It can hardly escape anyone’s attention that the British Labour Party’s leadership contest has revealed the existence of deep divisions within this party of ‘left’ reformism. In addition this contest has revealed not only the sordid personal jockeying for elevated political position by some, but also the utter bankruptcy of the political class in general. There has been a total failure to recognise the existential problems caused by the capitalist mode of production in its 21st century neo-liberal stage. They seem to naively imagine that a change in the political complexion of a government can solve capitalisms fundamental contradictions. With one exception, the contestants also simply display incompetence, opportunist posturing and a complete lack of internal solidarity. Jeremy Corbyn with his well earned reputation for activist involvement with numerous issues of injustice, is the exception.
Mr Corbyn, who has been, and continues to be, one of the most principled soft left politicians in the British Parliament, has surprised practically everyone by becoming the front runner to become the Labour Party’s new leader. Yet this cannot be too surprising given that a turn to soft left reformism is occurring in a number of European countries. Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain are just two other examples of this development. As resistance to neo-liberal austerity motivates the actions of the middle-class and their supporters amongst the politically active, this trend will continue. This process demonstrates the fact that the overwhelming majority of the British middle-classes are still committed to the capitalist mode of production, but have slightly different perspectives on how to manage the system.
These different perspectives are the basis of the current minor differences between the major political party’s in Britain – Labour, Liberal and Conservative. They are also the basis for the 21st century party-political competition for the ‘middle ground’ of voters by these three’one-nation’ political party’s. The ‘middle ground’ being a term to cover the decreasing sections of the electorate who regularly turn out to vote. It is to this middle-ground that the left of the Labour Party, as personified by Mr Corbyn, wishes to appeal and this was revealed by his recent ‘Standing to Deliver’ speech in Glasgow. Echoing many of the policy sentiments if not the actual words of the Syriza leadership, Mr Corbyn, as part of his platform, has produced a ten point list of measures with which he hopes to combat austerity.
THE TEN POINTS.
The measures Mr Corbyn proposes are those he considers will at least provide some of the content of what he characterises as “a new kind of politics: a fairer, kinder Britain based on innovation, decent jobs and decent public services.” It should be apparent from the above formulation that ‘a fairer, kinder Britain, with ‘innovation, decent jobs and decent services’ is not a new kind of political aspiration even though it differs somewhat from Conservative political aspirations. In fact these are – in essence – the political aspirations pursued by the British Labour Party and its supporters in the immediate post Second World War period. Nevertheless it is worth critically considering the ten points he stands for in some detail. Deliberately vague and abstract as political policies always are they are primarily designed to maximise agreement. The published points are as follows.
1. Growth not austerity – with a national investment bank to help create tomorrow’s jobs and reduce the deficit fairly. Fair taxes for all – let the broadest shoulders bear the biggest burden to balance the books.
Almost every word of this first point could be taken from parts of Syriza’s programme – before their total capitulation to the European financial and political elite. The essence of all bourgeois political positions, left, right and centre, is to propose some form of capitalist economic growth. Yet it is growth that has caused the current economic and financial crisis. The capitalist mode of production has ‘grown’ so much it is no longer sustainable either with regard to the environment it exhausts and pollutes or with regard to employing the mass of workers and dispossessed people it continues to create. Modern capitalist means of production have even destroyed the mass tax base upon which the capitalist state depends for any token semblance of fairness. Since capitalism can only continue to exist on the basis of growth, capitalist forms of growth can only make matters worse – far worse!
2. A lower welfare bill through investment and growth not squeezing the least well-off and cuts to child tax credits.
Point two is directly related to point one and demonstrates the above noted confusion is consistent throughout. A lower welfare bill requires higher levels of employment, which harnessed to the investment needs of capital would create more goods and services which need to be sold in markets already competitively saturated. Even if in some isolated cases (or countries) this could be made to work it would merely put other workers in other countries out of work before or after their industries and governments adopted the same misguided growth strategies. This is not to mention the increasing strain this ‘growth’ would cause on planetary resources, pollution and climate dislocation. Which anticipates point 3. Meanwhile child credits, as with all such ‘subsidies’ are a symptom of ridiculously low wages and unemployment.
3. Action on climate change – for the long-term interest of the planet rather than the short-term interests of corporate profits.
This is another typically vague abstraction with no mention of what action on climate change is to be contemplated let alone implemented. Yet to anyone not totally hypnotized by the bourgeois point of view, it should be clear by now that the long-term interest of the planet and it human and non-human inhabitants cannot be served by the short-term interests of corporate profits. This crucially important issue cannot be fudged in this way. The contradiction between corporate and financial power and human and planetary welfare cannot be resolved by vague promises of action or reformist political compromises. It really is a case of one or the other: we cannot have both.
4. Public ownership of railways and in the energy sector – privatisation has put profits before people.
Privatisation has certainly put profits before people, but is public ownership (nationalisation by another name) the answer required by the current circumstances? Public ownership does not prevent profits being put before people. Cheaper public ownership transport and energy benefits the profits of the private enterprise sector of society far more than the working classes and the poor. The history of Public Ownership in the UK as elsewhere in these sectors demonstrates this fact as does the existence of a publicly funded road network system – choked up with privatised lorries belching out diesel fumes. Just as importantly nationalised sectors can be de-nationalised (privatised) by government again at some later date – so back to square one for a future generation!
5. Decent homes for all in public and private sectors by 2025 through a big house-building programme and controlling rents.
Decent homes for all remains a meaninglessness abstraction on the basis of the capitalist mode of production. This is because the private sector is linked to finance-capital via the mortgage system, where profits are extracted by land owners, building firms and mortgage providers. This means only those with sufficient surplus income can afford any type of shoddy-built home, let alone ‘decent’ ones. The provision of public sector housing (decent or not) is currently a pipe dream for there is no financial or practical mechanisms for implementing a small programme let alone a large one. Local governments have become the fiefdoms of overpaid executive officers and their political counterparts. The cuts to local government funding also means that rent controls will be inconsistent to say the least.
6. No more illegal wars, a foreign policy that prioritises justice and assistance. Replacing Trident not with a new generation of nuclear weapons but jobs that retain the communities’ skills.
This is another stitching together of meaningless and dangerous abstractions. Is a war which has been legally decided by some ruling elite (including a British elite) something to be advocated and supported? Since when has any war (legally justified or not) NOT been the means by which working people and their families have been decimated on all sides of the conflict? A foreign policy on the basis of capitalist competition for resources and markets simply cannot prioritise ‘justice’. In the history of the capitalist mode of production, it never has and never will. It must prioritise sales and profits!
7. Fully-funded NHS, integrated with social care, with an end to privatisation in health.
The 21st century capitalist state in Britain, as elsewhere, has become so indebted to international finance-capital that it has not the means to fully-fund a National Health Service, let alone provide social care for the young, the disabled or the elderly. To realise such an ambition under the capitalist system would require the capitalist state representatives to declare bankruptcy, repudiate the sovereign debt and start funding these sectors in the manner they need. To do this would require a revolutionary transformation of the way the current political classes view the world and this is not going to happen any time soon. In the absence of this radical solution the best that any of the current political class could offer would be a slowing down of privatisation within the already declining health service.
8. Protection at work – no zero hours contracts, strong collective bargaining to stamp out workplace injustice.
There is already a raft of legislative instruments which are intended to protect workers from the physical and social hazards connected to their occupations, but this does not mean they do not continue to suffer in large numbers from accidents and ill health at work. Most employers are able to circumvent or ignore safety requirements or where something goes wrong blame the victims. This has been the case when previous supposedly ‘left’ Labour Governments have been in power so despite this pius intention, how is it going to be different with Mr Corbyn leading the Labour Party? Workplace injustice is part and parcel of every capitalist enterprise no matter how well it is run. This is because on top of the numerous technical abuses, the worker never receives the full value for the work they do. The profits of a private company are derived from the unpaid surplus-value created by the workforce during every normal working period. How unjust is that?
9. Equality for all – a society that accepts no barriers to everyone’s talents and contribution. An end to scape-goating of migrants.
The first of these aspirations cannot be met in society based upon different and hierarchical classes. The class-based advantages (or disadvantages) of some sections of a divided society are by and large perpetuated among the offspring of those classes. For the working classes and the poor, there are often insuperable barriers to developing talents and even when developed in lucky few there are still barriers to employing those talents. The second issue touched upon in this ninth point uses the populist bourgeois designation ‘migrants’. This is a politically convenient designation for along with the associated problem of immigration it places the blame on the victims.
The use of the term ‘migrant’ is already a form of scape-goating for it avoids a full description of their situation. In actual fact there is a full-scale crisis of millions upon millions of dispossessed people throughout the world. These refugees from war-torn, financially or ecologically damaged areas of the world have been dispossessed from their means of making a living and from keeping themselves safe – primarily by the economic, financial or military actions of western capitalist and imperialist governments. So in the medium to long term it is not simply a question of preventing the scape-goating of them but of creating places of safety and a means of earning a living. The present mode of production which causes these problems (and those who support it) cannot do that.
10. A life-long national education service for decent skills and opportunities throughout our lives: universal childcare, abolishing student fees and restoring grants, and funding adult skills training throughout our lives.
Since the inception of popular education in the 19th century it’s ‘national’ purpose and function (read the Parliamentary introduction to the 1844 Education Reform Act.) has been to train the masses in the skills needed by the capitalist mode of production, to school them to accept hierarchical authority and inculcate the ideological assumptions of bourgeois culture. The educational system has never been of or for the working classes and this proposal continues the bourgeois tradition of skills training for the needs of the capitalist mode of production. Yes it is a double irony that students now have to pay in order to become wage or salary slaves to a cancerous system of production, but making it ‘free’ does not alter this primary function.
These ten points are so constructed as to seem obvious aspirations for anyone with a sense of fair play and a degree of antipathy to the injustices of the capitalist system. In this sense they are not the unique insights of Jeremy Corbyn but part of a bourgeois socialist trend. However their generality serves another obvious function and that is to avoid considering the capitalist system as a whole with its class differences, it’s power structures along with the revolutionary implications in order to achieve such positive aspirations. These generic points also serve the function of recruiting the naive activist into supporting the reformist, self-defeating project of trying to save capitalism from its current existential crisis.
It has long been known that some members of the classes which benefit from the capitalist mode of production do not like the fact that the system creates poverty and injustice among sections of the working classes. Accordingly, they genuinely want to alleviate some of the worst symptoms of capitalism, but without altering the causes. This gave rise to what Marx described as bourgeois socialism. He wrote:
“A part of the bourgeoisie is desirous of redressing social grievances, in order to secure the continued existence of bourgeois society. To this section belong economists, philanthropists, humanitarian improvers of the conditions of the working class…the Socialistic bourgeoisie want all the advantages of modern social conditions without the struggles and dangers necessarily resulting therefrom…..It but requires in reality, that the proletariat should remain within the bounds of existing society, but cast away all its hateful ideas concerning the bourgeoisie.”
Although much has changed since Marx wrote the above, capital still dominates the modern mode of production and along with it the class structures of privilege and domination which arise upon it. The individuals who now champion the modern Bourgeois Socialist perspective are drawn from the new professional middle classes. Some of them have (by various means) moved up from the working classes and others have moved down from the ranks of the bourgeoisie proper. Whatever, their origin the individuals in this class generally enjoy certain privileges in terms of status and pay under the current phase of the capitalist mode of production. This means they are the modern counterparts of those who are desirous of redressing social grievances, in order to secure the existence of bourgeois society.
The consistent pro-capitalist position of such individuals has been reinforced by the fact that previous attempts to go beyond capital, such as in the Soviet Union, China, the Eastern bloc and even Cuba have been failures – and in most instances disastrously so. This together with the uncritical posturing of the contemporary sectarian anti-capitalist left has meant few from this new middle-class have bothered to research the causes of the anti-capitalist failures and revive the original revolutionary-humanist position of Marx and the First International.
Only when all possibilities to save capital from its self-destructive tendencies have failed will individuals from this class take up some responsibilities to ally with a struggling working class to go beyond capital and assist them in a revolutionary-humanist direction. It is for this reason that working people – now and in the future – will need to rely upon their own ranks and not be tempted to join the bourgeois socialists in their present and future attempts to save the capitalist mode of production in order to hang onto their privileges.
Roy Ratcliffe (August 2015)