Posts Tagged ‘State Planning’

William Blum on Socialism vs. Capitalism

September 19, 2017

William Blum, the long-time fierce critic of American and western imperialism, has come back to writing his Anti-Empire Report after a period of illness. He’s an older man of 84, and due to kidney failure has been placed on dialysis for the rest of his life. This has left him, as it does others with the same condition, drained of energy, and he says he finds writing the report difficult. Nevertheless, his mind and his dissection of the ruthless, amoral and predatory nature of western capitalism and corporate greed is as acute as ever.

There’s a section in the Anti-Empire Report, where he discusses the advantages of socialism versus capitalism. He notes that there were two studies carried out under George Dubya to see if private corporations were better than federal agencies. And the federal agencies won by a huge margin every time. He writes

Twice in recent times the federal government in Washington has undertaken major studies of many thousands of federal jobs to determine whether they could be done more efficiently by private contractors. On one occasion the federal employees won more than 80% of the time; on the other occasion 91%. Both studies took place under the George W. Bush administration, which was hoping for different results. 1 The American people have to be reminded of what they once knew but seem to have forgotten: that they don’t want BIG government, or SMALL government; they don’t want MORE government, or LESS government; they want government ON THEIR SIDE.

He also states that the juries’ still out on whether socialist countries are more successful than capitalist, as no socialist country has fallen through its own failures. Instead they’ve been subverted and overthrown by the US.

I think he’s wrong about this. The Communist bloc couldn’t provide its people with the same standard of living as the capitalist west, and the state ownership of agriculture was a real obstacle to food production. The bulk of the Soviet Union’s food was produced on private plots. Similarly, Anton Dubcek and the leaders of the Prague Spring, who wanted to reform and democratize Communism, not overthrow it, believed that Czechoslovakia’s industrial development was held back through the rigid structure of Soviet-style central planning.

However, he still has a point, in that very many left and left-leaning regimes have been overthrown by America, particularly in South America, but also across much of the rest of the world, as they were perceived to be a threat to American political and corporate interests. And for the peoples of these nations, it’s questionable how successful capitalism is. For example, in the 1950s the Americans overthrew the Guatemalan government of Jacobo Arbenz after he dared to nationalize the banana plantations, many of which were own by the American corporation, United Fruit. Benz was a democratic socialist – not a Communist, as was claimed by the American secret state – who nationalized the plantations in order to give some dignity and a decent standard of living to the agricultural workers on them. The government that overthrew Benz was a brutal Fascist dictatorship, which imposed conditions very close to feudal serfdom on the plantation labourers.

Which leads to a more general point about the emergence of capitalism, imperialism and the exploitation of the developing world. Marxists have argued that capitalism had partly arisen due to western imperialism. It was the riches looted from their conquered overseas territories that allowed western capitalism to emerge and develop. Again this is a matter of considerable debate, as some historians have argued that the slave trade and plantation slavery only added an extra 5 per cent to the British economy during the period these existed in the British empire, from the mid-17th century to 1840. More recently, historians have argued that it was the compensation given to the slaveowners at emancipation, that allowed capitalism to develop. In the case of the large slaveholders, this compensation was the equivalent of tens of millions of pounds today. At the time the plantation system was in crisis, and many of the plantation owners were heavily in debt. The slaveholders used the money given to them by the British government – £20 million, a colossal sum then-to invest in British industry, thus boosting its development.

This system has continued today through what the Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal termed ‘neocolonialism’. This is the international trading system which the former imperial masters imposed on their colonies after the end of imperialism proper following the Second World War. High tariffs and other barriers were imposed to stop these countries developing their own manufacturing industries, which could produced finished goods that would compete with those of Europe and the west. Instead, the former subject nations were forced through a series of trade agreements to limit themselves to primary industries – mining and agriculture – which would provide western and European industry with the raw materials it needed. As a global system, it’s therefore highly debatable how successful capitalism is in providing for people’s needs, when the relative success of the capitalist west has depended on the immiseration and exploitation of countless millions in the developed world.

And in the developed west itself, capitalism is failing. In the 19th century Marx pointed to the repeated crises and economic slumps that the system created, and predicted that one of these would be so severe that it would destroy capitalism completely. He was wrong. Capitalism did not collapse, and there was a long period of prosperity and growth from the late 19th century onwards.

But terrible, grinding poverty still existed in Britain and the rest of the developed world, even if conditions were slowly improving. And the long period of prosperity and growth after the Second World War was partly due to the foundation of the welfare state, Keynsian economic policies in which the government invested in the economy in order to stimulate it, and a system of state economic planning copied from the French.

Now that Thatcherite governments have rolled back the frontiers of the state, we’ve seen the re-emergence of extreme poverty in Britain. An increasing number of Brits are now homeless. 700,000 odd are forced to use food banks to keep body and soul together, as they can’t afford food. Millions more are faced with the choice between eating and paying the bills. In the school holiday just passed, three million children went hungry. And some historians are predicting that the refusal of the governments that came after the great crash of 2008 to impose controls on the financial sector means that we are heading for the final collapse of capitalism. They argue that the industrial and financial elite in Europe know it’s coming, are just trying to loot as much money as possible before it finally arrives.

The great, free trade capitalism lauded by Thatcher, Reagan and the neoliberal regimes after them has failed to benefit the majority of people in Britain and the rest of the world. But as the rich 1 per cent have benefited immensely, they are still promoting neoliberal, free trade policies and imposing low wages and exploitative working conditions on the rest of the population, all the while telling us that we’re richer and generally more prosperous than ever before.

Back to Blum’s Anti-Empire Report, he also has a few quotes from the American comedian Dick Gregory, who passed away this year. These include the following acute observations

“The way Americans seem to think today, about the only way to end hunger in America would be for Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird to go on national TV and say we are falling behind the Russians in feeding folks.”

“What we’re doing in Vietnam is using the black man to kill the yellow man so the white man can keep the land he took from the red man.”

For more, see https://williamblum.org/aer/read/150

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Another Fascinating Video from Ha-Joon Chang

August 17, 2016

I put up a piece yesterday about an interview Owen Jones made with Ha-Joon Chang, a South Korean lecturer in economics at Cambridge. Mr Chang’s the author of 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism. He makes it clear in his book that he is not opposed to capitalism, but is very definitely opposed to neoliberal economics, the free market rubbish that has dominated global economic policies at the expense of the poor since Thatcher and Reagan. The book’s well worth reading, if you can find a copy. It’s written for the general reader, and so is written in clear, simple language to make a devastating critique of current economic dogma. He shows how states can make good economic decisions, constructing and managing efficient industries and planning the general economy. The welfare state does not make people lazy, but actually makes them willing to accept change. And western, developed nations are hypocritical and destructive in demanding that the developing world should open their countries up to free trade. He shows very clearly on this point that both Britain, America and the other industrialised nations actually industrialised under a system of very strict protectionism to keep foreign competition out and protect their nascent industries. He also goes on to disprove some of the twaddle that’s been talked about the difficulties Africa faces in industrialisation, such as tribal conflict and the supposed racial or national character of its peoples. He points out that there were also vast ethnic or regional friction in the developed countries of Britain, France, and even Korea, for example, until very recently. As for the supposed laziness of Africans, this was also said in the 19th century of a people, who now have a colossal reputation for hard work: the Japanese. It was also said of the Germans even further back in the 16th century.

Michelle also commented on the piece, and enclosed a link to another of Mr Chang’s videos. She wrote

Several years back when I used to blog I had links to Ha-Joon Chang’s writings, he’s brill! This recent RSA animate video of his perspective is also very much worth a watch, ‘ ‘Economics is for everyone’ (or thinking outside the matrix part one, to go with Beastie’s post): https://www.youtube.com/shared?ci=_a53Qt0ZpsUhttps://www.youtube.com/shared?ci=_a53Qt0ZpsU

When I posted both these links last week, a commentator rightly said “Neoliberalism is not a matrix it’s a crime against humanity.”

I haven’t seen the video, but anything by Chang is bound to be great. And I entirely agree with her last comment. Neoliberal has caused mass suffering across the globe. It is responsible not just for a growing number of impoverished people, both unemployed and in work, in this country, but also for wrecking the economies of whole nations in the Developing World. People are dying of starvation in this country. It’s contributed to mass starvation there. And this has also fuelled political and social unrest, from militant Islamism, to Marxist uprisings and piracy off Somalia and the South China Sea and Indian Ocean. In terms of the magnitude of the suffering it’s caused, it is indeed almost literally a crime against humanity.

Chunky Mark on the Very Undemocratic Labour Coup

July 16, 2016

Blair Purge Cover

Here’s another video from Chunky Mark, the Artist Taxi Driver. In this one, Chunky Mark delivers his rant, which is nevertheless very acutely observed, on the Labour coup. He describes why the coup plotters hate Jeremy Corbyn, and how absolute undemocratic they are.

He observes that the right-wing – the Tories and the media didn’t want Corbyn from day one. The Labour MPs hated his anti-war stance, including his rejection of Trident, his rejection of austerity, his support for building ‘not-for-profit homes’, nor for standing up for free education and holding the wretched vulture capitalists to account. The Right and the Labour MPs hate everything he stands for and his supporters. And the forthcoming Labour election, the Chunky One declares scathingly, is a fraud.

He states that the coup started with the resignation of Hilary Benn, but Angela Eagle had already bought and paid for a website with the title ‘Angela Eagle for Leader’. The Coup Plotters have raised the membership fee from £3 to £25, and excluded 130,000 new members. The NEC – the head council of the Labour party – has also banned constituency parties from holding meetings. They’ve suspended the largest local Labour party, that of Brighton, and launched an algorhythm to search social media to make sure that Labour party members do not use words like ‘traitor’. If they do, they are suspended. Corbyn’s supporters have been denounced as ‘Trots’ and ‘rabble dogs’.

Chunky Mark says that somebody observed that they’re living under a Tory government, they didn’t vote, going through a Brexit, that they didn’t vote for, and have a Tory prime minister, that nobody voted for, but that’s democracy. Now the one person, who could be democratically electable, has to be voted for again, because the Labour MPs don’t like him, and want to get rid of him. Chunky Mark rightly points out that we should be fighting the current, extreme Right Tory government, which is attacking people’s rights. The Labour Coup, however, have sent this country backwards. He states that the Coup Plotters’ dream seems to be to suspend the membership, leaving only the Labour MPs and their donors. He quotes the journalist, John Harris, who said, ‘There is a fetid cloud of acrimony over Labour, and it is the reek of death.’ The Chunky One observers that the plotters would rather see people’s vision of an alternative, better world die than attack the status quo. It’s all gerrymandering, backed by lies and smears. The massive increase in membership fee discriminates against the low waged, the unemployed, students and the elderly.

This is the Labour election fraud.

Chunky Mark’s right. This is the parliamentary Labour party, the official Labour party wedded to Tony Blair’s neo-liberal vision, the ‘New Labour’ that came into being with the removal of Clause 4, the article providing for nationalisation of the means of production, trying to defend itself from Old Labour, now that the neoliberal vision is being increasingly found to be bankrupt. New Labour came to power impressed with Thatcher’s popularity, and convinced by her own threadbare ideas. State control and planning was rejected, along with all but a minimal welfare state. The rich, private industry and the media barons were to be courted and won over, as without them, Labour, it was held, was unelectable. And besides, only private industry knows best how to run the economy.

Except that it’s become blindingly evident that they don’t, and more and more people are aware of this. But it runs against everything the Blairites have instilled in the party for the last quarter of a century. And I wonder, in some of this, how much simple careerism plays a part. There was already a revolving door between business, senior civil servants and ministers under John Major. It became wider, and even more sleazy and corrupt under Blair. And now MPs see the promise of a nice, lucrative career in the industries they helped to privatise, and win government contracts after their parliamentary careers have ended, disappearing.

Berthold Brecht once remarked of the East German Communist party, when they clamped down on their people after they dared to demand democracy, that the Communist party had voted democratically to dissolve the people and elect another. This is what an authoritarian and careerist Labour party machine is trying to do to its membership. They want to destroy the party, rather than see themselves and neoliberalism and its horrors fail.