Tuesday, December 17, 2013

For communism – but what else . . ? (2013)

Book Review from the December 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

For Communism – An Introduction to the Politics of the Internationalist Communist Tendency. (ICT. £3)

The ICT sounds just like one of the myriad Trotskyist sects which mix and match a dozen or so radical-sounding words (‘workers’, ‘international’, ‘communist’, etc) to create a formulaic name.  In fact, they are not, but are instead one of the main groupings of the left communist political tradition. This was the political tendency criticized by Lenin in his ‘Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder’ in 1920, mainly for their alleged sectarianism. The UK section of the ICT is the Communist Workers’ Organisation (CWO) who have debated with us on a number of occasions this last 30 years or so.

This pamphlet is well-structured and there is much for socialists to agree with, such as this:
‘Socialism or communism (for Marx these concepts were synonyms) is not a condition or programme which can be put into practice by a party or state decree, but a social movement for the conscious overcoming of the capital relation, the doing away of the state, commodity production and the law of value . . .  Communism will destroy the capitalist state and end national borders. It will overcome money, wage labour and commodity production. Communism means doing away with the power of control of a special class. For this reason, communism is synonymous with the liberation of the working class from all forms of exploitation. This liberation can only be the work of the working class itself’ (p.11).
The CWO also agree that the so-called socialist countries were really a form of state capitalism, that attempts to reform capitalism won’t work and that left-wing parties offer no way forward. They also take the same view as us on wars, the futility of ‘national liberation’ struggles and terrorism.

So far, so good. But the CWO (like other left communists) also believe that trade unions are an intrinsic part of the repressive apparatus of capitalism and that socialists cannot use conventional ‘bourgeois’ democracy as part of the revolutionary process, but must create ‘workers’ councils’ instead. More seriously still, the CWO – like other left communist groups – have a broadly Leninist conception of revolution which turns the revolutionary process upside down.

Heavily influenced by a particular interpretation of sections of Marx’s German Ideology, where he wrote that the ruling ideas in any epoch are the ideas of the ruling class, the CWO take the view that a majority socialist revolution is impossible because the mass of the working class in capitalism is always going to be inculcated with ruling class ideas about the system. This leads them to the equally Leninist view that a revolution with only a minority of socialists is all that is possible and that only after this will the working class be able to shake off capitalist ideas.

One of the many problems with this view is that this effectively constitutes having the pregnancy after the birth. Another is that the CWO have made it more explicit here than they normally do that after the minority revolution they will be aiming to set up a workers’ state, which for us is a contradiction in terms. Its role will be to run capitalism while attempting to spread socialist consciousness and move society in some sort of vaguely socialistic direction:
‘A so-called ‘workers’ state’ or the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ is, in the first instance, a political category. Nevertheless, a ‘workers’ state’ will take measures for the improvement of the conditions of life of the working class (reduction in the working-day, free access to the health and education system, etc) and try to direct production for the needs of society . . . [but] as long as capitalist commodity production in the rest of the world continues to exist, the diktat of the law of value holds’ (p.38).
Sadly, these were exactly the kind of ideas that lead to the state capitalist dictatorships in Russia, China and elsewhere and the CWO seem to have learnt nothing from these events that goes beyond a romanticist fascination with them. A so-called workers’ state running state capitalism (nationalisation of industry, attempts to plan the market, etc) is no more likely to lead to increased socialist consciousness among the working class now than it was in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution in 1917, when it ended up setting the cause of socialism back by decades.

It is a great shame that the CWO and others like them have yet to assimilate this fundamental lesson from the history of capitalism.  A shame because some of their ideas are sound enough, but are rendered impotent because of their left communist failure to break completely with Lenin, even if Lenin conversely had no trouble breaking with left communism.

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