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December 15, 2011



But how did the situation in Gurao in 2007 that Jamie P reminded us about a couple of days ago resolve itself? I see here that you made the observation that 'the workers have risen' - do we have a clear picture of whether, or to what extent, they were beaten back down again?

Ken MacLeod

Via a vast vicus of recirculation, there's a remote connection between Chinese Communist politics and the British tradition of democratization, in the work of the late Nina Fishman: see here and here. I think she would have liked the idea of a House of Communists.


China having a House of Communists in the same way Britain has a House of Lords.

Bow, bow, ye upper middle classes...

Igor Belanov

Blimey, that Fishman article is insane! The idea somehow that the British ruling classes were guiding the working class into an orderly form of socialism and that the Tories weren't standing in the way!

She must have been feeling pretty sick when Thatcher came along.


Igor, it was possible to see affairs through many prisms before the much discussed Forward March dissolved into a sort of milling about (with increasingly fewer numbers involved) to no immediately obvious purpose....

Igor Belanov

It still seems like an eccentric viewpoint, even in the early 1970s.


TBF Igor I couldn't face the entirety of the very long 2nd article Ken linked too, but the first I did read. Let's not forget that (some) people of non Marxist stripe routinely expressed themselves in Marxist terminology in the early 1970s, such was the age. But the website makes clear she saw herself as a (possibly the last?) 2nd International Marxist; a person rejecting Lenin and his works but cleaving to a certain version of the Marxist tradition.

Igor Belanov

Yes, you can kind of see that 2nd International flavour in the articles, which I admit I only skimread myself. There's that sense of determinism, that socialism is inevitable and desirable and will be recognised as such eventually by the powers-that-be. Therefore when the time is ripe the workers need only to push the door and it will open with ease. That basically leaves the job of the workers' political organisations as one of education and propaganda. I can see in some ways why this position might be held in the early 70s by a Marxist who ignored the third world or identity politics currents in vogue at the time.


Igor: Ooh, it gets better once you have a proper poke around her website. It's true the front page says, "..she was a convinced social democrat in the Eduard Bernstein tradition", but that seems only the half of it. Deeper in the website Nina Fishman - in the early mid seventies, anyway - is revealed as a theoretician of the British and Irish Communist Organisation (BICO), those folk Enoch Powell so memorably described as, "..nice, young Unionist Marxists".

You can check the lengthy Wiki entry for BICO yourself, I'm sure but I thought you might be interested in John's Sullivan's verdict in As Soon As This Pub Closes...

Ken MacLeod

The upshot of the B&ICO's 'British Road' debate was that in the 1970s the British working class had to push for control over production (as per the Bullock commission, which offered far-reaching concessions) and incomes policy, rather than strikes over wages whose gains were soon consumed by inflation.

As the B&ICO saw it, the working class was immensely powerful but using its power in a negative rather than a positive manner. If the labour movement didn't soon wake up to its responsibilities, the capitalist class would solve the problem in its own negative way by an attack on trade unionism.

I met Nina Fishman a few times and found her very impressive.


The upshot of the B&ICO's 'British Road' debate was that in the 1970s the British working class had to push for control over production (as per the Bullock commission, which offered far-reaching concessions) and incomes policy, rather than strikes over wages whose gains were soon consumed by inflation.

Without disagreeing with this on principle, I often observe that people who say things like this want to try organising union branch meetings on subjects other than wages and conditions and see how many people turn up. Not quite as many, in my experience.


Ken, my god, its all coming back to me now. It's just a hop-skip-&-a-jump to Bill Warren and the 'Advanced Capitalism, Backward Socialism' thesis, isn't it?

Ken MacLeod

Without disagreeing in principle either:

First: in the 1970s the issues of the Social Contract (incomes policy) and union power in the workplace were at the centre of any discussion on wages and conditions beyond the most immediate. Union branch meetings did have political discussions.

Second, it's my impression that the B&ICO (tiny though it was) had some influence on trade union politics, partly due to personal contact with Jack Jones.

It's still startling to contemplate the spurning by the left and much of the labour movement of the concessions offered by the Bullock report.

Ken MacLeod

PS: the substance of Nina's position is very clearly put here.

chris y

Union branch meetings did have political discussions.

True and important, but branch meetings, outside the negotiation season at least, weren't usually attended by more than a small proportion of members, at least IME. I took this to be what Justin meant.

The Alternative Economic Strategy (did we really dignify it with capitalisation?), for and against, was more central to those discussions as I remember them than questions of union power in the workplace. Probably this was a mistake, but it seemed inevitable at the time.

Igor Belanov

I think the alternative Marxist point of view regarding the Bullock Report was that it would have led to workers' representatives basically tying themselves to decisions made by the management without any real control over production. It might seem like a more 'civilised' form of industrial relations, but ultimately co-determination hasn't led decisively towards control over production in countries such as Germany. If anything I think something like the Swedish Meidner Plan would have been more progressive.

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