Posts Tagged ‘Demos’

John McDonnell and Anti-Marxist Scaremongering on Thursday’s Question Time

September 18, 2016

I was talking to Mike this evening about John McDonnell’s appearance on Question Time last week, when all the other panelists, including Alistair Campbell, Soubry for the Tories and Dimbleby himself all tried to pile into him and attack himself and Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party. I didn’t see the programme, but heard from Mike that at one point someone attempted to score a point accusing McDonnell of being a Marxist. McDonnell said he was, and that as a Marxist he was overjoyed at the 2008 financial crisis, as this was the kind of massive economic crisis that is caused by capitalism. Mike took this McDonnell answering in the conditional: this is what he would believe, if he was a Marxist. But even if McDonnell is a Marxist – which is debateable – this still is not necessarily a reason why he should be feared or disqualified from government.

There’s a difference between Marxism and Communism. Communism is a form of Marxism, but as historians of the Soviet regime and political scientists will tell you, it is a form of Communism based on the interpretation of Lenin and the Bolsheviks. And I was taught by the tutor at College on the rise of Communism in Russia, that Lenin adapted and reformed Marxism as much as his ideological opponents and enemies in democratic socialism. I should point out here that before he began the course, he made a little speech stating that he wasn’t a Communist, and if, by some accident, he found himself in such a party, he would very soon find himself thrown out of it. This is pretty much true. The official ideology of the Soviet Union was Marxism-Leninism, and it broke with the ideas of the German Social Democrats, and particularly that of Karl Kautsky, as the leading European Marxist party. In 1910 the German Social Democrats (SPD) were world’s leading socialist party. They had 110 deputies in the Reichstag, the German parliament, 720,000 members and over 70 newspapers and periodicals. (See John Kelly, Trade Unions and Socialist Politics, p. 27).

The party had been riven by ideological conflict in the 1890s over Eduard Bernstein’s ‘Revisionism’. Bernstein had argued that Marxism was wrong, and that far from impoverishing the workers in the operation of the ‘iron law of wages’, the workers were becoming more prosperous. He therefore urged a revision of Marxist socialism, abandoning the aspects that were no longer relevant. Instead of the Hegelian dialect, he urged instead that the party should incorporate and adapt the ideals of the great German philosopher, Immanuel Kant. This did not mean abandoning socialism or the nationalisation of industry. Indeed, he saw the emergence of joint-stock companies as the type of capitalist institution, which would gradually become transformed as society developed to produce the new, socialist society of the future. Despite widespread, and fierce opposition, Bernstein was not thrown out of the party. Lenin, who had previously been an admirers of the Germans, really couldn’t understand this. When he met Karl Kautsky, the Austrian leader of German and Austrian Marxism, during his exile from Tsarist Russia, Lenin asked him that question. Kautsky replied that they didn’t do that kind of thing. Lenin went berserk, called him a prostitute, and published a pamphlet attacking Kautsky and denouncing him as a ‘renegade’.

Kautsky was no enemy of democracy. I’ve put up various pieces from Marx, Kautsky and the French Marxist, Lucien Laurat, showing how they all supported, to a certain degree, parliamentary democracy. Marx never ruled out violent revolution, but was increasingly of the opinion that there was no need, as socialists were winning considerable concessions and advances through parliamentary politics. Kautsky and Laurat fully support parliamentary democracy. Kautsky himself despised the workers’ soviets as undemocratic, and bitterly attacked the Bolsheviks for their suppression of human rights. He hated the disenfranchisement of the bourgeoisie, their subjection to slave labour and how they were given the worst jobs, and were given the worst rations. He also attacked the Bolsheviks’ monopolisation of the press and their destruction and banning of competing parties, newspapers and publications. And rather than industry being nationalised in one fell blow, as the Bolsheviks had done, he argued instead that Marxism demanded that industry should only be nationalised gradually at the appropriate moment. This was when the various capitalist firms in a particular economic sector had merged to create a cartel. It was only then that the industries should be taken over by the state, and run in the interests of the working class and the people as a whole. After the Bolshevik revolution, Kautsky supported the Mensheviks, their ideological rivals, in the newly independent state of Georgia in the Caucasus, before that was finally conquered by the USSR.

Lenin, by contrast, had argued in his 1905 pamphlet, What Is To Be Done, that the Russian socialist party should be led by committed revolutionaries, who would command absolute authority. Debate was to be strictly limited, and once the party’s leaders had made a decision, it had to be obeyed without question. Lenin had come to this view through his experience of the conspiratorial nature of Russian revolutionary politics. He was influenced by the ideas of the Russian revolutionary – but not Marxist – Chernyshevsky. He also adopted this extremely authoritarian line as an attempt to prevent the rise of factionalism that divided and tore apart the Populists, the Russian agrarian socialists that form Marxism’s main rival as the party of the peasants and working class.

Now I’ll make it plain: I’m not a Marxist or a Communist. I don’t agree with its atheism nor its basis in Hegelian philosophy. I’m also very much aware of the appalling human rights abuses by Lenin, Stalin, and their successors. But Marxism is not necessarily synonymous with Communism.

During the struggle in the 1980s in the Labour party with the Militant Tendency, the Swedish Social Democrats also offered their perspective on a similar controversy they had gone through. They had also been forced to expel a group that had tried to overturn party democracy and take absolute power. They had not, however, expelled them because they were Marxists, and made the point that there still were Marxists within the party. Thus, while I don’t believe in it, I don’t believe that Marxism, as opposed to Communism, is necessarily a threat.

It’s also hypocritical for members of New Labour to try to smear others with the label, when one element in its formation was a Marxist organisation, albeit one that came to a very anti-Socialist conclusion. This was Demos. Unlike conventional Marxists, they believed that the operation of the Hegelian dialectic had led to the victory, not of socialism, but of capitalism. The goal for left-wing parties now should be to try to make it operate to benefit society as a whole, rather than just businessmen and entrepreneurs.

Arguably, this form of Marxism has been every bit as destructive and doctrinaire as Militant. Blair seized control of the Labour party, and his clique swiftly became notorious for a highly authoritarian attitude to power. Events were micromanaged to present Blair in the best, most flattering light. Furthermore, the policies they adopted – privatisation, including the privatisation of the NHS and the destruction of the welfare state, the contempt for the poor, the unemployed, the disabled and the long-term sick, who were seen as scroungers and malingerers, resulted in immense poverty and hardship, even before they were taken over and extended massively by Cameron and now Theresa May.

Traditional Marxists in the Labour party, as opposed to Communists and Trotskyites aren’t a threat. And neither McDonnell nor Corbyn are either of those. What has damaged the party is the pernicious grip on power of the Blairites, who have turned it into another branch of the Tories. It is they, who have harmed the country’s economy, provoked much of the popular cynicism with politics, and impoverished and immiserated its working people and the unemployed. All for the enrichment of the upper and middle classes. It is their power that needs to be broken, and they, who are responsible for acting as a conspiratorial clique determined to win absolute control through purging their rivals. It’s long past time they either accepted the wishes of the grassroots for a genuine socialist leadership, and made their peace with Corbyn, or left to join the Tories.

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Private Eye on Think Tanks Funding Political Conferences

February 16, 2015

One of the key causes in the corruption of British politics has been the way the different political parties are being lobbied and funded by the same, almost exclusively right-wing think tanks. These organisations provide the parties with advisors and sponsor debates and events at the various political conferences. As a result, while the parties themselves have changed, the Thatcherite policies they have pursued have remained unchallenged. Not only is this influence corrupt in itself, but it’s also led to the British voting public becoming alienated and disenfranchised. They feel with some justification, that there is little difference between the parties, and that they are being sidelined and ignored in favour of big business.

Private Eye published a piece on this issue in their edition of 21st September – 4th October 2012, listing the various think tanks and describing their links to various politicians and ministers.

Conference Callers

Party members may see conference season as their chance to be heard, but judging by the brochures put out by think tanks, the grassroots will have a job making it past better-funded rivals from the business lobby.

Over the summer, the Eye acquired prospectuses from several think tanks looking to recruit sponsors for debates at the forthcoming Tory, Lib Dem and Labour conferences.

Reform, a think tank with Tory links, tells potential sponsors it can set up “successful events attended by ministers and shadow ministers, special advisors, MPs, MEPs and council leaders”, among them minister for welfare reform Lord Freud, housing minister Mark Prisk, employment minister Mark Hoban and the Foreign Office’s Henry Bellingham.

Lest anyone mistake the purpose, any “partner organisation” – ie company willing to pay for access – can use roundtable events or dinners with “around 20 high-level participants” to put their own “insights into the relevant policy debate at the beginning of the meeting”.

Not to be outdone, ResPublica, run by David Cameron’s “Red Tory” guru Phillip Blond, offers potential “partners” a chance for “intimate discussion over diner with select stakeholders and policymakers”, plus the opportunity to “contribute” to the choice of subject and speaker for meetings with ministers.

Meanwhile the Social Market Foundation (SMF) is touting “an excellent standard of service to our sponsors”, including the chance to “shape the key questions for debate” and “input into the speaker line-up”, with top totty on offer to include Lord Freud (again), Cabinet Office minister Oliver Letwin, prisons and probation minister Crispin Blunt, universities minister David Willetts and chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander.

Trendy think tank Demos urges companies to cough up for events and roundtables potentially hosted by the prime minister or chancellor, with sponsors getting the chance for “conversations that link their policy agenda to contemporary political issues”. And Policy Exchange, the Cameroonian think tank, trumpets its “competitive sponsorship package”: as well as potential access to ministers, a few broad themes scheduled for debate will be honed after … conversations with sponsors.

Think tanks have tax-free charitable status based on their lofty aims to improve public policy. How does offering commercial interests the chance to pitch ideas to ministers over dinner fit that mission?

Clearly, it doesn’t. If politics in Britain is to be improved, and its people to be given a genuine choice between the parties, and have a real voice in how their country is governed, the corporatists think tanks need to be thrown out. Removing their charitable status, except for those rare occasions where they might, actually, represent charities, would be a start.

MPs and NHS Privatisers: Lord Darzi

February 1, 2015

n4s_nhs1

I’ve blogged recently about right-wing entryism into the Labour party through Demos and other thinktanks set up by Tony Blair’s New Labour. New Labour also carried on and expanded the Tories’ policy of the gradual privatisation of the NHS. Readers and commenters at Mike’s blog over at Vox Political have repeated questioned the failure of many Labour MPs to attack the Tories properly on their manifestly cruel and unjust policies towards the poor. Well, they’re manifestly cruel and unjust, unless you’re a reader of the Sun, Telegraph and Daily Mail. Then they’re exactly what this country needs, and anyone who doesn’t have an income of £50,000 a year is a scrounger, who deserves all they get. Part of the problem is that under Blair, the Labour party became ‘Labour Plc’, as the title of one book on the subject declared. MPs developed very close links with the companies hoping to profit from the privatisation programme, and provided cosy directorships and other lucrative posts for MPs when they left government.

Lord Darzi

Lord Darzi: Health Minister under Gordon Brown, subsequently joined GE Healthcare.

Lord Darzi, Gordon Brown’s health minister, is a case in point. Private Eye ran two stories about him in 2009 and 2010. The first marked his departure from government by describing his meetings and links with a number of commercial firms, including banks and private healthcare companies. The second story the following year was on how he had joined one of these private healthcare companies, GE Healthcare. Together these stories illustrate how privatisation can provide a lucrative career for MPs seeking to profit from the privatisation of the NHS, whether they are Labour or Tory.

The first story comes from Private Eye’s edition for 24th July – 6th August 2009.

NHS PLC
Buy-Buy from Him

Lord Darzi’s departure as health minister in Gordon Brown’s “government of all the talents” is a blow for the prime minister, but it’s also a pain for the bankers, private health firms and consultancies who have spent so many hours talking to him.

No doubt they hoped his Next Stage Review of the NHS would lead to the creation of lots more privately funded and run clinics, all set up with loads of management consultancy help. But their gains have been modest so far.

Following freedom of information requests, it emerged that in 2008 and 2009 so far, Darzi had meetings with bankers NM Rothschild & Sons, Apax Capital, UBS Investment Bank and Cinven; with private medical companies Humana Care UK, Humana Europe, United Medical Enterprises, GE Healthcare and the MCCI Medical Group; and with computing and management consultants from IMS Health, IBM, Capita, Dr Foster Intelligence and Serco Solutions.

The minister also had a couple of meetings with Boots the Chemist (which employs former health minister Patricia Hewitt). But now all these executives and lobbyists are going to have to go through the whole process again with another minister (who will probably only be in the job until the election in the first half of next year).

The second story about Darzi was published in the Eye’s edition for 25th June – 8th July 2010.

Revolving Doors
Healthy Appetite

Lord Darzi, the former Labour health minister who has taken a job with GE Healthcare, the medical corporation, was just the first through the revolving door as ex-Labour ministers snap up jobs in the private sector.

The US firm has multiple contracts with the NHS for scanning and IT work – and Darzi had official meetings with GE Healthcare shortly before he stood down last year. He has joined GE’s “healthymagination” board, an initiative that the records show he discussed with the firm when he was a minister.

Darzi says he will only take expenses for joining the US board and will put the rest of the cash into his research fund at Imperial College, London. GE, however, hopes to profit from “healthymagination”, which is a branding and marketing exercise. The company recently ran into controversy when it tried to sue Danish academic Henrik Thomsen for libel in the London courts after he raised safety concern over one of its drugs. The firm dropped the case after a public outcry earlier this year.

The Labour party did not invent the ‘revolving doors’ between government, the civil service and private industry, by which the officials and ministers involved in privatisation took up lucrative posts afterwards with the very private companies either created from or purchasing the former nationalised industries. It began in the 1990s under John Major, where it was a large part of the ‘sleaze’ marking his administration. The French, however, have legislation against it. According to the Financial Times, when a French official was asked about Major’s privatisations and the sleaze, they replied, ‘You call it ‘sleaze’. In France we simply call it ‘corruption’.’ Which is something to think about the next time the Mail goes berserk at the cheek of Johnny Foreigner, and particular the French, to criticise fine upstanding British institutions.

Unfortunately this corruption didn’t end with Gordon Brown and New Labour. It has continued with the Cameron’s and Osborne’s renewed campaign to privatise the NHS. There are at least 92 coalition MPs, who stand to profit from this. One of them is Iain Duncan Smith, the Minister for Incompetence and Killing the Disabled.

This cannot be allowed to continue.

Ed Miliband has promised to reverse the Tories’ plans to privatise the NHS. He deserves our full support.

Libertarian Alliance on Rightwing Entryism into Labour

January 31, 2015

Mike over at Vox Political suggested that just as the extreme Right and Left have a policy of entryism – infiltrating more moderate parties and organisations in order to take them over and radicalise, so some ostensible Labour party members with free market views were really Tories, who had similarly infiltrated Labour. He was particularly discussing Alan Milburn, the former Labour health secretary, who criticised Ed Miliband’s speech about expanding the NHS. During his period in office, Milburn was extremely active with Patricia Hewitt in promoting the introduction of private healthcare into the NHS and its piecemeal privatisation.

Connected to the New Labour project was the thinktank Demos. This was ostensibly left-wing, but in fact contained a number of extremely right-wing business leaders and academics. It has been described by one of the leaders of the Libertarian Alliance as

a cavalry of Trojan horses within the citadel of leftism. The intellectual agenda is served up in a left wing manner, laced with left wing clichés and verbal gestures, but underneath all the agenda is very nearly identical to that of the Thatcherites.

See the article ‘Demos’, by William Clark in Lobster 45, Summer 2003.

There you have it. The Libertarians themselves have more or less stated that the free marketeers in Labour are entryists. It’s high time support was shown to Miliband, and these Trojan horses put out to grass.

Blair and the Corporate Penetration of New Labour

January 29, 2015

I also found this very revealing remark about Tony Blair and his very right-wing conception of the what the Labour party should be in Lobster 45, in an article on Demos by William Clark. Demos is the ostensibly left-wing thinktank, that actually aims to extend the power and influence of big business in the Labour party. One of its members is Lord Stevenson, formerly the chairman of Express newspapers, if I recall correctly. He described in the article as a friend of Peter Mandelson, and was supposedly recruited by Blair in 1996. In a 1998 interview with Sunday Times, he states that Blair

… always wanted to make Labour into an alternative party of business. There were some big businessmen who were always pro-Labour: Lord Hollick and Chris Haskins for instance. Blair wanted to meet the others, so I organised evening where he could meet friends of mine. People running FTSE companies … Blair has involved businessmen to a huge extent … In fact he has almost delegated power to them. I think there is a legitimate question about the extent to which that is actually right.

He was also chairman of the recruitment company Manpower, which ran Working Links, the welfare-to-work company.

Among the other members of Demos was Graham Mather, a director of the Institute of Economic Affairs, who declared that he wanted ‘to get government out of providing schools and hospitals, cut taxes and give vouchers to the poor. He was also a member of the Institute of Directors, where he stated that he wanted ‘the advance of markets into government itself’. According to the article, he saw himself as part of a ‘priesthood of believers in the market’ pushing for libertarian right ideology against the ‘threat … from socialism’.

The connections between Blair’s New Labour, Stevenson, Graham Mather, and many others like them probably explains why so many of Labour’s front bench don’t attack the government and its policies with the venom they deserve. They don’t press their point home, even when the Coalition present open goals, because essentially they stand for pretty much the same thing.