Critique Notes 79
Published: 06 November 2017
We have to begin these Notes with the sad news of Istvan Meszaros's passing asway. Istvan was a member of the Critique editorial board for many years and contributed to it, though not for the last 15 or so years. An obituary will follow in a later issue.
The last Critique Notes were largely on the economy. This time I will concentrate on the possibilities for the present. The immediate logic of the downturn without the emergence of the left as a force seems to be one of chaos, disintegration, repression and the rise of the far right.
The economic pundits are now talking of an upturn, however gradual. However, they also report low productivity as a continuing issue. The well quoted research of Gutierrez and Phillipon 1 effectively shows that the lack of investment involved owes most to the limited competition in the market since the turn of the century. Indeed the huge levels of savings both of finance capital and individual industrial firms in the USA, which has engendered such research does not have an outlet, as argued in these Notes practically every issue. Lawrence Summers argues that the Trump administration is not going to make any dent on the low growth rate, He writes of the major economics ministers in the US administration being “some combination of ignorant, disingenuous and dishonest”2 It is clear that lowering tax rates for the rich, and changing tax laws so that companies can bring their profits to the USA without fearing extra taxes will not lead to more investment, under conditions where investment ratios are very low anyway.
It is hard, therefore, to see how the present depression will lift. As in all depressions there will be a minor cycle with a limited upturn. Effectively until social relations change, the economic conditions will remain. Nuriel Rubini3 runs through 3 possibilities- a strong upturn, a major downturn and what amounts to a kind of muddling through. It is odd that he thinks that there is any possibility of the first. I have ruled it out on the grounds that, in the final analysis, the bourgeoisie does not want to return to the seventies, but with general worry about the huge overhang of debt4 Rubini does seem optimistic, even in terms of liberal economics. In my view too much stress is placed on the Chinese debt levels, as the Chinese state seems able to handle it in an economy which is not a classical private enterprise economy. However, the debt levels in the West are another matter.
There is, however, a more important reason to take a different view.We do not live in the thirties, even after the shift to so-called neo-liberal economics. The state and conscious regulation are crucial to all modern economies, and conscious decision making plays a central role in modern society. In other words, the world economy will only recover when the bourgeoisie feels that it is safe to allow it to do so. It is hard to see how they are going to allow such a change. Since the left is too weak to alter the situation, for the time being, we are seeing a process of disintegration, chaos in parts of the world, licensed coups as in Brazil, and a rise of a form of comic opera, if dangerous, nationalism as with Trump, Hungary, Poland etc.
The Left and Classical Capitalist Countries
The elections in Germany, France, the UK and the USA from November 2016 to September 2017 have all shown the increasing instability of the capitalist. system, without the presence of its chief enemy a socialist party of the organised working class. It has taken a century for the betrayals of Stalinism and social democracy to reach their limit. Today, Stalinist ideology remains only among crazy Communist Parties like that in Greece where Stalin is revered and in odd pockets of the world like in the USA where there are Maoist and old time Stalinist Communist parties. Social democracy is as dead as a dodo, as is clearly being shown in the United Kingdom.
There the Labour Party which was never a continental style Social Democratic party, has shifted to the left, and the vast majority of the Parliamentary Party have lost control of the direction of the party. In fact, the new leaders are reformist.. However, that is not a viable position at the present time. They have been forced to confront the bourgeois press, the bourgeois parties and the bourgeoisie whose animosity was unprecendented in bourgeois democratic terms. As the right did not believe that the left had either enough support or a sufficiently realistic programme to do any damage to capital, they have been content to denigrate, and make fun of the left. The result of the election was a shock if not an earthquake. Commentators now accept that the left programme for re-nationalisation of the railways, utilities and the postal service is ‘hugely popular”. They know that such a programme has a necessary extension into other parts of the economy which have been partially privatised, like prisons, health, housing and education. Given the decline of the British economy, subsidies, if not nationalisation, will be necessary for crucial areas hitherto restricted to private enterprise.
The shock result in Germany where the far right AfD won 13 per cent of the vote and the Christian Democrats were reduced to 33 per cent was partially anticipated. It was the additional fact that the Social Democrats were knocked back still further making the so-called centre unviable that raised the temperature. The rise of German nationalism will probably make Macron's plans for German investment or loans doubtful and consequently prevent genuine measures which would render the EU more viable. Eastern Europe will be left to its own resources, while the class struggle in France will enter a period of intense struggle. It is a paradox that the UK, the former Imperial hegemon and junior partner of the United States should now be the country with the more immediate prospects for the left.
Independence and the Socialist Movement
All countries have fissiparous tendencies in the conditions of a continuing unresolved crisis. The contradictions cannot interpenetrate and form new bonds so there is a tendency to disintegration of countries, economies and political entities.
Scotland has held a referendum on independence but the party of independence, the Scottish National Party clearly intends to hold another when possible, having lost the first one. In Catalonia, the Spanish government is taking a firm line against a possible declaration of independence, following an attempted referendum. In Canada, Quebec has held two referenda, both lost. In principle most countries could break up at some point. Socialists support the right of nations to self-determination, but not as an alternative to socialism. Where there is no left alternative, it can mobilize sections of the working class for an expected left local government. Indeed where people see little other alternative that is happening, it is more a question of hope against hope. It is also true that the break up of the national state renders the bourgeoisie less powerful. Under present conditions where the historic left has not been able to re-establish itself, it is unsurprising that activists might support an apparent temporary alternative. A simple breakaway from a larger entity in capitalism can easily be punished by the original larger state with capital moving away from the newly independent entity. In the EU, its fellow Governments like France have taken a hard line on Catalonian independence for fear that parts of their own country or other countries will tend to break away.
Indeed it may be the case, if the working class continues to delay its re-entry into the world situation that sections of the left will turn to such independence movements as a temporary alternative. Where there is little or no genuine left, it is hard to criticise such left as there is, when it takes a benevolent line towards these independence movements, led by social democratic dissidents. Clearly they are no substitute for a genuine socialist or working class movement but they may act as an educational experience which will enrich the subsequent larger actions.
Forces that are operating
The world as a whole is changing, with the socialisation process deepening. It will not be easy for the authorities to return to dictatorial forms. The continuing crisis, with low rates of growth, low productivity, lower percentages of people in work, difficulty in youth getting jobs commensurate with their training etc has seen a shift to the left in the population, to different degrees in different countries. There is also a shift to the far right, often compared to Fascism, such as in Germany and France, which is mirrored to a lesser extent elsewhere. The ruling class cannot take that step after the last World War and the mass killings. Instead we have caricatures as in the USA and less stupidly elsewhere.
The process is inherently linked to socialisation and democratisation of the economic processes. Nationalised industries cannot be run in the old way, where the managers ruled over the enterprise, whether it is health or transport. This is so for two reasons. The advantage of socialism lies in its thoroughly democratic economic structure where the individual worker feels responsible for the success of the enterprise. In socialist society everyone will have sufficient to support themselves, and their work will be increasingly skilled. The society is socialist to the extent that ‘work becomes humanity’s prime want’. In other words, in the era of transition to socialism, the advantage of the socialising economy lies in the zeal of the workers to fulfil their tasks partly because everyone participates in decision making but also because their work becomes more fulfilling and so interesting. With increasing complexity together with automation, society is moving in this direction. Because the socio-economic structure is changing in this way, the left has the basis by which it can win the argument. It will have to win the argument and not just rely on actions like nationalisations and rent control because the socialist strategy can only function properly in a fully socialist world. Socialism in one country cannot succeed.
If a particular country like Britain begins by introducing socialist type measures it will soon find that the capitalist incentive system or the so-called free market will ensure that those socialist type forms malfunction. The market is clearly malfunctioning in its own terms, and will do so to a greater extent as capitalism continues to decline but it has the advantage both of power and wealth, which allows them to divide their enemies, most particularly their workers.
In short, Europe will have to begin the socialist developmental process and pour in resources into the less developed areas to bring them up to their own level and beyond. It is clear from history that the weakest points in the capitalist system can be outside Western Europe and North America, which makes for an impossible dilemma. How long can a ‘socialist’ government in the third world hold out before it ends up with shortages, a loss of capital to the ‘markets’ and repression of attempted coups? In reality it has been more complex, in that Stalinists or left social democrats have tried to change their countries and international capital has done its best to worsen conditions.
In the UK, there is a left social democratic party likely to win the next election if held soon. The government is divided. Effectively the ruling class does not want Brexit, and is doing its best to ensure that if it occurs it will be limited in its changes. On the other hand, the majority of the governing Tory party want a clean break. People are often puzzled as to how there can be such a clear difference between big business and what most regard as the latter's party. It would seem that the Conservative party has declined in membership and is now dominated by those associated with small business. Their conception is a reactionary utopia, which, if implemented, would plunge the UK into a crisis and possible dislocation of elements of the economy. (The left, in general, is critical of the EU as a right wing body which prevents nationalisations and government subsidies, all of which is true but leaves out of account the development of the forces of production beyond the nation state.) The bourgeoisie is frightened by what they see, and is beginning to take both political and economic steps to deal with the situation.
The result is both a movement of capital from the UK and a series of splits and plots in the government. As London is at the heart of finance capital in Europe and closely interlinked with the USA, the issue is not just a local political problem. Effectively, Capital took a relaxed attitude to the result of the vote for Brexit, thinking that they could regard it as a costless concession to the discontented working class, particularly in the North where they had lost their jobs. They were expecting that the issue would gradually be resolved in their favour, either by being reversed or by remaining in the single market and customs union. The other side in the Cabinet and Tory party is not retreating, leaving a clear split as a possible consequence.
As we have noted in previous issues, the UK has its other economic problems, which will remain unresolved whatever happens, but the present political instability may be a watershed for the political parties. The logical outcome would be a split in both main parties dividing between left and right, though other names might be given to the fragments which might emerge. The logic, at the present time, is for the right wing of the Labour Party to either accept the change or leave. It is possible, of course, for the left to move rightwards under pressure, as has happened in the past. The problem with that scenario is that it would mean their end as a faction and probably the end of the Labour Party itself, except possibly in name. On a purely rational basis, one would expect the right wing of the Labour Party to join up with the less right wing conservatives. There is very little that divides them.
The tale of the UK political parties is not unique in that the first past the post system has tended to form two political parties which are little different in outlook. However, under crisis people look elsewhere. A whole series of new political forms are possible.
The curious emergence of a President who has no political or economic understanding and who is prepared to issue threats to obliterate populations of another country if not the world ought to be analysed. Quite apart from his immediate influence and effect in and over society, he is weakening its underpinnings. The system is shown to be undemocratic and dangerous. For someone who is Black, of Hispanic origins, or Jewish the system appears to be on the other side. In fact, the system is on the other side for most people, so Trump is helping to build up forces critical of what exists. This extends to all his legislative actions and economic influence. By relaxing taxation on the rich, and effectively removing benefits for the poor as in health, he is building the anti-capitalist forces.
It is, of course, true that other Presidents have given to the rich and taken from the working person, but it is usually done with more distractions and disguise, with a few concessions. His sole concession amounts to protection for US industry, which was already protected, as Boeing is making clear. While that appeal did work in the election it is also limited in its extent. The vast majority of workers today in the USA are in white collar occupations and are increasingly skilled. It is an oddity that the right has discovered lost unskilled workers and tried to appeal to them.
He is doing considerable damage to the right in his position as President of the USA, not only in the United States but to its imperial outreach. Inevitably, the ruling class, and political leaders will act more independently of the United States, if necessary against its interests, where they can. It also means that the unity of the ruling class is damaged overall.
It would pay the US ruling class to replace Trump with Pence, and they may well do so.
Anti-Semitism and the Apparatus of the Labour Party.
It seems that Moshe Machover, an Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at King's College, the University of London has been arbitrarily expelled from the Labour Party ostensibly for belonging to the CPGB and Labour Party Marxists. Such, apparently, was the latest epistle from the apparatus of that body. It is known of course to be on the right, doing its best to protect the right wing purity of the Labour Party. In fact Prof. Machover belongs to neither body as he has made clear. Given the propensity of that body to expel people who are Jewish critics of Zionism, like Prof Machover, we have to assume that they consider him to be in that category but think they have found another excuse, since it is truly laughable to accuse him of anti-semitism. It is clear that the right wing of the Labour Party is doing its best to return the Labour Party to the right by whatever means.
Since I do not belong to the Labour Party, I need not fear that kind of punishment. Some years ago I found, on the internet, that I was numbered among some 7000 self-hating Jews, by a far right Israeli group. The number included such eminences as Kissinger.
Like Prof Machover, I do not belong to the named organisations or indeed to any political party at this time, but that does not mean that I will not give lectures when invited by various groups, or for that matter write articles. In the unlikely event that I wrote for the ‘Times’ of London, it would not mean that I had become Murdoch's minion.
The Israeli right has decided to identify Zionism as something which cannot be criticised on pain of being declared an anti-semite. It would seem that it was not enough to use the term ‘self-hating Jew’ one had to make it sound worse. So, an anti-Zionist Jew is now automatically an anti-semitic Jew.
The unacceptable situation of the Palestinians means that they have the sympathy of the majority in the world as shown at the last United Nations vote on the subject. The Labour Party actions are a disgrace not only because they are unjust in relation to Prof Machover but also because they are lining up behind a far-right reactionary manoeuvre. They stand condemned.
The Russian Revolution---The October Revolution
What was the importance of the October Revolution? The occasion of the anniversary of the Russian Revolution has to be marked by this journal, as its original raison-d'etat lay in its particular interpretation of the Soviet Union. The article by Suzi Weissman on the October Revolution is to be recommended. There are many articles and books on October 1917, exploring the events and provided ever more detail. Trotsky's history remains valid. The book by Alexander Rabinovich, now extensively revised, is important.
The enduring result of the October Revolution was the ushering in of the transition period between capitalism and socialism. That was not the intention of the leaders of the Russian Revolution, as they expected there to be a revolution in other countries, most particularly Germany. They did not believe in the doctrine of socialism in one country, but history had turned against them and they were left alone. For this they blamed, in part, the German SPD, which refused to take power and begin the process of building socialism in 1919. The enduring result of the Russian Revolution was the initiation and continuation of the transitional process to socialism. It has done this in several ways.
The proclamation of an alternative society, a new phase in the development of humanity, put the issue on the agenda everywhere, even if in a negative way in some parts of the world. Secondly, the Communist Parties were founded over most countries and developed their own importance. Thirdly, governments felt it necessary to respond to its economic and political demands, either negatively or positively or both. Fourthly there was a cultural and intellectual shift, both in embracing Marxist ideas and in opposing them as the true enemy.
The Influence of the Russian Revolution
Part of the immediately visible effect of the Revolution was one in which in the name of socialism, it created immediate and long term challenges to the ruling class.
It supported elections with a franchise that included all men and women over a certain age. It abolished the need for property rights as a qualification. At the time – November 1917 to March 1918- the major countries involved in the First World War generally had a limited franchise, usually excluding women, and a proportion of the male population. The fact that the elected body was dissolved very quickly did not take away from the fact that in principle the left proclaimed the need for the full franchise in all elections. The real situation was that the ruling class governed directly. The United Kingdom was the dominant imperial power and its officers of state were either from upper class families or from those who had ingratiated themselves among them. Winston Churchill had a long career serving the state, and of course was a son of the Duke of Marlborough. Lloyd George or earlier -Disraeli- were not as elevated but they knew in whose service they were operating. The concept of a popular uprising demanding genuine democracy was thought to be inconceivable. At the time, the London Times had an editorial giving the Bolsheviks no more than six weeks in power- at most.
The very concept of a democratic government, with responsibility to the mass electorate was new. The French Revolution had technically introduced the full franchise to elect a legislative body but the Jacobins had fallen, so that its implementation was limited. Various countries had taken steps in this direction like Germany, Finland, Australia and New Zealand. However, although Germany was apparently more democratic than the UK, the Kaiser had more of a role in governing than the King in the UK. The issue was not, of course, a technical one. The abolition of the monarchy in Germany and Austria-Hungary followed the Russian Revolution. The fact that the Tsar had been overthrown and the Russian government was hostile to a monarchy added to the pressure on the ruling class at the time.
In addition we can cite the following:
- The revolution proclaimed equal rights for women economically, socially, and politically and provided a push globally for such rights. Politically, in the West, it was expected that women would be more conservative, and hence there was less objection to extending the franchise. However, socially and economically it advanced slowly in the West.
- The revolution stood for Equality for all human beings, whatever colour, or background. This involved, inter alia, an end to anti-semitism. The Balfour declaration of 1917 was seen as an alternative by the British Empire. The rejection of the superiority of certain nations or so-called races played an important role in the Imperial holdings of the Great Powers, where the Communist Parties took it up.
- The Russian Empire itself was a semi-colony of the Great Powers, so the overthrow of the influence of France and the UK together with the repudiation of all debts had an enormous influence. The French capitalist class was effectively knocked out for a time, and never really recovered. This questioned the role of the great powers, threatened imperialism, and so was the precursor of the wars of national liberation.
- An end to hereditary privilege in society, abolition of aristocracy.
These aspects overlap, but they have to be brought out individually because the failure of the Russian Revolution to fulfil its aims and particularly its ultimate aim -socialism-has left the question as to whether the overthrow of the old order, in the name of the new, does not have a real legacy.
There were more general effects:
- The overthrow of capitalism was followed by a series of revolutions, in 1919, and various further attempts down to the present. Capital had to face up to the fact that it could be abolished, at the very least partially or for a time, even if they thought it was eternal. It, therefore, had to make concessions beyond those above.
- The general principle that society as such is responsible for all its members was proclaimed. The welfare state which has been established, in various forms, however limited in parts of the world is itself a consequence of that principle. As a result there is public provision of some education and health facilities however poor in most countries in the world...
- The Russian Revolution established the importance of the writings of Marx and Engels, and consequently made the Communist Manifesto widely read, and Marxism available to many.
- The Soviet Union introduced ‘planning’ from its inception, at least in principle. This was the conscious regulation of the society by associated producers themselves, as Marx put it.
It had a philosophy which rejects the pessimism of religion and its controls.
Rejection of the all-powerful God preventing progress. Rejection of belief and the supernatural. Hence the rejection of the permanence of oppression and exploitation.
Revolution and Counter Revolution.
The Russian Revolution was a true revolution in that a ruling class was overthrown and new class established in power. Unfortunately it did not last long in its original incarnation. There was in fact a counter-revolution and while the various features mentioned above were modified, discarded or even opposed, they influenced the history of humanity.The many falsifications provided by Stalin and Stalinists have largely been exposed though there remain books and forged documents which may trap the gullible. The revolution itself was declared on October 25th 1917 by the Petrograd Soviet under the chairmanship of Leon Trotsky.
The original history of the revolution is important in itself, partly because of its historic role and partly because the events and the texts have been altered or falsified at various times, most particularly by the Stalinist regime.
Stalin did his best to invent meetings like the non-existent one on October 14th 1917, where Stalin was present and Trotsky absent, in order to provide an invented history of his own importance. The falsification was intended to denigrate the original revolutionaries, bury views and doctrines and provide a supercharged history for Stalin. The works of Lenin, particularly the 4th edition of Lenin’s works were altered. The footnotes of the 3rd edition are obviously Stalinized. This applies to both the Russian and English editions, as well as other editions
100 years of Transition
Jack London famously wrote his book, The Iron Heel, in 1908, which describes how a socialist revolution is defeated and only repeated 300 years later. He turned out to be prophetic, as few expected the socialist revolution to be delayed for a century. As it happened Stalinism remained until 1991, holding back the possibility of change for at least a century. Even now the left has not managed to re-constitute itself. In effect, Stalin performed the greatest possible service to global capitalism that could have been imagined.
Today, a left is gradually emerging in bits and pieces over the globe. The late Istvan Meszaros referred to a structural crisis of capitalism within a period of transition. The transition began with the Russian Revolution but one can argue that the systemic crisis began earlier and the Revolution itself was possible precisely because of that crisis. In the meantime, as outlined above it has influenced and changed the world.
- 1. “Investment-less Growth: An Empirical Investigation”∗ Germán Gutiérrez† and Thomas Philippon, Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, September 2017. https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/2_gutierrezphilippon.pdf
- 2. Lawrence Summers:” Washington's tax plan is not worth its name.”, Financial Times, 9/10/2017, p.11.
- 3. Nuriel Rubini: Project Sydicate: Three Scenarios for the Global Economy https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/global-economic-outlook-reforms-by-nouriel-roubini-2017-10/english
- 4 Guy Chazan: “Schauble says debt and liquidity levels endanger global economy ”Financial Times” , 9th October 2017, p.1.