Thursday, 14 July 2011

Straw Wars

The crisis that began with the News of the World, and then spread to the whole of News International throughout the World, is now spreading into all the higher echelons of the British Power elite. Not only have politicians – already discredited by the Expenses Scandal – been shown to be in thrall to Murdoch's Evil Empire, but a complex web of interrelations between it, the political and establishment, and the Police is beginning to be revealed to Public gaze.
In the last few days we have seen not only how former top cops at the metropolitan police force, indeed some of those who were responsible for carrying out the investigations into hacking, have landed themselves lucrative jobs with News International, but we have today seen how one of those Executives at NI, Neil Wallace, who was being investigated, was then taken on by the Met themselves at £1,000 a day. Yet, for all the sound and furore, both in the mainstream press and in the left press, the central point is being missed. In reality, News International is fulfilling the role of a straw man to be easily knocked down. The real issue is the fact, that it is not just this particular, powerful media group that had close links with the politicians and police, or even that other such media groups now or in the future could exercise that role, but that these politicians and top police are part of a power elite, in which these kinds of connections between the rich and powerful are commonplace.
They share the same kinds of backgrounds, went to the same kinds of school, have currently the same kind of lifestyles, and consequently share the same basic interests – irrespective of which particular Party, Company or section of the State apparatus they represent. That is an interest in perpetuating the status quo, and defending the interests of Capital against Labour. That is why, as I said in my blog For A Workers Inquiry Into The Police And Media, it is ludicrous to look at a Judge led Inquiry to reveal the true extent of this web of influence and corruption, because the Judiciary itself is a part of that same Power Elite. If we want to properly clean out the shit that litters the corridors of British bourgeois democracy, then we need a Workers Inquiry, set up by the TUC, backed by the entire Labour Movement, and given all the resources it requires to expose the true nature of where power resides, and how it is exercised.

Yet, no one within all the Left groups is calling for such a basic democratic demand to be raised. Indeed, the majority of the Left have been left floundering about how to respond to this situation, because the basic statism and reformism of that Left usually depends on a stock answer to such situations. Either it calls for Workers Control, without setting out exactly how that is to be achieved with the workers owning the means of production, and especially in the conditions of anti-trades unionism prevailing at News International, or else it demands nationalisation of the offending industry.
But, no one on the Left believes that a state owned press in Britain would be a good idea – even though as I pointed out previously it has no problem with a nationalised education industry, which is a far more potent means of indoctrinating future workers. The obvious demand here is to call for workers in the industry to occupy, and set up their own Worker owned Co-ops, and even aside from that for the Labour Movement to put its resources into developing a mass circulation, Labour Movement paper run as a Worker owned Co-op. But, the only group that has come close to calling for that is the CPGB, yet even they shy away from actually explicitly calling for it.

On placards outside Wapping last week, the SWP called for the breaking up of Murdoch's Empire. On their website, they have no real set of demands as to how to deal with the current situation, all we are given is a rehashing of the events, and a sort of moralising about just look how bad Capitalism is.
The Socialist Party's response is nonsensical. It rehashes a review by Peter Taaffe of Nick Davies' – the Guardian journalist who has uncovered the hackings scandal – book, “Flat Earth News”. The Socialist Party's answer,

“The solution ultimately is to create a real alternative. This means creating alternative, democratically controlled sources of information, particularly about the struggles of the oppressed, the activities of the working class, the labour movement and the trade unions. This means independent papers, hopefully in time radio stations, and demands for access to TV.”

But, they don't say independent from what. Does this mean also independent from the working-class? Nor do they say how this independence is to be assured. Later they say,

“This must be accompanied by raising now the need for the nationalisation of the printing presses, television and radio, under popular management and control, as the most democratic means of overcoming the dictatorial stranglehold presently exercised by the press moguls and their acolytes.

This is not to suggest 'state control' of the press. We, the working class and the labour movement, do not want to take over the Sun, the Daily Mail or even the august Guardian. We oppose the state monopoly of news and information as existed in the Stalinist states of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.”

But, this is nonsense. Why should we the workers not here and now wish to take over the Sun, Daily Mail and Guardian? What would workers ownership and control of these papers here and now have in common with state ownership of the press as under Stalinism? Nothing. But, of course, the nationalisation of the means of production in the media industry here and now, would have a very great deal in common with the kind of state controlled media seen under Stalinism or other authoritarian regimes! Moreover, if workers cannot gain or exercise workers control over those means of production when they are in the hands of private Capitalists like Murdoch, there is absolutely no possibility they could gain or exercise that control when they are in the hands of a powerful Capitalist State.

They quote Trotsky in their defence,

"The real tasks of the workers' state do not consist in policing public opinion, but in freeing it from the yoke of capital. This can only be done by placing the means of production - which includes the production of information - in the hands of society in its entirety.

"Once this essential step towards socialism has been taken, all currents of opinion which have not taken up arms against... the proletariat must be able to express themselves freely. It is the duty of the workers' state to put in their hands, to all according to their numeric importance, the technical means necessary for this, printing presses, paper, means of transportation".

But, they seem to have missed one very tiny problem with using this quote, which is that Trotsky is speaking here about a Workers State. It seems to have escaped the attention of the Socialist Party that here and now the British State is a Capitalist State!!!

In fact, Trotsky had not time for the approach put forward by the Socialist Party. In, Nationalisation And Workers Control in Mexico, he wrote,

“It would of course be a disastrous error, an outright deception, to assert that the road to socialism passes, not through the proletarian revolution, but through nationalization by the bourgeois state of various branches of industry and their transfer into the hands of the workers’ organizations.”

And in, Workers Control Of production, Trotsky writes,

“If the participation of the workers in the management of production is to be lasting, stable, “normal,” it must rest upon class collaboration, and not upon class struggle. Such a class collaboration can be realized only through the upper strata of the trade unions and the capitalist associations. There have been not a few such experiments: in Germany (“economic democracy”), in Britain (“Mondism”), etc.
Yet, in all these instances, it was not a case of workers’ control over capital, but of the subserviency of the labour bureaucracy to capital. Such subserviency, as experience shows, can last for a long time: depending on the patience of the proletariat.

The closer it is to production, to the factory, to the shop, the less possible such a regime is, for here it is a matter of the immediate, vital interests of the workers, and the whole process unfolds under their very eyes. workers’ control through factory councils is conceivable only on the basis of sharp class struggle, not collaboration. But this really means dual power in the enterprises, in the trusts, in all the branches of industry, in the whole economy.

What state regime corresponds to workers’ control of production? It is obvious that the power is not yet in the hands of the proletariat, otherwise we would have not workers’ control of production but the control of production by the workers’ state as an introduction to a regime of state production on the foundations of nationalization. What we are talking about is workers’ control under the capitalist regime, under the power of the bourgeoisie. 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 unfavourable 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.”

So either the Socialist Party want us to believe that we are in a revolutionary or pre-revolutionary situation in Britain, where this dual power in the factories can exist, or else they are demanding not real workers control, but merely the kind of Corporatism and class collaboration that Trotsky describes! And, this kind of reformist approach is adopted by the AWL too, who talk about the restoration of Trades Union power within the media. Yet, both seem to forget that even at its height the power of the Trades Unions in print was able to exercise only a very limited, negative control over the work process, and production. A Marxist should not be surprised by that, because it is wholly consistent with Marx and Engels analysis in relation to the role of Trades Unions.

In The Condition Of The Working Class, 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.”

And Marx in Value, Price and Profit, Marx says,

“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...”

Although, Marx sets out why despite this workers continue to have to struggle even for this minimum, the whole emphasis of his argument is on the fact that this can only ever be a limited, and defensive battle, which is why he says,

“At the same time, and quite apart from the general servitude involved in the wages system, 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. They ought to understand that, with all the miseries it imposes upon them, the present system simultaneously engenders the material conditions and the social forms necessary for an economical reconstruction of society.”

The truth of Marx's argument here against Weston is in fact, demonstrated by what happedn in the print industry. Even though the Trades Unions were only ever able to exercise a negative control, preventing to an extent the introduction of new working practices etc., and occasionally refusing to print the odd really obnoxious article, or piece of overt class war propaganda, even that was too much for Capital, which eventually did what Marx said it would.
It introduced new technology that did away with the kind of skilled labour that provided the print unions with their power. It set up new companies such as Eddie Shah's “Today”, which employed workers outside the control of the print unions, and able to use the new technology without the need for the kind of skills that the printers had. Eventually, with the assistance of Thatcher it broke the power of the print unions, but even without that it would have won eventually, by locating production elsewhere, for example overseas. Any socialist that has failed to learn the lesson of that is simply leading workers down a blind alley, if they think that such Trades Union politics, reformism, and syndicalism can provide them with any kind of real solution.

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