Midlands Discussion Forum - Workers Councils or Parliament?

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Baritz
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Jan 27 2014 14:27
Midlands Discussion Forum - Workers Councils or Parliament?

The SPGB website is advertising the following meeting / debate at the Midlands Discussion Forum -

"Workers' Council, Parliament - which way forward to socialism? (Birmingham - 2.00pm)
Date: Saturday, 15 February 2014 - 2:00pm

Venue: Anchor Pub, 308 Bradford St, Birmingham B5 6ET
Directions: About 13 minutes walk from Birmingham New Street rail station
Party representative: Adam Buick"

Spikymike
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Jan 27 2014 16:52

So let's hope this open discussion (rather than formal debate) gets beyond a fairly sterile comparison of abstract organisational forms.

If anyone interested in this writes: 'Subversion and SPGB' , into the search facility here they will get a number of library texts and discussion threads on a similar theme including discussion between SPGB members and others.

alb
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Jan 29 2014 12:59

Actually, that's precisely what the discussion is not going to be about. The title has since be revised and can be found here:

http://www.meetup.com/The-Socialist-Party-of-Great-Britain/events/160993802/

The Socialist Party refused to be put in the position of living up to its caraciture in "left communist" circles of defending using parliament rather than "workers councils" whereas our long-standing position has been using both (interpreting "workers" councils in the widest sense, as explained in the meetup notice above).

Spikymike
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Jan 29 2014 14:04

That sounds a bit better but it still only scratches the surface of the different understandings of what is 'political' and what is 'economic' and the underlying differences on the relationship between class struggle and revolutionary organisation.

I'd still recommend the 'Subversion and SPGB' threads on this site as a warming up exercise for those thinking of attending though there are others of course.

alb
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Feb 7 2014 12:07
Spikymike wrote:
I'd still recommend the 'Subversion and SPGB' threads on this site as a warming up exercise for those thinking of attending though there are others of course.

There's also this which might be useful for those coming from a certain direction:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZtQML8xdIUk

Spikymike
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Feb 7 2014 14:37

Thanks alb. Had a wiz through that presentation. So it seems you have Lenin on your side up to a point eh! though of course present day left and council communists are not 'Leninists' and neither is the SPGB.

alb
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Feb 7 2014 16:34

I know (at least as far as pure council communists are concerned, not so sure about some of the left communists though) but I specially liked the bit where the bloke argues that the Bolshevik coup only succeeded because of the electoral activity they had previously put in smile

Spikymike
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Feb 8 2014 15:38

alb,
By '' some of the left communist'' you perhaps mean the ICT/CWO accused of being 'Leninists' in the SPGB review of their introductory booklet and responded to here:

http://libcom.org/library/communism-introduction-politics-internationalist-communist-tendency

The ICT also respond to this same charge made by another comrade on 'The Commune' site in their latest Winter 2014 publication not yet on-line.

Spikymike
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Feb 8 2014 16:17

And to add that I'm not aware of any current ''pure council communists'' but in terms of historical reference material and some more recent commentaries this is worth a mention:

http://www.freecommunism.org

proletarian.
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Feb 9 2014 04:10
alb wrote:
...but I specially liked the bit where the bloke argues that the Bolshevik coup only succeeded because of the electoral activity they had previously put in :)

Are you referring to the video because he doesn't actually say that. He says the electoral factor was used to gauge the support for the Bolsheviks. And that in line with Engels electoral work was used as a thermometer to again, gauge levels of support in general - as a guide to action, armed insurrection perhaps. Further, that a lack of violence was due to the level of support not electoral work. Along with mass propaganda in the military.

alb
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Feb 9 2014 12:56

What he actually says (2 minutes in) is;

Quote:
And the fourth claim I make is perhaps the most important. So what claim? That is, I argue that the Bolsheviks were hegemonic in October of 1917 largely because of the experiences they had been through with Lenin in the electoral and the parliamentary arena.

I'm not agreeing or disagreeing with it, just recording it (and, ok, noting the irony of it too).

This is also interesting.

proletarian.
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Feb 9 2014 14:40

I take it back alb. It's absurd he says that at the start and then blatantly contradicts it at the end with the comments I highlighted.

alb
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Feb 9 2014 15:41

We'll have to wait till his book comes out next month to resolve this apparent contradiction:

http://us.macmillan.com/leninselectoralstrategyfrommarxandengelsthroughtherevolutionof1905/AugustHNimtz

Spikymike
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Feb 9 2014 17:25

There is also some related discussion on this meeting's theme at:

http://libcom.org/forums/organise/none-above-20012014

though starting off with a tongue-in-cheek attempt by the SPGB's 'ajj' to tempt anti-parliamentarian's to vote!

Spikymike
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Feb 12 2014 16:32

Bumped as this meeting is now next Saturday.

More discussion on the above linked thread (post 14) and I have added some comments to the linked ICT pamphlet discussion referred to in my post 8 above.

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Alf
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Feb 14 2014 11:18

Unfortunately no one from the ICC will be able to attend the meeting. We support the MDF's continuing commitment to debate in the proletarian political movement and we think the SPGB remains a component of this. On the other hand we think it also brings a large input of bourgeois ideology into the movement, above all on the question of the state. These errors are so serious that they could lead to the SPBG crossing over into the enemy camp during a revolutionary upsurge. I am not at all won over by the new more flexible line of the SPGB that you can have your parliamentary cake and the workers' councils too. The tragic experience of the German revolution, when the SPD took a similar line, shows that these two forms of organisation express entirely opposed social and political dynamics: one leading to the dissolution of the workers' councils or their integration into the capitalist state, the other towards the dismantling of the capitalist state from top to bottom, the indispensable precondition for the transition to communism. I am sure there will be comrades present at the meeting who will be capable of putting forward this position against the centrist fudge of the SPGB.

alb
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Feb 14 2014 12:50
Alf wrote:
could lead to the SPBG crossing over into the enemy camp during a revolutionary upsurge.
Quote:
against the centrist fudge of the SPGB.

What's come over you Alf. I thought you were Mr Nice ICC as opposed to Baboon's Mr Nasty.

In any event, the Socialist Party has always held that the working should organise economically as well as politically for socialism. See this artice and in particular its concluding paragraph:

Quote:
The Socialist Party, therefore, whilst holding that the working class must be organised, both politically and economically, for the establishment of Socialism, urges that the existing unions provide the medium through which the workers should continue their efforts to obtain the best conditions they can get from the master class in the sale of their labour-power. That the trade unions must inevitably accept the Socialist theory as the logica1 outcome of their own existence, and as such will provide the basis of the economic organisation of the working class to manipulate the means and instruments of wealth production and distribution when the capitalist ruling class have first been dislodged from political power. The essential conditions for obtaining Socialism must never be underestimated. At the very moment that the workers have gained control of the State machine provision must be made simultaneously for the economic requirements of the community. The Socialist working class of the future will, no doubt, see to this as one of its supreme functions.

It's just that we do not accept the quasi-syndicalist position that economic organisations of the working class, whether industrial unions or "workers councils", can overthrow capitalism on their own.

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Alf
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Feb 14 2014 13:33

Workers councils were a huge advance on all forms of trade union, craft or industrial, because they provided the possibility of uniting workers across all the divisions imposed by capital, and of overcoming the separation between the 'economic' and the 'political' dimensions of the class struggle.
My 'nasty' warnings about the SPGB crossing the class line in revolution is no different from what we have said many times before. But perhaps I should have also said that the more likely scenario in a revolution is that a party which stands for both parliament and workers' councils will explode under the pressure of its contradictions

alb
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Feb 14 2014 15:42

I suppose we should be grateful that you didn't say that we would sink in the swamp where Lenin thought all "centrists" came from or went into.

And I don't see that factory committees (which is what "workers councils" essentially are) overcome the "divisions imposed by capital" any more than industrial unions do. One reflects the division by factory, the other by industry. Or, put the other way round, if factory committees do, so do industrial unions (more so, I would have thought).

Factory (and other workplace) committees would of course have a role in the socialist revolution. As explained, that of keeping production and services going during and immediately after it.

Anyway, more on this tomorrow in Birmingham from 2pm on.

Spikymike
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Feb 14 2014 16:34

The ICC's political categorisations from the past aside, alb and the SPGB continually seek to reduce the role of different assembly and workers council forms of struggle that have arisen at various points in history up to the present ( and which are not limited to the particular factory council character of the struggle in Germany circa' 1918) to a purely 'economic' category, reinforcing the separation of the political and economic in the class struggle (as Alf has said), and in the process any discussion around this to a comparison of 'ideal' forms of organisation to be utilised at some point in the future when workers achieve the desired level of communist consciousness in seeming contradiction to the assertion at the start of this announcement. I suspect that in any genuine 'revolutionary situation' many of the existing tiny pro-revolutionary groups if they were still around would either 'explode' or just expire unless they were able to offload a good deal of their past ideological baggage.

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Alf
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Feb 14 2014 16:55

Forms of struggle that are real and not 'ideal' have to be based on the real experience of the working class, which is always a historical experience. The council type of organisation - central bodies of revocable delegates from base assemblies in workplaces or neighbourhoods - first appeared in 1905 but also had a direct continuity with the Paris sections of 1793 and the Commune of 1871, and have re-emerged in virtually every autonomous movement of the class since the revolutionary wave of 1917-23, whether explicitly as the councils in Hungary in 56 or the MKS (central strike committees) in Poland in 1980, or more implicitly as in the assembly movement in Spain in the 70s, base committees in France and Italy, in the 80s, and indeed in the more recent assembly based movements in 2006 and 2011. There is nothing 'ideal' or 'past' about these forms. They evidently correspond to a need in the class which has not gone away just because the outward shape of the class and its resistance has altered.

Workers councils - soviets - are not the same as factory committees. The latter operate within a particular workplace. The former are central bodies elected from a whole host of workplaces or neighbourhoods, and thus express the effort of the class to go beyond the boundaries of the workplace and assert itself as a social and political power. This is why Lenin described them as the 'finally discovered form of the dictatorship of the proletariat'.

alb
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Feb 14 2014 19:58

I don't know where the idea comes from that the SPGB seeks to lay down some "ideal" form of working class economic organisation. Just the opposite in fact. As we put it in our pamphlet What's Wrong With Using Parliament:

Quote:
This is not to say that the socialist majority only needs to organise itself politically. It does need to organise politically so as to be able to win control of political power. But it also needs to organise economically to take over and keep production going immediately after the winning of political control. We can’t anticipate how such socialist workplace organisations will emerge, whether from the reform of the existing trade unions, from breakaways from them or from the formation of completely new organisations. All we can say now is that such workplace organisations will arise and that they too, like the socialist political party, will have to organise themselves on a democratic basis, with mandated delegates instead of leaders.

It's rather the proponents of "workers councils" as the exclusive form of working class organisation who are making a fetish of one particular organisational form. But no more than trade unions are "workers councils" necessarily revolutionary socialist organisations and, historically, haven't been.

Incidentally I notice that Alf has broadened the definition of "workers councils" to include "neighbourhood councils". I am sure workers will want to organise themselves where they live as well as where they work (after all, work isn't the only thing in life), but isn't the addition of neighbourhood councils a departure from the original concept and justification (and naming) of "workers councils" as organisations of workers as workers?

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Alf
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Feb 14 2014 20:16

I think it rather depends on the neighbourhood...One of the interesting developments in the Spanish Indignados movement was a tendency for people to go back to the working class neighbourhoods to form assemblies that could be better controlled by the participants and more open to debate than the vast assemblies/demonstrations that took place in some of the city squares. This represented a proletarian dynamic in the movement. A weakness of all those movements, on the other hand, was the difficulty of workers organising independently in the workplace and linking up with the territorial-based assemblies. These are problems that will confront any future movement, especially given the fact that, in the 'west' at least, there are less industrial concentrations - like the Putilov works in Petrograd, or like the shipyards in Poland 1980 - which could serve as a real stronghold of the struggle. The class content of the organisations of the future will perhaps be seen more in the content of their platform, in their political clarity, than in their sociological make-up. But I don't think this will mean that the workplace will cease to be a vital area of struggle.

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Theft
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Feb 16 2014 18:02

The two introductory texts can be found here from the meeting along with a link to the audio which is still being processed.
http://www.freecommunism.org/introductory-texts-from-the-meeting-the-role-of-workers-councils-in-socialist-revolution/

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Theft
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Feb 17 2014 06:07
Baritz
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Feb 17 2014 11:38

Thanks Theft - that was very quick!

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Serge Forward
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Feb 17 2014 13:01

It was a good meeting as well.

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Theft
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Feb 17 2014 13:58

Thought the meeting was interesting and nice to see you there Serge, did think about replying to your comment on the unions, but think that is a whole discussion in itself, you can find an alternative view in this discussion http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CLqTcCHpkpc

proletarian.
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Feb 17 2014 15:41

After listening to the first half an hour I have concluded the only way to settle this debate is that various organisations and individuals join in common work to elect a socialist (as opposed to 'Old' Labour 'socialist') MP to test whether they would be corrupted with their true socialism and what effect they would or can have. As long as this whole question is not practiced in the modern day this question will just go in circles and pop up now and again for a very long time. Why not attempt to test the question in practice? The answer I fear would be that it would cost too much money, would be unsuccessful, take too much effort and resources away from everything else.

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Theft
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Feb 17 2014 16:37

I have also now added a downloadable version of the talk as well which is also here http://www.freecommunism.org/introductory-texts-from-the-meeting-the-role-of-workers-councils-in-socialist-revolution/

proletarian, to be honest even if one SPGB "delegate" got into parliament it still wouldn't prove the theory right or wrong.
My understanding from one of there comrades at the break in the discussion, was that once in parliament they would simply abstain on everything anyway.

proletarian.
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Feb 17 2014 16:57

Theft, I was thinking more about what they would be capable of propaganda wise and whether their ideas and positions before entering parliament would change. Just to reiterate, I don't think there would be any positive effect overall. And ultimately the SPGB would simply argue for more MP's to have more of an impact.

Great recording by the way and thank you for uploading it, very appreciated.

Edit:

Just to add, the MP would need very strong control and discipline from the organisation. And of course there is a chance the influence that rubs off on the MP from being involved in the circus could transfer back into the organisation and have a deeply negative effect.