Thursday, 29 August 2019

Stop The Coup – For An Indefinite General Strike – Build Workers Councils

Make no mistake, what Johnson has done is a coup. It has all the trappings of a coup, its backers have typically attempted to present it as purely within the bounds of normal parliamentary procedure, whereas, as even the Speaker of the Commons has pointed out, it is perfectly obvious that it isn't. When Hitler took power, he did so on the basis of first being elected. The Nazis did not win a majority, but were the largest party, and Hitler was appointed Chancellor on the back of the support of other conservative parties. Looking around the world today, at other Bonapartist regimes, Erdogan in Turkey was elected, Netanyahu in Israel was elected, Putin in Russia was elected, Orban in Hungary was elected, and although they are not yet Bonapartist regimes, Trump in the US is a Bonapartist who is gradually undermining the constitutional constraints on his power, and the same process has been occurring in Britain now for several years. Bonapartism always shrouds itself in the cloak of constitutionalism and the facade of democracy, the most obvious manifestation of which is the use of plebiscites, and the mobilisation of the atomised sections of mass society

Back in 2012, I warned that Britain was heading towards Bonapartism, and that Boris Johnson would be its face. The process began under Cameron and Clegg. As Marx describes in The Eighteenth Brumaire, the coup of Louis Bonaparte did not simply happen out of thin air, but was the culmination of a prolonged process of a steady ratchet to the right. Under Cameron, we saw the Tories leaving the EPP, and signing up with the various neo-nazi groups in the European Parliament, and a ratcheting up of anti-EU rhetoric, as a means of diverting attention from the economic crisis that the Liberal-Tory government was inflicting via its austerity measures. We saw it move decisively towards using the old relationship of Church and State, and its earlier messages of hug a hoody were replaced by gaol a rioter, when its austerity measures led to inner city riots once more, as had happened in the 1980's under Thatcher. The appointment of a hang 'em and flog 'em Tory as Home Secretary, in the shape of Priti Patel is only a continuation of what began under Cameron and Clegg. But, this steady ratchet to the right, as happened in France in 1848, only ever leads to ever more constrictions on democracy in the name of “strong and stable” government and the restoration of law and order. Those that initiate this process are never those that complete it via the coup. Counter revolutions also devour their children. As I wrote, 

“It is seen in the move from “hug a hoody” to gaol a rioter, in the proposals to restrict even further the right to strike and so on. It is seen in the attempts to free the State from even the most basic requirements of the Rule of Law in relation to the right of trial by Jury, and attempt to free it from the requirements of meeting basic Human Rights as determined by the European Convention and Court. And all the time Cameron looks over his shoulder to the blond haired, dishevelled Crapulinsky in his London fortress.” 

(Part 5

Johnson's coup is designed to prevent parliament stopping his No Deal Brexit agenda. Johnson has boxed himself into a corner. When the whole Brexit debate first began, he believed that a large Brexit vote would enable the Tories to negotiate further concessions from the EU, whilst remaining inside, as Thatcher had done previously. Johnson and other Brextremists clearly did not think that Leave would actually win the vote, which is illustrated by their shock when it did, and their failure to be able to have any kind of worked out programme of how to implement it. He still believes that he may be able to get the EU to make concessions to him over the Irish backstop that will allow him to bring essentially May's deal back to parliament, and to get it approved as the basis of Brexit, which would then give him two years to negotiate something close to his original intentions. That indeed, is the belief of the Faragists too, which is why they do not trust Johnson. 

Johnson knows that a No Deal Brexit on October 31st will be catastrophic for Britain, and even more so for Northern Ireland, which is important for the Tories given their reliance on the support of the bigots of the DUP. He has lashed his fortune to the mast of negotiating a deal with the EU, based on the removal of the backstop. But, the EU will not do so. When Macron and Merkel told him last week that he had 30 days to come up with proposals to deal with the backstop, the Tory media presented it, as a concession, a weakening on the part of the EU, but Johnson knew exactly what it was. It was the EU calling his bluff, and saying we know you have no actual solution to the Irish border issue, and so now, we are giving you a 30 day deadline to put up or shut up. 

Johnson has no solution, but his current measures amount to a further doubling down on the bluff, demanding that the EU provide him with the solution he so desperately needs. It cannot, and will not, because to do so would be to undermine the EU Single Market, which essentially means the EU liquidating itself. Johnson is left with two options. Either he follows the example of May, and again capitulates to the reality of what a No Deal Brexit actually means, or else he allows history to take its course, for the chaos of a No Deal Brexit to happen, but that he rides it out on the back of the imposition of strong state measures to suppress the inevitable social unrest that will ensue. He is trying to leave his options open. He clings desperately to the hope that the EU might believe his bluff, whilst preparing for the likelihood they won't. That is what his zigging and zagging one day to another about the chances of a No Deal Brexit being a million to one are all about. 

But, as I pointed out seven years ago, the roots of this Bonapartist coup lie deeper than just the issue of Brexit, and the immediate problems of Boris Johnson. The roots lie in the collapse of the conservative social-democratic model that persisted for more than thirty years from the time of Thatcher and Major, through Blair and Brown, and into the government of Cameron. That model was based upon the idea that, instead of real capital accumulation, which creates real economic growth, and a growth of revenueswages, profits, interest and rent – it is possible to create wealth via financial and property speculation. That speculation, which was backed by central banks that abandoned regulation, and was always ready to step in to lower interest rates and print money, inflates asset prices, and this wealth can then substitute for real economic growth, by allowing these inflated assets to be partly sold off – in the terminology of the financial advisors “taking profits”. In place of profits, we got paper capital gains, and as the capital gains were based upon inflating asset prices, to compensate for falling yields on those assets, we got an ever increasing share of profits going to dividends and other interest payments to boost the yields, which meant that even less was available for real capital investment. Alongside it, workers whose wages were stagnant, were also encouraged to use rising house prices as collateral to borrow more to sustain their consumption, and where they could to speculate themselves in property, to become buy to let landlords, to borrow money against their own property to give to their kids and grandchildren to help them buy unaffordable houses, and thereby artificially inflate demand for houses, and thereby property prices even further. 

Periodically, as the real economy and its laws imposed itself, causing market rates of interest to rise, as in 1994, 2000, and 2007/8, this series of financial bubbles burst, but on each occasion central banks were on hand to print even more money to reflate them, and conservative governments were on hand to ensure that the printed money went into further financial and property speculation rather than into the real economy and investment, which would only have caused a rapid inflation, rise in interest rates, and further more spectacular bursting of bubbles – a process which the laws of the economy brings about eventually anyway. 

It is the collapse of that model that has created the current political conditions, which is summed up in the collapse of the political centre, which is more correctly characterised as a polarisation of the political landscape, into two great opposing class camps. The potential solutions to the current situation facing capital are to push through a political counter-revolution against the social-democratic state and polity that has dominated for the last century; that is what the Libertarians such as Rees-Mogg seek to achieve, or to push forward with social-democracy, abandoning its conservative variant based upon the short term interests of fictitious capital, of inflating asset values, and instead to focus once more on the need to accumulate real capital, so as to promote real economic growth, and to produce profits. 

But, this latter variant itself leaves open two apparent alternatives. One alternative is that being put forward by Johnson, and the other is that being put forward by progressive international social-democrats and socialists. It is no surprise that Johnson has talked about increasing public spending, thereby ending the policy of austerity that has dominated for the last 9 years. That is quite consistent with the agenda of that political strand of economic nationalism. It is the same agenda that was pushed forward by Mussolini in Italy, and Hitler in Germany. It is, of course, wholly at variance with the small state, libertarian agenda of Rees-Mogg, and the interests of all the small capitalists, and backward petit-bourgeois that that wing of the Tory Party, and the Faragists represent. But, that is only the same situation that Rees-Mogg's idol Von Mises found himself in, in Austria in the 1930's, when he too, despite his Libertarian ideology found himself acting as the hand maiden of the Austrian clerical-fascists. 

That agenda of economic nationalism, using the tools of Keynesian fiscal intervention is the same agenda that Oswald Mosely also promoted in Britain, and was supported by Nye Bevan and others on the Labour Left. It necessarily goes along with a strong state, and the suppression of independent working-class action. It is why, as Trotsky pointed out the appearance of this kind of “national-socialism” was indistinguishable as promoted by both the regime of Hitler, and that of Stalin. It is no wonder that today, we see a red-brown coalition of forces running from the Stalinists of the Morning Star, through to some of the Faragists of the Brexit Party pursuing such an agenda. Its roots go back to the statism of Ferdinand Lassalle, who sought to build an alliance with Bismarck. As Hal Draper writes, of Marx's response to it,

“He told Lassalle to his face that he was a “Bonapartist,” and wrote presciently that “His attitude is that of the future workers’ dictator.” Lassalle’s tendency he called “Royal Prussian Government socialism,” denouncing his “alliance with absolutist and feudal opponents against the bourgeoisie.”” 

(The Two Souls of Socialism) 

But, at least Bismark, as with Louis Bonaparte, were pursuing agendas designed to transform their societies via an industrial revolution, from feudalism to capitalism. Marx and Engels could not in any way give support to the regimes of those dictators, but they could recognise that the results from them, at least would be historically progressive. The same cannot be said today of the economic nationalists. Their agenda is wholly reactionary. We have already passed through the process of industrial revolution, and that process long since broke through the barriers imposed by the nation state. 

The progressive solution today starts from that foundation of capitalism as an international system. It starts from the nature of the dominant section of that international capitalism being large scale, multinational socialised capital, in the form of huge companies and corporations. Progress depends upon a further development of those forces, and the conditions required for that development. It starts from the requirement to remove any remaining barriers and frictions between states within the EU, for an extension of the social-democratic measures based upon planning and regulation, so as to create the conditions for large scale, and long-term capital investment, and it requires that industrial democracy be introduced into these large corporations so that the workers and managers within them guide their policy, based upon the need for such capital accumulation, rather than the shareholders who are interested primarily only on their receipt of dividends and capital gains. 

These two alternative solutions are the material foundation upon which the division into two great class camps arises. On the one hand, we have the representatives of the millions of small capitalists, who seek a counter-revolution, to break up the social-democratic state that has been dominant for the last century. Their focus is concentrated within purely national bounds, the need for the state to exist only to provide them with protectionist measures both against foreign competitors and against the organised working-class. On the other is the organised working-class itself, whose interests reside in extending industrial democracy, in extending the role of planning and regulation at the level of the state, and for that state itself to be one that extends across the EU, in order to operate on a level playing field with other global super states like the US, and China. And, in fact, that is the long-term interest of the owner of fictitious capital too. The repeated financial crises show that their reliance on capital gains as an alternative to revenues from their assets is not sustainable. They too need that large-scale industrial capital which provides them with revenues to grow, and produce more profits too. They are in a bind, because to achieve that will mean that all of the money printing, the diversion of money into assets, and so on will have to end, and that will mean a huge financial crash that knocks 75% off the value of their assets. 

For now Trump and Johnson are a consequence of this stalemate rising up in typically Bonapartist fashion above society. 

The dynamic of the long wave cycle upswing remains in place. The actions of central banks to pump money into speculative assets, and of conservative governments to implement austerity has acted to try to restrain the economic growth that will again cause interest rates to rise, and asset prices to crash. Trump's global trade war is an extension of that. Whilst on the one hand it is a measure of typical economic nationalism, shown by the fact that his tariffs are aimed not just at China, but at the EU as well, it acts to also constrain the increase in global trade that was resuming, and the economic growth that was preceding on the back of it, again causing interest rates to rise, which in 2018, also again saw US stock markets fall by 20%. It is no accident that Trump calls Federal Reserve Chair, Powell, a bigger enemy of the US, than President Xi. 

As the dichotomy between these two solutions intensifies, so the division between the two great class camps intensifies. The emergence of Bonapartist tendencies arises for familiar reasons. On the one hand, as I wrote some years ago, the progressive sections of the bourgeoisie have become decadent. In part that is because those dominant sections themselves became reliant on the liquidation of capital gains rather than on the need for real capital accumulation providing real profits. The progressive sections of the bourgeoisie failed to push through their own bourgeois revolution consistently, failed to take on decisively the reactionary and bigoted ideas of sections of their own class, inherited from the past, because to do so would have involved a large scale political struggle against those reactionary elements, which could only be carried through with the support of the working-class. 

The ruling class itself has become decadent, most clearly illustrated by its ideological representatives in the media. That the right-wing Tory press should spread lies, and fawn over the Faragists is to be expected. These are the same sections of the press, which in the 1920's backed Mussolini, and then Hitler, as well as Mosely in Britain. Their protests against anti-Semitism in the Labour Party ring somewhat hollow in that context. But, it is not just the gutter press that has acted in a thoroughly reactionary manner. The BBC, for years gave extensive free air-time to Farage and his entourage. In search of ratings and readership, as news became purely entertainment, drama, and a stage for celebrity, the mainstream media fell over itself to provide a platform for the populists. 

But, similar weaknesses exist within the working-class too. The most obvious example has been the persistence of the virus of Stalinism and other forms of statism, and economic nationalism in the Labour movement, illustrated by the role of those that acted as Corbyn's advisors, and the backers of the ridiculous notion of Lexit, who have a great deal of responsibility for the situation that now exists. It illustrates the need for a thorough rejuvenation and rebuilding of the labour movement on sounder principles. The fight against the Bonapartist coup is not an alternative to that rejuvenation and rebuilding, but an opportunity to combine the two. 

In the 1930's, faced with a similar threat to bourgeois democracy in France, Trotsky wrote the Action Programme. Trotsky started from some simple principles. As Marxists, we have no desire to limit ourselves to bourgeois democracy, which we consider to be a sham. The actions of Bonapartists like Johnson, today, illustrate the extent to which it is a sham. We want to go beyond the limitations of bourgeois democracy, and instead to bring about a true democracy based upon the permanent mobilisation and involvement in political activity of the vast mass of society, of the working-class that constitutes that majority. But, when even the limited bourgeois democracy is under threat from tyrants and Bonapartists, a starting point is to defend that limited democracy, without which our attempts to move forward are themselves made much more difficult. To move forward its necessary to first not go backwards. 

However, as Trotsky sets out in the programme, in defending that limited democracy, we do not limit ourselves to its methods. We do not allow ourselves to be parliamentary cretins, seeing everything only from the perspective of what happens in parliaments, and via parliamentary and constitutional manoeuvres, which has been a feature of the opposition to Brexit and its proponents over the last three years. Rather we use our own methods, and our own forms of democracy and organisation. Using the method of Trotsky's Action Programme, today that would mean: 
  • Organise an indefinite General Strike to stop the coup
  • Rejuvenate local Trades Councils, and link them with District Labour Parties to become local Workers Councils of Action
  • Build Tenants and Residents Committees in every community, as local action committees, and democratic organs to confront fascists, and to bring forward plans for community renewal
  • Brexit has encouraged the racists and fascists, and as the coup unfolds, and resistance to it develops, the fascists will be emboldened to attack the organised working-class, and ethnic communities. We need to build Workers Defence Squads that will protect striking workers resisting the coup, and to protect workers communities, including protection of ethnic minorities from racist attacks.
  • The state as the state of the dominant section of the ruling class opposes Brexit. On that we can agree with Rees-Mogg. But, its opposition to the Brextremists has been weak. We cannot know what the response of the state's bodies of armed men will be, faced with the masses rising up against the coup. Their instinctive response may be to close ranks. The army is after all loyal to the Queen, who has already given her assent to the dissolution of democracy, via the proroguing of parliament, which comes as a no doubt welcome distraction from renewed scandal over the roles of the Royal Family, in relation to Jeffrey Epstein. Either way, we cannot afford to disregard the possibility that the armed forces along with the police will be used to enforce the coup once underway. Alongside the democratic organs of struggle in each community, therefore, we need to build an armed Workers Militia to defend ourselves against a heavily armed state.
  • A General Strike, as was seen in France in 1968, poses other questions. We need to ensure the continued supply of vital materials and services, for example to the NHS. It raises the question of occupying factories and other workplaces, so as to continue production under workers control and management. In every workplace, therefore, we need to build workplace committees, comprising all worker be they in trades unions or not, to bring each workplace under democratic control. The half million Labour Party members, can play a vital role in bringing that about, and we need to vastly increase that membership, and internal Labour Party democracy in the process.
  • That process of renewing internal labour movement democracy must be extended to the trades unions, and to the cooperative movement. All cooperatives should be converted into worker owned and controlled cooperatives, and their workers should take over the running of them, bringing them together in one single cooperative federation. All trades union officials should be subject to regular election and recall, and paid only the average wage of their members. The right-wing Labour MP's that have said they would vote with the Tories to push through Brexit should be expelled forthwith, and the Blair-right MP's should be deselected by their members, as well as introducing mandatory reselection of all MP's.

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