Learning from Trump? Don’t think so.

trump2Donald Trump was elected as the candidate of the Republican Party, one of the two main capitalist parties in the US.  He is a billionaire and could afford to self-finance his campaign.  He was also a TV celebrity before a politician so already had recognition.  His unpopularity with much of the press and media was beneficial, firstly because it gave him the coverage needed to make him a leading figure, and then was concentrated on individual attributes that did not fundamentally challenge his politics – he was not demonised.

His fame and money made him a credible candidate in the money and celebrity world that is US politics.  His capture of the Republican nomination made him electable.

He fought the election by picking up a minority of endorsements by leading Republican figures and rallying around him extreme racists and reactionaries, of which there is not an inconsiderable number.

He fought a campaign that tapped into deep and widespread reactionary views with a long tradition in the US, including racism, nativism, sexism and religious bigotry coagulated together by xenophobic nationalism – ‘making America great again’.

He faced a notorious political insider, an establishment figure detested by many and unpopular among more; one who personified the last thirty or so years of economic policies that has supported deindustrialisation, stagnant or falling living standards, urban decay, increasing inequality, obscene wealth growing beside desperate poverty, and racist repression by the state.

In her campaign Clinton was clearly the candidate of the party establishment and was exposed as talking out of both sides of her mouth in order to speak to the incompatible demands of different strands of the Democrat vote, which became stretched apart by the Bernie Sanders campaign for nomination.

Trump won the election but lost the popular vote, by over 1 million and rising last time I looked.  His election is bereft of democratic legitimacy exposing the sacrosanct US constitution for the travesty of democracy it has always been but whose legitimacy has survived the open domination of money and vote suppression.

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Out of all this some people opposed to the Trump victory are telling us that “if there’s one thing that we can learn from the unexpected result on Tuesday night it is that Jeremy Corbyn can win here in the UK. This is not about left and right, as such; it is about a willingness to stand up to the status quo and call for a genuine change in the way we do politics.” Quoted and rightly ridiculed here.

An ultra-reactionary with all the benefits I’ve noted above wins in the US and we’re supposed to believe it means Jeremy Corbyn can win in Britain!

And Trump is an example of, or an invitation to, or in some way relates to “a genuine change in the way we do politics”!

Of course, this is all nonsense, except it’s a bit more widespread than it should be.  It’s the sort of nonsense that I’ve looked at before; an attempt to see some progressive resonance to Brexit for example.  No surprise then that before I came across the passage above I came across this statement from the People before Profit organisation in Ireland.

Their statement seems to present the Trump victory as primarily “a rage against ‘the establishment’” that will be betrayed.  It makes assessments of the nature of the vote that are one-sided and ignore the reactionary features of the Trump vote – its retention of the Republican party vote and its attraction to those who saw immigration and terrorism as the main issues, just to note two of its features.

Perhaps as an immediate assessment it can be given some latitude for inaccuracy but, coming from those still supporting Brexit, it wouldn’t be surprising is this approach persisted when it becomes even clearer (I suppose it actually can become clearer) that the vote is utterly reactionary.

Aside from saying that “Trump will instead turn on the people who have elected him and try to make them pay the price in the same way that Hillary Clinton would have done had she won”, which isn’t true; what took my eye was the conclusion – “Trump’s victory is also evidence in a perverse way that if we do seize the moment anything is possible.”

“Seizing the moment” is precisely the electoralist, short term, get-rich-quick, short-cut to success politics that has infected the so-called revolutionary left since I first got involved in Marxist politics in the mid-1970s, and it didn’t start then.  It directly contradicts the duty of socialists, that “in the movement of the present, they also represent and take care of the future of that movement.” It is close to being a definition of political opportunism which has failed the socialist movement.

It fails utterly to recognise the fundamental social change that socialists want and which is required and the preconditions that are necessary for it to come about, preconditions not reducible to a moment seized that make “anything possible.”  Electoral victories do not make “anything possible.”

A left electoral victory, built on similar misconceptions to those of many Trump supporters, not only makes genuine steps towards socialism not possible but is actually dangerous – exposing socialists to taking office in circumstances in which they simply cannot advance their cause, because socialism is working people emancipating themselves.  It’s not even people voting for someone else to free them.  If this is their idea of socialism they’re never going to see it.

It wasn’t “a moment” that led to Trump but a long history of working class political weakness and of reactionary ideas that suffuse wide sections of US society.  We simply cannot “seize the moment” in any way illustrated by the Trump victory.  From its political roots to its reliance on the inequality and venality of today’s US politics to its failure even to register an electoral majority – it’s nothing to emulate.

The Trump victory is illegitimate.  It lacks democratic validation.  It is built on racism, class prejudices and class oppression that no electoral mandate could render acceptable.  The reaction of many Americans who have demonstrated against Trump, who don’t want him as President, is much better than ‘hey, we can do that too.’

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Crisis? What Crisis? part 6 – Corbynism and the Labour Party

1bioeqbho4-1oqnvp3ulwqaOne very minor up-side to the election of Trump, which I will post on as soon as I get the time, is that it should be easier for those left supporters of a progressive exit – ‘Lexit’ – to see their errors, although to be honest I’m not going to hold my breath.

With every development of Brexit it becomes clearer and clearer that this is a reactionary project that fully lives up to those who predicted this prior to the vote.  The vicious diatribes from the Tory press have been ratcheted up by Nigel Farage complaining about Brexit being betrayed by judges, predicting that “we will see political anger, the likes of which none of us in our lifetimes have ever witnessed.”  When asked if there was a danger of disturbances in the street, he said “Yes, I think that’s right. . . the temperature of this is very, very high. I’m going to say to everyone who was on the Brexit side, ‘Let’s try and get even.”

This is the authentic voice of Brexit.  No wondering, as we are with Trump, whether the reactionary zealots who led Brexit really mean what they said before the vote.  It is reactionaries such as Farage and the Tory right who are leading the process.  It is clear it could not happen without them although it may still not happen with them.  The idea of a left-led progressive exit is even more fanciful now than when ‘Lexit’ was proposed during the referendum.

There is no competition to turn Brexit into anything progressive and the idea that the small left forces who supported Brexit can either present what is happening as a step forward or that they should still continue to support Brexit (under the banner of ‘Lexit’!) is at first laughable and then atrocious.  Any attempt to make gains for workers out of the Brexit negotiations could only come through agreement from the rest of the EU, which the left supporters of Brexit see as the primary enemy that must be escaped from – so how do they think this can come about?

In the most recent International Socialism Journal the SWP are now scrambling to be relevant; so while they continue to support Brexit they also cling to the Labour Party as the other major factor defining British politics today.  But their arguments around this are not much better.

They characterise the supporters of Jeremy Corbyn as “diffuse and atomised” and state that real organisation has to be built on struggle.  They then outline two possible ways forward for these supporters.

The first is “to pursue the weary, highly bureaucratic struggle against the right in constituency and branch meetings.”

The “alternative is a more outward looking orientation towards resistance to austerity, racism and war . . . this approach is far more likely to transform Corbynism into a real mass movement.”  The SWP author argues that having to face down Labour councils and their implementing cuts requires Corbynism to have a “more defined ideological profile.”

The article then goes on to speculate what Corbyn’s Labour would do if it got into office; criticising its “timid programme” and preoccupation with “credibility” and “electability”; condemning it for being “an electoral party” and therefore one that “will be judged, like any other, by its success in winning votes.”

It then raises the spectre of a betrayal, like Syriza in Greece, and the need to avoid the same fate in Britain by developing a mass movement behind Corbyn and “defiance of the rules of the parliamentary game.”  It claims that “the Corbyn phenomenon – like Syriza before it – has not suspended the classic dilemmas of reform and revolution” and that this “truth” “underlines the need to maintain an independent revolutionary organisation that is free from the compromises imposed by constitutional convention and intra-party manoeuvring.”  However, it says “the real test for revolutionary socialists will lie in the degree to which they are able to unite with all those who’ve rallied to Labour under Corbyn”.

One can therefore say with some confidence that this is a test that the SWP has and will fail, if only because they will not join the Labour party and “unite with all those who’ve rallied to Labour.”  Instead it will emphasise the importance of its “ideological profile” by maintaining “an independent revolutionary organisation” that will be “free from the compromises imposed by constitutional convention and intra-party manoeuvring.” In other words it will refuse to get its hand dirty and will refuse to join a struggle in which compromises are “imposed” on it, most likely because it would fail itself to maintain its revolutionary purity in such a situation, much like the Militant Tendency did during its long existence in the Labour Party.

Its counter-position of revolutionary politics to reformism is therefore indeed purely ideological with little material basis, not even a revolutionary programme by which it could ground its practice and gauge its fidelity to a revolutionary perspective and policy.  This counter-position is therefore useless for it cannot be a real guide to action.  In the case of the SWP worse than useless since it leads to supporting Brexit even while acknowledging at the end of its article that the referendum result has “given racists more confidence” in a period of a “rising tide of racism”!  While it presents the struggle against racism as the most important struggle there is no hesitation to ponder its own contribution to the referendum result that predictably set the scene and encouraged this “rising tide.”

This absence of the SWP from the struggle inside the Labour Party is to be welcomed, since it belittles the struggle to win votes; its own alternative to Labour’s economic programme is simply greater ‘public ownership’ that is not significantly different in nature from the Left of the Labour Party, and it utterly fails to appreciate the importance of the fight to democratise the party, which it characterises purely as a “weary, highly bureaucratic struggle.”  It utterly fails to understand the importance of creating a democratic mass party of the working class that can be both a site for democratic debate and a forum to determine the politics and struggles of the working class.  This failure is no doubt due to the notorious absence of democracy in its own ranks.  In this respect, as in so many, it is no example to anyone, least of all the mass membership of the Labour Party.

This party doesn’t need another cohort of recruits, however small, who believe that, because they have the predetermined answers, all that is need is more activity without a democratic machinery to decide policy and priorities for activity.

Coverage in the left press in Britain reports disagreements not only about the lack of democratic functioning inside the Party but within the Momentum group that is supposed to be fighting for this democracy.

The radical journalist Paul Mason has announced that he has joined Momentum and given some arguments why he has done so and some ideas on how it should be organised.  Whether he is right to do so is not for me to say – I am not involved in this struggle and am too far away from it to make any half-definitive judgements. He seems correct to say that Momentum should affiliate to the Labour party and work in activity within the party and also on its own account.

However, he has a rather too sweeping dismissal of the experience of the 20th century left that appears to recognise no lessons except negative ones.  This goes with an uncritical acceptance of what he sees as 21st century means of organisation.  He may be referring to particular features or experiences of bureaucratic organisation but he should make this clear and also reference the long struggles against bureaucracy in the workers’ movement, both practical and theoretical.

He dismisses hierarchies in favour of networks without recognising that hierarchy is just one example of a network; the lesson being that you have to be a lot more specific about what you mean by networked organisations.

Likewise he is of course correct when he says that we want to “empower masses of people to take their own decisions through direct democracy” but he says this involves “respecting diversity, proportionality, restraint and the democratic institutions of the UK.”  Having lived through the miners’ strike he should know just how limited the democracy of the institutions of the UK are and needs again to explain what he means by this phrase, as also what he means by “restraint” and “proportionality”, which are relative and contextual and not much use baldly stated outside of this.  Respect for diversity also has its limits – where I live respecting diversity means respecting bigotry, on account of their being so many bigots.  In the context of Brexit this is not a distant analogy to the current situation in Britain.

He says that “today I think the most revolutionary thing we can achieve is to put a left labour government in power: to switch off the neoliberal privatisation machine, to end expeditionary warfare and the arming of dictators, to redistribute both wealth and power to the people.”  This seems to me to have some truth, except that we need to rely on a mass active movement to bring this about and to develop beyond its limitations, including that power is, in the end, taken by the people themselves and not handed down from above.

He recommends “decision making in Momentum should be taken by consensus, using electronic democracy to engage every dues-paying member.  Local branches of Momentum should be free to act as they wish – to focus on caucusing before Labour branches and CLPs, or to do activism under their own banner that the Labour bureaucracy refuses to do – for example defending libraries being closed down by Labour-run councils.”

The use of electronic means to involve members voting is a good one in certain circumstances, but not all, although the current Ken Loach film ‘I, Daniel Blake’ shows that everyone’s ability to do so can’t be taken for granted.  But voting means majorities and minorities so it’s not clear to me what limits are imposed by a requirement for consensus.  Local Momentum groups should have wide autonomy to determine priorities for activity but once again there will be national priorities, such as selection of MPs, conference motions etc that require some coordination and guidance on overall direction.

Mason argues that the basic political programme should be the 10 pledges outlined by Jeremey Corbyn and notes that nuclear disarmament is not one of them.  So as a start it may be more or less fine but there should be nothing sacrosanct about it and if the movement develops the political foundations for it will as well.  In fact it is already inadequate – it does not mention Brexit.  Campaigning against Brexit should be a priority for Momentum and it should not be afraid to take the lead.

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Back to part 5

Crisis? What Crisis? – part 5 Brexit? What Brexit?

supertrampGeorge Monbiot wrote an article on Brexit for The Guardian that was subsequently reprinted in Village magazine.  In it he says that we should not only accept the Brexit referendum vote but “should embrace it.”

Yes, the Brexit campaign was ‘led by a political elite, funded by an economic elite and fuelled by a media elite.  Popular anger was channelled against immigrants but the vote was also a howl of rage against exclusion, alienation and remote authority.’ That is why the Brexit slogan “take back control” resonated.  “If the left can’t work with this, what are we for?” he said.

But, like the old Irish story of the response to someone who was lost and needed directions to a particular place – if I was going to there I wouldn’t start from here.

What the left is for, hopefully, is not to pretend that we can work with reactionary politics to sugar the pill, which is altogether different from having to deal with a reactionary situation and trying to make the best of it.

‘Working with it’ first of all means understanding that the “howl of rage against exclusion” was captured by those seeking their own exclusion of foreigners.  Alienation is of no use unless it can be overcome and not displaced onto the wrong target, and blaming a remote authority in Brussels just gets us back to the “rage against exclusion” and blaming foreigners.  As for “take back control”, this was a reactionary nationalist response that showed incredible levels of ignorance of the power, position and role of the British State.  Even if this power were not severely diminished; even if its position of weakness were not more and more exposed, and even if its supplicant role is not becoming more pronounced, it would still be a reactionary commitment to nationalism that we ‘cannot work with’ except in the sense of attempting to undermine and defeat.

Monbiot presents Brexit as a land of opportunity – “If it is true that Britain will have to renegotiate its trade treaties, is this not the best chance we’ve had in decades to contain corporate power – of insisting that companies that operate here must offer proper contracts, share their profits, cut their emissions and pay their taxes? Is it not a chance to regain control of the public services slipping from our grasp?”

But who exactly is going to exert control in this way, assuming for the moment it’s possible?  We can be sure that, in any Brexit negotiations, containing corporate power will not be an objective of Theresa May.  We can even be confident that, in negotiations between the greater capitalist power wielded by the EU and the lesser power of Britain, the weaknesses of the latter will be exploited by the former.  And this balance of forces would weigh to an even greater extent on any sort of left Government in Britain facing a much more powerful EU.

Only with allies in the EU, primarily in the shape of a European-wide workers’ movement, would it be possible for the balance of forces to tilt towards the workers.  But this obviously points in the direction of staying in the EU.  As part of the EU there would at least be the beginnings of a political unity within which the workers’ movements of the various European countries could achieve some measure of unity and seek to exercise power at an international level.

But such a perspective would mean rejecting Brexit and continuing to fight it.

I looked at the arguments surrounding such an approach before and said that “there is no principled reason why there could not be a new vote.  What matters is how this might come about. Brexit is reactionary and its implementation will provide repeated evidence of it.  In fighting against its effects such a fight should not renounce fighting their immediate cause.”

I further said that “it could be claimed that there is little point in observing that the Brexit campaign lied through its teeth and has immediately retracted pretty much all its biggest claims – about money saved going to the NHS or of a future large reduction in immigration.  If telling the truth was a prerequisite for maintaining the results of a vote the Tories would not still be in office.”

Except of course unlike a general election, in which the winning party takes office immediately, we do not have Brexit immediately and it has become increasingly obvious that the Brexit campaign has no idea how it will deliver on promises it is still making, promises that become ever less credible.

There are some steps to limit the damage that the Tories have taken, such as the secret deal with Nissan, but this exposes any notion of taking back control.  We don’t know the cost or even whether it involves state support the EU could sooner or later simply nullify, whether Britain were in or out.

But there have been and will be consequences which no Government can do much about; such as the depreciation of the currency, inflation and rising interest rates.  When the Governor of the Bank of England says that he will let inflation overshoot the target of 2% to save jobs that’s really very good of him, because there’s nothing short of cratering the economy that he can do about it.

So to give up on fighting Brexit is to put British workers at the mercy of the most reactionary and frankly stupid sections of the Tory party.  It is to accept their risible promises and seek simply to expose them through their failure, a failure whose heaviest price will be paid by workers.  It is to accept the drastic fall in living standards that has already begun and it is to accept the secrecy necessary to cover up the unfolding disaster.

In this respect the demand for parliamentary scrutiny of the Government’s plans and their progress, including sweetheart deals, is important.  Not just to expose the policy of Brexit but also the nationalist alternatives that will flourish in the twilight of Brexit failure. Such nationalist intervention will come from the SNP pointing to a betrayal of Scotland or a UKIP narrative that accumulating failures of Brexit come from an insufficiently committed Brexit Government.  So far it has been the Treasury mandarins who have led the fight against Brexit and we can expect further leaks if, or rather when, the current trio of Brexit ministers demonstrate the failure of their policy.

However, the perspective of the Labour Party is not opposition to Brexit but to fight for a “people’s Brexit” as opposed to a “bankers’ Brexit.”  John McDonnell has argued that:

“Britain voted to leave the EU, and that decision should be and must be respected.

We should not pretend that the referendum result can be undone.  If we do that, and walk off the field, we will simply be allowing other forces to give their own answers to those questions it has posed

The simple truth is that the Tory establishment cannot be trusted to make a success of Brexit. Labour in government is the only party that would be prepared to take the necessary measures to make a success of Brexit

We are also committed to making sure that Brexit works for everyone not an elite few. Labour would work with our European neighbours to protect our key industries like steel, and negotiate deals with the EU to make sure big multinationals like Google pay their fair share in tax.”

On the other hand –

  • If the vote for Brexit means severe cuts to working class living standards, why should a vote based on lies and deception be respected?
  • The Labour Party is assuming that there are progressive answers possible to the questions posed through accepting Brexit.
  • It assumes that there can be a “successful” Brexit.
  • It assumes that the protection of industry and jobs and fair taxation of multinationals is possible in Brexitland.

But Brexit puts up barriers to trade and it puts up barriers to effective taxation of the wealthy and international companies.  Were a Labour Government outside the EU how could they enlist the support of other European countries to increase taxation of the rich?

When France increased its taxation in 2012 to 75% on those earning above €100,000 the number moving abroad jumped 40 per cent.  Between 2000 and 2014 42,000 millionaires left France, many of them moving to London, and particularly to South Kensington, referred to by some as Paris’s 21st arrondissement.  Many of its banks and its bankers also moved, although thanks to Brexit this has now stopped.

Inside the EU such tax increases have a greater chance of being coordinated.  Outside, the competitive position of weaker countries often drives them to lower taxation on multinationals and the wealthy. And as we have seen, there are economic effects which are largely outside the control of Governments to prevent.  What they can do is take offsetting measures such as increased public expenditure and investment, and this is what Labour promises, but this can only be offsetting and the weakening of Britain’s capitalist economy also weakens the capacity to do this.

Of course Labour’s model of Brexit is very different from the declared objective of the Tories.  John McDonnell declares that “Labour will insist that any deal with the EU includes, at least as an interim, tariff-free Single Market access. Full Single Market access implies freedom of movement, as in Norway’s European Economic Area deal.”

Without the xenophobic hang-ups of the Tories Labour is happy to see free movement alongside as much access to the EU single market as the EU is prepared to allow.  This is one possible transitional deal that the advisors to big business, in the shape of ‘The Economist’ and “Financial Times’ are pointing to.  A transition that might, like those of Norway and Switzerland that were initially temporary, prove more permanent than first intended and that might be open as much to a transition back to full membership as complete exit.

However, once again all this will be in the gift of the EU.  All the calculations involved in a permanent divorce apply to such a separation – whether the interests of the remaining EU are better protected and advanced by accepting a relationship with Britain on these terms or whether a clean break is preferable.  Once again it is necessary to note that given its size, Britain is not Norway or Switzerland and it makes no sense for it to pay into the EU and be subject to its rules without any say in those rules.  Such a transitional arrangement is the very opposite of ‘taking back control’.

Whenever we look at the relatively weak position that Britain is in we can also see the weakness of the Tory Brexit policy – when even speeches at Conservative party conferences occasion steep declines in the currency.  The pound has hit a 168-year low and this is before Article 50 is triggered, the lousy terms of the exit start to be revealed and the two-year exit timetable has been exhausted.

This weakness is also reflected in the political weakness of those seeking Brexit.  UKIP, which spearheaded this policy, is in disarray.  The political leadership of Brexit in the Tory party includes someone who was considered a star before imploding and heading for obscurity before being given a plum job at the Foreign Office; another who was already discredited and already in obscurity before being given a job in Trade, and a third who was also a twice loser in contests to lead the Tory party.  The majority of MPs are opposed to Brexit but they have no idea of how to make popular a campaign against Brexit that would make its reversal legitimate.  That task lies with others.

The referendum was largely portrayed in the media as an inter-Tory dispute and the struggle that big business will put up to resist Brexit and/or to deliver a ‘soft’ Brexit may also seek to do so primarily through that parry.  Once again the struggle could come to be seen as primarily an inter-Tory argument.

Considerations that this may severely damage the Tory party are secondary to the necessity that the struggle against Brexit is open, clear and honest.  In this sense the instincts of the primarily young Remain Voters who demonstrated and signed petitions immediately after the referendum were all these things, which an inter-Tory dispute will not be.

In order for the Labour Party to truly defend working people it is necessary for Brexit to be stopped – to nullify the dire effects that no amount of negotiation for a ‘soft’ Brexit may put right.  If this is to be done it must be done openly or charges that democracy is being subverted will appear to have some truth.  The defeat of Brexit is still possible but it should be done openly and on a progressive basis of defending the living standards of working people; defending EU workers and other immigrants who live in Britain; defending those British people who live in other EU countries and in defence of international unity.  A lying, xenophobic referendum result with reactionary consequences deserves no respect and should be reversed.

Back to part 4

Forward to part 6

Crisis? What Crisis? part 4 – a progressive unity against Brexit

brexit market imageIn response to Brexit a call has gone up for a progressive alliance of the Labour Party, Greens, Liberals, SNP and Plaid Cymru.  However, not only is such a call fixated on parliamentary numbers, which after all isn’t an inconsequential consideration, but more importantly it is politically illiterate and dangerous.

The Liberal Democrats are fresh from giving a leg up to the Tories through the ConDem coalition and partook in the harshest imposition of austerity that almost everyone seems to believe contributed much to the Brexit vote among workers.

The Greens are in open competition with Labour and cause many people no end of confusion about their apparently more radical policies on certain issues.  This confusion arises in those who have no understanding of politics as fundamentally constructed by class and by some on the radical left who have no organic relationship to the working class but substitute a series of single issue campaigns for this in order to give them a milieu in which to operate.  So long have they been doing this that some then come to judge the Greens on their purported position on these single issues they spend their political lives pursuing.

Marxists may call the Green movement petty bourgeois, which may seem insulting or simply untrue of the class background of many Green members and supporters but there is no reason for believing that they are any different than, for example, the Irish Greens.  When the Irish Green Party voted at their conference to enter Government with the main capitalist party Fianna Fail they cried, and then they cried again when they got hammered at the following election.  In between they bailed out the bankers when the banking system went bust, shifted the banks debts on to the Irish people for a couple of generations and inflicted damaging austerity on the Irish people to pay for it.  When it comes to more than single issues – when it comes to the state and the whole of society – the class nature of a party’s politics matters.

The SNP and Plaid Cymru are nationalists, and lest we forget it, it is nationalism which was and is the overarching ideology of Brexit.  Of course Scottish and Welsh nationalists will claim that their nationalism is not like that of the Tories or UKIP but then everyone thinks their nationalism is different from everyone else’s.  In the last analysis the only justification for opposing Brexit is that of workers unity across nations, of which the EU is the capitalist version but which forms the existing framework within which such unity is best advanced.  Nationalism inevitably puts forward the view that there is a national interest that comes first.  Such a view is compatible with membership of the EU but not with the interests and policies socialists seek to pursue.

The strength of nationalism in Scotland weakens the Labour Party and has strengthened the Tories who face a reduced threat from Labour without its phalanx of Scottish MPs.  This is as much a result of the rottenness of Labour as it is of nationalist strength but much of the Scottish left has run away from the task of fighting the former in order to facilitate building the latter.  Now that the Labour Party cannot be slagged off as ‘red Tories’ the role of nationalism is clearer and the role of left nationalism in preventing workers’ unity more evident and also more reprehensible.

This Left, which includes its English based supporters, has not stopped to ponder why a so-called move to the left in Scotland has led to an SNP administration supported by Rupert Murdoch while Jeremy Corbyn receives ridicule and scorn from Murdoch’s newspapers.  Yet, having just read the free book from Verso press, some of the New Left Review cheerleaders of this nationalist left are calling for Corbyn to follow the Scottish example!  In this they compare the SNP’s opposition to Trident favourably with the split in the Labour Party (mostly in parliament) but ignore the fact that the SNP want to shift Trident doon the road and Corbyn wants to scrap it.

The current case for unity amongst all British workers against Brexit and the xenophobia it entails could not be stronger and any left case for nationalist division could hardly be weaker.  From being in some sort of progressive vanguard even some nationalist supporters now seem to be saying the opposite – that Scottish independence is justified by it lagging behind English radicalisation (see Cat Boyd in the latest issue of ‘Red Pepper’).  It would appear, sitting from Ireland, that some would rather be failed Scottish radicals than part of a more successful British movement.  But this again is perfectly in tune with the left nationalist view that workers in Scotland and those in England & Wales have separate interests that cannot be reconciled, except perhaps with a good border between them.

A second approach to the Brexit vote is, in effect, to say – who cares about the answer, what’s more important is the pain.  So the alienation of marginalised and excluded working class communities typically placed in North-East England has to be understood and not condemned and we must seek to relate to these workers.  In anything I’ve read it’s never very clear what it is that is different in what socialists should be saying to these voters to what it should be saying to the millions of workers who voted Remain.  The latter have been pilloried as belonging to some sort of cosmopolitan elite cosseted in decent jobs who can’t be identified as an object of a sympathy that verges on pity.  In fact the only part of the labour movement calling for a different approach to these workers is the Labour Party right wing who hypocritically castigated Corbyn for not giving 10 out of 10 to the EU but now want increased immigration controls that panders to the worst prejudices of Brexit voters.

Supporters of this approach, who call on socialists not to condemn workers who voted for Brexit, take their own moralistic view, seeing them as somehow more authentic than others.  It is on occasions like this that the Marxist approach of not moralising about politics at all means you don’t fall into either condemning or feeling sorry for them.  It should of course be easier to do this when it is appreciated that these workers are not solely to blame for voting Brexit and their role has generally been exaggerated.

Using the definition of class that categories us into A,B C1, C2, D and E one blogger has calculated that the majority of Leave voters were A, B C1 and while C2, D and E were more likely than others to vote Leave they were also more likely not to vote at all.  This writer also argues that if C2, D and E working class EU citizens had been allowed to vote the result could easily have been different.

This blog here makes the same case – that “while C2, D and E voters (or the poorest classification of respondents) voted in greater numbers in favour of Leave than their ABC1 counterparts – 64% to 47% – so-called ‘middle and upper class’ (or ABC1) voters provided 10,349,804 (59.4%) of the final 17,427,384 votes for Leave.”  In other words “a huge amount of C2DE voters very likely did not even show up at the poll, whether from disbelief or indifference—upwards of 48%, according to the projections. And when weighted for equalised proportional turnout (72%) for all social ‘grades’, the numbers seem to “confirm these two realities at once—with 46.35% of ABC1 and 53.7% C2DE voting for Leave, we see both the greater number of ‘working class’ votes for Leave and their incredible proximity to votes from higher echelons .  . . That is to say, while there has been much hemming and hawing about the retrogression of ‘working class values’, all things considered, the result actually owed itself to a cross-class alliance for the ages.”

And this is true whether one accepts, or more accurately, does not accept the objectivity and truthfulness of this way of categorising the population.  Of course the argument that the Remain vote was also “a cross-class alliance” can be made.  But the starting point for determining one’s position on the referendum is, what is the nature of the issue and how can working class interests best be defended?  Taking an independent view of the question doesn’t mean ignoring what other forces are doing but it does mean identifying the working class’s independent interests.

There is also the rather more obvious fact that the cross-class alliance of the Leave campaign was led by UKIP and the most right wing elements of the Tory party who were behind a xenophobic, racist and anti-immigrant campaign.  On the other hand Jeremy Corbyn explicitly refused to become part of an inclusive campaign for Remain consisting of Tories and Liberal Democrats.  For his trouble he was variously ignored or pilloried by the media and slaughtered by the majority of Labour MPs when defeat gave them an opportunity to use this as an excuse for their coup against him.

The essential point that has been made however is firstly that many workers did vote for Brexit, from reactionary motives, and this is a problem.  If like me you come from the North of Ireland you will have absolutely no difficulty in accepting and recognising that many workers are reactionary. The problem in Britain isn’t new there either.  Secondly, the question is, with what social force do you address this?  And the answer is by building upon those opposed to xenophobia and racism who have rejected appeals to nationalism.  In other words the working class component of the Remain voters.

Unfortunately some on the left have decided that Brexit is not so much a problem as an opportunity and believe that what matters is not the reactionary politics that motivated workers to vote on xenophobic lines but that these workers are alienated and oppressed.  In other words, the problem is more important than the solution and the question is more important than the answer.  Their saving grace, if this is actually the case, is that this doesn’t seem to mean very much in terms of their political approach – they continue to peddle the same politics as before.

In the next post I will identify some mistaken views that seek to relate to those workers who voted Brexit – as if they should be the starting point of an alternative.

Back to part 3

Forward to part 5

Crisis? What Crisis? part 3 – down, down, deeper and down

Sterling as a picture of the future

Sterling as a picture of the future

Tory lies over Brexit and the sunlit vistas of UK sovereignty that lie ahead are nothing new.  Uncriticised by the Tory press and a BBC that is both scared of them and shares their broad establishment understanding of society, they have been able to present themselves as the only trusted stewards of a successful economy, with only its fruits perhaps needing some fairer distribution, now that they are the workers’ friend.

But the Tories have lied to themselves and everyone else that the British economy is in rude health, especially when compared to the sclerosis of the rest of Europe.  They quote statistics showing that real Gross Domestic Product has grown faster in Britain than in the bigger EU economies such as Germany, France and Italy.  What they don’t say is that GDP per person was no higher in 2014 than 2007 and that the British are no richer compared to the EU 15 average now than they were 15 years ago.  In fact Britain lags behind Spain and France on this measure.

In order for Britain to grow it has needed to increase its population and workforce, including through immigration, and make the working class work longer hours while reducing their wages, which declined by 10% between 2008 and 2014.  Productivity relative to the EU average has fallen to 90% so that output per hour is 25% below French or German levels.  In only one other region apart from London is GDP per head in excess of the EU average.  This means only 27% of Britons are wealthier than the EU average; but we are expected to believe that the EU is holding Britain back.

The Tories (and Blair before them) have relied on a high debt, low wage and low skilled economy that compensated for poor productivity by increased exploitation, symbolised by zero hours contracts on the one hand and long working hours on the other.  Such a model has no need for a comprehensive education system that can provide a highly educated and skilled workforce for employment across a wide number of economic sectors.

Increased exploitation of labour substitutes for increased capitalist investment in technology, which is mirrored in less state investment in infrastructure.   One example of the result of this is the threat of the lights going out because of a shrinking margin of spare power generation capacity.  This in turn leads to huge subsidies to foreign states to supply nuclear power that may keep the lights on – in the shape of Hinkley Point C and the French and Chinese state companies involved in its development. The lack of infrastructure puts a further drag on the development of productivity and the growth of living standards.

Brexit is being sold as the opportunity to improve this far from outstanding economy but leaving the EU will discourage the foreign investment that helps bail out Britain’s chronic deficit in trade.  Exit from the EU will diminish the financial sector and its acquisition of profits from around the world as bankers already threaten to pull out.  Trade will face new barriers and even old Tories like Michael Heseltine have laughed that there are new markets that no one has so far spotted to replace those that will be lost in Europe.

Devaluation of sterling will hit peoples’ living standards, reducing the domestic market just as foreign markets become harder to enter, while lower economic activity will reduce the capacity of the state to spend on infrastructure. A poorer Britain with reduced foreign earnings will have pressure placed on its interest rates, which will rise to cover the cost of financing a state whose currency is falling.

This risk was made clear by a market analyst quoted in the ‘Financial Times’ as saying that sterling is behaving more like an emerging markets currency and that there is no idea what its true level is. If a foreigner lent £100 to Britain, costing them say $120 in their own currency, it will mean that when she’s paid back the pounds she receives could be worth only $100.  So how much more interest on the loan would she require to protect herself against this risk?  And what sort of investment could warrant borrowing at this rate of interest?

Britain has created an economic model based on sweating its workforce.  Karl Marx noted the limits to exploitation by lengthening the working day 150 years ago, limits again being exposed today by Britain’s declining productivity.  And anyone believing that the Tories will move to create a high wage economy that involves upgrading the skills and talents of the workforce will have to explain the latest genius idea of promoting grammar schools, which relies on improving the education of a few by shiting on the rest.

An economic logic will apply to Brexit regardless of whether the Tory party realises it or not just as we have already seen its political logic unfold despite what some might have believed it was all about.  In last Monday’s ‘Financial Times’ some ‘liberal’ Brexit supports complained that they wanted an ‘open’ Brexit and not the nasty Tory variety.  But this is just as innocent of reality as the supporters of a ‘left’ exit – Lexit – thinking that a decisive move to national capitalism could be anything other than reactionary.

The economic logic of Brexit suggests increased unequal competition with other much larger state formations, such as the EU and the US, not to mention China, a la Hinkley Point C.  One weapon of the smaller and weaker is a race to the bottom with reduced corporate taxation as one example, already signalled by the late chancellor George Osborne, but this is not a credible strategy away from the current model.

There are therefore no grounds for believing that an interventionist state acting on behalf of workers will arise from any change in approach by the Tories.  However it is not excluded that the inevitable crisis that Brexit will induce could give rise to a change in direction to a more interventionist approach in order, as we have said in the previous post, to allow “a Tory government (to) save capitalism from itself.”

Unfortunately the Tories have tied themselves to those sections of the electorate least supportive of this approach; those who support lower taxes and a less interventionist state, unless its intervention is into other peoples’ countries.  The best hope of such an outcome is the influence of those sections of British big business that are tied to the Tories who do provide a constituency for such an approach.

However the weakness of a stand-alone Britain doesn’t help such change.  So for example, it is reported that the Tories may be thinking of devising restrictions on foreign investment, which had more potential within the EU than outside, but this idea will conflict with Britain’s more isolated situation and greater need for outside funding.  Their idea of increased state intervention will also be restricted by budgetary pressures arising from the weakened tax base of an ‘independent’ Britain.

As Boffy’s comment to my last post made clear, state intervention in the economy is not by definition left wing, despite much of the left’s identification of Keynesianism with socialism.  There are all manner of right wing Keynesian interventions so a Tory lurch to increased state intervention in the economy is perfectly compatible with increased authoritarian intervention by the same state with both masquerading as the workers’ friend; or more pointedly as the British workers’ friend.

The Tories newly found working class agenda, such as it is, cannot accommodate any sort of workers’ identification with their brothers and sisters beyond their own nation.   Xenophobia thus unavoidably defines the anti-working class core of the new Tory ‘left’ agenda.  This rabid xenophobia is perfectly compatible with false concerns for British workers but utterly incompatible with workers’ real interests, British or otherwise.  The Tories can feign sympathy with all sorts of working class concerns but not with its interest in solidarity across nations.  This appears most immediately in the shape of immigrant workers and, as a member of the EU, in the shape of all those workers who have moved from the EU who have now almost become hostage to the wilder delusions of the Tory right.

The centrality of workers unity was recognised by Marx long ago when he noted the two principles separating the socialists of his day from others:

“The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only: 1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality. 2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.”

No matter how any right wing force attempts to portray itself as the workers’ friend this is always the one area in which they can make no pretence and, in this failure, expose their true character – that they cannot accept never mind promote the identity of the interests of the workers of their own country with the interests of the workers of others.

The nationalists in Scotland in the shape of the SNP have at least temporarily succeeded in fooling many that the interests of Scottish workers are somehow radically different from those in England and Wales, although the rise of Corbynism has demonstrated that in the rest of Britain there might be more of a fight against nationalist division.  It is noteworthy that this blog draws to our attention the SNP’s approach to immigration set out in its White Paper for independence, which was a points based system, rather like that of those British nationalists like Boris Johnson.  But then nationalism is nationalism, innit?

Back to part 2

Forward to part 4

Crisis? What Crisis? part 2 – the Tories become the workers’ friend

theresaSome people might object to the view expressed in the previous post that the Tories are intent on even more drastic austerity – after all hasn’t the new Chancellor scrapped the target for achieving a budget surplus by 2020?  And as one Tory official is reported to have said – “perhaps only a Tory government can save capitalism from itself.”

And hasn’t Theresa May gone even further than this?  Hasn’t she said she will make capitalism fairer for workers, crack down on corporate greed, promote state intervention, provide for more workers’ rights and put “the power of government squarely at the service of ordinary working-class people.”  Hasn’t she criticised uncaring bosses, tax-avoiding multinationals and directors who took out “massive dividends while knowing the company pension is about to go bust”?

Yes of course, she has gone further, but none of these steps are necessary for a Tory government “to save capitalism from itself” and the chances of a Tory government putting “the power of government squarely at the service of ordinary working-class people” is zero.  So what is going on?  Is it just a case of ideology being employed, not to unconsciously blind the beholder, but consciously to blind those naive enough to believe Tory lies?

Before I answer this it is useful to make two observations. First, the language of the Tories shows how bankrupt the anti-Corbyn forces in the Labour Party are – afraid to mention class while the Tories outflank them from the left.  Just how much of a future would the Labour Party have if it stood permanently exposed on the left by a Thatcher Mark II?  What future would it have to endlessly repeat an approach symbolised by allowing cuts to disability benefits to go through only for the Tories to then scrap them?  Would the Labour right have wanted to abstain on scrapping them as well?

The second point is that this Tory rhetoric is described, by the same political commentators who got Brexit wrong, as the Tories moving against the Labour Party by ‘moving to the centre ground’.  This is almost as funny as their voting for Cameron while opposing Brexit.  Since when did promoting workers’ rights and cracking down on corporate greed, even if only verbally, been the centre ground – surely this is moving to the left?

And to answer the question – of course it’s moving to the left, and its only became the centre ground since Jeremy Corbyn arrived from Mars to become leader of that part of the British people regarded as swivel-eyed-mad-lefties by the media.  But of course it is also claimed he leads an ineffective opposition – despite him causing the ‘centre ground’ to shift leftwards.

It’s difficult to know whether this ridiculous view of the Tories’ approach is unconscious ideological self-deception – that the political battle is always fought on the centre ground –  without pausing to think just where this ground might be; but I tend to think that it’s more likely to be cover for the fact that the political commentators who write such rubbish know that it’s all Tory rhetoric without any chance of being implemented.  If the Tories have moderated austerity it is only because they fear they have to because, as we have seen, a Tory government is necessary “to save capitalism from itself”, or rather a new Tory government is necessary to save the country from the last Tory government.  But then, even the last Tory government carefully implemented austerity and extolled its virtues only to ensure it could continue as a political weapon and as an economic policy option that fitted an ideological agenda.  They were well aware, or at least some of them were, of the limits of a policy that involved bleeding the patient to death.

The case for this new Tory tilt to the left being a conscious attempt to blind those naive enough to believe Tory lies is supported for two reasons.  First, a ‘sovereign’ UK outside the EU will slip down the global power rankings like a stone.  It will be too big to ignore but too small to decisively shift its environment to its benefit.  The EU cannot afford to indulge its delusions of greatness because it’s big enough to matter but not big enough to influence the EU to submit to its claims or demands.  Some Tories might believe it can trade with the rest of the world while turning its back on those next door – that it already has almost half its trade with – but it requires outside investment to pay its way and this can only come through modelling itself as an attractive centre for foreign investment.

To do this will not entail the reassertion of British sovereignty but will expose its weakness and expose its lack of sovereignty.  The inability of relatively small and even medium sized states to interact in the world mainly to their benefit is precisely why larger economic blocs like the EU were formed.  The world will not change its rules because the British don’t like them.  The British state will therefore become weaker with less capacity to intervene and the economy it has to intervene into will be even more in need of assistance.

to be continued

Back to part 1

Forward to part 3

Crisis? What Crisis? part 1 – blinded by ideology

cameronOne of the very few things that has made me smile in the whole Brexit debacle has been the leader writers and columnists of the financial press, including the ‘Financial Times’ and ‘The Economist’.  Brexit is almost universally regarded by these people as a disaster and some have blamed David Cameron for being a reckless gambler and bringing them to their current predicament.

Yet it is these same commentators, who represent some of the most class conscious spokespeople for capitalism, who supported the Tories in the last election and who, when they did so, supported the only people who could make this whole disaster for them possible.  It is normal for these self-regarding experts, who prize their analytical capacity and steely objectivity, to damn the Left in any of its forms for being ideologically driven but in this case it is abundantly clear that they have been blinded by the own ideology.  If Cameron gambled, they gambled on the gambler – one derivative they shouldn’t have bought.

These commentators and the markets they service are now being dragged kicking and screaming to a ‘hard’ Brexit while their Tory favourites declare, in complete stupidity, that there is no such thing as a ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ Brexit.  Not only are the Tories not pushing for as open a trade relationship as possible and selling the importance of this to their electorate, while making vaguer and vaguer promises on limiting immigration; they are doing the opposite – signalling the primary importance of halting free movement of people and acceptance of worse trade terms from the EU as a result.  The drastic restrictions on immigration floated by some Tories are also not in the interests of big capitalists, who want as wide a labour market as possible from which to hire and fire.

One of Cameron’s allies in Cabinet is supposed to have said of the referendum that “it will be all about jobs and the economy and it won’t even be close.”  Now it’s all about immigration.  Except of course that beneath the political fog lies a reality that will bite regardless – and it will still include jobs and the economy.

Not that this reality is understood by everyone on the left.  In a monumental tribute to how ideology can also blind some ‘Marxists’ to reality we can turn to the most recent considerations on Brexit from the Socialist Workers Party.

This organisation supported Brexit and thought that, if it was all for the best possible reasons, changing one letter and calling it Lexit would make a difference.

It defends, if that is actually the right word, its support for Brexit by saying this was for two reasons – “first, and as a matter of principle, we oppose the EU as an engine for imposing neoliberalism. . .” – although it doesn’t then go on to explain just how this ‘principle’ did any good.  Or how one of the most neoliberal states in the EU – Great Britain – was an alternative.

The second reason is that “Brexit would cause a major crisis for British and, to a lesser degree, world capitalism.  This latter judgement has been vindicated.”  So it would appear that the SWP is happy it called Brexit right.

Regular readers of the blog will note that this view of crisis is one that I have criticised over a number of posts, starting with this one.  It is based on a view that since capitalism will be weakened and exposed by crises, and crises provides the opportunity to overthrow capitalism, we should be all in favour of such crises because we can demonstrate that we are right to condemn capitalism and right that it must be overthrown.  Such a view starts from what is bad for the system, not what is good for the working class; from what you are against and not from what you are for; does not understand that we have had plenty of capitalist crises and will have plenty more and none of them have so far brought about socialist revolution; that for crises to be the catalyst for socialism there must be some prior conditions in existence, including the level of the working class’s social power and class consciousness.  Failing all this, the desire for capitalist crisis is just light-minded political vandalism, a million miles from working class people who do not want to be the victims of such crises.

But the SWP can’t even get this story right.  They claim that Brexit will cause a major crisis for the British and also, to a lesser extent, for world capitalism but believe that this may or may not have an impact on economic growth; in other words on the accumulation of capital and everything that goes with it – profits, wages, jobs and standard of living etc.  So we are expected to believe that Brexit will cause a major crisis but it may not have any economic impacts!

It’s as if they don’t want to admit to the consequences of their actions, in so far as they bear a tiny responsibility for Brexit, but don’t want to appear as delusional as the Tory xenophobes who claim there will be no bad economic results.  For the SWP, their light-mindedness sticks out a mile when they simply state that “the truth is that one can argue the toss about this.”  Well maybe they should have argued the toss before Brexit and told their supports just what the economic consequences of Brexit might be.

Denying reality now involves ignoring falls in the value of sterling, which increases the cost of living for workers.  The external current account deficit is running at 6 per cent, the largest since the second world war, illustrating the impact of higher import costs on workers and also the funding needs to cover it that might drive up interest rates.  On top of this we can consider the effects on jobs of disruption to trade and investment arising from reduced access to exports, dearer imported inputs and reduced foreign investment.

Once again it’s important to state that there is no point ignoring the realities of capitalism and the harmful effects on workers of its difficulties if you don’t have an alternative to defend workers’ interests when these difficulties occur.  Socialists do not declare ‘bring it on’ to capitalist crises, not least because capitalism has never lost the knack of ‘bringing it on’ all by itself.

If the working class had strong, militant union organisation ready to challenge companies making pay cuts or ready to sponsor the take-over of companies declaring redundancies then it would be in a better position to defend itself.  If the working class had developed its own cooperative, worker-owned sector and was in a position to extend its scale when capitalism suffered a setback then a major crisis might herald radical change.  But it isn’t and it faces economic dislocation with a capitalist state headed by a governing party hell-bent on increasing neoliberal policies.

to be continued