Thursday, 30 September 2021

Starmer Speech - Vacuous, Hypocritical, Back-Slapping

Starmer's speech to conference was vacuous when it comes to policy, and where it had any substance it was at best conservative, and at worst reactionary.  Its general tone was one of hypocrisy and sickening back-slapping typical of an elite that thinks it has a natural right to its privileged parliamentary positions, and all that flows from it, and that the function of the rests of us is merely as peons, useful only to trudge the streets, so as to get them elected to those positions.  But, even in its own terms, it offers no reason for Labour voters to vote Labour, and unless things change will almost certainly see the Tories win another election, with Labour haemorrhaging votes in Scotland, Wales, and in its core strongholds in the cities.  That in itself spells the death knell for Starmer's own leadership.

The reality is that Starmer has managed the amazing feat of taking the worst elements of Corbyn's nationalism, in relation to Brexit, that lost us millions of votes in 2019, and combined it with the worst of the failed politics of Blairism that also lost us millions of votes in every election after 1997, resulting in the election of the Tories in 2010.  Starmer's cringing back-slapping speech praised the wonderful leadership of Anas Sarwar in Scotland, but the reality is that, despite the horrendous politics of the Tories, and the failures of the SNP, Labour has been decimated in Scotland, a process that began under Blair, and stemmed from the same kinds of neoliberal politics that Starmer is championing again today.

But, at least Blair and Brown were big supporters of the EU, and opponents of Brexit, whereas Starmer typical of his lying opportunist politics has gone from being a Europhile under Corbyn to as big a Brexiter, now, as Johnson!  Given the opposition to Brexit by the large majority of Scots, what chance has Labour of improving on its current position of 1 MP, when it is both championing Brexit, and again advocating the neoliberal politics of Blair that created the various crises seen today?  If Sarwar, and Scottish Labour is to be the model for Starmer for Labour in general, then it and he is doomed, because in Scotland, labour is not just way behind the SNP, it is way behind the Tories as well!

Without any MP's from Scotland, the chance of Labour winning the next election, is next to zero.  But, Labour is also likely to lose votes and seats in Wales too given those same positions, and it doesn't stop there.  Labour's core support now resides amongst the young working-class concentrated in the cities, and large metropolitan areas, but who are also becoming a larger proportion of the population of the towns, as their older inhabitants die out.  Those voters not only overwhelmingly oppose Brexit, but they also overwhelmingly support the progressive social-democratic policies that were being developed under Corbyn, but which Starmer is now ditching wholesale, despite being elected leader on a platform that committed him to continuing them.  There is no reason for these voters to turn out for Labour.  Those who are Labour members will have little reason to pound the streets to canvas for polices they do not support, simply for the greater glory of a Leader who lied to them in order to get himself elected.

Its not a matter that these core voters will vote Tory, or even that they will vote for parties who appear more radical such as the Greens, or Liberals, but that they will simply sit on their hands, give them time to other campaigns, and non-parliamentary activities.  Some undoubtedly will vote for the Greens and Liberals, just as in Scotland many have given their vote to the SNP, and in Wales to Plaid, some members may even migrate to these other parties.  But, it is only necessary that disenchanted members fail to campaign for candidates they do not support, and Labour voters sit at home, for other parties to advance at labour's expense.  Whilst labour's vote will fall in those core areas, the Tories will continue to mobilise their core support, and the Liberals and Greens et al, will advance as they opportunistically present a more radical alternative to that being presented by Starmer and his conservative Labour Party.

Starmer's days are numbered, because he, like Kinnock in the 1980's, has pinned his star to the idea that abandoning principle and even moderate social-democracy is justified, if it results in the winning of elections so that the PLP elite can continue to enjoy their pampered lifestyle, and the doors it opens to the boardrooms and sinecures to continue that lifestyle when they retire from parliament.  The shift of Starer's conservative Labour Party on to the grounds of Blue Labour, of its cringing appeal to nationalism and patriotism is not going to win over the reactionary voters in the "red wall" seats, but it will lose them seats in Scotland, Wales and in the cities and metropolitan areas, as well as amongst that same young, working-class vote in the towns.  Labour will go backwards, and that will be the excuse the right needs to ditch him, and to replace him with one of their own.

That is pretty much a straight repeat of what the Right did when they used Kinnock in the 1980's.  It is pretty much the experience that has been seen on every occasion when sections of the Left placed their faith in the idea of Popular Frontist politics and an alliance with the soft-left and centre, with bourgeois and petty-bourgeois liberals.  What has happened is almost exactly what I said would happen with Starmer's election.  Whether he was really of the Right to begin with, or merely captured by them along the way does not matter, the result is the same.  The Right, as they did with Kinnock, used him as a fake left to undermine the real Left, and they backed that up with the pushing through of bureaucratic expulsions, and a restriction on debate.  But just as Kinnock was simply a staging post for the Right to put in place Blair, so Starmer is just a staging point for the Right to put in place one of their own.  As Starmer continues to fail in his chosen metric of electoral success, so the Right will move against him.

All of this could have been, and was predicted.  When Paul Mason talked about the need to support Starmer in order to build an alliance of the Left and centre against the Right, I warned that the history of such alliances was disastrous for the Left.  (See my posts "A New Leadership?", on the experiences of the 1980's)  Today, Paul comments that the deal he had with Starmer has been broken!  What deal?  It was clear from the start that Starmer was not going to be part of any such deal, any more than was Kinnock in he 1980's, and those that gullibly listened to their siren calls not to rock the boat, in order to build a superficial unity against the Right were fools to themselves who have learned absolutely nothing from history.  The same applies to the use of the same Popular Front strategy being proposed by Paul in his book "How To Fight Fasicsm".  Emily Maitliss, actually summed it up perfectly on Newsnight, when she put it to him, when he was complaining that Starmer had reneged on this "deal", by saying "But, isn't this the problem Paul that you repeatedly give your support to Labour leaders, only then to be disappointed in them?"

The decisions of those, like the Bakers Union, who have disaffiliated from Labour is an act of political cowardice.  It amounts to them running away from the fight, and leaving others to do it for them, just as they have done in the past, and only deciding to return to the party when others had wages that fight for them.  Now is not the time for supporters of the Left to run away from the fight, but to gird our loins all the more for it, and to draw even greater forces into the party for that purpose.  In many ways, the prospect of that is greater today than it was in the 1980's.  Then, the world economy was entering a period of stagnation and retreat for the working-class; today we are in a period of long wave upswing, and as the global economy comes out of the self-inflicted damage of lock downs, it is growing rapidly, with widespread labour shortages.  The global economy is set to grow at the fastest pace in more than 50 years.

That underlying material reality has set the forces of economic nationalism and right-wing populism back in the US, in Norway, and most recently in Germany.  It is a mark of Starmer's incompetence that, by contrast, and despite the multiple crises of Brexit, lock downs, food and fuel shortages and so on, he has not made a scratch on the standing of Johnson and the Tories, but then he has acted as Johnson's second lieutenant for the last two years, so why would anyone be surprised at that?

But, conditions are better also, because the membership of the Labour party is also much larger, and better educated than it was in the 1980's.  In many ways that Left is also more coherent, based around a clearer international socialist perspective manifest in the huge level of opposition to Brexit, compared to the extent to which economic nationalism played a more dominant role on the Left in the 80's.   Most of that Left today, is also outside the various sects and groupuscles, which is both an advantage and a disadvantage.  It is n advantage in that it reduces the inveterate sectarianism that afflicted and disabled the Left in the 1980's, but a disadvantage in that to be effective, it is going to have go from being loosely connected networks of individuals, to a disciplined and organised movement.  The Right have no ideas, but they do have organisation, and that is what allowed them to regain control, and that has also again been seen in the Conference Hall. 

There also appears to be greater opposition to Starmer from within the unions than there was to Kinnock in the 1980's, as they too seem to be aware that he is a stepping stone to the Right, but also that, a return to those right-wing policies of the past will not bring them the Labour government they require.  Starmer said yesterday that he puts victory above unity, completely contradicting what he said in his Leadership election bid.  But, even a political novice knows that disunited parties do not win elections.  Its why the Right and soft-left put so much effort into dividing the party when Corbyn was Leader.  Starmer certainly knows that, and so what he really means is that he places defeating the Left above electoral victory, just as in 2017 and 2019, the Right did all they could to divide the Party, and increase the chances of electoral defeat, as the basis of them attacking Corbyn.  

But, that cuts both ways.  Starmer's days are numbered, because as labour continues to perform bad electorally, the Right will move against him, and now there is no reason for the left to be gulled into supporting him.  The calls for the Socialist Campaign Group to launch a leadership bid - they have 36 members and only require 4 more votes, even under the new rules, to do so - are pointless.  There is no point electing a Left leader, if the PLP remains dominated by the Right.  As i said about what would happen if Long-Bailey had won the leadership, it would simply result in 90% of the PLP undermining her, and going their own way.

The answer is that we need to change the PLP.  We need to deselect 90% of current MP's, and replace them with left-wing MP's.  Then selecting and electing a Left leader flows naturally from that, and becomes a firm foundation, not a continual sore.  That is where the current effort should be focused.

Wednesday, 29 September 2021

A Characterisation of Economic Romanticism, Chapter 1 - Part 59

We have seen, previously, Lenin's criticism of the Narodnik theory that has industrial capitalism arise as large-scale machine industry, with no pre-history, as manufacturing industry, handicraft industry and so on. In the same way, Roberts' account also goes to industrial capital as large-scale machine industry, after 1800, which is where he dates the Industrial Revolution as beginning. In his account, which starts from the false assumption that capitalism begins in agriculture, not industry, the feudal landlords somehow decide to become capitalist landlords, back in the 15th century, meaning that, as with the Narodniks, this is a subjectivist theory of history, whereby it is the ideas in the heads of people that drive material change, not vice versa. In Roberts' theory, feudal landlords decide, out of the blue, to become capitalist landlords. They swap the surplus labour they already receive from peasants as corvee labour, or rent in kind, for surplus value, in the form of money profits. They drive some of the peasants off the land, though, without capitalist industry to employ them, its not clear where they go. Roberts elides this point and simply assumes that these unemployed labourers move to the towns to be employed by industrial capitalists who also now appear out of thin air.

According to Engels, however,

“The instrument that gradually brought about this revolution in price formation was industrial capital. Rudiments of the latter had been formed as early as the Middle Ages, in three fields — shipping, mining, and textiles. Shipping on the scale practiced by the Italian and Hanseatic maritime republics was impossible without sailors, i.e., wage-labourers (whose wage relationship may have been concealed under association forms with profit-sharing), or without oarsmen — wage-labourers or slaves — for the galleys of that day. The guilds in the ore mines, originally associated workers, had already been converted in almost every case into stock companies for exploiting the deposits by means of wage-labourers. And in the textile industry, the merchant had begun to place the little master-weaver directly in his service, by supplying him with yarn and having it made into cloth for his account in return for a fixed wage — in short, by himself changing from a mere buyer into a so-called contractor...

Theoretically, there is no difficulty at all in the fact that competition reduces to the general level profits which exceed the general rate, thus again depriving the first industrial appropriator of the surplus-value exceeding the average. All the more so in practice, however, for the spheres of production with excessive surplus-value, with high variable and low constant capital — i.e., with low capital composition — are by their very nature the ones that are last and least completely subjected to capitalist production, especially agriculture.”

(Capital III, Supplement, The Law of Value)

The reason for this, is as Engels has described. Capital enters these spheres by the vector of the commercial and money-owning capitalist, where independent producers have failed. In conditions where those producers still had a plot of land to provide their own food and subsistence, its not the ability to reproduce their labour-power that is a problem, but to reproduce the consumed materials. The greater the proportion of material cost, in their production, i.e. the higher the organic composition, the more this constitutes a problem for them. Its in these spheres, where the merchant goes from being the seller of material to the independent producer to being such a contractor, who provides the material for free, but then appropriates the whole product, in exchange for what amounts to only a wage.

The problem faced by Roberts in his account is the same problem that Danielson faced in his Narodnik account of the development of capitalism in Russia.

“Did Mr. N.-on raise the problem of the development of Russian machine industry? No. True, he did say that it was preceded by work in the home for the capitalist, and by the hand-labour “factory” but he not only failed to explain the relation of machine industry to the preceding stage, he even failed to “notice” that it was wrong in scientific terminology to apply the term factory to the preceding stage (production by hand in the home or in the capitalist’s workshop), which should undoubtedly be described as capitalist manufacture.” (p 188)

This question is of vital importance, Lenin notes, and for similar reasons, Roberts' false account is of vital importance today.

“Firstly, Mr. N.-on thereby identifies capitalism with machine industry. This is a gross mistake. What constitutes the importance of the scientific theory is that it cleared up the real place of machine industry as one of the stages of capitalism. If Mr. N.-on shared the point of view of this theory, could he have depicted the growth and victory of machine industry as “the struggle between two economic forms”: between some unknown “form based on the peasantry’s ownership of instruments of production” and “capitalism” (pp. 2, 3, 66, 198 et al.), whereas, in fact, we see a struggle between machine industry and capitalist manufacture?” (p 188-9)

Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Brexit's Bringing Britain To A Halt

Boris Johnson' Brexit is gradually grinding Britain to a halt.  It was apparent in Northern Ireland, where the deal that Johnson proposed to the EU, as an alternative previously put forward by Theresa May, was so flawed that its contradictions became apparent within days of Britain's official withdrawal.  The deal that Johnson originally proclaimed was a wonderful deal, he was soon describing as unworkable, and indeed, having signed the Northern Ireland Protocol into international law, Johnson's government turned Britain in a rogue state, by almost immediately reneging on it, and breaking international law.  Its got worse since then.

Britain has never fulfilled its obligations under international law in respect of the Northern Ireland Protocol.  It almost certainly never had any intention of doing so, because from Day 1, Johnson promised people in Northern Ireland that its provisions requiring the checking of goods between Britain and Northern Ireland was not required, and would not be undertaken.  But, that is precisely what his "wonderful deal" did entail, and did require.  It was in that that his deal differed with the deal arrived at by Theresa May, i.e. it did what she had said no British Prime Minister could agree to, which was to put the border down the Irish Sea, rather than have that border on the island of Ireland.

The Brexiters and Lexiters always lied from the start in what they promised people they could have, i.e. all the benefits of the EU Single Market and Customs Union, but with none of the costs or obligations.  As soon as reality bit, that lie was exposed.  In Northern Ireland it was exposed as soon as the checking of goods going from Britain into Northern Ireland did indeed have to be checked to ensure that they comply with EU standards and regulations.  Because Britain had failed to put in place any of the infrastructure for doing such checks, they could not be undertaken, and so the movement of those goods to Northern Ireland stopped, and the emptying of shelves began, a process that is now starting to materialise in mainland Britain itself.

The answer in Northern Ireland is fairly easy.  Businesses, there need only move their supply chains, obtaining the goods they require from the Republic rather than Britain.  Its an inevitable further step towards the reunification of Ireland, and shows just how irrational the current division of the island is.  Britain has only avoided that situation getting even worse, by unilaterally reneging on the Protocol.  They are lucky that the EU, trying to be a good neighbour, has not continued with the legal action against Britain it is entitled to take in response to Britain breach of international law.  The current situation comes to a head again at the end of this month, but its clear that Britain intends to continue to flout its obligations.

The EU has played it softly, because they know that if they took action against Britain, as they are more than entitled to do, the UK government and the UK right-wing gutter press, would try to make the EU out to be punishing Britain for having left the EU.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  They would simply be asking Johnson to fulfil the obligations of his "wonderful deal", that within weeks, he had reneged upon.  The EU has other reasons.  The large majority of people in Northern Ireland voted to Remain in the EU.  Only a majority of Unionists voted to Leave, but even amongst Unionists the disaster that is Brexit has become clear, and the DUP, which was the main backer of Brexit in Northern Ireland, has seen its support drop dramatically.

As the saying goes if your enemy is making mistakes, its a good idea to let them continue to do so.  The Brexit disaster in Northern Ireland is seen by its population as being the fault entirely of Boris Johnson, with the EU bending over backwards to be reasonable, in allowing Britain further rope to hang itself with.  In the next few years, a Border Poll is likely, and the EU will want to continue to have the support of the people of Northern Ireland, as that approaches.  Even so, the EU is likely to put pressure on Britain for having broken international law, by other means.  For example, it might impose sanctions on British goods and services going to the EU, and it could demand that Britain comply with its obligations before the EU enters into any further deals with it, for example over financial services.

But, a similar thing applies to goods coming into Britain itself.  As Brexit has caused a multiplication of costs and frictions on the movement of goods across Britain's borders, causing any number of bottlenecks and breaks of the supply chain, so Britain has found itself running short of a range of products, or at least their delivery being delayed and disrupted, hitting British businesses that rely on them.  Its one reason a number of businesses have decided to give up on Britain and shift their operations into EU countries.  To ameliorate the problems caused by that, Britain has continually delayed in implementing the border checks on goods being imported into the country.  As a result, no one really knows where those imported goods meet minimum standards even of the UK, let alone those of the EU, and that means that when it comes to all of the paperwork required for country of origin statements, this is just building up problems for the future in terms of goods being re-exported.

Already, a farm in Britain has reported a case of Mad Cow Disease, the first since the epidemic of the 1990's that saw British livestock exports, and meat exports decimated.  The truth is that Britain simply does not have the Border Control staff, or infrastructure to undertake the required checks without causing huge backlogs at the ports, which would rapidly bring the country to a grinding halt.  So, in order to try to avoid the reality of the catastrophe that is Brexit imposing itself even more immediately, Britain has to continue to leave its borders open to all sorts of goods pouring into it unchecked.  So much for taking back control, and controlling its borders!

Yet, even with that, the supplies of a range of goods have been disrupted, and the scale of that will become more apparent as we move into Winter, and a much greater reliance is placed on imported food.  That is even more the case, because the other impact of Brexit is that EU workers went home, and none of them can have any reason to come back.  British agricultural producers report having to leave large amounts of crops in the ground to rot, because they do not have the workers to harvest them.  Similarly, all of the workers that then worked in food processing plants have gone home, leaving labour shortages there too.  This is a similar catastrophe to that seen in the fishing industry, which has been crucified as a result of all of the costs from administration and paperwork required now that Britain is outside the EU.  Their costs of exporting to the EU, their largest market have soared, and those markets have largely disappeared, but they too ae facing labour shortages in the attendant processing plants.

As Winter approaches, this gradual build-up of frictions, backlogs, breaks in supply chains and so on would inevitably become even more apparent, with supermarket shelves becoming even more empty than they have been in recent weeks.  Many of those supply chains have themselves been ripped up, as some suppliers find the bureaucracy involved in selling into Britain just not worth the bother.  Another aspect of those backlogs and disruptions is what has happened in relation to the actual transports of goods by lorry.

A lot of that transport occurs by EU lorry drivers bringing goods from the EU into Britain, across the Channel.  For more perishable goods that route is far more dominant than the transport of goods via container ship, which tends to be a more effective route for durable goods.  But, again, the bureaucracy involved in driving from the EU to Britain, even with the lack of border checks still taking place in Britain, means that many EU haulage firms have given up on that trade.  That places an even greater burden on UK haulage firms to fill that gap, but that comes at a time when Brexit has also caused a huge shortage of UK lorry drivers too.  Around 14,000 EU lorry drivers that had been working in the UK, went home, and the governments plea for them to return is likely to fall on deaf ears.

The fact that just months into Brexit, Johnson's government has had to go cap in hand to the EU to try to get its drivers to bail it out of its current self-inflicted predicament, again shows just how idiotic Brexit was, and just what lies were told by those that proposed it.  The government is now even turning on its own natural supporters in business, and blaming them for the catastrophe that its Brexit nightmare has inflicted.  As the horror of Brexit manifests itself more each day, the government and those that backed it, in the gutter press, seek to blame anyone for the disaster other than themselves.  Yet, everything that is materialising was foretold by those of us that opposed the lies of the Brexiteers, including the lies they told in relation to the Northern Ireland border.

The latest manifestation of this unfolding catastrophe is he shortage of fuel at petrol stations due to that same shortage of tanker drivers.  The government blames "panic buying", but its inevitable that people will try to ensure that they do not run out of petrol, when it becomes clear that the shortage of drivers meant that some petrol stations were closing - an announcement made well before any panic buying started - and any sensible government would have seen that situation developing months ago, and prepared for it.  Some of the proposals being put forward against such "panic buying" are idiotic.  For example some service stations are limiting the amount of petrol that drivers can buy, but all that means is that those drivers will have to fill up several times, and it takes no longer to queue to fill your tank, than it does to only half fill it.  It simply means even longer queues, and people wasting more time and petrol sitting in queues, because of needing to fill up several times instead of once!

The problem is not the result of panic buying, but of a shortage of drivers, which led to a shortage of petrol at petrol stations, and that is not going to change until that basic problem is resolved, which is not going to happen for many months or even years to come.  Britain made its hostility to EU citizens clear when it engaged in Brexit, and then made it clear that it really did not want those EU workers here as it stated its opposition to the idea of free movement.  That unleashed a carnival of reaction in Britain against all foreign workers, and even against non-white British citizens.  It meant that yet another "hostile environment" was created, similar to that which saw the shame of the approach to the Windrush Generation.  No wonder EU workers decided to return to the much more civilised and welcoming environment of the EU, and even more did so, when the government imposed lockouts made life even more intolerable.

For the government now to want to get 5,000 EU lorry drivers to come to Britain to get it out of its self-imposed Brexit disaster is ironic, but at the same time grotesque.  That it is doing so, not by inviting them to come here to save its bacon on the basis of offering them the same right as UK workers, or other EU workers settled in Britain, but only on the basis of a three month Visa, after which they would be unceremoniously dumped is sickening.  Even if 5,000 additional drivers would rescue the government from the catastrophe it has caused by Brexit, it is unlikely to get anything like that number on the current basis, and who could blame them?

But, lorry drivers, of which thee is now a shortage of 100,000 is just the tip of the iceberg, because there are tens of thousands of workers required in other industries, where similar shortages exist.  It means that businesses cannot function; there costs have soared, and they risk losing business to EU based firms that have avoided the calamity of Brexit.

But, of course, things could have been worse.  Boris had said that he was prepared for a No Deal Brexit.  Imagine how much worse, and how quickly that horrendous eventuality would have been!  Its why, of course, Boris knew he could never implement such a threat, a fact that the EU knew too, and so could treat his threat as the silly empty gesturing it was.  But, all that Boris's Brexit has done is to draw out that calamity, not avoid it.  This is just the foothills of the developing volcano, whose building tensions will spill out in an eruption.  The EU is giving Johnson rope to hang himself with in Ireland, Johnson is already running to them cap in hand to rescue him from the building catastrophe in Britain itself.  They may do so, but there will be an inevitable price to pay.  Johnson if his history is a guide will agree to pay it, and then break his promise once more.  Then expect the eruption.

Of course, as Britain faces multiple crises, a decent, principled, or even just competent opposition would have been ripping the Tories to shreds over the last couple of years.  Instead Starmer's conservative Labour Party acted as Johnson's wing man.  Starmer went from the world's greatest Europhile under Corbyn, to becoming Britain's greatest Brexiteer.  All along the line from Brexit nationalism to Covid, Starmer has simply acted as Johnson's co-pilot, only egging him on to even greater absurdities.  Labour should have been at least 20 points ahead of the Tories in the polls, by now, but instead, no once can now tell any difference between Starmer's conservative Labour Party, and Johnson's reactionary Tory Party.  Starmer sees the members of his own party as a greater enemy than he does Johnson, hence his expulsion of Corbyn, and of thousands of party members even just for having the nerve to demand to discuss that expulsion!

Its time for members to take the party back from this unprincipled, undemocratic, anti-socialist leadership.  With the changes in electing the Leader pushed through by Starmer, its clear that the starting point must now be for members to build that opposition from the bottom.  In truth, a system that enabled a Leader like Corbyn to be elected, who was going to be undermined by a majority of the PLP was always untenable, but the answer to that is not to acquiesce in the undemocratic power of a parliamentary elite, but to change the nature of the PLP.  Its necessary to do what should have been done in 2015.  We need to get rid of 90% of the current PLP; we need mandatory reselection, and even before that, members should start deselecting existing right-wing and soft left MP's using the current rules.  We need also to get shut of all of the careerist base for those MP's in Local Government.  The starting point should be to build fighting ward and constituency parties, turned outwards to local strikes and struggles, and electing local councillors who will act like trades union shops stewards, organising those struggles, and acting as their public voice.

As Britain grinds to a halt under the impact of Brexit, Labour needs to give workers an alternative, a socialist and internationalist alternative.  Starmer and he leadership of a conservative, nationalist Labour Party are not going to provide it.  We have to begin to build that alternative leadership now.

Monday, 27 September 2021

A Characterisation of Economic Romanticism, Chapter 1 - Part 58

Lenin then attempts to summarise Marx's theory of machine production as against the ideas of Sismondi and the Narodniks. He invites readers to examine Sieber's analysis of Capital, for a fuller account.

“It boils down to two points: first, to a historical analysis, which established the place machine production occupies as one of the stages in the development of capitalism, and the relation of machine industry to the preceding stages (capitalist simple co-operation and capitalist manufacture); secondly, to an analysis of the part played by machines under capitalist economy, and in particular, to an analysis of the changes which machine industry effects in all the conditions of life of the population.” (p 186-7)

As Lenin has previously described, the Narodniks had presented capitalism as being only the large-scale industrial production, which developed in Russia. They then contrasted this to the so called “People's Production”, even though this people's production was itself capitalist. A similar thing can be seen in the account of capitalist development in Britain presented by Michael Roberts, as I described in my blog posts a while ago. The only difference between Roberts' account and that of the Narodniks is that, in Russia, the process was compressed into a few decades, whereas, in Britain, it occurred over a period of 400 years.

Lenin continues,

“On the first point, the theory established that machine industry is only one stage (namely, the highest) of capitalist production, and showed how it arose out of manufacture. On the second point, the theory established that machine industry marks gigantic progress in capitalist society not only because it increases the productive forces enormously and socialises labour throughout society, but also because it destroys the manufactory division of labour, compels the workers to go from occupations of one kind to others, completes the destruction of backward patriarchal relationships, particularly in the rural districts, and gives a most powerful impetus to the progress of society, both for the reasons stated and as a consequence of the concentration of the industrial population. This progress, like the progress capitalism makes in every other field, is accompanied by the “progress” of contradictions, i.e., by their intensification and expansion.” (p 187)

Labour's Reactionary Tax Plan

Labour's right-wing Shadow Chancellor, Rachel Reeves, is to put forward reactionary proposals to subsidise small inefficient businesses by taxing larger, more efficient businesses.  She is set to announce that Labour will scrap business rates, and instead introduce a new tax aimed at taxing more heavily, the large technology companies and online businesses.  It is a thoroughly reactionary proposal to try to protect the businesses of the past by holding back the development of the businesses of the future.  Its as though, a century ago, a party were to come along, noticing that companies involved in producing horse drawn buggies were struggling, and to propose to help them out by introducing a tax on the new fangled motor vehicle producers!

The proposal to scrap business rates, in itself, is supportable, because business rates are an inefficient tax, as were household rates, but the better solution, as with a replacement for Council Tax, which replaced the Poll Tax, which replaced household rates, is to introduce a local income tax.  Given the extent to which all taxation now passes through highly computerised systems - made possible by the developments of those high tech, online technology companies that Labour now wants to punish by higher taxes - the introduction of an effective local income tax is bot fairly easy to achieve, and to operate.  It only requires a local code for each taxpayer, be it an individual or a business, so that the appropriate local tax is collected as part of the general income tax, and is then disbursed to the local authority by HMRC.  Something similar already operates in relation to Parish and Town Council precepts, collected by local Councils, and then disbursed by them.

But, the proposal instead to subsidise those smaller businesses, and businesses using the old business model of the twentieth century based upon bricks and mortar operations as against the 21st century, more efficient model of online business, is thoroughly reactionary and protectionist.  Its like the reactionary petty-bourgeois politics of people like Sismondi that similarly tried to hold back the march of development in order to try to protect the antiquated methods of the past, or its equivalent, the politics of the Russian Narodniks, criticised in the 1890's by Lenin.

A similar thing can be seen in relation to Labour's proposals to remove the charitable tax status of private schools, supposedly to divert the money to improving state schools.  Again, no socialist is going to argue against removing any state provided privileges for the private schools of the elite, but the idea that this is going to make any significant difference to the inequality of wealth and power is risible.  Firstly, there is no hypothecation of taxes, so the claim that the additional tax collected from private schools will go to state schools is empty.  The tax will simply go into the state's coffers, and from there its anybody's guess where it will actually end up.  It could go to finance Labour's commitment to renew Trident, for example, or it could go to provide additional Housing Benefit, which goes straight into the pockets of landlords, as Labour's commitment to the same old policies that led to asset price bubbles, would cause property prices and rents to rise further.

Rather than headline grabbing statements about taxing private schools, an actual commitment on raising the level of state schools up to the level of private schools would be more impressive.  For example, what about setting a maximum class size of around 12, the same as in private schools as a start.  What about a commitment to raise the capitation allowance to the same level as that for the average private school.  You don't need to tax private schools - and indeed the additional tax would not come close to covering the cost - to do that!  But, of course, Labour will not do that, and in the past, whenever the opportunity has arisen to reduce class sizes, as a result of falling rolls, instead Labour governments and councils have favoured closing schools, and merging them, so as instead to reduce spending levels.  After all, the levels of education seen as required for the ruling class, in order to continue to rule, are seen by the reactionaries of the Tory Party, and the conservatives of the Labour Party alike, to be much higher than those required for the working-class, in order for it to continue to work efficiently, and produce profits for that ruling class.

And, the reality is that, after any such tax change, the ruling class will continue to send its kids to those top private schools.  The additional tax for them will not even be the equivalent of what they spend on a good bottle of wine.  If you are Lakshmi Mittal with assets of $10 billion, even obtaining just 1% a year return on that, gives you an income of $100 million a year.  Would paying an extra £100,000 a year in school fees be any deterrent to sending your kids to the best school, with the almost guaranteed access from there to the top universities?  Of course not.  In fact, the only people who would really be affected, and deterred, would be not the ruling class, not the really rich, but sections of the aspirational middle class.  Its typical of the tax policies of labour and other social-democratic parties over the last century, which systematically failed to undermine the wealth and power of the ruling class, whilst alienating those sections of the middle-class that a progressive social-democratic party should have been winning over.

Once again, Labour has reverted to the old conservative social-democratic agenda that not only failed, but which led to the problems we see today, caused by under-investment, huge asset price inflation, and massive wealth inequality resulting from it.  Its policies amount to nothing more than ineffective minor tinkering with distribution, and, as with the proposals for taxing technology and online companies more heavily, is actually reactionary, and acts to hold back the kind of capital accumulation required.  It is a reactionary policy based upon undermining real capital accumulation in favour of supporting petty-bourgeois small capital, and supporting the owners of fictitious capital.  It is a policy that starts from an acceptance of the existence of capitalism as an eternal and natural phenomenon, and simply seeks to make marginal economic improvements for workers within it, whilst staying well clear of anything that would actually increase the political power of workers within that system to control their lives.

All of the chicken-shit reforms that Labour will put forward at its conference - setting aside the right-wing proposals pushed through to enhance the power of the elite within the PLP, and diminish the power of members - amount to nothing, and could be replaced with one single commitment.  That would be to change company law so as to remove the current right of shareholders to control property they do not own.  Companies, as socialised capital, are the collective property of the associated producers within them, and as such collective owners, even bourgeois property law insists that it is they, not shareholders that should exercise control over that property.

Bringing about that simple act of bourgeois democracy would change the distribution of wealth and power far more than a century of Labourite economic reforms in the realm of distribution.  Workers and managers exercising their rightful democratic control over their collective property would have no reason to make short-term decisions on matters that affect their lives for years to come; they would have no reason to hold back real capital investment in their companies, so as to simply buy back shares for not other reason than inflating the share price; they would have no reason to divert profits into excess dividends, and other capital payments to shareholders, way above what a market rate of interest requires.  In short they would act in the interest of the company, not the private interest of shareholders.

Such a reform of the introduction of basic industrial democracy, of control over collectively owned property is not even a socialist demand.  The idea that the owners of property have control over it, the right to use and dispose of it, is basic bourgeois property law.  And, companies/corporations just as much as cooperatives, are socialised forms of capital, they are capital that is the collective property of the company itself, which can be nothing other than the associated producers within the company.  You do not have to be a socialist or communist to argue for such a basic reform, only a consistent bourgeois democrat.  

The right to control the property you own, including the democratic, collective control over collectively property, is a basic bourgeois right.  It is the kind of right that even a decent, progressive social-democrat would argue for.  That right has been implemented, in part, for more than a century, in Germany, which introduced its co-determination laws from the time of the Frankfurt Parliament, and today give workers the right to elect 50% of company supervisors boards.   In the 1970's, even the Wilson government, in Britain, appointed the Bullock Committee to investigate such industrial democracy, which made proposals similar to the system of co-determination in Germany.  And, the EU put forward its Draft Fifth Company Law Directive.  Both these latter proposals never were implemented because of the rise of reactionary, and conservative elements and parties based upon them.

And, of course, the reality is that, even in Germany, where such laws do operate, the workers effectively remain in a minority, because casting votes go to the Chairs of Committees, information is provided to Committees by the top executives acting in the interests of shareholders and so on.  Moreover, giving a vote to shareholders, as non-owners of the collective property, let alone half the vote, is democratically indefensible.  But, co-determination, at least, highlights the principle, and it is only a matter of taking that principle to its logical conclusion that is then required.

But, labour is not prepared to even hint at any such basic reform.  Not even Corbyn's Labour put it forward.  That is he extent to which they have gone backwards, even from the social-democracy of Wilson's Labour of more than half a century ago!

Sunday, 26 September 2021

Inadequate, Irrelevant and Idiotic

Britain is facing multiple crises all of which are the consequence of government policy over recent years. They are the consequence of Brexit, of fiscal austerity and QE, and of lock downs and lockouts. We have crises relating to soaring prices and shortages resulting from Brexit and from lock downs and lockouts: we have crises of labour shortages due to Brexit; of surging inflation due to QE, and from the effects of decades of underinvestment in infrastructure and training, intensified, after 2010, by fiscal austerity. But, the solutions to these problems put forward by the reactionaries of the Tory Party, and the conservatives of the Labour Party are inadequate, irrelevant and, from the perspective of the interests of workers, idiotic. That is not surprising given that it is the policies of those parties, now again being pursued by them, which created those crises in the first place!

From the 1980's onwards, the Tory Party, increasingly captured by its reactionary petty-bourgeois base of small business people, shifted the economy towards the interests of those people, symbolised by Thatcher's shift from being a champion of an EU Single Market to being a champion of the Eurosceptic Right. It adopted all of the mindset of the Rachmanite landord, letting the fabric of the building crumble as it attempted to screw more and more rent out of the tenants, and which looked increasingly towards the capital gains it could get from rising asset prices rather than the creation of real wealth. That was symbolised by its scrapping of credit controls and financial regulation in the Big Bang of 1986, and its encouragement of rampant borrowing and speculation to push up those asset prices, be they shares and bonds or property.

The combination of the two, allowing the fabric of the society to rot, whilst simply cashing in on rising asset prices, and borrowing against them, was the classic method of the asset stripper. In the world of finance and speculation, it was symbolised by the plethora of Ponzi schemes that developed throughout it. As the inevitable crises arising from that manifested itself, in a series of financial crashes, as inflating bubbles repeatedly burst, the response of the reactionaries of the Tory Party, and its outliers in UKIP, was to simply double down on their nationalistic solutions, exemplified by Brexit.

But, the conservative social-democrats of New Labour also adopted the same underlying ideas. New Labour also believed that labour was not the source of value, and of wealth creation. Like the reactionaries of the Tory Party, it too saw rocketing asset prices, and the ability to “take profits” from them, and to borrow against them, as the means of creating value and wealth. I set out in posts, years ago, how, in the mid 2000's, as a County Councillor, I had warned that it would end in tears, including in a heated debate, one lunchtime, in the pub with the Labour Deputy Leader of the Council, an estate agent, who had been professing how wonderful it was that so many people had been able to get into so much debt, in order to buy such grotesquely overpriced houses. That was just a couple of years before the start of the debt crisis in 2007, and the Financial Meltdown of 2008.

But, why wouldn't he feel that way, because, after all, it was also the mindset of Blair and Brown to borrow on the back of these inflated asset prices. The only difference between those conservatives social democrats, and the reactionaries of the Tory Party was that Blair and Brown wanted to use the realised capital gains, and the borrowing, to spend on elements of infrastructure, to modernise the economy, and to spend on public services such as the NHS. It was that which demarcated the reactionaries from the conservatives, but the reality was that the conservatives of New Labour were still basing themselves on a delusion, whose symbol has become The Magic Money Tree.

Part of the crises faced, today, is a direct result of the policies adopted during that period. On the one hand, the deliberate neglect undertaken by the Tories between 1979 and 1997, created all of the problems of an economy with an inadequate infrastructure, inadequately trained and educated workers, and with terribly low levels of productivity compared with its global competitors. The reactionary, small business owner mentality of the Tories based upon low wages, poor conditions and so on – symbolised by the Tories support for Enterprise Zones, where even minimal regulations could be avoided, was carried through into their hostility to Europe and the mantra of “taking back control”, so as to avoid its minimal regulations, and protections for workers and consumers and citizens.

On that too, the conservative social-democrats of Labour were demarcated in policy, whilst joined at the hip in terms of underlying assumptions. They sought to impose higher regulations and conditions, but always mindful to do so on the basis of state action, and not on the basis of giving workers and their trades unions the ability to implement such conditions. They militantly refused to overturn the anti-union laws introduced by Thatcher, and even as they sought to attach Britain more closely to the EU, in the interests of large-scale capital, and, more specifically, the interests of the share and bondholders of that large-scale capital, they were diligent in ensuring that they, like Thatcher, sought opt outs for British capital, when it came to things like implementation of the Working Hours Directive, and other elements of Social Europe. Nothing could be done that would spook the speculators, and the upward movement of inflating asset prices.

They were facilitated by the fact that they were not alone. In the 1980's, Thatcher was not a lone horsemen, but was joined by the cowboy Reagan, whose regime followed almost identical policies, as the Republicans, like the Tories, was captured by its reactionary, small business class membership and voters. And, as Thatcher was replaced by Major and then Blair, so Reagan was replaced by Bush, and then Clinton, again following the same policies, based on the same delusion that wealth was generated by rising asset prices, not from labour, and the creation of new value. That conservative social-democrats, as much as reactionary liberals, should be easily enthralled by such a delusion is no surprise, because it simply reflects the fear that such elements have always had. If it is once recognised that new value is created only by labour, and not by capital, if it is recognised that real wealth is also the result of the actions of labour in conjunction with the free gifts of Nature, then the ideological basis of capitalism itself, in either its reactionary liberal, or its conservative social-democratic variants is unsustainable.

If those truths are recognised, then how could it continue to be justified that a tiny proportion of society that owns capital, be it in the form of privately owned productive capital, or privately owned fictitious capital, should be able to appropriate that value and wealth created by the workers who form the vast majority of society, let alone that, as a result of that, this tiny minority should use that position to appropriate to themselves such a grossly disproportionate amount of the revenue arising from such production? The idea that it is capital, not labour that is the source of value, has been the vital lie that the apologists of capitalism, be they reactionary liberals, or conservative social-democrats have had to purvey from the first days that representatives of the workers, like Hodgskin, began to pick apart the arguments of bourgeois political economy, and its inherent contradictions.

And, so, when the lie was repeatedly exposed, as the fictitious wealth of the asset price bubbles, went up in ever more spectacular flares, each time those bubbles burst, so the illusion had to be restored, by the state intervening on an ever larger scale to reflate those bubbles. At first it did it by central banks simply reducing their policy rates, the rates at which commercial banks can borrow from them, so that those banks could speculate on an ever larger scale in the purchase of property and fictitious capital. As it became clear that this Greenspan Put, meant that this was a one way bet, where the gambler could never lose, it was not just commercial banks, or the super rich top 0.01% that were induced to engage in such speculation.

The executives of large companies could see that they could make more money from capital gains, by using company profits to buy shares and property than they could by using those profits to expand the business, actually employing and training workers, and producing the goods and services that actually constitute the real wealth of society. No wonder, then, that, today, we face such a problem of a decayed national infrastructure, as well as a low skilled, poorly educated workforce, unable even to take on jobs such as lorry driving, care work, hospitality and so on, let alone all of those high-skilled, high value jobs that are the basis of the future economy. But, it was not just those executives and the super rich engaged in such gambling. Anyone who had spare cash was drawn into it. The small business person, or the pensioner who found that the interest on their savings was insignificant could see the attraction of putting money into a mutual fund, or else of buying some terraced house to rent out, while they waited for its price to rise, and provide them with such capital gains. And, those who saw property prices inexorably rising further and further out of reach, were led to think that they had to buy a house, even at these increasingly ludicrous prices, before they became even more ludicrous. In other words, the classic, bigger fool dynamic of the bubble.

And, the other consequence of that was inevitably that the inequality in society now took the form not just of an inequality of income, but most importantly of an inequality of wealth, in the form of these ever inflating assets. It was not just that ever higher house prices meant that those who already had one saw their paper wealth increase, whilst those that didn't saw the value of any savings and income they had continually devalued against it, it was that those that could not afford a house had to rent, and as property prices continued to inflate, so landlords continued to raise rents, so that the disposable income of renters was then continually diminished. The idiocy of that has been illustrated by the fact that, as those rents became ever more unaffordable, the state has had to provide ever larger subsidies. Today, more than £30 billion a year is paid out in Housing Benefit that goes straight into the pockets of landlords, and yet they produce not one penny of additional value in the economy, not a farthing of additional real wealth.

The conservative social-democrats of New Labour also created the conditions in which, the reactionaries of the Tory Party could replace them. They did put money into infrastructure, in part that was facilitated by the turn in the global long wave cycle, after 1999, which saw economic growth itself rise, creating resources for such spending, but as stated earlier, it was also based upon this same delusion shared with the reactionaries of the Tory Party, that value is created by capital, and that the mirage of additional wealth created by inflating asset price bubbles, could be used as collateral to borrow against to finance both consumption and investment. One of the symbols of it, was New Labour's use of PFI (borrowing) as against taxation, to finance its large scale infrastructure spending.

As, the new long wave upswing got underway, and Labour also began to spend on the NHS, education and so on, it faced labour shortages. But, its support for the EU, fitted well to such conditions, as it did the obvious thing, and simply filled those vacancies with EU workers, from countries where they were in surplus, and where wages and conditions were not so good. The reactionaries, of course, portray this as a bad thing, and an argument in favour of Brexit. The reactionaries of the Tory Party, today, even as they are also forced to try to get EU workers to come here, to fill the vacancies for lorry drivers, to avoid a crisis at Christmas, argue that, and say that their policy is instead to have better paid, and trained British lorry drivers.

It is, of course, nonsense. There have been times when Tories argued for better wages and conditions for workers, but it was always on the basis of a lie, and for purely opportunistic reasons. For example, when the Tories lost the battle over the repeal of the Corn Laws, the 19th century equivalent of Brexit, the Tories, representing the interests of the landlords, pushed through the Ten Hours Act, in parliament, limiting the maximum hours that workers could work, to ten per day. It was an act of political revenge against the Liberals who represented the interests of the industrial capitalists. But, as Marx points out, it was wholly hypocritical. The wages and conditions of the agricultural labourers, employed by those same Tory landlords, was even worse than those of the industrial workers, whose plight the Tories now sought to enlist in their cause.

But, in the last 50 years, in particular, the Tories have been on the side of reducing workers' wages and conditions at every stage, the most obvious example being the year long Miners Strike of 1984-5. They have repeatedly hemmed in workers ability to resist attacks on their wages and conditions with anti-union laws, and so on; they opposed even the minimal reforms that New Labour introduced, such as the Minimum Wage. The Tories have not opposed the EU and free movement of labour, because of any genuine concern on their part about the wages and conditions of British workers – they have already worsened the conditions of British lorry drivers by increasing the maximum number of hours they can drive in a stint to ten, and, by reducing some of the requirements for new drivers, they are not only undermining those drivers, but putting everyone on the roads at risk!

Yet, New Labour created the conditions for the Tories to step into that breach. When New Labour saw the problem it faced, in the early 2000's, with a labour shortage, it too did see immigration of cheap labour as its salvation, just as, faced with a labour shortage in the 1950's, the UK government encouraged immigration from the Caribbean and elsewhere. It didn't argue, as a socialist would, that, whilst this immigration is a good thing, and enables an immediate labour shortage to be resolved, it should not be a means of reducing wages and conditions, and that the immigrant labour should have the same wages and conditions as the UK workers, should be fully integrated into the labour movement and so on. Instead, New Labour saw it simply as a means of providing a cheap solution to an immediate problem of capital.

It also, thereby, failed to take up any of the economic and political arguments of the reactionaries, against the EU itself. Instead, it relied, bureaucratically, on the fact that a majority of MP's, including Tory MP's, were supporters of the EU. They thought they did not have to make those arguments, and indeed, the arguments they could or would make in favour of the EU, were not ones that were that enamouring for workers, as they were based upon the interests of capital not labour. That was what happened when that was put to the test in 2016. But, the vast majority of workers, and so Labour's core vote, backed Remain, because they could see that, despite the poor arguments put by both Cameron and Labour in favour, the arguments of the Brexiters were much worse. Rather as Marx put it, in the Communist Manifesto,

“The aristocracy, in order to rally the people to them, waved the proletarian alms-bag in front for a banner. But the people, so often as it joined them, saw on their hindquarters the old feudal coats of arms, and deserted with loud and irreverent laughter.”

However, from the 1980's onwards, as Thatcher's policies led to de-industrialisation, large numbers of industrial workers, particularly in the old industrial centres, and urban towns of the Midlands and North, lost their jobs. The policies of New Labour did nothing for them, as the towns decayed. Millions went into retirement having never again obtained a permanent job, millions more became the new petty-bourgeois base of the Tory Party that had created those conditions. Unable to get permanent employment, they became self-employed and small business people. They became the equivalent of the independent producers that Marx describes, whose interests were represented by the reactionary socialist ideas of Sismondi, or that Lenin describes in Russia, in the 1890's, that were the basis of the reactionary populist ideas of the Narodniks.

The self-employed, small business owner is led to develop individualist ideas. Without the advantages of a large capital, they see themselves as needing to survive on the basis of guile. They are often even less affluent than workers in full-time employment, which builds up a resentment of such workers, and particularly of their trades unions. They see their own means of production as capital, and like all owners of capital, they are more likely to see the future in terms of turning it into a bigger capital, rather than – what is far more likely – that they will again find themselves going bust, and drawn back into the realm of wage labour. With their individualist mentality, they see the only thing holding them back being an over-bearing state, and its regulations, particularly in the shape of the EU, as a foreign state. This section of society – around 5 million small businesses in Britain, and so around 15 million people – is the bedrock of the Tory Party, and of the core reactionary vote for Brexit, and for Boris Johnson. To have defeated it, in 2016, as I wrote at the time, it would have required that the working-class itself be mobilised and enthused with a positive EU message. David Cameron was not going to do that, but nor was the Blairite Alan Johnson, who Corbyn put in charge of organising Labour's referendum campaign! Consequently, the reactionaries were able to win the day, and we have paid the price for it ever since, as is now being shown by the multiple crises that are now facing the country.

The Tory argument against free movement is idiotic. They say that they do not want to resolve current labour shortages by allowing available EU workers to fill the vacancies. But, that is like saying that there is a shortage of some particular workers in Manchester, but its necessary to wait until you train up workers from Manchester to do those jobs, rather than recruiting available trained workers from Bolton to do them! Economies and markets simply do not work on that basis, particularly in what is now a global economy with an international division of labour. To put it another way, take a commodity other than labour-power, say bananas, people in Britain want to consume bananas, would we say, rather than importing bananas from places where they grow easily, we should, instead, grow British bananas, which would require building huge heated facilities, so that the cost of such British bananas would be several times that of the bananas we simply import?

And, this illustrates a further idiocy and irrelevance in the Tory argument and solutions. They argue that they want to train British workers, and have them paid higher wages, rather than bring in EU workers. But, if the wages of lorry drivers rise, because there is a massive shortage of supply in relation to demand, what is the actual consequence? Across the globe, we are currently seeing rising prices of a range of products, partly caused by lockouts of workers in response to COVID paranoia, partly due to the huge amount of liquidity put into circulation by central banks, which is now pushing up prices, as it flows into monetary demand. Take the shortage of computer chips, it means that car producers have had to cut back their own production, or take the rise in iron ore and copper prices, some producers found that they could not pass on these higher prices in their own end products, because the higher prices led to demand falling sharply, at least in the short-term.

Marx demonstrated that a rise in wages does not cause inflation, because it does not change the value of the commodity, and merely implies a reduction in profits. But, in economies where central banks can simply create inflation by printing excess money tokens, a rise in wages that then threatens to squeeze profits, results in central banks printing additional money tokens, so that companies can increase their prices to prevent that squeeze on profits, and that then leads to an inflationary spiral, as prices rise, and then workers seek to raise their wages, which then squeezes profits, leading central banks to print more money tokens, and so on. A rise in wages for lorry drivers will immediately pass on in to the prices of all the goods transported across the economy. And, that comes at a time when the prices of everything in the economy is rising, again both because of that inflationary money printing, and because of the artificial shortages created by Brexit and by lock downs.

The truth is that workers living standards have never risen as a consequence merely of higher wages, which are largely ephemeral and illusory. Workers' living standards have always risen because of increased productivity, which reduces the value of the goods and services that workers consume. The policies being proposed by both the reactionaries of the Tory Party, and the conservatives of the Labour Party are both inadequate and irrelevant in that regard because they fail to address that fundamental issue, and instead remain at the superficial level of money wages.

The Tories have been forced to accept the reality of their Brexit catastrophe, and just hours after saying they would not seek EU workers to fill the gap, have now said they will. But, asked the question, both Tories and Labour spokespeople have responded as though it is simply a question of what they and Britain wants, and that these EU workers themselves have no say in the matter. What is being proposed is merely a short-term VISA relaxation, but that means that those workers will have little in the way of protections or advantages, and when they are done with would be disposed of. Given that lorry drivers pay and conditions is better inside the EU than in Britain, why would more than a handful be attracted to come to Britain, on that basis, to help deal with a self-inflicted wound caused by Brexit? And the same applies in relation to care workers, hospitality and so on.

Of course, Starmer can say nothing positive on any of this, because he has attached himself to the same reactionary star as Johnson, in relation to Brexit itself. Even getting any kind of straight answer from Starmer's mouth is worse than pulling teeth. Ask him what he thinks of today's weather, and he will respond by attacking what the Tories have to say about it. He cannot say anything original or positive, because he fears that whatever he says might offend someone, and lose him votes. Such is the consequence of a politics based upon simply collecting votes, based upon the findings of focus groups, rather than a politics based upon trying to change society based upon the advocacy of genuinely held ideas and principles, and by winning voters to those ideas on the basis of reasoned argument and practical struggle.

The ideas put forward by Starmer and the conservatives of Labour are, like those of the Tories, inadequate and irrelevant, but in different ways. Starmer's 11,000 word tract for the Fabians is a symbol of it. That he should publish it as a Fabian pamphlet is perhaps apt, but, at least the Fabians believed in forward movement if only at a snail's pace. Starmer's policies don't even amount to that, but represent a move backwards, not just in relation to Corbyn's Labour, but in relation to Wilson's Labour of the 1970's.

Much ado was made of the policy announcements of Rayner, but they are pathetically minimal and irrelevant. If this were 1921, not 2021, then some of the proposals on worker' rights might have seemed adequate. Even, back then, however, workers were getting paid holidays, sick leave and so on. Saying that a Labour government would provide such basic things in 2021, is an indication of just how far Labour has gone backwards. What the proposals on rights actually demonstrate is precisely the extent to which workers remain a slave class, deprived of control even over the means of production, which are now their collective social property, in the form of socialised capital, but also the extent to which Labour is content to leave workers in that condition as wage slaves, and only to promise mild palliatives to its condition.

The problems of lack of training and education are a consequence of the policies of both Labour and Tories over the last 40 years, which encouraged the view that wealth is increased via capital gains, not by the new value created by labour. The same caused the lack of investment in infrastructure, and in real capital investment in production. Profits have been used for such gambling instead of the accumulation of capital, in search of the interests of shareholders rather than companies, or their workers. That has been possible because, the collective property of the workers, in the shape of socialised capital, is controlled by people who do not own that capital, but who merely loaned money to the company in return for shares. The whole point of a loan, whatever form it takes, is that possession of the money is given up, in exchange for a payment of interest/dividend. And, as possession is given up in exchange for such payment, so control over it is also given up. Yet, shareholders not only get paid for the money they have loaned, but current law allows them to also exercise control over what they have supposedly given up!

The shareholders, and not the company, i.e. its workers and managers, are the ones who get to vote, and who appoint the top Directors. So, its not surprising that they use the company's capital in ways that benefit those shareholders and executives, not the company itself. Both Tories and Labour are committed to a continuation of that obscene condition. Not only that, but whenever the consequences of that results in the blowing up of asset price bubbles that inevitably crash, the state is also committed to blowing those bubbles right back up again, to protect the interests of those shareholders. In the last 25 years, it has also shown that it is prepared to destroy the real economy, via policies of austerity, to hold back economic growth, and hold down interest rates, in order to do that. Again both the reactionaries of the Tory Party, and the conservatives of the Labour Party are committed to continuing that condition. From the perspective of the interests of the working-class that is idiotic, but from the perspective of the interests of the owners of fictitious capital, it is entirely rational, and it is those interests that both the Tories and the conservative social-democrats serve, not the interests of workers, who make up the clear majority of society.

And, of course, its because of that that the other idiocy of this week, that, at a time of these multiple crises, Starmer chose to launch yet another attack on the members of the LP, and, thereby on the Left, by insisting on reducing the democracy in the party, and enshrining the power of the tiny elite within the PLP, makes perfect sense, because Starmer and the conservatives of Labour are forced to do all in their power, to remove any possible criticism of their politics, any possible alternative solutions that might adequately address the interests of workers, rather than those of the owners of fictitious-capital.

Saturday, 25 September 2021

A Characterisation of Economic Romanticism, Chapter 1 - Part 57

IX - Machines in Capitalist Society

Lenin notes that Ephrucy is correct in saying that Sismondi was not an opponent of machines per se. Sismondi argued that machines were a bane where they increased production more than the increase in consumption and so resulted in labour becoming unemployed. This, of course, is a step forward compared with the view that saw machines themselves as the problem. It is also a step forward compared to the view of Mill, Say and Ricardo, which refused to recognise any such contradiction, as a result of their adherence to Say's Law.

But, the limit of Sismondi's advance is that what it amounts to saying is that machines would be a boon only if we had some different mode of production to the one we actually have, i.e. capitalism. Its precisely in this that the nature of romanticism lies. Sismondi's romanticism leads him to oppose machines and progress, precisely because he only deals with it in terms of the immediate negative effects he sees arising from it under capitalism. He fails, therefore, to analyse the positive effects it, and technological development, plays under capitalism, not just in developing the forces of production, but also of creating the working-class, the social force that is the means of creating that different mode of production, under which the use of machines and technology will be wholly beneficial, because the workers will be able to utilise it to increase their own consumption, and/or reduce the burden of their labour.

Sismondi cannot make such a step forward, because of the time he was writing. Even in the 1820's, the majority of the population were either petty-bourgeois, independent handicraft producers, like the English hand-loom weavers, and other artisans, or else were still peasant producers. If that was the case in Britain, which led the industrial revolution, it was all the more the case in the rest of Europe and North America, let alone in the other colonies, in Asia, Africa and so on. Sismondi necessarily looked at society from this perspective of the petty-bourgeois, independent producer, as indeed did Mill, Say and Ricardo, in their adherence to Say's Law.

As Marx sets out in Theories of Surplus Value, in his chapter on Richard Jones, it is only later developments which enter into the world view of economists, as they see those independent producers disappearing, with the onward march of capital and industrial development. Marx notes that Jones was perhaps the first to notice that this development, in Britain, placed it in a much favoured position, compared to the continuance of independent production elsewhere, and to see in its further development its own transitory nature.

Sismondi, then, could not be blamed for failing to step outside the world view of the petty-bourgeois, independent producer, who still predominated in his day. Marx makes a similar point, in respect of the views of Owen, Fourier and Saint-Simon. It was only further development which produces the working-class as a visible new social force that enables Marx and Engels to view society, and social development from its perspective. Whilst Sismondi could be excused for failing to step outside the world view of the petty-bourgeoisie, however, no such excuse can be made for Ephrucy or the Narodniks.

The Narodniks adopted the utopian, romantic perspective of Sismondi by not examining the role of machines and technology in its entirety under capitalism, but contrasting only the immediate negative effect of machines against some positive effects available only under some non-existent alternative reality. The approach means opposing further current development, whilst proposing some alternative path of development towards the utopia they desired. In other words, rather than a scientific, materialist analysis of society and social development, it substitutes a romantic, subjective view of society, in which the future can be simply constructed on the basis of grand plans and daydreams sucked out of the thumbs of benevolent intellectuals guiding a class neutral state, along the correct path and pulling it back from unnatural paths of development.

“In that case Ephrucy might have understood that by substituting the question of the conditions under which machines can, in general, be “profitable” and “useful” for that of the historical role played by machines in existing capitalist society, Sismondi naturally arrived at the theory that capitalism and the capitalist employment of machines were “dangerous” and urged the necessity of “retarding,” “moderating” and “regulating” the growth of capitalism, and, as a consequence, he became a reactionary. The fact that Sismondi’s doctrine fails to understand the historical role of machines as a factor of progress is one of the reasons for the modern theory regarding it as reactionary.” (p 186)

The same can be said, today, of similar petty-bourgeois trends that express a similar romanticism from the standpoint of environmentalism, as well as “anti-imperialism” and “anti-capitalism”.

Northern Soul Classics - But Its Alright - J.J. Jackson


Friday, 24 September 2021

Friday Night Disco - All My Life - Major Harris


Boris's Brexit Catastrophe

Brexit - its not going well is it!  Don't blame me - I voted Remain, and unlike the fair weather internationalists, such as Starmer, I have continued to argue that we should campaign for, and commit to re-joining the EU at the earliest opportunity.  Indeed, not just re-join, but also adopt the Euro, as part of campaigning with workers throughout the EU, for a United States of Europe, and a Workers Europe.

None of the promises of a land of milk and honey given by the Brexiters and Lexiters have materialised, and nor could they have done, as Marxists warned before the referendum.  Indeed, as Marxists warned, not only have they not got better, they have got much, much worse, and will continue to do so.  Brexit was a stupid adventure advocated by the representatives of a reactionary petty-bourgeoisie, who want to turn the clock of history, and human social development backwards.  

The fact is that, for all intents and purposes, Johnson and the Tories did not even do what they said they were going to do, and Get Brexit done.  The most obvious example is the Northern Ireland Protocol, but, in order even to get its free trade agreement with the EU, Britain has had to agree to continue to abide by EU Single Market Standards.  In other words, it has to abide by EU rules, but now outside the political structures of the EU, it has no input into the formulation and operation of those rules.  That's not a step forward, or greater independence, its a step backwards, and an acceptance of a subordinate, and dependent status.  But, that was inevitable, because the reality is that the UK is dependent upon the EU, which is by far its largest trading partner, and for all of the Brexiters talk about global Britain, that is not going to change, because economies thousands of miles away in the US, or in the Pacific, are never going to replace the trade with economies just 25 miles away across the Channel!

And, in terms of geo-strategic interest the reality of that has just been seen with AUKUS.  The US has a particular interest in strengthening its strategic position in the Pacific, against its main competitor, there, China.  The Us strategic interests, now lie far more in the Pacific, where a large part of global economic development is now centred, and which relates directly to the largest and most dynamic centre of the US economy in California, and the rest of the West-Coast of North America.  Australia is an obvious all for it, in that context.  But, no such strategic interest exists for Britain.  Following Brexit, the biggest, most immediate competitor for a declining British economy is the EU itself, not China!  Yet, as it has separated itself from the EU, and put itself in this disadvantaged position, Britain has flailed around, at one minute seeing increased trade with and investment from China as its road to salvation, and now, having to alienate China, in the vain hope of clinging to the coat-tails of the US, as it adopts a more aggressive stance towards its competitor.

For Johnson, AUKUS has the advantage that it appeals to the reactionary Tory base of Brexiters who look to a return to the days of Empire, and the idea of an Anglo-Saxon dominated world.  The trouble is, of course, that Australia itself is no longer an Anglo-Saxon country, but Asian.  Johnson sycophantically attached himself to it, but in doing so, demonstrated the weakness of small countries outside any larger economic bloc.  His action simultaneously alienated China, to whom the appeals of "global Britain" were previously to be addressed, and the EU, who saw yet again the actions of perfidious Albion, as it involved the scrapping of a multi-billion Euro submarine deal with Australia.

For the US, that doesn't matter.  Its concern is its own strategic interest, and the size of its economy, means that although the EU will huff and puff about Biden being Trump without the hair, they will continue to do business as before.  The reality is that, both the US and the EU know that they are each others largest competitors, alongside China, and each with their own separate global interests, but they still need to trade with each other, and imperialism means organising that trade within a rules based system, even as each tries to bend those rules to its own advantage.  The big loser from AUKUS is the UK, at a time when it actually needed better relations with the EU, as its most powerful competitor and immediate neighbour.

A lot of the disaster that is Brexit has been blamed on COVID, but its clear that Britain is suffering in ways that other countries are not, and the cause of that is Brexit, even the limited Brexit that Boris was forced into in order to avoid even greater calamity.  Prices are rising sharply, and, in reality, far more sharply than the official inflation data is suggesting.  gas prices are the latest to hit the headlines.  At first, it was suggested that this was all about Russia holding back gas supplies to pressure the EU.  But, Russia is not the only gas supplier, and any protracted attempt to hold back supplies, would simply result in all of the other producers, including Britain and Norway, as well as producers in North Africa, taking advantage to fill the gap, and make windfall profits.  The reason for rising gas prices as with sharply rising oil prices, and other primary product prices, many of which have more than doubled in the last year, is a combination of sharply rising demand as the world economy grows as lock downs are relaxed, and a huge excess of liquidity.

Take the table, provided in Moneyweek, showing price and wage rises since 1970.  





Fixed supply?

Average salary (pre-tax)





Average house




Yes + debt

Ford Cortina


£28,500 (Ford Mondeo)


No + debt

Range Rover


From £83,525


No + debt

Pint of beer




No + tax

Pint of milk





Gallon of petrol




No + tax

12 eggs





Washing machine





Phone call (1976 - 6 mins local)





The interesting thing it shows is that prices have risen, in those areas where the purchase is facilitated by borrowing, such as with houses or cars, which is really another way of saying, where the increase in liquidity by central banks has flowed through in the form of increased credit.  Another factor is whether the supply is relatively fixed, for example, with houses, where the fixed supply of land, and constraints imposed by, for example, the Green Belt, stop supplying rising in response to demand.  In other spheres, such as with food, or consumer durables, prices have actually fallen in real terms, measured against wages.  But, in the short-term, the supply of a number of commodities is also relatively fixed.  After 1999, when the new long wave uptrend began, the prices of many primary products surged, until large amounts of investment in new production increased supply, and prices fell sharply in 2014.  Now, demand is surging again, as lock downs are lifted, and the global economy is set to grow at its fastest pace in 50 years.  Supply is not able to expand fast enough to meet it, and all of that liquidity now feeds into an inevitable rise in prices, which will in turn pass into final product prices, then into wages, and as that squeezes profits, central banks will again print money tokens to enable firms to increase prices to avoid the squeeze on profits, leading to another round of the inflationary spiral.

So, its true that that is not directly a consequence of Brexit, but Brexit simply exacerbates what is a generalised problem.  So, on top of rising oil and gas prices, which fed into squeezed profits for British fertiliser producers, which then also impacted British production of CO2, used in a wide variety of industrial processes, there is added the problems caused by Brexit in terms of the severing of supply chains, and all of the increased frictions and costs that goes with it, as well as the growing labour shortages, as EU workers went home, and none are now coming to Britain.  If we take fertiliser production, the EU is able to produce it on a much larger scale.  That means that the effects of rising gas prices have less impact upon it, so EU producers are better able to continue production, and consequently the production of CO2 as a by-product.  But, in addition, the EU as an economy seven times the size of Britain, can subsidise the production far more easily.  Britain has had to agree to bail-out its fertiliser producers, to provide a short-term fix, in the run up to Christmas, which will cost tens of millions of pounds, but that will not solve the problem longer-term, and that bail-out now is added to the list of all the industries that will require bail-outs as a consequence of Brexit, and of the destruction of balance sheets resulting from lock downs.

But, that problem of UK businesses is just one of many resulting from Brexit.  It has increased costs, slowed down the turnover of capital, introduced numerous frictions, and created large scale labour shortages.  In some cases, the labour shortages lead to higher wages, which, with excess liquidity, already in the system, leads to firms protecting their profits by raising prices, which then affects everyone's living standards, including all those who cannot get higher wages, or benefits, but in others, it simply results in firms closing down, jobs being lost, and sometimes the business just then moving overseas, usually to some other EU country.

And, on top of all that British business, in order to try to maintain some competitiveness, has done what was always inevitable.  Rather than improving conditions it has worsened them.  UK lorry drivers have seen their conditions deteriorate, as they are now expected to drive for 10 hour stints, as a huge shortage of drivers has prevented goods from moving across the economy.  Far from taking back control, Britain is now forced by circumstance to continue to allow goods to come into the economy unchecked, both because it is facing shortages of many products, and because it simply lacks the required border staff and systems to do it, on the scale, and in the time required to prevent huge backlogs at the ports.  And, as UK standards continue to slip, as it cuts corners, we saw, in the last week, a reported case of Mad Cow Disease, again on a British farm.

We have farmers unable to compete against imported food, with Britain outside the EU, we have fishing communities being decimated as they cannot, now, sell their product into the EU, which formed their largest market.  We have sharply rising prices, shortages and empty shelves, deteriorating standards of products, deteriorating workers conditions, and this is just the start, as Britain alienates the EU, in a vain hope of an alliance with the US.

It was all predictable, and predicted.  I hope others followed my advice from a few months ago of stocking up on tinned goods, and long life milk etc.  You are going to need it.  But, it shows the need to a) get rid of Starmer, and put in place someone who will really challenge the Tories on the basis of a socialist and internationalist position, b) get rid of Johnson and the Tories, and c) commit to re-joining the EU at the earliest opportunity.  Workers of the World Unite.