Revolutions and civil wars

Occasionally you see socialists accommodating to pacifist tendencies in the working class by implying that a revolution is probably just like a really big demo, or maybe a general strike, and then the government collapses and then the working class forms a new government. They question of force sometimes is referred to only in the fact that there might be some clashes with the police perhaps.

In the Syrian revolution some people got squeamish when it turned into a civil war, preferring the mass pro-democracy protests at the start and then becoming all shy and moderate about it when Assad sent in the security forces to start killing people.

Trotsky makes the comment during the Russian civil war after 1917 that; “The international proletariat put before itself as its problem the conquest of power. Independently of whether civil war, “generally,” belongs to the inevitable attributes of revolution, “generally,” this fact remains unquestioned – that the advance of the proletariat, at any rate in Russia, Germany, and parts of former Austro-Hungary, took the form of an intense civil war not only on internal but also on external fronts. If the waging of war is not the strong side of the proletariat, while the workers’ International is suited only for peaceful epochs, then we may as well erect a cross over the revolution and over socialism; for the waging of war is a fairly strong side of the capitalist State, which without a war will not admit the workers to supremacy.” 

The fact if you cannot point to a revolution that does not turn into some kind of civil war – the same is true of the English Revolution between 1642–1651 of course. Ultimately in any significant social struggle between the classes the question of force decides. But the question of politics is also decisive. In any struggle for political power, the insurgent forces have to be able to articulate a programme that encompasses the needs of the broadest masses and offers incentives and gains for why people should support the revolution. Likewise the forces of the status quo fight to win in the field of politics, to convince the people that the way things are should ultimately be preserved, while usually offering wild concessions that they later ignore and tear up.

Anyone who says there is a completely peaceful road to socialism is either wilfully naive about the levels of violence that the capitalist class will inflict to stay in power, or they hugely over estimate the democratic sensibilities of those who currently run society, as if they would give up everything because they lost an election?

But revolutionaries know that winning political hegemony is crucial to winning power. The more you can win over the working class and popular progressive forces then the more the revolution itself will be a relatively bloodless affair. But the greater the forces of reaction, the forces of bourgeois order… the more difficult the road ahead.

Alexandra Kollontai: when it comes to women’s rights, class matters

What is the aim of the feminists? Their aim is to achieve the same power, the same rights within capitalist society as those possessed now by their husbands, fathers and brothers. What is the aim of the women workers? Their aim is to abolish all privileges deriving from birth or wealth. For the women worker it is a matter of indifference who is the ‘master’ a man or woman. Together with the whole of her class, she can ease her position as a worker.

Feminists demand equal rights always and everywhere. Women workers reply: we demand rights for every citizen, man and woman but we are not prepared to forget that we are not only workers and citizens, but also mothers! And as mothers, as women who give birth to the future, we demand special concern for ourselves and our children, special protection from the state and society.

The feminists are striving to acquire political rights. However, here too our paths separate. For bourgeois women political rights are simply a means allowing them to make their way more conveniently and more securely in a world founded on the exploitation of the working people. For women workers, political rights are a step along the rocky and difficult path that leads to the desired kingdom of labour.

The paths pursued by women workers and bourgeois suffragettes have long since separated. There is too great a difference between the objectives that life has put before them. There is too great a contradiction between the interests of the women worker and the lady proprietress, between the servant and her mistress. There are not and cannot be any points of contact, conciliation or convergence between them.
— Alexandra Kollontai: Women’s Day published in Pravda one week before the first ever celebration in Russia of the Day of International Solidarity among the Female Proletariat on 23 February (8 March), 1913.

Who steals the common from off the goose

The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
But leaves the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from off the goose

The law demands that we atone
When we take things we do not own
But leaves the lords and ladies fine
Who take things that are yours and mine

The poor and wretched don’t escape
If they conspire the law to break
This must be so but they endure
Those who conspire to make the law

The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
And geese will still a common lack
Till they go and steal it back

The capitalist class and revolution

In 1879 Carlo Cafiero did a summary of Capital and Marx’s ideas for Italian readers. In the conclusion he wrote a brilliant and evocative account of the nature of revolution and why the capitalist class invokes it but then pulls back and turns on the very workers it whipped up for its cause. Worth reading and thinking on.

——

The disease is sweeping. It’s been a long time that the workers of the civilized world have known it; certainly not all, but a great number, and these are already preparing the means of action to destroy it.

They have considered these:

I. That the first source of every human oppression and exploitation is private property;

II. That the emancipation of workers (human emancipation) will not be founded upon a new class rule, but upon the end of all class privileges and monopolies and upon the equality of rights and duties;

III. That the cause of labor, the cause of humanity, does not have borders;

IV. That the emancipation of workers must be done at the hands of the workers themselves.

And so a mighty voice has shouted: “Workers of the world, unite! No more rights without duties, no more duties without rights! Revolution!”

But the revolution demanded by the workers is not a revolution of pretext, it is not the practical method of a moment to reach a given aim. Even the bourgeoisie, like so many others, demanded the revolution one day; but only to supplant the nobility, and to substitute for the feudal system of serfdom that more refined and cruel system of wage-work. And they call this progress and civility! In fact every day we help the ridiculous show of the bourgeoisie, who go babbling the word revolution, with the sole aim of being able to jump up onto the maypole tree, and to grab power. The workers’ revolution is the revolution for the revolution.

The word “Revolution”, taken in its largest and truest sense, means turning, transformation, change. As such, revolution is the soul of all infinite mass. In fact, all in nature changes, but nothing is created and nothing is destroyed, as chemistry shows us. Mass, remaining always in the same quantity, can change form in infinite ways. When mass loses its old form and acquires a new one, it passes from the old life, in which it dies, to the new life, in which it is born. When our spinner, using a familiar example for us, transformed the 10 kilos of cotton into 10 kilos of thread, what else came about if not the death of 10 kilos of mass in the form of cotton, and at their birth in the form of thread? And when the weaver transforms the thread into cloth, what else will come about if not the matter passing from a life of string unto a life of cloth, as it has passed already before from a life of cotton unto a life of thread? Mass, therefore, passing from one turn of life to another, lives ever-changing, transforming, revolutionizing.

Now, if revolution is the law of nature, which is all, it must necessarily also be the law of humanity, which is a part of nature. But you have a few men upon the Earth who do not think this is so, or, rather, who close their eyes so as not to see and their ears so as not to hear.

“Yes, it is true,” I hear shouting from a bourgeois, “the natural law, the revolution that you claim, is the absolute regulator of human relations. The fault of all the oppressions, of all the exploitations, of all the tears and all of the massacres they are caused by, one must justly attribute to this inexorable law that imposes revolution upon us, that is, continuous transformation, the struggle for existence, the absorption of the weaker made stronger, the sacrifice of the less perfect types for the development of the more perfect types. If hundreds of workers are burned up for the wellbeing of only one bourgeois, that happens without the slightest fault of this, that is indeed sad and dreary, but only by the decree of natural law, of revolution.”

If one speaks in such a way, the workers ask nothing better, who wish for transformation, the struggle for existence, revolution, under the same natural law, the ones indeed preparing themselves to be stronger, to sacrifice all monstrous and parasitic plants for the complete and flourishing development of the most beautiful human tree, whole and perfect, which it must be, in all of the wholeness of its human character.

But the bourgeoisie are too fearful and pious to be able to appeal to the natural law of revolution. They have been able to invoke it in a moment of drunkenness; but, afterwards back to their normal selves, their accounts done, and having found that their doings were nice and pleasing, they gave themselves to shouting until they couldn’t anymore: “Order, religion, family, property, conservation!” It is so that, after having arrived at conquering, with massacre, fire and robbery, the role of the dominators and exploiters of the human race, they believe that they can stop the course of revolution; without realizing, in their stupidity, that they can do nothing else, with their efforts, than to make horrible troubles for humanity, and as a consequence for themselves, with the sudden explosions of the revolutionary force they madly repress.

The revolution, the material obstacles that oppose it shot down, and left free in its path, will by itself be enough to create the most perfect balance, order, peace, and the most complete happiness between people, because people, in their free development, will not proceed in the manner of wild animals but in the manner of human beings, eminently reasonable and civil, who understand that no person can be truly free and happy if they are not within the common liberty and happiness of all of humanity. No more rights without duties, no more duties without right. Therefore no more struggle for existence between people, but struggle for existence of all people with nature, by appropriating from the great sum of natural forces for the benefit of all of humanity.

The disease known, it is easy to know the remedy: revolution for the revolution.

But how will the workers be able to restore the course of the revolution?

This is not the place for a revolutionary program, already elaborated and published long ago elsewhere in other books; I confine myself to conclude, replying with the words taken from the lips of a worker and placed in epigraph to this volume: “The worker has made everything; and the worker can destroy everything, because he can rebuild everything

“Shoot them in the leg” – the death rattle of liberalism

You could not make Biden up.
It is a nation wide urban uprising against police violence and the liberal response is “shoot them in the leg instead of the heart.”
Ignoring the fact that there is no thing as a ‘shoot to wound’ – law enforcement are trained to shoot to kill and even if you do ‘shoot to wound’ you might hit an artery or some other complication that ends up killing someone – this is the most brilliant spectacular example of liberalism I have seen in my lifetime.
Don’t question the structures. Don’t question the institutions. Don’t analyse power. Don’t understand the righteous anger of generations rising up against oppression.
No. Instead we get ‘officer, be a nice guy and only shoot them in the leg.’
Ignoring the fact that some of the most disgusting acts of violence and murder – including the one against George Floyd – have got NOTHING to do with being shot. The police don’t need to shoot you in the heart to kill you, if you are a black American, or poor or someone they hate they can slowly strangle you to death whilst people watch on.
And Biden is the choice for the liberals to go up against Trump.

What do you think of Momentum democracy? – It would be a nice idea

Everyone is doing the democracy dance in Momentum. Even the old guard leadership are making some vague noises that maybe somehow things might need to kind of be different. Let’s look at some previous ‘nice ideas’ that never happened.

Continue reading What do you think of Momentum democracy? – It would be a nice idea

When first I heard of Peterloo (1919)

When first I heard of Peterloo

When I was a boy I was very fond indeed of creeping into the handloom cellar at night – especially for winter nights – to hear the men of the moribund craft talk and sing, and by the way, swear about hard times. What a quaint, independent set of industrials they were but they talked and sang sometimes of flowers, all love, or war, but mostly of hard social and political days. How they did anathematise the politicians of the hour, and, I am afraid, push revolutionary ideas into my young head. I was to carry on – so Joss Wrigley said – their spirit of political revolt when they were dead and their wooden looms were made into firewood by the factory workers. They were the radicals of Lupton yard, and when I read “The revolution in Tanners Lane” I thought if Rutherford had known them he might have handed them to posterity.

It was there I first heard of Peterloo. “Peterloo, Peterloo” was often the subject fierce conversation and denunciation. There were four of them in the cellar, in addition to an old woman who, sitting in the middle of the semi-subterranean workshop, wound course weft bobbins for them on a wooden wheel and spindle. Joss Wrigley was the leader of the poverty stricken group. My father was the owner of the looms, all bought for a few shillings, and rented to the others three weavers for a few p[ennies] a week. Joss was a great talker. Ned Greenhalgh – gentle Ned – was a listener who nodded approvingly at Joss’s political outbursts. Joss Wrigley had decorated – he called it decorated – one of his loom post with verses from Ebeneezer Eliot and democratic songs of Burns cut from the newspapers. My father sometimes played the fiddle to sooth their nerves – playing old English airs and Jacobite songs.

There was a stove in the cellar, which was lighted when they could afford to buy coal. I used to hate most about Peterloo when the looms were silent and the stove was burning, and the decrepit weavers were winding on a new warp by candlelight. One of them would guide the threads through the healds, two would sit on each side straightening the yarn and picking out foreign particles; Joss Wrigley usually sat on a stall and unfolding the warp, and, having the least responsible task, he would talk the most.

It was then that Peterloo rang most in my ears. Often I wondered where Peterloo was till I learned it was at Manchester, a few miles away. Frequently I was puzzled to know why it was that they spoke so bitterly of it. Subsequently I was informed that Joss Wrigley knew all about it because he was there in support of the People’s Charter, as he described it. Joss was a slim nervous man with white hair and a long beard for a man of 77 years he was still sprightly physical and alert mentally.

It was from these old-time weavers lips I first heard the names of Sam Bamford and Henry Hunt. There was only one picture on the walls of our front room, otherwise known as the parlour. Our house was divided into “front room” and the “back room” or kitchen. At that time our front room was an odd looking chamber owing to the height of one of the loom is in the cellar it would be necessary to take up one or two flags, it was a flagged floor, usually sanded – in the parlour to make room for the top portion of the Jacquard machine. All that the room held this portion of the loom protruding about a yard above the surface, two spindle back chairs, a small deal table, a winding frame worked by my mother, and the solitary picture alluded to which was a newspaper print of Henry Hunt. The name was underneath – “Henry Hunt Esq”. My mother knew no more of the August massacre of 1819 than she had learned from the heated harangues of Joss Wrigley, and it was she who told me that Henry Hunt was a man who had something to do with Peterloo.

I remember saying to my father one morning when he was playing his well-resined fiddle (his warp being “down”) “what was this Peterloo about?” “ax Joss” he said “it were afore my time. Joss were theer . Fro what he says, it were a damnable thing – summat as working folk should never forget!”

I was now particularly curious to know. And one day when Joss came from the cellar into the kitchen to beg some tea to drink with a meal of bread and cheese, I put the question – boy-like – bluntly to him. I have never forgotten some of his Doric phrases. He drew me between his knees, and said, partly with pride and party with indignation: “Peterloo lad! I know. I were theer as a young mon. We were howdin’ a meeting’ i’ Manchester – on Peter’s Field – a meetin’ for eawr rests– for reets o’ man, for liberty to vote, an’ speak, an’ write, an’ be eawrsels– honest hard workin’ folk. We wanted to live eawr own lives, an’ th’ upper classes wouldn’t let us. That’s abet it, lad. We were howdin’ a meetin’ a peaceful meetin’ an they sent t’ dragoons among us to mow us dean. T’ dirty devils – they sent t’ dragoons slashin’ at us wi’ their swords. There were some on us sheawtin’ ‘Stop! Stop! What are yo’ doin that for? We on’y want eawr reets.’ An’ they went on cuttin’ through us, an’ made us fly helter-skelter–aw because we were howdin’ up t’ banner o’ liberty an t’ rests o’ mon. Bournes (Burns) says ‘Liberty’s a glorious feast.’ But th’ upper classes wouldn’t let us poor folk get a taste on it. When we cried for freedom o’ action they gav’ us t’ point of a sword. Never forget lad! Let is sink i’ the blood. Ston up an’ eight for tweets o’ mon–t’ meets o’ poor folk!”

“Banner o’ Liberty,” “t’ reets o’ mon,” ’t dragoons slashin’ amung us wi’ their swords,” were dinned into my ear till I could not forget. I could not understand then why Joss was trembling with rage. I cannot then understand why he, having lived for over 50 years after the event, she still committed to disturb his mind. I suppose it had got in his blood and he could not live it out. I presume also that continuous use of poverty together with years of political injustices and vagaries, and dear food, for which she had lived, had helped to nurse his hatred which he resolutely passed on to others.

Political career began at Peterloo – a dramatic beginning, to be sure. Ended in a damp, dark handloom cellar at the age of 81. I remember asking my father years after – when thinking of the sayings of the songs of Joss – how much would be the earnings of Joss as a rule. I was told not more than 10 shillings to 12 shillings per week – sometimes a few shillings more, sometimes “nowt at aw.” Yet to the very end of his hard days just really omitted as far as I can recollect, to talk and swear about the struggle that began at Peterloo, and which he traced to the mob skirmishes in connection with the agitation for the First Reform Act, the aims of the Free Trade League, the Chartists, and the plug drawers. We talked and talked of these affairs of men, and the opposition to them, as he swung the shuttle across his loom was he sat in the impoverished kitchen or in the Tavern at the corner of the main street he was only 19 years of age when he escaped from the massacre of Peterloo. And you can say how much the working class is owed to men like Joss Wrigley a poor handloom weaver who from his obscurity passed on their spirit and opinions to coming generations?

James Haslam

The Guardian, 13 Aug 1919

New ebook – Capitalist crisis, Coronavirus and (post) Corbynism

My recent long read article for Mutiny Capitalist crisis, Coronavirus and (post) Corbynism has been turned into an ebook and a PDF if you prefer to read it through other means than just scrolling through a website article

“We also need an honest examination of the legacy of Corbynism. While many are arguing that Corbyn ‘won the argument’ over austerity and helped pull the national dialogue to the left, we should be cautious even on that question. We have a vicious populist right-wing government with a significant mandate; the degree to which they are committed to anti-austerity is going to be tested by the damage of the economic collapse after COVID-19 and the oncoming world recession.

In the Corbyn era, the left got too sucked into the standard routine of Labourism, into backstabbing manoeuvres for temporary advantage in committees, into an uncritical parliamentary politics, into the petty ambitions and opportunistic advancement of wannabe politicians. The political culture was also toxic, with a cultish devotion and naïve adoration of the party leader – reminiscent of how many Labour Party members behaved under Blair. The criticisms levelled by the New Left in 1968 against Labour and the Labour left turned out to be true. Of course, it was the right thing to be in Labour and have that fight, but let’s not kid ourselves about the real-world impact.”

 

Why political meetings are useful, from 1807

English revolutionary Thomas Spence (1750-1814) published a book of poems which contained an anonymous account of why political meetings are important:
 
“Ye Sons and Daughters of Men over the whole Earth, Hearken to a Friend. Do you not love Liberty and Property, and do not every one of you, wish to be thought of some Consequence and Estimation? If so, take my Advice, and you will quickly become again Human Creatures, enjoying as you ought the Lordship of the Earth, and the free use of your Reason. In a word you will be free and happy. But means must be used: we cannot expect Miracles. God has commanded the Use of Means and has set us the Example, they were used in spreading the Gospel—What means? why simply the means of meeting together. Both Christ and his Apostles most earnestly Exhorted their Disciples to meet together. No Religion or Opinion can be spread or continued without meetings. The Gospel would soon die away and become extinct without meetings, and so would any Sect. Are not Liberty and Property and their happy Attendants worth meeting for? Do not Men when they meet encourage each other and resolve each others Doubts and thus build one another up in their Opinions? And cannot small meetings be effected where larger Ones durst not be attempted? If but two or three meet together in so good a cause, a blessing will attend them. Even under the modern Tyrannies of China, France, Turkey &c. what could hinder small Companies from meeting, in a free and easy convivial manner, and singing their Rights and instructing each other in Songs? Can Tyrants hinder People from singing at their Work, or in their Families? If not despair no longer but begin immediately, too much time has already been lost. Sing and meet and meet and sing, and your Chains will drop off like burnt Thread.”[link]