Archive for the ‘Factories’ Category

Alexander Bogdanov, Soviet SF Writer and Originator of Fully Automated Luxury Communism

September 18, 2021

One of my friends gave me a copy of A.M. Gittlitz’s I Want to Believe: Posadism, UFOs and Apocalypse Communism, for which I’m really grateful. It’s fascinating! Posadism is a weird Trotskyite sect, founded by Posadas, the nom-de-guerre of Homero Cristalli, an Argentinian Marxist. They were hardline Marxists, joining other Communist and Trotskyite guerrillas fighting a war against capitalism and Fascist oppression across Latin America and Cuba. From what I remember from an article about them in the Fortean Times, they also looked forward to an apocalyptic nuclear war that would destroy the capitalist nations and allow the workers of the world to seize power. This is frightening, as any such war would have destroyed the planet or at least killed countless billions and sent the survivors hurtling back into the Stone Age. Unfortunately, it was also shared by Chairman Mao, who really couldn’t believe why Khrushchev hadn’t launched a nuclear attack on America during the Cuban missile crisis. Khrushchev was certainly no angel. During Stalin’s reign he was responsible for organising purges of dissidents in Ukraine and when in power led a brutal crackdown on religion that sent thousands of people of faith, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, shamanists to the gulags. He was also responsible for creating the system of curtained shops which served only members of the Communist party. But in refusing to start a nuclear war, Khrushchev helped save the world and showed himself a far better man than Mao.

But Posadas also had some other, rather more eccentric views. He believed in establishing contact with intelligent aliens and also believed dolphins were another intelligent species with whom we should establish real, meaningful contact and understanding. A college friend of mine told me that they wanted to make contact with aliens because of their belief in the inevitable victory of Marxism. If there were alien civilisations, they reasoned, they would have achieved true, Marxist socialism and could therefore help us do the same. It sound completely bonkers, but they took their views on dolphin intelligence from the scientist and psychologist John Lilley. Many others shared their views. I have a feeling that dolphins feature in several of Larry Niven’s novels as intelligent creatures with whom humans have a relationship as equal species. To help them interact with us, they have been given artificial arms and mobile pods containing the water they need to support them.

There was a brief resurgence of Posadism on the Net in 2016, and the book contains amongst its illustrations a number of memes posted by them. One contrasts the despair and defeatism of capitalism and the mainstream socialist parties with Posadism. It features a grey alien looking on accompanied with slogans like ‘Solidarity with the space comrades’ – not ‘space brothers’, note, like the old-fashioned UFO contactees talked about, but Marxist aliens determined to overthrow capitalism. Other slogans included ‘It’s Communism, Jim, but not a we know it’, clearly a parody of the famous line from Star Trek, ‘It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it’. And there’s also a parody of one of the famous sayings of the Space Prophet himself, Arthur C. Clarke. Clarke said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. The Posadist meme reworked this as ‘Dialectical Materialism so advanced as to be indistinguishable from magic.’ They are also in favour of fully automated luxury communism. This is the doctrine, embraced by Yannis Varoufakis amongst others, that mechanisation will make most workers redundant. To prevent the immense harm this will do, the only choice will be for the state to take over industry and run it so that everyone has free access to goods and services. This got reworked in one of the Posadist memes as ‘Fully automated luxury gay communism.’ I have to say this sounds distinctly unappealing. Not because I’m opposed to gay rights, but because it sounds like only gays will be allowed into the new utopia. I hope if it comes, it will benefit everyone, whatever their sexuality.

In fact the idea of fully automated luxury communism and alien contact goes back a long way in Marxist history. Alexander Bogdanov, an early rival to Marx, wrote an SF novel, Red Star. Inspired by Tsiolkovsky, the Russian rocket pioneer, and H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, this was about a revolutionary from the 1905 anti-Tsarist uprising, who is abducted to Mars. Martian society is advanced both technologically and socially. All the factories are automated, so that goods are plentiful and money is obsolete, as everyone has access to all the goods and services they need or want. As a result, Martians share their possessions. What work remains is entirely voluntary, but done idealistically for the good of society. This includes young Martians donating blood to increase the lives of the elderly. (see page 5 of the above book).

As the Bard says in The Tempest ‘Oh brave new world that hath such people in it!’

Posadas was an eccentric with some extremely dangerous views, but some of his ideas aren’t so daft. If mechanisation proceeds, then I feel that fully automated luxury communism, or something very like it, will have to come into existence. It’s the only humane alternative to the grind mass poverty and despair depicted in dystopian SF stories like 2000 AD’s ‘Judge Dredd’, where 95 per cent of the population of Megacity 1 is unemployed and films like Elysium, where the world’s masses live in shanty towns, workers are exploited and disposable, and the rich live in luxury orbital colonies.

And serious scientists are still looking for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence, following American astronomer Frank Drake and scientist and broadcaster Carl Sagan. Interestingly, the book states that Sagan, a Humanist and left-wing activist, denied being a Marxist. But he and his wife Anne Druyan smuggled copies of Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution, so that Soviet citizens could read its real, suppressed history. I think most SETI scientists believe that real aliens would probably be so different from us that their political and institutions may well be inapplicable to us. Nevertheless advocates of SETI believe that aliens may nevertheless be able to give us vital scientific information, including the cure of disease and how to extend our lifespan. It probably won’t be Marxism, but if the aliens do have something like it or Fascism, then these ideologies will become popular on Earth after contact.

Communist aliens sounds like a ridiculous idea, but until we make contact, we won’t know if there are or aren’t any.

As for the Martian society of Red Star, the absence of a money economy, the abolition of scarcity and work as a purely voluntary activity sound very much like the Federation in Star Trek. Thanks to contact with the Vulcans and other aliens, humans had overcome racism, poverty and starvation. People didn’t need to work, but they did so in order to better themselves. It should be said, though, that the series never openly advocated socialism. It simply said that ‘the economics of the future are different’ and implied that both capitalism and socialism had been transcended. Nevertheless, the parallels are so close that the far right, like Sargon of Gasbag and his fellow Lotus Eaters, have been moaning that Star Trek’s communist. I doubt it, not least because the actress who plays Seven Of Nine is married to a Republican politico. I think Star Trek is broadly liberal and presents an inspiring utopian society. One of the complaints about Star Trek: Picard is that it has now abandoned this utopian optimism in favour of portraying the Federation as a standard SF dystopia and that it’s liberal slant has become too shrill and intolerant at the expense of good stories, plots and characterisation. Utopias are unattainable, but we need them to inspire us, to show us that ‘another world is possible’ and that, in the words of The Style Council, ‘you don’t have to take this crap/ You don’t have to sit back and relax’. Or work yourselves to death to increase the profits of already bloated big business elites.

Apart from this, the book is also a fascinating look at the history of Marxism in Argentina and Latin America, and I intend to review on this blog when I finish it.

As for aliens, well, I’d rather we made contact with benign Space Comrades than the little Grey buggers that haunt our nightmares of UFOs, abductions and malign conspiracies at the moment.

And yes, the title very definitely is taken from the poster of a UFO hanging in Fox Mulder’s office in the X-Files.

Johnson Insults Low Paid Workers by Telling Them to Rise through their Own Efforts

August 29, 2021

This comment from the incompetent, libidinous, blustering, greedy clown infesting No. 10 clearly demonstrates the absolute contempt he and his fellow Tories really have for working people. Yesterday Mike put up a piece from a Mirror report, in which Johnson told low paid British workers claiming benefits to make ends meet that they will have to see their wages rise through their own efforts. This is his ‘strong preference’, which he thinks is shared by the vast majority of people in this country. He’s not going to pass legislation to raise wages and doesn’t want them to claim benefits, which is money raised through taxing other people. This is at a time when those on Universal Credit are facing a cut of £1,000 per year. Of course, this is rich coming from the man who got Tory donors to pay for his new wallpaper, a nanny and whined that he couldn’t live off his £150,000 a year salary, as the good peeps on Twitter, including Angela Rayner, reminded us all. And this grasping attitude is shared by his cabinet, as Daniela Nadj pointed out. Rishi Sunak is building a new swimming pool in his garden and Dominic Raab spends £40,000 on a holiday. But for the rest of us, there’s 2,000 food banks and hundreds of baby banks.

Well, this is a typical Tory attitude and it goes back centuries. Way back in the 19th century one of the leading politicians of the day – and it might have been a Liberal rather than a Tory – told a meeting at one of the northern industrial towns that the means of prospering was within their grasp. It’s the old nonsense that if you work hard and have talent, you’ll get on. If you don’t, it’s your own fault. This particular speech was made at time when industrial workers could have a working day going up to 18 hours in poorly ventilated, dangerous factories, and families could be crammed into overcrowded basements.

And when Cameron was in power he declared that he was going to make work pay, not by actually raising wages, but by cutting benefits. Because working people didn’t want to see the closed curtains of their unemployed neighbours. As for the comments about taxation, that sounds like a populist move, but it’s really about not taxing the rich fairly for their share, just like he doesn’t want to damage their profits by making them pay a real living wage.

This is all about protecting and enriching the bloated elite even further by playing on the petty jealous and resentment within certain sections of the working class. All the while supported by the underlying message that we somehow live in a fair society in which full of opportunities to get on. Which is why there are so many graduates now working in burger bars or signing on.

For further information, see:

Lobster Book Review on Corporate and Governmental Corruption in America

June 11, 2021

One of the fascinating book reviews Lobster has published recently is John Newsinger’s review of Sarah Chayes’ Everybody Knows: Corruption in America (London: Hurst 2020). Chayes worked for the western army of occupation in Afghanistan, during which time she came to realise that the American forces weren’t their to free the Afghans, secure democracy and defend women from a vicious and repressive theocracy. No, they were there to prop up Hamid Karzai’s massively corrupt government, whose members and clients were doing everything they could to screw whatever they could get out of Agha and Khanum Ordinary Afghan. This formed the subject of his first book, Thieves of State. In Everybody Knows, she turns to the subject of the massive corruption in America, most especially in Donald Trump’s administration.

The companies participating in this corporate looting of America and the rest of the world include the Koch companies, Goldman Sachs, one of whose former inmates is our own Rishi Sunak, the connections between Trump and Jeffrey Epstein, and the connections between the mercenary outfit Frontier Services Group and Cambridge Analytica. The politicos involved include Mitch McConnell and Steve Mnuchin. McConnell was active trying to hold up increased funding for health-care and pension funds for retired miners, many of whom were his own constituents. He also managed to redirect $4 million of a grant intended to pay for the clean-up of a heavily polluted industrial so that instead it helped to pay for a new, $200 million steel plant ready for its Russian owners, whom McConnell also helped get sanctions lifted on the Russian company, Rusal.

These networks don’t just infect the Republicans, as you’d expect. They’re also heavily interlinked with Democrat politicos and Clinton’s and Obama’s governments. One passage of the review which I found particularly interesting described Madeleine Albright’s corporate looting of Africa. She owns a company that specialises in buying up Third World debt and then forcing those nations to pay it. Of course it comes out their hard-pressed budgets for healthcare, clean drinking water and education. Her hedge fund, Albright Capital Management, bought out a company specialising in pop-up electricity plants in developing African nations. These benefit the countries’ kleptocratic leaders at the expense of local people, who remain ‘mired in pollution and conflict’. It was Madeleine Albright, if I remember correctly, who told American women that there was a special place in hell for them if they didn’t vote for Killary. I’d say there was a special place in hell reserved for someone who enriches herself and her already overprivileged friends and partners stealing badly needed money from the world’s very poorest.

How to tackle this corporate corruption and exploitation? Chayes and Newsinger make it clear that the corporate elites have been able to get away with this because of the massive transfer of wealth and power away from the working class. The book describes how the corruption of the American Gilded Age of the 19th century was successfully fought and broken by a militant and powerful working class. Newsinger’s review concludes

Chayes celebrates struggle through to the great class battles of the 1930s. She clearly recognises that the kleptocracy that is swallowing the world will only be beaten back if there is a shift in the balance of class forces; and will require, needs to be based on, struggle in the
workplace. What is needed, therefore, is the revival of a militant labour movement. And this is absolutely urgent because ‘the Midas disease’ threatens environmental catastrophe on an unprecedented scale. (pp. 283-284) She has come a long way since Afghanistan.

How this can be done with corporatist like Biden in charge of the Democrat party and the country, and the nullity Keir Starmer as head of the Labour party, remains a very good question. But this book review, and the light it sheds on the military-industrial complex in America and its looting of the Third World, is particularly relevant now that we have Biden and the other G7 leaders meeting in Cornwall.

If you want to read it, the reviews at: Everybody Knows (Book Review) (Summer 2021) (lobster-magazine.co.uk)

Time Team Creator Tim Taylor Attempting to Bring Back Show through Patreon on YouTube

December 14, 2020

Remember Time Team? That was the popular archaeology show on Channel 4 that ran from the late 1980s to the early part of this century. Presented by Tony Robinson, who played Baldrick in the Blackadder series, the show broadcast each week a short archaeological investigation of a different site. These investigations only lasted three days and attempted to solve a particular historical or archaeological. It would begin with the questions raised by the site they were excavating that week. Was it really the location for a Roman villa, lost Norman castle, or medieval manor house, for example? Robinson would lay out what has been found so far, stating what they hoped to find and saying a bit more about the excavation and who would be taking part, before finishing, ‘And, as usual, we’ve got three days to find out’.

It was immensely popular, at least for Channel 4 shows and archaeology programmes. It spawned a number of tie-in book and publications. Some of the programmes were written up as pamphlets in a series of Time Team Site Reports. In the spring/summer of 2004 or 5 the show also embarked on their Big Dig. This was a piece of mass archaeology involving the general public. The goal was to get the British public digging test pits up and down the country in their back gardens or other premises, and see what they found. And the British public joined in with enthusiasm. Some of the excavations were carried out, not just by the fit and able, but also by people with learning difficulties and/or physical disabilities. It was part of the show’s ethos to get everyone involved. They were also keen to demonstrate that archaeology wasn’t just about the rich, kings, princes and the nobility, but also about ordinary people. Hence there were a number of shows devoted to excavating industrial sites, such as a very early, pioneering factory in Birmingham dating from the industrial revolution. This was important not just for its role in the country’s industrialisation, but as a place where ordinary peeps worked. The Team also excavated further abroad. In one edition, they went to St. Kitt’s to dig on a former sugar plantation. This dated from the period of British transatlantic slavery. The show therefore discussed Caribbean plantation slavery and its horrors, and also excavated the site of the quarters of the estate’s enslaved workers. In another edition, Robinson also described the horrendous living condition of the urban working class in the 19th century, as recorded by the inspectors. This described people living in cellars mouldy with damp and with rags stuffed into the cracks in windows. One of these hovels also had a dead baby on the floor. He also described how factory owners would also purchase children from the workhouses to labour in the factories. Robinson’s a member of the Labour Party, and there was real anger in his voice when describing these horrors.

Time Team sort of fizzled out a few years after the death of one of its founders, Dr. Mick Aston, and a row over choice of presenters. One of the Team had been dropped, and replaced by a model. The new presenter had actually done a degree in archaeology, but this caused a nasty background argument. I believe the lady at the centre of row chivalrously offered to step down.

Now it seems the show might be coming back, though on YouTube rather than television. Tim Taylor, the show’s creator, posted a video on YouTube on the 11th December 2020 giving an update on how the attempts were progressing so far, and what remained to be done. The show’s being financed through subscriptions on Patreon, and the video’s partly an appeal for more people to join. The show also has its own Patreon Channel, on which videos will appear over the next few days of Helen Geake, Carenza Lewis and Phil Harding discussing the plans for Stage 1. They’ve started looking at sites and contacting key team members. Stages 2 & 3 will involve more research, site mapping on their new digital database, collecting key paperwork for each site, assembling potential experts, talking to local communities, and then creating a PD – Project Design, the archaeological strategy. They will also be auditioning new field archaeologists for Stage 3, with the possibility of a ‘dig off’. That will be when they really build the Team. They managed to get 1,000 patrons in 3 days, but in order to get Stages 2 & 3 underway they need to have 3,000 patrons by the end of January 2021. When 2 & 3 are complete, they’ll share the list of sites, so that people can choose which sites go forward to stage 4, where they visit those locations. Taylor states that the show depends on people supporting them on Patreon and appeals for more people to become members and patrons. He tells the viewers that they’re posting an old Time Team episode on their Time Team Classic YouTube channel on Sunday – yesterday, 13th December 2020. The show ends with a message of support from Robinson.

Time Team ANNOUNCEMENT Next steps and news from Tony Robinson! – YouTube

This is really interesting, and I’d like to see the show come back, but have mixed feelings about it. While the programme has been immensely influential and has doubtless got people interested in archaeology, it has not been without its detractors. The criticisms I’ve heard are that the Team never wrote up their findings and didn’t fill in the sites after they’d finished. This is only what I’ve heard, and so I couldn’t swear it was true, though I did hear about them not filling in their digs from two different sources. This has led to accusations that they have been trashing sites. That said, the Team were professional archaeologists with the exception of Tony Robinson, and some of the TV presenters brought in for the specials, such as Sandi Toksvig when they were digging up Viking York. She was obviously chosen because she’s Danish. They also had the support of some very senior British archaeologists, such as Francis Pyor, who was the head of one of one of the major British archaeological societies. Mick Aston, a founding member of the Team, was a lecturer at Bristol University, as was Dr. Mark Horton, who appeared on several of the shows before going off to front Coast. Raksha Dave, another member of the Team, has also subsequently appeared on various history/ archaeology shows. Although nothing is said about her ethnicity, Dave’s Asian, and I think her presence on the programmes wasn’t just due to her skills as an archaeologist, but also to try and widen the discipline’s appeal and include people from ethnic minorities. Like very many other academic subjects, there’s a concern in archaeology to recruit more people of colour. Mark Horton is particularly keen to see more people in general take up archaeology. When Bristol University launched its exhibition on the city’s involvement in the Slave Trade, ‘A Respectable Trade’, back in the ’90s the Uni also launched a scheme to interest young people, in which a prospective future archaeologist would be sent to work on an excavation in the Caribbean. Again, nothing was said, but it’s the kind of project, which I think they devised in the hope that it would appeal particularly to Black youngsters.

It’ll be very interesting to see if Taylor’s successful, and show comes back, if only YouTube. And there’s clearly a space there for more people from ethnic minorities to enter the subject and, perhaps, join the show as presenters.

Hopefully, if it does get off the ground, it will inspire more people, of all colours, to get involved in archaeology. The future’s yours, folks! Get those trowels ready!

Lenin’s Decree on Workers’ Control in the Russian Revolution

September 23, 2020

Robert V. Daniels’ A Documentary History of Communism in Russia from Lenin to Gorbachev (Burlington, Vermont: University of Vermont Press 1993) also contains the text of Lenin’s decree establishing workers’ control in businesses throughout the Russian empire. This ran

  1. In the interests of a systematic regulation of national economy, Worker’s Control is introduced in all industrial, commercial, agricultural (and similar) enterprises which are hiring people to work for them in their shops or which are giving them work to take home. This control is to extend over the production, storing, buying and selling of raw materials and finished products as well as over the finances of any enterprises.
  2. The workers will exercise this control through their elected organisations such as factory and shop committees, soviets of elders, etc. The office employees and the technical personnel are also to have representation in these committees.
  3. Every large city, province and industrial area is to have its own Soviet of Workers’ Control, which, being an organ of the S(oviet) of W(orkers’), S(oldiers’)and P(easants’) D(eputies), must be composed of representatives of trade unions, factory, shop and other workers’ committees and workers’ cooperatives.
  4. ….
  5. The organs of Workers’ Control have the right to supervise production fix the minimum of output, and determine the cost of production.
  6. The organs of Workers’ Control have the right to control all the business correspondence of an enterprise. Owners of enterprises are legally responsible for all correspondence kept secret. Commercial secrets are abolished. the owners have to show to the organs of Workers’ Control all their books and statements for the current year and for the past years.
  7. The rulings of the organs of Workers’ Control are binding on the owners of enterprises and can be annulled only by decisions of the higher organs of Workers’ Control. (pp. 69-70).

Daniels’ explains that this idea had the support of most of the Russian workers at the time, some of whom were already putting it into practise by force. Sergei Eisenstein shows workers taking over the factories and throwing the bosses out the gates in wheelbarrows in his classic piece of Communist propaganda, October. Lenin initially supported, but later overturned it and restored the authority of the factory management despite Bolshevik opposition. The reason for it is that it simply didn’t work. Lenin genuinely believed that poorly educated workers would have no trouble running a business, but commonsense simply tells you it isn’t true.

However, workers’ control is an inspiring idea. It continued in Yugoslavia as part of their self-management system, and there are ways in which it certainly could be made to work. One obvious way is to train the worker managers up to a level where they can make informed decisions before they start. Another is through the unions providing them with expert advisers on their behalf. These are just ideas off the top of my head. I’m sure that the people who have really tried it in practice through running cooperatives and have served as trade union officials and shop stewards in negotiations with management have better from their own experience.

We desperately need an element of workers’ control and industrial democracy, if not a full-blown representative chamber for working people in parliament. Working people have seen their rights at worker devastated through forty years of Thatcherism. One of the reasons the Tories have been able to enforce their wages freezes, introduce job precarity, zero hours contracts and the gig economy is that they’ve also destroyed the unions through grossly restrictive legislation. And they’re set to make it worse after Brexit, when they will get rid of all the minimum rights workers’ have under the EU’s Social Charter. Which they’ve been wanting to do for nearly forty years, again since Thatcher.

You don’t have to be as radical as Lenin and the Bolsheviks. But we do need a return of strong trade unions, workers’ representation in the boardroom and a Labour Party that actually stands up for working people.

A British Utopia: The Webbs’ Constitution for a Socialist Britain

September 5, 2020

Okay, I’ve finally finished reading Sidney and Beatrice Webb’s A Constitution for the Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain, first published in 1920 and then again in 1975 by the LSE and Cambridge University Press. It’s very dated and clearly shows how very different things were when it was written and today.

The Advance of Socialism

Firstly, it’s an optimistic book. Democracy had finally arrived in Britain and the mobilisation and state industrial planning introduced during the First World War seemed to the Webbs to show very clearly that capitalism was in retreat. One of their earlier books, cited in this text, was on the decay of capitalism. The vast increase in efficiency and the production and distribution of goods through the state management of the economy in the War years also seemed to them to provide a further demonstration that capitalist was a wasteful, inefficient system that was destined to be superseded by socialism. The industries and businesses taken into state, municipal or cooperative ownership would be able to produce goods more cheaply and affordably than capitalism with its class system and exploitation. The Webbs were not just impressed with the arguments for state ownership, but the way local authorities up and down Britain were also operating and managing local services, including medical care, electricity and gas companies. Another powerful motor driving the march of socialism and its transform of Britain was the cooperative movement and the trade unions. Millions of Brits belonged to their local coop store. The businesses handled millions of pounds, owning subsidiary companies and trading with other, similar businesses right across the globe. At the same time, the trade unions were resisting capitalism and, with the entry of working men into parliament, providing proof that the working class could manage industry and govern.

The Problems of the Cooperative Movement and Workers’ Control

There were problems with both of these latter movements, however. The coop’s managers and directors were unimaginative in the development of new goods and services, and as exploitative as capitalist business when it came to the treatment of their employees. The trade unions were divided with a hodge-podge of very different and often contradictory constitutions and frequently in conflict with each other and their leaders. Some times this conflict was physical, as when one group of trade unionists broke into their headquarters and physically removed their leaders from power. At the same time, against the syndicalists and Guild Socialists, the Webbs argued that the management of industry solely by the workers was always unsuccessful. When it had been tried, it had shown that the workers always managed their firms for themselves, so that they either became uncompetitive with conventional capitalist firms, and ignored the demands and requirements of the wider community.

Criticisms of Parliamentary System

At the same time, the traditional British parliamentary system was also inadequate to deal with the increase in political business created by the nascent welfare state and emergent state sector. The Webbs took seriously contemporary Conservative criticism about the decay of parliament. Their solution was to recommend the creation of two different, separate assemblies. One would be a political parliament, that would follow the traditional 19th century view of what constituted politics. This would deal with criminal law, defence, foreign relations and the Empire. The second would be a social parliament, that would manage the economy, industry and social and cultural matters, including education. The members of both parliaments would be elected, but, in contrast to the arguments of the syndicalists, this would be by geographical constituency, not by trade. The conventional system of government by cabinet ministers was also unsuitable and incapable of dealing with the demands of the new political and economic realities. Thus the Webbs instead recommended that the parliaments should operate under the system of committees used by local authorities.

Local Government

The book also shows the state of local government at the time it was written in its recommendations for that sector’s reform. This was a time when the functions of what would later become local councils was split between a number of different boards. There was one for the poor law, another for sanitation, and others for education, medical care and so on, each of whose members were separately elected. At the same time, local councillors themselves were unpaid volunteers, which meant that it was dominated by landlords and businessmen, who governed in their own interests. The Webbs therefore demanded what is now the obvious, established practice: the creation of local authorities which would absorb and carry out the functions of the various boards, whose elected councillors would be paid. At the same time, the local ward would be the basis building block of local democracy, and the local authorities would be free to unite in larger, composite organisations where this was suitable, even to the point where they could compete in the management of industry with the social parliament.

Nationalisation, State Control and Personal Freedom

The Webbs believed that nationalisation would actually involve very few industries. Only those that affected the nation as a whole, such as the mines, the railways and natural resources, that would need to be carefully protected and managed for the future, would be taken into state ownership. These would in practice be managed by individual industrial boards and organisations, not by the social parliament itself. This would confine itself to supervision and matters of general investigation and legislation. That was partly so that, if there was an industrial dispute, it would not be seen as an attack on the state requiring the intervention of the armed forces. At the same time the Webbs were keen to stress that the new system should take every step to preserve individual liberty. Legislation should be scrutinised to ensure that it did not take away personal freedom, and no-one should be compelled to use a socialised firm if they preferred a capitalist alternative. Local authorities would also set up a range of businesses and services for the benefit of their communities. Yet others would be owned and operated as cooperatives, including the press. This would solve the problem of its use to spread capitalist propaganda. While firms would continue to be managed by a salaried, professional staff, their boards would also include the representatives of the workers.

Active Public Involvement in Industry

At the same time, the Webbs were also keen to include the British public in the management of industry and conduct of politics. Consumers’ groups were to be encouraged and their suggestions for improved conduct and services should be taken seriously. In contrast with capitalism, where firms kept their operations very secret, the British public would have access to all the facts and figures about the management and conduct of industry and economy presented in government publications and reports from their own MPs and councillors. They were to be encouraged to take an active interest in government and the economy, and be ready to make their own criticisms and recommendations. At the same time professional and trade associations like the British Medical Association, law society and scientific and engineering associations, including the trade unions, would also be encouraged to develop high standards of morality and professionalism with their occupations.

Protection of Indigenous Peoples

They also recognised that there would be ethical problems with a socialist Britain trading with other countries, who remained capitalist, and with less developed countries. They therefore looked to the new League of Nations and other institutions as new guardians of a new international morality, who would protect the indigenous peoples of the world from capitalist exploitation.

Socialism Cutting Down on Capitalist Bureaucracy

They also take care to refute two particular objections to socialism. One is that it would be too bureaucratic. Instead, they argue that uniting different firms into a single industrial organisation, as would be done for the mines and railways, for example, would actually reduce bureaucracy. At the time they were writing these industries were split between a number of different companies all with their own separate management boards.

Socialism Means Expanding Private Property

The second is that socialists are totally opposed to private property. This is not so, declare the Webbs. They are not opposed to private property, and active want its expansion. What they are opposed to is the private ownership of industry. But they want people to have their own homes and gardens, and for an expansion of personal property as ordinary people are able to afford a wider range of goods and possessions which at present are only confined to the wealthy.

The Individual Professional in a Socialist Economy

The Webbs also believe that there will be a place in the socialist economy for some capitalist, private industry. This particularly includes individual professionals, who provide their professional expertise for a fee. They also look forward to an expansion of education. They believe that socialism will lead to rapid improvements in technology and industrial management, which will mean that some workers will become unemployed. Those workers will be retrained and taught new skills. Those unable to master these will not be allowed to starve, but will instead be given good pensions on which to live.

The Webbs’ Vision and Contemporary Reality

The Webbs’ vision is obviously more than a little Utopian. They have been proven right in their recommendations for the reform of local government, some of which they were actually responsible for. At the same time, they’ve been proven right in the expansion of education. At the time they were writing, most working people left school around age 12. Now the government wishes half of all school leavers to go on to university, which in their case means they complete their education at 21.

On the other hand, the cooperative movement has failed to transform British society and is now effectively just another retail chain. Parliament has also shown itself competent to deal with both the increased business and areas of government, like industry and the economy so that there is no need for a separate, social parliament. It’s just that it’s been a disaster that the country is governed by doctrinaire Tories, who have wrecked the economy, society and manufacturing industry, not to mention health and education, in favour of the free market. But there are still strong arguments for nationalisation and for the inclusion of the workers themselves in the management of their firms. As for the British Empire, it’s now long gone and has been transformed into the Commonwealth. However the neocolonial system of tariffs imposed by the developed world prevent their former colonies in Africa from developing their own manufacturing industries and have imposed a new system of capitalist exploitation.

Capitalism Creating Misery and Poverty

But conditions in the early 21st century also show that, if the socialist utopia hasn’t materialised, capitalism hasn’t fulfilled its promise either. The free market economy zealously promoted by Thatcher and Reagan is very definitely and obviously not bringing prosperity. Rather it is a just returning us to the poverty and misery of the 19th century, coupled with the threat of global climate change and the ecological crisis. The problems that the Webbs and other socialists believed could only be solved through socialism.

Conclusion

Socialism probably doesn’t have all the solutions. But it still has many of them. Even though it’s very dated, this book is still worth reading. At its heart is a vision of socialism which would lead to greater prosperity and for working people to be able to develop and improve themselves. At the same time, individual freedom and the rights of the individual would be secured. A state bureaucracy would govern the nationalised industries, that of the local authorities those under their control. But there would be a range of companies and industries created and managed through ordinary people themselves through cooperatives they would be encouraged to found. Instead of entrepreneurs being limited to a small class of individuals, the public as a whole would become business owners and managers, actively interested in their companies and enterprises. This would be too much for many. It’s arguable that most people in this country have little interest in politics or industry and are content to leave it to others. Hence the persistence of capitalism and the electoral success of the Tories.

The Webbs’ constitution is an attempt to provide an alternative system to capitalism and its failures. It’s dated, but still inspiring. And real socialist solutions are as necessary now as they were when it was written. I hope that more people discover it, as I have, and that it also inspires them.

‘Dumb Britain’ Answer from 2006 Reveals Who’s Really Running the Tories

July 21, 2020

As I’m sure many of my readers know, Private Eye has been running a column for donkey’s years now called ‘Dumb Britain’. This is a collection of daft answers contestants have given to questions on quiz shows. And the edition for the 20th January – 2nd February provided this highly entertaining and very enlightening answer to Richard Allinson’s question about an ambitious journo turned Tory politico. Allinson was standing in for Steve Wright, then the host of Steve Wright’s Big Quiz on Radio 2. The question was

‘Name the eccentric politician who has resigned as editor of the Spectator to concentrate on his political career with the Tories?’

As any fule kno, this is the wretched Boris Alexander DePfeffel Johnson. But the contestant replied, ‘Boris Yeltsin’.

Yeltsin was the drunken, corrupt Russian president, whose wholesale privatisation of the Russian economy caused its economy to meltdown. At one sewing machine factory they were even paying their workers in their products, thanks to Yeltsin’s catastrophic mismanagement. Putin’s continued tenure of the Russian presidency, equally corrupt and much more thuggish, is owed to a great extent on the old arkhiplut managing to get the economy back on its feet and to give the Russians some pride back in their country.

But it also strangely relevant today, after the publication of the report into Russian political meddling. You know, the one Bozo sat on for as long as he could, because it reveals colossal interference in which the Tories culpably looked the other way or were actively involved. With all this going on, it may as well as have been Yeltsin.

Or more correctly, Putin.

One Positive Feature of Black Lives Matter: It Doesn’t Include the Nation of Islam

July 21, 2020

Unlike Mike, I have grave reservations about the Black Lives Matter movement. It has excellent intentions, but I feel it is unintentionally divisive and open itself to criticism for its simplistic view of racial hatred. But flicking through some of the old newspaper cuttings I kept in my scrapbook, I really that it has made one positive step over the mass anti-racism protests following the murder of Stephen Lawrence over twenty years ago. No idiot has invited the National of Islam over here.

Stephen Lawrence, as older readers of this blog will remember, was a Black teenager murdered in a racist attack by a White gang. It became a national scandal due to the Met police’s complete lack of interest in prosecuting the crims responsible, who were all the sons of leading London gangsters. It was incompetence on a massive scale, with elements of corruption and showed the institutional racism in the capital’s police force. It resulted in mass anti-racism demonstrations across Britain.

And joining these demos were the racist extremists. Lawrence’s parents made appeals for their son’s death not to be exploited. The BNP were threatening to turn up at some these. They had been active spreading lies about the late teenager, falsely claiming that he had been a gang member, who terrorised his schoolmates in order to shake them down for their dinner and other money. And from the other side, ‘African radical’ Bernie Grant, the head of Brent council, took it upon himself to invite into the country the Rev. Louis Farrakhan and his legions from the Nation of Islam.

The Nation of Islam has precious little to do with genuine Islam, whether Sunni or Shi’a. It’s a weird mixture of Sudanese Sufism, Black Freemasonry, and UFO space brothers contact ufology. It’s based around the worship of W.D. Fard, a Syrian immigrant to the US, who on his immigration papers was listed as ‘White’. It was while he working in a car factory that Fard was worshipped as another incarnation of the Almighty. This is incredibly heretical to orthodox Muslims. While Mohammed described Christ as ‘the purest of the Prophets’, conceived through divine action in the Virgin Mary, and that God poured out his spirit upon Him when He was a child in the cradle, they differ from Christians in that they strongly reject the doctrine of the Incarnation. The Nation of Islam naturally believe that Christ was also Black, a belief not confined to them, of course.

But there’s a large SF element to the religion as well. They also belief that Black people are the original human race, and arrived here millions of years ago from the Moon. They are superior to everyone else biologically, intellectually and spiritually. Eons ago they created a super-scientific civilisation. White people are albinistic mutants created by the evil Mekkan scientist Shaitan to destroy Blacks and their achievements. You won’t be surprised to hear that they’re also viciously anti-Semitic, wrongly blaming Jews for slavery. Farrakhan himself believed that he was taken aboard a UFO while meditating on the top of a Mexican mountain. He was transported to a giant Mother Wheel orbiting the Earth, which they conveyed him to Venus, where Fard and Jesus now reside, directing the war against Whites. Although their manifesto states that they believe in the dignity of all races and their right to self-determination, the National of Islam was are racial separatists. They demand that Blacks be given a separate country of their own, comprised of four states taken from the southern USA.

The Nation of Islam is also very strongly opposed to the welfare state, which they believe takes away Black people’s self-reliance. This alone should have had Grant thrown out of the Labour party, as it’s clearly incompatible with the core Labour doctrines of supporting the welfare state. And their separatism should have been incompatible with Labour’s ideas of anti-racism. Grant defended his invitation by saying that he had his views, and Farrakhan had his, and they didn’t always agree, but he regarded Farrakhan as ‘an elder statesman’. Well, he was, but chiefly in spreading more racist friction and especially anti-Semitism. He was a political liability, and effectively killed Jesse Jackson’s campaign to become America’s first Black president 15 years before Obama when Jackson started cosying up to him. Al sharpton was also trying to get into Britain at the same time. He’s still around, and seems to have quietened down somewhat with age. But in the ’80s and ’90s one of his tactics was to try to call attention to the terrible living conditions for Blacks in America by leading marches through White areas with highly racially charged chants. He claimed that by referring to them as his ‘troops’ he was only being metaphorical. May be so, but many feared that they would turn violent and they were deliberately provocative.

Farrakhan’s proposed visit to Blighty was opposed by a number of organisations, including Jewish groups, who had every right to be concerned. Racial extremists like him should never have been invited in the first place. The Black Lives Matter protests, although not without faults – there have been violent confrontations with the police – are mostly peaceful multiracial, including Whites and Asians as well as Blacks. They have been at pains to point out that they aren’t against Whites or trying to start a race war, just against anti-Black racism.

And in that they’re a definite improvement over the Stephen Lawrence protests and the way that Bernie Grant and the National of Islam tried to exploit them.

 

Tony Benn on Overseas Investment at the Expense of Britain’s Workers

May 17, 2020

A few days ago I posted up a piece about Shaw’s critique of British imperialism. As I said in the earlier piece, Shaw wasn’t against imperialism in itself, if it had been genuinely for the benefit of the conquered peoples. But it wasn’t. It was really to exploit them, as a cheap workforce unprotected by the Factory Acts in Britain which protected domestic workers. The result was the exploitation of non-Whites abroad, while British manufacturers were ruined by the import of the cheap goods they produced, and British workers made unemployed.

This situation still remains, thanks to globalisation and the rise of the multinationals even though the British empire is no more. Tony Benn was a staunch opponent of the multinationals and the same abuses of overseas investment. In a 1985 speech in parliament on unemployment, Benn said

We would have to stop the export of capital. Since the government came to power, for every family of four, £4,300 has left Britain. The Chancellor of the Exchequer says that we must tighten our belts because that is the way to solve the problem. But if a worker tightens his belt, the employer sends the money to South Africa, where the wages are lower still, because Botha’s police will not allow the unions to organise. The export of capital could not continue if we wished to solve the unemployment problem.

Ruth Winstone, ed., The Best of Benn: Speeches, Diaries, Letter and Other Writings (London: Hutchinson 2014) p. 166.

That’s still very pertinent today, when Tory donor James Dyson has moved his plants to the Far East and Jacob Rees-Mogg has investments all over the world, including in a condom factory in Indonesia.

Tony Benn – the greatest Prime Minister this country never had.

Shaw’s Classic Defence of Socialism for Women Part Two

May 16, 2020

George Bernard Shaw, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism, foreword by Polly Toynbee (London: Alma Classics 2012).

Trade Unions

He discusses the unions, which he describes as ‘proletarian capitalists’. They are there to protect the workers, who have to sell their labour just as the businessman has to sell the product they create. Unions are there to ensure the workers are able to charge the highest price they can for their labour. He also discusses strikes and lockouts, including the violence of some industrial disputes. Scabs need police protection against being beaten, and angry workers will tamper with the equipment so that anyone using it will be injured. They will also place fulminate of mercury in chimneys to cause an explosion if someone starts up the furnaces.

Party Politics and Socialism

Shaw describes the class conflict between the Tories, representing the aristocracy, and the Liberals, who represented the industrial middle classes. These competed for working class votes by extending the franchise and passing legislation like the Factory Acts to improve working conditions. However, each was as bad the other. The aristocracy kept their workers in poverty in the countryside, while the middle classes exploited them in the factories. The laws they passed for the working poor were partly designed to attack their opponents of the opposite class.

He goes on to give a brief history of British socialism, beginning with Marx, William Morris’ Socialist League, and Hyndeman’s Social Democratic Federation. These were small, middle class groups, disconnected from the British working class through their opposition to trade unions and the cooperatives. It was only when British socialism combined with them under Keir Hardie and the Independent Labour Party that socialism became a real force in working class politics. The Fabian Society has been an important part of this, and has made socialism respectable so that the genteel middle classes may join it as Conservatives join their Constitutional Club.

Shaw believed that socialism would advance, simply because of the numerical supremacy of the working classes, and that soon parliament would be full of Labour MPs. However, he also recognised that many members of the proletariat were anti-Socialist. This is because they depended for their livelihood on the businesses serving the idle rich. He called this section of the working class the ‘parasitic proletariat’. The working class is also distracted away from socialism through lotteries and so on.

Democratic, Parliamentary Socialism and Nationalisation

Shaw argues strongly that socialism could only be established through democratic, parliamentary action. General strikes wouldn’t work, as the employers would simply starve the workers out. The strikes intended to stop the outbreak of the First World War had failed the moment the first bomb dropped killing babies. Violent revolutions were purely destructive. Apart from the human lives lost, they destroyed the country’s vital industrial and economic structure. Socialism needed to build on this, not destroy it. Similarly, confiscating the capitalists’ wealth, either directly through nationalisation without compensation, or by taxing capital, was also counterproductive. The capitalists would simply sell their shares or unwillingly surrender them. The result would be bankruptcy and mass unemployment. This would result in further working class unrest, which would end in a counterrevolution.

The only way socialism could proceed would be by long preparation. You should only nationalise an industry once there was a suitable government department to run it. Compensation should be given to the former proprietors. This did not mean robbing the workers to pay their former exploiters, as the money would come from taxing the upper classes so that the class as a whole would be slightly worse off than before, even though the former owners were slightly better off.  You can see here and in Shaw’s warning of the ineffectiveness of general strikes the bitterness that still lingered amongst the working class after the failure of the General Strike of the 1920s.

Nationalisation could also only be done through parliament. There were, however, problems with parliamentary party politics. If the socialist party grew too big, it would split into competing factions divided on other issues, whose squabbles would defeat the overall purpose. Party politics were also a hindrance, in that it meant that one party would always oppose the policies of the other, even though they secretly supported them, because that was how the system worked. We’ve seen it in our day when the Tories before the 2010 election made a great show of opposing Blair’s hospital closures, but when in power did exactly the same and worse. Shaw recommends instead that the political process should follow that of the municipalities, where party divisions were still high, but where the process of legislation was done through committees and so on parties were better able to cooperate.

Limited Role for Capitalism

Shaw also argued against total nationalisation. He begins the book by stating that socialists don’t want to nationalise personal wealth. They weren’t going to seize women’s jewels, nor prevent a woman making extra cash for herself by singing in public or raising prize chrysanthemums, although it might in time be considered bad form to do so. Only big, routine businesses would be nationalised. Small businesses would be encouraged, as would innovatory private companies, though once they became routine they too would eventually be taken over by the state.

It’s a great argument for a pluralistic mixed economy, of the type that produced solid economic growth and working class prosperity after World War II, right up to 1979 and Thatcher’s victory.