HAPPY BIRTHDAY DEAR KARL!

This month, two hundred years ago, (actually on 5 May 1818), Karl Marx was born. And as is usual on any date connected with Marx, a spate of articles by so-called ‘experts’ appeared in periodicals and papers assessing Marx’s contribution to human affairs. Is it not revealing that his birth date is still being used for some kind of public recognition if not quite celebration? Although he has been dead for 135 years his ideas obviously live on. They are lasting far longer, I suggest, than the ideas of those commentators, who frequently declare his irrelevance. In contrast to his painstaking research and conclusions, their feeble assertions will undoubtedly be forgotten only weeks after publication, their names even quicker.

In my experience comments about Marx usually fall into one or other of the following three categories.

1. Those which are hostile to Marx and dismiss him as mistaken and dangerous and therefore not worth the effort of serious study.

2. Those which damn Marx by faint praise and accept (reluctantly or otherwise) that he made some important contributions, but consider he is now outdated and again not really worth the effort to study seriously.

3. Those penned by self-styled ‘Marxists’ who think the Bolsheviks were following in Marx’s footsteps and therefore his works are worth the occasional dip in and out of, before putting them down and getting back to the Lenin or Trotsky version of sectarianism.

This 200 birth date occasion has been no different. So for those who have read one of these recent attempts to disrespect, disregard or distort the great revolutionary-humanists contribution to struggling humanity, I offer this alternative perspective. In this article I will try to point out the shortcomings of each of the above three categories of critique of Marx’s studies and conclusions and provide a more balanced assessment of his efforts to understand the capitalist mode of production and the possibility of a brighter future for humanity.

For a quick example: Marx having read the thoughts of those who (while he was alive) considered themselves ‘Marxists’ (ie category 3 above) declared that he was definitely not a Marxist. This fact and the reasons for expressing it, are rarely considered by those who continue to claim to be ‘Marxist’ and thereby prove that they have not understood the difference between Marx’s revolutionary-humanism and Bolshevik or Stalinist vanguard elitism. Nor have they considered Marx’s views on how some ‘revolutionary men‘ hampered the ‘full development of every previous revolution‘ (Marx. Class struggles in France. Peking edition. page 15.)

Indeed, it is rare to come across anyone – even among his admirers – who has given Marx serious study and this is partly understandable. His economic works comprise of seven substantial volumes of detailed complexity and his political and philosophical writings take up even more substantial volumes. Like any research based branch of intellectual endeavour it takes some time, dedication and persistence to become familiar with the detailed concepts and analysis. It is therefore necessary to make time and summon up commitment. In fact Marx anticipated the difficulty facing readers of his economic researches and methods of presentation, for in a 1872 preface in volume 1 of Das Capital he wrote;

“There is no royal road to science and only those who do not dread the fatiguing climb of its steep paths have a chance of gaining its luminous summits.”

I would hazard a guess that more people have done the fatiguing climb and ascended the steep paths of Mount Everest (and succeeded) than have have attempted to traverse the intellectual glaciers and crevasses within the 7 volumes of economic research by Marx. From my own 60 year experience among the left and in academia, it has to be said that the effort to follow the steep trails blazed by Marx’s research has proved to be far too fatiguing for most people whether of left or right persuasion. Some have even baulked at a leisurely stroll among some of his less Hegelian formulations.

So in my experience, a useful starting point with regard to Marx, is to be wary of anyone – including me – who asserts anything, without providing credible evidence. And remember; even quotations can be manipulated or taken out of context to present a distorted picture – particularly if it is being used to serve a dismissive or disrespectful purpose. What follows is my assessment of the contributions – in several areas – that Karl Marx made to our understanding, of the present and future prospects for our species.

Economics.
One of the important differences between Marx’s critique of capitalist economic activity and most bourgeois economists, including contemporary ones, was with regard to the definition of capital. Most economists describe capital in terms of money or equipment which is supplied by the owners (or borrowers) of capital to fund capitalist production, transport and sales. However, Marx went further and pointed out that capital was accumulated from the previous activities of working people. In fact stripped of its monetary camouflage, it’s bare ‘naked’ form was nothing more (or less) than stored up, previously expended, labour.

Capital, in all its forms, was and is, the result of past labour, but now transformed by workers into commodities, materials, buildings, machinery and money. Or as Marx put it, “Capital is dead labour..” (Capital volume 1 page 233). Workers produce capital – not capitalists! How shocking was that to the minds of the 19th century bourgeoisie? Moreover it was past labour which had been surplus to the direct needs of workers before being creamed off by their employers. He went on to write;

“Wherever a part of society possesses the monopoly of the means of production, the labourer, free or not free, must add to the working time necessary for his own maintenance an extra working time in order to produce the means of subsistence for the owners of the means of production.” (ibid p 235)

Shock, horror!: The source of profit (and capital) – usually shrouded in the esoteric mysteries of book-keeping – was the unpaid, surplus-labour expended by the working classes of the world. And of course, this is the case in the 21st century as it was in the 19th when Marx wrote that. The worker still works part of the day to gain enough to live on but must work another part of the day to make the surplus-products or services and thus value (profits) for the owners and part-owners of the means of production. (So Karl you were definitely right on that). Moreover, he pointed out that improvements in productivity lessened the time needed for workers to earn their wages and increased the time available to produce even bigger profits for the owners. It therefore cannot be surprising that these profits are even more astronomical in modern times than then.

Yet another observation of contemporary relevance given the advent of automation and artificial intelligence, was that mechanisation, meant fewer workers would be needed in the long run, making workers redundant and pushing them into poverty (see Capital volume 1, chapter 15). (You were spot on again Karl!) These elements of Marx’s analysis were hated by the capitalists and their hangers on when he wrote them and they still are. With regard to such negative reactions against the publication of his economic analysis, Marx noted that;

“The peculiar nature of the material it deals with, summons as foes into the field of battle the most violent, mean and malignant passions of the human breast, the Furies of private interest.” (ibid preface)

‘Mean and malignant foes’, adequately describes many of the category 1 critics noted above. And Marx’s economic analysis of capitalism is still hated by some precisely because it is still relevant. Hostility to him is nothing new and his detailed analysis is also why his ideas are considered dangerous by those who continue to benefit from the unpaid labour of working people. They just don’t want working people to read and understand such damning evidence about the system workers are forced to work for when needed. Moreover, we can see from the written evidence that he was certainly not mistaken with regard to the extremes of Poverty and Wealth created under the capitalist mode of production. For in the 21st century, massive wealth is created for the 1% whilst low-wage and food – bank type poverty (or worse) is the structural fate for increasing numbers. This symptom is evident now in all countries dominated by capital, whether we consider the countries which it has dominated for longest or for the shortest.

Finance.
The financial crisis of 2008, the effects of which were devastating to some, witnessed the collapse of finance houses, the terminal atrophy of building societies and the potential bankruptcy of huge banking companies. Credit default swaps and swindles had long fuelled huge 21st century financial bubbles. Many of the above institutions owed money and either went bankrupt or had to be bailed out at public expense. It should be remembered that prior to this ‘crisis’ the mainstream economists and political pundits of the period said this sort of situation could never happen. But it did! They pretended that they had learned the lessons of the 1939 Wall Street crash, for example, and taken measures to avoid such over-speculation and credit collapse. But they hadn’t really learned anything of the sort. In fact they had not only failed to understand the system they were administering, but had ignored people such as Marx, who had done the hard analytic work for them. For example, as long ago as 1860 he had jotted down the following observation;

“With the development of interest – bearing capital and the credit system, all capital seems to double itself, and sometimes treble itself, by the various modes in which the same capital, or perhaps even the same claim on a debt, appears in different forms in different hands. The greater portion of this ‘money – capital’ is purely fictitious.” (Marx. Capital volume 3 page 460.)

Prior to 2008, the world was awash with fictitious capital and bundled debt instruments such as credit default swaps. (So thanks for the warning Karl.) However, I have to report – not many had listened. Indeed Marx had concluded that this system of finance-capital (interest-bearing capital) could, and indeed would, sooner or later, lead to crisis and collapse. Having studied it thoroughly Marx described the process of crisis, in the following way.

“The chain of payments obligations due at specific dates is broken in a hundred places. The confusion is augmented by the attendant collapse of the credit system, …and leads to violent and acute crises, to sudden and forcible depreciation, to actual stagnation and disruption…” (Capital. volume 3 p 249)

All those confused savers and workers who in 2008 queued up outside building societies and banks, or collected their belongings from collapsed firms such as Lehman Brothers would have recognised – obviously not in Marx’s own words – the violence of the crisis, the sudden depreciation of their investment assets and the actual stagnation and disruption which followed. Stagnation and disruption which persists to this day. It was nice of Marx to give humanity a heads up on this further possibility – but again he was largely ignored.

Politics.
It is common knowledge that trust in politics is now probably at its lowest point since the 1930s. Politicians and their ‘spin-doctoring’ co-workers, are now almost universally viewed as self-centred and unreliable if not downright dishonest. Being ‘out of touch’ is one of the more gentle rebukes. But even well before the mid 20th century, the problem of politics was evident to all those who bothered to take off their petite-bourgeois blinkers. Marx wrote;

“Where political parties exist, each party sees the root of evil in the fact that instead of itself an opposing party stands at the helm of the state. Even radical and revolutionary politicians seek the root of evil not in the essential nature of the state but in a definite state form, which they wish to replace by a different state form.” (Marx. Collected Works, volume 3 page 197.)

That adequately describes the party-political, sham democracy which pretends to be the best we can expect to conduct our human affairs.  Politicians are an integral part of the ‘system’. They are solid branches of the same monopodial bourgeois root stock. When not in power, their ‘opposition’ is not to the system of exploitation but only to the others currently in charge of it. And this doesn’t just apply to reformist politicians. Do you think the so-called ‘Marxists’ Lenin, Trotsky and the rest of the soviet politburo bothered to read or understand this? Not before, during or after the ascendency of Stalin, in my opinion. A few pages later in the same document, Marx noted that the more keener and lively the political mind-set is; the more incapable it is of understanding social ills.” (ibid p 199) Even the very rare examples of non-corrupt political understanding, deceives the social instinct of those involved in it. (ibid 204). They are so deep in the box they cannot see out of it. How perceptive of Marx was (and is) all that?

Ecology and production.
We are becoming more aware, if we want to, of the ecological effects of unbridled production and consumption upon the planet. Air, soil, ground-water and sea pollution are becoming harder to hide or ignore as the engine of capitalist production continues to churn out myriads of useful (and frequently useless) commodities and services, in order to continue to gather in profits. But here again this is nothing new. Marx, developing the concepts of earlier political economists made the following assertion in his extensive research notes known as the Grundrisse.

“..capital must on the one hand strive to tear down every spatial barrier to intercourse, ie to exchange and conquer the whole earth for its market,…The more developed the capital, therefore, the more extensive the market over which it circulates, …the more does it strive simultaneously for an even greater extension of the market..” (Grundrisse. Page 539.)

Of course, Marx could not have known the ultimate lengths to which the needs of capital would drive humanity. Two – world wars, in which rival capitalist elites (Allies and Axis) drafted it’s citizens into armies to fight and mass kill each other over ultimate control of colonial and imperial territories for the raw materials (coal, oil, rubber, metals and minerals) and markets needed to feed capitalist production and absorb it’s sales. The barbarity of the first world war (1914-1918) and the second world war (1938-1945) would have undoubtedly shocked him but given what he wrote above such ‘striving for a greater extension of the market’ would not have entirely surprised him. Nor would news that once rocket propulsion had been invented that capitalists would set up business plans to visit other planets, to obtain rare minerals once they have terminally exhausted and messed up this one. (Apart from not predicting total war, jet and rocket propulsion, the despoiling of the planet was well spotted Karl.)

Humanism.
The lack of humanity of so many of those who claimed to be ‘Marxists’, is well documented, as is the lack of it among those who like to be called Fascists. These are both documented on this blog and massively elsewhere. The indifference and brutality of those who claim to be decent and liberal members of the bourgeoisie is likewise daily exposed as the social-democratic led invasions of Iraq, Afghanistan, the bombing of Libya, Yemen and Syria demonstrate. The lack of humanity displayed toward foreign people is greater than that displayed toward their own citizens, but as noted earlier, poverty, austerity, homelessness, injustice, discrimination, are distributed across the whole spectrum of nations, without impinging too greatly on the bourgeois and petite-bourgeois conscience. Consider Marx on this aspect.

“..the whole of human servitude is involved in the relationship of the worker to production…fully developed humanism…is the genuine resolution of the conflict between man and nature and between man and man – the true resolution of the strife between existence and essence, between objectification and self-confirmation…”

And;

“Private property has made us so stupid and one-sided that an object is only ours…when it is used by us.” (Marx. Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. In Collected Works Volume 3, pages 293 – 306.)

Individual consumer fetishism, conspicuous consumption and retail therapy are more than anticipated by Marx’s scathing remarks. Human beings are primarily a social species. We rely upon each other absolutely. However, the capitalist mode of production has forced us into seeing ourselves as primarily individuals. We live in societies but must compete, rather than cooperate with each other for jobs, housing and other essential needs. We are expected to take for granted those (the ‘other’) who supply us with the essentials to live. We are encouraged by the elite to be indifferent to their standards of living and welfare – providing we are comfortably off.

When the low-paid protest or remove their labour or the desperate underclass rebel we are encouraged to get angry and demonstrative, not sympathetic and supportive. Sadly this look after number one mentality has permeated the whole of bourgeois culture and was only pushed back a little (not completely) by the efforts of a few in areas such as health and social services. But still, ‘conflict between humans and between humans and nature’, badly needs resolving by a ‘fully developed humanism‘.

Modes of production.
Another important contribution Marx made to the understanding of the social and economic history of mankind was with regard to modes of production and their transformation from one mode to another. The hunter-gatherer modes of production gave way to pastoral and herding modes, which in turn became surpassed by modes of production based upon settled agriculture. Each transformation was resisted by some and championed by others.

The current capitalist mode of production arose in competition with the aristocratic feudal mode and the latter’s resistance was eventually overcome. Predictably, the dominant classes of each mode think it should be eternal despite any problems the mode has started to cause for the bulk of society. The capitalist mode based upon money and commodity production for profit, is no different in this regard. When it throws at humanity and the environment more unsolvable problems than the bulk of humanity wish to endure, it is time for a further change in the mode of production. For as Marx, pointed out.

“Nature does not produce on the one side owners of money and commodities, and on the other men possessing nothing but their own labour power. This relation has no natural basis, neither is its social basis one that is common to all historical periods. It is clearly the result of past historical development, the product of many economic revolutions, of the extinction of a whole series of older forms of social production.” (Marx. Capital volume 1 page 169.)

For all the above reasons the contribution made to economic, political and social understanding by Karl Marx should be celebrated, not distorted, demeaned or dismissed. More than any other individual he has furnished a set of intellectual tools for the benefit of humanity to utilise in the struggle for a better world and a healthier planet. Its up to more of us to pick them up, clean away the muck piled upon them by the distorters and wield them – or take the easy way out, sit back and leave them to rust. As always we have a choice.

Meanwhile; ‘Happy birthday dear Karl!’

R. Ratcliffe (May 2018)

Advertisements
Posted in Anti-Capitalism, capitalism, Critique, Ecological damage., Economics, Finance, Marx, Politics, Sectarianism | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

CROSSING RED LINES.

According to the leaders of USA, France, and UK, killing people by chemical or biological weapons was crossing a red line and had to be punished. Yet despite claims of acting out of humanitarian concern for innocent civilians, the military strikes against Syria (14 – 4 – 18), were far from acts with a humanist purpose. Indeed, how could they have such a purpose, authorised as they were by a trio of schizophrenic Christians such as Trump, Macron and May? These three, self-appointed Crusaders of the west, acted without consulting those millions of humans who elected them – nor the political representatives they also voted for.

Moreover, despite the previous negative lessons of elite meddling in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lybia and Yemen, they arrogantly decided it was in the world’s best interests to bomb selected targets in Syria. Like typical bourgeois heads of state, they assumed they needn’t ask any of their citizens permission before utilising extremely expensive, tax-payer funded, weapons systems. Nor did they care what intended or unintended consequences might ensue for those Syrians they claimed to be aiding. Bringing the world closer to another international war may not have been probable, but other dire outcomes certainly are.

The ‘crossing red lines’ message delivered to the dictatorial Assad regime (and the many other authoritarians who are undoubtedly watching and listening) is clear; ‘you can carry on killing and maiming whoever you wish, so long as you don’t use chemical – based weapons’. And we can be sure they will. Assad, in particular, has made abundantly clear, that he too cares little or nothing, for ordinary working people, who have been tortured, barrel-bombed and subjected to phosphorus munitions, since they dared to challenge his rule during the Arab Spring. And despite the ‘mission accomplished’ claim, by Trump, nothing substantial has really changed in Syria! Not the well established pattern of death and destruction or even the potential future use of chemical weapons there and elsewhere. Conveniently, the representatives of Trump and his two European political groupies telegraphed their intention days, if not weeks in advance. Clearly the Syrian regime (along with the Russian troops) had plenty of time to move themselves and anything they didn’t want destroyed. So a few more collapsed empty buildings are hardly a competent deterrent to those who are already hell bent on destroying towns and cities in order to cling onto power.

So Politics, trump’s (!) humanity.

The claims of concern for suffering humanity along with the assertion that it was in the national interests of the countries carrying out the strikes are both bogus.The ongoing suffering of working class humanity in Africa, Asia, Middle East and South America under dictatorial forms of elite rule is universally tolerated by these self-appointed Western guardians (sic) of ‘humanity’ – so long as they can reach profitable business and trade agreements. During the lead up to this action in Syria, (and after) dozens of peaceful protesters in Gaza were being killed and seriously injured also on a daily basis, with no concern being shown by Trump, Macron and May for protecting this long-suffering section of humanity.

So whose interests did the strikes actually serve? To work this out just consider the social structure of America, France and Britain. They comprise of three basic classes; the working class, the middle class and the ruling pro-capitalist class. Bombing Syrian targets did not serve the interests of the working or middle-classes whose current round of taxes (and more) will now be used to re-supply the military with the super-weapons they have now exploded in Syria. Nor did this billion dollar offensive serve the interests of most of the pro-capitalist classes of these three countries. The industrial, commercial and financial sectors will gain no extra sales or services in Syria on the back of this aggressive action. If we keep our heads clear of the rhetoric and propaganda, it is not hard to see that the bombing of Syria actually only served the interests of two very small groups; some ruling politicians along with some arms manufacturers.

With these considerations in mind it is not difficult to conclude that this ‘Trumped up’ troika’s bombing of Syria is not really about concern for human life there, nor was it in the interests of the bulk of their own citizens. It’s motive was predominantly political and the action itself was one of opportunist political posturing. It is obvious that these three politicians are administering countries which are in decline economically, financially, socially and ethically. Trump, Macron and May personify the latest effort at national governance during the crisis riddled decline of the bourgeois mode of production in the west. They are as conscious as we are, of their impotence in the economic, financial and social spheres of their respective countries and they are floundering around for positive approval. The gap between their rhetoric and the reality experienced by their citizens is daily widening and they fear the political consequences. It is a well known fact that they are increasingly disliked by large numbers of their citizen and therefore they had reason to hope to re-establish their voter appeal by appearing dynamic, tough and decisive. Macron, for example, even tried to claim recruiting Donald Trump to continued military activity in Syria.

And that’s not all. The anticipated chorus of applause for their audacity from most of the international political and military elite also served to lift their self-esteem among their elite peers and hangers on. This action also opens up more possibilities, if not probabilities, for future employment when they are ultimately rejected in future elections. It is common knowledge that the revolving door between politics and business for favoured political elites has many lucrative openings. Just look how well Tony Blair did – not too long after being instrumental in supporting the fabricated, grossly inaccurate dossier and costly and fatal decision to invade Iraq.

But Economics also underpins Politics.

Furthermore, among the political and commercial background noise in the west, there is also a concern from a few among the elite to slow down or impede the development of rival national political and business elites who are encroaching further on spheres of ‘influence’ normally associated with the west. In the aftermath of this latest strike on Syria, a USA spokeswoman was brazenly candid about the desire to curb Iran’s political ambitions in the middle-east. The west’s military action in Syria, to some extent, serves precisely this purpose but also with a more generally spread effect. The elites in China, Russia and to a lesser extent in Iran, for example, are being reminded by American, French and British elites that the latter are not going to roll over in the ongoing competitive struggle to maintain positions of influence and power.

Of course, there may be various other ancillary reasons in the complex mix of motives (and actors) for the type and scale of meddling in other countries affairs, but the most dominant and persistent one is the constant need of capitalist countries for sources of raw materials and markets. The insatiable economic needs of capital fuelled the original periods of armed colonial and imperial expansion, but these insatiable needs have not gone away. Indeed, they have intensified further. So they are still crucial in the neo-liberal phase of increased capitalist development globally. Shaking hands with oppressive Saudi elites, as May did recently, guarantee the oil supplies industry needs and facilitates arms sales for British Capitalist concerns. Welcoming, genocidal Israeli elites to the White-house, as Trump did not too long ago, ensures not only trade and investments but brings political support and votes at elections. Macrons’ arm has been extended many times since his election for the essentially same reason.

Personal dislike, individual advantage, political posturing and even revenge may be partly motivating factors in creating an urge for military intervention among some of the elite, but political or economic advantage or the lack of it would be the ultimate determining ones. Perhaps it is obvious why the west’s elites do not intervene in China or Russia despite extreme inhuman practices there. These economic rivals are just too big to take on militarily. Saudi, Israel, Egypt and any number of other middle-sized countries, where ordinary people are severely oppressed and exploited are not threatened, bombed or invaded either – for they are favourably disposed to the west. Not so in the case of Syria, whose elite is increasingly allied with Russia. The west’s political elites have nothing important to lose by bombing Syria and as noted above something they hope to gain.

And ‘black ops’ and fabrications are the norm.

The situation in Syria is probably the most confusing of those post Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East, which sprang into being only to be frustrated and channelled into political dead ends or sterile civil wars. Although dissimulation and false flag activities are as old as politics itself, there are now so many black ops around in the 21st century, that it is almost impossible to distinguish rhetoric from reality. Yet the main indisputable fact in Syria is that ordinary citizens are surrounded by rival factions and have become part of the ‘collatoral damage’ as these factions slug it out with every weapon they can get their hands on. The details of practically everything else in this conflict is mainly shrouded by the fog of war or shrouded by propaganda and is therefore the subject of speculation and biased opinion.

Being ‘on the ground’ so to speak may allow a more balanced assessment of what is taking place in any war (civil or military) but even this is no guarantee of impartiality or accuracy in reporting. Take the recent visit of British Christians to Syrian Orthodox Christians as an example of how being on the ground can become the subject of distortion and manipulation by all and sundry. If anyone believes that any armed side (I repeat ANY side) in the conflict in Syria is NOT capable of withholding information, faking incidents or not willing to use any or all types of methods of killing or maiming and blaming others, then they are naive or seriously suffering from confirmation bias. There has yet to appear on planet earth a political group or military elite who are fully open, fully honest and fully humane – even though hopefully a few will make the attempt to be so.

The pattern of sectarian double – dealing, deceitful, dishonest and nasty internicine (and non-internicine) violence has been revealed within anti-capitalist movements claiming to represent the working class and a humane future. (see ‘The Revolutionary Party’ on this blog) How much more culpable in this regard are those groups and movements whose aspirations are merely to seize or keep hold of power for the benefit of an elite. The known history of all nation-state elites is littered with examples of false-flag operations, fake news, clever and convincing forgeries, staged incidents, victim blaming, gagging orders, inhumane treatment, torture and assassination. For those bent on seizing or holding onto power – anything goes.

For this reason any claim or counter-claim by any organised actor in Syrian conflict, as elsewhere, would need to be doubly verified by proven, reliable multiple sources. And if these are lacking then it’s best to avoid simply regurgitating what is presented as plausible or what one is pre-disposed to believe or on reflection would like to believe. Pretending to know, what is accurate and not accurate from afar, or guessing from extremely limited information would be simply a further muddying of already murky waters. This understanding does not mean staying silent or refusing to comment on events in Syria or on other complex situations, but it does suggest a degree of caution in arriving at more than general conclusions until reliable sources and the best forms of verification possible can be established.

And of course working people of all countries need to recognise the fact that sectarians of all shades, both political and religious, frequently engage in life and death struggles against each other, generally poison the intellectual and social atmosphere with their distortions, bitterness and dogma. They invariable repel ordinary working people and will even turn on workers, if the latter are not sufficiently deferential to their dogmatic ideas and vanguardist leadership pretensions. So in Syria, as elsewhere, it is worth keeping in mind that sectarians, as with nation state elite actors, are the least trustworthy in transmitting reliable information and evidence to working people – and that includes our own nation state elites.

R. Ratcliffe (April 2018)

Posted in Anti-Capitalism, capitalism, Critique, neo-liberalism, Politics, Sectarianism | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

‘BEST WORKERS IN THE WORLD’ – 2.

In the previous article “Best workers in the world”, I drew attention to the re-emergence of authoritarian, nationalist, one-nation ideas which are being promoted and implemented by various right-wing political parties throughout Europe and beyond. I used some of the ideas expressed by Donald Trump in his speech at Davos, to the US Senate and his State of the Union speech to demonstrate this, for three main reasons. First, because Donald Trump is currently one of the most prominent and widely followed international politicians; second  because the ideas he has expressed are particularly clear examples of this re-emerging trend, and third;  because given the common experiences of working people internationally this type of post-neoliberal thinking has made these ideas increasingly attractive to many working people. 

However, as yet such ideas have not been attractive to large majorities of working people in their struggling communities.  Perhaps this is only because, as yet, they are being uttered by right-wing extremists and therefore, by this association, are suspect.  Here is just a reminder of one example from Donald Trump; We must invest in our people. When people are forgotten the world becomes fractured. Only by hearing and responding to the voices of the forgotten can we create a bright future that is truly shared by all” (Trump at Davos). A ‘bright future shared by all’; who wouldn’t want that? Here in the UK essentially the same message (a fairer Britain for all) is being peddled by the Teresa May wing of the Conservative party, also with mixed Thatcher and Cameron tainted results. But pause for a moment and imagine the effect of such ideas if, or perhaps when, they are being mouthed or penned by seemingly sincere left social democrats such as Bernie Saunders in the USA, Jeremy Corbyin the UK, or their analogues elsewhere. These ideas would then be far more influential, but nonetheless, equally misleading.

Misleading, because achieving a bright future for everyone is an impossible pipe-dream under the capitalist mode of production. Not even in boom times has capitalism created a bright future for all or fairness for all. Yet this fact is nowhere being admitted. Whilst the technological level of production achieved under  the pressure of competition is truly impressive, the social, moral and ecological condition it has created is in many ways the opposite. As a socio-economic system capitalism is only capable of delivering nightmares from one side of the globe to the other.  This fundamental structural flaw in the current mode of production is largely ignored or emphatically denied by the whole spectrum of establishment politicians – including many on the left. Mainstream politicians and their supporters are in complete denial concerning the systems many corrosive contradictions of which their privileges and ideas are an integral part.

Rival sections of the pro-capitalist elite, (left, centre or right politically) pretending to know what is best for the future and really caring for the welfare and well-being of workers, are now, as in the past, a dangerous threat to collective humanity. Perpetuating and spreading illusions about what lies ahead, is not what should be done to people we really care about. The underlying economic ignorance and self-serving motives for such pretence by political elites need to be exposed for what they are – strategies to ensure the survival of capitalist-based, resource squandering, over-producing, vastly unequal societies. As we already know from the history of capitalism so far, societies, whose entire logic puts economic and financial profits before people, before the environment, before peace, before sustainability, before clean air, clean seas, animal welfare, etc., etc., are the problem we all face, not part of the future solution.

Economic crises create political changes.
If we stay with the example of the USA, for the moment, and precis the social and economic conditions there, we will reveal the nature of the fertile ground for planting the message of one people, one nation, one strong elite to ensure it. It is these conditions which have provided the underlying basis for an enthusiastic response from large sections of the electorate to the above-noted Republican rhetorical concern for their welfare. By doing so we will also find a striking similarity to what is taking place within all the ‘advanced’ (sic) capitalist countries of the globe and some of the less advanced. In two previous articles, (‘Neglected Voices 1 & 2′) the deteriorating situation of the working class in the UK was examined so it will be useful as well as logical here to consider that of their American counterparts.

In his book ‘The Working Class Majority’, Michael Zweig calculates that, economically defined, two – thirds of Americans are working class. This is despite patronising and misleading claims by some commentators that working people are actually ‘middle-class’. And it is this working class, in the USA which has suffered most during the neo-liberal phase of capitalist economic and financial development. If this is doubted, just consider the following short summary.

It is estimated that between 1970 and 1980 in Ohio 50,000 jobs were lost in steel and related industries and unemployment there rose to 25%. By 2009 the general unemployment rate for those American working people on the lowest 10 percent income was 31%. By the same year it was calculated that manufacturing jobs in America were down to 10% of non-farm jobs and one third of these had gone by 2000. According to Molly Line (in ‘Job Hunt: Blue Collar Workers Struggle Most’) one in every six blue-collar workers lost his or her job in the post 2008 recession. Between 2000 and 2008 the poverty rate in some large metro areas in the US grew by 25%. In 2009, the National Centre on Family Homelessness estimated that 1.5 million children in the USA were homeless. Also in 2009, Elizabeth Warren wrote the following;

“One in five Americans is unemployed or just plain out of work. One in nine families can’t make the minimum payments on their credit cards. One in eight mortgages is in default or foreclosure. One in eight Americans is on food stamps. More than 120,000 families are filling for bankruptcy every month. The financial crisis has wiped out more than $5 trillion from pensions and savings.”

In May 2011 a poll concluded that 69% of Americans were worried about having enough money to live reasonably; 41% were afraid of losing their homes. According to Matt Miller (in The Upside of Downward Mobility’) close to 100 million Americans were in families that make less real income than their parents did at the same age. According to the US Bureau of Statistics, 40 million Americans are not entitled to paid sick leave. If we add to all this tip of the iceberg set of problems facing American working people, environmental issues, such as the water poisoning at Flint in Michigan due to local state efficiency cuts, land and water contamination by Fracking in many rural areas, collapsing infrastructures, drug addiction and gun crime in urban settings then the combined effects on working peoples’ thinking cannot be surprising. The general situation was even worse in 2016 so why wouldn‘t many of these workers listen to and act upon the words of someone from the elite who wanted to; “...use our power, our resources and our voices, not just for ourselves but for our people, to lift their burdens, to raise their hopes…” (Trump at Davos)

True, many such words have been used before. Hardly any politician, Republican or Democrat running for President in the USA would now or in the past miss an appeal to the disaffected working class voters. After all they need as many votes as possible on election day.  Yet, despite the increasing disillusionment of those who have heard it all before, from the mouths of Kennedy to Clinton and seen little or no subsequent action, it is a message many of them would still wish to hear – if sincerely meant. And would not such a voice be particularly listened to if that person was not one of the usual professional politicians either, Democratic or Republican, in the US (or Conservative or Labour in the UK etc.), who have done nothing but neglect their situation for four or five decades?

In the USA arena of 21st century economic and social crisis can it really be surprising that so many listened to the revamped message of one, people, one-nation, one strong protective government when someone different, such as Donald Trump, articulated it? After all, in the absence of revolutionary anti-capitalist perspectives there are only the following few options to choose for indigenous American workers of whatever shade of skin they are born into.

a) Do little or nothing apart from survive and see what happens. Apart from occasional strikes, petitions, demonstrations and voting for established parties this has been the default option for the vast majority suffering under one or more of the many negative symptoms produced by capitalism.

b) Choose to not vote at all from disgust or disillusionment or vote for alternative politicians in the hope for something better.

In the absence of revolutionary-humanist anti-capitalist ideas and actions, these are exactly the limited choices being made currently by large numbers of working people everywhere. But if those above are as yet the limited collective choices facing working people, the choices facing the pro-capitalist elites are also limited. Faced with social tensions due to the systemic crisis, the option of continuing to peddle the same neo-liberal message of the recent past or dust off and scrub-up the previously discarded paternalistic ethic of a more distant period, has split the elite both ways. Hence the current war of bitter words and back-stabbing actions between them. Interestingly, a related phenomena in terms of middle-class voting is also beginning to emerge in some countries as it did after the Second World War. Many of those with a stake in the present system are wishing to conserve their situation by backing left reformist politics.

This move is in stark contrast to those who among the new generation of working class feel they have been abandoned by left reformist politics and are seeking more radical, anti-establishment, albeit reactionary nationalist, forms of politics in the hope of raising their situation. In other words, the ‘established’ reformist left politicians are losing much of the working class vote and are gaining votes from the liberal-minded middle class. It is now becoming clearer that the traditional so-called political parties of the working class, are in reality what they have always been – parties of the middle-class. By the same measure it is also becoming much clearer to the working class that in reality they have no political party they can really call their own. Hence the present period of political apathy, voter instability and unpredictable party-political personality changes.

However, to return to the previous point; in face of the developing crisis, the paternalists on all sides need more than just the context of austerity and the refurbished petite-bourgeois rhetoric noted above. They need to spread divisions among the oppressed and exploited.  

Creating enemies within and without.
So this reformulation of aspects of pro-capitalist one-nation ideology is only a beginning. It is obvious that to survive a severe crisis, any top-down form of society needs more than hopeful sounding, jam tomorrow, ideas and patronising sentiments. Faced with a large majority suffering in various ways from the effects of a decaying mode of production, unity of the oppressed against the system must be avoided and opposed at all costs. So first; human enemies without need to be identified or created, in order to present a threat common to all. Second; human enemies within need to be identified or created, in order to divide the masses. If the two projected threats can be linked in any negative way, so much the better. Furthermore these two designated scapegoats eventually need to be progressively demonised.

The political logic for this elite survival strategy is obvious. Labelling at least two human ‘sources’ as enemies within and without allows blame for any problems encountered during the elite promised process of ‘lifting the burden of the people’ to be deflected away from them and onto the scapegoats. That way away the elite and the mode of production they uphold and defend – the real enemies of humanity – are spared serious scrutiny. It is interesting to note that historically and contemporarily, the enemies within are rarely if ever, defined in economic class terms, for that would draw attention to the class nature of capitalism, and the real nature of problems and solutions. Instead, they are predominantly defined in cultural, nationalistic or political terms. Given the nature of bourgeois nationalist ideas, enemies without are of course more often than not defined in nationalist identities.

In terms of the USA, the current enemy ‘within’ are seen by the Democratic wing of the elite as being Trump and his ‘despicable supporters, more of them later. The enemy of choice ‘without’ for the dominant Democrats is clearly still Russia, despite its transition from Stalinist Party authoritarianism to Putin style capitalist autocracy. They are eagerly cranking up anti-Russian rhetoric to a level reminiscent of the Cold War period and this is serving essentially the same elite-centred purpose. Furthermore, Democrats in the US conveniently wish to pin the blame on Russia, for their own poor showing in elections. Some Democrats would have us believe that the reason they lost the Presidential election, was not due to general voter disgust or disdain with their party and candidate, but due to Russian meddling. They are not even against insinuating that people who did not or do not vote for them, must be witting or unwitting dupes of Russia – a sort of sinister (or confused) 5th column – and therefore a potential enemy within.

In contrast, from the renewed Tea-Party, Trump, Republican perspective, the enemy ‘within’ is combination of the bureaucratic ‘swamp’ and the political correct brigade whilst the enemies without are not Russia (where lucrative financial deals can still be made) but Iran, China, Korea and other rogue (or Trumps defined ‘shit-hole) countries immigrants. In the UK the scapegoats without are defined by some Brexiteers as the French and German-leaning Brussels bureaucrats of the European Economic Union, whilst those within are currently the non-invited immigrants from wherever they originate.

This pattern of enemy within and without could be demonstrated to exist elsewhere but that would require far more space and time, than currently at my disposal.  However, the above illustration, together with its most extreme historical expression in 20th century Europe, (Fascism) is enough to identify authoritarian nationalisms, enemy within and enemy without longevity and the progress of its currently mutating forms. But to grow, such ideas and forms also require more than just the fertile ground of degrading austerity and social concerns within communities, noted above (and in ‘Neglected Voices). Since establishment politicians are now so poorly regarded  they need help in creating the above noted divisions. It is here that in terms of identifying their helpmates in manufacturing scapegoats within, we need to confront a double standard often introduced by those on the left who have departed from a working class position and adopted a petite bourgeois one. 

Double standards concerning the ‘despicables’.
First of all we need to recognise that in most countries, the opinion makers and dominant public commentators occupy a middle-class social and economic position. Therefore, the voices and opinions of the middle-class are those which dominate the professions, the media and all branches of politics. These people are invariably the human instruments and amplifiers of bourgeois and petite-bourgeois propaganda. Such socio-economic categories of the ‘middle’ are the creation of the capitalist mode of production during the formative periods of its development. Historically, the middle-classes grew exponentially and benefited considerably during the periods of colonial expansions and imperialist control of the major global sources of raw materials and markets. Incidentally, as non-producers of capital, they were (and are) paid out of the surplus-value extracted by the capitalists and the state from productive workers at home and abroad.

Whether they fully understood the source of their substantial income stream or not, the middle-classes were frequently enthusiastic supporters of, and eager participants in one or other aspect of the global expansion of capital. During those periods, they either patronised or demonised the indigenous peoples who were forced to contribute to their stipends and who sooner or later complained bitterly. These global expansions of capital involved armed incursions which took away or destroyed the the established economic and social life of the indigenous peoples of most of the world and left them destitute, dependent or in millions of instances – dead! 

In many cases, the initial European explorers were met, by the indigenous peoples with curiosity and even friendly support. It was only later when their entire life-styles were progressively threatened that invaded peoples resisted in more determined ways. Indigenous peoples rebellions took place in India, Africa, Asia, North and South America, the Middle-East, Australia as well as Oceana. Their opposition to pro-capitalist incursions was also frequently declared by the representatives of this class to be despicable (and even worse terms were applied) and their efforts described as ‘resisting progress’ toward a better world.

Later still, organised liberation struggles in many countries replaced earlier forms of anti-colonial, anti-settler resistance but still with the intent of reversing the infiltration of Europeans and of getting most of them out of their countries. Due to the breadth and depth of historical research, the modern, middle-classes, have learned the negative reality which accompanied these colonial and imperial conquests and incursions by pro-capitalist Europeans, and have largely modified their views.  The left – orientated elements of the modern middle-classes have even become critical of these Colonialist and Imperialist episodes in the history of their respective countries. Many became retrospectively supportive of the indigenous peoples rights to resist the 18th and 19th century settlement of strangers among them and of the many forms (peaceful or not) this resistance took.

In the opinions of many left-leaning, middle-classes, rebellions and peaceful resistance by indigenous peoples to threats to their way of life, were no longer actions to be criticised or brutally put down. Instead they became rights of resistance to be retrospectively championed and defended. Skin pigmentations or differing modes of production, were no longer accepted by the ‘politicallycorrect’ left as a sufficient reason to deny the right of 17th, 18th and 19th century indigenous peoples to defend their preferred ways of life. Nor was it deemed valid to demonise them as ‘despicable’ and subhuman for doing so. In the consciousness of the left-leaning middle-classes the resistance of native populations to unwelcome dislocations of their ways of economic and social ‘being’ became legitimate forms of indigenous peoples struggle. Retrospectively, for those with an ounce of humanitarian concern, the centuries of resistance by dark-skinned people’s in Africa, less dark skinned peoples in North and South America, or the Middle East along with those in Asia and Oceanic Islands were seen to be ‘understandable’ and inevitable.

Step forward to the 21st century and witness how pale-skinned working class sections of humanity are now automatically and routinely being labelled, by some of the left-leaning middle class, as fascist or racist for wishing to defend their existing ways of living. When these now indigenous peoples and communities wish to protect their way of life from unwelcome and uninvited incursions and dislocations of it by pro-capitalists and their agents of change they are deemed well out of order. In North America, Europe and elsewhere, pale skinned indigenous working class communities are being demonised by some on the left for doing more or less what all indigenous peoples of whatever skin pigmentation shade have done in the past. That is to say try to defend their way of life using the only means available to them. Instead of supporting their rights to do so, whilst denouncing any fascistic style violence against other victims, they are not only being vilified generally by some on the left, but abandoned to the dubious attentions of the right-wing nationalist authoritarians and their above-noted ideological entrapment strategy.

The abandonment of a class analysis of capitalism, by the liberal and the reformist middle-class ‘left’ has rendered them incapable of distinguishing hardly anything in humanity beyond biologically-determined gender differences or the artificial and racist-inspired ‘identity’ designations of black and white. I describe the latter designations, as artificial and racist, because in fact there are no black or white skinned human beings; in reality these descriptive terms belong only to the artists or decorators palette. Like race, the terms were borrowed political applications and pejorative inventions imposed upon people, during the colonialist period. The terms were used to further imply a good and bad distinction between European pale-skinned conquerors and dark-skinned conquered. The fact that these terms are still being robustly applied to human beings (also in the form of defensive ‘identity politics’) is testament to the power of bourgeois and petite-bourgeois ideology in dominating the language and discourse of human relations. This domination is also  testament to the relative weakness of a revolutionary-humanist tradition with which to counter it.

So because of the rarely challenged popularity of these artful political identity designations it still needs to be frequently asserted that in the real world of collective humanity there are no black and white human beings, just as there are no biological races. The real socio-economic world is now made up of dark-skinned capitalists, pale-skinned capitalists and shades between as well as female capitalists. There are also dark-skinned workers, pale-skinned workers and shades in between as well as female workers. The same pigmentation range also applies to the middle-classes. That is the visible reality which – for those who want to see – stands glaringly opposed to the linguistic distortions imposed upon it by the past and present needs of a pro-capitalist elite. It is only in fictionalised bourgeois or petite-bourgeois ideological descriptions of the human species that there are two opposed dualistic categories of black and white people etc., and the illogical racist extension of this fiction to suggest the existence of inferior and superior peoples.

And, whilst it is important to recognise any violence and injustice of previous generations of working people perpetrated against indigenous peoples, this recognition cannot be an excuse to inflict indifference or vengeance upon current generations of working people, who had little or nothing to do with this whole elite – promoted capitalist driven era. Furthermore, dispossession, conquest and ethnic cleansing led by powerful (and arguably extremely despicable) elites have occurred from the periods of the ancient Empires of Egypt, Persia, Greece and Rome, through to the middle-ages leaving most countries inhabited by people of widely different origins. Very few of us presently located anywhere are descendants of the original occupants of the land we live in. To pretend or assert otherwise is evidence of a politically motivated viewpoint not a historic one.

The past is past and can only be sensibly used to learn the lessons and improve how we treat each other in the present and future. That is a composite task for humanist motivated historians and academics, but for the few remaining anti-capitalists and revolutionary-humanists, there is another. That is to support the rights of all workers to collectively and humanely defend their standards of living, warn them about the divisive strategies and tactics of the pro-capitalist elites and to explain the inner workings of the capitalist mode of production. It is also a fact, needing constant repetition, that pale-skinned working people are also victims of the capitalist mode of production, even if in some places not to the same extent as their darker skinned brothers and sisters. Our task is certainly not to vilify or demonise them because through long struggles, many of them have moderately improved their living conditions. Any attempts to turn them or dark-skinned workers into the enemy within needs to be vigorously challenged.

Challenging ALL the dominant messages.   
And of course, as already mentioned, all this political re-positioning by the right and centre is not just occurring in America and the UK. Elite voices in Europe and elsewhere are expressing similar ideas in the hope of influencing workers to vote them into office and keep them there. As mentioned in the previous article, it is the authoritarian, nationalist, one people message which needs to be challenged and confronted, not any particular mouthpiece who utters it. Abstract concepts such as nationalism and people serve to ignore or deliberately disguise the fact that there are economic and social-class structures which are international and interdependent. From a revolutionary-humanist perspective, there are no national solutions to the current multiple crises (economic, financial, social, political and ecological) caused by the capitalist mode of production.

There are no authoritarian solutions to these problems either. In fact the current economic, financial, political, academic, scientific, medical, military, regulatory, legal and sundry other authorities have got us into the above noted problems in the first place. Not one of them, left, right or centre, for all their so-called status and qualifications, had the foresight or determination to warn about, help avoid or prevent, financial manipulation and asset bubble collapses, crop failures, animal diseases, relative overproduction and destruction of commodities, military inspired war disasters, air and water pollution, ecological destruction, de-forestation, anti-biotic resistant bacteria, drug addiction, sexual predation, honour killings, female genital mutilation, fundamentalist terrorism and many other problems humanity now needs to overcome. It would be an extreme example of myopia or wilful self-delusion to think that with more authoritarian powers granted to elites than they already have, they will do anything but make matters worse.     

Capitalist ideology and practice is based upon creative destruction and destruction always comes first. It’s advocates destroy previous methods of production, as well as modes of production, in order to replace them with their own preferences. Capitalists destroy land and sea resources to recklessly extract the raw materials they need to fuel their production and transportation methods. They deliberately destroy other economic communities in order to create markets for their goods.  Where not prevented, they even destroy the health and safety of workers by long hours and unsafe practices. Capitalist and pro-capitalist elites at times even try to destroy entire communities and nations. Witness Iraq, Syria, Yemen to name just a few recent examples.

In two previous world wars, they have tried and succeeded in destroying as many of their rivals citizens as possible and as much of their infrastructure and productive capacity as could be achieved by the then available means. It is such a dominant way of thinking that pro-capitalist ideology has permeated and saturated the minds of the pro-capitalist elites in all the various departments of modern life irrespective of whether they are conservative, liberal or left leaning in their political disposition. For this reason it is the ideas of this entire political spectrum which needs to be exposed and de-constructed and these exposures taken to the working classes, wherever they are, whatever their circumstances, and no matter how they have previously voted. Workers of the world still need to unite; for they still have only their chains to lose and a better, more sustainable, future to create.

R. Ratcliffe  (March 2018)

Posted in Anti-Capitalism, capitalism, Critique, dispossession, Ecological damage., Nationalism, neo-liberalism, Politics, Revolutionary-Humanism | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“BEST WORKERS IN THE WORLD”

The title of this article is a phrase from a speech at an international conference. However, it was not, as the reader might think, at a conference of trade unionists, nor of left-wing anti-capitalist radicals addressing a like – minded  audience.  If you, the reader might have thought so, you would be wrong. And actually, this was not all that was said in praise of these workers. It was also stated that they “really make our countries run” and “make our countries great“. Nor was it Bernie  Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn or some other social democrat who went on to say much more about the importance of workers and their families at this particular conference.  It was actually said by a right-wing capitalist exploiter of working people and their families who just happens to be the current President of the United States of America. Yes it was Donald Trump at Davos in 2018!  So I guess many people (including the Davos elite) might have wondered just what the hell was going on? But apparently not many in the mainstream media, for the bulk of their attention was elsewhere.

Perhaps it should be no surprise that the smoke and mirrors around the faux pas and comings and goings of the White House and the numerous minute forensic style investigations were absorbing the interests and energies of the media and politicians of all sides. However, this toxic mix of who leaked that’, ‘who spoke to whom’, ‘who knew what’ and ‘when did they know it’ at the frequent mad-hatter style media gatherings is not really what is important. I suggest more of us need to pan back from this microscopic self-indulgent, petite-bourgeois political introspection and see the bigger picture, for there are global implications involved. The bigger picture is, of course, the increasing dysfunction of the entire economic, financial, ecological, moral, political and social system – internationally! And as a consequence, what is increasingly important, as the crises of the capitalist mode of production deepens, are the programmatic changes that are now either occurring (or about to occur) in the political programmes of pro-capitalist elites world-wide.

The most high profile and transparent example of these political re-positionings in the west has been the modifications the Tea Party, Bannon and Trump wing of the Republican Party have made to their public appeal to the US electorate in 2016/17. Therefore, it is revealing that essentially the same political message has been retained and repeated by Donald Trump at Davos, at the US Senate and in the State of the Nation speech. For this reason I intend to focus on the important changes in emphasis revealed within these speeches for I contend these are not the result of his own individual ideas, but represent the thinking of an ascendent section of the elite class, whether these are dark skinned, pale skinned or female members of it. These ideas will therefore, have a life independent of the present incumbent at the White House and also independent of North American Continent.  They therefore need to be taken seriously rather than simply being dismissed as the off-the-cuff ramblings of a man out of his depth in the muddy (or swampy) waters of US politics.

The speech at Davos.
The speech at Davos is probably the most condensed articulation of the new thinking within the Republican wing of the pro-capitalist elite of the USA and points to its future development and use. To me the most strikingly obvious observation to be made of that speech is the following. Out of the 1,905 words spoken at Davos, 528 of them were aimed directly at the working class. Or to put it another way, more than one quarter of his speech was not primarily aimed at the assembled elite listening to him but at the working class electorate in the USA. Having declared to the assembled rich-list ‘guests’ that American workers were “the best workers in the world” as noted, he didn’t stop there. Here are a few other extracts from those 528 words to give a fuller flavour.

In rebuilding America we are also fully committed to developing our workforce. We are lifting people from dependence to Independence because we know the single-best anti-poverty program is a very simple and very beautiful paycheck. To be successful it is not enough to invest in our economy.

In continuing he went on to speak about the ‘forgotten’ people (ie the white-collar and blue-collar workers, the unemployed, single parents, pensioners, impoverished students etc.) in this increasingly ‘fractured world’ and then declared;

We must invest in our people. When people are forgotten the world becomes fractured. Only by hearing and responding to the voices of the forgotten can we create a bright future that is truly shared by all. The nation’s greatness is more than the sum of its production and a nation’s greatness is the sum of its citizens, the values, pride, love, devotion and character of the people who call that nation home.

In drawing attention to the considerable economic, financial and political power of those assembled economic and political elites present, he included the following;

With this power comes an obligation however, a duty of loyalty to the people, workers, customers, who made you who you are.Together let us resolve to use our power, our resources and our voices, not just for ourselves but for our people, to lift their burdens, to raise their hopes and to empower their dreams.

He closed his Davos speech with thanking the organisers and then added the following remarks.

“…but most importantly, thank you, to all of the hard-working men and women who do their duty each and every day, making this a better world for everyone. Together let us send our love and our gratitude to them because they really make our countries run. They make our countries great.

Speech to Congress.

These worker orientated themes were repeated in his speech to Congress were he declared a desire to “reward good workers” and promised to “protect American workers”. And concluded with another  rhetorical flourish;

“….my highest loyalty, my greatest compassion, and my constant concern is for America’s children, America’s struggling workers, and America’s forgotten communities. I want our youth to grow up to achieve great things. I want our poor to have their chance to rise.

To emphasise this targeted focus on the situation of the working classes and poor he then went on to define them in the following manner.

They work in every trade. They sacrifice to raise a family. They care for our children at home. They defend our flag abroad. They are strong moms and brave kids. They are firefighters, police officers, border agents, medics, and Marines.

State of the Union speech.
The Presidents State of the Union speech was much longer and covered more ground than the previous two. Drug addiction, the Wall, controlled immigration, terrorism, rebuilding the nuclear arsenal, North Korea, Iran and support for Israel against Palestine were mentioned.  But even among these (and numerous other issues he mentioned), he still managed to fulfil his role as Republican promoted pied-piper of capital with a mandate to lure workers into supporting what is shaping up to be the first stages of a new form of unified authoritarian nationalist ideology.  For example;

So tonight, I am extending an open hand to work with members of both parties — Democrats and Republicans — to protect our citizens of every background, color, religion, and creed. My duty, and the sacred duty of every elected official in this chamber, is to defend Americans — to protect their safety, their families, their communities, and their right to the American Dream.

All of us, together, as one team, one people, and one American family.”

Our task is to respect them, to listen to them, to serve them, to protect them, and to always be worthy of them.”

Most of the above ideas and sentiments, if not all, could have come from the mouths of the Democratic wing of USA politics and indeed many have and undoubtedly will do so in the future. This is because, as noted earlier, they are not simply the ideas of the individuals who express them publicly, but are those which represent the logical way forward for the pro-capitalist elite particularly in their moments of economic and social crisis. By the way, one nation, one people, with the elite as strong-arm guardian and protector of everything, uttered by Trump, is not a new ideological formula. Nor is it one specific to the United States, it has been a constant mantra of the bourgeoisie internationally, since the pro-capitalist revolutions of 1641-1650 (England); 1770 – 1780 (American Colonies); and 1789 -1793 (France).

So all the above noted speeches contain just a collection of words mouthed at one time or another by practically every politician in every country on the planet. Even the appeal for the rival political parties and business elites to put aside their differences and work for the common good is simply a repetition of a regularly recurring mantra, particularly in times of difficulty. Trump at Davos, Senate etc., is merely articulating a common ideological position and global-wide political reflex; in order to head off potential civil disorder. What is relatively new is the identity of those who are proposing new deals, or in the case of the US, a new, New Deal. The tactic now, as in the past, is to make an offer of cross-party reforms and later water them down. However, the 21st century US elite (as with the European and UK elites) are not yet sufficiently threatened by civil discord for most of them to put aside their differences and form a united front. That will perhaps come later.  

Authoritarian Nationalism.
If we carefully examine the ideas presented by Trump at Davos etc., it becomes clear that they are a mixture of facts, condescending generalisations, patronising praise and nationalist elite-centred sentiments. What is relatively new is their packaging together by right-wing politicians and again this is an international phenomenon

First the facts.
Fact 1. Working people are the ones who made the international gathering of rich at Davos – rich. As workers around the world, they made the products, as customers, they bought the products, as workers, they also transported the products, and as workers they kept the power systems going for production and the roads repaired etc., for transportation.  ie Trumps the people, workers, customers, who made you who you are…”
Fact 2. Working people (of the world) work every day in the above roles and as retail workers, service workers, teachers, health workers, social workers, voluntary workers etc.  and make the world a better place for everyone. ie.Trumps.., hard-working men and women who do their duty each and every day, making this a better world for everyone.and “..they really make our countries run. They make our countries great. They work in every trade.

These two elements of this recent pro-capitalist, right-wing perspective have been borrowed from the left. The usual right-wing upside-down ideology which argues that it is capitalists who create all the wealth and benefit workers by generously providing them with much needed jobs has been turned the right way up. In these speeches, Trump and his right-wing advisers have unwittingly admitted what has previously been denied – the labour theory of value! The reality of human societies is that wealth comes from the efforts of workers who produce goods and services. It is now correctly revealed by this section of the ‘right’ that it is workers who provide the labour and services which are the foundation of all capitalist societies and apart from nature, the sources of all previous and present wealth. Of course economic systems with workers providing the foundations of societies by low paid, hard work and the elites enjoying the superstructural wealth benefits, is nothing new and is seen by the Trump’s as ‘natural’ or God given when in fact it is neither.

The ‘rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate, all things bright and beautiful, the lord god made it so’  rationalisation, is an ancient religious justification for accepting extremely divided societies.  There is, however, a more rational and secular explanation. The present system of hierarchical exploitation was the result of capitalist revolutions which not only removed Royal lineages from direct power and control, but also removed working people from direct access to the main means of production. Historically, societies with extremes of Poverty and Wealth are not the results  of natural processes but socially created ones. That, among other things, is the missing dimension from such right-wing speeches and for obvious reasons. These half-borrowed left revolutionary-humanist facts about the position of workers  have been stitched together with nationalist bourgeois propaganda, by the right and then embroidered with patronising praise before being offered as an infected comfort blanket to those who have not yet been able to deconstruct them. 

If we take such a tapestry of contradictory ideas seriously, as I suggest we should, then it is inadequate to refer to them using the practically useless abstraction populism. What we are witnessing in the liberal democracies (and many non-democracies) are the progressive stages of justifying and/or establishing a commitment to return to something which is by no means popular – ie forms of authoritarian nationalism. This is a return which would  allow the upholders of the capitalist system to have sufficient support and resources to survive the coming storms. In the liberal democracies, unlike non-democracies and one-party sham democracies, the more ruthless forms of bourgeois nationalist ideology only get increased emphasis when it is most needed. And it is most needed by the bourgeois and petite-bourgeois classes again in this 21st century period of systemic crisis.

This is also why – in various forms – authoritarian nationalism is being articulated and put into practice again in practically all countries of Europe, the Middle-East, and the rest of the World. The UK, France, Germany, Poland etc., all have their mini-me Trumps in waiting whilst in Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Iran, Turkey, Saudi, Russia, China, for example, their (more or even less refined) big boss Trump’s are already ensconced in power as varying personifications of this elite class trend. In many cases, these figureheads who are used by the dominant political and economic mileus to articulate their interests, will be elevated, supported or even demoted, depending upon how successful they are at dividing and fooling the masses. However, we can be sure of the following. The above menu of ideas that the dominant class now needs will be retained and even further refined and enthusiastically promoted as and when felt necessary. How successful these ideas are in fooling and dividing the bulk of present generation of humanity remains to be seen, but as we shall see later they are once again, in the absence of alternative explanations, becoming attractive to embattled and struggling working people.

For this reason these same ideas will undoubtedly be taken up, sooner or later, by other less crude and callous figureheads than the current crop who are by no means the perfect vehicles to save the capitalist economic and social system from its progressive descent into yet another socio-economic abyss. This is why combating the figureheads and their immediate followers, instead of the core ideas, is a recipe for seeing them pop up in a new form and in a new, perhaps more agreeable, or even in some cases (ie Erdogan, Sisi, Assad, Putin etc) a more ruthlessly-powerful, mouth.  Meanwhile we need to recognise that the success of this elite strategy of recruiting the masses to one nation, one people, one elite-run, state-power, and ignore essential class divisions, requires two further elements to help it weather the coming storms.  They are the creation of enemies within and without as scapegoats, first of all to be blamed and then to be sacrificed. That is another hot  issue which will be covered in the next post.

R. Ratcliffe (March 2018)

Posted in capitalism, Critique, Ecological damage., Nationalism, Politics, Reformism, Religion, The State | Tagged | Leave a comment

NEGLECTED VOICES – 2.

In the previous article a selection of eight categories of voiced concerns by ordinary working class people (white-collar and blue) were reproduced from the 2018 Demos report At Home in One’s Past’. In this second article a further selection of voiced concerns will be reproduced from a further eleven categories reproduced in the full report. The interim comments and conclusions contained in ‘Neglected Voices – 1’ will be supplemented by others in this article.  As was the case there, a link to the full Demos report will also be provided at the end for those wishing to read it for themselves.

Housing, Relocation and Gentrification.
Since the changes in housing provision introduced during the Thatcher era of privatisation, housing costs are being largely driven by market forces. Those with access to sufficient funds push house prices and rents up; those who haven’t are pushed down the accommodation chain. Increasing numbers of the latter are being pushed down as far down as a park bench or shop doorway. Affordable housing is increasingly scarce and this is negatively effecting working-class families and communities.

“My children, they can’t live near me, they can’t afford to live near me.”
One of the worst things is, they sold council housing, they should never have sold social housing.
The council done it all wrong, they got rid of all their caretakers that use to live on site to keep the people safe.
I lived two doors away when I moved away from my mum, and my sister moved opposite. It was a community and there was other people there, they lived there, they grew up so we all looked after each other’s children, so we all looked out for each other. It was a community.
These singles mothers who have been there shipped out of London to somewhere, in the middle of nowhere, they’re losing their support system, their family.
I used to let my kids play round the front and my Mum she would come round at eight o’clock at night and shout at all the kids ‘get in’, and my kids would come running. It was a community.

Economic and social dislocation and alienation at the heart of the capitalist economic system by working for a wage or being unemployed, is now being amplified through urban renewal schemes and relocations. It has now led to increased alienation from the social life of the working community itself. This process has also added further stresses to the lives of those who suffer from it, including increased concerns about personal security and feelings of insecurity.  

Personal safety.
They’re allowing criminals back onto the street, when they’ve served 50 per cent of their sentence, and well that’s crazy to me. You know, if they’re given a 15-year sentence then they should serve a 15-year sentence. And if they don’t behave, then extend it.
I read in the paper actually, that these British people are fighting with ISIS and the idea now is…to give them houses when they come back and give them jobs. Can we have a referendum on that? I think I know what the answer would be.
I often feel scared when out on my own now. I wouldn’t walk on the streets alone.
I didn’t used to feel so afraid, but the streets just don’t feel safe at night any more.
I made my husband bring me in tonight because I didn’t want to walk through the city on my own, because eight months ago, I was coming out of where I was working one night and I was a bit scared. I was getting in the lift to the car park, and I was thinking, I’m feeling a bit uncomfortable here.

Political Correctness.
There are too many do-gooders around to tell you want you can’t do, rather tell you what you can do.
We’ve got too many political correctness people, too many do-gooders trying to run the country.
At work we have an equality and diversity team, so I get what they’re doing, don’t get me wrong, it’s brilliant stuff. But there’s an inordinate amount of resources for the needs of two people, when there are 3000 people overall. So think it has to be proportionate.
People are very afraid to stand up and say well I think that’s wrong, because then they get this label to say that they’re against you know, liberalisation and things like that. So people who want to speak out are frightened of that because they get labelled.
It’s the minority groups who have ruined the country. Because every time they [the Government] come up with something, there are groups that will protest and say this is against my rights, so then the Government thinks, ‘Well we better not do that’ and they go off to something else. And I am sure that we are dominated by small groups of people who don’t like something – if they don’t like something they make a lot of noise and so the Government backs down because it’s easier.
It feels like you’re standing on eggshells sometimes.
In speaking to or referring to someone from the Caribbean, now I’ve always referred to them as being coloured, but now…you can’t say that.
We can’t even call a blackboard a blackboard anymore, I mean what is all that about? I mean it’s an absolute joke! If someone’s black, they’re black and if someone’s white they’re white — what difference does it make?
I mean, can you go into Homebase and buy black paint? So what’s the problem?
On the telly where [they’ve] just done a report about all the ethnic minorities, [they focus on] what they feel, but no one comes to the Whites and asks us how we feel.
All the politicians and the big wigs in power are bending over backwards for all the ethnic minorities in this country.

I have commented on the phenomena of political correctness in an article of that name on this blog and welcomed the critical contribution to confronting this attack on freedom of thought and expression in the book review ‘Being in Time’ by the author and musician Gilad Atzmon. This also appears here on ‘critical-mass.net’. The voices above suggest that criticism of political correctness is not just the concern of writers and academics anxious to defend the right to criticise anything and everything they think deserves it. Its one-sidedness is grasped at grass-roots level.

One sided Tolerance.
If you’re a Christian, and I say something about Christianity that you don’t like, you may retaliate verbally and discuss, but you would accept it. But if I said something to you as a Muslim, I would be so condemned as racist or religophobe, or whatever. And I think the balance has swayed and tipped too far in the other way.”
There’s too much focus on tolerance for us, and I don’t think there’s enough on the other side and we’re not meeting in the middle. This is the thing, I’m all for tolerance if it’s an equal street not if it’s, you know, 75 per cent one way and then we’ll be tolerant when we fancy it.

Immigration.
Too many people coming into the country and taking from the country, you know benefits and everything else, when they haven’t paid anything into the country.
The West Indians that came to this country in the late-40s and early-50s were invited here by our Government and they worked and they got their own houses…they didn’t take other people’s jobs away, and they went were the bacon [jobs] were.
The immigrants that got in now, they’re not working, or they’re working for their money and sending it off.
Councils, Government, people, they’re all scared to say anything. It’s like nursery rhymes, all the words are changed in case somebody gets offended. Christmas, people are talking about Christmas cards, “don’t say Happy Christmas, say happy festival time, because you may offend somebody”. And that is taking our identity away.

I have dealt with the effects of economic immigration upon working people in a number of articles, most recently in ‘The Dangers of Dualistic Thinking’.  It is clear from the above comments that an element of confusion on numbers exists. There are those who are perceived entering the UK in order to exploit the benefit system and those who are entering to work and pay their way in taxes and national insurance contributions.  The exact proportions of these two categories are not clear to most people,  probably because there are no trustworthy statistics available. Which leads on to the next section.

Welfare contributions.
Too many people coming into the country and taking from the country, you know benefits and everything else, when they haven’t paid anything into the country.
There’s also quite a lot of people coming in for health tourism and that’s a massive draw on the NHS. They try and charge back for that treatment but there just isn’t the system there to do that. If we go on holiday to Spain or whatever, what’s the first thing that happens? Healthcare insurance!
It’s the type of people that are coming in, not just quantities.
Whether it’s picking fruit or what have you, or joining the NHS, what people were against, and me included, was people coming to the country that have no jobs that couldn’t speak English and just drained the country. We all play taxes; we’ve paid taxes all our lives.
You have to have a percentage of immigrants. To build your society. But it does need some control over it. Personally, I would go for a system as I say, other countries have, where you have to show what you are going to bring to the country. Just make it fairer.

Integration.
One of the policies the Government brought in was to clump all the faith groups together in the same space, which maybe good initially because then they can set up community but then all of a sudden you just get clumps of different people that don’t want to mix together.
When I go back to see my mum, it’s not a safe place to walk about and when I were there it was. […] Maybe that’s because of the different groups that aren’t coming together.
Down in [redacted] Street, you’ve got Romanian Gypsies going up and down, and they don’t think twice about urinating in the middle of the street without even going and hiding behind the bush. They even defecate as well.
What’s different is, there’s no integration. We’ve got ghettos all over this area, there’s children that are starving, people can’t mix, you’re not allowed to speak to somebody. You’ve got poor girls in the Asian community that are being sold to people abroad to get them into the country. We fought for years for women’s rights, to be able to wear what we want, equal pay. And the thing that angers most is that we’ve now got a whole society of men that have no respect for females, and yet females have fought for years to be able to wear what we want, do what we want, live an independent life.

If the situation with regarding the travellers toilet habits mentioned were based upon first hand evidence, then it would be a genuine cause for complaint but of course it would be unfair (and an example of irrational prejudice) to apply it to all travellers if this was indeed implied. To my mind the last example of this section of voices raises an interesting contrast between the life outlooks of elite women in contrast with non-elite women. The first are currently correctly campaigning against sexual predation and harassment in politics, entertainment, media and business. However, most of these well paid middle-class women are largely overlooking the fact that in 21st century, low pay, poor work conditions along with rape, forced marriages, genital mutilation, acid attacks and even honour killings are daily faced by some sections of lower class women. It seems that for this elite section of femininity, equal pay and opportunity within their elite circles is more important than extending the principles of economic and social justice to their sisters below them.  This goes some way to confirm that Bourgeois Feminism, as with bourgeois equality in general is not extended to the whole of humanity and therefore fail the test of being universal principles. 

Politics and Government.
We are limping, limping along I think, and that goes back to the crash of 2008, and we never recovered from that. Maybe the seeds were sown, and then Brexit occurred and the state of our economy is such that there is just not enough money in the pot to pay for all the things we expect to be provided for us.
There’s such a mode of apathy at the moment and despondency with the Government. The fact that no one believes that they’re going to do anything for the country anymore.
None of them have done a day’s job, then [they’ve] gone into the trade unions, then gone from trade unions to be a Member of Parliament. They don’t do nothing for us.
They are literally in ivory towers in Westminster…it’s frightening. They are completely aloof left and right.
There’s a lot of people in positions [of power] judging aspects of life that they’ve never experienced. They said we’re all in this together, and they’ve got their noses in the trough ripping off the expenses and it’s us lower beings that have got the runt of it. It’s always been the case.
With the politicians we have, personally, I don’t believe 90% what they tell us and [they are] confusing us by telling us, ‘one party says…this party says…’. They constantly contradict each other!
There are just so many petty arguments back and forwards regardless of whether you voted Remain or Out, but this just looks so childish. You realise how much all parties are alike.
Now, they just care about themselves and their own policies.
It’s just about scoring points and not about working together for the country as a whole.
They promise you everything, until they get in power, until they get in position and then you don’t exist.
All their interests are to line their own pockets, the politicians.
You know, if you watch these debates in parliament […] they play around with figures. So Labour plays around with these figures and they sound good, then the Conservatives play around with these figures and they sound good.

Britain and Empire.
We’re a country that used to have an Empire and be very, very important and now we’re just a country, a small country. A small island in the middle of a little sea.
Those from an older generation have a larger sense of pride. Whereas I see our Empire as, you know, we went and plundered the world, and took advantage of, like the Romans probably we did some good things. So I’m not ashamed of it but, I don’t think it was marvellous, wonderful thing.
What, when we used to rape and pillage and take other people’s stuff? I don’t want another Empire.
We’re proud of a country that was supposedly top in the world, but most of that was down to bullying and slavery. If you look at history, I’m ashamed of my history.
The influence will be different rather than an empire. We controlled a lot of Africa etc. by a physical brute force and that’s not a case anymore.”
If we go back to far in history we only got rich by, what’s the word, raping their countries and taking all the money from them. They’re [immigrants] like what you moaning about – you’re only getting your comeuppance.

I personally found this section interesting and somewhat surprising. It is clear from this section that the decades of elite, state-sponsored propaganda on promoting ‘British Values’ of Empire and Commonwealth has not been very effective. The elite touted vision of a ‘land of hope and glory’ has obviously been exposed as the ‘land of rape and one-sided story’. It seems that the left anti-capitalist critique of the Colonialist and Imperialist phases of capitalism, despite being articulated by a few and relatively powerless voices in British politics and social life, has nevertheless been more successful.  That is encouraging indeed. 

Self help.
[The Blitz spirit] I think it’s still underneath the surface.
People rally round. I mean look at when we had all the floods, I mean they came from far and wide, didn’t they, to help out. So I think whatever happens in the country, it won’t be the Government that rallies – it will be the people.
There still is a community spirit when there is an emergency, like with Manchester, or other crises this year.
I work in safety and obviously I have loads and loads of stuff to read but there were no Government support [for Grenfell fire safety], but what happened the people, the people bounced up and sorted it out. So in that way, we have that types of pockets of resilience.

Foreign Aid.
We need to cut foreign aid…I don’t know how much it is, but it’s a lot. We should put it back in our economy; it would help a lot, dealing with cutbacks on law enforcers, police, NHS and all that. So cut back on things like that, ‘cause then we can use foreign aid for our aid, you know what I mean, it makes more sense.
We’re the first ones to put our hands in our pockets, you know, help people and all that, but now we got to worry about our own country and get back on our feet and once we have, we can start helping out again but, but we got to look at our own country first.
We tend to throw a lot of money away, I mean…this foreign aid, which is absolutely ludicrous how much we give. I don’t say don’t give anything, but we give like 13billion pounds a year and it goes up with inflation every year, it’s 0.7% of the GDP, so you know that could be put to the NHS, it could be given to pensioners you know, and I think it’s horrific and yet there’s no Government prepared to do anything about it, ‘cause it’s set in stone?
I think personally we do need to help but I think it’s excessive at the moment.”
I think we should put more into our own country. Do they give us anything when anything happens over here? We’re self-sufficient, we sort of, you know the bombings, we rectified all that didn’t we? We didn’t get any aid from outside countries. The fire early on this year at Grenfell Tower, did they help us with that?

Further comments.
The above extracts (together with those in ‘Neglected Voices – 1’), are not the only ones in the full Demos report, but they are sufficient to reveal a spread of opinions across generations, across different sections of the working class and across different regions in the UK. The ‘voices’  express a comprehensive range of concerns with everyday life from the perspective of a broad swathe of the working classes. They also reveal three other factors. First, a well – considered and balanced (if incomplete) view of what is going wrong with economic, social and political life in modern Britain including the past brutal essence of colonialism.  Second, a recognition of the need for citizen self-activity rather than reliance on the state. Third, as was mentioned in part 1, they also reveal a very limited understanding of the underlying economic causes of the internal symptoms they have comprehensively outlined. The absence of this understanding leaves both white-collar and blue-collar working people vulnerable to accepting some pro-capitalist narratives and rationalisations with regard to their contemporary situation and their expressed concerns.

In this latter regard we need to keep in mind that there is currently an almost white-hot war of fractured legitimacy between rival political elites and their supporters as they desperately seek to gain (or regain) power to govern nation states. It has been said – with a considerable degree of accuracy – that the first casualty of war is truth. Dissemination of one-sided, doctored or false information is a routine now set within well worn bourgeois intellectual grooves. And by the way, the creation of ‘Fake News’ emanating from both sides of rival elites is nothing new; it is at least as old as  the disputes within and between Persia, Athens and Sparta in the ancient Greek period. At the present level of competitive skirmishes the current elite divisions are largely taking the form of a vicious war of words as each side, distorts reality, misrepresents the views of the other side, fabricates facts and motives, takes words out of context, takes emotional ramblings as facts – and much else – all in an effort to gain influence and political advantage over the other.

The ultimate prize of all this regurgitated bile and imaginative invention is of course to gain (or regain) political power. However,  before that, the intermediate target of all the present misinformation, disinformation, fabrication and confirmation bias is to win as many ordinary citizens to one side or the other.  There is an urgent need among the elite to divide the working classes into two opposing and strongly biased sides each with pre-formed opinions and set political habits so they can be used when necessary as reliable voting fodder. That process, if fully successful, would also act against the possibility of any serious form of unity among working people, a development which of course would be dangerous to both sides of the bourgeois elite. Hence, the recently emerged rhetoric of concern for all those ‘left behind’, epitomised by Donald Trump in the USA and Teresa May in the UK. For example “..a duty of loyalty to the people” (Trump at Davos 2018) and ‘a country that works for all’ (May at Tory Conference 2017). As the crisis deepens, this sort of ‘concerned’ rhetoric will be the bait increasingly dangled in front of working class audiences, many of whom, in the absence of any alternative, may well be persuaded to swallow it, hook, line and sinker.

So as a reminder to all of us on the anti-capitalist and revolutionary-humanist left I suggest the following. Beware of taking sides in these Punch and Judy pantomime struggles between the political elites and beware of helping one dysfunctional side or the other to win workers to support their greed inspired battles. I suggest it will be wiser to let them get on with hurling their bitterness and poison at each other. They are hell-bent on discrediting each other – as the ‘voices’ in an above section have already recognised. Beware also of blaming the working-class victims for not always seeing through this distorted socio-economic and ecological mess we are all in. For some on the left to expect a more sophisticated level of consciousness than that already determined by working peoples economic position and the current level of knowledge delivered to them by the media and existing education system is to expect miracles. Since miracles don’t happen, hard work is needed.

To berate or castigate working people for not already having arrived at an all-round critical class consciousness regarding the contemporary world is to my mind an arrogant and sectarian attitude of self-inflated superiority. In addition such attitudes conveniently dodge responsibility for tackling the crucial issues facing humanity. For in reality, rather than in reformist dreamland or dystopian nightmare there remains the difficult task of disseminating to working people an improved knowledge of the capitalist economic system that will assist them to further navigate through the confused and manipulated products of neo-liberal socio-economic and political thinking. I suggest that this task can only be undertaken by those who have recognised its urgent necessity along with the necessity to educate ourselves as well as revolutionising our own practical activity.

R. Ratcliffe (February 2018) 
For a direct link to the full Demos report see;
https://www.demos.co.uk/project/citizens-voices/

Posted in Anti-Capitalism, Critique, neo-liberalism, Politics, Reformism, Revolutionary-Humanism | Tagged , | 2 Comments

NEGLECTED VOICES – 1.

Over the past several decades of national (and international), social and political turmoil the popular media (Television, Radio, Newspapers, Magazines) has remained dominated by the opinions and assertions of the 20th century educated middle-classes. This is a mileu whose representatives already think they know what is right and wrong with the world, how it should be modified and ultimately what the world should look like in the future. Paid to sit around studio tables in front of cameras, they confidently express their opinions on every conceivable topic. Even when they disagree, they do so only on minor points and it becomes clear that the future they seek is one very much tailored to their own needs and desires.

Therefore it is not hard to deduce that the majority of them envisage a present and future world in which the working classes, dutifully produce all the goods and services necessary for a comfortable middle-class existence. Nor is it hard to deduce from their discussions that they have a shared expectation concerning working people now and in the future. It comprises of the following. That ordinary working people will deferentially accept the inferior remuneration and status granted to them for providing these much needed necessities and luxuries to the classes economically and socially ‘above’ them. At best they have a scenario in mind, which is very much in line with the post-Second World War consensus. In the UK, a sort of renewed ‘Spirit of 1945’ welfare condescension but with ample air miles, prestige cars and luxury hotels for those on higher incomes to ‘experience’.

The bulk of this class are employed in the middle to higher reaches of education, government, media, the arts, law, military, business and politics. Economically and socially they lie between the super rich and the relative poor. Hence, their middle-class status. In most cases, they have a prejudiced view of ordinary working people as being inferior, in intelligence, culture and motivation even though they rarely express this publicly. It is an attitude they share with those at the top of the wealth pyramid of the capitalist mode of production, who are also rarely openly candid about this prejudice.  Only occasionally, does this prejudice get exposed publicly as when some working people are described as despicable or they are referenced as living in allegedly ‘shit-hole’ countries.

For this reason the nuanced views and opinions of working people (the ‘despicables’ in the US, or the Brexit/UKIP voters in the UK) are of little real interest to those who are rich, in government, in the media or in politics. By and large, these groups pretend to value working peoples ‘human rights’ but only as long as working people conform to their own neo-liberal, politicaly-correct world view of what is acceptable.  Nevertheless, their combined actions speak louder than their frequent rhetorical words or occasional crocodile tears. Zero hours contracts, low pay and austere public services are an infringement of basic ‘human rights’ for working people, but little or nothing was done or said by this class to oppose them. Much earlier, the destruction of trade unions and the removal of free school milk for working class children under Thatcher brought forth no protest from this tier of UK society.

Middle-class complicity in the multiple denial of human rights for workers has been obvious for decades to anyone from the white-collar or blue-collar working class. It became glaringly obvious to those more recently born into the working class who complained and we’re ignored more recently at Grenfell Tower. Even the politicians who seek election or re-election by knocking on working class doors every five or so years to secure a much needed vote, merely listen politely – when they have to – and then pass on to canvas the next on their quinquennial ‘to do’ list. The reason is simple. Politicians of left, right or centre persuasions, don’t need to ask ordinary people or listen to them, because politico’s already know what’s best for us. They have already made their minds up on what we need or had them made up by their executive committees who finalised their election manifestos. You see they have already done the thinking for the rest of us.

The media, when it suits them, broadcast occasional events where ordinary people are allowed, in a controlled fashion, to put questions or venture a short opinion, to be ignored or cut off short as the time or inclination of those in control dictates. But that’s been about the best of it!  At least until now! For in the UK a little light has been recently shed on the neglected voices of those at or near the bottom of the income and wealth pyramid. 

Demos: and ‘Citizens Voices’.

Between October and December 2017, Sophie Gaston and Peter Harrison-Evans, on behalf of the organisation Demos, led an extensive series of focus groups across England, as part of the research for the project At Home in One’s Past. They have produced a report which gives voice to those citizens so often neglected. The report identifies the locations and participant mix as follows:
“These focus groups have convened a diverse mix of citizens by age, socio-economic status and ethnicity, however the majority of participants have been over-55s and White British. Locations have included a wide range of cities, towns and suburbs, such as Bermondsey in London, Havering, Birmingham, Leeds, Yorkshire, and Sunderland.” (Page 1.)
The title of the report (‘At home in One’s Past’) hints at a strong nostalgic emphasis for undertaking the research, but nevertheless as the authors conclude, the responses also produced valuable insights into “citizens’ perspectives on our contemporary politics, society and culture”. And it is this which to my mind throws a useful and most illuminating light on the current consciousness and understanding of ordinary working people – in their own words. I shall quote a selection of these views and opinions in roughly the same order as presented in the report and make brief comments upon them. However, even a condensed number of extracts from this useful report would make for a too long article so I will consider half of the published categories in this article and publish the rest at a later date.  The words of the neglected voices will appear in italics and bounded by quotation marks.

On De-industrialisation.
Years ago, there was thousands of jobs; loads of different factories, shipyards, coal mines and now there’s nothing at all.
The North-East, it was a big mining area. I mean, when I was small, my dad was a miner. All along the North-East there was all these coal mines.
They could open all the factories again […] It would give everybody like more job opportunities but then that gives us back our status as well.

Although the heading is De-industrialisation,  the real concern shown by these quotes is lack of jobs. From my own experience, the closure of mines, factories, shipyards, etc., would have not been a serious concern if these dirty, unhealthy, dangerous jobs had been replaced, one for one, by other forms of reasonably paid employment, but they weren’t.  In fact the term De-industrialisation is only accurate when applied to the western hemisphere, since in many cases these industrial activities were shifted elsewhere on the planet where the returns on capital were higher. The planet is arguably far more industrialised now, than when the industrial revolution occurred in Britain and Europe and more than it was in the immediate post Second World War period.

On the lack of good jobs.
There was no zero-hour contracts kicking about then, now there are loads kicking about and […] they’re not good jobs at all.
It was a time when you had pride in yourself when you had jobs like that.
It’s impossible today to get a job being a single mother. It really is, I’ve tried for years.
Jobs were secure then; no job is secure now.
I think the businesses as well, work on the basis that we can pay people a low salary, a low wage because it’s going to be made up by Government benefits.
I think things have changed a lot. When I got my degree, you felt like you were guaranteed a good job, whereas for lots of kids now, they’re coming out of university, working in call centres…Or you know, [they are] a lot less paid than you’d expect from a graduate.

Again in this section of the focus group discussion, the central concern is still jobs, and in this case also secure jobs.  Even some middle class graduates were (and are) experiencing the same difficulty in obtaining secure, well paid, meaningful employment. And the voices confirm that prospects of economic and social advancement have dwindled considerably, hence, for some, a hint of nostalga. Eg.

“My own parents, my dad was a docker, my mum used to work as a dinner lady and […] they ended up buying their house; they ended up quite well. My daughter […] she works long hours […] and she can’t afford to buy her own home!
Living on benefits.

Lack of jobs have long been a feature of working class life, but the short post-war period of relative full employment in the UK was destined not to last. Closures, changes in methods of production, capital expansion abroad all created unemployment and the need to fall back on benefits.
So, we kind of get less than nothing. Because we get, we don’t have any jobs, and then everybody gets into trouble for not having a job, but then there isn’t actually any jobs to get!
It seems there’s a big divide between them and us, people kind of think people who are on benefits are kind of cheats. And many things feed into that. Television programmes, all sorts of things.
It’s not even just the working-class anymore, it’s like, what about the people that want to work who’re on income support, who’ve got kids and they’re like living on nothing to try keep a roof over your head and food on the table…it’s just impossible.

Rising Stress levels.
The lack of adequate income and income security due to persistent unemployment, low pay, zero hours contracts and/or reducing benefits all create rising stress levels. This cannot be surprising particularly in the class which has no capital, little savings and parents who may well be in  the same or similar circumstances. Eg.
It’s got so much more stressful and more worrying and more concerning, thinking about ‘are we actually gonna have food on our table?’, and ‘are we actually gonna have roof over our heads?’ So yes, life’s got a lot more stressful.
Things go wrong really quickly now, don’t they? I mean, they spiral very, very quickly from the point where I can be in my house, in my job, driving my car, and lose my job, not pay my bills, get repossessed, and be out and living in a hostel. […] it’s so easy, it is so easy.
It’s easier to fall down a level than it is to go up. It’s easier to fail now than it’s ever been.
One of the questions I always have in my mind is […} if I lost my job today how would I feel? I’d be quite frightened. You just think to yourself, right all my bills are still going out and I really need to get a job, will I be able to fall into something just really easy? You can send 100 applications off and not get any replies.”

These extracts do not reveal the exact levels of stress being experienced by these individuals – and the thousands like them – but it does not take much imagination to understand that most will be desperate and many desperate enough to change their normal behaviour or even previous voting patterns. An underlying theme of these four headings is also an awareness of the unfairness of their situations. For example;

Pensions.

We’ve all been penalised because we’ve got to work longer now.
We’ve worked all our lives, paid into the system and we can’t, well I can’t have my pension until I’m 66 now.
Anybody over 50 should have been able to get the pension when they should have had it. We have worked all our lives and we’ve paid into the system.
I worked at [redacted] for 20 years, paid into the pension all that time, and 10 years after I left, I got a letter from the pension people saying I may not get a pension when I come to claim it, because the money that they paid in, they invested into Icelandic banks, and Icelandic banks went tits up. There’s nothing you can do about it and it’s absolutely scandalous. They’re just playing with your future.”

The gradual reduction in the relative purchasing power of state and other pensions over the past several decades has led to hardship for many pensioners and the need for what should be embarrassing remedial measures. The winter fuel allowance was only granted because large numbers of pensioners in the UK were having to choose between keeping warm or eating sufficient food during the winter period. Free bus passes were another implicit admission that after a lifetime of labour working class retirees were so poor they could no longer afford basic elements of civilised life. Yet despite these ‘sweeteners’, obvious bitter problems of relative poverty still exist as does a sense of unfairness in the treatment of the elderly as well as undoubted stress levels for some.

Health concerns.

I worked in the NHS […] for about thirteen years and I was really proud to work for the NHS, because the NHS as a body had a really good ethos for caring. Then what happened […] it was all about business focus, it wasn’t about care. Care was a secondary element. In two years’ time, the NHS really went downhill. Today, I think the NHS is really, really on its knees.
It’s down to austerity, with the cutbacks in social services, there are more problems landing in the door of A&E. A&E get criticised for not meeting targets, but the problem is social care is not there within the community to the extent it used to be.
You go to A&E on any night of the week and a lot of the people going in are on first name terms with the staff because they’re going in time and time again, because really they should be in a care home of some description.
If we’re a civilised society, we should be providing care for the more unfortunate in society. And we seem to have just washed our hands of that.
We need to go back to grassroots that we used to have. I mean, the ethos of the NHS was free care for everyone and unfortunately now that’s not possible for many reasons. I think the main reason now is that the investment’s not there.
What they’re wanting is a superman on £2.50 an hour, so they’re wanting people to be able to perform at this top end and do everything, whereas at one point, three people may have split those roles and done those roles really well. [Matrons] now, they’re having to look at bed management systems, IT systems you know, it’s all business, business, business and whatever care is secondary.
[In the NHS] they have this horrendous term called “essential criteria”, and there’s six of them, and if you don’t meet one of those you just go in the bin.

Again, in these extracts a sense of unfairness and hidden worry is revealed about any onset of illness.  Health service personnel are under undue stress themselves even though they are in full-time employment.

The rich.

Well I think rich people are taking advantage because, if a rich person crashes their car, they’re not bothered, they’re going to buy a new one. And they’re not really worried about their insurance going up, but yet it affects people who have to use a car to get to work and stuff…they can no longer pay for it.

Again in this contribution what comes across most is unfairness. Here it is expressed in relation to the knock on effects of increased vehicle insurance premiums on those who need a vehicle for work. It is clear that cut backs and privatisation of transport systems have added extra stress and expense into the lives of many working people.

Break up of Communities.

I think it probably started in the 80s, I’m biased, but I can remember Thatcher saying ‘there’s no hing as society, only the individual’. And I think the balance changed a lot.
I think society is based these days on greed and materialism. I think that is the root of evil, the reality of everything now.”
People are less willing to help other people. So, because you kind of, you become in your own little bubble, that’s where you see that, the rise of the, of a more sort of selfish being.
It takes a community to bring up a child and if you haven’t got a community this is where the problems start.
There was a lot of community cohesion there, and as you say, everybody knew each other. We lived in flats and everybody knew each other. […] You know the maternity clothes got passed round. the kids’ clothes got passed round, and you know, none of the kids felt awful about wearing the kid round the corners’ clothes second hand — they just accepted it. I don’t know if that would happen now.
People are isolated and don’t look out for each other.
They started demolishing rows of terraced houses where people knew everybody in that street and started putting everybody in high rise flats, then nobody communicated anymore.
[In] the street, you won’t say a thing now, you’d be frightened of saying something.
Right now, if I saw a woman in a car that broken down, there was a time when I would have stopped and said ‘Can I help ya?’. I wouldn’t dare now! If you saw a child in a street and you thought that child was lost, you wouldn’t dare to approach that child now because of what consequences of that simple action might be.

This group of voices express concerns about changes in social housing, the increased emphasis on individualism, conspicuous consumption and socially engineered tenderness taboos, all of which have tended to erode any actual and potential human social solidarity. Hence again, for some an element of nostalgia has crept into their negative feelings about the present.

Interim summary.

In the first eight categories, the overwhelming impression given by these previously neglected voices are existential concerns about everyday life under the current neo-liberal phase of the capitalist mode of production. These concerns extend across the age gaps, between young and old, between unskilled and skilled workers and indeed they extend to white-collar university level areas of economic and social achievement. Growing numbers of young, old, skilled, unskilled and those on unemployment benefits are all now leading a precarious and stressful life in 21st century Britain and have been doing so for many years. Although they experience this precariousness in different social settings and individual households, it is something they all have in common. It is a precariousness that stems, not from individual failure, but overwhelmingly from the general socio-economic conditions of life.

However, what also becomes clear from these neglected voices is that there is an incomplete awareness of the the economic causes of their current situation and no awareness at all that there could ever be an alternative mode of production to the current one. This cannot be surprising, since publicly available information concerning changes in past modes of production, which led to the present one is practically non-existent. It also cannot be surprising, therefore, that there is little or no optimism of things getting better in the future. For millions, the future is bleak. This goes some way to explain the rose-tinted socio-economic nostalgia among some of the older generation, (not shared by the young) for how thing we’re in the past. Looking back and grossly overlooking the bad bits, (of which there were many) only becomes attractive when there is nothing better to hand now or look forward to.

What is missing among these voices so far and which could unite many of these, young old, skilled, unskilled, unemployed sectors of society is a more detailed knowledge of the capitalist system. That would explain the inevitability of their various situations and that of subsequent generations unless the present mode of production is ultimately changed. Clearly that knowledge and understanding cannot and will not come to them from the existing elites who control the dominant means of intellectual production and consumption, so it must come from elsewhere. (More on that in ‘Neglected Voices – 2’.) Until it does, can it really be surprising that there will be no really unified responses to the increasingly precarious and extremely stressful situations working people are in?

Can it really be surprising that, ordinary working people turn this way and that, trying different things and in the present absence of positive collective responses will in many cases also attempt to look after number one? Such varied and volatile working class reactions as those now occurring may cause additional problems for the left – but that is the nature of the period we are in. It is what it is; not how we might want it! As I see it, the problem to be solved from a revolutionary-humanist perspective is not only to more accurately interpret what is really going on within working class communities (blue and white-collar) and the many contradictions there, but also how to engage with these communities in order to help develop their understanding into something more unified and more positive.

 R. Ratcliffe (January 2018)
For a direct link to the full report see;
https://www.demos.co.uk/project/citizens-voices/

Posted in Anti-Capitalism, capitalism, Critique, neo-liberalism, Politics, Revolutionary-Humanism | Tagged , | Leave a comment

THE DANGERS OF DUALISTIC THINKING.

Let me first make clear what I mean by the term dualism before moving on to describe and analyse it’s uses in politics and the media. The dualistic mode of thinking is a conceptual framework which divides practically everything in the world into two (polar) opposite positions or sides. Dualism is a simplistic and restricted intellectual framework in which important issues are presented as having only two basic alternatives – things are either black or white, so to speak. The real world of colours, shades of grey or contradictions are excluded from discussions or assertions when they are governed by dualistic reasoning.  For example in religion, where dualisms abound, we find; God and the devil; good and bad; right and wrong, believer and heretic, Jew and Gentile, etc. In addition, the reader will note that within most religious and political dualistic frameworks one of these sides is generally designated as positive and the other side as negative.

Dualism also exists in a less problematic form in the common sense uses of concepts such as up and down; left and right, in and out etc., but these trivial everyday uses are not my concern.  The intention of this article is to point out how this form of crude reasoning is used for particular purposes and how it invariably fails to represent reality. In bourgeois and petite-bourgeois politics and social affairs it is frequently used by social democratic, as well as right-wing thinkers, to advance their own political agendas. Understanding the use and limitations of dualism is important, because dualistic reasoning has become a powerful tool in the hands of the elite and their sycophantic servants not only in religion, but importantly in the media and politics.

In fact whenever we hear an argument or discussion (or read one) in which only two sides or alternatives are presented, alarm bells should ring, no matter who formulates them in this way. Furthermore, whenever, only two alternatives are presented in such a way that one alternative is made preferable to the other then multiple alarm bells should ring. This is because it invariable involves an invitation to take defensive or offensive sides without any serious alternatives being explored. In religion and other (more secularised) branches of politics, for example, the suggestion of a choice between good and bad or right and wrong, often leads to a distorted us and them mentality, whether this is from within a religious denomination, a political grouping or a national government.

It will be recalled that after 9/11, George Bush famously expressed a dualism publicly (with regard to his so-called fight on Islamic terror) in exactly that form; i.e. you are either for us or against us. By adopting this tactic he and his supporters managed to convince many (both among the elite and general population) to view the world that way.  Yet, as was the case with the eventual Iraq war, millions of citizens around the globe didn’t fall into this dualist trap. They just didn’t see these as the only two possibilities. Millions of people were opposed both to religious forms of terror and to the Republican Bush and New Labour Blair inspired ‘shock and awe’ state orchestrated terror. So much so that huge demonstrations took place  against war.

Unfortunately, the latter two political epigones of capital and their supporters had sufficient power and elite support to ignore other alternatives and pursue their own version of good versus bad. Dualistic reasoning even emerged in the form of a further closely related rationalisation in respect of the war against Saddam Hussein. Some politicians asserted the invasion of Iraq to be the lesser of two evils, when arguably it was the greater. This devastating war and it’s aftermath has powerfully demonstrated both the limitations of dualistic frameworks and their fraudulent use by one-sided and self-serving politicians. And as we shall see in a later section, they are still desperately using these tactics as the multi-dimensional crisis of the capitalist mode of production continues to grind out its by-products of targeted poverty, environmental pollution and financial instability.

Lesser evil-ism and party politics.
The development of two – party political systems epitomises the dualism at the heart of the bourgeois mode of production where the means of production have been separated from those who produce. Economically Labour and Capital (i.e. workers and means of production) have been made to have separate social class existences and not surprisingly this fundamental bourgeois inspired and created duality has been mirrored elsewhere, including in politics. In most countries, two political trends dominate the competitive endeavour between elites to govern nation states. For example; Conservative and Labour in the UK; Republican and Democratic in the USA. In other countries the political names differ, but the two party alternating system of parasitic governance is essentially the same.

This dual party system reinforces four important bourgeois ideas. First; that the realm of economics is independent and separate from politics, when clearly it is not. Second, that the governance of societies requires politicians and states.  Third, that there are usually only two serious alternative political parties to choose between. Fourth, that it is a privilege for ordinary people to be allowed to choose who governs them. When both these main parties (and their alliances) are exposed as serving the needs of the system and not the population in general  – as is now the case in most countries – this too gives rise to the previously noted lesser of two evils opinion. The lesser-evil rationalisation is the dualistic fall-back position.  Internationally, the working classes are now being approached by the media and politicians on the basis of choosing the lesser of two evils.  Yet it is obvious that not everyone is swallowing this self-serving political message.

As the credibility of politics and the capitalist economic system has sunk to an all time low, with little or nothing positive or inspiring to offer voters except more of the same, some voters have turned to more radical right-leaning nationalist fringe parties in the hope (albeit a mistaken hope) for something better. Yet when ordinary working people are seeking more radical alternatives, many on the left have denounced them – and without a shred of verifiable evidence – labelled them as proto-fascists. Instead of welcoming their break with the dual political faces of the capitalist ‘establishment’ and rigorously exposing the right-wing parties as a dead end, they are urging workers to adopt a position of lesser evil-ism. In the USA this amounts to left groups and left individuals,  advocating a vote for Clinton – style democrats as being a lesser evil than republicans.

Apparently it matters little that the Republican and Democratic parties are the two Janus faces of the pro-capitalist political establishment both of which are responsible for the present crisis riddled system. It matters not that Democrats have waged as much war against other countries as the Republicans, or that each have oppressed American working families and indigenous native Indians to a similar degree. Instead, these left social democrats try to frighten the naive into choosing between an imaginary rise of Fascist authoritarianism, supposedly inspired by Trump – style republicanism, and an equally imaginary anti-fascist democracy, supposedly inspired by the Obama and Clinton Democrats. This perspective is offered despite the fact that 20th century history demonstrates that authoritarianism is just as much a product of splits within the working classes and left and centre social-democratic politics as it is of right-wing nationalist politics.

Naturally the Democratic bourgeoisie in the USA welcome this injection of left energy to their tactic of saving capitalism by their own more subtle, or rather more Machiavellian, methods. The Republicans on the other hand are able to point to the rapacious record of the Democrats both internationally and within the USA and welcome support from the extreme right.  Both sides are now able to blame each other for all the many negative aspects of modern life in the USA and at the same time spread anxiety about the results of their opponents side being elected. In this way another two important outcomes occur. First, the capitalist mode of production again escapes serious scrutiny. Second, the working classes become divided along the same lines as their respective economic and political elites.

Essentially the same dualistic pattern is emerging throughout Europe. There, as well as here in the UK and elsewhere, lesser-evil dualism is operating at two levels. The first level is within party politics, which parallels that in the USA, with rival political parties blaming each other for the financial, economic, social and environmental crisis. Here too we also also have a social-democratic and moderate left singing to the lesser of two evils hymn sheet. In the UK many on the left are calling for working people to vote for the Labour Party as the lesser evil of its non-identical – but still its bourgeois political twin – the Conservative Party. Yet here also both parties are the loyal defenders of the capitalist mode of production which is the underlying cause of all the financial, economic, social, moral and environmental problems most people face. Lesser evil-ism amounts to sowing illusions as neither party wishes to seriously challenge or change the present capitalist system.

In Europe (as was the case in the UK) the same dualistic political game plan is also being played by the elite and additionally in regard to the European Economic Community. In the Brexit campaign here in the UK, both sides played the dualistic lesser evil card. For some it was the lesser evil of staying IN, whilst for others it was the lesser evil of getting OUT. This is  mantra is also being repeated within other Europe countries. Millions of workers in the UK became convinced by one side or another in this political charade, and voted for or against. So in this case too we also had working people divided over how to make things better whilst the system which exploits and oppresses them avoided serious scrutiny. And over here too, workers are being encouraged to blame each other over their mistaken lesser-evil beliefs as their present and futures lives continue to deteriorate.

Practically everywhere the political left has abandoned any form of critique of the capitalist mode of production and opted instead for supporting what it mistakenly considers the lesser of two evils. And isn’t it obvious that choosing between two evils is still choosing an evil and shouldn’t this be made absolutely clear and an alternative perspective offered? Considering their system is in serious systemic crisis, things couldn’t be working out better for the ruling classes on both sides of the Atlantic. And perhaps not surprisingly, they have growing support from within the ranks of the traditional workers organisations – the trade unions.

Capitalism and Trade Unions.
Trade unions are a by-product of the capitalist mode of production. Historically, trade unions were set up by working people who found themselves exploited in large numbers during and after the industrial revolution. In industry, mining, agriculture and commerce, large companies replaced small ones and workers were grouped or ‘combined’ by the hundreds or even thousands. It became possible for workers to combine their own meagre resources to form organisations aimed at collectively resisting employer impositions or to achieve better wages or conditions. After lengthy opposition from employers organisations and unfriendly governments, trade unions eventually became an accepted feature of life in the developed and developing capitalist countries. In the advanced capitalist countries of Europe and the West, Trade Unions and their officials, even became respected and rewarded with government posts and honours.

Over time, the attitude of sections of the pro-capitalist elite toward trade unions changed from opposition to collaboration and incorporation. Over the same period of time the attitude of the trade union leadership to employers and the capitalist mode of production also changed from hostility to collaboration and even co-operation. Trade union leaders and officials went from being low-paid, overworked, vilified individuals in the 18th century, to highly-paid, well resourced and handsomely pensioned in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. Many of them have become a routine part of the capitalist ‘establishment’ and remain entirely loyal to it.  So ‘establishment’ are they that many have been co-opted into financial institutions, or appointed onto international capitalist organisations and even invited as pro-capitalist apologists to appear on Television. In Europe many have become well – heeled bureaucrats riding on the EU gravy train and in England some are even offered (and eagerly accept) the stupid anachronisms of knighthoods and peerages. 

Incidentally, this pattern of trade union leader turned active participant in pro-capitalist economics and politics has worked it’s way through to the ex – colonised countries of the world. It is now not just a European and North American phenomena but an international one. Argentinian trade union corruption may be hard to beat but many others are trying. For another recent global example, just look at the trajectory of many in the South African ANC including the next in line to be president of South Africa. When they were being persecuted by the white ruling class, they appealed to workers of the world to support their cause. Many of us responded. Now, they don’t need us as they have replaced the white ruling class, and become a wealthy black ruling class. It cannot be surprising, therefore, that wherever trade union officials exist, their varying points of view – more often than not – orbit around the central body of bourgeois capitalist ideology.

Like comets or other such circulating bodies in the solar system, their eliptical orbits around the centre of capitalist ideology make trade union bureaucracies and left social democrats appear at times to be travelling away from it. However, the gravitational attraction of money and power holds them in its grasp and their ideological trajectory returns them sooner or later towards capitalisms centre of power and influence. In previous articles I have outlined the past role played by social democracy and trade union officialdom in stabilising and rescuing the capitalist mode of production, particularly during periods of severe crisis. [See for example; ‘The Nazis; A double warning from history’. and, ‘Fascism: can it happen again?’ on this blog] I will conclude this article with the following critique of a contemporary attempt aimed at trade unionists, by trade union officialdom to get working people to help save the capitalist system from its own internal dissolution and self-destruction.

The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.
In any serious crisis in which the lives of millions are being devastated by economic, financial, social and ecological problems it is obvious that those suffering from such effects will sooner or later try to identify the cause. It is during such periods that the role of those who wish to perpetuate the capitalist mode of production, from within the trade union movement is revealed. For a start, they do not seriously critique the capitalist mode of production, but critique left and right political groupings and their supporters. They invariably blame the victims. If the reader doubts this consider the following facts.

Having previously organised an international conference of over 100 trade unionists, from European countries, primarily from Germany, Hungary, Poland and Greece an organisation named Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung published its latest ‘Mitte-Studie’. This 100 page ‘Study’ was published as a comprehensive report entitled ‘Trade Unions and Right Wing Extremism in Europe’.  Their research had revealed that, at least in some cases, trade union members were actually more likely than non-union members to hold hostile views toward people unlike themselves. That is to say trade unionists were more likely than non-trade unionists, to be against immigrants coming into their respective countries for economic reasons.  

Since trade unions were actually created to protect workers jobs salaries and working conditions, then it cannot be surprising that trade unionists would be hostile to the recruitment of cheap alternative labour by employers. It would not matter whether these workers were imported into their countries or not. Maintaining jobs , wages and conditions is the traditional reason for the unions existence. Yet the report simply classifies this understandable defensive reaction (related to the capitalist search for high returns on capital) as a kind of intellectual infection. Indeed, the report suggests that based on evidence they have uncovered;

We need to acknowledge that membership in a trade union does not provide immunity against infection from the far right.” (Page 10)

Note that any rational hostility by trade unionists to imported (and highly competitive) labour has been redefined as an infection carried by the political far – right. The authors cannot accept that many workers are intelligent enough to have made their own assessment of economic immigration,  so they conclude they have been infected by an alien virus. Amazingly, amid the 21st century ongoing economic and social crisis, the current priority problem for trade unionists has actually been radically redefined by the authors of this document. It is NOT how protect jobs or overthrow the system which exploits all labour – indigenous or foreign – but how to immunise workers from an implied intellectual infection. The document goes on to explain that it is important to draw a clear line between right-wing political extremists and those moderate politicians who support capitalist forms of democracy.

It is especially important for the trade union movement to draw a clear line against right- wing extremist as well as right-wing populist parties and movements, since they call into question and/or actively oppose the foundational values of our democratic, pluralistic, rights-based society. (Page 7)

So there we have it in a nutshell. The foundational values of ‘our’ (sic) society which are to be defended against right-wing anti-capitalist critiques are those based upon a pluralist rights-based capitalist democracy. Incidentally, the document chooses to include a lengthy quote from a right-wing publication to make sure trade unionists know what they should oppose. The quote contains the following anti-capitalist rhetoric;

“Free-floating global capital blurs the boundaries between the political authority of one state and another,  robs nations of their autonomy in taking decisions and acting, and leads  to forms of capitalist governance without a government elected by the  people. By attacking key principles of nation-states such as territoriality,  sovereignty, and legality, globalisation destroys the only conceivable geo-political spaces of popular government for the benefit of anonymous, supranational power structures…….Unbridled capital pays no heed to territory, people and  standards. This fact harbours within it the prospect that, if this development continues, there can only be a future for unscrupulous profiteers  and mere alms for the people suffering from this trend, who are at risk of dissolution.” (Page 18)

Here the author/s have stumbled across, but steadfastly ignored, the real danger of right-wing authoritarianism. It is most dangerous when, in a severe economic and social crisis, authoritarians are allowed to appropriate elements of a correct anti-capitalist analysis, without any serious challenge to their motive for doing so. Interestingly, this is not the first time this has happened during a capitalist crisis. The attraction of the anti-capitalist rhetoric of the German National Socialist Party (ie the Nazis) for millions of German workers during its growth in the 19th century is a lesson obviously ignored by these 21st century social democratic trade unionists. That particular European occurrence was no exception, for during the same 1920’s and 1930s crisis period, anti-capitalist rhetoric was replicated in the early development of Italian Fascism. This too seems to have escaped the attention of the well-funded authors of this social-democratic defence of the capitalist mode of production. 

The free movement of capital and labour.
Throughout this extensive document there is no mention of the legitimacy of a trade union or left anti-capitalist critique of capital – just more of the same social-democratic rhetoric of ‘rights-based’ bourgeois democracy. According to this document, a partial and one-sided anti-capitalist critique must be rejected, not because it is partial and incomplete but simply because some right-wing authoritarians are mischievously using it. In contrast, this form of ‘respectable’ trade unionism is openly exposed as supporting and promoting the current rights-based society and no other. That is to say, the current right of workers to be exploited, the right for the privileged to excessively consume, the right for the poor to live in poverty and the right of the masses to observe the pomp and extravagance of the elite.

In other words this document supports what already exists economically, financially, socially, politically and ecologically – ie neo-liberal, finance-dominated capitalism. But what exists now is exactly what needs to be seriously challenged from a working class and humanist perspective. Yet within this so-called worker friendly document there is not even a serious reformist call for a campaign for the right to work with good pay, conditions and pensions for everyone. The only ‘right’ to to be rigorously defended by left social-democratic tendencies of this ilk, is the entitlement of workers to democratically vote between those who want to govern them and who then pay themselves high salaries and excellent pensions.  The document continues;

The slogan of the far right is “Only the nation can solve social problems.” The truth is just the opposite: social problems can only be solved internationally! precisely for that reason it is crucial that workers should not allow anyone to play them off against one another. To the contrary, in the globalised world of work there has to be a fair balancing of interests.” (Page 7/8)

Note that it is social problems, not economic or ecological problems which are to be solved by this documents nod to a capitalistic form of internationalism. It seems the world of economics is to be left as it is, which can only mean an internationalism of the neo-liberal kind. However, it is the last sentence that clearly confirms the pro-capitalist essence of the documents purpose. In the globalised world of work (ie. workers of the world working for the capitalist class and competing with each other for fewer and fewer low-paid jobs) there has to be a fair balancing of interests. This, of course, is exactly the purpose of the European Union – a so-called balancing of the interests of capital and labour. Capital has to be free to move about so the same applies to workers – they have to be free to move about.

This ‘balance’ – which is in reality a massive  ‘imbalance’ – is nothing other than the already realised 21st century world in which capital is free to roam the world in search for cheap labour and secure profits, whilst workers are free to constantly search for whatever dwindling number of jobs they can manage to locate. And in reality, rather than in rhetoric, the ‘search’ by capital prevents the workers ‘search’ from being achieved. It also results in the current low pay and insecure ‘balance of interests’ with austerity for the many and obscene wealth for the few.  In case this central message and ultimate purpose of the document – defence of the bourgeois system and its almost worthless human-rights – has not become obvious throughout, page 73 makes it explicit. It does so by mentioning the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, which it correctly says;

“….is based upon the principles of democracy and the rule of law..It [.and..] ensures free movement of persons, services, goods and capital…” (Page 73)

Having falsely identified the current socio-economic situation as one of working people abandoning the ‘established’ political parties by becoming infected with a right-wing intellectual virus;  having highlighted the anti-capitalist rhetoric of the right and failed to provide a left alternative anti-capitalist perspective, the authors of this social-democratic diatribe do not stop there. They then urge trade union representative bodies to adopt their own social-democratic motives and implement the following programme of action.
The trade-union worker’s representation body shall communicate democratic values to young people more intensively again. The participants also plead for the maximum possible participation of young workers and trainees in trade-union organizations.” (Page 99)

To sum up.
Social democracy and the trade union movement, led by their 21st century bureaucratic elites have already failed to explain the causes of the current and past crises of capitalism and how it systematically creates poverty for its members, non-members and voters. Some trade union officials are again suggesting the movement is to be used to deliver the basic democratic capitalist values that the capitalist states educational system already has embodied in its curriculum. These are precisely the bourgeois democratic values that the system has taught to the very workers and trade unionists who are rejecting them left, right and centre – and for very good economic and social reasons. 

With  friends like the people who crafted this document, along with those who paid for its publication and who supplied its content, the working classes, don’t need any other enemies. Yet they do have them. As the capitalist mode of production reaches the  limits of possible expansion, working people, the world over are faced with more than one sort of pro-capitalist enemy to combat. First, the right-wing authoritarians who occasionally pretend to care about the dire circumstances of workers and add a morsel of anti-capitalist rhetoric in order to trick unsuspecting people into thinking they are substantially different than what has gone before.

Second, the left leaning social democratic tendencies (political and trade union) who keep their authoritarianism hidden – but ready in waiting. The latter’s authoritarianism, will be brought out in the open when the working classes, white-collar and blue, conclude that it is necessary to change the system rather than continue to suffer under it.  Before that the social democrats will undoubtedly copy the right-wing (who used Reagan and now Trump in the USA) and use every media and show business trick (Oprah for a future President?) to try to fool the electorate into thinking these ‘stars’ are going to be the acceptable faces of capitalism. Meanwhile I doubt that British celebrities such as Naomi Cambell or Simon Cowell will be approached in the UK – at least not in the short term.

Third, the sectarian dogmatism and dualism (tied as they are to ‘you are either for us or against us’) mentality among the anti-capitalist left who introduce ideological confusion and division among the oppressed. However, in this latter regard, reports here – as elsewhere – indicate that working-class understanding is rapidly becoming seriously critical of everything that currently exists. Long may this last.

R. Ratcliffe (January 2018)
PS.  For an interesting alternative take on the lefts abandonment of anti-capitalist critique see –
http://www.ips-journal.eu/topics/democracy/article/show/has-the-left-sold-out-2415/
There is also another suggestion by a Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung supporter on how to win the working class back to illusions, that capitalism can be made to work fairly – at http://www.ips-journal.eu/storage/topics/democracy/article/show/getting-the-job-done-2511/

Posted in Critique | 8 Comments