Posts Tagged ‘Workers’

Private Eye Attacks the Tories’ Stupid and Damaging ‘Free Ports’ Policy

February 20, 2020

Eight days ago on 12th February 2020, Mike put up a piece criticising the Tories’ great new wheeze for invigorating Britain’s economy. They want to set up ten ‘free ports’ after Brexit, in which there will be no import/ export tariffs on goods if they aren’t moved offsite. No duty is paid, if these goods are re-exported, so long as they don’t come into the UK. Similarly, no duty will be paid on imported raw materials if they are processed into a finished product, provided that these aren’t then move to the rest of Britain.

Mike comments

No doubt the businesses involved in taking raw materials, processing them and re-exporting them would have their head office based in a tax haven.

So, who benefits? The UK economy won’t!

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/02/12/who-will-profit-from-post-brexit-freeports/

This is exactly the same point made by Private Eye in its latest issue for 21st February to 5th March 2020. In its article, ‘Unsafe Havens’, the Eye says

Given Rishi Sunak’s background in offshore finance, it’s no surprise he will soon be turning parts of the UK into tax havens. Just three days before last week’s promotion, the eager-to-please Sunak launched hi spet policy for freeports around the UK.

He first pushed the plan as a relatively new MP in a 2016 paper for the right-wing Centre of Policy Studies. Now he has his hands on the tax controls and can do whatever it takes to entice major investment in the zones (ie big tax breaks and few questions asked).

At this point, warnings from the EU begin to sound ominous. Although Sunak claimed that freeports, which exempt imports from various taxes and tariffs in great secrecy, weren’t possible within the EU, there are in fact 82 of them. But the EU has found they do far more harm than good. And on the very day Sunak launched his consultation promising to “unleash the potential in our proud historic ports, boosting and regenerating communities across the UK as we level up”, the European Commission was clamping down on freeports yet further, pointing to a “high incidence of corruption, tax evasion, criminal activity”.

Even Sunak innocently asks in his consultation: “In your view, are there any particular tax policies that you think could increase the risk of tax avoidance or tax evasion activity being routed through a freeport?” To which the correct answer is: yes, the freeport policy itself.

I was immediately suspicious of this policy, because it looks like an attempt to copy the Chinese ‘Special Economic Zones’. These are islands of unrestricted capitalism in certain provinces, where there are very low taxes and, I believe, employment rights for workers. They have helped to turn the country into an economic superpower, but the cost is immense. There is massive worker exploitation, and there have been well-publicised cases of employees at various companies, who have committed suicide because of their ill-treatment. So much so that one company responsible for extremely poor working conditions put up suicide nets around one of its factories in order to catch staff trying to end their lives but jumping off. China’s an extremely authoritarian state, but there are rumblings of discontent from its impoverished and exploited workers and human rights activists.

Way back in the late 19th and very early 20th century a nasty term, ‘Chinese slavery’, was applied to conditions like this. Part of the impetus in the formation of the early Labour Party was the fear among British workers that the government was going to force them into similar conditions.

The Chinese shouldn’t have to work in such exploitative environments, and neither should Brits – who include people of Chinese descent, who have been here for generations. This is yet another nasty, exploitative idea from a nasty exploitative party, which feels that the workers, whether White, Black or Asian, should be forced into conditions of near slavery.

While they enjoy the profits funneled through tax havens.

‘I’ Newspaper: Rebecca Long-Bailey Promises to Support Unions and End Exploitative Work Practices

February 11, 2020

This is another excellent piece from Saturday’s I, for 8th February 2020. Written by Richard Vaughan, ‘Long-Bailey to promise no out-of-hours phone calls’ shows that the contender for the Labour leadership intends to restore the power of the trade unions and back them in industrial disputes, as well as removing work practices that damages workers’ mental health. It begins with her pledge to end the demand that workers should be on call 24 hours a day.

Labour leadership hopeful Rebecca Long-Bailey will pledge to give workers the right to switch off their phones outside of office hours to help end “24/7 work cultures”.

The shadow Business Secretary committed yesterday to give employees a “right to disconnect” based on the French system, which forces companies with more than 50 staff to allow them to ignore their mobiles during leisure time.

In a further attempt to show her support for workers, Ms Long-Bailey said she would back the right of employees to hold strike action “no questions asked” should she succeed Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader.

Addressing a rally in Sheffield last night, she said the next Labour leader must be “as comfortable on the picket line as at the dispatch box.”

“As leader, I’ll put trade unions at the heart of Labour’s path to power, and back workers in every dispute,” she said.

She added that under her stewardship Labour would “back workers in every dispute and strike against unfair, exploitative and unjust employers”.

She said: “Standing on the side of workers and trade unions, no questions asked, is going to be crucial in standing up to this reactionary Conservative Government.”

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Ms Long-Bailey said she wanted to remove working practices that were damaging to mental health. “We can all do better with aspirational socialism, through pushing for an end to 24/7 work culture, and with trade unions empowered to negotiate this, we can work hard, be paid for the work we do and keep that precious time with our friends and family, uninterrupted by emails or demands”.

This is precisely the type of leadership working people need. The Tories and New Labour have done their level best to gut the power of the unions, and the result has been the massive increase in in-work poverty. Without strong trade unions, workers have been left stuck with stagnant wages, exploitative working conditions like zero-hours contracts which bar them from receiving sick pay, paid holidays or maternity leave and a culture that allows work place bullying and casual sacking. Blair and Brown were as keen on destroying union power as the Tories, and in denying workers protection against redundancy and short-term contracts, all in the name of workforce ‘flexibility’. Despite his candidacy for the party being backed by one of the unions, when Blair gained the leadership he even threatened to cut the party’s ties to them, a tie that is integral to the Labour Party, if they didn’t back his reforms and programme.

Long-bailey promises to reverse this, restore union power and so empower ordinary working people. Which means that the Tories and their lackeys in the press and media will do everything they can to discredit her. You can expect them to start running stories about the how the ‘strike-hit’ seventies made Britain ‘the sick man of Europe’ until Maggie Thatcher appeared to curb the union barons and restore British productivity and confidence. It’s all rubbish, but it’s the myth that has sustained and kept the Tories and their wretched neoliberalism in power for forty years.

But this is being challenged, and Long-Bailey is showing that she is the woman to end it.

Trotsky on the Failure of Capitalism

January 16, 2020

I found this quote from Trotsky on how capitalism has now outlived its usefulness as a beneficial economic system in Isaac Deutscher and George Novack, The Age of Permanent Revolution: A Trotsky Anthology (New York: Dell 1964):

Capitalism has outlived itself as a world system. It has ceased to fulfill its essential function, the raising of the level of human power and human wealth. Humanity cannot remain stagnant at the level which it has reached. Only a powerful increase in productive force and a sound, planned, that is, socialist organisation of production and distribution can assure humanity – all humanity – of a decent standard of life and at the same time give it the precious feeling of freedom with respect to its own economy. (p. 363).

I’m not a fan of Trotsky. Despite the protestations to the contrary from the movement he founded, I think he was during his time as one of the leaders of the Russian Revolution and civil war ruthless and authoritarian. The Soviet Union under his leadership may not have been as massively murderous as Stalin’s regime, but it seems to me that it would still have been responsible for mass deaths and imprisonment on a huge scale.

He was also very wrong in his expectation of the collapse of capitalism and the outbreak of revolution in the Developed World. As an orthodox Marxist, he wanted to export the Communist revolution to the rest of Europe, and believed that it would be in the most developed countries of the capitalist West, England, France, and Germany, that revolution would also break out. He also confidently expected throughout his career the imminent collapse of capitalism. This didn’t happen, partly because of the reforms and welfare states established by reformist socialist parties like Labour in Britain and the SPD in Germany, which improved workers’ lives and opportunities, which thus allowed them to stimulate the capitalist economy as consumers and gave them a stake in preserving the system.

It also seems to me that capitalism is still actively creating wealth – the rich are still becoming massively richer – and it is benefiting those countries in the Developing World, which have adopted it, like China and the east Asian ‘tiger’ economies like South Korea.

But in the west neoliberalism, unregulated capitalism, certainly has failed. It hasn’t brought public services, like electricity, railways, and water supply the investment they need, and has been repeatedly shown to be far more inefficient in the provision of healthcare. And it is pushing more and more people into grinding poverty, so denying them the ability to play a role as active citizens about to make wide choices about the jobs they can take, what leisure activities they can choose, and the goods they can buy. At the moment the Tories are able to hide its colossal failure by hiding the mounting evidence and having their hacks in the press pump out favourable propaganda. But if the situation carries on as it is, sooner or later the mass poverty they’ve created will not be so easily hidden or blithely explained away or blamed on others – immigrants, the poor themselves, or the EU. You don’t have to be a Trotskyite to believe the following:

Unfettered capitalism is destroying Britain – get rid of it, and the Tories.

‘I’ Reports Labour Intends to Renationalise Local Bus Services

November 20, 2019

There was an article by Hugo Gye in yesterday’s edition of the I for 19th November 2019, reporting that the Labour party is planning to renationalise the local bus services, which were privatised in the 1980s by Maggie Thatcher. The article runs

Labour will open the door to the nationalisation of England’s buses if it gets into power in next month’s election, Jeremy Corbyn has said.

The party would give all councils the right to take control of their local bus services and give free bus travel to anyone aged under 25.

The move, which will form part of the Labour manifesto when it is published this week, is the latest in a string of nationalisations announced by Mr Corbyn. But bus industry officials insisted it would do little to improve services.

Speaking at the CBI conference in London yesterday, the Labour leader said he would encourage individual councils to take direct control of bus networks when franschise contracts expired. He added: “We need to integrate bus and rail services, we need to re-empower local authorities to develop bus services if they wish.”

The plan – which would apply only to England because transport policy is devolved – would give councils that right to remove franchises from private companies such as Stagecoach, Go-Ahead and FirstGroup. The nation’s bus network was privatised and deregulated by Margaret Thatcher in the 80s, although in London it is still heavily regulated by the city’s mayor.

Katy Taylor, commercial and customer director at Go-Ahead, said: “The biggest issues we face are congestion and council cuts, and regulation would do little to solve either of these. While bus usage continues to fluctuate in some parts of the country, our experience in cities like Brighton – where ridership is higher than anywhere else outside of London – shows that public and private sector working together is the best way to deliver a transport service.”

Labour’s bus policies are similar to its rail nationalisation scheme, in which each train franchise would be brought into public ownership as soon as its current contract expired.

The party has pledged to nationalise a number of public services if it wins on 12 December. This would including buying the country’s water system and the National Grid.

This is great news, as the bus service we currently have in my bit of Bristol is appalling. The bus company has cut services and I’ve heard that they regard it as a country route, even though it is actually within the city limits. People have complained to the council and the bus company, FirstBus, but all they got were letters from each blaming the other.

I was at school when Thatcher privatised the buses, and can remember the immediate effect. The new, deregulated bus company immediately reorganised the bus routes to send its buses down one of the major roads into town. The result wasn’t greater efficiency, but less. The buses were caught in the traffic jams that built up, so that buses that should have got all the schoolkids from my bit of south Bristol into school in town well before the 9 O’clock bell got in much later.

And FirstBus’ reputation in Bristol generally is so low, that the company has acquired the nickname ‘WorstBus’.

The much vaunted competition that Tories claim will always improve services hasn’t worked either. There has been an alternative bus company set up, and for a while that ran some good services to our part of Bristol. But these also seem to have disappeared or been cut back.

There are some excellent bus services run by charities, but people should not have to rely on volunteer organisations for a good, efficient bus service. Clearly the buses in Bristol need the support of local authorities, because privatise enterprise alone simply isn’t up to the job. It seems that the bus companies are too interested in creating a profit for their shareholders than providing a service for their customers. Indeed, the greed and profiteering by the directors of the newly privatised companies, like Ann Gloag, and the shabby way they treated their workers, customers and people they’d hit in accidents, was so bad that every fortnight Private Eye seemed to be running a story about them.

The local bus company in Bristol wasn’t brilliant by any means when it was under council ownership, but it was better than what followed with privatisation. Thatcher’s policy of privatisation and deregulation of public services has been a miserable failure right across the board. It’s ‘zombie economics’, and the only reason it hasn’t been put in the grave long ago is that the rich 1% – including the media barons boosting the policy – massively profit from it. While the rest of us have to put up with substandard services.

It’s time to vote the Tories out, and bring in someone who will improve public services in this country. And that person is Jeremy Corbyn.

 

Adolf Hitler on the Capitalist Nature of Nazism

January 21, 2019

According to a piece on Zelo Street, Raheem Kassam, one of the leaders of the ‘Leave’ campaign and another fixture of the Libertarian extreme right, has been on Twitter arguing with James Melville arguing about the nature of nationalism, imperialism, Fascism, Nazism and Conservativism. Kassam had been complaining about left-wingers mass-reporting his tweets to the company to get his account closed down. Melville was entirely and rightly unsympathetic, stating that Kassam had tried to get his own followers to pile onto Melville’s twitter stream, and thus force him off twitter. It’s a strategy called ‘dog-piling’. He commented that Kassam was reaping what he’d himself sown. He also upset Kassam by criticizing a photo Kassam had put up showing Winston Churchill in a yellow vest, asking Kassam if he knew that Churchill fought against right-wing extremism. The annoyed Kassam responded

”Lol now this guy who had a meltdown yesterday is going through my feed picking out tweets he thinks he can argue with. Churchill defeated imperialistic (opposite of nationalist) National Socialism (opposite of right wing) which wanted a united Europe under Germany (EU)” and

“Fascism is an ideology. Conservatism is a philosophy. There’s your first problem in attempting to link the two. Fascism concerned itself with a corporate-state nexus (like socialism, and indeed our current pro-EU system does). Your understanding of philosophy is poor”.

Which as Zelo Street noted, shows that Kassam knows nothing about history and doesn’t know the difference between Fascism, socialism and corporativism.

Both Nazism and Italian Fascism had socialist elements, but they very quickly allied themselves with the nationalist, capitalist extreme right and served their interests against genuine socialism, trade unions and organized labour. I’ve written several pieces about the capitalist nature of Nazi Germany, and how the Nazi regime promoted private industry and privatization over state-owned enterprises. Hitler did define himself as a socialist, and a strong proportion of the Nazi party did take the socialist elements in the Nazi programme of 1925 seriously. But Hitler made his opposition to the socialization of German industry and his support for capitalism very clear in a debate with Otto Strasser, one of the leaders of the Nazi left. There’s an account of the debate between the two in Nazism 1919-1945: Vol 1 The Rise to Power 1919-1934, A Documentary Reader, edited by J. Noakes and G. Pridham (Exeter: University of Exeter 1983), pp. 66-7. Hitler makes his attitude towards the nationalization of German industry clear on page 67.

‘Let us assume, Herr Hitler, that you came into power tomorrow. What would you do about Krupp’s? Would you leave it alone or not?’
‘Of course I should leave it alone’, cried Hitler. ‘Do you think me so crazy as to want to ruin Germany’s great industry?’
‘If you wish to preserve the capitalist regime, Herr Hitler, you have no right to talk of Socialism. For our supporters are Socialists, and your programme demands the socialization of private enterprise.’
‘That word “socialism” is the trouble, said Hitler. He shrugged his shoulders, appeared to reflect for a moment and then went on:
‘I have never said that all enterprises should be socialized. On the contrary, I have maintained that we might socialize enterprises prejudicial to the interests of the nation. Unless they were so guilty, I should consider it a crime to destroy essential elements of our economic life. Take Italian Fascism. Our National Socialist state, like the Fascist state, will safeguard both employers’ and workers’ interests while reserving the right of arbitration in case of dispute.’
Hitler, exasperated by my answers, continued: ‘there is only one economic system, and that is responsibility and authority on the part of directors and executives. I ask Herr Amann to be responsible to me for the work of his subordinates and to exercise authority over them. Herr Amann asks his office manager to be responsible for his typists and to exercise his authority over them; and so on to the lowest rung of the ladder. That is how it has been for thousands of years, and that is how it will always be.’
‘Yes, Herr Hitler, the administrative structure will be the same whether capitalist or socialist. But the spirit of labour depends on the regime under which it lives. If it was possible a few years ago for a handful of men not appreciably different from the average to throw a quarter of a million Ruhr workers on the streets, if this was legal and in conformity with the morality of our economic system, then it is not the men but the system that is criminal.’
‘But that-‘ Hitler replied, looking at his watch and showing signs of acute impatience ‘that is no reason for granting the workers a share in the profits of the enterprises that employ them, and more particularly for giving them the right to be consulted. A strong state will see that production is carried on in the national interest, and, if these interests are contravened, can proceed to expropriate the enterprise concerned and takeover its administration.’

Hitler thus made it very clear that he was strongly opposed to nationalization, except for failing companies, and did not want the workers to receive a share in the profits of the firms for which they worked, nor to be consulted about its management. And when the Nazis seized power, they destroyed the trade unions and sent their leaders and activists to the camps, along with socialists, anarchists and other political dissidents. Hitler didn’t believe in laissez-faire free trade – under Nazism industry was controlled by a state planning apparatus like that of Soviet Union – but industry remained by and large very definitely in private hands.

As for the Strasser brothers, Otto and Gregor, who were two of the leaders of the Nazi ‘left’, Hitler had one of them murder in the ‘Night of the Long Knives’ along with the rest of the SA and the other fled to South America. Which shows how bitterly he despised those who took the ‘socialist’ parts of his programme seriously.

Whatever Hitler himself may have said about ‘socialism’, he was no kind of socialist at all.

Tony Benn: Socialism Needed to Prevent Massive Abuse by Private Industry

January 7, 2019

In the chapter ‘Labour’s Industrial Programme’ in his 1979 book, Arguments for Socialism, Tony Benn makes a very strong case for the extension of public ownership. This is needed, he argued, to prevent serious abuse by private corporations. This included not just unscrupulous and unjust business policies, like one medical company overcharging the health service for its products, but also serious threats to democracy. Benn is also rightly outraged by the way companies can be bought and sold without the consultation of their workers. He writes

The 1970s provided us with many examples of the abuse of financial power. There were individual scandals such as the one involving Lonrho which the Conservative Prime Minister, Mr Heath, described as the ‘unacceptable face of capitalism’. Firms may be able to get away with the payment of 38,000 pounds a year to part-time chairmen if no one else knows about it. But when it becomes public and we know that the chairman, as a Conservative M.P., supports a statutory wages policy to keep down the wage of low-paid workers, some earning less than 20 pounds a week at the time, it becomes intolerable. There was the case of the drug company, Hoffman-La Roche, who were grossly overcharging the National Health Service. There was also the initial refusal by Distillers to compensate the thalidomide children properly.

There were other broader scandals such as those involving speculation in property and agricultural land; the whole industry of tax avoidance; the casino-like atmosphere of the Stock Exchange. Millions of people who experience real problems in Britain are gradually learning all this on radio and television and from the press. Such things are a cynical affront to the struggle that ordinary people have to feed and clothe their families.

But the problem goes deeper than that. Workers have no legal rights to be consulted when the firms for which they work are taken over. They are sold off like cattle when a firm changes hands with no guarantee for the future. The rapid growth of trade union membership among white-collar workers and even managers indicates the strength of feelings about that. Not just the economic but also the political power of big business, especially the multinationals, has come into the open.

In Chile the ITT plotted to overthrow an elected President. The American arms companies, Lockheed and Northrop, have been shown to have civil servants, generals, ministers and even prime ministers, in democratic countries as well as dictatorships, on their payroll. The Watergate revelations have shown how big business funds were used in an attempt to corrupt the American democratic process. In Britain we have had massive political campaigns also financed by big business to oppose the Labour Party’s programme for public ownership and to secure the re-election of Conservative governments. Big business also underwrote the cost of the campaign to keep Britain in the Common Market at the time of the 1975 referendum. (pp. 49-50).

Benn then moves to discuss the threat of the sheer amount of power held by big business and the financial houses.

Leaving aside the question of abuse, the sheer concentration of industrial and economic power is now a major political factor. The spate of mergers in recent years in Britain alone – and their expected continuation – can be expressed like this: in 1950 the top 100 companies in Britain produced about 20 per cent of the national output. By 1973 they produced 46 per cent. And at this rate, by 1980, they will produce 66 per cent – two-thirds of our national output. Many of them will be operating multinationally, exporting capital and jobs and siphoning off profits to where the taxes are most profitable.

The banks, insurance companies and financial institutions are also immensely powerful. In June 1973 I was invited to speak at a conference organised by the Financial Times and the Investors Chronicle. It was held in the London Hilton, and before going I added up the total assets of the banks and other financial institutions represented in the audience. They were worth at that time about 95,000 million pounds. This was at the time about twice as much as the Gross National Product of the United Kingdom and four or five times the total sum raised in taxation by the British government each year. (p.50).

He then goes on to argue that the Labour party has to confront what this concentration of industrial and financial power means for British democracy and its institutions, and suggests some solutions.

The Labour Party must ask what effect all this power will have on the nature of our democracy. Britain is proud of its system of parliamentary democracy, its local democracy and its free trade unions. But rising against this we have the growing power of the Common Market which will strip our elected House of Commons of its control over some key economic decisions. This has greatly weakened British democracy at a time when economic power is growing stronger.

I have spelled this out because it is the background against which our policy proposals have been developed. In the light of our experience in earlier governments we believed it would necessary for government to have far greater powers over industry. These are some of the measures we were aiming at in the Industry Bill presented to Parliament in 1975, shortly after our return to power:

The right to require disclosure of information by companies
The right of government to invest in private companies requiring support.
The provision for joint planning between government and firms.
The right to acquire firms, with the approval of Parliament.
The right to protect firms from takeovers.
The extension of the present insurance companies’ provisions for ministerial control over board members.
The extension of the idea of Receivership to cover the defence of the interests of workers and the nation.
Safeguards against the abuse of power by global companies.

If we are to have a managed economy-and that seems to be accepted – the question is: ‘In whose interests is it to be managed?’ We intend to manage it in the interests of working people and their families. But we do not accept the present corporate structure of Government Boards, Commissions and Agents, working secretly and not accountable to Parliament. The powers we want must be subjected to House of Commons approval when they are exercised. (pp. 50-1).

I don’t know what proportion of our economy is now dominated by big business and the multinationals, but there is absolutely no doubt that the situation after nearly forty years of Thatcherism is now much worse. British firms, including our public utilities, have been bought by foreign multinationals, are British jobs are being outsourced to eastern Europe and India.

There has also been a massive corporate takeover of government. The political parties have become increasingly reliant on corporate donations from industries, that then seek to set the agenda and influence the policies of the parties to which they have given money. The Conservatives are dying from the way they have consistently ignored the wishes of their grassroots, and seem to be kept alive by donations from American hedge fund firms. Under Blair and Brown, an alarmingly large number of government posts were filled by senior managers and officials from private firms. Both New Labour and the Tories were keen to sell off government enterprises to private industry, most notoriously to the firms that bankrolled them. And they put staff from private companies in charge of the very government departments that should have been regulating them. See George Monbiot’s Captive State.

In America this process has gone so far in both the Democrat and Republican parties that Harvard University in a report concluded that America was no longer a functioning democracy, but a form of corporate oligarchy.

The Austrian Marxist thinker, Karl Kautsky, believed that socialists should only take industries into public ownership when the number of firms in them had been reduced through bankruptcies and mergers to a monopoly. Following this reasoning, many of the big companies now dominating modern Britain, including the big supermarkets, should have been nationalized long ago.

Tony Benn was and still is absolutely right about corporate power, and the means to curb it. It’s why the Thatcherite press reviled him as a Communist and a maniac. We now no longer live in a planned economy, but the cosy, corrupt arrangements between big business, the Tories, Lib Dems and New Labour, continues. Ha-Joon Chang in his book 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism argues very strongly that we need to return to economic planning. In this case, we need to go back to the policies of the ’70s that Thatcher claimed had failed, and extend them.

And if that’s true, then the forty years of laissez-faire capitalism ushered in by Thatcher and Reagan is an utter, utter failure. It’s time it was discarded.

The Spanish Civil War and the Real Origins of Orwell’s Anti-Communism

January 2, 2019

Orwell’s 1984 is one of the very greatest classic dystopian novels depicting a bleak future in which the state has nearly absolute, total control. It’s particularly impressed Russians and others, who lived through and criticized Stalinism. Some of these have expressed amazement at how Orwell could have written the book without actually experiencing the horrific reality of Stalin’s USSR for himself. After the War, Orwell became a snitch for MI5 providing the agency with information on the suspected Communists. It’s a sordid part of his brilliant career as an anti-imperialist, socialist writer and activist. Conservatives have naturally seized on Orwell’s 1984, and the earlier satire, Animal Farm, to argue that the great writer had become so profoundly disillusioned that he had abandoned socialism altogether to become a fierce critic of it.

This is unlikely, as the previous year Orwell had written The Lion and the Unicorn, subtitled Socialism and the English. This examined English identity, and argued that for socialism to win in England, it had to adapt to British traditions and the English national character. But it didn’t reject socialism. Instead, it looked forward to a socialist victory and a socialist revolution, but one that would be so in keeping with English nationhood that some would wonder if there had been a revolution at all. He believed this would come about through the increasing blurring of class lines, and pointed to the emergence of a class of people occupying suburban council housing, who could not be easily defined as either working or middle class.

This view of the necessity of developing of a particularly British, English variety of socialism was one of the fundamental assumptions of the Fabians. They said in the History of the society that

‘Fabian Essays’ presented the case for Socialism in plain language which everybody could understand. It based Socialism, not on the speculations of a German philosopher, but on the obvious evolution of society as we see it around us. It accepted economic science as taught by the accredited British professors; it built up the edifice of Socialism on the foundations of our existing political and social institutions; it proved that Socialism was but the next step in the development of society, rendered inevitable by the changes which followed from the industrial revolution of the eighteenth century.

In Lane W. Lancaster, Masters of Political Thought, Vol. 3, Hegel to Dewey (London: George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd 1959) 309.

George Bernard Shaw, in his paper ‘The Transition to Social Democracy’, also stressed that the movement towards socialism was a proper part of general developments in British society. He wrote of the Fabian programme

There is not one new item in it. All are applications of principles already in full activity. All have on them that stamp of the vestry which is so congenial to the British mind. None of them compel the use of the words Socialism or Evolution; at no point do they involve guillotining, declaring the Rights of Man, swearing on the alter of the country, or anything else that is supposed to be essentially un-English. And they are all sure to come – landmarks on our course already visible to far-sighted politicians even of the party that dreads them.

Lancaster, op. cit., p. 316.

Shaw was right, and continues to be right. Thatcher wanted to privatise everything because she was afraid of the ‘ratcheting down’ of increasing nationalization, and believed this would result in the gradual emergence of a completely socialized British economy. And the fact that so much British socialism was based on British rather than continental traditions may also explain why Conservatives spend so much of their effort trying to persuade the public that that Socialists, or at least the Labour left, are all agents of Moscow.

It appears to me that what turned Orwell into an anti-Communist was seeing the Communist party abandon its socialist allies and attack their achievements under Stalin’s orders in the Spanish Civil War. The Trotskyite writer Ernest Mandel discusses this betrayal in his From Stalinism to Eurocommunism (New York: Schocken Books 1978).

The switch to a defence of the bourgeois state and the social status quo in the ‘democratic’ imperialist countries – which implied the defence of private property in the event of severe social crisis and national defence in the event of imperialist war – was made officially by the Seventh Congress of the Comintern. It had been preceded by an initial turn in this direction by the French Communist Party (PCF) when the Stalin-Laval military pact was signed. The clearest reflection of this turn was the Popular Front policy; its most radical effects came with the application of this policy during the Spanish Civil War. In Spain, the Communist Party made itself the most determined, consistent and bloody defender of the reestablishment of the bourgeois order against the collectivisations spontaneously effected by the workers and poor peasants of the Republic and against the organs of power created by the proletariat, particularly the committees and militias, which had inflicted a decisive defeat on the miltaro-fascist insurgents in nearly all the large cities of the country in July 1936. (p. 18).

Others have also pointed out that the nightmare world of 1984 is a depiction of a revolution that has taken the wrong turn, not one that has failed, which is another tactic adopted by Conservative propagandists. Orwell was greatly impressed by the achievements of the Spanish anarchists, and anarchism is highly critical of state socialism and particularly the USSR.

It thus seems to me that what Orwell attacked in Animal Farm and 1984 was not socialism as such, but its usurpation and abuse by bitterly intolerant, repressive groups like the Bolsheviks. It was a view partly based by what he had seen in Spain, and would no doubt have been reinforced by his awareness of the way Stalin had also rounded up, imprisoned and shot socialist dissidents in the USSR. Orwell was probably anti-Communist, not anti-Socialist.

Bakunin: Democracy without Economic Equality Is Worthless

December 27, 2018

More anarchism now, this time from the Russian anarchist, Mikhail Bakunin. Bakunin violently criticized and rejected democracy because he passionately believed and argued that without economic equality for the workers, it would simply preserve the power of the exploiting classes, including the bourgeoisie, the owners of capital and industry. These would continue legislating for themselves against the workers.

Bakunin wrote

The child endowed with the greatest talents, but born into a poor family, a family of workers living from day to day on their hard labour, is doomed to an ignorance which, instead of developing his own natural talents, kills them all: he will become the worker, the unskilled labourer, forced to be the bourgeoisie’s man-servant and field-worker. The child of bourgeois parents, on the other hand, the child of the rich, however, stupid by nature, will receive both the upbringing and the education necessary to develop his scanty talents as much as possible. He will become the exploiter of labour, the master, the property-owner, the legislator, the governor-a gentleman. However stupid he may be, he will make laws on behalf of the people and against them, and he will rule over the popular masses.

In a democratic state, it will be said, the people will choose only the good men. But how will they recognize them? They have neither the education necessary for judging the good and the bad, nor the spare time necessary for learning the differences among those who run for election. These men, moreover, live in a society different from their own; they doff their hat to Their Majesty the sovereign people only at election-time, and once elected they turn their backs. Moreover, however excellent they may be as members of their family and their society, they will always be bad for the people, because, belonging to the privileged and exploiting class, they will quite naturally wish to preserve those privileges which constitute the very basis of their social existence and condemn the people to eternal slavery.

But why haven’t the people been sending men of their own, men of the people, to the legislative assemblies and the government? First, because men of the people, who have to live by their physical labour, do not have the time to devote themselves exclusively to politics. [Second, b]eing unable to do so, being more often ignorant of the political and economic questions which are discussed in these lofty regions, they will nearly always be the dupes of lawyers and bourgeois politicians. Also, [third] it is usually enough for these men of the people to enter the government for them to become members of the bourgeoisie in their turn, sometimes hating and scorning the people from whom they came more than do the natural-born members of the bourgeoisie.

So you see that political equality, even in the most democratic states, is an illusion. It is the same with juridical equality, equality before the law. The bourgeoisie make the law for themselves, and they practice it against the people. The State, and the law which expresses it, exist only to perpetuate the slavery of the people for the benefit of the bourgeoisie.

Moreover, you know, if you wish to file suit when you find your interests, your honour, or your rights wronged, you must first prove that you are able to pay the costs, that is, that you can lay aside an impossible sum; and if you cannot do so, they you cannot file the suit. But do the people, the majority of the workers, have the resources to put on deposit in a court of law? Most of the time, no. Hence the rich man will be able to attack you and insult you with impunity. There is no justice at all for the people.

Political equality will be an illusion so long as economic and social equality do not exist, so long as any minority can become rich, property-owning, and capitalist through inheritance. Do you know the true definitions of hereditary property? It is the hereditary ability to exploit the collective labour of the people and to enslave the masses.

In Robert M. Cutler, Mikhail Bakunin: From Out of the Dustbin: Bakunin’s Basic Writings 1869-71 (Ann Arbor: Ardis 1985) pp. 50-1.

Bakunin’s stance is extreme, obviously, and the educational opportunities open to working people has changed immensely since the late 19th century when he wrote this. The school leaving age in Britain has gradually been extended until it’s 18, and nearly half of all school leavers now go on to university to obtain degrees. But nevertheless, his criticism still remains valid.

The majority of politicians and members of parliament come from the middle and upper classes. There was a book published a few years ago that estimated that 75 per cent of MPs have senior management positions or sit on the boards of companies, so that the majority of them are millionaires. As a result, legislation passed by them has benefited industry at the expense of working people, so that the rich are getting much richer, and the poor poorer. They have attacked employees’ rights at work, introduced the gig economy, which has trapped people in insecure, irregularly paid work without benefits like annual leave, sick pay or maternity leave. At the same time the benefits system has been attacked to create a demoralized, cowed workforce ready to accept any job than starve without state support, due to benefit sanctions and delays in payment. And then there’s the infamous workfare, which is nothing less than the abuse of the benefits system to supply industry and particularly the big supermarkets with subsidized cheap labour for exploitation.

This situation has partly come about because New Labour abandoned economic justice for working people and took over the Neoliberal policies of Margaret Thatcher. The result was that even when the Tories were ousted with the 1997 election, elements of Thatcherism continued under Blair and Brown. And the Neocons have admitted that while they were in favour of exporting democracy to Iraq, they wanted that new freedom to be strictly limited so that only parties promoting free trade and economic individualism would be elected.

In the US the situation has got worse. Due to political sponsorship and donations from big business, politicians in congress notoriously do not represent their constituents but their corporate donors. Only 19-25 per cent of American voters feel the government works for them, and a study by Harvard University concluded that the country was not so much a democracy as a corporate oligarchy.

Democracy would thus benefit the ruling classes, and provide the illusion of freedom for everyone else.

This has to be reversed. Corporate money and power has to be taken out of politics and ordinary working men and women put in, with an agenda to empower this country’s ordinary people instead of reassuring lies, like the Tories.

It’s why we need Corbyn in government, and the Tories, Lib-Dems and New Labour out.

The Nazi Labour Front and Tory Employment Policy

December 4, 2018

I found this very interesting passage in Robert A. Brady’s The Spirit and Structure of German Fascism (London: Victor Gollancz 1937). It’s about the Labour Front, or Deutschearbeitsfront to give it its German name.

This was the Nazi organization which was set up to replace the trade unions, which the Nazis declared were ‘Marxist’ and banned. This provided some recreational services to German workers through the Strength Through Joy movement and a minimum of restraint on employers. Instead of the trade union committee, there was a Council of Trustees, elected by the workers, but selected by the employer, whose job was to explain and promote the boss’ decisions, and give him any complaints the workers had.

But German employer-worker relations were strictly hierarchical, and followed the Nazi Fuhrerprinzip or ‘Leader Principle’. Just as Adolf Hitler was the Fuhrer of the German people, so the employer was the Fuhrer of his workforce. German employment law forbade the sacking of workers, who had been employed for over year without giving them due notice. And mass discharges in plants over a certain size had to be preceded by giving the Council of Trustees due written notice.

But the workers were also bound to their employers, and could not leave them if they worked on farms, while those that were employed in industry would not receive unemployment benefit for six weeks if they left their previous job without proper cause. Brady writes

Here as elsewhere the whole machinery redounds primarily to the advantage of the employer. Every effort is made to cut down labour turnover. In late chapters various methods for achieving this effect will be discussed. But the Labour Front has not been content with programmes for attaching workers to a given plot ground,, and hence to a particular employer, nor with an absolute prohibition against strikes of all kinds. These it heartily endorses, but it goes even further.

It goes so far, for example, as to declare workers who leave agricultural employment during the crop season saboteurs and unworthy of German citizenship. It warns all that “to gather well and surely the harvest is your foremost and weightiest task. Whoever neglects this duty and leaves his position with the farmer without due warning in order to into industry is a saboteur, and must be excluded from the community of the German people…” There are other and more direct punitive measures: “A labourer who gives up his work place without important or justified grounds or who has lost his position through a situation which justified his immediate discharge can receive as a rule no unemployment subsidy for six weeks…” Simultaneously, he can be “locked out” from his place of last, and all other employment until such time as he can submit proof of the reasons for losing the first job. (pp. 130-, my emphasis).

So far, workers aren’t being stopped from finding another job if they leave their previous employment, and farm labourers who give up their jobs aren’t being denounced as saboteurs. But it is Tory policy not to give unemployed workers unemployment benefit for a certain number of weeks. I can remember when it was brought in under John Major. You weren’t given unemployment benefit for a set period if you had made yourself ‘voluntarily unemployed’. And this policy has been extended to any unemployed individual, regardless of whether they left their job voluntarily or not, through the delays Cameron and May have built into the benefits system, and particularly with the problems accompanying the rollout of Universal Credit. So far, however, the Tories haven’t also followed the Nazi policy sending the ‘workshy’ – arbeitscheu – to the concentration camps. But perhaps its only a matter of time.

Tony Greenstein on his blog showed how completely false the accusations of anti-Semitism made against Corbyn’s supporters in the Labour party were by discussing the case of one man, who was so accused because he put up a photoshopped picture of a Jobcentre sign saying ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’. This was the Nazi slogan on the entrance to Auschwitz, ‘Work Makes You Free’. But there’s nothing anti-Semitic in the photo. It’s a comment on the government’s policy towards the unemployed. Particularly as Ian Duncan Smith, or some other Tory minister with a similar hatred for the proles, had actually written a newspaper column with a paragraph stating that ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ was quite right. Someone else spotted the paragraph, and had it removed from the website on which it was posted, before they thought too many had seen it. But they had, and many had taken screenshots.

It is no exaggeration in this respect to say that the Tories are following Nazi policy towards the unemployed. And this is likely to get even worse the longer they’re in power. And if they carry on as they are, eventually the Tory conferences will start with May goose-stepping on to the stage to cries of ‘Sieg Heil!’ and ‘Duce, Duce!’

Outcry over Firms Microchipping Workers

November 12, 2018

I found this very ominous story in today’s I, for the 12th November 2018. It seems some firms are inserting microchips into their employees, and employers’ groups and trade unions have rightly come together to condemn it. The article reads

Both the employers and trade unions representative bodies have expressed alarm at reports that UK firms are considering implanting staff with microchips for security. UK firm BioTeq says it has already fitted 150 implants while Swedish firm Biohax has claimed it is in discussions with several UK firms. (p.2).

This is deeply sinister stuff, straight out of the X-Files. Never mind the bonkers conspiracy theories about aliens inserting implants into our bodies to control us, ordinary human capitalism is beginning to do that. From the article it seems that the chips are simply there to make sure employees are who they say they are, but this is nevertheless a real totalitarian move. As it stands, employees in some companies are very closely monitored. Private Eye printed a story a few months ago about how the weirdo Barclay Twins, who own the Torygraph, wished to have motion sensors attached to their hacks desks to make sure they weren’t moving around too much. They had to abandoned this intrusive and hare-brained scheme because it was resented so much by the hacks. Nevertheless, if this goes ahead uncontested, I can see more firms adopting the practice, right up to the government. After all, what better way to cut down on crime, identity theft and illegal immigration than have everyone implanted with a microchip containing all their biographical and biometric details. Blair’s government was, after all, considering passing legislation to establish compulsory electronic identity cards carrying biometric information. And I’ve no doubt other, deeply authoritarian regimes around the world would be all too enthusiastic about adopting the policy.

It also reminds me of the one part of the millennialist beliefs held by Fundamentalist Christians about the End Times and the one world global superstate they’re afraid of. In this myth, which has been around since the 1970s, once the global Satanic dictatorship is established with the Antichrist as its head, it will order barcodes to be marked on everyone’s hands and forehead. Those who don’t have the barcodes will be unable to buy or sell. It’s how they believed the prophecy in the Book of Revelation in the Bible that the Antichrist would have everyone marked with the number 666 on their hands and foreheads would come true in the modern world.

I really don’t believe in the religious right’s millennialist fears. One interpretation of the Book of Revelation is that it’s a coded description of the persecution the early church was experiencing under the Roman Emperor Nero. Both the Romans and Jews used various number codes, in which letters of the alphabet had certain numerical values. These could be used in ordinary secular ways, as well as in number mysticism, in which people tried to discern a deeper meaning in religious or mystical texts through adding up the numerical value of particular words. 666 corresponds to ‘Neron’, a form of Nero. He’s also believed to have been the person described in the Book of Revelation as ‘the great beast’, because as a young prince, before he got into power, he and his cronies thought it was jolly japes for him to go round Rome dressed as a beast and attack people. I think this is probably the right way to interpret that part of the Bible, rather than seeing it as a literal prediction of an imminent end of the world.

But even so, when faced with reports that the firms are trying to implant their workers with microchips, and Blair and authoritarian politicians after him would like to make it compulsory for us all to carry biometric electronic identity cards, I do wonder if the Fundamentalists have a point.