Posts Tagged ‘Big Business’

William Blum on the Real Reason for the Invasion of Afghanistan: Oil

November 16, 2020

The late William Blum, an inveterate and bitter critic of American foreign policy and imperialism also attacked the invasion of Afghanistan. In his view, it was, like the Iraq invasion a few years later, absolutely nothing to do with the terrible events of 9/11 but another attempt to assert American control over a country for the benefit of the American-Saudi oil industry. Blum, and other critics of the Iraq invasion, made it very clear that America invaded Iraq in order to gain control of its oil industry and its vast reserves. In the case of Afghanistan, the invasion was carried out because of the country’s strategic location for oil pipelines. These would allow oil to be supplied to south Asian avoiding the two countries currently outside American control, Russian and Iran. The Taliban’s connection to al-Qaeda was really only a cynical pretext for the invasion. Blum lays out his argument on pages 79-81 of his 2014 book, America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy. He writes

With the US war in Iraq supposedly having reached a good conclusion (or halfway decent… or better than nothing… or let’s get the hell out of here while some of us are still in one piece and there are some Iraqis we haven’t yet killed), the best and the brightest in our government and media turn their thoughts to what to do about Afghanistan. It appears that no one seems to remember, if they ever knew, that Afghanistan was not really about 9/11 or fighting terrorists (except the many the US has created by its invasion and occupation), but was about pipelines.

President Obama declared in August 2009:

But we must never forget this is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9-11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans.

Never mind that out of the tens of thousands of people the United States and its NATO front have killed in Afghanistan not one has been identified as having had anything to do with the events of September 11, 2001.

Never mind that the ‘plotting to attack America’ in 2001 was carried out in Germany and Spain and the United States more than in Afghanistan. Why hasn’t the United States attacked these countries?

Indeed, what actually was needed to plot to plot to buy airline tickets and take flying lessons in the United States? A room with some chairs? What does ‘an even larger safe haven’ mean? A larger room with more chairs? Perhaps a blackboard? Terrorists intent upon attacking the United States can meet almost anywhere.

The only ‘necessity’ that drew the United States to Afghanistan was the desire to establish a military presence in this land that is next door to the Caspian Sea region of Central Asia – which reportedly contains the second largest proven reserves of petroleum and natural gas in the world – and build oil and gas pipelines from that region running through Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is well situated for oil and gas pipelines to serve much of South Asia, pipelines that can bypass those not-yet Washington clients Iran and Russia. If only the Taliban would not attack the lines. Here’s Richard Boucher, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, in 2007: ‘One of our goals is to stabilize Afghanistan, so it can become a conduit and a hub between South and Central Asia so taht energy can flow to the south’.

Since the 1980s all kinds of pipelines have been planned for the area, only to be delayed or canceled by one military, financial or political problem or another. For example, the so-called TAPI pipeline (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) had strong support from Washington, which was eager to block a competing pipeline that would bring gas to Pakistan and India from Iran. TAPI goes back to the 1990s, when the Taliban government held talks with the California-based oil company Unocal Corporation. These talks were conducted with the full knowledge of the Clinton administration, and were undeterred by the extreme repression of Taliban society. Taliban officials even made trips to the United States for discussions. Testifying before the House Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific on February 12, 1998, Unocal representative John Maresca discussed the importance of the pipeline project and the increasing difficulties in dealing with the Taliban:

The region’s total oil reserves may well reach more than 60 billion barrels of oil. Some estimates are as high as 200 billion barrels… From the outset, we have made it clear that construction of the pipeline we have proposed across Afghanistan could not begin until a recognized government is in place that has the confidence of governments, leaders, and our company.

When those talks stalled in July, 2001 the Bush administration threatened the Taliban with military reprisals if the government did not go along with American demands. The talks finally broke down for good the following month, a month before 9/11.

The United States has been serious indeed about the Caspian Sea and Persian Gulf oil and gas areas. Through one war of another beginning with the Gulf War of 1990-91, the US has managed to establish military bases in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan.

The war against the Taliban can’t be ‘won’ short of killing everyone in Afghanistan. The United States may well try again to negotiate some from of pipeline security with the Taliban, then get out, and declare ‘victory’. Barack Obama can surely deliver an eloquent victory speech from his teleprompter. It might include the words ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’, but certainly not ‘pipeline’.

This was obviously written before the electoral victory of Hamid Karzai and his government, but the point remains the same. The Taliban are still active and fighting against the supposedly democratic government, which also remains, as far as I know, dependent on western aid.

But the heart of the matter is that this wasn’t a war to save humanity from the threat of global terrorism, nor is it about freeing the Afghan people from a bloodthirsty and murderously repressive Islamist regime. The Americans were quite happy to tolerate that and indeed do business with it. It was only when the Taliban started to become awkward that the Americans started threatening them with military action. And this was before 9/11. Which strongly supports Blum’s argument that the terrible attack on the Twin Towers, Pentagon and the White House were and are being cynically used as the justification for the invasion. 17 out of the 19 conspirators were Saudis, and the events point to involvement by the Saudi state with responsibility going right to the top of the Saudi regime. But America and NATO never launched an attack on them, despite the fact that the Saudis have been funding global Islamist terrorism, including Daesh. That is before ISIS attacked them.

It was Remembrance Day last Wednesday. The day when Britain honours the squaddies who fell in the two World Wars and subsequent conflicts. One of those talking about the importance of the day and its ceremonies on Points West, the Beeb’s local news programme for the Bristol area, was a former squaddie. He was a veteran of Afghanistan, and said it was particularly important to him because he had a mate who was killed out there. He felt we had to remember victims of combat, like his friend because if we didn’t ‘what’s the point?’.

Unfortunately, if Blum’s right – and I believe very strongly that he is – then there’s no point. Our governments have wasted the lives, limbs and minds of courageous, patriotic men and women for no good reason. Not to defend our countries from a ruthless ideology which massacres civilians in order to establish its oppressive rule over the globe. Not to defend our freedoms and way of life, nor to extend those freedoms and their benefits to the Afghan people. But simply so that America can gain geopolitical control of that region and maintain its dominance of the oil industry, while enriching the oil companies still further.

Cummings Creates Civil Service to Take Over from Private Consultants, Who Took Over from Civil Service

November 8, 2020

Yesterday Mike put up a piece about Dominic Cummings’ reinvention of the wheel. Presumably he did so after he received an important report from the Department of the Bleedin’ Obvious. Boris Johnson’s pet polecat, or the distinguished advisor from Epsilon 6, as Spitting Image portrays him, has finally woken up to the fact that the legions of private consultants they brought in to do the work of the civil service, is too expensive and simply isn’t as good as civil servants. So he has created a new official department, called the Crown Consultancy. As an example of the exorbitant cost involved, Mike quotes the figures for the amount the Tories spent between 2016 and this year on just eight private consultancies – which include the usual rip-off merchants like KPMG, Deloitte and McKinsey. It’s £2.6 billion. The work obviously should have been left to the civil service, who, like other state departments, should have been properly funded with an appropriate level of staffing. Instead of being cut to pieces because the Tories don’t trust experts.

The fact that civil servants are far more efficient than private sector consultants should hardly be a revelation, no matter how new it may seem to Tories and other fans of outsourcing. It’s been known for over a decade and a half. William Blum, a long-time opponent of American imperialism and capitalism, has this little snippet in his 2014 book America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy: The Truth About US Foreign Policy and Everything Else (London: Zed Books).

A study of 17,595 federal government jobs by the Office of Management and Budget in 2004 concluded that civil servants could do their work better and more cheaply than private contractors nearly 90 per cent of the time in job competitions. (p. 257).

Privatisation and outsourcing doesn’t work, and the evidence has been staring everyone in the face for decades. But the decrepit, rotting facade of Thatcherism is propped up because it enriches big business, who in turn line the pockets of the Tories and Blairite Labour with corporate donations, as well as giving them seats on their boards.

While giving poor service, poverty and starvation to everyone else.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/11/07/reinventing-the-wheel-after-replacing-civil-servants-with-expensive-private-consultants-cummings-wants-to-replace-them-with-a-civil-service/

Starmer Throwing Out Corbyn’s Policies to Gain Support of Business

November 6, 2020

Mike and many other left-wing bloggers have put up a number of articles showing that, despite his promises at the Labour leadership elections, Starmer is getting rid of Corbyn’s policies which were included in the party’s manifesto. Starmer’s a Blairite, and so it was to be expected that he’d try to remove Corbyn’s policies, just as he is doing his best to purge or push out members of the Labour left from the shadow cabinet and the party generally. He’s taking the party back towards Thatcherism, replacing traditional Labour policies of a strong welfare state and trade unions, workers’ rights, a fully nationalised NHS and mixed economy, with the welfare state’s dismantlement, privatisation, including that of the NHS, and the further destruction of employment rights designed to make workers easy and cheap to hire and fire. This is all being done to win over Tory swing voters and the right-wing political and media establishment.

A few weeks ago Starmer showed exactly where his priorities lay when he announced that Labour was now perfectly willing to accept donations and funding from industry. This was a sharp break with Corbyn, who had restored the party’s finances through subscriptions from the party’s membership. A membership that had expanded massively because, after Blair, Brown and Ed Miliband, there was a Labour leader at last who genuinely wished to do something for the working class and represented and promoted traditional Labour values and policies.

Starmer’s turn instead to corporate funding is a return to Blair’s policies, in which the Labour leader sought support from business. Under Blair, the party lost members despite its electoral success. The only reason it won elections was because the Tories were far less popular. And in return for corporate donations, Blair gave the chairmen and senior management of big companies places in government, and passed legislation that would benefit them, but very definitely not Britain’s working people nor the self-employed and small businesspeople.

Further proof that Starmer’s going down this path was provided a few days ago on Tuesday. According to an article in that day’s I by Hugo Gye, ‘Starmer courts business leaders’, for the edition of 3rd November 2020, Starmer announced at a meeting of the CBI that he was going to drop some of Corbyn’s policies to make the party more acceptable to industry. The article runs

Sir Keir Starmer has distanced himself from the Jeremy Corbyn era, suggesting he will drop some of his predecessor’s most radical policies as he positions Labour as the party of business.

Speaking to the annual conference of the CBI business group, Sir Keir said he wanted to lead “an active, pro-business government”. He added: “When a business is failing it is often because the management is failing. The Labour party is now under new management. We recognise that businesses with high standards are the only way to create a good economy.” Asked if he would keep left-wing policies Sir Keir replied: “In 2019 we suffered a devastating loss in the election.

“It’s important you don’t look at the electorate and ask: ‘What on earth were you doing?’ you ask: ‘What on earth were we doing?”‘ He has previously said he would seek to return to the 2017 manifesto rather than the more radical offering at last year’s general election. He also took aim at Rishi Sunak. He said: “The impact on business and jobs will be severe. The Chancellor’s name is all over this.”

This is twaddle. Labour’s policies weren’t unpopular. Indeed, quite the opposite. That’s one of the reasons the Labour right, the Tories and the media spent so many years and so much energy trying to smear Corbyn as a Communist and then anti-Semite. And the pro-business policies Starmer wants to replace Corbyn’s with won’t do anything for the country. It’s been said many times that business actually does better under Labour than under the Tories. And economists like Ha-Joon Chang have pointed out that privatisation hasn’t worked. It hasn’t provided the necessary and expected investment in the utilities. A traditional, social democratic mixed economy would therefore be far better. Thatcherism is, in the words of an Australian economist, Zombie economics. It’s dead, but still stumbling about.

As for asking what Labour did wrong, the answer is that Starmer himself was partly responsible for Labour’s defeat. He and the Labour right demanded that Labour should commit itself to a second referendum on Brexit, when the majority of the public – admittedly a slim majority – were all in favour of it. Corbyn’s initial position of respecting the Brexit vote, and only going back to hold a second referendum if they were unable to get an acceptable deal from Europe, was actually popular. But this popularity began to evaporate when Starmer and his colleagues demanded this should be changed.

Starmer’s leadership of the Labour party so far has been disastrous. He’s been using the anti-Semitism smears to purge the party of left-wingers and supporters of Corbyn, the party is losing Black membership and support thanks to his refusal to take BLM seriously, and many members generally are leaving the party because of return to Blair’s hoary, Tory policies, to paraphrase an old ’80s song.

Starmer isn’t leading the party to victory, but defeat. HIs policies won’t benefit working people, but as they are intended to enrich big business leaders, the British political establishment, of which he’s a part, aren’t going to be worried about that.

BBC Documentary on Artist’s Fightback Against Fascist Appropriation of Pepe the Frog

October 23, 2020

Next Monday, 26th October 2020, BBC’s Storyville documentary follows artist Matt Furie, the creator of Pepe the Frog, as he tries to wrest his image back from the Alt Right. The programme’s on BBC 4 at 10.00 pm, and is entitled ‘Pepe the Frog: Feels Good Man’ The blurb for the programme on page 75 of this coming week’s Radio Times runs

Pepe, a cartoon frog drawn in a deliberately crude and garish style, has become a symbol of the “alt-right”; its use is shorthand for a social media poster proudly announcing themselves to be a troll at best and a full neo-Nazi at worst.

But the little green guy was originally part of a harmless cartoon strip drawn by illustrator Matt Furie and, rather than conceding that sometimes artists lose control of their creations, he’s fought back. We watch as Furie takes on both anonymous troublemakers and the big beasts of the American right-wing media – the big problem being that, arguably, if you engage with them at all, you’ve already lost.

Another blurb on page 77 says

The story of how a cute cartoon character morphed into an international hate symbol after being hijacked by the “alt-right”. This film in the Storyville strand follows Matt Furie, the creator of Pepe, as he fights tooth and nail to wrest back his amiable amphibian from the dark forces that appropriated him.

The Pepe meme as a symbol of the Alt Right must have been around for at least a decade now, and it’s been scrawled by noxious extreme rightists all over the place, from the internet to real objects. It also seems to be connected to the slogan, ‘Free Kekistan’, which is also mouthed by the Alt Right and their supporters. I think one of the issues raised against Sargon of Gasbag, Paul Joseph Watson and Count Dankula when they tried to join UKIP was that a crowd of people, claiming to be their supporters, got drunk and started waving Pepe the Frog flags and shouting ‘Free Kekistan’.

I realise that Furie’s got an uphill battle on his hands to win back ownership of his creation from the trolls, racists and Nazis. There have been countless other creators, writers and artists, who’ve similarly lost control of theirs over the years. The Guy Fawkes mask from V for Vendetta is a case in point. Unfortunately, after the film the rights don’t belong to the strip’s creator, the legendary Alan Moore. Rather they belong to the film company, which is very much the kind of exploitative global corporation Moore despises. It’s because of this and similar issues over creators’ rights that has left Moore very bitter about aspects of the comics industry. However, the meaning of the Guy Fawkes mask as an image has remained the same, and has been very much used as such by protestors demonstrating against forces and ideologies like global capitalism, racism and official persecution and injustice. It isn’t as though it’s meaning has been co-opted and perverted by those forces.

This could be a very interesting programme indeed. And no matter how difficult it is, I wish Furie all the best in his struggle to get Pepe back from the trolls and Fascists.

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RT America’s Lee Camp Raises Questions about Starmer’s Connection to British Deep State

October 18, 2020

Mike’s put up a number of pieces discussing and criticising Starmer’s demand that Labour MPs abstain on the wretched ‘Spycops’ bill. If passed, this would allow members of the police and security services to commit serious offences while undercover. Twenty Labour MPs initially defied him and voted against it, with several resigning in protest from the shadow cabinet. The Labour whips’ office has also broken party protocol to issue written reprimands to the rebels. If they defy party discipline, they will face a reprimand period of six months, which will be extended to twelve if they continue to break the whip. These letters have also been shared with the parliamentary committee, a group of backbench MPs elected by the parliamentary Labour party and currently dominated by the right. This committee will decide whether or not to inform the rebel MPs’ constituency parties and the NEC. The information could then be considered if an MP seeks reselection in preparation for a general election. As one MP has said, it’s intimidation, pure and simple. And a number of those MPs, who received the letters, are talking to union officials.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/10/17/starmers-tory-supporting-crackdown-on-his-own-party-makes-him-a-danger-to-people-with-disabilities/

Starmer’s conduct shouldn’t really be a surprise. He’s a Blairite, and Blair’s tenure of the Labour leadership was marked by control freakery as he centralised power around himself and his faction away from the party’s ordinary members and grassroots. But Starmer is also very much an establishment figure. He was, after all, the director of public prosecutions. In this video below, comedian and presenter Lee Camp raises important and very provocative questions about Starmer’s connections to the British establishment and the deep state. Camp’s the presenter of a number of shows on RT America, which are deeply critical of the corporate establishment, and American militarism and imperialism. The video’s from their programme, Moment of Clarity. The questions asked about Starmer are those posed by Mac Kennard in an article in The Gray Zone. RT is owned by the Russian state, as it points out on the blurbs for its videos on YouTube. Putin is an authoritarian thug and kleptocrat, who has opposition journalists, politicos, activists and businessmen beaten and killed. But that doesn’t mean that RT’s programmes exposing and criticising western capitalism and imperialism and the corrupt activities and policies of our governments aren’t accurate and justified.

Camp begins the video by explaining how there was a comparable battle in the Labour party over Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership as there was in the American Democrat party over Bernie Sanders’ candidacy for the presidency. Just as Sanders was opposed by the Democrats’ corporate leadership and smeared as a Communist in a neo-McCarthyite witch hunt, so Jeremy Corbyn – a real progressive – was opposed by the corporatists in the Labour party. He was subjected to the same smears, as well as accusations of anti-Semitism because he supported Palestine. Camp states that there are leaked texts showing that leading figures in the Labour party were actively working to undermine him. Jeremy Corbyn has now gone and been replaced by Keir Starmer, about whom Kennard asks the following questions:

1. why did he meet the head of MI5 for drinks a year after his decision not to prosecute the intelligence agency for its role in torture?

Camp uses the term ‘deep state’ for the secret services, and realises that some of his viewers may be uncomfortable with the term because of its use by Trump. He tries to reassure them that the deep state, and the term itself, existed long before Trump. It’s just something the Orange Generalissimo has latched onto. Camp’s not wrong – the term was used for the network of covert intelligence and state law enforcement and security services long before Trump was elected. Lobster has been using the term for years in its articles exposing their grubby activities. More controversially, Camp believes that the deep state was responsible for the assassinations of JFK, RFK and MLK. JFK was supposedly assassinated because he was about to divulge publicly the deep state’s nefarious activities. This is obviously controversial because the JFK assassination is one of the classic conspiracy theories, and one that many critics of the British and American secret states don’t believe in. It may actually be that JFK really was killed by Lee Harvey Oswald, a lone gunman. But Camp’s belief in this conspiracy theory doesn’t on its own disqualify his other allegations and criticisms about the secret state.

2. When and why did Starmer join the Trilateral Commission?

The Trilateral Commission was set up in 1973 by elite banker David Rockefeller as a discussion group to foster greater cooperation between Japan, the US and western Europe. According to Camp, it was really founded to roll back the advances of the hippy era as the corporate elite were horrified that ordinary people were being heard by governments instead of big businessmen. They looked back to the days when President Truman could listen to a couple of businessmen and no-one else. The Commission published a paper, ‘The Crisis of Democracy’, which claimed that democracy was in crisis because too many people were being heard. Ordinary people were making demands and getting them acted upon. This, the Commission decided, was anti-business. They made a series of recommendations themselves, which have since been implemented. These included the demand that the media should be aligned with business interests. Camp states that this doesn’t mean that there is uniformity of opinion amongst the mainstream media. The various media outlets do disagree with each other over policies and politicians. But it does mean that if the media decides that a story doesn’t fit with business interests, it doesn’t get published. The Commission also wanted the universities purged of left-wing progressives. The Commission’s members including such shining examples of humanity and decency as Henry Kissinger and the former director general of US National Intelligence, John Negroponte.

3. What did Starmer discuss with US attorney general Eric Holder when he met him on November 9th, 2011 in Washington D.C.?

Starmer was the director of public prosecutions at the time, and met not just Holder, but also five others from the Department of Justice. This was at the same time the Swedes were trying to extradite Julian Assange of Wikileaks infamy. Except that further leaked documents have shown that the Swedes were prepared to drop the case. But Britain wanted him extradited and tried, and successfully put pressure on the Swedes to do just that.

4. Why did Starmer develop such a close relationship with the Times newspaper?

Starmer held social gatherings with the Times’ staff, which is remarkable, as Camp points out, because it’s owned by Rupert Murdoch like Fox News in America.

Camp goes on to conclude that, at the very least, this all shows that Starmer is very much a member of the corporate establishment, and that the deep state has been working to assure that same corporate elite that he’s safe, just as they worked to reassure Wall Street about Obama. At the time Obama had only been senator for a couple of years, but nevertheless he succeeded in getting a meeting with a former treasury secretary. But now the corporate establishment in the Democrats and the Labour party has won. Jeremy Corbyn has been ousted and replaced with Starmer, while Sanders can’t even get a platform with the Democrats. This is because the Democrats have surrendered the platform to the Republicans because Trump contradicts himself so much they just can’t follow him.

While these are just questions and speculation, they do strongly indicate that Starmer is very much part of the establishment and has their interests at heart, not those of the traditional Labour party. His closeness to the Times shows just why he was willing to write articles for the Tory press behind paywalls. His role in the British state’s attempt to extradite Julian Assange and meetings with Holder also show why Starmer’s so determined not to oppose the ‘spycops’ bill. He is very much part of the British state establishment, and sees it has his role and duty to protect it and its secrets, and not the British public from the secret state.

As for the Trilateral Commission, they’re at the heart of any number of dodgy conspiracy theories, including those claiming that the American government has made covert pacts with evil aliens from Zeta Reticuli. However, as Camp says, his membership of the Commission does indeed show that he is very much a member of the global corporate elite. An elite that wanted to reduce democracy in order to promote the interests of big business.

As a corporate, establishment figure, Starmer very definitely should not be the head of a party founded to represent and defend ordinary people against exploitation and deprivation by business and the state. Dissatisfaction with his leadership inside the Labour party is growing. Hopefully it won’t be too long before he’s ousted in his turn, and the leadership taken by someone who genuinely represents the party, its history and its real mission to work for Britain’s working people.

Bristol City Council Sets Up Scheme to Combat BAME Coronavirus Deaths in NHS

October 14, 2020

Here’s a bit of more positive news regarding racial politics. The Beeb’s local news show for the Bristol region, Points West, reported last night that the council has set up a special task force to protect Black, Asian and ethnic minority NHS workers from contracting Coronavirus. It’s been widely reported that non-Whites are disproportionately likely to get the disease, including the heroic peeps working in our underfunded, resource-starved NHS. It was stated during the item on this that 3/4 of deaths in the NHS were of non-White staff. It’s also been reported on the national news that ethnic minority staff didn’t get the PPE they needed to protect them. Points West has itself reported the deaths of several Black and Asian nurses and other medical professionals who died of the disease while doing their duty. This segment even included a brief interview about it with Bristol’s deputy mayor, Asher Craig, who even sounded like a reasonable human being instead of the touchy race-baiter I’ve found her to be in my correspondence with her about her comments on national television and radio about Bristol and slavery.

There’s no doubt that Britain’s ethnic minority population has been hit especially hard by this disease. The report included an interview with a Black NHS nurse, who remained anonymous, who was especially fearful of catching it because she had a son, who had sickle-cell leukaemia.

Everybody in our great nation needs to be properly protected, and it’s great that Bristol is doing this. Indeed, we’re apparently leading the way. This is the first scheme of its type in the country. I hope it won’t be too long before others follow.

Though don’t expect any help from the government. Tory policy is all about underfunding it and creating dissatisfaction, so they can have a pretext for privatising even more of it. They’ve colossally messed up the Covid-19 crisis, putting everyone at risk and making this country one of the very worst for incidence and deaths. All to support the economy. And instead of getting the PPE and other necessary equipment and services, they’ve preferred to give the contracts to their friends and party donors. And the result has been massive failures in supplies and procurements. But the Tories aren’t worried. They’re interested in boosting the profits of the big businessmen who give to them.

Get them out, and a proper left-wing Labour government that will protect the health and actually do something for all Britain’s working people back in.

A Lesson from the 1980s Mitterand Government: Labour Needs to Keep to Socialist Values

October 7, 2020

I used to be a member of the Fabian Society in the 1980s, and still have a few of their pamphlets around. One of those is by the Labour MP Denis MacShane, French Lessons for Labour. This discusses Francois Mitterand’s Socialist Party government which was in office from 1981 to 1986, its positive achievements and failures, and why it lost the 1986. Even after thirty-four years, some of the points made by the pamphlet are still very relevant. And one is particularly so now that Keir Starmer is leader of the Labour party and trying to return it back to Blairite Thatcherism. Because of the reasons MacShane considers Mitterand’s government failed to get re-elected was because they didn’t govern according to traditional socialist values.

This is very clearly argued in the passage ‘The need for socialist values’ in the pamphlet’s final chapter, ‘Conclusion: What Lessons for Labour?’ This runs

The relative failure off the French Socialists to set the economy moving in the right direction or to develop a positive partnership with the unions may be related to their dropping of the ideas and values of socialism soon after the election. By the end of the five years’ government, Socialist ministers were openly saying that their main achievement had been to show that they could alternate with governments of the right. This may be so but it was a major scaling down of ambition and unlikely to mobilise mass support.

Mitterand’s and ministers’ assumptions of the “national” or “above party” mode so quickly after the 1981 election and thereafter until very shortly before the 1986 contest was more than a choice of language. It was a suspension of that part of the socialist project aimed at developing egalitarian values and practices in society. In country that attaches great importance to parole, headed by a Socialist president with an extraordinary command of the language the adoption of the discourse of “modernisation” , “flexibility”, “dynamism” is to dilute the reference to politics with the nostrums of the Wall Street Journal. The qualities listed above may be necessary but to emphasise them to the exclusion of other values that distinguish socialist from conservative governments is a mistake. On all French coins the three words “Liberty”, “Equality” and “Fraternity” are inscribed. They predate Marx but each is an important element of socialist values. Of thee, the concept least applied by Mitterand was equality. Studies of the last Labour Government in Britain also showed that inequalities widened and poverty increased. If a democratic socialist government is to lessen those inequalities then some sense of necessary austerity, some imposition of standards of citizenship will have to take place. There must be some link between sacrifice and equality – that, in addition to economic growth, is perhaps the beginnings of the modern socialist project. The call to equality, the call to sacrifice was not heard clearly throughout the five years of socialist government in France. They began by thinking they could please everyone and ended by being voted out. (pp. 33-4).

I realise that Blair adopted much the same policy when he took office. His government included former Conservative MPs like Chris Patten in a ‘Government Of All the Talents’. His first act in No. 10 was to invited Margaret Thatcher round to visit. He had also managed to get Clause IV, the passage in the Labour Party constitution committing it to nationalisation, dropped earlier in the 1980s. Instead of pursuing traditional socialist policies, Blair claimed his government instead had found a ‘Third Way’. In practice he followed Thatcherite orthodoxy by continuing privatisation, including that of the NHS, and dismantling the welfare state. Blair was intent on winning over swing voters in marginal constituencies and turned away from the party’s traditional working class base. In reward for this, he was supported by the Murdoch press and received donations from big businesses that had previously donated to the Tory party. New Labour stayed in power from 1997 to 2010, so it might be thought that his policy of simply becoming ‘Tory Lite’ is successful. However, Blair lost the support of traditional Labour voters and members. He won with a lower number of votes, I believe, than Jeremy Corbyn had when he lost the 2017 election. It’s been said that by 1997 the public were so sick of the Tories, that Blair simply didn’t need to adopt their policies. He could simply have carried on with the real, socialist, Labour party policies of nationalisation, a mixed economy, publicly owned and properly funded NHS and a welfare state that genuinely supported the sick, unemployed and disabled. Policies that this country desperately needs.

For all Corbyn’s personal unpopularity, created by a vicious, libellous media, his policies – which were and are those of the traditional Labour party – were very popular with the public. But Keir Starmer has turned away from them in order to return to those of Blair. He and his grotty supporters no doubt believe this will win votes and the next election. This will probably not be the case. Blair had the support of the Murdoch press, and the Tories were more unpopular than Labour. Boris’ popularity has massively declined due to his massive incompetence in tackling the Coronavirus and is currently below Starmer’s according to recent polls. But the Labour party is still less popular than the Tories despite the Blairites telling us all that with Corbyn gone, they’d be 20 points or so ahead.

Blair’s government notwithstanding, one of the lessons Mitterand’s government has to teach us on this side of La Manche is that the Labour party needs to govern, and be seen and heard to govern, according to the values of equality and fraternity. And we need to get rid of austerity for ordinary working people. We’ve had nothing but austerity for the past ten years, and the result is nothing but bloated pay rises for the obscenely rich, and starvation and misery for the poor. It’s about time this stopped, and a proper taxation policy imposed on the rich for the benefit of everyone in this great nation.

Posted Copies of Book ‘For A Workers’ Chamber’ to Labour Party

September 18, 2020

This afternoon I posted two copies of my self-published book, For A Workers’ Chamber, off to the Labour Party with appropriate covering letters. As I’ve explained in previous posts, the book argues that as parliament is now dominated by the millionaire heads and senior executives of big business, the working class has been excluded. It therefore needs a separate parliamentary chamber, composed of working people, elected by working people, to represent them.

I’ve also explained in the covering letters that it draws on arguments for such working class assemblies going as far back as Robert Owen’s Grand Consolidated Trades Union, the Chartists’ parliament of trades and the Guild Socialist strand within the early Labour party. I also state that it also draws on the post-war corporatist system in Britain, in which economic and industrial affairs were decided through negotiations and organisations that brought together government, industry and trade unionists. It also discusses too the producers’ chambers, which formed part of the governmental system of Tito’s Yugoslavia under the workers’ self-management system.

I have also said in the letter that the domination of parliament by employers supports the Marxist argument that the state is the instrument of class rule. Sidney and Beatrice Webb also felt that the parliamentary system could not cope with the demands of the expansion of parliamentary business into the social and economic spheres, and so recommended the establishment of a social parliament as well as a political parliament in their 1920 book, A Constitution for the Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain. Another Fabian, Herman Finer, also recommended that Britain should copy the industrial chamber the Germans had set up, which contained representatives of industry and the trade unions to decide questions of industry.

We already have part of that through parliament’s domination by industrialists. We just need to include the working class. Of course, this could also be corrected if the Labour party turns away from the disastrous policies of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, which have done so much to ruin our country and impoverish its people. We need a Labour party that properly supports its traditional policies – a strong welfare state and unions able to defend working people, a properly funded and nationalised NHS and public utilities, run for the benefit of the community and not private profit, and a mixed economy. But there is a real danger that the Labour party is returning to the failed policies of Thatcherism. If that is the case, then the working class needs its own parliamentary chamber to defend its interests.

The Labour Party is holding a national policy review and has asked for suggestions by email. So I’ve sent them my book and its suggestions instead to the party’s National Policy Commission. I’ve also sent a copy to Richard Burgon in appreciation of his great efforts on behalf of the Labour left and the Labour Grassroots Alliance in supporting traditional Labour party policies and working people.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get a reply. Given the rabidly right-wing politics of the Blairite Labour party bureaucracy I have wondered if I might find myself smeared and accused of being a Trotskyite or Communist infiltrator or other slur after sending a copy of my book to the National Policy Commission. After all, they suspended and smeared Mike as an anti-Semite and Holocaust-denier simply because he had the temerity to send them a document defending Ken Livingstone against the charges of anti-Semitism they had leveled against him. I hope nothing like that happens to me, but I’m still left wondering.

Criticism of Parliamentary Lobbying from 1923

September 12, 2020

I found this snippet attacking political lobbying in America and France in Herman Finer’s Representative Government and a Parliament of Industry. A Study of the German Federal Economic Council (Westminster, Fabian Society and George Allen and Unwin Ltd 1923).

Nor is the process of “lobbying,” i.e. directly soliciting the support of members of legislature for or against a measure, known only in the U.S. Congress or in the French Chamber of Deputies. it is the irruption of the interest person into the very chamber of council; it should be moderated by other groups with a locus standi and by the community. The process is legitimate; but the proceedings should be systematic, public and open, and subject the possessors of uncorrupt wishes and desires for expression to the humiliation of a suspicious private solicitation.

(pp. 8-9).

This also connects to a footnote, 1, quoting Bryce’s American Commonwealth (1918) p. 691, on ‘The Lobby’. This runs

‘The Lobby’ is the name given in America to persons, not being members of the legislature, who undertake to influence its members, and thereby to secure the passing of bills… The name, therefore, does not necessarily impute any improper motive or conduct though it is commonly used in what Bentham calls a dyslogistic sense… The causes which have produced lobbying are easily explained. Every legislative body has wide powers of affecting the interests and fortunes of private individuals, both for good and for evil… When such bills (public and private) are before a legislature, the promoters and opponents naturally seek to represent their respective views, and to enforce them upon the members with whom the decision rests. So far, there is nothing wrong, for advocacy of this kind is needed in order to bring the facts fairly before the legislature.’ etc. etc. P. 694: “In the United States,’ says an experienced publicist, whose opinion I have inquired, ‘though lobbying is perfectly legitimate in theory, yet the secrecy and want of personal responsibility, the confusion and want of system in the committees, make it rapidly degenerate into a process of intrigue, and fall into the hands of the worst men. It is so disagreeable and humiliating and these soon throw away all scruples. The most dangerous men are ex-members who know how things are to be managed.'” (p. 9, my emphasis.)

The Federal Economic Council was a corporatist body set up by the German government which brought together representatives from German business and the trade unions to help manage the economy and regulate industrial relations and working conditions. It’s interesting that it, and a similar body in Italy, were set up before Mussolini’s Fascists had entered the Italian parliament and set up the corporate state there. Finer was impressed with the council, which he believed was necessary because the conventional parliamentary system was inadequate to deal with the problems of industry and the economy. Winston Churchill also apparently spoke in favour of establishing a similar council in Britain in 1930. I think he believed it was necessary to deal with the massive recession caused by the 1929 Wall Street Crash.

The Tories have extensive connections to lobbying groups, and I remember how the corruption associated with them became so notorious a decade or so ago that Dodgy Dave Cameron decided to introduce a bill regulating them. This was supposed to make the process more open and transparent. Of course it did no such thing. It used a mass of convoluted verbiage to make it more difficult for charities, trade unions and small groups to lobby parliament, and much easier for big business. Which is nothing less than what you’d expect from the Tories.

I made similar arguments in my self-published book, For A Worker’s Chamber, to argue that, as parliament is dominated by millionaire businessmen and the representatives of big business, there needs to be a separate parliamentary chamber which represents only working people, elected by working people, and not management or the owners of industry.

I intend to send a copy off to the Labour party, who have asked their members for suggestions on policy. I strongly they believe they should first start with is representing working people, rather than the middle classes and business, as Tony Blair did and Keir Starmer seems to want. Without that, I think you really do need such a chamber to restore balance and represent working people’s own interests. But I can’t see any of the parties agreeing to it in the present right-wing political climate.

Should I Send the Labour Party a Copy of My Book ‘For A Workers’ Chamber’ as a Policy Suggestion?

September 3, 2020

I got an email from the Labour Party, of which I am a member, the other day asking if I had any policy suggestions. They’ve been holding various policy reviews for a few months now since Keir Starmer took over as leadere, and have sent at least one of these appeals for suggestions before. I can think of two policies I could suggest, one very serious, the other rather more far-fetched.

The first would be an end to the privatisation of the NHS. No further contracts should be given to private hospitals or healthcare companies. No expansion of the number of charges that Tory legislation permits for NHS services. An absolute end to the Private Finance Initiative and the construction of NHS hospitals in partnership with private companies. No handover of doctors’ surgeries or NHS hospitals to private healthcare companies to manage. If people want to pay for their healthcare, fine, but the NHS should not under be sold off to private enterprise, for them to charge us for it as so many Tories, including Dido Harding’s husband, would like.

That’s the very serious one. The other one is a piece of utopian political theorising I wrote two years ago, and published with the print on demand company Lulu. I was furious with the corruption of parliament by corporate interests. It was reported that something like 77 per cent of MPs are millionaires, and that both Houses are packed with the owners and senior officers in private enterprise. Under the corporatism of the late 20th and early 21st century capitalist penetration of politics, private firms now grant donations to parties and individual politicos, and sponsor events and conferences. In return, senior staff and directors are taken on by government as advisors, or put in charge of government departments and committees. Legislation is framed not for the benefit of the community, but for big business. This has occurred not just under the parties of the right, like the Republicans in America and the Tories here in Britain, but also in the Democrats and the British Labour Party under Tony Blair. See George Monbiot’s excellent dissection of it and its consequences in Captive State, and Rory Bremner’s, John Bird’s and John Fortune’s You Are Here. The working class is being shut out of power, even in the very party that was founded to represent it.

For A Workers’ Chamber was my suggestion for combating this by setting up within parliament a separate chamber to represent working people, organised according to industry, and whose members would consist of workers from those industries. Not managers or directors, workers. I based it on arguments for a parliament for working people that had been around since the early Socialists and Chartists in the 19th century. The blurb for my book runs

For a Worker’s Chamber argues that a special representative chamber composed of representatives of the working class, elected by the working class, is necessary to counter the domination of parliament by millionaires and the heads of industries.

It (t)races the idea of worker’s special legislative assemblies from Robert Owen’s Grand Consolidated Trade Union, anarchism, syndicalism, Guild Socialism, the workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ councils in Revolutionary Russia, Germany and Austria, the Utopian Socialism of Saint-Simon and the Corporativism of Fascist Italy. It also discusses the liberal forms of corporativism which emerged in Britain during the First and Second World Wars, as well as the system of workers’ control and producer’s chambers in Tito’s Yugoslavia.

It argues that parliamentary democracy should not be abandoned, but needs to be expanded to includ(e) a worker’s chamber to make it more representative.

Of course, such a chamber wouldn’t be necessary if we had a Labour Party that took its job seriously and actually stood for working people rather than corporate interests. There was hope with the election of Jeremy Corbyn, but that’s been severely damaged, if not destroyed completely in many people’s eyes with the election of Keir Starmer. Starmer’s a Blairite neoliberal, who appears to be reversing all the policies agreed and presented in Labour’s last election manifesto. It says so much about the corporate corruption of the party that the Groaniad announced without any shame whatsoever a few weeks ago that the corporate donors, who had stopped funding the party under Corbyn, were now returning under Starmer. Corbyn had transformed Labour into the largest socialist party in Europe, and had raised money not through corporate donations and sponsorship, like Blair, but through ordinary members’ subscriptions. Blair’s and Brown’s determination to cater to big business and turn to winning middle class votes actually lost them working class support, a portion of whom instead turned to UKIP.

And now this seems set to return under Starmer.

So, should I try to be a bit provocative and send my book and its demand for a special chamber of parliament for the workers to the Labour Party as a suggestion for their policy review?