Posts Tagged ‘Oligarchy’

YouTube Video for Book ‘For A Worker’s Chamber’

February 22, 2019

This is the video I’ve just put up on YouTube for another of the books I’ve self-published with Lulu, For A Worker’s Chamber. This argues that parliament is dominated by the rich at the expense of working people, and so we need a special parliamentary chamber to represent working people, composed of working people themselves.

Here’s the blurb I’ve put up on YouTube.

This is another book I published with Lulu. It was a written as a challenge to the domination of parliament by the rich. 75 per cent of MPs, according to a recent book, are millionaires, including company directors. As a result, parliament under Tony Blair, David Cameron and now Theresa May has passed legislation favouring the rich and big business.

The result has been the destruction of the welfare state, privatization, and increasing misery, poverty, starvation and homelessness.

The book instead argues that we need a chamber for working people, elected by working people, represented according to their professions, in order to give ordinary people a proper voice in parliament. The Labour party was originally founded in order to represent working people through the trade unions. The Chartists in the 19th century also looked forward to a parliament of tradespeople.

Later the idea became part of the totalitarianism of Fascist Italy, a development that has ominous implications for attempts to introduce such a chamber in democratic politics. But trade unions were also involved in determining economic policy in democratic post-war Europe. And local councils in the former Yugoslavia also had ‘producers’ chambers’ for working people as part of their system of workers’ self-management. Such as chamber would not replace parliamentary democracy, but should expand it.

I discuss in the video just how Tony Blair allowed big business to define government policy as directed by corporate donors, and how staff and senior managers were given government posts. He particularly favoured the big supermarkets and other firms under the Private Finance Initiative. This is extensively discussed by the Guardian journalist, George Monbiot, in his book, Captive State. I make the point that this wouldn’t be quite so bad if New Labour had also acted for working people. But it didn’t. And it has become much worse under Cameron and Tweezer. In America the corporate corruption of parliament has got to the extent that a recent study by Harvard University downgraded America from being a functioning democracy to an oligarchy. I also point out that, while I’m not a Marxist, this does bear out Marx’s view of the state as the instrument of class rule.

I discuss how the Labour party was founded to represent working people by the trade unionists in parliament, who were originally elected as part of the Liberal party, the ‘Lib-Labs’, who were then joined by the socialist societies. The Chartists at one of their conventions also saw it as a real ‘parliament of trades’ and some considered it the true parliament. I also talk about how such a chamber became part of Mussolini’s Fascism, but make the point that it was to disguise the reality of Mussolini’s personal rule and that it never actually passed any legislation itself, but only approved his. Trade unions were strictly controlled in Fascist Italy, and far greater freedom was given to the employers’ associations.

I also say in the video how trade unions were involved in democratic post-War politics through a system which brought trade unions, employers and government together. However, in order to prevent strikes, successive government also passed legislation similar to the Fascists, providing for compulsory labour courts and banning strikes and lockouts.

There are therefore dangers in setting up such a chamber, but I want to empower working people, not imprison them through such legislation. And I think that such a chamber, which takes on board the lessons in workers’ self-management from Communist Yugoslavia, should expand democracy if done properly.

Radio 3 Programme on Internet Threat to Democracy

March 15, 2018

Next Tuesday at 10.00 pm Radio 3 is broadcasting a programme about the threat to democracy in the age of the internet. It’s part of the Free Thinking Festival, and is entitled ‘People Power’. The blurb for it in the Radio Times reads

Democracy was the most successful political idea of the last century but can it survive the digital age? Anne McElvoy chairs a discussion with Rod Liddle, associate editor of the Spectator, David Runciman, author of How Democracy Exists, Caroline MacFarland, the head of a think tank promoting the interest of “millennials”, and geographer Danny Dorling. Recorded in front of an audience at Sage Gateshead as part of Radio 3’s Free Thinking Festival. (p. 130).

McElvoy recently presented the excellent short history of British Socialism on Radio 4. Now, I might be prejudging the programme, but it looks like very establishment thinkers once again trying to tell us that the Net, bonkers conspiracy theories and electoral interference from the Russians are a threat to western democracy as a way of protecting entrenched media, political and business interests.

The Net isn’t a threat to democracy. What is destroying it, and has caused Harvard University to downgrade America from a democracy to an oligarchy, in the corporate sponsorship of politicians. Because politicos are having their electoral funds paid by donors in business, they ignore what their constituents want and instead represent the interests of big business. Which means that in Congress they support the Koch and the oil industry, and the arms companies against 97 per cent of Americans, who want greater legislation over guns to prevent any further school shootings.

As for the press, they’re aiding the collapse of democracy because they’ve become part of massive media and industrial conglomerates, and represent the interests of their corporate bosses. They are most definitely not representing ‘truth to power’, but are instead another layer of power and ideological control. They promote the policies their bosses in big business want, even when it is actively and obviously impoverishing ordinary people. Like the way the right-wing press is constantly pushing neoliberalism, even though this as a doctrine is so dead it’s been described as ‘Zombie Economics’.

In this case, the internet really isn’t a threat to democracy, but the opposite. People can check the lies their governments and media are telling them, and disseminate real information to correct it, as well as go further and identify the people and organisations distorting and corrupting our politics from behind the scenes.

And this is obviously scaring the political and media elite. Otherwise they wouldn’t be transmitting programme like this.

The Nazis, Capitalism and Privatisation

November 9, 2017

One of the tactics the Right uses to try to discredit socialism is to claim that the Nazis were socialist, based largely on their name and the selective use of quotes from Hitler and other members of the Nazi party.

This claim has been repeatedly attacked and refuted, but nevertheless continues to be made.

In the video below, Jason Unruhe of Maoist Rebel News also refutes the argument that the Nazis were socialists by looking at the economic evidence and the Nazis’ own policy of privatising state-owned industries and enterprises. He puts up several graphs showing how the stock market rose under the Nazis, as did the amount of money going to private industry. Indeed, this evidence shows that the Nazis were actually more successful at managing capitalism than the democratic, laissez-faire capitalist countries of Britain and the US.

Then there is the evidence from the Nazis’ own policy towards industry. He cites a paper by Germa Bel in the Economic History Review, entitled ‘Against the Mainstream: Nazi Privatisation in 1930s Germany’. In the abstract summarising the contents of the article, Bel states

In the mid-1930s, the Nazi regime transferred public ownership to the private sector. In doing so, they went against the mainstream trends in Western capitalistic countries, none of which systematically reprivatized firms during the 1930s.

He goes further, and makes the point that the term ‘privatisation’ actually comes from Nazi Germany. It’s the English form of the German term reprivatisierung.

I am very definitely not a Maoist, and have nothing but contempt for the Great Helmsman, whose Cultural Revolution led to the deaths of 60 million Chinese in the famines and repression that followed, and unleashed a wave of horrific vandalism against this vast, ancient countries traditional culture and its priceless antiquities and art treasures.

But Unruhe has clearly done his research, and is absolutely correct about the capitalist nature of German industry under the Third Reich. Robert A. Brady, in his The Spirit and Structure of German Fascism (London: Victor Gollancz 1937) also described and commented on the privatisation of industry under the Nazis.

He states that the organs set up by the Nazis to ‘coordinate’ the industrial and agricultural sectors were specifically forbidden from giving any advantages to the state sector rather than private industry, and that state industry was handed over to private industrialists.

The same picture holds for the relations between the National Economic Chamber and the organs of local government. As Frielinghaus has put it, “The new structure of economics recognises no differences between public and private economic activity….” Not only are representatives of the various local governments to be found on both the national and regional organs of the National Economic Chamber, but it is even true that local government is co-ordinated to the end that economic activities pursued by them shall enjoy no non-economic advantages over private enterprise.

The literature on this point is perfectly explicit, being of a nature with which the general American public is familiar through numerous utterances of business leaders on the “dangers of government competition with private enterprise.” Under pressure of this sort the Reich government and many of its subsidiary bodies have begun to dispose of their properties to private enterprise or to cease “competition” with private enterprise where no properties are at stake. Thus the Reich, the states and the communes have already disposed of much of the holdings in the iron and steel industry (notably the United Steel Works), coal and electric power. Similarly, support is being withdrawn for loans to individuals wishing to construct private dwellings wherever private enterprise can possibly make any money out the transactions. True, the government has been expanding its activities in some directions, but mainly where there is no talk of “competition with private enterprise”, and with an eye to providing business men with effective guarantees against losses. (Pp. 291-2).

There is a serious academic debate over how far Fascism – both in its Nazi and Italian versions – was genuinely anti-Socialist and anti-capitalist. Mussolini started off as a radical Socialist, before breaking with the socialists over Italian intervention in the First World War. He then moved further to the right, allying with Italian big business and agricultural elites to smash the socialist workers’ and peasants’ organisations, and setting up his own trade unions to control the Italian workforce in the interests of Italian capital.

Ditto the Nazis, who banned the reformist socialist SPD – the German equivalent of the Labour party – and the Communist party, and destroyed the German trade unions. Their role was then taken over by the Labour Front, which also acted to control the workforces in the interests of capital and management.

As for Hitler’s use of the term ‘socialist’ and the incorporation of the colour red, with its socialist overtones, into the Nazi flag, Hitler stated that this was to steal some of the attraction of the genuine socialist left. See the passage on this in Joachim C. Fest’s biography of the dictator. The incorporation of the word ‘socialist’ into the Nazi party’s name was highly controversial, and resisted by many of the party’s founders, as they were very definitely anti-socialist.

Brady himself comments on how the Nazis’ appropriation of the term ‘socialist’ is opportunistic, and disguises the real capitalist nature of the economy. He writes

the principle of “self-management” does appear to allow the business men to do pretty much what they wish. The cartels and market organisations remain, and have, in fact, been considerably strengthened in many cases. These are the most important organisations from the point of view of profits. The larger machinery is, as previously indicated, primarily designed to co-ordinate police on threats to the underlying tenets of the capitalistic system. The fact that the new system is called “socialism,” and that “capitalism” has been repudiated, does not detract from this generalisation in the slightest. The changes made to such as worry compilers of dictionaries and experts in etymology, not economists. For the realities of “capitalism” has been substituted the word “socialism”; for the realities of “socialism” has been substituted the word “Marxism”; “Marxism” has,, then, been completely repudiated. By reversing the word order one arrives at the truth, i.e. “socialism” in all its forms has been repudiated and capitalism has been raised into the seventh heaven of official esteem.

And the structure of Nazi Germany, where there were very close links between local and state government and industry, and where private industry and big business were celebrated and promoted, sounds extremely similar to the current corporatist political system in Britain and America. Here, political parties now favour big business over the public good, thanks to receiving donations and other aid, including the loan of personnel, from private firms, and the appointment of senior management and businessmen to positions within government. While at the same time pursuing a policy of deregulation and privatisation.

And this is without discussing the murderous Social Darwinism of the Reaganite/ Thatcherite parties, including Blairite New Labour, which has seen the welfare safety net gradually removed piecemeal, so that hundreds of thousands in Britain are now forced to use food banks to survive, and around 700 desperately poor, and particularly disabled people, have died in misery and starvation thanks to the regime of benefit sanctions and the use of pseudo-scientific procedures by ATOS and Maximus to declare seriously and terminally ill people ‘fit for work’.

The Blairites, Tories and their Lib Dem partners have set up a system of secret courts, in which, if it is considered ‘national security’ is at stake, individuals can be tried in secret, without knowing what the charges against them are, who their accuser is, or the evidence against them. Cameron and May, and indeed Tony Blair, followed Thatcher’s lead in trying to destroy the unions, and have put in place progressively stricter legislation against political protests.

Meanwhile, under the guise of combating ‘fake news’, internet companies like Google and Facebook are trying to drive left-wing, alternative news networks and sites off the Net.

The Code Pink and Green Party campaigner, Vijay Prashad, gave a speech in Washington, where he stated that Trump could be the last president of the US. If he doesn’t destroy the world, the political processes that are operating under him could result in him being the last democratically elected president, should the elites get tired of democracy.

Trump’s regime is certainly Fascistic, particularly in the support it receives from racist, White supremacist and openly Nazi organisations. If the business elites bankrolling the two parties do get tired of democracy – and due to their pernicious influence Harvard University has described the current American political system as an oligarchy, rather than democracy – then the transition to real Fascism will have been completed.

And where the Republicans go in America, the Tories over here in Britain duly follow.

Let’s Get Fascist with Neoliberal Corporatism

August 1, 2016

By which I certainly don’t mean supporting racism, xenophobia, genocide and the destruction of democracy, or vile, strutting dictators.

British and American politics are now dominated to an overwhelming extent by the interests of corporations and big business. Corporations in America sponsor and donate handsomely to the campaign funding of congressmen and -women, who return the favour, passing legislation and blocking other acts to the benefit of their corporate sponsors. I put up a piece a little while ago from the radical internet news service, Democracy Now!, reporting on how funding by the Koch brothers has resulted in policies that massively favour the oil industry, against the Green movement and efforts to combat climate change. Hillary Clinton, the wife of former President Bill Clinton, is also part of this corrupt web. She sits a number of leading American companies, and was paid something like a quarter of a million dollars for speeches she made to Wall Street. This has had a demonstrable effect on her policies, which strongly favour big business and, naturally, the financial sector. This corruption of American democracy ultimately goes back to the 1970s, when a court ruled that sponsorship by a corporation constituted free speech under the law, thus undermining the legislation that had existed for over 150 years against it. After about forty years of corporate encroachment on the res publica, the result is that America is no longer a democracy. A recent report by Harvard University concluded that the nation had become an oligarchy. This is reflected by the low rating of Congress in polls of the American public. These have shown that only about 14% of Americans are happy that their parliament represents them.

This situation is no different over here, although the corruption has been going on for much longer. ‘Gracchus’, the pseudonymous author of the 1944 book, Your MP, detailed the various Tory MPs who were the owners or managers of companies. Earlier this evening I posted piece about the recent publication of a book, Parliament Ltd: A Journey to the Dark Heart of British Politics, which revealed that British MPs have about 2,800 directorships in 2,450 companies. It’s blurb states that MPs are not working for the general public. They are working for these companies. Nearly a decade or so ago, George Monbiot said pretty much the same in his book, Corporate State, as he investigated the way outsourcing, privatisation and the Private Finance Initiative meant that the state was increasingly in retreat before the encroachment of corporate power, which was now taking over its functions, and official policies were designed to support and promote this expansion. This has meant, for example, that local councils have supported the construction of supermarkets for the great chains, like Sainsbury’s, despite the wishes of their communities, and the destructive effects this has on local traders, shopkeepers and farmers.

In America, there is a growing movement to end this. One California businessman has set up a campaign, ‘California Is Not For Sale’, demanding that Congressmen, who are sponsored by corporations, should wear sponsorship logos exactly like sportsmen. In my last blog post, I put up an interview between Jimmy Dore, a comedian with The Young Turks, and David Cobb, the Outreach Officer with Move to Amend, a campaign group with 410,000 members across America, working to remove corporate sponsorship.

As I’ve blogged before, we desperately need a similar campaign in Britain. But it would be strongly resisted. Tony Blair’s New Labour was notorious for its soft corruption, with Peter Mandelson’s notorious statement that the party was ‘extremely relaxed about getting rich’. The Tories are no better, and in many ways much worse. When this issue was raised a few years ago, a leading Tory dismissed it with the statement that the Tory party was the party of business. David Cameron pretended to tackle the problem of political lobbying, but this was intended to remove and limit political campaigning by charities, trade unions and other opposition groups, leaving the big lobbying companies and the Tories’ traditional corporate backers untouched.

This corporate domination of politics and the legislature has been termed ‘corporatism’. This also harks back to the corporate state, one of the constitutional changes introduced in Italy by the Fascists under Mussolini. This was partly developed from the Italian revolutionary syndicalist tradition. The corporations were supposed to be a modern form of the medieval guilds. They consisted of both the employer’s organisations and the trade unions for particular industries, and were responsible for setting terms and conditions. Parliament was abolished and replaced with a council of corporations. Mussolini made much of this system, arguing that it had created social peace, and that it made Fascism a new political and economic system, neither Socialist nor capitalist.

In fact, the corporate state was nothing more than ideological camouflage to hide the fact that Fascism rested on brute force and the personal dictatorship of Mussolini. The power of trade unions was strictly subordinated to the control of the industrialists and the Fascist party. The Council of Corporations had no legislative power, and was really just there to rubber stamp Musso’s decisions.

But if the Tories and big business want a corporate state, perhaps they should get a corporate state, though following the more radical ideas of Fascist theorists like Ugo Spirito. Spirito was a philosophy professor, teaching at a number of Italian universities, including Genoa, Messina, Pisa and Rome. At the Ferrara Congress on Corporative Studies, held in May 1932, he outraged the Fascist leadership and conservatives by arguing that the Corporate state had resulted in property acquiring a new meaning. In the corporations, capital and labour would eventually merge in the large corporations, and their ownership would similarly pass from the shareholders to the producers, who manage it based on their industrial expertise. It was attacked as ‘Bolshevik’, and Spirito himself later described it as ‘Communist’. Despite the denunciations, it was popular among university students, who wanted the Fascist party to return to its radical Left programme of 1919.

If we are to have a corporate state with industrialists represented in parliament, as so promoted by neoliberal politicians, we should also include the workers and employees in those industries. For every company director elected to parliament, there should be one or more employees elected by the trade unions to represent the workforce. And as another Fascist, Augusto Turati argued, there should be more employee representatives elected than those of the employers because there are more workers than managers.

And as the outsourcing companies are performing the functions of the state, and those captains of industry elected to parliament are also representatives of their companies, these enterprises should be subject to the same public oversight as state industries. Their accounts and the minutes of their meetings should be a matter of public record and inspection. Considerations of commercial secrecy should not apply, because of the immense responsibility they have and the importance of their duties to the public, particularly as it affects the administration of the welfare state, the health service, and the prison and immigration system.

On the other hand, if this is too ‘Socialist’, then industry should get out of parliament and stop perverting democracy for its own ends and inflicting poverty and hardship of the rest of us.

Is ‘Theramenes’ the Ancient Greek for Nick Clegg?

May 21, 2014

Greek Shoes

Shoes from ancient Greece. From Giovanni Caselli, History of Everyday Things (Hemel Hempstead: Beehive Books 1993)

Nick Clegg

Nick “Colthurnus” Clegg?

I found the saying, ‘He wears the sandals of Theramenes’, and its explanation in the 1981 edition of Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. It said that this was

Said of a Trimmer, an opportunist. Theramenes (put to death c. 404 B.C.) was one of the Athenian oligarchy, and was nicknamed Cothurnus (i.e. a sandal or boot which might be worn on either foot), because no dependence could be put on him. He “blew hot and col with the same breath.”

Which just about describes Clegg, the man, who broke all his election promises to climb into a coalition with the Tories, and is now frantically trying to convince the electorate that the Lib Dems are still a party of principles who can be depended upon to restrain the excesses of whichever party with which they will form another coalition. There is absolutely no evidence they have actually done this, and indeed have appeared only too eager to support the massively illiberal legislation passed by the Conservatives destroying the health service, state education, what’s left of the welfare state and setting up secret courts from which the accused is barred and may not know the charges against him. For security reasons, of course.

Or it could equally describe Dave Cameron, who spent his period in opposition trying to make the Tories appear slightly left of New Labour by engaging in community activism. His mentor, Philip Blond, published Red Tory, which tried to embrace 19th century working class radicalism and the progressive legislation passed by Conservative reformers like Richard Oastler, as well as name-checking the great anarchist Kropotkin. Now in power, Cameron has turned his back on all that, and has firmly embraced the usual Tory policies of putting the boot into the working class by privatising everything he can get his hand, cutting welfare benefits and forcing the unemployed to work for free for the Tories’ corporate paymasters.

And like Theramenes, Clegg and Cameron belong to the aristocracy, and so thoroughly represent oligarchic rule against any kind of democracy.

140117democracy

Dave “Antique Greek Boot” Cameron?