Friday, 31 March 2017

Social-Democracy, Bonapartism and Permanent Revolution, Chapter 1 – Brexit

Chapter 1 - Brexit

As I wrote recently,

“The Tory government is more and more appearing as an elected dictatorship, whilst Labour seems intent on committing political suicide. The Tories attempt to deny the Scottish people the democratic right of self-determination, and Labour's alignment with the Tories over the issue, is the latest example.”

A few years ago, I described the dynamic underway with Cameron's government, and the similarity with the dynamic that led to the coup of Louis Bonaparte, in France, described by Marx in “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte”. Instead of Boris Johnson pushing aside Cameron, however, it has been Theresa May that took on that role, though we may not have seen this farce reach its last act. Moreover, it was Bojo, Gove et al who did effectively push Cameron aside by coming out for Brexit, paving the way for May.

Rather like the dynamic described by Marx, in The Eighteenth Brumaire, whereby Louis Napoleon was able to carry out his coup, resting on and representing that large, but amorphous, mass of backward layers of society, running from sections of the middle class, Bohemians, and through to all the atomised plebeian layers, so too that characterises the forces that lie behind the Tory Brexiters and their UKIP outliers, that have captured the Tory government. But, as I discussed recently, its not alone. That same dynamic can be seen with Trump, with Le Pen, with Wilders, with Erdogan, and with Netanyahu.

Trump does not represent the interests of US capital, let alone global capital, and nor does he represent the interests of US workers. He is, in many ways, the typical Bonaparte, whose rise to power is attributable to neither of the two main class camps in society, but to the ability of that large amorphous mass, between those class camps, to throw up its own authoritarian figurehead, and whose confused and contradictory ideas are themselves a reflection of the diffuse and conflicting interests of that mass, and which can only be given some rationality by the imposition of authority and order from above. It is no surprise that Trump has stuffed his government with generals alongside billionaires.

And much the same can be said of May's Tory government. The Tories, like the US Republicans, are historically the party of the financial and landed oligarchy, of the large owners of landed property, and of all those large money-lending capitalists whose wealth is held in the form of fictitious capital, paper wealth in the shape of shares, bonds, mortgages and other financial assets. But, their membership, and their electoral base is comprised mostly of the millions of small business owners, without whom the Tories could never get elected.

Yet, the thing that has characterised the Tories has been Brexit, and as with Trump, its clear that their obsession with carrying out that policy is done so directly in the face of the interests both of capital and labour. From various survey data, even the medium sized business owners appear split over their attitude to Brexit, as, in the modern globalised world, many of these too are dependent on EU membership.

The large-scale money-lending capitalists benefit, in the short term, from the existence of a large number of weak, fragmented states, compared to larger state structures. It means that they have opportunities for commercial profits and capital gains from arbitraging competing currency and tax regimes, and their paper wealth can be converted from Dollars to Pounds, to Deutschmarks, to Francs or Yen, to effect such speculation, at the press of a computer key.

Yet, in the longer term, even these large-scale money lending capitalists begin to realise that the basis of the interest they obtain from their holdings of bonds and mortgages, dividends on shares, as well as the capital gains they obtain on these financial assets, rests on the ability of large scale socialised capital to produce ever larger masses of profits, and the requirement for that is a social-democratic state that facilitates long-term planning and regulation, so as to maximise capital accumulation. The existence of large structures, like the EU, is fundamental to that, whereas Brexit is antithetical to it.

However much the Stalinists and other proponents of national socialism might promote the notion of building socialism in one country, it is also clear that Brexit is not in workers' interests either. Brexit is the agenda only of an economically and socially insignificant section of society. As Marx describes in his analysis of the peasantry and what constitutes the difference between a class in itself as opposed to for itself, this diffuse and amorphous mass mass may be numerically large, but its very nature means that it always requires some charismatic leader, some strongman to lead it by the nose, and to impose order from above. It is characterised by being able to mobilise around what it is against, but no ability to agree on what it is for.

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