Saturday, 28 April 2012

Northern Soul Classics - Band Of Gold - Freda Payne

Okay a lot of people would not count Band of Gold as a Northern Classic, but as one of the early Torch DJ's, Graham "Davo" Davison, said to me at the time, the only reason, is because it was also such a big commercial hit. In every respect it deserves to be up there with the best.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

AWL Stalinism, Once More - Part 1

Revolutionary Socialist Internationalism v Statist Nationalism

In a recent article, the AWL attack the Marxist strategy for developing worker-owned Co-operatives, and instead argue for the Lassallean demand for nationalisation by the Capitalist State, which was adopted by the reformists of the Second International, and later by the Stalinists. Marx's strategy of building Co-ops was both revolutionary and internationalist. Revolutionary, because it relies on the self-activity of the workers themselves, and immediately transforms Capitalist property relations, and internationalist because Co-operatives, and Co-operative Federations, can be built across national borders by workers acting in solidarity with each other. The demand for Nation-alisation, by contrast, is both reformist and nationalist. It is reformist because rather than transforming Capitalist property relations, it accepts their continuation explicitly, and restricts itself within them, as well as being based upon action to be taken, not by the workers themselves, but by the Capitalist State, which is their main enemy! It is a Nationalistic demand, by its very nature, because it involves the taking over of Capital, or a fraction of Capital, by the existing Capitalist State, and the existing Capitalist State is a Nation State. It is not surprising that such a demand fits comfortably with the Stalinist politics of the AWL, because Stalinism is characterised both by its reformism, and by its nationalism.

That is why back in the 1970's, the demand for Nation-alisation was a central plank of the Stalinists of the British Communist Party, and their fellow travellers, as part of the Alternative Economic Strategy. But, it was also a central plank of the Programme of the reformists of the Militant Tendency. In fact, at the time, the AWL's predecessors used to point to these demands as evidence of the reformist nature of both organisations. Where the AWL today raise the demand for Nation-alisation only on a piecemeal basis, as a means of bailing out failed private Capitalist businesses, the Militant, at least, used to argue for “Nationalising the 200 Top Monopolies”, which was more radical only in so far as it was more extensive, but which was no less reformist, no less nationalistic.

The Nationalistic rather than socialistic nature of the demand for Nation-alisation is shown by the fact, not only that it is a demand addressed to the existing Capitalist Nation State, but by the fact that it was also raised, and implemented by the Nazis. And, as Trotsky points out, in relation to Mexico, it is a measure that has been adopted by radical nationalist regimes, attempting to build “State Capitalism In One Country”. As in Mexico, some of these regimes have even been prepared to follow the other advice of the AWL, and include the gloss of “Workers' Control” in order to incorporate the working-class, and enlist it as an ally against external enemies – once again emphasising the Nationalist nature of the demand. In the case of economies like Mexico, described by Trotsky, which were under threat from Imperialism, the measure, introduced by such regimes, could have a certain progressive nature, which means that although Marxists would not advocate it, nor would they oppose it, instead attempting to drive the working-class beyond it, and all the time pointing out its true class nature. But, in Imperialist countries, like Britain, it can have no such progressive nature.

Take the example the AWL describe of Vestas. Vestas is an international company. As such, it is quite possible for workers within it, whichever country they are in, to unite in an attempt to take over the means of production and establish a Worker Owned Co-operative, acting similarly on an international basis – which is a precondition for Marxists in establishing Socialism, which can only be established on an international basis. But, the demand for nation-alisation could only ever be raised on a national basis, thereby immediately dividing the Vestas workers in Britain, from those employed in other countries. It is so, because it is a demand for the British Capitalist Nation State to act, to defend its national fraction of the Vestas Capital against its foreign competitors, including the other national fractions of Vestas Capital! That is why, in the past, even Conservative Governments, like that of Ted Heath, have been happy to nation-alise important sections of national Capital, as they did with Rolls Royce in the 1970's. It is why even the arch Neo-Liberals in the US, under George Bush, were happy to nationalise the Banks when they got into trouble.

But, as Trotsky points out, not only is it a “deception” of the working-class to suggest, as the Stalinists like the AWL do, that the road to Socialism can run through such nationalisation by the Capitalist State, rather than the revolutionary action of the workers themselves, but the demand for “Workers Control” is also a deception, which represents a trap for the workers. As Trotsky points out, it is only possible for workers to establish real Workers Control in revolutionary conditions, where a situation of Dual Power already exists in society at large. As Trotsky, says, such conditions themselves can only be short lived, because the question of who rules has to be decided one way or another very quickly. Outside a situation of dual power, there is no way that Capitalists, be they private Capitalists, or a more powerful State Capitalist, will concede real Workers Control. Instead, what they will introduce will be a measure of class collaboration in the name of “Workers Control”, which will be an alliance between the bosses and the Trade Union bureaucrats, whose real purpose will be to ensure the more efficient exploitation of the workers.

Imagine that the Capitalist State had nation-alised Vestas, or as some demanded, Bombardier, and had introduced such a form of “Workers Control”. How much more difficult, would it then have been for revolutionaries to oppose further nationalistic demands for Import Controls, and other such measures to protect this National Capital against foreign competition? Its no wonder that the BNP can support such nationalistic demands.

Forward To Part 2

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Did You Double Dip?

Double Dip recessions are not very common. They are usually associated with particularly bad economic times. The major economies of Europe are pretty much managing to stay in positive territory, the US is growing at between 2.5% - 3%, as a consequence of its adoption of fiscal stimulus, even China, whose State has been trying to restrain growth, is growing at more than 8%, and many other economies around the globe are growing. But, despite inheriting a growing economy in 2010, the Liberal-Tories with their lunatic policy of austerity, have managed to drive the British economy into a double-dip recession, linking it up with the basket case countries in the European periphery, that have also been driven into deep recessions due to the same kind of illiterate policies of austerity.




According to the Bank of England, the Tories have managed to create the worst peace time economy in more than 100 years!!!  Across, Europe, austerity is being rejected. In France, Hollande looks set to replace Sarkozy. The Dutch Government has fallen, because the policies of austerity were rejected - this time by the extreme right element within the Government. The Czech Government faces a similar problem. The Portuguese Social Democrats have called for their cothinkers across Europe to begin a campaign for a reversal of austerity, and adoption of fiscal stimulus. As George Magnus pointed out on Newsnight, last night, markets are beginning to worry about the consequences of austerity, not just in driving Europe as a whole into an uneccessary recession, but of the political and social consequences that such policies threaten to unleash. In Greece, the Parties of the Left and Far Left, now have a higher poll rating than the combined rating of the Greek Social Democrats and Conservatives. The French election showed support of 30% for the Stalinists, and the Front National. The elections in Germany are likely to also see a move to the Left.

Meanwhile, the UK Tories are finding themselves under daily pressure from the capitalist media, which is traditionally there friend. The Government is particularly prone to fracture, because not only is it a Coalition, with some of the Liberals pulling to the left for populist reasons, but because it is being pulled apart in the other direction, by the potential of a split to UKIP. The government, really has been incompetent from Day One, and todays Double Dip, is not just due to the austerity measures introduced, but due to the fact that just before and after the eelction, the Government hyped up the significance of the deficit, and made the ridiculous claims about Britain being like Greece! That undermined confidence of consumers and businesses, which started the rot in the middle of 2010. In recent months they have tried to do the opposite, but now in conditions, where the economy really is in trouble as a result of the consequences of that lack of confidence, and because of their austerity measures, which have taken billions of pounds worth of aggregate demand out of the system.

This morning a number of pundits from the Financial and Business community were brought forward to challenge the data, which showed that the economy sharank by 0.2% in the last quarter. They have pointed to upbeat business surveys. But, the likely cause of that discrepancy is not that the GDP data is wrong, but that business groups, taking fright at the deteriorating situation, have themselves tried to talk the economy up, by presenting unrealistic pictures of how well they were doing, in oher words juicing the data. With the Liberal-Tories under pressure on a number of fronts, including now being under attack from Murdoch and his Evil Empire, with Bank of England members now admitting what I had set out previously, that inflation is not going to fall much below 3%, this year (which means even official interest rates might have to rise soon), with the huge bubble in the housing market still to pop, and its consequences for the Banks, and with the Liberals and Tories likely to get slammed in the local elections, they will be increasingly forced to fall into line, and abandon austerity, for co-ordinated fiscal stimulus across Europe, or they are likely to find themselves out of Government long before the next election is due.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Making The Workers Pay? - Part 7

Sismondi - Who Marx called a Moral Socialist
Much of the argument which lies behind the notion of Capital “making the workers pay” for the crisis is in fact, a return to the ideas prior to Marx, to Moral Socialism. It is to suggest that what lies behind it, is the determination of greedy Capitalists to hang on to their profits, so they can maintain their rich lifestyles at the expense of the workers. But, this is to abandon the scientific analysis of Capital that Marx provided of the dynamics of Capitalism, in favour of a subjective analysis of the behaviour of Capitalists. It is to suggest that they could choose to act differently, to not make workers redundant, not cut wages etc. rather than that it is the objective laws of Capital, which determine their actions. To make such a suggestion, is to deceive the workers. Ultimately, it is a reformist deception, because it is to suggest that Capitalism would be all right, if only the behaviour of the Capitalists were different, rather than to explain to workers that the problem is not greedy Capitalists, but Capitalism itself!

If we examine Marx's analysis, then we can see what is wrong with the argument. In fact, whether the argument is put to oppose reductions in workers wages, or to put forward the idea of a reduction in working hours without loss of pay amounts to the same thing. Both amount to a demand for wages per hour to either rise, or not to fall. But, both Marx and Engels demonstrated why this is not possible within the realms of Capitalism. In fact, given Marx's analysis its not clear its possible outside the realms of Capitalism either.

Engels writes,

" The history of these Unions is a long series of defeats of the working-men, interrupted by a few isolated victories. All these efforts naturally cannot alter the economic law according to which wages are determined by the relation between supply and demand in the labour market. Hence the Unions remain powerless against all great forces which influence this relation. In a commercial crisis the Union itself must reduce wages or dissolve wholly; and in a time of considerable increase in the demand for labour, it cannot fix the rate of wages higher than would be reached spontaneously by the competition of the capitalists among themselves.”

Engels Condition of The working Class in England p243

Whilst Marx wrote,

“I think I have shown that their struggles for the standard of wages are incidents inseparable from the whole wages system, that in 99 cases out of 100 their efforts at raising wages are only efforts at maintaining the given value of labour, and that the necessity of debating their price with the capitalist is inherent to their condition of having to sell themselves as commodities. ... the working class ought not to exaggerate to themselves the ultimate working of these everyday struggles. They ought not to forget that they are fighting with effects, but not with the causes of those effects; that they are retarding the downward movement, but not changing its direction; that they are applying palliatives, not curing the malady. They ought, therefore, not to be exclusively absorbed in these unavoidable guerilla fights incessantly springing up from the never ceasing encroachments of capital or changes of the market.”

Marx, Value, Price and Profit

And, in the above pamphlet, Marx demonstrates why this is. Capital is self-expanding value, and the means by which it expands, is through the production and reinvestment of Surplus Value. Marx's great advance over the previous Socialists was to demonstrate that it was this objective drive of Capital, and not the subjective desires for enrichment by Capitalists, which explained the dynamics of the system. But, as Marx demonstrates, if wages were to rise above the Value of Labour-Power, then the consequence of this, is that Surplus Value falls. But, if Surplus Value falls, then there is less investment, the expansion of Capital is at least slowed down, if not halted. As a consequence, the natural rise in population, means that additional workers are not hired, and unemployment rises. Of course, this is true even were workers to own the means of production. For so long as we have not increased the productive forces to such a condition that there is general abundance – a condition that even Marx did not know if it was possible or not – then it will be necessary to make choices between what proportion of society's output is devoted to current consumption, and what is devoted to investment.  This, in fact, formed the core of the "industrialisation debate" between the Left Opposition, and the Stalinists in the USSR in the 1920's.

See for example, Marx's criticism of the Lassalleans on the point of “undiminished proceeds of labour” in The Critique of the Gotha Programme.

But, within the confines of Capitalism, Marx and Engels understood this from another aspect too. So, for Marx, it is precisely the fact that Capital is forced to self-expand, which is the explanation of competition. Competition he says is not something external to Capital, but is inherent within it. Competition, forces individual Capitals to attempt to maximise profits, because only in doing so can they invest in the latest equipment, expand so as to grab market share, buy out their competitors etc. They are forced to compete or die. But, as a consequence, any individual Capital facing having to pay for labour-power above the Value of Labour Power, will seek to remedy its lack of competitiveness by other means. Capital is not short of such means.

In the modern world, Capital has acquired its ideal form. The development of the modern Stock Market means that Capital can move in less than a fraction of a second from one use to another. The press of a button means that billions of pounds worth of shares in one company are sold, and billions of pounds, reinvested in another, or some other form of asset. As a consequence the ability of the former to expand is reduced, and of the latter to expand increased. In the more medium term, this is expressed in the physical reallocation of Capital from one type of production, or activity to another. Employment in the former is reduced, and in the latter increased. In a global Capitalist system, that can, and has, meant jobs moving not just from one industry to another, or one country to another, but from one Continent to another.

But, this reallocation of Capital has other consequences. The reduction in the Capital invested in one industry, inevitably means that any Capital remaining will be the more profitable parts of that industry, those which have employed the most efficient techniques, which reduce the amount of living labour required in production. To the extent that new investment occurs, it will be in these more efficient, labour-saving techniques. As a consequence, the demand for labour-power will fall, and as unemployment rises, the pressure on wages will increase. As Marx put it,

Even the skilled labour of brain surgeons
can be roboticised!
“ Take, for example, the rise in England of agricultural wages from 1849 to 1859. What was its consequence? The farmers could not, as our friend Weston would have advised them, raise the value of wheat, nor even its market prices. They had, on the contrary, to submit to their fall. But during these eleven years they introduced machinery of all sorts, adopted more scientific methods, converted part of arable land into pasture, increased the size of farms, and with this the scale of production, and by these and other processes diminishing the demand for labour by increasing its productive power, made the agricultural population again relatively redundant. This is the general method in which a reaction, quicker or slower, of capital against a rise of wages takes place in old, settled countries. Ricardo has justly remarked that machinery is in constant competition with labour, and can often be only introduced when the price of labour has reached a certain height, but the appliance of machinery is but one of the many methods for increasing the productive powers of labour. The very same development which makes common labour relatively redundant simplifies, on the other hand, skilled labour, and thus depreciates it.”

In reality, the demand for “A Sliding Scale of Hours” as a response to unemployment cannot work for the reasons set out here by Marx and Engels. It is rather like the other demands that Trotsky included in the Transitional Programme, such as “Nationalisation under Workers Control”. These demands, as he recognised, were not capable of being conceded by Capital, and could only be imposed on Capital by a working-class itself on the verge of taking power. That is in a revolutionary situation, in which workers have occupied the factories, established their own Soviets, and alternative state forms in the shape of a Workers Militia etc. Outside those conditions, such demands could only ever be reformist illusions, revolutionary phrase-mongering, and a cruel deception of the workers. As he says in the Transitional Programme,

“However, the state-ization of the banks will produce these favourable results only if the state power itself passes completely from the hands of the exploiters into the hands of the toilers.”

And on Workers Control he says,

“However, a bourgeoisie that feels it is firmly in the saddle will never tolerate dual power in its enterprises. workers’ control consequently, can be carried out only under the condition of an abrupt change in the relationship of forces unfavorable to the bourgeoisie and its state. Control can be imposed only by force upon the bourgeoisie, by a proletariat on the road to the moment of taking power from them, and then also ownership of the means of production. Thus the regime of workers’ control, a provisional transitional regime by its very essence, can correspond only to the period of the convulsing of the bourgeois state, the proletarian offensive, and the failing back of the bourgeoisie, that is, to the period of the proletarian revolution in the fullest sense of the word.”

Trotsky, included these demands in the Transitional Programme in 1938, precisely because he believed the world had entered such a revolutionary situation, with Capitalism having reached the limits of its potential. In the Discussions On The Transitional Programme, Trotsky says,

“First, Marx one time said that no one society leaves its place until it totally exhausts its possibilities. What does this signify? That we cannot eliminate a society by subjective will, that we cannot organize an insurrection like the Blanquists... So long as society is capable of developing the productive forces and making the nation richer it remains strong, stable... Marx and Engels waited for a revolution during their lifetime. Especially in the years 1848-1850 did they expect a social revolution. Why? They said that the capitalist system based on private profit had become a brake upon the development of the productive forces. Was this correct? Yes and no. It was correct in the sense that if the workers had been capable of meeting the needs of the nineteenth century and seizing power, the development of the productive forces would have been more rapid and the nation richer. But given that the workers were not capable, the capitalist system remained with its crisis, etc. Yet the general line ascended. The last war (1914-1918) was a result of the fact that the world market became too narrow for the development of the productive forces and each nation tried to repulse all the others and to seize the world market for its own purposes. They could not succeed and now we see that capitalist society enters into a new stage... The war was only an expression of its inability to further expand. We have after the war the historic crisis becoming deeper and deeper... Beginning with the war we see the cycles of crisis and prosperity forming a declining line. It signifies now that this society exhausted totally its inner possibilities and must be replaced by a new society or the old society will go into barbarism just as the civilization of Greece and Rome because they had exhausted their possibilities and no class could replace them.”

Ten Years After The Transitional Programme
Capitalism Was Booming
But, in fact, Trotsky was as mistaken here, as were Marx and Engels in the 19th Century. Marx and Engels saw the consequences of the Long Wave decline, which ended, and was succeeded with the Long Wave boom of 1890-1914. Trotsky witnessed the consequences of the Long Wave downturn from 1920-49, and particularly its depths in the 1930's leading to WWII, and similarly mistook that for the death agony of Capitalism. But, in fact, ten years after the Transitional Programme was written, Capitalism entered on the greatest boom it had experienced until that time. It took many Trotskyists more than a decade to realise that the expected collapse of Capitalism, simply was not going to happen. Some only began to accept that, and, in fact, to begin to believe that, in Keynesianism, it had found a means by which to create a crisis free Capitalism, just as that Long Wave Boom came to an end, and a new period of Downturn began in the 1970's.

But, now, nearly 75 years on, from the Transitional Programme, it is clear that Capitalism was not in its death agony, nor is it now. As with the last period of Long Wave Boom, we find that many Marxists are still transfixed with the period of downturn, and see this as once again reflecting that Capitalism has run out of steam. But, clearly it has not. In fact, the strength of the current Long Wave Boom, which began in 1999 is summed up in one statistic. Of all the goods and services produced in the entire history of humanity, almost a quarter have been produced in the last ten years alone!!!!

Under those conditions the repetition of demands from the Transitional Programme, such as "Nationalisation under Workers Control", "A Sliding Scale of Hours", a "Workers Government", which were written for application under revolutionary or pre-revolutionary conditions is simply mindless. It is to turn the Transitional programme and its method into some kind of Holy Book with the assorted demands turned into a set of Commandments. It has nothing to do with Marxism.

Of course, there are elements of the Transitional Programme, which can be applied today. For example, it is wholly valid to apply the demands for the establishment of Workers Defence Squads to defend strikers against the forces of the State, or paramilitary forces. It is right to raise the demand for a Workers Militia, for the same reasons, particularly in those circumstances, such as the workers in Iraq, Libya, Syria, Egypt etc. find themselves in. Rather than limiting ourselves to Trade Union organisation, which breeds sectionalism, we should seek to build Factory Committees in workplaces that can bring in workers from all unions and none.

But, these forms of organisation, which represent in embryo the workers creating their own forms of democracy, and state, are only meaningful if they are in turn based upon the development of the workers self-activity, and self-government in general. So, as Trotsky says in the Transitional Programme, a requirement for the revolution is that the workers constitute a significant economic force. In the current conditions, that can only arise on the basis of the workers seeking to present an alternative to Capitalist property relations. It means that they have to begin to develop their own Co-operative property as an alternative to Capitalist property. That is not to say that such Co-operatives can simply replace Capitalist enterprises, or even significantly change the position of the working-class. As Marx says, that can only happen, when such Co-operative production is extended on a national basis. It will require the support of a Workers State to achieve that kind of transformation, just as the bourgeoisie had to secure State power in order to finally transform Feudal property relations. But, that is not an argument against commencing that process. Even a Workers State, after all, within the context of a global Capitalist economy would find itself in the same situation. As the USSR demonstrated the extent to which workers' wages and conditions could rise, continued to depend on the ability to compete in the global market place. That was why Lenin reintroduced the market, and private property under NEP, and why he attempted to tempt foreign Capitalists to invest in the country to drive up efficiency through competition, and the introduction of the latest machines and technique.

But, what cannot happen, and what would be a deception of the workers, is to suggest that the existing Capitalist State can be used to further the workers interests. That is no more possible than that the Capitalists could have used the Feudal State to transform property relations in their interests. A necessary condition for securing State power, however, for the bourgeoisie, was that they developed their own property, developed their own economic power upon it, and established their own forms of state and democracy, which enabled them to challenge for power. The workers have to do exactly the same in developing their own Co-operative property, workers democracy, and state forms in opposition to Capital. That is the real solution to the fact that workers pay a price for the contradictions inherent in Capitalism, not the reformist suggestion that this price is the consequence of greedy Capitalists, and which could be negotiated away by militant Trade Union struggle.

Back To Part 6

Monday, 23 April 2012

Making The Workers Pay? - Part 6

The Stagnant Reserve

The final element of the Reserve Army of Labour is the stagnant reserve. It is made up of those workers who have essentially, for one reason or another, dropped out of the labour market. It is what today might be called the under-class. For Capital, this element of the reserve army is, in a modern welfare state, simply a cost, a drain on Surplus-Value. It does not even effectively press down on the rest of the workers, to push down their wages, because, this element of the working-class, is not effectively an alternative Supply of Labour-Power. At best, it can achieve this function, only marginally, by operating within the black market, providing occasional, unrecorded labour-power to top up its other sources of income. In so far as the other sources of income are related to criminal activity, this means a further cost for Capital. Even some of the black market activity, whilst providing profits for those involved – for example, smuggling and distribution of cigarettes, booze etc. - represents a drain for Capital as a whole, because these activities press down on the prices charged for these goods sold through official channels, and impose a cost in trying to prevent the activity.

But, the stagnant reserve plays another role for Capital. Because, it is separated from the other sections of the working-class, and even more from the more advanced sections of the class, whose class consciousness is raised through their activities in the Trades Unions, or other Labour Movement organisations, the stagnant reserve is more likely to be prone to reactionary ideas. On the one hand, dependency on the Capitalist, Welfare State, reduces its members to atomised individuals, rather like medieval serfs, dependent upon the good grace of their Lord, or Squire. On the other, their atomised condition encourages extreme individualism, reflected in the solutions chosen for their problems, including petty crime.

But, as Marx points out, its not just these elements of the working-class that have these characteristics. In the 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, he talks about similar elements from other social classes, the dissolute Aristocrats, the Bohemian petit-bourgeois, and so on, all of whom go to make up the “dangerous class”.

“Finally, the scum of bourgeois society forms the holy phalanx of order and the hero Crapulinski [a character from Heine’s poem “The Two Knights,” a dissolute aristocrat.] installs himself in the Tuileries as the “savior of society.””

In other words, it is these elements who make up the shock troops of Capital in a crisis. Its from these kinds of elements that Capital looked to recruit strike breakers during the General Strike, and other such events. In the most extreme cases, it is these elements that make up the ranks of the stormtroopers of fascism, when Capital has no other resort. In that case, the cost of maintaining them can be counted as a kind of faux frais of production for Capital, something it would prefer not to spend money on, but a necessary expense, to cover such eventualities.

So, it can be seen from all these instances of the Reserve Army that its existence i.e. the phenomena of unemployment, has nothing to do with the idea of “making the workers pay”, in any meaningful sense of that phrase. In every instance, Capital would prefer that the existence of this Unemployment could be avoided. It would even prefer that the frictional unemployment that affects the Latent Reserve could be avoided or reduced if possible, because that would mean that workers had to set aside less of their wages in insurance to cover such eventualities, which means the Value of Labour-Power would fall further, and consequently Surplus Value would rise. Ultimately, as Marx points out, Capital seeks to reduce the amount of Labour-Power it uses proportionately i.e. it seeks to reduce Variable Capital as a proportion of the total capital laid out, but seeks to increase the amount of Labour-Power it employs absolutely, precisely because it is Labour-Power, living labour which is the source of its profits! High unemployment is not in the interests of Capital, for this very reason. It exists not as an alternative to Capital paying the costs of the crisis, but as a necessary (within the realms of Capitalism) corollary to the fact that Capital is itself paying the cost of that crisis. Capital is a social relation, unemployment increases because Capital shrinks, or does not expand fast enough.

There is no profit for Capital in impoverishing the workers for the sake of it. On the contrary, as Marx points out in the Grundrisse,

“Every capitalist knows this about his worker, that he does not relate to him as producer to consumer, and [he therefore] wishes to restrict his consumption, i.e. his ability to exchange, his wage, as much as possible. Of course he would like the workers of other capitalists to be the greatest consumers possible of his own commodity.”, and

“the wage worker as distinct from the slave is himself an independent centre of circulation, someone who exchanges, posits exchange value, and maintains exchange value through exchange. Firstly: in the exchange between that part of capital which is specified as wages, and living labour capacity, the exchange value of this part of capital is posited immediately, before capital again emerges from the production process to enter into circulation, or this can be conceived as itself still an act of circulation. Secondly: To each capitalist, the total mass of all workers, with the exception of his own workers, appear not as workers, but as consumers, possessors of exchange values (wages), money, which they exchange for his commodity. They are so many centres of circulation with whom the act of exchange begins and by whom the exchange value of capital is maintained. They form a proportionally very great part -- although not quite so great as is generally imagined, if one focuses on the industrial worker proper -- of all consumers. The greater their number -- the number of the industrial population -- and the mass of money at their disposal, the greater the sphere of exchange for capital. We have seen that it is the tendency of capital to increase the industrial population as much as possible.”

As a consequence, and particularly nowadays when the wage worker is a much greater part of consumption than in Marx's day, the solution to Capitalist crisis cannot be to reduce wages below the Value of Labour Power, precisely for the reasons previously set out. It implies a reduction in the quality and quantity of Labour Power available, and it means demand for commodities falls, thereby acting to limit the ability of Capital to realise Surplus Value. As Marx says,

“For example, the spinner's worker exchanges his wages for so many bushels of grain. But in the price of each bushel, the profit of the farmer, i.e. of capital, is already included. So that the price of the consumption goods which are bought by necessary labour itself already includes surplus labour time. It is clear, first of all, that the wage paid by the spinner to his workmen must be high enough to buy the necessary bushel of wheat, regardless of what profit for the farmer may be included in the price of the bushel of wheat; but that, likewise, on the other side, the wage which the farmer pays his workers must be high enough to procure for them the necessary quantity of clothing, regardless of what profit for the weaver and the spinner may be included in the price of these articles of clothing.”

But, the underconsumptionists are equally wrong in assuming that a crisis can be resolved by simply increasing wages above the Value of Labour-Power, because this fails to recognise the fundamental driving force of capitalism, which is not to meet consumers needs, but to maximise profits. If wages rise above the Value of Labour-power, then this will mean a reduction in Surplus Value, and a consequent reduction in accumulation, and the demand for Labour-power. The under-consumptionists are wrong for another reason. That is they assume that the workers are the only possible consumers of commodities. But, of course, they are not. Capitalists, Landlords, and the State are also consumers. A fall in wages, which results in higher Profits, Rents and Taxes need not result in a fall in aggregate demand, if additional demand is created from these other forms of income.

But, it has to be remembered what the driving force of Capital is. Higher Rents and Taxes, both involve a deduction from Surplus Value, which is why Capital will always attempt to minimise these deductions. Capitalists may spend some of their profits on unproductive consumption, not just commodities needed for their reproduction, but luxury goods – Department III. Once again this unproductive consumption represents a drain on accumulation. Nor can the deficit of aggregate demand be made up, simply by ever expanding amounts of investment in Producer Goods. Although, the aim of Capitalism is not to meet Consumer's needs, but to maximise profits, as Lenin points out, it is not possible ultimately to maximise profits without giving consideration to the needs of consumption. A coal producer can produce coal to be sold to a steel producer, and exchange between the two can continue for some time on this basis. But, ultimately, it is the demand for steel by the car manufacturer, the white goods producers etc. which lead the steel producer to invest to produce more steel. If demand for cars, and white goods stalls or falls, then this feeds through to the steel producer. Consequently, it is the role of the wage worker in this consumption, which plays a crucial role. If wages are cut dramatically, or if the social wage is slashed, forcing workers to direct funds from alternative consumption as a consequence, then this has a corresponding effect on the ability of Capital to realise profits, and to accumulate capital.

Back To Part 5 Forward To Part 7

French Election Results

The results of the first round of the French Presidential elections have predictably ended in Sarkozy and Hollande going through to the second round in two weeks time.  Sarkozy did worse than had been expected, and Hollande slightly better.  Sarkozy had hoped to have been slightly ahead in the first round.  In fact, he trailed Hollande by nearly three percentage points.  What was slightly less predictable was the size of the vote for the Front National candidate, Marine le Pen, who obtained around 19% of the vote.  The Left Front candidate, Melonchon, who had been showing at around 15% in recent opinion polls actually only polled around 12%.

This leaves the results of the second round more open to doubt, because it might be expected that the 20% of votes for the Far Right FN, would go to Sarkozy.  However, as pundits on France 24's coverage this evening pointed out, that is not at all certain.  The FN have spent the campaign slagging off Sarkozy, and its not easy to see how they could credibly now support him.  A large number of the FN's vote will have come from disenchanted, sections of workers, frightened by events, which they may see as outside their control.  For these workers, the simplistic formulas of the FN, might seem an easy option.  Its not clear that the reasons for them voting for the FN, translate into support for Sarkozy, whose government they may see as responsible for their conditions.  That doesn't mean they are likely to vote for Hollande either, but if large numbers of them abstain, in the second round, that will be enough for Hollande to win.


The reasons for the strong vote for the FN, are also likely to be the same reasons for the poor showing on the day of Melonchon.  Although, the media have described Melonchon as the candidate of the Far Left, in fact, his programme has largely been a rehash of traditional Stalinist positions.  Those Stalinist positions, which were summed up in the various "National Roads To Socialism", lean heavily on discredited, statist, reformist solutions, mixed in with a strong dose of Nationalism.  Indeed, as Trotsky said, the accurate description of Stalinism is "National Socialism".  In many ways the programme of Melonchon, was barely distinguishable from that of Le Pen.

We have seen this many times before.  In the 1930's, the German Stalinists attempted to outflank the Nazis by trying to demonstrate that they were better Nationalists.  In the last few years we have seen something similar in Britain.  The "No2EU" campaign, which was largely based on the Nationalist politics of the British Stalinists, also attempted to put forward a Little Englander, Nationalist program.  They too claimed that it was to take votes from the BNP and UKIP.

In fact, just as happened with the German Stalinists, in the 1930's, the promotion of Nationalist politics simply acted to legitimise them.  Faced with a choice, those workers attracted to these Nationalist solutions, did the obvious thing, they voted for the consistent Nationalists, the Nazis, the BNP, and now in France the FN.

But, the debate on France 24, tonight, was interesting in that a number of studio contributors pointed to the fact that extreme right-wing parties had achieved significant success across Europe.  The BNP, in Britain, had two MEP's elected - though the anomalies of the PR system used to elect MEP's on a very small poll means this result is not that significant.  The Far Right UKIP, also has MEP's, a number of Councillors, and is now ahead in the polls of the Liberals.  There are rumours of an SDP type split from the Tories, this time to their Right, which could then link up with UKIP.  A number of Far right politicans have been elected in a number of Nordic countries, and the Far Right have been able to use their positions in Italy to gain positions in Government.  The Far Right also managed to get into Government in Austria a few years ago, and, of course, across Central and Eastern Europe there are a range of Far Right and maverick parties, many of them in the same European bloc, as the British Tories.  This poses some questions.

What is the basis for the success of these Far Right groupings, and how significant is it?  The answer to the second question is, not that significant.  The Austrian Far Right were actually isolated, in Europe, by other European Governments, and their stay in Government was relatively short lived and ineffective.  The same is true in relation to the various right-wing groupings across Central and Eastern Europe.  The Tories have not lent them any credibility.  On the contrary, association with them has detracted from the Tories credibility in Europe, even amongst their natural Conservative allies.  In Northern Europe, the success of the Far Right has been limited, and where they have made significant gains, they have frequently been rapidly overturned.

In practice, the actuality of bourgeois parliamentary politics, and the fact that it is the Capitalist State, not Parliaments that actually exercise power, has meant that, even where Far Right parties have been in Government, they have been limited in their effectiveness, just as much as Left-wing Governments have faced the same kinds of restrictions.  The French FN, is a case in point.  In order to make itself electable, and in response to the needs of the reality where it has succeeded in getting candidates elected, it has toned down some of its rhetoric, and in fact, not just the rhetoric.  It has become more akin to a traditional constitutionalist Nationalist Party, than a Fascist party, whose real power base is based out in the streets, and whose function is to break up the workers organisations and struggles.  In fact, in order to win workers votes, it has been led to adopt a more Strasserite position.

Under Jean Marie Le Pen, the party was far more based upon Libertarian social politics, mixed in with a promotion of free market Capitalism aimed at the small capitalists and petit-bourgeois.  Under Marine Le Pen, the party has adopted a far more statist position, promoting nationalisation, increases in the welfare state, and attacks on the rich.  Its not hard to see how this programme was hardly distinguishable for those sections of workers attracted to these kinds of solutions, to those of the Stalinists.

The support for these Far Right parties is not significant for another reason.  Capital looks to fascism when its rule is under threat from a powerful working class, organised and led, by a revolutionary party.  Fascism is its last resort under such conditions, because it involves the bosses abandoning their preferred form of political rule - bourgeois democracy - which allows them to rule more or less directly, and instead to hand over that political rule to the fascists.  Moreover, fascist totalitarianism is a unique merging of the political power with the State power, in a way that not even traditional Bonapartism achieves.  Such a situation is extremely dangerous for Capital, because of its unpredictability, its lack of control, and the threat to individual Capitals it entails.  Before resorting to fascism, as Trotsky says, Capital is far more likely to make additional concessions to the workers, in order to buy time before reasserting control, through its trusted methods via Social Democracy.

But, although a number of EU countries face a political crisis, resulting from the consequences of the Financial Crisis of 2008, the economic crisis in the EU, is not in any way as threatening as is often portrayed.  As a whole the EU continues to grow, or at least not to go into any kind of serious recession, despite the debt crisis in the Southern periphery.  The real crisis in Europe is a political crisis, whose roots lie in the fact that the continued national interests, of individual States, and of sections of national Capital has prevented the necessary establishment of a European State.  The real crisis is a political crisis emanating from the jockeying for position, and in particular the attempt of Germany, to ensure that the new European State is shaped in its image.

Moreover, not only is Europe not in the same kind of economic and social crisis that engulfed it during the 1930's, the existence of a powerful global Capitalist Boom, means that the resources are readily available to prevent any such crisis.  But, even more importantly, the bourgeoisie are not under any kind of threat to their rule, by a powerful working class, led by an organised revolutionary party.  In short, the Far Right have not been called into existence by the Capitalist Class, but largely against the interests of the Capitalist Class.  For a relatively stable entrenched bourgeoisie, the rise of the Far Right only poses problems, because of the instability and unpredictablity they bring with them.

Shanghai
The rise of the Far Right is to be explained, not in the needs of the Capitalist Class, but in the fears of the working class, the small capitalists, and middle classes.  In Europe all these forces find themselves in uncharted territory.  The old certainties have gone.  Europe, and even North America are no longer the centre of the world.  Instead, power has shifted rapidly, and decisively Eastward.  A lage part of the crisis in the European periphery is to be explained by this shift, as any attempt to earn a living, around industries that can be located anywhere, and depend upon relatively low paid, unskilled labour is increasingly futile, as it is impossible to compete in these areas with China, and even cheaper labour economies in Vietnam etc.  The era of cheap money, and credit that ran from the late 1980's only acted to disguise this reality, and now, after the Financial Crisis, not only has that reality been shattered, but the costs of the pipe dream it entailed now have to be paid.

Olivier Blanchard, Chief Economist, IMF
The European politicians know this.  Their economists, or at least some of them, know what the solution to this situation is.  The Big Multinational Capitalists also know what the solution is.  Many of the technicians and bureaucrats of the international state bodies like the IMF also know what the solution is.  It is not austerity, but growth.  But not any kind of growth.  It has to be growth based upon a shift from consumption to investment, and investment in high value production, at least to a certain degree.  It requires a restructuring of European Capital, but in order to bring about that restructuring, the European economies have to be prevented from going into a serious recession.  That would only further increase the wariness of Capital to undertake the necessary investment.  It will require additional borrowing to finance this investment and restructuring to bring about growth.  That is why those economies like Germany, who ultimately will have to pick up much of the bill, in assorted transfer payments, are particularly keen to establish the necessary kinds of controls at an EU level that will prevent funds simply leaching away into unproductive consumption.

Many of the levers for achieving this have been put in place, despite the fact that only months ago, politicans and bureaucrats were saying that such measures were unthinkable.  For example, the ECB is now effectively engaging in QE through the Long Term Refinancing Operation, whereby they lend money to EU banks for three years at 1% interest, in order that those Banks can buy their Government's debt, paying yields of 5,6 and more percent.  The various firewalls established to back up European Banks, and Sovereign debts are also borrowing money in the Bond markets, which is a precursor to the establishment of EU Bonds.  But, for all these things to take their final form, it will ne necessary to introduce Fiscal Union, and there can be no Fiscal Union, without Political Union, for the same reason that the Amercian Colonists established - there can be no taxation without representation.

The Tories are not the only Party that face problems on this front in Europe.  All of them face right-wing Nationalist parties opposing any such move.  The reason these Far Right parties have succeeded to an extent in obtaining this support, is ultimately due to the fact that Big Capital has failed over the last 60 years of the European project, to adequately fight for it, because such a fight would have meant taking on the right-wing, nationalist, and reactionary elements of its own class.  Instead, it has preferred to adopt bureaucratic methods to advance its cause.  Deals have been done behind closed doors.  The consequence is that the working-class excluded from such decisions has itself become more wary of these internationalist tendencies.  The same kind of disillusion with politics in general that arises from commodified politics, where interchangeable politicians attempt to sell their particular brand to the voters, who find it works no better than all the others after all, is even more aggravated in relation to Europe, which is seen as even more remote, and where the propaganda of the Nationalists can be more readily swallowed.

The answer to the Far Right is not to adopt the approach of the Stalinists, and follow the fascists into the swamp of Nationalism, but to provide the working-class across Europe with a way out of that swamp, towards the sunny uplands, of socialist internationalism.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Blood On Their Hands


The Formula 1 bosses are right to say that holding the Grand Prix there has highlighted the oppression in the country, because of the media coverage.  That is a condemnation of the way the media have ignored the torture, and human rights violations, going on in Bahrain, over the last year, not a justification of F1 being in there.  Its true that questions have been raised, but, at the same time, it has been an opportunity for the Bahraini tyrants to claim that the opponents of the Grand Prix, i.e. the Bahraini masses, are extremists!

Jean Todt, justified the presence in Bahrain, partly by pointing to the fact that, last week, the Grand Prix was in China.  Personally, I would not have lost sleep if the Chinese GP had been cancelled either, but the situation in China is not the same as that in Bahrain.  There is not currently mass protests for democracy taking place in China, nor are there massive amounts of military force being used to subdue such protests.  In Bahrain that is the case.  In fact, on a proportional basis, more Bahrainis have died, as a result of State oppression, than have Syrians!  Besides that the Bahraini tyrants are themselves closely connected with F1 itself.  It simply will not do for David Coulthard to claim that the drivers do not properly understand the political situation in the country.  For one thing, what is there not to understand.  The country is a medieval, Feudal Monarchy, run by vicious tyrants, who are killing people for daring to demand freedom and democracy!  Besides which, if you don't understand the issues, then, in such a high profile position, you have a responsibility to find out, or else you are complicit.  As, the protesters have said, in fact, the repression has increased in recent days, precisely because the tyrants have tried to present things as normal, and to prevent the people from being able to effectively protest.

But, of course, F1 is a rich boys sport.  Its no wonder that its interests are aligned with the rich tyrants of the Bahraini Royal Family, and not with the ordinary Bahrainis facing torture, murder and oppression by those tyrants.  Nor is it a wonder that those other rich boys, those that make up the millionaire boys club that is the Tory Cabinet, have also been loathe to upset their friends amongst the Sunni, Gulf Arab tyrannies, whose activities they are more than happy to turn a blind eye to, in order to ensure their supply of oil, and in order to keep making billions from selling them luxury goods, and more weapons with which to murder the people.

These are the same Tory millionaires who, of course, were only to prepared to bomb the shit out of Libya, and Iraq, and Afghanistan, supposedly in the name of freedom and democracy, and defence of human rights!  They are the same millionaires' club who would do the same to Syria given the chance.  Yet, when it comes to their freinds in the Gulf tyrannies, they cannot even bring themselves to a limp protest such as opposing the holding of the Grand Prix there.

A couple of weeks ago, a lone protester upset the rich boys annual rowing race in protest at elitism.  The generally reserved British are not given to kamikaze tactics.  But, one prominent Bahraini human rights protester, gaoled for life, simply for demanding democracy, is on hunger strike, and may die this weekend, such is his commitent to his cause.  I hope it doesn't happen, but it is not at all impossible that protests, on the track, during the race, could occur, which would have dire consequences.  I hope it doesn't happen for those reasons, and because the F1 authorities, and the Bahraini tyrants would then use it to justify their claims that the protesters were extremists.  They would all claim, of course, that they could never have seen such an eventuality.



Of course, the Tories would be sympathetic to such an excuse.  After all, these are the same rich boy Tories who are happy to see British workers die in industrial accidents, because they do not beleive in things such as Health & Safety.  In both cases, the blood is on their hands.

Northern Soul Classics - All Turned On - Bob Wilson & The san Remo Strings

More early Torch magic. Flat out, 100 mph stuff.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Northern Soul Classics - Move - Jess & James

Another biggy from the early Torch, which was also a biggy at the Wheel. This one from Jess & James, real names Fernando & Toni Lameirinhas, who escaped the Dictatorship of Salazar in the 1950's, moving to the industrial city of Charleroi in Belgium. I'm including two versions. The first because its 1967 footage of Jess & James, but it cuts off short, the second because its the full version.



Friday, 13 April 2012

Making The Workers Pay? - Part 5

The Floating Reserve

The Floating Reserve, as I described in Part 4, is made up of workers who move in and out of the labour market, thereby accommodating the cyclical movements of the economy. Often, this reserve is concentrated within certain sections of the workforce, and indeed, those sections, which previously formed the Latent Reserve – the Peasantry, Women, Children, Immigrants – provide the basis for the Floating Reserve. But, in developed economies there are always unemployed workers of all sorts at any one time, and this is a basic requirement for the functioning of the system. As old industries decline, and others rise, workers need to move from one industry to another. In the meantime, they may need to be retrained, certainly they will need to find new jobs, and maybe new homes in other locations. This is what economists call frictional unemployment. In a growing economy it is not a bad sign, but an indication of dynamism and change. The periods of unemployment for workers affected in this way, are not very long. Moreover, because such periods of unemployment are a normal part of the functioning of the economy – as opposed to unemployment caused by an economic crisis – the workers wages have to cover such periods, in just the same way that workers wages have to cover them for the other aspects of what is required to ensure their reproduction, such as insurance against sickness absence, and old age. These costs, because they are part of the normal costs of reproducing Labour Power, are an integral part of the Value of Labour Power.

In fact, viewing things in this light, it is possible to understand the logic for Capital behind the introduction of State run Unemployment Insurance and Benefits. As I stated, previously, in relation to China, the absence of such State run insurance and welfare schemes, means that workers will always tend to over compensate. An individual worker can never know if they will be ill, or what their healthcare costs might be. They will never know if or for how long they will be unemployed. They will not know how much the education costs for their children might be, or how long they may spend in retirement. In order to be on the safe safe side, workers will always tend to overestimate these costs, and try to ensure that they save enough money to cover them. In an economy like China, that focuses on exporting its production, this might not be a problem. The workers savings do not go into consumption, but there is sufficient external demand to soak up the production anyway. The workers savings – around 50% of income in China – are used to finance investment, to increase production even further.

However, no economy can continue to expand on the basis only of exports, and doing so results in fundamental imbalances, as well as making the economy increasingly subject to external shocks over which it has no control. When the US and European economies slumped after the Credit Crunch, China was forced to take decisive measures to stimulate domestic consumption, so that the massive output from its factories could be consumed, the profits from that production realised, and the workers kept in employment. China needs to shift the balance of its economy to increase its domestic market, and is taking steps to do so, including encouraging big increases in Chinese workers wages. But, it also needs to shift the balance of Chinese workers wages away from such high levels of savings and towards consumption. After all higher wages might simply result in more saving. The most effective means of doing that, as US and European Capital found during the last century is the establishment of a Welfare State.

The Welfare State, acts as a huge insurance scheme into which the workers are forced to pay. It means that instead of each worker having to estimate their own requirements, those requirements can be calculated as an average for the whole class of workers. Because, the reality of unemployment, sickness, and so on taken as an average is much lower than what any individual worker estimates it to be for themselves, the amount that actually needs to be set aside to cover these things for workers as a whole is significantly less than workers individually would set aside. In other words, the amount of savings – what Keynes calls the Precautionary Demand for Money – can be significantly reduced with the introduction of a Welfare State, and this means both that more money is available for domestic consumption, and the reduced demand for Money means, lower rates of interest, which can in turn stimulate economic activity.

The other thing here is that because the average wages the workers need to cover these eventualities has fallen, over time, this is reflected in the Value of Labour Power. Consequently, wages can fall, raising profits. The workers receive in their wages, the equivalent Value sum, required to cover this element of their reproduction i.e. the cost of insuring themselves against unemployment, sickness, old age etc., and then hand this over to the State, as an insurance premium, out of which the State then funds the provision of these Welfare services.

However, as stated above, in calculating the Value of Labour-power, what is taken into account is only that amount, which, on average, is required to cover the reproduction of Labour Power under conditions of full employment i.e. under conditions where all available Labour Power is employed other than for that, which is frictionally unemployed. Consequently, covering such unemployment via a state run Unemployment Insurance Scheme, just like covering Health Insurance, or Education provision, by a similar scheme, represents a more efficient system for Capital, which reduces the Value of Labour Power, and raises profits. That is why all developed economies introduced Welfare States.

However, because what is included in the Value of Labour Power is only insurance for these periods of frictional unemployment, it can also be seen why these State run insurance schemes have only covered short periods of unemployment. If workers are unemployed, not because they are simply moving from one job to another, as part of the normal functioning of the system, but are unemployed for longer periods, because the system has itself entered a crisis, then this is no longer a question of ensuring the reproduction of the necessary labour-power, because under such conditions, less labour-power is itself required! Under such conditions, from the perspective of Capital, the Unemployment Benefit is being paid out to sustain Labour-power, which it does not actually need. It is a cost over and above what is required for the reproduction of the necessary Labour-Power, and therefore constitutes a deduction from Surplus Value.

Here then we see yet another contradiction faced by Capital. On the one hand the introduction of the Welfare State, and in this instance, the provision of Unemployment Insurance, best meets its needs for ensuring the efficient reproduction of Labour-Power, on the other, when the system enters into a crisis it is not easy to reduce this provision.  Of course, in addition to these efficiency savings, which raise the rate of profit, it also benefits from ideological reinforcement of the system, because such provision encourages the idea of the neutrality of the Welfare State, thereby hiding its true class nature. However, when the system goes into crisis, that imposes additional costs on Capital reducing the rate of profit below what it would otherwise have been, and any attempt to remedy that by cutting Benefits, as happened in 1931, risks exposing the true class nature of the State, and the image of the Welfare State, as some beneficent provider.

The significance of the Floating Reserve in dealing with this contradiction can then be seen. It can act as a convenient safety valve or regulator for Capital. Perhaps, the clearest example of that can be seen in relation to the peasantry. The only country, as Marx points out, which has ever come close to the ideal of having a working-class in the pure sense is Britain. In the Grundrisse, Marx describes Labour as “Not Capital”, and Capital as “Not Labour”. In other words, for both to exist in their ideal, pure condition workers must own no Capital, whereas, Capital must do no Labour. Such conditions never exist. In Germany, for instance, until quite recently, a significant number of workers retained some connection to the countryside. Many had small holdings, or plots of land, from which they could obtain some income, or at the very least provide themselves with a modest amount of food. That is not uncommon in other European countries. In Russia in during the Civil War, faced with starvation in the towns and cities, millions of workers who had only just come from the countryside, returned to their villages, where they could have some hop of being able to feed themselves.

This is a classic example of the Floating Reserve. Capital, not requiring the available Labour Power, is able to dismiss it without the need to pay for its subsistence, or face the social and political consequences of refusing to do so. Instead, this Floating Reserve, disappears from the labour force, and provides for its own subsistence by other means essentially outside the sphere of Capital. But women workers, child workers and immigrants can also perform this function for Capital.

Because of the essential characteristics of human reproduction parents subsistence has to be financed by Capital, whether they are employed or not. Having said that, Aldous Huxley, in “Brave New World” described the ultimate of the Fordist, Welfare State, in which children could instead be brought up in State run orphanages, where that State could ensure that they were more effectively indoctrinated, and turned into efficient workers who loved their exploitation! Given that industrial Capitalism developed within the existing framework of a paternalistic society, where the role of child rearing, and the care for the sick and elderly within the home, was assigned to women, it was natural that it would adapt to that reality.

As a consequence, an obvious solution for Capital in meeting its fluctuating needs for Labour-Power (some of which, of course is always dealt with via things such as overtime working) is to utilise female labour-power. Where Capital cannot meet its needs by overtime working, it can draw in female workers. There is a whole discussion that has taken place in the Marxist and Feminist movements about the role of female labour-power, around the question of wages for housework, and so on, which I do not have space to deal with here. In short, let me simply say that it depends upon the conditions and time scales involved. For the reasons set out above, about the nature of human reproduction, in conditions where women do not in general work – for Capital – then their subsistence has to be covered in the wages paid to male workers. In conditions where, in general, women do work for Capital – which in itself means that a variety of economic and social changes are required, such as the mechanisation or socialisation of domestic labour – then their subsistence will tend to have to be covered in the Value of their own Labour-power. In reality, it will also depend upon the structure of households, for example, are the majority of households based upon families (which will tend to make household income more significant), or are they based upon individuals (which will make individual income more significant).

But, likewise, when Capital faces some kind of crisis, and its demand for Labour-power falls, it is convenient for Capital to be able to dismiss female workers as part of a Floating Reserve, and for them to disappear from the labour force, back into the domestic sector, just as happens in many less developed economies with peasants. A concomitant of this, for Capital, is that having returned to the domestic sphere, this female labour-power should not simply represent an additional cost for capital either in the form of payments of welfare benefits, or in the form of a requirement of higher male wages to cover their subsistence. In other words, having returned to the domestic sphere, this female labour power, like that of the peasant, must be capable of covering its own subsistence by other means. That is why, under such conditions, there is usually some attempt to also move some of the social and welfare functions that were taken on by the State – which were part of those economic and social changes referred to above required to free female labour-power for use by Capital – back into the domestic sphere.

In fact, from the perspective of modern industrial Capital, this does not have to be female labour power. To the extent that men are prepared to become house-husbands, to undertake the tasks of child-rearing and caring etc., then this provides industrial capital with greater flexibility, particularly where the structure of employment is such that it has come to rely on female labour-power more than that of men. It is just that Capital, particularly Big Capital, is very opportunistic, and rather than rock the boat, it is more than happy to adapt to the social conditions in which it finds itself, rather than to try to change them.

Of course, much of what has been said above in relation to female labour-power can also be said in relation to immigrant labour power. In fact, to the extent that Capital can utilise guest worker schemes, such as those in Germany, it can reduce even some of the contradictions it faces in utilising female labour-power. But, it does so only by creating new contradictions. On the one hand, it requires an increasingly costly, and oppressive State apparatus to police “illegal” immigration. On the other, as recent experience in Britain has shown, attempts to place caps on immigration, merely result in shortages of particular types of labour-power, which in turn cause economic problems.

Back To Part 4

Forward To Part 6

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Should We Defend Representative Democracy?

I was just watching Peter Kellner giving the 2012 David Butler Lecture on the BBC Parliament Channel. (See: here) In it he sets out the case for Representative Democracy as against Direct Democracy, which he defines narrowly here in terms of decision making by Referenda. Representative Democracy he contends is under threat from the latter, which is an insidious means by which democracy itself has been undermined by authoritarian forces.

Marxists are clear when it comes to a question of defending representative i.e. Bourgeois Democracy, against a return to feudal absolutism, or its supplanting by fascism or Bonapartism. We are not proponents of Bourgeois Democracy, we are advocates of direct workers democracy of the type we practice in our Trades Unions, Co-operatives, and Workers Parties (though in all these we are not content with the the current standards of democracy actually achieved). However, we recognise that alongside bourgeois democracy go a number of bourgeois freedoms, such as the right to assembly, to free speech etc. Of course, all these rights and freedoms are ones which the bourgeoisie itself sought, for its own ends, in its class struggle against the landed aristocracy, and which it requires for its own rule. They are extended to the working class only under sufferance, which is why male workers did not obtain the right to vote, even in Britain until the latter part of the 19th Century, and women workers not until after WWI. Whenever the bourgeoisie feels that the enjoyment of these rights, by the workers, seriously threatens its own rule, or even its ability to make profits, it acts to withdraw them or restrict them. That may simply be restrictions on the right to strike, to organise through to the use of fascists or a military coup to remove those rights and freedoms completely.

Nevertheless, in so far as workers are able to enjoy these rights and freedoms, they are vital tools for facilitating the workers own activities, and the building up of their own resources. Consequently, we are not advocates of bourgeois democracy but of workers democracy, but we are prepared to support a political struggle for or to defend bourgeois democracy and freedoms as a means of furthering the interests of the working class. But, it is precisely because we are not advocates of bourgeois democracy, but of workers democracy which determines the basis upon which that struggle is conducted. The best illustration of that is given by Trotsky in his Action Programme For France. In it, he sets out that we struggle for, or to defend, these bourgeois freedoms not with the tools of bourgeois democracy, but of direct workers democracy, and proletarian class struggle. Our task after all is not to promote bourgeois democracy, but to illustrate its inadequacy, its sham nature, and the superiority of workers democracy. So, for example, Trotsky proposes defending bourgeois democracy against the fascists in France by such means as:

1) The abolition of all business secrets

2) “Factory committees, peasant committees, committees of small functionaries, of employees could very easily, with the help of honest technicians, engineers, accountants loyal to the working people, do away with the “business secrets” of the exploiters. It is by this method that we must establish public control over banks, industry and commerce.”

3) “...the workers under arms must retain all political rights and should be represented by soldier committees elected in special assemblies. Thus they will remain closely linked to the great mass of toilers and will unite their forces with the people organized and armed against reaction and fascism.”

4) “All the police executors of the capitalist will, of the bourgeois state, and its cliques of corrupt politicians must be disbanded. Execution of police duties by the workers’ militia. Abolition of class courts, election of all judges, extension of the jury for all crimes and misdemeanors; the people will render justice themselves.”


5) “The task is to replace the capitalist state, which functions for the profit of the big exploiters, by the workers’ and peasants’ proletarian state. The task is to establish in this country the rule of the working people. To all we declare that it is not a matter of secondary ‘modification,’ but rather that the domination of the small minority of the bourgeois class must be replaced by the leadership and power of the immense majority of the laboring people.”

6) “To reinforce the struggle of both the workers and peasants, the workers’ committees should establish close collaboration with the peasant committees. Constituted as organs of popular defense against fascism, these workers’ alliance committees and these peasant committees must become, during the course of the struggle, organisms directly elected by the masses, organs of power of the workers and peasants. On this basis the proletarian power will be erected in opposition to the capitalist power, and the Workers’ and Peasants’ Commune will triumph.”

“We are thus firm partisans of a Workers’ and Peasants’ State, which will take the power from the exploiters. To win the majority of our working-class allies to this program is our primary aim.

Meanwhile, as long as the majority of the working class continues on the basis of bourgeois democracy, we are ready to defend it with all our forces against violent attacks from the Bonapartist and fascist bourgeoisie.”


In other words, although the situation was one in which it was the forces of reaction which were on the attack, Trotsky refuses, correctly, to deal with this by assuming a purely defensive strategy. He utilises the old football maxim “the best form of defence is attack”. This is the opposite of the position adopted by the Stalinists and Reformists, who respond by looking to alien class forces, and by subordinating the workers struggle to the bourgeoisie, through the Popular Front.  He recognises that the reaction is itself a sign of the maturing of contradictions in society, the need of the bourgeoisie to respond with such measures, and, therefore, the potential for this situation to turn into its opposite, a revolutionary situation, in which the working-class can go on to the offensive. That, of course, is why Trotsky can include in his demands, the demands for nationalisation of the banks etc., which under other conditions would be unnacceptable. Of course, it is not the Capitalist State, who he looks to, to undertake such nationalisations he says,

“Nationalization by the workers means the destruction of the great private monopolies, support of small enterprises, redistribution of products for the benefit of the great mass of producers.” and,

“The great institutions of the state (post office, customs, education, etc.), which exploit several million toilers, function for the benefit of capitalism. The recent scandals have shown the corruption that reigns among the higher functionaries.

The small government employees are exploited by the corrupt and venal officials who utilize their office to permit the possessing class to crush the labourers still more.

We must make a clean sweep. With the collaboration of all the exploited, committees and unions of small government employees will make the necessary changes to establish real social services that function by and for the labouring masses.”

Of course, these are the last methods by which Kellner seeks to defend bourgeois democracy. His first line of argument is to set out his attack on Direct Democracy. This is done, not by examining the potential for i,t as set out in, for example, Classical Greek Democracy, or even the workers democracy as it exists within the Labour Movement, but by limiting it to the use of referenda. Here the old trick of guilt by association is adopted. All kinds of Dictators have utilised referenda, so, therefore, they must be bad. That is then extended. Kellner provides details of a poll his organisation, "Yougov”, had undertaken on a number of important issues. The results of this poll could only be a surprise to middle class liberals who need to get out into the real world more.

The poll showed that there was a majority of support for a number of reactionary measures, such as leaving the EU, stopping all net immigration, bringing back hanging, providing details of known paedophiles and so on. So, the argument goes, no self-respecting liberal progressive could possibly consider giving the working-class a meaningful vote over any of these things. Much better to only allow the workers a meaningless vote, and allow the professional, bourgeois politicians to continue in the same way ruling over the workers' heads, and in the interests of the bourgeoisie.

Part of the problem here, Kellner argues, is the very nature of referenda, which force the electors into making binary choices, all or nothing. So, for example, Kellner says, in relation to the Immigration question, the referendum could only ask whether voters wanted to stop all net immigration or not. But, for a professional psephologist that is a ridiculous claim for him to make! There is absolutely no reason why such a referendum could not ask a question such as - “Are you in favour of 1) no net immigration, 2) net immigration of 100k – 200k, 3) net immigration of 200k – 300k, 4) net immigration of 300k – 400k, 5) no limit.” Voters could then be asked to respond as with AV, by ranking their preferences.

Moreover, with the advance in ICT, his other objection, that of the time required to set up referenda to deal with new or changed conditions is rapidly disappearing.

Failing to deal with reactionary ideas feeds
support for the extreme Right
What Kellner's approach signifies is the arrogance of the political elite, as well as its basically bureaucratic and lazy attitude. The real answer, to the fact that a large proportion of the British people hold reactionary ideas, in relation to nationalism etc,. is not the bureaucratic response of ignoring the views of the majority, which can only ever feed support for the parties of the extreme right, as the people become ever more alienated from a political class that fails to reflect their concerns, but is to make the case, against those reactionary ideas, more effectively. After all, part of Kellners task here was to make the case as to why Representative rather than Direct Democracy should be supported. If a political campaign can be waged for that, it can be waged for the political ideas that Kellner or anyone else seeks to promote.

But, that is true in the organisations of the Labour Movement too. The answer to the actual lack of democracy within the Trades Unions, the Co-ops, and the Workers Parties, is not the ultra-left and sectarian response of seeking purity, through an infinite number of schisms, but to focus on the actual needs of the workers themselves, and by addressing them, build a mass workers movement from the base up, focussed not within the parliamentary channels of the Trade Union Branch committee, but on the workplace floor, not in the CLP, but in the LP Branch, linked closely and in practice with the TRA, or neighbourhood committee, as well as on a day to day basis with workers in their Co-operative enterprises, Housing Co-ops, estate Co-ops and so on. It will always be the case that only the activists devote their time to the parliamentary bodies of the Labour Movement, often to the detriment of their practical day to day work of dealing with workers problems. At least until Socialism has become a well established fact, the majority of workers will only participate in their organisations if they see an immediate need to do so, for example, during a strike, or because they have some financial imperative for doing so – for example, in running their own Co-op of some form or another. If we want to build a truly democratic movement, it has to be a mass movement, which can only be built from the ground up. If we want a truly democratic movement it has to be based on active mass participation, and that can only happen if workers have a direct imperative for engaging in such activity. Without that workers direct democracy will be as much of a sham as representative democracy is today. It would be to simply replace one political elite with another.