Sunday, 4 August 2013

Political Entropy

According to the second law of thermodynamics there is in nature a tendency towards disorder from order, because it requires more energy to create an orderered system than a disordered one. Its why we are all doomed, because the universe is destined to die from heat death, as all of the energy is dissipated. Something similar can be seen in politics. Its much easier, and requires far less energy to be anti something, i.e. to move from an ordered state to a disordered one, than it is to be actually for something, i.e. to be creating some new, positively ordered state.

Look around, and you will see no end of political antis – anti-Nazi League, anti-fascist committees, anti-cuts committees, anti-war movements, anti-imperialist campaigns, anti-fracking demonstrations, anti-abortion campaigns and so on. But, rarely do you see any political pro-campaigns. Even the political parties that once fulfilled that function – Labour pro ”socialism”, Tories pro free market capitalism are less so today, as they have become catch all parties that base what they are pro, only on what the latest focus group tells them might be popular for their core audience.

The reason is easy to see. It requires much less energy to throw a brick through a window reducing it from its ordered state, to a disordered state of shattered fragments left on the ground, than it does for workers to bring together all of the components such as the sand, the factories, the machines, the energy and so on, to produce the sheet of glass, and for other workers to then glaze it in the shop window. But, similarly, it is much easier to proclaim yourself anti-capitalist and to dissipate your energy in that pursuit than it is to be actively creating some ordered system as an alternative to capitalism.

The problem, is, of course, that politics, like nature abhors a vacuum. If I say I am anti-capitalist, what does that mean? If you are successful, and capitalism ends, what takes its place. Unless you can put forward some ordered system that can replace it, the consequence must be either a collapse into disorder, or the imposition of some other order, outside your control, that might be worse than the original state.

I can say that I am anti-imperialist, but unless I can specify what I am for, and how I propose realistically to achieve it, I am just as likely to be inviting the replacement of a current situation with a worse one. I may be opposed to a US invasion of Iran, but unless I specify that I am in favour of a socialist Iran, and how I propose to bring it about, my anti-imperialism can be interpreted as being pro the clerical fascist mullahs. Indeed, a one sided opposition to imperialism, were it successful, without the means to bring about the socialist solution I desire could, in any case, by default, result in an ordered system being imposed by those mullahs. That is indeed what happened in 1979.

The same is true about the situation in Egypt. The removal of Mubarak was relatively easy, but the building of something in his place was much more difficult, and so the force that stood behind Mubarak, and which in reality removed him from office merely for show, has been able to impose 'order'. At least, in some ways that is preferable to the situation in Libya or Syria. There were plenty of people who were anti- Gaddafi, and anti-Assad, but they had no way of imposing their own alternative order in place of it, which requires far more energy. So, the laws of entropy simply resulted in a descent into disorder.

In fact, most violent political revolutions have been of that nature. The English Civil War went through a period of disorder, before Cromwell imposed a new ordered system that was not what many of those who engaged in the Civil War desired. Engels makes a similar point about the Peasant War in Germany, and the fact that a revolutionary party that assumes power before the material conditions can support it, is doomed. The same trajectory was followed by the Great French Revolution, and by the Russian Revolution.

Of course, looking at those revolutions, and looking at how difficult it seems today to even enlist any kind of following towards the idea of revolution against Capitalism you might be forgiven for believing that such a revolution is far from an easy thing to achieve. But, then you have to compare the energy required for that compared to the energy that was required to create capitalism in the first place!

Capitalist production first began in the 15th Century. It took 400 years, before it became the dominant form of production just in Britain, and even then, the Landlords continued to exercise political control over parliament until the latter part of the 19th Century. Although, there were continual conflicts between the forces of capital and those of the landlord class, the Civil War being the most obvious, in fact, the capitalists put most of their energy not into these political struggles, but rather into building their own ordered system as an alternative to the ordered system of feudalism. In fact, some of the first capitalists, the merchants and the money capitalists entered into a symbiotic relation with the aristocracy providing it with additional sources of rent via Colonialism.

But, the real capitalist revolutionaries were not people like Cromwell or Robespierre or Garibaldi, they were people like James Watt, Josiah Wedgwood, Richard Arkwright and so on, whose energy was devoted – of course for their own immediate self-interest – to building their own ordered system within, and as an alternative to that of feudalism. So, in fact, having done so, and that ordered system having become a more powerful, more ordered system than the one it confronted, the political revolution that followed from it was a fairly tame affair, fought out mostly in the corridors of Parliament – if we set aside the inevitable extra- parliamentary conflicts such as the Peterloo Massacre – rather than on the streets or battlefields.

In fact, feudalism did not collapse.  It was, if anything more successful at the point that it was replaced by Capitalism, than it had ever been.  Colonialism had spread its tentacles across most of the globe, bringing in vast amounts of rent and taxes.  Feudalism ended not because of its own internal contradictions, but because one of those contradictions was that it led to the development of Capitalism as a more efficient, and ultimately more powerful economic system.  There is no reason feudalism could not have continued had capitalism not emerged as a more powerful ordered system.

In fact, the cases of where existing ordered systems have collapsed from their own internal contradictions do not give hope for success were that to happen to capitalism.  Slave society such as that typified by the Roman Empire collapsed through its own internal contradictions, and having become so weak as a result was over thrown by the invading barbarians.  But, the result was not the rise of the revolutionary slave class.  Instead, it was as Marx puts it in the Communist Manifesto, "the ruination of the contending classes".  That is because the slaves had been unable to provide any ordered system of their own, as an alternative to the existing ordered system prior to its collapse.  Entropy simply resulted in a state of disorder.  It then required the expenditure of more energy to create the ordered system of feudalism over many centuries, before it was replaced by Capitalism.

That was not just the case in Britain, where the old aristocracy itself was absorbed into the ranks of the bourgeoisie, it was true throughout Europe, and it has mostly been true throughout the globe. In France, like in Britain, the original failed political revolution resulted in Bonapartism – Napoleon, a Bonapartist Monarchy, and then the nephew – before the dominance of capitalist production created the material conditions for the establishment of the rule of the bourgeoisie in the form of the Third Republic.

The success of the capitalist class resided not in the fact that it was anti-feudal, but that it was pro-capitalist, and devoted its energy into that end. Similarly, I can say that I am anti-capitalist, or currently maybe anti-cuts, but in reality that means little unless I am in a position to put in its place some alternative better ordered system. If I say I am anti-cuts, the question that then arises is, what alternative? I can say, borrow more, but ultimately more borrowing has to be repaid by higher taxes. Higher taxes can be met out of higher economic growth, but the latter is not in my control. It depends on the government using additional borrowing to invest so as to create the conditions for higher growth. I can say, tax the rich, but the example of Amazon, Google etc. shows what Marxists have always known, taxes are voluntary for the capitalist class. It is only workers and the middle class that cannot escape higher taxes.

The capitalists can use clever lawyers and accountants, or simply move their capital to some other economy. If they do that, workers lose their jobs. Its not that I am in favour of letting the capitalists off the hook, but I am in favour of pointing out the practical consequences of particular solutions, rather than just promoting simplistic, left populist solutions that sound good, but would if implemented be disastrous for workers. Higher taxes on capital would be fine if we could prevent the capitalists from sending their capital somewhere else. If we had even a Workers Government, that might be possible, but in the real world, there is no possibility of such a Workers Government. It is like the ideas of Corporal Jones, in the realms of fantasy, or more accurately in this case only exists in the romantic fantasies of student revolutionary sects such as the AWL.

If we really wanted to prevent the capitalists from sending their capital abroad, we could only do that if we had ownership and control of the capital, but in that case we would be taxing ourselves! Rather than going through that process, if we owned the means of production ourselves, we could simply devote the resources to providing the things we require without the need for taxation.

But, having ownership and control of the means of production involves us building our own ordered system as an alternative system to that of capital. All experience suggests we need to put our energy into building that ordered system, rather than simply seeking to reduce the current ordered system to one of disorder. It has taken the bourgeoisie more than 500 years, to build their ordered system, we should not be so arrogant as to believe we can build something superior and more ordered, and, therefore requiring more energy to construct in less time. We should not wait for a situation of disorder, let alone try to provoke a condition of disorder, before we try to create our own ordered system. We should begin building socialism today, we should be unequivocally pro-socialist rather than anti-capitalist.

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