Free times are on the way; If you and I agree; To share the world and all it holds. A sane society.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

'The Soviet Union Versus Socialism' by Noam Chomsky

When the world's two great propaganda systems agree on some doctrine, it requires some intellectual effort to escape its shackles. One such doctrine is that the society created by Lenin and Trotsky and molded further by Stalin and his successors has some relation to socialism in some meaningful or historically accurate sense of this concept. In fact, if there is a relation, it is the relation of contradiction.
It is clear enough why both major propaganda systems insist upon this fantasy. Since its origins, the Soviet State has attempted to harness the energies of its own population and oppressed people elsewhere in the service of the men who took advantage of the popular ferment in Russia in 1917 to seize State power. One major ideological weapon employed to this end has been the claim that the State managers are leading their own society and the world towards the socialist ideal; an impossibility, as any socialist -- surely any serious Marxist -- should have understood at once (many did), and a lie of mammoth proportions as history has revealed since the earliest days of the Bolshevik regime. The taskmasters have attempted to gain legitimacy and support by exploiting the aura of socialist ideals and the respect that is rightly accorded them, to conceal their own ritual practice as they destroyed every vestige of socialism.

As for the world's second major propaganda system, association of socialism with the Soviet Union and its clients serves as a powerful ideological weapon to enforce conformity and obedience to the State capitalist institutions, to ensure that the necessity to rent oneself to the owners and managers of these institutions will be regarded as virtually a natural law, the only alternative to the 'socialist' dungeon.

The Soviet leadership thus portrays itself as socialist to protect its right to wield the club, and Western ideologists adopt the same pretense in order to forestall the threat of a more free and just society. This joint attack on socialism has been highly effective in undermining it in the modern period.

One may take note of another device used effectively by State capitalist ideologists in their service to existing power and privilege. The ritual denunciation of the so-called 'socialist' States is replete with distortions and often outright lies. Nothing is easier than to denounce the official enemy and to attribute to it any crime: there is no need to be burdened by the demands of evidence or logic as one marches in the parade. Critics of Western violence and atrocities often try to set the record straight, recognizing the criminal atrocities and repression that exist while exposing the tales that are concocted in the service of Western violence. With predictable regularity, these steps are at once interpreted as apologetics for the empire of evil and its minions. Thus the crucial Right to Lie in the Service of the State is preserved, and the critique of State violence and atrocities is undermined.

It is also worth noting the great appeal of Leninist doctrine to the modern intelligentsia in periods of conflict and upheaval. This doctrine affords the 'radical intellectuals' the right to hold State power and to impose the harsh rule of the 'Red Bureaucracy,' the 'new class,' in the terms of Bakunin's prescient analysis a century ago. As in the Bonapartist State denounced by Marx, they become the 'State priests,' and "parasitical excrescence upon civil society" that rules it with an iron hand.

In periods when there is little challenge to State capitalist institutions, the same fundamental commitments lead the 'new class' to serve as State managers and ideologists, "beating the people with the people's stick," in Bakunin's words. It is small wonder that intellectuals find the transition from 'revolutionary Communism' to 'celebration of the West' such an easy one, replaying a script that has evolved from tragedy to farce over the past half century. In essence, all that has changed is the assessment of where power lies. Lenin¹s dictum that "socialism is nothing but state capitalist monopoly made to benefit the whole people," who must of course trust the benevolence of their leaders, expresses the perversion of 'socialism' to the needs of the State priests, and allows us to comprehend the rapid transition between positions that superficially seem diametric opposites, but in fact are quite close.

The terminology of political and social discourse is vague and imprecise, and constantly debased by the contributions of ideologists of one or another stripe. Still, these terms have at least some residue of meaning. Since its origins, socialism has meant the liberation of working people from exploitation. As the Marxist theoretician Anton Pannekoek observed, "this goal is not reached and cannot be reached by a new directing and governing class substituting itself for the bourgeoisie," but can only be "realized by the workers themselves being master over production." Mastery over production by the producers is the essence of socialism, and means to achieve this end have regularly been devised in periods of revolutionary struggle, against the bitter opposition of the traditional ruling classes and the 'revolutionary intellectuals' guided by the common principles of Leninism and Western managerialism, as adapted to changing circumstances. But the essential element of the socialist ideal remains: to convert the means of production into the property of freely associated producers and thus the social property of people who have liberated themselves from exploitation by their master, as a fundamental step towards a broader realm of human freedom.

The Leninist intelligentsia have a different agenda. They fit Marx's description of the 'conspirators' who "pre-empt the developing revolutionary process" and distort it to their ends of domination; "Hence their deepest disdain for the more theoretical enlightenment of the workers about their class interests," which include the overthrow of the Red Bureaucracy and the creation of mechanisms of democratic control over production and social life. For the Leninist, the masses must be strictly disciplined, while the socialist will struggle to achieve a social order in which discipline "will become superfluous" as the freely associated producers "work for their own accord" (Marx). Libertarian socialism, furthermore, does not limit its aims to democratic control by producers over production, but seeks to abolish all forms of domination and hierarchy in every aspect of social and personal life, an unending struggle, since progress in achieving a more just society will lead to new insight and understanding of forms of oppression that may be concealed in traditional practice and consciousness.

The Leninist antagonism to the most essential features of socialism was evident from the very start. In revolutionary Russia, Soviets and factory committees developed as instruments of struggle and liberation, with many flaws, but with a rich potential. Lenin and Trotsky, upon assuming power, immediately devoted themselves to destroying the liberatory potential of these instruments, establishing the rule of the Party, in practice its Central Committee and its Maximal Leaders -- exactly as Trotsky had predicted years earlier, as Rosa Luxembourg and other left Marxists warned at the time, and as the anarchists had always understood. Not only the masses, but even the Party must be subject to "vigilant control from above," so Trotsky held as he made the transition from revolutionary intellectual to State priest. Before seizing State power, the Bolshevik leadership adopted much of the rhetoric of people who were engaged in the revolutionary struggle from below, but their true commitments were quite different. This was evident before and became crystal clear as they assumed State power in October 1917.

A historian sympathetic to the Bolsheviks, E.H. Carr, writes that "the spontaneous inclination of the workers to organize factory committees and to intervene in the management of the factories was inevitably encourage by a revolution with led the workers to believe that the productive machinery of the country belonged to them and could be operated by them at their own discretion and to their own advantage" (my emphasis). For the workers, as one anarchist delegate said, "The Factory committees were cells of the future... They, not the State, should now administer."

But the State priests knew better, and moved at once to destroy the factory committees and to reduce the Soviets to organs of their rule. On November 3, Lenin announced in a "Draft Decree on Workers' Control" that delegates elected to exercise such control were to be "answerable to the State for the maintenance of the strictest order and discipline and for the protection of property." As the year ended, Lenin noted that "we passed from workers' control to the creation of the Supreme Council of National Economy," which was to "replace, absorb and supersede the machinery of workers' control" (Carr). "The very idea of socialism is embodied in the concept of workers' control," one Menshevik trade unionist lamented; the Bolshevik leadership expressed the same lament in action, by demolishing the very idea of socialism.

Soon Lenin was to decree that the leadership must assume "dictatorial powers" over the workers, who must accept "unquestioning submission to a single will" and "in the interests of socialism," must "unquestioningly obey the single will of the leaders of the labour process." As Lenin and Trotsky proceeded with the militarization of labour, the transformation of the society into a labour army submitted to their single will, Lenin explained that subordination of the worker to "individual authority" is "the system which more than any other assures the best utilization of human resources" -- or as Robert McNamara expressed the same idea, "vital decision-making...must remain at the top...the real threat to democracy comes not from overmanagement, but from undermanagement"; "if it is not reason that rules man, then man falls short of his potential," and management is nothing other than the rule of reason, which keeps us free. At the same time, 'factionalism' -- i.e., any modicum of free expression and organization -- was destroyed "in the interests of socialism," as the term was redefined for their purposes by Lenin and Trotsky, who proceeded to create the basic proto-fascist structures converted by Stalin into one of the horrors of the modern age.1

Failure to understand the intense hostility to socialism on the part of the Leninist intelligentsia (with roots in Marx, no doubt), and corresponding misunderstanding of the Leninist model, has had a devastating impact on the struggle for a more decent society and a livable world in the West, and not only there. It is necessary to find a way to save the socialist ideal from its enemies in both of the world's major centres of power, from those who will always seek to be the State priests and social managers, destroying freedom in the name of liberation.

1 On the early destruction of socialism by Lenin and Trotsky, see Maurice Brinton, The Bolsheviks and Workers' Control. Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1978, and Peter Rachleff, Radical America, Nov. 1974, among much other work.

The Soviet Union Versus Socialism

Chomsky info

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Art, Labour & Socialism. A William Morris Pamphlet.

I am "one of the people called Socialists"; therefore I am certain that evolution in the economical conditions of life will go on, whatever shadowy barriers may be drawn across its path by men whose apparent self-interest binds them, consciously or unconsciously, to the present, and who are therefore hopeless for the future.

I hold that the condition of competition between man and man is bestial only, and that of association human: I think that the change from the undeveloped competition of the Middle Ages, trammelled as it was by the personal relations of feudality, and the attempts at association of the guild-craftsmen into the full-blown laissez-faire competition of the nineteenth century, is bringing to birth out of its own anarchy, and by the very means by which it seeks to perpetuate that anarchy, a spirit of association founded on that antagonism which has produced all former changes in the condition of men, and which will one day abolish all classes and take definite and practical form, and substitute Socialism for competition in all that relates to the production and exchange of the means of life. I further believe that as that change will be beneficent in many ways, so especially will it give an opportunity for the new birth of art, which is now being crushed to death by the money-bags of competitive commerce.

My reason for this hope for art is founded on what I feel quite sure is a truth, and an important one, namely that all art, even the highest, is influenced by the conditions of labour of the mass of mankind, and that any pretensions which may be made for even the highest intellectual art to be independent of these general conditions are futile and vain; that is to say, that any art which professes to be founded on the special education or refinement of a limited body or class must of necessity be unreal and short-lived.

“Art is man’s expression of his joy in labour.” If those are not Professor Ruskin's words they embody at least his teaching on this subject. Nor has any truth more important ever been stated; for if pleasure in labour be generally possible, what a strange folly it must be for men to consent to labour without pleasure; and what a hideous injustice it must be for society to compel most men to labour without pleasure! For since all men not dishonest must labour, it becomes a question either of forcing them to lead unhappy lives or allowing them to live happily.

Now the chief accusation I have to bring against the modern state of society is that it is founded on the art-lacking or unhappy labour of the greater part of men, and all that external degradation of the face of the country of which I have spoken is hateful to me not only because it is a cause of unhappiness to some few of us who still love art, but also and chiefly because it is a token of the unhappy life forced on the great mass of the population by the system of competitive commerce.

The pleasure which ought to go with the making of every piece of handicraft has for its basis the keen interest which every healthy man takes in healthy life, and is compounded, it seems to me, chiefly of three elements—variety, hope of creation, and the self-respect which comes of a sense of usefulness, to which must be added that mysterious bodily pleasure which goes with the deft exercise of the bodily powers. I do not think I need spend many words in trying to prove that these things, if they really and fully accompanied labour, would do much to make it pleasant. As to the pleasure of variety, any of you who have ever made anything—I don't care what—will well remember the pleasure that went with the turning out of the first specimen. What would have become of that pleasure if you had been compelled to go on making it exactly the same for ever?

As to the hope of creation, the hope of producing some worthy or even excellent work, which, without you, the craftsmen, would not have existed at all, a thing which needs you and can have no substitute for you in the making of it, can we any of us fail to understand the pleasure of this?

No less easy, surely, is it to see how much the self-respect born of the consciousness of usefulness must sweeten labour. To feel that you have to do a thing not to satisfy the whim of a fool or a set of fools, but because it is really good in itself, that is useful, would surely be a good help to getting through the day's work.

As to the unreasoning, sensuous pleasure in handiwork, I believe in good sooth that it has more power of getting rough and strenuous work out of men, even as things go, than most people imagine. At any rate it lies at the bottom of the production of all art, which cannot exist without it even in its feeblest and rudest form.

Now this compound pleasure in handiwork I claim as the birthright of all workmen. I say that if they lack any part of it they will be so far degraded, but that if they lack it altogether they are, as far as their work goes, I will not say slaves, the word would not be strong enough, but machines more or less conscious of their own unhappiness.

The whole pamphlet with a socialist assessment can be read here.

More socialist pamphlets here.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Gerrard Winstanley and the Diggers

"Money must not any the great god that hedges in some and hedges out others, for money is but part of the Earth; and after our work of the Earthly Community is advanced, we must make use of gold or silver as we do of other metals but not to buy or sell." A Declaration from the Poor Oppressed People of England Directed to all that Call Themselves or are Called Lords of Manors, 1649

“Was the earth made to preserve a few covetous, proud men to live at ease, and for them to bag and barn up the treasures of the Earth from others, that these may beg or starve in a fruitful land; or was it made to preserve all her children?” The New Law of Righteousness, 1649.

"Propriety and single interest divides the people of a land and the whole world into parties and is the cause of all wars and bloodshed and contention everywhere" The True Levellers Standard Advanced - April, 1649

"Therefore we are resolved to be cheated no longer, nor to be held under the slavish fear of you no longer, see the Earth was made for us, as well as for you: And if the Common Land belongs to us who are the poor oppressed, surely the woods that grow upon the Commons belong to us likewise...." A Declaration from the Poor Oppressed People of England Directed to all that Call Themselves or are Called Lords of Manors, 1649

Let's abolish money.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Anton Pannekoek's 'Public Ownership and Common Ownership'

The acknowledged aim of socialism is to take the means of production out of the hands of the capitalist class and place them into the hands of the workers. This aim is sometimes spoken of as public ownership, sometimes as common ownership of the production apparatus. There is, however, a marked and fundamental difference.

Public ownership is the ownership, i.e. the right of disposal, by a public body representing society, by government, state power or some other political body. The persons forming this body, the politicians, officials, leaders, secretaries, managers, are the direct masters of the production apparatus; they direct and regulate the process of production; they command the workers. Common ownership is the right of disposal by the workers themselves; the working class itself — taken in the widest sense of all that partake in really productive work, including employees, farmers, scientists — is direct master of the production apparatus, managing, directing, and regulating the process of production which is, indeed, their common work.

Under public ownership the workers are not masters of their work; they may be better treated and their wages may be higher than under private ownership; but they are still exploited. Exploitation does not mean simply that the workers do not receive the full produce of their labor; a considerable part must always be spent on the production apparatus and for unproductive though necessary departments of society. Exploitation consists in that others, forming another class, dispose of the produce and its distribution; that they decide what part shall be assigned to the workers as wages, what part they retain for themselves and for other purposes. Under public ownership this belongs to the regulation of the process of production, which is the function of the bureaucracy. Thus in Russia bureaucracy as the ruling class is master of production and produce, and the Russian workers are an exploited class.

In Western countries we know only of public ownership (in some branches) of the capitalist State. Here we may quote the well-known English “socialist” writer G. D. H. Cole, for whom socialism is identical with public ownership. He wrote

“The whole people would be no more able than the whole body of shareholders in a great modern enterprise to manage an industry . . . It would be necessary, under socialism as much under large scale capitalism, to entrust the actual management of industrial enterprise to salaried experts, chosen for their specialized knowledge and ability in particular branches of work” (p. 674).

“There is no reason to suppose that socialisation of any industry would mean a great change in its managerial personnel” (p. 676 in An Outline of Modern Knowledge ed. By Dr W. Rose, 1931).

In other words: the structure of productive work remains as it is under capitalism; workers subservient to commanding directors. It clearly does not occur to the “socialist” author that “the whole people” chiefly consists of workers, who were quite able, being producing personnels, to manage the industry, that consists of their own work.

As a correction to State-managed production, sometimes workers’ control is demanded. Now, to ask control, supervision, from a superior indicates the submissive mood of helpless objects of exploitation. And then you can control another man’s business; what is your own business you do not want controlled, you do it. Productive work, social production, is the genuine business of the working class. It is the content of their life, their own activity. They themselves can take care if there is no police or State power to keep them off. They have the tools, the machines in their hands, they use and manage them. They do not need masters to command them, nor finances to control the masters.

Public ownership is the program of “friends” of the workers who for the hard exploitation of private capitalism wish to substitute a milder modernized exploitation. Common ownership is the program of the working class itself, fighting for self liberation.

We do not speak here, of course, of a socialist or communist society in a later stage of development, when production will be organized so far as to be no problem any more, when out of the abundance of produce everybody takes according to his wishes, and the entire concept of “ownership” has disappeared. We speak of the time that the working class has conquered political and social power, and stands before the task of organizing production and distribution under most difficult conditions. The class fight of the workers in the present days and the near future will be strongly determined by their ideas on the immediate aims, whether public or common ownership, to be realized at that time.

If the working class rejects public ownership with its servitude and exploitation, and demands common ownership with its freedom and self-rule, it cannot do so without fulfilling conditions and shouldering duties. Common ownership of the workers implies, first, that the entirety of producers is master of the means of production and works them in a well planned system of social production. It implies secondly that in all shops, factories, enterprises the personnel regulate their own collective work as part of the whole. So they have to create the organs by means of which they direct their own work, as personnel, as well as social production at large. The institute of State and government cannot serve for this purpose because it is essentially an organ of domination, and concentrates the general affairs in the hands of a group of rulers. But under Socialism the general affairs consist in social production; so they are the concern of all, of each personnel, of every worker, to be discussed and decided at every moment by themselves. Their organs must consist of delegates sent out as the bearers of their opinion, and will be continually returning and reporting on the results arrived at in the assemblies of delegates. By means of such delegates that at any moment can be changed and called back the connection of the working masses into smaller and larger groups can be established and organization of production secured.

Such bodies of delegates, for which the name of workers’ councils has come into use, form what may be called the political organization appropriate to a working class liberating itself from exploitation. They cannot be devised beforehand, they must be shaped by the practical activity of the workers themselves when they are needed. Such delegates are no parliamentarians, no rulers, no leaders, but mediators, expert messengers, forming the connection between the separate personnel of the enterprises, combining their separate opinions into one common resolution. Common ownership demands common management of the work as well as common productive activity; it can only be realized if all the workers take part in this self-management of what is the basis and content of social life; and if they go to create the organs that unite their separate wills into one common action.

Since such workers’ councils doubtlessly are to play a considerable role in the future organization of the workers’ fights and aims, they deserve keen attention and study from all who stand for uncompromising fight and freedom for the working class.

Public Ownership and Common Ownership

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Arthur Miller's 'Death of a Salesman'.

"You can't eat the orange and throw the peel away - a man is not a piece of fruit."
- Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman, Act 2

Death of a Salesman

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Alexander Berkman's 'ABC of Communist Anarchism'.

You don't question the right of the government to kill, to confiscate and imprison. If a private person should be guilty of the things the government is doing all the time, you'd brand him a murderer, thief, and scoundrel. But as long as the violence committed is "lawful" you approve of it and submit to it. So it is not really violence that you object to, but to people using violence "unlawfully".

This lawful violence and the fear of it dominate our whole existence, individual and collective. Authority controls our lives from the cradle to the grave-authority parental, priestly and divine, political, economic, social, and moral. But whatever the character of that authority, it is always the same executioner wielding power over you through your fear of punishment in one form or another. You are afraid of God and the devil, of the priest and the neighbor, of your employer and boss, of the politician and policeman, of the judge and the jailer, of the law and the government. All your life is a long chain of fears-fears which bruise your body and lacerate your soul. On those fears is based the authority of God, of the church, of parents, of capitalist and ruler.

Look into your heart and see if what I say is not true. Why, even among children the ten-year-old Johnny bosses his younger brother or sister by the authority of his greater physical strength, just as Johnny's father bosses him by his superior strength, and by Johnny's dependence on his support. You stand for the authority of priest and preacher because you think they can "call down the wrath of God upon your head". You submit to the domination of boss, judge, and government because of their power to deprive you of work, to ruin your business, to put you in prison - a power, by the way, that you yourself have given into their hands.

So authority rules your whole life, the authority of the past and the present, of the dead and the living, and your existence is a continuous invasion and violation of yourself, a constant subjection to the thoughts and the will of some one else.

And as you are invaded and violated, so you subconsciously revenge yourself by invading and violating others over whom you have authority or can exercise compulsion. Physical or moral. In this way all life has become a crazy quilt of authority, of domination and submission, of command and obedience, of coercion and subjection, of rulers and ruled, of violence and force in a thousand and one forms.

Can you wonder that even idealists are still held in the meshes of this spirit of authority and violence, and are often impelled by their feelings and environment to invasive acts entirely at variance with their ideas?

We are all still barbarians who resort to force and violence to settle our doubts, difficulties, and troubles. Violence is the method of ignorance, the weapon of the weak. The strong of heart and brain need no violence, for they are irresistible in their consciousness of being right. The further we get away from primitive man and the hatchet age, the less recourse we shall have to force and violence. The more enlightened man will become, the less he will employ compulsion and coercion. The really civilized man will divest himself of all fear and authority. He will rise from the dust and stand erect: he will bow to no tsar either in heaven or on earth. He will become fully human when he will scorn to rule and refuse to be ruled. He will be truly free only when there shall be no more masters.

ABC of Communist Anarchism

Monday, 16 November 2009

Peter Kropotkin's 'Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution'

"Consequently, when my attention was drawn, later on, to the relations between Darwinism and Sociology, I could agree with none of the works and pamphlets that had been written upon this important subject. They all endeavoured to prove that Man, owing to his higher intelligence and knowledge, may mitigate the harshness of the struggle for life between men; but they all recognized at the same time that the struggle for the means of existence, of every animal against all its congeners, and of every man against all other men, was "a law of Nature." This view, however, I could not accept, because I was persuaded that to admit a pitiless inner war for life within each species, and to see in that war a condition of progress, was to admit something which not only had not yet been proved, but also lacked confirmation from direct observation.

"On the contrary, a lecture "On the Law of Mutual Aid," which was delivered at a Russian Congress of Naturalists, in January 1880, by the well-known zoologist, Professor Kessler, the then Dean of the St. Petersburg University, struck me as throwing a new light on the whole subject. Kessler's idea was, that besides the law of Mutual Struggle there is in Nature the law of Mutual Aid, which, for the success of the struggle for life, and especially for the progressive evolution of the species, is far more important than the law of mutual contest. This suggestion – which was, in reality, nothing but a further development of the ideas expressed by Darwin himself in The Descent of Man – seemed to me so correct and of so great an importance, that since I became acquainted with it (in 1883) I began to collect materials for further developing the idea, which Kessler had only cursorily sketched in his lecture, but had not lived to develop. He died in 1881."

Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution

Sunday, 15 November 2009

William Morris: Artist, Writer and Revolutionary Socialist

“It is right and necessary that all men should have work to do which shall be worth doing, and be of itself pleasant to do; and which should he done under such conditions as would make it neither over-wearisome nor over-anxious.”

“So long as the system of competition in the production and exchange of the means of life goes on, the degradation of the arts will go on; and if that system is to last for ever, then art is doomed, and will surely die; that is to say, civilization will die.”

“One man with an idea in his head is in danger of being considered a madman: two men with the same idea in common may be foolish, but can hardly be mad; ten men sharing an idea begin to act, a hundred draw attention as fanatics, a thousand and society begins to tremble, a hundred thousand and there is war abroad, and the cause has victories tangible and real; and why only a hundred thousand? Why not a hundred million and peace upon the earth? You and I who agree together, it is we who have to answer that question."

See also - William Morris: How we live and how we might live

Saturday, 14 November 2009

We're not alone!

Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a new BBC poll has found widespread dissatisfaction with free-market capitalism.

In the global poll for the BBC World Service, only 11% of those questioned across 27 countries said that it was working well.

More than 29,000 people in 27 countries were questioned. In only two countries, the United States and Pakistan, did more than one in five people feel that capitalism works well as it stands.

Almost a quarter - 23% of those who responded - feel it is fatally flawed. That is the view of 43% in France, 38% in Mexico and 35% in Brazil.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Let's start with a little verse:

People killed Profit.
Commonality slaughtered the twins Nation and War.
Class dismembered State then self-destructed.
Evicted; Property and Theft froze in the gutter.
Leadership sank beneath the Sea of Democracy and drowned.
Open caskets displayed Money's corpse,
But, no mourners filed past.