Labouring

 

The local election results appear to suggest the media theme of Labour imploding under Jeremy Corbyn has been confirmed. However, as the old saying goes, appearances are deceptive. Not that the losses by Labour are not significant.

The problem for the Corbyn naysayers is that Labour’s electoral woes pre-date Corbyn’s leadership by a number of years. It was not he who led Labour to defeat in 2010 or 2015, nor was he in charge when UKIP began to make incursions.

Indeed, it is UKIP that is the crucial factor. Intentionally or not, they have served the Tories well in the roll of stalking horse. UKIP insinuated a narrow nationalism into communities that have carried the brunt of austerity.

The campaign for withdrawal from the EU became restricted to a backward looking Britishism, playing on fears exacerbated by the continuing effects of a Labour prime minister, Gordon Brown, effectively nationalising the excessive debts incurred by the speculations of finance capitalism.

The result has been that Labour has become identified as the cause of financial crisis rather than having to cope with it. Subsequently, the Tories profited politically and set about ensuring that “ordinary working people” continued to be financially punished for the crisis created by others.

This led to many on the receiving end, having lost faith in Labour, turning to UKIP who effectively insinuated a Tory ideology. Rather than a sense of class solidarity, many pursued an apparently easier option of rebellion through UKIP.

This has been a reaction to the Tory austerity being applied by Labour controlled councils. Again, it is Labour that has become identified with depredations that really belong at the door of capitalism. But without a common sense of class solidarity it is individual issues that become prominent.

Brexit led to the fall of the previous Tory administration, to be replaced by one that carries the UKIP banner. Prime Minister May was a lukewarm “remainer” at best leading up to the referendum, but is totally committed to pursuing the Tory agenda of serving capital at the expense of the working class.

Having served its purpose, UKIP supplied the wherewithal for the Tories to prosper in the recent local elections. Should this be replicated on 8th June Labour must not turn in on itself. Simply blaming Corbyn would be avoiding the fundamental problem, an ideological insurgency of Tory notions in to the working class.

Brexit is being commandeered by the Tories to serve their narrow political ends. It is incumbent upon Labour MPs to stop pursuing some perceived easy option of moderation, whatever that means.

Labour has built a membership half a million or so strong. That will drift away if “politics as usual”, that is, the politics of change very little and certainly don’t rock the finance capital boat, is asserted. Local elections are poor indicators of political trends as barely a third of the electorate participate.

Fretting over leadership is to succumb to a media that has been openly hostile to Corbyn from the moment he was first elected. After all, the previous leader was branded “Red Ed” by that same media and similarly vilified for being so incompetent he couldn’t eat a bacon sandwich, never mind run a country.

Labour politicians who think ditching Corbyn is the solution are fooling themselves. The media, as enforces of capitalist ideology, will always have their poisoned pens at the ready. Only once a leader has proved to be ineffectual in challenging the status quo will grudging lukewarm praise be offered on leaving office.

If the only way Labour can garner enough support to form a government is by becoming pink Tories, what then is the point? It’s true Labour can change nothing without winning an election, but the purpose for such a victory must surely be making change worthwhile.

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Flash View 1

 

The Tories are using Brexit to stage a political coup. By harnessing voters across ideological boundaries around this issue they intend strengthening their position in government by encouraging a narrow British nationalism.

The EU bureaucracy needs very little encouragement to posture as the super state it aspires to become. This enables the prime minister to play to the gallery as the defender of Britain and it people.

Brexit could take on an international aspect if it was linked to withdrawal from that other power block, NATO.

Then Britain could become a truly independent peace broker on the dangerous international scene.

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In Extremis

 

A few days after the declaration of the General Election, there was a revelation in a round-up of newspaper stories on BBC Radio 4’s “Today” programme. It was reported that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party was being supported by the extreme left wing Communist Party of Britain.

What was once safely New Labour has become the personal fiefdom, it seems, of comrade Corbyn, dammed by association with militant Reds. What terrible things were been wished upon this green and Tory land by the insidious CPB?

A consultation of their website laid bare the full extent of their wickedness. To quote:

  • State-backed investment in housing, public services and renationalised utilities.
  • Direction of private capital into depressed areas.
  • Regulation of trade to support exports and protect strategic industries.
  • Control over public procurement policy in order to favour equal pay and trade union rights including collective bargaining.
  • Drastic reductions in VAT alongside higher taxes on the rich and big business.
  • Legislative and trade union action to enforce equal terms and conditions for imported workers.
  • Replacement of the corrupt, high price and wasteful Common Agricultural Policy by a system of direct production and investment grants.

These points were followed by:

  • Progressive federalism.
  • Redistribution of wealth to working class in all nations and regions of Britain.
  • Abolition of Trident nuclear weapons system.
  • Britain’s withdrawal from NATO.

While it is possible to disagree with any or all of these proposals, depending on contrary political viewpoints, it is at least difficult, if not impossible, to portray them as extreme. These are surely the sort of policies any party bearing the epithet “Labour” should be pursuing.

Of course, these are not Labour proposals, nor are they presented as such by the CPB. They are a statement of intent, a rationale for lending that party’s support for the rather less ambitious programme Labour will offer.

If decent housing and services, equal pay and working conditions, the pursuit of peace etc. are extreme, then this surely calls into question what is moderate and middle of the road? Poor housing? Unequal pay? The pursuit of war?

This is but one example amongst myriad of how the press and media in general repeat unjustified phrases, such as extreme left wing, until they become common ideological currency until too many people end up voting against their own best interests and the interests of the majority.

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Rubbish and Racism

 

A suburban roadside verge, with a hedgerow and fields beyond, the margin where town and country meet. Such a pleasure to walk or drive along there, or it should be. Only, it is not blossoming may but rubbish, litter, hanging on the hawthorn.

An urban street, a teenager stands at a bus stop. With little warning a mixed up mob thirty or so strong surround him. Volleys of abuse escalate into a vicious, physical assault which is only curtailed by approaching police sirens.

The link between the blight of litter and fly-tipping inflicted on the general community and the attack on someone from a specific community is an all too common attitude of dismissive self-superiority.

Those who regard themselves as far too important to properly dispose of their waste presumably think there are some lesser beings who should be cleaning up after them. A sort of sub-imperial attitude that leaves it all to the lackeys. After all, it’s what they’re for, whoever “they” may be.

It is the same attitude that rounds on an asylum seeker at a bus stop. Having escaped from a barbarism so dreadful he’s been forced to flee his home, his attackers will see no irony in the barbarism they then inflict so casually.

They may justify their cruelty to each other by agreeing, without any evidence, that their victim is in reality merely an economic migrant. Even if this be true then all he is guilty of is pursuing work in the way fundamental to capitalism.

Unemployed lead miners tramped to the coalfields. Farm labourers left the land to work in the then new textile mills. From the middle of the eighteenth century or so, the working population of Britain was on the move from region to region, in search of employment.

Today, transnational capitalism has transformed the migration of labour from a national into an international phenomenon. It is the economics of capitalism that creates the wars and the failed economies setting labour on the move.

If there is to be a challenge to capitalism, a socialist change, then there will need to be a radical alteration of thinking amongst so many of the working class. The sub-imperial, petty nationalist, anti-social attitudes must be dispensed with.

The present ideological structure of society cannot be transformed without people consciously deciding to think and act in different ways. It is about accepting responsibility, personally and collectively.

Not dumping litter at the roadside, not attacking the vulnerable (or anyone, for that matter) will not bring capitalism down. But, it would be a start!

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Courting Popularity

 

POPULIST! This is the political vogue word of the moment, a pejorative appellation presently in common use especially in the media. President Trump, the Brexit vote, both are cited examples of what is being cast as a growing tendency.

Yet the word has a more honourable past. It referred to a member of the People’s Party, founded in 1891. It had a social agenda, championing public ownership of public services and graduated income tax.

It was a manifestation in the USA of the then emerging social democratic trend represented in Britain by the Labour Representation Committee, the Independent Labour Party leading to the founding of the Labour Party.

Whatever the political strengths and weaknesses, being a populist was not deserving of the opprobrium associated with the word today. Indeed, the basic populist principle was advocating the right and ability of the common people to govern themselves.

Replace the phrase “common people” with working class and there is the essential element of socialism, the working class acting politically for itself.

So what has happened to turn populism into a reactionary tendency? The problem lies not in any particular manifesto, but in the actual principle of courting popular support. This is denial of the working class acting for itself.

Instead, the “common people” play a passive role. A political programme, radical or otherwise, is concocted by a party standing apart. There may indeed be working people involved in that party, but it is a small self-selected group deeming itself to know what’s best for the masses.

The aim is to elicit widespread support for a pre-formed programme devoid of popular input. The only role for the electorate is to vote for it and trust the party will act on their behalf. In this sense, all parties putting themselves forward for election are populist.

A current example is the Scottish Nationalist Party seizing on EU referendum vote running counter to the overall British vote. Popular discontent is to be exploited for the sectional interests of the SNP, turning the voters’ gaze away from rather more pressing economic and social problems to which the SNP do not have answers.

The Green Party in Scotland, seeing an opportunity to raise its profile, is tailing along behind the SNP, hoping to gain some popular kudos. This is where the populist motivation is problematic. Whatever its intent, it serves the political interests of capitalism by limiting the political interests of the working class.

Issues become binary: for or against independence, leaving or staying in the EU, Labour or Conservative and so on and on… And the only role for the working class, the electorate, is to choose one of the other. Proportional representation or transferable vote systems are merely variations on this essentially passive process.

A true populism must involve the working class organising itself through its own political institutions to determine how its best interests can be served. Democracy requires the popular acceptance of responsibility for playing an active part.

Otherwise it’s merely howling at and voting for selected performers strutting about the parliamentary stage in “Westminster’s Got Talent”, a popular show for the moment, until those merely watching on realise they could act for themselves.

 

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Take Me To Your Leader?

 

It was a popular trope in the ‘50s and ‘60s. The flying saucer has landed, a subtle mechanism whirrs as a panel in the seemingly unblemished hull lifts revealing a portal. From the shadowy interior steps a green bug-eyed creature/silver suited figure who in perfectly enunciated (probably American) English demands, “Take me to you leader!”

The context for this B movie/pulp fiction was a mix of the beginnings of space exploration in the setting of the cold war. It also reveals the persistence of the concept of THE LEADER. Such a leader might be either malevolent or benign, or an amalgam of both, depending on perspective.

Hitler and Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt were both still fresh in popular consciousness, each considered to have played crucial roles that determined how the lives of whole populations were to be led.

Today the fascination with leadership remains: if only the right one could be promoted, or so it seems. Leaders can be characterised or stigmatised by a single word such as populist. In a democratic sense a popular leader is good, surely? Perhaps not when populist is characterised as pandering to the base instincts of the barely politically literate proles.

So, efforts need to be made to select the good leader to carry society forwards, or such is the implication. The problem, though, is not some perceived stupidity of the proles who are in this usage a sub-section of the working class.

Proles, of course, is merely an abbreviation of proletarians, a word not much in common parlance these days. It does not, however, refer to a section of the working class, but to the class in its entirety, a class to which the overwhelming majority of the population belong.

Working class/proletarian is defined by relationship to the means of wealth creation, a relationship of subservience. Not possessing the means to create wealth, this class must sell the only thing it does own, its labour power.

Labour power is the element required by the exceedingly small minority who do own and control the means of wealth production. Those means remain useless without the necessary labour power to activate them. No labour power – no wealth.

If the means of wealth production was taken into the ownership of the working class, then members of that class would collectively possess all the elements required to produce for the needs of society, a socialist society.

Therefore, what’s required is a socialist leader, right? Wrong! The very concept of such a leader is contrary to socialism. Leadership in this sense requires the working class to be passive, taking no responsibility for its own interests beyond marking a cross on a ballot paper.

Leaders are a capitalist phenomenon. No matter how sincere they may be in wishing to enact radical change, they can only do so with the confines set by capitalist necessity to pursue profit. As socialism will be the abolition of the profit motive no leader can be in such a position.

The working class is the only force that can bring socialism about on its own behalf. Those political groups who style themselves socialist continue the process of delusion by promoting support for a “socialist leader/party” such as Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party.

It matters not one jot how sincere Corbyn is, no one is capable of acting on behalf of the working class, the class must act for itself. The only proper leadership socialists can offer is the true meaning of education, that is, to lead out, bring forth the potential, presently latent, in the working class to liberate itself from capitalism.

 

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Nationalism – Scotch Mystification

 

The First Minister of the Scottish Parliament announces a second referendum on independence. The justification cited being the prior vote to leave the EU and the frustration of Scotland’s majority desire to retain membership.

As EU membership and referendum refers to Britain as a whole the outcome of the ballot must also be determined in that context. Such a vote was always going to produce regional variations, but that cannot then justify those areas in the overall minority camp seceding.

The problem lies with the binary nature of plebiscites. Complex political and economic matters are reduced to a simplistic “YES” or “NO”. Such can be employed on single issue questions, like the one presently facing many teachers.

Two teachers’ unions, the ATL and NUT, are balloting there members as to whether or not they should amalgamate. They either will or they won’t and so teachers can vote either “YES” or “NO”, there being a single question.

The relationship between member states of an economic, and increasingly political, union has a multiplicity of facets. So many that most were simply not addressed during the EU referendum campaign.

Instead, both sides simplified to the point where the electorate was provided with little, if any, useful information on which a rational choice could be made. The result was that many voted according to their own pet prejudices.

Those favouring immigration were countered by others who against it. Some saw the EU as a guarantor of their rights, many thought their rights were regularly infringed. Did the EU fund valuable local projects or drain money from the economy?

There was also a significant element of apparently voting against a political establishment seen as self-serving rather than meeting popular needs. What was actually taking place was a settling of scores between contending capitalist camps expressed through that political establishment.

There can surely be no doubt that the triumphant “Brexiteers” in the Theresa May administration are as viciously Tory as the previous Cameron one. The Labour Party remains supine, failing in the primary role of an opposition, to oppose.

Then there’s the socialist and communist parties and groups who also campaigned to leave and so played their part, however insignificant, in strengthening popular ideological adherence to capitalist political norms, while effectively aligning themselves with the Tory government.

This has now been exacerbated by the SNP seizing its opportunistic moment to try and bolster its waning support now it no longer commands an overall majority in the Scottish parliament. To do so it is more than willing to promote the dangerous mystification of a “Braveheart” nationalism.

For as long as people consciously or unconsciously continue to subscribe to a political system evolved to maintain capitalism, they must bear the consequences. Their interests are not being served because capitalism by its very nature cannot meet popular needs.

How an outcome from a referendum is deployed to give credence to a particular policy is demonstrated by what’s followed from the EU vote. It is a commonplace now for “Brexiteers” to declare the “LEAVE” vote is the will of the people.

It was, of course, nothing of the sort. Although there was a small majority who voted for “LEAVE”, there were in fact two minorities. The one voting “STAY” and the other that did not cast a vote. Together they form a rather larger majority that did not vote to leave the EU.

The non-voters cannot be dismissed as apathetic or non-participants because not voting was actually the only rational choice open to the electorate. Deprived of useful information, with no way of knowing what the outcome might be of leaving or staying, a snub to both sides made perfect sense.

The same applies to a Scottish independence vote. Love of the Union? Hatred of the English? Prospering in the EU? A minor region on the fringes of the EU, if allowed to join? No one can know. These and many other pertinent issues will not be adequately addressed, so people can only cast a partial vote at best.

Whichever way such plebiscites go capitalism will retain its dominance and the vast majority will have to deal with consequences of that. There will certainly not be a referendum on seceding capitalism.

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