Posts Tagged ‘Worker’s Councils’

The British Press’ Glowing Reviews of Second World War Pro-Nazi Book

February 10, 2018

Richard Griffiths, What Did You Do During the War? The Last Throes of the British pro-Nazi Right, 1940-45 (London: Routledge 2017).

I recently sent a review of the above book to the conspiracy/parapolitics website and magazine, Lobster. It’s been proofread and corrected, and hopefully will go up on the site before too long. The webmaster’s been very busy with work recently, hence the delay.

Richard Griffiths is an Emeritus Professor of King’s College London, and the author of several books on the British and European extreme Right. These include a biography of Marshal Petain (1970), the head of the collaborationist Vichy government during the Second World War, Fellow Travellers of the Right (1980), Patriotism Perverted (1998) and An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Fascism (2000).

The book is a study of how British Nazis and Nazi sympathisers reacted to the outbreak of the Second World War and internment. Some gave up their activities entirely, others carried on underground. A number also carried on as before. And some angrily denied that they had been Nazis, and blamed and attacked instead their former comrades. Another tactic was to infiltrate genuine, non-political pacifist groups, like the Peace Pledge Union, in order to influence British politics to avoid a war with Nazi Germany.

Oswald Mosley’s Lies about Not Collaborating

One chapter gives the British Fascist leader, Oswald Mosley, another well deserved kicking. Mosley claimed that when war was declared, he ordered his goose-stepping squadristi to cooperate with the authorities and obey their orders. This was in the text of a speech published in Action, the British Union of Fascists newsletter. In fact, Mosley advised only those members of squalid organisation, who were members of the armed forces, to obey orders and cooperate. In the original speech he made it clear that he expected the rest of the thugs to carry on their activities and pro-Nazi propaganda as normal. The speech was then carefully edited, published in Action to make it appear that Mosley had issued orders for comprehensive cooperation with the authorities. This was then taken up uncritically by his biographers.

This is another piece to add to the mountain of scholarship demolishing the sympathetic picture of Mosley created by Skidelsky’s biography in the 1970s. This was comprehensively refuted by Stephen Dorril in his biography of Mosley, Blackshirt, which came out a few years ago. Among other things, Dorril disproved Mosley’s claim that if the Nazis had invaded, he would never collaborate with them and serve in government ‘as another Quisling’, referring to the head of the puppet Norwegian government. In fact, he was quite prepared to do so.

Bryant’s Nazi Apologia, Unfinished Victory

But one of the most unsettling studies in the book is chapter 2, ‘The Reception of Bryant’s Unfinished Victory ‘, subtitled ‘The myth of public unanimity against Nazi Germany in early 1940’. Arthur Bryant was a writer of popular histories, such as English Saga (1940), The Years of Ednurance 1793-1802 (1942) and The Years of Victory 1802-1812 (1942). In the ’30s he had written academically respected biographies of Charles II and Samuel Pepys.

Bryant was a committed Conservative, and one of that party’s functionaries. In 1929 he became educational advisor to the Bonar Law Conservative College at Ashridge. His first book was The Spirit of Conservatism. Shortly after its publication he became editor of the college magazine, Asbbridge Journal. In 1937 he was made general editor of the National Book Association, the Tories’ answer to Gollancz’s Left Book Club. He was not only strongly in favour of appeasement, but also a supporter of Hitler and the Nazi regime. In 1934 he described Hitler as a mystic, who had enabled Germany ‘to find her soul’. From the late 30s he included in his columns in the Ashbridge Journal and The Illustrated News diatribes attacking what he saw as the libels and slanders put out by the ‘warmongers’ who were leading the country into conflict with the Nazis. In 1939 he was asked by Horace Wilson to write an article on the British point of view for the German press. This was never published, though it did form the basis for much of Unfinished Victory, and was approved by Chamberlain. In July 1939 he was unofficially authorised by Chamberlain to go to Germany to speak to a number of Nazi leaders, and Chamberlain later offered to pay his expenses from Secret Service funds.

The book’s introduction began by asserting that now we at war, Britain would fight with a unity of resolve and purpose. But it then qualified this with arguments for peace with the Nazi regime. And much of this was explicitly anti-Semitic, following Nazi propaganda. He described how Hitler’s seizure of power was greeted with joy by the German people as the new revolution.

He then went on to blame the Jews for the abortive Communist Revolution, claiming that it was led by the ‘Jew, Kurt Eisner’, and the Russian ambassador, the ‘Hebrew, Joffe’. Joffe had indeed been involved in promoting the Communist revolution, but Eisner was the leader of the workers’ soldiers and peasants’ council in Bavaria. I think he was a radical Socialist, rather than Communist, who believed that the Councils should form an addition to parliamentary government, not their replacement. It’s an attitude very different to Lenin’s idea of a bureaucratic state controlled by the Communist Party.

He then went on to accuse the Jews of exploiting the property market in the First World War, so that by 1939 after by five years of anti-Semitic legislation and persecution they still owned a third of real property in Germany. He stated that the Jews had exploited the 1929 Crash and the consequent inflation to make themselves increasingly dominant in politics, business and the learned professions. A quarter of the Social Democrat politicians in the Reichstag in 1924 were Jews, and they controlled the banks, the publishing industry, cinema and theatre, and a large part of the press ‘all the normal means in fact, by which public opinion in a civilised country was formed’.

He then claimed that there was a Jewish campaign to remove gentiles completely from politics and the privileged occupations. He wrote

Every year it became harder for a Gentile to gain or keep a foothold in any privileged occupation. At this time it was not the Aryans who exercised racial discrimination […]. By the third decade of the century it was the native Germans who were now confronted with a problem – that of rescuing their indigenous culture from an alien hand and restoring it to their own race.

Press Reaction Largely Positive

This is vile, murderous nonsense supporting a regime bent on persecuting the Jews to their deaths, even before the launch of Hitler’s infamous ‘Final Solution’. So how did the British press react to this nasty, mendacious piece of Nazi propaganda? In general, they loved it. The book received glowing praise from the Times Literary Supplement, the New English Weekly, the Fortnightly Review, the Church of England Newspaper, Peace Focus, and very many provincial newspapers, like the Sheffield Star, the Aberdeen Press and Journal, the East Anglian Daily Times, and the Cardiff newspaper, Western Mail.

There were critical reviews, however, in the Spectator, which was strongly anti-appeasement, the Jewish Chronical, the Manchester Guardian, New Statesman and other newspapers of that type. Two female critics of the Nazi regime submitted highly critical reviews in the journal Time and Tide. One of these was Emily Lorimer, the author of What Hitler Wants, who stated

“All the best and biggest Nazi lies are here, presented with a garnish of scholarship and erudition […] Please God, your clever book has come too late to take any readers in. “

Rebecca West writing in the same magazine declared that the book was
“a paean to Hitler so glowing, so infatuate, that it might be have been entitled ‘Kiss Me, Corporal’.”

The great historian, A.J.P. Taylor called the book and its author what they were in the Guardian in the very title of his review ‘A Nazi Apologist’ and made the point that much of the book was based on Hitler’s speeches. And Richard Crossman in the Staggers pointed to Bryant’s connection to the Conservatives and the appeasement camp.

Bryant himself started a series of correspondence defending himself with the Spectator and the Jewish Chronicle. His publishers at MacMillan, initially enthusiastic, became progressively cool towards it, trying to find reasons to refuse publication. Bryant was still promoting and defending his book as late as May 1940. What changed his attitude was the accession of Winston Churchill as PM, and the disappearance of pro-Nazi groups like Information and Policy. Later in the month Lovat Dickinson of MacMillan’s asked Hugh Trevor-Roper to inquire whether Bryant should be interned as a Fascist. Trevor-Roper advised against this on the grounds that views change with the times. And Bryant ended up writing pieces in the Ashridge Journal describing Hitler as ‘a terrible calamity’ and referring to the ‘terrible and evil things we are fighting’.

The Myth of British anti-Nazism and Concern for the Jews

One of the great myths about the Second World War was that it was fought to defend the Jews. In fact, as the Tory journalist and polemicist, Peter Hitchens points out, Britain entered the war to honour the defence treaties we had made with France and Poland. And the historian Martin Pugh has also said that Churchill’s reasons for promoting war with Germany were hardly altruistic. They were entirely geopolitical. Churchill was afraid that German domination of the North Sea and Baltic would threaten British naval supremacy. And although in private he described Mussolini as ‘a perfect swine’, he had made trips to Fascist Italy and was an admirer of General Franco. And a friend of mine pointed out that in none of Churchill’s speeches does he ever condemn Fascism. He attacks Nazism and the Axis, but says nothing about the wider political ideology to which they belonged.

Griffiths points out that the book’s enthusiastic reception by the majority of the British press shows that large numbers of the British population were indifferent to the sufferings of the Jews. He argues that the idea that the war was fought to destroy a brutal regime was a later war aim. Most Brits at the time believed that Nazi aggression had to be countered, but there was more interest in understanding Nazi Germany than condemning the internal structure of Hitler’s vile dictatorship.

He also argues that while there was little of the visceral anti-Jewish Hatred in Britain like that, which had propelled the Nazis to power, there was considerable ‘social anti-Semitism’ in popular culture. Jews were excluded from certain social groups, jokes based on anti-Semitic caricatures, such as their supposed greed for money, ignorance of British social conventions, as well as the suspicion in popular literature that they were the leaders of subversive groups, and were cowards and profiteers in war. Griffiths writes

Though, in contrast to rabid anti-Semitism social anti-Semitism may have appeared comparatively innocuous,, its depiction of the Jew as ‘other’ could lead to apathy and lack of concern when faced with examples of racial intolerance and persecution. On the one hand, as Dan Stone has pointed out, the British public could manifest a ‘casual anti-Semitism’ which fell into the trap of accepting the ‘reasons’ for the German dislike of the Jews. […] on the other hand, while Nazi measures could shock people of all views, may people found it possible to ignore the problem altogether, while speaking only of the matters, in relation to Germany, that they believed to be ‘important’.

The Importance of Maintaining Auschwitz and Educating People about the Holocaust

This attitude clearly changed after the War when the Allies investigated and condemned its monstrous crimes against humanity, prosecuting and hanging the Nazi leaders at the Nuremberg War Crimes trials. And an important part of this change was the revelations about the Holocaust. Which is why Holocaust Memorial Day, the preservation of Auschwitz as a museum and memorial to the innocents butchered there and the various Holocaust memorials and museum across the world are important. Its why the real Nazis, unlike Mike, are keen to minimise the Holocaust and deny it ever occurred.

Hypocrisy of British and Libels against Mike and the Left

But this also shows up the hypocrisy of the various papers, which last week published the gross libel against Mike, accusing him of being a Holocaust denier when he is certainly no such thing. Much has been published on the Net and elsewhere about the Daily Mail’s murky, pro-Nazi past, including how the father of editor Paul Dacre was a fanboy of Adolf. And the scum are still doing it. Mike has put up an article this morning about a vile piece in the Torygraph repeating the anti-Semitic tropes of the American Right about the Jewish financier and multi-millionaire, George Soros, accusing him of covertly funding anti-Brexit groups. This part of the American Right’s suspicion that Soros is responsible for all manner of anti-democratic, subversive political groups. It’s part of the anti-Semitic trope of the Jew as leader and instigator of subversion. Perhaps they’d like to go a bit further and claim that he’s also trying to enslave the White race and bring about its destruction through race mixing?

https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/02/10/anti-semitic-jewish-conspiracy-story-about-soros-confirms-the-businessmans-own-fears/

Soros against Zionists Because of Collaboration with Nazis in the Murder of Hungarian Jews

Of course, this is just more politically motivated smears. The Israel lobby also hates Soros, because, as Mike points out, he is bitterly critical of Israel’s persecution and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. Soros himself is of Hungarian descent, and he despises Zionism because of the way they sold out Hungarian Jews to the Nazis. Kasztner, the leader of the Zionists in Hungary, tried to make an agreement with the Nazi authorities to allow several thousand Jews to be deported to their deaths, so long as the Nazis spared some by sending them to Israel. it’s another example of the way Zionists would collaborate with real Nazis and murderous anti-Semites to promote their own cause, even if it meant the mass murder of Jewish men, women and children.

The Hypocrisy, Smears and Anti-Semitic Tropes of the Israel Lobby, the Blairites and the Lamestream Press

This shows just how selective and hypocritical the British press’ attitude to anti-Semitism is, as well as that of the groups promoting the smears – the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, the Jewish Labour Movement, the Tories and the Blairites in Labour. These smears are used exclusively to isolate and marginalise the Left as a political threat to the cosy neoliberal politics and support for the racist, persecutory regime in Israel. But when it serves their purpose, they will use the same anti-Semitic tropes against those Jews, who also threaten them.

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Workers’ Chamber Book: Chapter Breakdown

November 21, 2017

As I mentioned in my last post, a year or so ago I wrote a pamphlet, about 22,000 words long, arguing that as parliament was filled with the extremely rich, who passed legislation solely to benefit the wealthy like themselves and the owners and management of business, parliament should have an elected chamber occupied by working people, elected by working people. So far, and perhaps unsurprisingly, I haven’t found a publisher for it. I put up a brief overview of the book’s contents in my last post. And here’s a chapter by chapter breakdown, so you can see for yourselves what it’s about and some of the arguments involved.

For a Workers’ Parliamentary Chamber

This is an introduction, briefly outlining the purpose of the book, discussing the current domination of parliament by powerful corporate interests, and the working class movements that have attempted to replacement parliamentary democracy with governmental or administrative organs set up by the workers themselves to represent them.

Parliamentary Democracy and Its Drawbacks

This discusses the origins of modern, representative parliamentary democracy in the writings of John Locke, showing how it was tied up with property rights to the exclusion of working people and women. It also discusses the Marxist view of the state as in the instrument of class rule and the demands of working people for the vote. Marx, Engels, Ferdinand Lassalle and Karl Kautsky also supported democracy and free speech as a way of politicising and transferring power to the working class. It also shows how parliament is now dominated by big business. These have sent their company directors to parliament since the Second World War, and the number has massively expanded since the election of Margaret Thatcher. Universal suffrage on its own has not brought the working class to power.

Alternative Working Class Political Assemblies

This describes the alternative forms of government that working people and trade unionists have advocated to work for them in place of a parliamentary system that excludes them. This includes the Trades Parliament advocated by Owen’s Grand Consolidated Trade Union, the Chartists’ ‘Convention of the Industrious Classes’, the Russian soviets and their counterparts in Germany and Austria during the council revolution, the emergence and spread of Anarcho-Syndicalism, and its aims, as described by Rudolf Rocker.

Guild Socialism in Britain

This describes the spread of Syndicalist ideas in Britain, and the influence of American Syndicalist movements, such as the I.W.W. It then discusses the formation and political and social theories of Guild Socialism, put forward by Arthur Penty, S.G. Hobson and G.D.H. Cole. This was a British version of Syndicalism, which also included elements of state socialism and the co-operative movement. This chapter also discusses Cole’s critique of capitalist, representative democracy in his Guild Socialism Restated.

Saint-Simon, Fascism and the Corporative State

This traces the origins and development of these two systems of government. Saint-Simon was a French nobleman, who wished to replace the nascent French parliamentary system of the early 19th century with an assembly consisting of three chambers. These would be composed of leading scientists, artists and writers, and industrialists, who would cooperate to administer the state through economic planning and a programme of public works.

The Fascist Corporative State

This describes the development of the Fascist corporative state under Mussolini. This had its origins in the ideas of radical nationalist Syndicalists, such as Michele Bianchi, Livio Ciardi and Edmondo Rossoni, and the Nationalists under Alfredo Rocco. It was also influenced by Alceste De Ambris’ constitution for D’Annunzio’s short-lived regime in Fiume. It traces the process by which the Fascists established the new system, in which the parliamentary state was gradually replaced by government by the corporations, industrial organisations which included both the Fascist trade unions and the employers’ associations, and which culminated in the creation of Mussolini’s Chamber of Fasci and Corporations. It shows how this was used to crush the working class and suppress autonomous trade union activism in favour of the interests of the corporations and the state. The system was a failure, designed to give a veneer of ideological respectability to Mussolini’s personal dictatorship, and the system was criticised by the radical Fascists Sergio Panunzio and Angelo Olivetti, though they continued to support this brutal dictatorship.

Non-Fascist Corporativism

This discusses the way the British state also tried to include representatives of the trade unions and the employers in government, economic planning and industrial policies, and suppress strikes and industrial unrest from Lloyd George’s administration during the First World War. This included the establishment of the Whitley Councils and industrial courts. From 1929 onwards the government also embarked on a policy of industrial diplomacy, the system of industrial control set up by Ernest Bevin during the Second World War under Defence Regulation 58a. It also discusses the corporative policies pursued by successive British governments from 1959 to Mrs Thatcher’s election victory in 1979. During these two decades, governments pursued a policy of economic planning administered through the National Economic Development Council and a prices and incomes policy. This system became increasingly authoritarian as governments attempted to curtail industrial militancy and strike action. The Social Contract, the policy of co-operation between the Labour government and the trade unions, finally collapsed in 1979 during the ‘Winter of Discontent’.

Workers’ Control and Producers’ Chambers in Communist Yugoslavia

This discusses the system of industrial democracy, and workers councils in Communist Yugoslavia. This included a bicameral constitution for local councils. These consisted of a chamber elected by universal suffrage, and a producers’ chamber elected by the works’ councils.

Partial Nationalisation to End Corporate Influence in Parliament

This suggests that the undue influence on parliament of private corporations could be countered, if only partly, if the policy recommended by Italian liberisti before the establishment of the Fascist dictatorship. Those firms which acts as organs of government through welfare contracts, outsourcing or private healthcare contractors should be partially nationalised, as the liberisti believed should be done with the arms industries.

Drawbacks and Criticism

This discusses the criticisms of separate workers’ governmental organs, such as the Russian soviets, by Karl Kautsky. It shows how working class political interests have been undermined through a press dominated by the right. It also shows how some of the theorists of the Council Revolution in Germany, such as Kurt Eisner, saw workers’, peasants’ and soldiers’ councils as an extension of democracy, not a replacement. It also strongly and definitively rejects the corporative systems of Saint-Simon and Mussolini. This part of the book recommends that a workers’ chamber in parliament should be organised according to industry, following the example of the TUC and the GNC Trades’ Parliament. It should also include representatives of the unemployed and disabled, groups that are increasingly disenfranchised and vilified by the Conservatives and right-wing press. Members should be delegates, in order to prevent the emergence of a distinct governing class. It also shows how the working class members of such a chamber would have more interest in expanding and promoting industry, than the elite business people pursuing their own interests in neoliberal economics. It also recommends that the chamber should not be composed of a single party. Additionally, a workers’ chamber may in time form part of a system of workers’ representation in industry, similar to the Yugoslav system. The chapter concludes that while the need for such a chamber may be removed by a genuine working class Labour party, this has been seriously weakened by Tony Blair’s turn to the right and partial abandonment of working class interests. Establishing a chamber to represent Britain’s working people will be immensely difficult, but it may be a valuable bulwark against the domination of parliament by the corporate elite.

I’m considering publishing it myself in some form or another, possibly through the print on demand publisher, Lulu. In the meantime, if anyone wants to read a sample chapter, just let me know by leaving a comment.

My Unpublished Book Arguing for Worker’s Chamber in Parliament

November 21, 2017

I’ve begun compiling a list of articles on the various coups and other methods the US and the other western countries have used to overthrow, destabilise or remove awkward governments and politicians around the world, when those nations have been seen as obstructions to the goals of western, and particularly American, imperialism and corporate interests. ‘Florence’, one of the great commenters on this blog, suggested that I should write a book on the subject, to which she can point people. She’s worried that too few people now, including those on the left, are aware of the struggle against dictators like General Pinochet and the other butchers in the Developing World, who were set up by us and the Americans as part of the Cold War campaign against Communism. Many of the regimes they overthrew weren’t actually Communist or even necessarily socialist. But they were all reforming administrations, whose changes threatened the power and profits of the big American corporations. Or else they were otherwise considered too soft on the Communist threat. So, I’m compiling a list of the various articles I’ve written on this subject, ready to select some of the best or most pertinent and edit them into book form.

A year or so ago I got so sick of the way parliament was dominated by the very rich, who seem to pass legislation only to benefit themselves rather than the poor, that I wrote a pamphlet, For A Workers’ Chamber. This argued that what was needed to correct this, and really empower working people, was a separate chamber in parliament directly elected by working people themselves. I’ve tried submitting it to various publishers, but so far those I’ve approached have turned it down.

Here’s a brief summary of the pamphlet and its arguments.

For A Workers’ Chamber is a short work of 22, 551 words, arguing that a special representative chamber composed by representatives of the working class, elected by the working class, is necessary to counter the domination of parliament by millionaires and the heads of industries. These have pushed through legislation exclusively benefiting their class against the best interests of working people. It is only by placing working people back into parliament that this can be halted and reversed.

The pamphlet traces the idea of workers’ political autonomy from Robert Owen’s Grand Consolidated Trade Union, Anarchism, Syndicalism and Guild Socialism, the workers’, socialists and peasant councils in Revolutionary Russia, and Germany and Austria during the 1919 Raeterevolution. It also discusses the emergence corporatist systems of government from the Utopian Socialism Saint-Simon in the 19th century onwards. After Saint-Simon, corporativism next became a much vaunted element in the constitution of Fascist Italy in the 20th century. This merged trade unions into industrial corporations dominated by management and big business in order to control them. This destroyed workers autonomy and reduced them to the instruments of the Fascist state and business class. It also discusses the development of liberal forms of corporatism, which emerged in Britain during and after the First and Second World War. These also promised to give working people a voice in industrial management alongside government and management. However, it also resulted in the drafting of increasingly authoritarian legislation by both the Labour party and the Conservatives to curb trade union power and industrial discontent. It also examines the system of workers’ control and producers’ chambers, which formed the basis of the self-management system erected by Edvard Kardelj and Milovan Djilas in Tito’s Yugoslavia. It also recommends the part-nationalisation of those companies seeking to perform the functions of state agencies through government outsourcing, or which seek to influence government policy through the election of the directors and senior management to parliament as a way of curtailing their influence and subordinating them to the state and the wishes of the British electorate.

The book examines the class basis of parliamentary democracy as it emerged in Britain, and the Marxist critique of the state in the writings of Marx and Engels themselves and Lenin during the Russian Revolution, including those of non-Bolshevik, European Social Democrats, like Karl Kautsky, who rejected the need for institutional workers’ power in favour of universal suffrage. It also critically analyzes Tony Crosland’s arguments against nationalisation and workers’ control. The book does not argue that parliamentary democracy should be abandoned, but that a workers’ chamber should be added to it to make it more representative. The final chapter examines the possible advantages and disadvantages of such a system, and the problems that must be avoided in the creation of such a chamber.

I’m considering publishing the pamphlet myself in some form or other, possibly with Lulu. In the meantime, if anyone’s interested in reading a bit of it, please leave a comment below and I’ll send you a sample chapter.

The Tories, New Labour, Workfare and Forced Labour: Who Are the True Trotskyites?

September 18, 2016

As Mike’s been pointing out, there’s a concerted attempt by the Blairites to present Jeremy Corbyn and his supporting movement, Momentum, as Trotskyite infiltrators. Mike yesterday put up a piece about an article by Paul Mason, which effectively demolishes such claims. George Galloway a little while pointed out that Jeremy Corbyn wasn’t a Trotskyite, and the claim that they had infiltrated the party was sheer lunacy, considering there were probably less than 10,000 in the country. And in terms of practical politics, it’s actually New Labour that has the greatest similarity to some of Trotskyite’s views in its support for workfare. Mike, Another Angry Voice, Johnny Void, Tom Pride, myself and very many others have attacked workfare as a form of forced labour verging on, and indeed in some cases, in actual fact, slavery. In the 1920s Trotsky was also in favour of using labour conscription and forced labour, similar to the mobilisation of the Red Army during the Civil War, to help reconstruct Russian industry.

The Solidarity pamphlet, The Bolsheviks & Workers’ Control 1917-1921: The State and Counter-Revolution, by Maurice Brinton (London: 1970), describes how Lenin and the Bolsheviks set out to destroy the system of workers’ councils, which had allowed the working class to seize power in the first stages of the Russian Revolution of 1917. Lenin and Trotsky hated workers’ industrial management, and the pamphlet shows how they gradually destroyed the councils, and replaced them with capitalist-style ‘one-man management’, using the American Taylorist system, and reinstating the same proprietors, managers and technicians that the workers had rebelled against.

The pamphlet gives a series of quotes showing Trotsky’s views of forced and slave labour on page 64. He declared that

‘the militarisation of labour … is the indispensable basic method for the organisation of our labour forces’…’Is it true that compulsory labour is always unproductive? … this is the most wretched and miserable liberal prejudice: chattel slavery too was productive’…’Compulsory slave labour…was in its time a progressive phenomenon’. ‘Labour… obligatory for the whole country, compulsory for every worker, is the basis of socialism’. (p. 64)

Trotsky stressed that coercion, regimentation and militarisation of labour were no mere emergency measures. The workers’ state normally had the right to coerce any citizen to perform any work, at the time of its choosing. 64-5.

At this Congress [Third All-Russian Congress of Trade Unions] Lenin publicly boasted that he had stood for one-man management from the beginning. He claimed that in 1918 he ‘pointed out the necessity of recognising the dictatorial authority of single individuals for the purpose of carrying out the Soviet idea’. and claimed that at that stage ‘there were no disputes in connection with the question (of one-man management.’ (p. 65).

Forced labour and the absolute rights of management are far more the attitude of Blairite New Labour than Old, which stood for proper unemployment benefit, real jobs rather than similar schemes, and collective bargaining and union consultation. It’s the Blairites with their support for the Tory workfare scheme, who are the real Trotskyites in this instance, not Corbyn and Momentum.

The Demands of the Independent Social Democrats during the 1919 German Council Revolution

August 20, 2016

I found this statement of the political demands of the Independent Social Democratic Party in J.W. Hiden’s The Weimar Republic (Harlow: Longman 1974), pp. 78-9. The Independent Social Democratic Party – USPD – were the left-wing of the main German Socialist party, the SPD, which split in 1919 over the issue of the workers’ councils. These had sprung up across Germany following the defeat in the First World War, and were modelled on the workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ councils that had been set up in 1917 during the first phase of the Revolution, which eventually ended in the Bolshevik coup. Hiden in his comments notes that at the time the USPD issued their demands, there was actually no chance of it being implemented. The elections to the National Assembly had already been held, and the Spartacist Uprising, which was intended to establish Germany as a Communist state, had been quelled. Nevertheless, he considers it important as the kind of state that the Revolution could have created.

The immediate demands of the USPD are:

1. Inclusion of the Councils system in the constitutions. Decisive participation of the Councils in legislation, state and municipal government and in industry.

2. Complete dissolution of the old army. Immediate dissolution of the mercenary army made up of volunteer corps (Freikorps). Disarming of the bourgeoisie. The setting up of a people’s army from the ranks of the class conscious working sector. Self-government for the people’s army and election of officers by the ranks. The lifting of military jurisdiction.

3. The nationalist of capitalist undertakings is to begin at once. It is to be executed immediately in the sphere of mining, and of energy production (coal, water-power, electricity), of concentrated iron and steel production as well as insurance. Landed property and great forests are to be transferred to the community at once. Society has the task of bringing the whole economy to its highest degree of efficiency by making available all technical and economic aids as well as promoting co-operative organisations. In the towns all private property is to pass to the municipality and sufficient dwellings are to be made available by the municipality on its own account.

4. Election of authorities and judges by the people. Immediate setting up of a Supreme Court of Judicature which is to bring to account those responsible for the world war and the prevention of a more timely peace.

5. Any growth of wealth achieved during the war is to be removed by taxation. A portion of all larger fort8unes is to be given to the state. In addition, public expenditure is to be covered by a sliding scale of income, wealth and inheritance taxes.

6. Extension of social welfare. Protection for mother and child. War widows, orphans and wounded are to be assured a trouble-free existence. Homeless are to be given the use of the spare rooms of owners. Fundamental reorganisation of public health system.

7. Separation of state and church and of church and school. Public, standardised schools with secular character, to be developed according to socialist educational principles. The right of every child to an education corresponding to his ability and availability of the means necessary for this end…

The programme’s clearly a production of the revolutionary ferment at the end of the First World War. But much of it remains acutely relevant for today. For example, we do need the nationalisation of public utilities – electricity, gas and water – as millions are being overcharged and exploited by these companies. The railways are notoriously expensive and inefficient. Under private management they consume three times more money from subsidies than they did when it was a nationalised industry as British rail. At the same time, Britain’s forests are being privatised, to the public’s disadvantage, by the Tories.

Similarly, there does need to be increased taxation of the super-rich. Under Blair and the Tories the rich have benefited from massive tax cuts, and the tax burden has been unfairly passed to the poor. Inequality has massively increased, so that a vanishingly small minority of people own far more than the rest of us combined. This was shown very clearly last week when the Duke of Westminster died, leaving £9 billion to his son.

Social welfare certainly needs to be extended. Blair and the Conservatives have consistently cut benefits for and demonised the poor, disabled and unemployed as ‘scroungers’. The result is that some 4.7 million are living in ‘food poverty’, and hundreds of thousands are only kept from starving by food banks. As for the war wounded, and the widows and orphans produced by Blair’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, I wonder how much help they are receiving, despite charities like Help For Heroes. Many of the squaddies that fought for their country during Gulf War I were left homeless. I have a strong feeling that many of their comrades in these wars have also been left, discarded by the state, in similar poverty and destitution. We also need a profound reorganisation of the public health services, as these are being privatised by Blair and the Tories.

There’s an irony here in that USPD wanted homeowners to have to take in the homeless. This is the precise opposite of what the Tories have been trying to do to those in council houses with the ‘Bedroom tax’. Millions are being left without homes, not just because they aren’t being built, but because many properties were bought as part of the buy-to-let market. Rents have risen, so that many people can no longer afford them, let alone think of owning their own home. But the Tories are the party of business and property, and something like this measure would fill them with panic. After all, it’s why they have a fit of the vapours every time someone talks about the ‘Bedroom tax’. They definitely don’t want to give the rest of the population the terrible impression that they are going to tax everyone’s bedroom. But doing it to the very poorest is perfectly acceptable.

I went to a church school, and don’t agree with the complete separation of church and state or absolutely secular schools, although I understand the reasons why many do. But I do support their statement that every child has right to the education that corresponds to his ability, and the means necessary for that end. It should be an automatic right. Unfortunately, this is also being undermined by the academies, that were brought in by Blair and which the Tories want to expand. They’d also like to bring back grammar schools, which were abandoned in favour of comprehensives because they did discriminate against working class children achieving a high education. And the introduction of tuition fees by New Labour and then increased by the Tories is leaving students with crippling debts, which are actively leading a quarter of graduates to stick to low paid jobs in order to avoid the extra burden of paying them off.

As for the most radical proposal, the inclusion of workers’ council in the political system – there’s a very, very strong argument for that too. The massive corporate corruption of parliament has shown that it increasingly does not represent the working class or their interests. It represents the power of big business, and their campaign to have a poor, desperate, poverty-stricken working class willing to be exploited through workfare, zero-hours and short-term contracts and the like.

Lenin on the Russian Soviets as a New Form of Workers’ Democracy

July 4, 2016

The word ‘Soviet’, as in the name for the old USSR – the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics – meant a council. These were original councils workers, peasants and soldiers, which were set up by the Russian working people themselves during the 1905 and 1917 revolutions before the Bolshevik coup. The largest and most important was the Petrograd Soviet, in what is now St. Petersburg. They were composed of delegates elected by the workers, peasants and squaddies of the Russian Empire, in contrast to the Russian duma, the country’s parliament. The soviets were not originally the sole monopoly of the Bolsheviks. Their members included representatives from all of the Russian Socialist and revolutionary parties, including as well as Lenin’s Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, Socialist Revolutionaries and Trudoviks. They became a pillar of the monolithic, totalitarian Communist state after the Bolshevik coup and the dissolution of all parties except the Communists. Lenin deliberately changed the name of his faction from Social Democrats (Bolsheviks) to Communists to show that the model for the new, Marxist Socialist society was going to be the Paris Commune of 1872, which rose up in protest against both the French monarchy and the German invasion during the Franco-Prussian War.

Lenin made the ideological nature of the new, governmental system through workers’ councils clear in the section ‘A new Type of State Emerging from Our Revolution’ in his April Theses. He wrote

The Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers’, Peasants’ and other Deputies are not understood, not only in the sense that their class significance, their role in the Russian revolution is not clear to the majority. They are not understood also in the sense that they constitute a new form or rather a new type of state.

The most perfect, the most advanced type of bourgeois state is the parliamentary democratic republic: power is vested in parliament; the state machine, the apparatus and organ of administration, is of the customary kind: the standing army, the police, and the bureaucracy – which in practice is undisplaceable, is privileged and stands above the people.

Since the end of the nineteenth century, however, revolutionary epochs have advanced a higher type of democratic state, a state which in certain respects, as Engels put it, ceases to be a state, is “no longer a state in the proper sense of the word”. This is a state of the Paris Commune type, one in which a standing army and police divorced from the people are replaced by the direct arming of the people themselves. It is this feature that constitutes the very essence of the Commune, which has been so misrepresented and slandered by the bourgeois writers, and to which has been erroneously ascribed, among other things, the intention of immediately “introducing” socialism.

This is the type of state which the Russian revolution began to create in 1905 and in 1917. A Republic of Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers’, Peasants’ and other Deputies, united in an All-Russia Constituent Assembly of people’s representatives or in a Council of Soviets, etc., is what is already being realised in our country now, at this juncture. it is being realised by the initiative of the nation’s millions, who are creating a democracy on their own, in their own way, without waiting until the Cadet professors draft their legislative bills for a parliamentary bourgeois republic, or until the pedants and routine-worshippers of petty-bourgeois “Social-Democracy”, like Mr. Plekhanov or Kautsky, stop distorting the Marxist teaching on the state.

Marxism differs from anarchism in that it recognises the need for a state and for state power in the period of revolution in general, and in the period of transition from capitalism to socialism in particular.

Marxism differs from the petty-bourgeois, opportunist “Social-Democratism” of Plekhanov, Kautsky and Co. in that it recognises that what is required during these two periods is not a state of the usual parliamentary bourgeois republican type, but a state of the Paris Commune type.

The main distinctions between a state of the latter type and the old state are as follows.

It is quite easy (as history proves) to revert from a parliamentary bourgeois republic to a monarchy, for the machinery of oppression – the army, the police, and the bureaucracy-is left intact. The Commune and the Soviets smash that machinery and do away with it.

The parliamentary bourgeois republic hampers and stifles the independent political life of the masses, their direct participation in the democratic organisation of the life of the state from the bottom up. The opposite is the case with the Soviets.

The latter reproduce the type of state which was being evolved by the Paris Commune and which Marx described as “the political form at last discovered under which to work out the economic emancipation of labour”.

We are usually told that the Russian people are not yet prepared for the “introduction” of the Commune. This was the argument of the serf-owners when they claimed that the peasants were not prepared for emancipation. The Commune, i.e., the Soviets, does not “introduce”, does not intend to “introduce”, and must not introduce any reforms which have not absolutely matured both in economic reality and in the minds of the overwhelming majority of the people. the deeper the economic collapse and the crisis produced by the war, the more urgent becomes the need for the most perfect political form, which will facilitate the healing of the terrible wounds inflicted on mankind by the war. The less the organisational experience of the Russian people, the more resolutely must we proceed to organisational developments by the people themselves, and not merely by the bourgeois politicians and “well-placed” bureaucrats. Lenin: The April Theses, 3rd Edition (Moscow: Progress Publishers 1970) 36-8.

Plekhanov and Kautsky were two of the great leaders of European Marxism at the time. Plekhanov was one of the founders of Russian Marxism, while Kautsky was the leader of the Austrian Social Democrats. Both defended parliamentary democracy. The Cadets Lenin also criticises aren’t students at a military academy. They were the Constitutional Democrats, a liberal party and I think the largest party in the duma at the time. Most historians now also believe that Marx, Engels and Lenin were wrong about the Socialist nature of the Paris Commune. The Communards weren’t motivated by Socialism so much as the Parisian local tradition of political autonomy, against the rest of the France, and patriotic outrage at defeat by Prussia, and the government that had failed to defend France, during the Franco-Prussian War.

Parliamentary democracy is superior to a government by workers’ councils, in that it does allow everyone in the state a vote and the opportunity to participate politically. This was recognised by Kautsky, who was a bitter critic of Bolshevik tyranny. However, there is still something deeply attractive about a governmental system that allow working people some measure of direct political power, rather than relying on a class of MPs, who may become distant from their electors, as has frequently happened.

Sir Richard Acland on Nationalisation and Workers’ Control in Industry

May 23, 2016

Unser Kampf Pic

Looking through one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham the other week, I found a copy of Sir Richard Acland’s 1940 book, Unser Kampf, published by Penguin. Acland was a baronet from a Devon and Somerset aristocratic family, and a Liberal MP. In Unser Kampf, he laid out his ideas for the post-War world as a kind of riposte to Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Mein Kampf means ‘My Struggle’, while Unser Kampf means ‘Our Struggle’, referring to the national goals, which Acland believes would form a better national and international order once victory had been achieved.

Nationalisation

His was a radical vision, far more radical than that of the contemporary Labour party. He argued for the complete socialisation of industry, and the replacement of the current system of management by unelected bosses with a system of workers control. He wrote

The world of the future belongs to common ownership. Only under common ownership can we abolish class distinction, unemployment, inequality and strife. Only under common ownership can we free ourselves from the system which positively encourages every man to seek his own personal advantage here on Earth.

Would it not be rather wonderful to live in a world in which we did not all have to think about ourselves all the time? Would it not be rather wonderful to get away from “this is mine,” “this is yours,” “this is t’other fellow’s,” and look out on everything we saw and say “this is all ours?” (Pp. 94-5).

Capitalist Sabotage

Acland’s proposal for the nationalisation of industry was far more radical than the contemporary Labour party’s. He discusses Labour’s plan to nationalise a small number of industries, and then see how they fare under nationalisation. Then, after this has gained popularity, the party then planned further nationalisations. Acland argued against this on the grounds that the capitalists in the intervening time would be doing everything they could to sacrifice the nationalised industries’ chance of success.

Labour’s Immediate Programme for example proposes that nationalisation, in the first five years, of industries employing one tenth of insured workers. For those five years, therefore, these industries would have to survive in a world whose conditions, as far as boom and slump were concerned, would be entirely dominated by the remaining nine tenths in private hands. In those five years we would be asked to judge by the results and make up our minds whether to nationalise other industries. We would be asked to consider whether the nationalised industries had “paid” in the accepted sense of the word. It may be taken as fairly certain that in those five test years the owners would take good care – some acting consciously and some unconsciously – that the whole of industry did not pay. Of course, if in those five years the owners wanted to do something they would have to come to the Labour government and accept its terms. But the game is far easier than that for the champions of monopoly capitalism. Labour has made a fundamental mistake in assuming that in those vital five years these people would want to go on making money. These men have bigger ideas than that. They would care about nothing in this world except smashing the Labour Government for ever. And the beauty of the situation from their point of view is that in those five years, to achieve their purpose, they would not have to do something, they would merely have to do nothing. They would let their nine tenths of industry run down, and you cannot run the railways, the mines and the banks and make them pay while all the industries they serve are slowing down. At no stage would you be able to do the manifestly sensible thing, namely, to take the unemployed as a whole and put them to work producing bread and clothes and boots, because that would compete with private enterprise which, by the terms of Labour’s election promises, must not be nationalised in the first five years. (Pp. 102-3).

There is no question to my mind then but that the advance to common ownership should be made boldly and not by a series of timid little shuffling steps. this does not so much mean that on the very first day every single industry down to the smallest must be taken over and run exclusively by the state. What it does mean is that from the very first day anyone who finds himself still working on his own account will be regarded as occupying entirely new status. (P.104).

On the matter of the amount of compensation that should be given to their owners for nationalised industries, he argued that the proprietors of the largest industries should receive the least amount of money while the smaller business owners should have the most. This is because he saw the right to ownership as based on work. The owners of large industries had mostly inherited them, and so they were not the result, or only minimally the result, of their personal labour. On the other hand, the opposite is true of small businesses, which were far more likely to be the result of their owners’ hard work.

Compensation

It is quite true that mere ownership of property conveys no right to an income. Only work conveys that right. It is also true that most of our property is derived from long inheritance or from business transactions which, though not called illegal (or not discovered by the police to be illegal), were in morals nothing less than bare-faced swindling. But as against this, a great deal of property is still even in our days the result of honest work and honest savings. This property represents in fact crystallised work, and the owners of this property must receive compensation not in respect of their property as such, but in respect of the work which it represents… (Pp. 98-9).

I would submit that it is true in general that the smaller properties contain the larger element of crystallised work and the larger properties contain the larger element of inheritance and swindling.

I would therefore submit that it is reasonable to compensate the smallest properties virtually in full, and proceed on a sliding scale until the rate of compensation for the larger properties is very much lower. (P. 99)

He replies to the objection to the removal of the vast majority of the inherited wealth of the rich by pointing out that this would leave them with an income that is perfectly satisfactory for everyone else, and that others are also making their sacrifices to build a better world.

If anyone says it is monstrous to confiscate 90% of a millionaire’s property, I say that £8 4s 3d. per day is something which ought to enable a man to live quite reasonable well. If any owner asks, “Why should we make any sacrifice at all” Why should not we and our children have every last penny for ever?” I reply that millions of men, owners and non-owners alike, are going to risk their lives in these next months. They make their sacrifice for the common good, that those who are left may live fuller lives. Do I ask sacrifices which are too much if it is the fact that we cannot build a noble civilisation, while the means of production are in private hands only to be used if the owners can make a profit?

Workers’ Control

He also states that the nationalised industries should be managed through a system of workers’ control through a system of workers’ councils. The most efficient and enterprising workers on these councils would be those, who would be promoted to positions of management.

But above all the whole taunt of the present capitalists who ask how we will manage our industries without them shows that people have failed to imagine what industry under common ownership will be like. To-day, an owner manages an industry in which the workers work. We are asked how we are going to organise the thing which will manage the industry the industry and tell the workers how to work? It is not going to be like that at all. The industries are going to be the workers’ industries and the detailed organisation is not going to be piled on to them from on top, but built up by them from below.

The workers in each productive unit – or their representatives in the larger units – will be meeting every week to consider their work, their condition of work, how they can improve their work themselves, and what improvements might be made in their work with the assistance of other groups of workers. In addition, all the workers in all the trades in any area will be regularly meeting – either directly or again through representatives – to consider what improvements could be made in the industrial possibilities of the entire area. Surely, these meetings supply the answer to those who suggest that there would be no way in which new processes and new techniques and new devices and gadgets of all kinds would find their way into industry under common ownership. Surely, they answer also those who wonder how the problem of promotion would be solved. Is it reasonable to suppose that those who showed themselves most effective in the councils of these meetings would be marking themselves out for promotion? Of course some unworthy men would gain promotion by spuriously impressing themselves on their colleagues. But are there really no unworthy promotions today? (Pp. 107-8)

Acland’s book was a radical manifesto for a complete transformation of British society and industry. In the event, it was far more radical than the Labour party, which nationalised about a fifth of the British economy, but left much in private hands because they felt there was simply no case for it being taken into state ownership.

Acland nevertheless makes a good case for workers’ representation at least in industry. He’s also right about large firms being due to inheritance and not the hard work of individual entrepreneurs, though there are some exceptions, such as Microsoft. And he is absolutely right about the way private industrialists would wreck the economy to prevent the nationalised industries from succeeding. This is exactly what the Tories are trying to do now to the NHS, in order to prepare it for privatisation.

Trade Unions and Works Councils in Britain and the Continent

May 8, 2016

I’ve posted up a number of pieces describing and arguing for a system of works councils in Britain similar to those in Germany, Austria and Sweden, which give workers in companies representation on the boardroom and at other levels, including the factory floor. I found a description of them and how they work in Colin Crouch’s Trade Unions: The Logic of Collective Action, published by Fontana in 1982. Crouch’s book is a sociological study of trade unions, which amongst other issues examines the question of when and how trade unionists decide to go on strike and the entire decision-making process around industrial disputes, trade union membership – why some people join unions while others don’t, government policies towards the unions and so on. Of workers’ councils, he writes

But some industrial relations take a different form. Instead of confronting each other ‘across the table’ with demands and threats of sanctions, seeing their interests in conflict, managers and union representatives may tackle what they see as common problems, with a mutual interest at stake. The belief that such an arrangement can provide either a supplement or an alternative to bargaining has often led various social actors to establish joint committees, works councils and other devices for consultation and worker participation which will embody the idea. After the First world War a committee of the House of Commons chaired by the Speaker, Mr Whitley, proposed the establishment of consultative committees on these lines throughout Britain in order to reduce the prevailing intense conflict between employers and workers. The plan collapsed as, during the depression, most employers decided that they need not bother with such devices since high unemployment was doing enough to make their workers forget conflict. However, the idea persisted within the public services, where ‘Whitley councils’ still exist today, though they have become normal collective-bargaining channels. A similar initiative followed the Second World War; committees for ‘joint consultation’ were established in many industries and it was generally agreed that this provided a second limb of British industrial relations, equal in importance to, but quite distinct from collective bargaining. This gradually faded in importance as shop stewards in an increasing range of firms and industries extended collective bargaining to cover many of the issues supposed to be dealt with by joint consultation, though there has been some evidence of a revival during the current recession, signification as shop stewards’ movements have been weakened (Department of Employment Gazette, 1981).

Elaborate consultation schemes involving representatives of management of employees, usually called works councils, exist in some British firms, most noticeably in ICI Ltd, but in most Western European countries these exist as a legal requirement in factories over a certain size, and employers are required to consult the workforce within this forum on certain prescribed issues. More ambitious schemes for involving workers’ representatives in non-conflictual participation are those involving worker-representation on company boards, such as was proposed for Britain, though without practical effect, in the report of the Bullock Committee (Bullock, 1977). In West Germany such a scheme has existed since the 1950s, being strengthened in 1976: worker-representatives comprise up to 50 per cent of the supervisory boards of all companies over a certain size. In that country and in Austria there are also work councils (Betreibsrate) which differ from those found elsewhere in Europe in that they comprise worker-representatives alone, not workers and managers; these councils have some signification powers of veto over aspects of management policy, and rights to consultation the receipt of information over many others.

In each case these participative or consultative forums, to which I shall refer generally as concertation, exist alongside normal collective bargaining. While the latter deals with wages and conditions and is assumed to involve conflict, the former tackle various issues of company policy, especially those affecting employment and workers’ welfare, and are supposed to be free of conflict.

It is an interesting issue of debate whether concertation constitutes a further step along the road towards even more institutionalization of conflict. In terms of Dahrendorf’s theory, I think one has to answer no; rather than institutionalizing conflict, these devices try to exclude it, at least from those areas which are seen ripe for consultation or participation rather than bargaining. Worker-representatives with a works council are not empowered to back their demands by strike threats; German Betriebsrate are required by law to co-operate with management and are not permitted to call strikes. In Dahrendorf’s study of German (1965), which is largely a criticism of that country for its continued fear of conflict, he used the preference for Mitbestimmung (that is, co-determination, the principle embodied in both Betriebsrate and worker membership of supervisory boards) as evidence of devices for conflict avoidance rather than institutionalization.
(Pp. 109-111).

He provides a few further details of the responsibilities of these councils on page 150, where he writes

A more formalized sharing in control is found in German industry. There, works councils consisting entirely of worker-representatives have a legal veto over several areas of plant- and company-level decision-making (such as overtime working, dismissals, certain working conditions) and a right to share control with management over other issues (such as redundancies and future employment policy). Further, in larger German companies workers have up to one half representation on the supervisory board of the company, with the same rights as other directors to information and decision-making. On a different model again, it is possible for workers to own and control firms themselves, without either a capitalist entrepreneur or the state intervening. This form of ownership is called producers’ co-operatives, and is found in many different countries, though usually only as a very small component of the total pattern of employment. (P. 150).

So instead of opting for confrontation, the Germans chose to include workers in factory management, though hedged about with certain legal restrictions against calling strike action. My guess is that such councils have probably played a part in the ‘social peace’ that has contributed to the German wirtschaftswunder. It also contrasts very strongly with the Thatcherite desire to remove as many rights as possible from workers, and grind them down as far as possible in order to have a compliant, and fearful workforce.

And I wonder how far the existence of such councils and similar power-sharing organisations and arrangements across Europe have stoked the fears about Europe underlying the Brexit campaign. Despite Farage’s rhetoric about immigration, one of the major unspoken cause of Tory hostility to the EU is the Social Charter. This grants European workers some basic rights. One Tory politico, who appeared on Wogan back in the 1980s openly stated that he liked the EU when it was the ‘Common Market’. This was a good thing. But the drafting of the Social Charter was a Bad Thing that should be got rid of. UKIP and the Tories hope that by leaving Europe, they can force an already prostrate working class to accept further degradation and impoverishment that would be unacceptable in the European Union, in order to make us a sweatshop economy like those in the Developing World.

Ha-Joon Chang on the Failings of Free Market Capitalism

March 30, 2016

Chang Capitalism Book pic

Ha-Joon Chang is a Korean-born Cambridge economist, who has popped up here and there because of his criticisms of Neo-Liberal free market economics. Mike over at Vox Political, for example, has reblogged a meme quoting him on how trickle down economics don’t work, and are merely there to transfer wealth upwards to the rich in the form of tax cuts. He’s also the author of a popular book on economics and the failings of the free market, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism (London: Penguin 2010).

Chang makes it clear that his book is not an attack on capitalism per se. He states in the Introduction

This book is not an anti-capitalist manifesto. Being critical of free-market ideology is not the same as being against capitalism. Despite its problems and limitations, I believe that capitalism is still the best economic system that humanity has invented. My criticism is of a particular version of capitalism that has dominated the world in the last three decades, that is, free-market capitalism. This is not the only way to run capitalism, and certainly not the best, as the record of the last three decades shows. The book shows that there are ways in which capitalism should, and can, be made better.

He is, however, very clear on the devastation that has been wrought across the globe by the doctrine of the unrestrained free market.

The result of these policies has been the polar opposite of what was promised. Forget for a moment the financial meltdown, which will scar the world for decades to come. Prior to that, and unbeknown to most people, free-market ideologies had resulted in slower growth, rising inequality and heightened instability in most countries. In many rich countries, these problems were masked by huge credit expansion; thus the fact that US wages had remained stagnant and working hours increased since the 1970s was conveniently fogged over by the head brew of credit-fuelled consumer boom. the problems were bad enough in the rich countries, but they were even more serious for the developing world. Living standards in Sub-Saharan Africa have stagnated for the last three decades, while Latin America has seen its per capita growth rate fall by two-thirds during the period. There were some developing countries that grew fast (although with rapidly rising inequality) during this period, such as China and India, but these are precisely the countries that, while partially liberalizing, have refused to introduce full-blown free-market policies.

Thus, what we were told by the free-marketeers – or, as they are often called, neo-liberal economists, are at best only partially true and at worst plain wrong. As I will show throughout this book, the ‘truths’ peddled by free-market ideologues are based on lazy assumptions and blinkered visions, if not necessarily self-serving notions. My aim in this book is to tell you some essential truths about capitalism that the free-marketeers won’t.

Which is more than enough to give the late Mrs Thatcher a fit of the vapours.

Ha-Joon Chang Pic

Chang states that his goal is to empower people to make decisions and have opinions on these issues, whereas they might otherwise leave them to the experts on the grounds that they don’t have enough technical expertise, and so become active citizens demanding the right course of action from decision-makers.

The book itself has a rather eccentric organisation. Instead of chapters, there are ‘Things’, meaning different topics, so the contents include the following

Thing 1 There is no such thing as the free market.

Thing 2 Companies should not be run in the interest of their owners.

Thing 3 Most people in rich countries are paid more than they should be.

Thing 4 The washing machine has changed the world more than the internet has.

Thing 5 Assume the worst about people and you will get the worst.

Thing 6 Greater macroeconomic stability has not made the world any more stable.

Thing 7 Free-market policies rarely make poor countries rich.

Thing 8 Capital has a nationality.

Thing 9 We do not live in a post-industrial age.

Thing 10. the US does not have the highest living standard in the world.

Thing 11 Africa is not destined for underdevelopment.

Thing 12. Governments can pick winners.

Thing 13 Making rich people richer doesn’t make the rest of us richer.

Thing 14 Us managers are over-priced.

Thing 15 People in poor countries are more entrepreneurial than people in rich countries.

Thing 16 We are not smart enough to leave things to the market.

Thing 17 More education in itself is not going to make a country richer

Thing 18 What is good for General Motors is not necessarily good for the United States.

Thing 19 Despite the fall of Communism, we are still living in planned economies.

Thing 20 Equality of opportunity may not be fair.

Thing 21 Big government makes people more open to change.

Thing 22 Financial markets need to become less, not more, efficient.

Thing 23 Good economic policy does not require good economists.

Conclusion: How to rebuild the world economy.

He also makes seven suggestions how you can read the book, to answer certain queries, reading selected chapters to answer such questions as what capitalism is, or if you think politics is a waste of time or if you think the world is an unfair place, but there isn’t much you can do about it.

And while the book isn’t an attack on capitalism itself, some of the solutions to its problems do involve an element of Socialism or worker participation. For example, in the ‘Thing’ about why companies should not be run in the interests of the people who own them, Chang points out that the ownership of a country by shareholders means in practice that these have less interest than traditional owner managers in it being profitable or viable, as they can always take their shares out and put them somewhere else. As a result, the countries which have some of the most stable, and hence, most profitable companies, are those which have encouraged long-term investment or encouraged their workers to have a stake in them. Such as France, where several companies are part-owned by the state, or Germany and Austria, which have a degree of worker’s control through works’ councils.

It’s a fascinating and very necessary critique of the free-market capitalism beloved by the Blairites in Labour, and the Tories. Economics is notoriously the ‘dismal science’, but this is well and engagingly written for the ordinary reader, and I hope it encourages more people to criticise and bring down this deeply flawed and iniquitous system.

Tory MEP Hannan Describes French Front National as ‘Left-Wing’

March 31, 2014

Daniel Hannan

Tory MEP and supporter of NHS privatisation Daniel Hannan. In his view, the Front National are left-wing.

Following this morning’s post tracing the accusation that the National Front/ BNP are left-wing parties to the pamphlet by Stephen Ayres of the National Association For Freedom (NAFF), now the Freedom Association, The National Front are a Socialist Front, I received this comment from Buddyhell:

Hannan has today written a blog that describes le Front National as “far-left”. He will not be told. Even his stablemates attack him for the way he lazily draws lines between fascism and socialism. In essence, Hannan is smearing the Left with these assertions.
http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/danielhannan/100265536/france-has-given-up-on-its-politicians-with-good-reason/
.

I’ve blogged before about the way Fascism included left-wing elements amongst a number of competing and contradictory ideologies and groups. Mussolini had started off as a radical Socialist, but broke with the party over his support for Italy joining the First World War. Jess has also commented on this morning’s post about the nature of Fascism, pointing to a report in the Guardian for the 13th October 2009 that Mussolini was being paid £100 a week by MI5 in 1917 for his continued vocal support for the Italian war effort. See http://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/oct/13/benito-mussolini-recruited-mi5-italy. ‘The name’s Mussolini. Benito Mussolini’, she remarks drily. Unfortunately, Mussolini was never that suave. According to Denis Mack Smith’s biography, he got thrown out of at least one school for spending all his time in the local cemetery drinking, using foul language and seducing the local girls. He also raped one young woman, who had the misfortune to catch his eye. He did like sharp suits, however. After haranguing the crowd dressed in the rough clothes of a worker, he used to go home and put on a smart suit and patent leather shoes. So, with the promiscuity and the suits, a bit like Bond, but only a really nasty, thuggish one.

Mussolini and the Corporate State

Mussolini seized power by promising to defend the middle classes and private property from the threat of Socialism and organised labour. The Fascist squadristi pursued a campaign of violence and terror against the Socialist and Communist parties and their supporters. In power, Mussolini created the corporate state, which presented Fascism as a radical alternative to laissez-faire capitalism. The corporations were industrial bodies consisting of the trade union and employers’ organisation for a particular industry or sector of the economy. Parliament was replaced by a Council of Corporations. Each corporation sent three delegates – one from the union, one from the employer’s organisation and one from the Fascist party to represent ‘the people’. It was partly based on Syndicalism, a form of Anarchism that seeks to replace the capitalist state by a system in which industry is owned and managed by the workers themselves through their trade unions. Mussolini called his system, ‘National Syndicalism’. Several of the architects of the corporative state were former syndicalists, like Pannunzio and Michele Bianchi.

A similar system had also already been advocated by Alfredo Rocco and the Italian Nationalist Association, representing the interests of the extreme Right-wing industrialists. Their programme included state-organised cartels, and single, state-controlled union, and the destruction of the political role of Socialist party. Under the Fascist regime, strikes were forbidden and a special system of Labour Courts was set up to settle industrial disputes. Although the Fascists claimed to have solved the conflict between capital and labour, the reality was that the unions were under the strict control of the state, which favoured the industrialists and employers. Pannunzio did argue for a more radical corporate system, in which the corporations would take over the direct running of the economy, which would lead to the erosion of the differences between capital and labour and transcend private industry. His plan was, however, attacked by the industrialists and the Fascist party as ‘Bolshevism’. Noel O’Sullivan, in his book, Fascism, suggests that the corporate state was never more than half-hearted, and had been set up by Mussolini to suggest that his regime was based on more than brute force.

Radical Anti-Capitalism and the Salo Republic

After he was ousted from power, Mussolini established a Fascist rump state, the Italian Social Republic, under German control around Salo in the north of Italy. In his constitution for the new state, il Duce declared that he was going to smash capitalist plutocracy, and make labour the ‘indestructible basis’ of the state. There were to be workers’ councils, profit-sharing, social housing and land reform. He also nationalised some of the larger industries. It’s questionable how serious these anti-capitalist measures were, as the Salo republic and its leader were nothing more than German puppets.

Fascism and the Right to Private Property

After the War, the British Fascist leader, Oswald Mosley, initially supported a pan-European corporate state. However, in his 1968 autobiography, My Life, he rejects the corporate state as too cumbersome. He advocated instead a form of the prices and incomes policy, while promising to protect and support private industry. Trade unions would still be permitted, but would be confined to managing the welfare system.

Despite advocating a strong and economically powerful state, Fascism has generally aimed to protect private industry and property, within certain limits. Article 8 of the Constitution of Fiume, the proto-Fascist state established by the poet Gabriele D’Annunzio, guaranteed ‘the enjoyment of property legitimately obtained’, as well as other features of liberal democracies, such as sickness and infirmity benefits, as well as assistance for the involuntarily unemployed. Mosley, in his answer to Question 42: Do you believe in Private Enterprise? in his book Mosley: Right or Wrong? (London: Lion Books 1961) made it very clearly that it had his full support:

Yes, certainly. Private enterprise must always be the main motive of the economy. Most men work for themselves and their families, and want to do so in freedom … All men and women should have freedom to live and work as they like, and to enjoy the fruits of their labour in freedom and peace without interference or robbery by the state or vested interest. We must reduce taxation in order to prevent the present interference and robbery by the state. But we must also have strong government to protect the individual against interference and robbery by vested interest, monopoly, etc. (pp. 58-9).

Fascism as Neither Socialism Nor Capitalism

Although they ally with the Right, Fascist regimes have also presented themselves as being a ‘Third World Alternative’ between Socialism and capitalism, in which private industry is retained but made to act socially in the interests of the state. One Fascist slogan was ‘neither left nor right, but forwards!’ In the 1980s there was a scandal in Germany when it was found that the German Liberal party, the Freie Demokraten, had been infiltrated by Neo-Nazis.

Origins of Fascism in Pre-WW I Conservative Elites

Despite this, historians such as Richard Thurlough in his Fascism in Britain, 1918-86, have seen the origin of Fascism in the radicalisation of agrarian elites against modernity and the threat of a radical working class. British Fascism had its roots in pre-First World War Die-Hard Conservatism, which wished to emulate some of the welfare successes of Bismarck’s Germany as part of an efficiency campaign to strengthen the British Empire, a policy which necessarily also included military expansion.

Thus, while Fascism does indeed contain genuinely revolutionary elements, it is not Socialist and in practice sides with the Right and traditional Conservatives against the Left.

Daniel Hannan and the ‘Left-Wing’ Front National

Daniel Hannan, however, sees the Fascism as a form of Socialism. In his column in today’s Telegraph covering the electoral gains made by Marine le Pen’s Front National, he describes the party as moving in a left-ward direction. He writes

It is important to understand that Marine Le Pen positioned herself to the Left of the UMP and, at least on economics, arguably to the Left of the Socialists. She railed against capitalism and globalisation, called for higher expenditure, and supported state-run energy, healthcare, education, transport and financial services. Where her father used to complain about welfare scroungers, she wants a more generous range of entitlements. Where he used to describe his party as being of the Right, she recently told Le Monde that it was “neither Right nor Left, but founded on the opposition of the current political class, on the defence of the nation, on the rejection of ultra-capitalism and of Europe”.

Front National Programme Fascist Anti-Capitalist, but not Left-Wing

While this approach certainly looks left-wing, and is almost certainly designed to win voters from the Socialists and the Left, it does not mean that the Front National are now a Left-wing party. Le Pen fille is merely stressing the anti-capitalist element of the Fascist tradition. In fact her statement that the Front is neither Right nor Left, but founded on the opposition of the current political class, on the defence of the nation, on the rejection of ultra-capitalism’ could be taken as a general statement of Fascist ideology, with the possible exception of opposition to Europe. And it’s important to note here that she rejects ‘ultra-capitalism’, not capitalism itself.

How serious the Front National actually is about this ostensibly left-wing programme is moot. Mussolini’s original Fascist programme was little different from that of the radical Socialists and Syndicalists, but he soon rejected it in order to gain Conservative support. Hitler also made little effort to implement the Socialist parts of the 1926 Fascist programme for the same tactical and ideological reasons. And the Tricolour Flame of Berlusconi’s former coalition, led by Gianfranco Fini, is a ‘post-Fascist’, centre Right party.

Front National Voters also Rejecting Neoliberalism, Not Just French Political Class

Apart from characterising the Front National as now rather left-wing, Hannan’s view of the victory is also flawed. He sees it as a rejection by the French people of the traditional political class due to the country’s economic problems – three million unemployed, high taxation and crippling strikes. But this doesn’t seem borne out by the Front’s tactics. If they were genuinely seeking to reject Socialism, rather than the Socialist party, then Le Pen would have no need to advance a Socialistic political programme. It instead looks like Le Pen is trying to win working class voters alienated by the political class’ support for the EU and its international, Neoliberal economic and social policies, as well as hostility to immigration. And if the French electorate were rejecting Socialism, then they could simply vote for the UMP, or simply give up voting and turn inwards into apathy and cynicism, as in Britain. The UMP have made some gains, but it looks like many of them are responding to Le Pen’s attack on the EU, its open borders and Neoliberalism.

Hannan is, however, a man of the Tory extreme Right. He’s also an opponent of the EU, but strongly supports Neoliberalism, including loudly calling for the privatisation of the NHS. He thus doesn’t want to admit that the Front’s gains may show a positive rejection of laissez-faire international capitalism, as well as the political class advocating it.