Posts Tagged ‘Trade Unions’

Immigration, the Conservatives and the Nazis

February 28, 2014

In my last blog post, I discussed Grant Shapps’ attempt to rebrand the Tories as the ‘Workers’ Party’, and pointed out that this was exactly the same tactic the Nazis adopted in their attempt to win German workers away from the ‘Marxist’ socialism of the SPD – the German equivalent of the Labour party, the Communists, trade unions, Anarchists, Syndicalists and other genuine working class and socialist organisations.

Looking through the Nazis’ 25 point party programme, drawn up in 1920 by Hitler, Gottfried Feder and Anton Drexler, I found another similarity to the Nazis in the Tories attitude and policies towards immigration. The Nazis were, of course, bitterly hostile to non-German immigration. Point 8 of the party programme stated ‘Non-German immigration to be stopped.’ Point 4 of the programme stipulated that ‘Citizenship to be determined by race; no Jew to be a German.’ Point 5 demanded that ‘non-Germans in Germany to be ‘only’ guests and subject to appropriate laws. Point 8 made it very clear that the Nazis wanted ‘non-German immigration to be stopped.’

Now opposition to immigration does not necessarily make anyone a Nazi. Global mass immigration has become a very controversial topic, and while many people would like to see an end to mass immigration to the UK, extremely few would wish to see the rise of racism and the growth of Fascist or Neo-Nazi parties to any kind of electoral strength. All the political parties are under pressure to cut down on immigration to the UK. What struck me looking through the Nazis’ policies towards combatting non-German immigration was its virtual identity with those of Cameron’s Conservative party in Point 7 of the party programme. This stated

The livelihood of citizens to be the state’s first duty. Should the state’s resources be overstretched, non-citizens to be excluded from the state’s benefits.

The Coalition has clearly decided that the state does not have a duty of care towards its citizens in its policy of savage cuts to the welfare state that now sees about a quarter of all British children in poverty, and 80,000 children homeless last Christmas. This has been done, however, on the pretext that such cuts were necessary in order to cut the budget deficit. They have further spuriously claimed that their reforms will lift even more citizens out of poverty. Go over to Vox Political and look at today’s post Iain Duncan Smith’s new plan to prolong child poverty, which I’ve reblogged here today.

The Tories have, however, stated that they intend to exclude immigrants to Britain from state benefits. Foreign migrants to Britain may not claim Jobseeker’s allowance for at least six months, and there are extremely controversial plans to exclude illegal immigrants from being treated by the NHS. Furthermore, there have also been proposals that foreigners resident in the UK should have to pay for their medical treatment.

All this is very much in line with the above Nazi policy. So much so, that you could be forgiven for being afraid that points 4 and 5 would also be implemented.

As for Point 8, the Tories aren’t opponents of all immigration. As has been shown by the sale of very expensive home in London to rich businessmen and professionals, mainly from the Far East, the Tories don’t object to immigrants if they’re rich. It’s only the poor they dislike. But here they appear to be non-racist, as they hate the British poor as well.

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The Nazis and Conservatives as Faux-Workers’ Parties

February 28, 2014

A few days ago I posted a piece pointing out the similarity between workfare and the commercial exploitation of poor souls the Nazis imprisoned in the concentration camps as ‘anti-social elements’. These included not only Jews, but also the voluntarily unemployed – called the arbeitscheu – and political dissidents, which were mainly Communists, Socialists and trade unionists. Now it seems the Tories are attempting copy the Nazis’ propaganda tactics still further: Grant Shapps, the Tory chairman, wants to rebrand them as the ‘Worker’s Party’.

There is an excellent post at Another Angry Voice attacking this rebranding. See The bizarre Tory effort to rebrand themselves as “The Workers Party” at http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/tories-rebrand-workers-party.html.

The Tories attempt to rebrand themselves as the ‘Worker’s Party’ is exactly what Hitler did with the Nazi party. And that ain’t an exaggeration.

There’s an attempt by the Conservatives to claim that Fascism is a form of Socialism, like Communism. Yesterday I reblogged a piece about the way this piece of Tory propaganda had been repeated yet again by Daniel Hannan in the Telegraph. Shapps’ proposed rebranding is an attempt to reverse the current images of the Tory and Labour parties by claiming that Tories somehow represent the workers, while Labour represent … well, it’s unclear who the Tories think they represent, but the clue was historically in Labour’s name: the working class. I expect the Tories will start attacking Labour by claiming they are the party of unelected bureaucrats, the feckless, unmarried mothers and skivers, as well as a condescending ‘liberal elite’ that secretly hates and despises the working class. This is, after all, the line they’ve been running for the past couple of years.

It’s also in line with the attempts of some prominent members of the Conservative party to appeal to trade unionists. I did hear of one, who had attended every one of his local trade union conferences, who was explicitly arguing that the Tories should attempt to win them over. According to the Fabian pamphlet, Labour and the Unions: Natural Allies about fifty per cent of trade unionists do in fact vote Conservative, basically because trade unionists tend to be better paid and have their own homes compared with non-unionised workers. It’s also not the first time the Tories have attempted to present themselves as a labour-oriented movement. In the 1970s there was a Conservative trade union movement. Any trade unionist, who seriously believes that the Tories have any sympathy with the working class would, however, be seriously mistaken. The Tories have consistently hated and opposed the unions, who have been one element in the formation of the Labour party. The origins of the Labour party go back to the late 19th century when some trade unionists entered parliament as ‘Lib-Labs’ as party of the Liberal party. These broke with the Liberals and, together with socialist societies like the Fabians, the Social Democratic Federation and others, formed the Labour party as they felt that the working class needed a party to represent them.

The Conservatives, however, have consistently attacked the unions, especially the ties they have to the Labour party. Thatcher’s ideology included as one of its fundamental elements an attack on trade union power. Witness the way she and the other Conservatives mobilised the police to destroy the miners. The Conservative trade unions were dissolved sometime in the 1980s or 1990s, if I remember correctly, leaving the movement’s leader feeling bitterly betrayed. He then denounced the Tories as the party of the bosses. Well, he had to wake up sometime.

Their cynical tactics in this are very much those of the Nazis. The Nazis started out as a fringe, socialist group calling itself the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. However, they don’t seem to have taken the ‘socialist’ elements of their ideology at all seriously. Of the 25 points of the original party programme, the only one that Hitler attempted to implement once they were in power – and that only half-heartedly – was the breaking up of the large department stores. Hitler was determined to try to win over the workers, and disappointed that the Nazis actually succeeded in gaining very few members from the working class. Much of the Nazis’ image as a ‘workers’ party’ was deliberately copied from the left-wing parties in order to steal their constituency. Joachim C. Fest, in his biography of Hitler, gives a statement by der Fuehrer, where he says that he consciously copied the red in the Nazi flag to stress the ‘socialist’ part of the party, in order to win the workers over from ‘Marxist’ socialism. He then analyses Hitler’s peculiar idea of the term ‘socialist’ to conclude that to Hitler, words like ‘socialism’ were simply counters being used to gain votes.

And once in power, the Nazis smashed genuine working class organisations like the trade unions, the SPD – the German Socialist party, the Communist party, as well as the various Anarchist and Syndicalist groups. These parties and groups were dissolved, and their members and leaders sent to concentration camps. They also destroyed the system of factory councils, which had been set up in Germany during the ‘Raeterevolution’ – the Soviet revolution – of 1919. These were replaced by the DAP – the Deutschearbeitsfront or German Labour Front. This attempted some alleviation of conditions in factories, and organised workers’ holidays and recreational activities following the Italian Fascist Doppolavoro. However, it was designed as a conduit for promoting the idea of the Fuehrerprinzip – the ‘Leader principle’ in the factories. The factory managers were the leaders, and the workers their followers with few rights. In theory, however, they had the right to appeal to the local Nazi leadership to replace a bad manager during a dispute. I can’t imagine the Tories tolerating something like that. It would be far too left-wing for them.

As for representing the workers, in 1933 Hitler gave a speech to a meeting of German industrialists stating that ‘Private property cannot survive an age of democracy’, declaring that it could only be preserved by his personal dictatorship. In another speech, Hitler declared that ‘the class conscious worker is as welcome in our party as the race conscious Jew’. When he was asked in the 1920s what action he would take against the German industrialists, he replied that he would do nothing. They had shown themselves to be naturally superior to other people, and so deserving of their position, through their efforts to rise to the top of society. it’s a social Darwinist attitude entirely in accord with the views of this administration on the right to rule of the middle and upper classes.

So let’s look at the similarities between Grant Shapps’ vision of the Tories as the Workers’ Party, and the Nazis.

Both are parties that deliberately appeal and represent the interests of the industrialists and upper classes.

Both are hostile to genuinely left-wing working class organisations, such as Socialists, trade unions, Communists, Anarchists, and Syndicalists.

Hitler smashed the German trade unions. The Tories wound up the Conservative trade union movement.

Both the Nazis and the Tories have imposed compulsory, forced labour on the unemployed, who were denounced by the Nazis as ‘arbeitscheu’ and the Tories as ‘skivers’, for the profit of private industry.

I therefore feel that if Grant Shapps genuinely feels that the Tories are the ‘worker’s party’, he should go all the way and make it explicit. I therefore recommend that the Conservatives rename themselves ‘The National Conservative British Workers’ Party’. This is, after all, a clear expression of their attitude towards the workers.

The Demands of the Berlin Workers’ Central Committee

February 22, 2014

1848 Revolution Germany

F.G. Nordmann: The Barricades on the Kronen- and Freidrichstrasse on the 18th March 1848 by an Eyewitness

I found this manifesto of the demands by the Berlin Workers’ Central Committee during the continental revolutions of 1848 in the ‘Vormarz’ volume of the anthologies of German literature published by Reclam. Although it was written over a century and a half ago in Germany, their demands are still acutely relevant to early 21st century Britain. Over half of the demands made by the Berlin workers have or are being attacked by the Cameron and Clegg. I thought that these demands were worth putting up here, both as an historical document showing the aspirations of 19th century German workers, and as a comment on the way the Coalition’s reactionary regime is trying to destroy everything that has been achieved to improve working peoples’ lives since then.

I last did German at school over twenty years ago, and so I apologise for my highly rocky German. If anyone with a better grasp of German than me wishes to revise some of this, let me know, and I’ll post up the original for them to see and comment on.

The Demands of the Berlin Workers’ Central Committee, 18th June 1847

1. Determination of a minimum wage and working hours through a commission of workers and masters or employers.

2. Workers to unite for the maintenance of the living wage.

3. Lifting of indirect taxes, introduction of progressive incomes tax with the exemption of those, who only have life’s necessities.

4. The state to undertake free instruction, and, where it is necessary, the free education of youth with supervision for their abilities.

5. Free public libraries.

6. Regulation of the number of people learning a trade, which a master is allowed to have, through a commission of workers and employers.

7. Lifting of all exceptional laws on workers’ travel, namely those expressed in the itinerary books.
[This refers to the laws in Wilhelmine Germany limiting a worker’s ability to travel in search of work. Every worker was supposed to have a book listing his employment history. The laws were eventually abolished. The Labour Books, however, returned with the conscription of labour under the Nazis in the Third Reich.]

8. Lowering the voting age to 24.

9. Employment of the unemployed in state institutions, to which the state should provide a measure existence for their human needs.

10. Establishment of model workshops and the expansion of the already constituted public artisans’ workshops for the education of able workers.

11.The state to provide for the helpless and all invalided through work.

12. Comprehensive right to native country and freedom of movement.
[This is another attack on the laws limiting the right of workers to move around Germany. In this case, the laws that prevented them from going back to their homes.]

13. Limiting official tyranny over working people.

The above are only to be dismissed from their places through the decisive judgement of a Committee.

In its demands for commissions of workers and employers, the manifesto shows the influence of the continental system of ‘concertation’, in which both workers’ and employers’ groups are consulted and represented in governmental decision-making. It’s the type of corporativism that Edward Heath attempted to introduce into Britain in the 1970s, and which was abolished by Thatcher. What Thatcher resented was not corporativism per se, no matter what she might have said about promoting free trade, but the inclusion of workers’ groups and organisation in the process. Her government still continued to include private industry in the process of government, so that the Thatcher administration has been fairly described as ‘corporativism without the workers’.

The demands for the unemployed to be given work in state workshops, and for the establishment of model workshops, is less a demand for workhouses after the British model, than for a system of National Workshops as was proposed by the French Socialist, Louis Blanc. These were to be set up by the government, but managed co-operatively by the workers themselves. They were set up by the French government in that year, but deliberately poor funding and management by the authorities, which made the work pointless and degrading, undermined them and led to their collapse.

Now let’s see how these demands are faring under Cameron and Clegg.

1. The minimum wage and working hours. Almost from the start, the Coalition has introduced a series of measure designed to get round them. This has been done through workfare, which allows the participating firms to benefit from the unpaid labour of the unemployed; internships, where aspiring young trainees are also taken on without being paid; the new apprenticeship system, which also seems less concerned with training young workers as with allowing employers to pay them less than the minimum wage.

The zero hours system has also allowed employers to cut wages, by tying workers to their employers, who only employ them when they’re needed, and so don’t pay for them when they are not. The rest of the working population, on the other hand, has suffered from a massive expansion of the working week.

2. Union of workers for the fixed wage. Since Thatcher, successive governments have shown themselves hostile to labour unions, and have done their level best to undermine them and reduce the legislation protecting workers. New Labour in its last year or so of government repealed a vast tranche of labour legislation. The Coalition is, if anything, even more opposed to union and labour legislation, with Vince Cable sputtering all kinds of threats when the public sector unions threatened to strike a year or so ago.

3. Lifting of indirect taxes and introduction of progressive income tax. The Conservatives have hated and demanded the removal of incomes tax since the 1980s. I can remember the Sunday Times demanding the removal of incomes tax and its replacement by indirect taxes following the recommendations of the decade’s monetarist economists. Now George Osborne has raised VAT to 20 per cent, and cut incomes tax for the very right. The result has been a massive transfer of wealth from the working to the upper classes.

4. Free instruction and free education by the state. State education is something else that has been under attack by the Right since Thatcher. Milton Friedman urged the introduction of education vouchers, so that parents could have a choice between educating their children in the state or private sector. Guy Debord’s Cat has shown how Friedman’s reforms has led to massive inequalities in the Chilean educational system. Nevertheless, education vouchers were taken up by Ann Soper of the Social Democrats, amongst others.

The Coalition is intent on effectively privatising the school system, with schools taken out of the state system even when the governors themselves are opposed to the scheme. One of the left-wing blogs – I believe it may have been Another Angry Voice – also covered a school, which had effectively introduced school fees. The school was being run by an American company, which used its own, copyrighted curriculum. The company therefore charged the parents of the children at the school over £100 per year for their children’s use of the company’s curriculum materials.

5. Free public libraries. These have suffered massively under the Coalition’s ‘localism’ and ‘Big Society’ agendas. Central government funding has been cut, and libraries have been forced to close. The intention was that they should be taken over and run for free by local community groups. In fact, few groups have members with the necessary skills or experience to take over their management. Many of those that have survived have been forced to cut staff and opening hours.

8. Lowering of the voting age. This is again another hot issue, as the Scots Nationalist wish to reduce the voting age north of the border to 16. Young people tend to be more idealistic than their elders, who have had all their dreams of creating a just world hammered out of them by life. In Scotland they also tend to be more nationalistic than their elders. The Tories thus wish to keep the voting age at 18 as at present.

The Coalition have also altered the procedure for registration for voting, with what looks suspiciously like the intention to make it so complicated that many people will be unaware of the new regulations and so lose the franchise through default.

9. Employment of the unemployed in state institutions and support of their human needs. Osborne is a rabid Libertarian, and so despises any attempt by the state to directly interfere to promote growth through a programme of public works. It is nevertheless true that when the country has experienced a spurt of growth under Gideon, it’s been when he has adopted a Keynsian programme. So the modern equivalent of national workshops to provide work for the workers has been attacked and discarded by the Coalition.

There was a system of workshops like those advocated by the Berlin workers for the disabled. The Remploy workshops, however, have now been closed down by the Coalition, adding further hardship and unemployment for those with disabilities.

As for unemployment benefit, this has and continues to be savagely cut in order to create a pool of the unemployed and desperate in order to bring down wages. The result of this is that thousands have been thrown out of work and have no support due to benefit cuts and sanctions. As a result, people are being forced to use private charity and food banks. The country has therefore seen rising starvation and the return of diseases believed to have been banished since the 19th century.

10. Establishment of model workshops and the training of the able workers. The Coalition, as good Libertarians, are hostile to direct government intervention, and so have embarked on a comprehensive system of privatisation and the further undermining of workers’ employment rights. They are keen to support various training programmes for young workers, but these seem less about providing new skills, than inculcating the attitude in the unemployed that their inability to find a job is their own fault, rather than the government’s or the economy’s. As for the acquisition of new skills, this largely seems to be focused on computer literacy. This is indeed a vital skill, but it does not suit everyone and there seems to be little provision for the less academic. As for the new apprenticeship programme, this also seems simply a way to exploit trainee workers by not paying them the minimum wage. It also seems to be just another way to falsify the unemployment figures by claiming that the unemployed are in fact in work, while they are only on work placements and other temporary schemes.

11. The state to provide for the disabled. As with unemployment benefit, this is something else that has been savagely cut and undermined by the Coalition. Like the Jobcentres, Atos have been set quotas for people to be thrown off benefits by being falsely declared fit for work. The result has been a truly colossal death rate. As many as 38,000 per year may have died in poverty and hardship due to the governments cuts.

12. The right to one’s native country and freedom of movement. Britain in the 19th century did not have laws restricting workers’ freedom of movement as in Germany. However, rising housing costs and the Coalition’s cap of Housing Benefit is resulting in ‘social cleansing’, in which the poor are being forced out of more expensive, upmarket areas. This is especially true in London. Poor Black communities have been particularly hit, and there is resentment there about the way gentrification has forced them out of their neighbourhoods as these have been bought up by affluent, often extremely affluent, Whites.

13. Limitation of the tyranny of officials. Actually, the tyranny of officialdom over the unemployed has expanded massively under the Coalition. While there are genuinely understanding, caring staff at the Jobcentres, and even, surprisingly, within Atos, these are very much in the minority. Government policy is designed to make the process of signing on as humiliating and degrading as possible. Hence, you are harangued and pressured when you sign on. Many of the staff have real hate towards the unemployed. One female member of staff at one of the Jobcentres was caught on Facebook describing how she hated claimants and her joy at sanctioning them. Such abuse has been privatised under the Tories. An unemployed friend of mine has been repeatedly rung up at home by an employee of the company, that has the contract for getting him into work from the government. As a result, he is continually harangued by this clerk, who has claimed that they are somehow motivating him to find work.

As for workers only being sacked after a decisive judgement by an employment commission, Blair and New Labour did their level best to repeal these laws, and the Tories are pursuing the same policy with a vengeance. All in the interests of promoting a more fluid labour market, of course.

Many of the demands made by the Berlin workers in the 19th century, or their equivalents, are therefore under attack in Britain in the 21st century by a highly reactionary regime. Thatcher and the Libertarians looked back to the 19th century and Victorian values. As a result, post-Thatcher administrations have done much to remove the successes and advances of the 19th and early 20th centuries in improving the lives of the working and lower middle class. This is being done across the world in the name of globalisation and free trade, for the benefit of the multinationals paying the Tories and governments like them. It needs to be stopped. As Marx and Engels ended the Communist Manifesto, working people of all countries, unite!

Workfare Before the Nazis

February 17, 2014

Reichsarbeitsdienst

Members of the Reichsarbeitsdienst, the Nazi compulsory ‘voluntary’ work organisation used to end unemployment.

I’ve already blogged on the strong similarities between the Coalition’s workfare and the Reichsarbeitsdienst established by the Nazis. This, like workfare, was a form of voluntary work, which had been made compulsory and extended in order to combat the massive unemployment resulting from the Great Crash of 1929. By January 1932, the year before the Nazi Machtergreifung, unemployment in Germany had reached 6,042,000.

Franz von Papen, the German Chancellor, had also attempted to lower unemployment by encouraging the German industrialists to take on more workers. Those that did so were rewarded with tax vouchers, and allowed to cut wages by up to 50 per cent. The trade unions naturally denounced this as stimulating the economy ‘at the expense of the workers’. His predecessor, Bruning, had similarly tried to create more jobs, but had suffered from the hostility of the country’s leading industrialists, to whom von Papen’s grant of tax breaks and wage cuts were intended to make the policy more acceptable.

Von Papen was an aristocrat from Westphalia. Although he was formally a member of the Catholic Centre party, he was no democrat and led a government in which members of the aristocracy were so predominant that it was mocked as ‘the baron’s cabinet’. When Papen led the coup against the Prussian government, he was described as a member of the DNVP, the Conservative Deutsche National Volkspartei. The Prussian government was led by three of the main democratic parties, the Socialist SPD, the Roman Catholic Centre Party and the DDP, one of the German Liberal parties. They were brought down by a referendum organised by the DNVP, the Nazis and the paramilitary Stahlhelm. Before this, Papen, and his predecessor, Bruning, had seen the exclusion from power of first the SPD and then the Catholic Centre Party, until only the parties of the Right remained.

This is another point of similarity to contemporary Britain. The Coalition is similarly aristocratic, with Cameron, Clegg and Osborne all true, blue-blooded, Eton-educated members of the aristocracy. They have similarly come to power in a right-wing coalition that has been brought to power through an international financial crisis. They have also tried, albeit ostensibly, to solve the problem of unemployment through a series of measures including cut wages, and indeed, no wages at all, for the unemployed compulsorily placed in the Work Programme.

Those measures were harsh and unjust then, just as they are harsh and unjust now. Workfare, like its Nazi and Weimar predecessors, should be rejected and genuine measures to generate jobs and give workers a living wage, need to be introduced instead.

IDS’ Beliefs and Fascist Irrationalism

February 17, 2014

Ian Duncan Rimmer

Ian Duncan Smith: The Sane Choice

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

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

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

– German Conservative politician on Adolf Hitler.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

George Sorel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Books on Radical History, the Working Class and British Democracy: Popular Movements c.1830-1850

January 19, 2014

edited by J.T. Ward (Basingstoke: MacMillan 1970)

Popular Movements 19thc

This discusses the major reform movements in the second quarter of the 19th century, which touched on nearly every aspect of British politics and society. There are individual chapters examining

1. The Agitation for Parliamentary Reform, discussing the campaign for the 1833 Great Reform Act, which expanded the franchise, and attempted to remove some of the most notorious rotten and pocked boroughs.

2. The Factory movement, which campaigned for lower working hours and prohibitions on employing children, or limiting their working hours, and improving conditions for factory workers.

3. The Anti-Poor Law legislation, which attacked the Workhouses set up by the Liberals.

4. Trade Unionism.

5. Chartism. This was the great working and lower middle class movement demanding the establishment of democracy. All men over the age of 21 were to be given the vote, there were to be equal electoral districts, annual parliaments, and MPs were to be paid, so that politics was no longer the province a wealthy elite. Much of their campaigning consisted in the presentation of giant petitions to parliament. It finally collapsed after the mid-19th century, when most of the signatures in its ‘monster petition’ were found to be forgeries, like ‘Queen Victoria’ and ‘The Duke of Wellington’. Nevertheless, it was a vital episode in the campaign for the expansion of the franchise.

6. The Agitation against the Corn Laws. These had been imposed at the time of the Napoleonic Civil War to keep the price of corn high and so ensure large profits for the farmers by excluding foreign imports. The Liberal politicians Cobden and Bright formed the Anti-Corn Law League to attack them, as they made bread and corn expensive for the working class, and so led to misery and starvation.

7.The Irish Agitation. Most famously led by John Stuart Parnell, this campaigned for Home Rule in opposition to the poverty and oppression experienced by ordinary Irish people under British government. One of the most notorious issues, bitterly resented by the Irish were the absentee landlords, who demanded extremely high rents from their tenants while enjoying life across the Irish Sea.

8. The Public Health Movement. This was another reaction against the disgusting squalor and foetid conditions in the Victorian slums, which led to horrific epidemics of diseases such a cholera. It led to the establishment of local boards of health, subordinate to a central board of health, which were to provide help and advice to the poor on problems with food, clothing, ventilation, drainage and cleanliness. It also resulted in a series of studies and commissions investigating the problems of disease, sanitation and living conditions in towns across Victorian Britain. Much of this was done or inspired by the Benthamite Radical, Owen Chadwick.

These movements gradually transformed industrial Britain. Instead of the laissez-faire philosophy towards government that officially informed government policies and ideology, state interference in the economy and society was increasingly accepted as a necessary means to improve conditions in the new, industrial society that was then emerging. This marked the beginning of a new, collectivist approach to politics that gradually became stronger and led to increasing legislation granting increasing political freedoms and improving conditions for the working and lower middle classes.

The TTIP and Corporate Power in Europe: Europe Inc.

January 16, 2014

One of the posts I put up to do way on Lobster’s review of a book analysing the structure of the EU and the way it is influenced and controlled by large corporations with little democratic accountability. I did so in order to provide a bit more information to Mike’s excellent post over at Vox Political on the TTIP and the way this will leave democratically elected national governments at the mercy of multinational corporations, and result in further dismantling of the British welfare state and the final privatisation of the NHS. In addition to the short book review I blogged about earlier, I found a much longer review of a book by the same organisation in Lobster 34, Winter 1998, which provides a little more information on the corporate and corporatist interests at the very heart of the EU. These are the organisations pressing for the destruction of the welfare state and the privatisation of nationalised industries across the European Union.

Europe Inc: Dangerous Liaison Between EU Institutions and Industry was the first publication of the Corporate Europe Observatory, a foundation based in Amsterdam set up to ‘monitor and report on the activities of European corporations and their lobby groups. They were also beginning to publish a quarterly newsletter, Corporate Europe Observer, with its first issue being published in October 1998. The newsletter cost about £10 a year in hardcopy, but was emailed free. The CEO could be contacted at ceo@xs4all.nl or at PO Box 92066, 1090 AB Amsterdam. They also had a website at http://www.xs4all.nl/~ceo/.

The main EU organisation representing the interests of transnational corporations (TNCs) and promoting economic policies that favour them is the European Roundtable of Industrialists (ERT). It is the ERT and the multinationals it was set up to serve that are behind the EU’s plans for ‘completing the internal market’ through the liberalisation and deregulation of a number of industries, such as energy, telecommunications, and transport, as well as the EU’s aim of promoting global free trade. They are also behind the use of ‘benchmarking’ as a tool used by EU decision-makers for comparing European industries with their competitors in the rest of the world. This is done by comparing wages, taxes, infrastructure and potentially all other areas. The ERT in general simply outlines general policy.

The formulation of detailed legislation favouring the multinationals is done by UNICE (the Union of Industrial and Employers’ Confederations of Europe) through its highly efficient lobbyists. This affects every aspect of European legislation.

The ERT has also produced a number of offshoots to tackle additional problems where necessary. In 1994, after the ERT had successfully placed the Trans-European Network infrastructure programme on the EU’s political agenda, it created the European Centre for Infrastructure Studies (ECIS). This has had an almost symbiotic relationship from its very beginning with the European Commission, with both aiming for the completion of the TENs programme.

The ERT has also become highly influential through the establishment of various EU working groups, which have often been set up by the EU on the ERT’s own recommendation. These include the Competitiveness Advisory Group (CAG), which also has official EU status, and which effectively doubles the ERT’s influence, and the Transatlantic Business Dialogue (TABD). The ERT was also the parent organisation of the Association for the Monetary Union of Europe (AMUE). This was the organisation behind European Monetary Union and the single currency.

The book also notes that there are thousands of other lobbying firms and organisations in the EU, of which the ERT, UNICE, ECIS and AMUE are merely four of the most powerful. One of the other lobbying organisations is EuropaBio, which campaigns for the abolition of restrictions on biotechnology. Another is the World Business Council of Sustainable Development (WBCSD), whose membership overlaps considerably with the ERT. It, however, describes itself as one of the world’s most influential green business networks.

The ERT and UNICE are responsible for influencing the EU’s Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) process. This has the goals of strengthening the powers of the European Council and Commission, and their ‘ability to act’, ensuring that the EU adheres to the schedules for the adoption of the single currency and the expansion into central and eastern Europe and for establishing global free trade. They are also responsible for combatting any revision of the EU treaties that might undermine their goals of promoting EU global competitiveness through the introduction of environmental or social legislation.

Small and Medium-sized businesses are also represented in the EU through a number of organisations, one of which is the European Union of Craftsmen and Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (UEAPME). Although this is represented in a number of EU advisory bodies, it is excluded from the most influential of these, such as the Social Dialogue and the Competitiveness Advisory Group (CAG).

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) is also represented in the Social Dialogue advisory body, along with UNICE and CEEP, which represents the public sector. The Social Charter states that ETUC has to be consulted, but globalisation and the creation of the internal market have undermined the trade unions national position. The employers’ bodies ensure that commitments to the Social Chapter are kept to an absolute minimum. There is thus very little that the trade unions both in the EU and at the level of the member states can do to force the employers to accept legislation aimed at improving pay and conditions for the workers.

The green lobby similarly has problems being properly represented in the EU, as it lacks the necessary financial clout and organisation. They also have difficulties getting access to the major officials formulating and developing EU policies and legislation, particularly in the European Commission. They have had greater success gaining access to the European Parliament. Industry is, however, far better represented here through giving MEPs job, assistants and presents. The green movement, at least when the book was produced in 1998, was strongest at the local and national level.

There is a group set up to promote dialogue between social and environmental groups, industry and public organisations, European Partners for the Environment (EPE). This has organised meetings on a variety of topics at the request of the European Commission, but has made no attempt to alter the EU’s development model, so that it will not immensely damage the environment or the EU’s peoples.

It was corporate lobbying that was behind the establishment of the Phare and Tacis aid programmes, set up to assist western multinationals wishing to expand into the countries of central and eastern Europe. Europe Inc ends with the conclusion

‘It is not enough to look at the democratic gaps in the EU decision-making structure to explain why corporate lobby groups have gained such a strong foothold in the apparatus. The strong grip of TNCs on European economies, which is a direct consequence of the creation of the Internal Market and increasing globalisation, must be challenged. Economic dependency upon TNCs leaves governments with little option but to adapt to the agenda proposed by corporate lobby groups. To effectively reduce the political influence of TNCs, European economies must be weaned from their dependence upon these corporations’.

Lobster has ceased publication in hardcopy, but is still very much alive on-line, including an archive of its back issues.

So there it is. The mass privatisation of public industries and utilities across Europe, the single currency, and the reduction in wages and working and living conditions for workers in the name of global competitiveness, are all the result of lobbying by multinationals and their organisations, like ERT. The TTIP is merely another step in this larger economic programme, specifically that of the TABD, but one that would have massively detrimental effects for national economies and working conditions right across Europe. It also struck me reading Lobster’s review of the book how much ERT’s aims resembled that of the authors of Britannia Unchained, who also demanded a reduction in British workers’ pay and conditions in order to make us compete with India and China.

Immigration, ID Cards and the Erosion of British Freedom: Part 2

October 13, 2013

In the first part of this post I discussed the way successive administrations since Mrs Thatcher – those of john Major, Tony Blair, and now, possibly, the coalition, had planned to introduce ID cards. Privacy campaigners such as Simon Davies have opposed them, because of the immense potential they represent for human rights abuses, the mass surveillance of the population, and discrimination against immigrants and minorities. I posted it as a response to Mike’s piece on Vox Political, which I reblogged, on Theresa May’s latest campaign against illegal immigration, and the fears landlords and immigrants’ rights groups have about the terrible effect this will have on them. The landlords in particular were concerned that this would lead to the introduction of 404 European document-style ID cards. In this part of the post I will discuss the dangers ID cards present, and their failure to do what is often claimed for them, such as to prevent crime and illegal immigration.

It looks like illegal immigration will be the platform by which ID cards will be introduced in this country. Mike and a number of other bloggers have commented on the way recent statements and policies by coalition ministers to combat illegal immigration suggest that they plan to introduce ID cards as part of their campaign. Illegal immigration has been the main issue driving their introduction in Europe, America and some developing nations. Davies book on the growth of the surveillance society in Britain notes that as the European Union dissolves borders in Europe, so the police were given greater power to check people’s ID. As for fears that ID cards will somehow stop illegal immigrants from claiming benefits, this has been disproved in Australia. The Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Australia Card found that of 57,000 people, who overstayed their visa in New South Wales, on 22 were illegally claiming Unemployment Benefit.

Anti-racism campaigners are right to worry that ID will increase discrimination. ID cards carrying information on the bearer’s ethnic groups or religious beliefs have been used to discriminate against minority groups in many countries. The Japanese were accused of racism when they passed legislation forcing all foreigners to carry ID cards. The French police were similarly accused of racism in demanding Blacks and Algerians carry and produce ID cards. This was one of the reasons behind the race riots in France in the 1990s. In Greece, the authorities were also accused of using the religious information on the card to discriminate against those, who were not Greek Orthodox. Down Under, Aboriginal and Jewish Australians joined the campaign against the Australia Card from fear that they would also suffer discrimination. A few thousand miles across the Pacific in New Zealand, Kiwi trade unions and civil liberties groups also feared ID cards would lead to discrimination against minorities and the poor.

Contrary to the frequent claims made by various Right-wing governments like Thatcher’s, Major’s and Blair’s, ID cards don’t actually stop welfare fraud. Says Davies ‘the key area of interest lies in creating a single numbering system which would be used as a basis for employment eligibility, and which would reduce the size of the black market economy’. In Oz, the Department of Social Security stated that much less than 1 per cent of overpaid benefits came from identity fraud. The true figure for such crime is probably 0.6 per cent. Most fraudulent or overpaid benefit claims – 61 per cent – came from the non-reporting of variations in the claimant’s income.

ID cards also don’t stop crime. This is again contrary to the statements made by governments wishing to introducing them. The problem is not the identification of criminals, but in collecting sufficient evidence and successfully prosecuting them. The Association of Chief Police Officers in Britain concluded in 1993 report that burglaries, street crime and crimes committed by people impersonating officials could be reduced through ID cards. They did not, however, present any evidence for this. The Association did fear that the introduction of ID cards would make relations between the police and the general public worse. Davies considered that only a DNA or biometric database could possibly link perpetrators with their crimes.

The introduction of ID cards do, however, increase police powers. Police routinely ask for ID cards in all the countries that have them, and detain those, who don’t possess them. In Britain the wartime ID cards were removed in 1953 after a High Court judge ruled that their routine demand by the police was contrary to the spirit of the National Registration Act, and adversely affected the good relations between police and the public.

In fact, instead of helping to combat crime, ID cards actually help it. ID cards provide a ‘one-stop’ proof of identity, and this can and is used by criminal gangs in their crimes. The technology used to manufacture the cards is now available and used by such organisations. As ordinary organisations, such as companies and the state civil service increasingly rely on ID cards as the unquestioned proof of an individual’s identity, so they abandon the other systems used to check it that they have been using for decades. As a result, crimes using fake identities are actually easier with ID cards.

ID cards are a real danger to the privacy of personal information. About one per cent of the staff of companies involved in collecting the personal information used to construct the relational databases used in such cards are corrupt and prepared to trade confidential information. Each year, one per cent of all bank staff in Europe are dismissed for corruption. This is a minuscule percentage, it is true, but nevertheless it still presents a danger to the privacy and safety of the public. In Britain, computer crime amongst the civil services own ID staff massively increased in the 1980s and 1990s. The National Accounting Office estimated in March 1995 that hacking, theft and infection by viruses were all increasing on the IT network in Whitehall. In one year, for example, hacking rose by 140 per cent and viruses by a massive 300 per cent. Of the 655 cases of hacking in the Whitehall network identified by the NAO, most involved staff exceeding their authority to obtain the personal information of members of the public, which was they then passed on to outside individuals.

ID card schemes also tend to be much more expensive than governments’ estimate and allow for. Once again, Australia provides a good example of this. When introducing the Australia Card scheme, the Ozzie government failed to take into account training costs, and the expenses coming from administrative supervision, staff turnover, holiday and sick leave, as well as compliance, the issue of the cards overseas and fraud. They also underestimated the costs of issuing and maintaining the cards and how expensive they would be to private industry. In the first part of this post I mentioned how leading Australian bankers and financiers, such as Sir Noel Foley, were openly hostile to the scheme. This is not surprising, as the Australian Bankers’ Association estimated that the ID card their would cost Ozzie banks A$100 million over ten years. The total cost of the cards to the private sector was estimated at A$1 billion per year. At the time Davies was writing, the cost of the card system in the UK had not taken into account of administration and compliance costs. These could be as high as £2 – £3 billion. When Tony Blair launched his scheme to develop biometric ID cards, there was further embarrassment to the government when it was revealed by the papers that the scheme had also gone massively over its budget due to problems in developing the technology.

Another factor against the cards is the distress and inconvenience caused to the individual by their accidental loss or destruction. About five per cent of ID cards are either lost, damaged or stolen every year, and it can be several weeks before a replacement is received.

Governments have frequently insisted that ID cards will be voluntary. This was the stance taken by Tony Blair’s government on them. It is misleading. There is a tendency for them to become compulsory. Even in nations where they are voluntary, there is considerable inconvenience if they are not carried, so that they are actually compulsory in practice if not in law.

ID cards also have a tendency to become internal passports as they acquire other uses through function creep. These will include all government and a significant number of important, private functions.

Finally, opponents of ID cards object to them because they feel that they damage national identity and personal integrity. The movements against ID cards in America, Australia, Canada and New Zealand called attention to the fears of ordinary people that the introduction of such cards would reduce them to mere numbers. They were a symbol of oppressive authority, and represented popular anxieties that their countries were ruled, not by elected officials, but by bureaucracies driven by technology.

Actually, reading through all the considerable negative aspects of ID cards and the list of the dangers and damage they represent to society and the safety and privacy of its members, I can see why the Coalition government would see no problem in introducing them. After all, such schemes are inefficient, corrupt and massively expensive. They expand the power of the state and the police at the expense of the individual, and are used to persecute and victimise minorities and the poor. Pretty much like all the Coalition’s policies, then. And ID cards are exactly like IDS welfare schemes and workfare in that, undercover of eliminating welfare fraud, which they actually don’t do anything about, they’re really about controlling the movement of labour.

So, corrupt, authoritarian and discriminatory: just right for Theresa May and the rest of the Coalition then!

The Appropriation of Anarchist Doctrines in Fascist Italy and Cameron’s Conservatives: Philip Blonde, Kropotkin and ‘Red Toryism’

August 10, 2013

I’ve blogged previously about the way Cameron’s Conservatives have adopted Rothbard’s Anarcho-Capitalism but without its Libertarian basis as part of their campaign to create an extremely authoritarian, Neo-Liberal state. This parallels the way Mussolini also used the anarcho-syndicalist elements in the Fascist movement and party to create a totalitarian dictatorship, which actively oppressed the workers and violently attacked any kind of socialism. A further example of Cameron’s attempts to appropriate and utilise anarchist ideas is Philip Blonde’s ‘Red Tory’ ideology. Blonde is Cameron’s political mentor. In his book, Red Tory, Blonde is very positive towards the great 19th century Anarchist, Peter Kropotkin. Kropotkin was a Russian scientist, whose study of the flora and fauna in Siberia convinced him that Darwin’s idea of the ‘Survival of the Fittest’ (actually a term coined by Herbert Spencer), was wrong, and that co-operation between organisms was the driving factor in evolution. He was an Anarcho-Communist, who fundamentally believed in essential human goodness. One of the arguments directed against Kropotkin’s anarchism was that he was actually too optimistic about human nature. If humans really were as benign and co-operative as he believed, it was argued, then why would you need a revolution against the capitalist order. Blonde is similarly favourably inclined towards other, libertarian socialist movements in the 19th century. He also draws on the history of paternalistic Tory reformers, such as Lord Shaftesbury and the Factory Acts, to try to present a kind of left-wing Conservatism. This tries to show that the Tories can and will pass legislation that will benefit and protect the working class from exploitation.

This libertarian socialist strand of Conservatism was immediately contradicted by the coalitions own policies on taking power. Instead of showing themselves to have any real sympathy for the poor and working class, the Tories and Lib Dems immediately passed legislation curtailing welfare benefits, legal protection for employees, and the exploitation of the unemployed for the benefit of big business. The speed at which they put all this into practice suggests that for all the socialistic ideals presented in Red Tory, Cameron and Blonde were never serious about them. It was instead a propaganda move intended to win a section of the working class away from Tony Blair and New Labour.

Something of the kind still appears to be going on in parts of the Conservative party. Despite the Conservative’s attempts to limit and discourage union membership, one of the Conservatives, Carswell, appears to have embraced them as a potential force for Conservatism and possibly as the cornerstone of authentic working class culture. Less than half of trade unionists vote Labour, and Carswell has, apparently gone every year to various trade union events. At the same time, he is extremely hostile to state welfare provision. My guess is that he’s trying to co-opt the unions for the Tories in an attempt to further break the Labour party from divorcing them from their original base. Quite what he thinks the place of the trade unions are in a Conservative political system, I can only guess. In the early part of the last century the unions were hostile about the establishment of the welfare state because they handled part of the bureaucracy for the workers’ health insurance schemes. Carswell may well be thinking that he could sell Conservatism to the unions this way, by making them responsible for their members welfare, rather than the state. He may also wish to create a system of trade unions that were compliant with the orders of the factory masters, such as the ‘yellow’ trade unions in 19th century Germany and Austria, or the Conservative trade unions of the 1970s.

I think the unions would be extremely foolish, however, if they were taken in by his ideas. The Labour party was formed by the unions, in conjunction with the socialist societies, in order to promote legislation protecting the working class and the engagement with working class issues in parliament. The Conservatives have been consistently hostile to this with successive administrations from Edward Heath onwards passing legislation intended to break their membership and power. As regard the Conservative trade unions themselves, these were dissolved by Thatcher herself. Their leader was left embittered, and declared that the Tories were on the side of the industrial exploiters. Which is what his counterparts on the Left had been saying all that time.

19th century Economists, Laissez-faire and the Unions

July 22, 2013

The 19th century is generally considered to be the heyday of laissez-faire individualism. Much of contemporary libertarianism and the Right-wing desire to ‘roll back the frontiers of the state’ appears to come from a nostalgia for the Victorian period. This was a period when America and Europe industrialised, living conditions improved, and the Western powers, including Russia, subdued and colonised the globe. Much less appreciated on the Right is that this was also an age of grinding poverty and industrial and social unrest. Communism, Anarchism and Socialism were radical responses to the problem of poverty and dispossession experienced by the new masses of the urban poor. It is therefore interesting to read the economic historian, Roger E. Backhouse’s comments, that 19th century economists did not have a doctrinaire position supporting laissez-faire.

The first Factory Acts regulating working conditions in the new factories were introduced in 1802. This legislation gradually expanded over the following decades, mostly to protect women and children from long hours, but it would also affect men. In general they did not favour greater legislation regulating working hours for men, as it was felt that this interfered with freedom of contract. Backhouse does, however, note that they were also pragmatic about it, and tended to follow public opinion. He also states that regarding trade unions

‘the economists’ position was generally to favour high wages and to view unions as counterbalancing employers’ higher bargaining power.’

He also notes that although the classical economists of the 19th century followed Adam Smith’s doctrine of free trade, and many were suspicious of the expansion of state power, these were not inflexible positions. Backhouse states that they tended to be pragmatic about individual cases. ‘The result was a pragmatic outlook in which the role for laissez-faire was severely circumscribed’.

This runs somewhat counter to the contemporary Tory view, in which unions are automatically bad for acting against the interests of industry and the consumer, and the 19th century was a golden age created by laissez-faire industry. Laissez-faire was indeed the dominant doctrine of the age, but it was increasingly challenged by the very practical concerns about providing for the greater health and prosperity of Britain’s workers and citizens in the new, mass, industrial society. This increasingly required state regulation, and the economists recognised also the value of the unions in defending the bargaining ability of the workers in this environment.

Source

Roger E. Backhouse, The Penguin History of Economics (London: Penguin 2002)