The form and content of the recent People’s Assembly meeting in London was in many ways predictable. Rousing speeches of how bad the UK situation has become, how bad the nasty Con/Lib/Dem government leaders are. This together with some tokenistic nods to gender balance and audience participation was the main substance. However, the inclusion of the word ‘people’ in the title and the lack of any real anti-capitalist pre-amble prior to it, should have served as a warning as to what was designed and intended.
A top-table dominated by well-paid trade union executives and ‘left-leaning’ Labour Party supporters could not be expected to have any greater vision than the restoration of a form of welfare capitalism with which they have always felt comfortable. Accordingly, despite the variety of contributions made from platform or floor, a return to a supposedly gentler, golden age of welfare capitalism is exactly the core content of the message which permeated the proceedings. The same message will continue to be broadcast during any further progress for this initiative. But then how could it be otherwise?
Since the end of the Second World War, the capitalist mode of production has been good for these so-called representatives of the working class. It still is. They have achieved unprecedented levels of individual and family wealth, influence and prestige. Many of their predecessors have been elevated to the top of ‘establishment’ UK as government ministers. Many more have retired on very ‘comfortable’ pensions and others have been elevated to the peerage. Would they really not want to retain the same future possibilities for themselves? No prizes for guessing the answer to that one.
However, unlike right-wing heirs to the capitalist system, the left-wing beneficiaries of it like to have a clear conscience. They know system is corrupt, they know it is unfair – but they also know which side their bread is buttered. For this reason they prefer a version of capitalism which provides them with rich pickings, but also looks after the poor, the sick, the unemployed and which has safeguards against excessive exploitation. In other words capitalism in – ‘The Spirit of 45’. Nor should we forget that so far they have not been seriously effected by the crisis. Their life continues as it was and consequently so does their consciousness. For as Marx put it;
“Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life.” (Marx. German Ideology.)
The way these ‘left’ elites live determines their consciousness and the way they live is by the formal and informal political networks established under the capitalist mode of production. In other words they live by getting ‘people’ to assemble and vote them or appoint them into an established hierarchical elite. The formal means of achieving this outcome are open Conferences, Meetings and of course – Assemblies. The informal means are closed caucuses, liaisons, and behind-the-scenes private discussions. Once elected, an integral part of how they then live is by gaining ‘acceptance’ from the dominant establishment forces – civil-servants, bankers, bond-holders etc. – who are of course also a section of the ‘people‘.
These are the two overriding and dominating modes of existence which determine how they think and how they act. In the division of labour, between workers and capital, and workers and their representatives, they live an intermediate life which is fundamentally dependent upon the capitalist mode of production for all the advantages and benefits it brings. Hence they predominantly view society as comprising of ‘people’ rather than fundamentally irreconcilable classes. So how can they be expected to entertain a revolutionary perspective?
Their way of life, like the right-wing beneficiaries of the capitalist mode of production, also depends upon the existence of capitalism. Their high salaries and status, depends upon the existence of a class of surplus-value creating workers along with the industrial, commercial and financial exploitation of the entire world to underwrite their privileges. Under such working/earning circumstances they, like their predecessors in 1945, are at best reformists – but without the post-war potential for reforms.
This is because given the current systemic crisis of world capitalism, reforms aimed at preventing further attacks upon the working classes, the poor and oppressed under this system, are nothing more than a wishful thinking fantasy, one comfortably reinforced by their position, habits and opinions.
Nevertheless, it is a impression which the vast majority of the ‘people’ as yet share – and this includes many working people. It is the case that the life experiences of most working people in Europ, the UK and to a lesser extent the US; white collar and blue, unemployed, sick and retired, have been accumulated during a unique period of tax-deducted, capitalist-state provided, social welfare. Based upon that lengthy, common experience, the role of the self-deluded left trade union and political elite is to rationalise and perpetuate such hopes and illusions among workers. Their task is to promote wishful thinking well beyond the point where it has become completely out of touch with the unfolding reality of world-wide crisis.
The awakening masses need to be lulled to sleep, and for this, bourgeois anthems of discord and disharmony will not suffice. It is the ‘left’ reformists who invariably step forward to provide performances and recitals of easy listening lullaby’s.
Since life determines consciousness we can anticipate that very many workers in the so-called advanced capitalist countries will continue for some time to expect and want the state to maintain that pattern of economic, social and financial involvement. Hence the current embryonic campaigns among many to defend the welfare state will continue. As the 21st century bourgeois states shed their patronising welfare function and continue to attack the systems victims, they will not necessarily jump to revolutionary conclusions. Most will at first assume that the state is merely in the wrong hands. Hence also, a search will commence – or continue – for an alternative political party – as some of those involved in the ‘People’s Assembly’ are currently embarked upon. In this case an illusory hope will be promoted that a new ‘party’ will be willing and able to deliver a new age of welfare capitalism – or ‘socialism’ as some call it.
It will therefore take lengthy, new and different experiences for the majority of people to radically change their consciousness and reach the conclusion – already reached in anti-capitalist theory – that the capitalist mode of production, official politics and the state – all states – are the fundamental problem, not the solution. Part of those necessary radicalising experiences will be gained during the failure of such present and future defensive campaigns and the failure of alternative political party’s. Such battles ‘for the state’ and ‘against the state’ are unavoidable and contradictory, but as they progress they will be the fertile ground for revolutionary-humanist and anti-capitalist ideas and understandings to be introduced.
During the coming skirmishes and struggles there will also be a tendency for many militant workers to castigate those workers who do not support this or that tactic and fail to act – or even act against – a particular form of action. Any such sectarian tendency needs to be combated for it is based upon two counter-productive errors. First, the illusion that in the present systemic crisis, short-term and emotionally-led actions can get generally successful results. Second, that certain individuals or trade union oligarchs have the ‘answers’ which others ‘must’ follow. Neither are valid.
It should be remembered that not all the past tactics which many activists will mechanistically continue to advocate – petitions, demonstrations, strikes – will succeed in the new circumstances and the fear of unemployment or victimisation may prevent many workers from taking part. Creating and acerbating divisions among workers by advocating and acting upon an ill-conceived tactic – or one which the majority are not yet ready to support – is playing into the hands of the ruling elite. To condemn cautious and sceptical members of the working class as ’betrayers’ or ’enemies’ ahead of huge battles is to set back the progress of the needed solidarity and unity which will only fully develop in new and permanently changed circumstances.
The coming struggles are the prelude to a class war in which the future welfare of the majority of humanity and the health of the planet depends upon the abolition of the capitalist mode of production. That struggle is more important than the outcome of any skirmishes which precede such epoch changing events. Challenging the illusions and delusions of the left-reformists, providing the long-view along with a full analysis of the capitalist mode of production is a task for those who genuinely follow the revolutionary-humanist tradition of Karl Marx and champion the self-organisation and self-activity of the working class.
Roy Ratcliffe (June 2013.)