response that you were referring to the characterisation of Lenin as a Kautskyan before 1914 (on which Lih is clearly right), rather than to the characterisation of Luxemburg.
    I think Lih does, in fact underestimate the extent to which the text Organisational Problems of Russian Social Democracy is spontaneist in character: i.e. Luxemburg argues that Lenin’s attacks on the Economists, etc, are unnecessary because they are merely a result of the low objective development of the class movement. This spontaneist aspect is, I think, considerably stronger in The Mass Strike. Moreover, Luxemburg’s anti-factionalism and idea that the class movement will be spontaneously revolutionary when the time comes comes out in the SDKPiLin the form of creating a small sect in order to avoid factional warfare within it.

    Mike (M)


  28. On Bill J’s two posts of 2 September. I wrote that

    ““Down to 1914, Russian Bolshevism was a tendency within the centre, not a tendency opposed to it – even if Kautsky preferred the Mensheviks.”

    I then gave some political reasons forsupposing that this was important to the history of the Bolsheviks.

    Bills responds by going on at length about Kautsky preferring the Mensheviks. But I already said that in the book, and Bill’s points do not at all answer the point that the Bolsheviks were part of the centre tendency in the Second International, not part of the semi-syndicalist left (of which Gorter, Pannekoek and Arturo Labriola were among the most prominent representatives).

    I say that Trotsky (in Our Political Tasks and some of his later writing before 1917) and Luxemburg (in The Mass Strike) leaned towards the semi-syndicalist left, to the extent that The Mass Strike can be treated (as I do in the book) as the strongest (best, not most extreme) version of the left’s strategic line. To be frank, there are probably better arguments to be made against this point of view than there are against the point that the Bolsheviks, or at least Lenin and his cothinkers as opposed to Bogdanov & Lunacharsky, were within the Kautskyan centre.

    This point – Lenin & Co were Kautskyans before 1914 – is in fact perfectly orthodox Trotskyism: an orthodox Trotskyist would go on to say: (a) but Lenin had broken *in practice* with Kautsky on the party in 1903 (Sparts) or (b) but Lenin completely rethought his politics after 1914, witness CW 38 on Hegel, etc. Your idea that the Bolsheviks weren’t part of the centre is just odd.



  29. Bill’s post of the 4 September starts with a remarkable piece of selective quotation. Just before the passage quoted (This strategic line … favourable to the working class) I say explicitly that I am summarising the strategic line of the centre tendency in the Second International.

    I go on in the immediately next paragraph to say that imperialism “has significant implications for the centre tendency’s strategy of patience. …” concluding (at pp 56-57) “the economic and social effects of imperialism in the imperailist countries mean that this [winning an electoral majority] is unlikely in any single imperialist country and outside of conditions of acute political crisis”.

    For this reason, in the summary of positive political line in Ch 9 (p 136, point 6) I say that it is necessary to win a majority in the society – *not* an electoral majority. Moreover, I immediately go on to say (pp 163-164, point 7) that this majoritarian commitment does not mean rejection of the workers’ movement acting illegally or using force in self-defence or defence of workers’ immediate interests.

    As for the remainder of the Bill’s post, it is just silly. If Bill thinks that the minimum programme (including election and recallability of all public officials, i.e. including judges and army officers, and restricting them to an average skilled worker’s wage, etc., etc.) doesn’t amount to the zerbrechen, smashing or breaking up into little pieces, of the existing bureaucratic-coercive state, he is living in cloud-cuckoo land.



  30. What’s selective about it? Mike claims we are in a period not unlike the pre war belle epoque and Mike agrees with Kautsky in that period up to 1914. It is entirely reasonable therefore to assert that you agree with this line in this period.
    As for the state – comrades really need to wake up to just how right wing Mike is. He explains;

    “What distinguished the centre tendency from the later Leninists most fundamentally was the belief that the working class could take over and use the existing capitalist state bureaucratic apparatus, a view developed most clearly in Kautsky’s The road to power. This, too, had its roots in claims made by Marx and – particularly – Engels. ”

    And lets be clear – Mike agrees with Kautsky. Mike continues describing Engels and Marx’s assertion that the state needed smashing as an anarchist bending of the stick;

    “But that (the smashing of the state) was in the first flush of the revolutionary movement. In the aftermath of the Commune, the Bakuninists had argued that the mass strike revolution was to abolish the state. In response to the uselessness of the Bakuninists’ line, Marx and – in particular – Engels had ‘bent the stick’ against it in a number of texts. ”

    Mike claims that Engels changed his mind in a Kautskyite direction, he writes

    “In Engels’s 1895 Introduction to Marx’s Class struggles in France, 1848-1850 we find Engels asserting that: “With [the SPD’s] successful utilisation of universal suffrage, however, an entirely new method of proletarian struggle came into operation, and this method quickly took on a more tangible form. It was found that the state institutions, in which the rule of the bourgeoisie is organised, offer the working class still further levers to fight these very state institutions. The workers took part in elections to particular diets, to municipal councils and to trades courts; they contested with the bourgeoisie every post in the occupation of which a sufficient part of the proletariat had a say. And so it happened that the bourgeoisie and the government came to be much more afraid of the legal than of the illegal action of the workers’ party, of the results of elections than of those of rebellion” (emphasis added).”

    Mike thinks Kautsky was right on the state, not Lenin.
    As for the use of violence, Kautsky didn’t rule that out either – he was not a pacificist.
    Mike wants to have it both ways. He wants the Kautsky line based on the transformation of the state – but at the same time – he claims that implementing the minimum programme means the smashing of the state.
    Let’s be absolutely clear. It does not.
    The Paris Commune implemented the minimum programme – it established the potential for the dictatorship of the proletariat – but it did not destroy capitalism. And the state – in the form of the French army was able to destroy the commune as a result.
    Mike knows that every state has a class character. Of course he doesn’t tell us what the class character of his “democratic republic” based on the minimum programme is.
    But it is not in doubt. Its class character is bourgeois. It remains a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. Hence Mike’s reference to the democratic republic and the peoples (note not workers) militia.
    Because the minimum programme is a programme of bourgeois democratic demands.
    As for winning a majority of society – again this just confirms my point – note Mike refers to society – not the working class. The Bolsheviks did not win a majority of society before 1917. They lost the constituent assembly elections. Even with the Left SRs there was not a majority of society for the overthrow of the Tsar.
    So its not so much cloud cuckoo land as the chickens coming home to roost.


  31. jschulman (Sept 4 19:31:01) wrote: Comrade Bill J should learn how to read.

    Actually, the problem is not illiteracy but self-deception. If Bill could nail me as a Kautskyite, he would have good reasons to ignore the rest of what I say, since Kautskyism plainly (whatever its strengths otherwise) led to disaster in 1914 and 1933 (as, in fact, I say at several points in the book (pp 36, 62, 65 (first and third to fourth paragraphs), 91, 159-160 …). That would be a comfortable conclusion for an orthodox Trotskyist.

    I am not a Kautskyite, but merely willing to recognise the partial strengths of Kautsky’s pre-1914 line (which were shared by Lenin) as against the coalitionists of the second International right (today’s Social Democrats and Stalinists) and as against the Hegelian-Marxist syndicalists, semi-syndicalist and mass strike fetishists of the Second International left (most of today’s far left, albeit in very dilute untheorised ‘common sense’ forms).

    Since I am not a Kautskyite, Bill is forced (in order to keep persuading himself that I am) to falsify what I do say by selective quotation. His latest post is another example. The passages quoted are not agreeing with Kautsky on the state, but asserting that *ambiguities* and *weaknesses* in Marx and (especially) Engels on the state and on the nation-state were developed by Kautsky into a statist and nationalist political perspective. At pp 58-62, from where Bill’s quotes showing that Kautsky’s ideas were built on Marx and Engels taken, I am criticising Marx and Engels, not using them to supprt Kautsky on the state!

    The real peculiarity of this exchange is that Bill thinks – as I understand what he thinks – that capitalism has entered into a new long upswing like the post-WWII long upswing, due the the reconquest of the former USSR etc, market turn in China, etc. Such a situation would obviously not be the “death agony of capitalism” which forms the foundation of the 1938 Transitional Programme and it would not be the conclusions about morbund capitalism, with only slight upturns possible in underlying permanent crisis and war conditions, which were drawn by the early Comintern from Lenin’s theory of imperialism. Revolutionary crisis would be no more on the immediate agenda than it was in the 1950s and 1960s.

    I don’t agree with the new long wave upturn theory, but don’t think revolutionary crisis is on the immediate agenda: I think that the decay of the US world hegemony carries with it an underlying increase in economic and political instability which will end, probably sometime in mid-century, in acute crisis and perhaps a new inter-imperialist war.

    Then either Bill’s view, or mine, poses the question: what do Marxists do when revolution is on the historical agenda, but revolutionary crisis is not on the immediate agenda? My answer is: build up the organised workers’ movement, as far as possible on the basis of open defence of a marxist programme, i.e. one based on working class rule as opposed to people’s fronts and coalitionism, democratic republicanism as opposed to the rule-of-law bureaucratic state and the labour bureaucracy, and proletarian internationalism as opposed to all forms of nationalism.

    It is entirely unclear to me what Bill’s answer is. It *seems* to be: build a Trotskyist group, in spite of the clear basis of the Transitional Programme in the ‘death agony’ analysis, and the manifest failure of Trotskyist groups in the revolutionary crises which have happened in several countries since 1938. But maybe this is a false infererence from what Bill is saying?



  32. Bill J is being so disengenuous here that it is hilarious, and I’m clearly not the only one to have spotted it.

    He says: “What’s selective about it? Mike claims we are in a period not unlike the pre war belle epoque”. No Bill, Mike actually said there are important similarities, which is clearly different to “not unlike” as the periods can clearly have similarities whilst also being very “unlike” each other in many other respects.

    Bill then says: “Mike agrees with Kautsky in that period up to 1914”, and later that: “Mike thinks Kautsky was right on the state”. This is clearly not the case to anyone who has read what Mike has said (except Bill who seems to be out to distort everything Mike says so he can conveniently dismiss him as a classic 100% Kautskyite without further thought). Mike has clearly stated that he is with the pre-1914 Kautskyite centre (and the Bolsheviks) on the necessity for a strategy of patient party building and organisation in order to win a majority. Yes, a majority in *society*, after all the working class is the majority in society, and not uncapable of winning others to its banner. But no, not necessarily a “parliamentary” majority (unless you are out to willfully distort) but a *political* majority.

    But Mike has made abundantly clear, both here and in his book, that he is not with Kautsky on the question of the state. Bill tries to back up his ridiculous argument that Mike is actually against smashing the state and favours a Kautskyite approach by providing some quotes. The two quotes he uses from the book he fails to give page references for (they are on pp. 58 – 59), but if we actually go and check them we find that Bill is once again being highly selective in his citation grazing and deliberately taking things out of their context. Only three pages further on (p.62) Mike returns to the Engels quote saying that Engles’ “1895 claim that ‘It was found that the state institutions, in which the rule of the bourgeoisie is organised, offer the working class still further levers to fight these very state institutions’ *was misconceived*” (my emphasis).

    Mike then goes on to state that “The problem of failure to grasp the character of the nation-state system as part of an international state system and subject to the world market was one the centre shared with the right wing, and was more profoundly disastrous than the failure to grasp the problem of the class character of state forms” (p.62).

    So hardly agreeing with Kautsky and the centre on the state then, eh Bill!


  33. Bill might sound somewhat boisterous, but his fundamental point seems to be that Mike has replaced “a proletarian half-state” with “a democratic republic”, and “smashing the state” with “electability of all functionaries”. Mike responds that the electability of all functionaries (and paying them an average worker’s wage etc.) is the same as the zerbrechen of the bourgeois state, that it’s so obviously the same thing that it doesn’t need to be mentioned. That begs the question why we shouldn’t present the goal clearly, rather than presenting one of the forms that will be present when this goal is fulfilled. Frankly it reminds me of the CWI’s standard propaganda trick: presenting a demand, which could be interpreted in a revolutionary way, so that 99% of modern readers, everyone but themselves and a few more Marxists, will interpret it in a reformist way. Lenin, in State and Revolution, does of course argue for using basic (“primitive”) democratic demands such as the electability of all state functionaries. But I’m not aware that he argues that such demands lead to or even mean smashing the bourgeois state, as Mike seems to do.


  34. David,

    I am glad that you got out of the AWL before you were corrupted. I welcome your involvement here, and I am very interested in the ideas being developed. I have added both the Commune, and your personalblog to my blogroll.

    Some of the ideas raised in these comments are dealt with in my blogs concerning Mike McNair’s arguments in relation to the nature of the USSR. Mike said some time ago he was nearly ready to reply to those comments, but I’m still waiting. I hope Mike can find time to respond shortly.



  35. Actually the problem is neither illiteracy or self deception.
    The quotes were from Mike’s on line article not the book.
    Hence the lack of page numbers.
    But as Martin F points out, Mike contradicts himself.
    If he now says that Engels was “misconceived” on this point – its not my fault I didn’t spot his change of position. As I was going off the on-line article.
    All the stranger than that Mike can uphold Kautsky’s centre line before 1914.
    Mike asserts that Marx and Engels retreated from their position demanding the smashing of the bourgeois state, justifying Kautsky’s line, and then claims that with the implementation of the minimum programme the bourgeois state would be smashed. The diametric opposite thing to that which he originally claimed.
    As I pointed out right at the start, one of the issues with this book is its internally contradictory nature.
    Mike claims he is not a Kautskyite. Well maybe. But then again maybe not, given that he claims Kautsky was right up to 1914. And indeed particularly right against the left wing of the German social democracy, in the form of Luxemburg, who took him to task over the general strike.
    Just to clarify Lenin’s position on all this. Kautsky and Lenin did not share a consistent relationship between 1902-1914. And Mike is wrong to say they did. Kautsky opposed the Bolshevik Menshevik split, supporting the Mensheviks up to 1907. Then got fed up with both sides, because they refused his concilation.
    Lenin its true failed to support Luxemburg against Kautsky from 1910 onwards.
    Mike says this is a point in his favour.
    Its absolutely not.
    As Lenin regretted his support for Kautsky in this period and pointed out that Luxemburg had long pointed out Kaustky was a servile theoretician. In other words cover for the right wing.
    In contrast of course, Mike upholds Kautsky’s centrism.


  36. Oh an one last point. Martin says;
    “Mike has clearly stated that he is with the pre-1914 Kautskyite centre (and the Bolsheviks) on the necessity for a strategy of patient party building and organisation in order to win a majority. Yes, a majority in *society*, after all the working class is the majority in society, and not uncapable of winning others to its banner.”

    Was the working class the majority in Russian society before 1914? Hardly. The urban population was only 13% of the total. That’s why Kautsky denounced the Bolshevik revolution as a coup.
    Mike’s use of the word “society” instead of the working class is not a slip of the keyboard, as is confirmed by his use of the word “people” militia instead of “working class” militia.
    This is of course entirely in keeping with his advocacy of the minimum programme – which is after all a programme of bourgeois demands – and the democratic state it establishes is a bourgeois state.


  37. Replacing the capitalist state with a workers’ state — oligarchy with democracy — constitutes “a programme of bourgeois demands”? Good luck finding a bourgeois who agrees!


  38. Actually I can agree with Bill in so far as he puts forward the workers’ militia as against a people’s militia, and that he is for the breaking up of the bourgeois state, which given Mike’s criticisms of soviets and claim that “This role [setting up an authority] is unavoidably played by a government – either based on the existing military-bureaucratic state core, or on the existing organs of the workers’ movement”, I do not accept that the “democratic republic” and the implementation of the minimum programme would achieve.

    Unlike most of the Trotskyists’ conceptions of a workers’ government, at least PR see it in “revolutionary” rather than left-Labourist terms. Look at the SP, SWP, etc. and you will not get this. If you look at the 1940s European Trotskyist stuff (less so Cannon etc.) it has far more “revolutionism” than what we see today.

    Of course, Bill’s vagueness about workers’ control (he appears to mean that a workers’ government would preside over capitalism but subject to accounting and “controls”) shows that he too has a stagist conception of revolution – and indeed a top-down one. Surely a working-class revolution would include factory expropriations and workers putting their workplaces under their own management? Bill sees no importance in this – the central government is all that matters. I wonder how he thinks we would get from the one state of affairs to the other… maybe by the workers’ government/party telling workers to kick out their bosses, but only when it is to its own liking…

    “Good luck finding a bourgeois who agrees” – with what? With a “democratic republic” and popular sovereignty? Or soviets?


  39. Err not quite David. I’d like you to point to anywhere that either I or PR have said or even implied we are in any way against bottom up expropriations, workers control, seizures of factories or what ever else you want that’s bottom up.
    I hate to say read the Comintern resolution on the workers government, but its not exactly ambiguous whatever Mike McNair says. Built on soviet power, the workers government will implement the revolution from above, just as the soviets upon which it is built will implement it from below. There’s nothing vague, or stagist about it. And as for attaching “no importance” to workers control, I can only assume you added that because you thought it sounds good.
    JSchulman has a point of course the bourgeoisie will not fight for a democratic republic, even one which does not challenge capitalism – one that is limited to the minimum bourgeois democratic programme. The working class will lead the struggle for democracy. But once it has won that struggle, it will not abstain from asserting its own class demands it will make the revolution permanent and fight for socialism.
    In other words, the bourgeois democratic stage is intertwined with and grows over into the socialist stage, that is why limiting the Marxist programme to the minimum bourgeois stage is ultimately counter -revolutionary.
    Mike McNair limits the Marxist party to the minimum programme. Mike rejects the growing over of the revolution into the socialist revolution, he rejects the permanent revolution. That’s not good. That’s Kautskyite.


  40. Bill,

    I said that you do not see any importance in workers expropriating the capitalists and putting their workplaces under their own management. Saying that I am unlikely to find you saying you are “against” this does not show that you attribute importance to it. I haven’t seen anything by you, or anything on the PR site, talking about the need for workers’ self-management.

    But you do protest that you do favour ” workers’ control, and above you cited a Comintern Resolution to that effect. In which case I can only suggest that you read at least some of the vast literature differentiating between subjecting capitalist enterprises to “workers’ control”, e.g. such things as trade union vetos on hiring and firing, and an economy organised by workers’ self-management: a “free association of producers”. Capital cannot be meaningfully be “controlled”.


  41. I realize that Mike M can ably speak for himself, but in response to his critics here, I simply don’t understand how anyone who writes pieces like this:

    could be considered a Kautskyite. Perhaps not a Leninist in the traditional sense (which is all to the good, as far as I’m concerned) but not a Kautskyite either. Consider this passage:

    “…it remains the case that State and revolution has absolutely fundamental lessons for us. It is just that those lessons are not those imagined by the left and council communists and more recently the spontaneists and the ‘councillist’ Trotskyists who fetishise the soviet form. The lesson is not that soviet power is the magic wand which lets the proletariat take the power. It is that the proletariat needs to begin to develop power over its full-timers under conditions of bourgeois rule – in its own institutions, in its own organisations – if it is to be in a position to take the power from the bourgeoisie and create a state which is actually answerable to the working class, rather than one which becomes a state for itself, like the Stalinist regime.”

    That’s what the demand for a democratic republic is — a demand for “a state which is actually answerable to the working class” via the election and recallability of officials, payment of officials of a skilled worker’s wage and the end of the separation of powers.

    As for “people’s militia” vs. “workers’ militia.” Again, this is a demand to be placed on the bourgeois state. In the actual workers’ state itself, a standing army is going to be unavoidable if the new state is going to defend itself against capitalist states. That standing army has to be accountable to the workers if they’re going to really have power in the new state — but nevertheless that army is going to exist. There is no way around this, as the Bolsheviks quickly discovered.


  42. On Bill’s post of 5 Sept 17:22:38 –

    Bill, when you’re in a hole, stop digging. The passage where you claim I have “changed my mind” is on the online article as wellas in the book, and always has been.


    Liked by 1 person

  43. On Wladek’s post of 5 Sept 13:49:27:

    I have no objection to Bill being “boisterous”. We could have a perfectly good “boisterous” knockabout discussion and it might be illuminating. But when Bill is factually inaccurate about what I wrote, as he is, and gets deeper and deeper into trying to defend his original factual inaccuracy, he deceives himself and others and wastes time.

    On your own point, Wladek,

    “Mike responds that the electability of all functionaries (and paying them an average worker’s wage etc.) is the same as the zerbrechen of the bourgeois state, that it’s so obviously the same thing that it doesn’t need to be mentioned. ”

    I say explicitly in my post against Bill that the example I give there is *part of* a minimum programme. In the book (pp 128-129) I give half a dozen examples (including – again an example – political and TU rights in the existing armed forces, militia and the right to bear arms). I go on to say that *these* are examples and cross-refer to the ‘immediate demands’ section of the CPGB’s Draft Programme. I add that “A workers’ government policy as a united front policy would have to combine these issues, summed up as the struggle for ‘the undiluted democratic republic’ or ‘extreme democracy’, with salient immediate (not ‘transitional’) demands, such as (for Britain now) the abolition of the anti-union laws, an end to PFI, the renationalisation of rail and the utilities.”

    I would add as my personal opinion that the Programme of the Parti Ouvrier is correct to place expropriation of the banks (in modern times, of the whole financial services sector) in the *political* section of what Marx called the minimum programme. The financial sector is the intermediation between capital and the state and the form in which capital becomes abstract and centralises itself. The overthrow of the capitalist *state* therefore requires expropriation of the financial services sector, and this thus belongs in the political section of the minimum programe, not in an ‘economic section’ or in the maximum programme (of general socialisation of production).

    This is absent from the CPGB’s Draft Programme in its present form, which presents nationalisation purely as a defensive demand; in my view this is a mistake.

    Is this “the CWI’s standard propaganda trick: presenting a demand, which could be interpreted in a revolutionary way, so that 99% of modern readers, everyone but themselves and a few more Marxists, will interpret it in a reformist way”? Since most of the British far left regards CPGB’s public use of the name “communist” as ultra-left, and opposes our up-front republicanism on the same grounds, I don’t think so. In British politics to call yourself a communist is without saying anything more to say that you are for the overthrow of the existing state. There are small groups of bourgeois republicans who fantasise about replacing the monarchy without overthrowing the state, but for the broad masses to call yourself a republican means to solidarise with the IRA’s struggle against the British state.



  44. On Bill’s post of 5 September 18:00:16:

    Bill, you have not answered my point about the July Days. See Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution, Part II ch 3 (Could the Bolsheviks have seized the power in July), Part III ch 1 (The peasantry before October) and ch 6 (The art of insurrection) especially in the last, p.1027 in the Pluto 1997 one-volume edition:

    “The resolution of the July congress of the Bolsheviks, while warning the workers against premature encounters, had at the same time pointed out that the battle must be joined ‘whenever the general national crisis and the deep mass enthusiasm have created conditions favourable to the going over of the poor people of the city and country to the side of the workers.’ That moment arrived in September and October.
    The insurrection was thenceforth able to believe in its success, for it could rely on a genuine majority of the people.”

    Trotsky goes on at some length (pp 1027-28) to discuss the difference between real majority support and a formal majority. I agree entirely with his formulations on this question.

    My point against ‘minoritarianism’ has three aspects. (1) We are not in the conditions of February-October 1917. (2) The Bolsheviks were only able to do what they did in February-October 1917 – win real majority support – because they were already a mass, albeit minority, party (or public faction of the RSDLP – in this context it makes no difference), not a sect. (3) They were already a mass, albeit minority party because of their ‘Kautskyan’ (or Lih’s word, ‘Erfurtian’) character in 1903-14 and especially in 1912-14.
    In contrast the SDKPiL was a sect which proved unable to address the masses, and the Spartacists were a small improvised group which had probably (both Luxemburg and Levi’s view) split from the USPD prematurely, and hence did not have the sort of roots which allowed the Bolsheviks to survive the July Days as a mass party.



  45. David,

    On your two posts of Sept 5 and Bill’s reply.

    There are two underlying issues. The first is the ‘horizontal’ or ‘technical’ division of labour. Suppose that the Oxford workers expropriate BMW’s Cowley car works in order to run it under workers’ management. For the plant to run at all, it needs supplies of steel, paint and various parts which are sourced partly overseas and partly from other firms. So to expropriate the individual factory without a general plan is merely to take possession of the land and machinery without being able to run it. This may be a useful measure to coerce BMW in a dispute or political dispute but it is not a step towards socialism. What it leads to is simply chaos and economic failure, as the Bolsheviks found in November 1917-April 1918. Some central decision making mechanisms, like the Bolsheviks’ Vesenkha, are essential to keep the productive economy running.

    The question is then whether our Vesenkha or equivalent will be under control from below by the working class. And this is in the end a question of the subordination of the *state* to the working class, which is a question of democratic republicanism versus bureaucratic centralism.

    Secondly, if the whole economy consisted of substantial workplaces with an organised working class, it would be feasible to expropriate and run under workers’ management the whole set-up, provided that the act was substantially simultaneous across the economy. But it doesn’t. There is a large “SME” sector of self-employed and (mainly very small) businesses, i.e. a large petty-bourgeoisie. Farming, though so heavily capitalised that we can’t callit a petty-bourgeois activity, now employs mainly family labour outside the fruit farms, etc, which employ casualised migrant and undocumented workers.

    There is also a large ‘middle class’ of petty proprietors of technical information who work for salaries but are paid premiums by capital, either in the form of high wages, or of better working conditions, or of control over other workers. These people *possess* their information as monopolists to the exclusion of the majority of workers.

    Some coercion of the petty proprietors in general, but also some economic concessions to them, will be unavoidable.

    It is for this reason that we need a minimum programme for working class *political* power, as opposed to a programme for the immediate general expropriation of everything under workers’ management. The *immediate* *economic* outcome of the revolutionary overthrow of capitalist rule in (say) Europe – once the phase which is merely coercive is over – will thus look more like Lenin’s “state capitalism under workers’ power” or a much more advanced form of NEP with a very much stronger state sector than like ‘war communism’.

    On Bill’s reply. Take out the fetishism of ‘soviets first’ (on which see Trotsky, Lessons of October ch 8, the 1931 text of Spain quoted in a previous comment, and ‘Stalinism and Bolshevism’ (1937) Take out the mistaken idea, invented by Kautsky, that the minimum programme is the programme of the bourgeois revolution (on which see my Weekly Worker article of August 30 2007).

    With those removed, I agree with Bill that “Built on soviet power [mass organisations], the workers government will implement the revolution from above, just as the soviets [mass organisations] upon which it is built will implement it from below”. Without organisation and mobilisation of the masses and their self-government, *their* decision-making, there is no possibility of overthrowing the capitalist order. But without a central decision-making mechanism – which is, whatever you call it, a government – demolishing the capitalist order leads merely to a brief period of chaos ending in the restoration of capitalist order.



  46. In which case I missed it. The point is its not exactly clear is it? If you write one thing and then somewhere else – I don’t know where – I’ve not found it – write the opposite thing?
    What was your purpose of supporting Kautsky’s reformist understanding of the bourgeois state, if you actually disagreed with it? And how does this relate to your support for Kautsky’s “strategy of patience”?
    Kautsky’s strategy of patience, i.e. of building a mass electoral machine to win deputies in the Reichstag directly flowed from his understanding of the state. You claim that you support Kautky’s strategy but not his theory.
    The point is however, that they are linked. The strategy flowed from the theory, and the collapse of 1914, did not simply fall from the clouds, but was prepared by the entire preceding history.
    You object to Luxemburg’s struggle, albeit not thorough enough, against the bureaucratisation of the party and unions, because it conflicts with Kautsky’s strategy of patience.
    Notwithstanding your protestations, to actually support the smashing of the state – to establish a “democractic” – bourgeois republic – why would you, given that this conflicts with the strategy you propose?
    You claim that Kautsky incorrectly linked the minimum programme with the bourgeois programme. I don’t think so. As that linkage was one shared by every other Marxist who has ever wrote on the subject.
    A minimum programme for working class power is an oxymoron. If the minimum programme also includes the expropriation of the banks, then it is no longer a minimum programme. It is rather a combination of the minimum programme with the transitional and maximum programme.
    You can’t concede that because you reject the workers government, permanent revolution and transitional demands.
    You are in fact confusing a minimum programme with an immediate programme, i.e. an action programme consisting of all the demands necessary to combat the attacks of the ruling class, necessary at a given moment, whether they be minimum, transitional or maximum.
    And btw- what is the class nature of the “democratic state” you support?


  47. A democratic state must mean a bourgeois state. McNair also has no confidence in workers ability to run the economy for themselves, it has to be done on their behalf. If they cant manage the economy themselves how can they have collective political power? Sure they might use some skilled people and tecnicians but they should be able to control them. That’s what the Bolsheviks never did – they let the tecnicians and engineers do whatever they want.


  48. If workers overthrew the bourgeois state and reorganized socirty it would not be a state. The state defends property relations, but if workers managed the economy collectivly then they would not be exploiting another class. Stopping the bourgeoisie is not exploiting them, because no class would be left to produce surplus labour.


  49. “A democratic state state must mean a bourgeois state”? Only inasmuch as a workers’ state is “the bourgeois state without the bourgeoisie,” as Lenin put it (and I’d quibble with that, too).

    Marx, again, from Critique of the Gotha Programme:”what transformation will the state undergo in communist society? In other words, what social functions will remain in existence there that are analogous to present state functions?”

    There are four identifiable functions of the modern state: preserving a minimum of order and security, mediating among differing concerns, regulating/coordinating basic activities, and repressing subordinate interests. It’s the last of these that makes the state an instrument of class rule; the others are socially necessary activities. If coercive class power disappears, the separation of state and civil society can begin to be eliminated. But this can’t and won’t happen immediately.


  50. Mike this in response to your reply to me above.

    1/ I would suggest you stop digging. In actual fact it is doubtful that Lenins faction was even a majority of the Bolshevik faction at some points between 1903 and 1912. Have you not come across Bogdanov for example?

    2/ The idea that Luxemburg was as you put it ‘anti-factional’ is fantastic and the result of a distorted reading of her life. In fact she was deeply involved in splitting the SDKPiL into two antagonisitic factions. Moreover she was long involved in the factional struggles of the RSDLP. What distorts the picture is that her involvement was always in partnership with Jogiches that most mysterious of individuals.

    Similarly the idea that she was a spontaneist is absurd given that she was for her entire life a prominent advocate of the need for a revolutionary workers party. Indeed was she not fighting against a faction in the KPD that included real spontaneists at the time of her death or did I imagine that?


  51. Mike (P)

    1. Yes, there wasn’t a ‘Bolshevik majority’ at the time of the split between Lenin and Bogdanov & Co. But that has no bearing on my point, which was that in relation to the mass opening of membership in 1905, the struggle for mass support in 1912-14, and again in 1917 itself, the Bolsheviks were acting as a *public* faction of the RSDLP, so that my erroneously characterising them as a ‘party’ was of secondary importance.

    2. I derive my characterisation of Luxemburg as spontaneist from what she wrote in Organisational Questions of Russian Social Democracy and in The Mass Strike. In both cases it is clear that she argues that the mass movement will wash away the problem of the opportunist bureaucracy. This analysis was disproved in Germany and Austria in 1918-19.

    The split in the SDKPiL does not in the least indicate that Luxemburg was a factionalist or was not a spontaneist in her understanding of how to deal with the problem of opportunism. Factionalism and splits are counterposed. To factionalise is precisely to *organise* to fight your opponents, but to refuse to *split* unless and until your opponents force it on you. Spontaneism and splits are linked: spontaneism implies the desire to ‘bring the masses in’ not merely by public expression of the differences, but also by ‘doing mass work’ in the sense of ‘mobilising the masses’ which is ‘obstructed’ by the ‘scabby’ majority / ‘scabby’ minority. Hence the motive to split rather than conduct a serious faction fight.



  52. On Bill’s post of 6 Sept 17:07:30

    Bill, if you miss whole paragraphs of what I write, that is not me writing obscurely, but you being so blinded by your preconceptions that you don’t see what is before your eyes.

    That said, your points on the state, almost for the first time in this exchange, raise serious issues.

    1. “Kautsky’s strategy of patience, i.e. of building a mass electoral machine to win deputies in the Reichstag directly frlowed from his understanding of the state…”

    Not true. (a) The ‘strategy of patience’ was not a purely electoral strategy but one of building up the mass *organised* workers’ movement – the party, trade unions, coooperatives, sport and social clubs , etc. (b) This was an inheritance from Engels (and from the Marx of the 1850 Address). On the contrary, Kautsky’s understanding of the state (you are right not to call it a theory), developed in Parliamentarism and Socialism and in the Agrarian Question, logically implied the positions of the Lasalleans and of the coalitionist right in the SPD.

    2. “You object to Luxemburg’s struggle, albeit not thorough enough, against the bureaucratisation of the party and unions, because it conflicts with Kautsky’s strategy of patience”.

    I object to Luxemburg’s *failure* to struggle against the bureaucratisation of the party and unions by building an organised faction, because of her spontaneist belief that once the masses came into action the problem would solve itself (clearest in The Mass Strike).

    3. “Notwithstanding your protestations, to actually support the smashing of the state – to establish a “democractic” – bourgeois republic – why would you, given that this conflicts with the strategy you propose?”

    I have no idea what you mean by “conflicts with the strategy you propose”.
    I *guess* that you mean that the project of building a mass workers’ party and movement based on clear commitments to the replacement of the existing state with a democratic republic is inconsistent with actually taking power when a revolutionary crisis emerges.
    If so, I think the exact opposite: that without a party which is on a mass scale before the emergence of revolutionary crisis, it is impossible to take power when a revolutionary crisis does emerge. (BTW, “on a mass scale”: the Bolsheviks in 1912-14 won the majority of the votes in the workers’ curia in the Duma, were winning trade union elections, and were deeply rooted in a wide variety of mass organisations).

    4. “You claim that Kautsky incorrectly linked the minimum programme with the bourgeois programme. I don’t think so. As that linkage was shared by every other Marxist who has ever wrote on the subject.”

    Except Karl Marx in 1880. Reference in the second of my articles listed below.

    “A minimum programme for working class power is an oxymoron …”

    That’s just your view of what a minimum programme is. For my view, see my series of WW articles of August 4 – September 13, 2007:,,, and

    5. “And btw- what is the class nature of the “democratic state” you support?”

    The dictatorship of the proletariat. Engels, Critique of the Draft Erfurt Programme,, “If one thing is certain it is that our party and the working class can only come to power under the form of a democratic republic. This is even the specific form for the dictatorship of the proletariat, as the Great French Revolution [the Paris Commune] has already shown.”


  53. I found Dave Broder’s review interesting not to mention the subsequent discussion. I am in the process ofd rawing up some more considered comments in respect of Dave’s Review, but my first response to it, and of the subsequent discussion is rather like the comment made by Trotsky. The discussion has all the hallmarks of discussing how to cross a bridge when in fact, no road yet exists to the bridge, or even an adequate path to the road to the bridge.

    I think that the reported commentsof Sean Matgamna that we are not in an age of revolutions is absolutely correct. Where I disagree is in what flows from that. It seems to me that the idea of an “Age of Revolutions” is itself a somewhat mechnical and determinist misrepresentation of Marxism. It suggests that this “Revolutionary Age” arises for some reasons that are automtaic, and not at all the result of human action. That in fact fits well with the Leninist mindset and methodology which sees revolution solely in political terms as a revolutioanary crisis being the opportunity for the Leninist Revolutionary Party to seize power, rather than the revolutionary crisis itself being the result of long patient work to win the battle of democracy within the working class. In reality as Marx points out that battle to win the over the Majority of the working class cannot be succesful unless the material circumstances of the class change too i.e. if the Mode of production begins to be transformed such that workers can see for themselves new better ways of organising production and everyday life as Marx pointed out in relation to his support for the development of Worker Co-operatives. Old Modes of production only disappear when new ones prove their superiority, classes only fight for such a revoluitonary transformation when they are convinced of that superiority, when they see it in action. The Russian workers – and certainly the Russian peasants – did not fight for a revolutionary transformation of society to establish socialism in 1917. That is why initially they gave their support to the Mensheviks and SR’s. They fought in the main for a bourgeois democratic revolution, and for measures to alleviate their immediate miserable condition, for Peace, Bread and Land. In large part it is this fact that explains how the Stalinists were able to assume control over the factories and other aspects of the economy and the State rather than society simply coming under the direct control of the workers and peasants.

    Given the experience of Stalinism and of state capitalism and other forms of statism it is inconceivable that the working class can simply be persuaded that a statised economy – even one supposedly under workers control – is either possible or desirable on the basis of propaganda, agitation and ideological struggle. No one can blame workers demand “show me the money” before they accept such concepts or risk what for many in the developed world, and increasingly in the not so developed world is far from a subsistence form of life. The myth perpetrated by Trotskyism for the last 50 years, and which derives from Leninism that there is some revoluitonary working class out there just waiting for the correct leadership to come along and repalce the existing bureaucratic misleadership is a nonsense. The working class is historically, objectively progressive and revoluitonary but that objective fact does not mean that this class is at all times and in all places subjectively revolutionary. It only becomes so when it is actively conscious of its historic role and acts accordingly. To my mind the Leninist concept that it is only an active Minority a Vanguard that needs to have his conscioussness is unMarxist and dangerous. It is the diametric opposite to the idea proposed by Marx of the need to wi the battle of democracy, and of the idea put forward by Engels to the Americans that the most important thing is for the class to move as a whole.

    We should as Dave suggests begin from an economic analysis of the nature of modern capitalism, and of the working class within it. We should as Mike says look to that changing nature to see the role that has to be played by other forms of organisation than simply workplace organisation, such as community organisation, but the fundamental lesson seems to me to be that it is necessary to develop the forms of the new society within the existing one. If we want to persuade workers that a co-operative fom of society is better than a competitive society we have to demonstrate to workers that that is the case. If we want to say to workers that the answer to the uncertain job prospects, or of falling living standards can only be assuaged by Trade Union struggle, but can be resolved by repalcing the system based on wage labour, then we have to demonstrate to workers that is so. We have to posit not reliance on the bouregois state, but reliance on workers own self-activity to create workers co-operatives, to establish co-operative forms of housing and estate management and so on which are superior to the inefficient, and bureaucratic solutions offered by Capitalism, and its State. We do have to encourage workers themselves directly here and now in fighting for such solutions to take control themselves through new demcoratic structures of these workplaces, and communities, we do have to fight for such Co-operative forms to be extended as widely as possible, to link them up to integrate them with other aspects of class struggle both industrial and political, for example making local politicians more directly accountable within the local bouregois state to these new forms of workers democracy, to base the Workers Party on these new forms both as a means of support, and of accountability.

    Marxists need to get back to the basis of historical materialism. It is the material base of society which determines the ruling ideas not vice versa as the Leninsts propose. If we want to change workers ideas to break the dominance of bouregois ideas, we have to begin to change that material foundation.


  54. Just quickly,

    Mike says above,

    “The question is then whether our Vesenkha or equivalent will be under control from below by the working class. And this is in the end a question of the subordination of the *state* to the working class, which is a question of democratic republicanism versus bureaucratic centralism.

    Secondly, if the whole economy consisted of substantial workplaces with an organised working class, it would be feasible to expropriate and run under workers’ management the whole set-up,”

    But this assumes that if and when this revolution took place which expopriated capitalist property, and which we have seen many times does not require the active support of the majority of the working class to achieve, simply as Trotsky and Lenin argued their acquiescence, that the majority of workers would rush to assume a role of democratically managing these enterprises. I think absent other considerations that is not likely. Look at how many workers take an active part in their Trade Union, or as I have said in the past every single socialist and Trade Unionist could become a member of the Co-op and exercise through its democratic structures control over a huge undertaking, but how many actually take the trouble to do so? If socialists and active Trade Unionsists do not do even that then on what bass do you simply assume that workers will put themselves out to run factories rather than let someone else do it as they do now with the Co-op, with their Trade Union, with their local Council and so on?

    Only if the ideas in the Majority – not just the vanguard – of workers heads change fundamentally, only if after a fairly lengthy process do they accept a cultural change in which they take it as much for granted as breathing that they must take an active part in controlling their lives is socialism possible. Revolutions tend to lead to an outburst of such activity, but like most outbursts they tend to be shortlived before life as normal returns for the ordinary citizen. Only if life as normal before the revoluiton is one in which workers have learned to control their factory to control their community will the consequence not be simply the rule of some Stalinesque bureaucracy.

    Liked by 1 person

  55. Arthur,

    Since the following, which I have also posted on your blog in our dialogue about the USSR, is relevant to your second comment, I post it also here for the benefit of anyone else following this discussion:

    It seems to me that there are two grounds in Marxism for supposing that the proletarian revolution is on the historical agenda. The first is that the bourgeoisie raises up its own gravedigger, the working class. In this context building the workers’ movement – trade unions, cooperatives, political party, etc, within capitalism is the appropriate strategy.

    Capitalism raises up the working class not merely by the extension of wage labour at the expense of small family production but also by the ability of workers to win improved wages and working conditions, free time, retirement pensions and so on though collective action; and through education and the mass market in culture, etc.

    These have inter alia the effect that there is a tendency for the intellectual property which forms the basis of bureaucracy as well as of other skills to be socialised and devalorised. It is increasingly possible, though not yet wholly possible, for ordinary workers to walk into managerial and bureaucratic jobs and take over without further ado.

    Hence, if in the 21st century (a) capitalism does not destroy the world through ecological crisis or nuclear war, and (b) the working class does not take over at the level of politics, there will be at some point be a new world hegemon replacing the US and a new cycle of material growth, like 1950-70, which will issue in a new and more powerful working class offensive round control issues, like 1965-75. If in the meantime we have built a mass movement which seeks to – as you correctly say – make the *masses* conscious, not just some ‘vanguard’, this will issue in the proletarian revolution as arising out of the advance of the working class as a class and nothing more.

    However, the other ground in Marxism for supposing that proletarian revolution is on the historical agenda is that the forces of production escape the control of the capitalist class and turn into forces of destruction – visible generally in the poverty arising out of abundance of the down leg of business cycles.

    Where these conditions become extreme, as in 1914-18 and 1939-45, for the working class to take political power is a matter of *self-defence* and not any sort of ultraleftist ‘policy of the offensive’.

    1917, in fact, I think is just such a case of self-defence. Faced with near-starvation, Petrograd workers took to the streets in February *against the war*. Until the Kornilov coup attempt, the Bolsheviks did not have a majority on their side: but the Pre-Parliament followed by Kornilov showed that Kerensky would be merely the antechamber to another rightist military coup, and therefore convinced a majority that it was necessary to take power.

    In fact, under these conditions, working class class consciousness, self-activity and organisation massively and very rapidly advances. (True also elsewhere, including e.g. in Britain in 1939-45).

    In Russia in 1917 the material conditions for workers’ power did not exist: too many peasants, too large a skills shortage in the working class, underlying weakness of capitalist development, too much of a ‘dependent’ economy within the world-system (Kagarlitsky, Empire of the Periphery). In Europe as a whole, it is just about *possible* that they did exist.

    But the revolution, which in the end failed, was not a piece of ultra-leftism. It was forced on the working class by the acute crisis of the capitalist world order caused by the decay of the British world-hegemony. It would be foolish to imagine that we will never be confronted with such choices in the 21st century.



  56. the idea that captialism will fail because it becomes a ‘fetter’ on the development of the means of production is mechnanistic. if the working class is organized and has the consciousness to take power it can, whatever the state of the economy. no war, crisis or economic change will make it do so. it is not on the agenda of history. it can be made to happen or not, as simple as that.

    Liked by 1 person

  57. Josfen,

    Your response is voluntaristic.

    If, like Hiero of Alexandria, I build a steam-engine in classical antiquity, it leads nowhere because (a) the state of metallurgy is insufficient to allow a steam engine to do useful work and (b) slave-taking and slave importation depress labour costs sufficiently that there won’t be much demand for the steam-engine (witness the very limited spread of water-mills in antiquity).

    Similarly, before capitalism, communism is desirable (because class rule is against the basics of human nature) but necessarily utopian (Mazdakites, left wing of the Pelagians, various medieval millenarians, and so on down to the classical utopian socialists).

    Within capitalism, self-organisation and hence the perspective of socialism is in the objective interest of the working class as a class, but the extent to which this interest implies that the working class will be motivated towards the short term overthrow of capitalism, as opposed to towards bargaining on wages and conditions, or obtaining reforms, varies with the objective conditions of development of capitalism and the extent that capitalism + wage bargaining, or reforms, can deliver a more or less decent, or at least an improving, standard of living.

    I am not saying that capitalism will automatically collapse (though there is a real risk that it will destroy the habitable world). I am saying that it automatically leads to cycles, in the downswing of which continued capitalism becomes a less attractive option and various anticapitalist ideas, including religious reaction and fascism but also potentially including communism, become relatively more attractive.

    I would add that the phenomena which cause capitalism automatically to lead to cycles, when extended into a world market in a world of nation-states, lead to a long-term tendency towards inter-imperialist war.



  58. “Capitalism raises up the working class not merely by the extension of wage labour at the expense of small family production but also by the ability of workers to win improved wages and working conditions, free time, retirement pensions and so on though collective action; and through education and the mass market in culture, etc.”

    Comrade Macnair, this RevLeft comrade (who also appreciates lots of key stuff by Kautsky) doesn’t know how to reply to this statement. Having read your organization’s program, it seems to be too much of a laundry list at the moment, one that does not emphasize the demand for, say, a 32-hour workweek without loss of pay (one which modern capitalists are VERY averse to). There are plenty of reasons for this demand, the immediate economistic reason being leisure and an immediate effective pay raise.

    However, there are increased calls for participatory democracy in intellectual circles, which factors in some of your “democratic republic” remarks but also addresses demokratia versus modern aristocratic selection (a.k.a. electoralism). Except for comrades like Paul Cockshott, most of these intellectuals don’t realize the necessity of class struggle for this participatory democracy, beginning with the “participatory-democratic maximum” of 32 working hours per week.




  59. Mike mcNair says what I wrote is voluntarstic, because I said that the only thing that decides if the workign class has the ability (in the histroical scheme of things) to take power is whether it exists.

    That is not voluntarism. Voluntarsim would be if I said Communism was possible two thousands years ago, like Hero’s steam engine – but then the proletariat was tiny. And it was not the same, because the economy was not based on capital, but slave ownership, noble rank, inheritied wealth and so on. That is the reality now.

    Even in Russia in 1917 the workers did take pwoer in alliance with the peasants. But the peasant councils and village democracy was destroyed by the Bolsheiviks. Had it spread to Germany and the West the workers’ power could have kept going though.

    But every country in the world today is capitalist, and the working class is bigger than ever. It has to take power itself rather than wait for the system to collapse though. The current so;called crisis is not bringing the working class closer to power.


  60. Josfen: your last sentence is clearly correct as far as it goes. It does not follow from that that ‘objective’ developments, crises, wars are unrelated to the ability of the working class to take power. A crisis of this type would issue in explosive growth of workers organisations if they had serious strength and roots in society already. Indeed, with a powerful and class-conscious section of the working class raising hell, the crisis would be a very different-looking beast. But there are no organisations of such strength, and the vanguard (in the broadest sense of the sum of working class militants) is currently crippled in every way imaginable.

    The proletariat’s very existence is not a sufficient condition for the possibility of communism at any given historical conjuncture. It can perfectly well exist for long periods of time in one or another state of total subjection to capital – whether in total immiseration and demoralisation, or hegemonised by ‘labour lieutenants of capital’ in the labour bureaucracy. It is the class conscious proletariat, which is organised in the pursuit of political power, that threatens capitalism, and is able to overthrow it – that is, in a revolutionary party. A party of this type (and, for that matter, all other parties generated by the course of the class struggle) are not simply ‘subjective’ expressions of consciousness but constitute a material fact that radically alters the nature and course of the class struggle. Society changes shape around it.

    So this is one plane on which you are wrong about the concrete conjuncture and proletarian revolution – the forms of the proletariat’s struggle is itself a factor in the concrete conjuncture, and is intimately bound up with the prospects for revolution. There is another, which is the development of consciousness in a more general sense. A programme can gain adherents, or a party members, slowly, even one by one – Tony Cliff, in his youth, would go to masochistic lengths to chase up contacts, and used to call it “primitive socialist accumulation”. It can also experience explosive growth (one example is the Portuguese Socialist Party, which appeared almost out of nowhere after the collapse of the Salazar-Caetano regime). The difference in each case is the conjuncture. It shapes the vanguard (again, broadly defined rather than as the smug self-designation of your average trot sect), and the party, and therefore the prospects for revolution. Say Tony Cliff was literally right about literally everything in the 1950s – in reality he would still have been picking up ones and twos, and still have been out-flanked by the Labour party and CP (and even the Healyites), and therefore the SRG/IS would still not have made any revolution.

    I am mostly talking about the making of revolutions, which is a separate point from the social-economic conditions for a given revolution to be successful. In the latter sense – if flying saucers from Alpha Centauri beamed revolutionary consciousness into the brains of the global working class – then yes, the existence and global predominance of the working class are sufficient to ensure that the revolution thereby incited succeeds. However, by arguing that Mike is ‘mechanistic’, you conflate the two points, with the result that strategy (which is after all the entire point of the discussion) disappears completely.

    Your point about the Bolsheviks ‘destroying’ village democracy is rather moot. The fact that the Bolsheviks were able to do so is a function of exactly the process I have outlined – a small but nonetheless mass organisation becomes the (literal, physical) majority in the proletariat under conditions of political and economic crisis. The peasant councils were never an alternative centre of power to the Bolsheviks and other parties. (The very failure of the revolution to spread to Germany and the West reconfirms this – the German revolution was scuppered because it could not compete with the Social Democrats.)


  61. So the class consious proletariat who are organized in the revolutionary party challenges capitalism?

    What about the class consious workers who are not in the party but who are in workers’ councils and take part in the class struggle independently of this? The paris Commune challenged capital but the workers didnt need to organised themselves into a party.

    James Turly offers no concrete evidence that the proletariat exisitnce under capitalism is not sufficient basis for it to take power. The ideas do not need to be beamed down from alpha centauri, but neither do they have to be beamed down by some Trotskyist group. There are many examples in history of working class self organization, and the fact that some of these were crushed by outside forces doesnt mean that they were not a real alternative centre of authority for millions of people. On many occassions “revolutionary” leaderships at first appeared to represent people then diverted and defeated revolutions themselves.


  62. The dynamics of modern-day capitalism demand that class-strugglist workers organize into a transnational “mass” party that goes beyond even Mike Macnair’s humble suggestion:

    To paraphrase Lenin:

    People talk about stikhiinost, or the worship of spontaneity. But this stikhiinyi/spontaneist development of the worker movement goes precisely to its subordination to bourgeois ideology […] because the stikhiinyi/spontaneist worker movement is, like tred-iunionizm/Nur-Gewerkschaftlerei, social-movements-only-ism – and social-movements-only-ism is precisely the ideological enslavement of the workers by the bourgeoisie.


  63. Obscenely late response to Josfen (where is he/she now? I, alas, am still where I was):

    I offer no concrete evidence that the workers’ very existence does not suffice to take power, except for the fact that the workers (in the Marxist sense) have existed on a small scale since the 1200s (discarding antiquity), as a majority in some countries since the 1800s, and a majority across the world since at the latest the 1960s, and have *still* failed to take power. Extraordinary, isn’t it?

    Except that it isn’t. Ok, so ‘revolutionary’ groups have sold this battle out here, and that battle out there, and many more besides. That is, on one level, because they are cynical and compromised. But in this cynical society, a part of the workers movement will always be cynical; in this corrupt society, a part of the workers movement will always be compromised. For proletarian revolution to succeed, it needs *effective* defences against this. This idiotic anarchist/spontaneist narrative – it was all going so well until the Stalinists shot us! – is weak precisely because it is not a matter of moral willy-waving, but of what *works*. If your movement keeps getting shot, *it doesn’t work*, and it won’t work next time or the time after. End of.

    Equally – yes, there are many examples of ‘working class self-organisation’ in history. Where they have made a lasting impression, they have resulted in or otherwise tied into *parties*, party discipline and all the rest. Elsewhere, they have receded into the fug of historical amnesia through which all us leftists like to dig. All these examples are important; but they do not negate the need for an organised, politically disciplined expression of class interests, but rather reinforce it.


  64. Except that capitalism still exists, so your argument could be used to discredit literally every revolutionary strategy that isn’t 100% new and original. I don’t want to get into petty swipes here, but I really don’t see how a rigorous devotion to “what *works*” is compatible with being in the CPGB.


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