Wednesday, 16 July 2014

After Obama, What Next? - Part 5

The major division that exists today, in practice, in the US and in Europe, is not a division between capital and labour – that division is the fundamental division, but it is not practically the current major division – but a division between conservatism and social democracy; between progress, or at least the status quo, and reaction; between small capital and those that share its outlook and want to turn the clock back to a less mature form of capitalism – and in cases, even further back than that – and the big capital and organised working-class, that for the last more than 100 years has reached a working compromise, based on the idea that only by development of big capital could the organised workers ensure a general improvement in its condition. That is the basis on which modern bourgeois social democracies rest.

Although the division between Democrats and Republicans, Labour and Tories is then a thoroughly bogus division between two essentially bourgeois camps, and whose verbal and personal animosity often assumes the greater ferocity, the more the division between those camps is ideologically narrowed, on the other hand, this division is just as real as that which existed between the political representatives of the landlords and the capitalists, in the 19th century.

In those battles, Marx was unreservedly on the side of the latter, whilst advocating that workers needed to maintain their independence from both. When that division became the division described above, between small capital and big capital, Engels made clear that he came down decisively for the latter. It is an indication of the lack of progress of the Labour Movement that the main division remains on that ground. But, a condition of moving forward is that the labour movement not only maintains its independence, but also resists attempts to reverse the progress already made.

Lenin, for example, in “Imperialism”, argues that, although socialists would not advocate monopolies, they oppose attempts to break up monopolies, as a reactionary step, designed to promote a less developed form of capital.

Most of the policies that Obama and other social democrats advocate would not be proposed by Marxists, but to the extent they are progressive, Marxists would defend them against attempts by conservatives to reverse them. Of course, Marxists would argue that the best means of defence is attack, that the best way of defending existing progress, is to go beyond it. For example, Marxists would not have advocated the establishment of the NHS, as a state capitalist form of healthcare provision – Engels specifically opposed including a demand for such welfarist programmes in the Erfurt Programme – but we defend it against conservative attempts to go back to more reactionary forms of healthcare, based on individual private provision. However, in the process, we argue that the best means of preventing such a reversal is to take the NHS out of the hands of the capitalist state, and put it directly into the ownership and control of workers by the establishment of worker owned co-ops, that provide workers' social insurance, and also deliver the health and social care itself. Similarly, the best means of preventing councils selling off council houses, is to legally transfer council estates directly to the collective ownership and control of the tenants that live on them.

In his article on Political Indifferentism, for example, Marx sets out why socialists could not refuse to defend things like free state education where it was established, because it represented real progress for workers. Nevertheless, Marx continued to argue that the state had no place in education. We defend free, universal education by arguing for going beyond existing state education, to the provision of education by working-class communities themselves, under their own ownership and control, with the state reduced to only defining minimum standards for teachers, etc.

Trotsky argued that we would not have argued for the Kaiser to create a single European state, but had that been accomplished by World War I, nor would we have called for it to be dismantled. We would take it as the new starting point, from which workers would fight for their own interests and further progress to the creation of a Socialist United States of Europe.

In the same way, Marxists would not advocate Obamacare. We propose that workers need to organise their own social insurance via their own worker owned and controlled co-operatives, and the provision of their health and social care by the same means. But, we advocate this as a means of going forward from the present situation, and a condition for that is to oppose the attempts of conservatives to move back from the current situation.

Marxists do not believe that Keynesian state intervention can provide a solution for workers, for the fact that capitalism is a system racked by contradictions, and prone to crises that repeatedly throw large numbers of workers into poverty. We propose that workers take over the means of production and establish worker owned co-operative property, organised on at least a national, and preferably international level, via a co-operative federation, which could increasingly plan its output at an international level, in co-ordination with the needs of society.  But, given a choice between the use of fiscal stimulus by governments, or simply a refusal to implement fiscal austerity, as opposed to conservative proposals to implement austerity measures, we defend the former and oppose the latter, for the simple reason that the former strengthen the position of workers, and the latter weakens it.

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