Question Time

I’ve just finished watching Question Time and the performances of Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn.  I can’t remember the last time I watched it and I haven’t a clue when the next time will be after having watched this one.

The expectations of May were so low she exceeded them – damned by faint praise I think it’s called.  Not quite so robotic but incapable of smiling without facial contortions that reveal she is anything but genuine in any emotion she shows; itself revealing she is anything but genuine in anything she says.  As time went on her answers became less credible and her performance less impressive.  Tonight, she was helped by a relatively healthy dose of predominantly old reactionaries in the audience.

Six weeks ago I wrote a post that said that “the election will truly have revealed the bankruptcy of the bourgeois electoral process if May can keep her mouth shut about what Brexit actually entails”.  Tonight, for the umpteenth time, she did exactly that.  Asked what a bad deal was like, that made no deal more attractive, she said nothing.

But I got it wrong – she has hardly said anything about anything and performing a U-turn on what she has said. Her strategy has been to pretend that Jeremy Corbyn is such a disaster that she looks good.  Unfortunately for her, the media has been forced to give Corbyn greater opportunity to present both himself and his policies without distortion; the political classes and its media have therefore been shocked to find that millions of people actually like him and like his policies even more.  Not only that, but the BBC has been unable to continue to report on Corbyn through has-been Blairites claiming that he’s a disaster; mainly because the Mandelson’s of this world and Blair himself no longer matter now that people have a real decision to make.

The claim that Theresa May should be Prime Minister because she is Theresa May has therefore worn out rather quickly.  What she has been forced to rely upon is Brexit and the right-wing swing in British politics that Brexit has represented and accelerated.  Reactionary nostrums against immigration, foreigners, the EU – because they’re foreigners –  the peculiar virtuousness of the British as the counterpoint to aggressive foreigners; all this has been presented with her own unique dead as a robot delivery, in a reactionary nationalist stew that relies on prejudice and ignorance to fill in the gaps where a coherent narrative should be.

It has to be said, that in this she has been assisted no end by the cluelessness of the British media.  Like its treatment of Corbyn, this is not simply due to establishment prejudice and conscious antipathy to socialist ideas.  It is also due to its own ignorance of the clusterfuck that Brexit will entail.  Despite all the dramatic changes in world politics over the last few years, the British chattering classes simply cannot conceive of Britain not being the country that it now is with its rather prominent role in the world.

So, it is when Theresa May is pushed into a corner about Brexit and she comes out with ‘we are not afraid to walk away with no deal – no deal is better than a bad deal’, that total incomprehension switches on.  The next question is perfectly obvious – so what happens when there is no deal?  Paxman and all the rest can go no further than this response because they simply cannot conceive that no deal means the cutting off of Britain from the rules and regulations, the trade deals and agreements with other countries that allow Britain to trade and exchange with the rest of the world.  From being allowed to fly over other countries airspace to landing at their airports to being credited with having safe food and medicines, all these collapse with no deal.

The absence of such mutual recognition threatens the UK being thrown off the proverbial cliff with no rubbish about this also being the fate of the EU – none of this “the UK and EU will both lose”, because one will indeed lose but it won’t find itself isolated.  The threat of no deal always assumes unthinkable that there will really be no deal, but actually assumes that the EU will offer concessions after being threatened and cough up a better compromise.

The virus that has engulfed the Tory Party is not simply a Tory pathogen but is one that resides in British society as a whole.  Especially the privately educated journalist profession that is parasitical on the Westminster village and the privately educated politicians who went to the same schools the journalists went to twenty or thirty years before them.

I had naively assumed that May and Corbyn would be asked the same question at the same time and would take turns in answering; instead it was a programme of two halves.  It was hard not to conclude that May left the first half pleased that she managed not to have parroted ‘strong and stable’ – yet another U-turn, which of course was yesterday’s inane drivel.

So, if May exceed expectations only by not being so crass, so robotic and so contorted, she nevertheless remained unimpressive.  She is a very limited politician who has looked even worse than these limitations might normally have revealed by moving decisively outside her comfort zone, where lies being Prime Minister and leading her country at a decisive turning point in its history.  What a pity she sells herself on her supposed unique innate ability to do just this.

If Jeremy Corbyn slightly disappointed it is only because (1) he has performed so well so far and (2) I’m a Marxist who believes there is such a stronger case for socialism than he can make.  Partly his weaknesses are those of his party and his very incomplete transformation of that party and its programme, but partly it is due to the limitations of his own politics.

During the questioning he was put on the back foot most when he refused to answer directly whether he would press the nuclear button if Britain itself was under nuclear attack.  At one point this looked like it might get quite frenzied – testament to a number of reactionaries in the audience who seemed to be fully paid up members of the fan club devoted to the film ‘Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb’.

It took one young woman to make the point that there was something wrong with so many people demanding the murder of millions of people.  Presumably these reactionaries would have been satisfied with an answer something like this – ok, we’re about to be vapourised by a nuclear attack but don’t get angry that I might not press the button because I’m going to kill millions of people as well, people who, just like you, had no hand in this attack and who don’t deserve to die.  Oh, and another thing, don’t worry, our missiles will hit the intended target and not go off in the wrong direction like one did recently.  Such is the degenerate politics of the Tory party and the diseased prejudices of its die-hard support.  There can be no doubt the nasty party is back.

In general the audience showed greater sympathy with Jeremy Corbyn and those in sympathy showed more enthusiasm.  I am reminded of the reaction of football players scoring a goal for my football team – they smile and cheer – expressing joy at scoring; while when those of their erstwhile rivals score they almost invariably snarl and gesticulate as if venting a deeply pent-up rage.  The supporters of Jeremy Corbyn applauded declarations of hope and promises of a better society while the Tory supporters acclaimed declarations of ‘toughness’ and meanness.  You know when you’re on the right side when the warmest of human emotions best expresses your political views.

When I wrote that “the election will truly have revealed the bankruptcy of the bourgeois electoral process if May can keep her mouth shut about what Brexit actually entails”, I also continued – “and Corbyn can maintain that he will defend workers’ rights without threatening Brexit.”  The major weakness of the whole Labour campaign is the same as that of the Tories – the claim that there can be a good Brexit.  For the Tories this has a massive plus side – the opportunity to burn workers’ rights and slash taxation for big business.  For workers Brexit has no up-side.

Brexit will entail economic dislocation and deep attacks on working people.  Victory for Jeremy Corbyn would see him inherit a policy that will do nothing to assist his social-democratic programme – he cannot decisively reverse inequality and improve the standard of living of British workers while leaving the EU.  Not because the EU is so wonderful but because exiting it is to step back from the current level of economic development and invites an alternative model that the Tories have correctly identified as an off-shore dumping ground of low corporate taxes, de-regulation and super-exploitation.  In such an environment taxes for workers will rise, wages will fall and welfare and other public services will shrivel while inequality will increase.

A Corbyn Government, if it was to attempt to increase living standards, increase public services and reduce inequality would also have to prevent the damage that Brexit would inflict.  It would also have to fight the xenophobic demands that immigration be strangled.  While much attention has focused on the damage to living standards arising from reductions in trade, reductions in immigration will have just the same effects, if not worse.

If young people do not come out to vote, as the pundits claim they might not do, and they are the key to a Labour victory as the pundits also claim, then the Tories will be leading us into Brexit and straight towards their deregulated ‘free-market’ utopia within a few days.  One commentator has called it a new ‘charge of the light-brigade’ and he is right.

Either way, it will be the task of socialists and everyone roused during the election to continue to mobilise and organise the enormous energy and enthusiasm evoked by the promise of a different society.  Already, the threat of a return to Blairite control of the Labour Party should be buried.  Corbyn must remain leader and the process of creating a mass, active Labour party truly representative of its members and supporters should be the task of everyone who considers themselves left.  The elections will signal the end of the Brexit phoney war and there will likely be no dress rehearsal allowed for building a workers’ campaign to ensure we win the real one.

 

The Manchester bombing and Politics

Years ago ‘The Guardian’ ran an interview with celebrities on the last page of its Saturday magazine and always finished with the same question – how would you like to die?  The answer that I remember, the only one, was “after a long time and before my children”.  I thought then that this was the best answer that could be given.

It is thus harrowing beyond words for so many parents to lose young children to an act of random terrorism.   How can one reason this catastrophic event so that one might attempt to come to terms with it; to explain in even a small way to oneself what has happened and in so doing lessen the pain suffered, however little this might be?

In the finality of death many people turn to religion, to belief based on faith, which may be defined as to believe without justification, to believe in the most incredible things without any need to present argument or evidence.  Of course, these are often given, but they are all ultimately irrelevant for those that believe.

Tragedy thus invites inconsolable acceptance because it is irreversible, what has happened cannot be undone no matter how inconceivable or improbable and no matter how unjustified it has been to everyone affected.  Politicised religious fundamentalism can sanction the most barbaric acts while less radical religious expressions substitute consolation for comprehension for its victims.

The statement by religious fundamentalists in support of the Manchester bombing present a rationale based on killing ‘Crusaders’ but the declarations of support for it have also claimed that these ‘Crusaders’ are suffering in the same way that the children of Mosul and Raqqa have suffered.  In saying this they parade admission of their own barbarity on equal terms with the hated Crusaders without a single reflection on such identification.

Within the circle of religious responses there is only moral condemnation that accepts the other-worldliness of the action, which is often comforting for those grieving from indescribable loss but is precisely useless in every other respect: because of its divorce from reality, from this world, from the reality that created the bomber, the bomb, the pain inflicted and the future possibility of its repetition, who knows how many times.

While after such tragedies general moral statements are always to the fore, and the rituals of religious observance play a prominent role, the major response is one rooted firmly in this world.  From the work of the emergency services, hotels and taxi drivers helping the injured, rallies to express sadness and respect for the victims and their families; all these are the practical things that allow people to suffer with some purpose and some hope that they can continue to hold on to whatever they can of those they have lost.

However, to look beyond the immediate need to digest the shock of the attack and to focus on it as a singular event, as a way of giving due recognition to its magnitude, is often seen as to be passing too quickly over it and therefore to belittle its horror.  That is why the immediate instinct is to suspend discussion of everything else, to abandon the rolling cycle of news with its discussion of politics and the election.  While life must go on, it cannot go on as if nothing has happened and time is an essential aspect of doing so.

But not going on as if nothing has happened means quickly picking up the real-world nature of the bombing and determining who did it, how they did it, why they did it and whether there is anything to be done to stop it happening again. To attempt to ignore these questions and substitute general moral condemnation and police action only is an attempt to avoid reality and falls below what must be demanded by the living on behalf of the dead.  It is an insult to argue that inevitable questions thrown up by mass killing are off-bounds because of some rule of decorum that benefits none of us, but conveniently shields those responsible for security from scrutiny and accountability.

Jeremy Corbyn’s speech about the Manchester bombing did no more than express his revulsion against terrorism; express his opposition to scapegoating the wider Muslim population and draw the blindingly obvious lesson that the so-called ‘war against terror’ has failed.  He drew the lesson stated beforehand by Boris Johnstone, the Director General of MI5 and the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee – that British foreign policy has increased the threat of terrorist attack on Britain.  This is not new, is not startling and is not irrational but is expressed in the statements of the Islamic fundamentalists themselves.

Andrew Neil spent an important part of his interview with Jeremy Corbyn quoting Islamic State that it was western values that it hated, as if western imperialist intervention in Arab countries was irrelevant.  Irrespective of just what exactly ‘western values’ are – food banks for the poor but palaces for royalty, colonial empire and genocidal slaughter – it is clear that unwillingness to face the foreseen and foretold consequences of intervention into Iraq and Libya etc. is itself deeply cynical and political.

Theresa May has accused Jeremy Corbyn of giving ‘excuses’ for terrorism and Boris Johnstone has accused him of attempting to’ justify’ or ‘legitimate’ terrorist attacks.

Lies, lies, lies.

To peddle such untruths in the wake of the attack demonstrates the contempt the Tories have for the lives of working people and their children who now deserve nothing more than that they hear the truth.  Without it there can be no justice and no closure, if such is possible. To pass over their loss with cynical lies is to belittle their suffering with the view that this is a thing to be twisted in the cause of mendacious political calculation. The Hillsborough inquiry has been one long and agonising lesson on the need for justice and the conspiracies within the establishment that have existed to deny it.

We do not know the links between the British state’s foreign policy interventions and this particular terrorist attack.  Instead we get repeated advocacy on behalf of the security services that they cannot keep tabs on every threat.  Listening to interview after interview on television and radio we hear repeated again and again the same unchallenged defence of the security services by a media supposedly tasked with revealing what is happening but which instead seems more intent on seeking to hide it.

Yet the more we learn of this particular attack the more obvious it becomes that credulity is stretched to breaking point when we are called upon to accept that it is perfectly understandable why this particular threat could not have been prevented.  How convenient to denounce the reasoned words of Jeremy Corbyn from a Government that sells massive quantities of arms to Saudi Arabia, the ideological inspiration of Islamic terrorism, and which has supported the same radical jihadi group in Libya that may well have carried out the attack.  ‘Move along, nothing to see here’ will not wash.

We do not know the exact connections between the bombers, the groups supported by the British state in their opposition to the Gaddafi regime, and the role played by Saudi Arabia, which Theresa May has made a particular point of patronising. It is impossible for us to know the truth, and that is the problem.  To point to the obvious links and connections that we do know of and to demand the truth is to open oneself up to shrill denunciations of conspiracy theory.  Yet to accuse MI5 and MI6 etc. of conspiracy is like accusing publicans of selling intoxicating substances or brothel keepers of selling sex.

It is not Jeremy Corbyn who is disrespectful of the victims of the Manchester bomb.  It is those who wish to close down an honest reckoning with the attack and bury it under ritual denunciations.  Behind these persists continuing collaboration and support for the reactionary Islamic radicalism which supports and defends western imperialist interests in the Arab and Middle East region.

The establishment, through its media and politicians, has a well-rehearsed procedure: it declares an issue to be ‘above politics’ or ‘above party politics’, often because it raises fundamental questions that it does not want people even to consider.  But this is precisely what politics is about.  The bombing of children in the name of a political cause screams as loudly as the explosion itself that this is a political issue, and Jeremy Corbyn is to be congratulated for speaking out against the Tory omertà.

On issue after issue, from Brexit to terrorism, the more Theresa May says nothing more than ‘trust me’ the more people turn against doing just this.  We are told that she is going to make security a central issue in the election but again it is one more issue upon which she has declared that we can say nothing.  It is not acceptable in relation to Brexit and it is certainly not acceptable when children are slaughtered.  Questions must be asked and answers pursued and Jeremy Corbyn has done a great service by creating the potential for this to happen.

Free trade and Socialism part 4 – Karl Marx on Free Trade ii

Much of the previous post setting out the circuit of capital accumulation is basic to the understanding of Marxists, although many would now not appreciate Marx’s view that socialists should not seek to destroy capitalism by simply trying to prevent it from working – by putting up barriers to trade and thus frustrate the conversion of money into commodities and commodities into money: M – C and C’ – M’.

The righting of the wrongs of capitalism can only be achieved by replacing the system of production and thus the way the reproduction of society takes place.  Since the precondition for this is the full development of capitalism, including creation of the working class as the immense majority of society, this cannot be done by seeking to make capitalism either not work, or seek to make it work differently from how it actually does and must work.

None of this prevents socialists fighting for reforms within capitalism, in order that workers’ lives are made better, but this objective cannot rely on the good intentions of the state and cannot even rely on the effects of trade union struggle.  As Marx puts it:

“the working class ought not to exaggerate to themselves the ultimate working of these everyday struggles [over wages]. They ought not to forget that they are fighting with effects, but not with the causes of those effects; that they are retarding the downward movement, but not changing its direction; that they are applying palliatives, not curing the malady.”

“They ought, therefore, not to be exclusively absorbed in these unavoidable guerilla fights incessantly springing up from the never ceasing encroachments of capital or changes of the market. They ought to understand that, with all the miseries it imposes upon them, the present system simultaneously engenders the material conditions and the social forms necessary for an economical reconstruction of society. Instead of the conservative motto: “A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work!” they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword: “Abolition of the wages system!”

“ . . . Trades Unions work well as centers of resistance against the encroachments of capital. They fail partially from an injudicious use of their power. They fail generally from limiting themselves to a guerilla war against the effects of the existing system, instead of simultaneously trying to change it, instead of using their organized forces as a lever for the final emancipation of the working class that is to say the ultimate abolition of the wages system.”

So, restrictions on trade, as far as Marx was concerned, were not progressive and did not alter the basic relations of capitalist society.   And, of course, Marx was under no illusions as to what these relations were and what they entailed:

“To sum up, what is free trade under the present condition of society? Freedom of Capital. When you have torn down the few national barriers which still restrict the free development of capital, you will merely have given it complete freedom of action. So long as you let the relation of wage-labor to capital exist, no matter how favorable the conditions under which you accomplish the exchange of commodities, there will always be a class which exploits and a class which is exploited.”

“It is really difficult to understand the presumption of the free traders who imagine that the more advantageous application of capital will abolish the antagonism between industrial capitalists and wage-workers. On the contrary. The only result will be that the antagonism of these two classes will stand out more clearly.”

“Do not be deluded by the abstract word Freedom! Whose freedom? Not the freedom of one individual in relation to another, but freedom of Capital to crush the worker.”

This did not mean Marx sought to shackle capital, as those who seek to reform capitalism think can be achieved, or that its reactionary consequences can be fought by isolating their country from its international development – like leaving the ‘neoliberal’ EU and frustrating the globalisation of capital.

In concluding his speech on free trade Marx said this:

“Do not imagine, gentlemen, that in criticising freedom of commerce we have the least intention of defending protection. One may be opposed to constitutionalism without being in favor of absolutism.”

“Moreover, the protective system is nothing but a means of establishing manufacture upon a large scale in any given country, that is to say, of making it dependent upon the market of the world; and from the moment that dependence upon the market of the world is established, there is more or less dependence upon free trade too. Besides this, the protective system helps to develop free competition within a nation. Hence we see that in countries where the bourgeoisie is beginning to make itself felt as a class, in Germany for example, it makes great efforts to obtain protective duties. They serve the bourgeoisie as weapons against feudalism and absolute monarchy, as a means for the concentration of its own powers for the realization of free trade within the country.”

“But, generally speaking, the protective system in these days is conservative, while the free trade system works destructively. It breaks up old nationalities and carries antagonism of proletariat and bourgeoisie to the uttermost point. In a word, the free trade system hastens the Social Revolution. In this revolutionary sense alone, gentlemen, I am in favor of free trade.”

Unfortunately, today this approach is rejected by many calling themselves Marxist, who seek not only to protect “old nationalities” but actually to promote them, through for example support for Scottish separation. For them, the combined and uneven development of capitalism must be addressed through national separation on a more perfect basis, which unfortunately for those fooled by this scenario does not exist.

These Marxists might seek a way to demure from Marx’s words by stating that his views were particular to its time, when free trade represented the free development of a capitalism that was in some sense progressive as against reactionary feudal restrictions on free markets and development of the forces of production.

While this was certainly the situation that Marx quotes in the passage above, the current pursuit of national solutions against the development of international capitalist economic and political arrangements such as the EU, is equally reactionary since it also seeks to turn the clock back.

The defeats to the working class and socialism experienced in the twentieth century have been internalised into a predilection to state what you are against, with nothing beyond eschatological declarations of the need for revolution as something to say about what you are for.

So, in this view, socialism is to be built not on the foundation of capitalism and its achievements but on its collapse.  Capitalism must go back to national forms because the working class has failed to build itself an international unity, while this left fails to understand how impossible it would be for the working class to develop an international movement while capitalism is restricted within national economic and political forms.

The left that rails against free trade does not pause to think that the development of free trade within countries, such as Marx referred to above in relation to Germany, created exactly the same sort of circumstances for many workers as the freedom afforded to international trade does today. Yet these socialists are so limited by nationalism that they would find it incomprehensible to advocate restrictions on trade within countries.  As internationalists however, they should seek the minimisation of differences between the working classes of the different nations through the processes Marx stated above.

For many socialists internationalism has taken on a purely moralistic character because they reject the material foundations upon which it can become an immediate material need for workers.  This material need, an interest in fighting international capitalism can only be created through international capital accumulation creating an international working class more and more exposed to the reality that the system that exploits them and which they must resist is international and therefore the alternative to it must also international; there is no question of the alternative being a backward step in the socialisation of production.  As Marx says, this international development of capitalism “pushes the antagonism of the proletariat to the extreme point.  In a word, the free trade system hastens the social revolution.”

Back to part 3

An exchange of views on the French Presidential election

The following is a short exchange of views on Facebook on the French Presidential election which is taking place today:

LMcQ – See if you can guess which candidate’s leaflet has three explicitly racist pledges.  I’m struggling with this “they’re as bad as each other in the final analysis” line of argument.

Sráid Marx:  I don’t think that’s the argument being put. What about – how will Macron defend workers against fascism (or however one wants to characterise the FN) by implementing an austerity offensive against them, pushing them even further into the pursuit of bad alternatives (like FN)? And how will you explain to them that when you said they should vote for this offensive you didn’t actually mean you supported this offensive. I seem to remember we have been here before with a Le Pen and some geezer called Chirac and voting for the less worst alternative has just brought us to here. At what point, or how bad, would the lesser alternative have to be before you said – stop! The workers cannot lend support to those who simply prepare the way for the fascists and who you must at all times regard as your enemy. And if this is a frightening prospect to you that is only because your only defence ultimately is your own strength and this you cannot delegate – and certainly not to shits like Macron!

RM: Macron is an immediate short term defence against fascism simply because he is the only possible non-fascist outcome at this point. Everything starts from the present. The Chirac argument here is interesting. Yes, voting Chirac to defeat le Pen brought us to ‘now’ but that is surely a better option than to be looking back after 15 years of fascism in power!

Sráid Marx:  Everything starts from when it starts, which at any point in time is usually not the present. Today the weakness of the workers’ movement arises from its failure to successfully oppose austerity and build its own alternative political position in the past. This weakness is not addressed one iota by voting for Macron, in fact it is set back and will always be set back as long as the Macron’s of this world win and the likes of a Le Pen can be waived in front of us to get everyone to vote for the lesser evil. We know this because, as I said, it has happened before. An immediate defence against fascism? But the present passes into what we view now as the future and we will be weaker because we believed that Macron is some sort of defence. If he is one at the election then by definition his success is also a continuing defence, or do we only oppose and fight him unless there is an election. At what point do we say that workers must create their own alternative and cannot support the politicians and policies that brought us to this horrible choice? That is the political choice that we must take; that it is not on the ballot paper is more than unfortunate but that is the case nevertheless. Having our political choices determined by electoralism is not the way forward but is often a trap.

———————————————————————–

SD: In an election which can only have one of two outcomes the alternative to the lesser evil is the greater evil.

Sráid Marx: Of course you are correct, but the question is whether the lesser EVIL is actually too high a price to pay.

F-CL: Well, if you don’t go with the lesser, surely the question is, is the greater evil too high a price to pay?

Sráid Marx:  Yes, a very good answer. But it still leaves you with the option of determining that both evils cannot be endorsed and that the elections leave you with no acceptable choice and to reject the choice given to you. Or do you believe that in all elections one must vote and endeavour to find the lesser evil?

F-CL:  It depends on circumstances … if there is a real, public abstain campaign and a refusal to vote can be seen to have meaning in the election then I think not voting could be the best option. And having “None of the above” on the voting paper – so you can actually show rejection of all – would be good (in fact, I think we should have a policy of including this option in all votes). But in my experience it is very rare for this to be the case, and going for “None of the above” would encourage people to not maximise the opposition to the greater evil, so even if “None” were an option I think I would usually come down in favour of lesser evil

The other alternative justifying not voting is for the candidates to be as close to as awful as each other to make any differentiation pointless. But this awfulness also involves assessment of the perceived consequences of who gets voted in. Even if Macron and Le Pen are close to each other (in fact I don’t think they are), Le Pen getting in would boost the far right far more than Macron would and you have to take that into account as well as the politics of the candidates

SD:  Surely the issue is about which outcome leaves the working class best placed to fight. In almost all circumstances the working class and the oppressed are going to be able to resist a lesser evil better than they could resist a greater evil, otherwise it wouldn’t be a greater evil.

Sráid Marx:  Not if they are disarmed politically by believing their class enemy is in any sense their protector against reaction. Workers must be taught again and again that they share interests as a class and not with liberals or other bourgeois figures.

SD: That’s quite a big if that you have inserted there. You think it is possible to convince people threatened by the rise of the FN to abstain, yet you don’t believe it possible to convince people that voting for a lesser evil still means they need to organise against that lesser evil?

Sráid Marx:  First I think that the threat that they will most likely face is Macron and his reactionary agenda and a vote for him is a statement that ‘it could be worse’! If such a view is justified in the election – why not afterwards? Fighting the FN is not the only issue in this election. In fact the rise of the FN is due to the policies now being pursued by Macron, policies that the FN say they have an alternative and a left that simply wants to fight the FN and votes for Macron and his policies makes their pretence all the stronger. The message for an active abstention is that you cannot rely on a simple vote to stop the FN, that the FN will get stronger if everyone else rows behind Macron and his reactionary policies and only the FN is seen to stand against them all the way. It’s a message that if you hate or fear the FN there is no solution but your own activity and a workers’ alternative to the policies that Macron will pursue, which the FN will feed off and attempt to continue to grow from.

SD: But “active abstentions” don’t actually exist, except in the heads of ultra lefts who try to comfort themselves that doing nothing out of sectarianism is a political act. Voting or not voting won’t make an iota of difference as to whether people fight back after the election. It just might be slightly harder to do so with an FN president.

Sráid Marx:  Let’s assume for one moment you are right – this would still not justify support for Macron, nor would it invalidate the objections to such support. But while living in Belfast I have seen a number of active abstention campaigns where leafleting, postering and canvassing were all carried out to encourage abstention. It is not even a merely ‘ultra-left’ notion – the greatest number of posters I ever saw in an election in West Belfast was when the Provos wanted an abstention when Bernadette McAliskey stood for the European parliament and the republicans still opposed participation in Brit elections. As to whether voting will affect how people will behave after the election, it must be clear that a working class vote for Macron will strengthen him. It would really be a sort of ultra-leftism to believe workers will vote for a bourgeois candidate but mobilise against him the day after, on the understanding that he is the lesser evil. Of course I have seen a similar view that they would immediately mobilise against a Le Pen victory dismissed, although you only claim it might be slightly harder.

 

 

Free Trade and Socialism part 3 – Karl Marx on Free Trade i

When Karl Marx reviewed his career in 1859 he highlighted four works that he had written – The Poverty of Philosophy, Communist Manifesto, Wage-Labour and Capital and a pamphlet on Free Trade.  The last was given as a speech in 1848 at a time when the Corn Laws had recently been repealed in Britain, a sign of the triumph of industrial capital over landed interests, who had stood in the way of free trade and the interests of manufacturers in reducing wages through cheaper food imports.

Since the purpose of free trade was to reduce the price of corn upon which workers depended, and so allow a reduction in their wages, it might seem that Marx would either oppose the repeal of these Corn Laws or at best take the view of “a plague on both their houses”, and take no side between industrial capital and landlords.  As Marx noted:

“The English workers have very well understood the significance of the struggle between the landlords and the industrial capitalists.  They know very well that the price of bread was to be reduced in order to reduce wages, and that industrial profit would rise by as much as rent fell.”

Perhaps, in fact, Marx would oppose this strategy of the workers’ most immediate, growing and more important class enemy and oppose free trade?

Today a similar situation arises in the debate over leaving the European Union.  Why should workers concern themselves with either side of a debate over a European free trade arrangement when again it is one carried on between different fractions of the class enemy?

After all, it is argued that the EU is irreformably neoliberal, although those that argue this often point out that it hasn’t always been such; although this also immediately raises the issue that some sorts of capitalist arrangements are better for workers than others – an anti-austerity policy is better than a neoliberal one for example.

For others, as I have noted, it all “depends”, and the question of free trade is bound up with a range of other issues, often involving development of less industrialised countries, national oppression, “unfair” trade and super- exploitation of workers in less developed countries.  However none of this prevents one from forming a view on the question of free trade itself and facing the implications for workers of such a policy.

This was the approach taken by Marx.  In doing so he was abundantly clear what the nature of the argument was for free trade put forward by the economists representing industrial capital:

“The whole line of argument amounts to this: Free trade increases productive forces. When manufactures keep advancing, when wealth, when the productive forces, when, in a word, productive capital increases, the demand for labour, the price of labour, and consequently the rate of wages, rises also.”

“The most favourable condition for the workingman is the growth of capital. This must be admitted: when capital remains stationary, commerce and manufacture are not merely stationary but decline, and in this case the workman is the first victim. He goes to the wall before the capitalist. And in the case of the growth of capital, under the circumstances, which, as we have said, are the best for the workingman, what will be his lot? He will go to the wall just the same.”

“The growth of capital implies the accumulation and the concentration of capital. This centralisation involves a greater division of labour and a greater use of machinery. The greater division of labour destroys the especial skill of the labourer; and by putting in the place of this skilled work labour which any one can perform, it increases competition among the workers.”

“This competition becomes more fierce as the division of labour enables a single man to do the work of three. Machinery accomplishes the same result on a much larger scale. The accumulation of productive capital forces the industrial capitalist to work with constantly increasing means of production, ruins the small manufacturer, and drives him into the proletariat . . .”

“Finally, the more productive capital grows, the more it is compelled to produce for a market whose requirements it does not know—the more supply tries to force demand, and consequently crises increase in frequency and in intensity. But every crisis in turn hastens the concentration of capital, adds to the proletariat. Thus, as productive capital grows, competition among the workers grows too, and grows in a far greater proportion. The reward of labor is less for all, and the burden of labor is increased for some at least.”

For some modern Marxists many of these words of Marx make no sense – how many today would repeat his remark that “the most favourable condition for the workingman is the growth of capital”?  How many would welcome the increased accumulation of capital though it leads to crises and increased concentration of capital, because it adds to the proletariat?  When was the last time the growth of capital was welcomed even though it increases competition among workers?

Instead the depredations of capital are opposed on the basis that the effects of capitalism can be much reduced through trade union action, its evils ameliorated through state intervention, while confused notions are retained that revolution will spring naturally from capitalist crises and destroy the same state that introduced the reforms.

On only one aspect of his argument has it been widely accepted that it is not the job of socialists to prevent the development of capitalism, and this is the view that workers must be protected from the replacement of their labour by opposing the increased use of machinery.  As Marx notes – “there is no kind of manual labour which may not any day be subjected to the fate of the hand-loom weavers” whose labour was replaced by machinery, with the consequence that “the hand-loom weavers are on the verge of that state beyond which human existence can hardly be sustained. . .”

Yet today the view that free trade should be opposed in principle to protect workers from capitalist competition would be more widely held than the views expressed above.

For Marx, free trade was a moment in the accumulation of capital, as he set out in Capital Volume II in chapters one to three.  In the circuit of money capital, Marx sets out that money (M) is exchanged for commodities (C) which are then exchanged for another sum of money (M).  Obviously this has no purpose for a capitalist unless the second sum of money is larger than the first, or why bother?

Since at each stage in the exchange of money for a commodity and the commodity for money it is the exchange of equivalents, no one is short-changed, so where could a profit arise?  As Marx explains, the commodities purchased by money by the capitalist include machinery, raw materials etc. and labour power, which all go to create the newly created commodities which the capitalist sells for a larger amount of money than spent on buying the commodities used in production.  The increased value of the commodities sold for money by the capitalist arises in production so that in the circuit M – C – M’, the second M’ is larger than the first M and the whole point of the circuit for the capitalist becomes clear.

The sum of money M’ is larger than the original amount of M invested and the increase arises in production, from the employment of labour power, which is remunerated by wages.  Again the assumption is that wages equate to the value of labour power so that we again have an exchange of equivalents and no one is ‘cheated’.  The worker will receive wages to a value that will allow her or him to turn up for work every day in such a condition as will allow her or him to produce to the efficiency, quality and standard required in the particular society that exists at that time and place, and will allow new generations of workers to do the same.

However the value created by the worker in production, through their labour, is greater than the value they are paid in wages for their capacity to work, which is their handing over to the capitalist of their labour-power that the capitalist can direct with a view to producing a profit.  The circuit of capital is therefore better set out as M – C . . P . . C’ – M’; where the first C in the circuit includes the purchase of labour power for wages, P equals production carried out by the worker; the second C’ are the commodities produced by the worker and the second sum of money M’ includes the additional value created in production and included in the second C’. This is the output of production that can then be sold for a bigger sum of money that now includes the profit of the capitalist.

The inequality in capitalism, including different levels of exploitation and power, and the resulting insecurity, stress and degrees of poverty are a result of what arises in production and the class relations that are founded in this production.  To seek to right the wrongs of capitalism through opposition to trade, through trying to make it ‘fair’, or to seek to limit in any fundamental way the inequality and exploitation that capitalism gives rise to through changes to trade, is to miss the point.  All these are a result of the class relations resting in production.  To seek to limit trade is to seek to disrupt C’ – M’; to disrupt the accumulation of capital – or to make it ‘fair’ – when the problem lies within the whole circuit of capital, with the existence of production based on capital itself.

As Marx explained, in all the exchanges within this circuit we have the exchange of equivalents; before the commodities denoted as C’ are produced for sale other commodities, including machinery, raw materials and labour power are also sold and purchased.  Trade unions try to determine the level at which labour power is sold through fighting for “a fair days’ work for a fair days’ pay”, but even they cannot overturn the way capitalism works and cannot fundamentally alter the drive for profit that animates the circuit of capital. Trade unions can no more make capitalism fair than demands for fair trade can prevent exploitation or inequality in the class relations based on production.

Back to part 2

Forward to part 4

Free Trade and Socialism part 2 – the UK general election

Thersa May’s call for a general election has been hailed by the ‘Financial Times’ as a smart move that will give her and the pragmatic Tories some room to negotiate a trade deal with the EU that would be opposed by the zealot Brexiteers.  Today’s paper has a column by the chair of the Institute of Directors praising May while calling for some time for business to adjust to Brexit.  The rise in value of the pound after the news is seen as the smartest guys in the room welcoming the election announcement on precisely these grounds.  Whether this works or not is quite another matter and a decisive victory based on making sure Brexit happens is just as likely to strengthen the rabid demands of those clamouring for a hard Brexit as strengthen its more pragmatic supporters.

The election is therefore set to be all about Brexit and trust in May’s ‘leadership’, or rather her Tory arrogance that is sold as no-nonsense competence, seriousness and proficiency, which a certain section of workers still buy into on the basis of the everyday nationalism and class deference fed to them by the media.  However, even the newly moderated claims for Brexit are undeliverable: she says that she wants “a deep and special partnership between a strong and successful European Union and a United Kingdom that is free to chart its own way in the world”.

The relationship after Brexit can’t be “as deep and special” as the current one so it’s a loss on that one, and the UK will not be “free to chart its own way in the world” no matter how hard it fantasises.  In an issue of the same pink paper last week (and also today) its readers learn that the EU are about to freeze-out British companies’ participation in the European space programme and other EU contracts and funding.  It sounds much better to the ears of Brexiteers when they threaten to just pull the plug and leave without a deal but not quite so comforting when it is reported that the EU bureaucracy is drawing up plans to do exactly the same.

It was also reported in the FT that yet another Minister was visiting India trying to sell it something; Sir Michael Fallon being the empty-handed messenger this time.  The paper reported that ‘military experts say it is a sign of how the UK has been left behind. “If you look at the main four or five players in India, the UK is not there at this point in time”, and It reports that British arms exports fell from £966m in 2010 to £34m in 2015.

So instead of selling arms, Britain now wants to sell India its “arms procurement expertise” because the British might “help them decide what they need.”   The same (or perhaps different) British official thinks reminding the Indians that “the Indian army was created from the British army” and “we share . . an overall ethos” is good sales patter.  This ‘expertise’, the Indians have pointed out, includes ordering two aircraft carriers “that are seven years late . . . (and) are running massively over budget”, and this is without also considering that other problem arising in this British procurement exercise – ordering another aircraft carrier without aircraft for it to carry.

So, Britain is not going to find it easy to chart its own way in the world”; in fact it’s going to find it so hard it’s going to be charting not its own but other, bigger player’s ways in the world, especially as everyone knows, the US way.

Even thinking from first principles – how can you make your “own way” with trade?  Surely you need someone to trade with, someone who will want some say on the rules that govern it; someone who is very likely to be bigger and more powerful than Britain, or will have joined a trading arrangement that makes them bigger and more powerful.  A common strategy – except now for the Brits!

In other words, even if the Financial Times and the money men were correct in the short term, which generally is how long they think about, that May will minimise the impact of Brexit, Britain is going to be worse off.  As I have said before, the threats of a deregulated UK after Brexit are an acknowledgement that the Tory way of attempting to pay the price of Brexit will be to deliver the bill to the working class.  This sugar coats the Brexit pill for business but there will be no sugar coating the poison for workers.

In my last post I argued against the view that the question of trade was one that socialists could not take a side on; or that it ‘depended’ on something else and was therefore perhaps of secondary importance.  In my exchange of views on Facebook set out in that post I said that something could be learned from what Karl Marx thought of free trade.  Then at least, we may have some clue as to what ‘depends’ actually depends on.  Marx obviously thought it was an important issue, just as it is now through the issue of Brexit, and he had a clear position on it.  But I will look at this in the next post.

It is important to understand first that Brexit is bad for trade and will therefore indirectly be bad for workers.  Many workers see the link much more directly – car workers hope that the cars they build can be exported easily into the rest of Europe; university staff seek maintenance of EU grants for their research work; airline staff hope the company retains its base in the UK; farmers hope that they continue to get subsidies; finance workers hope their firms don’t up sticks to Paris or Frankfurt or Brussels or wherever; the list is a very long one.

Because any deal can only be worse and the only thing worse than a bad deal is no deal, the more far-sighted Tories either oppose Brexit or seek a ‘soft’ one.  It is these people that the markets and the ‘Financial Times’ editor and commentators hope will come to the rescue.  Having backed the Tories in the last election, even though it was only they who could deliver them the disaster of Brexit, these people still cling to them again, even while the Tories swear to god that they will deliver it no matter what.  But even with the sugar-coated promise of deregulation, the Tories are going to dash their hopes – the Tories have already promised not to give them the single market or a customs union.  The continuing support of business for the Tories is yet more evidence of their wilful ideological blindness.

Their logic is completely without merit – if the balance of power lies with the EU and the pressure of time is all on Britain, this will very quickly become apparent, in fact it already has as May’s changed tone once article 50 was triggered has shown. May now talks not only the nonsense quoted above but also about a transitional deal, “controlling” immigration not lowering it, perhaps through voluntarily allowing cheap exploitable labour into agriculture when it is needed and then chucking it out afterwards.  Or allowing entry to skilled workers for companies that lobby for it.  Payments can still be made to the EU for some sort of trade access and EU courts will still have ultimate say.  To which it might be asked – what’s the point of leaving, although the Tories think that, with an election victory, answering such a question can at least be postponed.  After all, the May strategy in this election appears to be to say as little as possible.  And there’s a logic to this as well – the same logic.

The Tories cannot promise a ‘soft’ Brexit, or the detail of what it might involve, or even a transitional deal, which has become the favoured option of some business opinion who hope it might morph into something permanent that isn’t hard-on Brexit.  The Tories can’t do these things because those are decisions that are not theirs to take.

The EU will decide whether after less than two years the UK can get lost “making its own way”.  The EU will decide whether there is a transitional deal and what it will look like.  Making any sort of promise during an election would simply invite EU leaders to point out what the real situation is – ‘you say it best when you say nothing at all’ is therefore the only sensible thing to do.  It might make you look increasingly stupid during an election campaign but May is relying on an existing poll lead and a fully undeserved reputation for competence.  And, of course, a compliant media.  How could anyone believe that only she can be trusted to be a strong negotiator with the EU when she’s even afraid to negotiate her way round a TV studio in a leaders’ debate?

If a ‘soft’ Brexit does not exist for the Tories it cannot exist for Jeremy Corbyn either.  The defence of workers’ interests that is the Labour Party’s platform cannot be implemented while leaving the EU.  For those who believe that socialism arises simply from revolution against capitalism and that the EU is a neoliberal conspiracy this is incomprehensible. It is nevertheless true because socialism will be built upon the foundations of the productive forces of capitalism and from transforming its social relations, not merely overturning them.

The more Corbyn stands up for the living standards and rights of working people the more this will conflict with a Brexit agenda, although again and again he turns away from this truth and damages his own case and the prospects for winning over the Remain voters.  The election will truly have revealed the bankruptcy of the bourgeois electoral process if May can keep her mouth shut about what Brexit actually entails and Corbyn can maintain that he will defend workers’ rights without threatening Brexit.

As for the prospects for the election itself; at the start of the campaign the press is clear that Labour is finished.  It must become clear quickly that this is not the case and even by doing this Labour will have registered a success.  Simply by standing up it can continue to fight and by continuing to stand prove the pundits wrong.  Tory arrogance can then first be halted, then challenged, and then thrown back in their faces.  The worst sort of defeat is when you don’t fight, and if you fight there’s always the possibility to win.

Back to part 1

Forward to part 3

Free Trade and Socialism part 1

My last post on the potential effects of Brexit on Ireland or even worse, the effects of the Irish State leaving the EU, led to the following exchange of views on Facebook:

PF:  This piece could have been written by a not especially radical employee of whatever the Industrial Development Authority is now called. …… workers will suffer because their main trading partner is leaving the neo-liberal EU? At least the Sticky 1977(?) plan for Southern capitalism had the merit of claiming a class analysis.

Sráid Marx:  But is it true?

PF:  Depends!

Sráid Marx:  On what?

PF:  It depends on the standpoint. Our man on the Dublin omnibus views everything through the prism of Brexit. Right at the end he says the Brit ruling class is undermining itself. There is, no doubt an ongoing debate, with most of big capital (and their media) opposing BREXIT (the Economist looks forward to it being overturned) while more ‘domestic’ capital – about 90% of firms – in the main support it. Not much to do with intelligence; much more to do with class interests.

As far as the interests of workers go, he suggests that wages will fall, with the implication that if Britain remained, they wouldn’t. Real wages in Britain have fallen over the past period, well before the Referendum. So this is a bit of a dodgy argument anyway.

For the rest of the piece he speculates on tariffs, foreign direct investment, the benefits of WTO rules, migration between the 26 Counties and the UK, the value of trade between the EU, Britain and the Republic and finishes with a swipe at Corbyn, the most left wing leader of the LP – EVER.

All of the economic analysis can be seen in any broadsheet newspaper any day – but the main point is not its orthodoxy. That surely is a problem from someone whose tag line contains the word Marx? The problem is this: everything is viewed through the apparent stupidity of Brexit. He takes sides in an argument between two factions of the capitalist class and berates them for not really understanding their own interests. What’s Marxist about that?

Where does this orthodox analysis lead? To an attack on Corbyn. For not saving the British capitalist class from its apparent Brexit folly by mobilising more Labour voters to support Remain? The political conclusion is even more bizarre. Presumably, the LP should ditch Corbyn and would soar to electoral victory on the promise of the heavenly ‘single market’. Since when has ‘free trade’ been a socialist demand?

If he really wants to see where this leads he should look to ‘Open Labour’, the recent creation of O’Jones and others. In order to advance their ‘Left’ coup against Corbyn, they must shut out the Left. Jones’ diatribes against Stop the War and Stand Up to Racism are designed precisely for this purpose. If the coup from the ‘Left’ succeeds (Momentum, itself divided, has been far too timid in fighting the Right in the apparatus) the Corbyn project is a goner and we’ll be back to a soft left leadership kowtowing to the well funded Blairite right. And they’ll have the right line on Brexit, immigration controls and so on. But they’ll still lose – at least while workers remember what they were like.

Sráid Marx:  So it depends on your standpoint, does it? So barriers to trading the goods and services produced by workers won’t have any effect – is that what you are saying? Less investment won’t have any effect on employment?

In my series of posts on Europe I advance an argument that I think allows workers to take a standpoint independent of the small capital that seems mainly to want out of the EU and the big capital that doesn’t. As for the socialist standpoint on free trade, if you simply google ‘Marx and free trade’ you should get an answer to ponder.

And please don’t put words in my mouth about wanting Corbyn replaced by some soft left alternative that would inevitably pave the way for a Blairite. Some more familiarity with my blog would quickly disabuse you of that speculation. And finally, there really shouldn’t be a debate about whether Brexit will lower wages because it is already happening.

KH:  What about CETA and the Fiscal Compact – that effectively wipes out possibilities of reflation/deflation as well as ability to control inflation rates. It is a completely symbolic gesture if you cannot mandate your own Central Bank to carry out your own sovereign economic and monetary policies, which instead, will be set out entirely in the interests of German rather than Scottish economy.

Only a fool would voluntarily give away national control over fiscal and monetary policy. Six years of EU austerity policies and three structural adjustment programs brokered in a bid to save a massively dysfunctional currency as well as corporate and financial interests have probably guaranteed the election of at least two neo-fascist governments in the next few years.

Wages have been lowered to such an extent in the EU since 2008 that you are happy to accept the election of Wilders et al due entirely to the austerity policies imposed by your beloved ECB.

PF: “So barriers to trading the goods and services produced by workers won’t have any effect – is that what you are saying?” Nation states, including the South of Ireland, used such barriers to protect the economy up to about 1960’s. And the majority of the 26 County working class supported Fianna Fail for exactly the same reason. It only ended when the US ruling class decided post-War that they wanted to muscle in on the pickings of the British Empire (Commonwealth). ‘Free trade’ (one of the reasons the Democrats lost and the AFL-CIO sit on Trump’s Economic Advisory Council) is no more socialist than protectionism.

*           *          *

There are a number of obiter dicta that could be made about the objections to my post on Brexit and Ireland including exhibition of a left-wing variant of ‘Gove’s disease’; that is an aversion to ‘experts’; a reincarnation of that other pathology – ‘project fear’ – which seemed to be a Pavlovian aversion to some variant of capitalist arguments, but in this particular case capitalist arguments you don’t have a convincing response to.

The left-wing Gove’s disease consists of an ability to dismiss argument or evidence that comes from bourgeois experts or those who place some reliance on the argument and evidence they present because:

  1. You don’t like them,
  2. No one on the left should employ them and
  3. You don’t have answer to them (or not one that addresses the point).

Unfortunately, workers are often impressed, confused or frustrated by these arguments and only rarely simply dismiss them, as we have been invited to do.  Socialists therefore need to understand and respond to them, extracting what is of value from them for the benefit of our class.  By analogy – much like Marx did with all those hours in the British library, where he didn’t spend his time simply reading socialist writers.

We have, then, an allegation of bourgeois ‘orthodoxy’ and then an assertion that what we need is “reflation as well as ability to control inflation rates.”  You must be able to “mandate your own Central Bank to carry out your own sovereign economic and monetary policies, which instead, will be set out entirely in the interests of German rather than Scottish economy.”

So, what we have is not an alternative to some sort of bourgeois orthodoxy but a different sort of bourgeois orthodoxy, one that is false.  It is orthodox because what it asserts is state (‘national’) intervention – presumably on behalf of workers – which is nothing to do with socialism since socialism is based on the power of the working class, including the power to destroy and supplant the capitalist state.

The only assumption that could make the demand for different orthodox capitalist economic policies legitimate is that some capitalist policies provide better conditions upon which workers can fight for their own interests, although never forgetting that the bourgeois alternative is ultimately to the benefit of capitalist system and cannot suspend forever its contradictions.

But I am criticised for wanting to take one side in an inter-capitalist dispute (a charge I reject) while it is asserted that socialists should fight for “your own sovereign economic and monetary policies, which instead [in the EU], will be set out entirely in the interests of German rather than Scottish economy”.  Now this really is taking sides on an inter-capitalist dispute.

It is false because, if the capitalist state could, through monetary policy, control the price of money capital, it would equally be able to control the price of all commodities, and why would this not include the value of labour power?  Being able to do so, why could it not plan the operation of the capitalist system through suitable prices so that it could avoid austerity, allow ‘sovereign’ control in the interest of ‘our’ economy (Scottish, Irish, insert country of choice) and in doing so provide well-paid and secure employment, welfare and public services for everyone?

But these are digressions.  The main point is that the original post argued that the disruption to existing free trade arrangements etc. would be bad for the working class and that there is a socialist position on this development.

So what then is the socialist position on free trade and is it one of ‘depends’?

Forward to part 2