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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Class Room for Business

 

Capitalism becomes ever more blatant in its direction of education towards its own advantage. When, in the late nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries, the requirement for an educated workforce became urgent, the state was charged with meeting that need.

The organisation of schools largely reflected industrial arrangements of the day, with reforms enacted as capitalism altered its working practices. This remained the case up to the latter end of the last century.

Then, under Labour, Coalition and Conservative governments, the state began to be incrementally withdrawn in favour of edu-businesses, capitalism realising the possibility of directly profiting from education.

Testing students is promoted as a clear way to promote ever improving standards in schools. Behind this dissembling veneer is the reduction of education to quantifiable data. The tests and subsequent data analysis has become big business in its own right.

Increasingly, this testing is becoming computerised, opening schools as markets for IT hard and soft ware. Recent estimates suggest this worldwide market is worth around 9 billion dollars, and growing.

Therefore, the appointment of Amanda Spielman as Ofsted chief executive and Chief Inspector of Schools makes perfect sense. That she has no educational background other than her own – she’s never worked in schools or any other related area coming under the aegis of Ofsted – does not disqualify her it seems.

She is an accountant by profession and associated with Ark (Absolute return for kids), an academy chain. Spielman worked in investment strategy for Kleinwort Benson, KPMG and Nomura, before becoming research and development director for Ark.

Whilst advisor to Ark’s international division she also chaired Ofqual, the qualification body that was cited for its failings during her time. It’s hardly surprising the House of Commons Education Select Committee found itself unable to support her appointment.

So, raising standards or raising profits? To which does the evidence point?

 

 

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The Pearl

 

The victory of Alexander Van der Bellen over Norbert Hofer in the Austrian presidential election was greeted with relief by leading lights in the EU political establishment and many parts of the media. A seemingly unstoppable tide favouring right wing populists had been turned back by a candidate described as left leaning.

Left leaning is political code for liberal and Bellen’s Green credentials confirmed his place on the bourgeois political spectrum. Hofer, in turn, was regularly described as “far right”, political code for racist nationalist tending towards fascism.

The irony is the very establishment that greeted, indeed celebrated, Hofer’s defeat is the EU nomenclature, a body united by the aim of constructing a pan-European corporate state. Fascism has moved on in its service to capitalism: no more Nuremburg Rallies, uniforms and jackboots, rather it’s sharp suits and soft shoes.

To be clear, fascism is the ideology of the corporate state, a comprehensive state that deals with all aspects of economic, social and political life in a unitary manner. It is the guarantor of free markets and workers’ rights, allowing for no contradiction.

Political elites have been taking something of a beating through 2016 as people have used their votes to signal their mounting discontent. What this reflects is workers as a class in itself reacting against the austerity imposed since the 2008 financial crash.

There’s a generalised awareness that things aren’t as they might be, but the atomized nature of society means people identify specific symptoms – national sovereignty, immigration, out of touch politicians etc., as the problem. So, that’s what they vote on.

As yet workers are not united as a class for itself, acting collectively in their common best interest, identifying the source of the symptoms, capitalism. Indeed, anything more radical than left leaning – Van der Bellen, Bernie Saunders, Jeremy Corbyn – has a collective deaf ear turned towards it.

Except in the fantastic political world of the Daily Mail, Marxists exert little of no influence in society. They do not run the BBC, or the Labour Party, or the Trade Unions, although many think the opposite which shows the Mail has more clout than the socialist press.

Until workers act as a class for itself, accept responsibility for confronting the actuality of capitalism and then transcending it to achieve socialism, then voting will change little. Whichever way the EU referendum had gone, capitalism was still in charge. The same with Trump, with Van der Bullen, with the recent vote in Italy.

For the moment Marxists can be little more than the irritating grit in the capitalist oyster until the working class decides the time is right to take the plunge and prise the pearl of socialism from the empty shell of capitalism.

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