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From the Decline in Working Class Politics to Labour’s ‘Civil War’.

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Labour CIVIL WAR: Keir Starmer already facing party revolt ...

What We Don’t Need is a Labour “Civil War”.

After the Conservative landslide at the December elections there has been a flood of commentary about the decline of traditional support for the Labour Party.

Phil offers an outline.

The  collapse in class consciousness on the part of millions of working class people who’ve entered into retirement over this last decade was a long time in the works. It was assiduously deconstructed, deracinated and deposited in the receptacle of history.

The one brake on this process preventing the collapse from happening earlier was not their links to the present, i.e. the lives of their offspring, but the living relations to the past. Their parents were their conscience, a reminder not only of where they came from but their exposure to a set of values that hadn’t changed: a collective and small p political culture of working class consciousness with a fidelity to local community, the union, and, crucially, the Labourist reflex.

As this generation dies they fade into memory and the obligation to vote the right way dies with them. Indeed, some might have felt a frisson of transgression when they ticked the box next to the Tory candidate back in December, but ultimately what mattered more to them was feeding the fears and delusions and cruelty inculcated in them over the past 40 years.

Obligation and Class Consciousness

He suggests that, ” we have the rise of conditional and transactional politics. To put it simply, larger numbers of people vote not out of party loyalty but because parties are offering and doing something they want.” (Conditional and Transactional Politics).

This voting behaviour was observed back in 1971 by Barry Hindess in The Decline of Working Class Politics. After having seen that within the Labour Party “the determination of local policy is now very largely in the hands of activists in the more middle-class areas”, and that politics, at that time did not offer a choice outside of a narrow consensus (a 1960’s version of “post-politics”),

the electorate are now less likely to vote out of a sense of class solidarity and more in terms of a sober calculation of material avantages. (Page 148)

The idea of ‘instrumental politics”, the rise of calculation made by ‘affluent workers’ in the 1960s, and, even more prominently  during the Thatcher years, might offer some explanation for the detachment of people from class to individual voting. Blair and Brown made an appeal to this hard-headed constituency in order to restore “trust with the public”. They claimed to offer progress, a capacity to compete in a globalised world, based on what Peter Mandelson has called, a “A constructive partnership with business.” (Revolution revisited.2002)

Nobody would present the last election as a battle within consensual limits. Nor was what people “wanted’ and voted for clearly based on economics. Political scientists may talk of historical support patterns becoming “unglued” and the way that Johnson “Though Johnson was widely unpopular, his party also moved to the centre on economic issues, a strategy that helped sideline Corbyn’s class-based appeal. But, he “emphasised the largely identity-based fight over Brexit.“(Vox)

What did those whose identity politics led them to back ‘Get Brexit Done’ and to “Unleash Britain’s potential” cast their ballots for?

Taking Backing Control looks like a lifebuoy many new Tory voters grasped at when pinned down and asked what they were backing.

The cultural reasons for this support would be better looked at in terms of a wider shift away, with different degrees of sympathy amongst different electorates, to national populism across Europe, That is, while the UK Conservatives  are a special case (not least as the oldest political party in the world) , they share part of the ideology that, as two authors sympathetic to the ideas expressed state, “”national populists prioritise the culture and interests of the nation, and promise to give voice to a people who feel that they have been neglected, even held in contempt, by distant and often corrupt elites.” Roger Eatwell and Matthew Goodwin, (National Populism: The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy. 2018)

It could be suggested that one way to look further at he forces behind this it is through comparative studies, looking at similar de-alignments in countries whose working class history and politics resembles in some ways Britain’s.

One book is Didier Erbion’s Returning to Reims (2018, original,Retour à Reims 2008/2019)

“I tried to understand this milieu in which I had lived, my parents’ milieu, which traditionally voted for the Communist party, and how they came to vote for the Front National, why their vote was transferred to the right and the extreme right.”

Erbion does not just focus on support for the far-right, but on the wider ‘transactional’ switch in working class support for political parties, including for the classical right-wing President Sarkozy (and which could be extended to a minority who voted Macron not Marine Le Pen).

Bearing in mind these parallels, which could be extended to more volatile, and declining support for social democratic, socialist and (the largely vanished) Communist parties across Europe,  might offer a better beginning than staying within British politics.

Civil War.

Will the left follow Phil and ask the kind of cliché-free questions he, and others, have put on the table?

For the moment this is overshadowed by this news.

Labour is now in the throes of what the Guardian today calls a “civil war” (Antisemitism settlement plunges Labour party into civil war).

Labour’s decision to pay a six-figure libel settlement to ex-staffers who claimed the party was failing to deal with antisemitism has plunged the party back into civil war, with Jeremy Corbyn publicly condemning his successor’s decision to settle the case.

Corbyn’s statement caused astonishment among the litigants in the libel action, with the Panorama journalist John Ware confirming to the Guardian that he was “consulting his lawyers” and raising the prospect of another costly court battle over Labour and antisemitism.

The anti-semitism issue, made worse by some people’s hard-line anti-Zionism, and a fringe that indulges in conspiracy theories. are serious problems.

The ‘Hobbyist’ left, which is said to have dominated Labour politics in ways that Hindess (who wrote in 1971,  at a time when leftist influence inside the Party was at a low point) could not have dreamt, has come in for a great deal of criticism. Those who believed that they were bringing the fight against the ‘Iron law of Oligarchy’ into Labour structures, are sorely disappointed.

Apart from a divisive, and futile,  battle against ‘Starmerism’, a range of hobby-horses are being run. The American inspired Black Lives Matter movement has some real targets. But other culture wars, cancel culture, a pile of words stacks up about issues that are as clear as mud . Some of the ideas floated are as odd as the 19th century socialists who were interested in Theosophy. Or worse.

Momentum Camden Calls for NEC Motion of No Confidence in Keir Starmer

Starmer’s statement that he needs “unconscious bias” training, is both an admission and misdirection: His racism has been conscious and consistent and has no place in an antiracist party. In the process he makes racism a personal psychological problem and not a systemic social disaster.  He has brought the Labour Party into disrepute with some of its most loyal supporters, BAME communities.”

This is a superb motion I will try and use the motion in a blog post.#

If this is one side….

We do not need this civil war.

There is little doubt however that laying the blame on Corbyn will only help those who wish to turn back to the days when Peter Mandelson and his friends ran Labour policy for ‘apirational’ people.

 

“Taking Back Control”: Brexit, Putin, to Free Trade in Public Services, and Low-Quality Food.

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Boris Johnson urges Brits to vote Brexit to "take back control ...

Getting Brexit Done means “Taking Back Control”……

During the EU Referendum those who backed Leave talked of “taking back control”.

There were those on the left who denounced the EU as a “capitalist club”. They wanted a “People’s Brexit”, a ‘Left’ Brexit.

The former Labour MP Ronnie Campbell spoke for his camp when he said he wanted to “take back control of UK laws, taxes, budgets, and public spending”.

For the alliance of Blue Labour, the Communist Party of Britain, Labour Lexiteers, members, and supporters, of the Brexit Party, The Full Brexit, the phrase  gave voice to a “popular revolt against the status quo”.

“The Leave campaign’s slogan, “take back control”, resonated with millions of people whose interests are no longer represented in British politics.” Brexit, and the restoration of National Sovereignty, gave the UK the “opportunity to reshape Britain for the better”.

After the result the Lexit (pro-Brexit left) campaign issued this statement.

It began, 

The Leave vote is above all else a rejection of the entire political establishment by millions of working class people who have been left to suffer austerity for decades with few defenders among the mainstream parties.

The Leave-Fight-Transform (Pro-Brexit) campaign from the same stable asserted in August 2019 that,

the left must ensure the 2016 referendum result is implemented, so that the UK breaks with the treaties, institutions and laws of the EU as well as the structural racism of Fortress Europe.

Locating the origin of racism in the EU was a bold move, one yet for Brexit Britain to challenge.

But it looks as if the break with what is left of the its treaties, institutions and laws is underway.

In a statement on Brexit Day (3rd of February 2020), the pro-Brexiteers issued a statement on the ” likely terrain for the battle”.

They predicted a “crisis in Britain’s ruling class”, a phrase battle-hardened leftists find handy for any time in history.

A trade deal with the US looked fraught “with tensions”. But some light for the left was there, “Johnson wants to be free to engage in state investment. That requires a ‘Canada-plus[i]’ deal with the EU.” A step forward. “This new vision, brought on by economic necessity and the wishes of a section of British capital, as well as by the political reality of how Johnson won his majority, is rather different from the delusional, harking back to empire vision beloved of Tory Brexiteers in the European Research Group.”

Things were not so bad (compare above “crisis”). Indeed, “…much of British capital is confident that it can cope with whatever happens in post-Brexit Britain, providing the City of London’s banking and financial interests are kept safe.The EU, they predicted, would negotiate a way out. The Tories would try to respond to the “concerns” of those who voted for them.

The Brexit left claimed that conditions for a real struggle looked bright: “What couldn’t be done has been done: a major country has broken with the largest trading bloc in history.” After Labour’s historic election defeat, the post-Brexit terrain offered an  “opportunity for the left.”

Today there are two major news stories about “taking back control” Brexit-style.

The first is on the post-EU trade negotiations, 

MPs have defeated an attempt by Tory backbenchers to ensure parliament has a vote on any post-Brexit trade deal.

An amendment to the Trade Bill currently going through the Commons would have given MPs and peers a say on any new agreement signed by the government.

Jonathan Djanogly, the Conservative MP who led the rebellion, had argued that the US congress approves similar deals.

 

He accused the government of taking a position of “less scrutiny than we did as a member of the EU”, because EU trade deals are subject to a vote in the European Parliament.

Free of EU ‘neo-liberalism’ the government can agree with Donald Trump to open up UK public services to US businesses, and our shops to low quality American food.

Brexit is said to offer many more such opportunities.

It seems that Jeremy Corbyn had the clairvoyance – along with hundreds of anti-Brexit commentators – to foresee this.

Yet, as this tweet indicates…

Then we have this:

This story is still developing.

We note that Arron Banks, who gave money to ‘Trade Unionists Against the EU”, a campaign led by Paul Embery, a supporter of the Full Brexit, and promoted during the Referedum by the Socialist Party, gets a mention,

Government rejects ISC’s call for inquiry into Russian interference in Brexit referendum.

Here is the statement from the Committee itself.

Press release from the Intelligence and Security Committee, July 21:

There have been widespread allegations that Russia sought to influence voters in the 2016 referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU: studies have pointed to the preponderance of pro-Brexit or anti-EU stories on RT and Sputnik, and the use of ‘bots’ and ‘trolls’, as evidence.


The actual impact of such attempts on the result itself would be difficult – if not impossible – to prove. However what is clear is that the government was slow to recognise the existence of the threat – only understanding it after the ‘hack and leak’ operation against the Democratic National Committee, when it should have been seen as early as 2014.


As a result the government did not take action to protect the UK’s process in 2016. The committee has not been provided with any post-referendum assessment – in stark contrast to the US response to reports of interference in the 2016 presidential election. In our view there must be an analogous assessment of Russian interference in the EU referendum.

Observers predict that the Morning Star is about to carry a story attacking ‘anti-Russian hysteria” and “Putin Bashing”.

(1) Report: 

Case study: the EU referendum

A ‘New State Capitalism’ Post-Covid 19 ?

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The Unexpected Reckoning: COVID-19 and Capitalism - YouTube

Is a ‘New State Capitalism’ on the cards?

Without a doubt, Trump and the Brexiteers did not foresee needing state ownership of industry and explicit state direction to achieve their goals. There are plenty of ways the state fosters, guides, and shapes private capital. Capitalism is never without the state, except in some libertarian utopia. State ownership just makes this relationship more explicit.

March the 26th 2020. The Specter of State Capitalism. Ilias Alami. 

Editorialising in the March/April issue of New Left Review the radical left journal peered at the effects of the global pandemic.

It found, to at least the learned New Leftists’ surprise, that Covid-19 had rescued the role of the Nation State.

….the political agencies taking charge, one by one, are nation-states, summoned back from the secondary status to which laissez-faire ideology had consigned them—and now resuming, as if in war time, their foundational responsibility for public safety. The virus has been a Rorschach test for ruling parties and national-political cultures alike. In the us, a bellowing hypochondriac in the White House, ambitious state governors honing their profiles, a bi-partisan Congressional bail-out for big business and tougher sanctions on Iran. In the uk, Churchillian sentiment plastering over critical shortages and medics’ deaths. In the eu, assorted neoliberal regimes squabbling over how to press home their prior political agendas.

In the latest issue of journal (No 123 May-June 2020). the economist Robert Brenner leads with an article outlining that the US response has focused on the public safety of one group above all others. A “corporate bailout”, a”Billionaire coronavirus bonanza” is  the description of the US government’s handling of the economy during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Escalating Plunder offers an overview of how pro-Trump businesses have taken advantage of public largesse  during the pandemic. Benner asserts that  “the success of so many famous non-financial corporations in securing loans at artificially reduced prices that has made the headlines, it is actually the lenders, the financiers, who have benefited most decisively.” He observes that the Trump Presidency has not taken control of the economy in the process, “The persistence of such a hands-off approach to the economy’s leading producers and financiers on the part of the bipartisan political-economic establishment at a time of such profound crisis.”

The conclusion? That this “plunder” means that  redistribution of wealth is the main effect of a primary political intervention in the “assets markets” and the “whole economy”.

This is the politically driven intention, the

way that they can assure the reproduction of the non-financial and financial corporations, their top managers and shareholders—and indeed top leaders of the major parties, closely connected with them—is to intervene politically in the asset markets and throughout the whole economy, so as to underwrite the upward re-distribution of wealth to them by directly political means. This is, indeed, what Congress and the Fed have accomplished with their large-scale and extended corporate bailout in the face of plunging production, employment and profits. The politically driven upward redistribution of wealth to sustain central elements of a partially transformed dominant capitalist class, as the response to a seemingly inexorable process of economic deterioration, has been at the heart of the politico-economic evolution which has brought us to this point. What we have had for a long epoch is worsening economic decline met by intensifying political predation.

At a Zoom meeting this week, which the writer of this Blog participated in, the political and economic effects of the crisis were talked about.  Many suggest that there are more radical changes underfoot than “Predation”.

The left is beginning to talk of government measures as steps towards a kind of “state capitalism”. That something similar to a war-time command economy might be in the making, at least in Britain and the rest of Europe. As mass unemployment looms other perspectives have also appeared.

It looks as if moves are being made to consolidate the ’emergency’ state-led economy on a longer-term basis.

The Outward ‘Bounce Back‘ recommends,
  1. Introducing new fiscal rules that delay the Conservative Manifesto pledge to have debt falling as a share of GDP to 2024, but maintaining the Government’s commitment to keep debt interest below 6% of GDP.
  2. Sweeping tax reform now to ensure borrowing is brought under control equitably and without harming growth. This means reviewing the 1,100 tax reliefs that exist, focusing tax rises on accrued wealth, including by revaluing council tax, removing distortions in the tax system, for example those that favour large digital firms, and announcing a long-term review of the tax treatment of debt and equity financing. Any immediate tax cuts should be focused on cutting the cost of employment through reducing the burden of employer NICs, rather than a VAT cut aimed at boosting  consumption.
  3. Establishing a new Restructuring Agency, modelled on the Industrial Revitalisation Corporation of Japan, to manage the estimated £30 billion of government-guaranteed loans that are expected to go bad and ensure the high levels of corporate debt generally do not become a drag on investment and the economic recovery.
  4. Investing £30 billion directly into high growth companies, such as the British Business Bank, British Growth Fund and British Patient Capital, using convertible loans that can be turned into equity if not repaid, to ensure firms can assess capital to invest without just taking on ever more debt.
  5. Rapid action to prevent labour market scarring, by hiring 13,000 Universal Credit work coaches, targeting job subsidies on absorptive sectors and guaranteeing every young person a chance to earn, train or serve their community.
  6. Establishing a new Right to Retrain for adults, including a £50,000 repayable loan, available to all adults without a degree at any stage of their career for full and part-time students, funded via the National Skills Fund.
  7. Double Further Education funding and launch a radical wave of reform of the sector to give colleges five years of funding certainty, improve take up of higher value subjects and to rationalise qualifications.

It’s not hard to see that some of these policy proposals, above all a “Restructuring Agency” and  direct investment (‘picking winners’ as free-marketeers used to call it) and the “debt for equity swaps” raises the issue of state capitalism explicitly.

It confirms that Alami (above: The Spectre of State Capitalism)  seems to have hit on something early,

COVID-19 and the generalized economic crisis it has catalyzed may hasten changes toward explicit forms of state capitalism in the West. Yet, a decloaked state at the helm does not necessarily mean a more progressive and just economic system (just like it does not mean a move toward state socialism). Who will bear the brunt of the costs of the current transformations, and who will benefit from the consolidation of the ‘new’ state capitalism, will be the outcome of a tense political process.

Researchers are beginning to think along these lines.

The rise of State Capitalism in the post-COVID-19 era

In this article, which appeared a couple of days ago, Christopher Dembik offers an interesting angle,

Marxism, which has been the subject of renewed interest since the GFC, defines state capitalism as a social system combining capitalism with ownership or control by the state which basically acts like a single huge corporation. It differs from Communism in the sense that in a state capitalist system, private property continues to exist alongside a big government that dictates the path the economy is heading to. State capitalism has been around for almost as long as capitalism itself. In 1791, Alexander Hamilton, first ever U.S. Treasury Secretary, presented an ambitious project to protect America’s infant industries with tariffs from international competition. It marks the birth of the idea of educative protectionism which will be theorized a few decades later by the German economist Friedrich List after a stay of a few years in the United States.

The author roots changing forms of state capitalism in recent developments,

In the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis, Eurasia Group’s president, Ian Brenner wrote a celebrated book in which he claims that the GFC announces the end of the free market. His bold statement turned out to be partially correct. During the turmoil, Western governments had to play a bigger role in the economy as driving force for recovery, but they disengaged themselves very quickly as soon as the economy showed signs of picking up.

Dembik argues that, “This time is different”

State capitalism might become a more permanent state of the economy, at least in some countries, due to the nature of the current crisis, which differs from previous ones, mainly for two reasons. First, it is not a “normal” recession. While on average 60% to 70% of businesses are hit in a “normal” recession, the COVID-19 crisis has affected almost 100% of businesses in some countries where strict lockdowns have been implemented. Coronavirus scars and depressive effects will persist longer than most believe. Policymakers, with a massive inflow of liquidity into the economy, have delayed and postponed a lot of pain but they have not eliminated it. The second economic wave is about to start, characterized by massive unemployment and an unprecedented number of bankruptcies.

In countries most exposed, the relative share of the private sector in the economy will dramatically decrease, consecutively leading to a bigger public sector which will employ directly or indirectly a big chunk of the workforce. In addition, governments are likely to rely increasingly on quasi-permanent subsidies to protect domestic companies and appease social discontent resulting from the crisis.

The effects of climate change could also further destabilise the economy.

Second, another crisis will emerge soon with potential ripple effects more devastating than the coronavirus. CO2 levels in atmosphere reaching a new record and Artic oil spill caused by melting permafrost are two unpleasant reminders that climate change has not taken a break while we were focusing on the pandemic. Many people might consider big government is the only way to tackle the consequences of climate change and especially avoid leaving the poor even farther behind.

So where does this leave the ‘new state capitalism’?

Interventionism, of the kind advocated by the Onward group, and (potentially) an economy directed with aggressive  sovereignty towards the European Union, is being put in place at the same time as the privatisation of public services and ‘openness’ towards the government’s friend in the White House, and low-quality US imports,

The Pro-Privatization Shock Therapy of the UK’s Covid Response

Rachel Shabi

The outsourcing bonanza has coincided with Britain’s tense talks with the European Union over the terms of a new, non-member relationship. The Brexit transition period, during which Britain is still following EU rules, concludes at the end of the year. Negotiations to resolve myriad difficult, outstanding issues have already been set back by the pandemic, yet Boris Johnson has refused to countenance an extension. For Leave.EU hardliners, a no-deal Brexit is not unwelcome: it would, as they see it, set the nation free to forge ahead as Global Britain, a sort of deregulated “Singapore-on-Thames,” as some Brexiteers have enthused.

One result – not in line with previous cases of Naomi KLein’s ‘Shock Therapy‘-  may well be to reinforce what Paul Mason has called “national neoliberalism“.

The policies of the government only loosely resembles some war-time measures only in the sense that public debt is used to boost the economy. There is no direction of labour, or of production. It is only ‘state capitalist’ in the sense that the government is (temporally) paying wages (the furlough scheme), for those in employment, and  encouraging the provision of capital, it has little power over the use of capital.   Competition between different capitals is far from over. If it is theoretically possible that some kind of 1960s interventionist policies may become embedded in government policy, these will be to encourage enterprises, not to control them.

What seems to be shaping up is an economy, in the UK, organised by the state for the protection of the internal market, social handouts (for now) to stave off mass destitution and unemployment, gifts (including discounted eating out)  to shore up the electoral base of its  national populism,  and plunder (“a handout of pandemic contracts to the private sector”) for the government’s crony capitalists.

Nothing in this anaemic  ‘state capitalism’  is a step towards socialism.

Boffy says,

It’s inevitable that governments are going to have to bail out aircraft producers, carmakers, airlines and airports.  Those bailouts are going to run into hundreds of billions of Dollars, Pounds, Euros etc.  There is no reason that the EU is going to help bailout British companies as Britain heads for Brexit.  The EU as a $14 trillion economy can easily mobilise the resources to bail-out its strategic industries, even running into tens or even hundreds of billions of Euros, though it will require large-scale borrowing, leading to a sharp rise in interest rates to do it.  But, Britain with its puny $2 trillion economy will struggle to do so.  But, unless the UK government does borrow and find the funds to bail-out these industries, they will go bust, and it will lead to a more rapid concentration of capital in the EU.  The funds the government is going to have to find for these bail-outs are huge, dwarfing what Sunak has already spent, and promised yesterday.
When the UK government bailed out the banks and finance houses in 2008/9, the total cost came to £2 trillion.  The financial sector accounts for a disproportionately large part of the UK economy.  Even so, imagine the total cost then of bailing out the rest of the economy, or even just a large part of it.  When the initial proposals for bailing out the banks were put forward, the original figures were only a fraction of what the actual number turned out to be.  That was the case just in Britain, but, as Sraid Marx described it was done quite deliberately in getting approval for bailing out the Irish banks.
The cost of bailing out large parts of the UK economy which is facing going bust as a result of the lockdown, unless such bail-outs occur, will make the bail-outs of the banks seem like small beer.  The total cost is more likely to be around £20 trillion.  British workers are going to be paying the price of this insane policy of lockdown for decades to come in the form of higher unemployment, and all of the health problems that goes with it, as well as slower growth, resulting from the need to cover the interest payments on all of this debt.

Written by Andrew Coates

July 9, 2020 at 11:19 am