Karl Marx’s alternative to capitalism part 27 – forces and relations of production 10

The endorsement of workers’ cooperatives by Marx with which the previous post in this series finished needs emphasis because all too many of today’s Marxists fail to acknowledge their place in Marx’s alternative to capitalism. To take just one example: the Irish Marxist Kieran Allen, in his ‘Karl Marx and the Alternative to Capitalism’, references workers’ cooperatives under the heading of ‘Marx and Utopianism’, and with a view that appears to see these cooperatives as ‘islands of socialism’ within a capitalist sea, that “could not break with the logic of capitalism.”  The endorsement of workers’ cooperatives by Marx is not referred to by him, which is more than remiss given the title of the book.

Instead trade union organisation is endorsed and the perspectives of Marx described thus:

“Marx’s approach, therefore, was not to build alternatives within the existing mode of production but to overthrow it”

This is a view common to many of today’s Marxists.  However, by using this example of this approach, a number of points can be made, by way of illustration how it may be contrasted to the approach set out so far in these posts.

First, it might be pointed out that while cooperatives may not break completely with the logic of capitalism, this was well understood by Marx, as the first sentence of the extensive quote from the last post makes plain – “The co-operative factories of the labourers themselves represent within the old form the first sprouts of the new, although they naturally reproduce, and must reproduce, everywhere in their actual organisation all the shortcomings of the prevailing system.”

Second, it may be noted that not only do trade unions enforce the logic of capitalism, by bargaining the price of labour power in the labour market, but they are obviously built within the existing system and generally do not seek to overthrow it, a criticism levelled at cooperatives.

In this sense, it is equally obvious that unless the alternative is built “within the existing mode of production” there will be nothing with which “to overthrow it”.   Something as true of a working class party as of cooperative workplaces.  Without material foundations for example, there will be no revolution, certainly not one that is successful.  This will be the case because it is not just a question of overthrowing capitalism but of replacing it, and the replacement cannot be conjured out of nothing.  It cannot arise from empowering the state to take control – because this is not socialism, as the series of posts on the Russian revolution demonstrated.  But it will also not arise from within the heads of the working class unless the real world outside their heads, the’being that determines consciousness’, propels them to it.

Both within workers’ consciousness and the real world that creates this consciousness there must be a viable alternative, one that the creation of workers’ cooperatives within capitalism can represent.  In this sense, such cooperatives can be made, if not islands of socialism, then sites of struggle to win workers to ownership of the means of production right across society, and a giant step towards it within the existing system.

Allen argues that “unlike the capitalist class, workers need direct political power to begin the process of liberating themselves” (emphasis added), but this confuses the requirement for revolution, and the conquering of political power by the working class, with the process to get there, and what the working class needs to do afterwards in order to rule, not just in the political sense but as a ruling social class.  Much of the Marxist movement has been handicapped by failure to properly understand the necessity to advance the economic, social and political power of the working class, in the way Marx sought to do, within capitalism, as a prerequisite of, and prior to, overthrowing and replacing it.

Since this is a necessity whether one believes it is required or not, the vacuum created by lack of such understanding is filled by reformist and statist conceptions of working class struggle and socialism, which are as routinely condemned as much as they are advanced in practice.  These statist conceptions of socialism were opposed by Marx, as by many Marxists today, but he had conceptions of the alternative, which many of today’s Marxists do not. They thus lapse into Keynesian remedies and calls for nationalisation, ignoring experience of the latter when it happens and results in enforcement of the logic of capitalism – as in Ireland with bank nationalisation and creation of an enormous property development company by the state – NAMA.

This yawning gap in the conception of how the working class prepares itself to be the ruling class, to carry out a revolution, has all sorts of other deleterious consequences, leading not just to reformist capitulation but alternatively to ultra-left isolation, and retreat into vanguardist conceptions that amazingly can include reformist politics as well.  Since the real prerequisites for socialist revolution are ignored, the experience of heightened episodes of class struggle are continually misapprehended as revolutionary outbreaks when they are not.  Their failure leads to a search for scapegoats, for villains who have betrayed, without pausing to ask how this betrayal could have been allowed if the working class was already revolutionary.

It means that even those parties with the purest revolutionary programmes will be compelled to retreat and betray their revolutionary beliefs because the working class they seek to lead, and may even succeed in leading for a time, is simply not in a position to make a revolution, a weakness inevitably reflected in their political consciousness.  Retreat in such circumstances is inevitable regardless of subjective wishes and intentions.

In practice, such realisation affects the most radical parties long before they are in a position to claim outright leadership of the majority of the working class, whereupon the left section denounces the right as betraying socialism and the right denounces the left as lacking in realism.  Meanwhile the decisive question is how the working class has prepared itself for political power, because it is the class that creates the party, not the other way round.

The prevailing general conception of many Marxists is presented by Allen this way:

“It was only in the process of revolution that the mass of people learnt to clarify their own interests and develop a different understanding of their society. In normal times, the majority accept the legitimacy of their rulers and at least some of their ideas.  This cannot be changed simply through preaching, teaching or good example.  A new consciousness cannot emerge on a mass scale by workers ‘waking up’ and then passively following the teachings of their intellectual masters or clever television presenters.  Experience of class struggle is the only way in which people can learn, and, as Draper put it, ‘revolution speeded up the curriculum and enriched the course.’”

What this says is that only revolution can bring about the consciousness within workers that a revolution is required, which is actually partly true but obviously hardly adequate; in other words inadequate.  Read in reverse, the paragraph quoted above makes the weakness of this conception clearer; for it reads – revolution becomes the means of ‘waking up’ the workers, while revolution is the result of their ‘waking up’.

As a more or less sudden and abrupt process, of greater or shorter duration, a revolution alone cannot equip the working class with the consciousness that society must be organised by themselves and that they have the capacity to do so.  Marxists often note that consciousness lags behind material changes in the real world, and stand firmly on the ground that such material reality is the soil upon which consciousness grows.  It is therefore the case that anticipations of the new socialist society must appear within capitalism for the consciousness of the new society to also appear and grow, and to achieve hegemony within the working class.  As we have noted, of all the developments of the forces and relations of production under capitalism, it is cooperative production, working class control of the means of production – even within the capitalist system – that Marx notes should be considered one of the“transitional forms from the capitalist mode of production to the associated one.”

The creation of workers’ cooperatives raises the potential for increasing numbers of workers to understand the possibility of working class ownership of the means of production.  Such ownership also has the potential to demonstrate the benefits of increasing the scale and scope of cooperative production within capitalism – the benefit of cooperative enterprises cooperating with each other.

It also has the potential to demonstrate the ultimate requirement to defend this working class control through rejecting a capitalist state that exists to defend capitalist ownership and control.   The need for the working class to have its own state can be demonstrated when it becomes clear that it needs it to defend its own cooperative property.

Cooperative production has the potential to burst asunder the existing relations of capitalist production and release the fetters on the forces of production increasingly under strain from the limitations imposed on the socialisation of production by capitalist property relations. So, for example, the savings of workers, including their pension funds, can be mobilised using the existing system of socialised capital to provide the funding for workers to create their own cooperatives.

Workers’ cooperatives are not however a ‘magic bullet’ and do not replace the various other means by which workers must organise, in trade unions and political parties etc. as the example of Marx and Engels’ own lives demonstrates.  Cooperative factories were however important for how they conceived of the transition from capitalism to socialism and clearly fit their conceptions relating to the forces and relations of production that we have reviewed in these last number of posts.

Back to part 26

The Belfast rape case and women’s rights

The nine-week rape trial in Belfast gripped not only the interest of many people in the North of Ireland but many in the South as well. I normally don’t take much, if any, interest in these cases as I regard them as normally fixating on individual questions of evil or wrong doing and diverting from social problems that often lie behind individual misfortune.  They often seem to be exercises in schadenfreude and prurience for many people.

I followed this case because it quickly became apparent that it involved not only trauma for the young woman at the centre of it, and a question of the guilt or otherwise of the four accused, but because it didn’t so much divert attention to an individual assault considered in isolation, as draw into focus sexual violence against women in general, and by extension wider questions of the position of women in society.

The verdict of not guilty found on behalf of the four accused – two charged of rape, one of indecent exposure and one of perverting the course of justice – prompted demonstrations outside the court in Belfast and in Dublin city centre, as well as a couple of other Irish towns.

This was a result of a number of factors, including the ‘celebrity’ status of the accused, with those charged with rape being prominent rugby players who had turned out for Ulster and Ireland, and the way the case was conducted.

For example: the trial involved the young woman being questioned over 8 days while each of the accused sat for no more than one day in the box. The latter was due of course to the decision of the prosecuting lawyers, who must have decided that while the testimony of one woman had required eight appearances, that of each of the accused warranted no more than one.  No wonder it is claimed that it is often the woman who appears to be on trial.

Two other points stood out.  The defence barrister’s summing up included the statement “why didn’t she scream the house down? A lot of very middle-class girls were downstairs. They were not going to tolerate rape or anything like that.”  Unlike presumably working class women?  That anyone thought this was a good argument to put to a jury says something for some attitudes in the legal profession.

This alone makes the statement of the Green Party politician Claire Bailey, that the case was not about class but only about gender, mistaken.  As the young woman texted in the morning after – “What happened was not consensual. I’m not going to the police. I’m not going up against Ulster Rugby. Yea because that’ll work.”

If one sport in Northern Ireland can be regarded as steeped in class it’s rugby, with its roots in ‘middle class’ grammar schools and traditionally played by Protestants.

It’s not something I have any affinity with, even though I had to play it at school. My father had no interest in it at all and used to tell me it was a game for the toffs; I should support Wales because it at least had working class players.  And while the development of the professional game has eroded such factors, I get the impression that this isn’t quite so much the case in the North of Ireland. Having been to one Ulster rugby match I could tell it was nothing like watching football.

The other crucial point was exposure of the numerous Whatsapp messages between the accused after the party at which the rape was alleged to have taken place, which were crudely misogynistic.  It is these displays of vulgar insults against women which have been taken up by subsequent protests and that has fuelled the continuing controversy, precisely because there is no denying their provenance.

On top of these was the less than contrite tone, in fact many might say quite aggressive tone, of the statement following the trial by the defence solicitor for the most prominent of the accused.  The latter hardly smoothed the waters by threatening to sue those who questioned the verdict on social media afterwards.  His more contrite tone in a statement issued nine days later was dismissed by many as way too late, with the suspicion voiced that it had more to do with countering the growing call for an end to his current rugby career than being a genuine act of regret.

Calls, including a petition and newspaper advert, for the players not to be selected again for Ulster and Ireland were countered by opposite calls by other Ulster rugby supporters, who said they would refuse to buy season tickets if the players were not selected again.

Call me paranoid if you want, but when I read statements that seem to see only the man as the victim, that claim to be from the “silent majority’ (who are of course never silent when they make this claim, irrespective of whether they are actually a majority or not); and use other common reactionary tropes such as being “real fans” of Ulster, presumably in contrast to the unreal(?) ones who called for them not to be selected again; well I think I’m entitled to argue that this ‘silent majority’ are also reactionaries who are oblivious to the misogynistic rants of their heroes and the gravity of the effect of their behaviour, whether criminal or not.

I’m afraid however that I must also say that I don’t give a shit whether they represent Ireland and Ulster again or not, and not just because I don’t give a shit about rugby itself.  The Green politician Claire Bailey again said that “this is my Ulster team as well’ – she must be a fan of rugby; while for me the very idea that a sports team could represent a whole country or province is such a lot of fictional nonsense that only buying into the notion of a united ‘national interest’ or un-conflicted ‘national identity’ could make any of this in any way rational. But then nationalism is essentially reactionary anyway, and all the more powerful for being uncritically assumed in many different circumstances, including this one.

I’ve never felt that something being Irish meant I had to have some positive feelings about it, from the Irish State to Irish beef from Irish cows – what the hell is an Irish cow?  These people never ‘represented’ me at any time, no matter what might be understood by such an idea.

However, if there is one thing more powerful than nationalism it is the power of money, and it may well have been that the power of money coming from sponsors has weighed more heavily than anything in the club’s decision that the players will no longer play for them.

For those campaigning for such a decision, this will be seen as a victory against a misogynist culture within the sport, including a victory for women rugby players, with wider ramifications for the position of women in society.  Unfortunately, it is by no means obvious that the demands of the Belfast Feminist Network raised during protests are altogether progressive.

There can’t be any objection to improved education against misogyny, and in this case on the question of consent, but the oppression suffered by women is grounded in much more fundamental aspects of society than the culture of the media, justice system and education.  All aspects of the same state from which they expect a solution.

As I’ve noted, far from class being irrelevant, the explicit references to it and the role of money in determining one outcome of the case demonstrates that the position of many women in society, and women as a whole, is based on inequalities of power that are rooted in the class structure of society.  It will simply not be possible for women to achieve full equality if class inequality remains.

This is neither a claim that women’s demands must be dropped while class demands are pursued, or that progress on removing class oppression will of itself remove oppression suffered by women.  It is a claim that women’s equality cannot be simply gender equality within a class-ridden capitalist system.  This meets neither the interests of working class women or of men.

The goal of a socialist society is the free development of the individual from social oppression, not from the individual antagonisms that eventuate from imperfect human beings who will never live in a perfect society, even if that term meant anything.  This is not an excuse for continued sexism but a claim that ending social oppression can only arise out of the struggle to which socialism is devoted, and that this must include the ending of systematic oppression of women, plus repression of gay people and an end to all forms of racism.

Most immediately in Ireland the outcome of the Belfast rape trial shows the importance of repealing the eighth amendment to the Irish constitution which criminalises abortion.

There is widespread commentary that, while there is sympathy among some that women should be allowed to have an abortion in cases of rape, the eighth amendment should not be repealed because legislation will be introduced that facilitates abortion up to 12 weeks in cases where there hasn’t been rape.

What this case shows is that even on this rather narrow ground this is indefensible.  We already know that most sexual assaults aren’t reported and this case has shown what sometimes happens even when they are.  What it highlights, is the need for women to be able to control their own bodies. The fight against rape is one such fight and so is the struggle for abortion rights.

The BBC – how to spin a lie

Watching and listening to the BBC yesterday I was presented with a master class of political spin that would put the worst dictatorship to shame.  The best propaganda isn’t uniform and obvious, peddling straightforward lies, but invites you to look at things differently, to think yourself into a view that you may treat as your very own.

So I listed to PM on Radio 4, looked at the BBC News web site and watched the BBC six o’clock news on television.  The lead item for two was the revelation that Boris Johnson had lied when he said he had been told categorically by Porton Down laboratory that the poison that infected two Russian citizens came from Russia.   In fact, the official response from the Porton Down spokesman was that they couldn’t say.

This was picked up by Jeremy Corbyn, who rather charitably said Johnson had exaggerated and had questions to answer.

The BBC could have run with precisely how the Foreign Secretary had lied, why he had lied and what were the consequences of his lying, particularly given his senior and sensitive position in government.  A backstory could have been filled with Corbyn having taken a more measured approach and having a track record of getting these international issues right, while Johnson had a history of lying.  The great British public could then have been invited to form its own opinion.

Of course, no one who gets their news regularly from the BBC would have expected anything like the above.

Instead we were invited to believe that Johnson ‘appeared’ and might ‘seem’ not to have told the truth, while on the six o’clock news I remember hearing three responses by Johnson to the charge that he lied with the accusation repeated that Corbyn was playing the Russian’s game.  The BBC reporter took the view that it was all a bit of a mess, which given the BBC coverage was actually an accurate portrayal of the way the issue had been presented.

On Radio 4, the BBC talking head was deploring, more in sorrow than in anger, along the same lines but majoring on how the Russians would gain and we (as in Britain) would be put on the back foot by this disagreement between the two British political parties. This was the issue – the whole thing didn’t make Britain look good.  Rather like a person accused of rape; the issue is not whether that person actually did it, and what effect it has had on the victim, but that it doesn’t make them look good.  Pick your own crime and you could repeat the example a thousand times.

On Radio 4 the lead item was wrapped up in the first 15 minutes by an American ‘expert’ who had worked with various intelligence agencies, who reassured us that of course it was the Russians.  So, with the issue being that it was, at the very least, questionable to blame the Russians without evidence, the news item finished with yet another example of the very same, from someone whose bona fides were rather obscure.

When we consider that on the same day the Foreign Office deleted a tweet that claimed what Johnson had claimed – that it was the Russians who were the source of the poison, it seemed rather lop-sided to allow Tory spokesman to avoid the question of lying and simply declare without challenge that of course it was the Russians – who else was going to do it? Well, perhaps the BBC could have taken this question more seriously too?

The explanation for the original tweet, that it was truncated and did not accurately report “our ambassador’s words”, looked lame, particularly when the official transcript of the speech from which it came said the same thing as the tweet. Yet another question that should have been posed by the BBC but was ignored.

The narrative the BBC presented was therefore not one of lying by the Government, and embroiling us in heightened international tensions that had the happy circumstance of diverting attention from Brexit and another Tory reverse.  Instead we have had just a bit of a mess and only the Russians will gain from any controversy; which of course conveniently absolves the BBC of doing any real reporting, of news as opposed to certain views, of the establishment in particular.  And anyway, it was the Russians what done it.

But as we see, the real propaganda value of the BBC coverage is not in what it says but in what it doesn’t – in its highlighting the questions it thinks are important and to which we are invited to divert our attention, and the questions and issues that are ignored.  Lies by the Government while the perceived radical opposition leader is proved correct again?  Such a narrative would obviously be anathema to the BBC and its lofty self-perception of balance.  Just a pity this lofty approach doesn’t touch the truth.

Should we demand that the BBC really be impartial?  Well, it is useful to point out as loudly as possible its bias when it is particularly ourageous.  But why would it be expected the broadcasting arm of the British state would stray from the rest of it?

Perhaps instead we should secretly welcome the BBC when its bias becomes egregious; all the more likely then that more people will notice it. And perhaps do what we say we should always do – try to create an alternative.

Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘anti-Semitism’

As Members of the British Parliament go, Jeremy Corbyn has a record of opposing racism, including anti-Semitism, that is second to none.

So, days after waiting for the anti-Semitism charges against him to evaporate from the news – on the grounds that they are patently absurd –  they still loom large.

We see the BBC invite the Labour Party to denounce those supporting its leader – from a demonstration attacking him as anti-Semitic – and are supposed to see this as yet another example of his failure to stand up to anti-Semitism.  And expected to accept that this is yet another example of anti-Semitism, without a need to provide evidence that the previous charges actually stand up.

Thanks to the BBC, we are to remain entirely ignorant of the fact that those whom the BBC seek to have denounced are themselves Jewish!

Again, after days of having anti-Zionism conflated with anti-Semitism, so that the two are indistinguishable, the BBC reports that, ”during protests” and after “clashes”, which leave “16 Palestinians dead and hundreds injured” we are informed that “Israel’s response was exaggerated.”

Just so, unlike the repeated reports of the Labour Party’s anti-Semitism.

And there really is no point in anyone in the Labour Party denying it.  Because that is precisely the problem!

So, as Tony Blair – once described as “the worst terrorist in the world” – put it on BBC Radio 4’s The Week in Westminster, “It’s become a problem because I’m afraid the people around Jeremy Corbyn – maybe even he himself – I don’t think they really think it is a problem.”

So, there you go.  Denial is proof of guilt.

Not since the witch hunts of the 16th and 17th centuries, when women were dunked in water, has it looked such a lost cause to declare one’s innocence.  For the poor unfortunate women so denounced, if they floated they were witches, and if they didn’t, they weren’t”

And there is also really no point in Corbyn looking to supporters to defend him instead.  Because, as last night’s ITV reporter said to the other ITV reporter, the latter obviously speaking as an expert unbiased summariser of what is really going on – Corbyn has to reject his supporters as anti-Semitic to prove he’s not.

Then, having done so, we will, with little doubt, wait expectantly for the BBC to report that Corbyn, (we’ll just use his surname from now on) has no support, because of his anti-Semitism of course.  Corbyn anti-Semitism, anti-Semitism Corbyn, anti-Corbyn anti-Semitism.  Just put the words together often enough, and in no particular order, and that will do.

If there is a lesson to be gleaned from this ‘fake news’, it is the one that armies have long understood. While you can capture enemy soldiers and put them in camps, you shoot spies.

In this case, the most immediate enemy one can throttle (metaphorically speaking of course) are the phalanx of Blairite Labour MPs who have been the ‘credible’ ingredient of this poisonous and preposterous mix of accusations.

It reminds one that there must be elections coming up; the local elections in May.  Time to shit on your own doorstep and blame someone else for the poor reception to your ‘for sale’ sign outside.

If anyone thought Jeremy Corbyn’s landslide election as leader was going to unite the Labour Party around him, including the crowd of careerists at Westminster, then this was surely disabused when Owen Smith had another go and got trounced.  If anyone thought that this second thumping victory was going to make loyal supports of these expense claimers who couldn’t spell integirty, then they were disappointed again.

And if you thought that the snap General Election, in which the widespread presumption was that Corbyn’s speaking part was to walk on and get crushed, was final guarantee that the Parliamentary Party would unite around him.  Well, you really should have known better.

Unfortunately, despite all these lessons, despite all the deceit and betrayal; someone who also appears not to have learned the lesson is Jeremy Corbyn himself, although I hasten to add, it’s not too late.

The view that the Labour Party is a (very) broad church is really only accepted by the right of the Party when it is in the majority, and the left is considered to be irrelevant, like, for example, in the first half of  2015.  The left on the other hand, at least many of those in the Corbyn camp, seem to believe it even when the knives, wielded by Blaire hands, go repeatedly into their chest right in front of their eyes.

The theory would seem to be, if theory is not too strong a word, that keeping the Party united will help get a Labour Government elected.  And then it can go do all the good stuff it has promised.

The two flaws in this ‘theory’ are too obvious to dwell on.  The Party is patently not united.  And the same MPs who seek to thwart Corbyn’s leadership in opposition will be even more keen to do it should he cease merely to be in opposition.

Turning the other cheek to Blairite sabotage has left Jeremy Corbyn without any cheeks to turn.  Ignoring the cardinal need to democratically clear out the host of Blairite/right wing/’soft’ left saboteurs inside the party, and to do so openly, as a campaign to democratise the Party, has left him exposed to the latest assault, which will assuredly not be the last.

So right now, either he fights the ludicrous charges of anti-Semitism and stops apologising for non-existent political crimes, or he may be left to float helplessly in the water waiting to be burned, or at the bottom of the water, proved innocent and much lamented, definitely eulogised, and very definitely history.

PS: Update 3 April.  Jeremy Corbyn has met some Jewish people – see link.  But this is “irresponsible and dangerous” according to a Labour MP. He’s meeting the WRONG sort of Jews!  Isn’t this man just infuriating?  Doesn’t he know that being anti-Semitic means some Jews are good and some aren’t, and it’s only anti-Semitic when you don’t agree with the establishment ones?  I mean to say, how can it be reasonable for a left wing leader to meet left wing Jews and not demonstrate similar feelings towards the right wing sort?  It’s not as if Jewish people are just like everybody else – is it?