Posts Tagged ‘Collectivism’

The Slum Past – the Tories’ Dream Future?

March 29, 2018

I found this picture of a London slum in 1889, the year Fabian Essays was published, in Deirdre Terrins and Philip Whitehead’s book, 100 Years of Fabian Socialism 1884-1984.

Jeremy Corbyn Suggests Capping Director’s Pay – Media Goes Ballistic

January 11, 2017

Mike yesterday put up a piece reporting on another good suggestion from Jeremy Corbyn, and the predictable response of outrage and sneering from the meejah. The Labour leader had said on an interview on Radio 4 yesterday morning that he believed that there should be a cap on the pay earned by company directors and senior execs. The media naturally responded by pointing out that Corbyn has an annual pay of £138,000 a year, and tried to draw him into giving a price figure for what the maximum amount earned should be.

The story got onto the One Show yesterday evening, where they did a brief survey of people in the street. Opinions were, as they say, mixed. One elderly objected to the cap on the grounds that it might take away the incentive for people rising to the top. Looking at the headlines on the various papers this morning, it was very clear that it had riled someone at the Torygraph, as this was the story they shoved on their front cover. Other newspapers, like Mail, led by claiming that Labour’s policy in immigration was ‘in disarray’. Mike’s also written another article this week showing that’s also rubbish.

Mike in his article makes the point that compared to some of the vast, bloated salaries awarded to company executives, Corbyn’s own salary appears very modest indeed. He suggests that it is stupid to try to lay down a particular set figure – it should be based on company turnover and the lowest wage earned by an employee at that company. He also makes the point that the casting of particular star actors can make a great difference to how well a movie does, and that when this happens, everyone else who worked on the movie should also enjoy the films’ financial awards.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/01/10/if-we-examine-who-is-complaining-about-corbyns-maximum-wage-idea-well-know-why/

This is all correct. And there’s something else that needs to be added:

Japan already has maximum wage legislation.

Yep, it’s true. Japan is one of the world’s five wealthy countries with a very capitalist economy. The centre right Liberal Democratic party has ruled the country almost uninterrupted since the Second World War. And it also has a cap on how much company directors may be paid. I think it’s set at about 20 times that of the lowest paid employee, but I am not sure.

And the limitation of wage differentials is not something that has been simply added on in the course of reform, but an integral part of the dominant, guiding vision of the nature of Japanese society. East Asian societies can be extremely collectivist, stressing group loyalty over individual opportunity or achievement. In Japan the goal was to create a harmonious, middle class society, where there would be no extremes in wealth or poverty. This isn’t quite the case, as the Burakami, an outcast group rather like the Dalits in India, and those of Korean descent are still subject to massive poverty and discrimination.

The Japanese have also tried to justify their collectivist outlook through racist pseudo-anthropology. One school textbook claimed that Japanese society was more collectivist and co-operative because the Japanese people were descended from agriculturalists, who had to forge strong links with each other in order to cultivate and harvest rice. We Westerners, however, were all isolated individualists because we’re all descended from hunter-gatherers.

As anthropology, it’s rubbish, of course. Some social historians have argued that agricultural societies are more prone to tyranny and absolute government, which would include the type of Asian absolute monarchies described by Western observers as ‘oriental despotism’. But all human societies were originally hunter-gatherers, including the Japanese. And European society has practised settled agriculture since the beginning of the Neolithic 6,000 years ago.

The origins of Japanese and East Asian collectivism probably lie more in the influence of Confucianism, which stressed the right relationships between the members of society, such as between the prince and the people, and between elders, parents and children, and the still powerful influence of feudalism in structuring social relationships. Instead of a samurai warrior giving his loyalty and service to a daimyo feudal lord, it’s now the sarariman – the corporate warrior – becoming part of the retinue of company employees under the lordship of the director.

And European individualism probably comes not from any vestiges of our hunter-gatherer deep past, but from the effect of Hobbesian Social Contract political theorising and the free trade economics of the French Physiocrats and Adam Smith. Hobbes has been described as the first, of one of the first philosophers of the emerging bourgeois society of the 17th century. This was the period which saw Cromwell sweep away the last vestiges of feudalism in England, and the emergence of modern capitalism. But Hobbes’ philosophy views people as social atoms, all competing against each other, as opposed to other views of society, which may stress the importance of collective or corporate identities and loyalties, such as family, feudal lordship or membership of trade and professional bodies. Similarly, the founders of the economic theories of modern capitalism, such as the Physiocrats in France and Adam Smith and in Scotland, also stressed unrestrained individual competition. They were also specifically arguing against the mercantilist system, in which the state regulated trade. For example, in the 17th and 18th centuries the British government enacted a series of legislation governing trade with its emerging colonies, so as to tie them to the economy of the home country, which would benefit from their products. Modern Western individualism come from these theories of capitalist society and the perceived operation of its economy.

The collectivist nature of Japanese society also expresses itself in other ways in the structure and management of Japanese corporations. Singing the company song in the morning is one example. Management are also encouraged or required to share the same canteen as the workers on the shop floor. Both of these practices, and no doubt many others, are designed to foster group solidarity, so that management and workers work together for the good of the company.

This isn’t a perfect system, by any means. Apart from the immense pressure placed on individuals in a society that places such heavy emphasis on the value of hard work, that individuals actually keel over and die because of it when doing their jobs, it has also made Japanese society and corporations extremely resistant to change. Confucianism places great stress on respect for one’s elders and superiors. While respect for the older generation is an admirable virtue, and one which our society in many ways is sadly lacking, in Japan it has resulted in a mindset which resists change or apportioning due blame for historical crimes and atrocities.

At the corporate level, the slow down of the Japanese economy in the 1990s meant there was no longer such a pressing need for company staff to work such long hours. However, so great is the corporate inertia, that staff still feel that they have to keep working past six O’clock in the evening, even if there is little or no work to do, because they don’t want to be seen as breaking with the approved practices of previous generations of employees.

And at the national level, it has been suggested that the exaggerated respect for one’s elders and ancestors is the reason why Japan has had such immense difficulty confronting the atrocities their nation committed during the Second World War. Japanese school texts and official histories have been criticised because they’d don’t discuss the atrocities committed by the imperial Japanese army. One school textbook even talked about the army’s ‘advance’ through Asia, rather than its invasion. The reason for this failure to admit the existence of these crimes, and criticise those who perpetrated them, is that respect for one’s elders and social superiors is so engrained in Japanese society, that except for a few extremely courageous mavericks, casting shame on those responsible for such horrors and, by implication, the whole of society during this period, is unacceptable. Even though many over on this side of the Eurasian landmass would consider that a failure to confront the atrocities committed by one’s nation to be even more shameful.

Japanese and Asian collectivism is not, then, perfect. But a maximum wage cap certainly did not hinder Japan’s advance to become one of the world’s foremost industrial countries. And the goal of creating a harmonious, co-operative society where there is little disparity in wealth is a good one.

The title of Mike’s article on Corbyn’s suggestion for a maximum wage states that the identities of those complaining about it reveal why they’re doing so. Indeed. The proprietors and leading executives of newspaper companies, like the Barclay twins at the Torygraph, have awarded themselves immense salaries. They’re multimillionaires. This wealth is increasingly not being shared with the hacks, who do the actual work of putting the paper out. The Torygraph has been particularly struck with declining sales to the point that Private Eye’s ‘Street of Shame’ column regularly reported further job cuts. Many of the big newspaper companies depend on the work of unpaid interns, particularly the Groaniad. And even if they’re not being threatened with the sack, conditions for the paid staff are becoming increasingly Orwellian. For example, the Eye reported a few months ago that one of the managers at the Torygraph had tried to install motion detectors on the staff’s desks to prevent them moving around too much, just like the staff at call centres are also monitored. The hacks were so annoyed, however, that management had to back down and the motion detectors were removed.

As for the film industry, the presence of big name Hollywood stars can sink a movie simply through the sheer expense of paying. For example, Arnold Schwarzenegger was paid $7 million for his appearance in the second Terminator movie. While that was a box office success, the presence of ‘A’ list celebrities in a movie does not guarantee that a film will be a success. One of the reasons why the film Ishtar became such a notorious flop in the 1990s was that the producers cast three major stars, who all commanded multi-million dollar salaries. This pushed the bill for the movie towards $20 million or so, even before the film had been shot. The film was thus under financial pressure from the start.

Apart from the Japanese, there are other, successful European nations that also deliberately avoid huge inequalities in wealth. One of these is Denmark. The newspapers have been full of articles analysing and celebrating the traditional Danish concept of ‘hygge’. This has been translated as ‘cosiness’, but it actually means much more than that. The way I’ve heard it explained by a Danish friend, it’s about being content with the homely necessities. I got the distinct impression that it was similar to the Swedish notion of ‘lagom’, which translates as ‘just enough’. You make just enough to satisfy your basic needs, but no more. And from what I’ve heard about Danish society, the social attitude there is that no-one should try to appear ostentatiously better off than anyone else. This is not to say that everyone has to do the same low-paid job, or that they should not earn more than anyone else. But it does mean that they should not be conspicuously more affluent.

This is the complete opposite from the values promoted and celebrated by Thatcher and the wretched ‘New Right’ of the 1980s. They demanded making conditions harsher for the poor, and giving ever larger salaries to management on the grounds that this would act as an incentive for others to do well and try to climb up the corporate and social ladder. The result has been the emergence of a tiny minority, who are massively wealthy – the 1%. Like the Barclay twins, Rupert Murdoch and just about every member of Theresa May’s cabinet. For everyone else, wages have stagnated to the point where a considerable number are finding it very difficult to make ends meet.

But wage caps and an attitude that discourages inequalities of wealth have not harmed Japan, nor Denmark and Sweden, which also have very strong economies and a very high standard of living.

The massive difference between the millions earned by the heads of the big corporations has been a scandal here in Britain, to the point where David Cameron and May made noises urging company directors to restrain their greed. Corbyn’s suggestion is eminently sensible, if Britain is to be a genuinely inclusive, prosperous society. The outrage shown by various media execs to it shows that the Tories are still committed to a policy of poverty for the many, riches for a very few. And all their concern at reining in executive pay is just platitudes to make it appear that they’re concerned when the issue becomes too embarrassing.

Useful Book: Socialisms: Theory and Practices, by Antony Wright

July 2, 2016

Socialisms Cover

(Oxford: Oxford University Press 1987)

I was asked a few weeks ago by some of the commenters here what the difference between Socialism and Communism was. In fact, apart from democratic Socialism, which most people understand as Socialism, there is a bewildering variety of difference types of Socialism, and socialists have often strongly disagreed with each other about what it means and how it should be carried out, while advocating the collective ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange. Anthony Wright was the lecturer in political studies at the Department of Extramural Studies at Birmingham University. His book, published nearly three decades ago, has the subtitle on its front cover ‘Why Socialists disagree – and what they disagree about’. It discusses the different forms of Socialism, and the disagreements between them.

The blurb states:

One third of the world’s population now lives under a regime which describes itself as socialist. But what precisely is socialism? Marxists claim that they are the only true socialists, but this is hotly denied by Trotksyists, Anarchists, Fabians, Collectivists, Syndicalists, Social Democrats and members of the many other ‘socialist’ movements.

In this lucid and unintimidating introduction to the subject Anthony Wright argues that the contradictions, rivalries, and antagonisms within socialism arise from the absence of a single socialist tradition. The very word ‘socialism’ has (as R.H. Tawney put it) ‘radiant ambiguities’.

Socialisms develops this theme throughout a wide-ranging analysis of socialist theories and practices, and concludes, provocatively, with a look at the future prospects of contemporary socialisms.

As you can see, the book was written before the collapse of Communism, and neoliberal economics had infected the western socialist parties with different forms of the ‘Third Way’. It’s quite short at 137 pages, with different chapters on ‘traditions’, ‘arguments’, ‘doctrines’, ‘methods’, ‘actors’ and ‘futures’. In his conclusion, Wright looked forward to the rigid divisions between the different varieties of socialism breaking down, so that socialists of different persuasions can learn, and profitably borrow from each other.

The Young Turks on the Sheer Craziness of Michael Savage

February 25, 2016

In my last blog post, I posted a piece from Secular Talk discussing Newt Gingrich’s statement to Fox & Friends that they had created the political Frankenstein’s monster that is Donald Trump, now currently rampaging across America. Kulinski stated that he thought Gingrich was slightly wrong in that it wasn’t just Fox & Friends who were responsible for Trump, but the entire Far Right milieu. For twenty years or so they have been pushing a very nationalist, anti-immigration agenda, very similar to Trump’s. All he has done is to make it absolutely blatant, without the coded language previous politicians and right-wing pundits have used to disguise it. They’ve loudly denounced ‘political correctness’, and the result is Donald Trump, who very loudly proclaims that he is not ‘politically correct’. Hence the misogyny and derogatory comments about women and immigrants, particularly Muslims and Mexicans.

In this clip, Cenk Uygur discusses one of the other long-standing denizens of American extreme right-wing talk radio, Michael Savage. Savage isn’t someone people in the UK have generally heard of, although I can remember reading a feature on him about twenty years or so ago in the colour supplement of the Mail on Sunday. He also got a brief moment of notoriety over here when Bliar’s government banned him from coming to Britain. The Islamophobic right put this partly down to New Labour desperately trying to prove they weren’t racist by banning a token White right-winger, when most of the others on the list were Islamist hate-preachers. From what I’ve heard, Savage is extremely nationalistic to the point where he has been accused of anti-Semitism. This is ironic, as I think Savage is actually himself Jewish. His real surname is Wiener. He changed it to Savage after a particular individual, who managed to survive for months on a raft after being shipwrecked, if I remember the Mail article correctly.

Uygur begins by discussing Savage’s ratings. He’s supposed to be the second highest rated radio talk show host in America. Uygur says that the statistics are debatable, because the way the stats are collected is confused and nonsensical. Nevertheless, Savage’s show is broadcast in many American cities, and his message resonates with many Americans.

In the clip, Uygur discusses Savage’s statement on his radio show that what America needs is a ‘nationalistic party with a strong charismatic leader’. This could come from the Tea Party, but they don’t have a charismatic leader at the moment. Uygur points out that the Tea Party at the time of the video -2013 – was at its lowest point of 8%. If Savage had his way, it’d be down to 4%, though he’d probably say it was the best 4% ever and exactly what was needed to go about winning back America. He also makes the point that a ‘nationalist party with a strong, charismatic leader’, was the exact definition of the Nazis, and asks the question how Savage doesn’t know that. My guess is that Savage probably doesn’t consider the Nazis properly right-wing or nationalist. I think like many right-wing Americans, he sees collectivism as equalling socialism, which equals Communism and Nazism, because the Nazis claimed they were ‘National Socialists’. Nevertheless, the Nazis were very proudly nationalistic, and the Fuehrer was explicitly intended to be a charismatic figure. It was all part of the general cult of the leader. He was supposed to be a charismatic figure, who would energise his subjects, cutting through the layers of bureaucracy that traditionally separated and dulled the relationship between ruler and ruled.

He also attacks Savage’s condemnation of the Republican party. Savage states that there is no Republican party. They are just one wing of the Democrats. At one end there is ‘the drunk John Boehner’, and at the other there’s the pseudo-Crypto-quasi-Communist, Barack Obama. Uygur asks the obvious question how Obama could ever be considered a Communist, considering that he has just ratified and made permanent 99% of the tax cuts put in place by Dubya, never sent a single banker to jail for wrecking the economy, bailed out the banks with billions of dollars, and gave $68 billion to the big corporations.

Uygur compares Savage to Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist, and Glen Beck, another extreme Right-wing broadcaster, who also seems to believe that America is about to be overrun with godless Communists any second. Uygur states that he thinks that Savage is delusional, and needs medication and psychiatric help. I think he’s probably wrong about Savage being clinically insane, no matter how stupid or bizarre his political beliefs are. What I think is clear is that Savage has been one of the right-wing media figures, who have been pushing the Republicans generally into a position so extreme, that they make wretched Ronald Reagan look like a liberal. Savage is therefore, in my view, part of the same extreme right-wing milieu that has created Donald Trump.

Herbert Spencer and the Equation of Collectivism, Socialism and Totalitarianism

February 24, 2016

The Libertarian Right in the American Republican party and the Conservatives over here tends to see Socialism as identical to Communism and collectivism. It’s why Obama has been loudly shouted down as a ‘Communist’ and ‘Nazi’ when he introduced Obamacare and the idea of a single-payer health system. Much of this comes from von Hayek, of course, and Ayn Rand, but it also goes further back to Herbert Spencer in the 19th century. Spencer was the founder of ‘Social Darwinism’, the attitude that state legislation to protect the weak was bad, because it stopped the operation of the Darwinian ‘survival of the fittest’ which would lead to the gradual emergence of a new, better, fitter, variety of humanity in the course of evolution. And according to G.C. Peden in British Economic and Social Policy, it was also Spencer who identified collectivism as socialism, and claimed that it aimed at the total ownership of the individual and their enslavement, instead of, as Socialists believe, their liberation. Peden states

In his On the Origin of Species, which also appeared in 1859, Darwin portrayed the natural world as one of ceaseless struggle which ensured, by natural selection, the survival of the fittest. It was possible, by analogy, to draw the conclusion that efforts to protect the weak at the expense of the strong would retard the natural evolution of society. Social Darwinism is now most commonly associated with Herbert Spencer, whose( Man Versus the State (1884) certainly made use of biological analogies and accepted that suffering was a necessary aspect of progress. Spencer also equated collectivism with socialism, and socialism with ‘slavery’, in the sense that society became the owner of the individual. P. 3).

Now Spencer does have a point, in that Communism and other totalitarian, collectivist states did enslave their citizens. However, that does not mean that collectivism and socialism are automatically totalitarian, or even forms of Communism. This does show how Victorian ideas have persisted in the transatlantic Right, most vociferously in the Republican party in America, but also very much over here in the attitudes of many Tories. It’s why the media pundits in the Land of the Free have accused Bernie Sanders of being a Communist, and why, for example, two Tory activists in one of the northern towns at one point decided it would be jolly japes to dress up as Red Army soldiers to bate the ruing Labour council. And it explains Margaret Thatcher, who gave a speech to the Tory faithful in Cheltenham in the 1990s attacking socialism as a nasty foreign import related to Communism. Historically, it is, but the attitudes can be very different, as you can tell from the way committed Communists hated and despised ‘Reformism’ and democratic socialism at every opportunity.

Books on Radical History, the Working Class and British Democracy: Popular Movements c.1830-1850

January 19, 2014

edited by J.T. Ward (Basingstoke: MacMillan 1970)

Popular Movements 19thc

This discusses the major reform movements in the second quarter of the 19th century, which touched on nearly every aspect of British politics and society. There are individual chapters examining

1. The Agitation for Parliamentary Reform, discussing the campaign for the 1833 Great Reform Act, which expanded the franchise, and attempted to remove some of the most notorious rotten and pocked boroughs.

2. The Factory movement, which campaigned for lower working hours and prohibitions on employing children, or limiting their working hours, and improving conditions for factory workers.

3. The Anti-Poor Law legislation, which attacked the Workhouses set up by the Liberals.

4. Trade Unionism.

5. Chartism. This was the great working and lower middle class movement demanding the establishment of democracy. All men over the age of 21 were to be given the vote, there were to be equal electoral districts, annual parliaments, and MPs were to be paid, so that politics was no longer the province a wealthy elite. Much of their campaigning consisted in the presentation of giant petitions to parliament. It finally collapsed after the mid-19th century, when most of the signatures in its ‘monster petition’ were found to be forgeries, like ‘Queen Victoria’ and ‘The Duke of Wellington’. Nevertheless, it was a vital episode in the campaign for the expansion of the franchise.

6. The Agitation against the Corn Laws. These had been imposed at the time of the Napoleonic Civil War to keep the price of corn high and so ensure large profits for the farmers by excluding foreign imports. The Liberal politicians Cobden and Bright formed the Anti-Corn Law League to attack them, as they made bread and corn expensive for the working class, and so led to misery and starvation.

7.The Irish Agitation. Most famously led by John Stuart Parnell, this campaigned for Home Rule in opposition to the poverty and oppression experienced by ordinary Irish people under British government. One of the most notorious issues, bitterly resented by the Irish were the absentee landlords, who demanded extremely high rents from their tenants while enjoying life across the Irish Sea.

8. The Public Health Movement. This was another reaction against the disgusting squalor and foetid conditions in the Victorian slums, which led to horrific epidemics of diseases such a cholera. It led to the establishment of local boards of health, subordinate to a central board of health, which were to provide help and advice to the poor on problems with food, clothing, ventilation, drainage and cleanliness. It also resulted in a series of studies and commissions investigating the problems of disease, sanitation and living conditions in towns across Victorian Britain. Much of this was done or inspired by the Benthamite Radical, Owen Chadwick.

These movements gradually transformed industrial Britain. Instead of the laissez-faire philosophy towards government that officially informed government policies and ideology, state interference in the economy and society was increasingly accepted as a necessary means to improve conditions in the new, industrial society that was then emerging. This marked the beginning of a new, collectivist approach to politics that gradually became stronger and led to increasing legislation granting increasing political freedoms and improving conditions for the working and lower middle classes.