Friday, 2 July 2010

Motherhood & Apple Pie

Last night I was watching the BBC's “This Week”. They were discussing the fact that support for the Liberal fraction of the Liberal-Tory alliance has cratered. A development I had predicted in my blog - At Last The Liberals Commit Hari Kiri. For some reason they had a pop singer, who was a Liberal supporter, I've never heard of, making a short film about why the Liberals' supporters should stick with them. The basis of this argument appeared to be that the Liberal-Tory alliance represented some kind of new politics, where confrontation was replaced with co-operation, which was deemed to be some generally good thing. Of course, you might expect a pop singer to be quite happy with co-operation between two right-wing parties, because you'd expect them to be quite well-off, and to share the same interests that the other rich people that the Liberal-Tories represent have.

Why they would think I'd be interested in the views of a pop singer on politics, rather than the views of someone who might have actually put some serious thought into the matter, I don't know. I suppose its another sign of the Commoditisation Of Politics This kind of fluffy, “Wouldn't it be nice if everyone could work together?” politics, is what in the US is referred to as the politics of “Motherhood and Apple Pie”. It puts forward general ideas that on a superficial level everyone can think of as being a good thing, but which in reality are no such thing. This idea of Co-operation coming from a supporter of a right-wing, bourgeois Party is, of course, completely hypocritical. The whole basis of bourgeois ideology, of Liberal ideology, in particular, is that of individualism, of competition, and of choice. Co-operation, is the very opposite of all that. If choice means that we should be able to choose between the products of different companies, who we are to expect to compete fiercely amongst each other in order to win our custom, should we not be able to expect the same real choices between the political parties who want to be able to make the life and death decisions that affect our lives??? Should we not expect these parties to be deadly rivals, fighting it out by tooth and claw to persuade us of their views as opposed to their rivals. Isn't the idea of Co-operation between these parties precisely the same as the development of monopolies, cartels, and trusts to deprive us of real choice, that Liberal ideology says it abhors?

And, of course, what this fluffy rhetoric about co-operation avoids is the question co-operation to do what? What the Liberal-Tory co-operation is about, is co-operation to attack workers and middle class living standards in the interests of Capital and the rich. No wonder a rich pop star is in favour of that kind of co-operation. But, the workers and middle class kids who might – though having heard him sing, I don't know why they would – buy his records, have no interest in having the bosses political representatives engage in such co-operation against them. On the contrary, what they need is a Party that will give them a real choice, a Party that will fight with all its might against those attacks. In the commercial world, the application of Game Theory has led businesses to occupy the same space, each producing essentially the same products, pursuing the same strategies, and only competing on the basis of superficial presentation. In reality, the commoditisation of politics has led to the same thing. All the main parties essentially provide the same product, and simply dress it up with superficial advertising that tries to emphasise insignificant differences, differences that ultimately, as the Prime Ministers debates showed, dissolve down into nothing more than a beauty contest of personalities. Its that kind of Punch & Judy show that really pisses people off, not the existence of differences and real debate. Its meaningless arguments over non-existent differences that is the problem, not real arguments over real differences, real divisions of class interest. If only the latter existed.

There is another instance of co-operation between one right-wing party that lacked a majority, and another less right-wing party that co-operated with it that demonstrates the point. In the 1930's, Hitler's Nazis failed to secure a majority in the Reichstag elections. For a while there was a stalemate. The other bosses' parties could not secure a majority either. The next largest bloc was that of the Workers' Parties, the Communist party, and the Socialist Party, who because of ridiculous sectarianism between them refused to co-operate. The bosses, afraid of the workers, put pressure on the other right-wing parties to co-operate with Hitler, to provide him with the votes he needed to become Chancellor. We know the rest. It was no surprise that the bosses parties then and now co-operated in order to carry through a severe attack on working and middle class living standards. What was needed was a similar united front amongst the workers and middle classes to oppose them.

The same is true today. Far from co-operation with the Liberal-Tories what we need is the most effective United Front within the working class against the attacks of Capital. That United Front cannot be built on the kind of Fabian, redistributive socialism politics that the Left – including the supposedly revolutionary left – has adopted for most of the last century. Workers interests cannot be advanced by simply undertaking industrial action to protect wages, to oppose cuts, or to demand higher taxes on the rich. Industrial action is undoubtedly needed to defend wages and jobs, and services where they are under attack, but they are no real solution as Marx outlined in “Wages, price and Profit”. The economic laws of Capitalism will always set a limit of what is possible in that regard. Capital will always respond accordingly, cutting back on investment, or introducing labour-saving machines and techniques and so on in order to reduce the demand for labour and undermine workers ability to resist. Moreover, as Marx pointed out even as such methods might work in a limited sense to defend the workers in a broader sense they fail, because what he called the “injudicious use of their power”, by the unions leads necessarily via such industrial action to an attack on other workers – as consumers of goods and services – and the middle class, thereby undermining the political position of the working-class.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the mass Workers Parties like the German SPD recognised the need not only to mobilise the working class, but to, at least, not alienate the masses of the middle classes in the process, if they were to defeat Capital. That was true whether such a defeat was viewed as stemming from Parliament, or from securing a majority within society at large. Yet, in the post-war period, in particular, precisely at a time when these “middle classes” have grown enormously in size, the Workers Parties, through the adoption of Fabian redistributive Socialism, have turned their fire away from the real enemy, away from Capital, and on to the workers natural allies within the middle classes. In order to fund huge Capitalist States – that have again in accordance with that Fabian ideology been seen as in some way “socialist” - they have argued for the need for high income taxes to fund it. And, of course, the rich, Capital avoids those taxes, so the real burden falls on the middle class, and as that becomes insufficient even to finance this bureaucratic monstrosity, the taxes are imposed heavily on the higher-paid, skilled workers too, until eventually even the ordinary worker is required to cough up, huge amounts of tax, so that the Capitalist State can continue to oppress them. And, the so called revolutionary left has generally only differed here in that it has called for even higher levels of income tax, for an even greater degree of power and influence for the Capitalist State. Marxism it isn't, and its no wonder that during that same period all Workers Parties have seen a draining of support away from them.

If that is to be reversed Workers Parties have to stop defending State Capitalism, and start struggling for socialist alternatives to it, for workers' ownership and control here and now. They have to abandon that Lassallean/Fabian statism and its redistributive socialism – whether by a strategy of “more militancy”, or by Welfarism and taxation – and begin to develop a strategy that unites the working-class and middle classes in a struggle against Capital, a struggle that counterposes working-class ownership and methods of production, to Capitalist ownership and methods of production.

As Marx, put it arguing against such people in his Critique of the Gotha Programme,

“If the material conditions of production are the co-operative property of the workers themselves, then there likewise results a distribution of the means of consumption different from the present one. Vulgar socialism (and from it in turn a section of the democrats) has taken over from the bourgeois economists the consideration and treatment of distribution as independent of the mode of production and hence the presentation of socialism as turning principally on distribution. After the real relation has long been made clear, why retrogress again?”

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