Chapter 3 – Social Democracy
The dominant class interests in society, those that represent the objective interests of the two great class camps, of capital and labour, are hostile to Brexit, and hostile to the same trends represented by Trump, in the US, and the right-wing, nationalist and populist movements across Europe, such as that of Le Pen, Wilders, Grillo etc. Yet, for the last thirty years, the politicians representing the historic compromise of those two great class camps, which social-democracy represents, appear to have taken a back-seat and acquiesced in conservative ideas themselves. The reason for that is complex, and in part also is more apparent than real. We ought to view the situation as being one, in which social-democracy represents a centre-ground, but one which is itself divided between a conservative wing and and a progressive wing. The political spectrum, should be seen as a continuum, extending from reaction on the right, through conservative, to progressive, to revolutionary.
The reactionary end of the spectrum, comprises those forces that seek to turn the clock back, to a form of capitalism that long since ceased to exist, if it ever existed really at all. It is a form of capitalism based upon a free market red in tooth and claw, dominated by a multitude of small businesses. It bases itself politically on the ideas of liberal bourgeois democracy, rather than social-democracy. It fringes on a return to Mercantilism, whereby these multitude of tiny capitals, are protected under the umbrella of some Bonapartist figure or Monarch. The representatives of this political trend can be seen in the Tea Party in the US, in the anarcho-capitalists, in sections of UKIP, and the right-wing of the Tory Party. They represent the material interests of those same elements that make up the conservative mass of the Tory Party, as opposed to those elements that represent the interests of the large-scale money lending capitalists.
The conservatives represent those elements that recognise that a return to that era of 18th century Liberalism is not possible, nor from their perspective desirable. Their fortunes depend upon socialised capital producing large profits, so as to finance their dividends and other interest payments on bonds etc. At the same time, they have no desire to allow the logic of social-democracy to proceed, as that would undermine their own power in society, which derives from their ownership of fictitious capital, and the control it allows them over company boards. Economically speaking, they could live with a rational social-democracy, because as lenders of money-capital, they are still entitled to the average rate of interest on the money-capital they lend, and for which they obtain bonds or shares. The mature form of this is the concept of state capitalism, as discussed by Marx and Engels in "Anti-Duhring", whereby all real capital is owned by the state, and the private capitalists are simply money-lending capitalists buying government bonds, and and simply clipping the coupons from them to provide their revenue. But, simply obtaining what they are entitled to receive in interest, economically, does not provide them with the control they currently exercise.
This trend is represented by Conservatives such as Ken Clarke, Michael Heseltine, or David Cameron, but it also includes Labour politicians such as Blair and Brown and Miliband. It is part of the social-democratic centre, but representing its conservative rather than progressive wing. However, to the extent that many of these conservative social-democrats, recognise that capital to accumulate must also be internationalist, and cannot simply be built up behind national Chinese Walls of protectionism, they are actually more progressive than those more "left-wing" social democrats like the Bennites, the Stalinists, or the Militant Tendency (Today Socialist Party) and others on the supposed hard left, whose programme remains locked into simply reforming capital via the capitalist state itself (i.e. calls for nationalisation), but who are like the reactionary socialists of the Sismondist type, who seek simultaneously, to restrict the operation of capital.
Indeed, in this respect, the conservative social-democrats like Heseltine are more progressive than the syndicalists such as the SWP, who also remain locked in a social-democratic, trades unionist consciousness, that goes no further than calls for "more militancy" by workers, and actively oppose real self-activity, and self-government by workers, by opposing their creation of worker-owned co-operatives, whilst demanding that capital itself be limited within these outgrown national borders, thereby also dividing workers across those borders too.
The progressives consist of those who see the need for socialised capital to accumulate, and that for it to do so, requires a greater degree of planning and regulation, and a diminution of the power of all those elements that stand in the way of such progress. They are generally, technocratic, managerial, meritocratic, and internationalist in outlook. They range from Harold Wilson, through to Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonell. During the period after WWII, when this trend was heavily in the ascendant, it pulled behind it all of those elements that most clearly represented the personification of socialised capital, all of the managerial, technical and administrative trades unions etc.
The revolutionaries represent those that recognise the limitations of the progressives, who seek merely to mitigate the consequences of capitalism for the workers, and indeed for the progress of society itself. They recognise also the need for the accumulation of capital, and more specifically for the development of the forces of production, as a precondition for the further progress of society, but they also recognise that this requirement faces regular barriers imposed by the nature of capital itself, which are only overcome by regular crises.
Rather than it being the case that the representatives of social-democracy have been acquiescent over the last thirty years, therefore, it is that the conservative wing of that political centre-ground, has been in the ascendant.
The reasons for that comes down to basically three factors. Firstly, in order to overcome the crisis faced by social-democracy in the 1970's, when the post-war boom came to an end, social-democracy would have needed to pursue its own logic more seriously. It would have to have engaged in a serious political struggle against the foundations of conservatism within society.
The outlines of that were already drawn. Even right-wing social-democratic parties and politicians had, as part of their ideological armoury, concepts of corporatism that reflected the logical extension of social-democracy. Some of those ideas had existed, in Europe, for a long-time, for example, the existence of co-determination on company boards, in Germany. Harold Wilson raised the prospect of such a development, in Britain, via The Bullock Report, in 1975. The EU proposed extending the principle of co-determination across Europe via the Draft Fifth Company Law Directive.
Similar concepts existed at a macro-economic level, such as with NEDO, in Britain, which mirrored the state planning body in France and so on. The natural extension of this was the EU, and the transfer of such planning and regulation to the more rational level of the continent, as opposed to the constraints imposed by the 19th century structures of the nation state.
But, what is rational for capital, and for historical development does not mechanically become reality. In Theories of Surplus Value, Marx discusses the hostility of the revolutionary bourgeoisie and its ideologists, such as Smith and Ricardo, to the feudal state and to landed property, which acted as a drain on surplus value, which could otherwise have gone to capital accumulation. This revolutionary bourgeoisie, via the writing of Ricardo, on rent, demonstrated why land should be nationalised.
The imposition of rent holds back capital accumulation, in agriculture, and raises agricultural prices, because capital can only be invested in agricultural production when agricultural/mineral prices are high enough to produce surplus profits, so as to enable the payment of rent. The nationalisation of land would facilitate the expansion of capital on the land, and thereby reduce agricultural/mineral prices (the same applies to house prices), and the payment of differential rents, on the more fertile lands, to the state, would also reduce the state's need for tax to cover its running costs.
But, Marx says, the bourgeoisie never did pursue this rational demand, on its part, for land nationalisation, and the reason was (not only that many capitalists also became large landowners) that it feared, with a growing working-class, that challenging private property in any form might encourage workers to challenge it in all forms. It is a similar argument to that put forward by Trotsky, in relation to the theory of Permanent Revolution. Capital needs the working-class to oppose the forces of conservatism (colonialism and feudalism in respect of Permanent Revolution), but is always constrained in the extent to which it can wage an all out political war against those forces of conservatism, for fear of unleashing the full might of the working-class, which then goes beyond the bounds of the social-democratic compromise, in order to impose its own, specifically proletarian, interests.