Posts Tagged ‘Georges Sorel’

Fabian Pamphlet on the Future of Industrial Democracy : Part 1

November 11, 2017

The Future of Industrial Democracy, by William McCarthy (London: Fabian Society 1988).

A few days ago I put up a piece about a Fabian Society pamphlet on Workers’ Control in Yugoslavia, by Frederick Singleton and Anthony Topham. This discussed the system of workers’ self-management of industry introduced by Tito in Communist Yugoslavia, based on the idea of Edvard Kardelj and Milovan Djilas, and what lessons could be learnt from it for industrial democracy in Britain.

William McCarthy, the author of the above pamphlet, was a fellow of Nuffield College and lecturer in industrial relations at Oxford University. From 1979 onwards he was the Labour party spokesman on employment in the House of Lords. He was the author of another Fabian pamphlet, Freedom at Work: towards the reform of Tory employment law.

The pamphlet followed the Bullock report advocating the election of workers to the management board, critiquing it and advocating that the system should be extended to firms employing fewer than the thousands of employees that were the subject of reforms suggested by Bullock. The blurb for the pamphlet on the back page runs

The notion of industrial democracy – the involvement of employees in managerial decisions – has been around at least since the time of the Guild Socialists. However, there has been little new thinking on the subject since the Bullock Committee reported in the 1970s. This pamphlet redresses this by re-examining the Bullock proposals and looking at the experience of other European countries.

William McCarthy outlines the three main arguments for industrial democracy:
* it improves business efficiency and performance;
* most workers want a greater say in their work environment;
* a political democracy which is not accompanied by some form of industrial power sharing is incomplete and potentially unstable.

He believes, however, that the emphasis should no longer be on putting “workers in the boardroom.” Instead, he argues that workers ought to be involved below the level of the board, through elected joint councils at both plant and enterprise levels. These councils would have the right to be informed about a wide range of subjects such as on redundancies and closures. Management would also be obliged to provide worker representatives with a full picture of the economic and financial position of the firm.

William McCarthy argues that Bullock’s plan to limit worker directors to unionised firms with over 2,000 workers is out of date. it would exclude over two thirds of the work force and would apply only to a steadily shrinking and increasingly atypical fraction of the total labour force. As the aim should be to cover the widest possible number, he advocates the setting up of the joint councils in all private and public companies, unionised or otherwise, that employ more than 500 workers.

In all cases a majority of the work force would need to vote in favour of a joint council. This vote would be binding on the employer and suitable sanctions would be available to ensure enforcement.

Finally, he believes that this frame of industrial democracy would allow unions an opportunity to challenge their negative and reactionary image and would demonstrate the contribution to better industrial relations and greater economic efficiency which can be made by an alliance between management, workers and unions.

The contents consist of an introduction, with a section of statutory rights, and then the following chapters.

1: The Objectives of Industrial Democracy, with sections on syndicalism, Job Satisfaction and Economic and Social Benefits;

2: Powers and Functions, with sections on information, consultation, areas of joint decision, union objection, and co-determination;

3: Composition and Principles of Representation, with sections on selectivity, the European experience, ideas and legal framework.

Chapter 4: is a summary and conclusion.

The section on Syndicalism gives a brief history of the idea of industrial democracy in Britain from the 17th century Diggers during the British Civil War onwards. It says

The first of these [arguments for industrial democracy – employee rights] is as old as socialism. During the seventeenth century, Winstanley and the Diggers advocated the abolition of landlords and a system of production based on the common ownership of land. During the first half o the 19th century, Marx developed his doctrine that the capitalist system both exploited and “alienated” the industrial workers, subjecting them to the domination of the bourgeoisie who owned the means of production. Under capitalism, said Marx, workers lost all control over the product of their labour and “work became a means to an end, rather than an end to itself” (see Philosophy and Myth in Karl Marx, R. Tucker, Cambridge University Press, 1961). During the latter half of the nineteenth century, Sorel and his followers developed the notion of “revolutionary syndicalism” – a form of socialism under which the workers, rather than the state, would take over the productive resources of industry. Syndicalists were influential in Europe and America in the years before the First World War. They advocated industrial action, rather than the use of the ballot box, as a means of advancing to socialism (see The Wobblies, P. Renshaw, Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1967).

In Britain, syndicalism came to adopt a more constitutionalist form with the formation of the guild socialists. They did not reject the use of parliamentary action, but argued that a political democracy which was not accompanied by some form of industrial power sharing was incomplete and potentially unstable. This was the basic argument of their most distinguished theoretician, G.D.H. Cole. In more recent times a trenchant restatement of this point of view can be found in Carole Pateman’s Participation and Democratic Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970).

In his earliest writing Cole went as far as to argue that socialism required that that “the workers must election and control their managers”. As he put it “In politics, we do not call democratic a system in which the proletatiat has the right to organise and exercise what pressure it can on an irresponsible body of rulers: we call it a modified aristocracy; and the same name adequately describes a similar industrial structure” (The World of Labour,Bell, 1913).

Subsequently Cole came to feel that continued existence of a private sector, plus the growth of collective bargaining, required some modification of the syndicalist doctrine behind Guild Socialism. By 1957, he was arguing for workers to be given “a partnership status in private firms, “sharing decisions” with the appropriate level of management C The Case for Industrial Partnership, MacMillan, 1957. This is very much the position advanced by Carole Pateman after her critique of more limited theories of democracy-eg those advanced by Schumpeter and others. These “minimalist” democrats took the view that in the context of the modern state, the most one could demand of a democracy was that it should provide a periodic electoral contest between two competing political elites. After reviewing examples of industrial democracy at work in a number of countries Pateman concluded “…it becomes clear that neither the demands for more participation, not the theory of participatory democracy itself, are based, as is so frequently claimed, on dangerous illusions or on an outmoded and unrealistic theoretical foundation. We can still have a modern, viable theory of democracy which retains the notion of participation at its heart.” (op. cit.)

Continued in Part 2, which will cover the sections on the pamphlet ‘Ideas’ and ‘Legal Framework’.

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Guy Debord’s Cat: Violence to Fascists Is Justified

September 9, 2017

Following the violent clashes between the White supremacists, neo-Confederates and outright Nazis and the counter-protesters in Charlottesville the week before last, there have been a series of articles and denunciations of the Anti-Fascists for their physical attacks on the marching hordes of the extreme Right. One of those criticizing them is the veteran critic of capitalism, racism and imperialism, Noam Chomsky, who stated that by using violence, Antifa handed them a ‘propaganda coup’. Others have gone further, and complained that Antifa are against free speech, and so are as bad, or worse, as the Nazis they attacked.

The French philosophical feline strongly rejects this attitude, and has written a blog post explaining just why he supports violence against Fascism. This includes two videos, both of which are well worth watching. One is about the 43 Group, a band of Jewish ex-servicemen, who had seen for themselves the horrific results of Nazi anti-Semitism when they were among the troops, who liberated Auschwitz. After the War, they were disgusted to find the kind of people, who had committed such monstrous atrocities were not only at large, but preaching their murderous doctrines and hatred. They resolved to treat them as they deserved, and hit them time and again force them off the streets.

The second video is presented by Mensi Mensforth, a member of the eighties band Angelic Upstarts. He also talks about the long history of anti-Fascists using physical violence, from struggles in the 1930s against Mosley’s BUF, to today’s battles with the NF and related Nazi gangs. Mensforth and the others speaking on the programme make the point that the people the Antifa are fighting are themselves extremely violent. They talk about Asians in the poorer parts of Britain being firebombed out of their homes. Mensforth himself describes how his stance against the NF so infuriated them, that they tried to silence him by attacking him at one of the Upstart’s gigs. He was saved by Antifa, who were there to defend him.

The Cat starts off by making the point that Antifa is a position, not an organization. The word stands for Anti-Fascist Action, and while later in the article he states that Anti-Fascist Action was set up in 1985 by Red Action and other anti-Fascist groups, he makes the point that if you are opposed to Fascism, then you are Antifa. He also makes the point that Nazis and related organisations in the US have been allowed to march by claiming free speech as their defence, and supported by the local law enforcement agencies and Libertarian organisations, some of whom have their own, very dubious agendas.

Buddy Hell is particularly annoyed by the middle class liberals, who are defending the Nazis’ right to say the unspeakable. He makes the point that Fascists are capitalism’s shock troops. Their leaders come from the middle and upper classes, and they and their vile doctrine emerge when capitalism is in crisis. And they don’t march through White, middle class areas. Their purpose is to divide the working class, and they march through working class and immigrant neighbourhoods as a display of triumphalism and a provocation.

He also makes the point that Fascists are also supported by the petite bourgeoisie and sections of the free press. The free world has tolerated the seizure of power by innumerable right-wing dictatorial groups, but the moment a left-wing government appears the supposed free world immediately tries to destabilize it.

And Fascists themselves are extremely violent. He states very graphically that if you turn the other cheek to a Fascist, they’ll slash it with a razor, and says

I support the activities of militant anti-fascists because I think their use of force is a necessary tactic to counter the violence of the far-right on the streets. If you think allowing neo-fascists a platform to say whatever they like is necessary because you believe everyone has a right to free speech, just imagine what would happen if the far-right ever came to power. The free speech, that you cherish so dearly, would be taken away and you’d be carted off to prison or worse. Now you can accuse me of histrionics if you like, but you’ll have to name a country in which the far-right have gained power and have allowed people to criticize them. I can’t think of one.

See: https://buddyhell.wordpress.com/2017/09/05/militant-anti-fascism-why-i-support-it/

Now I don’t support violence against anyone, and don’t wish to encourage any more of it, even against the Far Right. Real violence is anything but fun, and people have been seriously hurt and killed in the battles between Fascists and anti-Fascists.

But the Cat is right on several points. Fascists are and have always been extremely violent. They’ve been so every since George Sorel wrote his ‘Reflexions sur la Violence’ as a militant 19th century anarcho-syndicalist. Sorel later rejected syndicalism in favour of extreme right-wing nationalist and monarchist groups, but his book remained popular and influential amongst right-wing intellectuals like Mussolini. The kernel of Fascism in Italy were the Fasci di Combattimenti, bands of demobilized ex-servicemen, who went around beating up Socialists, Communists and anyone they thought that was insufficiently patriotic, or just didn’t like. One of their symbols, was the fasces – the bundle of rods with an axe sticking out, which symbolized the power of the lictor, the Roman official, who could have citizens beaten and beheaded. The other, rather less official, but very widely used, was the manganello. This was the club with which Fascist gangs used to beat their opponents in street battles, after which the victims were dosed with castor oil to humiliate them by making them soil themselves.

Before the Nazis seized power in Germany, they also used to go round fighting street battles and beating up Jews and leftists. One of their songs in Berlin was all about how they were going to carry on beating people up, ‘until the Jew lies bleeding at our feet’.

And they weren’t any better in Britain. Mosley’s BUF lost its support partly because it was notorious for its violence, particularly after the infamous Olympia rally, where the BUF’s stewards savagely beat a number of left-wing protestors. And after the war, the BNP, NF and related groups deliberately recruited ‘bovver boys’ and football hooligans. Or as one of their leaders themselves said at the time, ‘robust young men to defend Britain against Communism’. And the evidence for their extreme violence is extremely plentiful. If you go on YouTube, there are a number of videos from World In Action and other documentaries showing just how brutally violent they are. And more often than not, their victims are the weak and defenceless. One of the speakers in one of these documentaries is a female teacher, who describes how she and her colleagues were attacked without provocation by a group of NF thugs when they were having a meeting in a pub. Matthew Collins in his book, Hate, describes how he participated in an attack on an anti-Nazi meeting in one of the rooms above the local library. Those they attacked were mostly women, including a pregnant Asian lady, who was so terrified she tried to barricade herself in the toilets. These are not thugs attacking other thugs. They’re bullies. And when they do meet concerted, violent resistance, as one of the speakers in one of the videos says, they run away.

The decision of the ’43 group to give a dam’ good hiding to the Fascists is entirely understandable. One of the speakers in the video describes how he and the other old comrades put their hands together with Rabbi Hardman, the Jewish army chaplain, and swore ‘Never again’ when they saw the sheer carnage and barbarity at Auschwitz. Rabbi Hardman states he saw bodies piled as high as the surrounding buildings. Another squaddies tells how he met one woman, one of the death camp’s inmates, who had been driven mad because the Nazis had snatched her baby away from her, thrown it up into the air, and then shot it. This treatment wasn’t unique to the Jews. The Beeb a little while ago screened a programme about the Nazi occupation of Poland. One of the incidents that occurred there was when Polish mothers were required to take their children to be examined by the reich authorities. One woman’s child was deemed biologically unfit. It was snatched out of its mother’s arms, thrown onto the floor, and shot.

Most normal people would have felt horror and anger if they had witnessed what these servicemen had seen. And when it is done to one’s own ethnic or religious group, when one thinks how it could have been one’s own spouse, parents, children, or other relatives and friends lying down there among the bodies, those feelings are naturally going to turn into an intense rage, or in this case, a steely determination to do everything they could to stop it ever occurring again.

The speakers in the video make the point that they didn’t reject non-violent persuasion. They tried it, and found that it didn’t work. They state that it was a case of ‘both…and…’ rather than ‘either…or…’. But it didn’t work on the convinced Fascists. And so they resolved to disrupt their meetings and force them off the streets.

At the time there were 40 or so Fascist meetings every month in London, and the BUF, or Mosley’s successor organisations, were not opposed, and indeed supported, by the London police. This has been corroborated by other historians. Larry O’Hara wrote an article in Lobster back in the 1990s about how the metropolitan police turned a blind eye to Fascist meetings, even when they openly broke the law. Such as drinking a toast to the destruction of the Jews. Indeed, it was quite often anti-Fascist protesters, who were arrested, rather than the stormtroopers.

Not all police forces were as tolerant as London’s, however. One of the speakers describes how they heard that the Blackshirts were planning to go down and hold a rally in Brighton. So the ’43 Group let the Brighton fuzz know they would also be down there to disrupt the meeting. The rozzers duly replied that the Fascists were quite within their rights, and the police would allow them to go ahead following the principle of free speech. But in practice, they only sent one officer. He was obviously just a token presence, and the former servicemen were able to give their opponents a sound beating.

They describe how, when they attacked a Fascist gathering, their intention was to seize and overturn the podium. Among those, who got what they deserved was Hamm, Mosley’s second in command. They also reveal that they had considerable information given to them about the location of meetings and so on from informers within the Fascists’ own ranks. These were people, who had joined the party, and found out it wasn’t what they thought it was. Ultimately, the ’43 group were successful. They point out that due to their attacks Mosley couldn’t appear in public, and they talk about their pride as Jews and citizens in closing him down.

Mensforth’s video also begins with people from the East End describing the antics of Mosley’s Blackshirts in their day, and their role in the Battle of Cable Street. This was when the BUF tried to march through the East End, but were beaten off by a group of trade unionists, Communists and Jews. The speakers describe how they also fought the police, who were protecting the Fascists.

Describing the activities of contemporary Nazis, they point out that they want to keep the working class divided, and encourage racial hatred to that end. When there are no ethnic minorities available for them to whip up hate against, as in Glasgow, they find another outsider group to serve the same purpose, like Roman Catholics. One of the speakers is a Glaswegian, who was a former member of one of the Fascist groups in Scotland, as well as a Protestant supporter of one of the very Unionist football clubs. One of the songs their supporters sing is ‘Billy’s Boys’. He states most of the supporters think it’s about William of Orange, but in fact it’s about one of Mosley’s lieutenants in that part of Scotland in the 1930s. This particular speaker was drawn into it through the sectarian politics of Scots football clubs. He left when he started getting leaflets from the organization telling him to support their policies against Israel, and supporting South American dictators and death squads.

Watching these videos, it struck me that some, at least, of the violent antifa, aren’t thugs using violence for the sheer pleasure of it. They’re just people, who actually take Fascism seriously. Very seriously. To many people, the Fascist fringe are so grotesque that they’re a joke, and the numbers involved in their marches are so trivial that there’s absolutely no danger of these morons gaining power. They’re figures of fun, like the American National Socialist White People’s Party in the Blues Brothers. And it’s because they aren’t taken as a serious threat, that they and their wretched marches are tolerated. Despite considerable, and very vocal opposition, I hasten to add.

And indeed there is a certain amount of grim humour to be found there. They are so twisted, that they can be unintentionally hilarious, and mocking them does have the right effect. Hope Not Hate a few days ago put up a piece about how one of the squadristi was upset with the organization, because it was taking the mick out of him. And Private Eye also reported how members were leaving the BNP after it had been mocked in the pages of Ian Hislop’s mighty organ. The Third Reich was long ago, and so were the various Fascist dictatorships in Central and South America, as well as all the other brutal right-wing regimes that have seized power around the world.

But if you’ve seen what Fascism has done, and your family and friends have been attacked or worse by its supporters over here, your attitude might be very different. The Klan and the neo-Confederates really aren’t a joke to Blacks, Jews and other minority groups, because of the lynchings and the use of terror and extreme violence. Over in Britain, the British Fascist groups supported not only the Unionist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland, but they also gave sanctuary to a group of Italian Fascists in the 1980s following the Bologna railway bombing, which killed more than a hundred people. And given the horrific atrocities the death squads committed in Latin America – things so revolting that they cannot be decently described in a family blog, it becomes a very good question why the members of various Conservative and Libertarian societies weren’t attacked or beaten when they decided to invite these scum to their annual dinners.

I don’t support violence, let alone vigilanteeism, but the Cat has done a good job in explaining why violent resistance against Fascism may be justified. As he points out, this is violence against those, who are absolutely serious in their intention to imprison, torture and kill millions, if they came to power. Their tolerated at the moment because they aren’t a significant threat. But that can change. Free speech is not an absolute, and there have to be limits to toleration. It’s why we have laws against hate speech, no matter how they right may decry them as ‘political correctness’.

Facism as Left-Wing Movement: Proudhon claimed as Fascist Precursor

May 4, 2014

Proudhon pic

The great anarchist philosopher P.-J. Proudhon: absolute opponent of the state and everything Fascism stands for.

I’ve posted several pieces criticising the Tory and Libertarian assertion that Fascism is ‘Left-wing’ or a variety Socialism. The argument is that because the Fascists took part of their ideology from the Left and pursued a policy of state intervention, then they must, therefore, be left-wing, even when they claimed they were not, and attacked Left-wing, Socialist and working class organisations and parties. Perhaps the most extreme example of this, and its reduction ad absurdum, is the claim by Sir Oswald Mosley in his autobiography, My Life, of the great anarchist P.J. Proudhon, as one of Fascism’s precursors and formative influences. It’s in the chapter on ‘The Ideology of Fascism’.

This is bizarre, as if there’s one thing Proudhon did not stand for, it’s nationalism and a totalitarian, coercive state. It’s exactly what Proudhon campaigned against and spent his career trying to destroy. Yet Mosley claims Proudhon as one of the intellectual influences on Fascism. He is, as far as I know, the only person to do so.

There was a Syndicalist component in Italian Fascism. The Fascists were also strongly influenced by the French revolutionary Syndicalist Georges Sorel, particularly his advocacy of the morally uplifting and purifying power of violence in the service of the revolution, and the use of powerful myths, such as that of the General Strike, to inspire the working class to further direct action. The ex-Syndicalists Bottai, Pannunzio and Rossoni conceived and developed the Fascist corporate state as a ‘National Syndicalism’, in which the workers and employers in each industry were organised in corporations, which were then declared to manage the economy. In fact they didn’t. The workers’ organisations were effectively smashed, and placed under the control of the industrialists. At factory level, the workers’ organisations were kept well away from the workers on the shop floor. The corporations were only allowed to advise the government, and effectively acted only as a rubber stamp, to declare state approval for policies and decisions Mussolini had already made. Attempts to turn the corporations into genuine working class organisation with real power were rejected and denounced as ‘Bolshevism’.

As for the power of myth and violence, the Fascists certainly took those over. The object of the inspiring myth was changed from the general strike or revolution to the nation. As for violence, while Sorel was a strong influence, he was certainly not the only ideologue, who stressed its virtues in the service of revolution, social change or nationalism. Noel O’Sullivan in his book, Fascism, traces the idea of modern political violence all the way back to the French Revolution and its activist form of democratic politics. It’s a Conservative view of Fascism’s origin. Other political scientists and writers instead stress the peculiar historical conditions in Italy and Germany, which they feel better explain the emergence of Mussolini’s Fascism and National Socialism. Even tracing the ancestry of Fascism as far back as the French Revolution and Rousseau, O’Sullivan does not, however, include Proudhon as one of its intellectual ancestors.

The solution to this problem – how Fascism could possibly include Proudhon, who actively opposed nationalism and the state – lies in the existence of the Cercle Proudhon, set up in France in 1911. It was founded by Georges Valois, a former member of Charles Maurras extreme nationalist organisation, Action Francaise. Valois split from the organisation in order to try to recruit the working class to the nationalist cause. It was intended to be a study group which would ‘unite nationalists and left-wing anti-democrats’ against ‘Jewish capitalism’. Valois declared it aimed at the ‘triumph of heroic values over the ignoble bourgeois materialism in which Europe is now stifling … [and] … the awakening of Force and Blood over Gold’. Valois denunciation of materialism and exaltation of ‘force’ and ‘blood’ is classic Fascist rhetoric, preceding the foundation of Fascism itself in 1919. The Cercle, however, collapsed and was unable to recruit more than a few intellectuals and journalists.

It’s not hard to see why. While hostile to parliamentary democracy, Proudhon, like the rest of the Anarchists after him, was motivated by a desire to promote individual freedom and equality, which they believe are denied by the existence of the state. It’s in stark contrast to authoritarian nationalism, which demands the maintenance of order and hierarchy, and the abolition of personal freedom through subordination to the will of the dictator. It also shows the sheer absurdity of trying to claim for extreme nationalism, Left-wing organisations and ideologies that are directly opposed to it. The Cercle Proudhon failed because of this, and only person who was seriously taken in by its attempt to add Proudhon to the list of Fascism’s intellectual founders was Mosley. It’s another example of how absurd the claim the Fascism is itself somehow Left-wing actually is.

IDS’ Beliefs and Fascist Irrationalism

February 17, 2014

Ian Duncan Rimmer

Ian Duncan Smith: The Sane Choice

‘Do I detect a little anti-intellectualism here? Must’ve started about 1982 [the year Reagan was elected] I think’,

– Comedian Bill Hicks on being reproached for reading in a Virginia waffle house.

‘This man is dangerous. He believes his own propaganda.’

– German Conservative politician on Adolf Hitler.

Ian Duncan Smith doesn’t seem to like defending his policies rationally. His department has repeatedly refused demands to release the figures of the numbers of people, who have died due to being denied benefit support as a result of his reforms. Such requests are decried as ‘vexatious’. Other excuses for not releasing them include the straightforward admission that these would create public opposition to them, and prevent their implementation. Mike’s blogged about this a number of times on Vox Political, after his own request for the figures under the FOI was turned down. These statements are a tacit admission by IDS and the rest of his department that they know their policies are killing people by the thousands, and that they simply don’t work in the way they’re claimed. They just don’t want you and the rest of the British public knowing it.

When challenged whether his views are correct, IDS has been known to retreat into mere statements of belief. They are correct, according to IDS, because he believes in them.

Another political figure, who used much the same arguments, stressing belief, rather than rationality, was the Right-wing German writer, Ernst Junger. Junger stated that it was completely unimportant whether a cause was true or not. What was important was ‘to sacrifice oneself for a faith, regardless of whether that faith embraces truth or error.’

Junger was one of the intellectual precursors to Nazism. He declared that it was a privilege to take part in the intellectuals high treason against intellect. Unlike the Left, who were horrified by war, Junger saw it as inspiring and ennobling, glorifying the First World War and its violence in his 1922 collection of essay Der Kampf als innere Erlebnis (Struggle as Inner Experience). He stated

Combat is one of the truly great experiences. And I have still to find someone to whom the moment of victory was not one of shattering exaltation… I should not like to do without this force among the complex of emotions that drive us through life.

Considering war as a necessity and a release, he further stated that in military combat

the true human being makes up in a drunken orgy for everything he has been neglecting. Then his passions, too long damned up by society and its laws, become once more uniquely dominant and holy and the ultimate reason.

He therefore urged for a state of Total Mobilization, in which work would be a preparation for war. This would lead the working class away from Socialism and Marxism, and spread nationalism further throughout society. Of the First World War he said

This war is not the end, but the chord that heralds new power. it is the anvil on which the world will be hammered into new boundaries and new communities. New forms will be filled with blood, and might will be hammered into them with a hard fist. War is a great school, and the new man will be of our cut.

Other Right-wing intellectuals also shared Junger’s irrationalism. Junger was influenced by Oswald Spengler, whose ‘The Decline of the West’ exerted a profound influence on Fascist and nationalist groups in Germany and throughout Europe. In his 1924 speech On the Political Duties of German Youth, Spengler declared

Whether one is right or wrong-that doesn’t amount to much in history. Whether or not he is superior to his adversary in a practical way, that is what decides whether he will be successful. .. To be honourable and nothing else-that’s not enough for our future… To train oneself as material for great leaders, in proud self-denial, prepared for personal sacrifice, that is also a German virtue. And, given the case that, in the hard times ahead, strong men will appear, leaders to whom we must entrust our fate, then they must have something upon which they can rely. They need a generation such as Bismarck did not find, which appreciates their kind of action and does not reject it for romantic reasons, a dedicated band of followers who have, but way of long and serious self-training, come to the point of understanding the necessary and do not-as would doubtless be true today -reject it as un-German.

Both Hitler and Mussolini saw their parties as movements, first and foremost, in which action and belief came before reasoned analysis and political programmes. Hitler refused to announce the Nazis’ programme for the 1933 German elections because

All programmes are vain; the decisive thing is the human will, sound vision, manly courage, sincerity of faith, the inner will.

Mussolini attempted to give Fascism a quasi-religious element in the policy of Fascismo Mistica, that would render it invulnerable from rational attack. Ten years before Hitler’s statement, he declared that Fascism was, above all, a myth:

We have created our myth. The myth is a faith, it is passion. It is not necessary that it shall be a reality.

George Sorel

This Right-wing celebration of the forces of unreason, of belief and violence instead of rationalism and intellectual analysis and discussion, ultimately derives from Georges Sorel. Sorel was a Syndicalist, who believed that the workers should use trade unions to seize power in through violent revolution in a General Strike. However, it was not necessary that the General Strike should actually occur. All that mattered was that it should provide an inspiring myth that would encourage the workers to action against the bourgeoisie.

This irrationalism was designed to place the central, mobilising ideas of Fascism and Nazism beyond rational criticism.

Just to assert the supreme importance of such things as race, blood, soul, will character, and manly courage is to place all politics beyond criticism, since obviously belief in such things is impervious to rational attack. To say that modern Italy is the heir of Imperial Rome, that the Third Reich is the continuation of the empire of Barbarossa, that liberalism is foreign to the ‘Latin mind’, that purity of race is more important than thought, that ‘insight’ is more valuable than ‘barren intellectualism’-all of these assertions may be ridiculous, but they are argument at a level above-or below-that at which refutation is possible.

Lane W. Lancaster, Masters of Political Thought III: Hegel to Dewey (London: George Harrap & Co. Ltd. 1959) 300.

And so it is with Ian Duncan Smith. His statements that he ‘believes’ in his policies towards the unemployed and the disabled is also intended to put them beyond rational questioning.

Now Conservativism isn’t Fascism, even though many of the proto-Nazi writers of the Weimar period, such as Moeller van den Bruck, considered themselves ‘revolutionary conservatives’. Nevertheless, Conservatism does share with Fascism a stress on the irrational, and an appeal to social solidarity rather than rational arguments. This is particularly clear in Private Eye’s review of Roger Scruton’s 1987 Untimely Tracts

Roger Scruton is an anomaly: a conservative intellectual. In the past, few Tories have felt a need to theorize and few have been able to write or enunciate clearly. Even now most Tory utterances are pleasantly uncomplicated: the faithful barking of Paul Johnson, say, or the appreciative gargling of Auberon Waugh.

But this will not do for Professor Scruton. He wants his arguments; he has to have his reasons. Of course, to well-brought-up Tories this simply show him up as a grammar school bug, too keen by half. Scruton knows that intellectuals are a bit off, but he just can’t help himself. He is a philosopher, through and through. For the social solidarity which stiffens most reactionaries, he seeks to substitute a flow of ‘hences’ and ‘therefores’.

‘Rogers’ Thesaurus’ in in Francis Wheen, ed., Lord Gnome’s Literary Companion (London: Verso 1994) 287-8.

Hence the furious denunciations of Left-wing intellectuals and academics for daring to question rationally traditional society and its institutions. It’s therefore not surprising that Scruton in the above book declared that most teachers were ‘diseducated’, lamented that the majority of MPs ‘are no longer from a social class which feels no need to use the Commons for the purpose of social gain’ and defends hereditary peerages as essential to economic stability.

Now I am not accusing IDS of being a Fascist, but his appeal to belief to defend his policies, rather than reasoned argument, is part of Fascist irrationalism. You can also see a Fascistic element in his militarism, and the determination to use mass mobilisation – workfare – to mould the working class to take them away from socialism. Under IDS this is much less to do with forming work as preparation for war, and so giving the workers an element of excitement, but of simply crushing their wills to reduce them to the level of servile drones for international capitalism.

All this needs to be challenged, and IDS held to account. His appeal to belief, rather than facts and figures, is ridiculous and dangerous, just as it was to a far great extent with the Nazis and Fascists.

Bite the Ballot, The Coalition and Youth Voter Apathy

February 5, 2014

Bite the Ballot

This morning, the BBC’s breakfast TV show covered the activities of a new group, Bite the Ballot, which is attempting to combat voter apathy amongst young people and encourage them to vote. The programme showed one of their members explaining to a group of young people that unless they vote, they have no voice in determining important government issues and that somebody would be voting for them. They also interviewed one young woman, who gave the reasons she believed that young people didn’t have an interest in politics. She didn’t take much interest in it, because she felt she didn’t know enough about it. Politics, and the differences between the parties, for example, weren’t taught in schools. And without a proper grounding in these issues, young people simply had no interest in it or voting.

The programme also remarked on the influence of members of the older generation, like Russell Brand, and their cynical attitude to politics and politicians. Brand caused controversy a few months ago by telling people not to vote, because of the complete lack of interest in representing the public by politicians. I distinctly remember Billy Connolly saying much the same thing a few years ago. The Big Yin declared himself to be an anarchist, and urged his audience, ‘Don’t vote – it only encourages them!’

This cynicism and apathy is partly caused by the venality and mendacity of politicians themselves. The expenses scandal that broke out doubtless confirmed many people’s belief that politicians were all corrupt and just in it for themselves. Nor would recent revelations about Clegg and Cameron’s lies about the NHS and tuition fees contradict such opinions. Mike has blogged on the report on the Guardian, pointed out to him by one of the great commenters on his blog, that Cameron made his statement that he would not privatise the NHS, and Clegg declared that he would not raise tuition fees before the general election with the intention that they would not keep these promises once elected. The public was lied to by a pair of cynical media manipulators of whom Goebbels would have been proud.

George Sorel

Georges Sorel: Radical Syndicalist who believed all politicians were liars.

The radical anarchists of the 19th century attacked parliamentary democracy for the way they believed politicians lied to and exploited the expectations of the voting public. The revolutionary Syndicalist, Georges Sorel, declared in his work, les Illusions du Progres that

‘Democracy succeeds in confusing people’s minds, preventing many intelligent persons from seeing things as they are, because it is served by advocates skilled in the art of confusing issues, thanks to captious language, a supple sophistry, and a monstrous apparatus of scientific declamation. It is especially with respect to the democratic era that one may say that humanity is ruled by the magic power of big words rather than by ideas, by formulas rather than by reasons, by dogmas the origin of which no one ever dreams of seeking rather than by doctrines founded on observation’.

Cameron Pic

Nick Clegg

David Cameron and Nick Clegg: Two of the politicians trying to prove Sorel right.

This exactly describes the Coalition, which has indeed deceived – and continues to deceive – the British public, and whose doctrine are neither exhaustively scrutinised by the Fourth Estate, but simply repeated as obvious common sense, nor are founded on observation. In fact, IDS deliberately seeks to obstruct proper examination of his policies by dragging his feet over giving any information to the Work and Pensions Committee, and blocking release of the figures showing the number of people, who’ve died after being thrown off benefit by ATOS.

There are dangers to this cynicism. Sorel’s radical anti-parliamentarianism, and his cult of violence expressed in Reflexions sur la Violence, influenced both the Bolsheviks in Russia and Mussolini’s Fascists. When he died both countries sent delegations to pay their respects.

However, the atrocities committed by the great totalitarian regimes like the above in the 20th century have had an effect in turning many people off politics. Certainly very few now have any time for extremist political doctrines like Communism or Fascism. The result is that most of the population, rather than seek radical answers outside parliament, or the reform of politics itself to make it more representative and more responsive to the needs and desires of the electorate, simply turn away. Faced with dissimulation and corruption, people simply change channels on the TV, or turn to the celeb gossip or the sports pages in the newspapers. ‘How do you tell when a politician is lying? His lips move’, as the old joke went on the late, and very great Max Headroom show.

Which may be exactly what the politicos want. Political journalists noted that Blair’s government was highly suspicious of the general public, and was very careful to stage manage congresses and meetings with them to present Blair in the best possible light. Mass membership of the Labour party declined, as voters felt Blair was not interest in the views of the little people, only in rich donors. The same attitude pervades the Conservative and Liberal parties, which have also seen their membership decline for very much the same reasons.

Not that this bothers Cameron and Clegg. These are upper-class aristos, leading a government of upper-class aristos. I get the impression that their background and temperament makes them instinctively distrustful of modern, mass politics. They’d far prefer that of the 18th and early 19th century, when there was a proper property qualification to vote, which excluded all but 20 per cent of the population from having the vote. This left government in the hands of the aristocracy, like themselves. Mike has reported how the government’s reforms of the registration system for voting will leave many confused and so disenfranchised, which certainly seems in line with such an attitude. Possibly in dark corners of smoke-filled rooms in Whitehall or Chequers Cameron, Clegg and the rest of the old Etonians gather round to complain about how it all should have stopped with the Great Reform Act of 1833, or at least with Disraeli’s expansion of the franchise in the 1870s. After all, the rotten and pocket boroughs weren’t all bad, and at least guaranteed the right sort of people a place in parliament.

nixon

Richard Nixon: the corrupt politician’s corrupt politician. But at least he knew how he put young people off politics.

Richard Nixon had the self-awareness to recognise that his attempts to overthrow the American constitution had put the young and idealistic off politics. In his interview with the late David Frost, ‘King Richard’ said he’d like to apologise to the young kid, who now felt all politicians were liars and frauds. His apology wasn’t sincere. Rather than being spontaneous, he’d carefully prepared it in order to gain public sympathy and wrongfoot Frostie. But even if he said it for purely selfish reasons, he at least was honest about the effects of his actions. There has been no such honesty from Cameron and Clegg. Mind you, they’ve got away with it. Nobody’s impeached them. But we live in hope.

Bite the Ballot are doing an excellent job of encouraging young people to take an active interest in politics. Public turn out at elections is declining alarmingly, to the point where I feel there is a real danger of politics simply becoming the preserve of an elite managerial class, which is funded and co-opted – not elected -from their friends in industry, with the masses kept a very poor second, if at all. If politicians really want people to start turning out at elections and give them a mandate for their policies, then the tenor of much modern politics needs to be changed. The political parties need to turn their attention to recruiting and representing the public, not rich donors. We also need politicians and governors, who can speak simply, clearly and without the management jargon that has now got into modern politics. People with a more ordinary background, who know what it is like to be a member of the working and lower middle classes, who have worked 9 to 5 jobs worrying about take home pay, rents and mortgages, and the difficulties of getting the kids into a good school, rather than the ambitious young things straight out of politics, philosophy and economics courses, and who understand that world only from the statistics they’re given by think tanks, Special Advisors and whichever management consultants or financial firm is the current governments flavour of the month.

But most of all, they can start by actually telling the truth to the public, and not cynically lying just to get a few more votes.

Moral Relativism in Totalitarian Dictatorships

May 30, 2013

Sir Isaiah Berlin, Vico and the Origins of the Rejection of Absolute Moral Values

One of the defining features of contemporary Postmodernism is its rejection of an absolute, transcendent morality. All societies are seen as equally valid in their worldviews, and attempts to evaluate them according to a particular system of morality are attacked as both philosophically incorrect and immoral. Indeed, the belief in an objective morality is viewed as one of the components of western imperialism and the horrific totalitarianisms of the 20th century. The attitude is not new, and certainly not pointless. The view that each period of history possessed its own unique morality goes back to the 17th -18th century philosopher, Giambattista Vico. In his book, Scienza Nuova (New Science), published in 1725, Vico argued that human history was divided into distinct cultural periods, so these periods could only be properly understood on their own terms. Vico’s view was championed after the War by the great British philosopher, Sir Isaiah Berlin. Berlin was horrified at the absolute moral authority claimed and demanded by the Fascist and Communist regimes. He was a leading figure during the Cold War of the 1950s to trace, explain and attack their ideological roots. He was particularly instrumental in making contact with an supporting some of the leading Soviet dissidents. Berlin attempted to counter their claims to absolute moral authority by denying the existence of absolute, unviersal moral values. He attempted to avoid the opposite pitfall of moral nihilism by stating that there were, however, certain values that acted as if they possessed a universal validity. One of these, for example, is the obvious injunction against killing innocents.

Franz Boas and Anthropological Opposition to Nazism and Racism

The view that every culture possesses its own unique worldview, and should be appreciated and assessed according to its values, rather than those of the West, was also pioneered by Franz Boas. Boas was a German anthropologist who migrated to America before the Second World War. He worked extensively among the Native American peoples, including the Inuit. Boas was Jewish, and had been driven out of his homeland by the Nazis. He formulated his rejection of a dominant, universal morality as a way of attacking the racist morality promoted by and supporting the Nazi regime. At the same time, he also sought to protect indigenous peoples against the assaults on their culture by Western civilisation under the view that such peoples were also morally and culturally inferior.

Moral Relativism in Hegel and Nietzschean Nihilism

In fact, the modern rejection of eternal, univeral moral values predates Berlin. It emerged in the 19th century in Hegelian philosophy and Nietzsche’s atheist existentialism. The attitude that there were no universal moral values, and that morality was relative, became increasingly strong after the First World War. Many Western intellectuals felt that the horrific carnage had discredited Western culture and the moral systems that had justified such mass slaughter. It was because of this background of cultural and moral relativism that Einsteins’s Theory of Relativity, which in fact has nothing to say about morality, was seized on by some philosophers as scientific justification for the absence of universal moral values.

Hegel viewed history as created through a process of dialectical change, as nations and cultures rose, fell and were superseded by higher cultures. As nations, states and cultures changed, so did ideas, and so there could be no universal ethical system. Furthermore, some events were beneficial even though they could not be justified by conventional morality. For example, those sympathetic to the Anglo-Saxons would argue that the Norman Conquest was immoral. Nevertheless, the Conquest also brought cultural and political advances and improvements. The dialectal process thus validated the Norman Conquest, even though the Conquest itself, by the standards of conventional morality, could be seen as morally wrong.

Apart from Hegel, Neitzsche also argued that without God, there were no objective moral standards. The individual was therefore free to create his own morals through heroic acts of will.

Hegel’s philosophy, although authoritarian, was developed to justify the new ascendant position of the Prussian monarchy after the Napoleonic Wars. The new Germany of the Hohenzollerns was, in his view, the culmination of the dialectal process. Nietzsche himself was a defender of aristocratic values, who despised the nationalism of the Wihelmine monarchy and the new mass politics. Despite their personal politics, elements of Hegelian philosophy became incorporated into Fascism and Communism, while Italian Fascism also contained the same atheist existentialism. Mussolini had been a radical Socialist before the foundation of the Fascist party and its alliance with and absorbtion of aggressively anti-socialist movements and parties. Even then, the party still contained radical socialist and particularly anarcho-syndicalist elements. These took their inspiration from the French Syndalist writer, Georges Sorel. Sorel considered that in the absence of universal moral values, what mattered was emotion and struggle. It was only in revolutionary conflict that the individual became truly free. This irrationalism thus served to justify the Fascist use of force and governments by elites, who rejected conventional morality.

Marx, Lenin and Moral Relativism

Marx followed Hegel in rejecting the existence of universal moral values. According to his doctrine of dialectal materialism, cultures and moral values were merely the ideological superstructure created by the economic basis of society. As the economic systems changed, so did a society’s culture and moral code. Moreover, each culture’s system of morality was appropriate for its period of economic and historical development. R.N. Carew Hunt in his examination of Communist ideology, The Theory and Practive of Communism, notes that the Communist Manifesto is the most powerful indictment of capitalism. It does not, however, condemn it as a morally wrong or unjust. When it does describe capitalism as exploitive, it is simply as a system of social relations, rather than a moral judgement. He quotes Marx’s own statement of Communist morality in his Ant-Duhring:

‘We therefore reject every attempt to impose on us any moral dogma whatsoever as an eternal, ultimate, and for ever immutable moral law on the pretext that the moral world too has its permanent principles which transcend history and the differences between nations. We maintain on the contrary that all former moral theories are the product, in the last analysis, of the economic stage which society had reached at that particular epoch. And as society has hitherto moved in class antagonisms, morality was always a class morality; it has either justified the domination and the interests of the ruling class, or, as soon as the oppressed class has become powerful enough, it has represented the revolt against this domination and the future interests of the oppressed. That in this process there has on teh whole been progress in morality, as in all other branches of human knowledge, cannot be doubted. But we have not yet passed beyond class morality. A really human morality which transcends class antagonisms and their legacies in thought becomes possible only at a stage of society whicdh has not only overcome class contradictions but has even forgotten them in practical life.’

Lenin’s own view of Marxist morality was expressed in his Address to the 3rd Congress of the Russian Young Communist League of 2nd October 1920:

‘Is there such a thing as Communist ethics? Is there such a thing as Communist morality? Of course there is. It is often made to appear that we have no ethics of our own; and very often the bourgeoisie accuse us Communists of repudiating all ethics. This is a method of throwing dust in the eyes of the workers and peasants.

In what sense doe we repudiate ethics and morality?

In the sense that it is preached by the bourgeoisie, who derived ethics from God’s commandments … Or instead of deriving ethics from the commandments of God, they derived them from idealist or semi-idealist phrases, which always amounted to something very similar to God’s commandments. We repudiate all morality derived from non-human and non-class concepts. We say that it is a deception, a fraud in the interests of the landlords and capitalists. We say that our morality is entirely subordinated to the interests of the class struggle of the proletariat. Our morality is derived from the interests of the class struggle of the proletariat…The class struggle is still continuing…We subordinate our communist morality to this task. We say: morality is what serves to destroy the old exploiting society and to unite all the toilers around the proletariat, which is creating a new communist society .. We do not believe in an eternal morality’.

Communist Morality Justified Brutality, against Judeo-Christian Values in British Ethical Socialism

The result was a highly utilitarian moral attitude which justified deceit, assassination and mass murder on the grounds that this assisted the Revolution and the Soviet system as the worker’s state. As the quotes from Lenin makes blatantly clearly, Communist morality was completely opposed to Western religious values. This amoral attitude to politics and human life and worth was condemned by members of the democratic left, such as Harold Laski, and Christian Socialists such as Kingsley Martin. In the June 1946 issue of New Statesman, Martin declared that Soviet morality was completely opposed to the Greco-Roman-Christiain tradition that stressed the innate value of the individual moral conscience. Christian socialism was a strong element in the British Labour party. Reviewing a history of the British working class’ reading over a decade ago, The Spectator stated that it wasn’t surprising that Communism didn’t get very far in Wales, considering that most of the members of the Welsh Labour party in the 1920 were churchgoing Christians who listed their favourite book as the Bible. As a result, the Russian Communists sneered at the Labour part for its ethical socialism. This was held to provide an insufficient basis for socialism, unlike Marx’s ‘scientific socialism’. If anything, the opposite was true.

Moral Relativism Does Not Prevent, But Can Even Support Totalitarianism

Now this does not mean that there is anything inherently totalitarian about moral relativism. Indeed, it is now used to justify opposition and resistance to Western imperialism and exploitation. It does not, however, provide a secure basis for the protection of those economic or ethnic groups seen as most vulnerable to such treatment.If there are no universal moral values, then it can also be argued that totalitarian regimes and movements also cannot be condemned for their brutal treatment of the poor, political opponents, and the subjugation or extermination of different races or cultures. Indeed, Marx and Engels looked forward to the disappearance of backward ethnic groups, like the Celts in Britain and France, and Basques in Spain as Capitalism advanced. When the various slavonic peoples in the German and Austro-Hungarian Empire revolted in the home of gaining independence in 1848, they condemned them as a threat to their own working-class movement and looked forward to a racial war against them. Their statement there presages the mass deportations and persecution of various ethnic minorities, including Cossacks, Ukrainians, Jews and some of the Caucasian Muslim peoples by the Stalinist state. And as it has been shown, moral relativism formed part of Italian Fascist and Russian Communist ideology.

Ability of Objective Morality to Defend Different Culture’s Right to Existence and Dignity

In fact you don’t need moral relativism to defend the rights of different peoples to dignity and the value of their culture. The very existence of human rights, including the rights of different ethnic groups to existence and the possession of their own culture, is based on the idea of an objective morality. All that is needed is to accept that each culture also has its own intrinsic moral value. One can and should be able to argue that certain aspects of another culture are objectively wrong, such as those institutions that may also brutalise and exploit women and outsiders to that culture. One can also recognise that these aspects do not necessarily invalidate the whole of that culture, or justify the brutalisation or extermination of its people.

Sources

R.N. Carew Hunt, The Theory and Practice of Communism (Harmondsworth: Pelican 1950)

David Fernbach (ed.), Karl Marx: The Revolutions of 1848 (Harmondsworth: Penguin/ New Left Review 1973)

The Seizure of Power – this study of the rise of Italian Fascism and Mussolini’s coup.