Sunday, March 25, 2012

From #Ur-Occupied Boston (#Ur-Tomemonos Boston)-General Assembly-The Embryo Of An Alternate Government-Learn The Lessons Of History-Lessons From The Utopian Socialists- Robert Owen and the Co-operative movement

Click on the headline to link to the archives of the Occupy Boston General Assembly minutes from the Occupy Boston website. Occupy Boston started at 6:00 PM, September 30, 2011. The General Assembly is the core political institution of the Occupy movement. Some of the minutes will reflect the growing pains of that movement and its concepts of political organization. Note that I used the word embryo in the headline and I believe that gives a fair estimate of its status, and its possibilities.
An Injury To One Is An Injury To All!-Defend All The Occupation Sites And All The Occupiers! Drop All Charges Against All Protesters Everywhere!
Fight-Don’t Starve-We Created The Wealth, Let's Take It, It’s Ours! Labor And The Oppressed Must Rule!
Below I am posting, occasionally, comments on the Occupy movement as I see or hear things of interest, or that cause alarm bells to ring in my head. The first comment directly below from October 1, which represented my first impressions of Occupy Boston, is the lead for all further postings.
Markin comment October 1, 2011:

There is a lot of naiveté expressed about the nature of capitalism, capitalists, and the way to win in the class struggle by various participants in this occupation. Many also have attempted to make a virtue out of that naiveté, particularly around the issues of effective democratic organization (the General Assembly, its unrepresentative nature and its undemocratic consensus process) and relationships with the police (they are not our friends, no way, when the deal goes down). However, their spirit is refreshing, they are acting out of good subjective anti-capitalist motives and, most importantly, even those of us who call ourselves "reds" (communists), including this writer, started out from liberal premises as naive, if not more so, than those encountered at the occupation site. We can all learn something but in the meantime we must defend the "occupation" and the occupiers. More later as the occupation continues.
In the recent past as part of my one of my commentaries I noted the following:

“… The idea of the General Assembly with each individual attendee acting as a “tribune of the people” is interesting and important. And, of course, it represents, for today anyway, the embryo of what the “new world” we need to create might look like at the governmental level.”

A couple of the people that I have talked lately were not quite sure what to make of that idea. The idea that what is going on in Occupy Boston at the governmental level could, should, would be a possible form of governing this society in the “new world a-borning” with the rise of the Occupy movement. Part of the problem is that there was some confusion on the part of the listeners that one of the possible aims of this movement is to create an alternative government, or at least provide a model for such a government. I will argue here now, and in the future, that it should be one of the goals. In short, we need to take power away from the Democrats and Republicans and their tired old congressional/executive/judicial doesn’t work- checks and balances-form of governing and place it at the grassroots level and work upward from there rather than, as now, have power devolve from the top. (And stop well short of the bottom.)

I will leave aside the question (the problem really) of what it would take to create such a possibility. Of course a revolutionary solution would, of necessity, have be on the table since there is no way that the current powerful interests, Democratic, Republican or those of the "one percent" having no named politics, is going to give up power without a fight. What I want to pose now is the use of the General Assembly as a deliberative executive, legislative, and judicial body all rolled into one. In that sense previous historical models come to mind; the short-lived but heroic Paris Commune of 1871 that Karl Marx tirelessly defended against the reactionaries of Europe as the prototype of a workers government; the early heroic days of the Russian October Revolution of 1917 when the workers councils (soviets in Russian parlance) acted as a true workers' government; and the period in the Spanish Revolution of 1936-39 where the Central Committee of the Anti-Fascist Militias acted, de facto, as a workers government. All the just mentioned examples had their problems and flaws, no question. However, merely mentioning the General Assembly concept in the same paragraph as these great historic examples should signal that thoughtful leftists and other militants need to investigate and study these examples.

In order to facilitate the investigation and study of those examples I will, occasionally, post works in this space that deal with these forbears from several leftist perspectives (rightist perspectives were clear- crush all the above examples ruthlessly, and with no mercy- so we need not look at them now). I started this Lessons Of History series with Karl Marx’s classic defense and critique of the Paris Commune, The Civil War In France and today’s presentation noted in the headline continues on in that same vein.
A Five-Point Program As Talking Points

*Jobs For All Now!-“30 For 40”- A historic demand of the labor movement. Thirty hours work for forty hours pay to spread the available work around. Organize the unorganized- Organize the South- Organize Wal-Mart- Defend the right for public and private workers to unionize.

* Defend the working classes! No union dues for Democratic (or the stray Republican) candidates. Spent the dough on organizing the unorganized and other labor-specific causes (example, the November, 2011 anti-union recall referendum in Ohio).

*End the endless wars!- Immediate, Unconditional Withdrawal Of All U.S./Allied Troops (And Mercenaries) From Afghanistan! Hands Off Pakistan! Hands Off Iran! Hands Off The World!

*Fight for a social agenda for working people!. Quality Healthcare For All! Nationalize the colleges and universities under student-teacher-campus worker control! Forgive student debt! Stop housing foreclosures!

*We created the wealth, let’s take it back. Take the struggle for our daily bread off the historic agenda. Build a workers party that fights for a workers government to unite all the oppressed.

Emblazon on our red banner-Labor and the oppressed must rule!
From "A Web Of English History"-

Robert Owen and the Co-operative movement

Robert Owen has been called the 'father of English Socialism'. He was the founder of the Co-operative movement and believed in worker control although he was a high capitalist himself. He was the product of self-help and a very practical man who concentrated on the 'means to the end'. He believed that if the working man ever was to achieve equality, then the man must change first - in attitude. Also, the working man had to know of, believe in and be equipped to fight for the cause, according to Owen. This is very much the self-help ethic. Owen became convinced that the advancement of humankind could be furthered by the improvement of every individual's personal environment. He reasoned that since character was moulded by circumstances, then improved circumstances would lead to goodness. The environment at New Lanark, where he tried out his ideas, reflected this philosophy.

A London Co-operative Society had been started in 1824 with rooms in Burton Street, Burton Crescent, where discussions were held. Later it transferred to Chancery Lane where John Stuart Mill, Charles Austen and others had hand-to-hand fights with the ‘Owenites’. The Co-operative Magazine was started in January 1826 and gave accounts of the New Harmony community. It was published during the next three years as a sixpenny monthly. In 1830 it was replaced by the British Co-operator, the Co-operative Miscellany and other journals that expounded Owen's theories.

Also in 1826 the London Co-operative Society was formed, with William Lovett as storekeeper. Similar societies were formed elsewhere, and the British Association for Promoting Co-operative Knowledge was founded. All failed within three to four years because funds had no legal protection although much of this happened when Owen was in New Harmony. After 1829 Owen took over the development of Co-operatives, and pursued three lines of development:

production - the heart of Owenism.
The idea failed in the short-term, but was better organised after 1844. Many societies were started and Owen began to spread his ideas through lectures and by promoting various associations: he gave Sunday lectures at the Mechanics' Institute in Southampton Buildings until people objected. He then moved to the ‘Institute of the Industrious Classes,’ and to Burton Street. In 1832 he started the Labour Bazaar. He believed that the maldistribution of wealth was the result of expensive and unnecessary middle-men who were barriers between producers and consumers. He advocated 'labour exchanges' and 'labour bazaars' to eliminate middle-men. Owen preached two types of co-operation:

co-operative exchange
co-operative production
Since 14 April 1832 Owen had published a penny paper called The Crisis; in June he announced the formation of an association to promote the exchange of all commodities upon the ‘only equitable principle’ of giving ‘equal values of labour.’ To carry out this, an ‘Equitable Labour Exchange’ was opened on 3 September 1832 at a building called the Bazaar, in Gray's Inn Road. It had belonged to a man called Bromley who had pressed Owen to use it for a new society. Owen had thought it suitable for his experiment, which had already been partly set going elsewhere. Any goods might be deposited in it; ‘labour notes,’ which had been elaborately contrived to avoid forgery, were given in exchange, and the goods deposited might be bought in the same currency. The system was extremely crude and scarcely intelligible. There was, however, a rush to the exchange. A large amount of deposits was made and the example was imitated, especially in Birmingham.

Difficulties soon arose. Bromley made exorbitant claims for rent though Owen thought that he had offered his premises free of charge. It was decided to move the exchange to Blackfriars. In January 1833 Bromley forcible entered the premises and Owen paid large sums to settle the matter. Bromley tried to appropriate the scheme himself, but soon failed. The exchange was moved to Charlotte Street, Fitzroy Square, where Owen, helped by his son Robert Dale Owen, continued to lecture for some time, and a new constitution was framed. It only survived for a short time; Owen made up a deficiency of £2,500 for which he held himself to be morally, though he was not legally, responsible.

Owen's activity continued for several years, and had a great effect in stimulating the co-operative movement in the country, though exciting comparatively little public interest. He took part in the seven co-operative congresses which met between 1830 and 1834; he also took part in the succeeding fourteen ‘socialist congresses’ (1835-1846).

The Rochdale Pioneers
On 24 October 1844, the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers was registered under the Friendly Societies Act. It was set up by seven flannel weavers who knew about poverty, unemployment, goods on credit, truck and poor quality and/or adulterated food. Early in 1844 they rented the ground floor of a warehouse in Toad (t'owd) Lane for three years at £10 p.a. They opened the store on 21 December 1844 and it grew steadily into the Rochdale Equitable Co-operative Society Ltd. By 1851 about 13 co-ops existed, with a membership of 15,000 and in 1863 the English Co-operative Wholesale Society was set up.

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