Vol. 2: On Organizing the
Revolutionary Power Requires Political Representation
By Nando Sims
I would not use the phrase "smart" (since intelligence is not the issue). But i do think Andy has captured an important difference.
To put it simply: Yes, there is a huge difference between knowing you are being exploited, and knowing how to reorganize society according to our needs. A huge, vast, mind-boggling difference.
I have worked with many workers who grasped (deeply) that they were exploited, yet who could not reorganize their car trunks. I say that in love (for them), and with some exaggeration, to make the point.
And that is because reorganizing society according to the needs of the oppressed is a very complex, difficult and often uncharted path. the questions it poses are difficult — and often have very little to do with the workers' "terms of work."
There are relations in production — which are not that hard to see, though they have proven difficult to transform. But i do believe that the relations in production are among the easier problems of socialism to solve (relatively speaking).
If you have worked in quite a few complex production facilities — you too will appreciate that difficulty. Take a major oil refinery — the issues involved in running it include the human relations, the terms of work, the decision making process, the intensity of work, the wages, the relative differential of wages, and so on. But (under socialism) there are also issues of safety, pollution, carbon footprint, relationship of plant investment to payments to workers, seeking out consumers and markets, terms of exchange, prices, where to source materials, what new products to develop, what product mix to adopt, what to do with waste, and a hundred other issues.
And imagine you have a plant of a thousand workers. How do you decide these issues? And what is the relationship between "red and expert" in those decisions? In other words, it is useless for people to decide issues they have not understood…. and really understanding any one of these issues is itself a full-time job, and a lifetime of training. So how do we resolve the contradiction between needing real expertise and up-to-date data on these problems, and also wanting to resolve them in a revolutionary (not capitalist, not restorationist, not pragmatic, not impractical) way.
Now zoom back, and look at this plant embedded in a new socialist economy. Where should the decisions actually be made? For example, should oil workers decide the degree of pollution that is currently allowable? Or should the people in society overall?
Should the workers themselves decide how much of the budget goes to their income (and how much to reclamation, or investment, or radical transfomrations of technique), or should the people ovf the revolutioanry society overall?
If a factory is producing a product for which there is a market outside the socialist country — who should decide if production is reorganized for export, or how much should be exported, or which countries to trade with, or how much to charge? Should such decisions be made by the workers in that factory? Or at the industry level? Or is this a question that is tied to the overall trends of society (and with the ongoing class struggle, and with foreign policy)?
Or take, for example weapons production. Who should decide what kind of weapons the new society produces? The workers in each weapons plant? The workers in the munitions industry overall? Or the political representation of the whole society? And what basis should the decisions be made? On the basis of the prosperity (and therefore perhaps higher wages in one factory), or on the basis of seeking to abolish war and weapons?
In fact, the major decisions of society (including the major questions of production) cannot be made (in the main) plant by plant. Or industry by industry. And can't be made only by the workers doing the production. Because these are issues that affect all of society — and the pace and nature of the revolution.
It is possible (of course) for workers in each plant to decide a lot about their own conditions of work (within the framework of a planned economy, production targets, the general policies on distribution and wages etc.) But overall, the major decisions of society have to be made socially.
And there comes the difficulty of an inherently representative political system (i.e. where decisions are made by political representatives, who are inevitably representatives of specific political trends and programs, and ultimately of colliding social classes). And there arises the related (but separate) contradiction that many of the decisions to be made in society are highly complex, and are not, simply, all understandable by voters (either at the plant floor) or in society as a whole.
Some decisions can't even be made publicly — but must be made secretly. Some decisions have to be based on information that can't be made public. (This is often true of matters concerning military defense of a socialist country, and the complex interplay of hostile nation-states on the world stage.) so how in these cases are decisions to be made.
This inevitably brings us back to the matter of political representation — i.e. parties, leaders, specialists, operating in frameworks of popular agency and legitimization.
The idea of working people ruling society cannot be taken (simplistically) to mean that working people fresh out of the factories simply staff all posts and make all decisions (through councils and votes.)
Two final examples may be helpful:
First take military affairs. War is an extension of politics by other means. And clearly in a revolutionary war (of overthrowing reactionary power or of defense against reactionary invasion) it is necessary to fight (in many ways) to make sure that the revolutionary armed forces actually serve the interests of the revolutionary cause. (And this is more difficult than it might seem.) But it is also true that in battle itself, you don't want democracy — you don't want each section of an army voting on whether to advance, whether to adopt a central plan, whether to accept the high command at this moment or that moment, whether to stay engaged with the enemy or whether to go home.
That was how tribal peoples fought, by the way, and it is a central reason why they were defeated by central state powers over and over — they would disperse when things looked bad. (Just go read Julius Caesar's incredible work on his conquest of Gaul.)
Revolutionary armies are engaging with highly professional and highly advanced opponents, and simply will not win with loose, volatile and fragile organization. You need both common revolutionary politics but also discipline and centralism — and a degree of military professionalism at the command level (logistics, strategy, planning, and much more).
Second example: Socialism can only function with a planned economy. This does not mean (and never meant) that every decision was taken at the center. But it does mean that the OVERALL decisions of an economy can only be made with an overview of the revolutionary project and the overall development of the productive process. Many things can and must be decided regionally, locally, within an industry, within a plant. But overall, the direction and motion of the economy is something that has to be decided socially (at a society wide level) or else neither the economy nor the revolution will advance.
Just think for a moment about the effect of half a country making one decision on wages, and the other half making a radically different decision. What you get from such differences (if made without overview and conscious planning) are the operations of capitalism and market — people migrating from one place to another based on wage differentials (just as millions now do in China or many third world countries).
These are just a few example.
But yes, Andy, you have raised a central question. If we take out the word "smart" -- since no one would argue that the problems of socialism flow from a lack of "smarts"….
But people can be conscious and sophisticated enough to "Know they are exploited." They can be conscious and sophisticated enough to wage strikes, and even wage war to overthrow their oppressors — and yet still have major difficulties knowing what is in their interests, how precisely society should be changed, what precisely should be the countless policies and standards by which the new society runs.
Marx wrote "we say to workers, you will have to go through 15, 20, 50 years of civil wars and international wars, not only in order to change existing conditions but also in order to change yourselves and fit yourselves for the exercise of political power." [Karl Marx, "Revelations Concerning the Communist Trial in Cologne," Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works, Vol. 11 (New York: International Publishers, 1979), p. 403.}
Part of that process (of becoming "fit to rule") is the development of organizations (not just consciousness) that are capable of the exercise of political power. And part of what we are working to reconceive is how such organization should be imagined, built and continually transformed.
Thanks for your long post and many remarks. However, there is a problem. You're asking questions that have already been answered. Anarcho-Syndicalists have already reorganized societies without the need for law, representation, or militarization. The Anarcho-Syndicalists created a world where each syndicate, or workers' union, was considered a free, autonomous commune of producers and consumers — borrowing terminology from the Anarcho-Syndicalist G.P. Maximoff. [*1] There are no central, decision-making organs, in terms of weapon development, military, or any type of social planning. On the contrary, unions worked together, voluntarily and cooperatively, to do any type of social planning they wanted to.
A: "We want to pave this street." B: "Hey, we're on that street, too, let's work together to reduce our input and maximize our gain." C: "I live on the other side of town, and there's no way that can help me at all, since I hate that part of the city. I'm not contributing."
So, A & B build the road together, but C isn't bothered at all with it. A & B aren't going to tax C, they're not going to force him into something violently, they're not going to pass laws against him, nothing.
But let's consider something different. A & B now want to eliminate toxic emissions into the air. But C says, "I don't care, that'll slow production and cut my profits." That's fine. A & B can't do anything to force him. However, they can change the prices on their goods that C buys. They can boycott him, refuse him entry into every building in the city, and eventually convince him to give in.
Essentially, this is the exact same tactic that Anarcho-Syndicalists have used to gain concessions from governments, or from the Capitalist class. Organize, strike, and boycott!
If these tools can bring down the Tzar of Russia himself, then I'm not worried about using it to control toxic emissions.
However, this applies for all types of social issues: discrimination, defensive organizations, technological development of technology, organizing the land, allocating resources for the development of new syndicates and cooperatives, among an endless amount of other issues that could be presented.
Essentially, social planning is retained, in its most important form. However, it is completely voluntary, and requires no law, no prisons, no police whatsoever. The bottom-up organizing of the barber shops in Barcelona is a perfect example. There was a social problem: too many barber shops that were unprofitable and couldn't support the workers. The laborers themselves organized a perfect system that allowed a significant increase of wages. [*2] The Socialist government, however, failed to even address the basic problems, and then once it made the situation worse for the workers, they were too proud to change! [*3] Workers are watching their own families starve to death, and Marx's Scientific Socialists are too busy to care?
This shows you exactly the two directions that the Anarchist and the Marxist move in. And they are opposite directions.
You may think that organizing a collectivist haircutting industry is easy, but what about a military? The Anarchists had an undefeatable front, but they were only broken when Leninist and Marxists attacked, and subjugated them. An Anarchist militia holds the Fascists at bay for several years, but you turn it into a Marxist Professional Army, and it crumbles? [*4] It sounds like any type of social planning puts the Anarchists far ahead of the Marxists. Many of the advantages of this system…
And this is exactly why Spain had legalized abortion on the evening of the Social Revolution, as well as the biggest Feminist organization yet to face the earth. [*5] Women's rights accelerated forward, because the model of Anarcho-Syndicalist society provides them full and perfect opportunities for asserting themselves. And still, the use of boycott and strike, is even more powerful than before the revolution, and it will still have the ability to influence what the people believe to be anti-social behavior.
The way I have drawn up social organization of Anarcho-Syndicalism is taken from the models or organization used in Anarchist Catalonia. And far more important is that this society was in fact the closest thing to a worker's paradise — I say that without reservations. Hotels turned into hospitals and working-class restaurants, thousands of industries spontaneously seized by the workers, the legalization of abortion and contraception, looting nuns' coffins, burning down government records, everything! [*6]
In every Leninist country, workers' unions are prohibited, and the workers live a miserable life. In Vietnam, [*7] China, [*8] and Korea, [*9] they are frequently exposed to toxic and dangerous metals, as well as chemicals.
Does this top-down model of Socialism really seem much more efficient than Anarcho-Syndicalism?
And about my car trunk, I have it exactly the way I want it. What makes you think your method is better?
*1. "Syndicalists in the Russian Revolution," by G.P. Maximoff.
Nando's position summarized: "Revolution? That's pretty complicated business – best leave that to the experts."
Though I have to say I take issue with Andy's generalization of all Marxists/Socialists/Communists as upholding Nando's line. As a firm Communist, I agreed with you in this debate far more than Nando. Nando's view that the people are objectively incapable of being leaders out of Bourgeois conditions is very typical of Marxist-Leninism, and its extention of MLM, Marxism-Leninism-Maoism (or Multi-Level-Marketing – always getting that confused… :P That's a 'Spotters joke for those in the know.) Nando emerges from MLM, which has the notable plus of actually siding with the people MOST of the time when they brush up against ruling classes (like Iran recently) unless that ruling class was run by or allied to Mao (like supporting the crushing of Hungarian proletariat in '56).
The summary of this debate is really between those who would support what Stalin called the rule of the "classless intelligentsia" which are "simply" the most "advanced members" of the working class, and those who seek the control of all society by the working people (a la the Paris Commune – where Communism takes its namesake and what Karl Marx described as the embodiment of his ideals.)
The formulation Nando puts forth could never actually lead to the working class being capable of taking power for themselves. The workers will always lack the "proper education" to take hold of the reigns, perpetually necessitating a specially educated, priveledged class of "advanced workers" who comprise the leading "Communist" Party. It is this very formulation that leads all of Marxism in to a black hole: writing off all crimes of such regimes as mere "shortcoming", "mistake", or "excess" – never questioning the fundamental structures of these states or their social composition.
The strongest case against Nando is from Karl Marx himself: "Technology discloses man's mode of dealing with Nature, the proces of production by which he sustains his life, and thereby lays bare the mode of formation of his social relations and of the mental conceptions that flow from them. Every history of religion even that failes to take account of the material basis, is uncritical. [...] The weak points in the abstract materialism of natural science (are that it) excludes history and its process."
Though itself a little abstract, there are two big points here:
1.) The mode of production reveals the mode of formation of social relations, which in turn develop the worker's mental conceptions. What is Marx telling us here? Put it in the context of Russia or China during their "Socialist" days: the mode of production was (as many a ML/MLMist will admit) wage-labor. The surplus value was not appropriated by the producer but by the "representatives of the producers" in the CP; a foreign entity. This exploitation alone, not even accounting for the draconian labor codes of these states, should reveal to us the nature of those societies. Not Communist, not a "process towards" Communism – but a State-Capitalist society with a rhetorical adaptation of Marxism to justify its suppression of the working people "on behalf of the working people"! What more blatant an absurdity can be drawn?
2.) Marx couples his observation with a fact: any materialism neglecting history or its origins cannot be expected to grasp reality in its analysis. That is precisely what divides Dialectical Materialism and the "materialism" utilized by the Bourgeoisie and the ML/MLMists [*1] both. The latter do not care about the basis of events, the origins of history, or the history itself. They ignore it, gloss over it, or half-admit it in order to continue justifying a political program that has failed miserably and massively across almost half of the world's landmass.
But of course, Nando considers this a problem best left to the professionals. In his eyes, a worker who "cannot organize his trunk" is therefore incapable of having a say in how his life is determined. Education, to Nando, must come from the wise men above. It is not something developed out of process, the combination of thinking and doing; no, no, education comes from the "advanced" sections! It must trickle down – it cannot be learned in practice. This thinking made sense to the "Communists" fighting in Russia and China, as today in Nepal – they justified the need to educate the massively uneducated with a bastardized understanding of consciousness. The result is obvious and it is painful to anyone who witnessed his brothers and sisters of his class gunned down by the "People's" Army. But it is that thinking that has marginalized Marxism in the West. No one wants to hear this "you don't know enough about your own world to reshape it" jargon. They want to know what to DO: action is their language, and we must learn to speak it. Andy is already miles ahead of most of our comrades; let's hope some of us reading this exchange can see the dichotomy – and realize the path Andy is on makes a lot more sense than his opponent's.
Martin misunderstands my views. But, I appreciate his engagement, including because it gives a chance to clarify some things. Martin characterizes my view this way:
Actually the first half is right, and the second half is exactly wrong.
Revolution is a pretty complicated business. And if you think what it means for a few committees of radical workers to try to lead the reopening of a rubber factory using new socialist methods, after a successful revolution…. well, do the thought experiment all the way through.
The socialist answers to capitalist problems are not obvious (do we even have rubber factories the same way? how do we exchange the products? What form of transportation should socialist economic exchange use? What should the goal of socialist "research and development" be?)
The second half of Martin's description is exactly wrong.
If these matters are simply "left to the experts" we get capitalism. There will be no change -- especially if they are the same experts trained and organized in the old society.
And that is (in part) the lesson of the Soviet Union — where one-man management replaced more creative socialist forms, where experts (including new "proletarian" specialists and managers) were exalted, and where in the end the people not only didn't have a "say," but were deploiticized and disorganized in ways that contributed to capitalist restoration.
The question is HOW do we resolve the contradiction between the real-world complexity of remaking society and the fact that the people must ultimately emancipate themselves?
A simplistic answer is given (by both Andy and Martin) that says: This is easy, the workers must rule directly. For them, the answer to this problem is to deny the problem. They downplay the complexity, and to assert, very ideologically, that the workers are simply "smart" enough to know what they need and how to get it.
This is an appealing notion (and has historically been popular). Lenin even expressed in state and revolution that modern society had so simplified production that any literate workers could run it. This view was understandable perhaps, but (unfortunately) not true.
And so we need to be drawn to a more real-life model which as three basic components:
1) We need to develop socialist forms of society that combine "red and expert" — that actually deal with problems on the level of complexity needed, but also draws the people (especially the most revolutionary workers) into management and leadership and transformation at many levels. In China this was done through three-in-one committees, though other approaches are conceivable.
2) We need a process (and we need to work through and lead a process) by which the workers and other oppressed people themselves become "fit to rule." A radical worker who knows she is exploited commonly does not automatically know the information, methodology and skills she needs to create a new society that is ruled in a new way. Poepoe are trained to be drones, they are left semi-literate by the shitty schools, they are constantly disorganized and atomized in their class organization.
That is why (for example) Mao's works are filled with instructions on how to analyze, how to make plans, how to sum things up, how to learn from experience, how to learn from others. It is because for the revolutionary forces there needs to be a "crash course" in HOW to learn the ropes of creating a new society. And the "fit to rule" is not (obviously) mainly a matter of skills — it is also about forms of organization, development of leadres and specialists from among the people.
3) We need to understand that this is not just a question of "forms of organization" under socialism — but also the actual wavelike motion of class struggle.
There will be the need for repeated broad popular uprisings under socialism -- in concentrated bursts -- critiquing and transforming the "new norms" and leaving the landscape changed. In other words change under socialism is not just a process of new gradualism…. where things improve step by step, but the really broad sections of the people will need to disrupt the status quo over and over, with targetted and revolutionary movements under socialism.
All of this is different conceptually from a notion of so-called "direct rule." And imho, there is never "direct rule" and never has been. and never will be.
Politics by its nature is a dynamic relationship between the class and those who represent it — and power structures are always inherently representational. And the sweeping decisions of modern human production (by its global and highly socialized nature) can't be decided by a zillion small groups at the grassroots.
In other words, the way the people "rule" will be both through their organizations and leaders, and through periodic new shakeups. There is no "form" or structure of political governance that will enable millions of people to "rule directly" — and in my first post above, i gave some of the reasons.
Am i wrong that no one really dealt with the questions of "who decides" on the whole list of complex social matters. It is one thing to repeat (over and over) that the workers need to rule directly — but which workers, where? Who decides how much the factories can pollute in the first decade of socialism? In the second decade? If the workers "decide directly" how exactly will an economy be planned? Where will it be decided if ships come into Savannah or New York, and how socialist customs will work, and how alien species will be prevented form disrupting the ecology? How exactly are such things done "directly" and by which group of workers?
Let me deal with a second unfortunate distortion:
This is obviously neither what i think, nor what I said. It isn't even what we are discussing. We are not discussing whether one worker should have a "say" in "his life." It isn't about individuals and their lives.
It is about how society should be reorganized. So lets work this through:
First, my point was to refute Andy's assumption that any worker who knows they are exploited, automatically knows what needs to be done.
If this was true, socialist politics would be easy. We would all automatically know what is needed, and we would all be (in Andy's words) "on the same page."
But i suspect many people reading this know (perfectly well) that many people know they are exploited, but yet have never thought about how a new socialist economy should be organized. (What percentage should be heavy industry? How should consumer goods be distributed? How should prices be fixed to prevent shortages? Should piece rate be allowed? Should workers in more dangerous jobs be paid more? and so on.)
The issue is not whether this worker should "have a say" — obviously EVERYONE should have a say, and the freedom to speak on ANY of society's controversies. As the Maoists of China said, we need a situation where there is great "personal ease of mind and liveliness." Where people are confident they can speak, be heard and not be punished for their views.
But (as we know in this country) having a "say" is not the same as having power. "having a say" is not the same as deciding.
And our discussion here is about how DECISIONS are made.
And for decisions to be made (under socialism) you need both "red and expert" — you need both specialists and the broad people involved. You need a process of mutual education and consultation (between specialists and the people). And ultimately, you need forms and processes that determine that the INTERESTS of the people are served (and by that I mean the long-term, communist intersts of the people.)
Now that poses a final question: the contradiction between the will of the people and the interests of the people.
Anarcho-syndicalism needs to deny that there is any contradiction (gap) between the will of the people and their interests. Somehow, magically, people know what they need, so their interests is identical to their expressed will. And in a way that seems hard to believe, Andy also claims that the people therefore have a natural unity (until, that is, the evil communists disrupt that natural unity with their power grabbing skills.)
So essentially andy denies all the contradictions that I believe are inherent in reality: And so you can simply poll the people (any people, really, anywhere) and from them learn what is needed, and simply have them implement it.
Reality both before and after revolution is far more complex. And very often in life and history, the will and desires of people are very sharply different from their objective interests. A few seconds of thought can give you long lists of examples (from white workers against affirmative action, to women against abortion, to immigrants joining the army, to "Indian scouts" serving custer, to sections of people in the 1956 Hungarian uprising wanting to go back to traditional christian values and the old society.)
So there needs to be a living political process whereby people deepen their understanding of their own interests, and where they express their views to shape the direction of society.
there is more, but I will stop with one last point:
This is one of those moments where you wonder what planet people are cruising.
If you go out among the oppressed and say "we should take over society and rule it…." they immediately raise EXACTLY that quesiton. You hear: "We can't even keep our housing project safe. We kill each other here. What makes you think we could run America and make it better."
Or if you go (as I did for years) among industrial workers and argue for socialist revolution, you will quickly get very sophisticated (and justified) questions about how production will be run and decided. Now it is simply "management" does it. But if we ran a factory (and a whole industry within a whole socialist economy) the questions about decision making and policy (and competence of the whole plan) get raised immediately. Workers are very aware that you can't run a huge factory without an organized management and an overall plan, and they are very aware that you won't organize a "congress of the plant workers" to make the millions of decisions that need to be made.
So the moment you get real, the questions come up:
* making the workers fit to rule
This is interesting! Nando posits he is *not* saying that revolution should be "left to the experts." Yet, here is Nando saying, "the way the people 'rule' will be both through their organizations and leaders."
I'm sorry, did I miss something?
Nando says in one breath: no, I don't believe the Proletariat should be seperated from control over society, and in the next: here now is a clear distinction between those who are leading and those who are led!
Nando's confusion with reality is understandable -- he is raised and educated in the framework of a Bourgeois system which posits that "direct democracy" is an impossibility; that collective control is only possible through a medium of representation. It is taught and retaught in schools, in all modes of public life, it is insisted to us that we need leaders. History, to the Bourgeoisie, is a history of "great men." Napoleon, Czar Nicholas, Hitler, Roosevelt... They are not histories of people, and we are forced to accept that framework.
But we are Communists – we break with the frameworks that the Bourgeoisie has sought to contain us in. We recognize these men as representatives of objective forces – rather than themselves and themselves alone. But the consciousness understanding of history for the Proletariat is quite a different matter from the historical review of the Capitalists.
This is not so for Nando.
Nando is also of the opinion that it is great men who determine history – although he wraps it up quite well in a way that makes him feel comfortable saying it, disguising it under "leadership" and "representation." I remark again that he is not at fault as an individual, but as a victim of a very popular interpretation of history. To him, China is defined by Mao – its revisionism is defined by Xiaoping. Russia is defined by Lenin, then Stalin – revised and destroyed by Khrushchev. For Nando, no fundamental change in the organization of the political, social, or economic system was necessary to achieve this transformation. For Nando, it was a "section of the leadership" that went astray – not a natural progression based on the objective origin of the phenomena (I refer back to my earlier quote from Marx on this problem.) He argues this objective phenomena would not have occured had the leadership not made mistakes. Mistakes, indeed – THAT is what changes the class orientation of a state. Not objective forces! Not the nature of the system as it was estabished by Lenin and Mao! Not, he contends, at all was the death of this supposed "Socialism" foretold by its very foundations – he posits instead that its death was the result of a change of direction in leadership. But the truth lies in history: the Socialist systems of the 20th century all served the same purpose, and brought the same ending as far as the Proletariat is concerned. Workers were alienated, their ability to have say removed entirely and replaced by managers and specialists. Workers who tried to maintain or assume collective direct democracy were slaughtered or imprisoned – think Kronstadt, the Free Territory of the Ukraine from 1919-1921, the dissolution and banning of the Soviets, the crushing of Hungary in 1956, and many more. These were no accidents, no mistakes or excesses – these were organized attempts to destroy real workers' power and substitute for it the state.
Make no mistake, comrades – there is no such Socialism that posits a need for "leadership" in place of direct workers' power. The latter is always more advanced and superior to state stewardship – and even the most elementary student of Marxism knows it. Once we understand that principle, the entire arguement Nando upholds unravels before our eyes.
But Nando goes a step further: he betrays the people on a deeper, more profound level. Let's zoom in on this kernal of horror: "We are not discussing whether one worker should have a 'say' in 'his life.' It isn't about individuals and their lives."
Communism, to Nando, is the opposite of Communism: Nando posits here, whether he means to go so far or not, that in order to achieve Communism, the individual *must be* subordinate to the collective! I'm not saying he means under penalty of death or any such thing, but he clearly (and I can draw this from other statements on "society's" needs over the "individual's" needs) envisages Communism as the conforming of the individual to the collective. Is this the spirit of liberation? No! Its not the spirit of Communism! Communism is not at all about further automation of our humanity; we are not in the persuit of refining every one of us in to the component of a superior hive mind! Communism, in its essence, is the persuit of establishing a society in which the needs and desires of the individual and collective are not in contradiction. Communism is the harmonization of the individual and the collective; not the conformity of one to the next – the transformation of one in to the other's slave.
But Nando sees the worker as an object of history. The working class is a sculpture, to be completed by the artist and the artist only – for only his vision will truly bring out the beauty of the piece. Nando cannot conceive of the worker as the subject of history: as a player, a mover and a shaker. The worker is a doll with a fixed emotion on its face, and we have to create the scenario for our plaything to satisfy its purpose in our storyline. The worker is a pet who we have to train. Nando sees no purpose in engaging the worker to obtain power *now*, but prefers that the worker not bother asking about such complicated things. They need time to grow up, mature, and then we'll tell this little worker about the birds and the bees.
It is most peculiar, in my eyes, to see Nando so casually dismiss the people in the projects, quoting his imaginary reisdent "'We can't even keep our housing project safe. We kill each other here. What makes you think we could run America and make it better?'" Yet it is those very projects, those very poor neighborhoods with their unimaginably poor quality education – where angry mobs organize around complicated purposes to demand justice and liberation. They are often led by no one. To Nando, these are headless chickens. To history, it is a rebellion in motion. Its a new society in birth – and they required no one's stewardship to assert themselves and try to execute their feelings in an action. It is those very same people who demand to be able to form oversight committees of police, who demand to create their own power structures alternative to or at very least in competition with the structures of the ruling class. Nando writes this off unless there is a "leadership" with "advanced ideology" at its core. Ideas float above practice, and only correct ideas make practice worthwhile. He weighs occurence by its intentions – and, as they say, and Marx once opined, "the road to hell is paved with good intentions."
Communism is rebellion – it is the shaking up of the entire foundation of classism. No rock should go unturned as the people destroy Bourgeois power and culture and create their own.
In Philadelphia recently, a man raped an 11 year old girl. When local residents in Kensington heard about it, they crowded in to a convenience store to watch the security tape showing him doing it. The following day, two boys saw him near the store and asked him if he was the one who raped the girl. He denied it, and the kids ran off. In a matter of minutes, a mob had formed. Nobody voted, no one decided who the leadership was: the people were transformed in to their own vigilante purveyors of justice. These uneducated masses without a vanguard leadership pummeled the rapist, nearly killing him. The neighborhood rejoiced, and police came to collect the mangled molestor. This, my friends, is an example of Communism.
It is the spontaneity of the Proletariat that defines its conditions of liberation.
This is not to discount the need to group together, the need to cooperate and form revolutionary organizations – for that frame of time, this mob WAS a revolutionary organization: it was living, breathing Communism unconscious of itself. This was the will of the Proletariat seeing realization: but it did not survive the moment. That is the only problem.
We are here for one purpose and one purpose only as Communists: to perpetuate and promote the expansion of working class consciousness. We are not here to lead the Proletariat to its own liberation – this is an oximoron. We are here to build consciousness that can stand the test of the completion of a single task (be it a strike, a sabotauging of a workplace, or vigilante justice). We are here to go deeper, and to bring others with us.
This is not about simplifying the "difficult business" of revolution or Socialism. Workers' occupied and now owned factories the world over have been able to figure out their own means of collective organization and leadership – the figure out where to buy supplies, who to sell completed products to, and how to distribute the profits. It takes no leaders, no geniuses of production. From tile factories to hotels, with hundreds of workers each, its been done. Workers' direct rule is necessary, and is the only path to liberation.
What is the Capitalist but a dictator, and the workers as a whole the subjects of his rule? What do you mean to remove this dictator and replace him with a Party – a group of dictators rather than a singular one? Why can we not depose dictatorship and impose economic democracy? These are fundamental questions that stretch beyond ideological abstractions and are 100% practical. What greater abstraction is there than to blanket the question of economic organization with "its just too complicated"?
You say management is necessary to make those minute-by-minute adjustments and decisions – have you ever considered that workers might elect a delegate (or bring someone new in to their collective) to handle these small affairs between daily or weekly meetings – like, say, various workers' controlled factories have actually done?
I'll stop for now; got to get back to work… if I'll survive without leadership to tell me what to do... ;)
Do you read peoples words in order to really understand them or just to stuff them into categories you have already worked out? Nando presented in a very clear way a whole bunch of practical problems that have and will continue to confront efforts to realize our common vision of a classless stateless society. You can try to decree these problems figments of Nando's education and socialization in bourgeois society (which you wrongly seem to think that you escaped), but they are actually profoundly real problems that you will discover as soon as your reading of revolutionary history goes beyond simply looking for authoritarian traitors.
You can put "leadership" in scare quotes if you want, but you can't make it go away. It is a function of the uneven development of peoples consciousness and capacities which in turn has its own very complex constellation of causes. Whether it is formalized or not, whether it is made accountable or not, leadership is a fact of pretty much all collective human endeavors beyond the level of a potluck dinner (and even then), and certainly of anything as ambitious as the radical reorganization of a whole society. Anarchist newspapers and websites are no exception I can assure you. Recognizing the reality of leadership should not be confused with fetishizing it at the expense of the democratic exercise of power from below, but it does entail an acknowledgement that there is a living contradiction that can not be decreed out of existence, but that rather involves a protracted process of struggle. Pretending that the oppressed can simply dispense with leaders has not yet produced a lasting experiment in libertarian communism. Every single attempt has run straight into the sorts of problems that Nando is talking about here.
Let me give a concrete example: in 2003 the Zapatistas in Chiapas announced teh formation of five regional Juntas de Buen Gobierno to coordinate the already established 30 self-governing autonomous municipalities which in turn are composed of several hundreds of mainly Zapatista villages. The Juntas are an amazing experiment in democracy. They are composed of representatives of all the villages within their zone of control elected for three-year terms and divided into three-member teams which rotate every two weeks! In many respects it is an incredibly cumbersome and frustrating system, certainly for outsiders who have to interact with it. But what it is really about is training a whole layer of people who have never had responsibility for administering anything more than a project in their own village in the much more complex task of coordinating the administration of a much larger territory with hundreds of communities and far more complex problems. It is, in short, a process of "making the people fit to rule." It is not something that can be achieved overnight or by decree or by wishing it so. It involves a protracted process of struggle that can be quite perilous, in which mistakes run the real risk of driving people into the camp of the enemy as has clearly happened more than once.
What the Juntas de Buen Gobierno are doing is trying to democratize leadership by generalizing the capacities of more and more people to actually lead. The decision to do so inherently involved the leadership of a smaller group of people. And the success of this process does not simply erase the distinction between leaders and led, but rather transforms it. The members of the Juntas are elected by their communities, but as they come to possess the specialized knowledge involved in fulfilling their offices they become the possessors of forms of cultural capital that can not help but reproduce inequalities between them and other members of their communities, even after their terms of office are over. The Juntas are a very ambitious effort to generalize leadership skills and thereby reduce the dependance on any individual leaders but they operate within real constraints. They do not involve every single person in every single decision, nor can they. Were they to try, everybody would be forced to spend every waking moment in meetings and no corn would ever get grown and the whole experiment would come to an unpleasant end within less than a year. And the problems that confront the almost entirely agrarian communities that constitute the Zapatistas support bases are a hundred times simpler than those that confront an urban, industrialized society.
I'm only touching on the most elementary lessons to be gained from this one experience which is much much richer than I have time to convey. What I suggest you do is take Nando's advice and follow through the throught experiment of a worker managed rubber factory he suggests (or choose one of your own) but with an eye to all of the real world problems and difficulties involved not just in the operations of a single plant but with all of its articulations with the rest of society (with the rest of the industry, with the surrounding community, with suppliers, with everyone potentially effected by its production of environmental contaminants). the point of this suggestion is not to convince you that it can't be done but rather to get you to think it through at the level neccesary to actually begin to make it happen.
I have responded to your original post, with great enthusiasm, and then to the posts of those defending your ideas. Still, I'm very glad that you responded to someone who supported my ideas before responding to my ideas. Sure, that at least gives me some material to respond to, right?
I have already explained and defined the method of the Anarcho-Syndicalists during the Spanish Civil War. Continuing to argue against it with the question "how would it be done?" is dishonest. Can you explain to me how it wouldn't work when Anarchist societies functioned perfectly fine internally?
Concerning Workers and Their Role in the Revolution…
There are many arguments here claiming that the workers are incapable of doing for themselves what needs to be done.
If we are to take the members of a union, of any union, and turn them into a political party, what actual change has been accomplished? It's already been demonstrated that striking and the General Strike are the most effective form of resistance -- it has torn down the tzar [*1] and the Soviet Union. [*2] Why would you persist in using political parties for parliamentary politics? Those movements have only recreated slavery, and forced the people into a new place of exploitation and oppression.
The questions of 'who decides' also have already been answered. What you haven't responded is why you disagree with this method of voluntary society. It was practiced by many societies, partially in the Paris Commune [*3] to fully in the Ukraine's Free Territory. [*4] These societies were stable internally. Workers were organized into their syndicates, and these syndicates voluntarily cooperated with others in social projects, from fighting at the front to organizing production. It was done far more brilliantly than the Bolshevik method of social organizing. Just take any page from Emma Goldman's "My Disillusionment in Russian," or Alexander Berkman's "The Bolshevik Myth," — and compare it with a page of George Orwell's "Homage to Catalonia," or Tom Wetzel's very descriptive "Workers Power and the Spanish Revolution." You'll see exploitation, oppression, and miserable inefficiency with those who are granted complete power; you'll see an unbelievable energy and enthusiasm in those who actually feel they are defending their communities and liberties.
According to… "many people know they are exploited, but yet have never thought about how a new socialist economy should be organized"… You can't argue that people wanting something is strong related to them working in a method that gains that thing. If people wanting something, didn't result in them taking a step to obtain it, then Capitalism has never existed! The entire Industrial Revolution, of people buying cheaper products, and resulting in supporting industrialized business, is a result of this basic impulse, and the knowledge of following that impulse. If people wanting something, didn't obtain it, then why do Capitalists have wealth? Where did that come from? Are you telling me that they were taking actions, without any regard to their own self-interest? Capitalists just magically have wealth, whether or not they want it, and they can't lose it, ever? They are never frightened, never give in to demands to quell riots, never react to the threats of their wealth?
The idea that wanting something economically is completely dissociated from trying to obtain it, is completely opposed to all economic theory through the past few centuries. Adam Smith, [*5] J. C. L. Simonde de Sismondi, [*6] James Steuart, [*7] Isaac Gervaise, [*8] T. E. Cliffe Leslie, [*9] Joseph Schumpter, [*10] Henry Demarest Lloyd, [*11] Dudley North, [*12] Marqui Caesar Beccaria, [*13] Thorstein Veblen, [*14] from beginning to end — every economist has stated that interest is a precursor to any action obtaining that interest. I mean, that's exactly what economics is: the study of self-interest related, social behavior. I don't see how you can expect to overthrow Capitalism when you're missing it's most basic premises and causes. [Note: Seeing as I'm the only one who's ever cited a reference, I just won't bother now, but let me know if you need more.]
Either way, I'm tired of these arguments that it has never happened, that workers have never created an egalitarian society. In fact, the only egalitarian societies that have existed were brought about by workers' management; and our worst hells, have been brought about by governments ruling in our name. Nando, if you would please respond and tell my why you think these are failures, or why you think anarchy would fail, I'd be very pleased to read anything.
Concerning 'Process' Under 'Socialism'…
Considering this idea, Lenin and Stalin's Soviet Union — upon its collapse — should have put the workers in a prepared and sophisticated position. But instead, Russia today is hardly the workers paradise that Lenin had prophesied. [*15] In fact, very few places that are organized by Socialist intelligentsia have very happy, organized, or prepared workers. The only thing in the past to bring people towards liberty is their own, voluntary, social organization. Could you please show or demonstrate an example of the state creating liberty? I have asked this long ago, but you're welcome to provide it whenever you feel ready.
Concerning the History of China's Communist Party and their Rule…
Which Maoists? You mean the ones who threw people in prison for listening to classical music, or the ones who executed people for listening to opera? Does this put you into a "personal ease of mind and liveliness"?
You mean the same workers who say 'huh, what?' when you talk about abolishing bourgeoisie property to prevent a reactionary upheaval? Yeah, I can see why they don't understand your dogma and its convoluted theories. In fact, many workers' cooperatives operate fine on their own without authoritarian mastery. Occupied factories, either today in Argentina [*16] and Ireland [*17] and France, [*18] or in the past in Spain [*19] and Russia [*20] and China [*21] -- no matter what era or what country, these factories ran fine. Could you please explain to my how or why you think these factories couldn't work, when they performed admirably?
*1. "The Russian Revolution," by Alan Moorehead, Harper & Brothers, New York, 1958, page 140.
Greetings, Tell No Lies,
Why are you trying to simplify my arguments? I've also demonstrated history where voluntary social movements succeeded and authoritarian ones have failed — where workers have spontaneously seized industry, and where they were oppressed and slaughtered by Leninists. [*1] And either way, I have references for my arguments. You only disagree. What makes you disagree with my analysis of history?
Authority is exercising power over people, and it is not synonymous with collective human endeavors. Could you please explain to me how collective human endeavors created civil rights in America, [*2] national autonomy in India, [*3] the overthrow of the tzar in Russia, [*4] and the organization of communes in Spain? [*5] It seems to me, that I'm the only one concerned with history here. If workers can't radically reorganize society, then how have they? And if Leninists are the only ones who can, then why have their organizations only destroyed workers' control? [*6] These are some simple questions, and you seem to be completely uninterested in answering them.
I think the industrial struggles directly between workers and the the capitalist class demonstrate solidarity much better. Since these are struggles dating back to ancient Rome, [*7] and Marxism has only failed in its every authoritarian form. Workers, on their own, without creating authority or power or leadership, have organized and resisted Capitalism successfully? But where Marxists have organized, around the principle of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, we've only witnessed the greatest executions throughout history? It seems baffling to me that you want to discount everything that has worked and everything that has failed.
What you want is the Leninist idea of "workers' control." And it's not workers control, but workers party control. And not really workers party control, but a political party that claims to defend the workers' control. And not even really that political party, but just its politicians' control. But it's okay, because this ruler understands you. And not the way that a liberal government, a king, or a capitalist said he understood you. Besides that, this ruler loves you and is looking out for your interest. And it's completely different from when a capitalist, a union bureaucrat, or a president said he was looking out for your interest. Oh, and this one is enlightened with brilliant ideas about how society should work. And it's not at all similar to how the Chinese dynasty said they were enlightened by the gods, or how the absolutists intensively studied political theory. Yeah, the truth sounds a lot less appealing than "workers control."
*1. "Anarchists Behind Bars," by Gaston Leval, 1921, as well as any of the written accounts of Nestor Makhno.