The Programme and Politics of the First International by Arthur Bough

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Jacob Richter
The Programme and Politics of the First International by Arthur Bough

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Quote:
Here then was the basis of the First International. It was not some desire on the part of Marx or a few revolutionaries to create such a party in the hope that Workers might join it. It was an actual movement by the workers themselves that Marx was responding to. And in that vein, he proceeded accordingly.

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The fundamental basis of his theory was to begin with "material conditions". As he puts it, "To act with any success, the materials to be acted upon must be known." In Capital, he cites such statistics at length in relation to Britain. Those figures he obtained from Government Statistics, but here he insists that the workers gather these figures for themselves, from their own experience. Why? Even at this level, Marx is insisting that the workers rely on themselves, and not on the bourgeois State. There is a political message there, both not to trust that State, and for the Workers to insist upon and develop their independence of it. By workers conducting such a survey they demonstrate their ability to do so, and build their own self-confidence. Moreover, the idea here was that workers in one country should be able to compare their condition to that of workers in other countries. On that basis the workers in the worst position would have arguments for raising their conditions. But, there would be no reason why workers in Country A should trust the data for country B, if that data was provided by Country B's bosses. The very collection of the data by workers, and the sharing of that data amongst workers was in itself an act of solidarity.

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Moreover, the nature of the concessions are such as to enable the workers themselves to better organise, to better educate themselves, and so on. In that respect, these demands are no different than the demands for bourgeois freedoms. Socialists do not advocate a struggle for them, because they have any faith in them as a solution to workers' problems, do not suggest to the workers that having agreed to them, the Capitalist State will stick to them, but merely argue that they facilitate the workers struggle to really make significant changes, to overthrow the power of Capital.

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The workers condition made them a class in themselves, but they could never become a class for themselves via the Trades Unions. Nor could they achieve that through any political parties simply created by the Trades Unions, because such parties could only ever codify the reformist Trades union consciousness. Marxists could attempt within those parties to raise that consciousness, just as they would try to do within the Trades Unions, but it would always be a hopeless task so long as the material conditions which fomented the competition between workers, and which underpinned the bourgeois ideology, which dominated the workers persisted.

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Marx here does not even advocate an Income Tax, but only a Direct Tax - which could just as easily by a Poll Tax. Flowing from the above assessment, his reason for advocating Direct Taxes then has nothing to do with any idea of redistributing income from the rich to the workers. His reasons for advocating Direct Taxes are quite different, in fact more akin to those of the Taxpayers Alliance than of the Left.

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The starting point is not any question of bourgeois democratic right for self-determination. The starting point is what is in the best interests of the working-class movement.

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In the US, the Constitution specifies the right of every citizen to bear arms, as part of a well-regulated militia, and many other countries have militia. In fact, the organisation of workers in their workplaces, and communities, facilitates the development of not just a militia, but of neighbourhood policing groups, defence squads etc. which can make the task of policing neighbourhoods, effectively combating crime and anti-social behaviour, a normal social function for all citizens.

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What I have attempted here, by concentrating on the actual programmatic formulations is to look at the general method of Marx, who formulated these positions. I have attempted to contrast those positions with the positions that much of the left adopts today, which in themselves in large part rest upon a sort of "accepted knowledge" that for a long time has gone unquestioned.