Posts Tagged ‘Social Democrats’

Kenneth Surin on Brexit and May’s Corporate Attack on the Poor

April 20, 2017

On Tuesday, Counterpunch published a long piece by their contributor, Kenneth Surin, on Theresa May’s plans for Brexit, and how this will inevitably harm the poor and the working people of this Sceptred Isle. And it’s what you’re already expecting, if you’ve read the Groaniad, those bits of the I newspaper that are still even remotely genuinely liberal, and bloggers like Mike over at Vox Political, the Canary, Another Angry Voice, The Void and so on. May, he predicts, will talk a hard Brexit in order to counter some of the opposition from the Tory Right, but will leave some room for a soft Brexit. She, Boris Johnson, and the other vicious grotesques currently infesting the halls of power, want to use it to turn Britain into a tax haven. So he predicts that the City of London and its connections to some very dodgy individuals – he has a paragraph giving the names of some of them – will get even murkier. But, as he points out, Britain already is a tax haven through the Channel Islands.

He states that we are likely to be given a very hard deal by the EU. He states that there was friction between Britain and the European Union as while the EU represents the power of corporate capital, it draws a line on their direct influence in government. The lingering Social Democratic tradition in these countries, like France, Germany, and the Scandinavian nations, means that the government governs for industry, but is not run like an industry. Unlike the Neoliberal vision, exported to Britain from the US, which wants government to be run exactly like a business.

He also predicts that May and her grotty team will inflict further misery on the poor, because that’s what appeals to the right-wing British press, like ‘the foreigner Murdoch’ and the ‘tax-dodging, Nazi-supporting Rothermere family’. The Tories will follow Farage, and privatise the NHS, just as the are already privatising services and levying charges for them.

He also rebuts May’s feigned concern for those ‘Just About Managing’, or the JAMs. Despite all the crocodile tears she and her cronies shed, she has done absolutely nothing for them. Wages are still stagnant, the opportunities to upgrade one’s skills are similarly being cut, as are welfare services to support the poor and unemployed.

Surin begins his article also by pointing out that when it comes to the day, the vote on Brexit is likely to be influenced by factors and issues that aren’t really relevant. He also talks about the way May has already shot herself in the foot by trying to promote Brexit using images of places, which have actually benefitted from the EU. Like the northern shipyards, which were given a million pound grant.

Surin begins his piece

“So at this moment of change [Brexit], we must respond with calm, determined, global leadership to shape a new era of globalisation that works for all”.

— Theresa May

“My plan for Britain is not just a plan to leave the EU but a plan to build a stronger economy and a fairer society, underpinned by genuine economic and social reform. To make Britain a country that works for everyone, not just a privileged few”.

— Theresa May

The UK’s Brexit roll-out is a constantly evolving project, zig zagging along because the Tories in charge of it, like everyone else, have no real idea of how it will culminate. So far it has been ad hockery all the way, though one or two of the project’s connecting threads are starting to be visible.

One week, Theresa “the woman without qualities” May, who voted against Brexit, is in favour of a “hard” Brexit (basically one involving no deal of any kind with the EU regarding the single market and immigration), the next she softens her tone and hints that a more placative agreement with the EU, amounting to a “soft” Brexit, might be welcomed in whatever hoped-for way.

Nothing was more symbolic of this chaos and muddled-thinking than the most recent pro-Brexit television broadcast by May, which showed her against the background of ships moving in the Scottish port of Aberdeen.

Oops– the port of Aberdeen was granted a €258 million loan from the European Investment Bank on 20 June 2016, just 3 days before the UK voted to leave the EU!

It all seems to depend on how much heat the pro-Brexit right-wing of her party, citing that chimerical entity “sovereignty”, can turn on her.

Her predecessor, “Dodgy Dave” Cameron, weary of feeling this heat, called the Brexit referendum to cool down his party’s right-wing, absolutely confident in his nonchalantly patrician way that Brits would consider themselves better-off by remaining in the EU.

Such referenda, although purportedly on a single-issue, tend invariably to have outcomes determined very much by the mood of the electorate, which is affected by a plethora of considerations having nothing specifically to do with the issue officially on the table on referendum day.

***

May’s calculation requires her to “talk” a hard Brexit, to neutralize the right-wingers who ended her predecessor’s political career, and to gain the support of the right-wing press– owned by the foreigner Murdoch, the Nazi-supporting and tax-dodging Rothermere family, Richard “Dirty Des” Desmond (the former head of a soft porn empire), the tax-dodging Barclay brothers, and a Russian oligarch.

This overseas-domiciled and tax-dodging (in the cases mentioned) crew have set the low-information agenda for those inclined towards Brexit, so May’s strategy, if we can call it that, has been accommodating towards their hard Brexit stance, while leaving things vague enough for loopholes to enable a “softish” Brexit if needed.

May, craving electoral success, has to cater to all sides and eventualities. The results are likely to be calamitous for the UK.

Why is this?

May’s primary objective is to convey the impression that Brexit will “work for all”.

Alas there is no evidence for this claim.

***

The UK’s pro-Brexit movement, in the absence of anything resembling a Lexit, is not going to be shackled by this or that constraint previously imposed by the EU.

For instance, the UKIP leader Nigel Farage, Trump’s non-American sycophant par excellence, though a minimal figure, has always advocated the privatization of the NHS. And this is exactly what the Tories have been pursuing by stealth since 2010.

***

May has already said she “stands ready” to use Brexit as an opportunity to turn the UK into a tax haven, or as the financial press euphemistically puts it, “a low-tax financial centre”. It is already one of course (this being the primary function of the islands of Guernsey, Jersey, the Isle of Man, and Gibraltar).

What May clearly means is that London’s financial sector, which is already awash in murky water, will become an even muddier swamp able to match similar swamps in the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, Panama, Hong Kong, Singapore, and so forth. Dwellers of these swamps include assorted drug dealers, human traffickers, gun runners, owners of illegal gambling syndicates…

***

In addition to May desiring this state of affairs for the City of London, it is clear from the composition of the team put together by the secretary of state for international trade Liam Fox to negotiate post-Brexit trade deals, that Brexit UK is going to pursue a thoroughgoing pro-corporate agenda.

***

This corporate bonanza will probably be accompanied by a weakening of environmental regulations, since most of the leading Brexiteers are climate-change deniers or supporters of fracking (and in most cases, both).

Pro-Brexit climate-change deniers include Farage, Michael Gove (who tried to ban climate change from the school curriculum when he was education minister), the foreign minister Boris “BoJo” Johnson, Thatcher’s finance minister Nigel Lawson, and the above-mentioned Liam Fox.

***

This hugely attractive and compassionate bunch (sic) are not going to be too concerned about pollution, biodiversity, natural habitats, animals abused by industrial farming, climate change, the prohibition of lethal pesticides, declining fish stocks, the international trade in endangered species, and the use of GMOs, when the agribusiness corporations howl about environmental regulation being a burden to them.

There will be no remotely green agenda under this ghastly crew.

***

May prates on about her deep concern for “just about managing” families (JAMs), but the austerity agenda passed on by the disastrous former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne is being implemented with only a slight cosmetic tweak here and there.

The UK economy has grown since 2010, but, according to the Guardian, 7.4 million Brits, among them 2.6 million children, live in poverty despite being from working families (amounting to 55% of these deemed poor) — 1.1 million more than in 2010-11.

The report cited by the Guardian, produced by the reputable Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), shows that the number living below the Minimum Income Standard – the earnings, defined by the public, required for a decent standard of living – rose from 15 million to 19 million between 2008/9 and 2014/5. The UK’s population is 65 million.

These 19 million people, or just under 1/3rd of the UK’s population, are its JAMs.
***

Social care is becoming increasingly unaffordable for them, the NHS is starting to charge for treatment as it undergoes a backdoor privatization, they have fewer opportunities for upskilling in order to raise their incomes, and so on. This while their wages are stagnant even as the cost of living is increasing for them.

***

Such important and pressing issues need to be addressed as a matter of urgency, but they are not.

The Tories pro-corporate Brexit agenda has become the proverbial tail wagging the dog.

***

Many have a name for what is really and truly going on in the UK and US: class warfare.

The bastards have the underprivileged by the throat. All the mainstream political parties are terrified of offending them, if they haven’t already thrown their lot in with the bastards.

What is desperately needed, for the dispossessed and disadvantaged, is a reversal of this situation, in which many firm hands turn round and grasp the throats of those responsible for the misery of tens of millions of people.

Is there anyone in the almost moribund Labour party, torn apart by infighting caused by its still significant Blairite remnant, capable of saying any of the above unequivocally?

Go read the rest of the article at: http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/04/18/the-calm-determined-stronger-fairer-uk-brexit-zig-zag/

In answer to Surin’s final question, yes, there are plenty of people in the Labour party willing to point all this out. They’ve tried to do so ad infinitum. But the Blairites and the Tory media are doing their best to stop that message getting out. They never report what they say about the detrimental attacks the Tories and Blair have made on the welfare state, the NHS and the economy, but selectively quote them in order to make it all fit the narrative that Corbyn and his wing of the party are ignoring these issues. And it’s done deliberately to fit the narrative of Corbyn as a Trotskyite entryist.

It’s why I’m afraid that the next two months will be a very hard struggle for everyone desperate to save Britain from the corporatist swamp created by the Thatcherites and their media lickspittles.

Vox Political on Blairite Entryism

August 17, 2016

Yesterday, Mike also put up a piece from Medium entitled ‘Blairite Entryism’. This was about an email from three councillors for Oval Ward in Lambeth, Jack Hopkins, Jane Edbrooke and Claire Holland, appealing for people to join the Labour party so they could vote out Jeremy Corbyn. They made the usual noises about Corbyn and his supporters being unsuitable for government, stated that as well as trying to tackle inequality and protecting the most vulnerable, they were also active running basic council services, and threatened that if Corbyn was elected, it would mean the disappearance of many present Labour councillors. The email was sent to everyone, including Lib Dems and Conservatives. It was specifically targeted at the members of other parties, who were not Labour voters, to join simply to get rid of Corbyn.

Mike asks the question why Tom Watson, if he is so frightened by Left-wing entryism into the Labour party, isn’t also denouncing this Right-wing entryism, and demanding that they be duly punished in the same way as all the Trotskyites he imagines are out there.

Of course Watson won’t. Part of Tony Blair’s strategy to appeal to the right was to recruit Conservatives into the Labour party and the government. Those who switched sides were parachuted into safe Labour seats, often at the expense of the popular, Labour candidate for those areas. When it came to government officials, Blair decided that his was a Government Of All the Talents, and included even present members of the Tory party. This included Chris Patten, the former governor of Hong Kong. It was noted by Blair’s critics that he was far more comfortable with these Tories than he was with traditional Labour party members.

As for the long paranoia and fear about left-wing entryism into the Labour party, this has been around since the 1920s. Labour were concerned about possible Communist party infiltration, and so passed a resolution to remove members of the extreme left. The official stance of the Labour party is opposition to the class war, which is one of the major planks of Communist ideology. There is a problem in that under Stalin, the Comintern did have a policy of turning western Communist parties into carbon copies of the Soviet Communist party, and using them to further specific Russian foreign policy goals rather than those favouring their own nations. One of the reasons Communist Yugoslavia split from the Soviet bloc and aligned with NATO instead was because Stalin tried this effect takeover of their nation through the international Communist organisation. Milovan Djilas, the dissident Marxist writer and one of the architects of the system of worker’s control in the former Yugoslavia, described this process in his autobiography, Rise and Fall. For example, the official Communist international line demanded that the press in the satellite countries printed stories mainly about Russia, to the exclusions of articles about the satellite nations itself. And the way Stalin took over and the nations liberated by the Soviet Union during the Second World War into Communist states under the sway of the Soviet Union was by infiltrating, amalgamating and purging the local Socialist and opposition parties. For example, in East Germany the Social Democrats were, against their wishes, forcibly amalgamated with the Communist party. The leading Social Democrat politicians were then purged, and the majority Social Democrats then reformed as a Communist party, along the way turning their country into a Communist state. This didn’t just happen to Socialist parties. It also happened to non-Socialist parties, which occupied the leading left-wing position, such as the Peasant’s Party in Hungary.

There were also attempts to take over the trade unions through the Soviet trade union organisation. It’s why Ernest Bevin, the veteran trade unionist and Labour politician, hated Communism.

And it wasn’t just the Communists, who tried these antics. The Socialist Workers’ Party, which is the country’s main Trotskyite organisation, was notorious for trying to infiltrate other left-wing groups and campaigns in order to turn them into its front organisations. The ‘Rock Against Racism’ movement fell apart in the 1980s after they gained a majority on its leading committee. The campaign then declared it was working in concert with the Socialist Workers. The majority of its members, who weren’t interested in Trotskyism but simply wanted to listen to rockin’ bands while saving the country from the NF and the rest of the Fascists, voted with their feet and left.

Other extreme left-wing organisations adopt the same tactics. In the early 1990s a group of anarchist troublemakers tried to infiltrate a re-enactment group of which I was part. They left en masse after they were caught discussing their plans to take control of it.

Much of the fear of left-wing entryism into the Labour party and the trade unions was also stoked by the Americans as part of the Cold War. Robin Ramsay and Lobster have published a number of articles describing and criticising the process by which the American and British intelligence agencies sponsored various working class movement and organisations to combat possible Soviet influence. The Blairite hysteria here over Corbynite ‘Trotskyites’ is part of this pattern, as Blair and the other leading members of New Labour were sponsored by the British-American Project for the Successor Generation, a Reaganite project to influence the coming generation of politicians in favour of the Atlantic alliance and American interests.

All this hysteria ignores the fact that Jeremy Corbyn isn’t a Trot, and neither are his followers. They’re traditional old Labour. But this is too much for the New Labour capitalists, who get the vapours every time somebody mentions traditional, old Labour values, like working for the working class, protecting the unemployed, nationalisation and a mixed economy. New labour’s based entirely on copying the Tories and trying to steal their ideas and voters. And hence this attempt by the three Lambeth councillors to pack the party with voters from the Right, all the while screaming about the threat of the extreme left. The Blairites themselves are entryists – capitalist entryist, spouting Thatcherite nonsense. This should have no more place in the Labour party than Communists or Trotskyites on the hard Left.

Useful Book: Socialisms: Theory and Practices, by Antony Wright

July 2, 2016

Socialisms Cover

(Oxford: Oxford University Press 1987)

I was asked a few weeks ago by some of the commenters here what the difference between Socialism and Communism was. In fact, apart from democratic Socialism, which most people understand as Socialism, there is a bewildering variety of difference types of Socialism, and socialists have often strongly disagreed with each other about what it means and how it should be carried out, while advocating the collective ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange. Anthony Wright was the lecturer in political studies at the Department of Extramural Studies at Birmingham University. His book, published nearly three decades ago, has the subtitle on its front cover ‘Why Socialists disagree – and what they disagree about’. It discusses the different forms of Socialism, and the disagreements between them.

The blurb states:

One third of the world’s population now lives under a regime which describes itself as socialist. But what precisely is socialism? Marxists claim that they are the only true socialists, but this is hotly denied by Trotksyists, Anarchists, Fabians, Collectivists, Syndicalists, Social Democrats and members of the many other ‘socialist’ movements.

In this lucid and unintimidating introduction to the subject Anthony Wright argues that the contradictions, rivalries, and antagonisms within socialism arise from the absence of a single socialist tradition. The very word ‘socialism’ has (as R.H. Tawney put it) ‘radiant ambiguities’.

Socialisms develops this theme throughout a wide-ranging analysis of socialist theories and practices, and concludes, provocatively, with a look at the future prospects of contemporary socialisms.

As you can see, the book was written before the collapse of Communism, and neoliberal economics had infected the western socialist parties with different forms of the ‘Third Way’. It’s quite short at 137 pages, with different chapters on ‘traditions’, ‘arguments’, ‘doctrines’, ‘methods’, ‘actors’ and ‘futures’. In his conclusion, Wright looked forward to the rigid divisions between the different varieties of socialism breaking down, so that socialists of different persuasions can learn, and profitably borrow from each other.

European Democracy in Retreat: Austria Elects Nazi President

May 23, 2016

Today’s Mirror reported that Norbert Hofer, the candidate for Austria’s FPO party, managed to win the presidential election with a fraction over 51% of the vote. I gather that the presidency in Austria is largely ceremonial. Nevertheless, the Mirror was worried in case it showed that the party was going to win a majority in the country’s forthcoming parliamentary elections.

The FPO is the Freiheits Partei Osterreichs, or Freedom Party of Austria. It’s an avowedly far-Right, Neo-Nazi, anti-immigration outfit. It was founded in 1956 by the former Nazi minister and SS officer, Anton Reinthaller.

I was also sent a Channel 4 News report on Hofer and his party from one of the great commenters on this blog. Hofer is a former aeronautical engineer and supporter of gun rights. He walks with a stick, having damaged his leg in a paragliding accident. The reporter notes that the mainstream parties simply don’t feature in this presidential debate. The Social Democrats and Conservatives, who have governed the country for decades, are completely absent, and Hofer’s opponent was a member of the Greens. In a brief interview with the reporter, Hofer states that Austria should offer genuine protection to the real refugees that need it, but the problem is the vast scale of immigration to Austria. The reporter states that the party’s success is a reaction to the increasing number of immigrants from Syria, as well as violent confrontations between the police and pro-immigrant groups on the Italian border. The report shows footage of just such a confrontation between Austria’s rozzers and a crowd holding placards with signs like ‘Immigrants Welcome’. He talks to a family of Syrian refugees in a house established by a former investment banker. She says she put it up to give refugees a safe place to stay. The family are all learning German, and all want to stay. Except for one man, who fears that he has no one to protect him, and so will not be able to.

The reporter also talks to Haller, a Jewish artist living in one of Vienna’s most sumptuous palaces. Herr Haller is a celebrated artist and intellectual, who believes that the current resurgence of the far Right in his homeland is merely another version of anti-Semitism, which has simply metamorphosed into islamophobia. He states that as a Jew, despite his surroundings, nothing feels more natural than to have a suitcase packed ready to be moved on.

The reporter also talks to some of the people about Hofer and the FPO during the Corpus Christi celebrations in Vienna. There, surrounding by dancing people, music and firecrackers, several young guys tell him they support Hofer and his party. In response to the question about which British politician they like, they say ‘Nigel Farage’, as they think he would be good for us. One woman also tells the reporter in German that she voted for Hofer because with all the immigrants coming in taking jobs and so on, she felt like a stranger in her own country.

The reporter in the above video notes how slick Hofer is and his sharp suit. His comments about Austria needing to provide a safe haven for genuine refugees sounds like any discussion of the subject from a mainstream politician. It seems to be part of the way the European extreme Right has become more mainstream by apparently adopting a more mainstream, less openly Nazi attitude, like Marine Le Pens’ Front National across le Manche. I am also not surprised that Hofer’s a gun nut. Quite apart from the notorious militarism of the Far Right anyway, Alex Jones’ bonkers conspiracy site, Infowars, reported that Austrian women were buying guns to protect themselves from Arab/ Muslim rapists during the mass influx of Middle Eastern immigrants from Syria through the Balkans earlier this year. The pro-gun stance seems to be symptomatic of the generally fearful situation in the country, where many feel they need firearms to protect themselves from the physical threat presented by immigrants.

The anti-racist, anti-religious extremist organisation, Hope Not Hate also have a piece about Austria on their website. This gives a brief summary of the Far Right in Austria and the various extreme Right-wing parties and splinter groups, including Hofer’s FPO. The article states that Nazism and pro-Nazi sentiments were allowed to survive in Austria because of the myth that the country was Hitler’s first victim during the Anschluss, despite the fact that many Austrians welcomed their country’s annexation by Germany. The article also notes that from the 1970s the state would not investigate Austrian citizens, who had been leading Nazis, and the controversy in 1986 when it was revealed that Kurt Waldheim, the country’s president, was a former Wehrmacht officer. In fact there was rather more to the scandal than just his membership in the wartime German army: Waldheim was also implicated in a possible war crime against a group of British squaddies during the War. It was only in 1995 that Austria also started paying full compensation to the victims of the Nazis. The FPO was in a coalition with the Conservative Austrian People’s Party – OVP – between 2000 and 2005, and so the country became the only European nation suffering diplomatic sanctions by the EU because of a Nazi government. The party has also been complicit in a series of corruption scandals.

The article also notes that the FPO appears to have infiltrated and manipulated the parts of the civil service and intelligence agencies, including the Office for Protection of the Constitution and Counter-Terrorism (the BVT). No official report on the extreme Right in Austria has been produced since 2002, and the ultra-Conservative student associations, from which many Nazis are recruited, has been removed from the list of suspect organisations. It also appears from a court case involving the Nazi Alpen-Donau.info site that Austrian Neo-Nazis have supporters within the police, the BVT and the Ministry of the Interior.

http://www.hopenothate.org.uk/country-in-focus/austria/

This is how it begins. Hitler started formulating his far-Right ideas when he was young in Austria. He states that he first became an anti-Semite when he moved to Vienna. Going through a back street, he saw one of the Jews from the Austrian Empire’s eastern provinces, probably the Ukraine, in a long kaftan, and recalled how he felt a stranger in his own country. He was also impressed by the mayor of Vienna, Karl von Lugerer and his viciously anti-Semitic Christian Social Party. In fact, Hitler had probably imbibed anti-Semitic and far-Right views before that. Many schoolchildren at the time were pan-German, wanting their country to unite with Germany, and despising the polyglot, multi-ethnic Austrian Empire, and particularly its Slavs and Jews.

Looking at Hitler’s career, and the origins of the Nazi party, it’s hard not to be struck by the impression that history is repeating itself, with islamophobia replacing anti-Semitism as the artist, Haller, said. It has to be stopped, before the West is submerged yet again in brutality, genocide and barbarism.

Secular Talk: Economist Says Sanders Would Boost American Income and Create Jobs

February 20, 2016

This is a very interesting piece from Secular Talk. Kyle Kulinski reports that CNN Money actually took the radical step of talking to an economist, Gerald Friedman(sp?) about what would happen if Sanders was able to win the election and push through his reforms. Friedman’s an economics professors at Massachusetts University. According to him, the median income of Americans would rise by $22,000, 26 million jobs would be created, and the unemployment rate would fall by 3.8%. The median income if Sanders was able to enact all his reforms would be $84,000 by 2026. This is higher than the $59,300 projected by the Congressional Budget Office. Poverty would also fall to 6% – a record low. This is far better than the CBO’s forecast of 13.9%. He would grow the economy by 5.3%, compared with 2.1%, and the $1.3 trillion deficit would turn into surplus by Bernie’s second term. The $4.5 billion Sanders would invest in the economy in improving infrastructure, expanding healthcare and family leave, and combatting youth unemployment, would boost GDP. Sanders would also increase the minimum age, and shift wealth back from the extremely rich to the middle and working class through increasing taxes on the rich and corporations.

Now there is a bias in these stats. Friedman also describes himself as a Social Democrat, and has worked for free for Bernie. He has, however, done the calculations and is willing to show them to his critics. Kulinski points out that in power Sanders will probably only be able to get through about 10% of his programme. Nevertheless, it’s better than Obama and Clinton, who conceded ground to the Conservatives even before they began that healthcare should be bought from the private firms. And even then, they’re better than the Republicans. Instead Bernie would start with single payer and continue to insist that most of it would be single payer, before conceding some ground to the private insurance firms. A Sanders presidency would be extremely good for the middle class, the working class and the poor. Not that you’ll here that from the mainstream media, however.

Secular Talk on the Appeal of Donald Trump

February 14, 2016

This is a very interesting piece of analysis by Secular Talk’s Kyle Kulinski, of the replies given by a Trump supporter interviewed at the caucus by David Pakman. The man said he voted for Trump, because he wanted a national health care system in America, like that in Britain and Canada. Trump had said he supported this. Pakman pointed out that Bernie Sanders also said that he supported an NHS for America. The man also stated that he liked Trump because he was anti-establishment and showed leadership. He would make America great.

Kulinski shows how much the man’s views reflects the carefully constructed rhetoric of Trump, and his campaign strategy. Trump is winning the Republican electoral race, because he talks at a fourth grade level. While others have seen this as a handicap, showing how stupid Trump is, Kulinski states that it’s actually very clever. It boils everything down to punchy statement with a real emotional clout.

Trump is also winning because he’s extremely confident, much more so than his rivals. Few commentators on the electoral contests have recognised just how convincing and persuasive this is to voters. Trump tells people he’s winning, even when he isn’t, and so they believe him. When he says he’s got leadership, they swallow the line that he will be a great leader.

Then there’s the issue of Trump’s alleged support for socialised medicine. This, Kulinski points out, is a case of people hearing what they want to hear. Trump has at various times made noises that he supports the creation of a single-payer healthcare system in the Land of the Free. At other times he’s said the exact opposite, and stated he’s in favour of more private healthcare, more competition. This is frequently in the same speech. Kulinski remarks that Trump throws everything in his speeches, whatever will appeal to the voters. One person will support an NHS for America, while another person will take away and vote for him because he’s said the exact opposite. The only person who is unequivocally for an NHS is Bernie Sanders, as the man interviewed by Pakman himself recognised.

Trumps stance on the Middle East is similarly muddled. On some occasions Trump says he’ll stand back and let Putin attack ISIS. And then on others he’ll state that America shouldn’t let Putin take the lead in Syria, and that America should make greater efforts to eradicate Islamist terrorism in those nations.

And then there’s the issue of his independent, anti-establishment stance. This is pretty much a case of necessity becoming a virtue. Trump initially approached the same donors as the rest of the Republican candidates. It was only after they turned him down that he decided to fund his own campaign. But he’s massively popular because, as the man interviewed by David Pakman said, he is independent and not beholden to the Republican donors.

Americans are heartily sick of a congress dominated by corporate interests. A study by Princeton concluded that America was no longer a democracy, but an oligarchy. And this is reflected in Congress’ approval ratings. They’re as low as 15%. At one point, they even dipped to 9%. Trump’s supposed anti-establishment stance matches the overwhelming mood of the country. Kulinski points out that in New Hampshire caucus, Trump polled twice as much as the man who came second. He concludes that the game is Trump’s to lose.

Okay, I’ve already followed Godwin’s Law this morning in comparing the Tories to the Italian Fascists with their gerrymandering to stay in power forever. Now I’m going to do the same, and compare Trump with Hitler. But the parallels are there, and real.

Firstly, Trump is venomously racist, like Hitler, although mercifully he’s just calling for the expulsion of immigrants and the registration of Muslims, not their extermination. Yet. Mind you, neither did Hitler. The Nazis took great pains to make sure that the ‘Final Solution’ was hidden from the German people. They disguised the incarceration in the concentration and extermination camps as ‘resettlement in the east’. To make this convincing, they shot propaganda films supposedly showing the Jewish settlers in Poland well-fed and happily tending their farm plots. This idyll lasted about as long as the movie took to be shot. After it ended, the Jews featured in this horrendous lie were back to being brutalised, and carted away for extermination. This is why Jews came out and demonstrated against Trump’s comments about Muslims in 17 US cities a few weeks ago.

Hitler also, like Trump, was loudly anti-establishment. Indeed, he loudly condemned the ‘November criminals’ in the four existing German parties, the Social Democrats, Catholic Centre Party and the two German Liberal parties, for their betrayal of Germany. He attacked the middle-aged character of the established German politicos, shouting, ‘Mach Platz, ihr alter!’ – ‘Make space, you old one!’ The Nazi party anthem, the Horst Vessel Song, as well as attacking ‘comrades of the left’ also has the Nazis ranged against the ‘Braune Reaktionesn’ – ‘Brown Reactionaries’ – the forces of traditional liberal Germany.

And like Trump, Hitler carefully crafted his speeches to the areas in which he was speaking. In rural areas with a hatred of Jews, he played up the anti-Semitism. In urban areas with a strong left-wing tradition, he stressed the anti-capitalist sections of the Nazi programme. And the Nazi programme itself was deliberately vague and contradictory, like that of the Italian Fascists, to appeal both to the traditional extreme Right and the extreme Left. You could read into it whatever you wanted. And tragically, all too many did. In Italy a decade before the Nazis took power, some intellectuals did support the Fascists, because they thought their lack of ideology gave them a greater freedom to do what was necessary to solve the country’s grave social and economic problems, breaking the paralysis that affected the existing parties and which kept them from working together to solve them.

The Young Turks have said what Trump is: the beginning of Fascism. He has all the electoral and rhetorical strategies, the populist appeal and the venomous racial hatred. And there’s broader issue here. Trump is popular because Congress is held in such low esteem, because it reflects the wishes of the rich donors, like the Koch brothers, rather than the desires of Mr and Mrs Average America. For Americans genuinely to have their country back, they need to curtail the corruption and political funding through those same rich sponsors.

Young Turks Show that Welfare Does Not Make People Lazy

November 22, 2015

Okay, this is another video from The Young Turks news programme. I thought this one was well worth posting up, as it tackles and disproves the right-wing, Conservative assertion that welfare payments make people lazy. Presented by John Iadarola, the show presents the findings by Harvard and MIT of a study of the effect of cash transfer programmes in seven countries. This shows that by and large such payments do not affect how hard people work.

In fact, they may even encourage people to work harder. Two of the studies were of programmes in African countries, in which the recipients were paid while learning new employment skills. In both of these programmes, the recipients worked even harder than before. This included a programme in Uganda, in which women were taught basic business skills. This resulted in the women working 61 per cent harder.

The programme also mentions the effect of a welfare programme in Canada, in which a whole town was guaranteed a basic income through ‘negative income tax’. Despite having a fixed income, everyone continued to work as hard as before. The only exceptions were new mothers, who chose to spend more time with their newborns, and teenagers. Iadarola points out that both of these are probably beneficial. Certainly for the babies, and also for teenagers, who could use that time to study for college. Here’s the programme.

Now I realise that this applies only to welfare payments made to people, who are already working. But nevertheless, this is a powerful blow against the Tory and Republican ideology that claims that welfare makes people lazy. The whole of New Labour/ Conservative welfare policy is based on this idea. After all, the Tories introduced their harsh requirements for the unemployed to spend all their time looking for work on the grounds that if they didn’t, those poor, hard-working people on whose behalf the Conservatives so despise the unemployed, would be upset by having to see their closed curtains in the morning as they all had a long lie-in.

And then there’s IDS’ plan to cut benefits made to people in poorly-paid jobs, and give them a ‘job coach’ to encourage them to go for better paid work. That’s scuppered by this finding as well.

And you can imagine heads at the Daily Heil exploding over the news about the Canadian town, whose new mothers were able to spend more time with their babies due to the government granting them a fixed income. Since forever and a day it seems the Mail and other right-wing rags have been criticising women for daring to go to work, rather than staying at home to look after their children. This is part of the paper’s general anti-feminist bias. Now they should be delighted that, if women are given a guaranteed income, more of them will take time off to care for their children. But as it involves people being given money by the state – ordinary people, that is, not hard-working multi-millionaires like Viscount Rothermere – you can feel their hackles rising from here. The paper and its proprietor clearly believe that only the rich should be allowed to avoid paying tax. It’s why Lord Rothermere is another one whose non-dom, despite having lived all his life in the UK. And as for women taking time off work, rather than leaving work altogether, they really resent that, as it means that firms have to pay them for not working, as well as keep their jobs open and find someone else to do the job while they’re off lazing about, not having sleepless nights feeding their baby, changing nappies and cleaning infantile vomit off of everything.

I was told by a friend of mine with a background in economics and finance that a number of European parties, like the German Social Democrats, have advocated policy of a national wage – a payment everyone gets in order for them to live, and live decently. The experiment by the Canadians seems to show that it’s a good idea.

Which means that this is one finding you definitely won’t see published in the press.

And the study as a whole definitively shows that when IDS, Osbo and the rest of the carrion-eaters over at Tory HQ start going on about how lazy the unemployed or low paid are, they really don’t know what they’re talking about.

Explaining the Rise of UKIP

May 12, 2014

UKIP Book pic

Revolt on the Right: Explaining Support For The Radical Right in Britain, by Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin (Abingdon: Routledge 2014) traces the history and changing fortune of UKIP from its foundation in 1991 as the Ant-Federalist League to today, when the party appears to have overtaken the Lib Dems to take its place as one of Britain’s leading the parties. It’s part of a series of texts published by Routledge on the theme of ‘extremism and democracy’. Most of these books are devoted to the Fascist and racist Right, though it also includes a book on Left-wing terrorism, general political extremism, and studies of terrorism in America, from the KKK to al-Qaeda. A fair bit of the book is statistics taken from sociological and political surveys, dealing with political, social and economic attitudes and electoral performance. Most of these are straightforward, but not exactly easy or riveting reading. Much more interesting is the history of the party itself. It also includes sample quotations from UKIP supporters explaining their reasons for supporting the party, and rejection of the three others.

Leadership Challenges and the Referendum Party

It covers the various leadership struggles, including perma-tanned talk show host Robert Kilroy-Silk joining the party, only to leave after failing to take control. It also suffered in its early days from competition from James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party, a true single-issue party that solely existed to campaign for a referendum on Europe. With the advantage of Goldsmith’s considerable fortune behind it, UKIP was very much the poor relative, lagging behind the Referendum Party in both funding and publicity.

UKIP, the BNP and the Conservatives

It also looks at the way UKIP has changed its name and identity as it has tried to differentiate itself both from the BNP and, rather more gradually, the Eurosceptic wing of the Conservative party. It’s founder, Dr Alan Sked, was a Liberal and historian at the London School of Economics. He became a Eurosceptic during the 1980s when running the European Studies course at the LSE. Sked stated that ‘I just kept meeting all these bureaucrats and other Euro-fanatical academics who came to give papers, politicians from different parts of Europe, and reading endless MA theses on the EU. I just came to the conclusion that the whole thing was mad.’ (p. 21). Sked was influenced by Thatcher’s ‘Bruges speech’, in which she attacked the dangers of Euro federalism, and joined the Bruges group. The authors describe this as ‘a right-wing think tank that received financial backing from Sir James Goldsmith’. Sked called the new group the Anti-Federalist League as he intended it to follow in the footsteps of Cobden and Bright’s anti-Corn Law league in the 19th century. Sked states ‘I thought it would be the equivalent of the anti-Corn Law League. Just as the anti-Corn Law League converted [Robert] Peel to free trade, the anti-Federalist league would convert the Tory Party to Euroscepticism and British independence.’

As an anti-EU, anti-immigrant, but ostensibly not a Fascist party, UKIP’s progress has been overshadowed by the BNP. After the League’s failure in the 1992 elections, it was re-launched with its present name. The ‘UK’ was chosen instead of ‘British’ in order to differentiate it from the British National Party, who had just captured council seats in London’s East End. Since then the party has suffered a series of controversies over the activities of racial extremists in its ranks, one of whom was a mole for the BNP. Sked himself left the party he founded because he believed it had been heavily infiltrated by the Nazi Far Right. In the 2009 European elections Farage himself admits he was under pressure from a faction in the party, including members of the National Executive Committee, led by the tennis player, Buster Mottram, and by some Conservative MEPs to do a deal with the BNP. UKIP had suffered badly from competition with the BNP. The deal would preserve the party from competition and defeat by the BNP by dividing the country between them. UKIP would have free reign in the south, while the BNP would concentrate on the north of England. In fact part of UKIP’s success since 2010 has come from their active competition for votes from the BNP. In Oldham Paul Nuttall targeted the members of the White working class, who were not racist, but voted for the BNP because no-one else was representing them. Farage said of this strategy:

We [said] on the doorstep: ‘If you’re a BNP voter cause you’re a skilled/ semi-skilled worker who thinks his job has been seriously impinged upon, his income’s gone down, his local community’s changed and he’s not happy with the make-up of the local primary school, whatever it may be. If you are a BNP voter for those reasons but you don’t support the BNP’s racist manifesto and you are effectively holding your nose at voting BNP, don’t vote for them, vote for us. We are a non-racist, non-sectarian alternative to the British National Party.’ It was the first time that we ever said to BNP voters: ‘Come and vote for us.’

It could be said of this approach that the BNP was approaching the White voters, whose attitude is ‘I’m not racist, but …’

Lord Pearson and Anti-Islam

Pearson of Rannoch, the party’s leader in 2010, was also known for his vitriolic views against Islam, which he sees as fundamentally incompatible with the British tradition of gender equality and democracy. He invited Geert Wilders to Britain to present his film, Fitna, to parliament. The book discusses these views, and the impact they had on the party.

UKIP’s Neoliberal and Anti-Socialist Domestic Policies

The party has also had to struggle to forge its own identity rather than act as an off-shoot of the Tories. Sked founded it to act as a pressure group on the Conservatives, and at various times the party’s election strategy has been strongly geared towards influencing them. Under Pearson, the party deliberately did not contest seats where there was a Eurosceptic Conservative candidate, and a full-fledged alliance with the Tories was mooted. The book’s authors consider that it was finally in their election manifesto of 2010, where the party outlined their domestic policies, that UKIP became a radical right party in its own right. The authors write

For the first time they went into a general election with relatively detailed proposals on domestic and foreign policy and a costed economic programme, all of which were organised around four central principles: personal freedom; democracy at the national and local level; small government; and tax reduction. UKIP were pushing ahead with a clear attempt to rally a coalition of socially conservative and financially insecure working-class voters, offering them tough opposition to the EU and immigration, but threatening also a range of measures designed to appeal to their economic needs and right-wing ideological preferences: a flat-tax to help the lowest paid workers, investment in the manufacturing sector, new jobs for manual workers, more police on the streets, stronger prison sentences for criminals, grammar schools, an end to political correctness, Swiss-style referenda, a more proportional election system and the restoration of British values. UKIP were no longer the single-issue, anti-EU pressure group: they had become a fully-fledged radical right party. (pp. 84-5).

Although these policies were designed to appeal to a working class electorate, UKIP is a party of the Libertarian Right. This emerged in the years from 2005-10 under the leadership of their chairman, David Campbell-Bannerman. The book states that he was

tasked with leading a policy review, designed to rebrand UKIP as campaigning for independence from the established political class, whether in Brussels or Westminster. Activists talked of presenting the disgruntled electorate with a ‘radical libertarian alternative’ to the ‘social democratic consensus’. (p. 71).

UKIP are populist Neoliberals, like the rest of the contemporary political parties. They are not moderates, and as the rejection of the ‘social democratic consensus’ indicates, are anti-socialist. It was also in this period that UKIP’s electoral base shifted. UKIP began receiving increased support in areas with a higher proportion of working class voters than average, with poor education and health. They lost support in in areas with larger than average proportion of middle class professionals and university graduates.

Blue-Collar Support for Radical Right and Growing Middle Class Influence in Left-Wing Parties in Europe

In fact the changes in the composition of UKIP’s supporters and constituency mirrors that of the other radical right parties across Europe, from Marine Le Pen’s Front National in France to Jorg Haider’s Freedom Party in Austria, the Northern League in Italy, and the People’s Party in Denmark. These expanded into the working class voters, who were left behind as the manufacturing sector of the European economy shrank, and the Social Democratic parties that were originally founded to defend them shifted instead to appealing to the middle class. These were far more liberal and cosmopolitan in outlook than their fellows in the lower classes. The book describes this situation thus

As the financially more secure and socially more liberal middle classes in Europe continued to grow, so their influence on electoral competition and centre-left politics became ever stronger. These new groups brought a distinct set of values and priorities to the left-wing parties they joined. Their ‘post-material’ agenda prioritised issues like the environment, civil liberties, global social justice and human rights, prompting centre-left parties to overhaul their strategy to win them over. Socialist economic ideas of a planned economy and strong state intervention were downplayed, and replaced by an acceptance of a strong role for free markets and a globally integrated economy. Redistribution and workers’ rights were also given less emphasis, with a greater focus on improving public services, a cause which united both ‘new’ and ‘old’ left, and on efforts to boost opportunities rather than equalise access to resources. Across Europe, the centre-left also shifted more firmly in favour of European integration. Whereas previously some social democrats had been openly hostile towards the Europe project, viewing it as a capitalist club that opposed socialism, from the 1980s they became more supportive, viewing the EU instead as a valuable mechanism through which they could tame capitalism and entrench social democratic principles at the supranational level.

But as Przeworski predicted, these changes came with a cost: the new middle-class agenda marginalised the left’s traditional voters. Their old working-class electorates became dissatisfied with a political system where their traditional voice appeared to have been lost and showed a growing willingness to back more radical parties that articulate their sense of abandonment from the mainstream and responded to their concerns about issues that aroused little interest among new left elites: immigration; national identity; the perceived threat from the EU; and rapid social change more generally.

Alienation of Working Class British Voters from Labour Party

In Britain many White working class voters became increasingly alienated from Labour because of its attempts to retain the loyalty of the ethnic minorities. These had become a significant part of the electorate by the turn of the millennium, and their support for Labour was no longer guaranteed. Many Muslims, for example, had expressed their opposition to the invasion of Iraq by joining the Lib Dems or Respect. Labour attempted to win their support through a liberalisation of the immigration system, tougher legislation against racial discrimination and the promotion of more Black and Asian candidates for parliament. The result of this was that many of the disadvantaged White voters felt that Labour cared more about immigrants than them. Furthermore, the party’s promotion of laissez-faire economic liberalisation also alienated many of the same voters, who now believed that the party was only concerned for the rich. Previously the voters alienated by Labour’s anti-racism would have voted Conservative, but they were also alienated from Cameron’s party by his adoption of the same attitudes to race and multiculturalism as Blair. The result has been that these voters turned to UKIP.

UKIP and the Contrasting Fortunes of the SDP

The book notes that UKIP’s apparent breakthrough into mainstream electoral politics is very recent. Even in the middle of the last decade the party was gaining only 1-2 per cent of the vote on average. For most of the party’s history, very few of their candidates ever even gained enough votes to retain their deposit. They also compare the party’s rise with that of the SDP. When this split from the Labour party, it had a fair size of the vote and was expected to break the mould of the two-party system. Instead it eventually collapsed and was merged with the Liberals. The authors see its failure, compared with the apparent success of UKIP, as due to the origins of the SDP in a split at the top of politics, rather than arising from the electorate itself.

UKIP and Future Labour Electoral Strategy

The book also has a section considering what UKIP’s success means for the other parties, including Labour. They say about this

The dilemma Labour face is between short-term and long-term strategy. In the short term, the strong temptation for Labour will be to sit back and let UKIP divide the Conservative vote at the next general election, thereby lowering the bar for their own victory and a return to power. Some Labour commentators have taken pleasure in the irony of an electoral split undoing the right in the same way as the left has been undone many times in the past. Yet such as ‘laisser faire’ approach to UKIP comes with serious longer-term risks. As we saw in chapters 3 and 4, the UKIP vote comes primarily from ‘left behind’ social groups who were once solidly Labour. UKIP have driven a wedge between the struggling, blue-collar ‘Old Left’, who once supported Labour on economic grounds, and the educated, white-collar ‘new Left’ who often back them on the basis of social values. If they allow UKIP to become established as part of the mainstream political conversation, either with MPs at Westminster or a strong presence in labour heartlands, the centre-left risks making that divide permanent. It will be much harder for Ed Miliband and his party to win back working-class voters with Ukippers running continuous and high profile campaigns on Europe, immigration and traditional British values. Labour also need to remember that UKIP’s rise has been driven as much by populist hostility to the political establishment as by ideology or policy. This does not hurt them much at present, as they are in opposition and therefore not the main focus of anti-system feeling. If they were to win the next elect, they would find UKIP’s populist barbs directed at them. A failure to combat UKIP before 2015 will result in a stronger populist opponent to future Labour governments.

UKIP: Neoliberal Party Exploiting Working Class Support

The book describes UKIP as a paradox. This is absolutely correct. They are a working class party, whose leadership has adopted all the Neoliberal policies of the Conservative Right. Despite their demands for more democracy, they are very strongly anti-working class. if you want examples, go over and look at the Angry Yorkshireman’s discussion of their domestic policies over at Another Angry Voice. And their deputy leader, Paul Nuttall, has stated that he wishes to privatise the NHS. The right-wing, Eurosceptic, anti-NHS Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan has also suggested that the Tories should form an alliance with UKIP. If UKIP did gain power, either by itself or in coalition with the Tories, it would be the working class that would suffer immensely. UKIP have raised and brought to prominence a number of pressing and vital issues – like the continuing role of race and ethnicity in politics, the need to protect an increasingly alienated working class, but they themselves are no solution to these problems.

Jeremy Browne and the Neo-Liberal Lib Dems

April 13, 2014

jeremy-browne_2875194b

Jeremy Browne: The ‘Orange Book’ Liberal who wishes to privatise the Health Service and give even more tax breaks to the rich.

Jeremy Browne, the Lib Dem MP for the Somerset constituency of Taunton Dean, was interviewed briefly by David Garmston on the local news programme, Points West. Browne was in the papers earlier this week because of the policies he outlined in his book Race Plan: An Authentic Liberal Plan to Get Britain Fit for the Global Race. Amongst the policies he advocates are cutting the top rate of tax from 45 per cent down to 40 per cent, privatising the Health Service and replacing it with private medical insurance, and the introduction of education vouchers. Browne stated that these policies were necessary in order to make Britain competitive with the new emerging economies in the Developing World, countries which were pushing Britain further down the hierarchy of rich nations. Garmston asked him about what this would do for the working class, as there was nothing in the book for them. Not so, declared Browne – they would have greater opportunities. Garmston observed that this broke with the Lib Dems. They were a centre-left party, but these policies were well to the right of the Tory party. No, answered Browne, they were real, liberal policies.

Effect of Education Vouchers in Chile

This last statement shows the true origin of Browne’s view: Neoliberalism. Von Hayek and Mises, its founders, claimed that it represents genuine, 19th century liberalism against the progressive liberalism of the 20th century. Milton Friedman, the economic guru of Monetarism, also recommended education vouchers. Guy Debord’s Cat has posted on the way this system has wrecked Chile’s education system. See The Chilean Equality Protests at http://buddyhell.wordpress.com/2012/08/09/the-chilean-equality-protests/. And this is only one of the spectacular failure of Neoliberal economics.

Neoliberalism Producing Global Poverty

As for the effects of global competition, Greg Palast in Armed Madhouse shows how increasing hours and poor pay amongst Western workers has had the effect of driving up working hours and lowering pay in the rest of the world, as the other countries also struggle to compete. The workers in these nations don’t win, as conditions become ever more harsh and poverty, even for those in work, increases. The only people to gain from this are the international, wealthy elite.

Browne’s Privileged Background, like Tory and Tory Democrat Cabinet

This is on a par with Browne’s own background. According to Wikipedia, Browne was a son of the diplomat Sir Nicholas Browne, and grew up in a variety of different countries, including Iran, Belgium and Zimbabwe. It also states that he was educated at Bedales, one of the most expensive public schools in the UK with fees of £10,300 per term. He studied politics at Nottingham University. He also worked for the financial consultancy Drew Rogerson, and the PR firms Edelman and Reputationinc. This is pretty much the background of David Cameron and the Tory and Tory Democrat cabinet – extremely rich middle class with careers in banking and the financial sector, and PR. He thus shares the same views regarding destroying state intervention and the welfare state. Just to show how extremely Right-wing he is, he was in the Telegraph yesterday declaring that there was no point to his party, as there was too much conservatism in it supporting the state and the status quo. The book sounds extremely similar to Britannia Unchained, written by a trio of Tory MPs, who declared that British workers must work harder for less in order for Britain to compete globally.

Break with Tradition of Liberal Founders Welfare State

A hundred years ago the Liberals laid the foundations of the modern welfare state with sickness and unemployment insurance based very much on Bismarck’s reforms in Germany. In 1909 Lloyd George gave a speech at Limehouse appealing to the working class and violently denouncing the aristocracy, corrupt landlords and financial magnates. This was all too much for Winston Churchill, who declared it was ‘Socialism by the backdoor’ and stormed off to join the Tories. Now it seems the Orange Book Liberals, one of whom is Browne, have also rejected Lloyd George’s legacy and gone off to join the Neoliberal extreme Right. When asked by Garmston whether he had an eye on the Lib Dem leadership, Browne denied it, saying that the Lib Dems already had a leader. Considering his latest attack on the Lib Dem party, this denial rings very hollow.

Support for Privatisation and Destruction Welfare State in Lib Dems

Unfortunately, it’s not just Browne, who hold these views. Anne Soper, a Social Democrat MP back in the 1980s declared her support for education vouchers. In the 1987 election Davids Steel and Owen declared that it didn’t matter if the Health Service was privatised, so long as it remained free. Well, Browne wants to privatise it, and certainly doesn’t want it to be free. And all in the name of choice, which was used by Thatcher to justify her disastrous campaign of privatisation and the destruction of the welfare state. The entry for Browne in Wikipedia states that he is a member of the Orange Book section of the Lib Dems. This is the section that fully endorses and supports Neoliberalism and the campaigns of privatisation and cuts to welfare services.

Browne is thus a personal demonstration that if you are working or lower middle class, there is absolutely no point in voting Lib Dem. And especially not in Taunton Deane.

Workers’ Councils as a Support for Democracy

March 18, 2014

Eisner pic

Kurt Eisner, Bavarian politician and Workers’ Council leader, in 1918.

Yesterday I put up a piece about the establishment of workers’ control of industry during the Russian revolution in 1917, when Lenin granted the workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ councils – the soviets – the power to manage the enterprises in which their members were employed. Germany also experienced a council revolution of its own 1918, following its defeat in the First World War. This was a period of immense political turmoil throughout Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In Germany, the Kaiser was forced to abdicate and his noble successor, Prince Max of Baden, granted sweeping changes to the constitution. Germany was to become a constitutional monarchy, stripped the emperor of command over the army and made the Reichstag, the German parliament, responsible for deciding war and peace. In Germany the revolution started on the 29th October, when the sailors at Kiel mutinied against an order to launch one last attack on England. With support from the dockers, they established a workers’, soldiers’ and sailors’ council. From there the movement spread through the rest of Germany.

Although the councils appear to have been modelled on the Russian soviets, there was very little Communist influence in them. Most of their members belonged to the majority socialist Social Democrat Party. In many cases the movement fizzled out after a year. In some parts of Germany they acted as Citizens’ Advice Bureaux, advising working people on how to obtain better wages, conditions or housing. Only in the Ruhr did they attempt to nationalise the mines. Their existence was a matter of considerable controversy, as majority of the German Social Democrats felt that they were a threat to the parliamentary democracy they wished to create.

The leader of the workers’ council in Munich, Kurt Eisner, was a left-wing theatre critic. He was not a radical nor an opponent of parliamentary democracy. He wished instead to combine the new workers’ councils with parliament to create a system where the workers and peasants had a direct influence on parliament. In a meeting with the representatives of other German states in Berlin, Eisner thus explained his ideas

The workers; and soldiers’ councils must remain the basis of the whole movement, and in the south the peasant councils too, which in the east would be agricultural labourers’ councils. The more the workers’ and soldiers’ councils were given an opportunity to do fruitful work the less we would have to fear the bogy of chaos.

With regard to the question of the National Assembly it was entirely obvious that it must be summoned. This applied to the Reich as well as to the individual Diets. The revolution was no the same as democracy, the revolution would have to create democracy (Hear, hear!)

It must thus be our task to use the time to lead the whole mass of the people towards democracy. There were people who maintained that democracy consisted of elections every five years and then remaining at home for five years. That was the bourgeois parliamentarianism of the past. Now all productive forces must be employed in the work of democratic consolidation…

The revolution was only two weeks old, and if there was much discussion about the excesses of the workers’ and soldiers’ councils, one thing was certain: they had not yet ignited a world war; such small matters should not be taken too seriously…

F.L Carsten, Revolution in Central Europe 1918-19 (Aldershot: Wildwood House 1988) 183.

In a debate in the Bavarian cabinet with Frauendorfer, who opposed the councils, Eisner stated that giving the council legislative, rather than advisory powers, would be Bolshevism, to which he was opposed. He was instead a supporter of parliamentary democracy. This was, however, qualified in a speech he made a few days later to a conference of Bavarian workers’ councils.

The workers’ councils shall be the parliaments of those doing physical and also intellectual work, and if this is countered by the view that the National Assembly, the Diet, will make these workers’ councils redundant, then I maintain: on the contrary, we may do without the National Assembly rather than without the workers’ councils. (Tumultuous applause.)

For, if the National Assembly is not to lead again into empty parliamentarianism, then the living force of the workers’ councils must unfold itself., The workers’ and other councils are as it were the organization of the electors. The electors must watch and be active and must not leave it to the deputies to do whatever clever or stupid things they see fit to undertake. The function of these councils in my opinion is the direct politicization and democratization of the masses…. (pp. 185-6).

Eisner, however, lost the subsequent Bavarian elections and the Diet passed a Basic Law establishing the Diet as the organisation to which ministers were responsible, rather than the councils. Eisner was therefore asked to offer his recognition the next day, the 21st February. As he was on his way to the Diet to do so, he was shot dead by an extreme right-wing aristocrat, Count Anton Arco-Valley.

Parliament should clearly be at the heart of British politics as the cornerstone of democracy and representative government down the centuries. There is, however, a real problem in that many people are alienated from government., especially the working classes, who feel that all the parties are the same. This is to some extent true, as all the parties have adopted the same Neoliberal policies to a greater or lesser extent. If the parties really are serious about trying to get more people to take an interest in politics, then they need to create institutions where ordinary people genuinely feel that their voices are heard, and that politicians are not left to do whatever they wish in parliament regardless of the views or the impact it will have on the electorate. And politics should be far more than simply a case of putting a cross in a box every five years. We now need an expansion of politics and democratic institutions, not the atrophied state in which they have lapsed since Thatcher.