Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Power Question

The Spanish and Russian Revolutions

When I first got involved in "radical" politics, I quickly learned that the Spanish Revolution was the "good" revolution and the Russian Revolution was the "bad" one. While the big names of the "anti-authoritarian" left do a wonderful job of explaining the positive gains in social and property relations during the Spanish Revolution, as well as putting the acts of violence in context, they seem to agree with the Capitalists' version of history regarding the Russian Revolution.

Yes, it is easy to write off such a monumental event if Stalinism is a direct result of "Lenin's vision" and the conflict between Trotsky and Stalin was essentially a conflict of individual personalities. Only understanding the "anti-authoritarian" and Capitalist version of the events, I tended to romanticize the Spanish Revolution (which failed) and had no interest in the Russian Revolution (which succeeded). This didn't allow me to put the our historical situation in its proper context. I, no doubt along with a countless number of others, was setting myself up to expect failure. It is true that both Revolutions were extremely complicated, messy, violent, and full of contradictions; but after reading several accounts of both it is clear the class independent leadership of Lenin and Trotsky, along with the Bolsheviks' willingness to take power, pushed the Russian Revolution forward to success while the class collaborationist leadership during the Spanish Revolution, and their outright refusal to take power, led to its failure.

The "anti-authoritarian" left rightfully wants to distance themselves from the awful degeneration of Stalinism, but in doing so they forfeit the legacy of the greatest event in the history of humanity. This isn't to say the Russian Revolution is a template all subsequent Revolutions must fit into (the Revolution in Venezuela, a Revolution which I fully support, doesn't exactly fit this format), but it does mean that we can learn both positive and negative lessons from the way it was carried out, and it's eventual betrayal.

Power, Leadership, and the Working Class

Power isn't bad. Leadership isn't bad. Although both can be bad, they aren't inherently bad. Like other tools that can be used to restrict the actions of another, they need to be held directly accountable by those who they could potentially affect. Despite the hundreds of essays and books deconstructing both words to the point of them meaning whatever the so-called "expert" desires, the concepts of leadership and power are easily grasped by the average worker. There is no controversy here.

Many also recognize there is a politically advanced layer of the working class. This is an objective fact. For whatever reason, certain people have drawn certain conclusions while others haven't. This doesn't mean the advanced group is better, smarter, or anything of the sort. They do, however, have a more defined role to play. They must be on the front lines making demands Capitalism can't fulfill and simultaneously explain why these demands are only "unrealistic" within the confines of a system that allows a few people dictatorial control over all of industry. It is not their job to "make a revolution." As factory occupations, "bossnappings," and Soviets (worker councils) have shown, workers come up with all sorts of ingenious solutions for their situations. In order to coordinate and best implement these revolutionary changes, the working class needs leaders who are willing and able to take power. Again, despite the babble so many intellectuals have made a career out of spewing, this is common sense to many working people.

It appears for many on the left, largely because of the Stalinist caricature of Socialism, power and leadership have become taboo, something to be avoided. This is a recipe for failure. If our leaders aren't one hundred percent ready to take power, and use that power to implement Socialism, we are forever doomed to activist groups and autonomous movements that offer little more than book opportunities for the usual suspects within leftist circles.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

"Bossnapping" - Workers React to the Crisis of Capitalism

Another piece written for Socialist Appeal. It also appears on

Luc Rousselet, who works for Minnesota-based 3M, recently told reporters that talks between his company and its employees were a good thing. This, however, was only after he was kept in his office for more than 24 hours by workers he was intending to fire. Rousselet, who manages one of 3M’s French factories, was described as a “scoundrel boss” by the workers, who demanded negotiations surrounding their layoffs. This case, along with similar situations across France and in other parts of Europe, has been dubbed a “bossnapping.”

Bossnappings have quickly caught the attention of the world Capitalist class. Recently, went so far as to post an article on how to avoid such an embarrassing ordeal. The article largely reads like the motherly “don’t talk to strangers” speech given to a young child, and no doubt puts executives’ fears to rest when it offers brilliant advice such as, “escaping rather than freezing in a kidnap situation.” There are at least three Belgian Fiat managers who probably wish they had had access to such valuable insight when the workers decided that their bosses could camp out in their office until they agreed to renegotiate job cuts a few weeks ago.

What the business press won’t explain is that workers’ interests are in direct contradiction with those of their bosses. This is the real reason behind bossnappings and other similar actions. Unfortunately, most of the workers’ leaders seem equally confused – or are downright negligent – as they also harbor fantasies about class harmony. While workers around the world begin to exert increasing levels of revolutionary vigor, their leaders continue to ask for a cuter, greener, friendlier Capitalism.

Yes, winning economic reforms are important, but without any political demands, we are simply begging the Capitalist for crumbs off of his or her table. It is great to get a good severance package – but you’re still without a job. It is wonderful to occupy a factory, but if that factory isn’t nationalized under workers’ control you’re still working at the mercy of the Capitalist system, be it in the form a few large shareholders in a traditional business structure or a group of mini-Capitalists in a cooperative.

Without a clear working class political program, most workers don’t draw the necessary conclusions from their situation. Substituting the conscious action of the masses of workers for the actions of a handful of “self-sacrificing” activists will never solve the problem. This has been proved time and time again. Eventually, the protests end, smashed windows get repaired, black face masks are put away, and economies recover. Without a conscious development of the flame sparked by the current global economic crisis, it will burn down to a mere flicker. This is where the revolutionary party comes in. Not to substitute itself for the masses, but to fight as part of the working class, as its most class conscious and dedicated layer.

As the crisis of Capitalism deepens, we are seeing workers in the industrialized countries, as well as in the less developed, react to the attacks on their conditions of life. From the uprising in Greece, to the factory occupations in the UK, to the large protests in Iceland, to the general strike in France, to the continuing Venezuelan Revolution, to countless other actions all across the world; bossnappings are simply the latest working class innovation to deal with the failure of Capitalism. They are another reminder of the awesome power the working class holds.

We, as Marxists, understand we should not only be in the trenches fighting the battles for reforms, but also be explaining the historical role the working class must play in removing the rotting corpse of Capitalism altogether. Armed with an understanding of this dialectical struggle, another world is not only possible, but is our duty to make a reality.