FASCISM: CAN IT HAPPEN AGAIN?

The term fascism has become used as a form of emotionally charged description for actions and attitudes which are seen as authoritarian and damaging to ordinary people. Fascist police, fascist ticket wardens, fascistic employers, fascist pig are expletives, among many others, that have been bandied about over a number of decades. It has also been applied as a descriptive term to politicians such as George Bush, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher etc. Now Trump, Farage and others. However, as right-wing, prejudiced and self-serving as these politicians were, (and are) are any of these instances (and many countless others) really an accurate use of the term ‘fascism’? And if not, is not its misuse becoming part of a wider form of social-democratic inspired distraction from the underlying economic crisis now facing working people?

For in 2016 and 2017, it became obvious that what remains of the liberal and neo-liberal establishment started throwing their toys out of the pram and foaming at the mouth as the more radical left and the radical right gain the political ground that they think is theirs by hereditary succession. They only see dull-witted racists and fascism whenever they encounter serious challenges to their hegemony. Using one-sided manipulations and distortions of reality (amplified by the media) they try to frighten people into supporting their failed agenda and threatened careers. Jeremy Corbin in the UK was smeared as an anti-semite and closet communist, Donald Trump in the US as a fascist. Do such emotionally charged uses really help us understand what fascism is, why it came into being and how it came to dominate certain countries in the 20th century? I suggest it doesn’t. And do we not need a more sober analysis of fascism in order to really judge whether it is likely to succeed in the 21st century? I suggest we do.

There is an extensive literature on the topic of ‘fascism’ from a historical, sociological and even psychological perspective, so to deal adequately with all that material would require far more space than an article such as this. Instead I shall use what is perhaps one of the most clear descriptions of what fascism is and what it stands for from one of its most fervent and original exponants. I refer to Benito Mussolini, who actually gained control of a European nation state – Italy – and published a document in his name entitled ‘The Doctrine of Fascism’. I propose that this one source will not only provide a concise and coherent definition but it will also provide us with more than this. It will allow us to form a conceptual template with which to judge to what extent other authoritarian forms of governance can be classed as fascist.

What is fascism really?

“Fascism, in short, is not only a law-giver and a founder of institutions, but an educator and promoter of spiritual life. It aims at refashioning not only the forms of life but their content – man, his character,and his faith. To achieve this purpose it enforces discipline and uses authority, entering into the soul and ruling with undisputed sway.” (‘The Doctrine of Fascism’. Mussolini.)

This extract makes it clear that Fascists desire a form of totalitarian governance. They seek to inform and rule societies over the full range of human activites, economic, political, and social. This full spectrum domination includes, education, leisure, and even spiritual beliefs. Because a total control of what people do and what they think is difficult to achieve by persuasion, the Fascist mindset recognises that they will need to use force. They aim to achieve an undisputed authoritarian sway over nations and govern by using force and disciplinary measures to achieve this extreme state of socio-economic unity. Another important platform of the Fascist programme is the abolition of any trace of democratic forms which would undoubtedly interfere with their plans. For example;

“Fascism denies that numbers, as such, can be the determining factor in human society: it denies the right of numbers to govern by means of periodical consultations.”(ibid ‘The Doctrine of Fascism’.)

This proposal to abolish parliamentary and other forms of democratic consultations is not as scary a proposal for many (perhaps even a majority of) working class citizens as it is for the middle-class and the capitalist class. The reason is simple. The bourgeois forms of representative democracy are little more than a series of tightly controlled oligarchies dedicated to responding to the requirements of capital in its need to exploit labour. The bulk of the working class are far removed from economic and political power and rarely see it wielded for their own benefit. The pyramidal division of labour within the economic sphere of life; capitalists – managers – workers is also the model for the capitalist state; Prime Ministers (or Presidents) – Parliamentarians (or Congressmen) and state bureaucrats – citizens. Itĺis a similar hierarchical pattern which arises in political parties.

Even the left and so-called revolutionary parties conform to this hierarchical pattern of – leaders – executive committees – members. Here too party leaders are invariably chosen by an inner circle (formal or informal), presented to the broader party membership for acceptance or rejection before being presented to the electorate in the best possible light. The masses are the last to be consulted in terms of who is to govern them and have little or no say in the policies they pursue. In other words democracy everywhere under the capitalist mode of production is already but a few steps away from a full – blown authoritarian oligarchy in both party political forms and in state forms. It only requires the elimination of internal party or civilian rights for bourgeois democractic forms to become so. That, however, is a difficult and dangerous step to take, yet as we shall see, Fascism once managed to bring this about. Meanwhile;

“The Fascist state lays claim to rule in the economic field no less than in others; it makes its action felt throughout the length and breadth of the country by means of its corporate, social and educational institutions, and all the political, economic, and spiritual forces of the nation, organised in their respective associations, circulate within the state.” (ibid ‘The Doctrine of Fascism’.)

Fascists, no less than any other political trend, recognise the necessity of economic production both for feeding, clothing and housing the nation they seek to govern – including themselves – but they also recognise more. There is a clear realisation within Fascist thinking that the owners of the means of production and the means of exchange cannot be allowed to make their own decisions of how, where and what to produce. This is because such decisions may not conform to the Fascist visions of how a nation should function. Logic, from this fascist perspective requires a form of state-dictated capitalism. Hence;

The Fascist conception of the State is all-embracing; outside of it no human or spiritual values can exist, much less have value.” (ibid ‘The Doctrine of Fascism’.)

It is obvious that as yet no sizable political party or movement subscribes to any of the above four core values of fascism or any of the other similar totalitarian principles in other fascist documents.

How did Fascism win power?

If we consider the last time fascism became a serious totalitarian political form (1920’s to 1930’s) it was also during a period of extreme and sustained economic, social and political crisis. And part of its attraction was the promise of jobs;

Into this desperate situation, the Nazis appeared under the guise of the National Socialist German Workers Party with a promise of jobs for the unemployed and relief for the impoverished.” (Life in the Third Reich: Paul Roland. Chapter 1.)

Despite the much publicised horrors of Italian, German and Spanish Fascism in the early 20th century, there are still a minority who admire it and would undoubtedly like to replicate it in the 21st. However, there is no automatic guarantee that a group of fascist minded individuals will become a sufficiently large force to create a fascist political party or eventually threaten humanity with yet another world war. Indeed, there was no such guarantee of success before the full horrors became widely known in the 1940’s. The success of a totalitarian party in gaining sufficient power over a nation to inflict it’s fascistic programme on suffering humanity was dependent upon three broad areas of socio-political developments.

First it has to be diligently and persistently worked for by an organised group wedded to the Fascist ideology and practice. Second, it requires a significant section of the ruling capitalist and pro-capitalist elite to begin to support and fund such a party or movement. This they do when they think that this is the only way to save the privileged economic and social system they administer. Thirdly, it is necessary that those who oppose such a development, the vast majority, through faulty analysis and divisive tactics are sufficiently weakened to effectively oppose it. Let us consider these three areas of potential concern in turn.

Organised Fascist groups.

There are many right-wing groups which are racist and nationalist, but as yet there are few, if any, which advocate the spectrum of fascist beliefs and principles noted above. Whilst it is true that the 20th century European brands of Fascism, did not start off with the full fascist programme, there are also many differences between then and now. For a start, before the 1920’s there hadn’t been, within recent history, a popular movement which perpetrated such genocidal crimes as those perpetrated by Franco, Hitler and Mussolini brands of Fascism. Most of the world now knows what full spectrum Fascist dominance can lead to and this should hinder if not prevent the development of a new fascist movement. Secondly, in the cases of the Germany and Italy in the 20th century, the prime movers of the movement had been former socialists and large numbers of former socialists had joined their ranks. Of these two examples, the German example, as we have seen, embodied this concept into its party title – National Socialists. There is no such massive development of so-called ‘national socialist’ thinking in the 21st century.

The capitalist and pro-capitalist elite.

Whilst it is also undoubtedly true that if their system was sufficiently threatened, many among the 21st century capitalist and pro-capitalist elite would be happy to turn to a strong authoritarian leader, it is unlikely that the 1930’s system of Fascism would be resurrected or replicated. The bourgeois elite too know the dangers of Fascism to their own welfare and that of their children and partners. As in the past, the loose cannon of a Fascist fanatic who gained power, would not hesitate to loose the most up to date weapons of mass destruction upon his enemies. Tellingly, these now include nuclear and biological weapons, which would threaten the existence of more than just their enemies. The more likely outcome to any future hightened socio-economic crisis would be an authoritarian form of government and the deliberate provocation of an internal civil war.

One only need reflect upon the almost total war conducted against oppositional civilians in the middle-east countries of Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Lybia and Egypt supported by the pro-capitalist elites of the west, to understand what could happen without the need for a fascist resurgence. News footage of cities in Syria in particular bear a remarkable resemblance to the street after street of bombed out houses and buildings in German cities such as Hamburg, Cologne and Berlin at the end of the Second World War. This indicates, the length which modern elites will go to protect themselves and system which sustains them. Of course this outcome too has been made possible by the errors and mistakes of the oppressed and exploited, splitting their ranks and weakening their opposition. Which brings us to the third important factor.

Faulty analysis and divisive tactics.

In fact this is the most important element in any descent to authoritarian regulation and any possible rebirth of Fascism. The primary fault in not seeing what is coming and preventing it arises from a failure to analyse what is really going on within any serious socio-economic crisis. The easiest thing for commentators to do is focus on the surface events to the exclusion of deeper problems. Taking rhetoric for reality within politics, and blaming the victims who may have mixed but not yet fixed motives, for what is happening, is another. Deliberate distortions and exagerations also contribute to the problem. It follows from faulty and impressionistic analysis that faulty and reactionary tactics are likely to be and proposed and adopted. The prime example of this latter in 1930’s Germany was the Stalinist sectarian designation of Social Democratic voters as Social Fascists and as as bad – or almost as bad – as the Fascists themselves. This led to a dilution of an anti – fascist mood and a bifurcation of anti fascist activity, within Germany. More of such divisions later. Meanwhile, as one historian of the period commented;

“No class or group or party in Germany could escape it’s share of responsibility for the abandonment of the democratic Republic and the advent of Adolf Hitler. The cardinal error of the Germans who opposed Nazism was their failure to unite against it. (‘The rise and fall of the Third Reich.’ William Shirer.)

And not just in Germany. The left sectarian problem of faulty analysis and divisive tactics was also replicated in Spain among the forces opposed to Franco’s military and civilian forces – if to a lesser extent than those opposed to Mussolini in Italy. Some left sectarians in Spain, also spent almost as much time torturing and killing each other as they did combating Franco’s forces. However, faulty and partial actions and analysis was not (and is not) just a symptom of left sectarian groups, it is part and parcel of the bourgeois way of viewing the world. For this reason, the bourgeoisie and petite-bourgeoisie also often misread the coming together of a strong man and moods of deep desperation among the working classes not all of whom are able to see where things we’re heading.

In Italy and Germany, instead of patiently explaining the possibilities and probabilities to easily influenced workers, these were quickly labelled as Fascists and written off by the so-called ‘left’. Just voting for Hitler and Mussolini on the basis of their promises of jobs and social welfare, was sufficient for the radical left (predominantly the Communist Party then) to classify ordinary workers as Fascists or Fascistic supporters and have nothing but contempt and derision for them. With no recognition of contradiction, everything was pitched by the left in the formula ‘you are either for us or against us’. Those not convinced by the radical sectarian left became cast as the enemy to be combated even though many such voters considered themselves socialists and we’re simply hoodwinked by the official title of the National Socialists and the promises of jobs and curbs on capitalist employers. Confused and simplistic as many Italian, German and Spanish workers may have been, they were not born racists and fascists and not all became so. However, large numbers were repulsed by left sectarianism. And there were good reasons for workers being confused;

Hitler’s critics accused him of being a crude, ill – educated rabble – rouser, but he articulated the people’s anger and sense of injustice more effectively than the professional politicians and it was evident he had touched a raw nerve.” (‘Life in the Third Reich. Chapter 1.)

Does that ring any contemporary bells? In any structural and deep seated crisis there will be splits among the ruling elite on how to manage or solve the problems facing themselves and the system they uphold. Since all ruling elites are numerically weak, they need to recruit the masses to assist their struggle for dominance within ruling circles. To do so both sides will exploit the power and advantages they enjoy and at the same time exploit the weaknesses and confusion of the population at large. This strategy and tactic is as old as civilisation itself. It occured regularly in ancient Greece and during the days of the Roman Empire, where the demos or the plebs were invited to join one side or another of the disputing Greek oligarchs or the later Roman tyrants, with disastrous effects upon the masses when they did so. As already noted in the 20th century it happened in Italy, Germany and Spain, with equally devastating results for the working classes. Sift through the mess in most of the middle east in the 21st century and essentially the same symptom will emerge in one form or another – workers siding with one section of an oppressive elite or another and then fighting and killing each other for this dubious and counterproductive privilege.

Splits in the ruling class.

In Europe and the west these splits are also happening again. In the advanced capitalist countries there is now a serious rift within the contemporary ruling circles governing or seeking to govern these nations. On the one side, there is the existing and severely weakened social-democratic and neo-liberal establishment and on the other side, the emerging right-wing authoritarian nationalists. Working people are being invited to join each bourgeois side as the better (or least-bad side) in the elites internicine struggle for power. Each side is deliberately utilising popular media to distort and denegrate the other side and misguide the majority when in actual fact, both sides are promoters of fake news, witholders and distorters of facts as well as being the architects of exploitation, oppression and unemployment. This is a role they will continue to play whichever side wins.

One of the main weaknesses and mistakes of the bulk of the population is again to fail to understand this, to believe the fabrications and distortions of one side and reject the fabrications and distortions of the other and then be drawn into bourgeois ideological and practical battles in which they will continue to be the main victims. Opposing Donald Trump in favour of Clinton, or opposing Teresa May in favour of Jeremy Corbin, (or one of the other global political analogues) is to fail to recognise that both sides in these political ‘theatres of the absurd’ are committed to the existing capitalist system of economic exploitation, ecological devastation and political domination. Both sides, the globalists and the nationalists are incapable of providing a positive future for humanity. Both political tendencies have had repeated chances and failed miserably, it makes no sense to give either of them even more chances to continue to ruin the world in which we live.

It is important to recognise, that under capitalism the social-democratic, liberal and conservative political tendencies (and of course their Democratic and Republican analogues) are not the diametrically opposites to Fascism as these tendencies like to make out. Their current antics and concerns amount to a distraction from the real economic forces at work in the background and represent a deviation from the real needs of the bulk of humanity. As a recent contribution in the Black Agenda Report noted;

The truth is that if Hillary was being sworn in Friday instead of Big Cheeto we’d still be spending half the nation’s wealth yearly on a murderous global military empire with over a thousand overseas bases. We’d still be bombing seven countries and operating networks of global torture, kidnapping and secret prisons. If Hillary was president the US would still have the two biggest air forces on the planet, the first being the USAF, the second being the US Navy.” (‘Mocking, Marching, etc., are not enough’. Bruce A. Dixon. Black Agenda Report. 14/1/17.)

Mocking, marching, against the ‘right’ along with distorting and blaming the victims are certainly not enough and although they are attractive because they are relatively easy to fulfil, on their own they represent in fact a considerable distraction from what is really needed. Humanity, urgently needs a new revolutionary movement which understands the necessity to go beyond the capitalist mode of production and recognises that this cannot be achieved on the basis of liberal social democratic politics or past sectarian anti-capitalist dogma. It is a much harder intellectual and practical task to help found and nurture a new revolutionary-humanist movement which has learned from past mistakes and points to a future in which gender, class, religious and ethnic divisions are recognised as distortions of our common humanity. It takes much more effort to initiate and sustain a movement which understands that the kind of distortions which have served a very definate historical purpose – the subjection of the many by the few. Can it be that difficulty and lack of motivation is the real barrier to such a much needed revolutionary transition in thinking and practice?

Roy Ratcliffe (February 2017.)

Posted in Anti-Capitalism, capitalism, Critique, Ecological damage., Economics, neo-liberalism, Politics, Revolutionary-Humanism, Sectarianism | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

2016. NEO-LIBERALISM – R.I.P.?

The year 2016 not only saw the deaths of a considerable number of music, film and sport celebrity millionaires, but it could also be the year when decades of neo-liberal politics finally expired. Two outstanding examples of this probable demise in the west took place during 2016. They were Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. Let’s start with the US election – more of Brexit later. If anyone needed to grasp what was really motivating Trump supporters and voters, in rejecting the US version of the neo-liberal political agenda, it was only necessary to listen to the boo’s and cheers at any one of Donald Trump’s celebratory speeches across the USA. Complicated questionaires and intensive debates about the results of opinion polls or speculations over alleged Russian election involvement couldn’t have revealed anything clearer than the numerous audience outbursts during Mr Trump’s various thank you speeches.

The audiences to at least three of these high profile events were clearly partisan supporters and as a consequence they remained respectfully quiet during most of the President elects delivery. However, when some areas of elevated interest or intense concern were mentioned then the audience responded with either loud boo’s and jeers or enthusiastic cheers and applause. To illustrate the concerns that have led to the collapse and possible extinction of the neo-liberal political concensus in the USA, during 2016 it is worth considering those which prompted both negative and positive responses to Donald Trump’s speeches. Doing this should also reveal whether these responses might be more representative than just these conference hall participants and whether they bear a similarity with what has been happening elsewhere in the world.

Boo’s and jeers.

During his address, the US President elect, pointing to the press at the back of the hall, implied that they were hostile, untruthful, one-sided and had deliberately mis-represented his views. This mention of the media brought forth boo’s and hisses. There was an obvious recognition by the audience that by implication, the press also misrepresented the Trump voters views of why they were voting for him. The ‘basket of despicables’ jibe by Hilary Clinton which had been broadcast widely by the media, was clearly still fresh in many minds. This connection was reinforced, when he actually named the rival Democratic candidate, for his reference to her was also met with more boo’s and jeers. Even when he declared that she had eventually congratulated him by phone, this did not produce silence or any signs of approval. A similarly response occurred when he referred to Obama and Obama Care until he declared the latter would be dismantled. When he mentioned drug culture and illegal immigration these issues were also met with vocal disapproval as was his reference to ISIS, Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism.

Despite media depictions of Trump being the mouthpiece for white male racists and sexists, the audiences in at least three of the venues I saw on television, were not exclusively white or male. There were representatives of the black, Asian and Hispanic communities visible within the limiting framework of the camera lens. Women were also sat there with placards supporting Trump as were young and old participants. This display of diversity within the camera’s field of view may or may not have been deliberately set up, but nonetheless they were there and presumably there voluntarily. It makes little sense therefore to pretend that before, during and after the election Donald Trump was speaking for and to an elderly white group of working class voters. Similarly it does not aid the understanding of what is taking place within the USA to right off all Trump voters as racist bigots who are simply not capable of thinking things through. I think it far more accurate to suggest that the evidence of these boo’s and jeers of 2016, by a mixed audience, represents the prelude to an almost universal dancing on grave of neo-liberal politics.

Cheers and applause.

The issues or concerns addressed by Mr Trump which produced cheers and applause are also instructive in understanding what is taking place within the USA. When he said he would penalised firms who took jobs from American workers this brought forth loud cheers and applause. When he said he would encourage the reopening and deregulation of coal and steel industries in order to create well paid jobs, in currently devastated communities, this too was met with loud cheers and sustained applause. His promises to destroy ISIS, defeat Islamic terrorism, end illegal immigration and prevent the importation of drugs were also met with cheers and applause. His reiteration of the intention to build a wall at the Mexican border and to improve the crumbling infrastructure of US cities were also met with more cheers and applause.

Similarly his promise to look after what he described as the neglected military veterans provoked enthusiastic responses, as did his promise to supply the armed forces with up to date equipment in order to defend American interests. Another area which engendered applause was his declaration that the police forces across the country would be strengthened so that people could go about their daily lives in safety. Mr Trump and his advisors obviously understood the anger, frustration, hopes and fears of ordinary working people and he was promising to strengthen the state and make radical changes to address them positively.

From this vocal and visual evidence it appears that what substantially motivated Mr Trumps audience (and probably many working class US voters) was the promise of more well-paid jobs, sufficient housing, quality education, dignity, security and apropriate health and social welfare. These are basic civil society requirements which to the disgust of many voters had all but disappeared during the period of neo-liberal political domination in the US and elsewhere. Clearly, not all working people had been convinced by Donald Trump’s rhetoric or approved of his off-the-cuff un-PC references during the electioneering process, hence the support by many voters for the neo-liberal Hilary Clinton as the hoped for lesser of two evils. But in 2016, there was undoubtedly a strong and persistent economic motive to the political push back against neo-liberalism from ordinary working voters – and not just in America. So it could easily be the case that these various conference responses – along with Brexit in the UK – do represent the death of the neo-liberal political agenda in these two countries and are part of a global trend.

Global resistance.

For several decades in the USA, South America, the UK, much of Europe and the Middle East, there has been a simmering resentment and growing anger over neo-liberal ‘globalisation’. Its effects, if not it’s intentions, had been to reduce living standards, increase job insecurity, privatise everything possible and spread corporate and financial corruption. This international resentment and anger during the last few decades of the 20th century had burst out sporadically in largely unsuccessful strikes and demonstrations in country after country. Nevertheless until the 21st century it had recieved no consistent wider public support in most countries. However, in the Middle East this pent up resentment and anger with neo-liberal induced socio-economic conditions eventually exploded in the Arab Spring Uprisings. There too there had been Boo’s and hisses aimed at the various establishments and (in this region) often accompanied with throwing shoes.

Earlier, in South American countries, the pattern of economic and social discontent with its pots and pans along with banging on the doors of failed banks and anti-privatisation demonstrations had been similarly guided into well worn political channels before arriving at the impasse they have reached today. Yet again, and on another side of the world, this politicisation of the struggle for basic human rights did not resolve the situation to the satisfaction of the working classes in these southern hemisphere countries despite the immense wealth and resources available there. During their struggles, they found that politics of all shades – sucks.

Later still, in Europe the increasing anger and frustration there became extremely hightened within Greece. There too the public and reaction against neo-liberal policies caused the collapse of the vote for the neo-liberal political establishment. As already mentioned, for the two countries which spearheaded the ‘new’ economic agenda of free trade, privatisations and de-regulation of industrial and finance capital, (the USA and the UK), the wider political focus of discontent, albeit in different forms, arrived in 2016. The referendum on European membership was the catalyst in the UK and resulted in a ‘shock’ majority there for Brexit. It was a further ‘shock’ when against all expectations, the US Presidential elections, resulted in the election of Donald Trump.

In other words, the workers in the advanced capitalist countries of Europe and North America are starting to catch up with global opposition movements against neo-liberalism. For millions of ordinary people across the globe their accumulated resentments of the neo-liberal decades have surfaced in various social and political forms of expression – all with economic discontent as their foundation and so far with politics as their expression. In the Middle East the political expression of discontent was aimed at the removal of dictators and the establishment of more democratic forms of government. But in each of these middle eastern cases, the limited political means the masses set themselves only frustrated their socio-economic aspirations.

Before further mention of the probem with politics we should recall that the initial socio-economic aspirations of those in the Middle East, South America were modest by any standards. They were for decent jobs, sufficient housing, quality education, dignity, security and adequate social welfare. Unsurprisingly these aspirations are almost exactly the same as those looked for, fought for and defended by the ordinary working people of the USA, UK, and Europe. Undoubtedly, throughout the world realisation has progressively dawned upon growing numbers of blue and white-collar workers that neo-liberal politicians of all countries will not or cannot sustain such basic living standards to all its citizens. Hence the progressive difficulties for this version of bourgeois politics. Nevertheless, a word of warning. Although neo-liberalism may be awaiting an official death certificate from humanity, the study of history shows that the politics of exploitation can take many different forms.

Political deadends.

Surely it has now become obvious that in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria and Yemen, among others, that after their uprisings, the political route chosen by the majority to achieve their modest economic goals only led to political deadends. These political avenues and their frustrations inevitably transformed themselves first into divisions along party and religious lines and then to the suppression of dissent, the outbreak of civil wars and sectarian strife. Once launched in that political direction the fractured momentum of protest started a process in the Middle East which has led to internicine brutality, rapid demoralisation, and subsequent defeats for the oppressed. Yet in spite of all these examples, it is also the case that in the advanced countries of North America and Europe the political path is still being chosen and consequently a similar disappointment lies in store.

This disappointment with political solutions to economic needs is certain because politics is nothing more than a shifting surface layer of society which from generation to generation has rested upon the combined economic activity of each countries citizens. Despite surface appearances, politics is dependant upon economics and it is a fundamental crisis in the active economic circuits of the capitalist mode of production which is primarily driving the problems now facing humanity. Neo-liberal politics, as with previous (and future) brands of politics, was just a different way of overseeing the exploitation of working people and exploitation in all its forms is a corrosive and corrupting process. So simply rejecting neo-liberal politics will not end exploitation and hardship, for capitalism is based upon extreme forms of exploitation. As such it is a disfunctional economic system which has routinely caused the deprivations, frustrations, and physical exhaustions that are once again disrupting all aspects of social and even biological life.

In fact it was previous systemic contradictions maturing within the capitalist mode of production that several decades ago gave rise to the neo-liberal agenda in the first place. The Reagan and Thatcher inspired and sponsored political agenda of economic and financial de-regulation was designed to shake capital out of the stagnation it’s contradictions had already produced in the 1970’s and 80’s. Despite this financial ‘shake-up’ these self-same economic contradictions have intensified further and are again causing agravated economic hardship along with instability and fracture in the political establishment. This negative view of politics is nothing new. For example, a studied comment by the revolutionary-humanist Karl Marx in the 19th century, long ago made this clear.

“The political mind is a political mind precisely because it thinks within the framework of politics. The keener and more lively it is, the more incapable it is of understanding social ills.” (Karl Marx. Critical marginal notes on the Article by a Prussian.)

Deficiencies of the political mindset.

Nowhere was the deficiency of the political mindset more clearly demonstrated than in the activities of the politically skilled Leninists, Stalinists and Trotskyists during the last systemic crisis of the capitalist system during the 20th century. They thought their brand of elite left-wing ‘vanguard’ politics could be a means to supersede the domination of capital and it’s related economic and social injustices. They couldn’t have been more mistaken, for in actual fact it is the motive for, and type of, economic production which needs changing not simply the type, number, gender or ethnicity of the parasites (dressed up as saviours ) who control or oversee it. Every such left (or right) political ‘vanguard’ attempt to introduce purely political changes to the capitalist mode of production resulted in new structures of oppression and exploitation before finally collapsing. This is because it is the entire mode of production which needs a revolutionary change not a change in the quantity or quality of the people who use politics as a means of carving out privileged positions for themselves.

Until this realisation sufficiently enters the consciousness of large numbers of similarly motivated people, then it is inevitable that in response to economic hardship and social insecurity political solutions will be tried again and again and with similar negative results. The continued pursuit of political or religious solutions to economic problems will either result in sterile religious or sectarian civil wars, as currently in the Middle East, or the emergence of radical nationalist parties and tendencies with dubious (left or right wing) promises of salvation from above, delivered by charismatic leaders. This latter is what has happened throughout South America during the last few decades (Chavez etc.) and more recently in Greece with Syriza and Tsipras; in the UK with UKIP and Farage, and with Tea Party republicanism and Donald Trump in the USA. Analogous symptoms (mainly right-wing) are emerging in other countries of Europe and the rest of the world.

In the present circumstances this counterproductive ritual of voting or otherwise backing a strong leader (male or female) to many people ‘seems’ the obvious, (not to mention the easy), way forward. Yet past experience (Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Mussolini, Hitler, Franco, Castro, Sadam, Gadafi, Mubarak, Assad etc., and even Thatcher and Obama) has shown, and future experience will undoubtedly confirm, that politics and the political classes are themselves ultimately under the control of, and fully integrated with, exploititive modes of production and not the other way around. Seriously challenged to change, they will kill, torture and even bomb their own citizens rather than change the mode of production.

Despite all the rhetoric and promises they direct towards the voters – whose votes they nearly always require – once in power they will not, for they cannot, deliver what the people and the planet really need. Putting an end to production for productions (and profits) sake, with all the inequalities and pollution that competitive private (or state) capitalist production creates, is just simply beyond their abilities and comprehension. Politicians are simply the well paid and well rewarded dupes and to some extent also the stunted victims of capital’s internal contradictions. In 2016, we may well have witnessed the final demise of neo-liberal politics, but beware – what replaces it politically may be just as bad. So be prepared and let us hope that sooner rather than later we will not have to conclude that for the majority;

….their political understanding concealed from them the roots of social distress, thus it falsified their insight into the real aim, thus their political understanding deceived their social instinct.” (Marx ibid)

Roy Ratcliffe (January 2017)

Posted in Anti-Capitalism, Arab Spring, capitalism, Critique, neo-liberalism, Politics, Revolutionary-Humanism, Sectarianism, The State | Tagged , , , , | 16 Comments

FAKE NEWS and POST TRUTH!!

On both sides of the Atlantic, and perhaps elsewhere, there are currently several forms of panic among the political and media elite of all persuasions. The mainstream left, right and centre politicians are now loosing their grip on political power after they had previously lost their credibility. And that’s not all. They and their various media institutions/supporters have been loosing control of the flow of information. One of the forms this panic has taken is a developing concern with what some politicians and media gurus have recently classified as fake news and others have christened post truth. The latter amazingly presupposes that there was once a pre-condition of truth within the main news media.

The medium they accuse of dispensing all this so-called fake news and post truth information is the Internet. It is clear that the Internet and the availability of facebook, twitter, instagram and low cost blog-space has opened up the flow of information, to and from the masses. In the opinion of middle and upper ‘establishment’ figures this uncontrolled flow just will not do. For the first time in history ordinary people can report what has happened, express opinions, make up stuff, poke fun, vilify, criticise and transmit this mixed bag of information to a wider audience than, immediate friends, family and workmates. You can almost see the elite thinking – how dare they!

This new grassroots dissemination of fact, fiction and opinion (the main three components of information or what often passes as news) can potentially reach a national and international audience. The problem for the elite is that the Internet currently bypasses the monopoly of pro-establishment, gatherers, creators, mediators, gatekeepers, disseminators and witholders of the worlds news. It is this which scares the Clintons, Obamas and May’s etc., of this world. For the previous monopoly of information gathering, editing and dissemination by the establishment served a very definate purpose. It was, and is, to control (by witholding, restricting, distorting or amplifying) the quality, quantity and direction of the flow of information to the general public in a way suitable to their needs.

Capitalism and information control.

If we consider the generally accepted definition of fake as the deliberate intention to create a misleading appearance or a fraudulent misrepresentation or even a simulated pretence, then fake news (along with forged documents) has a long and dishonourable history, particularly, but not exclusively, among those who could write. For this reason fake news is nothing new and has been a powerful tool of the capitalist and pro-capitalist elite since universal literacy became a requirement for the capitalist mode of production. The creation and control of newspapers, as a means to gather, select, edit, modify, disseminate or withold fact, fiction and opinion, was deemed an early necessity by the capitalist class and their Citizen Kane type supporters.

Tight control of the flow of information was deemed so important that large quantities of capital were sunk into the mechanics of mass produced printing and distribution. Later capital flowed into the even more advanced technology of electronic sound and visual mass media. This ensured that the ideas which suited the dominant classes, the bourgeoisie and petite-bourgeoisie were the ideas which dominated the whole of society. In this process, fact and opinion became the warp to the weft of elite and government driven propaganda in the fabric of mainstream media production. It constantly needed to be unpicked to disentangle fact from fiction, prejudice from description and bias from neutrality – and it still does. Only (to continue the metaphor) the fabric of information production is now being woven on a much more diverse set of looms.

For decades, the political class and the elites in control of modern state institutions have routinely blocked damaging information from dissemination by ‘gagging’ orders, ‘secrecy’ laws and by threats of punishment for publication of classified information. They have also put out misinformation, disinformation, distorted or doctored information and manufactured downright fabrications (eg the Zinoviev letter etc.) to discredit some and distract others from pursuing a more accurate understanding of the alienating world we live in. Do we know what the real involvement of all governments and war industries is in the genocidal horrors being currently visited upon the citizens of Syria and Yemen? Some insiders most probably do but are keeping quiet either by choice, censorship or fear of reprisals.

The comments made by governments and media on these two contemporary tragedies (not to mention the many others) mean that news reporting is often far less than truthful and when not tapping phones or bribing informants, is frequently guilty of weaving a web of fake news and propaganda. At a more national and mundane level how often are unemployment statistics massaged or poisonious industrial emmissions understated? What are ‘plausible denial’ statements and ‘dodgy dossiers’ if they are not the establishments routine output of fake news or ‘post truth’ information? The mainstream press and media, apart from occasionally breaking ranks with the rich and powerful, have more often than not colluded with the opinions, narratives, distortions and ommisions of information which dominate the official news outlets.

Alternative information outlets.

Any alternative to this pro-establishment controlled information flow, such as the Internet, is now seen as out of control and increasingly dangerous. After all, didn’t it help to spark off the Arab Spring? And doesn’t it produce visual evidence of government inspired war crimes? This potential for subverting the prefered establishment narrative is what really lies behind the current hyperbole concerning the so-called fake news and suggestions to curb it. Yet this alternative outlet for a counter narrative and alternative vision of what humanity can become is increasingly important, given the evolving five-fold crisis of the capitalist mode of production.

It is not so much the obvious cranky, off the wall, ‘post truth’ hysterical stuff which disturbs them for they, along with most people, will ignore or see through this material or only be fooled once by a hoax before they fine-tune their crap detectors. Actually it is the alternative, critical and we’ll researched information outlets, which really rocks their boat. It is these sources of serious alternative facts and views which are actually in their sights for possible eradication. The treatment of whistle blowers such as Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden and the enabling outlets such as Wikileaks (provided by Julian Assange et al) shows how much they abhor the internets non-fake revelations and much-too-close-for-comfort approximations to truth telling.

Of course in the gathering, archiving, editing and disseminating information there is always selection regarding what is gathered, where it is gathered and how it is gathered, before selection also takes place in what is stored, how it is edited and how and where information (fact, fiction and opinion) is disseminated. Since all these processes are the product of human activity there can be no true objectivity even with regard to facts, for selection there (as with fiction and opinion) is a subjective matter. This selectivity always needs to be born in mind. Subjectivity can also be exagerated to an extremely high degree by those with an axe to grind, a prejudice (for or against something) to support or an income stream to protect.

This too needs to be constantly born in mind. It is therefore wise to double – check as many things as possible before bestowing validity on an opinion which purports to be based upon facts. Such scepticism should apply to everyone, left, right or centre in politics, religion or economics. If opinion is being expressed seriously it should be backed up with openly available and reliable evidence unless this evidence is already reliably and widely known. If it is not backed up in this way then it is probably no more trustworthy than pulp fiction. The complementary intellectual warning to the economic cliché ‘buyer beware‘ should always be ‘reader (or listener) beware’.

Particular care should be exercised in cases where character assassination is being undertaken for partisan or personal reasons. Here too in matters of importance it is wise to check what someone has actually said or written not what someone says he or she has said or written. Taking words or part sentences out of context or distorting what is meant is often resorted to in order to discredit a person, an opinion or an idea. This caution of necessity applies to articles, book reviews or even such resources as enteries in Wikipedia, all of which are particularly subject to editorial distortion and input manipulation from those with access, together with an elite or sectarian cause to serve.

R. Ratcliffe (December 2016)

Posted in Anti-Capitalism, Arab Spring, capitalism, Critique, Ecological damage., Sectarianism, The State | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

CASTRO: HERO OR VILLAIN?

Despite the millions of written or spoken words either for against the Cuban President Fidel Castro after his death and before it, to me the characterisation of his social and political role remains somewhat muddled. For some commentators, he was a brilliant charismatic leader of a revolution which introduced universal education and health care to a country starved of both and in the grips of a corrupt pro capitalists dictatorship. To others he was a ruthless dictator in control of a police – state with a disgraceful human rights record and a destroyer of individual initiative and alternative left politicians. Such dualistic partisanship exagerates and distorts, in one favoured direction or the other, his real historical role. It also fails to make clear the evolution of the political positions which he adopted in order to maintain himself (and his inner circle) as the sole political party of the island of Cuba. In fact the reality as it unfolded within Cuba was full of contradictions, and as we shall see they were the contradictions generated by a petite-bourgeois elite.

In Cuba, before what has been described as ‘the revolution’ in 1956, the ruling strata of Cuban social and political life was headed by the dictator Fulgencia Batista. To enrich themselves and their cronies, this corrupt elite were hand in glove with two exploititive and oppressive institutions based in the USA – corporate capitalism and organised crime. This meant that practically the whole population of Cuba was at the mercy of this corrupt combination of brutal and ruthless elites. Not surprisingly the corruption spead elsewhere in Cuba, including all the state institutions, the police and the armed forces. It was this corruption which Fidel Castro sought to eradicate when he petitioned a Cuban Court to have Batista removed from power. When this petition failed (it was not even accepted by the court), Fidel, his brother Raul and some of their supporters tried another tactic. They attempted to capture a military barracks, and failed in this also. Fidel was imprisoned for this failed attempt. He was later released and moved to Mexico where he met Che Guevara.

The Guerrilla phase. (1956 – 1959)

While they were in Mexico, Fidel and Che recruited other like – minded individuals and a group of them covertly sailed back to Cuba. Unfortunately most of them were captured, but Fidel and Che managed to escape into the forested mountain region. From there they began a series of armed confrontations with Batista’s army forces. Recruitment to this rural guerrilla force was slow mainly because the socialists and communists in the urban centres did not appear to support Fidel or Che’s political goals. For a considerable time the feeling was mutual. Fidel at this early stage did not have political positions based upon a commitment to class struggle – at least not in the Stalinist form. The left was split in Cuba as elsewhere.

At this early stage Fidel and his rural guerrilla group simply wanted a government and state free of corruption together with a rural and urban economy freed from the stranglehold of American big agri-businesses. After several years, the guerrilla forces began to outsmart and regularly defeat the loyal Bastita military forces and in 1959 becoming aware of his eventual ousting, the corrupt dictator fled the island. Shortly after Batista’s delarture the fighters around Castro and Che swept all opposition before them and with sufficient popular support behind them seized political power. All those who were judged to have obstructed this political ‘revolution’ were dealt with by imprisonment or execution.

In 1960 the new regime placed American businesses under the supervision of their loyal supporters and this action prompted America to implement an embargo on Cuban goods. This response was not what Fidel and his compatriots wanted because the Cuban economy was largely dependent upon exports to America. It was taxes and duties arising from this trade which financed the government, both of which suffered drastically from the embargo. Under the model of economic activity envisioned by Fidel and his comrades taxes and duties were important because without them there would be no wages and salaries to support the non-productive sectors of society such as the military, state officials, educators, doctors and the political class etc.

For this reason another trading partner was urgently needed and one was forthcoming in the form of the Soviet Union. This was a political dictatorship which wished to increase its influence in the region. It is this change in circumstances that prompted a change in Fidel’s political orientation. In other words in 1960’s the economic interests of the new Cuban elite and the political interests of the Soviet elite coincided and it was this raproachment which brought forth a new strategy in Cuba. Economic trade with the Soviet Bloc via the Soviet sponsored ‘Council for Mutual Economic Aid’ in 1972 influenced much which then happened politically. Meanwhile.

The bay of Pigs. (1961)

In 1961 the American CIA hatched a plan to use Cuban exiles to invade Cuba (at the Bay of Pigs) and foment a popular uprising against the new ruling elite. It failed miserably but it prompted Castro and his inner circle to increase the ties with Russia for security as well as economic reasons. It was during this period that Castro then decided to declare his allegiance to Marxist/Leninism. This declaration must have been primarily a tactical move for there is no reason to believe that he really agreed with Marx’s position on anything, let alone Marx’s economic analysis of capitalism or his revolutionary humanism. Indeed, it is doubtful whether any of these self proclaimed revolutionary elites had seriously and thoroughly studied the works of Marx such as Das Capital or the Grundrisse or had examined the counter – revolutionary nature of Stalinist sectarianism or its roots in Leninist vanguardism.

Nevertheless, the pragmatic adaptation of the Cuban elite in 1965 to the vanguardist model ensured they adopted a similar Jacobin outlook to that of the Soviet leadership. [The term Jacobin is derived from the French Revolution of the 18th century in which a section of the French revolutionary middle-class leaders (the Jacobins) professed absolute faith in the ideal of mankind, but exhibited absolute distrust of all real men – and women. Trotsky initially characterised Lenin and the Bolsheviks as having a Jacobin mentality before he joined them and became a convinced Leninist.] It was this vanguardist middle-class Jacobin arrogance which I suggest also prompted the four or five hour long speeches in which Castro lectured those who managed to endure them. To my mind such marathon events stem from a presumptious assumption that such leaders are the font of all revolutionary wisdom and that working people are the ignorant and passive soil in which to plant their patriarchal prejudices – no matter how long it takes.

The Soviet Union implodes. (1990 -1991)

With the eventual break up of the Soviet Union, the economic lifeline provided by Russia to Cuba ceased. This meant that Fidel and his inner circle no longer needed to doff their cap to Marxist/Leninism but this did not alter their vanguardist views. At no point did they see their role as working alongside the workers and facilitating their self-governance and communal control of production. They still thought it absolutely necessary that they remain in power as a guiding elite for the future development of a Cuba they thought suitable. And indeed, on the basis of the support they got and using the energy and determination of the Cuban people, they had introduced many policies positively effecting the socio-economic basis of Cuban life. Education and health care provision in particular were outstanding developments and way in advance of many much larger countries. Still, it is not by their modest life-styles or any acts of elite generosity or benevolence, (numerous or otherwise) that modern socio-economic systems should be judged.

For it is an undoubted fact that right-wing dictators have introduced some benefits to their citizens as well as left-wing dictators. Yet these have been granted whilst the elites have retained their privileged positions and kept their citizens in childlike fear and state controlled dependence. Even many enlightened capitalists have embraced some limited forms of equality for women and people of colour. So the granting of these limited privileges (which lessen the burden a little) are not the basis for assessing whether a mode of production has radically changed in favour of the oppressed. Indeed, beneficial reforms for workers under oppressive regimes were precisely the attraction of Fascism, Stalinism and Social Democracy for many workers. It is also a telling fact that all those middle-class radicals on the left who sought to initiate challenges to capitalism from above, Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky Mao, Tito, Chavez and yes Fidel Castro, actually prevented the working classes from taking control of the means of production. And yes they all demanded fatherland or death from the working class in defence of this top – down system .

All the above (and their inner support networks) imposed exploititive systems upon working people which were experienced by these classes as less preferable than the exploitation imposed by the capitalist mode of production. As a result, in every one of these so-called countries of socialist realism, the capitalist mode of production has either re-established its domination or is well on the way to doing so. That is how these so-called ‘socialistic’ experiments should be judged. And in some countries, (Russia, China, Yugoslavia, and now Cuba) the ‘vanguard’ leading and promoting the resurgence of capitalist domination were (and are) the political descendents of those elites who created the ‘socialist’ power structures in the first place. How ironic is that?

An open invitation to capital.

Cuba was no different in this regard. From 1998 to 2002 the political agents of American economic control (Jimmy Carter etc) and the agents of religious, pro-capitalist mind control (Pope John Paul 2 etc) were invited to Cuba whilst Fidel was still alive. In 2008, when he became too ill to function as the leader, he passed his authority on to his brother in a gesture worthy of ancient kingdoms where domination and elite leadership was passed on – as far as possible – within the male line of the family. This new form of left-wing patriarchal ‘vanguard’ preeminence was initiated in the 19th century, enthusiastically embraced by the Bolsheviks, and is still being kept alive by a majority of the left in the 21st. The Cuban elite provide just one more example.

The overall result, despite some undoubted benefits (beneficial social programmes and anti – racist gestures for example) is the continued steady intrusion of international capital into the production processes of Cuba. This steady economic infiltration has been accompanied by the elite spolitical accomodation to capital’s needs for profits via a docile and impoverished Cuban working class. That is the actual inheritance bequeathed to the present generation by the middle-class, left-wing Hero’s or Villain’s of the past – including those such as Fidel Catro operating in Cuba.

Interestingly, this process of inviting the internationalisation of capitalist exploitation within Cuba is occuring at precisely the period in which the capitalist mode of production has once again entered a severe crisis of relative over-production with its attendent economic and military wars of aggression and dispossession. Humanity is still faced with the problem of going beyond capital before it further destroys, exhausts and pollutes the planet driven as it is by an insatiable greed for surplus-value. Whilst the need is to go beyond capital, Cuba is actually going back to domination by capital. Despite the pioneering work of some 19th century middle-class intellectuals, the middle-class left intelligentia of the 20th century have provided no practical examples of how to solve this historic problem. They have only provided examples of what not to do.

We can conclude from all this international history and the example of Fidel Castro (et al) in Cuba, that the working classes in future need something entirely different. More and more working people need to outgrow any child-like dependence on charismatic patriarchal males as father figure guides to a better future. We need to reject this secularised version of the outmoded religious ‘good shepherd’ dependancy and work collectively to revolutionise the mode of production in order to create a post-capitalist method of production worthy of humanity in its most generous and egalitarian form.

R. Ratcliffe (December 2016)

Posted in Anti-Capitalism, capitalism, Critique, Economics, Left Unity, Patriarchy, Politics, Revolutionary-Humanism | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

THE ECONOMICS OF IMMIGRATION.

Any attempt to understand the current political, social or cultural turmoil caused by immigration which does not include the capitalistic economic motive in its analysis, will remain incomplete and distorted. In most, if not all, the more recent media discussions between those arguing for and those arguing against immigration, the economic factor and the key role this plays in capitalist economic cycles has been either downplayed or missing altogether. Yet immigration, in its present form, (as the ‘free movement of labour’) is entirely a product of the capitalist mode of production. Strongly expressed opinions for or against the ‘free movement of labour’ cannot be fully understood until the costs of labour-power in the process of capitalist forms of wealth accumulation are openly recognised.

Those who own or control capital can only maintain or augment it’s value by using it to make profits or attract interest. If they do not use it in this way, they must live off it and see it decrease in amounts which are commensurate with how they choose to live. Furthermore, the class of capitalists can only maintain their capital or augment it if large numbers of them use it to employ workers to make things or do things which are valuable and can be sold. To do this they must use the capital they control to supply the workers with the tools of production, the means of production and pay them wages or salaries which the workers then use to feed, clothe and house themselves and their families. The trick the capitalist engage in to produce sufficient value in production to produce huge profits is simple, but not immediately obvious.

They pay the workers an amount (in wages or salaries) which is of considerably less value than the value the workers create during their employment. The difference between these two values is the surplus value which is contained within the products (commodities or services) and will be realised in monetary form when these commodities or services are sold. It is obvious that in this production process, the installments of profit accruing to the capitalists will be greater the lower the amount they have to pay to their workers. Therefore, cheap labour has always been the sought after golden goose that has helped the employers of labour-power to amass their past and present fortunes. The free movement of labour is the current method of ensuring the golden goose constantly migrates toward capital.

Low pay equals big profits.

So it is in the interests of those who employ workers to keep wages low, and it is in the interests of those who work to try to keep them at a level which they feel is appropriate to how they want to live. This is the economic basis of what became known as the class struggle. In the past, (as now) the employers invariably had the upper hand and used many means to keep wages low. They would lay individual workers off until they were starving and would agree to work for wages the employers thought gave them enough profit. In response the early workers formed unions and associations and defended their wages and conditions by negotiating and if necessary striking. In such circumstances, the employers then introduced a method of strike breaking by bringing in workers from elsewhere who were able and prepared to work at the wage or salary levels the employers insisted upon.

Cheap labour-power from outside (or occasionally within) the immediate area was used to replace local organised labour-power. It was known as strike – breaking and the workers who in this way were undermined or defeated gave those strike-breaking workers the unpleasant name of scabs. It was their name for this early bourgeois form of the ‘movement of free labour’. That is labour which was ‘free’ to starve or free to be used to replace other workers in dispute. These new imported workers who in this way took the jobs from other workers were despised and hated because they had effectively taken the food from the mouths of the strikers and their wives and children.

Very little consideration was given to the fact that those who took their jobs were also victims of the same capitalist system. Capitalism is a mode of production which had in many such cases rendered them so desperate to feed themselves and their families, that they were prepared to leave their place of origin, risk their own wellbeing and suffer the hatred of those whose jobs they had taken. Poor workers were being moved around in order to undermine other poor workers – and they still are. That is the essence of the ‘free movement of labour’. It was a cynical case of ‘divide and rule’ and was a process which eventually took two major forms – emigration and immigration.

Capitalist inspired Emigration.

When the capitalist mode of production reached a certain stage of industrial development the numbers of workers needed to saturate the home market with commodities was much reduced. This created two problems for the capitalist class and their supporters. The first problem was an economic one – where to sell the surplus production pouring out of the factories and workshops. The second problem was a social one – what to do with the growing numbers of unemployed workers who had by this time no other means of earning a living. Britain as the dominant capitalist nation in the 19th century, solved these two problems with one solution – Colonial/Imperial inspired emigration! Others would follow. For example;

“My cherished idea is a solution for the social problem, ie in order to save the 40,000,000 inhabitants of the United Kingdom from a bloody civil war, we colonial statesmen must acquire new lands to settle the surplus population, to provide new markets for goods produced in factories and the mines. The empire, as I have always said, is a bread and butter question. If you want to avoid civil war you must become imperialists.” (Cecil Rhodes. Quoted in ‘The Third World.’ Worsley M. page 28.)

It is rare these days to find such a clear and honest statement of the capitalist purpose behind Imperialist emigration and the other side of this bourgeois coin – immigration. Yet the stages of Imperialism and Colonialism – served exactly this purpose. The purpose being to obtain the essential components of capitalist production – raw materials, cheap labour and markets. Where cheap labour was unavailable as in the new world colonies of North and South America, the the forced emigration from Africa of slave-labourers supplied the deficiency. In this case it was a ‘less free’ movement of labour, but a movement of labour nonetheless.

The captured slaves became the forced emigrants from Africa arriving as the enslaved immigrants to this ‘new world’ of capitalist exploitation. They became slave workers and were forced at a minimal cost to produce surplus-value in the cotton, tobacco and sugar plantations of North and South America and the Caribbean. We can see from this and what comes next that under the capitalist mode of production, emigration and immigration are terms used for regulating the international flow of ‘free’, cheap and/or desperate labour to where it is needed by the owners and beneficiaries of capitalist accumulation.

Capitalist inspired Immigration.

As noted it is undoubtedly a fact that with a few exceptions, under the capitalist mode of production, cheap labour is essential for maximising profits. Under developed capitalist systems, the free movement of labour serves the same economic purpose as strike breakers did in previous periods of union militancy. The economic purpose being to keep wages down and working conditions as basic as possible. Immigration and strikebreaking are just two different ways of using one set of desperate workers, against another group of workers who are struggling to maintain or improve their standards of living. Both strikebreakers and poor immigrants have been deliberately recruited and ‘moved’ around to where they are needed by capitalist employers for exactly that economic purpose and no other. Of course this is seldom openly admitted by those championing immigration.

In the UK, for example, with the final defeat of trade union militancy in the mid to late 20th century, strike breakers were no longer needed by employers but lowering wages was still desired by capitalists and their pro – capitalist supporters in politics and government. Immigration was therefore the obvious solution. In Europe, the EEC and later the EU with its clauses on ‘free movement of labour’ and capital were deliberately designed for that precise purpose. In the late 20th century and on into the 21st, the recruitment of cheap labour and the undercutting of wages and salaries in most advanced capitalist countries, has been achieved primarily through immigration.

It is this aspect of of the role of immigrant labour which is resented by many working people, not primarily the country of origin, ethnicity, culture, colour or religion of those being brought into the countries of Europe and North America. It is only immigration in its ‘free movement of labour’ guise which arouses large-scale opposition. Apart from a racist minority, most of the prejudice against immigration is because immigrant labour has become predominantly prejudicial to the wages and welfare of the indigenous workers. Being against immigration is primarily a prejudice against a capitalist tactic of lowering wages, salaries and conditions. Of course if some individuals from these immigrant communities, also introduce criminality or terrorism, then these factors become another additional reason for indigenous workers resenting or even fearing large-scale immigration.

The reason that the middle-classes are generally less prejudiced against immigration and some accuse workers of being racist is because their socio-economic conditions are less threatened by it. It rarely effects their access to housing, schools or health care. Some even gain from the free movement of labour – from cheap domestic labour, cheap service labour or cheap productive labour. In fact these self-serving middle-classes are often more prejudiced against their own working classes and their unions for being less docile and deferential than immigrant workers. For when workers strike, demonstrate or riot, it invariably does effect their socio-economic wellbeing. It also offends their petite-bourgeois ideas of social stability and order in which everyone knows their place and respectfully accepts whatever austerity is is handed out to them. Middle-class prejudice against workers is demonstrated when they blanket accuse anti-immigration workers of being motivated by racism.

Meanwhile, because the dominant capitalist ideology and narrative (supported and promoted by most of the middle-classes in academia, media and politics) ignores or covers up the insidious forms of economic exploitation and social oppression, workers are left with very little option but to oppose immigration (as free movement of labour) simply for existential reasons – as it severely and detrimentally effects their lives and their families. If there is no well publicised alternative perspective of going beyond private ownership and production for profit, then what other perspective is available to workers faced with rapidly reducing standards of living?

Will the workers of the world ever unite?

If there is no generally accepted clear perspective of a future economic system which is communal and produces for need instead of greed and which reduces hours of work so that everyone (regardless of colour or creed) can be economically active and live a decent life (and there isn’t – yet!) then there there are only two other options remaining. The first is to accept the capitalist inspired conditions resulting from the free movement of capital and labour and live with the injurous effects of unemployment, austerity, low pay, precarious employment and dwindling social resources. The second is to oppose the free movement of labour by voting for any radical right-wing pro-capitalist charlatans such as Farage, Le Penn and Trump who falsely claim they will regulate it. A more radical alternative is needed.

Fortunately one distorted and dictatorial perspective of a non-capitalist mode of production has been thoroughly discredited if not entirely destroyed by those Leninists, Stalinists and Maoists etc., who called themselves anticapitalists. In the past these so-called revolutionary leaders sought to replace the situation of privately owned capital dictating the wages and conditions of workers by state owned capital dictating the wages and conditions of workers. They too had their own enforced versions of the ‘movement of labour’. Theirs was not a socio-economic revolution, but a political revolution.

They merely replaced one oppressive and exploititive male ruling elite with another, a situation which they described as socialism or communism. However, in no place was a post-capitalist society established for not one of them tried to resolve the contradictions of wage-labour and surplus-value extraction by elites. Nor did they allow the institution of communal ownership and control of production. But this tragedy of the blind leading the short-sighted leaves a problem of what is to replace it. In the 21st century, the economic and social perspective of a free association of working people, minus a parasitic ruling elite, needs to be resurrected or rather re-discovered for it still survives in a few isolated places. Here is one such survival from the writings of that much maligned champion of the working class Karl Marx.

Social progress cannot consist in the dissolution of all association, but in the replacement of the forced and oppressive associations of times past by voluntary and equitable associations……Perfection is found in voluntary associations, which by their union multiply the forces, without taking away the energy, the morality and the responsibility of individual authority.” (Marx. Grundrisse page 581 electronic version Penguin.)

Roy Ratcliffe (November 2016)

Posted in Anti-Capitalism, capitalism, Critique, Economics, Marx, Revolutionary-Humanism | Tagged | Leave a comment

PRODUCTION AND PRODUCTIVITY.

In the UK, both Teresa May, Prime Minister and Chancellor Philip Hammond have both recently made statements asserting the need for greater productivity from workers in order to increase their pay from this increased productivity. This proves quite conclusively that despite a university education neither of them understand the economic processes of the capitalist mode of production. They are not on their own. The call for productivity has become commonplace among European elite. As this desire is likely to be replicated almost everywhere among the global elite, it is well worth examining the concept of productivity further.

Productivity, in the economic sense is the rate at which products (commodities, materials and services) are created either as finished products (or as parts and raw materials destined to be used in the production and operation of finished products). The time it takes to produce something under the capitalist mode of production, is the socio-economic basis of its value. So making it quicker reduces it’s value but other factors being equal, this is compensated to some extent by the fact that there are more products to sell in a given period of time. Hence greater potential profits.

Mr Hammond in his autumn statement to the British Parliament (November 2016) gave the following example. ‘In Germany what took 4 days to complete took 5 days in the UK. In other words German workers were making things quicker than workers in the UK. As a consequence, the UK government wanted UK workers to at least match them or make things in an even shorter time. As noted, the elites alleged motive for desiring UK workers to work faster or more efficiently was so they would get increased wages and salaries.

The secondary (or perhaps primary) implication of this simplistic, not to mention confused, logic being that with increased wages and salaries workers will be able to buy more things or perhaps prevent themselves having to visit a food bank or losing their homes. However, as we shall see there is no direct economic link between what wages are paid (and therefore will buy) and how much is produced in a given time. What wages will purchase also depends upon the cost of living, not how quickly particular workers produce things. Over the last 30 years, productivity has undoubtedly risen everywhere in the advanced capitalist countries but, taken as a whole class, most ordinary working people (white collar and blue) are certainly not better off. Indeed, past increased productivity has had two important and serious effects upon peoples lives. The first has already been mentioned but let’s consider it further in the light of Philip Hammond’s comparison of British and German workers.

Post War productivity.

Car workers, for example, are producing far more cars per hour in 2016 than they were two or three decades ago, but in certain areas what their wages will buy has gone down. In many countries despite numerous ‘speedups‘ (productivity increases) in automobile production, whole factories have closed down and working communities have been devastated by unemployment and poverty – Detroit in the USA for example. In the UK the coal industry and coal mining communities were also destroyed despite incremental advances in mechanised mining productivity. This process of factory closures and community devastation (including small businesses) is a direct result of global productivity increases.

For under the urging of international investment capital, productivity had increased even faster elsewhere than the US, UK and Europe – Japan and Korea – for example, where wages were also far lower despite higher productivity. Under the capitalist mode of production, increases in productivity, spurred on by competition for profits, has for decades pitted workers in one country against workers in another country. It has been a downward race toward the lowest wages possible. As a consequence closure after closure occured as thousands upon thousands were pushed into benefit queues for state handouts, or to applications for charity or in many cases to homelessness and begging.

Even for those workers still producing automobiles in the 21st century, the price of the new cars they make means that fewer of them can afford to purchase one along with the anciliary costs (insurance, tax etc.) which are needed to operate them. Over the same period of 30 years, the general productivity of most US, UK and European workers has risen, even if not at the same rate as Germany. Nevertheless fewer and fewer of these workers are able to buy or rent a decent home. In many regions, of the UK, teachers, health workers, local government employees, fire-fighters, electricians, engineers, transport workers and factory workers, despite increases in productivity, are now living a precarious hand to mouth existence.

Productivity and redundancy.

It is very little different in the USA along with the rest of Europe and many other parts of the industrialised world for this process of relative and absolute impoverishment is a global phenomena. Increased productivity under the present capital dominated economic system is actually a means for employers and investors to gain more profits whilst workers work harder and steadily work each other out of a job. In other words productivity leads to redundancy. It represents a confidence trick played upon workers, when they are told by economists, business men (and women) and politicians, that their salvation lies in increased productivity. The opposite is the most probable and indeed the eventual case.

If the same number of workers through productivity increases can produce things faster, then by the same token fewer workers can produce the same number of things, and as already noted, this can (and has) led to large-scale unemployment in all the advanced countries. If these fewer workers then increase their productivity (and they have) then there becomes a downward economic spiral for workers and an upward economic spiral for those at the top of the economic pyramid. Which is exactly what we now have in Europe and North America. However, lower purchasing power, redundances and poverty are not the only negative effects of increased productivity.

It should be obvious that increased productivity produces more and more products which even if they are all sold, increase the need for more and more scarce raw materials to make them, create more spin-off manufacturing pollution and more problems of waste and rubbish disposal. Viewed without the rose-tinted spectacles of bourgeois pro-capitalist ‘experts’, the world is already producing too much too quickly.

The effects of increased industrial and agricultural production along with the commercial transportation of its results are already exhausting resources, polluting the air, the seas and destroying the ecological balance of the planet. Furthermore the tangible results of increased production, under the capitalist mode of production need to be sold at a profit or production will be halted either temporarily or permanently. This is another inter-related aspect of the capitalist economic process, which our political and scientific elite do not appear to understand.

Productivity and consumption.

Yet it should be obvious that production – under any socio-economic system – is ultimately dependent upon consumption. If what is produced is not consistently consumed, then sooner or later, there will be surplus production. Over time that surplus of products will either rot if it is organic, deteriorate if not protected from the elements if metallic, or would need to be stockpiled. Such a surplus would become an uneccessary economic burden if continued beyond a certain point. Capitalism is no different in this regard except that it routinely goes beyond that certain point and often dumps surplus things in the sea. A rational non-profit making socio-economic system would under such circumstances slow down production or declare longer holidays from production. At the very least it would orchestrate a reduction in productivity to avoid such a waste of resources, not increase productivity.

Capitalism cannot do this and the reason is simple. Production and consumption under capitalism is not based upon what is rationally needed, but upon what is profitable. What is rational for capitalists is usually not rational from a perspective of the interests of working humanity. The rationale of capital is to maximise surplus-value ie profits and interest. That is its driving motivational purpose for production and for increasing productivity. Although the value which becomes profit is created (as added value) during the process of production, is only realised when the products and services are sold. For this reason there has to be enough buyers to purchase enough of the products at a price which produces a profit.

When there are not sufficient buyers at these prices then production ceases either slowly (through short time working) or quickly (through closure or bankruptcy). Is it not obvious that if productivity is increased, then there has to be even more buyers with sufficient cash (or credit) to purchase these products at the profitable price? It is here we unveil yet another of the partially hidden (and little understood) contradictions within the capitalist mode of production – a crisis of relative over-production. It is not that more production is created than is needed by people (housing for example) but more production than can be sold at a profit. We have seen earlier, that past productivity has led to large-scale unemployment and therefore to less purchasing power for the goods which are streaming off the various production lines. Therefore further, productivity increases – under the present system – will only make the matters worse.

More goods chasing fewer buyers has already produced a crisis of relative over production. It was this which led over some decades in the 20th century to the financial crisis of 2008 and the current unstable condition of the economic and political structures of most of the capitalist dominated world. Decades of capitalist production had produced not only vast quantities of products and serious ecological, pollution and disposal problems, but also large quantities of surplus capital whose owners looked for further profit by investing in collatoralised debt. This particular speculative bubble eventually burst and triggered the above mentioned 2008 financial collapse. Incidentally there is bound to be another such collapse because investment greed is still creating numerous speculative bubbles. For these reasons, increased productivity under the capitalist mode of production, is the last thing working people and the other non-human planetary life forms need.

R. Ratcliffe ( November 2016)

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

CULTURE AND ECONOMICS.

In the superficial descriptions and explanations of the current shifts in voting patterns within Britain, Europe and the US, the mass media and other forms of communication are currently focused upon the issues of immigration, race and religion. These important issues are generally seen as being the primary factors now causing divisions between communities, whether at the local, regional, national or international level. However, in these descriptions and explanations, two contemporary aspects of the five-fold crisis of capitalism are being confused – economics and culture. Something more fundamental than politics is once again producing and exagerating the cultural symptoms of reaction and division – that something is economics.

It is also the case that reactions to immigration, race and religion are being made even more problematic by the overwhelming majority of the media and ‘expert’ (sic) descriptions and suppositions concerning these issues. For they are invariably presented as if they were completely separate from the economic system in which we all live. In this view ‘reaction’ to these issues is just down to ‘backward‘ cultural attitudes. Wherever it is manifested, this failure to distinguish between culture and economics exposes a serious shortcoming. Cultural developments are not independent of the economic base, but arise upon it. Contradictions within contemporary cultural assumptions merely reflect directly or indirectly the contradictions within the economic system.

This glaring shortcoming among the bourgeois intellectuals, cannot be surprising since those who dominate the public discourse on all matters, including politics, (news, media outlets, politicians, economists, sociologists etc.) are not only dependent upon the current capitalist economic system but are also mostly doing well out of it. It is generally the case that the salaries and pensions of media presenters, economists, sociologists and politicians are far above and far more secure, than those of the huge numbers of low paid, zero – hours, precariously employed, unemployed, and state dependent working people. For this reason these commentators focus upon cultural issues and can usually only find minor faults with the economic system which currently dominates the world. Not being as threatrened, they are rendered intellectually myopic or even ideologically blind by their favourable economic position.

However, the socio-economic understanding and perspective is very different for those who are in the majority and not so well situated in the economic system. Those who in the current terminology have been ‘left behind‘ by globalisation or ‘disinherited‘ from the post Second World War social promise of full employment, adequate social, medical and educational entitlement, have a different view. It may lack academic finesse but their understanding is one that sees their primary loss and problems as economic – not political or cultural. If there was full employment in well paid, secure jobs with adequate pensions, good housing for all, good, well staffed schools everywhere and top class, sufficiently staffed, health services everywhere, there would be little or no ‘cultural’ dissent and disruption by ‘despicables’.

In the experience of those in the lower ranks of the capitalist economic and social pyramid, the current crisis in the economic system has everything to do with the contemporary manifestation of anti – immigration, racial methods of exclusion and fears of radicalised religious violence. It should be clear (to those who want to see), that human beings are not born as racists, opposed to immigration or with religious ideas and violent prejudices – these characteristics have to be culturally learned. And learning is either first hand or second hand. However, first hand direct experience is one of the greatest educational teachers.

For example it is overwhelmingly the case that if one human being offers to help another human being without any strings attached, that help will be willingly accepted no matter what religion, colour, or gender the person happens to be. Future friendships and mutual help will be also engendered by such acts. What is true of individuals is also true of groups of individuals. However, if one individual or group of individuals, threatens to harm directly or indirectly another human being or group of human beings, then it cannot be surprising if suspicion, hostility and fear develop among those directly effected. This contrast of direct economic and social existential experiences (or even indirect if reliable) needs to be constantly born in mind when the issues of anti – immigration, continued racial discrimination and understandable prejudice against violent expressions of religious fundamentalism are considered.

As long as cultural issues and cultural divisions are projected as more important than economic, then certain things will follow. Demonstrations and actions will focus on cultural or political issues which will serve only to divide the oppressed and exploited. This is a logical process which is already being demonstrated in Europe, the UK and the USA etc. Campaigns for and against Brexit (or the EU.); for and against immigration, for and against Trump etc., etc. In this kind of climate and on this basis there will be anything but campaigns and demonstrations against the capitalist mode of production. As long as the domination of this cultural perspective goes unchallenged, the real world will continue to be seen upside down and the role of the economic base will be largely ignored. Sadly too few seem to be unable to rise to this challenge. Furthermore it should be obvious that this situation will only be to the advantage of those minorities benefiting from the present system.

Yet the study of history demonstrates that it only takes a few people to keep alive a critical understanding of a particular mode of production. The fact that at any period of time, this critical understanding is not shared by the bulk of the population, does not mean that at some future period that understanding will not usefully inform those who are able to institute revolutionary transitions. The critical understanding of the capitalist mode of production was most comprehensively developed by the revolutionary-humanist perspective of Karl Marx. It is this revolutionary-humanist perspective which was ignored and even opposed by the Leninist, Stalinist, Trotskyist, and Maoist anti-capitalists. It is this perspective which needs to be defended and kept alive for future generations if the present generation is unable to make use of it.

Roy Ratcliffe (November 2016)

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