Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Appeasing The Dead

The Tories are once again split over Europe, as they have been for the last 50 years. The split essentially comes down to the ideological division in the Tory Party between its traditional right-wing, based upon the ideas of nationalism and protectionism (going back to the struggle over the Corn Laws in the 1840's), and its conservative, social-democratic wing, which recognises that the payment of interest, be it in the form of dividends on shares, or the coupon payments on bonds, as well as the payment of rents, and the capital gains that flow from them, depends upon big industrial capital producing increasing amounts of profit, and that big industrial capital, can now only operate efficiently at an international level.

The same divisions were seen, at the turn of the 20th century, in the debates between the Liberals and Tories over free trade or protectionism. But it was not just the Tories and Liberals that reflected this division of ideas, as Robert Tressell describes in his novel “The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists”. The issues are also discussed by Marx and Engels in their own writings on free trade

The idea that British workers' interests could also be furthered by means of protectionism, of one form or another (nationalisation of failed capitals, import controls, immigration controls, state aid etc.) also run deep, which has created a reactionary, nationalist streak within the labour movement, and its political organisations, but whose ideology runs even deeper within the ranks of the working-class, particularly its more backward layers, and especially amongst its older generation that grew up in an age when British colonialism still ruled a large part of the world, and conveyed ideas of British superiority over lesser races, down into the very roots of British society, poisoning the soil from which that society grew. I have covered the debates from that time within the Labour Movement in my post detailing the 1905 TUC Conference in Stoke, where issues of protectionism v free trade, and of opposition to the Aliens Bill (the first immigration laws introduced in Britain), took place, as well as in the way the Labour Party later departed from those international socialist principles.

Those divisions were again seen in the 1960's and 70's in relation to Europe. On the one hand, Ted Heath represented that conservative, social-democratic wing of the Tory Party, which had become dominant, as, globally, large-scale, socialised industrial capital, and the social-democratic ideas it engenders, had become dominant, within all the developed capitalist economies. It reflected the kind of super-imperialism that Kautsky had predicted, with the world divided, not into competing nation states, seeking a violent carving up of the globe, as Lenin had predicted in “Imperialism”, but into ever larger economic blocs and zones, like the EU, within which the kind of regulation, planning and control required by this large-scale industrial capital could be effectively organised.

Social-democracy itself was divided into two camps. On the one hand there was the progressive social-democracy of those like Wilson, who saw society in technocratic terms, typical of those based upon a managerial, and intermediate strata, and for whom this growth of large-scale socialised capital, and its extension across borders is simply a natural expression of society's upward curve of development, which has to simply be managed and regulated. In a sense, Heath also fell into this camp, as did some of the “Wets” in Thatcher's government. The use of Keynesian demand management is a natural part of that mindset. But, social-democracy also had a conservative camp, which, whilst forced to recognise the fact of this large-scale socialised capital, did not base itself on the logic of its development, and the need thereby to diminish the role and control over it, of those old social forces of landed property, and money-lending capital, but instead based itself on those very same forces, and the fictitious capital from which they derived their wealth and power.

For the conservative social-democrats, this is not about promoting the interests of this big socialised capital per se, but of promoting the interests of that section of the ruling class they represent, i.e. those large share and bondholders that derive their incomes from the interest on their shares and bonds, which in turn depends upon the profits created by these huge, now often multinational, firms. That same ideology and mentality could be seen in the views presented by Blair and New Labour, who also were a part of this strand of conservative, social-democracy. It is internationalist, but not from the perspective of international socialism. It is internationalist from the perspective of international capital. It reflects the fact that fictitious capital has become the dominant form of private wealth, and that the class that owns this fictitious capital (shares, bonds etc.) is now a truly global class, able to live anywhere, and to move its ownership of this fictitious capital freely across the globe, simply at the press of a computer key. It is internationalist on the fundamental ideological basis of social-democracy that labour and capital have a shared interest in the effective accumulation of capital, as creating the best conditions within which workers can obtain higher wages, and better conditions, whilst remaining fully within the framework of capitalism. As Marx described it, in The Eighteenth Brumaire,

“The peculiar character of social-democracy is epitomized in the fact that democratic-republican institutions are demanded as a means, not of doing away with two extremes, capital and wage labour, but of weakening their antagonism and transforming it into harmony. However different the means proposed for the attainment of this end may be, however much it may be trimmed with more or less revolutionary notions, the content remains the same. This content is the transformation of society in a democratic way, but a transformation within the bounds of the petty bourgeoisie.”

Against Heath, stood those reactionary elements, who not only did not want to see any further move forward along this trajectory, but who wanted to actually turn the clock back to the previous golden age of British colonial glory. Their most noted figure was Enoch Powell. But, this division also appeared within the labour movement and Labour Party too. In the 1960's, apart from the Communist Party, whose national-socialist ideology stemmed from the adoption of the theory of Socialism In One Country developed by Stalin, in the 1920's, the revolutionary left, in Britain, held to an internationalist position, in respect of Europe, arguing the need for workers solidarity across Europe, and against nationalist concepts that a capitalist Britain was in some way superior to a capitalist Europe.

But, as the post-war, long wave boom began to falter, in the late 1960's, and the crisis began to manifest itself in the 1970's, that old nationalist streak once more began to manifest itself. Its clearest manifestations can be found in the Communist Party's “British Road To Socialism”, and in the Alternative Economic Strategy, developed largely by the Stalinists, and their fellow travellers within the Labour Party and wider labour movement. Its solutions were based upon the imposition of import controls, nationalisation by the capitalist state, and forced co-operation between labour and capital, via various national corporatist structures, alongside inducements to British capital to do the right thing, in co-operating in these measures.

That was what determined the division in the 1975, EU Referendum vote. Although, the collapse of the majority of the left into Little Englander opposition to the EU, was framed in the language of radicalism, and socialism, it was nothing more than the same kind of protectionist, reactionary nationalism of Powell, and the National Front. The actual division in the referendum was not between left and right, but between progressive social democracy, and reactionary nationalism. The former won, but not for long. In the 1980's, as the crisis phase of the long wave passed, and gave way to the period of stagnation that ran from the late 1980's, through to the start of the new long wave boom in 1999, the ideological grip of social-democracy began to wane.

Thatcher herself reflects the change in conditions. It was Thatcher who had pushed through the single market. But, the single market itself had necessary consequences. Never in history has there been a single market without a single currency, and a single currency cannot exist ultimately without a single state standing behind it, exercising control over fiscal policy, regulation and so on. All of those things are, indeed the logical expression of the development of social-democracy on an international level. It was signalled by Jacques DeLors. But, it was also developing in the background in other forms, such as the EU's Draft Fifth Company Law Directive, which proposed extending the principles of co-determination, and of the right of workers to elect half of the members of company Boards, such as already existed in Germany.

There were, in the 2016 EU referendum, three positions being fought over, although everyone could be forgiven for thinking there were only two, and that they were reflected entirely in the divisions within the Tory Party, because it was only on that that the media gave any coverage. The three positions were those of nationalist reaction, represented by the Leave campaign, that of conservative social-democracy, represented by Cameron, and the Blair-rights, and that of progressive social-democracy represented by Corbyn, which said basically that Britain should remain in the EU, but not accept all of the conservative ideology that underpins it.

For socialists, there is a natural coalescence in these last two positions, because, so long as Britain remains in the EU, even on the current basis, the potential exists for workers, across Europe, coming together to change that basis. Outside the EU, that potential is, at the very least, undermined. For socialists, leaving the EU is the very worst option, because not only is it, in its own terms, reactionary, not only does it undermine the potential for workers unity, across Europe, but the potential for any kind of progressive economic strategy is itself driven down a nationalistic, protectionist dead-end, which might well end in catastrophe for British workers, but, in all events, would act to, once again, discredit socialist and progressive, social-democratic ideas, in the minds of workers, as such a strategy inevitably results in catastrophic failure.

The Tories, following the General Election, lost their mandate for a hard Brexit. If Labour had adopted a principled position of outright opposition to Brexit, as a reactionary policy, the Tories, today, would be put in disarray, as the Tory rebels took heart, and joined with Labour against the government. As it is, the Tories have now been forced into putting forward the idea of a transitional period before Britain would actually leave the EU. Labour is supporting this wavering position, rather than coming out openly against Brexit. But, why?

The fact, is that taking into consideration this transitional period, the actual point at which Britain left the EU would be some time between 2022, and 2025, at the earliest. That means that it will be nearly ten years after the referendum vote. But, that referendum vote was close with only 1.3 m. votes separating the two sides. Had 16 and 17 year olds, who will be the ones most affected by the result, had a vote, then given that support for Remain amongst the young stood at around 75-80%, the vote would have gone the other way. It has been the referendum result, and its impact on young people that has been a major factor in those young people, turning out in large numbers at the General Election, to reject a Tory hard Brexit.

By time of the point of Britain leaving the EU in 2022-2025 comes along, not only will around 5 million of the old people who voted through Brexit, have died, but a similar number of new young voters will be eligible to vote. By 2022-2025, given that support for the EU amongst the young continues to be strong, a large majority of the population will be opposed to a policy that is being pushed through simply to appease a large cohort of what then will be dead people! How insane is that?

Referenda are never good ways of making decisions. Labour should have treated the referenda for what it was, merely advisory, and a measure of opinion at a point in time. Given the nature of the campaign, even that was of dubious validity. There is no more reason for Labour to feel obliged to support a reactionary policy, simply on the basis of such a vote, any more than such a vote would commit us to supporting a return of capital punishment, or any other reactionary policy. The sooner Labour ditches its commitment to defence of such a reactionary policy, which now amounts to nothing more than imposing the will of the dead on the living, the better.

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