This text was originally pubished on a private discussion forum. It is followed by some significant critiques of it and responses to these critiques by its author (magid) which were the basis for this discussion. These are not totally in the order in which they appeared. Possible elaborations of this discussion will appear in the comments boxes below this page.
On November 9 2019, German capital celebrated the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall. When people talk about this event, they usually either side with the regime of modern Germany, which absorbed the GDR, or with the fallen system of the GDR. I do not think this approach is productive.
The lands of the GDR were integrated into the Federal Republic of Germany and this step led to deep social degradation. Privatizers closed 4 thousand plants. Millions of people lost their jobs. Over time, some moved to the West, others either remained unemployed or retired, or they or their children found work in another sector — in the service sector. The high unemployment rate and the changing nature of employment has borne fruit. Instead of a civilization of stable socially protected skilled labor in large factories and universities, instead of a civilization of skilled workers and specialists, a civilization of non-guaranteed (precarized) labor was built. Labour concentrated in the services sector. This civilization of waiters and supermarket sellers is characterized by de-skilling, unguaranteed employment and unemployment. I have no intention of defending capitalist productivism, or the social state. But still I think that autonomous councils of workers can be born only as a result of cooperation between different layers of the working class and the high proportion of skilled labor is extremely important, as in Budapest 1956. Falling skills and knowledge about the world leads to bad processes. When we, the inhabitants of the former USSR, bought products of the GDR industry, we usually rejoiced. GDR was one of the centers of high-tech production of the Eastern Bloc. In 1953 and in 1989 hundreds of thousands of Germans, protesting against the regime, fought for serious meaningful goals – from self-government in factories (workers’ councils in 1953, the movement “New Forum” in 1989 during the revolution against the GDR government) to personal freedom. Todey a crowd of five thousand chases a couple of migrants in Chemnitz. There are Eastern lands where a quarter of the population votes for far-right xenophobes and populists. There is a difference between the thinking of a skilled worker\engineer, and the thinking of poorly educated service workers. In this latter case, people are much more likely to have sympathy for idiotic absurd decisions.
Federal Republic of Germany changes an attitude to the past. In the GDR, the following idea was adopted: this country is made by the opponents of the Nazi regime; we build a new country. They were probably just party bonzes and hypocrites. On the other hand, the Federal Republic of Germany has adopted the idea of collective German responsibility for Nazism, a responsibility that supposedly has no Statute of limitations. They explain: Even the present generations of Germans are responsible for the crimes of the Third Reich. The doctrine of collective responsibility of all people for the crimes of dictatorship is absurd. This doctrine does not take into account the mechanisms of capitalist and bureaucratic alienation. But the idea of universal and eternal responsibility of the Germans “as a people”, as representatives of all social classes, for what is declared the greatest evil of history, is also a poisonous fruit, causing anger because of blatant injustice. It is as a kind of masochistic version of nationalism. Today If you are trying to force a 20-year-old German worker to pay compensation (from his taxes) for crimes committed 80 years ago by officials and executors of orders of a dictatorial regime — this is a manifestation of extreme absurdity. I’m afraid that’s also the best way to turn this man into a Nazi. This masochistic version of nationalism (its aim is probably to make the German working class feel eternally weak as “the culprit of tragedies”) is quite capable of developing into a sadistic version. At the same time, the German government turned the fall of the Berlin wall and the unification of the country into a triumph of national unity and strength. These games with different forms of nationalism help to construct nationally oriented picture of the world in the minds of Germans.
The German regime broke the post-war consensus based on the principles of “social market economy”. The authorities of this country have been introducing measures of economic liberalization and precarization, undermining the institutions of the social state. Work becomes temporary and non-guaranteed shit. This also causes irritation.
At the same time, authorities are importing millions of migrants — future cheap labour force (competitors of local workers) and, currently, recipients of some social assistance from the state. This policy causes a painful reaction including the East (“why do you spend money on migrants, and do not create good jobs for us — the citizens of Germany?”). The international social-revolutionary agenda states that the way out of this situation is the Union (in the spirit of the German revolutionary AAUD–KAPD or AAUD-E unions, which denies trade-unions and the party vanguard) of workers of all nationalities. Yes, I hope the problem can be solved by this international struggle of the Association of workers ’ councils. But if this agenda is absent, then “citizenship” and nationalism put forward counter-arguments against migration, to which the authorities will not be able to respond in the framework of the dominant bourgeois-nationalist “worlds picture”. According to the principles of the state-nation, the ruling regime should take care, first of all, of its own citizens. There is no reason why citizens who pay taxes and share the principles of bourgeois nation should be willing to pay for the lives and training of their competitors coming from other countries. It creates a dangerous tension.
Blend social degradation, de-skilling, anger over unemployment or unguaranteed labor, anger over unfounded accusations, and the theme of migrants. I’m afraid to imagine the stinky cocktail that would come of it. It is true that racist Rostock riots of August 1992 took place less than 3 years after the fall of the Berlin wall. But the neoliberal privatization, de-qualification, rising precarization of labor and propaganda of the ruling groups led today to a gradual increase in the influence of racists. The racist riot in Rostock was caused by a evolving combination of factors: rising unemployment and a simultaneous increase in the number of refugees in this city. The ruling regime has done everything to destroy any of workers ’ solidarity. The government was able to strengthen German bourgeois nationalism, using both sadistic and masochistic forms of it. Now it is reaping the fruits of what it has done. Within a mentality based on the recognition of the values of capitalism and the nation-state there is no argument why German workers should agree to accept migrant workers who are recipients of taxpayers ’ money and future competitors in the labor market. The German social revolutionary and social researcher Karl Roth noted that German construction companies fired German workers in order to hire Polish workers whose labor was cheaper. Regime destroys the post-war consensus associated with the social market economy: Today the government offers precarized labor, causing the wrath. On the other hand, Chancellor Angela Merkel declares that all Germans are guilty of Auschwitz www.youtube.com/watch?v=pK7H2_WzybQ almost a century after the second imperialist war. This combination of factors can only give rise of nationalist madness.
People can stand up against racism. But they can not and will not do it in the way of left liberalism and anti-fascism. The Сlass war in the spirit of the early IWW, which in 1912 created (during the strikes) Councils consisting of workers of 24 nationalities (from Lithuanians and Jews to Arabs and Irish) can be an answer.
Alfred from Germany wrote:
On current German nationalism
…There are two rivaling narratives of nationalism in Germany today: On the one hand, a liberal one which is supported by all established political parties from the christian democrats (CDU), the social democrats (SPD), to the green party and the „socialists“ of the Linkspartei. And, on the other hand, a conservative one which is supported by the right wing AfD („alternative for Germany“). The liberal version of nationalism still has the upper hand but the conservative version has gained ground in recent years, especially in the east of Germany.
I think, the speech by Angela Merkel in Auschwitz to which Magid referred in his text is a good example for the liberal narrative. Merkel says (about minute 4:00 in the video):
“To keep alive the memory of the crimes committed, to identify the perpetrators and to commemorate the victims in a dignified manner – that is our enduring responsibility. Its not open to negotiation and it is an integral part – and will forever be an integral part – of our country. Acknowledging this responsibility is an integral part of our national identity, our self-perception as an enlightened and liberal society, as a democracy where rule of law reigns.”
Merkel does not say that “even the present generations of Germans are responsible for the crimes of the Third Reich”, as Magid claims, but she says that it is the responsibility of present day Germans “to keep alive the memory of the crimes committed”. These are two different things. But to what end should this memory be kept alive? – Because it is “an integral part of our national identity […] as an elightened and liberal society”. This is how liberal German ideology works today: It needs the constant reference to the crimes of the past as a CONTRAST FOIL to show how good modern Germany has become. The Third Reich commited horrendous crimes, but we take care of human rights, the nazis had a dictatorship, but we have democracy, Hitler was an arbitrary ruler, but nowadays, the rule of law reigns. Although our chancellor says at the beginning of her speech that she was “filled with deep shame”, it is not so much shame what she wants to inflict on her German listeners, but an AFFIRMATION OF THE CURRENT GERMAN STATE. She doesn’t want us to feel guilty for the crimes of our ancestors, but to feel proud to be members of that formidable society which is so good and democratic precisely because “we have learned from the past”. Thus, I wouldn’t call this version of nationalism “masochistic”.
It is true that the liberal narrative of German history “does not take into account the mechanisms of capitalist and bureaucratic alienation” as Magid said, and therefore is unable to grasp the nature of the Third Reich. And it is a despicable ideology that justifies the contemporary German ruling class. But it does not claim a personal responsibility of contemporary Germans for the Holocaust. I also doubt that it is this liberal narrative and its specific take on German history which drives young people into nazism – if they are not already close to a fascist world view.
This leads me to the other version of German nationalism, which I have called the conservative one. Conservatives see it as unhealthy for national self-confidence to refer so much to the crimes of the Third Reich. They say, rather than permanently harping on about “our shame”, we should emphasise the great achivements of the “nation of poets and thinkers”. Characteristic of this point of view is the well known dictum of Alexander Gauland, one of the leading figures of the AfD, that the Third Reich was “just a speck of bird shit in over 1,000 years of successful German history.” People who already think along these lines may see Merkel’s speech as an insult to their national pride and feel “anger because of blatant injustice”. But liberal memorial policy is only a trigger, not the cause for that.
I also doubt that it is “the best way to turn this man into a Nazi” if you “force a 20-year-old German worker to pay compensation (from his taxes) for crimes committed 80 years ago”. I don’t believe there is any causal nexus between the payment of compensations for nazi crimes and the rise of neo-fascism.
As there is no way to “compensate” for the murder of millions of people, the only thing which had come close to such a „compensation“ would have been the immediate abolition of the German state and its replacement by workers councils. But alas, this didn’t happen. So, money transfers to nation states as “reparations”, as well as payments to individuals became the form of “compensation” for nazi crimes. The amount of money spent by the German state for this purpose is considerable (a total of 74 billion Euro for the whole period from 1949 to 2016, according to wikipedia – https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deutsche_Wiedergutmachungspoli
To conclude, I wouldn’t blame the rise of racism and neofascim in (eastern) Germany on liberal memorial politics and the payment of “compensation” for nazi crimes, but on the worsening of capitalist misery and alienation in general while proletarian solidarity or a revolutionary perspective are almost totally absent in this country. Of course, this explanation is very abstract and unspecific and should be further developed.
Merkel also stressed that ” perpetrators were Germans… We Germans owe to the victims” 3:50
Only after this she said:
“To keep alive the memory of the crimes committed, to identify the perpetrators and to commemorate the victims in a dignified manner – that is our enduring responsibility. Its not open to negotiation and it is an integral part – and will forever be an integral part – of our country. Acknowledging this responsibility is an integral part of our national identity, our self-perception as an enlightened and liberal society, as a democracy where rule of law reigns.”
I agree with a lot of what you said, but to me this liberal version of nationalism seems just as outrageous also because it blames all Germans for these crimes in one way or another (“Acknowledging this responsibility is an integral part of our national identity”). But after all opponents of Germany also committed terrible crimes during the Second imperialist war, for example bombing Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagaski, deportation 10-14 million Germans (predominantly proletarians) from Eastern Europe (as a result, at least 600 thousands died), that is analogous to Nazi military plans in the East. But the liberal version of German nationalism prefers not to raise these issues and this one-sided situation is also striking. Again, in the place of the German, I would say – “Yes, Germany committed terrible crimes, like its imperialist opponents, it is capitalism and therefore this system must be eliminated everywhere”. But any person, who has no class ideas, but who has, to some extent, a national consciousness, can be indignant because of this apparent hypocrisy of liberal nationalism.
“So, money transfers to nation states as “reparations”, as well as payments to individuals became the form of „compensation“ for nazi crimes. The amount of money spent by the German state for this purpose is considerable (a total of 74 billion Euro for the whole period from 1949 to 2016, according to wikipedia – de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deutsche_Wiedergu… tik#Summe), but is still very small compared to the German GDP (3.310 billion only in the year 2017, – www.google.de/search?q=bruttoinlandspro… 9cQ7xYoAHoECBIQLA&biw=1352&bih=642). So when our “20-year-old German worker” comes up with the idea that this relatively tiny sum spent on “compensation” is of all things the mayor cause of his personal misery (rather than his exploitation by the German bourgeoisie!), he must already be very deep into anti-Jewish conspiracy-theories and a fascist world view in general. He doesn’t have to be turned into an Nazi, because already is one!”——————-
If a person thinks this is the main problem in his life, then he is probably a radical nationalist. But on the other hand, it is, as you say, a considerable amount of money. Meanwhile, the German worker does not have to pay a single penny of this money. For a poor man, even a small sum is a lot. Meanwhile, the East German worker was explained in the GDR that he had nothing to do with the crimes of the Nazis (and this is true, in the vast majority of cases). And I do not think that it is pleasant to him to listen to Merkel and to pay any money from taxes.
I would say in the place of the German worker: “Your state and corporations committed crimes, not me, so let them pay, I have nothing to do with it”. But if there is no class consciousness and denial of the state, then people just get angry and they can become more nationalist.
“We Germans owe it to the victims” 3:50
“Auschwitz was a German death camp, run by Germans,” Ms. Merkel said…
“We Germans owe it to the victims and we owe it to ourselves to keep alive the memory of the crimes committed, to identify the perpetrators and to commemorate the victims in a dignified manner,” Ms. Merkel said.
–-This is an accusation of the Germans as a people in crimes. Moreover, she goes on to talk about national identity of all Germans. Even if it is formulated more gently than I wrote in the article, what does it change in essence?
“Within a mentality based on the recognition of the values of capitalism and the nation-state” is the key phrase.
Re. ” Chancellor Angela Merkel declares that all Germans are guilty of Auschwitz youtube.com/watch?v=pK7H2_WzybQ almost a century after the second imperialist war. This combination of factors can only give rise of nationalist madness.“, some of the contents of the following implicitly examines this:
I think I made it clear in my article that workers do have a choice.
This choice is associated with socially revolutionary ideas and practices close to AAUD–KAPD–AAUD-E, although not completely identical (another era).
I’ll tell you more. Even the heretical Christian mentality and the mentality of individual or some local communities of Catholics and Protestants can become the basis for accepting many refugees, even to the detriment of their own economic situation, because some Christians really believe that helping one’s neighbor and giving him the last shirt is the way to heavenly salvation. Many such Christians helped Jews during the Holocaust. I do not share their faith, but such people were and are, it is true.
In fact, the truth is that different approaches are possible in this situation.
But within the framework of capitalist ideas of bourgeois nation, citizenship, competition, etc. there is no good way out, and within these ideas fucking Boris Johnson is right. What the regimes in Germany etc or some liberals are doing is a contradiction. They are trying to accept refugees with one hand and explain to everyone that this is the right thing to do. On the other hand, they preach bourgeois nationalism and competition. Moreover, they worsen the situation of workers making them precarious, causing irritation. But it won’t work that way. And what I wrote is an explanation for the growing influence of the far right.
Sorry, but it’s a fact, it’s a fact in the US, Germany, Britain, Russia. I am trying to explain this fact.)
But I am not saying that it is total.
There is a choice. I thought this was quite clear from my article.
“But all this implies that people don’t have a choice – a choice to oppose racism”
“There is a choice. I thought this was quite clear from my article.” – fair enough, but it wasn’t entirely clear which is why I thought the element of choice, within a world that encourages racism etc., should have been emphasised. Also, whilst opposing racism without opposing capitalism is unstrategic, a lot of people do – they make friends with refugees or people from other so-called ‘races’, without developing a critique of the totality of social conditions. They certainly have within them a less reified/alienated, more human, attitude towards people that could be the basis for a clearer more consciously anti-capitalist perspective than those who just swalllow the shit of the society that makes them miserable and stupid, but might still have an ideal of a potentially ‘nice’ capitalism (an oxymoron, of course).
“Also, whilst opposing racism without opposing capitalism is unstrategic, a lot of people do – they make friends with refugees or people from other so-called ‘races’, without developing a critique of the totality of social conditions.” – Yes, there are such people. But as you wrote, it’s not strategic. Such people (I write about it above), guided by certain versions of Christianity, or personal noble motives, saved thousands of lives of my tribesmen, but they did not stop the Holocaust. Hitler could have been prevented by a social revolution in Germany and, more broadly, in Europe, if German, Slavic, French and Jewish workers had United against a common enemy.
I don’t want to belittle a feat or just a good action of some people. But I do not believe in any other way of combating nationalism than the growing social-class revolutionary tendency.
I don’t know the situation in London and England in 1981, and I can’t discuss it. Maybe I’m missing something. But I see growing nationalism and, on the other hand, relatively weak class international resistance. Almost all of my generation in Russia or Israel became racists because of a set of conditions similar to the one I described in the article.
Whilst we agree on the essential, I just felt it was necessary to say that many people immiserated by the same set of conditions do not become racists (or adopt any of the other varieties of obnoxious ideological attitudes).
I would add a question about the determinism that equates skilled labour with advanced class consciousness, and the unskilled with the reverse.
Where else in history is there evidence for this?
As we know it was the conservative skilled workers of the old guilds and unions that gave rise to the whole notion of an “aristocracy of labour” already in the end of the 19th century.
The IWW was so revolutionary precisely becasue it arose as a response of unskilled precarious workers to the pact between the skilled workers in the AFL–AFO and the ruling class.
The skilled white workers in South Africa were the base for apartheid vs unskilled black migrants and unemployed youth who led the revolutionary movement in the 70s/80s.
As Sam mentioned, skilled workers who formed the basis of the Labour Party supported racist xenophobia (at least re. the policies of their representatives) against the Irish.
Quite frankly, there is a whole lot of determinism in these sorts of explanations that when further examined explain very little. I agree that the contradictions of opposition to racism without opposition to capitalism need to emphasised, but even more that power of choices on the part of the oppressed everywhere need to be emphasised. And that is precisely what is lacking in most explanations, whether leftist or bourgeois.
The degradation of class consciousness certainly has to do with the structural adjustments referred to by the article, and the general decline of the classical working class milieu, but in my experience have much more to do with other elements rarely mentioned anywhere. The spectacle, for one thing, although to talk of it this way is just a far too inadequate, far too general start, that ought to be made much more precise and concrete — as Sam is always saying. It would take a lot to bring those causes to the surface in a way that would make sense for most of us in 2020, but I think such efforts would be more valuable than mere lamentation for the demise of the old workers movement.
“I would add a question about the determinism that equates skilled labour with advanced class consciousness, and the unskilled with the reverse. Where else in history is there evidence for this?”
I can answer that.
1. Everywhere in Eastern Europe the social revolutionary class movements had a core of skilled workers and non-leading specialists after after the second imperialist war. This is characteristic of the 1956 revolution in Hungary, where we have a description of the workers ’ councils of Budapest. “All the delegates were toolmakers, turners, metallurgists, engineers. ” The Hungarian Revolution Of 1956. Cardiff, Scorcher Publications, 1984
On the other hand, sociologist N. Korovitsina notes that the core of the Polish revolution of 1980-1981 was the Union of skilled workers and specialists: “the Alliance of skilled workers and intellectuals is the driving force of the “Solidarnosc” revolution. The basis of their unity was then a common egalitarian aspirations.”
Both revolutions demanded workers ’ power in the country and self-government in enterprises.
2. I can add the following thing. Without this Union (not trade-union ) social revolution is unthinkable. Studying the Russian revolution, we, those who are engaged in this, came to the conclusion that one of the most important problems of the working class of Russia was the lack of solidarity between workers and engineering personnel. This led to the fact that the anarchists, the socialist-maximalists and the left socialist-revolutionaries faced a big problem. Workers often stop at the stage of working control.
Eduard Dune, a worker, an associate of the workers ‘leader and future opposition (decist) Timofey Sapronov, describes the mood of the workers in 1917: ” the Bolsheviks say that the transfer of power to the Soviets will mean what we already have in the factory-the dictatorship of the proletariat. We no longer have guards and police, we work eight hours a day at the same rates, but earn the same as before for 12 hours. We have no Tsar and no police, but there is more order than before the revolution. No more robberies, thefts, drunkenness and hooliganism. If we were able to organize a revolutionary government in one factory, why can’t we do it all over Russia? Let the bourgeoisie continue to trade and build its blast furnaces and factories, but the power must remain with the workers, not with the owners of factories, traders and their servants…””
Do you realize what that means? One of the largest researchers of Russian workers ’ organizations of 1917-1918 Dmitry Churakov considers the lack of an Alliance between workers and engineers – one of the main difficulties on the way to self-government.
3. I hope you are well aware that arguments in the spirit of bordighism or neo-bordighism, familiar to me, are completely useless here. Yes, of course, integral statless communism means unity of the economy \ not self-government in independent factories. However, it is quite obvious that the workers (or workers+ local residents) must first of all take of factories, establish collective management there, organize production and distribution of products, create associations with other enterprises and with the communes of residents, and only after many years we can get production according to needs, or production and consumption linked into one. Stateless Communism is a process, not an instant result. And there is a very important element of this process – skilled labor wich can control the factory.
4. If workers have no way to restart the economy on new principles then they need capitalists and/or bureaucracy, as many Russian workers did in 1917.
5. Further, you should not compare workers who had communal preindustrial roots and beliefs, in the early 20th century (or maybe in South Africa 20 years ago, of which I know little) and the products of decay and unemployment in the city. Urban pauperism is a monster.
By the way, in the Russian Empire we know the sociology of the black hundreds, who organized ethnic pogroms. If we talk about workers, It was first of all the paupers, precursory illiterate workers, and on the other hand the highest paid workers.
I admit and consider it necessary to develop and unite and transform these people in the process of struggle. However, I have indicated the presence and significance of the problem.
P.S. You know, the most amusing and the most tragic thing is that the peasants in Russia, many of whom were illiterate, but who had a rural community, were supporters of the socialization of land, communal property and self-government. Most Russian peasants were against the Bolsheviks in 1918-1921, and many supported ideas close to Bakunin’s anarchism or federalism. They fought hard against the Bolsheviks and they were at one time close to destroying the Bolshevik state. But that didn’t happen. Unfortunately, no country in the world has managed to move from a rural pre-industrial community to a stateless communism.
The Indian revolutionary (later he become a yogi), Aurobindo Ghosh, wrote that the peasants in the local community knew very well how to organize the life in it and they can create a real commune. Unfortunately, they are almost completely devoid of knowledge about how to organize life in a large country and do not understand what is happening there. Therefore, the result of a peasant revolution usually becomes a dictatorship, as in Russia (90 percent of the population of revolutionary Russia during the great Russian revolution of 1917-1921 were peasants, millions participated in the revolution). I hate that argument, but I’m afraid it’s true. I wish it wasn’t…
An uneducated person who does not have the skills of complex work will not be able to make managerial decisions about life outside of a small suburban area today. This means that he\she must submit to the bureaucracy or the bourgeoisie, the forces that organize management of labor and the city and… alienation.
You could argue that people should always learn an get new knowledge about the world. It’s true. I won’t say it’s impossible. But it is very difficult.
If you are сriticizing the old labor movement, do not throw away the child with diapers, as people say in Russia. I apologize for the banality, but “knowledge is good”.Some knowledge of the world, skilled work, the ability to make complex structural decisions do not give any guarantees for the development of socio-revolutionary consciousness. But ignorance and unskilled labor make it less possible… it is less possible that workers will become a class-for-themselves, a revolutionary class. And here we must not talk about determinism, but about the lower probability of a favorable outcome.
There’s a hell of a lot of stuff here that I really disagree with. It’s hard to know where to start.
The peasants who opposed the Bolsheviks weren’t invariably held back by their illiteracy – in the Ukraine at least, Voline and Makhno organised forms of education that helped them, to a certain extent, to understand aspects of the world “outside of a small suburban area”. People learn from each other, including skills. I could learn many things from a peasant. I’d hope s/he could learn from me. You seem to have a narrow notion of what “knowledge” is.
You also seem to generalise too much from the old workers movement in Russia and East Europe. It’s where you’re based, where you come from – but you can’t understand things if you just judge things from your specific situation, and one can’t just assume that the old workers movement is the basis for a new proletarian movement . You don’t seem to engage with much of what S.Khan is saying. Over the last 100 years there’s lots to learn from very different struggles, and certainly not just Hungary ‘56, which you constantly refer to – it’s obvious that work in many countries today has little to do with the factories or work-places of the pre-neoliberal period. Besides “ignorance” is also the lot of many skilled workers, and my experience and my reading of what’s going on outside my direct experience is that those with skills and supposedly educated are no better at contesting this society than those who are officially unskilled (unskilled for the world of wage labour, that is) or officially “uneducated” (ie haven’t stayed in school or further education up until early adulthood). What you say makes a hierarchy of ‘knowledge’ which reproduces many of the illusions of Marx and those who accepted his ideas without question, up to Lenin, even if you don’t accept Lenin’s blatantly elitist statist conclusions.
For the moment, I’ll leave it at that – I’ve got other things to do today.
1. “What you say makes a hierarchy of ‘knowledge’ “—-
I do not claim that the party leader has any knowledge that exceeds the collective knowledge of millions of workers, among whom there are, moreover, a mass of professionals who know the work in their industries much better than he, and besides, these millions of people can share knowledge in the process of struggle, help each other and create a common movement that will be able to manage factories and territory.
On the other hand, I see a huge problem in de-skilling, lowering the level of education of people. I can’t believe how anyone can seriously claim that the knowledge is not important. Of course it is important. It is knowledge, along with a sense of solidarity and the desire to collectively manage their lives, that gives people the opportunity to navigate the world. I am not saying that a poorly educated person cannot learn new things. But it’s just a lot harder.
2. “I know 2 men who left school at 14 or 15 and they educated themselves. One, who has no formal manual or intellectual skill manages a community centre today.”—————— You answered your own question. These people were educated themselves, they were engaged in many years of self-education. Unfortunately, I can not say that this is a typical phenomenon. However, if it becomes typical, then in this case the situation will change.
3. “Besides, revolution isn’t a question of “management” – but of participating in, and contributing towards, decisions that determine our lives. “ – So how are you going to participate in the “decision-making” if you don’t know anything about the subject? Well, English isn’t my first language, and maybe I don’t use the word “management” the way you do. Ok. But in any case, how are you going to be involved in making decisions about a subject you don’t understand?
4. “Besides, is it a question of the size of an area. None of us have experience (or at least, very little experience) of making obviously practical decisions about life (eg what and how to produce and distribute stuff) outside of our own specific situation. A global revolutionary movement – if it ever genuinely threatens the commodity economy – will have to teach us that in a reciprocal manner.”
5. “The peasants who opposed the Bolsheviks weren’t invariably held back by their illiteracy “——- You answered to your own words again. Yes, the illiteracy of the peasants did not always prevent them from fighting the Bolsheviks (and the whites). But still, illiteracy got in their way often enough, and they lost. This is not the only reason for their defeat, but I do not see why we should refuse to consider it.
6 “You also seem to generalise too much from the old workers movement in Russia and East Europe. It’s where you’re based, where you come from – but you can’t understand things if you just judge things from your specific situation, and one can’t just assume that the old workers movement is the basis for a new proletarian movement . You don’t seem to engage with much of what S.Khan is saying.Over the last 100 years there’s lots to learn from very different struggles, “
Where? The revolutions in Russia (as well as in Germany, Italy and Hungary) in 1917-1923, The revolution in Spain 1936, the Revolution in Hungary in 1956 and Poland 1980-1981 – these are the deepest revolutionary processes in the 20th century. Workers never rose so high anywhere else in the structures of new life, in the control of society and production. The workers ’ Council of Budapest was real. 3 thousand largest factories in Poland, which created the organization “Network” in 1980-1981, in which they discussed on plans to control the industry, were real. Russian fabzavkomi (factory committees) and Councils on what Edward Dune writes about , were real. In Barcelona, the heart of the Spanish revolution, the workers of the largest factories, including a mass of skilled workers, and about a third of the specialists, took control of these factories. In all other cases, workers at best went on strike and occupied factories demanding higher wages, and even in 1968 as far as I know there were only a few examples to the workers’ control (Reno?).
I’m not trying to deny the significance of events like the Yellow vests or the uprisings in Baghdad and Santiago these days. Moreover, I think this is the most important thing that is happening on this planet right now. But these movements are a million miles away from the social revolution.
I’ll respond in a fairly unordered manner. because I’m rather tired and can’t work out a way of ordering it bettter. Sorry about that.
In part we seem to have been talking at cross purposes – ie we misunderstood each other. Of course – and this seems so obvious that it shouldn’t need saying, but you clearly misunderstood and/or I misunderstoood you – people need to educate themnselves and to develop knowledge of life and the world. I was referring to formal education and what is officially meant by ‘knowledge’. The knowledge needed to either sell ones labour or to survive in some other way is not by any means automatically the knowledge needed to fight this society nor is it automatically the knowledge that will be needed to construct a new society. Nowadays, there are few commodified wage labour skills – at least in the more developed capitalist countries – that will be really needed in a new society even when freed from their commodified function. And even less so to fight this society (though this was far less so a hundred years ago or more). It’s clear that school etc. inculcates people to accept a stupid society. Whilst we all need to know how to read and write, genuine self-expression against a world that represses genuine self-expression is something that constantly needs to be renewed and is something that can only develop against and outside the rules of the dominant society. Perhaps this is obvious to you, but I have to state the obvious to avoid repeating any misunderstanding. ‘Knowledge’ is obviously needed but knowledge of what? Is engineering more important than other kinds of skills (cooking, plumbing, hunting, growing plants)? Almost everyone has knowledge that others don’t have – the question is what is useful knowledge and how and why it is used. An engineer can create monstrosities (and usually, in this society, does). S/he can also constuct weapons and things that could be used against our enemies, but rarely does so.
You say ” some people have the skills to make difficult decisions and others do not”. It depends on the decision. Almost everyone can – and will have to if there’s to be the slightest chance of a successful revolution – develop the capacity to make difficult decisions and if we’re going to succumb to the attitude “I know best because I know X,Y, Z” we succumb to a technocratic elite. The ability to manage a factory is not the same as the ability to determine one’s life. Which is why I prefer the word “determine” to “manage”. There are far too many people who say they want a revolution but who merely want to self-manage the existing content of this society whilst only opposing aspects of its form (eg bosses). Are you one of them?
On the one hand you seem to judge the idea of skillled workers and unskilled workers from the point of view of the positive construction of a new society without looking at the essential in the current situation – the negative – which is everyone’s task. On the other hand you seem to accept the current role people are forced to play to survive as the definition of what they are even for this future construction. In your experience, unskilled workers are only interested in wages, but don’t criticise the need for bosses. Yet the unskilled in many revolutionary situations criticise in acts far more than just bosses (in South Africa in the 70s and 80s many of them were very skilled in destroying much of the conditions that kept them down).
You constantly emphasise only workers. What about those who do unwaged domestic work, high school students, etc.? Sure a revolution cannot succeed without a fundamental transformation of wage labour and the division of labour, but such a transformation has to take place not just in workplaces, but everywhere.
You talk of the highpoints of class struggle being Hungary ‘56 and Poland 80-’81 etc. But, without denying their importance, it seems obvious that there were limitations hardly mitigated by the fact that many of these workers were skilled and educated. For instance, in Hungary, they appealed to the United Nations! In Poland they allowed a scumbag like Walesa to represent them and eventually become president with a right-wing Catholic agenda. Things are not at all as simple as you try to portray them. All revolutionary movements have their contradictions and it doesn’t help to say one is simplistically better than another. Aspects are better but other aspects are worse (eg many of the more destructive movements had nothing to demand of this society but Solidanosc most certainly did …which is not to reduce the whole movement of Poland ‘80 – ’81 to the professional organisers of Solidarnosc). The point is to look also at their limitations and some of the reasons why they remained confined by their limitations and ended up becoming an integral part of capitalism. If you only see the positive obviously work-oriented aspects, you tend to downplay the more destructive class struggles that have taken place over the years ( destructive of this society and of dominant social relations rather than self-destructive of course). And you ignore also those historical moments that launched a thousand critiques of this society (especially France May ’68 and things like the critique of art, culture and of work). Poland ’80-’81 didn’t even critique religion let alone work, art and culture.
For the moment, I’ll leave it at that.
You raised a lot of questions. Part of our dispute is related to language problems. Of course, I realize that our existing knowledge is not enough, and that the social revolution means a process of constant learning (without it it is unthinkable and impossible) and the process of overcoming the division of labor.
” The false reaction to this imposed guilt in Germany generally took the form of fascistic revisionism/Holocaust denial and/or an attempt to make all other horrors of the war equivalent. Horrors on all sides there clearly were: Dresden, Hiroshima, the starvation imposed on the Bengalis by Churchill (at least 3 milllion died), etc.etc. But although starvation, being nuked or being burnt alive are horrible ways to die, the fact that the German concentration camp commanders were so obviously and crudely sadistic, so coldly “scientific”, has been used to imply that the whole of the working class was to blame for this gratuitous pleasure in brutality, which was largely unprecedented in its unrelenting intensity, at least on such an industrial scale.
Today capital starves to death (or kills by easily curable diseases) 8 million children a year, and yet so few people do something to genuinely oppose this, even though such opposition would not – generally speaking – lead to torture and death, which such opposition would certainly have meant if anybody in Nazi Germany had done anything against the Nazis (and, despite this, there was opposition by the working class in Germany under Hitler – see, for example, this). This is certainly not to make an equivalence of all capitalist misery – which makes every misery as interchangeable and exchangeable as a commodity – as, say, “a quarter of wheat…exchanged for X blacking, Y silk, Z gold, etc.” (Marx, Capital). Mass murder is mass murder but body counts avoid understanding the historical and subjective meaning of the lives and deaths of those involved. But equally making a hierarchy that puts the killing of about 73% of Europe’s Jews at the top, the killing of about 73% of Hutus in Rwanda in the middle and the massacre of between 60% and 80% population of the Congo by Belgian imperialism at the bottom is obviously a euro-centric arrogance. Any radical hatred of capitalism can neither make a hierarchy of horrors nor impose a simplistic “objectivism”, in the name of some very general critique of the totality, on what are very different experiences of mass murder. Equivalence and hierarchy are two sides of the same ideological thinking inculcated by the commodity form.” – here:
I think that this guilt is artificially imposed TODAY on the German proletariat and that this causes from time to time a nationalist reaction.
Merkel did this, albeit in a mild way, but in fact she said it was the collective guilt of the Germans.
About equivalence… hm… Interesting point.
I don’t even know how to count it.
In Russia-USSR, the country experienced three Holodomors (hunger strikes) during the Bolshevik rule (1921, 1932-1933, 1946-1947). All three were connected with the policy of the Bolshevik state. The first two killed about 5-7 million each, the famine of 1946-1947 killed from several hundred thousand to two million. That is, each two killed the same number as the Holocaust. Though in this case our government did not put the original purpose to kill people… just it was not too important for them.
The Stalinist state deported 6 million people, 3.5 million of them on the ethnic principle, in total Stalin deported about 60 peoples of the USSR, 10 of them totally. А significant part died. For example, deportation killed 20 percent of Chechens and Ingush (100,000) in the first year alone в 1944-1945.
10 million people were arrested and passed through Stalin’s camps during the 30 years of his rule, about 10-15 percent died.
And this is not counting the deportation of 10-14 million Germans, as well as hundreds of thousands of Hungarians and Ukrainians in Eastern Europe.
But even this is not all the crimes of the Soviet regime. We still do not know how many Soviet soldiers were killed by the commanding Soviet generals (along with the Nazis, of course), throwing millions of poorly trained soldiers against the Wehrmacht – it is a state secret. because historians are not allowed in our archives. We don’t even know, where more people died during the war – under German occupation or under Stalin. Our archives are closed. I assure you that our concentration camp guards and Holodomor organizers were quite rational…
Equivalence…? I’d say it’s like comparing plague and cholera, both dangerous though in different ways…
I like to give this example. What would have happened if I had lived then? The Nazis would have killed me as a Jew. The Bolsheviks would have killed me earlier for my views. I would be dead under both regimes. But the reasons for the murder and the circumstances of the death would be different.
I thought it might be interesting to point out that it’s a well known fact even among many Israeli citizens that the state of Israel has been systematically holding back the monetary compensations paid by Germany from reaching the Holocaust survivors who are entitled to it (under the “Reparations Agreement” between Israel and West Germany, which was signed in 1952 with the opposition of several sections in the official political world of Israel that objected to any relations with Germany after the Holocaust and tried to prevent the agreement, especially the right wing parties but not only), leaving many elderly survivors in abject poverty and misery (along with all the traumas they have to suffer). Soon there will be none left and then this blatant display of the hypocrisy and lies behind the facade of a nation state “protecting” Jews will probably be forgotten.
Trachman or Yes! But there is another important part of it:
“Despite the protests, the agreement was signed in September 1952, and West Germany paid Israel a sum of 3 billion marks over the next fourteen years; 450 million marks were paid to the World Jewish Congress. The payments were made to the State of Israel as the heir to those victims who had no surviving family. The money was invested in the country’s infrastructure, and played an important role in establishing the economy of the new state. Israel at the time faced a deep economic crisis and was heavily dependent on donations by foreign Jews, and the reparations, along with these donations, would help turn Israel into an economically viable country.”
In other words, the money that the German government and Israel pulled from German workers was spent to support the economy of the militaristic and racist state of Israel, which carried out a huge ethnic cleansing of Arabs (Nakba).
But even that is not all. The foundations for the establishment of the state of Israel were laid by an agreement between the Zionists and the Third Reich. It is a little-known fact that this agreement provided an influx of capital and people to Israel.
“The Haavara Agreement (Hebrew: הֶסְכֵּם הַעֲבָרָה Translit.: heskem haavara Translated: “transfer agreement”) was an agreement between Nazi Germany and Zionist German Jews signed on 25 August 1933. The agreement was finalized after three months of talks by the Zionist Federation of Germany, the Anglo-Palestine Bank (under the directive of the Jewish Agency) and the economic authorities of Nazi Germany. It was a major factor in making possible the migration of approximately 60,000 German Jews to Palestine in 1933–1939.1
In other words, the Zionists, who in the 30s were allies of the Third Reich and worked against the economic boycott ( boycott directed against the Third Reich), in the 50s declared themselves “heirs of Holocaust victims” and became recipients of German reparations.
Magid mentions the money given to Israel, but on the other hand the Marshall Plan following WWll gave Germany massive subsidies: official estimates put the amount given to Germans accumulated over the 50 year period since the end of the war as 140 billion German marks –
However, you don’t seriously deal with Alfred’s point – that ” liberal memorial policy is only a trigger, not the cause for that.
In Greece, despite the official worldwide lie that Germany bailed them out, it’s fairly well-known that Germany made a profit from Greece on their credit to the country. Despite massive immiseration over the last 4 – 5 years, and despite it being at a more rapid pace than the immiseration of a relatively smaller section of the German working class, though there’s hostility towards the German state and some hostility towards German tourists, this hostility does not take on the kind of vicious violent forms of the racism amongst German nazis. The difference might well be that Greece had a recent and very explosive class struggle, suppressed since 2015 by Syriza and by people who put their faith in them. Alfred refers to ” the worsening of capitalist misery and alienation in general while proletarian solidarity or a revolutionary perspective are almost totally absent” . In Greece capitalist misery in its neoliberal post-Keynsianism forms is worse than in Germany, but probably alienation and working class solidarity is considerably less advanced than in Germany. History and how you relate to it, and the conditions of genuine elements of proletarian community are what makes the difference, interacting with individual choice. In Germany, the history of a strong tendency towards a far greater acceptance of and submission to external authority, illustrated particularly by the fact that the German working class handed over the power over the economy they had to the social democrats at the end of WWl ( despite their collaboration in the war ) , seems to me to be the fundamental difference between the 2 countries on this whole question.
Another thing about your response, magid, to SKhan. You say ” Without this Union (not trade-union ) social revolution is unthinkable.” . This Union refers back to ” the Union of skilled workers and specialists…the Alliance of skilled workers and intellectuals ” . I totally disagree with this. Intellect is certainly needed but for the most part professional intellectuals – ie those who earn their living from intellectual work – may contribute to a social revolution but their work does not help them theorise a confrontation with the contradictions of this world at all. We certainly need a union of practice and ideas, but the means by which we survive in the division of labour of this society are not innately abilities that enable us to supercede this division by any means.
You mention the movement in Poland as being an example of this “Alliance of skilled workers and intellectuals “. But look at how the intellectual Kuron developed. Though contributing to the movement in Poland in the late 60s with his “open letter to the Party” (co-written with Modzelewski) he, and the group of intellectuals he was part of, pushed Walesa as the representative of the workers’ movement as part of this alliance. He then later became Poland’s Minister of Labour after the fall of the Berlin Wall. I’m certainly not saying that such a lack of integrity is automatically the destination of all subversive intellectuals, but I am not only very wary of a simplistic equation of “skilled workers” + “intellectuals” = social revolution, but definitely opposed to such a formulation. A successful social revolution will have to involve the vast majority, whatever their current official training or lack of training is (peasants, manual workers, intellectual workers, thieves, carboot salespeople, entertainers, fly-pitchers etc.) – and each will have to recognise the alienated aspects of what the need for money forces them to do, or else the movements will produce high-up recuperaters like Walesa, Kuron etc..
Really interesting discussion. It illustrates well why a forum for written exchange can be so useful compared to purely verbal dialogue. Already as things are, even when everything is written down and we all have the opportunity to consider the words of others and formulate our responses in our time, there is still a good deal of misunderstanding going on!
I think I now understand what Magid is on about re. skilled workers — and if I am correct Sam, you are misinterpreting what he is saying. In some ways I agree, and in others I disagree with his position, which I can state in my own words as this:
Certain anarchist and anti-state communist tendencies today (L´apellistas, Communisation currents, promoters of libertarian infrastructure, etc) emphasise the importance of “reskilling ourselves” as a way of laying the ground work for a sort of secession from the world of survival and alienated labour on which proletarians depend. By learning how to become more self-sufficient, “we” (by which they mostly seem to mean middle class revolutionary intellectuals with little to no practical skills) are supposed to begin increasing our own autonomy and preparing the ground for zones liberated from the colonial occupation of the commodity economy wherein “we” can find each other, heal from the wounds of alienation, powerlessness and isolation imposed by the contemporary nighmare, and organise “our” attack on the capitalist death machine.
Recently when considering this argument, it struck me how incredibly limited the appeal this was to a very niche demographic who are fond of expressing very old and often banal ideas in a language (simultaneously “poetic” with a capital P and “theoretical” with a capital T) whose resounding phrases pretend to be presenting something new.
But for those of us who do not limit our identification to a declassé, generally postgraduate intellectual subculture, it is evident that “we” — proletarians as a whole — do not need to “reskill ourselves” in the narrow technical sense implied by our benighted overly-educated comrades. The world is entirely dependent on the of millions of skilled workers who make the capitalist death machine tick.
It struck me that the total absence of any for these skilled workers within the theories of our comrades was indicative not merely of the alienation of radical intellectuals from basic realities, but just as much it is symptomatic of the gradual alienation of skilled workers from radical theory and practice. It is not merely the case that unskilled workers are necessarily limited in their revolts, but that skilled workers have become increasingly separated from their unskilled comrades, both subjectively and objectively, to the point where common action on the basis of common interests (this is the Unity he is talking about, as I see it — between skilled and unskilled workers, as well as perhaps between these two groups and a fraction of dissident intellectuals) is increasingly rarer.
The simultaneous rise of microelectronic automation on the one hand, and the neoliberal fragmentation of the workforce on the other in the form of subcontracting and casualisation, have brought about a revolution in the relations of production over the last decades that is intimately tied to the decline of the trade unions. Almost universally (there are notable exceptions), skilled and unskilled workers share the same workplace but are employed by different companies — unskilled workers, even those engaged in manual labour, are technically classed as being in the services sector since their bosses are sub-contractors paid by manufacturing firms to provide the “service” of cheap, easily disposable labour. Skilled, permanent workers do not engage in the struggles of their unskilled, casual/temporary comrades, who are usually more combative. They see themselves as privileged in comparison to those lower in the hierarchy, and tend to act that way in order to preserve their priveledges.
Of course, as I noted with the previous examples, this tendency has existed since the 19th century in many parts of the world, and was the basis for the rise of syndicalism, which aimed to unite all workers of a workplace in opposition to the conservative guilds & trades unions which restricted their interests to skilled tradesmen. The rise of Fordism in the 20th century wiped out the artisanal social basis of the old trades unions and leveled the playing field again in many respects.
The toolmakers, clerks, turners, fitters, metallurgists, engineers, industrial designers, chemists, health workers, farmers, builders, bakers, auto mechanics, carpenters, plumbers, and electricians of the world have by and large (always with notable exceptions) joined the ranks of the “salariat”, or that of the self-employed — in either case, they very rarely consider themselves proletarian but tend to think and act as if they are middle class. In many parts of the world this has been the case for decades — the situation in the state-capitalist bloc after WW2 seems, if anything, more like the exception that confirms the rule.
A union between skilled and unskilled revolution is unthinkable simply because, as magid says, it would undoubtedly be necessary to maintain production and circulation of what is today considered basic goods and services for a certain time while people figure out what is truly desirable based on real human needs and passions. And crucial to maintaining all that would be the eager co-operation and participation of skilled workers in key positions.
How might such a situation come about, given the noted lack of enthusiasm for rebellion on the part of skilled workers today? Who has even explored this question in any detail?
If I misunderstood, and SK’s very thought-provoking elaboration of the problem of the skilled/unskilled/intellectuals is a correct understanding, I apologise, Magid.
Maybe – though this should be up to Magid who began this thread – this should be carried on to another – a new – thread, as it doesn’t directly relate to the Fall of the Berlin Wall.
For those who want to research stuff on the UK’s Winter of Discontent – see libcom.org/history/delightful-measures-… – which is an elaborated version of an earlier text on my site –
As SK formulated “it would undoubtedly be necessary to maintain production and circulation of what is today considered basic goods and services for a certain time while people figure out what is truly desirable based on real human needs and passions. And crucial to maintaining all that would be the eager co-operation and participation of skilled workers in key positions.”
As for the Polish Solidarity, I will answer later, because I have been busy with work for the last few days. I can only say so far that the radical part of Solidarity did not like people like Kuron or Valensa. The Union of specialists and skilled workers from the factories was the core of Solidarity and among them there were many opponents of Kuron and other KOS–KOR activists. The core of Solidarity collapsed in 1982-1989, largely due to market reforms carried out by the Bolshevik government of Poland. I’ll write about it later.