Swimming Against the Stream, the Challenge for Revolutionaries

The following document is approximately the text of the introduction to a one hour meeting introduced by the Communist Workers’ Organisation in the Sheffield Anarchist Bookfair on April 23 2016. The meeting was advertised in the programme with these words

Capitalism faces its longest ever unresolved crisis. In Britain we find ourselves between the illusion in state capitalism spearheaded by the Corbynistas or a rejection of the revolutionary potential of the working class (communisateurs, Paul Mason etc). A discussion for those who want proletarian revolution, not capitalism with a left face.”

The meeting was well-attended (although the numbers were noticeably down on previous years in all meetings in the Bookfair) and we managed to allow more than half an hour for discussion. Whilst some participants reported on determined local struggles against austerity and others started a debate about the role of the individual in standing up to injustice and exploitation the main focus of the meeting was on the illusions in Corbynism. This was a consequence of the argument put forward by IWW members that we were wrong to directly challenge those who had illusions in the Corbyn leadership and the prospects for reformism as this would only alienate them. The response (and not just from CWO members) was that this would be just pandering to those illusions and our task as revolutionaries was precisely as the title of the talk suggested to stand against the stream. This meant informing those who did not know the past history of the working class that the current reformist illusions were taking them nowhere. Time and experience would confirm once again the same things as we have seen before but our aim was to try to not only prevent more demoralisation but also to point to the real alternative.

CWO Introduction

We don’t usually make a habit of quoting Danish Christian existentialist philosophers but Kierkegaard once famously remarked that “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” What that implies is that whether we think about it or not, consciously or unconsciously, our actions and expectations are shaped by what we understand about the past. And the dilemma posed by Kierkegaard is that we can sometimes think we understand what went on in the past but the present we live through may be totally different. First World War generals who thought cavalry would still be decisive come to mind but in a more serious way we today are probably living through unique times even though certain features may look roughly the same as they did 80 years ago.

When the CWO began we thought that the post-war boom had ended due to the end of the cycle of accumulation brought about by the tendency of the rate of profit to fall had re-asserted itself. In fact we still think that today. However our assumption was that as the cycle had entered its downward phase then it would stimulate working class resistance and this would lead to the start of a revolutionary movement which we wanted to play a part in. We actually soon quickly realised that things were not so simple. We came to see that “money militancy” as we called it did not automatically lead to a rise in class consciousness even if it did lead to massive strikes. What we also did not see that the crisis would have a profound effect on the capitalists themselves. Our model of capitalism had been that capital was loyal to a nation state and that even under imperialism the export of capital was not intended to develop the rest of the world but simply see the repatriation of profits from that investment to the original nation-state. We also thought that the state would take any measures to defend what used to be known as “the commanding heights of the economy.” No capitalist power could survive without a strong industrial base.

But all this was trumped (an unfortunate use of the word in the current climate) by the question of the profitability of capital. Capitalists are rarely sentimental. The need to try to restart the cycle of accumulation was more important to the capitalists than old Victorian-style notion of loyalty to your local community. Abandoning the older manufacturing industry selling off the “family silver” as Harold Macmillan once famously remarked were seen as the only way to escape from a crisis which threatened to paralyse the state. Globalisation became the name of the capitalist game. At the same time its twin feature financialisation became more and more the basis on which the system grew. On the social front it had the added benefit of whilst writing off some capital was painful it also destroyed the old industrial bastions of the working class as we had known it since the dawn of capitalism. Already suffering an ideological defeat from the way in which the USSR was sold as “real communism” the loss of working class cohesion added to the sense of defeat of workers. And this is a process which has not yet been reversed.

Which brings us back to our Kierkegaard quote and the question of knowing where we are today. We were not surprised by the bursting of the financial bubble. In fact it was rather the other way round. We predicted many times but very directly in November 1998 that capitalism could not pretend that money of itself created money for ever and that the fictitious growth of that time was based on various speculative tricks. We had to keep on repeating that mantra for 8 years or more and even some of us were beginning to think we had missed something until 2007. There is now no doubt that the consequences of the bursting of the speculative bubble has created one of the deepest crises in capitalist history. And because this is one long crisis since the 70s the slump has not had the effects of previous crises. Previous cycles of accumulation usually led to either massive devaluations of capital and the consolidation and centralisation of capitalism in fewer larger firms or it has led to an all out imperialist war which has devalued capital on a massive scale and thus led to a new boom. One thing is inescapable. The crying overwhelming economic need for capitalism is for massive devaluation. The capitalists themselves are in denial about this. Their economists are lining up to explain how a bit more Keynesianism here or a few cuts there will start the process of accumulation again. What they really need is another global inferno to wipe out capital (and by that we mean both types – variable and constant). They are not yet so desperate that a global war is imminent but there are plenty of signs we are sliding into one bit by bit. In the meantime the one thing they can devalue is variable capital – that’s us.

Austerity plays a major part here – forcing people to work for nothing or on precarious zero hour contracts creates a lower baseline for wages and all the stats show that wages in the UK are stagnant despite the supposed record number in employment. But austerity has not lowered the debt issue (which continues to balloon) nor has it brought about economic recovery as previous recessions have done. Indeed the direct attack on the working class is contributing to the continuing crisis.

Austerity therefore has to be fought and there are campaigns and strikes which have taken place to oppose this or that aspect of it. The problem though is not only are these struggles and protests not united or joined up but there is currently no perspective as to where we are going.

Much of this goes down to the fact that as Warren Buffett said the capitalist class is still winning the class war. Their ideological hold over the system, despite its obvious failures, is still largely unchallenged. Obviously this is mainly because those who control the means of production also control the means of production of ideas but there is also the longer legacy of defeat such as the failure of the Russian or Spanish revolutions to produce a new society. And in the case of Russia we have the even bigger tragedy that a working class revolution which promised real freedom and a new society free from exploitation ended up producing the monster of the USSR.

This has had a profound effect on those who have come, through the class struggle itself, to understand that capitalism has to be superseded. The legacy of the past lies like a nightmare on the working class and explains the divisions amongst revolutionaries and potential revolutionaries. One of the biggest defeats has been the sense that political organisation is not only a waste of time but could even be a barrier to revolution. Historically we saw it first with councilism which not only rejected all political parties as bourgeois social formation but that all the working class needed were class-wide organisations like councils. For them the spontaneous movement would be enough for the working class. Parties were only organisations for taking them over and the re-erecting a new state and form of exploitation. Councilism has few organised expressions today but it has been replaced by newer even more apolitical ideas. Perhaps the most widely publicised are those of the various communisateurs who argue (and you’ll find them difficult to pin down) that capitalism is already creating the conditions for a new society and that new forms of cooperation will magically transport us there. Workers simply combining together in cooperation will be enough to undermine the system and there will be no need for a period of transition between capitalism and communism as the building blocks of a more cooperative system will be built up first.

The same idea lies behind Paul Mason’s most recent work “Post-capitalism – a guide to our future” in which he avers that “it is entirely possible to build elements of the new society molecularly within the old”. Now this would be true if the working class had a form of property to defend (like the bourgeoisie) but we don’t. All we have is our collective capacity to fight together when need arises. This is why for us the process has to be a conscious one. Unless we know what we want and how we are going to get it we cannot turn our collective strength in the right direction.

Mason thinks that the Internet is a wonderful means to undermine capitalist relations with networking and free software but the internet is just a tool and as far as any revolutionary is concerned it is a double edged sword. Not only can the capitalists drown out revolutionary discourse but they just shut it down at periods of heightened tension. The internet is not a new mode of production. It is just a new technology which capitalism can use more readily than any anti-capitalist movement.

However at least these are discussions about a future different society but as yet they only involve a tiny minority. Far more dangerous to any revolutionary perspective in the immediate term is the latest capitalist cargo cult of Corbynism. Although it was only a capitalist cock-up that allowed Corbyn to become Labour leader 180,000 have since joined the Labour Party thinking that they can overturn 30 years of New Labour and restore Labour to what it was. But then most of them are too young to remember that Old labour was not much better than New Labour for failing the working class. From its support for British imperialism in World War One to its implementation of the Means Test and austerity 1930s-style Labour has always been about the “good of the country” before the good of the working class”. It’s a job it has done well for nearly a century. It even played this role in its supposedly “socialist” post-war Government of 1945-51. The programme they adopted was that of the entire British ruling class who recognised during the war that the working class were not going to go back to living like they had in the 30s. The paradox of war meant that such things like rationing actually improved most workers’ living standards. With red flags going up on barracks across the British Empire, strikes in key industries and the threat that the fake socialism of the USSR created as a social model, the introduction of the welfare state on the basis of the Liberal Beveridge Plan became almost inevitable. And no-one remembers that the Atlee government secretly took Britain down the nuclear road and used troops a record 19 times against striking workers at this time of what the then Chancellor of the Exchequer called “austerity”.

But are the current Labour leaders any better equipped to bring relief to those suffering under austerity programme than previous governments? Already John McDonnell has repeated the mantra that the budget has to be balanced. This can only mean higher taxes and/or more cuts. It’s also at odds with experience as Britain has only had a balanced budget in 18 of the last 63 years. They are already crumbling under pressure from the unions on policies like the renewal of Trident despite the colossal diversion this will mean of any funds that might be used to balance the books. In short even if the British ruling class allowed a Corbyn-led Labour Party to win an election the mantra of “kick the Tories out” to end austerity is a pipedream. The Tories may be odious but the real problem lies with a capitalist system stuck at the end of a cycle of accumulation. It promises not only worse living conditions but more war and environmental destruction. There is every possibility that the nationalist and racist agenda which is rising everywhere will lead not to a new and better society but to even greater barbarism. A system based on profit has no interest in resolving the issues of war and environmental destruction but will stop at ohting to defend the existing property system. But that poses for us all the even bigger challenge of how we avoid the fate that the current trajectory has planned for us and to arrive at a world in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.

And this is the tricky bit since we cannot invent a revival of class combativity. That has to come from the wider class movement itself. At the moment it is at best episodic. All we can do is act within the movement encouraging wherever we can the autonomous actions of the class, bringing workers who are divided by different union affiliation to seek solidarity with each other (thus breaking the law – the first step in breaking with the state), helping to set up assemblies of workers across sectional divides but above all taking a revolutionary political agenda into those struggles and movements. And whilst we are doing this we have to encourage people to get involved with revolutionary political organisations (obviously preferably our own) to try to build a political culture of revolutionary resistance. In the long run we believe that the working class will still need to create a political organisation, a party if you like, of internationalist and revolutionary dimensions which brings together all those who already reject the capitalist system. We do not yet know what this organisation will be like but we do know that it will be part of the class, will not be a government in waiting and it will not take power anywhere. Its task will be to remain free to promote and spread revolution to as many places as possible leaving the class-wide organisations or workers councils to actually be the places which make the day to day decisions based on the principle of mandated delegates who are instantly recallable.

We know that what we are arguing is swimming against the stream not only against the reformist agenda of the supporters of Jeremy Corbyn but also against the zeitgeist which looks on all political organisation with suspicion and equates them with the Stalinist and Trotskyist past. There is no quick fix but a patient long term perspective based on the sure and certain knowledge that capitalism has outlived its usefulness and that the class struggle however weak it can become never goes away. And that’s why we are still in there fighting …

Monday, May 16, 2016


I read this article with considerable interest and attention, inserting commas on my five sides of A4 as I went along. The following quote seems to me to be worth plenty of focus. "Unless we know what we want and how we are going to get it, we cannot turn our collective strength in the right direction." Understandably probably all allegedly Marxist organisations spend a great deal of time on describing all that they regard, and is, wrong and dangerous under capitalism, but when it comes to describing what is needed by the working class from now on, abstractions and somewhat vague aspirations, based on the hope that something or other will be decided when the time comes and that it is too early for planning, dismiss requests for more definite clarity. No, it is not just a matter of impatience, but of trying to present a rational perspective on a range of issues, which hopefully will convince newcomers and doubters that they make sense. A great deal has changed even since Alvin Toffler wrote 'Future Shock' and then 'Powershift', so that already millions of workers who are able to see TV news etc, however ideologically biased those programmes are, have come to a greater understanding of global geography and of life, such as it is, both where they live and almost everywhere else. If and when workers take power, efficient means of decision-making will be essential. What does the CWO have to say about that, if more than calling for 'workers councils'?

A great deal has changed even since Alvin Toffler wrote 'Future Shock' and then 'Powershift', so that already millions of workers who are able to see TV news etc, however ideologically biased those programmes are, have come to a greater understanding of global geography and of life, such as it is, both where they live and almost everywhere else.

Wish we could share your optimism on this T34 but the ideological bias also affects the "selection" of news. You don't hear about strikes in Turkey or elsewhere on the news. Instead its another boring non-argument either for or against Brexit or whatever the bourgeois agenda demands. Marx explained this well when he said that thos who control the means of production also control the means of production of ideas. Technology is not class neutral but works for one side or another. In a future communsit society once class divisions have become extinct it can be put to good use in making decision making more inofrmed and inclusive than at any time in history but first we have to wrest control of the means of production from our exploiters.

Thank you for your response, Cleishbotham, but I'll persist with attempting to explore practicalities of anticipated futures, following the usual explanations as of Marx about the present situations. It seems to me that there is an automatic confusing of nationhood with jingoism. The many states of the USA are not at war with each other, whatever some rivalries formerly or currently exist between them. States of the USSR, even acknowledging the disputed history of the rule of Stalin, were not at war with each other. In both the USA and USSR it seemed that there had, and in the USA still has, to be a way of centrally co-ordinating all sorts of practical arrangements, such as roads, railways, major structural projects, civil engineering and so on. It doesn't seem to me, based so far on what has been said by the communist left, that workers councils, without a substantial measure of centrally combined control, would be sufficient to both do what proletarian society requires and simultaneously give the entire population of any region (call it a nation) totally equality of eligibility in say-so about everything, without exception. Of course under capitalism workers today have very little if any say-so in anything, except under bourgeois democratic auspices, but it needs to be shown and spelt out just what is being proposed by CWO to replace that in terms of practical and popular necessity. (Incidentally, I dislike the way in which the media today keep referring to right-wing organisations as "populist"!).

As the article points out in the last great upheaval in the UK, the 1970’s the consciousness never developed beyond the class in itself form. This form can arise in unofficial strike action but will inevitably be either isolated and starved or crushed by both the state, employers and union leaders themselves. The tragedy is that both Stalinism still played a role by attracting the most militant industrial workers and managed to neutralise their independent thinking. Of course this threat no longer exists today but unfortunately neither does an alternative in a meaningful sense. A few years back many thought that the occupy movement would be the way forward but it proved to be another false dawn.

While we are a long way from seeing the re-emergence of worker’s councils either in the UK but also globally I do believe that such forms of organisations are the key to bringing about the development of the communist revolution. Within these organisations there will be a combination of reformist, opportunist, anarchist, left communist etc. organisations as well as loose groups and individuals. To bring about a development of working class consciousness that can go beyond in itself to for itself there will have to be an organised presence of Marxists who can aid the development of working class independence and solidarity.

Responding to Dave60's comments of 2016-05-18, two matters particularly seem worth further attention. I'm not at all sure that 'Stalinism' neutralised the 'independent (?)' thinking of 'the most militant industrial workers'. Both then and now it could be justifiable to think that solidarity with authoritarian leaderships was essential, to advance revolutions and to consolidate them once secured. As for workers councils, such forms of organisations, as being imagined to be key to bringing about the development of communist revolution, but composed of a combination of loose groups of reformist, opportunist, anarchist, left commnists and individuals, only regurgitates all the doubts and confusions flourishing today, beyond Marxist-Leninist orgaisations. Revolution will be chaotic, but it won't and can't be a dinner party, if it is to succeed in securing a proletarian dictatorship over the ruthless capitalist class. But please don't jump to conclusions about me; I don't belong to any political organisation, I just find out what many of them say, partially or mainly for or against the working class. Today I caught a brief mention on the radio of a new book by some military man on 2017 nuclear war against Russia. So I too worry. Apparently it's no time for wittering.

As always, feel free to critique…

I think the ICT des give some useful pointers for a future society.

All liable to work unless disabled, too young/old.

An ideal of a three hour work day. This allows for active citizens who can participate in the running of society, and military/security tasks.

Abolition of money – replacement by some other device (perhaps digital) recording hours worked.

Goods available in a warehouse priced in labour time.

Access to local councils which allow active participation in decision making.

A central organ arising from the pyramid-like council system responsible for urgent decision making.

All delegates subject to immediate recall and remunerated like an average worker.

Planned economy shaped by sustainability and environmental considerations.

Armed workers engaging in military duties.

Now these may be lacking in detail but we are talking about a bridge that may be crossed decades from now. However, they are clearly setting out ur vision as opposed o Stalinist/Trotskyist visions whose socialism comes down entirely t state ownership of some or all the economy, and those anarchist currents who pander to localism and division. It is only when we have our hands on the productive forces that waqe can start the task of creating a new society in which we will be transformed.

Maybe the future is vegan…I doubt that billions of human can be fed on animal products.

Maybe every town will have a leisure centre.

Maybe the deserts will be full of solar panels.

Maybe abandoned religious buildings will become communal canteens.

Maybe we will live in little flats with communal kitchens, cinemas, computer rooms.

Such speculation is possible but is it of great value?

Thank you Stevein7 for your comments. Whether or not forecasts and expectations and aspirations of the ICT will ever be realised remains to be seen, but, whilst optimism is normally praiseworthy, it is tempting to regard, if not dismiss, what has been proposed as theoretical science fiction. If the making of history depends upon large numbers of working class people becoming active in doing it, can that really be delayed until the allegedly optimum level of advanced political knowledge and consciousness has been attained ? Of course the communist left tends to argue that the Trotskyists only organise larger numbers of workers and students towards futile transitory objectives, but would the proletariat be better off if all but the ICT existed in providing guidance politically ? As for organisationally, is there any record of the ICT/CWO having actually gained anything material as a result of its organising workers ? The ICT is critical of the unions, but is not part of the fault that unions might be regarded as a sort of parental organisations, without enough active participation by workers in the running of them ? Would workers be better off if unions in the UK (and maybe elsewhere) just closed down ? Looking far ahead can occupy some minds, but the present circumsatances, at any one time, are the only ones in and with which workers can make any material difference collectively. I am not advocating Trotskyism as such, but if there were no demonstrations to draw attention to very real current issues, (ok, and to some trivial ones), then consciousness of what is going on would be even lower. The ICT/CWO exclusivism doesn't seem to be getting the proletariat very far, so far.

Would the proletariat be better off if all but the ICT ceased to provide political guidance?

I am going to say no but not because there is another guide better than the ICT. I think other sources of information may be informative and inspirational. I think that as dialecticians we cannot absolutely condemn many organisations or individuals, we recognise what is valuable and try to demonstrate why we think there are flaws in their attempts. We instruct and learn. I doubt that the revolution will see a single party emerge without rivals, even if this is not impossible.

Also the consciousness of the working class is linked to the material conditions it faces. When capitalism can provide a measure of welfare, security, social mobility and the like, the working class will have little incentive to pursue an all-out revolutionary strategy. This is not to say that the revolutionary organisation has to forget its anticapitalism and simply become another reformist group, or act as a trade union or confine itself to single issues. It simply means that it will not in such circumstance, in all probability, win over the numbers which rescue it from a marginalised position. Our socialism may be scientific but that does not mean that in all circumstances we can devise a course of action which will win the masses away from reformist thinking.

Today the more advanced elements are able to see that capitalism has reached the end of its capacity to serve as a vehicle for social advance and the working class majority have only a declining panorama before them. But such an understanding is far from generalised. The ruling class mentally dominate all sectors of the population and are constantly putting forward choices and possibilities which appear to many as authentic means to make positive changes. In the UK, for example, we have the EU referendum which many will see as a chance to pursue a course which will lead to a brighter tomorrow. Sanders in the USA has successfully enlisted the support of many alienated younger people. As Marxists we understand that there is no brighter tomorrow under capitalism. The trajectory may involve brief periods of reprieve, some reforms may be possible, some struggle may be won, but the overall course is unmistakably negative for the working class. The tendencies at work in capitalism, all stemming from what Marx described as the most important law, that of the tendential decline in profit rates, militate against the working class.

This does not mean that the general population understand that capitalism has nothing but worse to offer, even if it is already producing a deepening disenchantment with the institutions of the ruling class, especially the mainstream political organisations. But we are not yet seeing decisive class battles, the working class has not yet suffered the full extent of what capitalist crisis will bring, and is still largely able to survive submissively. But this is only leading to ever worsening conditions and hence ever greater pressure on the working class to respond in its own defence.

The revolutionary organisation cannot conjure up class struggle, this is down to the class itself, but we advocate and support the struggles against the encroachments of the capitalist class and try to link such episodes to the general condition of capitalism and the means to supersede a social system which works against the interests of the vast majority of society’s members.

But to be honest, we have to accept that the revolutionary outcome is only one possible outcome. Without the revolutionary organisation’s efforts before the revolutionary period, that possibility will not transpire. But there is no guarantee of a positive outcome, a higher social organisation. Should the working class remain supine and the revolutionary perspective not penetrate, then the outcome will be dire.

Thank you, Stevein7, for your response of 2016-05-25 13:58. When you say that "our socialism may be scientific", it seems reasonable to ask for evidence of that . There is no evidence known to me to support a major tenet of ICT theory that society after a revolution could or would run better for the working class without the use of money. Even if the capitalist profit motive was eliminated, money, or something like it, would, it seems to me, be needed in order that some recoginition of the amounts of labour and resources needed to produce any things could be shown whenever aquisition and use of them occurs. Also, personally I continue to question the whole idea of workers not having any homeland of their own. Whilst Marx spent many hours in the British Library studying the history of financial matters, Engels, from a business family, might (and of course I can't be sure, but guess) have foreseen that if workers everywhere could be persuaded that they should abandon all affinity with their local nations, then it would be a far more straighforward matter for them to be persuaded to be proletarians, not juist so much or only for their own advantage, but for the advantage of the capitalist class, so that it could obviate any working class objections to cheaper labour being brought into where they live, as is very evident nowadays in several European countries, in which some 'marxists ' urge all workers to welcome 'immigrants' regardless of lack of adequate housing, jobs, schools and so on. To say all this is no doubt sheer heresy from standard marxist doctrine, but there is, as |I see it, far too much unquestioning devotion to that and not enough examining and questioning that and all sorts of other notions swirling around here now in 2016. As for what you argue would be needed in the build-up to revolution, whilst I not a Trotskyist, I do agree with the concept that there is a 'crisis' of leadership', not just of theory, but of recognisable dynamic direction for workers to feel affinity with and, let's be frank, to follow and support with enthusiasm. Across Russia recently there have been a number of commemorations of Stalin's roles in that society, as an example, however much you and many others partially or totally object to it, to strong leadership. I see no prospect of the working class in the UK, nor wider afield, overthrowing capitalism, nor preventing its wars, unless bold clear no-nonsense leadership comes to the fore. Just keeping jogging along might have deep educational benefits, but there you go. I guess I should give all this stuff a rest !

One of the great strengths of Marx was the recognition that the idea of nations was the outcome of capitalist development which in the 19th Century had a certain progressive stance to the demand. Today however it is reactionary as it helps to neutralise the development of an independent working class consciousness which sees the importance of the working class overthrowing capitalism on a global scale. The capitalist class spends a huge amount of time and money peddling the idea that nations are somehow ancient and traditional and that workers need to internalise on an emotional as well as a conscious level the identity of a nation which all can identify with from the richest to the poorest.

On the question of a lack of resources let’s be clear the reason why there is a lack of resources is due to the failure of the capitalist system itself to provide these resources. In a communist world then production would be geared to meeting workers/people’s needs. It is this message that workers not only in the UK but globally need not only to see but also to take on board and to turn their anger against the capitalist class itself and not to other vulnerable workers.

The idea of 'nations' existed long before capitalism. Boudicca led the struggle against the 'imperialist' Romans, followed by numerous struggles by her successors against such as Saxons, Vikings, Normans and so on. Of course capitalism gradually replaced feudalism, but not to the extent that grossly parasitic remants of feudalism in the form of monarchies still reign here and there. The letters H.R.H can be taken to say 'Have Republic Here'. Even a 'bourgeois' republic under capitalism might be better than the present situation, but of course the media gloats over personalities rather than questioning the institutions. Please don't bother to tell me that Boudicca led a 'tribe' ! Teachers of history will probably prefer that however much they would like to see money abolished, their pensions should continue until just after that starts.

T34 you do yourself no justice in your comment on nations. The Iceni were not a nation but as you well know one tribe amongst a series of Celtic tribes all mutally warring against each other (some of them allied with the Romans in order to defeat historic rivals here). There was no sense of nationhood then (unless it was the Romans who had it in the sense that it offered "citizenship" but even then were not exclusive in their conception of this (look at their adoption of religions from every area they conquered). Under feudalism everyone was a subject of a monarch (whose territories were certainly not national - the English court spoke in French). The ris eof the bourgeoisie actually occurs under absolute monarchs who ally with the merchant classes to counteract the aristocracy. In England the Wars of the Roses ended with Henry VII being financed by the City of London and the aristocracy's cahllenge to monarchy defeated (theu paving the way for the struggle of the next 200 years of Crwon v Parliament. It is only with the French Revolution that you get the Nation trumpeted as the ultimate place for loyalty but even here citizenship was confined to those who could afford it (i.e the property owning bourgeoisie). The history of the century that follows is exactly as Dave60 describes it. Today the nation is the ultimate card of the bourgeoisie and the one that the UKIP, Tories yellow tabloid press all play on. It is the secret of the success of so-called "populism" which always avoids looking at the real cause of our problems (the capitalist crisis which Dave60 refers to) and instead focuses on the "other" - immigrants, Chinese, Muslims etc etc. You would be better addressing the rest of Dave60's post.

I see no prospect of the working class in the UK, nor wider afield, overthrowing capitalism, nor preventing its wars, unless bold clear no-nonsense leadership comes to the fore

Despite my fear that you are referring to a minority dictatorship, I tend to coincide with the sentiment. We do need intelligent, well prepared, educated and committed leaders who can guide the class.

The issue is not that we do not need excellent leaders but how the working class as a whole participates in the creation of a power structure which does not give rise to a separate power but remains a manifestation of the will of the proletariat and subject to its power of recall.

The system of workers’ councils can serve in exactly that regard. Local councils select delegates to send to higher councils covering greater territorial areas. These in turn can delegate to higher councils. Eventually there may be a global council which is more occupied with questions other than the class struggle which is resolved once the working class have completed their revolution everywhere.

Although our future revolutionary party will not simply take power into its own hands, no doubt members of such a party will be well placed to occupy the highest positions within the council system, but will face the same conditions as every other possible delegate. The party does not rule directly, but it is totally conceivable that the highest council organ consists primarily of members of the revolutionary party and even exclusively of such. This remains to be seen.

The brief summary is that effective, clear, determined leadership is perfectly compatible with proletarian democracy, and we do not need to emulate Stalinist or fascist practice. Which means separate power beyond the control of the class, a renaissance of class society and more than likely a prelude to imperialist war.

Replying first to Cleishbotham, according to what\I read in one of A.R.Luria's books, Lenin once said that every word is a generalisation. I took the word 'nation' as indicating territorial affinity, but won't pursue that any further with you.

Replying to Stevein7, also of 2016-05-26, and, in a way, again to Cleishbotham, personally I'm reeling from such a mass of data on politics and history, which includes a current biographical research following an attempted but incompleted translation by an old friend of her book 'The Dialectics of Thought and Feeling' from Yiddish into English, that I'm reduced to remembering a piece of Buddhist advice - 'Do not pursue the past nor lose yourself in the future' ! Her name was N.M.Seedo, (Sonia), who will remembered in the forthcoming Stoke Newington Literary Festival. She was interested in Stalin and Cambodia, married to the editor of the last Yiddish paper in London, who was a zionist ! They managed to get to England from Vienna before the Nazis arrived. Please note that I am not Jewish and can't speak Yiddish, and am not a Buddhist, but that is probably irrelevant to the subjects as above. But as I mustn't be allowed to escape so easily from them, the structure perceived by Stevein7 is fascinating, apparently depending upon all delegates being good natured towards one another, devoid of personal ambitions of gaining personal power. We'll see, if anyone does.

"But as I mustn't be allowed to escape so easily from them,

the structure perceived by Stevein7 is fascinating, apparently depending upon

all delegates being good natured towards one another, devoid of personal

ambitions of gaining personal power."

No doubt there will be those who see the councils as a means to gain exclusive power.

And let's be honest, we are far from enthusiastic about the fate of any such councils should they fall under influences much different from our own. We don't seek exclusive party power but neither can we see a revolution led by people who reject the main aspects of our perspective. If the apex of the council pyramid were to be totally and exclusively composed of delegates from our organisation (here I refer to the future party, not the somewhat sadly small, even if occasionally brilliant, elements of today) that would not be a negative point, it would indicate a profound penetration of communist consciousness within the masses who recognise themselves in our programme.

However, the essence remains – without proletarian ‘’democracy’’, here we refer to mass participation in local structures, instantly recallable delegates to higher structures, remuneration at an average standard of living, then we have failed to overcome class society with its separate ruling class which despite appearances remains beyond the control of the non-exploiting majority.

In the previous high point of revolution, 1917 to approximately 1920 the soviets gave rise to Sovnarkom;

“The Council of People's Commissars (Russian: Совет народных коммиссаров or Совнарком, translit. Soviet narodnykh kommissarov or Sovnarkom, also as generic SNK) was a government institution formed shortly after the October Revolution in 1917. Created in the Russian Republic the council laid foundations in restructuring the country to form the Soviet Union. It evolved to become the highest government authority of executive power under the Soviet system in states which came under the control of the Bolsheviks.

The 1918 Constitution of the RSFSR formalised the role of the Sovnarkom of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR): it was to be responsible to the Congress of Soviets for the "general administration of the affairs of the state". The constitution enabled the Sovnarkom to issue decrees carrying the full force of law when the Congress was not in session. The Congress then routinely approved these decrees at its next session.”


Now in practice the ravaging of the class conscious proletariat in the exceptionally brutal circumstances of the period meant that the soviets were quickly ever less able to act as the voice of the non-exploiting masses and they quickly became empty shells dominated by local Bolshevik party branches who appointed delegates. In this situation of a stalled revolution, which from the outset had been totally dependent on international extension, the Bolsheviks attacked a proletarian democracy which was faltering in its support for the communists and thus would mean the end of the revolutionary period. According to this source skwirk.com ; By 17 November, the Bolsheviks had manipulated a vote to grant Sovnarkom the right to rule by decree, to create laws which are binding on the population without submitting to the approval of any other governmental body.

Within the first month of existence, the Sovnarkom dismantled the institutions of the Tsarist regime and the provisional government. Reforms reflected the Bolshevik's socialist goals, concentrating on restoring civil liberties and improving working conditions.

Civil marriage was introduced, equality of all people was reinforced, People's Courts were established and the antiquated class system was abolished. The eight-hour working day and 48 hour week was introduced. Guidelines were drawn up for holidays and overtime pay. All large industries were controlled by the state and workers were granted control over individual workplaces.

The Bolsheviks continued to strip more power from the soviets. By December, Sovnarkom was the only government body allowed to pass legislation without prior approval. Members of the Sovnarkom were able to manipulate appointments to important positions.

This in our perspective was an indication of the failure of the revolution. Even if the council structure gives rise to a permanent highest level institution, it has to be subject to the council system, recallable delegates who have no permanent position.

The only real guarantee of this is not the angelic nature of all delegates but the class consciousness of the working class who have to participate en masse and never renounce the authority they have in a genuine council system. They cannot simply vote into permanent power a party or group of individuals, they have to defend the council system against all would be representatives and bureaucrats.

“To conclude then,1921 was not just a chain of disconnected setbacks but represented the real end of the revolutionary wave and the definitive beginning of the reversal of the process which had put world proletarian revolution on the historical agenda. To the revolutionaries of the time it was obvious that a massive retreat on an international scale was taking place. The Bolsheviks took the view that they had to hold the original proletarian bastion together until the world revolution arrived. But the weakness of the Russian proletariat meant that increasingly the Bolshevik Party transformed itself not simply into the director of the state but into the state itself. And this state was increasingly one of nascent Soviet capitalism against the working class. Thus we have one of the most confusing counter-revolutions in history where the party that had been the highest expression of working class consciousness in 1917 was transformed by the historical circumstance of the Russian proletariat's isolated war against imperialism into the agent of proletarian defeat…. Ultimately the only guarantee of victory is the relatively rapid extension of the revolution to at least the major imperialist countries, for, until they are paralysed they have the capacity to destroy any revolutionary initiative. By imposing an international civil war on an already exhausted soviet republic they were able to destroy it materially. Whilst the Bolsheviks won militarily on Russian territory the failure of the world revolution elsewhere meant that the class struggle was lost politically.”


Thank you, Stevein7, for your comment of 2016-05-27 10:17, obviously based upon some impressive studies of the histories of events in Russia around and after 1917. All I can say, by way of a bit of oral history, is that my grandfather was sent to Arkhangelsk ('Archangel') in 1918 with the British Expeditionary Force, as a morse telegraphist, and returned to Plymouth in 1919. I have two books about that episode. I have probably mentioned that before, elsewhere on the website, so apologise if repetition unwanted..