Monday, 25 January 2016

Overcoming The Power of Capital - Part 8 of 8

That brings me then to the question posed by Mike, which is how we go about overcoming the power of capital. In reality, the question comes down to a question of what programme we, as Marxists, should propose, here and now, and what policies we should give critical support to when advanced by social-democrats. Some of the answers to that have already been alluded to. On the basis of what has already been said, its clear that I start from different premises to those of Mike. In fact, as I write this, I have just been watching a fund manager on Bloomberg talking about the possibility of a “Merkel Plan”, as something similar to the Marshall Plan introduced after WWII. That even the money-lending capitalists, and their representatives, are considering the need for such measures is an illustration of the idea that anti-austerity measures are not just in the interests of productive-capital, but become recognised as also in the longer term interests of money-lending capital also.

As Marx puts it.

“It would be still more absurd to presume that capital would yield interest on the basis of capitalist production without performing any productive function, i.e., without creating surplus-value, of which interest is just a part; that the capitalist mode of production would run its course without capitalist production. If an untowardly large section of capitalists were to convert their capital into money-capital, the result would be a frightful depreciation of money-capital and a frightful fall in the rate of interest; many would at once face the impossibility of living on their interest, and would hence be compelled to reconvert into industrial capitalists.” (Capital III, Chapter 23, p 378)

And that is just one reason why it is money-capital which becomes subordinated to productive-capital, unable to be lent on anything like the scale required unless to productive and merchant capitals, and unable to obtain any interest without first the mass of surplus value being created by productive-capital.

It is, in fact, quite clear that a resolution of the current financial crisis in Europe, within the bounds of capitalism, requires such a programme of fiscal expansion, and a massive writing off of debt, just as such write offs of debt have been implemented, in the past, in relation to the debt of developing economies. It is quite rational within capitalist terms, given current low levels of interest rates and inflation, to use money printing to finance such fiscal expansion, and thereby to promote an accumulation of real wealth at the expense of the fictitious wealth that has been built up over the last thirty years, and which hangs over economies in the form of huge levels of debt.

Of course, Marxists do not propose such solutions, which by their nature are solutions within the confines of capitalism. Our goal is not to help capitalism resolve its problems, but to replace capitalism itself, and thereby remove the fundamental basis of those problems. But, if social-democracy proposes such solutions, then it is sectarian purity for Marxists to oppose such solutions, on the basis that they are only reformist, bourgeois solutions. On that basis, we would refuse to support strikes, because they are also only reformist, bourgeois solutions designed merely to ameliorate the workers condition, whilst remaining within the constraints of capitalism. 

For the reasons Marx sets out in “Wage-Labour and Capital”, we should support all those measures which facilitate an accumulation of productive-capital, and thereby place the workers in the most favourable position. That is not just, in relation to the immediate conditions, but also in relation to the accumulation of all those productive forces which the workers will require for the more rapid construction of Socialism. By the same token, we should oppose all those conservative measures which drive in the opposite direction.

Mike is right, to say that socialists, should make clear the limited, social-democratic nature of such solutions, but he is wrong to believe that such solutions are not possible, because of being against the interests of capital. But, there are other policies that social democrats can pursue, and which socialists should support that are also achievable within the confines of capitalism. Some of those have been described above. Pursuance of those policies, however, requires a rejection of the statist conceptions of socialism, which the left has operated under, for more than a century, and which underlie Mike's own definitions of “left” and “right”.

The point again here is that we should support those policies, which strengthen the economic and social position of workers. For example, Mike quotes the article by Trotsky – Nationalized Industry and Workers’ Management. The situation was that the Cardenas government in Mexico, having nationalised the oil companies sought the support of the Mexican workers against the pressure it faced from British imperialism. It offered a measure of workers control in those nationalised industries, as a means of securing that support. Trotsky points out, that under capitalism, other than in a situation of dual power, there can never be any real workers control of capitalist property. However, he asked, if a capitalist government offers such workers control, what should be our response to it. His answer is,

“It would of course be a disastrous error, an outright deception, to assert that the road to socialism passes, not through the proletarian revolution, but through nationalization by the bourgeois state of various branches of industry and their transfer into the hands of the workers’ organizations. But it is not a question of that. The bourgeois government has itself carried through the nationalization and has been compelled to ask participation of the workers in the management of the nationalized industry. One can of course evade the question by citing the fact that unless the proletariat takes possession of the power, participation by the trade unions in the management of the enterprises of state capitalism cannot give socialist results. However, such a negative policy from the revolutionary wing would not be understood by the masses and would strengthen the opportunist positions. For Marxists it is not a question of building socialism with the hands of the bourgeoisie, but of utilizing the situations that present themselves within state capitalism and advancing the revolutionary movement of the workers.” 

The possibility of such participation of workers in the management of socialised capital, whether of state owned capital, joint stock capital, or of co-operatives is clearly not impossible, or alien to the interests of productive-capital. On the contrary, it is probably beneficial for that capital, by incorporating the workers, and utilising their knowledge, in just the same way that social democracy incorporates the working-class, by the extension of the franchise. Whilst such measures are wholly limited compared to the goals and ambitions of socialists, there is no reason why socialists would oppose such policies. On the contrary, to the extent that workers gain knowledge of capitalist management from such participation, they further strengthen the position of the workers to act, independently, and to utilise that knowledge for themselves.

Socialists have to explain to workers the limited nature of such policies, and in the process, that also involves explaining, why it is only by direct ownership and control of the means of production themselves, via worker owned co-operatives, that real control can be exercised. That is why socialists should not generally call for nationalisation – the situation might be different in a revolutionary situation, where that nationalisation is being undertaken by a Workers Government, and the potential for real workers control might exist - but would not oppose such action by a social democratic government, and would certainly oppose measures to return such industries to private ownership. But, socialists should have opposed the inclusion of, for example, the worker owned and controlled mines, alongside the capitalist mines, in the nationalisation programme of Atlee, after WWII.

More recently, if we take the example of the Militant control of Liverpool City Council, in the 1980's, a reform that socialists should have supported and advocated was that workers, organised within their own communities, be encouraged and assisted, by Labour Party members, within those communities, to create Housing Co-operatives, which could have taken over the council's housing stock, and run it democratically, under the ownership and control of the tenants themselves. When the Council I worked for transferred its housing stock to an ALMO, in 2000, it sold the houses for an average price of just £7,000. With the housing stock in the ownership and control of the workers themselves, the potential for future conservative governments to effect such massive transfers of wealth, is reduced, because they would have to be openly stealing the houses from their immediate owners.

But, such co-operative ownership and control of housing, also leads on to the logical development of other forms of workers direct democracy within those communities, which then deals with other issues of community management and control. It opens up the potential of creating other worker owned and controlled property related to it, for example, the creation of co-operative construction and maintenance enterprises, to provide the related maintenance and development needs.

On the back of the extension of these forms of direct workers democracy, also naturally flow other organisational forms. In affluent neighbourhoods, it has become commonplace for the residents to employ their own security services. By the same token, it should become commonplace for workers communities to organise their own security and policing. Organising co-ordination of such bodies develops organically towards the creation of workers defence squads, and further to the creation of a workers militia.

Even within the context of capitalism, the concept of a citizen's militia is not at all alien. It forms a fundamental aspect of the US Declaration of Independence, and Constitution. Switzerland operates on the basis of a Citizen's Militia, rather than a standing army, and so on. In fact, as Engels argued, compulsory universal military conscription is the necessary, and logical adjunct to universal suffrage, so that those who have votes can ensure that what they have voted to implement can be enforced arms in hand.

All of these kinds of measures, contrary to the kind of statist approach that much of the Labour Movement has pursued for the last century, require the permanent and active mobilisation of the working class in ever larger numbers, and on the basis of its own self-activity and self-government. The reason for seeking government office should only be to facilitate those measures which objectively strengthen the economic and social position of the workers, by facilitating the most rapid accumulation of capital.   Its for that reason that I wrote recently that I would support an abolition of Corporation Tax, which diminishes the profit of enterprise, available for accumulation, and its replacement with a heavier tax on dividends, and other forms of unearned income, and capital gains.  

We should support those measures that limit the power of the reactionary forms of capital, and those which recognise the nature of socialised capital, by introducing greater measures of democracy over its control.  That should also include legislation to give workers the right to collectively exercise control, through their trades unions over their pension funds, a control currently exercised, against workers interests, by the banks, which act in the interests of money-lending capital, at the expense of productive-capital.

We should support those measures not because they ameliorate the workers condition, or because they represent some kind of inevitable growth towards socialism, but because they represent the best conditions under which workers can themselves make the necessary transition to a new mode of production, a transition, which the current owners of all of the reactionary forms of capital will resist with every tool at their disposal.

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