workers power

Why Read The Civil War in France?

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The Paris Commune of 1871 was the result of the world's first working class revolution. It survived for only two months but it was the most democratic and liberating government the world had seen up till that point. It offered a glimpse of a model of democracy that goes beyond the limited parliamentary democracy which is the best we can expect under capitalism.

Marx did not pluck a theory of what real democracy would look like from thin air - he learnt it from the concrete example of the Paris Commune. The Civil War in France, a pamphlet based on speeches to the First International, was written by Marx in 1871. It is both an impressive, succinct history of the Paris Commune and a powerful polemic against capitalism.

Which strategy for the left?

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In last month's Socialist Review, Ed Rooksby, a supporter of the Left Unity initiative, put forward his view that a left government can play a key role in the fight for radical change. Mark L Thomas argues this ignores the role of the state.

The Left Unity initiative has struck a chord with a significant number of socialists in Britain. The call by Ken Loach and others for a new left party had seen over 8,000 people put their names to it and Left Unity has now held a series of meetings and formed local groups across the country. It clearly expresses a mood for something better than the austerity agenda accepted by Labour under Ed Miliband.

Why workers can change the world

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Karl Marx's claim that the working class has the power to change the world is perhaps his most important contribution to socialist theory. Before Marx workers were viewed at best as victims of the system or more typically as a rabble whose existence threatened civilisation. Marx challenged these assumptions, arguing that workers' collective struggles for freedom pointed towards a potential socialist alternative to capitalism.

This vision is widely disparaged today. However, criticisms of Marx often miss their target. This is particularly true of those who reject his model of class from "common sense" or sociological perspectives which tend to equate class with social stratification - the various ways of differentiating people along lines of income, status, occupation or patterns of consumption. What, it is asked, do university-educated teachers, factory workers or low-paid shop workers have in common?

Do workers still have power?

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Julie Sherry argues that the working class still has the power to change society.

When I was nine I asked my mum why the world was so unfair. It seemed to me that "the people in charge" were making mistakes. You can imagine my anxiety when she suggested the people in charge weren't concerned with the things they ought to be, like public welfare.

How the working class went global

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John Rees talks to author Paul Mason about his book Live Working
or Die Fighting
and the importance of writing about workers' history

Q. You start off each chapter with a contemporary piece of reportage about the international labour movement and move on to historical comparisons. How did you come to that structure?

'Workers' control in Venezuela cannot be implemented by decree. It has to be built and it advances as a process.'

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Steve Mather talks to Venezuelan workers and activists who are attempting to shape the unfolding revolutionary process and looks at those who are determined to stop them.

It is only a matter of days until the presidential elections, and Venezuelan society is in a state of suspended animation with all other political battles on hold. The ruptures within President Hugo Chavez's camp have been bandaged up for now. The energies of those who are against Chavez's "Bolivarian Revolution" have been channelled into the campaign of Chavez's opponent, Manuel Rosales. Rosales, who supported the defeated coup against Chavez in 2002, is the only opposition candidate with significant popular support.

People Power

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Workers' power is far more democratic than parliament.

When I went to live in Tottenham in 1964, I was surprised to learn that local people had elected a Tory MP. Walking through the relentlessly working class streets, I could not understand how the people had elected a Tory. Then I discovered that they hadn't. A left wing Labour MP elected in 1959 had 'changed his mind' in 1960 and crossed to the other side. The voters of Tottenham could do nothing until the next general election. This illustrates one of the great defects of parliamentary democracy.

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