Thursday, 23 June 2011

Why I Don't Oppose Grayling's New Private University - Part 2

In Part 1, I demonstrated that there was no basis in Marxist principle to oppose Grayling's new University. More importantly, by focussing on the issue of equality the opposition implicitly accepts the Liberal notions about Equality stemming from Distributional rather Production relations.
Consequently, it also then offers not Marxist but Liberal reformist solutions, whose main target is not Capital, but the Middle Classes, and better off sections of the working-class. This Fabian redistributive view of Socialism also fits with the statist view itself put forward in relation to the question of the nature of state owned institutions.

This brings me to the question of Marxists attitude to privatisation. Engels, in Anti-Duhring, sets out that State Capitalism is merely the logical conclusion of the process of concentration and centralisation that Marx had elaborated.
State ownership was not “progressive” because it was the State that was the Capitalist, which is the implication that all of the Statists make, but merely because it was the most developed, most mature form of Capital arrived at, in just the same way that a Monopoly, or a Trust is only progressive compared to free market competition because it too is a more mature form of Capital having developed out of that free market competition.

He writes,

“But the transformation, either into joint-stock companies, or into state ownership, does not do away with the capitalistic nature of the productive forces. In the joint-stock companies this is obvious. And the modern state, again, is only the organisation that bourgeois society takes on in order to support the general external conditions of the capitalist mode of production against the encroachments as well of the workers as of individual capitalists.

The modern state, no matter what its form, is essentially a capitalist machine, the state of the capitalists, the ideal personification of the total national capital. The more it proceeds to the taking over of productive forces, the more does it actually become the national capitalist, the more citizens does it exploit. The workers remain wage-workers — proletarians. The capitalist relation is not done away with. It is rather brought to a head. But, brought to a head, it topples over. State ownership of the productive forces is not the solution of the conflict, but concealed within it are the technical conditions that form the elements of that solution.” (ibid p360)

And he says,

“In the trusts, free competition changes into monopoly and the planless production of capitalist society capitulates before the planned production of the invading socialist society. Of course, this is initially still to the benefit of the Capitalists.

But, the exploitation becomes so palpable here that it must break down. No nation would put up with production directed by trusts, with such a barefaced exploitation of the community by a small band of coupon-clippers.” (Anti-Duhring p358)

But, of course, Engels was mistaken. Not only DOES society put up with such barefaced exploitation by one single Capitalist State Trust, but many of those who claim to act in his and Marx's name, advocate it to the workers as a solution for their problems!!!

I have quoted Engels from the 1976 Foreign Languages Press Edition of his book as the version contained at Marxists.Org is incomplete, and does not contain the passage about “coupon-clippers” for some reason.

Lenin in “Imperialism” sets this out as against Kautsky. We oppose the introduction of anti-Monopoly laws, Lenin says, because they imply that the problems arising out of Monopoly can be resolved by going back to free market competition.

They can't. The break up of the Monopolies would only mean the process commencing again – as happened when the US Oil Monopolies were broken up. As Lenin sets out, the Marxist position opposes the move back to a more primitive form of Capital, and instead argues for going beyond the existing Monopolies – including the biggest Monopoly of all that of the State – and forward to Workers Ownership and Control of the means of production.

Lenin quotes Hilferding approvingly,

““It is not the business of the proletariat,” writes Hilferding “to contrast the more progressive capitalist policy with that of the now bygone era of free trade and of hostility towards the state.

The reply of the proletariat to the economic policy of finance capital, to imperialism, cannot be free trade, but socialism. The aim of proletarian policy cannot today be the ideal of restoring free competition—which has now become a reactionary ideal—but the complete elimination of competition by the abolition of capitalism.”

He continues,

Let us assume that free competition, without any sort of monopoly, would have developed capitalism and trade more rapidly. But the more rapidly trade and capitalism develop, the greater is the concentration of production and capital which gives rise to monopoly.

And monopolies have already arisen—precisely out of free competition! Even if monopolies have now begun to retard progress, it is not an argument in favour of free competition, which has become impossible after it has given rise to monopoly.

Whichever way one turns Kautsky’s argument, one will find nothing in it except reaction and bourgeois reformism.”

Lenin – Imperialism

But, it would be ludicrous to go from the argument that we should oppose the break-up of Monopolies – including State Monopolies – to the argument that we should advocate the establishment of Monopolies, including the most complete form of monopoly that of State Capitalism, or to proscribe the creation of new private companies that compete with such Monopolies! In fact, nothing is more natural than that such competition to the Monopolies should arise as Marx pointed out to Proudhon in The Poverty of Philosophy,Ch.2

Marx writes,

“It must be carefully noted that competition always becomes the more destructive for bourgeois relations in proportion as it urges on a feverish creation of new productive forces, that is, of the material conditions of a new society.

In this respect at least, the bad side of competition would have its good points...

Thesis: Feudal monopoly, before competition.
Antithesis: Competition.
Synthesis: Modern monopoly, which is the negation of feudal monopoly, in so far as it implies the system of competition, and the negation of competition in so far as it is monopoly.

Thus modern monopoly, bourgeois monopoly, is synthetic monopoly, the negation of the negation, the unity of opposites. It is monopoly in the pure, normal, rational state.

In practical life we find not only competition, monopoly and the antagonism between them, but also the synthesis of the two, which is not a formula, but a movement. Monopoly produces competition, competition produces monopoly. Monopolists are made from competition; competitors become monopolists. If the monopolists restrict their mutual competition by means of partial associations, competition increases among the workers; and the more the mass of the proletarians grows as against the monopolists of one nation, the more desperate competition becomes between the monopolists of different nations. The synthesis is of such a character that monopoly can only maintain itself by continually entering into the struggle of competition.”

In other words, Feudal Monopoly leads to Capitalist Competition, which leads via concentration to Capitalist Monopoly, which leads in turn to Monopolistic Competition.

The only place where this Monopolistic Competition, and the benefits that flow from it does not exist, and where all of the limitations on development that Lenin sets out as flowing from Monopoly, is in the area of State Capitalist Monopolies. But, even here the laws of Economics as set out by Marx do not cease. If Competition is outlawed in one form, it springs up in another. Individual consumers respond to a Monopoly of Public Transport by switching to private cars. A Monopoly in Post is met by the development of E-Mail, and so on.

Just how ridiculous trying to impose such proscriptions on the development of new private companies is can be seen by looking at many of those things we see around us. When IBM had a virtual Monopoly in the Computer Industry, for example, would it have been sensible to apply the idea that any smaller companies in the industry were “less progressive”, and therefore to have proscribed their development, in order to protect IBM from such competition?

After all as Engels, Hilferding, Kautsky and Lenin set out there is no qualitative difference between a State Capitalist Trust, and a Private Capitalist Trust, except for the fact, as Kautsky set out, that the State has far more power to be able to exploit its workers than any private Capitalist. Had that been the case, then Microsoft would never have been established. In the same way, had Microsoft had such protection, it would have meant that Google, and all of its competitors would never have been established.

And, in fact, if we look back over the last 60 years, this process has been repeated over and over again with repeated waves of new small companies in new areas of production, that have sprung up, often in competition with existing large companies in similar areas of production, which have then grown to become large companies themselves.

And, what we have seen develop in the last 60 years, as part of a new regime of Accumulation, is increasing Monopolistic Competition, largely on the basis of Quality that has acted to massively improve the range and quality of production, whilst at the same time driving down the price of production, through continual and rapid innovation in the means of production, and in productive techniques.

In the last 30 years, the introduction of neo-Fordism and what came to be called “Flexible Specialisation” methods, meant that this process could be even more accelerated. Indeed, the FS methods made possible with CAD-CAM, Modularisation, and robotisation which were fundamental to industrial production, re-organisation and restructuring, are also highly applicable to service industries including things such as health and education, precisely because they facilitate services more particularly tailored to the needs of particular groups of consumers.

Of course, in part this requires a degree of size to enjoy the economies of scale that makes this possible. But, a look at any neighbourhood to look at the vast range of products available at competing TESCO, Sainsbury, ASDA, etc. demonstrates how this works, because in any particular neighbourhood, the particular range is itself determined by analysis of consumers purchases. Yet, all of that has been achieved whilst driving down costs massively, and driving up the quality of both the goods on offer, and the shopping experience itself. And, the Internet is a prime example of that with Search engines like Google able to examine each individuals on line activity so at to tailor searches and advertising to meet their perceived needs and tastes.

It seems crazy to me for Marxists to defend existing, in the main not very good – outside Oxbridge and a few more - and very expensive provision of Higher Education in the UK against the potential for a similar transformation.

I was looking at our local Universities and F.E. And Sixth Form Colleges recently in this light. It seems illogical to me that within the space of about five miles we have two separate Universities, and within ten miles a Faculty of Manchester University as well. On top of that around those Universities are nearly half a dozen F.E. Colleges, and in addition to that several Sixth Form Colleges. Each of these have their own Vice Chancellors, or Principals, their own quite large administrative staff and so on.

From an economic rationality perspective this is ridiculous. It is a huge unnecessary duplication of resources. No large private company would work in that way. It would have one central administrative centre, enjoying economies of scale. It would limit administrative staff in each location to a minimum, and would concentrate its efforts on core activities, decentralising non-core activities to external suppliers. A look at the huge salaries and attendant costs of each University's Vice Chancellor itself shows how much could be saved in this way. If all of the Higher Education in the UK were provided by two or three competing Monopolies, the savings would be huge, and the experience of Monopolistic competition, in the last 60 years, in every other area, indicates that this would be likely to both reduce costs – and therefore Tuition Fees – massively, as well as driving up the range and quality of teaching on offer to students.

After all, the Universities are the original type of Feudal Monopoly decried by Marx. They were set up under Royal Charter, and by restricting access they have acted to both mystify Education, and to keep up the Monopoly prices they are able to charge.

In fact, the writing is already on the wall, with a number of British students already deciding that if they are going to be asked to pay the £9,000 a year Tuition Fees that UK Universities are asking, they may as well pay that sum, or thereabouts to obtain a better quality of education at some overseas University. Far from decrying this kind of development, Marxists should see in it the same kind of progressive role of Competition that Marx identified in its break up of previous similar State Monopolies, and all of the evils that go with them. When he said,

“It must be carefully noted that competition always becomes the more destructive for bourgeois relations in proportion as it urges on a feverish creation of new productive forces, that is, of the material conditions of a new society. In this respect at least, the bad side of competition would have its good points...”

That these new productive forces are in relation to intellectual production does not change that.

But, that is not to argue FOR such a development, only to refrain from arguing against it. We would not for example, have argued FOR the establishment of Microsoft as a competitor to IBM. On the contrary, our task remains to convince workers of the need for them to take ownership of the means of production themselves, and of the necessity of establishing a Workers State to deal with the inevitable resistance of the Capitalists to such a transformation. In that respect it is like Marx's attitude to the debate over Free Trade or Protection. Marx takes apart the class basis of both options before concluding,

“But, in general, the protective system of our day is conservative, while the free trade system is destructive. It breaks up old nationalities and pushes the antagonism of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie to the extreme point. In a word, the free trade system hastens the social revolution. It is in this revolutionary sense alone, gentlemen, that I vote in favour of free trade.”

Marx – Speech On Free Trade

In the meantime, and as part of the process of convincing workers of that, we have to focus on establishing Workers Ownership and Control of the Means of Production here and now through Worker Co-operatives. But, that is also another reason NOT to oppose the establishment of Grayling's new University. In Spain, the workers in developing the Mondragon Co-operative, early on established their own Co-operative University to ensure the education and development of their workers.
A look at its Tuition Fees is also interesting, with the majority of courses costing less that 5,000 Euros p.a. or about £3.500. The Co-op in Britain from its first days, established schools and reading rooms over its shops. At the beginning of the 20th Century, rebelling against the restricted bourgeois education that Oxford University was providing for them, even at the supposed “Workers' College” at Ruskin, the British Marxists set up the Plebs League, and the National Labour College in London, as well as the National Labour College Network throughout the country.
If we oppose the establishment of new Universities outside the existing quasi-state system, on what basis could we follow these wholly admirable endeavours of workers and Marxists in the past?

Back To Part 1

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