2000s >> 2009 >> no-1255-march-2009


Trade unions

Dear Editors

With reference to the Socialist Standard (50 Years Ago, February) referring to February 1959 showing Trades Unions in Maoist China were in practice organs of the State, Trotskyists in the SWP and other Trotskyists argue for unions to have power and rights. Yet when Trotsky was Lenin’s right-hand man he argued for the banning of unions to represent workers’ interests on the grounds it was not necessary in a workers state: instead they should express the state’s viewpoint to workers. He advocated forced labour and military discipline to be attached to labour units. Hitler and Mussolini had similar ideas.

Please assure that even under socialism and communism you would recognise free powerful Trades Unions to advance workers’ and other people’s rights as a Fundamental Human Right.

Andrew Harvey, Carlisle.

Reply: We can’t give you the assurance you ask for since trade unions, as organisations to negotiate with employers over the price and conditions of use of the commodity labour-power that their members are obliged to sell to get a living, will not exist in socialism. Neither will employers, nor wages. Instead, production will be under democratic control on the basis of the common ownership of the means of production. No doubt there will be workplace bodies – which will be free and powerful – to ensure this democratic control but these will not be trade unions.

We hope you don’t think we’re Trotskyists. We are not but have always opposed Leninism and its 57 varieties including Trotskyism. We agree with you in denouncing Trotsky’s attitude towards trade unions when he was a member of the state-capitalist Bolshevik government of Russia in the early 1920s – Editors.


Dear Editors

I much appreciated DP’s review of my Kropotkin pamphlet (January Socialist Standard). Of course Kropotkin, like myself, was clearly able to distinguish between Marx’s advocacy of parliamentary government (State socialism) and Lenin’s vanguardist approach.

What is important to recognise, however, lost on DP, is that Kropotkin and the anarchists repudiated both Marxist politics and Bolshevism and other anarchists (libertarian socialists) opposed Marxist State socialism – clearly spelled out in Iain McKay’s recent An Anarchist FAQ (AK Press, 2008) and other pamphlets by the Anarchist Federation.

BRIAN MORRIS, Lewes, Sussex,

Reply: We would argue that Marx was not an advocate of “parliamentary government” but of the abolition of the state. As he wrote in The German Ideology “[The proletarians] find themselves directly opposed to the form in which, hitherto, the individuals, of which society consists, have given themselves collective expression, that is, the State. In order, therefore, to assert themselves as individuals, they must overthrow the State”. It is unfortunate that after so-called “Marxism” became the official ideology of the ruling class in Russia his anti-state sentiments have been downplayed or distorted. “State socialism” is a contradiction in terms and was never used by Marx.

In all essentials, we would say the theories of Kropotkin are closer to those of Marx than are some others from the Anarchist tradition; the difference is one of means and not ends – a classless, stateless, moneyless, wageless common ownership society. However what it is more important, as we hope you’ll agree, is not what Marx or Kropotkin said or meant to say, but how we can improve our current theoretical understanding by studying their works and criticising them in the light of later developments and our experience of the present. – Editors.

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