The state, social ownership and workers' control: the Commune group's trajectory towards anarchism

Submitted by AWL on 3 December, 2008 - 12:03

The Labour Representation Committee conference on 15 November passed a motion on “social ownership and workers’ self-management” from the “Group of International Communists”, the organisation run by ex-AWL members Chris Ford and David Broder and (slightly) better known as the Commune. The text suggests that Chris and David are on a trajectory towards anarchism.

Most of the motion, which can be read here, was unobjectionable waffle. Several lines, however, revealed the anarchoid current of thinking that inspired it.

“State ownership, no matter what pseudonym it goes under, is not social ownership. They are in fact two counterposed things. One cannot equate the state with society.... The state is not a neutral force concerned only with the welfare of society... The state is not a vehicle to achieve ‘socialism’ and cannot be relied upon to act as a protective shield against capital.”

What a mess!

1. Large-scale social ownership, when we achieve it, will also be state ownership initially. This is one of the ABCs of Marxism (not to mention common sense). As long ago as 1864, in the Inaugural Address of the International Working Men’s Association, Marx wrote (commenting on individual workers’ cooperative enterprises under capitalism):

“ labor ought to be developed to national dimensions, and, consequently, to be fostered by national means. Yet the lords of the land and the lords of capital will always use their political privileges for the defense and perpetuation of their economic monopolies... To conquer political power has, therefore, become the great duty of the working classes.”

For the big concentrations of industrial, financial and service capital, the establishment of social ownership will necessarily involve nationalisation by a workers’ state – not to negate, but to extend, formalise and integrate workers’ control at every level of society. What does the Commune propose as an alternative?

2. In the motion, “state” is used as virtually a classless concept; no distinction is drawn between a capitalist state and a workers’ state. Even more strangely, and in a sure sign of development towards anarchism, “the state” is counterposed to “society”, instead of being seen as a condensation of society’s class contradictions serving the interests of the dominant (here capitalist) class. This is not to claim that the Commune would deny that the state is a weapon in the hands of the capitalists; of course they don’t. The point is that their position is utterly incoherent, much like that of open anarchists.

Marxists want, in place of the capitalist state, a workers’ state – a genuinely democratic state resting on the self-organised power of the working class and its allies – as the beginning of the transition to a fully classless, and therefore stateless, communist society. Communism will mean a society without a state; but in the here and now, we do not champion “society” against “the state” (except in terms of defending democratic rights against state encroachment). We want to overthrow existing class relations at every level, from the workplace up to the state, to establish workers’ power and democracy throughout society. While the existing, capitalist state is certainly not “a vehicle to achieve socialism”, a workers' state, or international federation of workers' states, will be, in that sense.

3. The motion implies indifference to gradations of ownership and control short of socialist self-administration by the working class. If the proposers take their own words seriously, why are they opposed to privatisation? Does it not matter if the NHS, Post Office, council housing etc are privatised, since they are already – no dispute here – state-capitalist enterprises? Would it not be a (small) victory if the railways were renationalised, even without workers’ and passengers’ control?

Even the blatantly bureaucratic and capitalist form of state intervention represented by the Brown government's partial bank nationalisations has had real consequences: for instance, allowing the Government to force the banks to pass on a cut in interest rates, ie establishing a (very small) degree of (very limited) democratic control over otherwise unaccountable institutions. Socialists should not idealise or talk up such changes, but nor should we deny their existence.

For sure, the capitalist state “cannot be relied upon to act as a protective shield against capital”. But the implication here seems to be that we should be indifferent to struggles against the dismantling of the welfare state and public services, since these are no real protection against the force of exploitation and the ravages of the market anyway. If that is not what the comrades mean, they should be more careful with their phrase-mongering.

It is certainly necessary to expose the limits and nature of capitalist state ownership and to counterpose, firstly, democratic control of each industry and service by its workers and users and, beyond that and as an extension of it, genuine socialist planning by a workers’ state. The Commune has nothing to teach the AWL on that score. (For instance, we were central to organising the very successful speaker tour with a worker from the worker-occupied and controlled Zanon ceramics factory in Argentina in 2006.) That no more implies abstention from struggles over privatisation than opposition to the wages system implies abstention from wage battles.

4. The motion calls for the LRC to campaign for “genuine social ownership organised on the basis of workers’ self-management, a system of participatory democracy based on the sovereignty of those who produce the goods and services in society”. But Marxists are not just for workers’ self-management (ie presumably in a given workplace or enterprise) – we are for workers’ power throughout the economy and society. The Commune evidently think that “workers' self-management” is a particularly revolutionary demand, far more radical than “workers' control”; they fail to see that it can have a reformist significance if not linked to the fight for overall working-class power.

Moreover, simply demanding the “sovereignty of those who produce the goods and services in society” is not a communist, but a syndicalist position. We are not simply in favour of workers at the workplace level deciding everything: workers’ democracy has to be broader and more complex than that, involving both input from service-users, local communities and so on and planning to coordinate different sections of the economy. To be fully realised, workers’ control has to be established beyond the workplace; moreover, while it is a necessary element of socialist democracy, it is not the only element of it.

Why did the LRC pass this nonsense? Unfortunately, the motions were taken in baskets, meaning that there was no opportunity to speak against the Commune text. Without a contribution from the AWL to stick a spur in the wheels, the delegates were happy enough to pass something that sounded left-wing, no matter how much it contradicted other motions passed (eg the statist demands of Socialist Appeal). Any amount of windy rhetoric is fine; it was only when something concrete, namely the AWL’s call for independent working-class electoral candidates and a fight for a workers' government, came up that the Labour loyalists roused themselves from their hand-raising slumber to denounce it.

Hal Draper once noted that anarchists cover up their incoherence with a lot of meaningless rhetoric about Freedom with a capital F. “Workers’ self-management” seems to play the same role for the “Group of International Communists”.

For more on the debates at the LRC conference, see here.


Submitted by Daniel_Randall on Wed, 03/12/2008 - 23:10

David Broder has been to Bauen! The "GIC" site has more instances of the phrase "workers' management" on it! Trotsky said something a bit dubious once! Some people (not the AWL, as it happens, but hey; why let facts get in the way of sectarianism?) "defend the status quo" in anti-privatisation campaigns. The obvious conclusion? The AWL must be statist authoritarians!

It's risible.

One might point that David was actually a member of the AWL when he went to Argentina, but reminding people of this would obviously complicate his project to expose to the world the authoritarian statism at the heart of AWL's politics; because surely, we would never send one of our members to visit worker-controlled factories? Aren't we all too busy in low-level anti-privatisation campaigns that are about defending the status quo?

Of course the "GIC" website has more articles about "workers' management" on it; an abstract, fetishisation of this concept (which David clearly doesn't really understand) was the cooked-up "political" basis for his split with the AWL, so it's natural that he'd make a lot of noise about it on his new site. If he really wants to argue that the AWL is essentially a force for statist, old Labour perspectives in the workers' movement then he's going to have to do a lot better than competing with us on the basis of the occurences of a particular phrase on our website.

The idea that the AWL's workers' government position is actually an advocacy of a leftish Labour government based on the existing capitalist state is so laughable as to be almost beneath response. We've made it clear that the whole point about the slogan is that it expresses a struggle for a government that relies for its power not on the existing capitalist state but on independent workers' organisations (trade unions, workers' parties and ultimately workers' councils).

The people who actually do want a mildly leftish Labour government based on the existing state are the inert, timid Labour "leftists" in the LRC; the very people who voted against the AWL's motion to LRC conference because it was too radical, but voted for David's abstractions.

Sacha's analogy with Draper's critique of anarchists is spot-on; for them, an almost mystical conception of "freedom" is the veil behind which they hide their politics' complete lack of substance. For David, it's "workers' management."

Try harder.

Submitted by AWL on Wed, 03/12/2008 - 21:47

1. Socialist ownership will involve state ownership
Yes, it is well-established in the Marxist tradition that the establishment of genuine social ownership - socialist ownership, if you like - will involve nationalisation by a workers' state. (The establishment, not the final development; not be limited to, but involve.) That was Marx's view. In fact he more than once used the term workers' state, though not in the quotation I cited (the reason being that it was a founding document for a very broad united front and he was being tactful/circumspect). But eg from the Communist Manifesto (yes, it's underdeveloped, but no reason to think he ever changed his mind fundamentally; rather he elaborated his view):

"The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the state, i.e., of the proletariat organized as the ruling class..."

Could you explain to us, please, whether you reject the notion of a workers' state? And if so, what is your alternative? Call it a state or not, what is the alternative to ownership of productive wealth being vested in the organised body representing the political power of the workers and their allies? In which case, isn't it better to be clear?

2. Workers' control vs workers' self-management?
David's pedantic point about "workers' control" being limited to "blocking decisions made by other people" is just silly. This is just definitional fiat. It would be more accurate and logical to say that "workers' self-management" means only self-management in individual workplaces. But let us not play around with words. The AWL is clearly not just in favour of workers being able to block decisions made by capitalist/bureaucratic managers. That is not our disagreement with the Commune. Our disagreement is that their position, in so far as it is coherent, is essentially syndicalist.

3. The state and society
You deny you are "championing society against the state". But your text implies that you are demanding "ownership by society" in place of "ownership by the state". On a certain very broad brushstroke level, I suppose that's ok. But in general it can only be confusing. After all, privatisation could also be described (and has been by the right) as restoring ownership by society (bits of society). You mean society as a whole? But then how is this to come about without intervention by organised political power - a different sort of organised political power, sure, but still political power? Either you are championing "society against the state", or you are just playing with rhetoric. (Probably a bit of both: you seem to adopt positions by saying something ludicrous to sound impressive and then justifying it to yourself retrospectively.)

4. Workers' state
..."is apparently counterposed to direct workers' self-management and self-rule"? Why? According to who?
Who is going to tell the shoe workers what to do? Well, how about the other workers and citizens with whom they are working out a democratic plan?

5. Defending the status quo in eg anti-cuts campaigns?
This is a valid criticism of some, but not one that can be levelled at the AWL, so, erm... Your point about Northern Rock being worse since nationalisation is such a commonplace for us that it's sort of sad that you cite it so triumphantly.

6. Agency, workers' government etc
Erm, yes, we do aim some of our demands at the existing government - no shame about that. When you say "Don't carry out this attack!", of course it's aimed the people currently in power; the same is true of minor demands for positive reforms. But of course there is no sense in posing wider demands as something aimed at the existing, bourgeois government. That is where the idea of fighting for a workers' government which you find so scandalous comes in.
If you were not so shockingly ignorant and ill-educated (and self-satisfiedly so), you would understand that the whole point about the workers' government is that it is not based on the capitalist state machine but on mass organisations of the working class in struggle. Why not just talk about a workers' state? Because the majority of the working class is not yet communist, not yet read to carry out a revolution and destroy the capitalists' state machine; workers' government is a "bold tactical compromise", but it is a stage on the way to, not an alternative to, revolution and civil war. In fact, the debates in the Communist International which developed the slogan elicited clear statements to this effect, for instance from Zinoviev at the 4th Congress (no, David, I'm not quoting Zinoviev as an authority on everything):
"Woe to us if we ever allow the suggestion to creep up in our propaganda that the workers' government is a necessary step, to be achieved peacefully as a period of semi-organic construction which may take the place of civil war etc. If such views exist among us, we must combat them resolutely."

7. Draper
(Sigh...) read what the article actually says. It basic argument is that there is no quarrel with Draper's moral-political intention, or with his use of the slogan as a literary flourish, but that in scientific terms and as a general political slogan it is confusing. Clearly such nuance is beyond you though.
Read the article here.

And no, David, I don't think you would say you are against workers holding power throughout society, any more than you would deny that the existing state is a weapon in the hands of the capitalists. The point is that your ruminations are INCOHERENT NONSENSE.


Submitted by Mark on Thu, 04/12/2008 - 12:45

Ah yes, I remember. He ran off without putting whatever position he had at the time to the AWL NC. Bit spineless that.
Nevertheless, nice to hear from you David. A timely reminder that pomposity does not equal profundity. I'll leave others to debate whatever contradictions you currently hold. Just wanted to say hello.

Submitted by paulm on Thu, 04/12/2008 - 20:33

Did Broder argue any of this stuff inside the AWL?

The above account of how the LRC "supported" the Commune's syndo amendment is a rather different picture than the "first time if 40 years that the lefT has supported" ...... found on Broder's site.

A visit to Argentina? Nice work if you can get it.

Submitted by AWL on Tue, 09/12/2008 - 19:52

Two preliminary points:

a. The short version of the programme is not the only thing the AWL is going to produce. We are also producing a pamphlet (over Christmas), which will clarify things quite a bit.

b. When David was in the AWL, and on its NC, he not only never proposed any alternative policy on these issues, but never even wrote a document about them. He then resigned without having an argument or even discussion about them. What do you think that says?

1. Socialism from below? This is getting dull. The point of Martin's article is that using the phrase "socialism from below" (or, if you're more pretentious, "communism from below") doesn't clarify everything - because, for instance, Owen's movement was both "from above" (philanthropic) and "from below" (attempting to transform society through the self-multiplying of grassroots communities, without the conquest of power at a society-wide level); while the revolutionary wing of the Chartists were both "from above" (ie seeking working-class state power) and "from below" (based on the self-liberation of the masses).
Clearly we don't think the concept is worthless; if we did, why would give "Two souls of socialism" to many of our new members and contacts as one of the first things to read? But we're trying to approach Draper critically, rather than clinging to the phrase "socialism from below" like some kind of holy relic.

2. No, our "interpretation" of a workers' government is not a government based on the existing army, state bureaucracy etc. The programme doesn't spell this out clearly enough? Actually, I think it's pretty clear - "a government based on and accountable to the labour movement" - perhaps we should tweak it; in any case, the pamphlet will spell it out in more detail; but more importantly, you are wilfully misunderstanding us. A workers' government's executive arm would not be the bourgeois state - that is the whole point. Read the numerous discussions from the 1970s and early 1980s which we've republished on our website.
Worth noting that your motion to the LRC says nothing about a workers' militia either.

3. "The majority of the working-class doesn't have the politics of the 'workers' government' either, and the slogan has no practical or concrete application. Who is to form this government? How? In any case, better to win people to your own politics rather than pretend to want something you don't because you think they're 'not ready'."
I suppose I was thinking about 1920s Germany; clearly I should have said "the majority of those activists who want to get rid of the existing bourgeois government and replace it with some kind of working-class government, let alone the majority of those activists who want to mobilise the working class to fight back, is not yet communist". Which is the point: it is not hiding our views - we hardly hide our views about wanting a workers' state! - it is a tactical compromise which could open up new possibilities. Who would form it? Clearly, it's an algebraic formula; we are not in a position to schematise at the moment. But fighting in the labour movement for the idea of rallying to win a government based on and accountable to the movement is the key thing.
I notice you don't make propagand in the movement for soviets and revolution; rather you take refuge in abstractions about workers' self-management.

4. "Northern Rock: well, you brought it up Sacha, don't be so offended."
Sorry, I don't know what you mean. We regularly refer to the reality in Northern Rock, *eg see the front page article of the current issue of Solidarity*. Don't know what else to say really.

5. "Daniel: I was not 'sent' to Argentina by the AWL. I claim no special knowledge, but I was responding to Sacha's jibe that 'we have nothing to learn from you'."
We have nothing to learn from the Commune as a group about workers' control and workers' self-liberation; not "we had nothing to learn from David Broder after his trip about the facts of what was going on in Argentina". Come on. And I'm sure you wouldn't claim that you organised the Zanon speaker tour.

6. If all it meant was that the shareholders and dividends were eliminated (ie it didn't involve a Northern Rock style attack on the working class - which is very unlikely), would it be a victory if the railways were renationalised? Would it be a victory if we eliminated PFI projects in the NHS and the money wasted on them was spent on patient care and health workers' wages? I'm not saying would we be satisfied, hail it etc? But would it be a (small) step forward? Answer the question, please.


Submitted by Clive on Wed, 10/12/2008 - 13:01

"In 1970s and 1980s government the AWL (SO) also called for "a government based on and accountable to the labour movement". The problem is, that is abstaining from saying anything about the state, bureaucracy, the armed forces, etc., etc."

What on earth are you talking about? You might like to read, for instance, the pamphlet on the miners' strike, which has quite a lot to say on all these things.

Submitted by AWL on Wed, 10/12/2008 - 15:03

From Socialism and Democracy (1982)
"A serious working class leader, faced with the facts of history and with the personal experience of the British armed forces' reaction to labour militancy and the election of a Labour government in 1974, would reach Foot's conclusion above not rhetorically but in deadly earnest. He or she would campaign for the disbandment of the armed forces and the creation of a workers' militia."


Submitted by Daniel_Randall on Thu, 11/12/2008 - 01:29

I don't have the time to deal with the politics of this debate at the moment (I think Sacha and Clive have clearly dealt with the tiresome accusation that the AWL is bureaucratic/old Labourite/statist), but I want to take up David's sideswipes at the group; the organisation he so heroically managed to extricate himself from (without anything resembling a struggle).

The truth is that people leave political organisations all the time. Some for good reasons, some for less good. David's fell somewhere between "less good" and "made up."

Unfortunately the AWL, like all left groups, tends to have a quite level of transcience in terms of its membership. Is that a problem? Sure. But the fact that a few people (and let's be clear; it is less than half a dozen people that David's talking about) have left (or scaled back their level of activity) recently is no more proof of some burgeoning malaise within the organisation (with David would presumably like to imagine he precipitated) than the fact that 100+ people haven't left and have no intention of doing so proves that there's nothing about the way we organise that could be improved.

As for accepting reality, I myself have quite accepted the reality that David Broder has left the AWL. I came to terms with it some time ago (the minute he summarily announced it on our internal e-list after failing to even attempt to organise a fight around his politics, in fact) and have been living happily with the reality ever since.

Submitted by AWL on Thu, 11/12/2008 - 14:01

1. Tom: "The AWL Plan for the crisis is a militant form of social democracy". No, not unless you think any program which raises reform demands, rather than simply counterposing revolution to reform, is social democratic. The program raises large-scale nationalisation, workers' control/management, social planning. It advocates a government based on mass working-class mobilisation and implicitly counterposes this to the concept of a more left-wing bourgeois government (even one based on a workers' party) carrying out reforms. It advocates mass working-class action to win our demands.

Yes, in the first instance, workers' control means the ability to check decisions by capitalist management/a capitalist state. This is not a necessary stage, but it is a likely first stage; it can be developed into genuine workers' management and self-management. "Workers' control" is often used as a generic term to cover the spectrum. Clearly that is what we mean, not "We advocate a veto for workers, but for heaven's sake not workers' self-management!" Stop pretending there is anything significant about the various choice of terms.

Yes, we need to smash the state and replace it with a "soviet"-type structure. Do you reject any nationalisation until that has been achieved? In which case, you should logically oppose reforms full stop.

What about the possibility, quite likely in a country like Britain, that a workers' government will come to power which does not represent the final, stabilised form of working-class power, but a transitional step on the way? You seem unwilling to even begin to consider these issues.

"At one point it seems as if Gordon Brown is still with us": erm, or not...

2. David: "I can "understand" perfectly well that you have an ambivalent relationship towards the (existing or future) state bureaucracy." This is just nonsense. Do you mean

a. The fact that we sometimes advocate state intervention even under the existing, capitalist state, while always seeking to expand the sphere of workers'/democratic control, preaching distrust in the character of the existing state power and fighting to replace it with a workers' government and a workers' state? If so, guilty. This is also Marx's approach: eg see "Political Indifferentism", in which he mocks anarchists who would rather workers don't learn to read than that they learn in schools run by the capitalist state.

b. The idea that we see the existing state as a vehicle for socialist transformation? If so, this is just rubbish.

c. The idea that we want to create a new kind of state in which we/a revolutionary party become a new ruling class based on state bureaucracy? That seems to be the underlying implication; it is an old anti-communist idea, given full vent by eg Bakunin in his attacks on Marx.


Submitted by AWL on Thu, 11/12/2008 - 15:00

I do mean "comradely" in the sense that I regard David as a comrade in the socialist movement. Why is that in contradiction with ripping apart his flimsy ideas?

If David and Chris had any political self-respect, they would have fought for their views inside the AWL, *even if they thought they were going to lose*. Firstly, to try to win the organisation against the odds; secondly, to clarify their views; thirdly, to try to take people with them - which they spectacularly failed to do.

What do you think it says about a political activist that they exist in a group with only very mild criticisms, proposing no alternative ideas or plans etc etc, and then suddenly leave prior to launching sharp attacks on the organisation? Broder obviously felt strongly enough about the AWL to a) stand for its national committee and b) stand for its executive committee (the NC chose not to elect him). This was shortly before his departure! Yet he proposed no documents or anything to the NC.

Broder talks about people leaving the AWL (despite the fact only a couple have left and far more have joined recently) because he is upset about his failure to take people with him. Well, David, you might have been more successful if you'd actually tried to engage with comrades politically, rather than just writing a pretentious resignation letter and going off in a strop - but of course that would have meant having to defend both your ideas and your plan to resign.

Anyway, let's get back to the discussion about the substantive political issues. I will post more later.


Submitted by AWL on Fri, 12/12/2008 - 15:21

Firstly, Tom, thank you for your relatively helpful comments. (Btw, are you a member of the Commune? It's not clear from what you write.)

1. I don't accept your claim that, in the plan, nationalisation is not dynamically linked to the question of workers' control and democracy. Eg

"We need access to all company accounts so we can challenge the bosses' version of what is and is not "affordable" and determine who is responsible for the crisis... Fight for workers’ control at every level, from the smallest workplace to the biggest multinational corporation. Nationalise the giant industrial and service companies, and use their resources for a programme of social reconstruction."

It may be that the wording could be improved in places (and certainly our forthcoming pamphlet will expand on all this a great deal), but your basic claim seems to me fallacious.

2. We confuse "workers' state" and "workers' government"?

I want to quote fairly extensively from documents produced by forerunners of the AWL in 1977 and 1980.

"What form of government would correspond to such a situation of limbo in society, of dual power, of struggle to decide definitely who rules, proletariat or bourgeoisie? What slogan *summarises*, in relation to the government of society, these demands?
"The International-Communist League fights for the dictatorship of the proletariat. Yes, but that is a formula that defines the political regime of the victorious proletariat in more or less secure possession of state power. Such a regime is virtually inconceivable, unless a revolutionary communist party already leads a majority of the working class - certainly inconceviable as a stable consolidated regime, rather than a Paris Commune-type experience.
"Such a party does not exist: it must be created. Yet deep social and political crises of the bourgeois order, and revolutionary working-class mobilisations, can well erupt before there is a revolutionary party in a position to lead the majority of the working class to seize power.
"In Britain, with its resilient and deep-rooted established labour movement, it is doubly probable that the working class will enter the struggle for power, not neatly united behind a Marxist party, but, on the contrary, dragging along with it all manner of reformist and bureaucratic elements.
"Do we refrain from putting forward a government slogan until we can form the government? But the *logic* of the whole chain of demands leads inexorably to the question of the form of government that will tolerate, carry out or endorse the various demands. We need an 'algebraic' government formula.
"... revolutionaries will not retreat into sectarian pedantry, advising workers to hold back until they recognise revolutionary leadership. Nor will they *simply* propose the 'dictatorship of the proletariat' - thus evading the problem of the immediate next steps in struggle.
"Revolutionaries will fight for a *'Workers' Government'*."
(International-Communist League manifesto, 1977)

"Whether the next Labour government [this in 1980] will be a more or less radical new instalment of the sort of Labour governments we have had this century, or not, will be determined by two things:
"- By whether a real attack is made on the wealth and entrenched power of the ruling class; and,
"- by whether or not it rests at least in part on the organisations of the working class instead of on those of the state bureaucracy, the military, and Parliament - that is, whether in response to the direct demands of the working class it can do what we want, or endorse what we do (taking over factories, for example) without being a captive of the state machine.
"The working class itself would not only serve and protect its own interests by organising itself outside the rhythms, norms, and constraints of Parliamentary politics, expanding its factory shop stewards' committees, combine committees, Trades Councils, etc., and creating new action committees, to be an industrial power that could as necessary dispense with the Parliamentarians.
"The Brighton/Blackpool decisions to control MPs and to give the majority of votes on who shall be prime minister if Labour has a majority in Parliament to the CLPs and trade unions (if we are not cheated) could open the way to a new kind of 'Labour' government - a workers' government -instead of a government of the trade union party which merely administers capitalism according to capitalism's own laws.
"Revolutionary Marxists believe that there must be a socialist revolution - a clean sweep of the capitalists and the establishment of the state power of the working class, leading to the setting-up of a workers' democracy. The big majority of the labour movement don't yet share our views. But we have a common need and determination to oppose and fight the Tory government and to oppose any moves, even by the Labour Party in government, to load the cost of capitalist decay and crisis onto the shoulders of the working class.
"If we cannot agree on a root-and-branch transformation (or on precisely how to go about getting it), we can at least agree on a whole range of measures to protect ourselves and to cut down and control the capitalists."
(From Socialist Organiser, October 1980)

(Note the point about an "algebraic" government formula. By 1980, the formula had become less algebraic and more concrete due to the struggles which after 1978 opened up in the Labour Party and the unions. Today, of course, it is algebraic in the extreme due to the weakening and bureaucratisation of the labour movement. I also think the 1980 article answers the notion that a "workers' government" could mean "accountability to the TUC General Secretary".)

A "workers' government" would be the preparation for, or rather a step in, the establishment of a "workers' state" - if you like, the independent nucleus of a workers' state that had not ***yet*** fully institutionalised itself by smashing the capitalist state and *replacing* it with a state based on the workers' militia etc. Of course, there is nothing inevitable about such a stage: in Russia, for instance, there was never an intermediate "workers' government"; the October revolution created the Bolshevik/Soviet workers' government and the Soviet state at the same time. And yet, earlier in 1917, Lenin had proposed the creation of a Menshevik/SR coalition government based on the soviets - a sort of version of the "workers' government" idea, I suppose.

Clearly a workers' government would be highly unstable, leading to either the working class taking full power, or collapsing and giving way to a bourgeois government.

3. That it is vital to put forward such an idea seems to me to be shown in the negative by the Commune's proposals to the LRC. The great majority in the LRC have an essential bourgeois notion of their ideal government - a left-wing version of previous Labour governments, resting not on the organised working class but on the capitalist state machine. Getting them to adopt abstractions about workers' self-management doesn't challenge this basic problem; it is something they feel they can integrate quite easily into their basically bourgeois conception of government: an old-style Labour government with a bit of workers' control (in the limited sense!) in the workplace. "Self-management" gives such notions an appropriately left-wing gloss. (I'm not claiming that this is the Commune's conception, but rather that their/your incoherent proposals do little to challenge the basic conceptions of the LRC majority.)

4. As for Tom's

"But the "workers' government" of the AWL, we can see, would not be ["the proletariat organised as the ruling class"]: the capitalists are still in basic control of industry, there are still rich and poor, etc."

Firstly, as I hope I have made clear, a "workers' government" would represent the working class *beginning* to organise itself as the ruling class. Secondly, this is just confused.

*Immediately* after a revolution which established a workers' state, even without the intermediary stage of a "workers' government"-type formation, there might still be at least elements of capitalist control of basic industry surviving. Workers' struggle would of course have made massive inroads into this control, through strikes, workplace occupations, establishment of perhaps very extensive workers' control etc - but it would only be with the establishment of workers' political power and the expropriation of these enterprises that capitalist control would finally and definitively be abolished and replaced by comprehensive workers' management and planning (actually elements of capitalist influence might remain even after that, but let us leave that aside). The same goes for the existence of "rich and poor" - there might well still be rich and poor prior to expropriation and massive redistribution by a workers' state.

How far given reforms would have been won by prior to the workers taking power is an open, dynamic question, obviously. As Lenin put it:

"We must combine the revolutionary struggle against capitalism with a revolutionary programme and tactics on all democratic demands: a republic, a militia, the popular election of officials, equal rights for women, the self-determination of nations, etc. While capitalism exists, these demands - all of them - can only be accomplished as an exception, and even then in an incomplete and distorted form. Basing ourselves on the democracy already achieved, and exposing its incompleteness under capitalism, we demand the overthrow of capitalism, the expropriation of the bourgeoisie, as a necessary basis both for the abolition of the poverty of the masses and for the complete and all-round institution of all democratic reforms. **Some of these reforms will be started before the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, others in the course of that overthrow, and still others after it. The social revolution is not a single battle, but a period covering a series of battles over all sorts of problems of economic and democratic reform, which are consummated only by the expropriation of the bourgeoisie.**"
(The Revolutionary Proletariat and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination, 1916; my emphasis)

In other words, comrade, you seem to think you've stumbled on some great admission of 'stagism' by the AWL - a workers' government would leave capitalist control of industry intact, refrain from destroying inequality etc. But that's not the case at all.


Submitted by AWL on Fri, 12/12/2008 - 15:29

Tom: "Large-scale social ownership, when we achieve it, will also be state ownership initially" - maybe, maybe not. Except in a semantic sense, who knows? e.g. when revolutions in Hungary and Iran socialised ownership, they did not do it via the state. They smashed the state, and directly instituted social ownership.

Sacha: This is unbelievably confused. These revolutions smashed the state (the Stalinist regime in Hungary, the Shah's capitalist regime in Iran) and began to establish workers' control and even management over production. They could not complete this process precisely because the workers - for different reasons - were not able to go forward and create their own state which could expropriate these means of production and integrate the workers' control in the workplace and bits of society into a society-wide workers' plan. (To be fair this was at least partly because they fell under the guns of the Russian army and the Islamic Republican Party.) They did not "directly institute social ownership" at all: rather they failed to institute social ownership because they failed to create workers' states (or even workers' governments).

Btw, this is a classic example of using "state" generically without reference to what kind of state - you refer to workers smashing "the state" (ie the Stalinist/capitalist state) and counterpose this to using a workers' state to expropriate capital and place it under social ownership, when of course they are not counterposed at all.

Tom: "no distinction is drawn between a capitalist state and a workers’ state." No, but they don't accept your definition or conception of a "workers state".

Sacha: Tom, in the motion to the LRC, "state" is used generically. I don't see how you can deny that. In addition, it's not clear to me whether Broder et al do even accept the concept of a workers' state. They have not stated a clear position on this (as on so many things).

Tom: "implies indifference to gradations of ownership and control short of socialist self-administration by the working class". an element of truth in this, but I think that's more about the motion than the authors' broad politics.

Sacha: Well, I think the sloppy drafting has given vent to underlying problems, namely ultimatism and an anarchist attitude to the capitalist state. If you can have a fight with them about this, that would be good.

Tom: "To be fully realised, workers’ control has to be established beyond the workplace; moreover, while it is a necessary element of socialist democracy, it is not the only element of it." Yeah, but no one thinks otherwise, as per my comment above.

Sacha: And yet the Commune motion implies otherwise, setting as its goal "genuine social ownership organised on the basis of workers’ self-management, a system of participatory democracy based on the sovereignty of those who produce the goods and services in society”. Again, I don't see how you can deny this is a anarcho-syndicalist position.

Submitted by AWL on Sat, 13/12/2008 - 00:31

The first thing to note is that the Commune (like the Socialist Party, interestingly) has made no effort whatsoever to produce a workers' response to the crisis that can be fought for in the labour movement. Instead it takes refuge in warming abstractions about workers' self-management.

Point by point:

1. "Yes, Sacha, that's right, as the Russian tanks were mowing down the Hungarian workers, I'm sure the latter wished that they had followed your organisational advice. No doubt, as they were being butchered en masse, they also realised that they ought to have set up a party..."
This is classic anarchist-style inverse patronising bullshit. "The heroic workers got shot down - and you tell them they should have had a revolutionary party! Who are you to say that?" If a revolutionary party had existed in Hungary, it would have massively strengthened the possibility of the Hungarian workers winning, consolidating their power and beginning a revolutionary wave throughout Eastern Europe. I'm sure that most of the heroic class fighters who went down before the Russian barrage did not think that a revolutionary socialist organisation was necessary - but that is part of the tragedy.

2. No, David, I didn't say that you had a worked out, explicit, self-proclaimed anarcho-syndicalist programme. I said that some of your positions are anarcho-syndicalist in logic. This is a political criticism, not abuse.

3. Are you in favour of creating a workers' state? You repeatedly dodge the question.

4. "I am also not merely indifferent to privatisation." Then you shouldn't use such loose phrasing in your resolutions, implying that privatisation is a matter of indifference.

5. Our pamphlet on the workers' plan will go into a lot more detail, including on the question of the state. The reason that our plan doesn't discuss these questions is that not every resolution has to discuss every question - particularly not an immediate response to mobilise workers against the crisis on a united front basis. A general strike to support the miners and beat the Tories in 84-5 would also have posed the question of a workers' militia etc; but that doesn't mean we included the call for a workers' militia in every resolution calling for a general strike (which doesn't imply, of course, that you wouldn't talk about it, write about it, propagandise for it etc at the same time).

6. Yes, a workers' government of the type under discussion would have to, relatively quickly, either institutionalise itself to create a workers' state, or fall. That's fine: agreed. Why does it follow that posing a governmental slogan for the united front is wrong? You agree, I imagine, that we can work with reformist workers to raise demands to defend the class and go on the offensive to win reforms; the logical conclusion of this is to pose a governmental slogan, for a government of struggle, a government of the united front. Clearly "we need revolution, we need soviets" is not this slogan (again, this doesn't mean we don't say it at the same time, fight to win a majority for it etc); that's where the "bold tactical compromise" of "workers' government" comes in.

7. "Why did the AWL vote against the LRC staging a series of discussions on workers' self-management?" Because it was part of a crappy semi-anarchist motion which we didn't agree with. Is that really so difficult to understand?

8. David, you can't dodge the fact that, having recently been elected to the AWL NC and stood for the EC (yes, you were nominated by someone else, but you accepted the nomination!), and having proposed no alternative policy on these issues, let alone documents to the NC etc, you resigned without a fight, without discussions, without anything. Aren't you embarrassed by this? I'm not surprised you're not willing to discuss it any further!!


Submitted by AWL on Sat, 13/12/2008 - 14:20

No time for a full reply now (over the weekend some time), but a few quick comments.

The idea that we would have opposed the Commune motion whatever it said, out of sectarianism, is just self-evidently not true. Firstly, because we have made our sharp disagreements with sections of it very clear (presumably you're not claiming that we cooked all this up in order to disagree with you on principle). Secondly, because that's not the AWL's record. We have a long tradition, including during your involvement, of combining sharp political criticism of other leftists with cooperation with and critical support for them when necessary, ie the opposite of sectarianism. For instance our critical support for the SWP and other left-wingers against the right wing in NUS elections where we were not standing, despite their outrageous sectarianism towards us (a stance you opposed, I recall); our protest against the temporary suspension of Ken Livingstone by an ethics committee after the "concentration camp" scandal; and our championing of a wide variety of left-wingers against state repression. The AWL is simply not sectarian in the way you allege (or any way, I'd argue).

Meanwhile, some quotes from Marx ("Conspectus on Bakunin's Statism and Anarchy")

"...the proletariat, instead of struggling sectionally against the economically privileged class, has attained a sufficient strength and organization to employ general means of coercion in this struggle."

" long as the other classes, especially the capitalist class, still exists, so long as the proletariat struggles with it (for when it attains government power its enemies and the old organization of society have not yet vanished), it must employ forcible means, hence governmental means."

"If Mr Bakunin only knew something about the position of a manager in a workers' cooperative factory, all his dreams of domination would go to the devil. He should have asked himself what form the administrative function can take on the basis of this workers' state, if he wants to call it that."

And from "Critique of the Gotha Programme":

"Between capitalist and communist society there lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat."
(A 'state form' which he also identifies with the process of "converting the state from an organ superimposed upon society into one completely subordinate to it", ie the beginning of the transition to a stateless society.)

NB I'm not arguing that because Marx said it, it must be right. Rather I'm arguing that in opposing the notion of a workers' state, and in your superstitious fear of the word "state", you are departing significantly from the classical Marxist tradition - something you need to explain. In my view, this is a departure *in the direction of* anarchism.

Lastly, Paul was arguing that mechanisms like mandate, recall of delegates, limitation of payment to a worker's wage would allow us to check the growth of post-revolutionary bureaucracy in a consolidating *workers' state* - not that these tools can magically turn iron into gold through the peaceful transformation of a capitalist state. (Which is not to say that - until we have and in the process of developing workers' committees, soviets etc - we shouldn't try to impose these features on bourgeois democratic institutions too, as in Trotsky's programme for radicalising bourgeois democracy in France 1934.)


Submitted by AWL on Sat, 13/12/2008 - 14:36

Also, David's rant against the notion of a revolutionary party should not be allowed to distract from the original dispute over the Hungarian revolution. Tom wrote:

"...when revolutions in Hungary and Iran socialised ownership, they did not do it via the state. They smashed the state, and directly instituted social ownership."

And I replied:

"These revolutions smashed the state (the Stalinist regime in Hungary, the Shah's capitalist regime in Iran) and began to establish workers' control and even management over production. They could not complete this process precisely because the workers - for different reasons - were not able to go forward and create their own state which could expropriate these means of production and integrate the workers' control in the workplace and bits of society into a society-wide workers' plan. (To be fair this was at least partly because they fell under the guns of the Russian army and the Islamic Republican Party.) They did not "directly institute social ownership" at all: rather they failed to institute social ownership because they failed to create workers' states (or even workers' governments).

"Btw, this is a classic example of using "state" generically without reference to what kind of state - you refer to workers smashing "the state" (ie the Stalinist/capitalist state) and counterpose this to using a workers' state to expropriate capital and place it under social ownership, when of course they are not counterposed at all."

Submitted by PaulHampton on Sat, 13/12/2008 - 21:26

In reply to by AWL

It’s good that David Broder has changed his tune towards Sacha as a professional revolutionary, though his comments indicate he has syndicalist misgivings about the necessity for a revolutionary party.

However all his huff and puff avoids the substantial political points, propagates more lies about the AWL and demonstrates his palpable ignorance about the history of Marxism.

1) Broder fetishises slogans like workers’ self management (i.e. effectively calling for socialism), as a substitute for relating to the actual crisis and how to develop a working class response. Socialism is the answer, but most workers are not yet prepared to fight for it. The job of Marxists is to connect the struggles around immediate issues with the fight for socialism. That’s what the transitional demands in the AWL’s workers’ plan try to do. Propaganda for workers’ self management, disconnected from the actual situation does not take the working class forward.

2) The LRC resolution failed to clarify anything with the forces involved. Briefing/ Socialist Appeal can vote for abstract phrases about workers’ self management, which mean something completely different to them (e.g. historically Yugoslavia etc, now Venezuela). Without explicitly arguing this out with them, spelling out and clarifying the differences, it is merely a pyrrhic victory.

3) Broder retains his own modes of misrepresentation:
“Your (I mean Paul's, you are not being concrete) argument seems to be that the workers' government could convert the bourgeois state by democratising it from above (recallability, workers' wage etc) rather than disbanding its forces/breaking up the state machine.”

Actually this is simply an amalgam. My comments (recallability, workers' wage etc) were explicitly about a workers’ state and how it would tackle bureaucracy, not about democratising a bourgeois state or even the workers’ government slogan. If the AWL believed “the workers' government could convert the bourgeois state by democratising it from above”, we would be reformists. Nothing we’ve said implies that.

In fact this is all a distraction from the real difference. Broder fails to substantiate his previous slur - about our apparent “ambivalence” towards bureaucracy.

4) Broder continues to show his ignorance.
“Yes, I am in favour of united fronts. I do not however accept that this logically leads to a workers' government…”
If Broder knew anything about the origins of these conceptions in Germany and in the Communist International (1920-22), he would understand they developed together – along with transitional demands, and that the workers' government slogan is the crown of the united front.

Nothing Broder has written contributes to developing a workers’ answer to current crisis. The only thing it clarifies is his evolution towards ultra-leftism.


Submitted by Clive on Thu, 18/12/2008 - 00:49

David, I am genuinely shocked that it's apparently taken you a few weeks to be able to write all this stuff about the AWL wanting a government that uses the bourgeois state, and what have you. What in God's name are you talking about? There are a limited range of possiblities to explain this 'turn to idiotic libel' as I think it might best be described.

1. This is what you believed when you were in the AWL, and are now imputing these views to others.
2. You know perfectly well that nobody in the AWL holds the views you describe.
3. You suffer from an extremely peculiar form of memory loss.
4. You know perfectly well that the AWL doesn't hold the views you describe, but hate the organisation so vehemently that you don't really care so long as you can get in a good polemical boot.

This sort of stuff - "... as the Russian tanks were mowing down the Hungarian workers, I'm sure the latter wished that they had followed your organisational advice. No doubt, as they were being butchered en masse, they also realised that they ought to have set up a party..." is so extraordinarily philistine that I can't quite believe you are the same person I used to have some respect for.

Submitted by AWL on Thu, 18/12/2008 - 01:50

Once again, no time now for a decent reply. For now, let us note the following. Broder writes: "it does not even mention the monarchy and House of Lords."

In fact, our workers' plan says:
"Fight for democracy: abolish the monarchy and the House of Lords, reorganise Britain as a federal republic, put the government under the control of recallable representatives. No official should be paid more than a worker's wage."


(Btw, the title of this comment is a quotation from a Marx article critiquing Bakunin.)

Submitted by Clive on Thu, 18/12/2008 - 21:46

Who on earth - I mean, literally, who on earth including the looniest would-be Leninist sectarians - thinks that the mere existence of a party - magicked from nothing, presumably - would have affected the outcome of the Hungarian revolution? You cannot possibly believe that this is the argument being made.
But the argument that all that matters is overwhelming force - 'lots of tanks and ammunition' - counts against you, too, or for that matter against every single word expended in this or any other debate. If all that matters is that the oppressors have tanks at the end of the day, what's the point of, say, calling for workers' management, or anything else? Or do you, or David, think that just by including more explicit references to the state, and what have you, in literature, we will render the tanks impotent? If I wanted to engage at the same sort of philistine level as David, I could be pretty sarky about that.

The point, which you presumably agree, is that political clarity and foresight, and learning lessons from the past, will be of some use, with any luck, even in the face of tanks.

There might well be arguments against the theory of the party, but that the state, you know, is a state, isn't one of them.

Submitted by Clive on Fri, 19/12/2008 - 00:02

It would be reasonable, David, to 'take [words] at face value' if they are all you have to go on. I can't see how it is reasonable to accuse the AWL of a sort of ultra-primitive ultra-Healyism when you were in the organisation, and either know the accusation is bullshit, or actually were an ultra-primitive ultra-Healyite yourself, and never noticed nobody else was.

What I'm calling philistine is this sort of sneering would-be demagogy about the Hungarian revolution. The point about the tanks was in response to Tom, actually. But it certainly plays against your "... as the Russian tanks were mowing down the Hungarian workers, I'm sure the latter wished that they had followed your organisational advice. No doubt, as they were being butchered en masse, they also realised that they ought to have set up a party..." What advice of yours was it, exactly, which might have prevented the slaughter?

Really, this level of argument is beneath you, or was. And I don't find any of it 'comical'. If only.

Submitted by AWL on Sat, 20/12/2008 - 23:19

Hello comrades,

Sorry to have left this for a while; I've been travelling around and haven't had much access to a computer.

Firstly, a little less preciousness is once again in order, eg if we argue that your positions are incoherent or confused, it doesn't achieve very much to cry "How dare you you say that! I just happen to disagree with you!" (Cf "How dare you say I'm wrong, I just happen to disagree with you!") The point is that we're arguing over the bases of our disagreements, amongst other things.

Anyway, back to the real issues:

Tom: "you don’t only advocate that “the proletariat organised as the ruling class” control the economy. You advocate nationalisation in capitalist society."
Sacha: What would make you think that we don't advocate that "the proletariat organised as the ruling class" control the economy? (Note, btw, that it was me who introduced this useful algebraic definition of a workers' state into the discussion, via the quote from Marx in which he makes clear both his view that large-scale social ownership will necessarily involve expropriation by a state, and his disagreement with those who thought any old state would do.) There is no incompatibility whatsoever between advocating the conquest of power by the working class and *also* advocating, as a more immediate demand, nationalisation within capitalist society, advancing transitional measures such as industrial reorganisation, democratisation and workers' control/management in order to construct the bridge between the two - through a set of "dynamic links", as you put it.
As the Transitional Programme puts it:
"The socialist program of expropriation, i.e., of political overthrow of the bourgeoisie and liquidation of its economic domination, should in no case during the present transitional period hinder us from advancing, when the occasion warrants, the demand for the expropriation of several key branches of industry vital for national existence or of the most parasitic group of the bourgeoisie.
"...The difference between these demands and the muddleheaded reformist slogan of 'nationalization' lies in the following: (1) we reject indemnification; (2) we warn the masses against demagogues of the People’s Front who, giving lip service to nationalization, remain in reality agents of capital; (3) we call upon the masses to rely only upon their own revolutionary strength; (4) we link up the question of expropriation with that of seizure of power by the workers and farmers.
"The necessity of advancing the slogan of expropriation in the course of daily agitation in partial form, and not only in our propaganda in its more comprehensive aspects, is dictated by the fact that different branches of industry are on different levels of development, occupy a different place in the life of society, and pass through different stages of the class struggle. Only a general revolutionary upsurge of the proletariat can place the complete expropriation of the bourgeoisie on the order of the day. The task of transitional demands is to prepare the proletariat to solve this problem."

Tom: "But then again, I’m not sure you are for 'self management' in the sense I’d talk about, a sense counterposed to the all-powerful central revolutionary/transitional government (possibly based defacto not upon the mass working class, but on the subsection of it organised in the Party)?"
Sacha: To determine whether we do actually disagree or not might well require much more extensive and concrete discussion about how we imagine workers' power looking. But in outline: we in the AWL *are* for a workers' "self-managed republic" based on institutions expressing the self-activity of the "mass working class". There might be differences about the role of workers' self-management within the broader framework of workers' democracy (ie our accusations that you tend towards syndicalism); but the difference is not that we think sovereignty should rest with a revolutionary party rather than the broader institutions of working-class democracy. For us there will almost certainly be a dynamic and dialectical relationship between institutions like soviets and the workers' party/parties that 'lead' them; but in normal circumstances, sovereignty in a workers' state would rest in the mass organisations.
As for an "all powerful revolutionary/transitional government", what do you mean? We want to create a government and state based on the institutions of mass workers' democracy. We do not think that workers' power can exist for long or in a thoroughgoing way at only the workplace/community level. You may disagree with this, but implying as I think you are that we want a "revolutionary government" unaccountable to the mass institutions of working-class democracy which usurps power from the working class is not very helpful.
If that's not what you're implying, what do you mean?

You object to - "The unions must fight to impose their policies, against privatisation, for workers' rights, etc., on the Labour government - not advise or lobby Brown, but confront him politically" - on the ground that it implies that Brown etc are potentially on our side. I am honestly at a loss to see how.

Tom: "I also note the amusing inconsistency between Sacha’s point here, and his later assertion that the motion is 'anarcho-syndicalist'. Unless he thinks the LRC is in fact made up of closet anarcho-syndicalists…"
Sacha: No, my point is that the majority of people at the LRC conference were the sort of people who would vote for almost anything that sounded a bit left-wing, as long as it didn't include anything concrete to disrupt their staid Labourite existence (eg support for independent working-class candidates against the Labour Party). The motion's anarcho-syndicalist content tells us something about the politics of the Commune; the fact that the Labourite majority of the LRC voted for it tells us different things both about them and about the character of the motion.

You make a number of good points about Hungary; but I don't see how you can deny that, if the Hungarian workers had been victorious, the means of production in Hungary would passed into the ownership of the state (organised political power, whatever you want to call it) of workers' councils they created, not in some mysterious way be vested "directly" in the workers at the grassroots.
I also don't see how you can possibly claim that in Spain '36-9 the main cause of defeat was "international military-industrial questions"; unlike in Hungary, workers' power there was not smashed by external military intervention - but undermined from within by the Republican-Stalinist counter-revolution. (Also, while 1917-22 was a high point, let us not forget the German revolution of 1923, the British general strike of 1926 and the Chinese revolution of 1925-7, all undermined in increasingly deliberate fashion by the Stalinists.)
Iran: but I'm not claiming that self-management will arise mysteriously out of nowhere when the conquest of power is completed; but rather that it can only be *consummated* when the organisations of workers' self-activity (eg the shoras) become the institutionalised ruling power in society.

Tom: "That multiple routes are available to communist self-management, and I’m challenging you to acknowledge that."
Sacha: Well, up to a point, sure. I think that any route will necessarily involve mass industrial/strike activity, the generation of institutions something like workers' councils, the smashing of the bourgeois state and its replacement by a state in which such councils play a determing role - but the road to the point where that becomes possible is more complicated, hence the workers' government slogan.

Tom: "1. Do post-Fordist economies make the council communist revolutionary formula redundant? I think it’s a valid question, but I’d tend to answer in the negative, partly because the answer of the pre-Fordist Paris Commune."
Sacha: I agree; but surely the Paris Commune isn't the only point of reference. I have a slight concern here that my grip on the meaning of Fordism is looser than it should be, but if it is a development out of mass industrial production, Taylorism etc, then isn't "post-Fordism" rather overstated? Capitalism still means mass production, even if the dominant industries have changed. The ruling class has succeeded in hindering the reorganisation of the working class through contracting out etc, but it's hard to see why that invalidates the possibility of workers' councils in the future - any more than it invalidates the centrality of trade unions now.
The development of General Assemblies etc during recent strikes in France surely points the way towards workplace committees and eventually soviet-type structures emerging when the class struggle reaches higher levels.

Tom: "There’s also the question of whether it’s incompatible with a bourgeois democratic state – which will present electoral levers for the revolutionary class. Again, I think that’s a serious question, but think of – for example – the Seattle (and St. Louis?) general strikes which followed a similar dynamic: the Strike Committee taking over the town prior to any workers’ government. I guess a lot depends how quickly things happen."
Yes, sure, the inter-relationship between electoral pressure and the emergence of institutions of mass working-class democracy will for sure be complex and develop in ways we can't predict. It's not necessarily the case, btw, that a "workers' government" would necessarily rely even in part on workers' representatives in bourgeois democratic institutions - though in a society like Britain it is very likely.
Let us note this example: in 1930s Minneapolis/Minnesota, there was an inter-relationship between pre-established (bourgeois) workers' representation through the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party, the struggle within this party and, most importantly, the mass industrial upsurge organised by the Minneapolis Teamsters. In 1934 the city reached a pitch of virtual civil war, and yet the question of whether there was a party that could represent the workers in bourgeois representative institutions did not lose its relevance but, on the contrary, assumed new importance (which is not to say that this is a preordained model).

Tom: "Of the points that follow in this post, one or two are essentially 'I will choose to believe that David and Chris believe the worst possible implications I can draw out of the motion, even though they specifically deny this, including in the discussion above.'"
Sacha: This is very unfair. Reread the original article which launched this discussion. I think it is very sharp and clear in its critique. If David and Chris choose to deny the obvious inferences of what they wrote, then that simply demonstrates the need for them to clarify their thinking.

Tom: "I asked a question about what you mean by “accountability to the labour movement”. I understand that you don’t mean “accountable to Brendan Barber”, even though you’ve got to be careful about that implication, or rather implications in between that and what you do mean. The question was whether you think there’s ever been such accountability in (say) an advanced industrial bourgeois democracy. When was this, and what was it like? I mean, if there’s never been such a thing, it makes it sound like a rather bolder tactical compromise than the workers councils, which at least have a concrete record of existing."
Sacha: The classic example is the "workers' governments" formed in Saxony and Thuringia in 1923, as coalitions of the Social Democrats and the Communists which, resting on mass workers' organisations for their power, took a number of revolutionary measures. More generally, you might as well say "A state based on workers' councils has never existed in an advanced industrial bourgeois democracy, therefore we should not advocate it". A workers' government might be based at least in part on workers' councils, eg the the Menshevik-SR government which Lenin advocated in mid-1917. The exact forms which such a formation would involve are difficult to predict, but it would most certainly involve mass forms of workers' self-organisation growing out of the workplace, otherwise how could it possibly be a prelude to the creation of a fully fledged workers' state?
Let us take a concrete example relatively close at hand. In 1978-1980, the democracy struggle in the Labour Party, combined with industrial resistance to Thatcher, posed the question of creating a government that - whatever the exact details - was based on and controlled by the mass institutions of the labour movement, not by parliamentarians operating within the confines of the bourgeois state. The "workers' government" idea expressed this drive. Simply saying "we need workers' councils and a revolution to smash the state", and nothing else, would have been an abdication from the actual struggle taking place. (If the struggle had continued to develop rather than being pushed back, the possibilities of making the formula more concrete would obviously have developed with it, as would the necessity of stressing the limits of a "workers' government".)

Tom: "I also commented above that by mentioning only the unions as organisations of industrial struggle, the Plan gives a rather social democratic impression. So to be clear, do you think that the generation of a workers’ government could come about without a prior massive upsurge in militant labour struggle? And if not, do you think that such struggle can be carried out entirely through the unions?"
Sacha: 1. No, I don't. 2. No, I don't. Perhaps this is an area where the plan could be improved.

Tom: "But I'm sure that the AWL do believe in all those things about whitehall, the army, police and secret services, but they just consider that to be the next bold tactical compromise post "workers government"?"
Sacha: Or not...

Tom: "That doesn't remove the material/historical problem of moving from a workers' government to a workers' state. The problem of bureaucracy in the reformist party and the unions is clearly one. There may have to be alot of propaganda encouraging people to believe in it, and then a lot more encouraging them to switch allegiances... I'm not saying you're not prepared for that, but bares thinking about, no?"
Sacha: Yes, this is an important point. The period in the run up to and during the creation of a workers' government would/should involve a desperate struggle by revolutionaries for hegemony, to be able to move towards the winning of a majority of the working-class to terminate the dual power situation in a revolutionary direction. This would, of course, also involve a struggle in the unions and for influence over the rank-and-file of non or quasi-revolutionary working-class political organisations.

I'd like a reply from David on the differences between his view of "the state" and Marx's.

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