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Bollocks to Clause Four

August 30, 2010 6 comments

From Subversion, No. 16 (Spring 1996)

The Miners lead the way

Miners triumphantly return to Tower Colliery after the miners strikes of 1984/5

What a sight, 239 miners, relatives and their supporters marching up the hill singing triumphantly (in Welsh), the Internationale and the Red Flag, as Tower Colliery was re-opened under employee ownership’ . . . just as their predecessors had in 1947, when the coal mines were nationalised! Each miner had invested £8,000 of redundancy money and in addition collectively taken on huge additional debts to launch this new venture.

Tyrone O’Sullivan – NUM official, a driving force behind the buyout and now personnel director (no change there really!) said of all this, in confused comment to the press:

‘. . . yesterday was a triumph for a different kind of socialism and for a fight back against old-fashioned state capitalism’

‘. . .this is what I call real nationalisation’

‘Making a profit has never been a problem for socialists. . . here we’ve got equal shares.’

Ann Clwyd, Labour MP, added for good measure:

‘It’s not the Union Jack that’s going to be raised over this pit but the Welsh dragon.’

So there you have it. The ‘new venture’ is ‘real socialism’ not ‘state capitalism’, but also at the same time it is ‘real nationalisation’. It also apparently combines the best spirit of both workers’ internationalism and Welsh nationalism’

One of the miners on the other hand (not one of the new directors) had a more pragmatic view:

‘I don’t really feel I’m an owner of the pit I don’t see myself as a capitalist but as a lucky man who can go back to work at last after nine months.’

Well fair enough – but for how long? At Monktonhall colliery a good deal further along the road with its own employee buyout they’ve just gone on a wildcat strike in a dispute very reminiscent of the old NCB days.

Miners leaving Tower Colliery after their final shift in 2008

What’s it all about then?

Certainly nationalisation either as part of the so-called ‘mixed economy’ or in its recently deceased full-blown form in Russia and Eastern Europe, has been no friend of the working class. It can as O’Sullivan initially suggested best be described as (one form of) ‘state capitalism’, with all the usual trappings of money, markets, wages, profits and hierarchy.

Of course, O’Sullivan and his ilk fought to save nationalisation despite this, because they had a niche within the old system to protect. The revelation that it was really a load of crap only came after the battle had been lost and he’d got himself a new niche in the workers’ company.

Nationalisation of the coal mines and other key industries in the past had its role to play, but for capitalism not the workers. As Victor Keegan, a supporter of past nationalisation put it:

‘. . . because public ownership provided a humane and efficient umbrella for the rundown of the mines that would have been impossible to achieve with the old owners.’

Well. we’re not sure redundant miners and their families would agree with the ‘humane’ pan of that, but you get the drift.

Apart from anything else, nationalisation in Britain involved generously buying out the old owners, largely with government bonds on which the state continued to pay interest. So profits in the re-structured industry went into the state coffers and then out again to the capitalists the state borrowed from. The new coal industry also continued to provide a secure source of power to the rest of capitalist industry in the postwar period and released capital investment for the reconstruction of other sectors of the economy.

So-called revolutionaries like Militant and the SWP of course saw through this and demanded ‘nationalisation without compensation’. The fact is this would prove disastrous if carried out by an isolated national government, as a result of market isolation and military intervention. In the case of Russia where the state nationalised industry already taken over by the workers or abandoned by its capitalist owners, the party bureaucracy simply substituted itself for the old bosses at the expense of the workers and then sent them off to fight a war on their behalf.

Mr. Blair and the Modernisers

When you think about it, that nice Mr Blair is right – nationalisation is out of date. It served its purpose (for capitalism) in the past, but in a world of major economic power blocs, like the European Union, NAFTA and APEC etc, spanning many countries, and with industry hungry for huge sums of capital investment beyond the scope of nationally-based organisations to provide, nationalisation is a hindrance to the expansion of capital.

There’s another problem though. Nationalisation ( or public ownership, if you prefer) whether by the central or local state (sometimes called municipalisation) was dead useful to capitalism to get its own way, while kidding workers that they were on the way to socialism, or at least a ‘fairer’ society. Tories as much as Labour recognised the value of this. There was pretty much a consensus between them in post-war Britain, backed up by the common assumptions of Keynesian economics philosophy.

Now they need to perform the same sort of trick without nationalisation, which is where the Tories “people’s capitalism’ and the Labour Party’s redefinition of socialism and the debate on Clause 4 come in. We are witnessing the emergence of a new consensus.

The New Fool’s Gold


We now find the Labour Party very interested in promoting employee ownership schemes. For inspiration, they are looking to the widespread systems of co-operative ownership in Europe, particularly in the agricultural sector, the employee ownership of industry in the USA (like TWA and North West Airlines) where some 10, 000 companies are at least partially owned by those who work in them and even to some older established systems in this country like the consumer Co-operative Society and the John Lewis Partnership. Other ideas about worker share options and worker directors are also being explored.

It’s a short step from this to suggesting, as Andrew Bennett MP and the Guardian’s Victor Keegan do that workers’ investment in pension funds and more directly in the likes of British Gas etc. is already well on the way to some new form of social ownership.

Stephen Pollard, head of research for the Fabian Society (didn’t they have something to do with the original clause 4?!) now says that, on paper at least, Britain already has ‘common ownership’ via the Pension and Insurance Fund Industry. Socialism really has come ‘like a thief in the night’ after all! Of course for Daily Mirror pensioners the thief wasn’t ‘socialism’ but Robert Maxwell.

Andrew Bennett, who by the way thinks it’s a mistake to re-write clause 4, has already re-written it in his own mind by referring to ‘. . . shared ownerships’ of the means of production, distribution and exchange’ in line with the new philosophy.

Turning in his Grave

Peter Hain MP, being a bit more of an intellectual, tried his hand at providing a few historical precedents in support of the new approach when he says:

‘An alternative libertarian socialism, embracing figures as diverse as William Morris, Tom Mann, Robert Owen and Noam Chomsky, stresses decentralised control, with decision making in the hands of producers and consumers.’

Though his real reason for opposing nationalisation is the more mundane one of its ‘costing too much.’

Hain obviously isn’t a Radio 4 listener, otherwise he would have heard the serialisation of William Morris‘ ‘News from Nowhere’ in which the view of Socialism as a moneyless, wageless, marketless society of free access is made quite clear. In this story of a futuristic society, the Houses of Parliament are put to good use as a store for manure. So in one sense at least things are the same – the contents of that place still stink!

Ownership and Control

Apparently behind Hain’s support for New Labour’s ideas is his belief that ‘control is as important as ownership’ (in fact he opposes one to the other). But this differentiation only makes sense if ‘ownership’ is perceived in a purely formal or legalistic sense. In the real world, ownership can only be defined in terms of control. Private ownership means exclusive control of something by a private individual, group or section of society to the exclusion of all others.

In Russia for instance. where the state used to own most industry and agriculture, the ‘people’ were legally the owners, but it was the bureaucracy which had exclusive control of the means of production and therefore they who in PRACTICE owned the means of production.

Equally, a workers co-op whilst instituting common ownership amongst its members (if we ignore for the moment the rights of its creditors), is a form of private ownership as against the rest of society.

So long as the relationship between workers co-ops (or any other forms of worker controlled units) is governed by money and the market or indeed by any means of equal EXCHANGE, then so long will people as a whole fail to exert conscious social control over society as a whole. So long as production remains primarily geared towards exchange on the market rather than towards directly satisfying peoples self-expressed needs them ‘common ownership of the means of production and distribution’ will not have been achieved.

Furthermore, in time, the pressures of production for the market inevitably take their toll of any innovative attempts at equality within individual co-ops or other similar set-ups.

As an aside, you’ll note that we don’t talk about common ownership of the ‘means of exchange’ since as you have probably already gathered we consider this to be a totally contradictory statement. You can’t exchange that which is held in common or the products of that held in common.

Thus, Clause 4 is in both theory and practice a statement of state capitalist aims and has nothing to do with socialism in its original sense. Labour’s ‘new’ ideas are a just a mixture of traditional and worker-administered forms of capitalism regulated by the state. Just a different form of state capitalism really!

Just remember, painting America’s TWA airline red didn’t make it part of a communist transport system!

The Revolutionary Alternative to Left-Wing Politics

August 30, 2010 3 comments

From Subversion, No. 16 (Spring 1996)

The Left has not failed. And that is one of the greatest disasters ever to befall the working class.

Most people think that the Left is the movement of the working class for socialism (albeit riven by opportunism and muddle-headed interpretations on the part of many in its ranks).

Nothing could be further from the truth.


We in Subversion (and the wider movement of which we are a part) believe that left-wing politics are simply an updated version of the bourgeois democratic politics of the French revolution, supplemented by a state-capitalist economic programme.

Consider;

In the French revolution, the up and coming capitalist class were confronted not only by the old order, hut also by a large and growing urban plebeian population (the working class in formation, artisans, petty traders and the like), who had their own genuine aspirations for freedom from oppression, however incoherent.

Bourgeois democracy was the device that enabled the capitalist class to disguise their own aspirations for power as the liberation of everyone outside the feudal power structure.

The notion of the People (as though different classes, exploiters and exploited, could be reduced to a single entity) was thus born.

The notion of Equality and the notion of Rights possessed by all presented a fictitious view of society as a mass of individuals who all stood in the same relations to the law completely ignoring the difference between the property owners and those whose labour they exploit.

And, above aIl the notion of the Nation – that the oppressed class should identify with those of their oppressors who live in the same geographical area or speak the same language, and see as alien those of our class who are on the other side of “national borders”.

By means of this imaginary view of society, capitalism was able to dominate the consciousness of the newly forming working class. Bourgeois democracy is the biggest con in history.

Consider also:

As capitalism developed more and more. the material position of the working class forced it to engage in struggle despite its bourgeois consciousness thus enabling this consciousness to be undermined.

The existing capitalist regimes often came to be hated. Thus there was a need for a more radical version of bourgeois democracy with a more specifically working class image. Left wing politics fulfilled this role in the 19th and 20th centuries, first in the form of Social Democracy or Labourism and then in the form of Bolshevism: Both of these variants managed to dress up support for capitalism in working class language, and became major players in the full development of capitalism (this was especially true in Russia. where State Capitalism, introduced by the Bolsheviks, a supposedly working class party, was the only way capitalism could be developed.

SO WHAT DOES LEFTISM CONSIST OF?


At first blush it seems to be about supporting the struggle of the workers. but when you look more closely everything is on the terrain of capitalist politics.
The main features of Leftism are

SUPPORT FOR RADICAL CAPITALIST PARTIES

Such as the Labour Partty in this country and the ANC in South Africa (precisely because its goal is to widen bourgeois democracy – the vote etc ).and support for Parliament. Some “revolutionary” groups who don’t support the Labour Party nevertheless still suppnt participation in parliament – thereby helping in practice to uphold the ideology of bourgeois democracy.

SUPPORT FOR STATE CAPITALISM

Already referred to above, State Capitalism (a term with various meanings, but here we mean the form of society that developed in Russia and its imitators) collects all property into the hands of the state. And this is a capitalist state, not a “workers’ state” because capitalist property relations still exist – wage labour, money, the market – and of course the workers do not control the state. The state, indeed, confronts the workers as the ‘collective capitalist” extracting surplus value from them for the ruling bureaucrats. who are themselves the “collective bourgeoisie’.

Let us be clear about this the only way capitalism can be dismantled is for the working class to immediately abolish money and the market, and distruibute goods according to need (albeit with scarce goods being rationed for a time if necessary). Those who argue that this cannot be done immediately are in fact arguing for retaining the very core of capitalist social relations – if that is done the revolution is as good as dead.

The idea that state capitalism is not capitalism doesn’t merely justify support for anti-working class dictatorships like Russia, China, Cuba etc., but creates the very real danger of such a society being created in any future revolution.

SUPPORT FOR NATIONALISM IN ITS “RADICAL” FORM

Left wing groups routinely advocate support for weaker, e.g. ‘third world’, nation states – meaning the governments of nation states, against stronger ones (Iraq in the Gulf War, etc.),- This is described as anti-imperialism as though the victory of the weaker country would do more than slightly alter the ranking of states within the world imperialist pecking order. Imperialism is a historical stage of capitalism and opposing it as opposed to opposing capitalism itself via working class revolution, is meaningless.

The most common form of this “radical” nationalism consists of so-called “national liberation movements”. such as the IRA, who don’t yet have state power. As soon as they do come to power they always crush the working class – that is, of course, the nature of bourgeois state power.

Often the line will be used that, even if one disapproves of nationalism, that nevertheless nations have a right to self-determination, and one must support their rights. A purer example of bourgeois democratic double-talk could not be imagined: Rights are not something that actually exists, but are a bourgeois mystification (see above). The working class should not talk about its rights but about its class interest. Talking about a right to national “self-determination’ (as though a geographical grouping of antagonistic classes can be a ‘self’!) is like saying that workers have a “right” to be slaves if they want to, or a “right” to beat themselves over the head with a hammer if they want to. Anyone who supports the ‘right’ to something anti-working class is actually helping to advocate it. whatever their mealy-mouthed language.

Siding with the working class against all capitalist factions necessitates opposing all forms of nationalism whatsoever. Any wobbling on this will lead the working class to defeat yet again.

SUPPORT FOR TRADE UNIONISM

Seemingly the most working class activity of all. Trade Unionism is above all a movement to reconcile the workers to capitalism Its stated aim is to get workers the best deal within capitalism, but it’s not even that:

The mass of workers have bourgeois consciousness, but because capitalism forces them to struggle, they can resist despite that consciousness and thereby begin to change that consciousness.

Struggles of the working class are the seeds of revolutionary change. But because Trade Unions are made up of the mass of workers (with bourgeois consciousness) and exist all the time – i.e when there’s no class struggle (and although the day-today life of workers can well be called a struggle, we are of course talking about collective struggle) the said Unions inevitably fail to challenge capitalism, and furthermore become dominated by a clique of bureaucrats who rise above the passive mass of workers. These bureaucrats get their livelihood from the day-to-day existence within capitalism that is Trade Unionism. They are thus materially tied to it. That is why when struggle breaks out, the Union machine sabotages it and stabs workers in the back in the time honoured tradition. This will always be the case – the workers can never seize the unions. The very nature of Trade Unionism produces anti-working class bureaucratic control.

We believe the workers must create new structures, controlled from the bottom up, to run every struggle that occurs, outside and against the Unions, if the struggle is to go forward. Left wing groups support for Trade Unions is just one more way in which they help shackle the working class to capitalism.

AND LAST BUT CERTAINLY NOT LEAST. ADVOCACY OF THE LEADERSHIP OF “REVOLUTIONARIES” OVER THE WORKING CLASS

This division between a mass of followers and an elite of leaders mirrors the divide in mainstream capitalism (and indeed all forms of class society) between rulers and ruled, and serves well the project of constructing state capitalism, after the future revolution.

None of this means that all workers will come simultaneously to revolutionary ideas, because to begin with only a minority will be revolutionaries, but their task is to argue their case with the rest of their fellow workers as equals.

What the left do however, is to perpetuate the sheep-like mentality workers learn under capitalism and harness it to their aim to be in charge after the revolution. We say that if anyone is in charge, if the working class does not lead itself and consciously build a new society, then it will fare no better than in Russia and China and all the rest.

We believe that all left wing groups, whether Stalinist or Trotskyist (or Maoist or Anarchist or whatever they call themselves) are merely radical capitalist organisations which, if they ever came to power, would erect new state capitalist dictatorships in the name of the very working class they would proceed to crush.

This is not a matter of the subjective intentions of their members, whose sincerity we are not questioning here. but the objective result of their policies.

This is why the Left has not failed Its aim was never more than to save capitalism by disguising it as something it was not -just as the original form of bourgeois democracy did in an earlier age.

In opposition to the Left there exists a political movement, consisting of both groups and individuals, some of whom might call themselves Communists, while some might call themselves Anarchists (the Marxist-Anarchist split is an outdated historical division that bears no relationship to the real class line, which cuts across it), but who all stand united against the fake radicalism of the Left, and for a genuinely communist alternative. We in SUBVERSION area part of this movement.

WHAT IS THE ALTERNATIVE?

We believe that, despite the obstacles put in its way by both Right and Left, the working class has the power to destroy capitalism for real, and create a society without classes, without the state, national boundaries, oppression or inequality. A society not based on money or other forms of exchange, but on collective ownership of, and free access to, all society’s goods on the part of the whole of humanity.

This society. which we call Communism or Socialism or Anarchism interchangeably, will be the first truly free society ever to exist.

The social movement that will create this society will grow from the existing struggles of the working class. As part of this process, our class must surmount the barriers put in its way by bourgeois ideology, including left wing ideology. Our task in SUBVERSION is not to be leaders (see above), but to be part of the process of creation of a revolutionary working class movement that will put an end to our world’s long history of oppression and exploitation, and begin the long history of the free, world human community to come.

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