Thursday, 26 January 2017

The Death Spasm of British Colonialism - Part 2 of 2

Its no wonder that the most advanced representative of this multinational industrial capital – the United States – after World War II, sought to break apart all of the old protected colonial markets, and monopolies, not only as potential markets in which its produced surplus value could be realised, but also as vast new reservoirs of potentially exploitable labour-power, from which it could also produce large quantities of additional surplus value. Roosevelt, who openly described Churchill as a gin-soaked colonialist, even proposed a deal with Stalin to break apart the British and French colonies.

Increasingly, what this large-scale industrial capital requires, therefore, is the breaking down of all artificial monopolies and restrictions, so that capital and labour can move to where it can be most profitably employed. It is the function of social-democracy to create the kind of stable, regulated frameworks within which such conditions can exist. It is why one of the products of that social-democracy – the EU – has at its heart the four freedoms of freedom of movement of capital, labour, goods and services.

Colonialism developed on the material foundations of Mercantilism, on the basis of the material interests of the existing feudal ruling class that obtained its revenues from rents, and could only expand those rents by owning larger areas of land; of a rising merchant class that obtained its profits from unequal exchange – buying low and selling high – and a financial oligarchy, whose revenue from interest is the most direct form of unequal exchange.

But, imperialism developed on the material foundations of industrial capital, and specifically on the developed, mature form of that industrial capital, when it has become socialised capital, and has become multinational and transnational in nature, and where it has created a global economy within which to operate, and where, therefore, it requires those same basic conditions that formerly capital required for its development within the bounds of the nation state.

As a necessary corollary of the Law of the Tendency for the Rate of Profit to Fall, which lies behind the process which establishes an average annual rate of profit, this industrial capital seeks out labour to exploit, via production, and the creation of relative surplus value, now not within national borders, but within this entire global economy. It is not, as Lenin assumed, some kind of terminal crisis of capitalism that leads to the export of capital, as a way out, but merely the normal search of capital for the highest annual rate of profit available from its investments. That indeed, is one reason that the majority of overseas investment from “imperialist” countries goes not to less developed economies, but to other developed “imperialist” economies, where high levels of social productivity, and higher than average rates of turnover of capital, produce higher than average annual rates of profit.

The backlash against the EU, signified by Brexit, is the death spasm of that old colonialist past, and the reactionary ideas it implanted in British society. It is no coincidence that by far the largest support for Brexit, and for the associated bigotry that went with it, came from those older sections of society, particularly those that grew up prior to the collapse of the British colonial empire, or still in its afterglow, whilst those overwhelmingly in favour of Remain, and less infected with bigotry, come from amongst the youth, and those that have grown up in the era of this globalised industrial economy, and the progressive ideas it engenders. Nor is it any surprise that this pattern is mirrored across Europe, where there is a reservoir of similar ideas in those countries that share the same mercantilist and colonial heritage such as the Netherlands and France.

By contrast, the interest of imperialism are undermined by Brexit. In fact, its more or less irrelevant to talk about British imperialism, or French imperialism any longer, because both have become subsumed under a single EU imperialism, which itself forms an integral part of an imperialist hierarchical system of states and proto-state/economic blocs. In the same way, it has made no sense to talk about Scottish imperialism separate from English imperialism for the last couple of centuries, because Scottish industrial capital grew alongside English industrial capital intertwined with it, as British capital. 

If EU imperialism/industrial capital could simply construct a state to meet its requirements, it would be only an expanded version of existing nation states, or as with the United States, a federal state as a mid-way compromise. But, it cannot. The US endured a brutal and bloody civil war to establish even its current federal system; Europe endured several wars in the 19th century, and two world wars in the 20th century, as part of a process of trying to bring about the necessary European unification of the political framework to coincide with the existence of a unified European industrial capital, economy and market.

Brexit is hostile to the interests of the dominant section of capital – large-scale, socialised, industrial capital – and for that reason alone is hostile to the interests of British workers,  and workers in general, whose future depends on the most complete and rational development of the forces of production, and productive relations, which that large-scale, socialised, industrial capital represents.

It is then no surprise that 65% of Labour voters voted Remain; it is no surprise that those sections of the middle-class, the professional managers, or “functioning capitalists”, that are the personification of that socialised capital, and their equivalents in other areas of society – and who comprise what the reactionaries and bigots call “the metropolitan elite” - also voted heavily for Remain.

And, for that reason, the equivocating position of Labour, in relation to Brexit, is self-defeating. If the referendum had been to agree to send Jews to the gas chamber, would Labour have said, “sorry, the people have spoken, we have to accept and respect the will of the people”? No, of course, not, Labour would have said straight away that it would do all in its power to prevent the result of that referendum being implemented, and the same is true for a whole host of issues over which “the people” might be consulted. Labour's role is not to passively tail the result of popular polls, but to actively shape public opinion, by doggedly fighting for a set of principles based on defending and extending the interests of workers. Brexit will damage workers interests, and Labour should oppose it, as a reactionary measure.

Labour's position should be unequivocally to oppose Brexit on the basis that it is hostile to workers interests in the short, medium and long-terms. It should stand shoulder to shoulder with the 48% of voters that voted Remain, with all of those 16-18 year-olds that were undemocratically denied a vote in the referendum, and all those in the rest of society that oppose Brexit, and who represent social progress and reject reaction.

Nor, therefore, is it a surprise that the Tories who represent the interests of that old feudal and mercantilist ruling class, and the sections of small private capitalists, saw 65% of their supporters back Brexit. On a purely rational basis that 65% of Labour voters voted Remain and 65% of Tory voters voted Leave, it seem suicidal for Labour to abandon its position and that 65% of its voters, and acquiesce in the Tories onslaught! What is more, if the referendum were held today, with newly enfranchised young workers, and a large number of the old Leave voters having shuffled off their mortal coil, the result could well go to Remain! Even when taking out credit or other finance, there is a two week cooling off period, so you can change your mind, so surely the same should apply here.

The conservatives represent the interests of the backward looking, reactionary sections of society and that includes all of those that form the reservoir in which those old discriminatory, bigoted ideas handed down from the era of mercantilism and colonialism continue to reside. The forces that pushed through Brexit are historically doomed, just as mercantilism and colonialism was doomed. But, a dying animal can still lash out, as the natural instinct for self-preservation remains to the end, implanted in the most primitive parts of the brain. Its no surprise that Theresa May apparently sees herself as a modern Elizabeth I, or that the Brexiteers have fantasies about restoring Britain's colonial fortunes on the basis of a restoration to glory of the Commonwealth, or that May's empty threat to the EU, were they not to concede to her demands, is that she would turn the UK into an equivalent of Batista's Cuba.

Incidentally, the comparison made by some Labour figures and others with May's proposal in that regard with Singapore is way off the mark. As I discussed back in the 1980's , the policies pursued by the Bonapartist regime in Singapore have been far more consistent with social-democracy than any that many social-democratic governments have pursued in the last thirty years. They endeavoured to move production increasingly up the value chain, by encouraging higher wages and discouraging low-wage/low value added/low skill production; they invested heavily in productivity raising infrastructure and education programmes and so on. The result is that Singapore has a broadband system that provides all its citizens with around 1,000 mbps, has per capita income of $52,000 ($80,000 on PPP basis), compared to a per capital income in Britain of just $41,000 ($39,000 on PPP basis), and has a higher average life expectancy of 82.14 years as opposed to 81 years in Britain.

If May was proposing such a programme it would not be so bad, but she isn't. As her and Hammond's pronouncements indicate, they only propose an intensification of the policies which, over the last thirty years, destroyed the UK's productive capacity, destroyed its infrastructure and undermined its productivity. Their policy simply means turning the UK into a sanctuary for the world's criminals, kleptocrats and tax dodgers, earning a living from gambling, money laundering and prostitution; seeking whatever handouts can be obtained from the Trump White House, and creating misery for the millions of ordinary workers that have to live here, much as was the case for the mass of the population in Batista's Cuba. And after Brexit, British workers will be unable to escape this hell-hole by emigrating to other EU countries, as free movement will have ended.

That offers no hope for British workers, and it is not in the interests of large-scale, industrial capital either. That is one reason Brexit may never happen, but if it does, it will only be temporary. Ultimately, Britain will be integrated within an EU state. It would be better to enter it positively and enthusiastically, with British workers standing alongside their EU comrades to shape a social Europe, than for Britain to be dragged into it by far more powerful historical forces.


davidjc said...

On the mercantilist roots of capitalism (third paragraph), what do you make of the idea that it was the emergence of capitalist-style agriculture in England that was the launchpad?

The ideas and practise of 'improvement' of the land involved increasing productivity, not just expansion, of land, as well as wage-labour. This is the Ellen Meiskins Wood line as I remember it. It's a while since I read it, but I think she cites the way early factories were placed in rural areas, a development of land improvement, as part of the evidence.

On Labour and Brexit, it looks to me the problem is the unions. If we think of power in the party as split between unions, members, MPs, the Leadership and the machine, the pro and anti Corbyn (as short hand) sections would be members, leadership and unions pro and MPs and the machine anti. Members and leadership likely agree with the thrust of your thoughts here, many MPs too, but the main Corbyn-backing union doesn't. From a self preservation point of view, Corbyn can't afford to lose Unite and doesn't have the time for persuasion given the impending McCluskey election. It's a tricky one.

The annoying thing for members is the behind the class nature of it. It feels like arms have been twisted, favours promised etc. Of course this is normal in politics to a great extent, but is in more relief when the issue is so big and for the hundreds of thousands of new members, particularly the younger ones, it must stink.

Boffy said...


I was talking about mercantilism as the roots of colonialism here, not of capitalism. I would make the point that Marx makes about the difference between the development of Physiocratic Theory in France, where the driving force was of agricultural capitalism, as opposed to the development of Mercantilist and Monetary Theory in Britain, because it was a large mercantile power, which appeared to produce surplus value as a result of trade (unequal exchange) rather than production.

Obviously, both Britain and France had colonial empires, and both derived a primary accumulation of capital from this mercantile trade, the slave trade, piracy etc. In relation to factories in the countryside, as Marx says, it was always the case that industry took place alongside agricultural production. The small peasant spun and wove, as well as working the fields etc., and that was necessary not just to meet their needs for industrial products, but also to cover those times of year when they could not labour all day in the field, and so produced commodities for sale, to cover their other needs, pay taxes etc.

Its not agricultural development and land improvement that leads to factories being established in the countryside, but the fact that the first attempts to replace labour as motive power, relies upon water-power, or wind-power, and these sources of power were only available for use in country locations. As soon as steam-power, becomes available, the location of the factories moves from the countryside to the urban areas, where a large working-class is available, where markets are closer at hand, and communication routes are better.

I'm not convinced its just about UNITE. I think elements of opportunism play an important part, and also remnants of the old "socialism in one country/AES/British Road" I think still linger. Labour could smash the Tories apart, and make the Liberals finally totally irrelevant, by simply saying they will oppose Article 50 and Brexit tooth and nail. Enough Tory MP's would join Labour to defeat Article 50 throwing the government into disarray. May would call an election, which may also be what Corbyn is hoping to avoid. But, it would mean had Corbyn and Momentum been doing their job, that a load of the old Blair-right MP's would be thrown out, strengthening the Corbynite position, even if a younger contender took up the reins in a couple of years time.

Instead, we have the ridiculous situation where Labour looks set to lose Stoke Central having selected a candidate who signed the 1,000 strong anti-Corbyn petition, who is personally for remain, but will not doubt have to fight on a platform based on a UKIP-lite policy of some form of restriction of free movement, and acceptance of Brexit!

Newsnight also pointed out last night something I discussed a while ago, which is that 65% of Labour voters voted Remain, and although 60% of Labour MP's are in seats that had a majority for Leave, half of these MP's have majorities of more than 10,000, so that, especially in a General Election, if these MP's stood on a programme of opposing Brexit, they would be unlikely to lose the seat. That is particularly the case, given that just because a particular constituency voted by say 60% for Leave, that does not at all mean that 60% of Labour voters in that constituency voted Leave.

For example, if a constituency has 60,000 voters, with 35,000 voting Labour and 25,000 voting Tory, if all the Tory voters vote Leave, whilst just 11,000 Labour voters vote Leave, that would give a 60% vote to Leave, but only a 30% vote for leave by Labour voters in the constituency.

davidjc said...

Ah yes take the point about colonialism not capitalism, thanks. I might be wrong but I think the first steam powered factories and iron foundaries were in rural areas, then as you say towns took over. Meiskins Wood's point I think is that the framework was already there with factory wage labour; it was already beyond the stage of craft manufacture and pocket money. I think she was saying this as part of saying capitalism is a social relation, not originally or essentially tied to urbanism.

Also, in the modern era, capitalist states in parts of the world deliberately placed factories away from cities due to fears of working class urban organisation e.g. the northern Italian industrial belt and Vietnam, where advanced exporting factories are in dirt poor rural areas and former peasants trave miles to work from many different surrounding villages. Solidarity is weak. Idle speculation, but some of these American rust belt areas might have a similar scenario thanks to suburban sprawl and car culture. Lessening ties between workers necessarily increases relative ties between worker and boss, so the hope is for a great new boss - mini Trumps - to come in and sort out the crap the last one got up to.

Agree with what you say re. Labour. The "but" is a boring process one really - I can't see how Corbyn and supporters could produce the organisational change in this time frame, even if we assume he wanted to, especially without a strong union ally.

Not that I know of every likely successor, but the one they talk most about, Clive Lewis, has been worse than Corbyn on Brexit - one day throwing meat to anti immigrant bigotry, the next nearly resigning on the Article 50 vote.

Thanks again for the reply.

Boffy said...


The first known use of steam for power goes back to the Roman Empire, but was not turned into a steam engine. The first steam engines were atmospheric engines, which were very inefficient. That's why the first steam engines were used in coal mines, and used statically, to pull coal carts, by rope along a track. Coal mines were always in rural areas to begin with.

Steam engines used for power in factories, assumed that production was taking place on a very large scale already, otherwise the use of the steam engine was not economical. The very large factories would often be built on a greenfield site, where a sufficiently large plot was available, at reasonably low land prices, but these greenfield sites were often close to existing urban areas. For example, Josiah Wedgwood was one of the first to use Watt's steam engine, and his factory was one of the largest of the time. He built the factory there also for access to the canal. But, the Etruria site was only a mile or so, outside the established urban areas of the Potteries, and the existing potbanks.

I detailed some of this development a while ago.

I think the point about craft manufacture, as Marx describes in relation to the formal and real subordination of labour, and Lenin covers the same thing in relation to The Development of Capitalism in Russia, is that you have something like - Putting Out System by merchants, the establishment of manufactories, where handicraft workers are congregate under one roof, but still undertake handicraft production, division of labour, which leads to the creation of the detail worker who produces specific elements of the end product (a wheelwright in a coach makers only now makes coach wheels, not also water wheels), but still does so using handicraft methods, basic machines are introduced, which begin to replace the skill of the handicraft worker, for example, a human powered spinning wheel replaces hand spinning of wool/cotton etc, and the tool is under the control of the machine, not in the hand of the worker - for example a basic lathe, where division of labour separated tasks, machines begin to combine them again, for example, Marx's example of the envelope producing machine, machine industry replaces handicraft production in the factory, and the mass of such machines in the factory, carrying out a range of combined functions requires greater power.

So arises, factories using water power for example, as with Arkwright's Factory At Crompton. The introduction of machine production in the machine production industry itself, together with greater precision of engineering makes the introduction of steam engines in factories possible, and so the move to urban areas with large congregations of workers, large markets etc.


Boffy said...

I don't think its fear of working-class organisation that is the cause in more recent times. Nissan in Sunderland, Toyota in Derby, set up on large greenfield sites because its logical to build on such sites rather than deal with the problems of brownfield sites. They then simply negotiated single union, often no strike deals. Its simply that often in setting up a large factory in Vietnam etc. what is required is such a greenfield site, with the potential to create rational efficient communication routes. The production is usually at a mature stage requiring only unskilled labour, of which there is large amounts available in the countryside, willing to work for low wages, that are still way above peasant incomes.

The problem in rust belts is unemployment, in conditions where the workers have never been given any prospect of self-government as a means of resolving their problems, and so are condition to always look for a saviour of some kind.

The capture of the leadership, together with half a million, Corbyn friendly members should have already made it possible, using Momentum. However, many of the half million have remained passive clickers, rather than physical activists,and the leadership has been weak on using their base to move quickly and decisively against the party apparatus and PLP. In places that has happened as a result of the base moving at local level, for example, I was talking to my old friend Jason Hill, who has just been elected Chair of Stoke North, on the back of the Corbyn surge, but we have also seen what happened in Brighton.

There was absolutely no reason for an anti-Corbyn candidate to be selected in Stoke central, whose members backed Corbyn by a 10-1 majority. Its lack of discipline and professionalism by the Corbynites. I argued long ago that they needed to have drawn up long lists of prominent, effective Corbyn supporters ready for local members to draft, whenever such a situation arose. But, Corbyn and co. remain hostage to traditional Labour electoralism and a fear of making the poll ratings worse. In order to put Labour on a proper footing the ratings will have to get worse, and some marginal Tory seats lost, but they should at the same time be winning seats like Stoke by larger amounts based upon a clearer more radical message, and powerful local organisation and intervention in workers struggles.

Boffy said...

On the Third Italy, I think it is more complex. There were a series of very good articles in Capital and Class analysing it 20 odd years ago.

davidjc said...

I have some old CnCs in the loft, will exploit my own labour and clamber up there at some point.

What I don't get is why those pro Corbyn Stoke Central members chose this anti Corbyn candidate. Are you saying it was Momentum/the left not getting its people out on the night? Or have a significant proportion changed their tune? From Phil's account, the candidates including the winner all said the same ok things, implying the winner presented the best. But you'd think people who'd voted Corbyn would see past that? On the plus side, it looks like Momentum are going to take a lot of helpers to Stoke. It's even possible I'll come up, which should clinch it.

Boffy said...

Its a question of Momentum doing the groundwork in the weeks and months before such events. They seem unable to do it, as the representation at the last Conference also demonstrated, and as their failure to get Conference resolutions etc. demonstrated.

Labour should win in Stoke Central as I wrote recently, but I fear that without a candidate of Nuttall's national standing, and given the confused basis on which Labour will be standing, the Labour campaign will always be on the back foot.

Had I been asking questions at the shortlisting meeting, a prime question would have been, "Where do you stand on the right of workers to free movement/ what is your position on immigration controls?" A Labour candidate that fluffs and fumbles over their answer will be lost. As soon as they give ground to the idea of supporting a restriction of free movement, they will open the door to anyone who is voting on that basis, to simply choose the real anti-immigrant/anti-EU candidate. For Snell that will be even more awkward as he is a pro-Remain candidate, who would then be simultaneously arguing for an end to free movement! It simply confirms the notion that Labour's position is confused and driven by an opportunistic need to compromise and fudge so as to try to rise two horses galloping in opposite directions.