Critique

Journal of Socialist Theory

Up to Critique Notes

Critique Notes 90

Published: 01 February 2021

A: Iran: Yassamine Mather

More than 40 years ago, when mass demonstrations and political strikes by millions of Iranians brought down the government of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Iranians hoped they would see an end to corruption, a reduction in the gap between the rich and poor, and political independence.

"More than four decades later a new generation of Iranians are fighting for precisely the same economic demands, while the Shia government's superficial anti-US rhetoric, combined with duplicity and hidden deals, has led to a situation where the majority of the population are no longer concerned about national autonomy. The Islamic government's claim to be a defender of the poor and underprivileged is a distant memory, and economic dependency on international capital means Iran’s political independence remains as empty slogans and rhetoric. Irangate, followed by Iran’s eagerness to support US military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, needing to be rebuffed at times by successive US administrations, makes a mockery of its anti-US sloganeering.

The undisputed area of failure, however, is an economy ruined by sanctions and corruption. In the last few years US sanctions have actually helped the higher echelons of the Islamic Republic, who own and manage economic monopolies, to enrich themselves as they control both import-export and distribution. This combined with systemic corruption has impoverished ordinary Iranians and enriched those associated with various factions of the Islamic republic. Certainly under the Shah’s rule, the court and senior officials were involved in major corrupt practices. Yet the distribution of power amongst many vying factions in the current regime, and their relentless attempts to outdo each other in the accumulation of wealth has led to an incredible situation. Where, in the midst of major economic sanctions imposed by the Trump administration, Iranians have to deal with endless, almost daily exposés of corruption by ministers, bankers, leaders in the revolutionary guards, etc.

How did we get here? How did capitalist accumulation pave the way for this situation? In this issue we have five articles on various aspects of Iran’s political economy. As a collection they present a unique insight into the workings of capitalism in a Shia republic. The editors of Critique extend their gratitude to all these authors."

B: Hillel Ticktin

The central section of the bourgeoisie has asserted itself to help Biden win the election to the Presidency and so to return US policy to globalism rather than nationalism. The post-war lines of control are to be restored. Forbes indicates that most of the billionaires they approached and who replied supported Briden1. Polling showed that Billionaires in the USA preferred Biden to Trump 48 per cent for Biden and 40 per cent for Trump.

Faced with a would-be dictator figure, with physical battles ahead, they preferred to accept the need to make concessions to the working class, i.e. to the mass of the employed. They could not accept the diminution of real control over the globe, whatever the relationship with China. They know that they will have to negotiate a less harsh relationship with the different sectors of employees, but with the path of concessions more likely to be successful, at least for a time, they preferred a soft-right leader.

The issues cover more than the question of wages. It is also the nature of education and employment not to speak of housing and the nature of work itself. The most visible difference with the former administration is the one mentioned first- the shift back to the open imperial form.

Class

Rana Faroohar, writing in the FT2, makes the point that the difference Is a question of class. It is perhaps a more modern complex interaction of class relations as well. In other words, the issue of inequality and class relations is very much on the agenda even if the intention is to limit the real concessions made. She brings out the fact that big business now wants Trump to go because of the mess he has made in dealing with the coronavirus even though they know that he will undo something of the reduction in taxation and increase in deregulation.

In fact, it does seem there were meetings3 including big businessmen, such as Stephen Schwartzman, a supporter of Trump in order to discuss what to do about the election.4

The ruling class or the central ruling class realises that they face a series of unwelcome possibilities as the mass discontent plays itself out. They may have been advised that the far right solution as argued in the previous Critique could make things very much worse by encouraging those in despair to go to the full extreme of class and colour warfare.

The central ruling class both holds investments globally and is aware of the critical role that the USA plays in the world economy. They are also well informed on the real state of the US economy and that of other countries. In regard to the latter the state of the Third World is dire, worse than it has been for some time. The Covid-19 pandemic has underlined this source of instability.

What does this add up to? Firstly, there is still time to try to calm things down in the USA but change is inevitable.. Secondly, the growth of China is unstoppable, short of nuclear warfare, but the result is still to be played out. The Chinese regime has both private property, with a substantial number of wealthy citizens, and a largely nationalised banking system, not to speak of an ideology which superficially goes back to Lenin and Marx. The relative success of the Chinese regime in dealing with the pandemic in China has enhanced both their internal and international situations. The new US regime, however, will continue the attempt to constrain Chinese industry, that is clear, but with less of a blunderbuss.

One question one could ask is why the US ruling class needs to contain China in the first place. After all, whatever the political form- which one might call market Stalinism or state capitalism, with a 60-80 per cent market within the whole economy, today it is largely market orientated. The answer is given by the nature of the total collapse of the Soviet Union and the equally total failure of its successor under Putin. The ruling elite could see no other way out to retain their position and Chinese independence, or more correctly the independence of the ruling Chinese elite.

It is not yet clear what role will be played by this form of property within the global context. Nor is it clear what role will be played by China. However, one can turn the question, of the evolution of property ownership, on its head by pointing to the recent evolution of the state and social forms in modern society. It is clear that the state played a critical role in the current pandemic. This was not by some accident, as nationalised health services and central control over dealing with the epidemic played an important role in containing it, when allowed to do so. Clearly the other side of the picture has been demonstrated in the USA, with its privatized medicine, and possibly the worst coronavirus epidemic of all.

The rejection of Austerity.

The periods of austerity are depicted by orthodox economists as a necessary medicine to heal the government budget and so ensure the future of the gross domestic product. The economic policies, however, were always politically motivated. The output of the orthodox economics profession itself is a crucial part of the ideology of capital. It did its best to make austerity both respectable and the sole alternative to something worse. Indeed the logic of the official ideology around the present impasse is that the latter be regarded as a short blip before the world returns to its previous balance of power among classes and among states.

Paul Krugman points out that in the Obama period “Government debt didn’t pose any significant economic threat, while spending cuts were materially holding back recovery from the 2007-9 recession.”5. This was always clear to full time Keynesians, as it were, as well as the left. Today Boris Johnson’s Conservative Government has overspent by hundreds of billions of pounds, even though he and his party had rejoiced in a period of austerity from 2010 until this year, while President Trump, as Krugman points out, had no problems in reducing taxes for the wealthy, whether companies or individuals. The right stands for both deregulation and lower taxes and the Trump government obliged.

The Biden government is effectively the last attempt by the bourgeoisie to provide sufficient concessions to the “lower classes” to build a period of stability with the necessary ingredients. In principle, this would involve, if implemented, moves towards a rising standard of living for the middle and lower classes, towards free university education for the half or more of the age group who enter higher education, as well as something closer to full employment and a national health service. Steps in this direction might ensure a period of relative quiescence, even if it is relatively short. On the other hand, as noted by the FT, the highest-ranking economic advisor to Biden, on the economy, is an employee of Blackrock, the seven plus trillion-dollar asset holding company.6

Economic Programme, Inflation and Growth

Huge sums of multiple currencies have been issued to compensate both firms and workers, but inflation is low. Clearly there are sufficient goods or services to allow people to buy them. The main direction of purchase has been that of immediate necessities. In relation to monetized demand there appears to have been sufficiency to avoid an inflation. Once the vaccines have done their work and the economy returns to normal, workers will return to their jobs and have an expanded demand compared to the present. However, the logic of the present would also lead to a rapid increase in supply, given that production would pick up in those sectors which have been restricted or closed. In fact, there is a vast surplus of savings hanging over the system at least for the past decade but probably longer, but the savings are not those of ordinary workers. Demand for houses, transport will clearly pick up. However, automobile prices are a complex question, given the replacement of diesel/petrol fuel by electricity. There will be a period of declining old-style car prices probably for some years. Even with an end date for the sale of the latter prices will not rise unless they are driving them will be forbidden. Electric cars have cheap fuel, which could compensate for other costs. House prices have been rising in the last decade and could continue. However, it raises the more general theoretical question which has been explored by Martin Wolf.

A recent work7 tries to argue that the basis of the new global regime following the coronavirus will be radically different from that of Thatcher-Reagan regime. It is true that the basic relations of that period were destroyed by 2008 and the 12 years that followed were characterised by ‘austerity’. Keynesian spending was reduced or eliminated. Governments reduced subsidies and tried to replace nationalised forms with private enterprise. Taxes were held down. The 2006-2020 period was one of low to negative growth, and salary cuts, unemployment, much of it hidden with early retirement etc.

One possible argument, then, is that governments will be forced to make concessions and raise growth rates, embrace Keynesian orthodoxy etc. As a result, workers will be able to demand higher wages, and the retail sector raise their prices. There clearly will be a shortage of those goods held back during the corona virus period. Their prices may be very high at the present time. However, the basic argument of the book cited is dubious. It argues that wages and prices of goods both fell in the earlier period and remained low until recently. They attribute the decline to birth-rate changes and other natural causes. Whatever the situation in that regard, those are not the most important reasons why wages fell. If we take the UK as a classic case, it was due to direct class intervention. Mass strikes were defeated and plants considered loss making were closed down. The combination of working class political demoralisation economic restructuring ensured a higher rate of profit. Numbers in trade unions are now low. The UK was a classic case, worse than on the continent, which also suffered parallel changes. Wages have remained static or declining. In the USA the relative drop in wages is considerable. Real levels of unemployment in developed countries remain high.

The question of inflation has to be dealt with on other grounds. The unions remain relatively weak but that can change very quickly after the virus is dealt with. Nor is inflation an automatic process. Banks, the wealthy and large firms play crucial roles, apart from governments and the central bank. The ruling class, in other words, is likely to keep the lid on until the system looks like disintegrating. Given the relative integration of major capitalist countries it is more likely that the lid will be kept firmly in place at the present time. Political parties, the unions and spontaneously expressed mass discontent may alter apparent stability.

Put another way, the issue is not spontaneous inflation but rather the emergence of mass discontent

However, the issue is somewhat more complex. The fact that inflation at the present time is limited has itself to be explained. Purchasers are confined to their homes and place of work or perhaps only the former but they could buy food, books, supplies to fix or beautify their homes, etc.

While there might be many young or younger people wanting to go for an evening or night out, it will take some time for them to catch up with their previous pattern once the pandemic is overcome.

In addition, unless governments provide the population with much more money or there is an industrial or overall economic expansion most people will be careful with their incomes and savings. It is possible that the better off middle class, so-called, will permit their kind of producer and shop to raise prices. That may already be the case as a glance at some of the relevant suppliers would show. The fact is that the ‘depression’ extending from 2008 to the present has not lifted. Unions are relatively weak and left political parties which might have built them are not strong either in most countries. However, prices for customers will depend on the class nature of the ‘store’.

It is possible, as has been implied in the work under discussion by Martin Wolf, that governments will be compelled to go for growth by displays of active discontent leading to price rises and will duly issue the required money. The problem with this argument is that the governments have already printed trillions collectively without a runaway inflation.

However, it is also theoretically possible that a rogue government or governments may decide to teach the working class a lesson and encourage mass shortages, which then get out of hand.

The straight orthodox or right-wing argument on money fits of course with a fixed non-class conception of money. It is rigid based on a straight unchanging conception of debt, bonds and class relations. The amount of loans, debt, interest, time fixed and given for payment of interest etc is in fact elastic depending on approval or non-approval of the parties involved, assessment of the current and future business/ economic climate etc. as well as a political and political-economic judgment. All of these in turn depend on the particular time period involved and the nature of class relations at any one time, as well as an openness on state investments, loans, debts, shares etc. Modern monetarist theory brings out aspects of this reality.

Bourgeois governments attempt to both protect the wealthy while providing a minimal level of protection for the majority depending on the country. In the case of countries like the UK and USA this involves at least some intervention in the provision of health facilities, education, roads, police, army and subsidies for a range of facilities like the Arts, museums, etc.

The Transitional Period and the present

The world is clearly in a more profound and possibly more rapid process of change. The Thatcher-Reagan period (1979- 2008), a period of global reaction, is now history, and its would be continuation, under the banner of austerity is being ushered to its grave. In that respect, Covid-19 has played its role. In December 2020, it is not clear when the vaccines will play their anti- role, but it appears to be within one to three months. In the meantime, the UK and much of Europe have to endure various forms of lockdown.

It is absolutely clear that the countries in which the far right has a role in government have generally forced the population to suffer disproportionately. In their zeal to defend private enterprise they have sacrificed part of the population. The medical profession as a whole, the old, the chronically ill, and the poor have suffered particularly. President Trump showed some of what could be done to protect the wealthy like himself. This is not exactly a new phenomenon and could have been expected or indeed was expected. The role of the remnants of social democracy as in Germany and elsewhere is clear, whether the party itself survived or not. We still live in the pre-history of humanity.

In the background, ever present, remains the downturn triggered by the crash of 2007-8. In contrast China has had 5% growth in its last quarter8. While China is clearly not socialist, whatever the rhetoric, it has a predominantly nationalised banking system standing above an economy which is 60 per cent or so privatised. It has avoided the full force of the ‘virus’ by a process of direct control and administration. In so far as it has an ideology it is Stalinist. Its long term stability may be questioned but Stalinism has showed that it can last as long as it is able to maintain a relatively high rate of growth. We live in a period of transition since the October Revolution, and the forms of transition vary from a declining capitalism to various forms of nationalised and semi-socialised entities within a “hybrid capitalism”. The Chinese case is particular to itself in that it has made a unique compromise with US capitalism which has led to very rapid rate of growth, with an industrialisation which will logically lead to parity with modern capitalism, provided Capital will accept that process. Trump, or rather those behind him, were clearly trying to hold it back. The remnants of the USSR and its subordinate regimes would appear to be not going in a direction promised by their intellectual and industrial leaders. Unsurprisingly, disappointment and discontent have led to dictatorial or semi-dictatorial forms.

The global level of discontent, if one can talk of such a thing, is now moving upwards. For those in third world countries like South Africa the formal statements of the wonders of democracy as opposed to apartheid are not enough. If anything democracy appears a failure. The shift in Chile to demand a new democratic constitution, and continued unrest in the first world from the USA to France is the background for the not inconsiderable discontent in developed countries. The USA is the global imperial power economically, politically and militarily. Its only potential real competitor today is China, even though China itself tried to avoid placing itself in that role. Trump has emphatically forced it into that position. Insofar as the Chinese leadership has retreated by raising the role of private property and easing the position of foreign owners or prospective industrial and commercial non-Chinese owners, it is leading up to the question of Chinese independence. Given that a direct physical war between two nuclear powers is unlikely, the exact nature of the inter-relationship is still to be seen. There are a number of possibilities. It could follow the Trump trajectory of trying to prevent China developing to the point of parity with the USA either in crucial areas or as a whole. It is becoming clear that this may play a role but it unlikely to do more than delay the inevitable. However, it is not clear what the inevitable might be. The USA may not evolve in the same direction as in the last 40 years.

Detailed Analysis of Results

The Biden victory however delayed and more limited than expected has stopped the nationalist as opposed to globalist ruling class policy. The Democrats will be in power for at least 4 years, and we may expect it to be the usual 8 years. Biden himself and his immediate supporters are clearly on the right of the party. The Democratic Party is unlikely to have a majority in the Senate while they have lost seats in the House of Representatives. We may expect the right of the party to use its relative weakness as an excuse for maintaining a right and further right position.

At the same time, the Democrats have not won the Presidency and the odd Senate seat by accident. The working class, defined as all those who sell their Labour Power, is discontented at their static incomes and lack of opportunities. The central ruling class, in its turn, is well aware of the extent of discontent and worried about its consequences which include support for far right policies and politicians.

The problem with the far right, for the ruling class, is that its policies tend to be authoritarian, ultimately self-defeating and frequently simplistic to the point of idiocy. These are also the reasons why such movements may receive mass support from the exploited and suffering sections of the population. The failure of Trump and the far right in the USA lay in their inability to attract more than a relatively limited if considerable base. The mass of the population either did not vote or put their votes behind a programme of redistribution and increased income. This is where the central ruling class effectively stepped in and supported limited economic expansion and redistribution of income. Exactly what this will mean is not clear. Had it been clearer the Democrats would have had a more appealing programme and might have had more votes.

It is noteworthy that ruling class journals like the Economist or newspapers like the Financial Times did not see the complexity of the class background of the votes. Instead they looked at skin colour and family origins plus particular nature of labour in parts of the country. They referred to the fact that Trump did not increase his support among white men9, without looking at the obvious conclusion. Biden retook Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, which had been cited as evidence of a working class switch to Republicans in 2016 election.

Right wing theorists and journals are generally scrambled and confused when talking about class, preferring not to mention it at all, if possible. The classic Marxist definition of membership of the working class: ‘those who sell their labour power’, includes everyone of whatever colour, whatever their role in selling their labour power. In the United States, less than 29 per cent of the workforce are manual workers, and only 5 per cent are unskilled. Generally, the press tends to identify manual workers, particularly un or semi skilled manual workers as working class. However, the vast majority of workers in the USA are white collar workers, and they are disproportionately white in colour. (around 65%). That black and Latino workers are less educated is a function of a discriminatory system in itself. It is not surprising that a proportion of more affluent ‘non-white’ workers or employers would vote for the party of privilege. Furthermore, it is also to be expected that a relatively small proportion of the poorly paid, skilled or unskilled workforce would despair of voting or even vote for the party of privilege. Rural voters the world over tend to align themselves with the ruling class party, with certain exceptions as in Bulgaria in the beginning of the twentieth century.

To sum up: Trump and more probably his advisors have used the classic instruments of deception to entice the rural, historically more backward parts of the country to join with the large sections of the better off so-called middle class. They include management, police/army, and intermediate layers etc. Looking at Florida and Texas where Cuba, Venezualan, Mexican immigrants are regarded as important for the supporting Trump, one has to add the unfortunate reality that a proportion of the US population derives from refugees from Stalinist type countries who associate socialism with repression.

The issue involved is global in two senses. In the first instance, it is global because the US ruling class wants to return to its former globalist as opposed to nationalist policy and hence signal a general change in policy towards industrialisation and concessions. In the second place, it is globalist in the direct sense of investing US held resources around the world, as opposed to accepting substantial investment from the middle class in the third or second world.

The process of limited de-industrialisation of both developed and semi-developed countries has been a feature of the last two or three decades. South Africa is a particular example of a country which was once regarded as in the process of further industrialisation. The East European countries of the former Soviet Bloc have lost much of their former industry, being replaced inter alia by assembly plants for German automobile enterprises. In the UK, the loss of industrial plants particularly in the North of the UK as a whole effectively led to a change in government.

Such a change in policy would involve providing more jobs and higher incomes for part of the population in a number of countries including both Europe and North America.

For the USA the signals indicate further investment, as in the infra-structure like the rebuilding of some 55,000 bridges and roads. The question is the real level of unemployment and hence the point at which full employment might be reached. The ruling class would not want to get to a point where workers could strike successfully for higher wages. The issue, therefore, is whether they can take the chance of raising demand for employment to the point where workers can partly or wholly determine their own wages. Clearly they will not want to get to that level of employment, so we might expect a political economic struggle some distance from that point. The main variable at that point will be the degree of discontent and preparedness of the workforce thereabouts.

The scenario outlined above is, of course, well known as part of history down to 1980, so we may expect any concessions to try to stop short of even beginning this process. It is unlikely, however, that once it is in process, it will be easily stopped.

The Covid-19 Pandemic and the Crisis

“According to the US labour department, 12.9m fewer Americans were working in July than in February. A census bureau survey in late July found the number of US households that “often” or “sometimes” did not have enough to eat had grown from 22.5m to 29.3m during the pandemic, a trend that could accelerate with the drop in jobless benefits.”10

One way of looking at the present situation is as follows.” The Covid-19 pandemic has shown up the far right regime of the UK, USA and Brazil as sacrificing lives of citizens in the interests of ‘business’. So-called Hospitality enterprise ie travel, holidays and entertainment have been particularly hard hit and governments have effectively sacrificed part of the population in their interest. Finance capital can conduct its business through the internet and phone and arrange for some or most executives to stay at home. In principle modern manufacturing can arrange for workmen and executives to be suitable distances apart. Retail selling is possible but it is limited.

In effect, the petite bourgeoisie combined with lower sections of the bourgeoisie itself are in trouble. Bourgeois governments have tried to alleviate the distress of their voters.” This description is largely though not entirely accurate. It is clear that capitalism is based the market and if there is only a limited market , only limited sections of those producing for or selling in the market will be able to make a profit. At the same time , big business and finance capital are more likely to survive, even if they lose money. Car manufacturers, for instance, clearly have difficulty to sell cars at the present time, depending on the country and particular time. Production is limited as a result. Workers are laid off. The state is providing limited funds both for workers and their employers. The upshot of this runaround leads to the following:

  1. A considerable proportion of the population in developed countries, as in the USA, do not have adequate funds coming in to support their families.
  2. A substantial proportion of small to medium size business will be wiped out.
  3. The aircraft industry, automobile industry, shipping entertainment industry etc are clearly in trouble.

A section of the ruling class has clearly shifted to the far right. That is expressed most clearly in the the UK and USA, with the President or Prime Minister on the far right until recently. . In contrast ,for the first time, sections of the literate right are expressing the need for substantial reforms to the political-economic status quo. The Financial Times writers have produced surprising critiques of the existing constitutional forms, for instance.11

However, the crucial pointer lies in the clear preference of the central ruling class for Biden. There were enough newspapers, radio and TV outlets supporting him. Jamie Dimon, head of J P Morgan Chase, a crucial US Bank, has made suitable comments. 12 For those who recognise the limits to democracy under capitalism they can note the support of the leading US banker. The ruling class was and is still s clearly divided with a section supporting Trump, but it is largely the marginalised and far right section, with the classical owners of big capital having preferred Trump to lose.

It is interesting to work out the considerations involved because it has been clear that the ruling class has been eager to concede at several levels. The IMF today under its new head, a Bulgarian woman, is now against austerity.13 One would expect the International Monetary Fund to express the interests of the US ruling class or at least the common denominator of the wealthy countries. Until recently the latter was the same as the former. In fact, of course, this is a public expression by the ruling class of a clear-cut policy of concessions, as opposed to a determination to squeeze the unfortunate countries who were in debt.

The question is what impelled the ruling class to switch at this juncture. The answer is necessarily complex. Left organisations inside the USA are weak as organisations but that point has to be qualified Firstly, there have been a series of what amounts to mass demonstrations or riots in the USA, demanding justice, which have been extensively reported the world over. Indeed they have been supplemented, encouraged and inspired by the actions in the USA.

The 30 year period of crushing the unions, mass unemployment and redistribution of income in favour of less than 1 per cent of those who own the wealth of the ‘developed’ countries has been followed by 12 years of low to no growth in the developed world combined with a cut in wages and salaries. The situation is considerably worse in many less developed countries.

The ruling class has had limited alternatives. It can take the line of the far right and use both the police and the army to control the expression of discontent. In Europe and North America that would lead to a polarisation in which the majority would ultimately prevail. The question is not whether the right will be defeated but how long it will take before they accept the alternative - socialism. The interests of the majority will prevail under conditions where it can be seen that they can be realised.

In the last 30 years Eastern Europe ceased to be Stalinist, but the result has not meant a substantial re-industrialisation to cope with consumer/ employment needs or the updating of producer equipment, after years if not centuries of attempted indoctrination. The economic failure in Eastern Europe has generally been combined with a slide to the far right. The same is true of the territories of the former USSR. Not many predicted that the end of the Stalinism in Eastern Europe would add to the disillusion with capitalism. It was or would have been a rational prediction.

No clear cut line

The ruling class appears to have only two possibilities: austerity and a temporary period of recuperative spending intended as a transition period back to austerity.14 Such would have to be the conclusion for anyone reading the big read article, written by one of the top journalists of the Financial Times. He seems to take that position for granted. The costs of spending necessarily lead back to austerity, and austerity has a definite limit. The socio-economic meaning of such a thesis seems to escape him and his everyday associates. Anyone coming from outside such a civilization would conclude that an alternative, more humane system ought to be invented, founded or simply used if it existed or was potentially possible.

The fact is that otherwise intelligent social scientists, historians or activists do not dare take the obvious step of exploring whether there is a real movement towards a more civilized society in which rising productivity is encouraged to the point where work can become ‘humanity’s prime want’. The usual reply to such a view is that humanity is necessarily competitive and scarcity in all things is unchanging feature of our planet or the universe. The fact that such an ideology is little more than a screen hiding a society ruled by a small nucleus of the very rich using various kinds of henchmen in crucial areas of the society is hidden from view and generally derided as nonsense.

Part 2: The UK and the Labour Party

The political situation in the UK is superficially settled with a far right party, the Conservative Party, governing with a substantial majority in Parliament. While the oddity of a party with only 43 per cent of the vote holding an 80 seat majority in Parliament is generally accepted, just as a series of institutions like the monarchy and the Privy Council, the system is clearly more unstable. The unwritten constitution of the UK has functioned well for the ruling class, but is today creating problems. The Boris Johnson government is all too aware of them, having lost its attempt to prorogue Parliament in 2019 and now having had its legislation on Northern Ireland rejected by the House of Lords. The House of Lords is itself an anomaly, which, however, sits well with a monarchy and various other non-democratic institutions. The fact that these non-elected institutions should be protecting a more democratic structure reflects its limits. In other words, the system itself is cracking.

It is generally accepted that the Parliamentary voting structure does not allow a full expression of the will of the population. That is partly because a first past the post system may not allow for a comprehensive reflection of the selection of those who voted. In fact, given fullest expression of human needs and possibilities at the present time, it is quite clear that the majority of the population would vote for a redistribution of income in an egalitarian direction and in principle for a government which would carry out such a redistribution.

The fact that the capitalist system, albeit in its decline, has successfully maintained a semi-democratic governing system since 1945 in most countries of Western Europe and North America is a not inconsiderable and complex feat. The reasons are straightforward even if glossed over. The press is very largely owned and operated by supporters of capitalism, the educational system teaches a variety of support for the status-quo, even if in slightly different ways, while such attempts at non-capitalist forms have been not just unsuccessful but highly repressive with their own forms of privilege. At the same time left parties lack the necessary resources and individuals suffer various forms of repression to the point of imprisonment and execution in parts of the world. Above all, European countries have benefited from colonies and their successor forms for centuries.

One of the main pillars of this relatively stable structure has been the highly repressive nature of Stalinism. The end of the Soviet Union ought to mean that one of the reasons for the rejection of socialism had less force. The USSR itself directly prevented the formation of genuine socialist or communist parties, while at the same time presenting the picture of a malfunctioning and highly unequal society. Its apparent failure to fulfil its nominal aims of achieving a socialist society remains a powerful argument in the hands of the capitalist class and its supporters. Even now the right wing of the Democratic Party in the United States was complaining that its socialist leaning wing was a liability in Florida and Texas where Cuban and Venezuelan exiles have settled.

In this context, the emergence of a more leftwing Labour Party from 2015-2019 was a welcome surprise to many, even with qualifications. While the programme of the Labour Party did not become socialist, it did move leftwards. Its half-million membership generally supported a still more left-wing programme. The majority of the Parliamentary party, however, were on the right of the party and the timidity of the Corbyn leadership meant that did not change, even though they never reflected the will of the majority of members, and still do not. The failure of the Labour Party to win the general election in December 2019 was both a matter of timing in that the election was fought around Brexit and a fairy tale realism. In other words, the Conservative and Liberal Parties argued that the Labour Party programme was unrealistic in that it could not raise enough money for their proposed nationalisations, subsidies and projected industrial growth. Today that looks straightforwardly silly given the close to 400 billion pounds that the Conservative government is currently spending to maintain the economy under the stress of Covid-19. Since the right wing of the Labour Party basically agreed with the Conservative critique of their own programme, it is hardly surprising that the Labour Party lost the election and the right assumed power in the Labour Party itself.

Now that the right wing is in control of the Labour Party they are proceeding to go through a few nights of the long knives, in which left labour is eliminated from any role, other than through expulsion or elimination. This column has indicated its distance from Left Labour but also its limited understanding of their position. What has happened to them ought to be a lesson to the existing and future left. The Labour Party collaborates with the ruling class in supporting undemocratic institutions and forms, as well as accounts of history biased in favour of such forms. There is no future for left penetration of the Labour Party and the latter has itself no future as the more rational patriotic party.

A wise ruling class would realise that they will only be able to hold capitalism for a short time longer but there is no such section of the ruling class. We must therefore anticipate in the immediate future, a series of convoluted changes throughout the world, in which mass struggles compel minor ruling class retreats, as at present. It has taken just over a century to get this far, we can hope that the next stage, after the latter, will be much shorter.

Notes

1. Forbes.com: 22/11/2020 8.00a.m.EST. “Why the wealthy are pleased with the election results” Only a small proportion of those canvassed replied, but there is still meaning to the result. https://www.forbes.com/sites/chasewithorn/2020/10/20/even-americas-billionaires-are-tilting-toward-biden-in-the-2020-presidential-race/?sh=6472cc42bb74

2. Rana Faroohar: Monday 22nd November 2020 Financial Times,. “Corporate America’s deal with the Devil”.“At first, big business wanted Trump. But now he refuses to go”

3. Stephen Schwarzman defended Donald Trump at CEO meeting on election results”, Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson and Mark Vandevelde in New York, November 14 2020, Financial Times.

4. “Steve Schwartzman, boss of one of the largest of these, Blackstone, at least has an inside line to the president, chairing the President’s Strategic and Policy Forum.” January 27, 2017 The Best of Lex: By Alan Livsey, Financial Times,

5. Paul Krugman: “Opinion”: New York Times, December 1st 2020.

6. Janen Ganesh:“The real class war is within the rich, An academic blames ‘elite overproduction’ for political turmoil in the west”

7. Charles Goodhart & Manoj Pradhan: The Great Demographic Reversal, Ageing Societies, Waning Inequality, and an Inflation Revival, 2020, Palgrave Macmillan.

8. “The Chinese economy advanced 4.9% yoy in Q3 2020, faster than a 3.2% expansion in Q2 but below forecasts of a 5.2% growth” https://tradingeconomics.com/china/gdp-growth-annual

9. The Economist: Lexington:“Trump and Trumpism”, November 7th 2020:

10. James Politi; August 22nd 2020, “Trump’s Executive Orders provide little money for jobless” Financial Times: August 22nd 2020,

11. Financial Times:“ The pandemic has exposed weaknesses in the UK model The country needs a more effective settlement for a post-Brexit future:” THE EDITORIAL BOARD Octobeer 22nd 2020. https://www.ft.com/content/bc97f377-9c1b-4dad-b305-cbcaf2454da0

12. https://www.americanbanker.com/articles/dimon-says-hes-hopeful-biden-would-fix-some-of-americas-issues ”Dimon says he’s hopeful Biden would fix some of America’s issues” October 16, 2020, 5:17 p.m. ED

13. IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva says 'much more decisive' action needed to deal with debt problems https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/international/business/imf-chief-kristalina-georgieva-says-much-more-decisive-action-needed-to-deal-with-debt-problems/articleshow/78735593.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst

14. Chris Giles: The week that austerity was officially buried., Financial Times, 17/18 October 2020.

Back to top