Wednesday, 27 May 2015

What Next? - Part 9

For Britain (1)

Powerful conservative forces have grown over the last thirty years. Those forces have grown on the back of material changes in the economy, which particularly affected old industrial countries such as Britain, the US and Western Europe. In addition to the phase of the long wave, which undermined the strength of productive-capital, and benefited money-lending capital, those economies have faced relative decline as against new dynamic capitals in Asia, and more lately other emerging economies. It is those economies that a lot of the industrial capital migrated to, leading to a de-industrialisation of the older economies.

Those industries that did develop in the older economies were themselves based in the new dynamic industries, where the type of labour-power required was highly skilled and educated, or else it was in those areas of entertainment where those involved did not need to be skilled, in the sense that a brain surgeon or craftsmen is skilled, as a result of education or years of training, but because they have some real, perceived, or manufactured talent, which consumers are prepared to pay large amounts of money to enjoy. More or less by definition, the number of actual workers required to be engaged in such activity may be relatively small, and yet the abstract labour they represent may be significant. 

This creates the conditions for a two-tier labour market, in which a relatively small number of highly paid workers co-exist alongside a large group of low skilled, low paid workers. The latter are required for the economy to function, whether they are drawn from the domestic workforce, or from imported labour. The Tories came into office five years ago saying that they were going to address this situation, by bringing about a rebalancing of the economy towards manufacturing industry. 

But, of course, they have not, and nor is it likely that they could, despite all of their showcasing over the northern powerhouse and so on. Such a northern powerhouse, is just as likely to simply replicate this bifurcation but within a more concentrated metropolitan context. The Tories could not change these conditions, because they are the ones that created them back in the 1980's, and their world outlook, conditioned in no little part by the material interests they represent, and the core of their membership and support, leads them simply to replicate those conditions. 

In order to retain their members, and to secure the vote of their core voters, they must necessarily advocate a range of policies geared to the interests, and prejudices of those people. That is what led them into the advocacy of austerity in 2010, after years of saying they would at least match all of Labour's spending plans; it is what led them to pander to the nationalist and anti-EU sentiment, which led them into offering a damaging EU referendum; it is what led them, in 2015, to whip up English nationalism to win votes in England. But, each of those then lock it into a course of action it must follow in the ensuing period. 

Britain's future is a function of these different factors, and their interplay. On the one hand, Britain is affected by the material conditions of the world economy, and its divisions, e.g. the EU, of which it is a part. On the other hand, it is affected by the political decisions made by people in Britain, the EU and across the globe. Simultaneously, the material conditions that exist in Britain, are themselves a function of the political decisions made previously, e.g. the decisions of Thatcher in the 1980's.

In his summary of Marx’s theory of historical materialism, Engels wrote to Bloch, 

“We make our history ourselves, but, in the first place, under very definite assumptions and conditions. Among these the economic ones are ultimately decisive. But the political ones, etc., and indeed even the traditions which haunt human minds also play a part, although not the decisive one...Without making oneself ridiculous it would be a difficult thing to explain in terms of economics the existence of every small state in Germany, past and present, or the origin of the High German consonant permutations, which widened the geographic partition wall formed by the mountains from the Sudetic range to the Taunus to form a regular fissure across all Germany. 

In the second place, however, history is made in such a way that the final result always arises from conflicts between many individual wills, of which each in turn has been made what it is by a host of particular conditions of life. Thus there are innumerable intersecting forces, an infinite series of parallelograms of forces which give rise to one resultant — the historical event. This may again itself be viewed as the product of a power which works as a whole unconsciously and without volition. For what each individual wills is obstructed by everyone else, and what emerges is something that no one willed. Thus history has proceeded hitherto in the manner of a natural process and is essentially subject to the same laws of motion. But from the fact that the wills of individuals — each of whom desires what he is impelled to by his physical constitution and external, in the last resort economic, circumstances (either his own personal circumstances or those of society in general) — do not attain what they want, but are merged into an aggregate mean, a common resultant, it must not be concluded that they are equal to zero. On the contrary, each contributes to the resultant and is to this extent included in it.”

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