Posts Tagged ‘Workers’ Control’

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

February 22, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Book on Industrial Democracy in Great Britain

January 12, 2019

Ken Coates and Anthony Topham, Industrial Democracy In Great Britain: A Book of Readings and Witnesses for Workers Control (MacGibbon & Kee, 1968).

This is another book I got through the post the other day. It’s a secondhand copy, but there may also be newer editions of the book out there. As its subtitle says, it’s a sourcebook of extracts from books, pamphlets, and magazine and newspaper articles on workers’ control, from the Syndicalists and Guild Socialists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, through the First World War, the General Strike and the interwar period, the demands for worker participation in management during the Second World War and in the industries nationalized by Clement Attlee’s 1945 Labour government. It also covers the industrial disputes of the 1950s and ’60s, including the mass mobilization of local trade unions in support of four victimized workers evicted from the homes by management and the Tories. These later extracts also include documents from the workers’ control movements amongst the bus workers and dockers, establishing works councils and laying out their structure, duties and operating procedure.

The book’s blurb reads

The issue of workers’ control in British industry is once more n the air. As a concept, as something still to be achieved, industrial democracy has a long and rich history in fields outside the usual political arenas. The newly-awakened movement that revives the wish to see workers given a voice in business affairs is, in this book, given its essential historical perspective. From the days of ‘wage-slavery’ we might at last be moving into a period of fully-responsible control of industry by those who make the wealth in this country. While this notion has generally been scoffed at – by working class Tories as much as members of the capitalist groups – there is now a formidable body of evidence and thought to give it substance and weight.

The editors’ theme is treated in four main sections: the first covers the years from 1900 to 1920, when people like Tom Mann, James Connolly, G.D.H. Cole were re-discovering ideas of syndicalism, industrial unionism, guild socialism and so on. The second traces the development of the shop stewards’ movement on the shop floors. Much of this material is especially interesting so far as the period 1941 – 45 is concerned. Section three deals with the nationalized industries’ relations to unions, and here the centre of interest lies in the relations between the unions and Herbert Morrison in the thirties and beyond. The last section deals with the re-invigorated growth of the post-war efforts to establish some form of workers’ control. It is the conviction of their editors that the movement they document so thoroughly has only just begun to develop seriously and it is therefore something that both business and political parties will have to take increasing account of. The book is both anthology and guide to one of the important issues of our time.

After the introduction, it has the following contents.

Section 1: Schools for Democrats
Chapter 1: Forerunners of the Ferment

1 Working Class Socialism: E.J.B. Allen
2. Industrial Unionism and Constructive Socialism: James Connolly
3. The Miners’ Next Step: Reform Committee of the South Wales Miners, 1912
4. Limits of Collective Bargaining: Fred Knee
5. Forging the Weapon: Tom Mann
6. The Servile State: Hilaire Belloc
7. Pluralist Doctrine: J.N. Figgis
8. The Spiritual Change: A.J. Penty
9. The Streams Merge?: M.B. Reckitt and C.E. Bechofer
10. Little Groups Spring Up: Thomas Bell

Chapter 2. Doctrines and Practice of the Guild Socialists

1.The Bondage of Wagery: S.G. Hobson and A.R. Orage
2. State and Municipal Wagery: S.G. Hobson and A.R. Orage
3. Collectivism, Syndicalism and Guilds: G.D.H. Cole
4 Industrial Sabotage: William Mellor
5 The Building Guilds: M.B. Reckitt and C.E. Bechhofer
6 Builders’ Guilds: A Second view: Raymond Postgate

Chapter 3 How Official Labour met the Guild Threat

1 Democracies of Producers: Sydney and Beatrice Webb
2 ‘… In no Utopian Spirit’: J. Ramsay MacDonald

Chapter 4 Eclipse of the Guilds and the Rise of Communism

1 In Retrospect: G.D.H. Cole
2 Revolution and Trade Union Action: J.T. Murphy
3 Action for Red Trade Unions: Third Comintern Congress, 1921

Section II: Shop Stewards and Workers’ Control; 1910-64

Chapter 1 1910-26

1 Shop Stewards in Engineering: the Forerunners: H.A. Clegg, Alan Fox, and E.F. Thompson
2 The Singer Factory: The Wobblies’ First Base: Thomas Bell
3 A Nucleus of Discontent: Henry Pelling
4 The Sheffield Shop Stewards: J.T. Murphy
5 The Workers’ Committee: J.T. Murphy
6 The Collective Contract: W. Gallacher and J. Paton
7 Politics in the Workshop Movement: G.D.H. Cole
8 The Shop Stewards’ Rules: N.S.S. & W.C.M.
9 The Dangers of Revolution: Parliamentary Debates H. of C.
10 What Happened at Leeds: the Leeds Convention 1917
11 A Shop Stewards’ Conference: Thomas Bell
12 After the War: Dr B. Pribicevic
13 An Assessment: Dr B. Pribicevic
14 Prelude to Unemployed Struggles: Wal Hannington
15 Defeat; The 1922 Lock-out: James B. Jefferys
16 Shop Stewards on the Streets: J.T. Murphy
17 T.U.C. Aims: T.U.C. Annual Report 1925
18 ‘The Death Gasp of that Pernicious Doctrine’: Beatrice Webb

Chapter 2 1935-47

1 ‘… The Shop Stewards’ Movement will Re-Appear’: G.D.H. Cole
2 Revival; The English Aircraft Strike: Tom Roberts
3 London Metal Workers and the Communists: John Mahon
4 The Communists’ Industrial Policy: CPGB 14th Congress, 1937
5 ‘… A Strong Left Current’; John Mahon
6 Shop Stewards against Government and War: National Shop-Stewards’ Conference, 1940
7 The A.E.U. and the Shop Stewards’ Movement: Wal Hannington
8 For Maximum Production: Walter Swanson and Douglas Hyde
9 Joint Production Committees: Len Powell
10 The Employers Respond: Engineering Employers’ Federation
11 How to get the Best Results: E & A.T.S.S.N.C.
12 The Purpose of the Joint Production Committees: G.S. Walpole
13 A Dissident Complaint: Anarchist Federation of Glasgow, 1945
14 The Transformation of Birmingham: Bert Williams
15 Factory Committees; Post-War Aims: J.R. Campbell
16 After the Election: Reg Birch
17 Official View of Production Committees: Industrial Relations Handbook
18 Helping the Production Drive: Communist Party of Great Britain

Chapter 3 1951-63

1 Post-war Growth of Shop Stewards in Engineering: A.T. Marsh and E.E. Coker
2 Shop-Steward Survey: H.A. Clegg, A.J. Killick and Rex Adams
3 The Causes of Strikes: Trades Union Congress
4 The Trend of Strikes: H.A. Turner
5 Shop-Stewards and Joint Consultation: B.C. Roberts
6 Joint Consultation and the Unions: Transport and General Workers’ Union
7 Strengths of Shop-Steward Organisation: H.M.S.O.
8 Activities of Shop-Stewards: H.M.S.O.
9 Local Bargaining and Wages Drift: Shirley Lerner and Judith Marquand
10 The Motor Vehicle Industrial Group and Shop-Stewards’ Combine Committees: Shirley Lerner and Judith Marquand
11. Ford Management’s view of Management: H.M.S.O.
12. The Bata Story: Malcolm MacEwen
13 Fight against Redundancy: Harry Finch
14 How They Work the Trick: Ford Shop Stewards
15 I work at Fords: Brian Jefferys
16 The Origins of Fawley: Allan Flanders
17 Controlling the Urge to Control: Tony Topham

Section III: Industrial Democracy and Nationalization

Chapter 1 1910-22

1 State Ownership and Control: G.D.H. Cole
2 Towards a Miner’s Guild: National Guilds League
3 Nationalization of the Mines: Frank Hodges
4 Towards a National Railway Guild: National Guilds League
5 Workers’ Control on the Railways: Dr B. Pribicevic
6 The Railways Act, 1921: Philip Bagwell

Chapter 2 1930-35

1 A Re-Appraisal: G.D.H. Cole
2 A works Council Law: G.D.H. Cole
3 A Fabian Model for Workers’ Representation: G.D.H. Cole and W. Mellor
4 Herbert Morrison’s Case: Herbert Morrison
5 The Soviet Example: Herbert Morrison
6 The T.U.C. Congress, 1932: Trades Union Congress
7 The Labour Party Conference, 19332: The Labour Party
8 The T.U.C. Congress, 1933: Trades Union Congress
9 The Labour Party Conference, 1933: The Labour Party
10 The Agreed Formula: The Labour Party

Chapter 3 1935-55

1 The Labour Party in Power: Robert Dahl
2 The Coal Nationalization Act: W.W. Haynes
3 George Brown’s Anxieties: Parliamentary Debates H. of C.
4 Cripps and the Workers: The Times
5 Trade Union Officials and the Coal Board: Abe Moffatt
6 Acceptance of the Public Corporation: R. Page Arnot
7 No Demands from the Communists: Emmanuel Shinwell
8 We Demand Workers’ Representation: Harry Pollitt
9 The N.U.R. and Workers’ Control: Philip Bagwell
10 The Trade Unions take Sides: Eirene Hite
11 Demands for the Steel Industry: The Labour Party
12 The A.E.U. Briefs its Members: Amalgamated Engineering Union
13 Making Joint Consultation Effective: The New Statesman
14 ‘Out-of-Date Ideas’: Trades Union Congress
15 A Further Demand for Participation: The Labour Party

Chapter 4 1955-64

1 Storm Signals: Clive Jenkins
2 The Democratization of Power: New Left Review
3 To Whom are Managers Responsible?: New Left Review
4 Accountability and Participation: John Hughes
5 A 1964 Review: Michael Barratt-Brown

Section IV: The New Movement: Contemporary Writings on Industrial Democracy

Chapter 1 The New Movement: 1964-67

1 A Retreat: H.A. Clegg
2 ‘We Must Align with the Technological Necessities…’ C.A.R. Crosland
3 A Response: Royden Harrison
4 Definitions: Workers’ Control and Self-Management: Ken Coates
5 The New Movement: Ken Coates
6 The Process of Decision: Trades Union Congress
7 Economic Planning and Wages: Trades Union Congress
8 Seeking a Bigger Say at Work: Sydney Hill
9 A Plan for a Break-through in Production: Jack Jones
10 A Comment on Jack Jones’ Plan: Tony Topham
11 Open the Books: Ken Coates
12 Incomes Policy and Control: Dave Lambert
13 Watch-dogs for Nationalized Industries: Hull LEFT
14 Revival in the Coal Industry: National Union of Mineworkers
15 Workers’ Control in Nationalized Steel Industry: The Week
16 Workers’ Control in the Docks: The Dockers’ Next Step: The Week
17 The Daily Mail Takes Notes: The Daily Mail
18 Labour’s Plan for the Docks: The Labour Party
19 Municipal Services: Jack Ashwell
20 The Party Programme: The Labour Party
21 Open the Shipowners’ Books!: John Prescott and Charlie Hodgins
22 A Socialist Policy for the Unions. May Day Manifesto

The book appropriately ends with a conclusion.

The book is clearly a comprehensive, encyclopedic treatment of the issue of workers’ control primarily, but not exclusively, from the thinkers and workers who demanded and agitated for it, and who occasionally succeeded in achieving it or at least a significant degree of worker participation in management. As the book was published in 1968, it omits the great experiments in worker’s control and management of the 1970s, like the Bullock Report, the 1971 work-in at the shipbuilders in the Upper Clyde, and the worker’s co-ops at the Scottish Daily News, Triumph of Meriden, Fisher Bendix in Kirkby, and at the British Aircraft Company in Bristol.

This was, of course, largely a period where the trade unions were growing and had the strength, if not to achieve their demands, then at least to make them be taken seriously, although there were also serious setbacks. Like the collapse of the 1922 General Strike, which effectively ended syndicalism in Great Britain as a mass movement. Since Thatcher’s victory in 1979 union power has been gravely diminished and the power of management massively increased. The result of this has been the erosion of workers’ rights, so that millions of British workers are now stuck in poorly paid, insecure jobs with no holiday, sickness or maternity leave. We desperately need this situation to be reversed, to go back to the situation where working people can enjoy secure, properly-paid jobs, with full employments rights, protected by strong unions.

The Tories are keen to blame the unions for Britain’s industrial decline, pointing to the disruption caused by strikes, particularly in the industrial chaos of the 1970s. Tory propaganda claims that these strikes were caused by irresponsible militants against the wishes of the majority of working people. You can see this view in British films of the period like Ealing’s I’m All Right Jack, in which Peter Sellars played a Communist union leader, and one of the Carry On films set in a toilet factory, as well as the ’70s TV comedy, The Rag Trade. This also featured a female shop-steward, who was all too ready to cry ‘Everybody out!’ at every perceived insult or infraction of agreed conditions by management. But many of the pieces included here show that these strikes were anything but irresponsible. They were a response to real exploitation, bullying and appalling conditions. The extracts dealing with the Ford works particularly show this. Among the incidents that provoked the strike were cases where workers were threatened by management and foremen for taking time off for perfectly good reasons. One worker taken to task by his foreman for this had done so in order to take his sick son to hospital.

The book shows that workers’ control has been an issue for parts of the labour movement since the late nineteenth century, before such radicalism because associated with the Communists. They also show that, in very many cases, workers have shown themselves capable of managing their firms.

There are problems with it, nevertheless. There are technical issues about the relative representation of unions in multi-union factories. Tony Benn was great champion of industrial democracy, but in his book Arguments for Socialism he argues that it can only be set up when the workers’ in a particular firm actually want, and that it should be properly linked to a strong union movement. He also attacks token concessions to the principle, like schemes in which only one workers’ representative is elected to the board, or works’ councils which have no real power and are outside trade union control or influence.

People are becoming increasingly sick and angry of the Tories’ and New Labour impoverishment and disenfranchisement of the working class. Jeremy Corbyn has promised working people full employment and trade union rights from the first day of their employment, and to put workers in the boardroom of the major industries. We desperately need these policies to reverse the past forty years of Thatcherism, and to bring real dignity and prosperity to working people. After decades of neglect, industrial democracy is back on the table by a party leadership that really believes in it. Unlike May and the Tories when they made it part of their elections promises back in 2017.

We need the Tories out and Corbyn in government. Now. And for at least some of the industrial democracy workers have demanded since the Victorian age.

The Success of Workers’ Industrial Management in the Spanish Civil War

December 27, 2018

I found this passage about how the anarchist workers in Catalonia were able to manage their firms and industries successfully during the Spanish Civil War in David Miller’s Anarchism (London: J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd, 1984).

The problems of collectivization in the cities were in many respects greater than those encountered in the countryside. Collectivization followed one of two paths, depending on whether the previous owner of the factory or workshop in question stayed put or fled. If he stayed, the C.N.T. encouraged him to continue with his management functions, while installing a ‘control committee’ of its own members to supervise the general running of the enterprise. If he left, the union quickly developed its own management structure, promoting technicians and skilled workers in positions of responsibility. These measures appear to have struck a sensible balance between industrial democracy and the requirements of efficient production, and eye-witness accounts (such as Borkenau’s) testify to their success. After visiting the workshops of the Barcelona b8us company, he wrote that, ‘It is an extraordinary achievement for a group of workers to take over a factory, under however favourable conditions, and within a few days to make it run with complete regularity. It bears brilliant witness to the general standard of efficiency of the Catalan worker and to the organizing capacities of the Barcelona trade unions. For one must not forget that this firm has lost its whole managing staff. In addition, whole branches of industry were reorganized. Contrary to what one might have expected, this took the form of combining small workshops and businesses into larger establishments. For instance in Barcelona the number of plants in the tanning industry was reduced from seventy-one to forty, and in glass-making from one hundred to thirty; over nine hundred barber’s shops and beauty parlours were consolidated into some two hundred large shops.

Barcelona was the main scene of urban collectivization, though a number of other cities (such as Alcoy) also witnessed developments of a similar kind. In the Catalonian capital it embraced all forms of transport, the major utilities, the telephone service, the textile and metal industries, much of the food industry, and many thousands of smaller enterprises. Orwell has left us a memorable picture of life in a city ;where the working class was in the saddle’. As a demonstration of the creative capacities of that class, it is surely impressive. (pp. 164-5).

However, Miller goes on to say that it was less successful as a vindication of anarcho-communist theory, because of the problems of coordinating the various stages of the process of production and the collapse of the banking industry, with the result many firms were unable to obtain the raw materials they needed and had to work part time. The other problem was the difference in wealth between the workers taking over the factories and workshops. Some were comparatively well off, while others were in serious debt, and this disparity continued after collectivization.

The Russian experiment in workers’ control after the October Revolution collapsed because the workers’ didn’t have the skills and education to manage industry. It was also crushed by the rapidly increasing grip and monolithic control of the Bolshevik party and bureaucracy, so that the Left Communists, who still advocated it, were crushed for supporting ‘anarcho-syndicalist deviation’. However, the Yugoslavian communist made workers’ control part of their ‘self-management’ system. In Argentina after the last recession earlier in this century, many of the failing firms were handed over to the workers to run by their management, and they were largely successful in turning the fortunes of these companies around as Naomi Wolf observed in one of her videos. They’ve since been handed back to their former management after the economy recovered. However, the Mondragon cooperatives founded in the Basque region of Spain are a continuing success.

As the defenders of capital and the rights of owners and management, the Tories will do everything to discredit organized labour. One of their favourite weapons against the trade unions has been making sure that the public remembers the 1970s as a period of strikes and industrial disruption, and constantly playing up the ‘Winter of Discontent’ in 1979. The results of this has been that worker’s rights have been continually eroded as the power of the unions has been curtailed. Millions of people are now trapped in insecure jobs in the gig economy, with no set hours of work or rights to sick pay, holidays, maternity leave and so on. This should be ended now.

I’m not advocating anything as radical as the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of an anarchist utopia. But the example of the Catalan experiment in workers’ control shows that worker managers can conduct industry responsibly, efficiently and with proper care for their workers. There should thus be absolutely no objection to putting employees on the boards of the companies they work for.

Lenin on Worker’s Industrial Management, Government and the Withering Away of the State

December 24, 2018

One of the central tenets of Marxism is that the period of socialism ushered in by the seizure of power by the workers will eventually lead to the withering away the state and begin the transition to the period of true Communism. This will be the ideal, final phase of society when the government of people will be replaced by the administration of things.

Lenin seems to have believed that the transition to this ideal society would begin after everything had been nationalized and placed in the hands of the workers. The workers would then be able to manage the economy and society through the way capitalism had simplified the management of industry so that it could be performed by the workers themselves. This is explained in a passage from his The State and Revolution, reproduced in Lane W. Lancaster, Masters of Political Thought, Vol. 3: Hegel to Dewey (London: George Harrap & Co. Ltd 1959), pp.193-4.

Accounting and control – these are the chief things necessary for the organizing and correct functioning of the first phase of Communist society. All citizens are here transformed into hired employees of the State, which is made up of the armed workers. All citizens become employees and workers of one national state ‘syndicate’. All that is required is that they should work equally, should regularly doe their share of work, and should received equal pay. The accounting and control necessary for this have been simplified by capitalism to the utmost, till they have become the extraordinarily simple operations of watching, recording and issuing receipts, within the reach of anyone who can read and write and knows the first four rules of arithmetic.

When the majority of the people begin everywhere to keep such accounts and maintain such control over the capitalists (now converted into employees) and over the intellectual gentry, who still retain capitalist habits, this control will really become universal, general, national; and there will be no way of getting away from it, there will be ‘nowhere to go’.

The whole of society will have become one office and one factory, with equal and equal pay.

But this ‘factory’ discipline, which the proletariat will extend to the whole of society after the defeat of the capitalists and the overthrow of the exploiters, is by no means our ideal, or our final aim. It is but a foothold necessary for the radical cleansing of society of all the hideousness and foulness of capitalist exploitation, in order to advance further.

From the moment when all members of society, ore even the overwhelming majority, have learned how to govern the State themselves, have taken this business into their own hands, have established control over the insignificant minority of capitalists, over the gentry with capitalist leanings, and the workers thoroughly demoralized by capitalism-from this moment the need for any government begins to disappear. The more complete the democracy, the nearer the moment when it begins to be unnecessary. The more democratic the ‘State’ consisting of armed workers, which is no longer a State in the proper sense of the term, the more rapidly does every State begin to wither away.

for when all have learned to manage, and independently are actually managing by themselves social production, keeping accounts, controlling the idlers, the gentlefolk, the swindlers and similar ‘guardians of capitalist traditions’, then the escape from this national accounting and control will inevitable become so increasingly difficult, such a rare exception, and will probably be accompanied by such swift and severe punishment (for the armed workers are men of practical life, not sentimental intellectuals, and they will scarcely allow anyone to trifle with them), that very soon the necessity of observing the simple fundamental rules of every day social life in common will have become a habit.

The door will then be open for the transition from the first phase of Communist society to its highest phase, and along with it to the complete withering away of the state.

Lenin’s ideas here about industrial management and the withering away of the state are utopian, despite his denials elsewhere in his book. Lancaster in his comments on the passage points out that industrial management required to feed, clothe and house a society is far more complex than simply ‘watching, recording and issuing receipts’. Lenin in fact did try to put workers’ control into practice, with the result that industry and the economy almost collapsed completely. The capitalists and managers, who had been thrown out of the factories and industries in wheelbarrows by the workers, were invited back in afterwards, and restored to their former power. At the same, Alexandra Kollontai and the Left Communists, who wanted the workers to run the factories through trade unions, were gradually but ruthlessly suppressed as Lenin centralized political decision making.

Lancaster also points out that the administration of things nevertheless means government, and that it is very hard to convince a man, who has just been refused permission to open a new bus route or produce as many shoes as he can, that he is not being governed. Lancaster also argues that practice in both the democratic west and the USSR shows that a truly ‘stateless’ society impossible. He also states that the reduction of society to one enormous factory or office will repulse the normal mind, as it resembles a colony of insects, and that the similar routinization of the fundamental rules of normal social life into a habit destroys the autonomous individual and reduces them to a machine. He could also have mentioned, but doesn’t, the very sinister implications of ‘armed workers’ and the use of military force. The USSR was created by violent revolution, and maintained itself through force. Those attempting to set up their own businesses were arrested for ‘economic sabotage’ and sent to the gulags, where they were treated worse than ordinary criminals.

However, workers are capable of participating in government. One of the points Anthony Crossland made in one of his books was that the American unions had a large measure of industrial democracy, all though it was never called that. He was arguing against worker’s control, considering it unnecessary where there were strong unions, a progressive income tax and the possibility of social advancement. The unions have since been all but smashed and social mobility has vanished. And under Thatcherite tax reforms, income tax has become less progressive as the rich are given massive tax cuts, while the tax burden has been shifted on to working people. But the point remains: workers are capable of becoming managers. It was demonstrated by the anarcho-syndicalists in Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War. And Red Ken, when he was once asked by a journo why he supported worker’s management, said that it came from his experience as had of the GLC. Livingstone was now the head of a vast local government system, but there was nothing special about him. So, he believed, could ordinary people run a business. I think Leninspart was probably too modest, and he possessed managerial talents others don’t have, but the point’s a good one.

If the ability to make managerial and governmental decisions were broadened, so that they included employees and members of the public, this would empower both groups. It would make the domination of the rich 1% more difficult, and lead to a more equal, less class-ridden society. A truly classless, stateless society is probably impossible, as the example of the USSR shows. But introducing a measure of workers’ control is surely worthwhile in order to make things just that bit better.

Of course, to do so properly might mean giving working people management training. Well, Thatcher tried to turn British schoolchildren into a new generation of capitalists by making business studies part of the curriculum. She stressed competition and private enterprise. But it would turn her ideas on its head if such education instead turned workers not into aspiring businesspeople, but gave them the ability to manage industry as well as the elite above them.

That really would be capitalist contradiction Marx would have enjoyed.

Adolf Hitler on Industry and Nationalisation

December 21, 2018

I’ve put up several articles making the point that the Nazis weren’t socialists, and that the promoted monopoly capitalism. However, Hitler did not want civil servants or Nazi apparatchiks to have interests in business because of the dangers of corruption. His example was the Danube Shipping Company, a private German firm which massively profited by having sitting members of the Weimar government on its board, who then awarded the company very large subsidies.

Some of Hitler’s views on the question of private industry versus nationalization can be found in his after dinner conversations, recorded by Martin Bormann, Hitler’s Table Talk (Oxford: OUP 1988). Hitler said

I absolutely insist on protecting private property.
It is natural and salutary that the individual should be inspired by the wish to devote a part of the income from his work to building up and expanding a family estate. Suppose the estate consists of a factory. I regard it as axiomatic, in the ordinary way, that this factory will be better run by one of the members of the family than it would be by a State functionary-providing, of course, that the family remains healthy. In this sense, we must encourage private initiative.

On the other hand, I’m distinctly opposed to property in the form of anonymous participation in societies of shareholders. This sort of shareholder produces no other effort but that of investing his money, and thus he becomes the chief beneficiary of other people’s effort: the workers’ zest for their job, the ideas of an engineer of genius, the skill of an experienced administrator. It’s enough for this capitalist to entrust his money to a few well-run firms, and he’s betting on a certainty. The dividends he draws are so high that they can compensate for any loss that one of these firms might perhaps cause him. I have therefore always been opposed to incomes that are purely speculative and entail no effort on the part of those who live on them.

Such gains belong by right to the nation, which alone can draw a legitimate profit from them. In this way, at least, those who create these profits – the engineers and the workers – are entitled to be the beneficiaries. In my view, joint-stock companies should pass in their entirety under the control of the State. There’s nothing to prevent the latter from replacing these shares that bring in a variable interest by debentures which it guarantees and which produce a fixed interest, in a manner useful to private people who wish to invest their savings. I see no better method of suppressing the immoral form of income, based only on speculation, of which England to-day provides the most perfect example. (pp. 362-3).

He also believed that the power industry should be nationalized in some way.

It’s obvious that the power monopoly must be vested in the State. That does not exclude the participation of private capital. The State would offer all its securities for investment by the public, which would thus be interested in the exploitation of the monopoly, or, rather, in the favourable progress of State business. The fact is that, when State affairs are not prospering, the holders of certificates can put a cross through their unearned incomes-for the various affairs in which the State is interested cannot be dissociated. The advantage of our formula would be to enable everyone to feel closely linked with State affairs. To-day, unfortunately, most people are not clear-sighted enough to realise the closeness of this link.

What is true of the power industry is equally true of all the essential primary materials – that is to say, it applies also to petroleum, coal, steel and water-power. Capitalist interests will have to be excluded from this sort of business. We do not, of course, contemplate preventing a private person from using the energy of the tiny stream that powers his small works.

In fact, Hitler was resolutely against profit-sharing and anything remotely like worker’s control in industry. He despised socialism, which he reviled as ‘Marxism’ and the trade unions. They were banned, and their members sent to the concentration camps. In their place was the Labour Front and its councils of trustees in factories, which were there to mediate between the workers and management, and to enforce the authority of the latter.

But Hitler is absolutely right about the problems of joint-stock firms. The Korean economist, Ha-Joon Chang, in his book 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, states that one of the problems with shareholder capitalism is that if the firm appears to be in trouble, the shareholders withdraw their money to invest in a better prospect somewhere else. This exacerbates the firm’s troubles. Those enterprises, which are either wholly or partly nationalized, or which have a degree of worker’s control, tend to be much more resilient as the state and the workforce have a greater interest in maintaining it as a ongoing concern.

As for the nationalization of the power and related industries, that was so obviously needed in Britain that when the Labour party nationalized the electricity and coal industries in late forties there was little opposition from the Tories and the Liberals.

Now Hitler’s own ideas on nationalization are very peculiar. He seems to wish to retain some aspects of capitalism after nationalization by allowing people to buy bonds in them. Or something like that. But when Margaret Thatcher was busy privatizing the utilities and everything else she was able to get her grubby mitts on, one of the leaders of the Labour party at the time also suggested that the party should instead look at schemes of issuing bonds in nationalized industries. This would also combine the perceived advantages of privatization with those of nationalization.

This scheme was suggested at the time when Maggie’s privatization programme was popular, or pretended to be. Her aim was to spread corporate ownership far beyond its traditional narrow base in the middle class, hence her reforms of the stockbroking industry. Britain was to become a capitalist nation of small investors.

This dream came to an end over a decade ago. By the early years of this century the Financial Times reported that the ordinary people at whom Thatcher had aimed her share-ownership scheme, had sold theirs and that all, or almost all of them, were once more back in the hands of major investors. In other words, the traditional, property-owning middle class.

Hitler was a monstrous tyrant, whose party plunged Europe into a war which killed forty millions, and who murdered 6 million Jews and 5 1/2 million non-Jews in the hell of the concentration camps. And it shows how far wrong Thatcherite orthodox economic theory is when even he talks sense about some subjects.

Privatisation has failed. It has failed to provide the investment needed to maintain and expand the utilities and other industries, and instead any profit these firms make now go out of the country to their foreign owners. It’s about time this was ended, and the firms renationalized, with their workers given seats on the board and a role in management.

The Operation of Worker-Owned Companies in Martian SF

December 9, 2018

A week or so ago I put up a few passages from Kim Stanley Robinson’s Blue Mars (London: HarperCollins 1996), a science fiction book about the colonization and terraformation of the Red Planet. In Robinson’s book, on breaking away from terrestrial domination the Martians establish a constitution which makes all the companies not owned by the global Martian state or its constituent cities worker-owned cooperatives, partly modelled on the Mondragon cooperatives in Spain. On page 301 Robinson describes how Nadia, the new Martian president in the capital, Sheffield, works to transform the planet’s industries, including those formerly owned by terrestrial metanats – vast multinationals that now dominate the industries of whole countries – into the new system. Robinson writes

Nadia, however, never made it to this conference. She got caught up by affairs in Sheffield instead, mostly instituting the new economic system, which she thought important enough to keep her there. The legislature was passing the law of eco-economics, fleshing out the bones drawn up in the constitution. They directed co-ops that had existed before the revolution to help the newly independent metanat local subsidiaries to transform themselves into similar co-operative organisations. This process, called horizontalization, had very wide support, especially from the young natives, and so it was proceeding fairly smoothly. Every Martian business now had to be owned by its employees only. No co-op could exceed one thousand people; larger enterprises had to be made of co-op associations, working together. For their internal structures most of the firms chose variants of the Bogdanovist models, which themselves were based on the co-operative Basque community of Mondragon, Spain. In these firms all employees were co-owners, and they bought into their positions by paying the equivalent of about a year’s wages to the firms equity fund. This became the starter of their share in the firm, which grew every year they stayed, until it was given back to them as pension or departure payment. Councils elected from the work-force hired management, usually from outside, and this management then had the power to make executive decisions, but was subject to a yearly review by the councils. Credit and capital were obtained from central co-operative banks, or the global government’s start-up fund, or helper organisations such as Praxis and the Swiss. On the next level up, co-ops in the same industries or services wer associating for larger projects, and also sending representatives to industry guilds, which established professional practice boards, arbitration and mediation centres, and trade associations.

I can’t say I’m happy about the idea of worker managers buying their share of management with the equivalent of a year’s pay. This seems far too easy for someone to exploit to me. And I’m also not sure how practical it would be to turn all companies into co-operatives. However, we do need industrial democracy, if only to overturn the massive exploitation of working people that has gone on under Thatcherism. Under the current Thatcherite orthodoxy, wages are frozen, jobs insecure and the welfare system undermined and destroyed. A quarter of a million people have been forced to use foodbanks to save themselves from starvation, and 330,000-odd people are homeless. And the number of people dying on our streets, and the elderly in their homes due to Tory cuts in the cold weather payments, has shot up. And this has all been to give the rich tax cuts and provide employers with a cheap, cowed workforce.

Enough’s enough. We need a proper government with a proper vision that treats working people decently, with proper wages and rights at work, invigorates trade unions, restores a strong and health welfare state, builds properly affordable homes and reverses the privatization of the NHS. Only Corbyn’s Labour promises all that. And part of this promise is to put workers on the boards of all firms with over a certain number of employees.

Corbyn is the person we need to have in No.10. Not Tweezer and her gang of crooks and profiteers. Get them out, and Labour in.

Fascism Based on the Values of Business and the Military

November 20, 2018

On Saturday I put up a number of extracts from Robert A. Brady’s The Spirit and Structure of German Fascism (London: Victor Gollancz 1937) to show that, contrary to what the Republicans in America and the Tories in this country would have us believe Nazism was firmly capitalist, not socialist. Brady argued that Nazism was, economically, monopoly capitalism with businessmen put in charge of the economy, very much like the corporatist capitalism introduced by the Tories, the Republicans and Blair’s New Labour.

Brady also argued that the autocratic social structure of Fascism was based very much on the hierarchical structure of business and the armed forces, including the businessmen’s contempt for the low paid. He wrote

With respect first to the condition, it has been pointed out in the first chapter of this study, and illustrated in subsequent chapters, that the German business community did not depart one iota from tried and true “business principles” when they underwrote the Nazi programme. Every business practices towards its own staff the “leader” and the “authority” principles, and it undeviatingly aspires towards the “total” principle. That is to say, all officers and staff members are appointed and removed from on top entirely at the discretion of management (leader principle), and authority is from the top down, responsibility from the bottom up (authority principle). And every employer attempts to control so far as humanly possible the attitudes, beliefs, and points of view (weltanschauung) of his employees and every section of the public with which he comes in contact (total principle).

Every business establishment is, in other words, completely autocratic and completely undemocratic in structure, ideology, and procedure. It is, by the same token, completely intolerant of all opposition within or without, or of any criticism which does not redound to the advantage of the profit-making possibilities of the enterprise. The enterprise may be compelled, it is true, to make important concessions on all points, but it should not be forgotten that these are concessions, not departures from principle.

Furthermore, every employer regards the gradation of pay and authority amongst the staff over which he presides as being essentially just and sound, because each indicates the relative ability he or she possesses by the position occupied. The criteria are not productive, but acquisitive. Each is paid according to his ability to acquire or “get ahead”, not according to his contribution to output. If the two – contribution to output and contribution to acquisition – happen to go together, well and good. If they do not, it matters little, since their juxtaposition is a matter of accident, not of interdependence.

The condition of society in which the business men would rule would be that one which is natural to them. It would, as a matter of course, be centralized, autocratic, and intolerant, and it would be so constructed that each would get exactly what he deserves for the simple reason that according to the rules he deserves whatever he can get. It is the well accepted business view that most, if not all of the unemployed are shiftless, worthless, irresponsible, and undisciplined. it is taken as axiomatic that the lowest wage-earner receives all that “is coming to him,” since if he could get more by any means which does not disturb business routine it is obvious that he would. His failure is the measure of his incompetence, and with that all has been said about it that may be mentioned by gentlemen of good breeding and respectable station!

This condition is one that would normally appeal to the conventional army officer. The military is the only other completely undemocratic, completely autocratic, and completely intolerant – completely “leader”, “authoritarian”, and “totalitarian” – organization in modern society. Provided due allowance is made for recognition of the military hierarchies of “authority” and “duty” in the fascist state, it can be fitted into the pattern of the businessman’s ultima thule without a single tonal jar. The moods, attitudes, points of view, values, and appraisals of human worth are fundamentally the same.

It is for this reason that it seems so easy for the military and business hierarchies to get together as they have in Italy, Germany, Portugal, Hungary, and many other places. But the significance of this natural alliance is that the military holds the key to political power. Once the alliance takes place, fascism is here unless the elements arrayed against it-as in Spain-possess superior force. It does not follow that the army rank and file will follow their officers any more than it does that labourers will follow their employers. But, if they do, fascism is practically certain to gain the ascendancy. (pp. 335-7).

The shared values of business, the military and Fascism helps explain why the British stock exchange applauded at the news of the Fascist revolt in Spain, at least according to Orwell, and why sections of Conservative party have always overlapped with the Fascist fringe, such as the National Front and the BNP. And why the Libertarians, like the Freedom Association, formerly the National Association for Freedom, or NAAF – make your own jokes up – backed murderous Fascist regimes in South and Central America. Of course, Milton Friedman, the founder of Monetarism, Thatcher’s favourite economic theory, and the Chicago School supported right-wing dictators like General Pinochet because they reasoned that it would only be through a Fascist coup that their programme of completely destroying the welfare state and state economic interference could be implemented.

And it exactly explains the Conservative and New Labour hatred of low wage workers and the unemployed, and why Thatcher was so keen on supporting the police and military against strikers. And it’s also a very strong argument for introducing some measure of industrial democracy – workers’ control – in order to make this country truly democratic.

And this is quite apart from the imperialism that is at the heart of Fascism – the wars fought for the benefit of American and western multinationals, from the coups in Latin America to the latest, so-called humanitarian interventions in the Middle East.

We desperately need a programme like Corbyn’s, which offers both industrial democracy, and a better deal for the unemployed and those in work in Britain and an end to wars abroad. Because without it, as we’ve seen, is the road to real Fascism, as shown in the militantly racist and anti-Semitic parties gaining strength in Europe.

The Capitalist Nature of Nazism

November 17, 2018

Every now and then a Conservative defender of capitalism tries to argue that Nazism and Fascism were forms of Socialism. Jonah Goldberg tried it a few years ago in his book, Liberal Fascism, a Tory MP stood up in the European parliament a couple of weeks ago and made the same accusation, though he had to take it back and apologise. And Private Eye in recent weeks have also published a couple of letters from readers making the same claims.

Fascism did have Socialistic elements. Mussolini was originally a radical Socialist, who broke with the rest of the Italian Socialist movement in supporting Italy joining the First World War. The Fascist party was originally extremely left-wing in its programme of 1919. Its corporativism was not only based on the ideas of the right-wing Italian Nationalists, but also from part of the syndicalist movement, which moved away from demanding absolute workers’ control to advocating an industrial structure which included both capitalists and workers in a series of corporations set up to govern each industry, or sector of the economy. The Nazis also included socialist elements in their 1922 programme, such as the nationalization of firms and profit-sharing in industry, as well as the break-up of the department stores.

However, the Fascists and Nazis came to power through their alliance with business and the aristocracy. Both the Italian Fascists and Nazis in Germany were hostile to socialism, communism and workers’ trade unions. In Italy, they also allied with the Vatican to destroy the Populists, a party set up to represent Italian Roman Catholics against persecution by the Liberal state, which was distrusted by the Papacy because they considered it too radical. Once in power, the socialist elements of these parties’ programmes was soon jettisoned. Hitler declared that he had no intention of nationalizing businesses, unless they were badly run. He had the SA massacred in the Night of the Long Knives because this part of the Nazi party did take the socialist elements of party programme seriously. The word ‘socialist’ had only been included in the name of the Nazi party – the National Socialist German Workers’ Party – against bitter opposition by some of its founders. Hitler stated that he did so in order to steal potential recruits from the real left-wing parties. Furthermore, the Nationalist intellectuals who first advocated a right-wing ‘socialist’ order in the 1920s stated that they did not refer to the nationalization of industry, but to the socialization of people to serve the state. And just before the Nazi seizure of power, Hitler made a speech to German industry stating that Nazism would protect private industry.

Robert A. Brady, an associate professor of economics at the University of California, made the capitalist nature of the Nazi regime very clear in his The Spirit and Structure of German Fascism (London: Victor Gollancz 1937). The book is a thorough description of German society under the Nazis – its ideology, social structure, the coordination of science, industry and agriculture, the instruments of power and the various party organisations used to recruit and control the masses. Brady states

The regime which the Nazis proceeded to establish is fairly described, by the very nature of the major interest which sponsored it, as a dictatorship of monopoly capitalism. Its “fascism” is that of business enterprise organized on a monopoly basis, and in full command of all the military, police, legal and propaganda power of the state. (p. 33, emphasis in the original). He lays out the essential capitalist nature of the Nazi state as follows on pages 41-2.

1. Productive Property and natural resources are to be privately owned; freedom of contract is guaranteed (excepting to “aliens” and the peasants under the Inheritance laws).
2. Individual initiative, the business entrepreneur, conduct of business for profit (“reward for services performed”), and ownership (individual or stockholder) control are basic.
3. Business men are to be free, if “responsible” (“self-government in business”), to fix by agreement prices, production totals and quotas, marketing areas, and the conditions and terms of purchase and sale.
4. Stock and commodity exchanges, commission houses, brokers, and speculative transactions are inevitable and necessary for the conduct of “organic business.” (Business as usual.)
5. Heavy industries, particularly those catering to the military and foreign trade, are encouraged; large-scale units, unless “uneconomical” are to be kept intact; co-operatives are to be broken up.
6. The social class structure of society is sanctified, strengthened, made semi-hereditary, and hardened into caste lines
(Standestaat, class state); the “Middle Class” are the Myrmidons of the Elite (Fuhrerstaat, leader state) and, as such, the backbone of the state.
7. Employers have practically complete control over workmen in regard to wages, hours, and working conditions. They must “take care” of their workmen-i.e. see that they are fed and do not grumble.
8. Collective bargaining is completely abolished; strikes are illegal; trade unions are forbidden; requests for wage increases are
lese majeste.
9. Control is completely from on top; there is and can be no such thing as control or discussion of policies from below; the “leaders” decide all things as they see fit; each holds appointed office for indefinite periods at the will of his superior.
10. The National Socialist Party and the German State are one and inseparable, as spirit and body. Legislative, executive, and judicial authorities are fused together. The central government controls all local government and all activities in all their details.
11. Civil and military are fused together; as in the military there can be no freedom of speech, of assembly, of writing, of acting, of “thoughts.” “Anyone may grumble or criticize the government who is not afraid to go to a concentration camp.” (Goebbels).
12. Germany must be made self-sufficient at all costs.
13. Non-Germans cannot be citizens; as a corollary, all Germans residing outside Germany either belong or owe allegiance to the Third Reich.
14 Communism (Bolshevism, Marxism) is the major enemy. There can be no such thing as equality of rights, opportunities, or income for classes, races, or sexes. The “broad masses” are fools and must be duped and led to meet the purposes of the elite
(Herrenstaat). Class war is the major crime; material rewards for the rank and file sheer folly.
15. All sciences and “culture” must be co-ordinated and made to serve the purposes of the “leader,” “total,” “corporate” “master”
(Herren)state. propaganda is the method. Propaganda knows neither right nor wrong, neither truth nor falsehood, but only what it wants.

In fact, business autonomy was severely limited by the imposition of the apparatus of state planning as Nazi Germany became a centrally planned economy similar to the Soviet Union, though in the case of Germany and Fascist Italy the economy was still very definitely capitalist private industry. Brady also goes on to discuss in his book how the Nazis celebrated and lauded the businessman as biologically superior through their social Darwinist ideology, and made sure that the leaders of industry, whether state-owned or private, were all drawn from the private sector.

Nazi rhetoric was anti-capitalist, but by this they meant free trade, which they identified with the Jews, just as they claimed the Jews were behind Socialism, Communism, the trade unions and other left-wing movements. They also borrowed some elements from Communism. Fellow Germans were ‘national comrades’, rather like the Marxist use of the term ‘comrade’ to describe a fellow Communist.

However, it is clear from this that Nazism was deeply Conservative and capitalist in its economic and social policies, and bitterly anti-socialist. It had socialist elements, but they were not taken seriously and only ever used as propaganda against the genuinely socialist parties and organisations. Any description of the Nazis as really socialist is utterly false and a lie, a rhetorical attempt to discredit contemporary socialism through guilt by association, and must be seen as such.

An Argument for Industrial Democracy from the Mars of SF

November 5, 2018

I’m currently reading Blue Mars, the last of a trilogy of books about the future colonization of the Red Planet by Kim Stanley Robinson. Written in the 1990s, this book and the other two in the series, Red Mars and Green Mars, chronicle the history of humans on Mars from the landing of the First 100 c. 2020, through full-scale colonization and the development of Martian society to the new Martians’ struggle for independence from Earth. In this future, Earth is run by the metanats, a contraction of ‘metanational’. These are the ultimate development of multinational corporations, firms so powerful that they dominate and control whole nations, and are the real power behind the United Nations, which in theory rules Mars.

As the Martians fight off Terran rule, they also fight among themselves. The two main factions are the Reds and the Greens. The Reds are those, who wish to preserve Mars in as close to its pristine, un-terraformed condition as possible. The Greens are those on the other side, who wish to terraform and bring life to the planet. The Martians are also faced with the question about what type of society and economy they wish to create themselves. This question is a part of the other books in the series. One of the characters, Arkady Bogdanov, a Russian radical, is named after a real Russian revolutionary. As it develops, the economy of the free Martians is partly based on gift exchange, rather like the economies of some indigenous societies on Earth. And at a meeting held in the underground chamber of one of the Martian societies – there are a variety of different cultures and societies, reflecting the culture of various ethnic immigrant to Mars and the political orientation of different factions – the free Martians in the second book draw up their tentative plans for the new society they want to create. This includes the socialization of industry.

Near the beginning of Blue Mars, the Martians have chased the Terran forces off the planet, but they remain in control of the asteroid Clarke, the terminus for the space elevator allowing easier space transport between Earth and Mars. The Martians themselves are dangerously divided, and so to begin the unification of their forces against possible invasion, they hold a constitutional congress. In one of the numerous discussions and meetings, the issue of the socialization of industry is revisited. One member, Antar, is firmly against government interference in the economy. He is opposed by Vlad Taneev, a biologist and economist, who argues not just for socialization but for worker’s control.

‘Do you believe in democracy and self-rule as the fundamental values that government ought to encourage?’
‘Yes!’ Antar repeated, looking more and more annoyed.
‘Very well. If democracy and self-rule are the fundamentals, then why should people give up these rights when they enter their work place? In politics we fight like tigers for freedom of movement, choice of residence, choice of what work to pursue – control of our lives, in short. And then we wake up in the morning and go to work, and all those rights disappear. We no longer insist on them. And so for most of the day we return to feudalism. That is what capitalism is – a version of feudalism in which capital replaces land, and business leaders replace kings. But the hierarchy remains. And so we still hand over our lives’ labour, under duress, to fee rulers who do no real work.’
‘Business leaders work,’ Antar said sharply. ‘And they take the financial risks-‘
‘The so-called risk of the capitalist is merely one of the
privileges of capital.’
‘Management -‘
‘Yes, yes. Don’t interrupt me. Management is a real thing, a technical matter. But it can be controlled by labour just as well by capital. Capital itself is simply the useful residue of the work of past labourers, and it could belong to everyone as well as to a few. There is no reason why a tiny nobility should own the capital, and everyone else therefore be in service to them. There is no reason they should give us a living wage and take all the rest that we produce. No! The system called capitalist democracy was not really democratic at all. That’s why it was able to turn so quickly into the metanational system, in which democracy grew ever weaker and capitalism every stronger. In which one per cent of the population owned half of the wealth, and five per cent of the population owned ninety-five per cent of the wealth. History has shown which values were real in that system. And the sad thing is that the injustice and suffering caused by it were not at all necessary, in that the technical means have existed since the eighteenth century to provide the basics of life to all.
‘So. We must change. It is time. If self-rule is a fundamental value. If simple justice is a value, then they are values everywhere, including in the work place where we spend so much of our lives. That was what was said in point four of the Dorsa Brevia agreement. It says everyone’s work is their own, and the worth of it cannot be taken away. It says that the various modes of production belong to those who created them, and to the common good of the future generations. It says that the world is something we steward together. That is what it says. And in our years on Mars, we have developed an economic system that can keep all those promises. That has been our work these last fifty years. In the system we have developed, all economic enterprises are to be small co-operatives, owned by their workers and by no one else. They hire their management, or manage themselves. Industry guilds and co-op associations will form the larger structures necessary to regulate trade and the market, share capital, and create credit.’
Antar said scornfully, ‘These are nothing but ideas. It is utopianism and nothing more.’
‘Not at all.’ Again Vlad waved him away. ‘The system is based on models from Terran history, and its various parts have all been tested on both worlds, and have succeeded very well. You don’t know about this partly because you are ignorant, and partly because metanationalism itself steadfastly ignored and denied all alternatives to it. But most of our micro-economy has been in successful operation for centuries in the Mondragon region of Spain. the different parts of the macro-economy have been used in the pseudo-metanat Praxis, in Switzerland, in India’s state of Kerala, in Bhutan, in Bologna, Italy, and in many other places, including the Martian underground itself. These organization were the precursors to our economy, which will be democratic in a way capitalism never even tried to be.
(pp. 146-8).

It’s refreshing to see a Science Fiction character advocate a left-wing economics. Many SF writers, like Robert A. Heinlein, were right-wing. Heinlein’s The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, about a rebellion on the Moon, contains several discussion in which Heinlein talks about TANSTAAFL – his acronym for There Ain’t No Such Thing As a Free Lunch.

Praxis is the fictional metanational corporation, which supplies aid to the colonists against the rest of the terrestrial super-corporations. I don’t know about the references to Switzerland, Kerala, Bhutan or Bologna, but the Mondragon co-operatives in Spain certainly exist, and are a significant part of the country’s economy. They were set up by a Spanish priest during Franco’s dictatorship, but managed to escape being closed down as he didn’t recognize such enterprises as socialist.

I don’t know how practical it would be to make all businesses co-operatives, as there are problems of scale. Roughly, the bigger an enterprise is, the more difficult proper industrial democracy becomes. But co-operatives can take over and transform ailing firms, as was shown in Argentina during the last depression there a few years ago, when many factories that were about to be closed were handed over to their workers instead. They managed to turn many of them around so that they started making a profit once again. Since then, most of them have been handed back to their management, however.

But the arguments the Vlad character makes about democracy being a fundamental value that needs to be incorporated into industry is one of that the advocates of industrial democracy and workers’ control, like the Guild Socialists, made. And we do need to give workers far more power in the work place. Jeremy Corbyn has promised this with his pledge to restore workers’ and union rights, and make a third of the directors on corporate boards over a certain size elected by the workers.

If Corbyn’s plans for industrial democracy in Britain become a reality, perhaps Britain really will have a proper economic system for the 21st century, rather than the Tories and Libertarians trying to drag us back to the unfettered capitalism of the 19th.

Tories’ Comments about Universal Credit and Self-Employed Show They Don’t Care About Small Businesses

March 2, 2018

Mike this evening put up a post about how the Tories are trying to justify the removal of benefits to the self-employed under Universal Credits by claiming that it ‘incentivises’ them. Mike makes the point that it clearly shows the cruelty behind the Tories’ policies. They’re all about cuts and making things harder, not about rewards. It’s always, but always the stick, not the carrot.

I’d have thought that to be self-employed, you have to be very well self-motivated anyway. I’ve heard from my father amongst others that to run your own business, you have to get up early and go to bed late. And about half of all small businesses fold within the first two years.

The self-employed and small businessman have it bad enough already, without the Tories making worse. And I think they should seriously consider voting Labour.

Oh, I’ve met enough small businesspeople, who say that they won’t vote Labour, because of the old canard that ‘Labour wants to nationalise everything’. That hasn’t been true since the rise of the Social Democratic consensus in the Labour party. As articulated by Anthony Crossland, this said that you didn’t need nationalisation or worker’s control, provided there was social mobility, a progressive income tax and strong trade unions. All of which have been destroyed under the onslaught of Thatcherism.

But even before then, socialist thinkers like G.D.H. Cole were arguing that Labour should also seek to protect small businesses as part of their campaign to defend and advance the cause of the working class. Cole was one of the most prolific of Socialist writers, and was one of the leaders of Guild Socialism, the British version of Anarcho-Syndicalism. Even after that collapsed, after the failure of the General Strike, he still beleived that workers’ should have a share in the management of the companies in which they worked. So definitely not a sell out to capital, then.

I am also well aware that many small businessmen are resentful of workers gaining wage rises and further employment rights. They argue that they can’t give themselves pay rises, because of the economics of their businesses, before complaining about how much it would all cost them. Well, perhaps. But they can decide how much they charge, and what they intend to pay themselves. And they control their business, not the people below them. I’m sure it’s true that some white collar workers are better paid than the self-employed, but that’s no excuse for not paying your employees better wages.

But a wider point needs to be made here: the Tories don’t support Britain’s Arkwrights, the s-s-small businessmen, who were personified by the heroes of Open All Hours, as portrayed by Ronnie Barker and David Jason.

And yes, I know about all the rubbish about how Thatcher was a grocer’s daughter, who slept above the shop when she was a child. But Thatcher, and her successors, was solidly for the rich against the poor, and big business against the small trader. That’s why they’ve given immense tax cuts to the very rich, and put the tax burden on the poorer layers of society. It’s why, despite repeated scandals, they will never willingly pass legislation to force big businessmen to pay their smaller suppliers promptly and on time.

And it’s why they will always back the big supermarkets, no matter how exploitative and destructive they are. George Monbiot in his Captive State has chapters attacking them. Not only are they parasitical, in that they pay their workers rubbish wages, so that they need to draw benefits, benefits that the Tories really don’t want to pay, they also destroy the small shops in the areas they move into. And they screw their suppliers with highly exploitative contracts.

In an ideal world, the big supermarket chains would be nationalised or broken up as monopolies.

The small businessperson needs to be protected. They, not the big supermarkets, create employment and healthy, living communities. They should be protected, just like the working and lower middle classes, which includes them, should.

And the only party I see willing to do that is the Labour party. Remember when Ed Balls said that Labour ‘wanted to grow your businesses’ to the small traders about this country? It was sincere. I think it was wrong on its own, as it shows how Labour under Blair had abandoned the working class, and was concentrating on hoovering up middle class votes. But ‘Red’ Ed did have a point. It should’t be a case of either the working class, or small businesses, but both the working class and small businesspeople.

Because the small businessman too deserves protection from exploitation. Which they will never get from the likes of Thatcher, Dave Cameron and May.