Thursday, 9 February 2012

Support strike action on March 28th

The ruling class is weakened and divided.

It faces defeat and opposition on a wide range of fronts, without being granted the privilege of partial attacks, it has instead launched a generalized onslaught.

The weaknesses of this government are apparent for all to see, when faced with amendments of the Welfare bill from the Lords which threatened to make the bill unrecognizable, the Government simply declared "financial privileged", relying upon an ancient convention dating back to the 17th century.

While having brushed aside the objections of the Lords, the vultures are also starting to circle the health reform bill, with plans for the Lib Dems to call for it to be scraped [1] and the Royal College of GPs voicing its opposition to the bill [2].

These examples both reflect a massive weakness on the part of the Conservative government, both that it should have to rely on antiquated convention to push its reform programme forward and reflecting the division within the coalition camp on deeply unpopular legislation.

It is important that we make it clear that the austerity measures of which these reforms form part are a class attack.

When the ruling class uses one form of class power, it is important that it is met with another. That's where the role of the centralized working class plays such an important role in opposition to the cuts and austerity measures.

The recent strike actions we have seen on November 30th in relation to attacks on pensions are a partial reflection of a discernible shift towards the centrality of the organised working class as the central locust of resistance to the austerity measures.

However the movement of opposition to the cuts represented by union opposition is not without its weaknesses.

While a combination of pressures on the trade union bureaucracy have led to union leaders playing a key role in calling and mobilising for action, as on N30, at other times sections of the trade union bureaucracy have accepted deals which represent no real change from that which has previously been on offer.

We must now argue for further strike action to act as a central focus and once again restituate the argument around the centrality of further striking action, building the necessary confidence to defeat this government on pensions.

It is important to emphasise in making this argument, we see the fight as being situated around two distinct poles, that of the rank and file and the bureacracy, instead of simply a left and right division. The union bureaucracy, may under presure, at times veer left (as during the June strike action, when it support calls for further action in November) or right (as indicated during the most recent Unison support for the Heads of Agreement) however by starting to create a strong rank and file movement we can develop a challenge to any attempted sell-out on pension by mass pressure from below.

In making this argument it's important that we make it clear exactly what's on stake here. A victory over the pensions attacks, could inspire mass confidence which could transform the political environment, providing a real boost in worker confidence, reversing a trend established since the devastating decline in working class confidence in the 1980s.

This will require an approach that is sees the fight against the attacks on pensions as linked to the broader class attack typified by austerity. In doing so it is vital to situate the action around pensions as part of a wider alternative to austerity, an alternative that reflects an emboldened, confident class ready to meet one form of class power with another.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Rehabilitating Martov

Written in 1967 Israel Getzler's work serves as a perfect example of cold-war historiography, devoted as it is to proving the 'inherently dictatorial' nature of the scheming figure of Lenin, in his opposition to the 'Hamlet of Democratic Socialism' Martov.

This work attempts to provide an explanation of who Martov was, chiefly in reference to Martov's involvement in the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, touching upon his role as editor of it's central organ Iskra with Lenin, alongside the position he would later assume as the 'leader of Menshevism'.

This book takes up the debates surrounding the Second Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party at which Martov and Lenin took two distinct positions on party membership, with Martov keen to avoid alienating 'intellectuals' who were "not in a position to join a revolutionary party". While Lenin waged a battle to establish a bulwark against 'every kind of trend of opportunism' with a definition of membership that would make party members of 'all and sundry'.

Within Getzler's account the political differences between Martov and Lenin on this question are reduced to differences in temperament. The genesis of the conflict between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks is dealt with spuriously, the parting of ways between Martov and Lenin was a result of Lenin's 'contempt for and distrust of people' as a 'solitary power, a man inclined both by temperament and by conviction to think little of party morals or personal loyalites' (Getzler, 39).

Getzler rehabilitates the popular academic claim that Lenin's chief work on the nature of the party from this period, What Is to be Done, represented Lenin's dictatorial blueprint, the assumption being that the crimes of Stalinism can be traced back to Lenin's early text and its lack of faith in the workers.

Lenin takes up the question of the party's clamdestine character in relation to its size in What Is to be Done?, noting that Socialists aims could not be obtained in an organization that while supposedly was most "accessible" to the masses, was actually more accessible to the gendarmes and made revolutionaries most accessible to the police.

In actual fact as Lars T. Lih rightly notes in What Is to Be Done? in Context, this work is marked by 'profound confidence in the capacity of workers, through struggle and political education, to arrive at revolutionary conclusions'.

While Getzler's work is stunted by its poor analysis, it does highlight that the debates surrounding the nature of the party and how socialists should organise have not gone away. We should utilise this work and others like it, to draw the necessary conclusions about how we can build the most effective organisation to challenge capitalism, drawing upon the revolutionary tradition that Martov played an instrumental role within.