In the first part of this post on a left Government I stated that I did not believe that it was going to happen in the coming elections and also that this left a strategic gap in the perspectives of the left. The fixation on electoral intervention and its potential success are therefore misplaced. I have argued many times before in this blog that the reformist politics of the Left is inadequate to the objectives it professes to advance.
The focus on achieving a left government as the key to fighting austerity, and implementing policies that would mean a fairer capitalism, are misguided and bound for ultimate disappointment. To put the argument at a very summary level: they fail to target the foundations of the capitalist system and avoid what is the root of the working class alternative. The foundation of capitalism is the ownership of the means of producing everything we consume and rely upon for a remotely civilised existence by a separate class of capitalists and the resulting necessity of the working class to sell their labour power in order to earn the money to live. Workers do not own the product of their labour because it belongs to those who also own the means of production.
This is ABC for Marxists but unfortunately it is not carried forward to argue that the means of production should belong to the workers and thus support for measures that lead to this workers’ ownership of production, such as the formation of workers’ cooperatives. Instead the Left argues for increased state ownership and argues that democratic control of the state and/or workers’ control under state ownership makes their programme different from the frequently employed policy of capitalist nationalisation. I have argued differently here and here. I have also addressed some arguments against workers’ cooperatives that are often advanced by the left here and here.
The Left’s alibi is that a revolution will accomplish the necessary transfer of property ownership, although this ignores a lesson of the Russian revolution that state ownership of property is not the same as workers’ ownership. It also leaves the idea of a revolutionary approach, not as something that can grow today (before culminating in a transfer of power through creation of a new workers’ state after the capitalist one has been destroyed) but as something for the future, between now and which all sorts of very non-revolutionary methods are acceptable, if sometimes not actually desirable.
Because such non-revolutionary approaches are not in themselves fundamentally different from more or less radical alternatives that seek to reform capitalism a problem arises in distinguishing the proposals of the left parties from those of parties that do not seek to break from capitalism, such as left liberals or in Ireland – Sinn Fein. As I have argued, this also leaves a strategic gap in perspectives aimed at fundamental transformation of society.
Again to summarise: without adequate preparation and prior strengthening of the working class through building strong trade unions, parties and workers’ cooperatives the fundamental break from the diktats of capitalism becomes much harder and workers themselves, as witnessed recently in Greece for example, are unwilling to consider a revolutionary leap.
Strengthening of the state, through state ownership and growing its power by increased taxation and spending does not increase the power of the working class but often leads to increased working class dependency on it. Such dependency is something that should be argued against, not encouraged either directly or indirectly. Workers doing it for themselves should be the maxim, not least because state initiatives proposed by the left are almost always national ones that are at best nationalist solutions. It’s why nationalisation is nation-alisation.
Capitalist state ownership is not socialism and democratising the state does not make it socialist.
On practical grounds the reform of capitalism is easier to consider and to implement when the particular capitalist state is both strong economically and has greater political and social capacity to mobilise and organise wider society. The relatively weak fundamentals of the native Irish economy reproduced also in the machinery of the Irish state, reflected in its endemic corruption and lack of developmental capacity, make the reformist development of a strong reforming state and dynamic economy less credible and more difficult to achieve.
This was the fundamental problem facing Syriza in Greece when it sought to confront the demands of the European Union led by Germany. There was no strong Greek capitalism that it could rely upon both to increase the costs to the EU of any measures it might take against Greece or strong economic base on which to venture an alternative international economic strategy outside the EU. This weakness of Greek capitalism is reflected in Greek consciousness through support for the Euro even while this was portrayed by many as the source of its disaster.
Similarly in Ireland the weakness of Irish capitalism is reflected in Irish workers acceptance of sycophantic policies towards the richest global corporations while suffering austerity themselves. It is why the ability of the Irish State to set a low corporation tax and defend this policy against other countries’ opposition is held up as the peak of Irish sovereignty and is by and large accepted as such.
The latter view is in turn reflected in the policies of the left, which proposes not to raise the corporation tax rate but simply ask that the headline rate becomes the effective rate. The existing rate of 12.5% thus lies below the rate of corporation tax that Thatcher found acceptable in Britain – when she resigned it was well over 30 per cent. Such modesty must have an explanation.
This is only one aspect of the various proposals of the Left to increase state intervention which, of necessity, take into account the capacity of the capitalist economy to deliver. We will see this again and again in the next post.
Finally, the necessity for international working class action to achieve socialism is clear when it is appreciated that a radicalised Irish state, even if it was not socialist, would be in a very weak position set against the ranks of the British State, its historic oppressors, occupiers of part of its territory; the European Union and its control of the currency; and the US, not least through its multinationals. It is well known that the US, in the person of its treasury secretary Timothy Geithner, vetoed haircuts to senior bondholders of the insolvent Irish banks, which would have hugely reduced the burden on Irish workers.
It hardly needs saying that in a socialist society international economic links with the rest of the world will increase and so dependency on the outside world will also increase. A hostile capitalist world would not see a radical Irish state survive in its radical state very long.
The left’s approach leaves a strategic gap which even the existence of a left Government does not fill because it is not a answer to these problems. The gap is further evident in the separation (or lack of it) of the left’s proposals from that of non-anti-capitalist forces such as Sinn Fein. As I have said, fundamentally the difference in proposals between the Left and Sinn Fein is one of degree and not fundamental. This does not make the differences unimportant but it is not the difference between socialism and ‘progressive’ capitalism.
to be continued