Saturday, August 17, 2013


It is theoretical weekends here at Scission and today we take a look at the State, at the Bolsheviks, at Lenin, at Marx, at whatever happened to simply SMASHING THE STATE.  Right off the bat, I will tell you there are some things in the post below which I disagree with.  For example, I think Marx is let off the hook to easily.  Marx's views of the state were confused, contradictory and often just a plain mess.  However, thought there are many things I consider incorrect in the post, there are some things that I like, and anyway, as you all know this space, this theoretical weekends space isn't reserved only for things with which I agree, but is reserved for things with which I find interesting and useful and worthwhile.

I would suggest, if you really want to dig into the whole question of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and all the rest of those folks, and  how they viewed the State in more  depth that you return to a work by an old comrade of mine, Tom Clark,  since passed, (and with whom I eventually split with for a number of reason), and a work of his which was first published here entitled State and Counter Revolution.  The easiest way to view it is by going to

The post below is from The Commune.

The State or Revolution

5082013The State and Revolution, (Lenin’s pamphlet – a polemic against Kautsky, Plekhanov and the Anarchists) was an apt title in the light of his view of the relationship between a revolution and the nature of a post-capitalist society. He and the Bolsheviks undoubtedly believed in Revolution, at least up to the overthrow of the Duma, the rejection of Constituent Assembly idea and achieving ‘all power to the soviets’. However, they also firmly believed in the need for a strong State.  Roy Ratcliffe puts his view on the state or Revolution.

The workers, soldiers and peasants, from 1905 to 1917, progressively initiated uprisings and revolutionary episodes and then, riding an exceptionally high wave of activity and protest in October 1917, the Bolsheviks convinced workers, soldiers and peasants that for their own good, it was necessary to create a strong state apparatus. They created a state institution which they protected and strengthened by employing special bodies of (predominantly) armed men. As the effective head of that state, Lenin in 1919 declared the following;
“This new state organisation is being born in travail …” (Lenin. Complete Works. Volume 29. page 375.)
Later he added;
“The dictatorship of the proletariat does not fear any resort to compulsion and to the most severe, decisive and ruthless forms of coercion by the state.” (Lenin. Complete Works. Volume 31. page 497.)
Later still:
“We took over the old machinery of the state, and that was our misfortune. Very often this machinery operates against us…here at the top, where we exercise political power, the machine functions somehow…Down below, however, there are hundreds of thousands of old officials whom we got from the Tsar and from bourgeois society, and who partly deliberately and partly unwittingly, work against us.” (Lenin. Complete Works. Volume 33 page 428/429.)
This institution of ‘ruthless coercion’ (Lenin’s own words) was progressively directed against workers and peasants and anyone else who disagreed with the Bolsheviks sectarian project. However, well before the workers, peasants and soldiers could be convinced of the need for such a separate institution over and above them, the ranks of the Bolsheviks had first to be convinced – for it was by no means the opinion of all anti-capitalists at the time.
As the dominant political figure within the Bolshevik faction of the Russian Social Democratic Party, it was down to Lenin to provide sufficient evidence for his belief in the necessity of a strong post-capitalist state. This task was crucially important in order to persuade the party and its supporters that those who opposed a post-capitalist state were entirely wrong. The evidence was carefully gathered, collated and then later presented to the party members in the above-noted pamphlet ‘State and Revolution’. Lenin, in writing this document, selected and assembled a comprehensive series of extracts from Marx and Engels, to support and back up his firm belief in the ‘instrumentality’ of a state after a workers’ revolution.
Lenin was able to interpret and mediate the thoughts and writings of these two revolutionary-humanists in order to confirm conclusions he already held. It is my contention that these were conclusions that – had they been alive – both Marx and Engels, would have disassociated themselves from. I have also no doubt they would have also been vigorously scathing about the reality of the post-capitalist social and economic forms promoted and defended by all Bolsheviks, and subsequent communists. For Marx it was; ‘State or Revolution; whilst for Lenin it really was ‘State and Revolution’ The material the latter used and how he used it in that pamphlet to justify his position continues below.
The material Lenin used.
In his polemic on the state against the Anarchists and others Lenin, correctly claims that Marx’s position on the state had been ‘distorted’. Indeed it has! And not just by Anarchists and opportunists – but also by his so-called followers.. Nor is it always done deliberately. Marx has often been simply misunderstood or insufficiently studied – even by those calling themselves ‘Marxists’. Despite this observation of distortion, Lenin uses Engels, more than Marx and indeed it is with Engels that he starts this pamphlet. Engels in the work Lenin first chose, observed that in the development of human societies from their earliest forms several distinguishing features emerge. One in particular is the establishment of a separate public power and relates to the question of a state;
“The second distinguishing feature is the establishment of a public power, which no longer directly coincides with the population organising itself as an armed force.” (Engels. ‘Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State’ 1891)
Using this particular work by Engels Lenin correctly sketched out the emergence of a ‘public power’ (a state) as an organ of class oppression finally perfected under the capitalist mode of production. Engels, in line with Marx, argued that in a classless post-capitalist form of production, the state will be put into a ‘museum of antiquities’. But Lenin suggested something different. He proposed that the state will “turn the means of production into state property”.
This indeed, was an earlier position of Marx but that was before the Paris Commune. Later, in a preface to the ‘Communist Manifesto’ Marx of course famously declared his earlier view of the state needed substantial modification after studying the events of 1871. It needed abolishing! Lenin does in fact mention this! However, in the next offering, using Anti-Duhring – a later work by Engels – there is a clear suggestion by Lenin of an institution called the state which workers will use before it eventually withers away. Lenin goes on to add;
“..Engels speaks here of the proletarian revolution ‘abolishing’ the bourgeois state, while the words about the state withering away refer to the remnants of the proletarian state after the socialist revolution.” (Lenin. State and Revolution’ Chapter 1. part 4.)
Here we witness Lenin building upon an outdated formulation by Engels and introducing into the revolutionary process a two-stage and a two state progression. 1. Abolish the bourgeois state and 2. create a proletarian state. Lenin in Chapter 2, then turns to Marx and quotes from ‘The Poverty of Philosophy’ where Marx argues that in the post-capital ‘associations’ of workers there will be no more ‘political power groups’. In this view the overthrow of the bourgeoisie will lay the foundation for the sway of the working classes which Marx at that moment in time (1847- 48 ) termed the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’. Lenin uses this early formulation by Marx to conclude that Marx proposed the existence of a state which was; ..”so constituted that it begins to wither away immediately”. Lenin in what amounts to sophistry then added;
“The proletariat needs state power, a centralised organisation of force, an organisation of violence, both to crush the resistance of the exploiters and to lead the enormous mass of the population – the peasants, the petty-bourgeoisie and semi-proletarians – in the work of organising a socialist economy. By educating the workers party, Marxism educates the vanguard of the proletariat, capable of assuming power and leading the whole people to socialism, of directing and organising the new system.” (Lenin. State and Revolution Chapter 2, section 1.)
This is the classic Leninist and Bolshevik position on the state. It is a view in which a state controlled by a ‘vanguard’ carries through the post-capitalist revolutionary measures, pushing or dragging everyone else along with it. The wage-workers remain wage workers, while the state re-forges society. This extract also includes the perceived leading role of the ‘party’ in any post-capitalist reconstruction. Later Lenin recognises that Marx, in 1852, had not specifically raised the question of what was to take the place of the destroyed bourgeois state machine.
He then noted that Marx and Engels concluded that their earlier formulations had become outdated and workers could no longer use the bourgeois state for their own purposes but need to ‘smash it’. So far so good. The bourgeois state is to be destroyed, (that is the political aspect of the revolution) but the crucial question remains. What is to be put in its place to fully carry out the economic and social revolution in the mode of production? Another form of state power?
To be or not to be! (that was the question.)
This issue has long disturbed and divided many anti-capitalists. The later Engels along with Lenin, Trotsky and the majority of Bolsheviks proposed a strong state which would – for an undetermined period of time – seize control of the major economic assets, guide the economy and lead or coerce the population into the correct paths as they saw them. Eventually this state, they suggested, would wither away. Those who opposed such a position (anarchists, Marx and other anti-capitalists) argued that taking over or setting up another state – no matter what its stated intentions – would have a momentum of its own becoming a separate force standing above society. This debate, often heated, obviously predates Lenin and the Bolsheviks and was seriously taken up by Marx, who called for the state’s abolition.
Yet Lenin – after the October revolution – only considered it a misfortune that; “We took over the old machinery of the state….”. In other words according to Lenin, under the Bolsheviks, the state with its bourgeois and aristocratic elements, had not even been smashed! Indeed, it had been taken over, along with many of the existing officials and bureaucrats – ”who work against us”. In other words, part 1 of Lenin’s two-state theoretical solution had not even been implemented! As we shall see, this reveals a serious discrepancy between Lenin and Marx. In section 2 of this sustained polemic, Lenin reproduces a few extracts from Marx’s ‘The Civil War in France’ and concludes from them that;
“The Commune therefore, appears to have replaced and smashed the state only by fuller democracy: abolition of the standing army; all officials to be elected and subject to recall. But as a matter of fact this ‘only’ signifies a gigantic replacement of certain institutions by other institutions of a fundamentally different type. (Lenin. ibid.)
The verbal hinge ‘but’ in this further sentence is an interesting sophist-style insertion by Lenin of Engels’ and his own position. It adds to the first sentence the need for a special post-capitalist ‘institution’ and confirms his earlier (asserted) two-stage process. After the dismantling of the bourgeois state, the creation of another organ of coercion and suppression. A state which as Lenin later stated would not fear to enact “ruthless forms of coercion”.
It would be an institution that would become an employer of workers and would have the power to reduce “the remuneration of all servants of the state to the level of workman’s wages”. Clearly, remuneration, as with other important economic and social issues, would not be decided by the workers, but by the state officials. Here we have a the unequivocal proposal for a replacement ‘state’ institution which enacts ‘measures’, employs workers at average wages and has officials who are supposed to be subject to recall. Lenin continues;
These measures concern the reorganisation of the state, the purely political reorganisation of society.” (Lenin. State and Revolution. Chapter Section 2.)
So again according to Lenin, the state is to be reorganised not smashed and involve the ‘whole population without exception’ in discharging its functions. Supervising these functions will be wage-working officials on average wages. This is an extremely confused and confusing proposal and is undoubtedly idealistic if not oxymoronic. A state, by definition is a separate public power from that of the armed people. Also it is not what transpired at any stage in the Soviet Union under the Bolsheviks. Lenin at that point in State and Revolution (ie the call for ‘the purely political reorganisation of society.’) was also ignoring Marx on the limitations of politics and the need to cast off politics in all its forms. Marx for example notes that;
“Where political parties exist, each party sees the root of every evil in the fact that instead of itself an opposing party stands at the helm of the state. Even radical and revolutionary politicians seek the root of evil , not in the essential nature of the state, but in a definite state form, which they wish to replace by a different state form……The political mind is a political mind precisely because it thinks within the framework of politics. The keener and more lively it is, the more incapable it is of understanding social ills. (Marx in Marx/Engels. Collected Works. Volume 3. Page 197/199. Emphasis added RR)
This and other cogent observations of politics by Marx are well worth considering for those who think that politics are ‘the’ solution to the problems facing the working and oppressed classes. There can be no doubt that Lenin had a keen and lively political mind. He certainly demonstrates its use in this polemic with those who disagreed with him on this and other issues. Using selected excerpts from Marx and mainly from Engels, Lenin, in State and Revolution, presents an apparently convincing theoretical argument for what was to transpire in the Soviet Union, after the October Revolution. Convincing, only if one fails to understand Marx’s general revolutionary-humanist position on the self-activity of the working class. Before considering Marx further a few additional extracts from Lenin are worth noting to indicate his consistency on this question.
“It follows that under communism there remains for a time, not only bourgeois law, but even the bourgeois state, without the bourgeoisie.” (Lenin. S & R. Chapter 5.)
“The point is whether the old state machine (bound by thousands of threads to the bourgeois and permeated through and through with routine and inertia) shall remain, or be destroyed and replaced by a new one. Revolution consists not in the new class commanding, governing with the aid of the old state machine, but in this class smashing this machine and commanding, governing with the aid of a new machine.” (Lenin. S & R. Chapter 6.)
It is clear from these somewhat self-contradicting extracts, that Lenin adopted as a firm principle the creation of a post-capitalist machine, institution or state which would be the engine driving the revolution forward. At this stage in his pamphlet he also argued that this state would be administered by everyone and that the whole working people would be armed. Yet it is well documented that what transpired in reality was a ‘special’ state and a corresponding bureaucracy along with a special armed force (the Red Army) and a secret police (the Cheka) along with numerous planning and implementing Orgburea’s. We also know the whole project went disastrously wrong from very early on, despite or perhaps because of (among other things) the states “most severe, decisive and ruthless forms of coercion“ against reluctant workers and peasants. So much coercion in fact that the Soviet Union has long ceased to be an example that working people would seriously want to follow.
Sophistry – the use of plausible but unsound arguments.
Lenin and the Bolsheviks got it so wrong for so long because Lenin became a ‘revered’ ‘leader’ and the ‘State and Revolution’ became something of a sacred gospel that few bothered or dared to criticise – a gospel to be learned, not questioned. This was a reverence and deference which lasted well into the 20th century. The theoretical and practical mistake made by Lenin and his supporters was also compounded and gained inertia because the distinction between the formulation ’dictatorship of the proletariat’ made by Marx at one point and the ‘content’ of what he personally understood this to represent did not receive sufficient consideration.
The same problem exists between distinguishing the form and content of words such as ‘association’ and self-governance also used by Marx. Without further definition, ‘Governance’ can be separated from self – and it was under Bolshevism! The ‘soviets’ were indeed at first a form of workers and soldiers ‘association‘, but were then transformed into an organs of the state. The term ‘dictatorship’ by the whole proletariat can and was disconnected from the proletariat and became a dictatorship over the proletariat. These facts illustrate that the ‘content’ of terms is far more important than the particular descriptive labels used. For example, consider the following content of Marx‘s position on the term ‘emancipation of the working class‘.
“The emancipation of the working classes must be achieved by the working classes themselves. We cannot therefore co-operate with people who openly state the that the workers are too uneducated to emancipate themselves and must be freed from above by philanthropic persons from the upper and lower middle classes.” (Marx/Engels Selected Correspondence. Progress. Page 307
Yet it is clear from reading Lenin’s output, that as a middle-class trained lawyer, he did not think working people in general could be trusted with their own emancipation. See for example Lenin Complete Works, Volume 26 page 414 for a vivid example; (other examples to follow.) And one final extract from Lenin’s ‘State and Revolution:
“We are not utopians, we do not “dream” of dispensing at once with all administration, with all subordination…..No, we want the socialist revolution with people as they are now, with people who cannot dispense with subordination, control, and foremen and accountants. The subordination, however, must be to the armed vanguard of all the exploited and working, people ie to the proletariat.” (Lenin. S & R. Chapter 3, section 3.)
This polemical assertion by Lenin amounts to a typical sectarian type mocking of an alternative position. It is a type of fictional distortion of a potential opponents character – this time as ‘utopians’ and ‘dreamers’ – which is meant to undermine – in ‘loyal’ followers – an alternative theoretical and practical position. On top of that, Lenin also denigrates workers and peasants as ‘needing’ subordination and control. Marx considered workers and peasants even in the 19th century as capable of self-activity and self-organisation, whilst Lenin in the 20th thought they were not and should slavishly expect and accept subordination, coercion and control.
So in publishing ‘State and Revolution’, Lenin had set up his less critical followers to accept a stereotyped inadequacy of the working class and a stereotyped utopianism of opponents of a state. He then lulled them further into compliance with his view by adding that subordination should be to another abstract formulation – the proletariat. However, we know that by the dictatorship of the proletariat, Lenin meant the armed Communist Party State and its most loyal supporters. We know this because he unmistakably stated it when openly accused of operating a one party dictatorship.
“Yes it is a dictatorship of one party! This is what we stand for and we will not shift form that position.” (Lenin. Collected Works Volume 29 page 535)
And he just as plainly stated the reasons;
“…the dictatorship of the proletariat cannot be exercised through an organisation embracing the whole of that class……it can only be exercised by a vanguard that has absorbed the revolutionary energy of the class. The whole is like an arrangement of cogwheels.” (Lenin. Collected Works. Volume 32, page 21.)
Vanguards and cogwheels – driving the revolution forward – or even backward as it turned out! That just about sums up Leninism and Bolshevism. By selecting certain statements and interpreting any literary ambiguity in Marx and mainly Engels in a particular way – in other words by sophistry – he was able in ‘State and Revolution’ to lay the ground for what he and his supporters were able to put into practice once they had assumed positions of power. Yet if we go back over the thoughts of Marx on this question it is possible to arrive at a different interpretation both of the dictatorship of the proletariat and of the question of a special elite institution of coercion after the bourgeois state and its power has been physically closed down.
The differences between Marx and Lenin.
Marx was not a politician. Lenin was. Marx was scathing of all politics. Lenin lived for politics. That is one difference. However, this was not necessarily the deciding factor between them on this question. In ‘State and Revolution’ Lenin claimed that like him, Marx was a centralist – but he was definitely not. To correct this ‘centrist’ distortion a special footnote was made to the ‘Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League’ explaining that a reference to centralism was a mistake owing to ‘liberal falsifiers of history’. In fact in re-examining the organisational question both Marx and Engels considered ‘provisional and local self-government’ had become ‘the most powerful lever of the revolution.“ Lenin fails to recognise or even mention this in State and Revolution. Yet this theoretical and practical difference over ‘politics’ and ‘centralism’ is not the only one relevant to this crucial issue. The discrepancy on the question of the state goes much deeper.
Marx made his own direct study of actual working people in numerous revolutionary and non-revolutionary situations to arrive at his own independent conclusions on their ability, the nature of the commune and the dangers of substituting a state for the newly acquired collective power. Lenin on the other hand studied Marx and Engels to settle the question of the state. For this reason, Lenin’s conclusions on the state in ‘State and Revolution’ were dependent upon a particular reading of Marx and Engels – not on any directly observed reality. This ‘reading’ being perhaps also influenced by his desire to polemicize against Kautsky and the anarchists. In contrast, Marx, after extensive involvement alongside workers in the 1st International and elsewhere, made the following comment on the Paris Commune;
“From the very outset the Commune was compelled to recognise that the working class, once come to power, could not go on managing with the old state machine; that in order not to lose again its only just conquered supremacy, this working class must, on the one hand, do away with all the old repressive machinery used against itself, and on the other safeguard itself against its own deputies and officials, by declaring them all, without exception, subject to recall at any moment.” (Marx. Class Struggles in France. Peking edition. Page 15. Emphasis added. RR.)
With regard to the first point we have already seen earlier that Lenin admitted that not all the previous repressive machinery was done away with. “We took over the old machinery of the state…” With regard to the second, safeguarding themselves against its own deputies and officials was something actually denied to the workers and peasants of the Soviet Union. Eg. “Yes it is a dictatorship of one party!”
Furthermore, safeguarding themselves against their elected and unelected party officials was also something denied to the rank and file Bolsheviks, let alone the ordinary workers and peasants. (On this question see Lenin. Complete Works. Volume 32 page 50). Party ‘appointments’ were the preferred method of choice under the leadership of Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin (See Lenin’s ‘Better fewer but Better‘).
Yet such safeguarding against elected delegates is the most fundamental content of any descriptive term given to the post-capitalist structures which emerge after an anti-capitalist revolution. Marx on the post-capitalist reconstruction of society;
“Does this mean that after the fall of the old society there will be a new class domination culminating in a new political power? No. The condition for the emancipation of the working class is the abolition of all classes…The working class in the course of its development, will substitute for the old civil society an association which will exclude classes and their antagonism, and there will be no more political power properly so-called, since political power is precisely the official expression of antagonism in civil society.” (Marx ’The Poverty of Philosophy’ Collected Works Vol. 6 page 211-212.)
It is clear that the Bolshevik position, justified by Lenin in State and Revolution and implemented in the Soviet Union with the approval of the Bolshevik Central Committee members, was substantially different than that proposed by Marx or the form chosen by the workers and others in the Paris Commune. For Lenin it was to be the case that after the fall of the old society there would remain a political power in charge – the ‘vanguard’ – the Bolsheviks! Yet the Bolsheviks were a group – self-claiming – to be the vanguard of the working class and entitled to exercise a state ‘dictatorship‘ against the workers! For Marx it was the workers commune which would be the institutional and organisational form for continuing the revolution and all which was to follow. For example in debate with the Anarchist Bukharin Marx stated;
“ soon as the functions have ceased to be political ones, there exists 1) no governmental function, 2) the distribution of the general functions has become a business matter, that gives no one domination, 3) election has nothing of its present political character.” (Marx. Conspectus of Bukharin’s Statism and Anarchy‘.)
So no governmental function, no domination, no politics in elections. Marx further argued that the ‘greatest measure of the commune was its own existence’. He noted that the solution was simple – as all great things. It provided ‘the rational medium’, ‘the political form of social emancipation’, it allowed the return of the powers usurped by the state to the ‘living forces’ of the ‘popular masses’. That was the content of Marx’s term ‘governmental machinery’!
Not actually a machine, of course – that was just a figure of speech – but a non-elitist, low cost living organism capable of collective action, reflection, self-criticism, correction and economic development – a commune! Indeed, continuing the argument with the anarchists and replying to their accusation directed against Marx and others of wishing to implement a form of government over the workers, he replied among other similar points , ‘Non, mon cher‘ ;
“..the whole thing begins with the self-government of the commune….”.(Marx. Conspectus of Bukharin’s Statism and Anarchy‘.)
Permanent Revolution.
So the concept of a post-capitalist ‘state-institution’ doing things for (and against workers) is missing in Marx – who knew very well the problems connected with the separation of such public-power. For Marx the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ was to be exercised by the proletariat organised in its self-governing local communities in which all citizens capable of bearing arms would do so. These local self-governing communities would be federated in the manner they saw fit in order to co-ordinate economic, social and defensive activities. They would only ‘dictate’ to those defeated pro-capitalist forces which wished to become parasitic on the new form or disrupt the peaceful progress (an ongoing revolutionary economic transformation) to an alternative post-capitalist mode of production. Certainly not dictate to and coerce their own class or other oppressed classes.
Also missing in Marx is the concept of a special, self-appointed ‘vanguard’ needed to lead the working and oppressed classes to their emancipation – to free them from above – and also tell them what to think! Their own self-critical experience in a revolutionary transformation of the mode of production was to be a class-wide experience not that of a ‘party vanguard’. A further important content of the term ‘self-activity’ of ‘working people’ used by Marx lies in the following; “..the alteration of men on a mass scale is necessary, an alteration which can only take place in a practical movement, a revolution: the revolution is necessary, therefore, not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but also because the class overthrowing it can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew.” (Marx. German Ideology. Coll. Wks Vol. 5 page 53.)
Lenin and the Bolsheviks differed from Marx on the form and content of the post-capitalist structures created by the working and oppressed classes during uprisings and revolutions. Instead of revolutionary self-activity of the masses, they created a powerful state, with loyal bodies of armed men, which produced top-down plans and coerced workers, soldiers and peasants into fulfilling them. Even internal critics of this ruling party were bullied and coerced well before Stalin, a favoured colleague of Lenin’s for much of Lenin’s life, took it to its logical conclusion and escalated a red terror calling it socialism. In contrast – before finally discarding the by then soiled term ‘socialism’ Marx commented on the purpose and function of a post-capitalist mode of production;
This socialism is the declaration of the permanence of the revolution, the class dictatorship of the proletariat as the necessary transit point to the abolition of class distinctions generally, to the abolition of all the relations of production on which they rest, to the abolition of all the social relations that correspond to these relations of production, to the revolutionising of all the ideas that result from these social relations. (Marx. Class Struggles in France. Foreign Languages edition. page 198.)
We can see, if we are not blinded by ‘faith‘ or stubbornness, that not only was Lenin’s ‘State and Revolution’ profoundly wrong in theory, its applied conclusions proved tragically destructive in practice. Leninism and Bolshevism has thus become a theoretical and practical model to strenuously avoid in pursuit of a working class post-capitalist mode of production. The Soviet State and its senior architects, Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin etc., represent a serious historical and intellectual barrier to the post-capitalist project. It is a barrier which urgently needs to be overcome. One last point from Marx on the nature of the working class revolution as it relates to the idea and practice of any state.
“It was a revolution against the ‘State’ itself, of this supernaturalist abortion of society, a resumption by the people for the people of its own social life.” (Marx. ’The Civil War in France‘. Peking edition. page 172.)
And as Marx also noted, states by direct taxation, become the first and steadily increasing charge on the producers labour. For Marx, a workers and citizens associative self-government, based upon the example of Commune, was the ultimate form of defensive and operational association, and in its continuance, the beginning of the revolutionary post-capitalist transformation. Local and region self-government was to be the foundation of all which was to follow. It was to be the immediate lever of change not a future result – granted to them by a self-selected so-called worker-friendly but coercive government ruled by a party-political elite – after an indeterminate period of time.
The crucial practical contribution by the Communards of Paris and written up by Marx in his various drafts (later interpreted by Engels), was something that Lenin de-constructed and skilfully reconstructed in the ‘State and Revolution’ to suit his own political preferences. This detailed polemic and his forceful character allowed him to influence a political elite (the Bolsheviks) and together they created a power structure (the Soviet State) over the working and oppressed classes. It was a state that stifled and distorted the revolution and strangled the self-activity of the masses – as any ‘state’ must. From the standpoint of workers and the oppressed the choice is clear: during a revolutionary upsurge its either a State or Revolution; one or the other; for the two are incompatible.
[ See also ‘Marxists versus Marx’. and ‘The Party: Help or Hindrance.‘ both at

Friday, August 16, 2013


It is prison Friday here at Scission.  I'm late, I know, I have been involved in an endless "argument on Facebook." Forgive me, such a waste of time.  I just don't have good self control.

Anyway, we all know about the Prison Industrial Complex and Mass Incarceration.  We all know about the racism and white supremacy behind both.  We all know about the private prison industry.  Here, below, is some research done on the incredible overrepresentation of People of Color in the private prison Industry.  You think the record of state and Federal prison systems are bad, get a load of this...from Prison Legal News (hardly a left wing, radical operation mind you).  It's a dry, academic read, but still worth a look see at one more way in which white supremacy and white skin privilege operate in this country known as the USA.

The Color of Corporate Corrections: Overrepresentation of People of Color in the Private Prison Industry

by Christopher Petrella and Josh Begley

by Christopher Petrella and Josh Begley

While data generated by the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and state departments of corrections (DOCs) have long demonstrated persistent racial disparities in rates of incarceration, no comparative study until now has considered the racial composition of select state-contracted, privately-operated prisons around the nation. We selected California, Texas and Arizona for our examination because they warehouse some of the largest numbers of prisoners in private, for-profit prisons. Taken together, these three states account for over 30 percent of all prisoners held in privatized correctional facilities in the United States. 

Our research indicates that although people of color are already overrepresented in public prisons relative to their share of state and national populations, they are further overrepresented by approximately 12 percent in state-contracted correctional facilities operated by for-profit private prison firms. Not only is the overrepresentation of people of color in private prisons a matter of public concern, it also begs some previously unconsidered questions.

Our conclusions are based on the latest U.S. Census demographic figures available through the Prison Policy Initiative’s “Correctional Facility Locator 2010,” cross-referenced with prisoner population directories available on state DOC websites and statistical information procured through public records requests filed with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

In order to avoid artificially inflating the over-incarceration of people of color in for-profit prisons we intentionally excluded figures from federal detention centers controlled by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the U.S. Marshals Service and detention facilities managed at the local level. For similar reasons, we strategically excluded data from transfer centers, work release centers, community corrections facilities, special treatment centers, reception centers and any facility with a population of under 500 persons.

The data revealed that 89 percent of California prisoners housed in private prisons are people of color, compared with 75 percent in public correctional facilities. In Texas, 71 percent of the prisoners held in privately-operated facilities are people of color, compared with 66 percent in public prisons. And in Arizona, 65 percent of the private prison population is composed of people of color, in comparison with 60 percent in public prisons.

Our findings help to underscore the notion that the private prison industry has represented an experiment in racialized profiteering from its very inception. Corrections Corporation of America (CCA)—the nation’s oldest and largest for-profit prison company, which now controls 43 percent of the corrections market—received its first contract in 1983 from the now defunct Immigration and Naturalization Services, the agency primarily responsible for detaining immigrants, who are most often classified as people of color. Sadly, this trend persists today. 

According to stipulations set forth in a 2007 CDCR memorandum, the state of California prioritizes previously-deported prisoners and/or prisoners with active or potential ICE holds for transfers to out-of-state private prisons—a policy that disproportionately impacts people of color. This policy alone accounts significantly for the overrepresentation of people of color in out-of-state facilities operated by for-profit prison companies that contract with California.

The overrepresentation of people of color in private prisons indicates they are disproportionately siphoned away from public prisons—precisely the types of facilities that provide the greatest access to educational and rehabilitative programs and services. Such an overrepresentation suggests that the incarceration of people of color, compared to “non-Hispanic whites,” functions, in part, as a source of profit extraction. Whereas the primary objective of public corrections agencies is the promotion of public safety through rehabilitation (at least in theory), private prison firms are first and foremost accountable to their shareholders. Companies like CCA are legally obligated to generate profit and increase shareholder value—an imperative that inherently compromises any significant commitment to rehabilitation, re-entry or recidivism reduction.

Although research pertaining to the racial composition of private prison populations is still emerging, we hope that our findings will generate substantive discussion relative to the relationship between race and prison privatization in the United States. Above all, we are optimistic that this study, limited as it is, will inspire policies aimed at eliminating the for-profit prison industry—an industry that disproportionately commoditizes people of color. 

Christopher Petrella is a doctoral candidate in African American Studies at U.C. Berkeley. His dissertation is entitled “Race, Markets, and the Rise of the Private Prison State.” Josh Begley is a graduate student in Interactive Telecommunications at NYU. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013


Sometimes it is not about some giant ideological struggle, sometimes it is not about taking on a giant global corporation, sometimes it is not about anything anyone almost anywhere even hears about.  Sometimes it is just a group of working people deciding they have had enough large injustice and that they are not going to take anymore small injustices.  Sometimes most of the "left" forgets that for working and poor people, small injustices are big deals, are life changing deals.

This leads us to a group I know little about.  It is a group which describes itself simply as, 

...a network of volunteers, open to workers both employed and unemployed, active and retired.

This is a group which in one paragraph sums a whole lot of things up:

Each of us at some time has suffered from unjust treatment by employers, landlords, or other wealthy people who hold power over our lives.  We've learned from experience that the only way we'll be treated fairly, equally, and with dignity is by being prepared to stand up to such people and defend our rights.  It's hard to do this alone.  That's why we've come together, and we're seeking out other local people with similar problems who feel the same way.  Together we can find ways of dealing with abusive bosses, greedy landlords, and those who would deny us, our friends, families, neighbors and co-workers the right to a decent life.

This is a group with a rather simple, yet profound vision:

We see our efforts as helping to build a powerful and democratic working class movement.  One day we will be strong enough to take full control over our lives.

This is a group without a political platform whose goal is simply: stand together and defend our rights against bosses and landlords—is what brings us together.  Individuals are free to discuss, argue, and agree to disagree about everything else.

This is a group then when asked to give examples of their work, responds with some examples: 

•    Bert got his rental deposit stolen.  He and a group of Solidarity Network supporters visited the property manager at her home one morning, and within a few days she paid up.

•    Jorge was owed $892 of wages, and the boss adamantly refused to pay. Jorge and a group of other workers visited the boss’s house, then leafleted the boss's church twice on Sunday mornings. After that, the boss agreed to pay Jorge every cent.

•    Stephanie, Yvette and other long-term motel residents demanded relocation assistance when they were ordered out of their homes at short notice.  Organized with the Solidarity Network, motel tenants and supporters defied eviction threats, visited the landlords’ neighborhood and launched an online and on-the-streets boycott campaign. Within a month the landlords met all our demands, paying 3-months’ rent per household to all residents who got involved.

This is the Seattle Solidarity Network and the posts below introduced them to me.  The first is from their own web site. The second is from  This is what it is all about.

Quick win in poverty-wages fight

at White Center grocery store

New SeaSol member Antonio worked at a grocery store in White Center for two grueling years. Working regular 6-day, 72-hour weeks, Antonio received no breaks, no overtime pay, and was irregularly compensated at less than $7 per hour (far below Washington State's minimum wage). When he learned of our win at Jumbo Buffet, Antonio got in touch with the Seattle Solidarity Network. After much discussion and research, SeaSol and Antonio voted to fight for 30 weeks of back wages, or $6,710, for Antonio.

On Saturday July 27th 2013, Antonio, his family, and over forty SeaSolers filed into the store to deliver our demand. The atmosphere was tense as the boss read the letter, shaking, and looking around at the stern faces glaring in solidarity with Antonio. The boss was so intimidated by our direct action that he immediately contacted a lawyer friend for help. His lawyer called us the following Monday with weak - and quickly shut down - attempts at bargaining.

On Thursday August 8th 2013, the thieving boss and his lawyer friend met up with Antonio, his daughter, and other SeaSol members. More attempts to bully Antonio into accepting less money were rejected, and Antonio was paid $6,710 on the spot.
The unwavering position presented by SeaSol and Antonio throughout this fight, our refusal to play legal games with a lawyer, and flawlessly carried out direct action quickly resulted in a swift win in this fight. Congratulations to our new comrade Antonio, and thanks to all who showed up to the demand delivery!


A fungus among us: Direct action cleans up landlord's act

 A fungus among us: Direct action cleans up landlord's act
A demand delivery scares landlord into returning the deposit of two SeaSol organizers.

Here's the story of a fight we recently won, in Wendy's words:

My partner & I, both longtime SeaSol members and organizers, moved into our apartment in the Central District in June of last year. After about a month of living there we started to notice substantial mold growth in the apartment. We emailed the landlord (a top executive at Starbucks) who suggested leaving the window open when we took a shower and cleaning it using bleach. The mold continued to spread despite this "treatment." Every time we cleaned the mold it would grow back right away, and with renewed intensity. Worse than that, I was experiencing light-headedness, dizziness and low energy, especially after I cleaned the mold.

As the mold infestation continued to worsen, my partner developed a low-grade fever, his tongue turned white, and his doctor recommended in writing that he move out of the apartment as soon as possible. Our dog developed allergies that caused open sores on his legs as well as ear infections requiring several trips to the vet. It became clear that it was no longer safe to live in the apartment and after being out of the apartment for just a few days, all of our symptoms, even our dog's allergies, began to clear up. Back at the apartment our landlord refused to consult mold specialists or make any serious attempt to get rid of the mold.

We told our landlord that our apartment was uninhabitable and moved all our possessions out on Dec.18th. In response, she insisted we were breaking the lease and threatened to sue us for "waste." She refused to give back more than $400 of our $1000 deposit. Meanwhile, we were seriously struggling to get the money together to get moved into a new place. We called SeaSol.

SeaSol voted to support us in a direct action campaign demanding that our former landlord return the missing $600 of our deposit. We arranged a fake showing at one of her properties and planned to present a letter to her outside the house en masse demanding that she return our stolen deposit. At the pre-action huddle, standing around me, supporting me, were about forty people.

We headed toward the corner where our former landlord was expecting to meet "Sarah," a fake tenant. There were close to forty of us marching down the middle of the street. As we approached she and two prospective tenants tried to skirt the large, silent group but I stepped toward her, letter in my hand, and said her name. Quickly, and while the tenants were still listening I explained to her that the letter was "in regards to the $600 of our security deposit that was taken". At this point she was surrounded by all forty, intensely quiet and serious-looking SeaSolers. She took the letter, said as professionally as she could that she was going to read it later, and scurried off to get in her BMW. Unfortunately for her she was parked on a dead-end street, so the experience was not over until she had started her car, turned around and slowly driven past all of us while we watched and filmed her. As soon as she was out of view we erupted into applause and whooping. I felt an unprecedented surge of empowerment.
Within ten days our landlord sent us an email stating she would pay back the $600! She was apparently unwilling to face the prospect of that same group of forty people staging future actions. Thank you so much to everyone who supported us.
Solidarity forever!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


There are many interest groups out there with all kinds of selfish and lousy reasons for declaring that climate change is a fraud, and even if it isn't, why it should be ignored.

You know  most of the players of course.

I won't bother you with a list.

Today, I just want to focus on one group, one religious group.  I am talking about the powerful and even more influential disastrous effect on the debate which is the result of evangelical, fundamentalist, end times thinking.  The end times thinkers are intent one would think on creating the end times.  They want Jesus and they want him now.

It is indeed ironic as motherboard aptly puts it that:

"...conservatives often deride environmentalists who calling for policies to address climate change, as being "apocalyptic" or "alarmist" or preaching "gloom and doom." It's somewhat ironic, then, that the most steadfast critics of policies to defend civil society against climate change are also the most steadfast believers in religious Armageddon."

On top of this is the attitude that God controls the Earth and everything else, so it is blasphemous for anyone to interfere with the plan (well, of course, this only counts when the interference is with a plan that certain people happen to decide is God's plan...or something like that) or as it is put more clearly and succinctly at motherboard again, 

"...the big guy controls the Earth's climate, and even deigning to believe that puny humanfolk could mess with the temperature is blasphemy."

After all, what are we to make of the fact that a 2012 study by the Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with the Religion News Service found that nearly four in 10 US residents believe that recent patterns of extreme weather activity such as Hurricane Sandy were evidence that the world is coming to an end as predicted in the Bible.  In fact,  nearly 65 percent of white evangelical Protestants said the storms are evidence of fulfillment of "end times" prophecies.

And if the Bible predicts it, really what can we do anyway?

Lisa Wellman-Tuck in a 2012 article on e-international relations writes;

When assessing end – times theology, it is clear that these beliefs have a defined influence on public attitudes towards action on climate change. Whilst non-believers may have an inherent concern for the future, ‘…end-times believers “know” that life on Earth has a preordained expiration date, no matter what—and that all Christians will be raptured before the going gets too tough’ (Barker and Bearce, 2012, p. 4). Following this premise, many fundamental religious organisations perceive efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change to be both futile and ill-advised.

In an interesting interview which I found at Climate Etc, .Dr. David Gushee, who is Distinguished Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University is asked, " What are the ingredients of evangelical climate skepticism?"  He replies:

 I have suggested in some public lectures that there are several ingredients of evangelical climate skepticism:

1) Disdain for the environmental movement

2) Distrust of mainstream science in general (evolution vs. creationism is indeed a factor here for some)

3) Distrust of the mainstream media (nicely captured by Sarah Palin’s derisive term “lamestream media”)

4) Loyalty to the Republican Party

5) Libertarian economics as God’s will–God is opposed to government regulation or taxation

6) Misunderstandings of divine sovereignty–God won’t let us ruin creation

7) Unreconstructed Dominion theology–Genesis 1–God calls human beings to subdue and rule creation

To summarize, then: God is sovereign over creation and therefore humans can do no permanent damage. God entrusted the earth to human dominion and we should not be afraid of economic development or other uses of human creativity. God established government for very limited purposes such as providing for the common defense–government should not intervene much in the workings of a free market economy. The Republican Party has taken a skeptical posture toward climate and we support that posture and that party. The media is overplaying climate change worries, at the behest of scientists who cannot be trusted anyway; it may all be a conspiracy to limit our personal and business freedoms and tax us even more. The environmental movement is secular/pagan and has always been a threat to American liberties and has always been anti-business and exaggerated environmental problems.

It is hard for us (the us being you and me and those like you and me) to comprehend the numbers of people in this country who not only really believe this stuff, but are willing to see the world literally come to an end so that their peculiar superstitions can seem real.  It's weird.  These righteous Christians would shout to high hell if you told them there is no difference between this sort of thinking and those who thought the Greek, Roman, or Norse Gods caused all this stuff through their playing around with each other and sometimes just for amusement sake.  Yet, what is the difference really.

Can it really be true that a few million religious nuts will one day be one of the primary factors that led to the death of our planet as we know it, that were key players in the greatest of the great extinction events?  Sadly, yeah, it could.

The following is from Policymic.

Global Warming Debate: Study Shows Links Between End-Times Believers and Global-Warming Deniers

We millennials have seen and (obviously) survived a lot of doomsday fear-mongering over the years. From the Y2K scare, to the half-mad ravings of Harold Camping (as well as other warnings of Rapture and the Second Coming of Jesus) to the worrying over the December 21 Mayan calendar prophecy, most of us are pretty immune and just ignore it. There are those who take it seriously though, seriously enough to where it affects the rest of us. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Colorado have found that belief in the biblical end-times has been a motivating factor behind a much of the resistance to curbing global climate change.

The study, carried out by David C. Parker (Univ. of Pittsburgh) and David H. Bearce (Univ. of Colorado) and set to be published in the June issue of Political Science Quarterly, is based on data gathered from the 2007 Cooperative Congressional Election Study. It has shown that belief in the “Second Coming” reduced the probability for strong support of government action on climate change by 12% after controlling for demographic and cultural factors. Once other effects such as party affiliation, ideology, and media distrust were removed the number jumped to 20%.

“The fact that such an overwhelming percentage of Republican citizens profess a belief in the Second Coming (76% in 2006, according to our sample) suggests that governmental attempts to curb greenhouse emissions would encounter stiff resistance even if every Democrat in the country wanted to curb them...It stands to reason that most nonbelievers would support preserving the Earth for future generations, but that end-times believers would rationally perceive such efforts to be ultimately futile, and hence ill-advised,” the study states. The most prominent evidence of the attitude comes from Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Environment and Economy. In 2010 Shimkus stated that he opposed action on climate change because “the Earth will end only when God declares it to be over.”

It's not really that surprising a find. If you think you and all the other True Believers are going to be whisked away to heaven, then you don't really have much incentive to care about the environment. The only ones who'll be left to it are all the non-Christians, and they of course deserve whatever ill befalls them for refusing to believe in the one true God. So since you're off to the land of sunshine and butterflies what does it matter if the environment is damaged beyond repair? As one of the dedicated nonbelievers I'm patently unamused by this kind of selfish, backwards thinking. It really does boggle my mind that how scientifically and environmentally illiterate men like Lamar Smith and John Shimkus have managed to rise to positions of power in committees dealing with issues that they have zero understanding of.

It's impossible to gauge exactly how much damage this kind of thinking has caused or know how much could've been avoided, but the study goes on to conclude that any change to the status quo is unlikely while so many American Christians (particularly Republicans) believe in the Second Coming. “That is, because of institutions such as the Electoral College, the winner-take-all representation mechanism, and the Senate filibuster, as well as the geographic distribution of partisanship to modern partisan polarization, minority interests often successfully block majority preferences,” Barker and Bearce wrote. “Thus, even if the median voter supports policies designed to slow global warming, legislation to effect such change could find itself dead on arrival if the median Republican voter strongly resists public policy environmentalism at least in part because of end-times beliefs.”

Unlike many of my fellow atheists, I don't particularly care if other people choose to believe in gods. I do have an issue, however, when they let those beliefs carry over from the personal realm into the professional realm, where their delusion of being whisked away from the world leads them to not care that we've taken the one home humanity has and brought it to the brink of an environmental cliff with no road back. The environment isn't going to get better, so we need to do our best to stop it from getting worse, but as long as people continue to believe that the world is going to end it's unlikely to happen