Saturday, 20 September 2014

Scotland Has Spoken. Now Its rUK's Turn.

Scotland has voted to remain part of the UK. That is a progressive result, compared to the alternative, which was the establishment of a separate, Scottish capitalist state, and the division of the British working-class that would have flowed from it. However, the debate and the rash offer to provide Scotland with additional powers, that look very much like the creation of a Scottish state, in all but name, has opened the door to debate, over the constitutional arrangements, for the rest of the UK. That is good, because Britain has long needed a thorough discussion of its lack of a proper constitution, and the fact that its own bourgeois revolution, begun in the 17th. Century, and strung out over the following three centuries, has never been completed. A debate, in the whole of Britain, of a similar nature to that which has just happened in Scotland, is badly needed. It should not be simply a matter, as currently suggested, of cobbling together a set of proposals, over the next couple of months.

The basic thrust of such a constitutional reform, for a Marxist, must be the advocacy, as Engels described it, of the one and indivisible Republic. All talk of federalism, for Britain, is reactionary. Marxists only support fragmentation, in the shape of various forms of autonomy and federalism, where, in exceptional conditions, it represents a more centralised, unified form of state than what otherwise would be possible. So, for example, when the United States was being created, it would have been difficult to have established one single unified state. Yet, Engels commented that, even in his time, the federal system was acting to hamper the development of the more advanced areas of the US. The US Civil War was a war fought, in the interests of big industrial capital, to establish a strong centralised state, and limit the powers of the individual states.

Similarly, given the creation of the EU, as an amalgamation of existing nation states, the establishment of a federal United States of Europe, would be a progressive development, in place of the existing multiplicity of competing nation states. But, for three hundred years, Scotland was a fully integrated part of the centralised UK state. The process of devolution was, therefore, a reactionary, opportunist manoeuvre to try to win votes in Scotland, at the expense of weakening the integrity of the existing state. It created the basis upon which the SNP could develop its power base, in a proto Scottish state, and use it as a bridgehead to spread its nationalist poison, and division, into the working-class. Feeding that source, will not remove the poison, it will only make it more potent.

The proposals, for giving a Scottish proto state, and, by implication, all of the other mini proto states, that would demand equal treatment (there are already idiots demanding independence for Yorkshire), tax raising and other such powers, are insane, from the standpoint of the working-class. If Scotland were to attempt to cover higher spending on welfarism, for instance, by raising income tax, within its borders, it would simply result in the same process that has happened in the US, and elsewhere. Businesses and the rich, simply move to the next best lower tax area. In the US, businesses, and the more affluent, left New York in droves, for example, and moved to lower taxed New Jersey. That meant that New York's attempts to solve its debt problems, by higher taxes, rather than being solved, were made much worse.

That is one reason that such problems can only be solved in larger unified states, where a common tax rate can be applied, over such a large area, that businesses and the super rich cannot so easily avoid payment.

But, equally, the opposite applies. The splitting up into these smaller areas, is rather like the creation of Enterprise Zones. It means that each area will try to attract business to its area, by having the lowest taxes it can get away with, and by trying to impose the worst pay and conditions on workers. Ireland already tries to do that with its low corporation tax rates, and the SNP proposed to do the same.  It necessarily leads, therefore, to a race to the bottom. That was always likely to be the case, had Scotland established a new Scottish capitalist state, but the proposals for additional powers for Scotland leave that potential in place.

Instead of these proposals, for trying to perfect the capitalist state, by tinkering with such constitutional arrangements, which continue to sow division, Marxists should argue for a more unified state, but one whose role is more limited, and over which there is greater democratic control, to the extent that such control can ever be exercised over a state which belongs to, and is the instrument of, a ruling class.

Such a programme would involve:

  • Abolition of the Monarchy
  • Abolition of the House of Lords 
  • Creation of a Unicameral Parliament 
  • Right of Recall Over All MP's, on the basis of a request by 10% of the electorate, for any reason. 
  • Election of All Top Civil Servants, Judges, Military Top Brass and Police Chiefs. 
  • Creation of a Citizen's Militia in Place of The Standing Army, and for Universal Military Conscription. 
  • The Duty of Each Citizen to Engage In Community Policing. 
  • Open All The Books On Links Between the State, Media, and Business Interests. 

But, for a Marxist, these are simply the demands that are the minimum required for consistent bourgeois democracy. Our ambition is not the perfection of bourgeois democracy, but its destruction and replacement with workers' democracy. Marxists only advocate consistent bourgeois democracy in so far as it limits the power of the capitalist state, and creates better conditions for workers to fight for their interests.

Alongside the above, therefore, Marxists would advocate all measures that strengthen the economic, social and political power of the working-class, and their own self-government. Rather than encouraging a growth of the capitalist state, therefore, as the social democrats and welfarists seek, it requires a limitation of its powers, and where possible a transfer of those powers to workers themselves. The idea, fermented by the social democrats and welfarists, that the answer to workers problems, of poverty and uncertainty, is to be found by a reliance on the capitalist state, is pernicious. It limits workers to a view that the answer to those problems is only to seek an amelioration of their condition by alms provided by that state; it suggests that they limit themselves merely to seeking additional crumbs from the table, by obtaining a share of the wealth created by others, rather than empowering them with the ability to own and control, and create wealth and power of their own.

Marxists, therefore, would argue that a fundamental constitutional and democratic reform involves facilitating workers in collectively developing that wealth and power of their own. As Engels put it,

“The German workers' party strives to abolish wage labour and hence class distinctions by introducing co-operative production into industry and agriculture, and on a national scale; it is in favour of any measure calculated to attain that end!”

(Engels letter to Bebel)

And, Engels writes,

“ demanded by the Paris Commune, the workers should operate the factories shut down by the factory-owners on a cooperative basis."

Within working-class communities, like many of those suffering deprivation, in Glasgow, the answer lies, not in crumbs from the capitalist table of welfare, but in the transfer of council and other social housing into the hands of its tenants, to operate as housing co-ops. That should form the material base for the workers living within such communities, to form their own co-operative and democratic structures, for day to day control over all aspects of their community, not simply by sticking a cross on a ballot paper, every few years, but via their own direct democratic structures, in which they participate themselves, in the same way that ordinary working class people have participated in Scotland, over the last few months. These democratic bodies should be able to not just discuss issues, but, on the basis of that discussion, to arrive at decisions, and to immediately act upon those decisions. Like the organs of power developed by the workers and small producers, during the days of the Paris Commune, they should be executive as well as legislative bodies.

The answer to poverty and uncertain employment is not handouts, from the capitalist state, or even vain hopes of redistribution, through the tax system, but the ability for workers to increasingly have control over the wealth they create. For example, the above co-operative organisations should work with the trades unions to establish construction co-operatives that can carry out the necessary maintenance work on houses and facilities within those communities, and to build, in a democratically planned way, additional properties and facilities. A model for such co-operation, between the trades unions and co-operatives, has been developed by the United Steelworkers of America, and the Mondragon Co-operatives

By organising such activity, in a democratically planned manner, workers could begin the process of removing uncertainty, providing jobs and training, with decent wages and conditions, and preventing the surplus value they create being siphoned off by the bosses in the first place, rather than the futile attempt to reclaim part of it in tax. By such democratic planning they can begin to replace the anarchy of the market that creates that uncertainty, and which makes their repeated guerilla actions, to defend wages and jobs, a necessity. As Marx put it,

“Any distribution whatever of the means of consumption is only a consequence of the distribution of the conditions of production themselves. The latter distribution, however, is a feature of the mode of production itself. The capitalist mode of production, for example, rests on the fact that the material conditions of production are in the hands of nonworkers in the form of property in capital and land, while the masses are only owners of the personal condition of production, of labour power. If the elements of production are so distributed, then the present-day distribution of the means of consumption results automatically. If the material conditions of production are the co-operative property of the workers themselves, then there likewise results a distribution of the means of consumption different from the present one. Vulgar socialism (and from it in turn a section of the democrats) has taken over from the bourgeois economists the consideration and treatment of distribution as independent of the mode of production and hence the presentation of socialism as turning principally on distribution. After the real relation has long been made clear, why retrogress again?” 

(Critique of the Gotha Programme)


“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 form necessary for an economical reconstruction of society. Instead of the conservative motto: “A fair day's wage for a fair day's work!” they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword: “Abolition of the wages system!"”

(Value, Price and Profit)

This is part of the process by which, Marx argues, in Capital, that capital is dissolved within the framework of the capitalist system itself.  It is part of the process of the "expropriation of the expropriators".  The more workers reclaim these functions for their own ownership and control, the more they then develop their own self-government, in opposition to that of the capitalist state, and they are able to do that irrespective of existing national or regional boundaries. They can unite across those artificial borders, by creating their own co-operative structures, based on the shared interests of workers as workers, not workers of a particular trade, industry, firm, region or nation. The more they reclaim this control, and establish that self-government, the more they diminish the economic and social power of the capitalist state over them. That is why Marx argued for direct taxes so that workers would act to limit the expansion of the capitalist state. He wrote,

“No modification of the form of taxation can produce any important change in the relations of labour and capital...”

But advocated direct taxation,

“Because indirect taxes conceal from an individual what he is paying to the state, whereas a direct tax is undisguised, unsophisticated, and not to be misunderstood by the meanest capacity. Direct taxation prompts therefore every individual to control the governing powers while indirect taxation destroys all tendency to self-government.” 

(Instructions for Delegates to the First International Executive Committee)

One aspect of that control should be for such communities to be able to police themselves. It should be not only the right, but also the duty, of every able bodied citizen, to participate, on a regular basis, in such community policing, of their communities, in the same way that all citizens are required to participate in jury service. It should be, similarly, a legal requirement, of all employers, to provide employees with paid leave, to undertake such duty.

Such bodies can also form the basis of establishing a workers militia, which can ultimately replace the standing army. Such a body, combined with the implementation of universal military conscription, is the necessary logical extension of universal suffrage, as Engels described. If the whole people are to vote, to make decisions, then the whole people must also be armed, so as to be able to enforce those decisions, against any attempt by forces, internally or externally, to subvert them.

“Universal conscription — incidentally the sole democratic institution existing in Prussia, albeit only on paper — marks such an enormous advance on all previous forms of military organisation that, having once existed, even if its implementation left much to be desired, it cannot again be permanently reversed...

“Whether reorganisation means some slight increase to the military burden or not, will make little difference to the working class as a class. On the other hand it certainly cannot remain indifferent to the question of whether or not universal conscription is fully implemented. The more workers who are trained in the use of weapons the better. Universal conscription is the necessary and natural corollary of universal suffrage; it puts the voters in the position of being able to enforce their decisions gun in hand against any attempt at a coup d'état.

The only aspect of army reorganisation in Prussia which is of interest to the German working class is the increasingly thorough Implementation of universal conscription.”

(Engels - The Prussian Military Question and the German Workers' Party)

By the same token, the more the means of production, and the communities, are brought under the direct, co-operative ownership and control of the workers, that live and work in them, the more the workers establish their own direct, democratic self-government, as the necessary corollary to these new material conditions, the more these democratic bodies will form the organs and structure of the new workers semi-state that will replace the existing capitalist state, the more this universal conscription will, therefore, become the means by which the workers prevent such a coup d'etat being launched against them, by that existing capitalist state, the more it will become the means of ensuring the liquidation of the latter.

These are the kinds of constitutional changes that Marxists should be organising around, not merely attempts to make the existing capitalist state work more efficiently. Our task is not to perfect that machine but to smash it. As Marx put it,

"If you look up the last chapter of my Eighteenth Brumaire, you will find that I declare that the next attempt of the French Revolution will be no longer, as before, to transfer the bureaucratic-military machine from one hand to another, but to smash it, and this is the precondition for every real people's revolution on the Continent. And this is what our heroic Party comrades in Paris are attempting."

(Marx – Letter to Kugelmann April 12th, 1871.

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