Posts Tagged ‘Peter Kropotkin’

Bakunin on Class Oppression, Poverty and Suicide

December 23, 2018

Mikhail Bakunin was one of the towering figures of 19th century anarchism. A Russian aristocrat, he rebelled against tsarism after becoming a member of literary circle studying Hegelian philosophy, and threw himself passionately behind the worker’s struggle. He took part in many worker’s uprisings, and was captured when one of them, in eastern Germany, was put down. He was then sent back in chains to Russia, where he was goaled and exiled to Siberia. He escaped, took a ship to Japan, from whence he sailed to America. And from America he crossed the Atlantic to England, to call in at the home of his fellow Russian expatriate and anarchist, Peter Kropotkin. Although he is notorious for advocating violent revolution, particularly in a pamphlet he wrote with Nechaev, in some of his other writings he seems to believe that the revolution, which will overthrow capitalism, the state and the bourgeoisie, which will essentially peaceful. In one of his writings from the period 1869-1871 he argues for such a situation, and states that if there is violence, it will only be because the bourgeoisie want there to be.

He was bitterly critical of poverty that capitalism and the class structure of society and the state had created. And some of his descriptions of this poverty, and the despair and misery it caused, are still relevant today under Tweezer and the Tories. I found this passage in Mikhail Bakunin, From Out of the Dustbin, Bakunin’s Basic Writings 1869-1871, ed. and trans. by Robert M. Cutler (Ann Arbor: Ardis 1985):

This wealth, concentrated in an ever smaller number of hands and sloughing off the lower strata of the middle class, the petite bourgeoisie, into the proletariat, is wholly exclusive and becomes more so every day, growing in direct proportion to the increasing poverty of the working masses. Fro9m this it follows that the abyss which already divides the wealthy and privileged minority from the millions of workers whose physical labour supports them, is always widening, and that the wealthier the exploiters of the people’s labour get, the poorer the workers get. Simply juxtapose the extraordinary affluence of the great aristocratic, financial, commercial and industrial world of England to the wretched predicament of the workers of that country. Simply read once more the unpretentious, heartrending letter recently written by an intelligent, honest London goldsmith, Walter Dugan, who voluntarily poisoned himself, his wife, and his six children just to escape the humiliations, the poverty, and the tortures of hunger. You will have to acknowledge that from the material standpoint this vaunted civilization means only oppression and ruination to the people. (p. 112).

Dugan’s killing of himself and his children is truly horrific, and is probably better described as a murder-suicide, the type of crime that unfortunately appears every so often on the news. But as various left-wing bloggers like Stilloaks, Pride’s Purge and Mike over at Vox Political have shown, all too many people have died through misery and starvation due to the Tories’ destruction of the economy and the welfare state. Thousands of disabled people have been thrown off the benefits they need due to the Tories’ and New Labour’s fitness to work tests, and thousands of the unemployed have been left without money due to benefit sanctions. Thousands of people have died in starvation and misery, and some, like Dugan, have committed suicide. We have a quarter of a million people using food banks to save themselves from starvation. Something like 549 homeless people have died this year, including a Hungarian man, Gyula Remes, who died outside the House of Parliament. Mr. Remes had a job, but it didn’t pay enough for him to be able to afford accommodation. Meanwhile, Chris Skidmore, the Tory MP from Kingswood in Bristol, who said that austerity couldn’t be too bad because people weren’t lying dead in the street, has said nothing. Probably because he doesn’t want to remind even more people about his wretched comment, and can’t think of anything to say that wouldn’t put him deeper into trouble.

He’s only one of the Tories, who’ve made vile, sneering comments about the truly poor and desperate. I can remember another Tory a few years ago rhetorically asking who the homeless were, and replying that they were the people you stepped over coming out of the opera. And there are many others like him.

You don’t have to be an anarchist to want these people out of office. You just have to want a better Britain for working people, one that will give them proper rights at work, a living wage, a decent welfare system and a renationalized NHS and utilities industries that will safeguard and treat their health, and supply them with water, electricity and transport on the railways at proper prices, rather than exploiting them for the profit of private industry.

Get Tweezer and her profiteers out, and Jeremy Corbyn in!

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No, Lord Sugar: It Is Capitalism Stifling Industry and Creativity

December 16, 2018

Ho ho! Some pre-festive fun yesterday, when Mike put up a piece describing how Alan Sugar, the former head of Amstrad and the host of the British version of The Apprentice, threw a strop when left-wingers on the net were rude to him about his promise to emigrate if Jeremy Corbyn became PM. Instead of being horrified at the potential loss to our great nation, Red Labour instead posted a tweet in reply applauding it and saying it was a good reason to vote Labour. They said

Another good reason to #VoteLabour: @Lord_Sugar confirming he’ll leave the country if @jeremycorbyn becomes PM. All without any argument, of course: just personalised nonsense. What a relief that people like Sugar aren’t given gongs or made ‘Enterprise Tsars’ by @UKLabour anymore.

Unable to countenance the idea that the he wasn’t the idol of millions, whose every word was listened to by the masses in rapt attention, Sugar got angry and started insulting them. He tweeted back

Sour grapes you bunch of jealous anti enterprise anarchist losers. You have not achieved anything in life but like to criticize those who have. I paid a personal tax bill last year of over £50m enough to build a hospital. You find the taxes in future I’m off #corbynout

This ill-tempered comment provoked a wave of criticism from others in its turn. It also revealed Sugar to be a snob as defined by Thackeray: ‘a person who meanly admires mean things.’ He also fits another character type identified by Oscar Wilde – someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. As for his boasting about how much he makes from the size of his tax bill, once upon a time this would have been considered a very poor comment by the long-established rich. Bragging about your wealth marked you out as being nouveau, a parvenu. Which Sugar is. He’s a self-made millionaire, who clearly believes his millions and his celebrity status excuse his poor manners.

The peeps on Twitter therefore lined up and told the brusque TV host that it was the ordinary people of this country – cleaners, bus drivers, firemen and women, carers, factory workers, teachers, nurses and so on, that actually kept this country running, rather than obscenely rich oligarchs like Sugar himself. They also pointed out that they too paid tax, and were determined to stay in this country, and they had also achieved things that could not be assessed in simple monetary turns. Like family and friends. As for the size of his tax bill, one person told Sugar to look at the size of his employees’ tax bills as opposed to the income of his lowest paid employees. They also wished him off on his planned departure from Britain, with comments like ‘Off you pop, send us a postcard, and so forth.

Several of the people tweeting denied being anarchists, with Darkest Angel also adding that he didn’t know what anarchism is. He clearly doesn’t. He obviously thinks that anarchists are just rabble-rousing hooligans, who go around attacking the rich without appreciating that there are genuine reasons for their anger and their criticisms of capitalism.

One of the tweeters, Jon Goulding, made it very clear that it was due to ordinary people that Sugar had made his money. He said

Don’t you dare claim that teachers and nurses and road builders and factory workers and farm labourers haven’t achieved anything in life just because they haven’t made skip loads of money. You wouldn’t have made jack shit if it weren’t for them, you selfish, shallow charlatan.

See https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/12/15/lord-sugar-got-precious-about-his-pledge-to-immigrate-if-corbyn-becomes-pm-and-got-what-he-deserved/

The great anarchist intellectual, Peter Kropotkin, made the same point in his article, Anarchist Communism, first published in The Nineteenth Century, and republished in Anarchist and Anarchist Communism: Its Basis and Principles, ed. by Nicolas Walter (London: Freedom Press 1987). Kropotkin argued that all property should be held in common, as every innovation built upon the work of millions of others, and depended on society for its effectiveness and value.

Our cities, connected by roads and brought into easy communication with all peopled parts of the globe, are the growth of centuries; and each house in these cities, each factory, each shop, derives its value, its very raison d’etre, from the fact that it is situated on a spot of the globe where thousands or millions have gather together. Every smallest part of the immense whole which we call the wealth of civilized nations derives its value precisely from being a part of this whole. What would be the value of an immense London shop or warehouse were it not situated precisely in London, which has become the gathering spot for five millions of human beings? And what the value of our coal-pits, our manufactures, our shipbuilding yards, were it not for the immense traffic which goes on across the seas, for the railways which transport mountains of merchandise, for the cities which number their inhabitants by millions? Who is, then,m the individual who has the right to step forward and, laying his hand on the smallest part of this immense whole, to say, ‘I have produced this; it belongs to me’? And how can we discriminate, in this immense interwoven whole, the part which the isolated individual may appropriate to himself with the slightest approach to justice? Houses and streets, canals and railways, machines and works of art, all these have been created by the combined efforts of generations past and present, of men living on these islands and men living thousands of miles away. (p. 37).

Moreover, Kropotkin also describes how capitalism actively prevents people from producing, in order to keep the prices of their products high. And this system creates monstrous inequalities in which the masses live in poverty, while the labour that could have been used alleviating poverty is spent on creating luxuries for the rich. He writes

But the figures just mentioned, while showing the real increase of production, give only a faint idea of what our production might be under a more reasonable economical organization. We know well that the owners of capital, while trying to produce more wares with fewer ‘hands’, are continually endeavouring at the same time to limit the production, in order to sell at higher prices. When the profits of a concern are going down, the owner of the capital limits the production, or totally suspends it, and prefers to engage his capital in foreign loans or Patagonian gold-mines. Just now there are plenty of pitmen in England who ask for nothing better than to be permitted to extract coal and supply with cheap fuel the households where children are shivering before empty chimneys. There are thousands of weavers who ask for nothing better than to weave stuffs in order to replace the ragged dress of the poor with decent clothing. And so in all branches of industry. How can we talk about a want of means of subsistence when thousands of factories lie idle in Great Britain alone; and when there are, just now, thousands and thousands of unemployed in London alone; thousands of men who would consider themselves happy7 if they were permitted to transform (under the guidance of experienced agriculturists) the clay of Middlesex into a rich soil, and to cover with cornfields and orchards the acres of meadow-land which now yields only a few pounds’ worth of hay? But they are prevented from doing so by the owners of the land, of the weaving factory, and of the coal-mine, because capital finds it more advantageous to supply the Khedive with harems and the Russian Government with ‘strategic railways’ and Krupp guns. Of course the maintenance of harems pays: it gives 10 or 15 per cent on the capital, while the extraction of coal does not pay-that is, it brings 3 or 5 per cent – and that is a sufficient reason for limiting the production and permitting would-be economists to indulge in reproaches to the working classes as to their too rapid multiplication!

Here we have instances of a direct and conscious limitation of production, due to the circumstance that the requisites for production belong to the few, and that these few have the right of disposing of them at their will, without caring about the interests of the community. But there is also the indirect and unconscious limiting of production – that which results from squandering the produce of human labour in luxury, instead of applying it to a further increase of production.

This last cannot even be estimated in figures, but a walk through the rich shops of any city and a glance at the manner in which money is squandered now, can give an approximate idea of this indirect limitation. When a rich man spends a thousand pounds for his stables, he squanders five to six thousand days of human labour, which might be used, under a better social organization, for supplying with comfortable homes those who are compelled to live now in dens. And when a lady spends a hundred pounds for her dress, we cannot but say that she squanders, at least, two years of human labour, which, again under a better organization, might have supplied a hundred women with decent dresses, and much more if applied to a further improvement of the instruments of production. Preachers thunder against luxury, because it is shameful to squander money for feeding and sheltering hounds and horses, when thousands live in the East End on sixpence a day, and other thousands have not even their miserable sixpence every day. But the economist sees more than that in our modern luxury: when millions of days of labour are spent every year for the satisfaction of the stupid vanity of the rich, he says that so many millions of workers have been diverted from the manufacture of those useful instruments which would permit us to decuple and centuple our present production of means of subsistence and of requisites for comfort. (pp. 34-5).

As for The Apprentice, Cassetteboy put up a couple of videos spoofing the show on YouTube a few years ago. They’re a couple of blokes, who edit footage of celebrities and politicians to make them appear ridiculous. And the results can be very, very funny indeed. Here’s what they did to Sugar and his team. Enjoy!

More ‘Red Tory’ Bilge from May – But Is Anyone Taken In?

July 14, 2016

Announcing that she had won the Tory leadership contest yesterday, Theresa May made a speech declaring that she was going to continue the Tories’ work making a more equal society, which would not just be for the privileged few. She had also uttered something on Monday about supporting workers’ representatives in the boardroom. This impressed one of the more gullible journos in the Independent. He raved about how, if he was May, he’d call a snap election and destroy the Labour party. After all, Labour was tearing itself to pieces in the fight between Jeremy Corbyn and the Blairites. And May’s promise to put workers in the boardroom, and support the working poor, were clearly policies that only the most tribal of Labour supporters would ever reject. If May did this, said journo boasted, she could knock down Labour to only 20 per cent of the vote.

I say the journo was ‘gullible’. Actually, I don’t think he was anything of the sort. I think he was a bog-standard cynical Tory propagandist, doing what the Tory press have always done: lying for their favourite party.

Labour considered introducing worker’s representatives into the boardroom in the 1970s. According to the Fabian pamphlet I blogged about the other day, there was even a White Paper drafted. This would have given workers up to fifty per cent of the members of the boardroom in the nationalised industries. There were even two trial experiments in workers’ representation at the time in the Royal Mail and British Steel. Both were discontinued. Tony Benn was a staunch supporter of worker’s boardroom representation, and he was thoroughly vilified for it by the Tory press. It was partly due to this, and his support for wider nationalisation, that every single paper in the 70s and 80s depicted him as a wild-eyed fanatic. The opposite was the truth. Benn was a considered, thoughtful man, who listened very carefully to everyone’s opinion before making up his mind. This was the opinion of those who worked with him, including the head of Bristol’s Chamber of Commerce.

There’s a kind of irony here, in which a policy, which terrified the Tories at the time, was trotted out by them to show that Theresa May somehow cares about us proles. It’s rubbish. She doesn’t, and the fact that she’s trying to con people with it says all you need to know about how little she differs from Cameron.

It’s more ‘Red Tory’ nonsense, the same kind of stuff Philip Blonde wrote about in the book of the same title, in order to get his protégé, David Cameron, elected. Blonde’s book plays up the support the early Victorian Conservatives gave to the nascent working class movement, for example in the passage of the Factory Acts and 10 Hour Bill. He also waxed glowingly about the virtues of Kropotkin, the great 19th century Anarchist. Kropotkin was and remains one of the great figures of Anarchist thought, and his book, The Conquest of Bread, has now been issued in Penguin Classics. Kropotkin was a bitter critic of the poverty and misery produced by capitalism and the state, but he was no advocate of violence, like Bakunin and Nechaev. In the last chapter of Fields, Factories and Workshops, he describes the anarchist workers taking the means of production into their hands, and peacefully extending the contact of the emerging anarchist commune into the surrounding countryside. It is the statists, the bourgeois parties, who are responsible for the killing during this Revolution. The Anarchists, meanwhile, simply go about their business of building the new, libertarian communist society.

Yes, ‘communist’. As well as criticising the state and capitalism, Kropotkin also believed, like other Anarchists, that the ideal society could only be created, and conditions for humanity genuinely improved, when everyone controlled the means of production, distribution and exchanged. He shared the same vision of the abolition of private industry and agriculture as the Marxist Communists. He just believed that it could be done directly, with no need to create a powerful centralised state.

While Tories like Cameron like the idea of ‘rolling back the frontiers of the state’, as Thatcher and a young William Hague once droned on about, none of the modern Tories has time for anything like the nationalisation or socialisation of industry. Indeed, they’re determined to privatise as much as possible. And anything they can’t privatise, they try to cut to the bone and close down. See the NHS, schools, and your local library, swimming baths and other local services for examples of this ad nauseam.

May’s utterances about workers in the boardroom is more of this sort. It’s an attempt by part of the Tory party to try to present itself as being ‘caring’ about working people. Cameron very carefully positioned himself as such in the run up to the 2010 election. He promised to ring fence funding for the NHS, and he and the other Tories campaigned against the closures of local hospitals. For a time, he looked more left-wing than Labour.

It was all a lie. Nothing new there generally, and it was just the first of many to come out of Cameron’s administration. Once through the front door of No 10, all this radical stuff evaporated, and it was full steam ahead with cuts, NHS privatisation and grinding the workers into the dirt. And it’s been like that ever since. May’s declaration that she’s in favour of workers in the boardroom, and helping the working poor, is just more of this ‘Red Tory’ mendacity. None of it is anything beyond PR, spin and doubletalk.

What she’s really going to be like can be seen from her cabinet. One of those to whom she gave a post, for example, was Priti Patel, the ‘curry queen’, and one of the authors of the infamous screed, Britannia Unchained. Patel and the rest of her cohorts argued in their wretched little book that British workers had better knuckle down, and work harder for less, just like the peoples of the Developing World. So, not the workers’ friend then.

Neither is Jacob Rees-Mogg, whose effortlessly genteel and condescending manner also hides – or not, as the case may be – the fact that he too is a member of the Tory right, who has backed Cameron’s policies of privatisation, cuts and immiseration all the way.

May has no interest in helping the poor, whether they’re working or not. And I do wonder at those, like the Indie journo, who would have us believe that she does. Do they really believe we’re that gullible? Is that how cynical they are about the British public. From all the evidence, it appears at the moment that they are.

Russian Footage of Kropotkin’s Funeral

May 3, 2016

I found this contemporary film of the funeral of the great Russian anarchist, Peter Kropotkin, in 1921. Unfortunately, it’s silent and the subtitles are all in Russian. There’s also bits from them missing at the sides, which could either be due problems putting the film into a TV format, or the result of poor camerawork. The film shows the procession from Kropotkin’s home in the village of Dmitrov to the railway station, and thence by train to Moscow, and final burial in one of the country’s great monasteries. The subtitles name the Anarchist great and good attending the funeral, including Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman. There were also delegates from the Ukrainian Federation of Anarchists, exiled Anarchists from America, whose banner, in English, can be seen, and even some Mensheviks and, I think, Socialist-Revolutionaries. It was a truly mass meeting, held at a time when the Bolsheviks were just beginning to clamp down and arrest the Anarchists and the other competing left-wing groups.

Libertarian Socialist Rants on ‘Why America Must Be Strong’

April 30, 2016

This is another excellent video by Libertarian Socialist Rants. In this piece, he takes apart a video made by the British Conservative historian, Andrew Roberts, for the Right-wing Prager University. Roberts tries to argue that American military power has been a force protecting and advancing freedom around the globe. American military intervention has been crucially important in defending freedom and democracy against the threat of Fascism, Communism and now militant Islam. Roberts further tries to argue that American intervention in the First World War was part of this campaign against Fascism, as the German Empire was a Fascist state. He then goes on to describe Communism as ‘Red Fascism’, and militant Islam as Fascism’s ‘fourth incarnation’. Libertarian Socialist Rants takes these arguments apart one by one.

He starts off by pointing out that in very many cases, America has not advanced the cause of freedom at all by installing in power brutally repressive, Fascist regimes on behalf of American corporations. As for Roberts’ subtly-worded association of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ with the American constitution, LSR shows that at the time it was written, the Founding Fathers were rich, White, slave-owners, and the Constitution included a clause stating that it should protect the opulent minority against the majority.

Roberts argues that Woodrow Wilson entered the First World War thanks to the Zimmerman telegram, which showed that Germany was going to extend the War to America by encouraging Mexico to annex Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. The Libertarian Socialist argues that, to the contrary, America only entered the War when Germany proved to be a threat to American commercial interests. For example, much of Haiti was owned by German Corporations. It was only when the Haitians refused to pass a law allowing American corporations to buy up Haitian property, that America invaded and had the law passed at gunpoint. The Americans occupied the country for the next 19 years, during which tens of thousands of Haitians were killed.

Next LSR tackles Roberts’ contention that America stood up for freedom in joining the Second World War against the Nazis. He shows instead that the American elite and big business were pro-German right up to the Second World War, because Hitler was anti-Communist. He also makes the point that America is quite capable of supporting Fascist regimes when it suits them. He quotes the Spanish Anarchist Durutti, who said that when the bourgeoisie feel their power slipping away, they abandon democracy and support Fascism.

The Libertarian Socialist Rants doesn’t defend the USSR and Soviet Communism, because, as he says, he’s not a Leninist. However, Marxist Communism is not the only form of Communism. By this he means Anarchist Communism, such as that advocated by Peter Kropotkin. He also says that while the Soviet bloc was a threat, this was exaggerated by the country’s military-industrial complex.

He then goes on to tackle Roberts’ statement that America is busy defending the world against militant jihadi Islam. Roberts states that radical Islam hates democracy and Christianity, just as Fascism does. Here LSR states that while Mussolini hated Christianity, Hitler was brought up a Roman Catholic, and claimed Nazism was a Christian movement. In fact, the truth here is rather more complicated. Mussolini did hate Christianity, but signed the Lateran Accords with the Vatican, which gave the state of Italy official recognition by the Church in return for Roman Catholic religious education in schools. Hitler was indeed brought up a Roman Catholic, but hated Christianity and said in his Table Talk that he’d wanted to blow up the Mass with dynamite since the age of twelve. He did indeed tried to present Nazism as a Christian movement but Christians had the right to resign from the civil service if they thought their faith was incompatible with the Nazi regime. He also wanted Nazi atheists to infiltrate the seminars to bring down Christianity from within. Alfred Rosenberg, the Nazi ideologue, was shifted away from power by Hitler because he was viciously anti-Christian. And in the eastern districts of the Reich the Nazis persecuted Christianity. However, it is also true that far too many Christians have supported Fascism because they saw it as a threat against Communism, materialism and atheism.

The Libertarian Socialist also points out that in many ways, America has vigorously promoted radical Islam. They supported the mujahideen in Afghanistan against the Soviets, are close allies of the Saudis, who are hard-line Islamic fundamentalists, and in Pakistan they supported General Zia ul-Haqq. Zia pursued a policy of radical Islamisation, that has turned the country into a hotbed of Islamic radicalism. LSR also points out that America has actually increased support for Islamist regimes through supporting corrupt dictators like Saddam Hussein, and by bombing and invading Muslim countries. In the absence of secular forms of opposition, their rage finds expression in militant Islam.

He ends the video by arguing that war, corruption and exploitation are intrinsic functions of the state, and that only Anarchist movements by the workers, such as those in Spain during the Civil War, can truly be described as standing for freedom. This is the basic Anarchist view of the state. I don’t agree with it, but as the Libertarian Socialist shows, unfortunately there is no shortage of evidence to support it.

As well as being a serious, intelligent deconstruction of Robert’s lecture, the video is at time very funny. There’s particularly hilarious footage of a chinchilla or some other rodent, standing up on its hind legs and looking alarmed when the term ‘Communism’ is mentioned, which goes with the ‘bells and whistles’ the American system makes whenever Communism is mentioned.

I’ve reblogged it because it’s such an excellent demolition of Roberts’ arguments. Roberts is one of Britain’s leading historians, but after watching this, you start wondering why he believes this rubbish. As the Libertarian Socialist himself says, ‘Does anyone else feel they’re being brainwashed watching this?’ Yes, I think they do. Very much.

Peter Kropotkin on Writer’s Accusations of Workers’ Laziness

April 28, 2016

One of the perennial complaints by the Right is that anyone who goes on strike for more pay, better working conditions or shorter hours is, by definition, either lazy, greedy or both. It was the accusation that the Republicans in America flung at striking teachers a year or so ago, and it was pretty well parroted by the Daily Heil over here, when it decided to have a go at public sector workers and their pensions. Now I noticed from reading Mike’s blog that the Scum has decided to wade in against the junior doctors.

I found this passage in Kropotkin’s essay, Anarchist Communism: Its Basis and Principles, where he attacks the notion that the workers are lazy. In particular, he takes great issue with this claim when it comes from writers, whom he states don’t work nearly as hard as the working people they criticise. Here it is:

As to the so-often repeated objection that nobody would labour if he were not compelled to do so by sheer necessity, we heard enough of it before the emancipation of slaves in America, as well as before the emancipation of serfs in Russia: and we have had the opportunity of appreciating it at its just value. So we shall not try to convince those who can be convinced only by accomplished facts. As to those who reason, they ought to know that, if it really was so with some parts of humanity at its lowest stages – and yet, what do we know about it? – or if it is so with some small communities, or separate individuals, brought to sheer despair by ill success in their struggle against unfavourable conditions, it is not so with the bulk of the civilised nations. With us, work is a habit, and idleness an artificial growth. Of course, when to be a manual worker means to be compelled to work all one’s life long for ten hours a day, and often more, at producing some part of something – a pin’s head, for instance; when it means to be paid wages on which a family can live only on the condition of the strictest limitation of all its needs; when it means to be always under the menace of being thrown tomorrow out of employment – and we know how frequent are the industrial crises, and what misery they imply; when it means, in a very great number of cases, premature death in a paupers’ infirmary, if not in the workhouse; when to be a manual worker signifies to wear a lifelong stamp of inferiority in the eyes of those very people who live on the work of their ‘hands’; when it always means the renunciation of all those higher enjoyments that science and art give to man – oh, then there is no wonder that everybody – the manual worker as well – has but one dream: that of rising to a condition where others would work for him. When I see writers who boast that they are the workers, and write that the manual workers are an inferior race of lazy and improvident fellows, I must ask them: Who, then, has made all you see about you: the houses you live in, the chairs, the carpets, the streets you enjoy, the clothes you wear? Who built the universities where you were taught, and who provided you with food during your school years? And what would become of your readiness to ‘work’, if you were compelled to work in the above conditions all your life at a pin’s head? No doubt you would be reported as a lazy fellow! And I affirm that no intelligent man can be closely acquainted with the life of the European working classes without wondering, on the contrary at their readiness to work, even under such abominable conditions.

(Peter Kropotkin, Anarchist Communism: It Basis and Principles, in Peter Kropotkin, ed. Nicolas Walter, Anarchism and Anarchist Communism: Its Basis and Principles (London: Freedom Press 1987) 53-4).

The editor of the Scum is an old Etonian. The proprietor of the Daily Heil, Lord Rothermere, is a multi-millionaire tax avoider. And I doubt very much that the Heil’s editor, Paul Dacre, comes from a working class background either. They have no right to despise the working classes as lazy. As for the junior doctors, Mike has posted up extensive pieces from them showing that this is most certainly not about extra pay. They are very much concerned about patient safety, and their ability to give potentially life-saving service after working long hours. And if some medical professionals are better than most of us, it’s because they should be rewarded for the immense skill required of them, and the heavy responsibility they bear. No-one will die tomorrow – at least, I hope not – if the sports writer in the Scum is in no fit state to write his column. Someone might very well die, however, or suffer terrible ill-health, if a responsible doctor makes a poor decision due to lack of sleep, or is forced to do one job too many because of the need to find ‘savings’ through staff cutbacks. And no-one would suffer tomorrow either if Jeremy Hunt and the rest of his wretched crew were booted out of office. Rather the opposite!

Kropotkin on How Employment Contracts Are Not the Product of Free Consent

April 26, 2016

In my last post, I quote the great Russian Anarchist, Peter Kropotkin, on how capitalism will deliberately limit production and throw people out of work in order to keep profits high. In his essay ‘Anarchist Communism: Its Basis and Principles’, Kropotkin also made this scathing criticism of the idea that employment contracts between employer and worker were made from free choice, when the reality was that the only choice was starvation for the worker. He wrote

First of all, there are two kinds of agreements: there is the free one which is entered upon by free consent, as a free choice between different courses equally open to each of the agreeing parties; and there is the enforced agreement, imposed by one party upon the other, and accepted by the latter from sheer necessity; in fact, it is no agreement at all; it is a mere submission to necessity. Unhappily, the great bulk of what are now described as agreements belong to the latter category. When a workman sells his labour to an employer, and knows perfectly well that some part of the value of his produce will be unjustly taken by the employer; when he sells it without even the slightest guarantee of being employed so much six consecutive months- and he is compelled to do so because he and his family would otherwise starve next week – it is a sad mockery to call that a free contract. Modern economists may call it free, but the father of political economy – Adam Smith – was never guilty of such a misrepresentation. (Peter Kropotkin, ed. Nicolas Walter, Anarchism and Anarchist Communism: Its Basis and Principles (London: Freedom Press 1987) 52).

This has been the basis of Tory unemployment policy ever since Maggie took power in 1979. It was why the Tories introduced delays into benefit payments for workers, who voluntarily made themselves unemployed. And the same reasoning is behind the sanctions systems, and the idiotic contract you are supposed to sign indicating that you are actively looking for work when you sign on at the Jobcentre.

Vox Political On the Bitter Injustice of the BHS Collapse and Philip Green’s Third Yacht

April 26, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has also put up a piece about the most bitter part of the collapse of BHS: its chairman, Philip Green, was a serial tax avoider, who took £400 million out of the company. He bought himself yet another yacht, to add to the two he owned already. The company collapsed, throwing 11,000 people out of their jobs, and with £571 million black hole in its pension funds.

Mike urges its employees who voted Tory to take a long, hard look at what this says about the treatment of employees under David Cameron. It says that corporate bosses can get away with keeping their wealth, while their workers get nothing.

The bitterest part of the BHS collapse: Philip Green’s third yacht

This isn’t the first company that’s collapsed through lack of investment thanks to free trade economics. There have been others, and the economic thinking behind it is the first target in Han-Joon Chang’s 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism.

The Russian Anarchist, Peter Kropotkin, also had a few choice things to say about the businessmen of his time, who deliberately limited production to keep the profits from their products high, which is similar to Green starving his company of funds for his own enrichment. In his essay, ‘Anarchist Communism: Its Basis and Principles’, Kropotkin wrote:

But the figures just mentioned, while showing the real increase of production, give only a faint idea of what our production might be under a more reasonable economical organisation. We know well that the owners of capital, while trying to produce more wares with fewer ‘hands’, are continually endeavouring at the same time to limit the production, in order to sell at higher prices. When the profits of a concern are going down, the owner of the capital limits the production, or totally suspends it, and prefers to engage his capital in foreign loans or shares in Patagonian gold-mines. Just now there are plenty of pitmen in England who ask for nothing better than to be permitted to extract coal and supply with cheap fuel the households where children are shivering before empty chimneys. There are thousands of weavers who ask for nothing better than to weave stuffs in order to replace the ragged dress of the poor with decent clothing. And so in all branches of industry. How can we talk about a want of means of subsistence when thousands of factories lie idle in Great Britain alone; and when there are, just now, thousands and thousands of unemployed in London alone; thousands of men who would consider themselves happy if they were permitted to transform (under the guidance of experienced agriculturists) the clay of Middlesex into a rich soil, and to cover with cornfields and orchards the acres of meadow land which now yields only a few pounds’ worth of hay? But they are prevented from doing so by the owners of the land, or the weaving factory, and of the coal-mine, because capital finds it more advantageous to supply the Khedive with harems and the Russian Government with ‘strategic railways’ and Krupp guns. Of course the maintenance of harems pays: it gives 10 or 15 per cent on the capital, while the extraction of coal does not pay – that is, it brings 3 or 5 per cent – and that is a sufficient reason for limiting the production and permitting would-be economists to indulge in reproaches to the working classes as to their too rapid multiplication! (Peter Kropotkin, ‘Anarchist Communism’, in Nicolas Walter, ed., Anarchism & Anarchist Communism (London: Freedom Press 1987) 34-5).

Kropotkin was appropriated by Cameron’s ideological mentor, Philip Blonde, in his book, Red Tory. It’s not hard to see why. Kropotkin as an Anarchist favoured the elimination of government, and was impressed by the achievements of private organisations, such as the Lifeboats and the international postage and railway systems, which lay outside of an overarching regulatory body. But Kropotkin was also a communist and a bitter critic of the poverty created by modern industrial capitalism. Blonde used his anarchist ideas to provide some kind of left-ish underpinning to Cameron’s idea of the ‘Big Society’. The latter was really only flimsy disguise for traditional Tory privatisation and laissez-faire capitalism. Whatever you think of his anarchism, Kropotkin deserves better.

Callousness and Class Cruelty: The Real Reason the Tory Euro Vote Hasn’t Dropped

May 4, 2014

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A few days ago I reblogged a piece from Mike over at Vox Political, in which he wondered why the Tory vote hadn’t also been significantly affected by their ruthless austerity policies. The Lib Dems have effectively been wiped out due to their participation in the Coalition. After Clegg’s debate with Farage about the EU, the number of people stating they will vote for the Lib Dems has fallen to 2 per cent. Other polls place them vying for fifth place in national elections with the Greens. In one local election, as reported by Tom Pride over at Pride’s Purge, they came behind Bus-Pass Elvis. This incarnation of the King stood on a platform of legalised brothels with a 30 per cent reduction for OAPs. Such decadence and immorality was clearly much more palatable to the local electors than the lies, hypocrisy and vicious attacks on the poor and underprivileged of the Lib Dems support for their Tories austerity programme. They are looking at political extinction. They deserve it.

The question remains, though. Why weren’t the Tories similarly affected?

The Lib Dems are, after all, only accomplices. Mike acknowledges that they may even be right in their assertion that they have held the Tories back from even more extreme policies. And the Tories are worse liars and hypocrites, and even more cruel, vicious and persecutory towards the working and lower middle classes. Before the 2010 election, they were posing as even more Left-wing than Labour. They went up and down the country engaging in stunts community activism, like trying to get funding for children’s play areas from the local Labour authority. They announced that they were ring-fencing money for the NHS. Osborne declared at one point that he was going to get rid of the PFI. Cameron’s mentor, Philip Blond, promoted an image of the party that he was extremely friendly to the organised working class, even citing the great anarchist, Peter Kropotkin, in his book, Red Tory. All this has been thoroughly discarded as the Tories push through the privatisation of the NHS, even more punitive policies towards the poor and working- and lower-middle class. And the PFI is still going strong under Osborne.

So why haven’t the electorate punished them, as they have the Lib Dems?

I think the answer lies in the type of people, who form the core Tory vote. The Tories have a reputation for being, in general, much more politically committed than Labour supporters. One of the Labour Prime Ministers, for example, was afraid of the effect the scheduling of a general election may have had on the number of people voting for the party, because it clashed with a popular TV programme. The fear was that the working class voters would stay home and watch that, rather than cast their vote at the polls. The turn-out for Euro elections is much lower than for British, and so only the most determined and committed parts of the electorate vote in them.

And in the case of the Tories, it seems those core voters are utter b****rds. Peter Snowden, in his book, Back from the Brink, discussing how the Tories managed to revive their electoral fortunes from the nadir of the Blair years, makes the point that Cameron’s attempt to position the Tories as more ‘Left-wing’ and competitors to Labour as social activists, met with only an indifferent response, if not outright hostility. The Tories simply don’t like community activism. And when Cameron stated at a publicity meeting that he was the heir to Blair, he was criticised by the editor of the Telegraph.

The number of people voting in general elections has declined considerably. Many are turning away from politics because of the apparent lack of any interest or appreciation of the hardships on ordinary working people that have been inflicted by the Neoliberal agendas now shared by all the main parties. Disgust at the greed, self-interest and hypocrisy of the political class has also had a highly corrosive effect on public confidence in them. The result is that membership of these parties has fallen to a rump of a few, very committed supporters, many of whom are tribal voters. In the case of the Tories, these voters appear to be arch-Thatcherites, motivated by a desire to return to a strongly hierarchical class system, and with a bitter hatred of state assistance for the poor and unfortunate.

The Lib Dems’ supporters, on the other hand clearly included many, who saw their party as far more moderate than the extreme Neoliberal organisation into which it has been moulded by Clegg. The ideological heritage of the Liberal party is that of John Stuart Mill – democracy, social justice and in the classic Liberal formulation, the achievement of individual liberty through collective action. In many areas where Labour is weak they are the opposition to the Tories. As a result, their followers feel the Coalition’s betrayal of their initial promises far more than the Tories, who seem largely content. And so they have abandoned the party in their droves. The Tores, however, propped up by class interest and Thatcherite greed, carry on as before.

And so Britain continues to suffer. It’s about time the Tories came to the same fate as the Lib Dems.

Kropotkin on the Potential of Communal Agriculture

February 13, 2014

Kropotkin Conquest Bread

Amnesiaclinic posted this comment, pointing to the development of co-operative gardens in America, on my post about Workfare Exploitation

‘I like the idea of doing as much bartering as possible and definitely blacklisting any company or charity having anything to do with this. There seems to be quite a movement taking off in the US of community gardens where people work together cooperatively and organically to produce good food for schools. hospitals nurseries but could be expanded into teaching basic cooking with fresh food and veggies for Food Banks etc etc. We need to help ourselves become independent and self sufficient leaving them with their useless walls of gold as Voice of Reason says!’

The great 19th-early 20th century Anarchist, Peter Kropotkin, would have agreed. Kropotkin was a Russian nobleman and scientist, who had requested being posted to Siberia when he joined the Russian army. He had earlier been at the tsar’s court, and his experience there, and with the peasants on his own estate and in Siberia, convinced him that the peasants and ordinary working people were more humane and moral than the aristocracy. His research into the botany and animal life of Siberia convinced him that Darwinian ideas that stressed competition in evolution were incorrect, and that co-operation and mutual support were instead the driving forces of biological development. He published his ideas in his book Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution.

His experiences also made him a convinced anarchist, believing that the state was both oppressive and unnecessary. Like many other anarchists, he believed that society could only reformed through a revolution. Unlike some contemporary anarchists, like Bakunin, he did not delight in violence, and his works take a more evolutionary line. He realised that the revolution would be violent and bloody, but believed that the new, co-operative order which would replace capitalism and individualism would develop from trends already in place. As proof of what voluntary groups could achieve without state support or interference, he pointed to charities and organisations such as the Royal National Lifeboat Institute in Britain, and the international courts set up by merchants in Europe during the Middle Ages, in which merchants administered their own laws.

In his book, The Conquest of Bread (London: Elephant Editions 1985), Kropotkin discusses how an anarchist revolution would reform society, with a comprehensive reorganisation of industry, housing, agriculture, the provision of food and clothes, and the abolition of the wages system in favour of the direct provision of goods between communities and the workers in particular areas.

The chapter, ‘Food’, describes how a new anarchist commune, like the Paris Commune of 1871, would organise its agricultural production to feed itself. This sounds rather like the community gardens mentioned by Amnesiaclinic. Kropotkin writes

‘The large towns, as well as the villages, must undertake to till the soil. We must return to what biology calls ‘the integration of functions’ – after the division of labour, the taking up of it as a whole-this is the course followed throughout Nature.

Besides, philosophy apart, the force of circumstances would bring about this result. Let Paris see that at the end of eight months it will be running short of bread, and Paris will set to work to grow wheat.

Land will not be wanting, for it is round the great towns, and round Paris especially, that the parks and pleasure grounds of the landed gentry are to be found. These thousands of acres only await the skilled labour of the husbandman to surround Paris with fields infinitely more fertile and productive than the steppes of southern Russia, where the soil is dried up by the sun. Nor will labour be lacking. To what should the two million citizens of Paris turn their attention, when they would be no longer catering for the luxurious fads and amusements of Russian princes, Rumanian grandees and wives of Berlin financiers?

… Thus, learning the art of horticulture from experts, and trying experiments in different methods on small patches of soil reserved for the purpose, vying with each other to obtain the best returns, finding in physical exercise, without exhaustion or overwork, the health and strength which so often flags in cities – men, women and children will gladly turn to the labour of the fields, when it is no longer a slavish drudgery,, but has become a pleasure, a festival, a renewal of health and joy.’

In the last chapter, ‘Agriculture’, he argues that an anarchist commune, such as a town, could provide enough food to support its inhabitants and to trade with other communities, through the use of the intensive agricultural techniques that were then coming into use, with only a few hours labour being demanded of each citizen. He similarly describes the benefits of such communal agricultural work thus:

‘Of all the great days of the French Revolution, the most beautiful, the greatest, was the one on which delegates who had come from all parts of France to Paris, all worked with the spade to plane the ground of the Champ de Mars, preparing it for the fete of the Federation.

That day France was united: animated by the new spirit, she had a vision of the future in the working in common of the soil.

And it will again be by the working in common of the soil that the enfranchised societies will find their unity and will obliterate the hatred and oppression which has hitherto divided them.

Henceforth, able to conceive solidarity-that immense power which increases man’s energy and creative forces a hundredfold – the new society will march to the conquest of the future with all the vigour of youth.

Ceasing to produce for unknown buyers, and looking in its midst for needs and tastes to be satisfied, society will liberally assure the life and ease of each of its members, as well as that moral satisfaction which work gives when freely chosen and freely accomplished, and the joy of living without encroaching on the life of others.’

One of the criticisms levelled at him is that of excessive optimism. He believed strongly in the essential goodness of human nature, to the point where he believed that even people guilty of the most heinous crimes would behave selflessly. In Mutual Aid, for example, he points to a case in France where a murderer in hiding dashed out to rescue a child from a burning house, knowing full well that this self-less act would lead to his arrest and execution for the crime. It’s been said that this is unrealistic. Given the horrors that have occurred in the 20th century – the mass killings by a succession of brutal and tyrannical regimes, and some of the truly revolting crimes you can read about nearly every day in the press, I have to agree.

The other, related point is that, if people really are as good and noble as Kropotkin believes them to be, it’s doubtful how their condition can be improved through a revolution and Anarcho-Communism, when left to themselves in the present system people can be expected to improve their conditions and that of their fellows. It’s another good point.

I have to say that I think any revolution is far more likely to end up in a blood bath than not, though there are exceptions, the greatest of which is the American Revolution. Nevertheless, ideas like Kropotkin’s continue to have a very strong influence on modern Anarchists, and strongly influenced the American hippy counterculture. Furthermore, recent studies of Anarchism have pointed to the various communities and experiments in work and business that have been set up according to anarchist ideals in parallel and within the modern capitalist state. The communal gardens Amnesiaclinic mentions sound like just such a social experiment, though they may not be directly influenced by Kropotkin or anarchist theory generally. I wish them, however, every success if they are bringing fulfilment and good food to the people that own and work them.