Sunday, 10 July 2011

Good Riddance

Socialists cannot be happy that workers employed at the News of the World have lost their jobs, but similarly Socialists should shed no tears over the closure of that disgusting rag either. As Steve Coogan said on Newsnight a few days ago, it is not just the fact of the phone hacking that made the News of the World and other parts of the gutter press a disgrace. It is the fact, of their utterly reactionary politics, their focus on sleaze and tittle tattle to distract workers with “Bread and Circuses” away from the real problems that confront them, and above all their inveterate mysoginism, homophobia and racism that attacks the weakest in society such as minorities, people forced on to Benefits and so on.
The journalists on the paper who wrote those stories cannot divorce themselves from what they wrote, and indeed the National Union of Journalists, which fails to address the question of its members writing such reactionary garbage cannot excuse itself either. Trade Union politics is not Socialist politics, and between the two, socialists always have to prioritise the latter.

As socialists, we do not want to see workers employed at any firm made redundant. We did not want to see workers at Lucas Aerospace, for example, made redundant despite the fact that they were employed in making armaments for the Capitalist State that would be used both by the British State, and sold to other Capitalist States, and reactionary regimes around the globe to suppress workers, and other oppressed groups. Our desire not to see workers lose their jobs could not override our socialist principles, and indeed strategic concern to limit the power of the Capitalist State to oppress workers.
But, the workers at Lucas, themselves, showed that we do not have to simply accept the options, within Capitalism, that Capital presents us with. The Lucas workers drew up their own plans for alternative production, that would have seen their jobs retained, whilst the company ceased producing means of destruction, and instead produced goods that would be socially useful. The limitation of the Lucas Plan was that they thought that they could get the Capitalist owners of the Company to adopt their plans, or that they could impose some kind of meaningful control over the labour process without themselves having ownership of the company.

The vast majority of rank and file soldiers are working-class, economically conscripted from areas of high unemployment and social deprivation. We have no desire for such workers to have to endure unemployment and deprivation, as the alternative to employment in the armed forces. But, that concern cannot override our recognition that those armed forces prime function is the maintenance of the dominance of the Capitalist class, its Social Dictatorship. If the armed forces were to disintegrate, in the same way that News of the World has done, we could shed no tears. But, just as with the Lucas workers, the alternatives are not simply employment in the Army of the Capitalists or the dole queue.
Our alternative is the development of a Workers Militia that could ensure that “Defence” actually was a defence of the majority of the British people, its working-class, and not simply a defence of the interests of the minuscule minority that is the Capitalist Class.

The same is true with the Police Force where our alternative is the establishment of democratically controlled Defence Squads, and the establishment of effective neighbourhood policing implemented by the workers in those communities themselves.

But, shedding no tears over the closure of the News of the World is not at all the same either as the utopian, reformist demands of the SWP, who have called for the breaking up of Murdoch's Evil Empire.
In raising this demand, the SWP have joined with those such as Kautsky – or indeed with the Communist Party that in the past argued for an “anti-monopoly alliance” - who abandoned Marxist politics in favour of a purely Liberal perspective. In “Imperialism – The Highest Stage of Capitalism”, Lenin sets out what is wrong with this perspective. He quotes with approval the statement by Hilferding,

““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.””

Before adding in criticism of Kautsky's proposal for breaking up the monopolies,

“ Kautsky broke with Marxism by advocating in the epoch of finance capital a “reactionary ideal”, “peaceful democracy”, “the mere operation of economic factors”, for objectively this ideal drags us back from monopoly to non-monopoly capitalism, and is a reformist swindle...

Kautsky’s argument can have no other meaning; and this “meaning” is meaningless. 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.”

But, its not just that in calling for such an approach the SWP adopt a thoroughly utopian, and reformist perspective, their position also explicitly accepts the idea that the media should remain in private Capitalist hands. That it should do so, exposes the real weakness and contradiction within the politics of the statist, reformist Left. In almost every other such situation, the stock response of the SWP would be to call for the industry to be nationalised.
But, even the SWP must realise what such ownership of all the media by the Capitalist State would mean! It would mean effectively arguing for moves towards the establishment of a totalitarian Capitalist regime. That is what State owned and controlled media has implied everywhere throughout the globe where it has existed.

Yet, ironically, and wholly inconsistently, the SWP along with the rest of the statist, reformist Left is not only quite happy to accept, but positively paints up, as progressive, the Monopoly control, by the Capitalist State, of even more powerful ideological levers than the media. It paints up as progressive the Monopoly control, by the Capitalist State, of the schools, colleges and other education factories by which the Capitalist Class directly controls and shapes the minds and ideas of workers in order to reproduce the Labour Power it requires.
It is an acceptance, of that limitation of Trade Union politics, that leaves workers with the choice only of Capitalist alternatives, rather than pointing out that, here and now, alternative socialist solutions are available based on workers themselves taking ownership and control of these functions.

Of course, every day workers are forced to accept such compromises. Every day that workers go to work for a capitalist, and have to accept as a condition of that employment that they have no control over what they produce, or how it is produced, and that they have to hand over a portion of what they produce to the Capitalist for free. But, as socialists we do not paint up such compromises as in any way a lesser-evil, let alone as in some way a victory. On the contrary, we have to describe them honestly for what they are. They are a defeat for the working-class, a defeat we are forced to accept because of our continuing weakness and inability to impose our own alternative.

In Left-Wing Communism, Lenin set this out in relation to the need for Compromises. In 1918 a weak Soviet Union, facing Civil War, and external threats was faced with a demand from Germany for the ceding of territory on Russia's western border. At Brest-Litovsk, Lenin argued that it was necessary to accept the need to accept this compromise, because they were not strong enough to do any other at that time. Engaging in some ultra-left adventure to throw themselves at the Germans, in the hope of the German and other European workers coming to their rescue would have been a terrible tactical move.

“Every proletarian has been through strikes and has experienced "compromises" with the hated oppressors and exploiters, when the workers have had to return to work either without having achieved anything or else agreeing to only a partial satisfaction of their demands. Every proletarian—as a result of the conditions of the mass struggle and the acute intensification of class antagonisms he lives among—sees the difference between a compromise enforced by objective conditions (such as lack of strike funds, no outside support, starvation and exhaustion)—a compromise which in no way minimises the revolutionary devotion and readiness to carry on the struggle on the part of the workers who have agreed to such a compromise..”

The same is true in many other instances. For example, if workers are faced with a large fascist mobilisation, say of the EDL, which outnumbers them, then it would be an ultra-left folly of the kind engaged in by petit-bourgeois dilettantes, seeking publicity for themselves, to try to engage those fascists in the hope that having done so, everything would be alright because the Capitalist police would intervene to rescue them. The Marxist principle is to oppose State bans, and to oppose the intervention of the Capitalist Police in such situations, precisely because our goal is to ensure that the working-class recognises that the Capitalist State is its enemy, that if it intervenes once against the fascists it will do so only to provide it with cover to intervene ten times against the Labour Movement, and also to demonstrate to workers that they can and should organise their own defence.
Our goal here is not at all the limited one of stopping the fascists on this one particular occasion, but of building the working class as an independent political force, and therefore, the intervention of the Capitalist State, in such a situation, is not at all to bring about the same goal we have set for ourselves. If we find ourselves in such a situation, then the Marxist position must be to organise a strategic retreat so that we are not forced into placing ourselves in a position of reliance on our class enemies. Indeed, we should criticise vociferously those petit-bourgeois dilettantes, who instead launch their own adventures against the fascists, having failed to mobilise a majority of workers behind them, because such forces can only, through such tactics, bring further weakness and defeat to the class.

Similarly, now in Libya the Marxist position has to be that we are in favour of an independent working-class solution. We seek to build an independent workers movement in Libya to oppose both Gaddafi and Imperialism, we seek to build an independent, international Labour Movement capable of providing direct, political and military support to the workers in Libya, and throughout the Middle East.
The fact, that we are too weak to bring that about is no reason for us not to argue what we are in favour of, and instead to settle for some “lesser-evil”, still less to paint up that lesser-evil as in some way also achieving our goals, or still less being progressive. We are opposed to the intervention of Imperialism, but we have to accept it, in the same way that Lenin had to accept the terms on offer at Brest-Litovsk, because we are too weak to prevent it. But, we should ensure that we describe that for what it is – a defeat.

But, every time that workers are forced to accept such defeats we have to point out that Capital becomes stronger, and Labour becomes weaker. That is not an argument for workers simply dropping out, like hippies, any more than it would be an argument for workers draft dodging from the army. On the contrary, the fact that, in imposing these defeats on workers, Capital is, at the same time forced, to train workers – both as workers and as soldiers – means that it is also creating its own grave diggers, and in developing the means of production, Capital is also creating the conditions for workers to go beyond Capitalism, and create Socialism. In bringing workers together in collective, co-operative production Capital also shows to Labour where its future lies. As Michael Moore, showed in his film Capitalism - A Love Story, workers in the US, like elsewhere, faced with their factories closing have organised themselves to take over those factories and run them as Co-ops, succesfully.
As he shows workers at a Bakery Co-op were able to operate so succesfully that they were able to pay themselves far better than airline pilots employed by the US Capitalists. Engineering workers were able to succesfully, run a business involved in high-tech production. And, whilst these democratically run Co-ops, did employ Managers, and Executives, they were the employees of the workers not vice versa, and were paid the same as the workers as opposed to the extravagant salaries of the bosses of Capitalist enterprises, which run in the US to as much as 1,000 times the salary of the workers in their firm. Our task is to explain to workers why the logical extension of the fact that every day they produce through such acts of collective, co-operative labour is that they should also own the means of production with which they work, on a collective and co-operative basis i.e. that they should pose, here and now, as an alternative to the choices presented to them by Capital, the creation of worker owned and controlled Co-operative enterprises as a precursor to the establishment of a Co-operative Commonwealth on a national, and international basis.

Our alternative, here and now, to either Monopoly ownership of the media by the Capitalist State, or the utopian and ultimately reactionary demand for the breaking up of the media monopolies, is for the establishment of a mass circulation Labour Movement newspaper, owned and controlled by workers themselves, and run as a Worker Co-operative, along with the establishment of similar online versions, and the establishment of a Worker Owned and Controlled TV service.


rivoltoso said...

Hi. Please could you provide a link to where the SWP "called for the breaking up of Murdoch's Evil Empire". Thanks.

Boffy said...

They had placards on a demo outside Wapping calling for that, which were shown on TV.

seanysean said...

The journalists should reopen NOTW as a worker coop. This might even influence the type of stories they choose to publish

Boffy said...


I think the time for that has probably passed. The time for it would have been for workers to have occupied, and then continued production. However, given that NoW was incorporated into the NI operation at Wapping, I don't know how practical that would have been. It may have been necessary for all NI workers to have occupied the whole plant. Given that NI were not threatening to close the whole plant, this would not have been the same as workers occupying an entire plant threatened with closure.

But, in principle I agree. In any case as I've argued the Labour Movement should learn the lesson from this that it needs its own mass circulation paper owned and controlled by workers. With the increasing revelations about the extent of a network of police corruption, not just in the Met, they should also learn the lesson I put forward the other day that we need a Workers Inquiry into the hole sordid arrangements between the Press, Politicians and Police that stand behind the sham of British bouregois democracy.

But, the SWP and others caqnnot argue for a Workers Co-op as a solution, because of their statist, reformist politics. As I set out in my blog Socialist Strategy, the SWP opposed the establishment of Worker owned Co-ops, in favour of a reliance on simple Trade Unionism back in the 1970's when they opposed the establishment of the Workers Co-ops at meriden and the Scottish Daily News. The limited nature of their politics - and this applies to pretty much all the left was summed up in their statement,

"“The object is to save jobs. The running of a newspaper, or any other enterprise, along commercial lines, requires that commercial considerations come first. Workers ' management sounds attractive, but that management would face the same problems as the Beaverbrook management.

It would have to try to solve them by trimming the workforce, by pushing 'flexibility' and generally undermining the conditions that union action has achieved in the industry.

...You cannot build islands of socialism in a sea of capitalism. And workers' management of a commercial concern operating in that sea deprives the workers of the strength of union organisation directed against management...Real workers' management is for the socialist future.”


“Co-operative self-management by workers will come. But, it can only realise its potential when the working class controls the economy and when planning for its own needs replaces production for profit.”

But, of course, that strength of TU organisation was a mirage, as Murdoch demonstrated. It means now that they are unable to offer worekrs any solution otehr than wait for the revolution, because their stock response of nationalisation is clearly not suitable.

seanysean said...

I wasn't really suggesting the takeover of the offices and presses because they are part of 'fortress Wapping' as you rightly point out. However, what would there be to stop those journalists reopening the paper in other premisis? They could, perhaps share/renting facilities of anther publication.

Boffy said...


There is nothing to stop that, but there are practicalities. The main problem facing most Worker Co-ops is one of size, and Capitalisation. For many products, you need to produce on a large enough scale to enjoy the economies of Scale that bring down costs to a level where a reasonable profit can be made. Newspapers are not the most profitable of ventures at the best of times. That is why I think that it needs to be a mass circulation Labour Movement paper, that the Labour Movement as a whole puts its resources, and support behind.

They could, however, and as I've said, I think in any case this is what the Labour Movement should do, produce an online newspaper. The Capital costs of doing that are quite small, and the major cost is in fact, their own Labour Power. If workers Co-ops are to be succesful, the workers that set them up have to be creative in this way, and not simply try to set themselves up to continue producing what they were producing before.