Archive for the ‘Electricity’ Category

Fabian Authors on the Tories’ Inability to Understand the NHS

February 9, 2018

I found the following passage in an old Fabian pamphlet from 1989, Does Society Exist? The Case for Socialism, by Brian Barry. It discusses the psychological reasons why the Tories hate the NHS, and why they are so keen to wreck and burden it by introducing market forces and private enterprise. They simply don’t understand how any public institution, which isn’t run as a private enterprise, works. And they despise the NHS because it is, and does. Barry writes

I can best illustrate what is at stake here by showing the two ides at work in analysing a particular institution – the National Health Service, which I take it to be (in its general principles if not its detailed operation) an exemplary socialist institution in that it replaces profit with service as the rationale of its activities.

No doubt that is enough to make the NHS highly distasteful to Mrs Thatcher and her more ideologically-driven colleagues. But it would be too simple to suppose that the only explanation for the Government’s proposed revamping of the NHS is the desire to destroy a stronghold of values alien to those of the market. A complementary explanation is that the denizens of the think-tanks whose advice the Government listens to really cannot imagine that an organisation can possibly work effectively unless incentives are rigged so that decision makers find it in their interest to do whatever they ought to do. They are so besotted by the rational-choice paradigm in this form that they just deduce from first principles what a health service driven by self-interest would be like and put that forward without feeling any necessity for looking in detail at the strengths and weaknesses of the existing system.

This seems to be precisely the case. The Tories and their think-tanks really don’t understand anything that works outside market forces and the profit motive. We’ve seen that in the various pronouncements they’ve made over the years about how public services run as state industries are inefficient, because they’re not run as private firms. And when Thatcher and Major began to reform the NHS along the lines of private industry by introducing the disastrous internal market, they did so arguing that making the NHS more like a private firm would improve performance and make it more efficient.

In fact none of this is remotely true. The internal market was a disaster, and repealed by New Labour. Blair, however, was a true-Blue Thatcherite, and continued Thatcher’s programme of privatising the NHS piecemeal. But the privatisation of public services has only made them more expensive and inefficient. It’s been estimated that we’re paying 10 to 20 per cent more for our electricity now than we would be if the electricity grid had remained in the hands of the state. The railway network is similarly falling apart. We’re paying far more in subsidies now to the private firms that run the railways than we did when it was British Rail. And the service is worse. The ‘I; reported in its business pages that Grayling was under pressure to renationalise the East Coast line, one of the latest of the train companies to fail. The NHS is failing precisely because the market reforms and privatisation of services introduced by Thatcher, Major, Blair, Cameron and Tweezer eat up the funding for it. Private hospitals and healthcare providers spend less of their money on actual healthcare than the NHS, and more on administration. Quite apart from the fact that the Tories are privatising the Health Service anyway to give it to their friends and donors in private industry.

Thatcherism is a complete failure. The only solution is to get the failed market out of the utility industries and renationalise the NHS, the electricity companies and the railways.

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Another Crisis in the Outsourcing Industry: Capita Now in Trouble

February 1, 2018

Yesterday, Mike reported on his blog that the outsourcing giant, Capita, was now in trouble. Its share price has apparently halved, knocking £1.1 billion of its stock market value. It has axed its scheme to issue £500 million in dividends to its shareholders. Instead, it intends to raise £700 million, partly by selling off parts of the company, which it needs to balance the books. There are also fears that it will make part of its 67,000 strong workforce redundant as well as concerns for the firm’s pension fund.

Mike in his article notes that the company was responsible for assessing the infamous fitness for work tests, for which the government has imposed hidden targets. One of these is that 80 per cent of reconsidered cases should be turned down. Mike therefore comments that if the crisis means that some of these assessors get a taste of what they inflicted on benefit claimants, this would be a case of poetic justice. He also wonders what the firm was doing when it devised the scheme to issue those massive dividends to its shareholders. Did they believe that the government’s magic money tree would continue to allow them to give heaps of money to their rich shareholders? He also asks other searching questions, such as whether it was deliberately underbidding to get government contracts, and then using the money to help finance those projects it had already won.

Mike concludes

So: First Carillion collapsed. Now both Interserve (remember them?) and Capita are in trouble.

Who’s next? And what will happen to public services while the Tories dither over this crisis?

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/01/31/in-the-crap-ita-government-contractor-responsible-for-benefit-assessments-is-in-deep-financial-doo-doo/

Capita, or as Private Eye dubbed it, ‘Crapita’, has a long history of incompetence behind it. Way back in the 1990s it seemed that hardly a fortnight went by without Capita turning up in the pages of the satirical magazine. And the story was nearly always the same. The outsourcing company won a government or local authority contract to set up an IT system or run IT services. The project would then go over time and over budget, and would be massively flawed. And then a few weeks or months later, the company would be given a contract somewhere, and do exactly the same thing there.

You’re left wondering how Crapita kept winning those contracts, when it was so manifestly unfit to carry them out. Who did it have on its board? Or was there a deliberate policy by Major’s government to support outsourcing, no matter how inefficient and incompetent they were, because it was private enterprise and so preferred and supported for purely ideological reasons?

In any case, what seems to have placed the company in a very precarious financial situation is the usual tactics of big companies in this stage of capitalism: award massive dividends to the shareholders. This usually goes along with starving the rest of the company of investment, which seems to have been done to. And granting massive, and massively unsustainable pay awards to senior management. There’s no mention of that in Mike’s article, but I don’t doubt that this was done too. I’ve got the impression that it’s just about standard practice across a huge swathe of industry.

This is a financial strategy that has driven far more than one company to the wall. I also wonder if the executives weren’t also trying deliberately to create a debt, so that they could dodge corporation tax for five years. This is one of the tricks Stewart Lansley and Joanna Mack describe in their book on contemporary British poverty, Breadline Britain.

Over the years the outsourcing policy has been in operation, there’s been one crisis after another. The outsourcing companies have repeatedly shown themselves to be incompetent, not just in the case of capita, but also notoriously with G4S and the scandals over the violence and brutality it meted out towards asylum seekers in the detention centres it ran. And, of course, when a whole load of prisoners escaped on their way to court. Or jail.

Private industry has repeatedly shown that it is incompetent to do the work of the state sector. These firms have the disadvantage of having to make a profit for their shareholders, as well as the demands of their management for multi-million pound pay packets. The only way they can afford this is by cutting wages to their workers, and spending as little as possible on the service they are meant to be providing. The result of this has been a series of financial collapses. Carillion was the first. Now Capita and Interserve, another outsourcing company, is in similar trouble.

The only sensible recourse should be to cancel these companies’ contracts, and take everything back in-house. But this won’t be done. I think there’s a problem in that the state sector has been so decimated by the past four decades of Thatcherism, that it no longer has the capacity to run these services itself. There’s also the additional problem that too many politicians and media magnates have connections to these companies, or to firms in a similar position hoping for government contracts. Acknowledging that outsourcing was a failure would damage the interests of these politicos and press barons. There’s also the challenge of actually facing up to the fact that a central plank of Thatcherite dogma – that private enterprise is always more efficient than the state – is absolutely, undeniably wrong. Anybody who makes this point is denounced as a Communist in screaming headlines. You only have to look at the way the Tory press has vilified Jeremy Corbyn for daring to want to renationalise the NHS, the electricity net and the railways. His policies are very far from the total nationalisation demanded by Communists and Trotskyites, but you wouldn’t know it from the frothing abuse hurled in his direction by the Tories and Blairites.

There’s also another problem with calling an end to the outsourcing scam. PFI contracts and outsourcing allow some of the costs to be written off the official government accounts sheet. They’re still there, and we have to keep paying them, but they’re not included in the official figures. It’s why Mussolini used a similar scam when he was Duce of Fascist Italy. Any government that restores these projects to the way they were handled before risks putting millions back the official figures. And if that’s the Labour party, you can imagine the Tories making their usual hackneyed and untrue comments about ‘high-spending Labour’, and then re-iterating the spurious arguments for austerity.

I’ve no doubt that the government will do what it can to shore up the current mess the outsourcing companies are in. But the collapse of Carillion and now the severe financial troubles faced by Capita and Interserve show that outsourcing does not work. And given these companies’ highly checkered history, they should never have been given governments to begin with.

And it bears out exactly the description the author of Zombie Economics used for them in the very title of his book. Outsourcing, and the rest of the Thatcherite economic strategy of privatisation, wage restraint, low taxation and declining welfare are ‘zombie economics’ as they don’t work, but haven’t yet been put it into the grave.

It’s high time they were, and Thatcherite free trade capitalism was abandoned as the failure it so glaringly is.

No, Tweezer! It’s Not Labour that’s Attacking Investment, but Tory Privatisation

January 20, 2018

More lies from Theresa May, the lying head of a mendacious, corrupt, odious party. Mike put up another piece earlier this week commenting on a foam-flecked rant by Tweezer against the Labour party. She began this tirade by claiming that Labour had turned its back on investment. This was presumably out of fear of Labour’s very popular policies about renationalising the Health Service, the electricity industry and the railways.

But Labour hasn’t turned its back on investment. Far from it. Labour has proposed an investment bank for Britain – something that is recognised by many economists as being badly needed. It was one of Neil Kinnock’s policies in 1987, before he lost the election and decided that becoming ‘Tory lite’ was the winning electoral strategy.

The Korean economist, Ha-Joon Chang, who teaches at Cambridge, has pointed out that privatisation doesn’t work. Most of the British privatised industries were snapped up by foreign companies. And these companies, as he points out, aren’t interested in investing. We are there competitors. They are interested in acquiring our industries purely to make a profit for their countries, not ours. Mike pointed this out in his blog piece on the matter, stating that 10 of the 25 railway companies were owned by foreign interests, many of them nationalised. So nationalised industry is all right, according to Tweezer, so long as we don’t have it.

The same point is made by Stewart Lansley and Joanna Mack in their book, Breadline Britain: the Rise of Mass Poverty (Oneworld 2015). They write

The privatisation, from the 1980s, of the former publicly owned utilities is another example of the extractive process at work, and one that hs brought a huge bonanza for corporate and financial executives at the expense of staff, taxpayers and consumers. Seventy-two state-own enterprises we4re sold between 1983 and 1991 alone, with the political promise that the public-to-private transfer would raise efficiency, productivity and investment in the to the benefit of all. Yet such gains have proved elusive. With most of those who landed shares on privatisation selling up swiftly, the promised shareholding democracy failed to materialise. In the most comprehensive study of the British privatisation process, the Italian academic Massimo Florio, in his book The Great Divistiture, has concluded that privatisation failed to boost efficiency and has led to a ‘substantial regressive effect on the distribution of incomes and wealth in the United Kingdom’. Despite delivering little in the way of unproved performance, privatisation has brought great hikes in managerial pay, profits and shareholder returns paid for by staff lay-offs, the erosion of pay and security, taxpayer losses and higher prices.
(P. 195).

They then go on to discuss how privatisation has led to rising prices, especially in the electricity and water industries.

In most instances, privatisation has led to steady rises in bills, such as for energy and water. Electricity prices are estimated to be between ten and twenty per cent higher than they would have been without privatisation, contributing to the rise in fuel poverty of several years. Between 2002 and 2011, energy and water bills rose forty-five and twenty-one percent respectively in real terms, while median incomes stagnated and those of the poorest tenth fell by eleven percent. The winners have been largely a mix of executives and wealth investors, whole most of the costs – in job security, pay among the least well-skilled, and rising utility bills – have been borne by the poorest half of the population. ‘In this sense, privatisation was an integral part of a series of policies that created a social rift unequalled anywhere else in Europe’, Florio concluded.
(pp. 156-7)

They then go on to discuss the particular instance of the water industry.

Ten of the twenty-three privatised local and region water companies are now foreign owned with a further eight bought by private equity groups. In 2007 Thames Water was taken over by a private consortium of investors, mostly from overseas. Since then, as revealed in a study by John Allen and Michael Pryke at the Open University, the consortium has engineered the company’s finances to ensure that dividends to investors have exceeded net profits paid for by borrowing, a practice now common across the industry. By offsetting interest charges on the loan, the company will pay no corporation tax for the next five to six years. As the academics concluded: ‘A mound of leveraged debt has been used to benefit investors at the expense of households and their rising water bills.’
(P. 157).

They also point out that Britain’s pro-privatisation policy is in market contrast to that of other nations in the EU and America.

It is a similar story across other privatised sectors from the railways to care homes. The fixation with private ownership tis also now increasingly out of step with other countries, which have been unwinding their own privatisation programmes in response to the way the utilities have been exploited for private gain. Eighty-six cities – throughout the US and across Europe – have taken water back into a form of public ownership.
(Pp. 157-8)

Even in America, where foreign investors are not allowed to take over utility companies, privatisation has not brought greater investment into these companies, and particularly the electricity industry, as the American author of Zombie Economics points out.

Lansley and Mack then go on to discuss the noxious case of the Private Equity Firms, which bought up care homes as a nice little investment. Their debt manipulation shenanigans caused many of these to collapse.

So when Tweezer went off on her rant against Labour the other day, this is what she was really defending: the exploitation of British consumers and taxpayers by foreign investors; management and shareholders boosting their pay and dividends by raising prices, and squeezing their workers as much as possible, while dodging tax.

Privatisation isn’t working. Let’s go back to Atlee and nationalise the utilities. And kick out Theresa, the Tories and their lies.

Ken Surin on How Privatisation Wrecked New Zealand’s Electricity Grid

December 14, 2017

Today’s Counterpunch has a very interesting piece by Ken Surin giving his selective impressions of New Zealand. Throughout the article he calls the country by its Maori name, Aotearoa, and part of the article is about the poverty and marginalisation that is particularly experienced by New Zealand’s indigenous people and Pacific Islanders. He begins the article with his reminiscences of on-pitch violence by the county police and county farmers’ teams when he played university rugby back in the ’60s. This has a tenuous connection to the rest of the article as two of his team mates came from the country. He then goes on to discuss the effects of neoliberalism on New Zealand. Reading his article, I got the impression that New Zealand did not suffer as much as other nations from the neoliberal agenda of privatisation, wage restraint, welfare cuts and rampant deregulation. But at the same time, he argues that it hasn’t done as much as it could either to stop and reverse it.

From this side of the Pacific, one of the most interesting pieces of the article is his description of the way privatisation wrecked the New Zealand electricity network when it was introduced, leading to a power outage, or outages, lasting five weeks.

Aucklanders of a certain age remember the Great Power Outage, symptomatic of their country’s dalliance with neoliberalism, that lasted for 5 weeks from late February 1998.

New Zealand’s electric industry had been deregulated, and the company running Auckland’s grid, Mercury Energy, had been formed in 1992. Mercury promptly downsized its workforce from 1,411 to 600, and skimped on cable maintenance to boost profits. At the time of the Great Power Outage, Mercury Energy was also busy trying to take over another electric utility, again to enhance revenues.

One of several assessments of the handling of the Outage by Mercury Energy and the city’s administration described their response, somewhat charitably, as “ad hoc”. They predicated their responses throughout the crisis on best-case scenarios, and were flummoxed when none materialized.

Practical preparation for worst-case scenarios costs money— duh! – and thus erodes profit margins.

Auckland’s electricity was/is supplied by 4 poorly maintained mega-cables (there have been five serious outages since the 1998 crisis), which failed in quick succession.

Traffic lights stopped working, ventilation systems broke down in the southern hemisphere summer, people were trapped for hours in elevators, food rotted in supermarkets, hospitals had to cancel operations, emergency services were put under extreme pressure, workers had to hike up 20 floors in high-rise buildings to get to their offices, and giant generators had to be flown in from Australia to tide the city over while the mega-cables were repaired over the course of the 5 weeks.

Harsh jokes were made about Auckland’s Third World electricity grid. One example: what did Aucklanders use before candles and oil lamps? Answer: electricity.

The mayor, whose city was becoming a laughing stock, and whose competence was questioned as the crisis dragged on, lost his bid for reelection soon afterwards, while Mercury’s CEO died of a heart attack at his desk.

Neoliberalism can be death-dealing, even for its beneficiaries and overseers.

See: https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/12/14/selective-impressions-of-the-new-zealand-aotearoa-conjuncture/

And other economists have pointed out that neoliberalism has been no more successful elsewhere. The American author of Zombie Economics, a Harvard economist, has pointed out that privatisation has not brought in the investment the electricity industry has needed, and resulted in worse performance than when they were state owned.

The Tories and corporate apologists for private industry like to go on about how terrible the British nationalised industries were in trying to put people off voting for Jeremy Corbyn and Labour, who have promised to renationalise electricity and the railway network. A few days ago the I newspaper in their selection of quotes from elsewhere in the press had a paragraph from the Spectator’s Karren Bradey banging on about this, before stating that Corbyn was a ‘Communist’ who was hanging on to an outmoded theory because of ‘weird beliefs’. Which I would say is, with the exception of the term ‘Communist’, a fair description of most Conservatives and other cultists for the free market. They are indeed continuing to support a grotty, failed ideology long past its sell-by date for their own weird reasons. This is an effective rebuttal to their claims.

He also describes how the introduction of neoliberalism into New Zealand wrecked the economy, and created more poverty while cutting taxes for the rich:

The New Zealand economy duly tanked– shrinking by 1% between 1985 and 1992, while productivity stagnated at below 1% between 1984 and 1993, and inflation remained at around 9% a year. Foreign debt quadrupled, and the country’s credit rating was downgraded twice. Taxes were cut for top earners (from 66% to 33%), while benefits were reduced by up to 30% for the poorest families. The number of poor grew by around 35% between 1989 and 1992.

This is exactly what we’ve experienced in this country during these seven years of Tory rule. And New Zealand and Britain aren’t going to be the only nations who’ve suffered these effects. They’re general, right across the globe. Neoliberalism is responsible for these problems. Except if you’re Theresa May and the Tories, who’ll bleat constantly about how all it’s all due to the last, ‘high-spending’ Labour government.

Rubbish. Neoliberalism is an utter and complete failure. It’s promoted by the Tories as it makes the rich even richer while keeping the rest of us poor and desperate. It’s time it was ended and a proper Labour government under Corbyn was elected.

RT on the Media Silence over Corbyn Receiving Peace Prize in Geneva

December 12, 2017

RT put up this video yesterday, reporting that the Friday before, Jeremy Corbyn and Noam Chomsky had been awarded the Sean MacBride Peace Prize by an international committee, the International Peace Bureau in Geneva. The committee had been impressed by the Labour leader’s ‘sustained and powerful work for disarmament and peace’. But they also note that this has not been widely reported in the British press.

Mike also covered the story from the NHS Skwawkbox. They reported that the All Okinawa Council Against Henoko New Base also received the award along with Corbyn and Chomsky. The Bureau was impressed by Corbyn’s work as an ordinary member, then vice-chair and now vice-president of CND, as a past chair of the Stop the War Coalition, as well as his work over 34 years as an MP. They were impressed by his statement that he could not press the button for retaliation in a nuclear attack, and arguing that military spending should be cut and the money spent instead on health, education and welfare.

The award ceremony itself was held on November 24th in Geneva, but Corbyn had to wait until this weekend to collect it.

Mike also noted at the very start of his piece about Corbyn receiving the prise that the British media was silent about it. He wrote:

<strong>Where are the celebrations from the mainstream TV and newspaper media in the UK? The leader of the Labour Party has won a major international peace prize and I can’t find any headlines about it at all, apart from in Skwawkbox!*</strong>

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/12/09/jeremy-corbyn-collects-sean-macbride-peace-prize-2017/

There’s no need to look very hard to find reasons why the Beeb, ITV, Channel 4 and the British press weren’t keen to report this honour for the Labour leader: they cordially hate him as a threat to the Thatcherite corporatist agenda that is ruining the country and forcing millions of Brits into mass poverty. And his fellow recipients are also enough to give any right-winger a touch of the vapours. Noam Chomsky is a veteran critic of American imperialism. I think in his personal political beliefs he’s an Anarchist/ anarcho-syndicalist. Which means he believes the best form of society would be one where there was no state, and everything was run by the workers through trade unions. The All Okinawa Council against Henoko New Base sounds like one of the local organisations set up on the Japanese island of Okinawa to oppose the presence of the American military base. The Japanese are increasingly resentful of American bases on their territory, and see it very much as military occupation, especially after the Fall of Communism and the removal of the Soviet Union as a threat to Japan.

But America now is a warfare state. It has expanded the war on terror to include military strikes and campaigns in seven countries, and its economy is heavily tied in to government spending on the arms industries. And where you have arms manufacturers with a powerful voice in government, you also find wars. And Britain is being dragged into them through the ‘special relationship’. Not that in Blair’s and Cameron’s case the Americans needed to do much dragging. I got the impression that Blair was enthusiastic for the Iraq invasion, and Blissex, one of the very highly informed commenters on this blog, stated that, according to the Americans, it was Cameron and Sarkozy in France, who pushed for the airstrikes to overthrow Gaddafi in Libya.

Throughout his period as head of the Labour party, the British media has been bitterly biased against Corbyn. When the plotters in the Chicken Coup staged their mass resignations the other year, it began with the collusion of one of the plotters to do it on Andrew Neil’s show. Now that Corbyn has made a genuinely positive achievement, which they can’t very well sneer at, or spin so it reflects badly on him, the media have no choice but to remain silent.

Apart from the issue of defence and western militarism, there are other reasons why the corporate media hate Corbyn: he wants to strengthen the welfare state, and embark on a campaign of renationalisation – renationalising the NHS and also the utilities industries and railways. This frightens the multimillionaire businessmen, who control the papers.

And so in the I yesterday, in the column where it quotes the opinions of the other papers, you had a quote from Simon Heffer in the Torygraph ranting about how ‘Stalinist’ Momentum were trying to deselect the ‘thoroughly decent’ moderates in the Labour party. And another quote from Karren Brady of the Apprentice declaring that Corbyn was a ‘Communist’, who supported nationalisation for his own peculiar reasons. She also reminded us that the nationalised industries had been failures, citing British Gas particularly.

Well, Heffer has always been a Tory spokesman, and the Telegraph has been particularly vocal in its hatred of the Labour leader. Not only is Heffer a dyed in the wool Tory, he was also a contributor to a book celebrating Enoch Powell that came out a few years ago, entitled Enoch at 100. Not only was Powell responsible for inflaming racism in Britain with his ‘rivers of blood’ speech, he was also a Monetarist, which became Thatcher’s favourite economic doctrine. Monetarism was regarded at the time by the majority of economists as stupid and ridiculous, and was effectively abandoned by Thatcher herself later in her tenure of No. 10.

And the ‘moderates’ in the Labour party are no such thing, nor are they ‘decent people’. They are liars and intriguers to a man and woman. They did everything they could to unseat Corbyn, and silence or throw out his supporters. But now that the likes of ‘Bomber’ Benn – so-called because of his enthusiasm for airstrikes on Syria – have failed, the Torygraph has to lament how they’re being ‘persecuted’ by Corbyn’s supporters.

As for Brady’s comments about the nationalised industries, yes, I do remember how there were problems with them. British Gas was notorious, and became notoriously worse after privatisation. But private ownership has very definitely not brought more investment nor improved the performance of the utilities companies. Quite the reverse – the rail network is actually performing worse now than it was in the last years of British Rail. It now consumes a higher government subsidy and charges more for worse services, all to keep its board on their expensive salaries and bonuses and bloated dividends to its shareholders.

But Brady really doesn’t want you to know that. She’s a businesswoman, who clearly stands four-square for the companies seeking to make vast profits from the former state sector. So she very definitely isn’t going to admit that there’s a problem with them.

Brady herself also likes to project herself as some kind of feminist heroine, thrusting through the corporate glass ceiling and inspiring other women and girls to take up the fight to make it in business. As Private Eye mischievously pointed out, this would be more convincing if she hadn’t begun her business career working in the offices of one of the porn companies.

The business elite are frightened of Corbyn, because he’s set to renationalise industry and empower British working people. And so if they can’t vilify him, as they couldn’t with the award of the Sean McBride Peace Prize, they have to keep silent.

American Imperialism Aiding the Saudi and Israeli Ethnic Cleansing of Indigenous Middle Eastern Christians

December 9, 2017

There’s been some coverage here in the west of the underground Christian church in China. China’s a Communist state, and although religion has been allowed to re-emerge after its ferocious persecution under Mao, it is heavily regulated. There’s an official church, which has to agree to and abide by the various conditions set down by the Communist authorities. Alongside this is a growing underground church, that meets in secret and is heavily persecuted because it is outside the control of the Communist party.

Fewer people, however, are aware that there’s also a growing underground church in Iran. The Anglican church in Tehran, which is recognised and tolerated, is remarkable for a Christian church in a Middle Eastern, Islamic country, in that most of its members are indigenous Iranians. About three per cent of the Iranian population is composed of Armenian Christians, who have their own churches. But outside these official, tolerated churches, there is a secret church of indigenous Iranians, who are turning from Islam to Christ. Apostasy is banned under Islamic, sharia law. The penalty has traditionally been death, although some law schools were of the opinion that the death penalty could only be imposed if the apostate then blasphemed against Islam. Other legal scholars stated that the apostate from Islam should be imprisoned for three days so that they could reconsider their decision to abandon Islam. If they repented during this time, they would be spared. This means that those Iranians converting to Christianity do so at the risk of their own lives. They are savagely persecuted and imprisoned. At the same time, the Iranian authorities surround the Armenian churches with armed police to make sure that only Armenians go there to worship. The Armenians have adopted a series of tactics to help their Iranian co-religionists avoid the police. One of these is teaching them a few words or phrases of Armenian, so that they can pass themselves off as Armenian Christians, and so avoid arrest, imprisonment and torture.

This isn’t widely known in the West, and I don’t think this is an accident. America is a profoundly religious country, but I think the support of religious freedom by the American military-industrial complex is, and has always been, cynically utilitarian. There was a massive campaign of Christian evangelism and preaching in America itself during the Cold War. You think of all the extreme right-wing Christian movements that emerged in the 50s, like Moral Re-Armament, and so on, that were dedicated not just to spreading Christianity, but also combatting Communism. Or, for that matter, just about any other left-wing, progressive movement. Even if it was led by other Christians. Communism is an aggressively materialistic political system. Marx actually wrote little about religion, beyond his famous words that it was ‘the opium of the people’, but he certainly believed his system was an extension of the materialist doctrines of the ancient world and the Enlightenment philosophes. He took over their critique of religion and that of Ludwig Feuerbach, which viewed religion as a projection of humanity’s own alienated essence, and extended it. Lenin himself was bitterly anti-religious, and the persecution of religious believers – Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Taoists, the followers of indigenous shamanic religions and so on – was state policy in many Communist countries.

Hence the promotion of Christianity and the defence of religious freedom against a persecuting, literally Satanic, evil empire was a useful ideological tool for the capitalist leaders of society during the Cold War. Thus much of the religious literature published during the Cold War stressed the anti-Christian nature of Communism to the point where this overshadowed the other atrocities and crimes against human rights committed by these regimes. Such as the artificial famines Stalin created during the collectivisation of agriculture, the deportation of ethnic minorities to Siberia and the persecution of dissenting socialist and Communist intellectuals.

But very little is said about the persecution of the underground Iranian church. And I don’t think this is an accident. I think it’s because it doesn’t serve American geopolitical interests, and those of its allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia. China’s a Communist country, and so atheism is the official state dogma, even if it is not as rigorously enforced as it has been. But Iran and the other Middle Eastern countries are religious states to a greater or lesser degree. And American foreign policy in the Middle East has consisted of supporting theocratic and Islamic fundamentalist regimes and movements against secular Arab nationalism or socialism, as these are seen as too close to Communism. Hence the hostility to Gamal Nasser’s Egypt, which was socialist, but not Communist. In the case of Saudi Arabia, America and the West forged an alliance that goes back to the 1920s. In return for the right to exploit the country’s oil, America and the West pledged themselves to support the country and its rulers. Saudi Arabia is an extremely intolerant state, where the only permitted religion is Wahhabi Islam. No other religions are tolerated. There are indigenous Shi’a Muslims, but they are also savagely persecuted. Their villages do not have running water or electricity, and their religious literature and holy books will be confiscated if they are discovered by the authorities. A few years ago the Grand Mufti, the religious head of Saudi Arabia, declared that the Shi’a were heretics ‘worthy of death’, a chilling endorsement of religious genocide. And the Shi’a aren’t the only non-Wahhabi community to be subjected to his prayers for pious violence. The other year he also led prayers calling on Allah to destroy Jews and Christians.

Saudi Arabia is one of the main sponsors of Islamist terrorism. It is not Iran, nor Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11. 17 out of the 19 hijackers were Saudis, and the trail from them goes all the way to the top of Saudi society. They were active sponsors of the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, which became the Taliban. The current Saudi king and his head of intelligence were also responsible for funding and aiding al-Qaeda and ISIS in their attacks on the other Islamic nations of the region. In continuing to support Saudi Arabia, America, Britain and the other western countries are supporting a viciously intolerant state that persecutes other religions, including Christians.

The other pillar of western interests and foreign policy in the Middle East is Israel. Israel is a White, European/American settler state, and it looks towards Europe and America rather than the Middle East. And it’s also religiously intolerant. The official state religion is Orthodox Judaism. Israel defines itself as the Jewish state, and the Law of Return stipulates that only Jews may become citizens. The Israeli government has also repeatedly refused calls to allow the Palestinians, who fled the country in 1948 fearing massacre by the Israelis to return, as this would upset the ethnic composition of the country. At the same time the Israeli state has pursued a policy of ethnic cleansing, expelling and massacring the indigenous Palestinian population. And this includes Christians.

Before the foundation of Israel in 1948, 25 per cent of the population of Palestine was Christian. Now it’s only one per cent. The literature on the dwindling Christian community states that this is because of pressure from both Israel and Islam. The Christian community has suffered persecution from Muslims, as they are seen as traitors, even though many Palestinian Christians are as bitterly opposed to the Israeli occupation as their compatriots. However, other historians have also pointed out that traditionally, Muslims and Christians coexisted peacefully in Palestine. In one of the papers on Israel and Palestine in Albert Hourani’s book, The Modern Middle East, it is stated that Muslim Palestinians traditionally regarded Christian churches as mawsin, an Arabic term which means holy, sacrosanct, and were thus treated with respect. Palestinian Christians, however, have complained about their treatment by the Israeli authorities. Special permits are required before new churches may be built, and the authorities are not keen to give them.

And like Muslims, Christians have also been attacked by Israeli racist extremists. A little while ago a Christian monastery in Israel was the subject of a price-tag attack by Israeli extremists. The price-tag attacks are acts of destruction in retaliation for Palestinian attacks on Jews or Jewish property. They’re called ‘price-tag’ because the attackers leave a mock price-tag behind giving some cost for the damage done. The Israeli authorities were keen to distance their country from the attack, and tried to present it as somehow unique. But I got the distinct impression that this is far from the case. About ten or so years ago Channel 4 screened a programme by a Black presenter, in which he went to Israel and covered the maltreatment of Christians there. This included an attempt by a group of Orthodox Jews to terrorise the members of a church of Messianic Jews. In fact, the Messianic Jews were saved by the Muslim doorman, who effectively blocked the Orthodox posse from coming in. And the programme gave the impression that this was actually quite common, and that it was frequently Muslims, who saved Christians from violence at the hands of Jewish settlers.

This is all kept very hidden from the American Christian public. The tours of Israel arranged by right-wing Christian Zionist groups in America and the Israeli authorities will not allow American or western Christians to meet their Palestinian co-religionists. And while there’s a considerable amount of information on the web about Israeli intolerance and persecution of Christians, in the mainstream western media it is always presented as the fault of Muslims. And the right-wing press, such as the Times and Telegraph, have published any number of articles presenting Israel as the protector of the region’s Christians, often with quotes from a Christian Arab to that effect. Thus the Christian Zionist right in America are supporting a state, which has expelled the majority of its indigenous Christians from its borders and continues to limit their freedom of worship. Just as it does Muslims.

Some of the motivation behind this Christian Zionism is based in apocalyptic theology. Christian Zionism started in the 19th century, when some Christians decided that they wanted to refound the ancient state of Israel in order to bring about Christ’s Second Coming. This now includes a final battle between good and evil. This used to be between the forces of capitalism and Communism, but has now morphed into the forces of the Christian West and Israel versus Islam. At the same time, the American Conservatives started supporting Israel in compensation for the defeats America had suffered in the Vietnam War, so that American Christian leaders declared that the Israelis shared their values.

I also think there’s an element of religious imperialism here as well. In the 19th century British explorers to other parts of the Christian world, including Greece when it was dominated by the Ottoman Empire, and Abyssinia, declared that these nations’ traditional churches were backwards and obstacles to their peoples’ advancement. They therefore recommended that they should be destroyed, and the Greeks, Ethiopians or whoever should embrace one of the western forms of Christianity instead. it wouldn’t surprise me if the same attitude permeated American Zionist Christian attitudes towards Middle Eastern Christians. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the same kind of Christian fundamentalist pastors, who rant about how ‘Satanic’ Roman Catholicism is, also don’t believe that the ancient churches of the Middle East – the Syriac and Coptic Churches – are also not really Christian.

Thus American imperialism, and the Christian Zionists in the case of Israel, are supporting states dedicated to removing the indigenous Christian communities from their parts of the Middle East.

And American Christians are more fervent in their Zionism than American Jews. Norman Finkelstein has repeatedly stated and demonstrated how American Jews were traditionally uninterested in Israel. And Tony Greenstein, a Jewish British critic of Zionism, has also shown that the majority of Jews around the world wished to remain in the Diaspora, but live as equal, respected citizens of the countries in which they were born. There are a growing number of Jewish Americans, who despise Israel because of the way it persecutes its indigenous Arab population. This includes Jews, who have suffered genuine anti-Semitism abuse and violence.

Within Israel itself, there is opposition to the official religious policy of the state. There is a sizable minority that would like a total separation between synagogue and state. Other Israelis don’t go this far, but do want Israel to become more secular. And there is tension between Reform Jews, and the Orthodox, who do not regard their theologically more liberal co-religionists to be proper Jews, and may even regard them as anti-Jewish.

But American Conservatives are unable or unwilling to understand Middle Eastern Christians, or why they would not want to support Israel. A few years ago Ted Cruz addressed a meeting of Middle Eastern Christians in America. This went well, until he started urging them to support Israel, at which point he was surprised to find that he was being booed. Part of his speech urged them to support the Israelis, because of the terrible persecution of Jews in the past. But the Palestinians have repeatedly rejected this argument, pointing out that they are being persecuted by the Israelis because of the way Europeans persecuted Jews. Cruz walked off, making comments about anti-Semitism, if I recall correctly. He failed to understand that to his audience, the Israelis were those doing the persecuting.

And this ignorance and the views and political situation of indigenous Middle Eastern Christians seems to be common to elite America. It’s shown by Trump’s decision to relocate the American embassy to Jerusalem, which has been supported by the leader of the Democrats in Congress, Chuck Schumer, and Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton. All of whom will stress their identity as Christians when it suits them.

It isn’t just rising Islamism and Muslim intolerance in the Middle East that is a threat to the indigenous Christian communities there. It is also American imperialism, and the country’s alliance with the ethnic and religiously intolerant regimes of Israel and Saudi Arabia. Thus, the media only covers Christian persecution when they can blamed it on Islam, But when it’s awkward for the American, and western military-industrial complex, the media is silent about it.

Counterpunch on George Monbiot and Nuclear Experts Spreading Propaganda about Syrian Nuclear Weapons

November 26, 2017

Thursday’s Counterpunch carried a long piece by Jonathan Cook reporting on an important piece of investigative journalism by Gareth Porter. In 2007 Israel bombed a plant they claimed was a secret nuclear reactor, constructed by Assad. Recent evidence strongly suggests that the building was no such thing, and that the International Atomic Energy Agency knew it wasn’t at the time. Nevertheless, they went ahead with the lie as part of the strategy by the Americans and Israelis, who were hoping to use the incident to bring down Assad and draw Iran into the conflict, so they could conquer that nation too.

The article also goes on to criticise the Guardian’s George Monbiot. Monbiot has, according to Cook, taken it upon himself to be a ‘Witchfinder General’, attacking figures on the left, like Noam Chomsky and John Pilger, who are cautious about accepting claims of atrocities by Assad. Like the recent gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun, which appears to have been faked by al-Qaeda themselves. He also states that Human Rights Watch has also falsified information about the war between Israel and Hizbollah. Insiders lower down the organisation knew that what it said was untrue, but were silenced by their superiors.

He also states that now the attempt to unseat Assad has failed, or is failing, the Israelis and Saudis are trying to start a war in Lebanon -again- in order to draw Iran into a war they hope they can use to overthrow them.

https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/11/22/syria-experts-and-george-monbiot/

I’ve no doubt that this is true, and while I like much of what Monbiot says, it does show how far the Guardian has fallen as a supposedly ‘left-wing’ paper. Tony Greenstein has written several articles attacking the Groan for its blatant anti-Corbyn bias, and its willingness to spread the anti-Semitism smears on behalf of the Israel lobby. And I’m not surprised. The Groaniad backed the SDP and the Liberals in several elections, and its staff seems to be full of Blairites and Neocons. So no surprise that Monbiot is also uncritically spreading disinformation about non-existent nuclear reactors, and attacking anyone he thinks is too pro-Assad.

The Nazis, Capitalism and Privatisation

November 9, 2017

One of the tactics the Right uses to try to discredit socialism is to claim that the Nazis were socialist, based largely on their name and the selective use of quotes from Hitler and other members of the Nazi party.

This claim has been repeatedly attacked and refuted, but nevertheless continues to be made.

In the video below, Jason Unruhe of Maoist Rebel News also refutes the argument that the Nazis were socialists by looking at the economic evidence and the Nazis’ own policy of privatising state-owned industries and enterprises. He puts up several graphs showing how the stock market rose under the Nazis, as did the amount of money going to private industry. Indeed, this evidence shows that the Nazis were actually more successful at managing capitalism than the democratic, laissez-faire capitalist countries of Britain and the US.

Then there is the evidence from the Nazis’ own policy towards industry. He cites a paper by Germa Bel in the Economic History Review, entitled ‘Against the Mainstream: Nazi Privatisation in 1930s Germany’. In the abstract summarising the contents of the article, Bel states

In the mid-1930s, the Nazi regime transferred public ownership to the private sector. In doing so, they went against the mainstream trends in Western capitalistic countries, none of which systematically reprivatized firms during the 1930s.

He goes further, and makes the point that the term ‘privatisation’ actually comes from Nazi Germany. It’s the English form of the German term reprivatisierung.

I am very definitely not a Maoist, and have nothing but contempt for the Great Helmsman, whose Cultural Revolution led to the deaths of 60 million Chinese in the famines and repression that followed, and unleashed a wave of horrific vandalism against this vast, ancient countries traditional culture and its priceless antiquities and art treasures.

But Unruhe has clearly done his research, and is absolutely correct about the capitalist nature of German industry under the Third Reich. Robert A. Brady, in his The Spirit and Structure of German Fascism (London: Victor Gollancz 1937) also described and commented on the privatisation of industry under the Nazis.

He states that the organs set up by the Nazis to ‘coordinate’ the industrial and agricultural sectors were specifically forbidden from giving any advantages to the state sector rather than private industry, and that state industry was handed over to private industrialists.

The same picture holds for the relations between the National Economic Chamber and the organs of local government. As Frielinghaus has put it, “The new structure of economics recognises no differences between public and private economic activity….” Not only are representatives of the various local governments to be found on both the national and regional organs of the National Economic Chamber, but it is even true that local government is co-ordinated to the end that economic activities pursued by them shall enjoy no non-economic advantages over private enterprise.

The literature on this point is perfectly explicit, being of a nature with which the general American public is familiar through numerous utterances of business leaders on the “dangers of government competition with private enterprise.” Under pressure of this sort the Reich government and many of its subsidiary bodies have begun to dispose of their properties to private enterprise or to cease “competition” with private enterprise where no properties are at stake. Thus the Reich, the states and the communes have already disposed of much of the holdings in the iron and steel industry (notably the United Steel Works), coal and electric power. Similarly, support is being withdrawn for loans to individuals wishing to construct private dwellings wherever private enterprise can possibly make any money out the transactions. True, the government has been expanding its activities in some directions, but mainly where there is no talk of “competition with private enterprise”, and with an eye to providing business men with effective guarantees against losses. (Pp. 291-2).

There is a serious academic debate over how far Fascism – both in its Nazi and Italian versions – was genuinely anti-Socialist and anti-capitalist. Mussolini started off as a radical Socialist, before breaking with the socialists over Italian intervention in the First World War. He then moved further to the right, allying with Italian big business and agricultural elites to smash the socialist workers’ and peasants’ organisations, and setting up his own trade unions to control the Italian workforce in the interests of Italian capital.

Ditto the Nazis, who banned the reformist socialist SPD – the German equivalent of the Labour party – and the Communist party, and destroyed the German trade unions. Their role was then taken over by the Labour Front, which also acted to control the workforces in the interests of capital and management.

As for Hitler’s use of the term ‘socialist’ and the incorporation of the colour red, with its socialist overtones, into the Nazi flag, Hitler stated that this was to steal some of the attraction of the genuine socialist left. See the passage on this in Joachim C. Fest’s biography of the dictator. The incorporation of the word ‘socialist’ into the Nazi party’s name was highly controversial, and resisted by many of the party’s founders, as they were very definitely anti-socialist.

Brady himself comments on how the Nazis’ appropriation of the term ‘socialist’ is opportunistic, and disguises the real capitalist nature of the economy. He writes

the principle of “self-management” does appear to allow the business men to do pretty much what they wish. The cartels and market organisations remain, and have, in fact, been considerably strengthened in many cases. These are the most important organisations from the point of view of profits. The larger machinery is, as previously indicated, primarily designed to co-ordinate police on threats to the underlying tenets of the capitalistic system. The fact that the new system is called “socialism,” and that “capitalism” has been repudiated, does not detract from this generalisation in the slightest. The changes made to such as worry compilers of dictionaries and experts in etymology, not economists. For the realities of “capitalism” has been substituted the word “socialism”; for the realities of “socialism” has been substituted the word “Marxism”; “Marxism” has,, then, been completely repudiated. By reversing the word order one arrives at the truth, i.e. “socialism” in all its forms has been repudiated and capitalism has been raised into the seventh heaven of official esteem.

And the structure of Nazi Germany, where there were very close links between local and state government and industry, and where private industry and big business were celebrated and promoted, sounds extremely similar to the current corporatist political system in Britain and America. Here, political parties now favour big business over the public good, thanks to receiving donations and other aid, including the loan of personnel, from private firms, and the appointment of senior management and businessmen to positions within government. While at the same time pursuing a policy of deregulation and privatisation.

And this is without discussing the murderous Social Darwinism of the Reaganite/ Thatcherite parties, including Blairite New Labour, which has seen the welfare safety net gradually removed piecemeal, so that hundreds of thousands in Britain are now forced to use food banks to survive, and around 700 desperately poor, and particularly disabled people, have died in misery and starvation thanks to the regime of benefit sanctions and the use of pseudo-scientific procedures by ATOS and Maximus to declare seriously and terminally ill people ‘fit for work’.

The Blairites, Tories and their Lib Dem partners have set up a system of secret courts, in which, if it is considered ‘national security’ is at stake, individuals can be tried in secret, without knowing what the charges against them are, who their accuser is, or the evidence against them. Cameron and May, and indeed Tony Blair, followed Thatcher’s lead in trying to destroy the unions, and have put in place progressively stricter legislation against political protests.

Meanwhile, under the guise of combating ‘fake news’, internet companies like Google and Facebook are trying to drive left-wing, alternative news networks and sites off the Net.

The Code Pink and Green Party campaigner, Vijay Prashad, gave a speech in Washington, where he stated that Trump could be the last president of the US. If he doesn’t destroy the world, the political processes that are operating under him could result in him being the last democratically elected president, should the elites get tired of democracy.

Trump’s regime is certainly Fascistic, particularly in the support it receives from racist, White supremacist and openly Nazi organisations. If the business elites bankrolling the two parties do get tired of democracy – and due to their pernicious influence Harvard University has described the current American political system as an oligarchy, rather than democracy – then the transition to real Fascism will have been completed.

And where the Republicans go in America, the Tories over here in Britain duly follow.

Fabian Pamphlet on Workers’ Control in Yugoslavia: Part 1

November 7, 2017

I’ve put up several pieces about workers’ control and industrial democracy, the system in which the workers in a particular firm or industry have their representatives elected on to the board of management. It was particularly highly developed in Communist Yugoslavia, following the ideas of Milovan Djilas and Edvard Kardelj, and formed an integral part of that country’s independent Communist system following the break with Stalin and the Soviet-dominated Comintern in 1948.

In 1963 the Fabian Society published the above pamphlet by Frederick Singleton, a lecturer on Geography and International Affairs in the Department of Industrial Administration at the Bradford Institute of Technology, and Anthony Topham, a staff tutor in Social Studies in the Adult Education department of Hull University.

The pamphlet had the following contents.

Chapter 1 was on Political Structure, and contained sections on the Communist Assumption of Power, the 1946 Constitution, the 1953 Constitution, and the Policy of the League of Communists.

Chapter 2: Economic Planning, had sections on the Legacy of the Past, From Administration to Fiscal Planning, Autonomy for the Enterprise, the Investment System, and Recent Developments.

Chapter: The Working Collective, has sections on the Workers’ Council, the Managing Board, the Director, Departmental Councils, Economic Units, the Disposal of Funds by Economic Units, Allocation of Personal Income, Structure and Role of the Trade Unions, the Right to Strike, Education for Workers’ Self-Management, Workers’ Universities, Worker’s Management in Action: Decision Making, Structure of a Multi-Plant Enterprise, and Incentives or Democracy: the Problem of Motive.

The final chapter, was the Conclusion, which considered the lessons the system had for Britain. It ran:

In considering the lessons which British socialists may draw from the Yugoslav experience, we must not lose sight of the different nature of our two societies and the disparity in levels of industrial development. But it is also relevant to ask how far the ideas of workers’ control could, with the stimulus of the Yugoslav experience, become a truly popular element of British Labour policy. It is true that, with the Yugoslav exception, past experience of this form of Socialism has been inconclusive and fragmentary. Usually, it has been associated with periods of revolutionary fervour such as the Paris Commune of 1871, the Catalan movement during the Spanish Civil War, and the factory Soviets of Russia in 1917-18. The experience of Owenite Utopian communities in this and other countries is misleading, in that they existed as small and vulnerable enclaves in a basically hostile society. On the other hand, there is an authentic tradition within the British Labour movement, represented by the early shop stewards’ movement, the Guild Socialists and Industrial Unionists, upon which we can draw. The Fabian tradition too, is not exclusively centralist or bureaucratic. In the 1888 volume of Fabian essays, Annie Besant raised the question of decentralisation. She did not believe that ‘the direct election of the manager and foreman by the employees would be found to work well’, but she advocated control of industry ‘through communal councils, which will appoint committees to superintend the various branches of industry. These committees will engage the necessary managers and foremen for each shop and factory.’ The importance attached to municipal ownership and control in early Fabian writings is related to the idea of the Commune, in the government of which the workers have a dual representation as consumer-citizens and as producers. This affinity to Yugoslav Commune government is even more marked in the constitutions evolved in Guild Socialist writings.

The history of the progressive abandonment of these aims, and the adoption of the non-representative Public Corporation as the standard form for British Socialised undertakings, is well known. Joint consultation, which was made compulsory in all nationalised industries, became the only instrument of workers’ participation. Yet the problem of democracy in industry is one which should be of great concern to the British socialist. It must surely be apparent that the nationalised industries have failed to create amongst the mass of their workers a feeling of personal and group responsibility. Even in the most ‘trouble-free’ gas and electricity industries, there is little real enthusiasm for the present system of worker-management relations. Nationalisation may have appeared to the Labour government to have solved the problems of the industries concerned. But the experience of the workers in these industries has not confirmed this. They found that joint consultation between managers and unions leaders plus vaguely defined parliamentary control did not create anything resembling industrial democracy. Had it done so, there would have been much stronger popular resistance to the anti-nationalisation propaganda which was so successful in the years preceding the 1959 election.

We therefore feel that the basic aim of the Yugoslavs is one which has validity for our own situation, and we conclude with some observations on the British situation suggested by an acquaintance with the Yugoslav system.

The Problem of Scale

The forms of economic organisation and management which have been evolved by the Yugoslavs are unique, and a study of them provides a valuable stimulus to those who seek ‘a real understanding of a scheme of workers’ control that is sufficiently comprehensive to operate over an entire industry, from top to bottom, and through the whole range of activities’. However, as the scale of production grows, the problem of ensuring that democratic control extends beyond primary groups such as Economic Units through the intermediate levels to the central management of the firm and the industry, becomes more and more difficult. There is a strong body of opinion which believes that schemes of workers’ control must ultimately founder in the context of modern large-scale production. The small, multi-firm industries of the Yugoslav economy make democratic control less difficult than in a highly developed industrial society such as our own.

But questions, which should be asked in relation to our own economy are: how far could the nationalised industries be broken down into the smaller, competing units, without serious loss of efficiency? How far is the growth in the average size of firm (as opposed to scale of production units) the outcome of purely commercial and power considerations, rather than concern for increased efficiency through economies of scale? How far have we been misled by the mystique of managerial skill into accepting the necessity of autocratic control by the managers in both private and public industries? After all, the principle of lay control over salaried experts is the normal and accepted principle in national and local government, and within the Co-operative movement. The decisions in these fields are no less complex and ‘technical’ than in industry. Where lay control in local Councils and Co-operative Management Boards is more apparent than real, how far is this due to the prevailing faith in technology, which makes us reluctant to transform the contribution of the elected representatives by a thorough and enthusiastic education programme of the kind found in the Yugoslav Workers’ Universities?

In the conditions of modern industry, decisions taken by line managers and directors are frequently a matter of choosing between alternative course the consequences of which have been calculated by technical staffs. Such decisions are of a social and political, rather than a technical nature, i.e. they are precisely the sort of decisions which should be undertaken by democratic bodies. These factors should be borne in mind when examining the conclusions of some writers that, whilst the Yugoslav experience is interesting, and may have relevance for countries at a similar stage of industrialisation, it has little bearing on the problems of advanced industries societies.

Continued in Part 2.

Fabian Pamphlet on Workers’ Control In Yugoslavia: Part 3 – My Conclusion

November 7, 2017

Continued from Part 2.

In parts 1 and 2 of this post I described the contents of the above Fabian pamphlet on Workers’ Control in Yugoslavia, by Frederick Singleton and Anthony Topham, published in 1963.

The authors attempted to show how, despite a very lukewarm attitude to the idea at the time, workers’ control could be a viable possibility for British industry. The authors’ noted that the very limited gesture towards worker participation in the nationalised industries had not gained the enthusiasm of the workforce, and in the previous decade the Tories had had some success in attacking the nationalised industries and nationalisation itself.

They argued that there was a tradition within the British Labour movement for workers’ control in the shape of the Guild Socialists and Industrial Unionism. The Fabians, who had largely advocated central planning at the expense of industrial democracy, had nevertheless put forward their own ideas for it. Annie Besant, the Theosophist and feminist, had argued that the workers in an industry should elect a council, which would appoint the management and foreman. This is quite close to the Yugoslav model, in which enterprises were governed through a series of factory boards elected by the workers, which also exercised a degree of control over the director and management staff.

The pamphlet was clearly written at a time when the unions were assuming a role of partnership in the nationalised industries, and had agreed to pay pauses. These were a temporary break in the round of annual pay rises negotiated by the government and management as a means of curbing inflation. This actually runs against Tory rhetoric that Britain was exceptionally beset by strikes – which has been challenged and rebutted before by British historians of the working class – and the unions were irresponsible.

The role of the factory or enterprise council in taking management decisions, rather than the trade unions in Yugoslav worker’s control also means that the trade unions could still preserve their independence and oppositional role, working to defend the rights of the workforce as a whole and present the grievances of individual workers.

The two authors acknowledge that there are problems of scale involved, in that the Yugoslav system was obviously developed to suit conditions in that nation, where there was a multiplicity of small enterprises, rather than the much larger industrial concerns of the more developed British economy. But even there they suggest that these problems may not be insuperable. Management now consists of selecting for one out of a range of options, that have already been suggested by technical staff and planners, and the experience of the co-operative movement has shown that firms can be run by elected boards. Much of the idea that management can only be effectively performed by autocratic directors or management boards may actually be just a myth that has developed to justify the concentration of power in their hands, rather than allow it to be also held by the workers.

They also note that the Yugoslav model also shows that the participation of workers in industrial management can lead to greater productivity. Indeed, the South Korean economist and lecturer, Ha-Joon Chang, in his books has shown that those industries which are wholly or partly owned by the state, or where the workers participate in management, are more stable and long-lasting than those that are run purely for the benefit of the shareholders. This is because the state and the workforce have a vested commitment to them, which shareholders don’t have. They will abandon one firm to invest in another, which offers larger dividends. And this has meant that some firms have gone bust selling off valuable assets and downsizing simply to keep the shares and, correspondingly, the managers’ salaries, artificially high.

They also present a good argument for showing that if workers’ control was implemented, the other parties would also have to take it up and preserve it. At the time they were writing, the Liberals were talking about ‘syndicalism’ while the Tories promised an Industrial Charter. This never materialised, just as Theresa May’s promise to put workers on the boards of industry was no more than hot air.

But some indication of how popular genuine worker participation in management might be is also shown, paradoxically, by Thatcher’s privatisations in the 1980s. Thatcher presented herself falsely as some kind of heroine of the working class, despite the fact that she was very solidly middle, and personally had nothing but contempt for the working class and working class organisations. Some of that image came from her talking about her background as the daughter of a shopkeeper. Another aspect was that in her privatisation of the utilities, she tried to persuade people that at last they too could be shareholders in industry. This was not only to the general public, but also to workers in those industries, who were offered shares in the newly privatised companies.

This experiment in popular capitalism, just like the rest of Thatcherism, is a total colossal failure. Newspaper reports have shown that the shares have largely passed out of the hands of working class shareholders, and are now back in the hands of the middle classes. As you could almost predict.

But the process does show how what popularity it initially had depended on Thatcher stealing some of the ideological guise for privatisation from Socialism. She had to make it seem that they would have a vested interest in their industries, albeit through holding shares rather than direct participation in management. She had no wish to empower the workers, as is amply shown by her determination to break the unions and destroy employees’ rights in the workplace. But her programme of popular capitalism depended on making it appear they would gain some position of power as individual shareholders.

The performance of the utilities following privatisation has shown that they are not better off under private management, regardless of the bilge spewed by the Tories and the Blairites in the Labour party. Under private management, these vital industries have been starved of investment, while the managers’ salaries and share price have been kept high again through cuts and increased prices. It is high time they were renationalised. And the nation knows this, hence the popularity of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party.

And it’s possible that, if it was done properly, the incorporation of a system of worker participation in the management of these industries could create a real popular enthusiasm for them that would prevent further privatisation in the future, or make it more difficult. Who knows, if it had been done properly in the past, perhaps we would now have a proper functioning steel and coal industry, as well as the other vital services like rail, electricity, gas and water.