Communist Worker

Archive of Communist Workers Group of Aoteaora/New Zealand up to 2006

Archive for the ‘reformism’ Category

THE WORLD SOCIAL FORUM AND LULA LAND

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From Class Struggle 49 March/April 2003

The Big Boys have taken over the World Social Forum, says anti-globalisation guru Naomi Klein. Boo hoo! What did she expect? Lula turns up at Porto Alegre and has 75,000 adoring fans who complain when he leaves for the World Economic Forum in Davos. He’s the boss. The WSF is really a reformist ‘movement of movements’ that wants to replace neoliberalism with democratic socialism. But the grassroots enthusiasms of the anti-globalisation troops post-Zapatistas and post-Seattle were always directed from above.It was a small group of PT (Brazilian Workers’ Party) leaders, Le Monde Diplomatique intellectuals and ATTAC ‘activists’ who set the WSF agenda in 2000.


Z Net editor and activist Michael Albert said as much. He found that as a member of the International Council the big decisions about what the forum was about, who would speak , and who would attend, were already made. The big issues, neo-liberalism and how to fight it, and how to make’ another world possible’ were already shaped by the politics of these reformist organisations.

The WSF was the child of the PT, and now the PT leads a Popular Frontgovernment with its main leader, Luis Inacio de Silva, ‘Lula’ for short, the newly elected President of Brazil. So it’s not the WSF but the main attraction that has changed. The WSF still attracts the bevy of left-wing celebrities like Chomsky, Michael Albert, Arundhati Roy and Samir Amin, but the stars are now clearly the strong men of Latin American social democracy, with Lula, Chavez and Ecuadorian leader Guiterrez at their head and Castro as elder statesman (there were 50 Cuban Communist Party leaders headed by Castro’s daughter at Porto Alegre 2003). The fate of the WSF hangs on Lula’s political fate which itself turns on the balance between the US ruling class and his mass working class constituency.

Movements of Movements

Now that it is obvious that Porto Alegre mark 3 was a PR job to get progressive world opinion lined up behind Lula, let’s see how he can deliver on the promise that “another world is possible”.Ignacio Ramonet, a lead writer of Le Monde Diplomatique, reacted to Lula’s election enthusiastically. For Ramonet, Lula’s election marked “the beginning of a new historical cycle in Latin America. The preceding cycle began at the end of a dark period of military tyrannies, repression and armed uprisings, and lasted two decades, since 1983” (what about the Brazilian military coup of 1968 that lasted 20 years, Pinochet’s coup1973 that also lasted nearly 20 years,and the military regime in Argentina from 1976 to 1983?!).

Ramocet says Lula’s electioncrowns a string of left wing victories: the election of Chavez in Venezuela in 1998, the overthrow of President Mahaud in Ecuador in January 2000, the ousting of Fujimori in Peru in December of 2000, the downfall of de la Rua in December 2001, and the election of Colonel Gutierrez in Ecuador in November 2002. Are these regime changes signs of the end of ‘neo-liberalism’ and the opening up of a more democratic period?

Despite the US drive to war, both Chomsky and Roy see signs that grassroots democracy represented by many struggles around the world is ‘confronting the Empire’. They endorse the concept of a ‘movement of movements’. This is the idea that local movements such as the landless in Brazil, the peasants in Colombia, the piqueteros in Argentina, the Kurds in Turkey, the people of Cochabamba in Bolivia, and the poor farmers of India, will join their struggles together to make one big movement. Not only that, Chomsky thinks that the unprecedented and growing majorities opposed to the war on Iraq in Europe and before long in America, before any war has taken place, show that the ruling US and European elites are being threatened from below by a new mass resurgence of peoples’ democracy.

In her speech at Porto Alegre, Arundhati Roy echoed these themes.She asked: “How do we resist ‘Empire’ and make another world possible? The good news is that we are not doing too badly”.She listed a string of victories – Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, and so on – and pointed to the collapse of some of the world’s biggest corporations, like the notorious Enron, Betchtel, WorldCom, and Arthur Anderson. “We may not have stopped ‘Empire’ in its tracks – yet – but we have stripped it down. We have made it drop its mask, we have forced it into the open. It now stands before us on the world’s stage in all its brutish, iniquitous nakedness.”Like Chomsky, however, democratic resistance is a rather abstract tool with which to ‘lay siege to Empire’. Roy wants us to “To deprive it of Oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness – and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different to the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe”.

The problem here is that the stories that come out of the WSF are not very different to the ones that some sections of the imperialist elites tell us. ‘Empire’ here means the US out of control – Chomsky’s rogue state. According to Metzaros, in this new age of ‘global hegemonic imperialistic capitalism’ only the US is imperialist. That sounds like the French and German politicians trying to mask their rapacious oil concessions in Iraq as humanitarian aid. Painting the US as ‘fascist’ makes them look ‘democratic’. ‘Imperialism’ means the greed and power of a US elite which takes the form of neo-liberalism and globalisation. But this can be resisted and overturned by ‘movements’ fighting against injustice and greed. ‘Democratic’ countries can gang up in the UN to fight imperialism. This vision is boosted by Toni Negri’s view that the US represents a reactionary imperialism that has to be contested by …yes, the European states and the UN!And if ‘imperialism’ is open to reform by the movement of movements, then maybe capitalism can be reformed from below by means of ‘market socialism’. The tell-tale mark of reformists is their belief that a majority can rule the state and reverse the sign of the zero-sum society from rich to poor. Same old story.

Market Socialism

What do all the currents in the WSF have in common?It is the belief that capitalism is a zero-sum society based on unequal exchange that can be reformed by an alliance of workers, petty bourgeois and‘democratic’ capitalists (and/or progressive military leaders like Chavez) in cross-class governments. In ganging up against ‘fascist’ imperialist America, the European bourgeoisie can pose as democrats and mask their own imperialist interests.Entering governments and alliances with the democratic bourgeoisie, the petty bourgeois intelligentsia and the Stalinist and Castroist bureaucracy that dominate the labour movement claim that these governments are controlled by workers, when they are anything but! This is how they try to mask their service to the bourgeoisie in containing workers’ struggles.They have to claim that workers get the best of the deal with a shift from neo-liberal austerity to ‘market socialism’. To paint the politics of betrayal in rosy colours the WSF gets ‘revolutionary’ credentials by its association with a bunch of academic Marxists like Samir Amin and James Petras who dress up with revolutionary phrases reformist policies of socialism on the installment plan.

When such ‘Marxists’ endorse Lula they provide him with an alibi. They blame those who want to mobilise the working class to take power for frightening off the EU imperialists, or for provoking a US counter-revolution. They peddle illusions that workers can benefit from some ‘new deal’ that will alleviate their poverty and suffering!Already in Argentina, the left bureaucracy has turned the administration of poverty into an art form where they are paid by the state to oversee ‘work for the dole’ schemes.

Lulaland

But now we face the truly historic test of Lula’s promise to deliver ‘market socialism’ in Brazil. The election of Lula threatens to repeat the whole history of betrayals in Latin America in the name of the Brazilian PT!Lula wants to negotiate with the IMF and World Bank using his working class voters as electoral fodder.Ramocet praises Lula with no reservations. Lula gets a rapturous welcome in Porto Alegre.But how can Lula deliver to his supporters, the poor workers and landless peasants, unless he repudiates the national debt, nationalises the banks and renationalises privatised state industry?And he cannot do that without arming the workers and peasants to stop a military coup and US counterrevolution succeeding like it did in Chile in 1973.

Whatever the idealism of the WSF ‘story of stories’, or models of a ‘socialist’ utopia, these noble thoughts cannot measure up against the actual struggles on the ground. Story tellingdoes not arm workers and peasants against the military might of imperialism. Not unless one is telling the stories that explain the lessons of the bloody history of workers struggles in the 20th century – stories that say that unless workers take state power they cannot participate in the economy as equals and managers.Or that workers cannot plan a socialist economy unless they expropriate the private property of the capitalist owners.Or that what is needed is a workers’ government and a socialist plan.

We already have clear evidence from Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Ecuador, Argentina, Venezuela, and Colombia, that workers must occupy their factories or workplaces, must make military alliances with the landless peasants, must arm themselves to defend themselves, must organise a general strike, must break with the bureaucrats, must win over the rank and file of the army and seize state power, before any real challenge to imperialism is possible.None of this is possible without the building of an international revolutionary party and program to lead workers along the road to revolution.Failing these measures, imperialism has, can, and will stage armed counter-revolutions and smash all resistance. But with these measures workers and poor peasants can create a United Socialist States of Latin America.

Written by raved

January 3, 2009 at 10:13 pm

REPLACE LABOUR WITH A SOCIALIST ALLIANCE

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New Zealand has just had a ‘snap’ election, called by the Prime Minister 5 months early to take advantage of the government’s high popularity and a buoyant economy. The result was mixed. Labour was returned to office with 7 less seats as a minority in coalition with the two remaining MPs on the rightwing of the former Alliance that split over NZ’s backing Bush’s War on Terror in Afghanistan. The left of the Alliance got no seats. The Greens gained only two extra seats and refused to go into coalition because Labour would not guarantee extending the moratorium on the commercial release of Genetically Engineered crops. Labour can govern only because it has done a deal with a centre-right United Future Party which emerged during the campaign because of its ‘common sense’ appeal to floating voters. Where does this leave workers?

[from Class Struggle 46 August/September 2002]

Shit that was quick. Clark and Labour are back. Catholic grey power guru Jim Anderton got back in coalition with his ex-socialist progressive Matt Robson to prop up Labour.(1) The ‘worm’, United Future, the creation of the media now holds the balance of power.(2) This means that Paul Holmes is really running the country. He can prime Peter Dunne on TV each week on all the top rating causes, child cancer, crime, himself, and put the ‘common sense’ spin on them all.(3)

What do we conclude? A defeat for the left and a definite swing to the populist centre. Turnout was down from around 86% to 79%. National bombed down to 21%. Labour’s share of the vote went up slightly and to the right. While some Labour loyalists didn’t vote, Labour won the party votes in all but three of the National seats. So Labour’s vote probably went up because National voters voted for them to give Labour a working majority to keep out the Greens. We don’t yet know how many Labour voters stayed at home or voted for NZ First, United Future, or even Act. So by voting or staying away many workers pushed Labour towards the centre. This centre is a swamp in which workers will drown.

The far right also lost out. ACT ran a hard right economic line but also headed towards the populist centre with its zero tolerance of crime policy.(4) Boxer Bill English tried to get heavy on crime too but he was fighting above his weight.(5) Neither got up after Winston Peters’ three-fingered knock out for the NZ First team. Winston, who smacks of a budding brown Pym Fortuyn but with hetero panache, bounced from 4% to 10% by baiting the racist redneck vote on immigration, Maori and crime. (6)

GE fundamentalism failed

The Greens vote went up by 2%. Why? The 7% share of the vote probably reflects the hardcore Green vote that is totally committed to banning commercial use of GE. Anything else that the Greens stand for on social and economic issues is pretty minority report stuff (see article on Greens). Nicky Hager’s revelations about Labour’s clumsy handling of a GE scare two years ago – ‘corngate’ – saw Labour drop 6% in the polls.(7) But it seems that the Greens also suffered. Labour’s decline in popularity probably resulted from people being turned off Helen Clark’s display of arrogance in the media when questioned on ‘corngate’ and ‘paintergate’.(8) The Greens may have slumped because some people saw that they really were fundamentalists. ‘Corngate’ served to remind some swinging voters of the instability of the centre-left so they opted for centre parties to moderate ‘left’ wackiness.

Labour United/Future coalition?

So the ‘left of Labour’ vote was redistributed to the right to put Labour in office. But Labour is now dependent upon United Future to stay in power. United Future is really the ‘common sense’ party, a collection of raw ring-ins, racing truck car drivers, chefs, social workers united by a bottom line belief that “the family is central to life”.(9) We put their hang-up down to parental neglect.

This means that Labour’s rightward trajectory will continue. Last time it relied on the Greens on matters of confidence and the budget. Though the Greens are a petty bourgeois party they didn’t hold Labour’s minimalist social democratic program back. But this time, a formal agreement with the worm in the centre will commit Labour to right-centrist policies to stay in power. This is a classic popular front, where the social democrats (even right wing) are able to blame the centre party for its rightward shift. Now it can use the excuse that it had to swing right with the worm when it doesn’t deliver to workers.

So we predict that Labour will have to move further right. As a self-styled Blairite party its attempt to find a Third Way between left and right will become clearer. NZ Labour still has social democratic elements on the left based on the unions. But during its first term it developed stronger links to the newer breed of business leaders. This time the move right to the centre will see it try to redefine itself along the lines of Steve Maharey’s ‘Third Way’ lectures in the National Business Review. In the name of the centre it will try to distance itself from direct links to the unions and to business. It will preside over the ‘smart wired’ state that presents profits as a universal benefit.

Critical support justified?

CWG got criticised by Maoists, ultra-lefts and Spartacists for its critical support of Labour and the Alliance. We were called ‘auto-labourites’ (revolution) ‘labour loyalists’ (IBT) and ‘degenerate cronies’ (Spartacists).(10) We think that the tactic of critical support to get Labour elected was justified. We called for a vote for Labour candidates to get it into office to expose it. As Lenin said, this sort of ‘support’ is like the support a rope offers a hanged person. We think that most most workers voted for Labour expecting more social benefits and union rights. The main unions affiliated to Labour called for a vote to defend the Employment Relations Act and prevent any return to the Employment Contracts Act.(11) Labour encouraged these expectations with campaign slogans like ‘people before profits’.

The tactic of critical support aims to activate the contradiction between workers’ expectations and the failure of the government to deliver. The expectations were there in the unions on the one side, and on the other the new government will not be able to deliver to the unions. Why? Because profits come first and profits are in trouble. The poor performance of the world economy and NZ’s declining semi-colonial status will prevent any more real concessions.(12) The popular front character of the government will push it further right. Dunne voted against the ERA, so we expect Margaret Wilson’s plans to strengthen union rights will be dropped.

Labour will find itself unable to deliver on its residual social democratic programme. But why this is so has to be rammed home to workers. We have to give Labour arseholes to convince workers that Labour has really left workers behind. We have to work within the unions affiliated to Labour to make their support conditional on Labour strengthening of the ERA. When this doesn’t happen we have to push the rank and file to put up their own candidates on a program that is designed to meets workers’ needs.

Future of the Alliance

Our critical support for the Alliance was also justified. We called for a party vote. The Alliance only got 1.3% (Anderton’s Progressive Coalition that split off the Alliance got about 1.8%), or rather more than the British Socialist Alliance. Laila Harre was only 2000 votes short of winning Waitakere. This showed that when they had nothing to lose (the Labour Candidate Lyn Pillay, an EPMU – Engineers union – organiser, was high on the Labour list) workers voted for the Alliance in large numbers. This suggests that the overall drop in the Alliance vote was almost totally tactical.

We predict that the Alliance will try to rebuild as a Social Democratic party in the vacuum left by Labour. It will try to gain a footing in the labour movement. We have to push for rank and file control of the unions to prevent the Alliance from creating a left union bureaucracy. Our objective is to expose Labour completely but also to prevent the Alliance from becoming a new force for reformism. We can do this by building a Socialist Alliance to compete with the dregs of social democracy.

We need a Socialist Alliance

Now is the time to begin to plan for a Socialist Alliance to unite the forces on the left around a transitional program for socialist revolution. This has to begin with work in the unions. There should be a Socialist Alliance branch in every workplace. We are for the rebuilding of unions based on rank and file control. This means that ordinary workers will elect delegates and officials, subject to instant recall if they fail to represent the wishes of the membership. Pay and conditions for union officials should be no more than the average of the workers they represent to prevent them being bought off by the bosses.

The question of affiliation to political parties should be debated and decided by the rank and file membership. Workers in the unions affiliated to Labour should make this support conditional on Labour delivering on a number of policies such as a shorter working week to eliminate unemployment; the restoration of penal rates for overtime; labour legislation that brings casual and part-time workers under the unions; democratic rights for all; opening the borders to economic and political refugees; renationalisation under workers control of all privatised state assets; and NZ breaking from military ties with imperialist states such as the EU and USA. As workers lose any hope in Labour or the Alliance to represent their interests, they will put up their own candidates based on the revived unions.

Now that the world economy has entered a period of recession (see Brian Green’s article), the NZ economy will face a slowdown in growth. The Labour government will be forced to move right to defend profits at the expense of working people. This will bring about a renewal of working class struggle over jobs, pay, conditions and basic rights. Against the rightward move in Parliament, we have to rally the left around a socialist banner that begins to rebuild a strong labour movement and a genuine workers’ party dedicated to replacing clapped-out capitalist regimes with a workers’ government that can plan the economy for the needs of people rather than the profits of the capitalists.

Notes

(1) Anderton and Robson, respectively leader and deputy of the New Labour Party that split from Labour in 1989 to the left and which later formed the Alliance. Anderton (who at the time was deputy Prime Minister), Robson and several other MPs split from the Alliance in mid 2002 refusing to oppose the Government’s support of Bush’s war against Afghanistan. They formed the Progressive Coalition just before the recent election and gained 1.8% of the vote.

(2) The worm is a moving line on a graph which rises and falls in response to preferences of a studio audience of ‘undecided’ voters. Peter Dunne’s rise in popularity as leader of the United Future (a fusion of two ‘parties’ led by Dunne who entered parliament as a Labour MP in 1984) is almost completely the result of one TV studio performance in which the worm rose to new heights in response to the most bland, middle of the road, common sense statements.

(3) Paul Holmes is NZ’s foremost ‘tabloid’ TV host who specialises in promoting popular causes to boost his ratings.

(4) ACT, short for Association of Consumers and Taxpayers, formed by Roger Douglas, former Minister of Finance responsible for the neo-liberal agenda of the 4th Labour Government until 1988 when he was sacked by the then Prime Minister David Lange, for continuing to press for neo-liberal reforms. He formed ACT to continue the neo-liberal agenda. ACT is on the extreme ‘new right’ and has never got more than 8% of the vote.

(5) Bill English became leader of the National Party in 2002. He took part in a boxing match for charity and referred to his ‘fight’ for ‘the NZ you deserve’ during the campaign. Obviously 79% of the voters didn’t think they deserved Bill English’s NZ.

(6) Winston Peters, maverick politician, former National Minister of Maori Affairs, and leader of NZ First, formed a short-lived coalition with National after the 1996 elections. Peters is a rabid populist who rallies ‘middle NZ’ on racist issues. During the election campaign he appeared with 3 fingers raised in the image of Bob the Builder who could “fix” the three issues of immigration, crime and Treaty settlements. Unlike Fortuyn he’s heavily hetero.

(7) Hager’s book was written to expose the failure of the Labour government to prevent the release of GE-contaminated seeds. Hager’s publisher was no 3 on the Greens party list. In the debate that followed it was disclosed that the scare resulted from a ‘false positive’ probably caused by contamination of the seeds tested by soil and talcum powder. The most damning revelation was that hardcore Greens demanded a 100% confidence level that seeds were not contaminated. This, said a scientist employed by Otago University but contracted to Novatis and Heinz Wattie, would require every seed to be tested and therefore destroyed.

(8) ‘Paintergate’ refers to a painting painted for Helen Clark to sell for charity, but signed by her. Clark was baited constantly by the opposition and media until she refused to talk about the episode, and walked out of an Australian TV interview.

(9) Paul Adams, a prominent United Future candidate, called in 1993 for HIV sufferers to by ‘locked up’, and still believes they should be publicly identified.

(10) ‘Revolution’ is a small group of leftists based at Canterbury University in Christchurch. The IBT (International Bolshevik Tendency) is a split from the Spartacists. Its NZ section is the Permanent Revolution Group based in Wellington, NZ. The Spartacists (International Communist League) have one member in the Anti-Imperialist Coalition in Auckland NZ.

(11) Three unions are still affiliated to the Labour Party: the EPMU (Engineers, Printing and Manufacturing Union) which is the biggest and most influential union in NZ; the SFWU (Service and Food Workers Union) a more ‘leftish’ union the organises many low-paid hospital and hospitality workers; RMTU (Rail, Maritime and Transport Union) that organises rail workers and has branched out into call centres. The overwhelming reason given for a union vote for Labour was to prevent any return to the Employment Contracts Act, which was passed by National in 1991 and designed to replace collective agreements with individual contracts. The ECA saw union membership slump from around 50% of the workforce to around 17%. Labour’s Employment Relations Act restored some influence to unions and has seen the membership of unions creep back up to around 22%. The unions wanted to see Labour returned to give more teeth to the ERA – in particular, they wanted legislation to help workers made redundant when companies close and to remedy the casualisation of workers re-employed on contract.

(12) CWG characterises NZ as a semi-colony on the grounds that NZ does not have a significant export of capital or income from surplus-profits abroad. On the other hand NZ is the location for investment of international capital and source of exports of super profits.

Written by raved

June 27, 2008 at 11:28 pm

Chomsky’s blurred Vision [February 1999]

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Noam Chomsky recently visited New Zealand as a guest of the Peace Foundation. He spoke to overflowing audiences eager to hear his critique of the US role in imposing the neo-liberal New World Order on the rest of the world. While Chomsky has a long track record in exposing the lies and hypocrisy of the US in its exercise of power, he cannot explain why the US behaves like this. Nor can he explain where we go from here, or what to do. We argue that Chomsky’s vision is blurred.

The core of Chomsky’s argument is the US drive to dominate the world in the post-WW2 period by subordinating the rest of the world to its global plan. fact the beginnings of globalisation. The world was partitioned so that the developing countries would serve as suppliers of raw materials and labour for the developed countries. This exploitation of the third world required political policies that did not allow the populations in these countries to opt out of this global plan. The IMF and World Bank and its more recent offspring NAFTA, WTO the MAI etc, were the instruments of this plan. Against this third world nationalism backed by the Soviet Union was identified as the main enemy. US backed coups and the cold war to isolate and ultimately destroy the Soviet Union were the tactics designed to keep this global plan on track. Chomsky’s writings over the last 30 years are really no more than documentation of the application of these policies in Latin America, Asia and the Middle East.

In a recent article in the New Left Review (No 230 July/August 1998) Chomsky develops this analysis further. He argues that the mechanisms for imposing this global plan are increasingly secret and outside democratic control. NAFTA and the MAI are examples of new agreements designed to force small states to accept trade and investment on the US terms that were conceived in secret. Resistance to these agreements only arose after their existence was ‘leaked’. On the MAI Chomsky states: the MAI “would constitute a major attack on democracy; it would shift the decision-making power over social and economic affairs even further into the hands of private tyrannies that operate in secret, unaccountable to the public. Corporations had been granted the rights of immortal persons by radical judicial activism early this century; but the MAI grants them the rights of states” (p.25).

Chomsky concludes: “The long-term goal of such initiatives is clear enough to anyone with open eyes: an international political economy which is organised by powerful states and secret bureaucracies whose primary function is to serve the concentrations of private power, which administer markets through their internal operations, through networks of corporate alliances, including the intra-firm transactions that are mislabeled ‘trade’. They rely on the public for subsidy, for research and development, for innovation and for bail-outs when things go wrong. They rely on the powerful states for protection from dangerous ‘democracy openings’. In such ways, they seek to ensure that the ‘prime beneficiaries’ of the world’s wealth are the right people; the smug and prosperous ‘Americans’; the ‘domestic constituencies’ and their counterparts elsewhere.” (p.27)

But what causes this power surge, and what do we do about it? Where do we go from here? Chomsky is a radical democrat; some would say an anarchist or libertarian socialist. He is certainly hostile to Marxism and Communism, which he associates with the Soviet Union. His solutions are to rally the citizenry to the cause of democracy and to bring these power plays under the control of the people. “There is no reason to doubt that it (this excessive power) can be controlled, even within existing formal institutions of parliamentary democracy (my emphasis). These are not the operations of any mysterious economic laws; they are human decisions that are subject to challenge, revision and reversal. They are also decisions made within institutions, state and private. They have to face the test of legitimacy, as always; and if they do not meet that test they can be replaced by others that are more free and just, exactly as has happened throughout history.” (p.27)

Chomsky’s logic is classic social democrat. Once the masses are informed, and reject the exercise of arbitrary power, then they can use the institutions of bourgeois democracy to “challenge, revise and reverse” such power. Here Chomsky detaches the state (and private) institutions from the ‘political economy’. Lenin said that politics is concentrated economics. Chomsky reverses the power flow from ‘political’ to the ‘economic’. There are no ‘mysterious economic laws’ he says. There is just the zero-sum game of a struggle for scarce resources. Who wins this struggle has the power. Therefore economics becomes reduced to politics – to decisions taken in secret, that can however be exposed and made public. So economic problems can be resolved by means of realising the ideal of parliamentary democracy.

What’s missing from this analysis is any understanding of the economic social relations that motivate the power struggle. Already under capitalism, social relations exist depending upon whether one owns the means of production or not. Therefore power flows from the ownership of private property that enables the capitalist class to force wage-labour to work and produced surplus value, to politics. This power relationship cannot be reversed or revised by parliament. In fact parliament functions to defend this power relationship by defending private property. Parliament can respond to democratic demands only when private property is not challenged. But once workers become ‘informed’ i.e. class conscious, and begin to ‘challenge, revise and reverse’ existing power relations, the threat to the property relations, upon which such power rests, will ensure that the state renounces its democratic trappings and imposes direct rule upon its subjects.

That’s why in the postwar period that Chomsky documents, no successful challenge to US power by means of parliamentary institutions has occurred inside or outside the US. The only successful challenges, all of which failed ultimately, arose from the exercise of non-democratic challenges; that is challenges that did not result from the existence of parliamentary democracy. They arose either from undemocratic elite opposition, such as that of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, or from mass struggles that by-passed the trappings of formal parliamentary democracy – street protests or civil disobedience in the US, or popular uprisings and mass movements such as in Cuba, Vietnam, Palestine, etc. Nor can it be argued that these social movements have succeeded in ‘renewing’ parliamentary democracy. The fate of the ex-SU and other so-called ‘socialist’ states proves this fact. Whatever the failings of so-called ‘socialist’ regimes – their non-democratic and bureaucratic nature etc – the return to ‘democracy and free markets’ is an unmitigated disaster; unmitigated by any exercise of democratic rights in moderating the devastating impact of the market.

The failure of these radical movements which threatened to overturn bourgeois states is not due to their non-democratic form, but due to their suppression by the military might of imperialism in the name of ‘democracy’. Therefore, it is naive and ultimately self-defeating for popular movements to have illusions in parliamentary democracy. The foundation of ‘actually existing capitalism’, as Chomsky calls it, is not an aberrant concentration of power that can be corrected by democratic process. No it is the underlying property relations, defended by the capitalist state, which can only be “challenged, revised and reversed” by extending the struggle for democracy to socialist revolution. Smashing the capitalist state, and creating a planned economy in which production is for need and not profits.

From Class Struggle, No 25, Dec 1998-Feb 1999


Written by raved

August 26, 2007 at 10:51 pm