The fluency of the diagnosis (and, as a summary, I thought it was genuinely impressive) is contrasted dramatically by the fantasy that is offered as a response:
"It is because of the fact that planning has been confined to individual units of capital, and conducted in the interests of a minority ruling class, that socialist planning has been proposed as a corrective. It involves, not the complete suppression of markets, but their active supercession. Markets are to be subordinated to imperatives arrived at democratically and implemented democratically. And because the limitations of representative democracy in the liberal capitalist state are obvious, because it can all too easily assume the regnant functions of capital (often simply by hiring capitalist managers and placing them in charge of recently nationalised institutions), socialist planning requires a different kind of polity. It has been called "workers' democracy" because it takes planning from the boardroom to the shop floor - elected workers' councils, deliberating under the advice of technical advisers who were previously subordinate to capital, take decisions in place of cabals of appointed executives and shareholders. Moreover, democratic organs built in each particular workplace are aggregated into local, regional and national structures, in which delegates are subject to instant recall. In such a scenario, there is a direct and continuous line of authority that exerts itself from the bottom up rather than the top down. For this reason, it has also been called 'direct democracy'."
It's a demand for universal role-playing done in an industrial context that is no longer recognisable. And then the kicker:
"It is impossible to imagine such a transformation, though simple and obviously just, taking place in a normal political situation. It is just as impossible to see it happening unless based on a powerful experience of solidarity and collective action. As a start, then, the experience of grassroots democracy would need to be routinised in workplaces across the country, in order to offset the pressures of competition, careerism and atomisation. Such is one of the many uses of trade unionism and rank-and-file organisation. The collective defense of jobs and living conditions against the inevitable attempts to force us to bear the costs of this crisis can be the basis for establishing such solidarity. Defying the logic of capital and the priorities of those who presently rule may be one crucial step in preparing us unruly natives for authentic self-government."
Note: "Normal political situation"? Then note 'impossible'. Then marvel at the energy that goes into this whole futile position. This explains a lot of the negativity of oppositional politics. The criticism makes sense as far as it goes. Its authors (and this is a collaborative effort, believe me) have often devoted a great deal of time to perfecting it because there was no point in developing the response to the problem beyond the few airy-fairy sweeping bits of idealism about workers councils.
This fluency of criticism precludes an involvement in the kind of experiments in collective action that are required to actually make things work. For all of the criticism about representative democracy, it is a good deal less granular and tricky to make work that the kind of dispersed direct-democracy model that is advocated here - something that it seems will just drop into place, as long as the political situation isn't normal.
With so little attention paid to the details of how co-ops (for example) can work outside a narrow band of well-trodden partnership models, we're left with a series of generalised offerings that all have get-outs - ones that can be explained by some sort of betrayal or other. Essential pre-conditions that can never be met. So we have....
- competition (what if people *are* competitive?)
- careerism (ditto)
- atomisation (has there been no reaction to oppressive 'community' or parochialism in recent years?)
- trade unionism (presumably the current bloody-awful bureaucratic blend of brotherhood will be scrapped beforehand?)
- rank-and-file organisation (a traditional example of socialist cant. It reminds me of that gag about people who use the word 'community' liberally - they don't live in communities)
I'd take the far-left seriously if it ever got involved in any kind of attempt to model workplace democracy, rank-and-file organisation or collective action. But I've never seen any evidence of this kind of hand-dirtying.
And it may sound like a cheap shot, but the hissy opportunistic and incompetent politics tells you everything you need to know about this perspective. These people want the world to be run by workers councils, and they couldn't arrange to make a round of sandwiches without tumbling into some nasty spat, inspired by microscopic differences of 'analysis' on global matters that they aren't equipped to deal with in the first place. It's an example of misdirection writ large.
Q: Have you an idea about how any form collective action can be improved somewhere nearby?
A: No. But I've got a fucking long essay about the impact of imperialism in somewhere you've never heard of - will that do instead?
Socialists have rarely achieved anything approximating to socialism by promoting socialist solutions. Promoting democratic solutions - ones based on a representative model of democracy - have, on the other hand, worked wonders, bringing huge material improvements to workers all over Western Europe over the past 60 years. In the UK, its architects were more often than not liberal democrats (Keynes Beveridge, Wilson, Jenkins). So why won't socialists get their hands dirty by experimenting around effective co-op models (for example), understanding deliberative democracy or making representation work?
Because it's not as easy - that's why. Grandstanding may get you laid for a while, but the SWP (and it's variations) never last long, never make a dent, and just waste everyone's time.
As Johnny Caspar put it, "yez fancy pants, all of yez"
(Cross-posted over at The Trots)