Wednesday, 7 June 2017

For The Many Not The Few

Rise, like lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number!
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you:
Ye are many—they are few!"

A lifetime ago, in 1945, a General Election, much like this one, returned a Labour Government that created the NHS, started building millions of homes, including millions of council houses, nationalised the coal, steel, rail, gas, electricity and transport industries, despite the fact that, at the time, Britain's public sector debt to GDP ratio stood at 200%, or around three times what it is today. No one gave Labour a chance to win that election. The media took it for granted that Churchill's Tory Team would win. No one believed that a little, balding man with a funny moustache, leading a Labour Party that comprised Marxists and left-wing socialists, who called for outlandish things, such as an end to Britain's colonial empire, in India and elsewhere, had a chance of winning. If today's Blair-rights had been about, and their spin doctors, they would have claimed that such an extreme, left-wing party, and vision, could not possibly expect to win, by fighting on ground outside the political centre. But, win they did, with a huge majority.

No one thinks that Jeremy Corbyn is going to win with a huge majority, like that won by Clement Attlee, in 1945. But, then Attlee had not faced a PLP that continually sought to undermine him, in the way that Jeremy Corbyn has. There were some Labour MP's who believed that Attlee's programme was too left-wing, but by and large, those MP's were solidly behind a set of policies that were far more radical than those, which Corbyn is proposing, and from which the Blair-rights demur.

In 1945, the kinds of progressive social-democratic ideas that Attlee proposed were completely at odds with the conservative social-democratic policies that had gone before. At the start of the century, a number of progressive social-democratic policies were introduced, such as old age pensions, and a minimum wage. It was the Tory Chancellor of the time, Neville Chamberlain, who first drew up the set of ideas for a welfare state, that was actually codified by the Liberal, Beveridge, and implemented after 1945, by the Labour Government. But, when in the 1920's, Europe was hit by the onset of one of the regular periods of economic stagnation that characterises the long wave cycle, progress towards that welfare state, and the implementation of progressive social-democratic measures came to an abrupt halt.

Even by the 1920's, the majority of real capital in Europe was socialised capital, in the form of joint stock companies, and the majority of privately owned capital was fictitious capital, in the form of shares and bonds, along with the continued existence of large scale landed property. The basic ideas of how a progressive social-democracy should respond to the conditions of such stagnation, had been set out by John Maynard Keynes. But, the only places those policies were actually adopted were in Norway, by a leftish social-democratic government, in Nazi Germany, and after 1933, by Roosevelt in the US.

In a similar way to what happened with the financial crisis of 2008, when real capital was destroyed in order to keep fictitious capital asset prices inflated, in the 1920's and 1930's, although asset prices did crash, the state rather than following the advice of Keynes, made matters worse, by implementing policies of austerity, and attempted to force wages even lower, which led for example, to the attempts to decimate miners wages, which led to the 1926 General Strike. As Labour Prime Minister, Ramsey McDonald, proposed cutting the dole payments for the growing number of unemployed, it split the Labour Party, with the party itself regrouping around its new leader George Lansbury, whilst McDonald, rather like the Gang of Four in 1983, splitting so as to join up with Tories to form a National Government that inflicted the austerity on the desperate workers. It was under these conditions, just like those we face now, where for more than thirty years, we have been told that only conservative social-democratic policies, the politics of the centre ground, are viable, that the idea of an Attlee Labour Government seemed a ludicrous suggestion.

But, Attlee's victory showed the idea was not ludicrous after all. And after the victory, everyone became wise after the event, and concluded that it was after all more or less inevitable, because outside the small circles of the elite, it was obvious that a massive sea-change had taken place. The working-class had suffered four years of terrible slaughter in World War I; they had then suffered another 10 years of struggle to defend wages, followed by economic stagnation and rising unemployment during the 1920's, and into the 1930's. By the mid 1930's, that had begun to lift, at least in parts of the country such as the Midlands and the South-East, where new industries were developing. But, even before that had chance to take hold, they were then subjected to another six years of slaughter and deprivation during World War II. Was it any surprise that the working-class had had enough?

And today, we face similar conditions. In the 1970's, workers faced increasing attacks on their wages, as the long wave cycle again entered its crisis phase. It led to a decade of struggle to defend what had previously been won. By the late 1970's, even the conservative social-democratic leaders of the Labour Party, had lost faith in their ideology, and like McDonald, began to look to impose austerity as their way out. By taking on the working-class, in order to push through this austerity, and wage restraint, the Callaghan government led Labour into confrontation with some of the worst paid, but most vital workers in the country, which led to the Winter of Discontent, as workers, fed up with years of wage restraint, imposed by the Social Contract, whilst inflation continued to rise, refused to lie down. That division, and the breaking of the bargain with the working-class that social-democracy depends upon, caused workers to themselves respond by walking away from that bargain. If Labour would not support workers in times of crisis, why should the workers support Labour at the polls.

At the same time, those sections of the population that saw workers militancy as a threat, were all too glad to go out and vote for Thatcher, and her reactionary agenda. But, Thatcher's agenda itself was not a panacea for capital. Far from it, by imposing austerity, at a time of economic crisis, she simply caused unemployment to soar, and economic growth to tank, whilst the under utilisation of resources caused unit costs to rise, and to cover the squeezed profits, the government continued to print money, which pushed up inflation to as high as 29%. Unlike many of the Tories who write about the 1980's, as a time of prosperity, but who never lived through it, as someone who did live through it, I can attest that it was by no means a time of prosperity, as unemployment continued to soar to around 6 million, although after numerous changes to the method of counting the figures, the official unemployment number only rose to over 3 million.

Thatcher herself was being challenged by conservative social-democrats in her own party, as the economy tanked, and tens of thousands took to the streets week after week to protest, and Michael Foot's Labour party rose to over 50% in the opinion polls. It was only the treachery of the SDP, and the Falklands War, that saved Thatcher. But, that is one of those quirks of history. Having been saved by the right-wing of the Labour Party, Thatcher's position was then consolidated. Foot stood down as Labour Leader, and Neil Kinnock set about undermining the party from within. He gutted the party of many of its most determined activists, he undermined the struggles of Labour Councils against Thatcher's austerity cuts, and removal of local democracy, he undermined the miners in the great strike of 1984-5, and despite shifting the party ever rightward, still failed to win the elections in 1987 and 1992. Eventually, he did the decent thing and went. But, the damage to the Labour Party had already been done.

The party now stood on that same political ground that McDonald had stood in the 1930's, indistinguishable from the conservative social-democrats of the Liberal Party, and the Left of the Tory Party. The basic ideological underpinning of social-democracy of the alliance between the day to day managers of socialised capital, and the working-class had been ditched, along with the economic strategy of Keynes, and the role of the social-democratic state. Kinnock and Smith set the stage for the rational culmination of that drift with the assumption of power of Blair and Brown, and their acolytes.

For more than thirty years, workers have faced hardship and struggle, and austerity, whether they had a Labour Government or a Tory government. Now faced with the prospect of another decade of austerity under the Tories, made even more austere as a result of Brexit, is it any wonder that workers, as in 1945, have said “enough is enough”? That is especially the case with all those young workers, who have seen their futures cast aside by all those old Tories, who have imposed that Brexit upon them. That is why the polls are wrong, because they fail to pick up the anger of all those young people who feel betrayed. The Tories, the Labour Right, and most of the pollsters believe that those young people will stay away from the polling stations. The enthusiasm that Jeremy Corbyn has generated, within the party and outside it, will prove them wrong.

Even arch Blair-right, John McTiernan, in a documentary made for Newsnight, by Stephen Bush, on Corbyn, had to now admit that what Corbyn now represents, and what is clear from this election campaign, is not just the end of Blairism, but also the end of Thatcherism. So wide, and so deep has the phenomenon become, he said, that it could not now be ignored.

And that is right. Changes in the realm of ideas do not immediately reflect the changes in the underlying economic and social relations, but they do eventually catch up. For thirty years, the dominant ideas of conservative social-democracy, were based upon individuals getting rich, and the rest being propped up by welfare. But, the riches often did not come actually from creating lots more new value. As Marx points out, as against Ricardo, its quite possible for total profits (net revenue) to rise, whilst the total new value (gross revenue) falls. All that is required is for the wage share to fall relative to the profit share.

In fact, from the late 1980's, its not that the gross revenue did not rise, it did, but the share within it of net revenue rose faster. And, as these profits rose, and yet, a large portion of them were not reinvested, a growing proportion went to speculate in financial assets and property, pushing up their prices to astronomical levels. And it was this speculation, the winning in the financial casino, that was seen as the real means of becoming rich. Its not surprising that Blair saw an important means of raising money being to introduce the National Lottery, that they sought to build mega casinos across the country, and that increasing numbers of people saw the way to get on being to win the lottery, to become a TV celebrity, a sports celebrity, or to win big pay outs from compensation claims and so on.

The way the Lottery works is that every week, tens of millions of people, many who cannot afford the money, lose several pounds betting they might hit it big. That brings in tens of millions of pounds to the lottery company, a fraction of which is then paid out as a Jackpot to one lucky winner, who pockets several million pounds. But, it is symptomatic of the system, which this conservative ideology represents. We are asked to place our futures in the hands of a gamble. Take what people are told about getting on at work. Keep your head down, study and so on, and then you can move up the career ladder, and you too can become a Chief Executive. But, of course its all tosh! If thousands of people enter the bottom of this career ladder, no matter how hard they work, study and so on, they cannot all become the Chief Executive. There is only one position, and in order for one person to get the benefits of it, all the rest have to fail to get it. What is more, the game is rigged in favour of a select few who already have the connections amongst the elite.

But, things are worse than that. The chances of winning a lottery jackpot are one in several billion. If you win a multi-week roll-over jackpot, you might win £100 million. Wouldn't that be great? But, the fact is that the richest people in Britain have such a lottery jackpot prize given to them every year. The richest person in Britain has a wealth of around £18 billion. If they just got the equivalent of 1% interest on that, they would have an income each year of around £180 million. And, in fact, their income will be much greater than that, because their wealth is invested in bonds and company shares, which will give them not 1% per year, but more like 3-5%, or an income of around £540 – 900 million per year. And they get this, not because they have done any work, not because they have actually invested money in some productive activity, but just because they own these shares, and bonds, or thousands of acres of land.

That is the way the system is rigged in favour of the tiny, ultra rich few, who extract wealth from the system, and against the many whose role is seen as being simply to schlep away each day on zero hours contracts, on minimum wages, creating all of the wealth, that this tiny few enjoy. Is it any wonder that workers are eventually, once more, as they did in 1945, saying enough is enough, and that they have had enough of Tory lies and deception. No its not, its only a wonder that they have put up with it for this long! Tomorrow, we have a chance to change all of that. In 1945, it was my father, and his generation coming out of the armed forces that brought about that change. Tomorrow it will be my sons' generation that can play a large role, in once more setting a course for hope. All of our generations should help them bring it about.

Arise ye starvlings from your slumbers.
Arise ye prisoners of want.
For reason in revolt now thunders,
And at last ends the age of cant.

So, comrades come rally,
and the last fight let us face.
The Internationale unites the human race.

(The Internationale)
Vote Labour. Kick The Tories Out.

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