Posts Tagged ‘Cooperatives’

Bakunin’s Advocacy of Worker Co-operatives

December 28, 2018

The Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin had a strange, contradictory attitude towards co-operatives. In his article ‘On Co-operation’, Bakunin argued that they could actually harm the workers’ movement. He was highly critical of those founded on what he considered to be bourgeois principles for two reasons. Firstly, they could collapse, leaving the workers involved demoralized and poorer than before. And secondly, if they were successful, they elevated a small group of workers to the bourgeoisie while other workers, what he called a fifth estate, were exploited by them. At the same time, he passionately supported co-operatives as a means of empowering the workers and as the beginning of the future socialist society he looked forward to.

In his article ‘Geneva’s Double Strike’ he wrote

Let us organize and enlarge our Association, but at the same time let us not forget to consolidate it so that our solidarity, which is our whole power, may become daily more real. Let us build our solidarity in study, in labour, in public action, and in life. Let us become partners in common ventures to make our life together more bearable and less difficult. Let us form as many cooperatives for consumption, mutual credit, and production as we can, everywhere, for though they may be unable to emancipate us in earnest under present economic conditions, they prepare the precious seedes for the organization of the future and through them the workers become accustomed to organizing their own affairs.

In Robert M. Cutler, ed. and trans., Mikhail Bakunin: From Out of the Dustbin: Bakunin’s Basic Writings 1869-1871 (Ann Arbor: Ardis 1985), p. 148.

And after laying out his criticisms of ‘bourgeois’ cooperatives and their advocates in ‘On Cooperation’, Bakunin then turns to promoting them. He wrote

We want cooperation too. We are even convinced that the cooperative will be the preponderant form of social organization in the future, in every branch of labour and science. But at the same time, we know that it will prosper, developing itself fully and freely, embracing all human industry, only when it is based on equality, when all capital and every instrument of labour, including the soil, belong to the people by right of collective property. Therefore before all else, we consider this demand, the organization of the international strength of the workers of all countries, to be the principal goal of our great International [Working-Men’s] Association.

Once this is acknowledged, we hardly oppose the creation of cooperative associations; we find them necessary in many respects. First, and this appears to us even to be their principal benefit at present, they accustom the workers to organize, pursue and manage their interests themselves, without any interference either by bourgeois capital or by bourgeois control.

It is desirable that when the hour of social liquidation is at hand, it should find many cooperative associations in every country and locality; if they are well organized and above all founded on the principles of solidarity and collectivity rather than on bourgeois exclusivism, then society will pass from its present situation to one of equality and justice without too many great upheavals.

Cutler, Mikhail Bakunin, p. 150.

I don’t believe in a radical transformation of society like Bakunin, who was an ardent revolutionary. But I would like more cooperatives to be founded, and this to become, with various other forms of industrial democracy, the dominant form of industrial organization. Working people should be able to organize and empower themselves so that they can resist the power of big business and Conservatism, which has stripped them of rights at work and even the promise of secure, well-paid jobs. There is a problem in that cooperatives can be less economical than capitalist enterprises, but the success of the Mondragon cooperatives in Spain shows that this is not necessarily the case. And cooperatives and industrial democracy, if done properly, will empower the workers and help break down the current class system and the increasingly oligarchical nature of business and politics.

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Archbishop of Canterbury Condemns ‘Gig Economy’, Tories Go Berserk

September 15, 2018

More hypocrisy from the Tory party. This week, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, gave a long speech attacking Universal Credit and zero hours contracts. He described the ‘gig’ economy the Blairites and the Tories have created, in which workers in insecure jobs are only called in if their bosses decide there’s work for them to do, and go without pay if there isn’t, the ‘return of an ancient evil’.

He made the speech after Labour had outlined its commitment to empowering workers, which included a comprehensive attack on the gig economy. Zero hours contracts will be banned, and employment benefits like sick pay and maternity leave will be extended to cover part-time workers. The party also pledged to end the ruse in which many firms seek to dodge their obligation to provide their workers with proper rights and benefits by making them officially self-employed.

The Archbishop mentioned Labour’s John McDonnell in his speech, who in turn praised the Archbishop. McDonnell said

“The Archbishop of Canterbury has set out a bold vision for a different society, one without the evils of the gig economy, the exploitation of workers and tax dodging of the multinationals.

“I welcome his speech, and the growing movement against the failures of austerity and neoliberalism. Labour will end zero hours contracts, clamp down on the tax avoiders, and ensure everyone has access to sick pay, parental leave and protections at work.”

The Tories, however, immediately went berserk, and showed their own hypocrisy when it comes to supporting the political intervention of religious leaders. They were more than happy when the former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks claimed that Corbyn and the Labour party were anti-Semitic. However, they were outraged that the Archbishop had dared to criticize the wonderful Thatcherite capitalism they’d created.

The Tory MP, Ben Bradley, tweeted

‘Not clear to me when or how it can possibly be appropriate for the Archbishop of Canterbury to be appearing at TUC conference or parroting Labour policy.’

He added: ‘There are a diversity of views as to what is best for the economy, but [he] only seems interested in presenting John McDonnell’s point of view.’

Simon Maginn tweeted his response

Rabbi Sacks: “Jeremy Corbyn is an antisemite.”
Tories: “Listen to the holy gentleman.”
Archbishop of Canterbury: “Tories have increased poverty.”
Tories: ‘Must keep religion out of politics.”

Mike in his article notes that Archbishop Welby was unapologetic, and observed that ‘The Bible is political from one end to the other’.

Mike concludes

His intervention is to be welcomed.

The Church of England is often seen as a haven for Conservatives and it will be interesting to see what happens to those Tories’ attitudes, considering this new direction from the pulpit.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/09/13/tory-hypocrisy-over-archbishops-intervention-in-employment-politics/

This has been going on for decades. The Anglican Church has been described as ‘the Tory party at prayer’, and the Tory party itself was set up back in the 17th century by supporters of the aristocracy and established church against the more liberal Whigs.

However, the Church has also contained passionate reformers working against social evils. Archbishop Temple in his book, Christianity and the Social Order, published in 1942, pointed to reformers like William Wilberforce and the others in the ‘Clapham Sect’, who campaigned against slavery; John Howard and Elizabeth Fry and prison reform; and F.D. Maurice and the Christian Socialists in the 19th century. These latter wished to see businesses transformed into co-operatives, which would share their profits with their workers. This strand of Anglican social activism continued into the 20th century, and in 1924 the Anglican church held a conference to examine the question of how the Church should tackle the poverty and injustices of the age. Temple also pointed to the example of the pre-Reformation Church in attacking some of the economic and social abuses of the times, and particular Protestant Christian leaders and ministers, like John Wesley, after the Reformation.

He also quotes the Hebrew prophets of the Old Testament to show how property rights, while certainly existing and respected in ancient Israel, were also limited and intended to ensure that each family had their own portion of land and that great estates held by single individuals, did not develop. He writes

In the days of the Kings we find prophets denouncing such accumulations; so for example Isaiah exclaims: “Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no room, and yet be made to dwell alone in the midst of the land.” (Isaiah v.*8); and Michah: “Woe to them that devise iniquity and work evil upon their beds! When the morning is light, they practice it, because it is in the power of their hand. And they covet fields and seize them; and houses, and take them away; and they oppress a man and his house, even a man and his heritage” (Micah ii, 1, 2). And the evil here was not primarily economic, though that may have been involved. The evil was the denial of what Tertullian (c.160-230) would call ‘fellowship in property’ – which seemed to him the natural result of unity in mind and spirit. (p. 38).

The first chapter of the book, ‘What Right has the Church to Interfere?’, gives the reasons Temple believes that the Church indeed possesses such a right. It’s too long to list all of them, but one of them is that the economic structure of society is immensely influential on the formation of its citizens’ morals. Temple writes

It is recognized on all hands that the economic system is an educative influence, for good or ill, of immense potency. Marshall, the prince of orthodox economists of the last generation, ranks it with the religion of a country as the most formative influence in the moulding of a people’s character. If so, then assuredly the Church must be concerned with it. For a primary concern of the Church is to develop in men a Christian character. When it finds by its side an educative influence so powerful it is bound to ask whether than influence is one tending to develop Christian character, and if the answer is partly or wholly negative the Chu5rch must do its utmost to secure a change in the economic system to that it may find in that system an ally and not an enemy. How far this is the situation in our country to-day we shall consider later. At present it is enough to say that the Church cannot, without betraying its own trust, omit criticism of the economic order, or fail to urge such action as may be prompted by that criticism. (P. 22)

Temple was also very much aware how some politicians resented the Church speaking out on political issues. For example, Queen Victoria’s first Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, is supposed to have said after hearing an Evangelical preacher that ‘if religion was going to interfere with the affairs of private life, things were come to a pretty pass’. Temple added

(L)ater prime ministers have felt and said the same about the interference of religion with the affairs of public life; but the interference steadily increases and will increase. (P. 15).

And the friction between the Tory party and the Anglican and other churches has been going on ever since Thatcher set foot in 10 Downing Street. She got very annoyed when the-then Archbishop, Robert Runcie, issued a report detailing the immense poverty that had been produced by her policies. Norman Tebbitt, her attack dog, made comments casting aspersions on the good clergyman’s sexuality, on the grounds that he had a sing-song voice and the slightly camp manner of many churchmen. He was soon showed to be very wrong, as Runcie had been an army chaplain, whose ferocity in battle had earned him the nickname ‘Killer Runcie’. A friend of mine remarked about him that the really hard men don’t show it.

The Church has gone on issuing reports and holding inquiries into poverty in Britain, and other social issues. And the Tory response has always been the same: to attack and criticize the Church’s interference. There have been comments of the kind that the clergy should stick to preaching the Gospel, and then they might have larger congregations.

But if Thatcher and the Tories didn’t feel that the Church had any right to interfere in politics, they definitely believed that they had the right to interfere in the church’s ministry and pastoral theology. And that this right was absolutely God-given. When Thatcher was on the steps of Number 10, she started quoted St. Francis of Assisi’s famous prayer, ‘Where there is darkness, let us bring light’ etc. She also took it upon herself to lecture the ministers of the church on the correct interpretation of scripture. I can remember her speaking to a conference of the Church of Scotland, in which she explained to the assembled ministers and faithful her own view of charity and the welfare state, based on St. Paul’s words, ‘If a man does not work, he shall not eat’. Needless to say, the guid ministers were not impressed, and showed it in the massed ranks of stony faces.

Temple was absolutely right in stating that Christians had a duty to examine and criticize the economic structure of society as the major force affecting people’s morals and character. But Thatcherism goes far beyond this. I’ve read pieces that have stated that Thatcher’s whole outlook was based on her peculiar right-wing religious ideas. Thatcherism isn’t simply an economic system. It’s a political theology. Thatcher was strongly influence by Keith Joseph, who was Jewish. It’s why she prattled about ‘Judeo-Christian values’ rather than just Christian values. I have no doubt that the Jewish readers of this blog will have their own views about proper Jewish morality, and that these may be very different from Joseph and Thatcher’s interpretation.

Thus in Thatcherism the free market is absolutely virtuous, and any interference in its operation is an attack on a divinely sanctioned system. But from the standpoint of a left-wing interpretation of Christianity, Thatcherite theology is like its economics, profoundly wrong, bogus and harmful. And her celebration of the free market turns it into an idol, an object of false religious worship.

More and more Christians both here and in America are turning against this idol, just as left-wing Jews are turning against right-wing politics as incompatible with the liberal politics of traditional Judaism. The Church has every right and, indeed, a duty as a moral body concerned with people’s spiritual welfare, to attack Thatcherism and its destructive legacy.

I’m very much aware that we now live in a post-Christian society, where only a minority attend Church and most people profess to have no religious beliefs. Just as there are also sizable non-Christian communities, such as Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and the various neo-Pagan groups, who also have every right to make their voices heard politically. Temple also advances other reasons why the Church should speak out on more rational, non-religious grounds, such as morality and common human sympathy for the victims of suffering. I hope, however, that regardless their religious views, people will support Welby on the issues of employment rights as an entirely justified attack on an iniquitous situation, which desperately needs to be corrected.

Anti-NHS Privatisation Graffiti in Bristol’s Stokes Croft

April 2, 2017

Stokes Croft is not a part of the city I go to regularly. It’s on the other side of Bristol from me. However, I was passing through it yesterday on the way to a conference at elsewhere. It’s a very bohemian part of town, with an ethnically mixed population as well as a large number of students. It’s also very left-wing. A few years ago the people there rioted against the opening of yet another supermarket, which they were afraid would destroy the area’s local shops. One of the companies down there is a cooperative, which helps drug addicts and criminals back on their feet through creating new pieces from old pottery. I’ve heard this company has actually called itself at time, ‘the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft’.

So I shouldn’t have been surprised to see, staring out of a window, several large pieces of graffiti protesting against the privatisation of the NHS. One of them said in large, blue letters scrawled across the front of a closed shop, ‘Kissing the NHS Goodbye’. Even before the bus got to Stokes Croft, there was a large sign up in the Horsefair, which is just outside, advertising a demo against it a year or so ago.

I haven’t, unfortunately, got any pictures of this. I will, however, take some the next time I go there. If any of the readers of this blog also have pics they want to send in, I’ll gladly post them up here with the proper credit.

This issue isn’t going away, and more and more people are organising to challenge it.

How Labour Can Become a Party of the Countryside

April 2, 2017

Last Thursday Mike put up a piece asking ‘How can Labour become the party of the countryside again?’, following the announcement by the Fabian Society that it was launching a project to investigate ways in which the Labour party could start winning over rural communities in England and Wales. The Society stated that the government had promised to match the subsidies granted to farmers and rural communities under the Common Agricultural Policy until 2020. However, farmers are faced with the devastating prospect of losing access to European markets, while being undercut by cheap foreign imports. Environmental regulations are also threatened, which also affect the continuing beauty of the English and Welsh countryside.

The Society recognises that agriculture isn’t the only issue affecting rural communities. They also suffer from a range of problems from housing, education, transport and the closure of local services. Rural communities pay more for their transport, and are served worst. At the same time, incomes in the countryside are an average of £4,000 lower than in the towns, but prices are also higher. Many market towns, pit villages and other rural communities have been abandoned as their inhabitants have sought better opportunities in the towns.

The Society is asking Labour members in rural communities to fill out a survey, to which Mike’s article is linked, and give their views on how the party can succeed in the countryside.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/03/28/how-can-labour-become-the-party-of-the-countryside-again/

This is a fascinating project, and if successful would see Labour challenge the Tories and Lib Dems in their heartlands. The Tories in particular seem to see themselves as the party of the countryside since the 18th and 19th centuries, when they represented the Anglican aristocracy, who tried to emphasise the rural traditions of a mythical prosperous ‘merrie England’ against the threat of the towns of the growth of the Liberal middle class.

Mike states that one of the problems he’s faced as a Labour party campaigner in his part of rural Wales is the myth that ‘Labour wants to nationalise farms’. Clearly, this is the part of the same complaint I remembering hearing from middle class children at school that ‘Labour wanted to nationalise everything’. It was to allay these suspicions that Blair went off and got rid of Clause 4 as part of his assault on Labour as the party of the working class. But even before then it was nonsense.

Following Labour’s defeat in the 1950 elections, the party halted its programme of nationalisation. Labour was in any case committed to nationalise only when it was necessary and popular. Thus, Atlee’s government set up the NHS and nationalised the utilities, with very little opposition from the Tories, but did not proceed further. And the Social Democratic section of the party, led by Tony Crosland, argued very strongly against nationalisation on the grounds that it was not only unpopular, but the benefits of nationalisation could be achieved in other ways, such as a strong trade union movement, a welfare state and progressive taxation.

This held sway until the 1970s, when the Keynsian consensus began to break down. Labour’s response in 1973 was to recommend a more comprehensive programme of nationalisation. They put forward a list of 25 companies, including the sugar giant, Tate & Lyle, which they wanted taken into public ownership. How large this number seems to be, it is far short complete nationalisation.

The party was strongly aware of the massive problems the Soviet Union had in feeding its population, thanks to the collectivisation of agriculture. Most of the food produced in the USSR came from the private plots the peasants were allowed on their kholkozy – collective farms. Tito’s government in Yugoslavia had attempted to avoid that by letting the farms remain in private hands. At the same time, only companies that employed more than 20 people were to be nationalised.

Even in the 1930s and 40s I don’t think the nationalisation of farmland was quite an option. Looking through the contents of one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham, I found an old copy of Production for the People, published by the Left Book Club in the 1940s. This explored ways in which Socialists could raise production in industry and agriculture, to the benefit of working people. The section on agriculture was almost wholly devoted to the question of subsidies and suitable government infrastructure to support farmers. I can’t remember there being any mention of nationalisation. The closest the book came was to argue for an expansion of rural cooperatives.

This project may well embarrass the Fabian Society. I’ve got the distinct impression that the Society is now staffed very strongly with Blairites, and it is Blairism as a barely left extension of Thatcherism that is at the heart of so many of the problems of rural communities. Blair, for example, like Major and now the administrations of Cameron and May, strongly supported the big supermarket chains. But the supermarket chains have done immense damage to Britain’s small businessmen and farmers. They force small shopkeepers out of business, and impose very exploitative contracts on their suppliers. See the chapter on them in George Monbiot’s Captive State. Yet national and local governments have fallen over to grant their every wish up and down the country. David Sainsbury even had some place in one of Blair’s quangos. I think he even was science minister, at one point.

If Labour would like to benefit farmers and traders, they could try and overturn the power of the supermarket chains, so that farmers get a proper price for their products and are not faced with the shouldering the costs while Sainsbury’s, Tescos and so on reap all the profits. At the same time, your local shops together employ more people than the local supermarket. So if you cut down on the number of supermarkets in an area, you’d actually boost employment. But this is unlikely to go down well with the Blairites, looking for corporate donations and a seat on the board with these pernicious companies when they retire or lose their seat.

At the same time, rural communities and livelihoods are also under attack from the privatisation of the forestry service. Fracking is also a threat to the environment, as is the Tories campaign against green energy. A number of villages around Britain, including in Somerset, have set up local energy companies generating power from the sun and wind. But the current government is sponsored heavily by the oil and nuclear companies, and so is desperate to close these projects down, just like the Republicans are doing in America.

The same goes for the problems of transport. After Maggie Thatcher decided to deregulate bus services, the new bus companies immediately started cutting unprofitable services, which included those to rural areas. If Labour really wants to combat this problem, it means putting back in place some of the regulations that Thatcher removed.

Also, maintaining rural communities as living towns and villages also means building more houses at prices that people in the countryside can afford. It may also mean limiting the purchase of housing stock as convenient second homes for wealthy urbanites. The Welsh Nats in the ’70s and ’80s became notorious for burning down holiday homes in Wales owned by the English. In actual fact, I think it’s now come out that only a tiny number – perhaps as low as 1 – were actually destroyed by Welsh nationalists. The rest were insurance jobs. But I can remember my Welsh geographer teacher at school explaining why the genuine arsonists were so angry. As holiday homes, they’re vacant for most of the year. The people, who own them don’t live locally, and so don’t use local services, except for the couple of weeks they’re there. Furthermore, by buying these homes, they raise the prices beyond the ability of local people to buy them, thus forcing them out.

This is a problem facing rural communities in England, not just Wales, and there are some vile people, who see nothing wrong with it. I’ve a friend, who was quite involved in local politics down in Somerset. He told me how he’d had an argument on one of the Somerset or rural British websites with a very right-wing, obnoxious specimen, who not only saw nothing wrong with forcing local country people out of their homes, but actually celebrated it. This particular nutter ranted on about how it was a ‘new highland clearances’. I bet he really wouldn’t like to say that in Scotland!

Labour may also be able to pick up votes by attacking the myth of the fox hunting lobby as really representing rural Britain. Well, Oscar Wilde once described them as ‘the unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible’. Which about accurately describes them. They were resented in the early 19th century, when some farmers and squires started ‘subscription hunts’. Their members where wealthy urban businessmen, off for a day’s ‘sport’ in the country. At the same time, harsh laws were passed against poaching, which saw starving farm workers transported.

Mike’s put up statistics several times on his blog, which show very much that very many, perhaps even the majority, of rural people do not support fox hunting. And I know people from rural Britain, who actively loathed and detested it. I had a friend at College, who came from Devon. He bitterly hated the Tories and the fox hunters, not least because the latter had ridden down a deer into school playing field and killed it in front of the children.

Another friend of mine comes from East Anglia. He told me how many of the tenant farmers over there also hated the fox hunting crowd, not least because of the cavalier way they assumed they had the right to ride over the land of the small farmers in pursuit of the ‘game’.

The fox hunting crowd do not represent rural Britain as a whole, and their claim to do so should be attacked and shown to be massively wrong at every opportunity. As for the Tories’ claim to be the party of the countryside, they have represented the interests only of the rich landed gentry, and the deregulation and privatisation introduced by Maggie Thatcher and carried on by successive right-wing administrations, including May and Cameron, have done nothing but harm real working people in rural Britain. The bitter persecution of the farmworker’s unions set up in the 19th century clearly demonstrate how far back this hatred and contempt goes.

Reichwing Watch: Tom Hartmann Quotes Vice-President Wallace on Fascism in America

November 18, 2016

On Wednesday I put up a documentary by Reichwing Watch, which carefully showed the corporatist powers behind the rise of modern Libertarianism, and how it represents the interests of big business instead of ordinary people despite its claims to the contrary. The documentary quoted Henry Wallace, F.D.R.’s vice-president in 1944, who wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times about the threat of Fascism in America, and how this would arise through the same powerful corporate interests, who would claim to be super-patriots, but would attempt to use their political and economic power to enslave ordinary Americans.

In this clip from Thom Hartmann’s internet show, Hartmann also discusses how Fascism is based on the power of big corporations, and further quotes Wallace’s New York Times article. Hartmann begins by defining Fascism as the merger of corporate and government interests, with a bit of nationalism and racism to keep the masses distracted by hating a terrible ‘other’. He notes that Mussolini dissolved the Italian parliament in favour of a chamber of Fasci and corporations, and that Giovanni Gentile, the Italian philosopher, stated that Fascism should more properly be described as corporatism.

He then goes to quote Henry Wallace’s article in the New York Times. Wallace wrote

Fascism is a worldwide disease. Its greatest threat to the US will come after the War in the US itself. Another Fascist danger is represented by those, who paying lip service to national service and the common welfare, in their insatiable greet for money and the power which money gives, do not hesitate surreptitiously to evade the laws which protect the public from monopolistic extortion.

Hartmann goes on to explain that Wallace nevertheless believed that the American system was strong enough to avoid Fascism. At that time, it was rare for a C.E.O. to enter politics, and politicians knew that they had to represent ‘we, the people’. And so Wallace continues

Happily, it can be said that Fascism has not captured a place in mainstream America. It can be found in Wall Street, Main Street and Tobacco Road, and traces of it can be seen along the Potomac, but if we put our trust in the common sense of common men and with malice towards none and charity for all, and continue building political, economic and social democracy, we shall prevail.

American Fascism will not be really dangerous until there is a purposeful coalition among the cartelists, the poisoners of public information and those who stand for the KKK-type of demagoguery.

Hartmann makes the point that this has happened today through the alliance of right-wing news channels, the corporatists, and the White House. Wallace goes on

They claim to be super-patriots, but they would destroy every liberty, they claim to support free enterprise, but the represent monopolies and vested interests. Their final objective, to which all their deceit is directed, it to capture political power so that using the power of the state and the market simultaneously they can keep the common man in eternal subjection.

The American Fascists are most easily recognised by their perversion of truth and Fact. Their propaganda cultivates every fissure in the common front, and they consistently criticise democracy.

Hartmann here discusses how this accurately describes the purveyors of hate in the corporatist media, like Fox News, and how they are composed of the Islamophobes, the anti-gay religious leaders, and the corporatists determined to put worker against worker, trade unionists against the non-unionised employees, men against women, in a strategy of divide and conquer. He goes on to say that we should all be concerned about the next few years, and states that it is the most high stakes struggle since the foundation of the Republic, though not the biggest – that was the Civil War. But, Harmann asks rhetorically, can anyone remember a time when Americans were so polarised? He concludes that the struggle against Fascism begins today – and you need to get involved. Movement politics are what is needed. It simply isn’t enough just to vote.

There are a couple of things wrong with Hartmann’s analysis of Fascism. The Fascist ‘corporations’ he mentions weren’t commercial companies, but industrial associations combining both the trade unions and the employers’ organisations. Furthermore, nationalism and racism was central to Fascism, not something merely added to their foul intellectual stew in order to keep the masses distracted. Hitler and his fellow mass murderers genuinely hated the Jews, and ant-Semitism and the doctrine of Aryan racial superiority was central to Nazi ideology from the very beginning. Similarly, Italian Fascism was originally a movement of ultra-patriots intensely dissatisfied with Italy’s failure to get what they believed was its rightful territorial gains after the First World War. Mussolini sincerely wanted the Italians to be a militaristic people and to create a new, Roman Empire.

But he’s write about the importance of corporate power. Both Mussolini and then Hitler got into power because they posed as the defenders of capitalism and business against the threat of organised labour, socialism, and the trade unions. Mussolini’s Fascist absorbed the Italian Nationalists, who were right-wing businessmen. Just as the Fascists attacked the trade unions in urban areas, in the countryside they represented the big landowners, and went around trying to smash the peasant organisations, cooperatives and collectives.

Wallace’s description of the threat of a home-grown Fascism in America really does describe the coalition of power that has brought Trump to the White House: the powerful, right-wing news organisations like Fox, Breitbart and scores of local and national talk radio stations. And Trump is a corporatist, representing elite big business. But this also applies to his predecessors, both Democrat and Republican, right back to Reagan. This includes the Clintons, both Bill and Hillary, and Barack Obama, as well as the Bush family.

And it also applies over here, to Maggie Thatcher, John Major, and then Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and New Labour, to David Cameron and now Theresa May. It was Maggie Thatcher, who began the process of permitting the concentration of the British media in a few, very limited hands, including that of Murdoch. And the Tories have always maintained that they are the party of business as a rhetorical defence, whenever the purging of corporate influence from parliament is mentioned. They argue that since Labour represents the trade unions, the Tories are right to represent business. They do not, by this admission, represent ‘hard-working people’, except in the sense that they are keen to stress how hard the millionaires they represent work. 78 per cent of MPs are millionaires, and the majority hold multiple directorships. And New Labour was, in Mandelson’s words, ‘intensely laid back about getting rich’, expanded Peter Lilley’s vile PFI initiative, and promoted business to parliament and parliamentary committees, initiatives and quangos.

Trump’s a Fascist, but the rot goes deep, all the way back to the foundations of the neoliberal world order in Reagan and Thatcher, who both supported real Fascists in the death squads of south American dictators like Samosa and Pinochet.

We need to fight back. And we need to do more than that – we need to purge parliament of the very corporate interests that have wormed their way into power, in order to make our countries true democracies again, and not merely elective oligarchies providing a veneer of popular approval for corrupt, corporate rule.

Aganbegyan on Perestroika and Workers’ Control

June 29, 2016

Earlier this week I put up a translation of an Austrian governmental pamphlet from the 1980s on the system of factory councils and workers’ representation in industry. Over the in Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet Communist president, advocated a system of workers’ control and the transformation of state enterprises into co-operatives, in order to reform and invigorate the moribund Soviet economy and political system. It was also intended as part of a wider series of measures, like free speech and elections, which were to transform the USSR into a Socialist democracy. I’ve posted up pieces from Gorbachev himself in his book, Perestroika, about the new thinking, and from Ken Livingstone, who was deeply impressed with this aspect of the Soviet experiment. Gorbachev’s chief economist, Abel Aganbegyan, also discusses the importance of industrial democracy in his The Challenge: Economics of Perestroika (London: CenturyHutchinson 1988).

Aganbegyan states that the importance of co-operatives in the Soviet economy was recognised by Lenin, and that Gorbachev was returning to this earlier Soviet ideal. He wrote:

The development of cooperatives and self-employment is not a departure from Socialist principles of economic management. In Soviet conditions a cooperative is a socialist form of economic management, foreseen by Lenin in one of his last articles “On Co-operatives”. As is well known, Lenin’s last articles were dictated by him. He was extremely ill and sensed his imminent death; these articles are rightly seen as his last will. It is symbolic that among the various questions to which Lenin wished to draw society’s attention, was the question of cooperatives as an important form of socialist economic management. Lenin fully understood that a socialist society could not be developed solely on enthusiasm and on the application of administrative measures. He wrote about the need to employ the principles of material self-interest, self-financing, financial accountability (Khozraschet) and material responsibility. The cooperative form of economic management is indeed a form which ensures greater material incentive in work, more responsibility and the ability to pay one’s way. At the same time it is a democratic form since it is voluntary. Lenin attached fundamental importance to the voluntary nature of the cooperative. Cooperatives are self-managing organisations, where the collective itself decides everything and things are not fixed from above by an official. Thus the potential advantages of cooperatives within our society are far from exhausted. And we know from economic history, no economic form will disappear if it contains within it potential for self-development. The development of self-employment has also to be approached as a way of strengthening the material interest of individuals in creative labour.

The aim of socialist development in the final analysis lies in meeting the needs of all members of society more fully. Cooperatives and self-employment contribute to this end and therefore reinforce our socialist principles. They completely correspond to Gorbachev’s slogan for prestroika, ‘Give us more socialism!’ (p. 30).

The Cooperatives and Democratisation

Aganbegyan also makes it very clear in the book that the creation of the co-operatives was part of the wider process of democratising the USSR.

Democratisation of the whole of our society including the development of glasnost is an important aspect of perestroika. As it applies to the economy, debate is proceeding on an increased role in workers’ collectives in the resolution of economic questions, and in the transition to self-management. In the Law on Socialist Enterprises, workers’ collectives have been granted extensive rights in framing the plan of economic development for their enterprise, deciding on the way incentives should be offered, on work conditions and salaries, and the social development of their collective.

Of particular significance is the right of workers’ collectives choose their economic leaders, at brigade, enterprise and association level. Earlier, under the administrative system, directives on the conduct of the plan, even the smallest details, were handed down from above. Now, with full economic independence and self-accounting, the welfare of the collective depends above all on work organisation and levels of productivity. Its leader, as head of the working collective, must take the lead in striving for higher efficiency and productivity. (P. 31).

The Workers’ Democracy in Action

Aganbegyan also describes the new system of industrial democracy at work, and how it was introduced by a number of firms, so that managers had to compete for their positions. As a result of this, 8 per cent of the most inefficient were weeded out.

In the new system of economic management the rights of working collectives have been greatly expanded by the Law on Social Enterprises passed in June 1987. The working collective now determines the development policy of the enterprise. It also establishes the plan of development for its enterprise, including the plan for the five-year period. Plans set by the collective are final and are not subject to the approval of any higher authorities. The collective determines the way the enterprise uses the self-accounting income which it has earned. it scrutinises particularly the way the enterprise’s funds are used in the technological research and development fund, the social development fund and the financial incentives fund.

The working collective carries out its f8unctions both directly at meetings of the whole working collective and through democratically elected Councils to represent its interests. The decision to broaden the rights of the working collective was not taken dogmatically, but on the basis of generalisation of the experience accumulated at individual enterprises in the Soviet Union. At the Kaluga Turbine Factory, fore example, a council of brigade leaders, representing the working collective’s interests, has been operating effectively for many years. The fact is that here collective labour brigades were genuinely organised. Each brigade elects its brigade leader, so that the brigade leaders’ council is a democratically elected body. The factory has major productive and social results to its credit and, moreover, the long-term development policy of the enterprise is in the main the responsibility of the brigade leaders’ council.

For the first time working collectives are being given extensive rights such as the right to elect the manager. This affects the election of managers of all ranks: the brigade elects the brigadier, the workers and section foremen the section head, the working collective of the factory elects the director of the factory, and the whole working collective of the association elects the General Director. These elections are planned as a creative process. They must be preceded by public competition for managerial posts, with a preliminary selection made by, say, the working collective council. Each candidate then meets with the workers in the sections, departments and enterprises, attends meetings and meets with representatives of public organisations. Each candidate for the post of manager draws up a programme of actions and presents it to the working collective. Secret elections then take place with votes cast for a specific person, whose particulars and potential are known, and for a definite development programme for the enterprise.

The idea of appointing managers by election has already been taken up by many working collectives. Even before the official acceptance of the Law on Enterprises these elections were being organised independently in many places. Interesting events occurred for example at the Riga Car Factory. This factory produces the RAF microbuses which gained popularity in their day, but had eventually ceased to meet the increasingly sophisticated demands as needs changed and technology developed. The factory was in a deep crisis and stopped fulfilling the plan. A new leader was needed. Under the aegis of the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda a nationwide competition was held for the post of director of the factory. A total of four thousand applications was received from all corners of the country and a commission was specially created composed of car construction specialists (from the Ministry of Car Industry), from the factory and from local bodies. About thirty candidates were shortlisted. They studied the factory and made their proposals for it. One the basis of a detailed examination of these more concrete data the list of candidates was further reduced to eight. They came to the factory, familiarized themselves with the work, stated their views on how to improve the situation and finally the working collective in a secret ballot selected its factory director. This turned out to be V.L. Bossert, an energetic young manager, 35 years of age, who up to then was working as the manager of the Omsk Factory, a major producer of gear-boxes for the Moskvich car. The collective supported the candidacy of this new director and gave its views on his programme for the full reconstruction of the factory and the design of a new model of microbus which would be on a par with world standards. Having elected the director, the collective began to work intensively and soon fulfilled the plan. The number of claims for replacement of defective goods was reduced. The financial situation of the enterprise improved, people started to receive prizes and work motivation grew. Parallel to this, work continues on designing a new car and reconstructing the factory.

This experience has proved to be successful and it has caught on. Based on the RAF factory’s example, tens and even hundreds of other enterprises have organised elections for directors. Success is assured wherever this is carried out not as a mere formality, but where competition is guaranteed, where time is given and conditions are created for the preparation of imaginative programmes of development of the working collective, and where people really feel they are participating in the advancement of their enterprise at management level. In discussing the question of appointment of leaders by election, we have studied attentively the experience of other socialist countries, Bulgaria and Hungary. In Hungary in particular, the democratic mechanism has been very effective. In re-election for the post of direct 8% of former directors were voted out, but 92% had their competence at management confirmed by the collective. IN this way the quality of managers has been improved.(Pp. 197-9).

Unfortunately, this experiment was abandoned. The cooperatives throughout the eastern bloc were transformed into bog-standard capitalist enterprises through the voucher system. Yeltsin recklessly privatised everything he could lay his hands on, with the result that the Russian economy went into meltdown. And the end result of this has been the rise of Putin and the oligarchs. It is a great pity, as if this experiment had succeeded, Russia could have been the first and greatest genuinely democratic, socialist country, and undoubtedly the benefits this gave its working people would have been taken up and copied around the world.

Solving Unemployment through Trade Union-Run Cooperatives

April 2, 2016

The German-born anarcho-syndicalist, Rudolf Rocker, devotes a passage in his Anarcho-Syndicalism (London: Pluto Press 1989) to Robert Owen’s proposal in the early 1830s to set up a Grand Consolidated Trade Union which would include all the working people in every trade, its plans for supporting unemployed workers, and finally its gradual decline in the 1840s. See pages 57-66. The Grand National Consolidated Trade Union was intended to supersede the existing situation where the workers were divided into separate trade unions according to their different trades and industries. At the same time, the new, umbrella union would be organised into different divisions for the workers in specific branches of industry. The ultimate aim was for the workers themselves to take over production, which they would then market themselves through special shops, according to the cost of manufacturing the article. Instead of conventional currency, special labour notes, representing labour value, would be exchanged for these products. To support unemployed workers, the trade unions would also invest in land, which would be worked by unemployed workers, and co-operatives, which would also provide the unemployed with work, producing needed goods that would be purchased by the other members of the Union.

Rocker quotes the following passage from the Grand National Consolidated Trade Union’s statement of its aims.

As land is the source of the first necessaries of life, and as, without the possession of it, the producing classes were ever remain in a greater or less degree subservient to the money capitalists, and subsequent upon the fluctuations of trade and commerce, this committee advises that a great effort should now be made by the unions to secure such portions of it on lease as their funds will permit, in order that in all turn-outs the men may be employed in rearing the greater part, if not the whole, of their subsistence under the direction of practical agricultural superintendents, which arrangements would not have the effect of lowering the price of labour in any trade, but on the contrary would rather tend to in increase it by drawing off the at present superfluous supply to the manufacturers.

The committee would, nevertheless, earnestly recommend in all cases of strikes and turn-outs, where it is practicable, that the men be employed in the making or producing of all such commodities as would be in demand among their brother unionists; and that to effect this, each lodge should be provided with a workroom or shop in which those commodities may be manufactured on account of such lodge, which shall make proper arrangements for the supply of the necessary materials.

That in all cases where it is practicable, each district or branch should establish one or more depots of provisions and articles in general domestic use: by which means the working man may be supplied with the best commodities at little above wholesale prices. (Pp.61-2)

Rocker notes how this was greeted by the radical paper, The Poor Man’s Guardian

But far different from the paltry objects of all former combinations is that now aimed at by the congress of delegates. Their reports show that an entire change in society-a change amounting to a complete subversion of the existing order of the world-is contemplated by the working classes. They aspire to be at the top instead of the bottom of society-or rather that there should be no bottom or top at all. (p. 59).

Rocker then describes the mass agitation for a general strike to bring about a ten-hour working day, the denunciations and persecution of the union, trade unionists in general, and political agitators, and how the G.N.C. finally petered out. Many of its members left to join the Chartists, while the events on the Continent in the 1840s also worked against working class radicalism.

The G.N.C.’s supporters made it very clear in their debates with other radicals, who wanted the political reform of the franchise and the House of Commons, that after the G.N.C. took power parliament would be made totally redundant.

Rocker writes

If, for example, one reads The Pioneer, the organ of the G.N.C. managed by James Morrison, one frequently encounters arguments that sound thoroughly modern. This is revealed especially in the discussions with the political reformers, who had inscribed on their banner the democratic reconstruction of the House of Commons. They were told in reply that the workers had no interest whatever in efforts of that sort, since an economic transformation of society in the Socialist sense would render the House of Commons superfluous. Its place would be taken by the labour boards and the industrial federations, which would concern themselves merely with problems of production and consumption in the interest of the people. These organisations were destined to take over the functions of the present entrepreneurs; with common ownership of all social wealth there would no longer be any need for political institutions. The wealth of the nation would no longer be determined by the quantity of goods produced, but by the personal advantage that every individual derived from them. The House of Commons would in the future be merely a House of Trades. (pp. 62-3).

It’s a hopelessly utopian dream. Unfortunately the need for legislation and a democratic parliament isn’t removed by the almost complete socialisation of the land and industry, as the former USSR shows. The various shops set up to sell goods according to the labour theory of value collapsed because they didn’t take into account demand for the goods. Nevertheless, the system has been revived on a small scale by communities running various local currency schemes, in which vouchers are exchanged for so many hours of work, and these have had some success. As these schemes are locally based, they have stimulated the revival of local, small businesses.

As for the idea of the Union purchasing land, that’s very much part of the ‘back to the land’ movement of the early 19th century. It’s similar to Bronterre O’Brien’s demand at the Manchester Guardian of ’40 acres and a mule’. As many of the new urban workers either themselves had been, or were the children of migrants to the towns from the country, the idea of going back to the land to gain a livelihood, away from the horrors of urban life, was obviously attractive.

There are also links to the ideas of the French Utopian Socialist, Louis Blanc, during the Revolutions of 1848 for ‘National Workshops’. These would be stare run workshops for the unemployed, which would be managed as co-operatives. Any profits made would be put back into buying up other factories and workshops, until gradually the whole of French industry would be nationalised. Although these workshops were set up, they were deliberately run down and mismanaged so that the scheme eventually collapsed. It was given to a minister or civil servant who hated the idea, and the workers employed in them were given pointless tasks, such as digging ditches, only to fill them in again.

Despite this, I do like these ideas. And I do wonder now long workfare would last, if a trade union set up a genuine workers’ co-operative on the Owenite model, and then applied to join the government’s wretched scheme as a ‘workfare provider’. All workers receiving some form of reward for their labour beyond their jobseekers allowance, with the workshop aiming to buy out other factories, or at least, some of the other ‘workfare providers’.

Somehow, I can imagine that going down at all well with the Tories. They’d be utterly aghast, and try to find all kinds of reasons not to take it on. I sort of wish someone would try, if only to see the ‘welfare to work’ industry turned on its head to support unemployed workers, not the overpaid heads of outsourcing companies and big businesses like Sainsbury’s, Tescos, or various charities like the Salvation Army, who are just seeking to exploit an easy supply of cheap labour.

The Bulgarian Peasant Party’s Solution to the Housing Problem

June 1, 2014

Last week I blogged on the several contemporary issues, which were similar to those tackled by the Bulgarian peasants’ party, BANU, nearly a hundred years ago. These were a local village power company, which was run as a co-operative by the whole community. It was thus similar to the idea of the Utopian British Socialist, Thomas Spence, for the communal ownership of land by the individual parishes, and also to the idea of the Bulgarian peasants’ party for the transformation of Bulgarian agricultural society through the formation of peasant cooperatives. I also remarked on the way the Bulgarians had also set up a policy of allowing the banks to provide loans on reasonable rates to credit cooperatives as a way of driving out the moneylenders. This is a problem that now besets British society, through the return of loan sharks and payday loan companies, like Wonga, that offer extortionate rates, because of wage freezes and cuts to welfare benefits.

Bulgaria, like modern Britain, also suffered from a housing crisis, made worse by the influx of thousands of refugees displaced by the First World War. They attempted to solve it through a mixture of policies, one of which was similar to the Bedroom Tax. They laid down the maximum amount of space that a family could occupy in a property, so that there would be more space available for the homeless. They also set about building cooperatively owned tenement blocks. R.J. Crampton describes these policies in A Short History of Modern Bulgaria (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1987) 90).

The principle of maximum holding was applied to urban as well as rural property. The post-war refugee invasion had placed severe strains upon the already hard-pressed housing resources of Bulgaria’s towns, particularly Sofia. According to Agrarian legislation no family was to occupy more than two rooms and a kitchen, with an extra room for every two children over fourteen. Office space was also subject to restriction, and in the case of both domestic and office accommodation commissioners acting on behalf of the ministry of the interior had extensive powers to enforce the new and widely resented regulations. A second and more popular response to the housing shortage, and one much in conformity with Agrarian philosophy, was to encourage the building of new apartment blocks cooperatively financed and thereafter owned by their inhabitants. This reform survived the fall of the Stamboliiski regime and cooperative building continued through the inter-war period.

The German radical Socialist party, the USPD, also had a similar policy in the same period, for the same reasons: to solve the shortage of housing caused by the First World War.

What’s needed isn’t the Bedroom Tax, which is really an excuse to cut Housing Benefit by pretending to withdraw a subsidy that never in fact existed, if tenants of supposedly under-occupied properties don’t move out to suitable homes, which also don’t existed. What is needed to solve the problem is simply building more social and genuinely affordable housing, which the Conservative actively seem to oppose. When the ‘right to buy’ legislation was passed, councils were forbidden from building more council houses, and ‘affordable’ properties are only pegged at 80 per cent of the market worth, which means that in many parts of the London houses are well out of the price range of the very poorest, who need them. It’s possible that cooperation schemes, like those enacted by the Bulgarians, might be part of the solution.

Something like the Bulgarians’ legislation limiting the maximum amount of space families can occupy could also be applied to private housing. The Bulgarian policy was based on the view that you should only possess what you can actually work yourself. Thus there was a maximum amount of land allowed to be cultivated by peasant farmers. Large landowners were forced to sell the excess land to the smaller peasants, so that each peasant farmer had just enough for his needs and those of wider Bulgarian society.

The great French anarchist, P.-J. Proudhon, had a similar view. Much of his Mutualist anarchist system was based on his experience of peasant society in the Jura, where he grew up. While he didn’t set the maximum amount of space people could occupy in their houses, he did recommend that people should lawfully own only what they could actually practically use themselves. Thus, landlords, who held multiple properties, which they rented out, should have all but the property they themselves lived in expropriated and given to the people, who needed them.

I believe a similar policy could be usefully implemented today. Perhaps we need the ‘right to buy’ principle extended to all the private tenants, now forced to rent homes at exorbitant rents because of the way available housing was bought up by people seeking to rent them out later in the housing boom of the 1990s. I also believe that there are many under-occupied private homes, with considerable space going without tenants, in certain parts of London, such as Knightsbridge, Kensington and Westminster.

And possibly Chipping Norton. I can’t see how Dave Cameron, whose government is responsible for the Bedroom Tax, and who has said repeatedly that ‘We’re all in it together’, would possibly object to having to share his home with a couple of crusties.

Peasants of Britain Unite and Kick Out the Pay Day Loan Sharks

May 29, 2014

In my last blog post, I looked at the similarities between a community power company set up by the people of a village here in England, and the various schemes for the cooperative reorganisation of society from Thomas Spence’s Land Plan, for the communal ownership of land by each parish community, and Bulgarian Agrarian National Union’s plans for a national and then international society of cooperative peasant communities.

There’s another policy of the party of the Bulgarian peasantry, which I feel very strongly should be adopted by 21st century Britain: legislation and the reform of the banks to cut out and suppress the pay day loan companies, like Wonga and the rest of the sharks. After the liberation from Ottoman rule hundreds of villages in rural Bulgaria had been forced into serious debt to private moneylenders. Many of the Muslim and ethnic Turkish landowners had emigrated or fled to Turkey, leaving large amount of land available for the Bulgarian peasants. There were, however, no banks available to provide them with the loans and credit they needed to purchase the land and essential tools, and so they turned instead to private moneylenders.

The Bulgarian peasants’ party, BANU, and the peasants’ union which preceded it, attempted to combat this by establishing credit cooperatives. After BANU took power in 1919, they attempted to prevent the moneylenders from reappearing by passing legislation insisting that the banks lend money to the cooperatives on reasonable terms.

Britain too in the 21st century has seen the return of the loan shark and moneylender as thousands, perhaps millions, have got into serious debt. Some of this has been through the absurdly easy credit that was offered in the boom years, when people were encouraged to spend as much as they could through credit cards. Other causes include rising rents and mortgages as well as an increase in prices, while pay has been frozen or even cut. The government’s cuts to unemployment benefit have also forced some to turn to private moneylenders, as the amounts provided by Jobseekers’ Allowance is inadequate, sanctions are imposed seemingly arbitrarily according to the whim of the government and the targets set by the DWP to get people off benefit. Those, who are considered to have left their job without good reason are denied benefit for weeks, and the government is considering imposing a waiting time of about three weeks for new claimants before they can get their money.

As a result, Britain has seen a resurgence, not just in criminal loan sharks, but also in the payday loan companies, like Wonga, which offer easy loans at truly extortion rates. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Julian Welby, is recommending a system of Credit Unions to tackle this. Critics fear this will be inadequate. It may well be, but that doesn’t mean that Credit Unions need not part of a broader programme to combat this. We need legislation to cut down the rates at which Wonga and the other loan companies can lend, to reduce them from the 5,000 per cent odd interest rate they are at the moment to something far more manageable. In America, surely one of the most capitalist nations in the world, they aren’t allowed to lend at over 20 per cent. Passing legislation to insist that everyone gets a living wage would also be a massive improvement, as would a complete stop on benefit sanctions, delays in payment and actually raising the amount of money paid to something people can actually live on.

All this, however, would mean abandoning the harsh, neoliberal economic orthodoxy that demands that the poor be penalised, simply for being poor, under the pretext that somehow their poverty is their own fault. And the Tories and their Tory Democrat allies really don’t want to do that by any means. It’s time for the British peasants to follow the Bulgarians of 1919 to throw out the payday loan companies, and kick the Tories out of office.