Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Stand Up, Say It Loud; I'm Working Class And I'm Proud

When I left school, I went to work for my local Council. They sent me to College on Day Release to do a course called “Public Administration”. One of the subjects was Sociology. About the only thing I can remember from it, was to do with class. It repeated the subjective, bourgeois sociological view that we are all Middle-Class now, because we all have nice homes, a car, take foreign holidays, and so on (this was back in 1970). I remember making the point, which the slightly Left of centre lecturer took on board, that maybe the opposite was true. Maybe it meant we were all now working-class.
After all, many of the vocations that in Marx's time would have been considered Middle Class, such as teaching, office work and so on, no longer had the prestige they once did, the workers who did them, were in Trades Unions and so on. But, of course, there have been repeated attempts to argue either that the working-class does not exist, or that it has become embourgeoisified. In the US, working-class is a term that virtually does not exist. Ordinary working-class people there are routinely termed “middle-class”. If anything, in the US, working-class is ironically used as a term to describe those who do not work, the chronically unemployed, and urban poor. Similarly, when John Prescott did a TV series a while ago on the issue of class, he came across the young unemployed woman, living on a Council estate, who believed she must be Middle Class, because, she reasoned, she couldn't be working-class given that she didn't work!

The embourgeoisement thesis originated in the US. It was also introduced into the UK in the 1960's by Richard Rose, and Mark Alexander Abrams in their book, “Must Labour Lose?” The notion was fairly comprehensively disproved by J.H. Goldthorpe in his work “The Affluent Worker In The Class Structure”.
Goldthorpe et al looked at some of the most affluent workers in Britain, those employed at the Cowley car factory. He demonstrated that their higher wages and status had no meaningful effect on their class affiliation, or political support for Labour. However, developments in the last forty years, and in particular the development of what Shirley Williams and others have described as an “under class” - what Marx termed the Lumpen Proletariat – made up of the chronically unemployed, and unemployable, those existing on the margins of paid work in perpetual casual work (frequently within the Black Economy), involved in petty crime etc., give reason to question the relation of this group to the working-class itself.
The riots of last week, give particular reason for such an investigation, and to examine how socialists should relate to this section of society, and how immediate practical solutions to its problems might be developed.

Most of the off-the-peg solutions put forward by Liberals, and by most sections of the Left rely on platitudes, and the repetition of past failed solutions. They hinge around calls for the Capitalist State to intervene, which in many ways are just the other side of the coin to those put forward by the Conservative and reactionary politicians. The latter see the answer lying with the Capitalist State in the form of a strong state response through more and tougher policing, harsher gaol sentences and so on, whilst the former show an equal amount of faith in that Capitalist State to provide a solution through redistributive tax policies, the provision of additional Welfare Benefits, or increased Public Expenditure in various forms.
Neither, of these solutions offers anything in the way of an independent working-class solution. Both reinforce, the idea of working-class subordination to Capital. The Conservative/reactionary position does so by stressing repression, and the need for these sections of society to get a job, any job, at whatever pay or conditions, and for the need to reduce Benefits to encourage that. The Liberal/Left position implies that workers are by nature dependent on Capital – either private capital or State Capital – and that all they can do is to make impassioned pleas to it, rather like Oliver Twist asking the Beadle for more gruel, to ease their plight.
It suggests that workers can only work, if Capital allows them to do so. That may be true if we take the Capitalist System as a whole, but, of course, the whole point about a Marxist response, is that we do not accept that state of affairs as being natural or eternal, and seek to challenge it, thereby challenging Capital, and the Capital-Labour relation in the process of doing so.

The whole point of a Marxist strategy here and now, is not to act in ways which reinforce and reproduce the dependence of Labour upon Capital, but to seek to subvert that relation and that dependency, including the crippling dependency of these groups in particular on the Capitalist State. In so doing, our task is to also enable the working-class to get up off its knees, to fill it with class pride, as a necessary step in the process of developing a revolutionary class consciousness.

It requires a sharp break with some of the Lassallean/Fabian ideas that have dominated the Labour Movement for more than a century.
In previous posts I have demonstrated how, as Engels had pointed out, by the end of the 19th Century, Big Capital dominated, and had established as its method of domination an essentially social-democratic consensus. In the shape of Fordism, this came to be the dominant regime of Capital Accumulation, particularly after WWII. Its basis was the idea that workers would be bought off for enduring boring jobs, by being provided with steadily rising real wages made possible by the ever rising levels of productivity that Fordist production techniques brought with them. It was manifest in the idea of “mutuality” embodied in Trades Union Collective Bargaining agreements, particularly in the car industry. But, alongside this also went the development of the Welfare State, which acted in a similar way to buy off workers via a social wage, whilst ensuring that Capital got the reproduction of the kind of Labour Power it required.
In many ways that also fitted with the ideas of “scientific-management” put forward by the Taylorists, whose ideas were necessary for the implementation of Fordist production methods. Taylor had recognised the advantages of planning as he witnessed it in the USSR – in return Lenin (as well as Gramsci) also sought to employ Taylorist techniques in the USSR – though he was an opponent of Communism. Taylor sought to introduce these planning ideas into the factory, in place of the ad hoc methods of the existing management. But, it was not long before the Taylorists also recognised that what was good for the factory also applied to society as a whole. The Welfare State, and other forms of intervention by the capitalist state fitted well with their ideas, and before long the Trades Unions sought to use the Taylorists criticisms of bad managements to demand a greater say in management, and particularly to raise the idea of Trades Unions involvement in national planning. In this way the trades Unions were easily incorporated into this relation by which the subordination of Labour to capital was effected, with the workers being bought off.

In the 1920's followers of Taylor such as Tugwell, as well as other Liberals such as Hobson, had warned that the excess profitability caused by Fordism, and Taylorist methods would result in a crisis. Their ideas chimed perfectly with those of Keynes for the Capitalist State to intervene in this process, and for increased state planning of the economy.
In the US, Stuart Chase, in his book, “A New Deal”, which provided the name used by Roosevelt, argued “Why should the Russians have all the fun of remaking a world?” Roosevelt's programme was emblematic of this social-democratic consensus around, which Big Capital was creating a new regime of accumulation. Werner Bonefield, argues,

“Thus, the specifically Fordist form of the state is the Keynesian corporatist, statist, welfare state (Esser/Hirsch/Roth) which, in the long run, was transformed into the Fordist social security state (Hirsch, 1980; 1983b)”

See: “Reformulation of State Theory” in Capital & Class 33, Winter 1987.

As he says, the means by which the Fordist, Capitalist State, achieves this is by infiltrating into every aspect of social life.

I wish to argue that a socialist strategy cannot be based around accepting that role of the capitalist State, but can only be based around developing a truly independent working-class, organising to stand on its own two feet, in militant opposition to that State, and cutting itself free from all dependence upon it. I intend to argue that a look at some of the lessons of the Black Power Movement in the US in the 1960's, and 1970's can provide some lessons for how that can be achieved, as well as pointing to some of the mistakes that need to be avoided.

James Brown's “I'm Black & I'm Proud” was emblematic of that idea of Black Pride, and empowerment. In the lyrics, he talks about Black people having worked for someone else for too long, but he also goes on to talk about self-empowerment, a theme also covered in his song “I Don't Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing (Open Up The Door I'll Get It Myself). In fact, many of the ideas go back to those of Marcus Garvey, who argued that there should be a separate state for Blacks in the US, so that they could build their own self-reliance on the basis of self-determination.
That idea is also covered in another song from the time by Brown, “Funky President”, in which he talks about the idea of getting some land, so that they could “raise our food, like the Man”.

By the 1960's, the idea of a separate Black State in the US, was a reactionary demand. By that time blacks had become a powerful, integrated element of the US working class. Despite the massive racism they faced, seeking to divide the working-class in that way, would have been a backward step, as, in fact, the history since that time has demonstrated.
In the 1930's, many Blacks did have “some land”, but only on the basis of Sharecropping, which essentially reduced them to the state of a medieval peasant, and worse given the huge debt burdens they faced. That demand in Brown's song should not be taken then too literally. It merely signified the idea of building up Black businesses, and independence from “The Man” i.e. the predominantly white Capitalist Class.

But, as Stokely Carmichael, pointed out, that would not be sufficient, it also meant building up a Black Political force too, that could advocate their needs. And whilst Carmichael advocated nationalism, others such as the Black Panthers did not.

Bobby Seale, argued that the oppression of black people was more of a result of economic exploitation than anything innately racist. In his book Seize the Time, he states that,

"In our view it is a class struggle between the massive proletarian working class and the small, minority ruling class.
Working-class people of all colors must unite against the exploitative, oppressive ruling class. So let me emphasize again -- we believe our fight is a class struggle and not a race struggle."

But, as Marx had long before demonstrated the only way to truly change that condition of exploitation was by workers themselves becoming the owners of the means of production. Any hope of changing that situation without doing that by, for example, attempting to redistribute via the tax and benefits system was doomed to failure. Not only is there no reason why a Capitalist State would do that, other than by redistributing within the Working-Class and Middle-Class, but any attempt by say a Left Government, would simply result in Capital slowing down its rate of accumulation, replacing Labour with machines etc. - or simply locating to some other country – thereby raising unemployment, reducing the demand for Labour-Power, with a consequent fall in wages, and redistribution back to Capital.
Marx's solution was for workers to set up Co-operatives where they could, but to also develop their own Party to represent their political interests as Capital fought to limit the role of the Workers' Co-operative property. Ultimately, as this class struggle between workers property, and Capitalist property became ever more open and transparent as a political struggle, the workers would be forced to assume political power themselves, thereby opening up the road to the gradual transformation of the entire economy into a Worker Owned Co-operative Commonwealth.

As part of the Black Power movement in the US, the ideas contained in Brown's songs, and in the ideas of the movement about Black empowerment, pride, and self-determination became reflected in a growing movement within Black communities to develop Black businesses, and to find both workers and consumers for those businesses from within the Black Community itself.
The extent of the success of that can be seen by the fact that, as this article points out, there are now over a million Black Businesses in the US, with $100 billion in sales. It says, Black GDP, in the US, now stands at $1 trillion.

But, the weakness is obvious. The majority of these Black Businesses, having been formed, at least in part, in opposition to “The Man”, simply became the Man with a black face. They were set up as black, private capitalist enterprises, and so to the extent that they became successful they simply replicated the Capital-Labour relation of white capitalism. As Seale had pointed out, it was not racism that stood behind the exploitation of Blacks, but Capitalism. Some Black Co-operatives were established, but without being part of a wider Co-operative Movement, capable of providing access to Capital, of enabling extended trade within a growing Co-operative sector, and of facilitating production on a large enough scale, they would always be susceptible to falling to the fate of all small businesses trying to compete in a hostile Capitalist environment.

But, Black Power, did succeed in raising awareness within the Black Community, and of instilling some sense of the idea “I'm Black, And I'm Proud”. Even if all too grimly today, a large number of Black people – now joined also by many Hispanics – continue to live as an under class, in desperate poverty in the richest country on the planet, and in a condition of dependency on the Capitalist State, the ideas of Black Power in the 1960's, did offer a way out of that, at least for a time, that did not rely on appeals to the Capitalist State, or in calls for Revolution Now. It is those ideas of self-reliance, community organising, the building of cultural and class pride that I think we need to take up, and develop today; not as Black pride, but as Working-Class pride. That was also the point I was trying to make in my blog Why We Need A Tomb Of The Unknown Worker.

In the deprived inner city areas the answer is not to look to the capitalist state for solutions, not too simply address the problem of welfare dependency, by increasing the dose of that particular opium of the people, but to provide independent, working-class solutions built around the idea of working-class self-activity, self-government and class pride. In response to the plea that “there are no jobs”, we should respond not by demanding that the Capitalist State provide such jobs, or else provides welfare benefits, nor by perpetuating the myth that such jobs can only be generated by the good grace of private capitalists.
We should proceed on the basis of the fundamental idea of Socialism that if there are unmet human needs, and there are unused resources, the two can be beneficially brought together. In the last week or so, we have seen large numbers of people in these communities come together to form Defence Squads to protect themselves against rioting and looting. We have also seen people organise themselves in large numbers – much larger than the numbers of looters – via social networking to carry out the clean-up of those communities for example. This is ample proof that local communities can self-organise, and can undertake work themselves without private capitalists and without the Capitalist State. It was a clear refutation to the argument sometimes raised that workers in these communities cannot take on such functions, because they have a job to go to, and so on. Whilst most of the rioters were without work, the majority of those that turned out to clean-up, did so in addition to having a job to go to. How much greater reason then is there to provide those without work, with a job doing those tasks within the community that need doing, tasks often whose main beneficiaries are those that do not have jobs, and who are dependent upon some form of assistance? I am not talking about Workfare here, which is simply a means by which the Capitalist Class uses the Welfare State to reinforce the Capital-Labour relation, but of subverting that relation.
I am talking about local communities establishing their own direct democracy, to decide on tasks within the Community that need doing, and providing the unemployed members of that community with work doing them.

It would involve establishing Co-operative enterprises within the Community to undertake that work. It could involve carrying out things such as Drug Counselling, for instance, where some professional knowledge would be required – possibly utilising workers from the Co-op Pharmacy – but, through which some of the unemployed could then also be trained appropriately.
It could involve reclaiming and developing, into inner city farms and gardens, derelict land. Indeed, it could involve building much needed social housing. The Communities themselves would need to raise Capital to begin to organise these types of activity, but there are a number of ways this could be done such as access to funds from the Co-operative Development Agency, The Co-op Bank, The Confederation of Co-operative Housing, and so on, as well as local workers raising their own funds, and by looking to their Trades Unions for support.
Moreover, the basic economic law is that where someone is paid to carry out work to meet the needs of some consumer, the income then received enables that worker to also expand their own needs, thereby creating demand for some other product or service, which in turn creates employment potential. Within the confines of Capitalist production, the scope for this is limited, because a Capitalist will only employ such workers if they can at the same time make a profit from doing so. But, a Co-operative Community enterprise would have no such limitation. Its only concern would be to ensure that needs are met.

Of course, this may mean that those employed to carry out the work might not be paid Trades Union rates of pay. But lots of work is carried out without it being done at Trades Union rates. Workers carry out domestic labour of that sort all the time. We should treat Labour done for the benefit of our own communities, and to develop an alternative sector of worker owned property in the same way. After all the work that activists do, which requires considerable amounts of time, going to Trade Union Branch Meetings, LP meetings of all kinds, attending various campaign meetings and activities, is all done without any payment at all. We do it, ebcause our concern is not primarily about payment, but about changing society, and as Marx demonstarted a fundamental aspect of that is changing those basic property relations. Our goal should not be limited by merely Trades Union politics, of the “Fair Day's Wage” variety, but be based on the socialist principle of abolishing the wages system, and of developing worker owned property as the means to do it. After all, a Workers State would have to abolish Welfarism, and seek to employ all available labour at whatever wages ensured competitiveness if it was to survive long in a hostile Capitalist environment. As Marx said in the Critique of the Gotha Programme, our principle, the principle upon which Socialism is based is “He who does not work, neither shall he eat.”

But, the more such worker owned property was developed in our communities, the more it was linked together, the more competitive it would become against Capitalist property. As the Mondragon Co-op in Spain has demonstrated, Co-operative production is innately more efficient than Capitalist production, and thereby provides the basis, in any case, of providing the workers within it with higher living standards.
The graph here shows the rapid rate at which Mondragon has created new jobs, and I have referred previously to the fact that workers at Mondragon receive pensions way beyond anything that workers in the UK can expect.
Many of those involved in the riots were themselves entrepreneurial. The gang members, and those involved in selling drugs were already essentially businessmen. Our task is to take that entrepreneurial spirit, and direct it into socially useful and positive directions, for the benefit of those communities.

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