Archive for the ‘Socialism’ Category

Online Arise Event Tonight Asks If Marx Was Right

January 23, 2023

Just had this email notification come through from the Arise Festival of Left Wing Ideas.

1) ONLINE FORUM: The economic crisis – was Marx right?

TONIGHT. Monday January 23, 2023. Register here // share & invite here // retweet here to spread the word

Here in Britain and around the world the economic crisis is deepening. Join economist Michael Roberts for debate and discussion – was Nye Bevan right, wrong, or both when he said “Marxism put into the hands of the working class movement… the most complete blueprints for political action the world has ever seen?”

Labour Outlook forum as part of the Socialist Ideas series – kindly streamed by Arise – A Festival of Left Ideas.

I’m not going to attend it, but I thought I’d put it up here for anyone who was interested.

Gracchus Babeuf and the Calls for a Welfare State in 18th Century France

January 21, 2023

Gracchus Babeuf was a French revolutionary, who tried to overthrow the Directory and establish a communist state during the French Revolution as the leader of the ‘Conspiracy of Equals’. He’s one of the founders of the European socialist and communist traditions. I’ve been reading Ian Birchall’s book on him and his legacy, The Spectre of Babeuf (Haymarket Books 2016), and it’s fascinating. Birchall discusses the influences on Babeuf, which included Morelly, the author of the Code de la Nature, which also advocated a communist system with a centrally planned economy, Nicolas Collignon, who wrote an 8 page pamphlet demanding the same, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In Collignon’s ideal state, the citizens were to be provided with free food and clothing, high quality housing, schools and healthcare. Like the Tories, he also believed in competition, so doctors would be graded according to their performance. Those that cured the most would be consequently paid more and get promotion, while those who cured the least would be struck off. Even before he devised his own communist plans, he was already discussing the need for collective farms. What he meant by this is not collective farms in the soviet sense, but farms run cooperatively by their workers rather than a single farmer with employees. And he was also in favour of creating a welfare state. In a book he authored on correct taxation, he wrote

‘That a national fund for the subsistence of the poor should be established. That doctors, apothecaries and surgeons should be psif wages out of public funds so that they can administer assistance free of charge. That a system of national education be established out of which all citizens may take advantage. That magistrates be also paid wages out of public revenue, so that justice can be done free of charge.’ (p. 29).

Birchall also attacks the view promoted by Talmon in his The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy that Babeuf was an authoritarian who prefigured soviet tyranny. Talmon was an Israeli Conservative writing at the beginning of the Cold War. But Babeuf himself, although a revolutionary, was also keen to preserve and expand democracy. One of his suggestions was that there should be a set of elected officials charged with making sure that delegates to the national assembly were representing their constituents properly. If they weren’t, the people had the right to recall them.

Regarding industrial organisation, he believed that the citizens in each commune should be divided into classes, each class representing a different trade. The members of these classes would appoint governors, who would set the work and carry out the instructions of the municipal government. It’s very much a command economy, and utopian in that money would be abolished.

I can’t say I find Babeuf’s full-blown communist ideas attractive, for the reason I believe in a mixed a economy and the right of people to do what they wish outside of interference from either the authorities or other people. And I really don’t see how such a state could last long without a money economy. Some Russians looked forward to the establishment of such an economy at the beginning of the Russian Revolution when the economy began to break down and trading went back to barter in some areas until the Bolsheviks restored the economy. And there is clearly conflict between violent revolution and democracy. But I respect his calls for a welfare state. He was also an advocate of equality for women and an opponent of imperialism, which he felt corrupted extra-European peoples with European vices. This view is clearly based on the 17th century ideas of the Noble Savage, in which primitive peoples are seen as better and more morally advanced than civilised westerners.

Demands for a welfare state are as old as socialism itself. We cannot allow the British welfare state and NHS to be destroyed by the Tories and Blairite Labour under Starmer.

We Own It Appealing for People to Attend Planned Protest Against NHS Privatisation

January 20, 2023

I’ve also had this email from the pro-NHS, pro-nationalisation organisation, We Own It about a planned demonstration they’re holding against the privatisation of the NHS in February. They’re appealing for people to go to it. I can’t, due to expense and illness, but I’m putting it up here in case there are people interested in it, who may be able to attend.

‘Dear David,

BREAKING: private health companies donated £800,000 to the Conservative Party over the last decade. Now we know why the government is doing nothing about NHS privatisation!

A recent Oxford study linked NHS privatisation to the preventable deaths of 557 people.

It is time to make the government feel the power of organised people over organised money.

Can you sign up to become one of 557 people in Parliament Square from 2 – 4pm on Saturday, 25th February demanding an end to NHS privatisation?

So far, 541 people have signed up. We need 89 people to reach our final goal of 630 (that is, 557 people representing the victims of NHS privatisation, 43 people to help carry signs and banners and 30 stewards to help manage the event).

Sign up to become one of the remaining 89 people on Saturday 25th February in Parliament Square

You are involved in our NHS campaign because you believe that our NHS should work for people, not the greedy private companies that donate to the government.

Unite the Union, Just Treatment, Doctors for the NHS and Socialist Health Association fully agree with you. That is why they are now supporting our action.

It is time we make the government feel the power of organised people over organised money.

We want to bring together 557 people representing the 557 people whose deaths are linked to NHS privatisation to put on a powerful display that can get into the papers.

More press coverage means more pressure on the government. The more of us there are at the action, the more likely the action is to get press coverage.

We need 89 more people to reach our goal. Can you sign up now to join us?

Sign up to take action from 2 – 4pm on Saturday 25th Feb in Parliament Square

Because of the incredible efforts of our NHS nurses and ambulance workers who are fighting to save our NHS, the government is already feeling pressure.

With the recent study that links NHS privatisation to 557 preventable deaths, there is no better time than now to pile onto that pressure they are feeling.

The government already knows that over 75% of the public, according to our last poll, want to end NHS privatisation. But they don’t feel that people will fight to see that happen.

You can show them from 2 – 4pm on Saturday 25th February in Parliament Square that you will.

The more people join this action, the more powerful it will be. The more powerful it is, the more likely it is to receive coverage from the press.

This coverage will pile on the pressure on the government and start forcing them to take action.

I will stand up and fight to force an end to NHS privatisation

We need 557 people to represent the 557 people whose deaths are linked to NHS privatisation, according to a recent Oxford study.

But we need even more people to make sure the action is big and effective. So after signing up, please send the link to your friends and family, especially those who live in London and ask them to sign up too.

Thank you so much for always standing up against NHS privatisation.

Cat, Johnbosco, Matthew, Kate – the We Own It team

PS: 30 years ago today the British Coal and British Rail (Transfer Proposals) Act 1993 was passed, paving the way for privatisation of our railway. We’ve put together a list of 30 top failures of rail privatisation from the last 30 years. Take a read and share with friends and family.’

The Ideas of 19th Century French Socialist Louis Blanc

January 17, 2023

Plamenatz’s book, Man & Society: From Montesquieu to the Early Socialists, also contains a paragraph on the ideas of Louis Blanc. Blanc was a French socialist best known for creating the National Workshops established by the French government during the 1848 revolution. These were intended to be cooperatives set up by the government to provide work for the employed. They would use part of their profits in buying up other workshops and so expanding this socialised sector of the economy. In practice the scheme was handed over to civil servants, who were resolutely opposed to them. The result was that the work offered by them was mostly in menial tasks like digging ditches. They were not very popular and rapidly closed down. However, there was more to Blanc’s socialism than the Workshops, and his views are very similar to those of 20th century social democrats. By which I mean real social democrats, who believe in a mixed economy, rather than the Labour right which has fallen over itself embracing neoliberalism.

Plamenatz writes of Blanc

‘Louis Blanc wanted the state to control all the banks, the factories, the railways, the insurance companies and the larger commercial enterprises; and he also wanted manhood suffrage. Small businesses should remain in private hands. Like many social democrats in the west today, he called for an economy divided into a ‘private’ and ‘public sector’, over which the State should exercise a general control. But he never really went into the question of how the State should manage the economy and the public sector, and how this management could be reconciled with effective democracy. He also neglected the question put by Saint-Simon: ‘What is the structure of authority appropriate to a large-scale economy, centrally controlled?’ (pp.286-7).

I like the idea of the National Workshops and really wish they’d been a success, though it was inevitable that the conservative ministers and civil servants put in charge of them should be determined to run them down. I also prefer his version of socialism that leaves room for a private sector. Some things, I believe, are better off in the hands of private industry and I think there should be a sphere outside the control of the state in which a person’s business is his or her own, in contrast to the mass, totalitarian societies of communism.

Etienne-Gabriel Morelly and 18th Century Communism

January 17, 2023

Modern communism long predates Marxism. The common ownership of property and the means of production is in Thomas More’s Utopia, where work is allotted to the inhabitants by a phylarch or head bailiff, annually elected by groups of thirty families. One of the advocates of communism in the 18th century was Etienne-Gabriel Morelly in his book, Code de la Nature. Wikipedia’s brief biography of him runs:

Étienne-Gabriel Morelly (French: [etjɛn gabʁjɛl mɔʁɛli]; 1717–1778) was a French utopian thinker, philosopher and novelist. An otherwise “obscure tax official”, and teacher, Morelly wrote two books on education, a critique of Montesquieu and The Code of Nature, which was published anonymously in France in 1755. This book, initially attributed to philosophes including Rousseau and Diderot, criticised contemporary society, postulated a social order without avarice, and proposed a constitution intended to lead to an egalitarian society without property, marriage, church or police.’

See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89tienne-Gabriel_Morelly

Plamenatz gives a brief description of his ideas in Man and Society: From Montesquieu to the Early Socialists. He states

‘So, too, Morelly does not confine himself to proposing common ownership on the ground that private property is corrupting; he also proposes the direction of labour, public works to absorb unemployment, and the closing down of unprofitable industries. He wants to ensure that production as a whole satisfies all needs, and that no one is overworked. The communist economy described in the Code de la Nature, which is only one (and the most extreme) of several projects prepared by Morelly during the course of his life, involves just as much social control of production as the schemes of Saint-Simon, Fourier and Owen. But Morelly never says or even implies that the indefinite increase of wealth is desirable, and his conception of efficient production is not the same as the economists and nineteenth-century socialists. It matters to him that the idle should not exploit the industrious, that all who can should work, that no one should be unprovided for, that the vices born of inequality should disappear, but it does not matter to him that production should be so organised as to make men much wealthier than they are. Though he approves of much spending on public monuments and festivals, he expects the citizens to live modestly. The communists of the eighteenth century mostly favoured sober living; it was much more Voltaire, Mandeville and Montesquieu, and after them the Encyclopaedists and Utilitarians, who took the accumulation of wealth for a mark of progress and who approved of high living. It was not till the nineteenth century that the champions of the poor-the preachers of equality, the scourges of the rich-came to be materialists, in the sense meant by Tocqueville when he spoke of their attachment to ‘unlimited consumption’.

Communism failed because it did not create wealth and instead locked its peoples in poverty and tyranny. But that doesn’t mean that the early theorists of communism and socialism are valueless, and their ideas don’t point the way to a better social system.

Starmer’s Plans for the Health Service: Some Good Promises, but More Privatisation?

January 15, 2023

This is the sequel to my post earlier today speculating on whether Starmer is planning to privatise the health service even further. I based that on his interview on the Beeb this morning, where he said he wanted to use private enterprise to clear the backlog, and that his reforms may include a greater use of private healthcare companies. I caught more of this on the ITV evening news, and while some of it looked good, it still included private healthcare companies. He laid out his plans for reforming the NHS in today’s Torygraph, which is a warning from the start. From the choice of paper it’s clear that he’s aiming at Tory voters rather than traditional Labour. Which, by previous experience of the way he and the Blairites generally side-line traditional Labour supporters and members, is what you would expect. According to ITV, he promised to recruit more NHS staff. This is good, but so blindingly obvious that the Tories have also been making the same promise over the past few years. They’ve repeatedly broken it, and working for our health service is now so bad that a large proportion of them are planning to leave. This leaves questions of how Starmer is planning to persuade more people to work for it and retain them. The report said nothing about Starmer promising them better wages or reducing the workload. He also promised to make doctors NHS employees. This is excellent. Pro-NHS groups like We Own It have said that doctors should be NHS employees in order to avoid the privatisation and sale of GP surgeries to the private healthcare giants. These have enhanced their corporate profits by closing those surgeries they deem unprofitable and sacking staff. The result is that many patients find themselves without a doctor, and the remaining doctors and staff have poorer working conditions. But hey, you gotta keep that tax money rolling in for the private healthcare firmes!

And then there’s the bit that worries me. Starmer has said he wants to make better use of private healthcare, but is still concerned to keep it free at the point of delivery. This says very strongly to me that he’s going to privatise more of the NHS and outsource services to the private sector. And as I’ve kept saying, this is one of the problems with the health service. Privatisation had resulted in poorer services and massively increasing bureaucracy and administration costs. Starmer has said he wants to cut down on the bureaucracy, which is more Tory cant. He could, if he renationalised the NHS. But he obviously doesn’t want to do that.

Among the people responding to Starmer’s proposals was someone from the NHS unions, who said that it wasn’t true that they were against change. They just wanted to see everything costed. The fact that Starmer hasn’t done that, or at least, not in the article he wrote for the Torygraph, suggests to me that he really won’t increase funding, or perhaps not by the amount necessary. With the exception of the proposal to make doctors state employees, his reforms come across very much as something the Tories would also say, while also crossing two fingers behind their backs. He did make a fourth commitment, but I’m afraid I’ve forgotten it.

I want the Tories out, but I do not want Starmer to carry on with their policies, as the Blairites have done in the past. And I think that if he gets the chance, he’ll ditch the promise to make the doctors employees of the state. It’s socialist, and he hates socialism and socialists.

The Fascist Argument Against Free Market Capitalism

January 15, 2023

I notice that as the failure of contemporary free market capitalism becomes every more obvious, its right-wing supporters are out on the net telling everyone how wonderful capitalism is. Capitalism, according to them, has lifted more people out of poverty than any socialist state has ever done. You find this repeated by the Lotus Eaters, and I recent found yet another video on YouTube put up by a right-winger.

Now there is something to this. Marx in the Communist Manifesto was impressed by the global achievements of capitalism, and industrialisation and trade has produced development and prosperity in Britain, the West and elsewhere, and lifted people out of the poverty of agricultural subsistence economies. But this hasn’t been done by capitalism alone. Trade unions have also been part of the development of mass prosperity in the industrialised nations through demands for increased wages, better working conditions and so on, a fact ignored by the right. And working people in the west enjoyed their greatest period of prosperity when capitalism was regulated as part of the post-War consensus. In Britain this took the form of a mixed economy in which the utilities were owned and operated by the state. The privatisation of these utilities, the devastation of the welfare state and the deregulation of the economy has led to a massive transfer of wealth upwards, so that the poor have become colossally poorer and the wealth of the rich even more bloated and obscene. Properly regulated, capitalism does raise people out of poverty. But free market capitalism, of the kind frantically promoted by right-wingers like the Lotus Eaters, has done the reverse.

But let’s grant them that the 19th century was an age of industrial and agricultural expansion in which people enriched themselves. Mussolini expressed this view in his speech about the corporative state he was introducing into Italy. The fascist corporations were industrial organisations, one for each industry, which included representatives of the trade unions and the owners’ organisations. The Italian parliament was dissolved and reorganised into a Chamber of Fasces and Corporations, in which these organisations were supposed to debate economic policy. In fact, it just served as a rubber stamp for the Duce’s decisions. It was, however, important for propaganda purposes, to show that Mussolini’s regime had transcended capitalism and socialism.

The Fascists weren’t enemies of capitalism, far from it. Mussolini’s constitution made private industry the basis of the state and economic life, which is why I’m using it his critique of free market capitalism against the free marketeers. Mussolini had been a radical socialist, but when the Fascists seized power he declared them to be true followers of Manchester School capitalism. In other words, free trade. This was accompanied by a programme of privatisation. In Germany Hitler gave a speech to the German equivalent of the Confederation of British Industry, saying that capitalism could only be preserved through a dictatorship. He stated that he would not nationalise any company, unless it was failing. During the Nazi dictatorship industry was organised into a series of interlocking associations subject to state control. But they were not nationalised, and the leadership of the organisations was always given to private industrialists, not the managers of state industries.

Back to Italy, Mussolini described how this initial period had begun to decay. The old family run firms declined, to be replaced by joint stock companies. At the same time, firms organised themselves into cartels. In America, these cartels demanded intervention from the government. Mussolini announced that, if left unchecked, this would lead to the emergence of a state capitalism that was every bit as pernicious as state socialism. His solution was that capitalism needed to be more ‘social’. It would be subordinated to the state through the corporations, where workers and management would cooperate to make Italy a great power once more.

Something similar has happened over the past four decades. Under this new corporativism, representatives of private industry have entered government as advisors and officials, often in the departments charged with regulating their industries. At the same time, industry has received massive subsidies and tax breaks so that much of the tax burden has moved lower down on working people. Mussolini was correct about private industry demanding state intervention, however much this is denied and state planning attacked by free market theorists. And the result is corporativism, which the free marketeers denounce as not being true capitalism. But it’s been pointed out that the type of capitalism they believe in has never existed.

Free market capitalism is a failure. The solution is not a murderous dictatorship, but the old, regulated, mixed economy of the social democratic consensus. An economy that includes private industry, but which recognises that it alone does not create wealth, and which demands the inclusion of working people and their organisations in industrial negotiations and policies in order to create prosperity for working people.

Heartfield’s Cover Art for Michael Gold’s ‘Jews Without Money’

January 10, 2023

I put up a piece a few days ago about the great German radical artist John Heartfield, who used photographs to create stunning pictures. Heartfield’s best known for his political works celebrating Communism and savagely denouncing war and the Prussian aristocracy that promoted it, and especially Hitler and the Nazis. But he also worked for publishers producing book covers. This is his cover for Michael Gold’s Jews Without Money, about poor Jews living on the Lower East Side of New York. The decades from the late 19th century saw mass Jewish migration from eastern Europe to the west and America. Many of them were dirt poor, and poorly educated, living in low-quality, massively overcrowded tenements. It’s from this milieu that many of the great founders of the American comics industry, like the mighty Jack Kirby. Kirby came from the kind of neighbourhood where men wanted to be mechanics rather than artists, and ran with the street gangs before breaking with them to enter comics. This is the background to Will Eisner’s acclaimed graphic novel, A Contract with God and Other Tenement Tales. I’m putting this up here also to make the point that Jewishness isn’t synonymous with wealth and power, whatever the Blairites in the Labour party may think. You may remember that a few years ago one right-wing female Labour MP claimed that socialism was anti-Semitic because it attacked capitalism. Hitler wouldn’t have agreed that ‘Marxist’ socialism was anti-Semitic, because he believed it was created and dominated by Jews. But he would certainly have wholeheartedly agreed with the sentiment that capitalism is Jewish. Other people realised the anti-Semitic nature of what she’d said, even though she obviously didn’t mean it as such, and called her out for it. In the meantime this is a striking piece of art illustrating a piece of American social history.

Sketches of Three Victims of the Labour Purges – Jackie Walker, Tony Greenstein and Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi

January 9, 2023

I was saddened and disgusted to hear that the Labour party had purged Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi just before Christmas. But not, alas, surprised. Naomi was the communications officer for Jewish Voice for Labour and a deeply committed defender of the Palestinians against the real oppression of the Israeli state. Jewish Voice for Labour strongly supported both them and the party’s former leader, Jeremy Corbyn. And unlike its right-wing rivals, the misnamed Jewish Labour Movement, its members had to be both Jewish and members of the Labour party, although gentiles could become associate members. This made it and her absolutely intolerable to the witch hunters, who particularly hate and loathe socialist Jews who criticise Israel. Such people contradict the carefully crafted image that Zionism is intrinsic to Jewish identity and that the state of Israel is unanimously supported by all Jews, everywhere, who are automatically citizens whether they’ve ever been there or ever wanted to go. And so she, like so many other great people, both Jews and gentiles, was smeared as an anti-Semite and purged. She knew about it just before her 70th birthday. I think she may also have been purged round about the time of Hanukkah, a Jewish festival that takes place just before Christmas. This all seems particularly cruel and shows, to me, just how vindictive the Blairites conducting the witch hunt are. She now joins the hundreds of people who have been unjustly smeared and purged on such trumped up charges.

A year or so ago I did some sketches of her, and two other victims of the purges, Jackie Walker and Tony Greenstein, who were expelled from the party for the same reasons: they were Jewish critics of Israel. Here are the sketches. They’re not brilliant, but I hope you like them.

Jackie Walker and Tony Greenstein

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi

Did Gordon Brown and Jackie Smith Really Order the Police Not to Investigate the Pakistani Grooming Gangs?

January 8, 2023

One of the stories going around the right, and especially the Islamophobic right, is that Gordon Brown and the-then Home Secretary Jackie Smith not only knew about the Pakistani grooming gangs, but ordered the police not to investigate them. It’s alleged that in 2008 they sent out a circular to the police forces stating that the victims had made a lifestyle choice and that, in order to preserve the peace, they were not to investigate them. I tried to do a bit of investigation into this rumour just using Google yesterday. They allegation is supposed to have been made by Nafzir Ali, the heroic prosecutor, who was behind the campaign to get these gangs arrested for their heinous crimes and put away. Ali is supposed to have made the allegation during an interview on Radio 4, which was then edited out and never broadcast.

If this is true, this would be a damning indictment of Brown and Smith, and their critics and opponents would be entirely right in calling for them to be jailed for a very long time. I don’t find anything particularly incredible about the allegation. The governments can and do stop investigations that are felt not to be in the public interest. With a serious allegation like this, it may well be that the Beeb would edit it out of an interview fearing legal or political repercussions. Tory critics have claimed that there is a strong bias in the BBC against them. I don’t find this entirely credible, but they have been able to support it with evidence that some elements of the Beeb were connected to the Labour party at the time, whose reporting was unfairly biased towards Blair’s Labour party. But as Blair at the time was turning Labour into a neoliberal party of the right, this doesn’t mean that it was a socialist or pro-working class bias.

The problem with these allegations is that they were made by a woman at a Tommy Robinson rally. It’s possible that she was telling the truth, though I didn’t find out what her background was that allowed her to know about this supposed interview and its suppression. Not everything Robinson says is a lie, and he was interviewing the gangs’ victims and promoting their stories while the police were still trying to silence them. But Tommy ‘Ten Names’ Robinson, as one of the great commenters here has called him, does not inspire confidence. As I’ve said, he’s a violent thug, who was in the BNP before supposedly become non-racist and deciding instead to pick on Islam. He has convictions for assault and mortgage fraud, as well as contempt of court and attempting to sneak into America while banned. He lost a libel case against a Syrian lad, who he claimed was the real bully after the lad was the victim of a racist attack by other boys at school. He claims to be some kind of citizen journalist, but his reports made at the time of these gangs’ trial violated the rules of journalistic impartiality and threatened to cause a mistrial. In which case, the trial would have to have been abandoned and the gangs, if guilty, let off.

The fact is that unless there is a public inquiry, we don’t know if this really happened. 38 Degrees did post a petition calling for one, but it hasn’t happened yet and I doubt that it will.