Saturday 15th November saw the annual conference of the Labour Representation Committee, a body supported both by Labour-affiliated and non-affiliated unions including ASLEF, the Bakers’ Union (BFAWU), CWU, FBU, NUM and RMT.
A packed-out Conway Hall discussed and debated a set of resolutions and elected a new National Committee. Our motion on workers’ self-management won a large majority and our comrades Chris Ford and David Broder were elected to the NC on an openly communist platform favouring workers’ self-management, having been nominated by the BFAWU. Dozens of the trade unionists attending also took the opportunity to buy the first issue of our paper and our pamphlets.
Full report to follow: click here for a pdf of the leaflet we distributed ‘has the traditional left a future?’
15 thoughts on “lrc conference: has the traditional left a future?”
Comrades should also be aware that the LRC voted overwhelmingly to affiliate to HOPI.
The HOPI decision was good one, interestingly the Trotskyist Allliance for Workers Liberty voted with the Stalinists Communist Party of Britian and New Communist Party against the motion, the AWL and NCP were also the opponents of the International Communists motion on workers self-management. A strange amalgam of Trotskyists and Stalinists. Symptomatic of the deep problems of the traditional left.
One imagines that their motives were slightly different (the NCP would have political reasons, the AWL’s may well have an element of pique).
Actually they both have the same statist conceptions whatever their differences – the explanation given was that the Trotskyists of AWL favour ‘nationalisation by the workers state’ – they also oppose Drapers socialism from below as ‘anarchism’ and as Sean Matgamna says “we are state socialists” . Trotsky after all saw nationalisation as thee defining characteristic of a ‘workers state’. None of them NCP or AWL have a communist view on this question and should perhaps read Marx on the Paris Commune. I challenge anyone to show me where Marx actually favourably used the phrase ‘workers state’ – I recall it was Bakunin’s idea.
It would of course be good to hear from these comrades – but they are banned from contributing to our site by their leaders. Nevertheless some in the labour movement are recieving our ideas rather favourably.
I just wrote a long post that got lost. Damn. But essentially:
1. How did the AWL motion do? I thought it was a good one.
2. Marx may not have used the phrase workers’ state, I don’t know, but he did use more or less identical formulations. Critique of the Gotha programme:
“Between capitalist and communist society there lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.”
– i.e. a state of, that is controlled by, the workers. Grammatically, this would be a “workers’ state”.
3. So the problem isn’t whether people use the word ‘state’, which people can define more or less how they like. The problem is conceptions of communism, or even the transition to it, which rely on rigid centralised control rather than self-activity, participatory democracy, and institutionalised workers’ power at the point of production. If someone wants to call the workers’ revolutionary organisation a ‘state’, and call accruing economic control of some capital to it ‘nationalisation’, I’m not really bothered. The problem is conceptions of the proletarian/communist organisation of revolution and society.
At least one person from the AWL has posted on this site, so I imagine it’s discouraged rather than banned – I hope so. Still, their standing policy – if it still persists as I understand it – is remarkably paranoid.
The AWL motion lost very badly, only them, us and a couple of others voted for it. Insofar as we opposed the other side and did vote for it, it was ok, but really they didn’t do enough since last year (when Chris put forward a similar motion) to think they could win support. The stuff about standing in elections was much too vague, they needed to have won the RMT to a more concrete position of standing candidates, and made a bigger deal of the fact that the PCS, RMT and FBU are not affiliated but need representation.
The problem with the “workers’ statist” argument is not, of course, a semantic one (i.e. a disagreement over whether soviets do or don’t represent a “state”) but rather the commitment to democracy/grassroots workers’ power etc. is itself in question. But I think it would be bizarre to describe soviets running the economy “nationalisation under workers’ control”, and indeed the AWL, Socialist Appeal, Workers’ Power, and other Trotskyist groups demand “nationalisation under workers’ control” in the here and now… i.e. this government and this state should introduce nationalisation under workers’ control.
No doubt personal pique etc. played their role, but I think the AWL et al have traditional/historical objections to ideas of workers’ self-management in the workplace and that is why they opposed our motion.
It is of course quite possible that AWL people will decide to respond to this thread, and I would welcome that. Unfortunately, after our first public meeting one of their leading members (Martin Thomas, I think) circulated an email to their internal list and told their members not to post on the website. At this point they also deleted any posts I made on their site, although I wrote a comment recently attacking Hugo Chávez and they left that up. Sacha Ismail, another of their Executive Committee members, posted one comment on this site after the al-Quds demo, I think it was the only AWL comment here.
Although I saw the two AWL National Committee members present at LRC voting against our motion, which was obviously “the line”, a newer comrade told me he had voted for it. He also told me that he thought it was silly they were voting against Hands Off the People of Iran motion.
I disagree terms do have a meaning and even people who use them as slogans and don’t mean it are causing confusion not raising consciousness or awareness. Those calling for ‘nationalisation under workers control’ etc do see the state as central to their conceptions of communism.
I think we should drop the term ‘worker state’ as it also has caused a lot of confusion over what the rule of workers involves and the creation of a new communist society. A workers republic at least put the sovereignty of the workers first a workers state can mean all sorts of things and mostly not self-emancipation of the workers.
Only once in The Class Struggles in France, did Marx described the self organisation of the workers clubs in these terms: “ And the clubs – what were they but a coalition of the whole working class against the whole bourgeois class, the formation of a workers’ state against the bourgeois state?”. He never returned to the term at all, rather the opposite, in 1874 in his polemic Conspectus of Bakunin’s Statism and Anarchy his emphasis was on “collective ownership the so-called people’s will vanishes, to make way for the real will of the cooperative”, and that: “He should have asked himself what form the administrative function can take on the basis of this workers’ state, if he wants to call it that.” Marx argued against the anarchists’ elitism saying: “Will all members of the commune simultaneously manage the interests of its territory? Then there will be no distinction between commune and territory. The Germans number around forty million. Will for example all forty million be member of the government? Certainly! Since the whole thing begins with the self-government of the commune.”
The Paris Commune had had a great impact on Marx’s ideas, Engels writing on the 20th anniversary of the commune provides us with a refutation of the whole Party model of socialism-from-above, writing:
“The Blanquists fared no better. Brought up in the school of conspiracy, and held together by the strict discipline which went with it, they started out from the viewpoint that a relatively small number of resolute, well-organized men would be able, at a given favorable moment, not only seize the helm of state, but also by energetic and relentless action, to keep power until they succeeded in drawing the mass of the people into the revolution and ranging them round the small band of leaders. this conception involved, above all, the strictest dictatorship and centralization of all power in the hands of the new revolutionary government.”
The Commune did the opposite posing instead of a centralised state “a free federation of all French Communes.” – And again:
“From the outset the Commune was compelled to recognize that the working class, once come to power, could not manage with the old state machine; that in order not to lose again its only just conquered supremacy, this working class must, on the one hand, do away with all the old repressive machinery previously used against it itself, and, on the other, safeguard itself against its own deputies and officials, by declaring them all, without exception, subject to recall at any moment.”
Engels writes of a “shattering of the former state power and bemoans that “the superstitious belief in the state has been carried over from philosophy into the general consciousness of the bourgeoisie and even to many workers.” As for the Commune itself Marx himself was sharper, and made clear: “But the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes.”
Marx did not for example ever talk of ‘nationalisation under workers control’ or nationalisation to then enact workers control. He writes “the state power assumed more and more the character of the national power of capital over labour, of a public force organized for social enslavement, of an engine of class despotism.” In the course of the revolution:
“Not only municipal administration, but the whole initiative hitherto exercised by the state was laid into the hands of the Commune. ..The Paris Commune was to serve as a “the old centralized government would in the provinces, too, have to give way to the self-government of the producers.”
As for the state, it was to be transcended replaced by unity “by Communal Constitution, and to become a reality by the destruction of the state power which claimed to be the embodiment of that unity independent of, and superior to, the nation itself, from which it was but a parasitic excresence.”
Marx defines the workers revolutionary organisation as a break with the modern state power,
“It was essentially a working class government, the product of the struggle of the producing against the appropriating class, the political form at last discovered under which to work out the economical emancipation of labor.”
The Commune was “to serve as a lever” for uprooting the economic foundations of class society. Importantly Marx highlighted from the Commune the necessity of what we now term workers self-management and pointed to the need for the workers themselves to be in control: “If co-operative production is not to remain a sham and a snare; if it is to supersede the capitalist system; if united co-operative societies are to regulate national production upon common plan, thus taking it under their own control”.
None of this involves state-ownership as such, and the Critique of the Gotha Programme, which was buried by post-Marx Marxism of the Second International – was also clear on the cooperative form of communism. Marx here writes of “the co-operative society based on common ownership of the means of production”, where the “material conditions of production are the co-operative property of the workers themselves”. This also relates to distribution in a communist economy which is not the centralised planning of state-socialist model which separates distribution from the production of the actual worker producers.
Marx explicitly attacks the idea of co-operative societies created by the “the state, not the workers” writing that “It is worthy of Lassalle’s imagination that with state loans one can build a new society just as well as a new railway!” For Marx such organisations are as the present co-operative societies “are of value only insofar as they are the independent creations of the workers and not protégés either of the governments or of the bourgeois”. This is not far from current demands for further nationalisation, with or without workers control. Marx ridicules the Lassallean who treated the “state rather as an independent entity” and the “riotous misconception it creates in regard to the state to which it addresses its demands”.
Marx asks the question as to the transformation which the state undergoes in communist society – that is what “social function will remain” that is “analogous to present state functions”. The important point is analogous not continuous – “This question can only be answered scientifically, and one does not get a flea-hop nearer to the problem by a thousand-fold combination of the word ‘people’ with the word ‘state’. He could just as easily have said combination of the word ‘workers’ with the word ‘state’.
Tom cites Marx’s emphasis on the “political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.” To quote Engels – “do you want to know what this dictatorship looks like? Look at the Paris Commune. That was the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.”
I agree with Toms emphasis on the problem of the conceptions of communism, but is wrong to say that it doesn’t matter if “accruing economic control of some capital to it ‘nationalisation’, I’m not really bothered. The problem is conceptions of the proletarian/communist organisation of revolution and society.” The problem is that previous historical efforts to create communism via efforts to control capital by means of the state, have failed. It clearly requires not only self-organisation but the nature of the new society the self-organised workers are creating – one thing I for sure it has to involve uprooting capital. It is long overdue our movement outlined its clear ideas of the communist society we want to replace capitalism with, not just what we are against. A point of departure should be the Critique of the Gotha Programme where Marx does outline his views on communism but Marxists pay so little attention.
the AWL seem to be conitinuing to censor comments on their website http://www.workersliberty.org/story/2008/11/13/new-evasions-weekly-worker#comment
Stuart KIngs report that ,the motion on social ownership and workers self-management was “nodded through” is a complete fabrication. It was voted through in a fully democratic manner. The idea anyone was barred from contributions during that session is simply absurd. The fact is a very large majority voted for the motion.
The idea that becuase they never had the wisdom of a lecture from the orthodox Trotskyists or Stalinists means the conference was not able to make their own minds up is an insult to the inteligence of those attending. Obviously a reflection of Permanent Revolution’s own view of the role of workers in the decision making process – if they vote the wrong way for them it was “nodded through” – if they vote the right way its democracy in action.
If the comrade has listened to my moving speech he would have found our criticism of failed state-socialist models which have attempted to control capital was not a reference to Marxian socialism but Stalinism in the USSR/Eastern Bloc and post-war Social Democracy.
Fortunately a large number of people who were not amongst the Stalinist and Trotskyists sects who opposed the motion on workers self-management, found the ideas a breath of fresh air and welcomed the opportunity to develop them as laid out in the activities agreed by the conference. This was expressed to us by numerous comrades who do not normally agree with us on other questions.
Thanks Tom for this sensible post. Chris forgive me but having trawled through most of the debate with Stuart K last night I thought it better to skip reading your lengthy posts here :-)
I am of the opinion that you should call a spade a spade and a state a state, and as much as it irritates me that some people seem to flinch every time they hear the words ‘state’ or ‘party’, I think Tom is essentially correct here, as is Dan on the other thread, all the consensus that is achieved between Councillists and Trotskyists through debates like this is mired in repetitive and essentially emotional debates about semantics. Cut it the fuck out! Why are we arguing about Marx’s definition of the state when what should be obvious is that the man produced relatively little material on the subject.
I think there is some substance to the argument that the AWL (like PR) had some political beef with the wording of the motion, but clearly you brought this on yourselves so enough of the roarin and greitin. I haven’t seen the original text of the motion, but I understand it mentioned something about ‘the state being in no way a vehicle for socialism’. Having been in this situation before I doubt I’d have been daft enough to stand up and oppose this decent and practical motion but I’m sure I’d have been pissed off by the wording.
In other words you appear to have played a divisive and risky card here by throwing terminology into the mix. That’s not to say that your argument about sloganeering isn’t spot on, just that you’re reducing the argument about nationalisation vs workers’ control (which is an important and winnable argument on the revolutionary left) to a largely emotional debacle about the state and revolution.
It’s true that the increasingly bureaucratically centralised AWL have started to move closer to the centre and the strategic ground of the SP and SWP generally, i.e. concessions to the T&G/Unite bureaucrats etc, see the case of Gerry Downing, but PR are altogether a very different kind of grouping and furthermore they’ve no subjective reason not to strategically ally with you in the LRC, the NSSN etc. Don’t like to come across as condescending here but it’s easy to make mistakes like this and the al-Quds demo thing when you’re in the business of cohering a new group, just be careful comrades not to start cohering a new sect.
”In other words you appear to have played a divisive and risky card here by throwing terminology into the mix”
I don’t understand this – we did not have the AWL, PR or any other Trot group in mind when we put forward the motion. The belief that the state is not a vehicle for socialism is a central plank of our politics and comes through in everything we say (the paper’s front cover is ‘nationalisation is no answer for our class!’)
It may provoke some, but there’s nothing wrong with us arguing for our politics. Indeed, a couple of AWL members ignored their group’s line and didn’t oppose our motion. Good for them. We voted for the AWL motion.
I am sorry they felt they couldn’t vote for our motion… had only they written some objection or argument against it, we could debate the issues.
I don’t accept it’s a debate about semantics, this is quite clear from the PR debate on the other LRC post, where they equate planned economies with “workers’ states” and make generalised arguments in favour of centralisation and planning, showing a different conception of what revolution we want.
“Cut it the fuck out! Why are we arguing about Marx’s definition of the state when what should be obvious is that the man produced relatively little material on the subject.” I think Billy you will it is not obvious he wrote very little on the subject he wrote about throughout his life.
As you say you “haven’t seen the original text of the motion” I strongly recommend you read it before dishing out such advice – you will find the overwhelming majority of the conference voted for it!
There was nothing contradictory or irrelevent about the motion – the contradictions are in heads of the Stalinist and orthodox Trotskyist opponents of workers self-management.
Our motion was not aimed at the small world of internecine squabbles of these currents but the LRC conference and its labour movement affiliates, notably taking the issue up in the trade union affiliates.
None of the International Communists are shedding tears we consider it a positive conference decision which will be taken forward by the LRC in the coming year including by our comrades elected to the National Committee.
Sorry comrades no time to reply right now but where can I find the text of the motion?
Right, I replied on the Hal Draper post, before I’d seen this, so let me reply to David when he says:
“I don’t accept it’s a debate about semantics, this is quite clear from the PR debate on the other LRC post, where they equate planned economies with “workers’ states” and make generalised arguments in favour of centralisation and planning, showing a different conception of what revolution we want.”
There are two debates: a semantic debate, and a non-semantic one. By saying that Marx had a different definition of ‘state’, it does not follow that PR, who also use the word ‘state’ mean the same thing, or have the same ideas. On the substantive point, I agree with Marx (and you), and not PR. On the semantics, i.e. on the question of what words Marx uses, I do have a debate with you. (I imagine I don’t agree with PR since if they acknowledged the semantic issue, their substantive argument would fail).
I am making this point because any charlie can show that Marx believed in a “workers state” (Marx definition). They cannot show that Marx believed in a “workers state” (lay definition). Since we appear to be using Marx as authority (which probably we shouldn’t, but there you are), we have a problem if we cannot show how Marx’s definition differed from the lay definition.
A good lay definition of the state is given by Malatesta: “the sum total of the political, legislative, judiciary, military and financial institutions through which the management of their own affairs, the control over their personal behaviour, the responsibility for their personal safety, are taken away from the people and entrusted to others who, by usurpation or delegation, are vested with the power to make laws for everything and everybody, and to oblige the people to observe them, if need be, by the use of collective force”.
I believe that under this lay definition, Stuart still believes in a “workers state”. This is the substantive debate.
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