Did anyone think the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 requiring parliamentary elections not to be held before five years have elpsed would inhibit an opportunistic Prime Minister from calling a general election? Like many aspects of our “democratic” system, it was all appearances and no substance. True democracy is not achieved by an opportunity every five years (sic) to choose whom from the ruling class should rule over us. The forthcoming election called by Mrs May today won’t be fair, won’t reflect the needs and wishes of the electorate and won’t be reported fairly in the capitalist owned mass media and the government controlled BBC. Nevertheless, if we can get May kicked out and Jeremy Corbyn elected Prime Minister, it will be a useful step forward. Bring it on!
In the Morning Star yesterday, (Tuesday, 28 March), Nigel Flanagan, Senior Organiser for the UNI Global Union, warned of the potential for intelligence robots to replace workers on a global scale. The appropriate response, he argued, should be to build a global union system to negotiate and bargain with the global companies that will own and operate these intelligent robots.
But is this a sufficient response? The UNI Global Union is merely a confederation of some 900 affiliated unions from 140 countries. These unions represent 20 million workers; but with a global workforce, according to ILO estimates, of 3 billion workers, the employers will not be trembling with fear. The UNI Global Union may represent a start in organising workers globally, but it has a long way to go and, even if it succeeds, much more is required than mere global Mondism.
The continual replacement of workers by machines lies at the heart of Marx’s Labour Theory of Value. His conclusion that it would lead to the collapse of capitalism – unless that collapse was first triggered by some other constraint to the development of productive forces that capitalism was unable to surmount – is the conclusion to his masterwork, Capital. At the start of the 21st Century we now recognise global warming caused by CO2 emission to be such a constraint. With both robotization and global warming increasingly emergent, the issue now is is how these two death knells for capitalism will interact and what consequences they will have on what replaces capitalism.
For communists, the struggle is about hastening capitalism’s demise and ensuring that it is replaced by communism – by which we mean a classless society in which the abundance made possible by advanced technology, including intelligent robots, is shared by all. As Marx recognised, and a brilliant little book by Peter Frase, Four Futures – visions of the world after capitalism (Verso, 2016) discusses, other post-capitalist societies are possible; and they are all much less desirable. If workers are largely replaced by intelligent robots, who owns those robots is crucial. If they are owned by the former capitalists, the elite, a society based on rentism could emerge in which a tiny ruling elite live off the rents from licensed technology and the largely unemployed workers subsist on menial tasks and handouts. The other possible outcome with a hierarchical society suggested by Frase is even more scarey: if the elite don’t need 3 billion workers, it would be in their interests to exterminate them.
Frase has some interesting ideas about extreme global warming. He suggests that it’s now inevitable and the real issue now is how we survive it. This could be relatively easy for the global elite, but very difficult for the rest of us. Climate change deniers, he suggests, no longer sincerely doubt the evidence; they simply think that their class can survive it, and very comfortably, thank you. These and other contentious issues will be discussed at Croydon TUC on 11 May when a speaker from the Campaign against Climate Change has been invited. Note it in your diary and make sure you are there!
Following the political discussion at the Branch Meeting on 16 March, members were alerted to and encouraged to attend the following events and meetings :
Sunday 19 March. Marx Oration. Assemble at 1.30pm for 2pm start at Highgate Cemetery
Thursday 11 May. Croydon TUC. Open meeting. Speaker from Campaign against Climate Change. 7.30 pm. Ruskin House
Saturday 13 May. Croydon Mayday March. Assemble at North End Croydon at Noon. Speakers to include Mark Serwotka. Music at Ruskin House from 2 pm. Bring your Party flag or collect one from the office
Saturday 3 June. Croydon Assembly to be held at Ruskin House. A day of political discussion, organising and debate.
Thursday, 8 June. Croydon TUC. Open Meeting Speaker from Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom
Croydon TUC (CTUC) held its AGM on Thursday at Ruskin House. With the resignation of Jon Morgan of PCS due to relocation away from Croydon, the meeting unanimously appointed Kevin Smith of CWU as the President. Kevin was an excellent choice, being active in the initiative to launch the Croydon Assembly, CTUC’s attempt to reach out beyond the trade union movement, and instrumental in forming the Croydon Assembly’s Environmental Forum. Roy Aird was re-elected as Secretary and this and the other appointments and re-appointments to the Executive Committee confirmed CTUC’s place at the beating heart of radical Croydon.
An attempt will be made this year to open CTUC’s monthly delegate meeting, held at 7.30 pm on the second Thursday of each month, to a wider audience by inviting more guest speakers. Invitations have already gone out to the Campaign against Climate Change and the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom and more will follow with dates to be announced shortly.
The big event at Ruskin House this year will be the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the building in Coombe Road. To mark this event, the annual May Day March from North End (opposite Marks and Spencer) to Ruskin House will take place on Saturday, 13 May and will be followed by speeches, music and celebrations at Ruskin House. It is hoped that Mark Serwotka, the PCS General Secretary, will speak at what will be his first major public speaking engagement following his heart transplant operation. The assembly time at North End has yet to be confirmed, but it will probably be noon. As usual, trade union and Communist Party banners and flags will be proudly born through the pedestrian precinct and on Ruskin House.
The meeting of the Croydon Branch of the Communist Party on Thursday was more a social meeting than a business meeting as its primary purpose was to thank Ben Stevenson for the eleven years he dedicated to working for the Party as National Organiser and National Secretary and to wish him well on his departure to take up a senior position in the trade union movement. In addition to branch members, the meeting was attended by the Party Chair, Liz Payne, the International Secretary, John Foster, and two honoured guests from Ruskin House. After speeches and wishes of goodwill, Ben was presented with a pair of hand-made glass vases, one from the Party and one from his friends and comrades.
While there was little opportunity on this occasion to discuss branch business, the Branch Secretary said he would be contacting members shortly to seek their views on future meetings and events. One possibility he had been discussing with the secretaries of the other South London branches, South East London and South West London, and on which he would be seeking members’ views, was occasional joint meetings of all three branches in Brixton.
Gavin Barwell, Croydon Central MP and grandly titled Minister for Planning and Housing is not expected to solve the housing crisis with the government’s White Paper due later this week. In all probability, he will follow the pattern of neglect and naked electioneering set by successive New Labour, Coalition and Tory governments and just make things worse. The crisis is, nevertheless, extreme. Social housing is disappearing into government coffers and buying is unaffordable except for a privileged few – house prices in 122 local authorities are now ten times local median earnings (Source: ONS figures quoted in the Guardian) while the briefest of tests on the money advice service affordability calculator will confirm that lenders won’t lend much above three times earnings. This leaves most young people facing the prospect of never leaving home, a lifetime renting on short-term contacts in the unregulated private sector, a job in the armed forces or a life on the streets. This is a somewhat restricted set of choices from a government that says it believes in choice.
The housing crisis can, of course, be solved, but not in ways that would be agreeable to Mr Barwell and his paymasters. Instead of nibbling away at the green belt and further inducements to speculative builders, we need
- an immediate extension of council tax banding upwards as a prelude to introducing a comprehensive Land Value Tax.
- appropriate taxation of second homes, holiday homes and empty commercial property
- Councils to be empowered to borrow to finance such social (council) housing and compulsory purchase of existing properties as are needed to meet all their local needs.
- an end to the bedroom tax.
- mortgagors to be entitled to convert mortgages into affordable rents rather than face eviction
- recognition that housing has a central role to play in the environment and the fight against global warming
- proper regulation of the private rented sector, with an end to short-term tenancies, rent control where appropriate and certification of “good” tenants by landlords and “good” landlords by tenants, this certification being required for continued participation in the sector. I have been told that this approach is successfully applied in Germany, but if anyone knows more about it, please let us all know.
These are not revolutionary demands. They are the minimum reforms needed to alleviate the current crisis. If they are beyond the capacity or imagination of our ruling class to implement, the sooner we overturn them the better.
Croydon Communist Party held its AGM on Thursday, 19 January. Routine business was swiftly despatched, including the confirmation of Martin Graham as Branch Secretary, leaving the rest of the meeting for the political report and discussion, including a discussion of Land Value Tax (LVT) and the response earlier that week by London Mayor Sadiq Khan to the report A Land Value Tax for London? published by the London Assembly Planning Committee.
The London Assembly Planning Committee report, published in February last year, appears largely to be the work of Tom Copley, a Labour Assembly Member with some progressive ideas – he is, for example a republican – but who has been opposing and undermining Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party to the extent even of accusing him of lying. It was therefore unsurprising that the report adopted a timid and unimaginative approach to LVT, seeing it as little more than a device to bring forward land for development in London. Mayor Khan’s response was equally limited: he welcomed the report but cautioned that he lacked powers even to undertake a pilot scheme. He would “hold talks with the Treasury”. but as the last thing the Tories want to do is tax the people who bankroll them, don’t hold your breath!
LVT has significantly greater potential than simply a means of accelerating property development in London. As the Economics Commission of the Communist Party argued in the pamphlet From Each According to their Means, it has a part to play in creating a truly progressive national tax regime. You can read this report here or order a printed copy for £2.50 postage paid from the Communist Party here.
While the Tories would like to see the NHS destroyed and replaced by a US-style insurance-based system (all those lovely profits just waiting to be extracted) and, aided by the Lib Dems, they have done everything they can to facilitate this (GP commissioning, sub-contracting and partial privatisations), the current crisis in the NHS has a single cause: the 2006 financial crisis. In order to save capitalism, the government had to save the banks, or, more precisely, the speculative capital invested in banks, and to do this they:
- froze the level of funding for the NHS (ignoring increasing demand);
- froze the pay of NHS staff and worsened the terms of employment of junior doctors (ignoring the need to recruit and retain staff); and
- slashed funding for local government social services for frail and elderly patients (ignoring the need for such services if patients are to be discharged from hospital).
The current crisis in the NHS is the consequence. But it is not the only one. The bank bailout and the way it was financed depressed economic growth for at least a decade, increased inequality by underwriting the earnings of the financial elite and destroyed social services beyond those supporting patients discharged from hospital. Furthermore, it yielded no return on the government’s investment in the banks – like Lloyds Bank, they are returning to 100% private ownership and yielding not even a notional profit to the government.
Despite the cost of this bailout, the government has failed to ensure that the banks won’t ask to be bailed out again. Yet the risk of losing our money transmission services and that individual depositors could call on the government guarantee could again allow banks to blackmail governments into bailing them out when their speculative activities collapse. The report by John Vickers in 2013 looked at the “too big to fail” argument but failed to call for a complete separation of simple banking activities – money transmission services and lending against deposits – and the banks’ speculative activity. Vickers, a neo-classical economist with, as his track record as a former Director General of the Office of Fair Trading demonstrated, a misplaced faith in more competition as the remedy for every economic problem, accepted that (his words) “some risk of failure” had to be tolerated and opted for ring fencing and a capital reserves regime. Notwithstanding monitoring by the Financial Conduct Authority, this “risk of failure” is real and will materialise when the banks’ speculative activity next comes off the rails, as it surely will.
But at least we will know what to do next time. Saving capitalism won’t be the priority. We will insist that the government truly nationalises the banks without compensation, not give them what were, in effect, interest free loans until their share prices recover. They must then remain in the public sector to be run in the interests of working people on whose labour their existence depends. These interests will include not pauperising the NHS; they don’t include saving capitalism.
At the end of 2016 it would be fair to say that the future looks bleak. We confront four years of a climate denying US President. We face a similar period of Tory rule in this country, propped up by a mass media owned by sympathetic oligarchs or, in the case of the BBC, cowed into grovelling submission. Both are intent on persuading the public that Labour under Corbyn is “unelectable”. The prospect of a Tory negotiated Brexit threatens an outcome that could be even more dire than the slow strangulation by neo-liberal policies we experience as a member of the EU. Pessimism is not, however, a trait associated with communists. Hey, we overcame the failure and eventual collapse of the first serious attempt to build socialism anywhere in the world, the USSR. We remain determined to build our own Road to Socialism in Britain and then across the world and we won’t be deterred by a few, short-term obstacles such as these.
Reasons to be cheerful? Here are a few.
On the international stage, while our mass media speaks of the rise of populism and gives as examples the rise of Le Penn in France and the break-up of Angela Merkel’s centre-right coalition in Germany, they ignore the improved prospects for Jean-Luc Mélenchon, backed by the French Communist Party, and for Die Linke, the successor to PDS, the East German communist party.
Looking to the USA, we can take comfort from the relative success of Bernie Saunders, achieved in the teeth of a mass media who told the electorate that, like Corbyn, he was simply “unelectable”. What we learned was that the mass media has been weakened by the growth of social media and that an electorate offered the ‘same old, same old’ centre-right options will look for something else. This will apply just as much to the Tories and their ex-coalition partners, the Lib-Dems, as it did to Hilary Clinton. Even under first-past-the-post elections, standing as the least worst candidate may no longer be the ticket to success.
We also learned from Greece that half-way measures don’t work. Syriza won the election and thought it could stay in the Euro and use its democratic mandate to negotiate with the European Commission. As if! Had the electorate had the nerve to vote in the Greek Communist Party, with its uncompromising attitude to the EU, the country would at least have stood a chance.
Peace in Syria? Stability in Iraq and Libya? Not yet and not soon enough. But at least we have learned that military intervention and bankrolling the opposition with a view to “regime change” doesn’t benefit the inhabitants of these countries or those adjacent to it.
And what of Brexit? Although the immediate prospects are daunting, leaving the EU was an essential first step on the road to socialism. We have to resist the attempts that will be made by Dame Theresa and her gang to further disadvantage the trade unions – they received precious little from the EU but even that could be threatened – and to enter into trade deals that favour big business, not workers. If these can be resisted, opportunities will arise for genuine democracy at home and real internationalism abroad.
Socialism isn’t “what a Labour Government does” (Herbert Morrison) any more than communism is “Soviet power plus electrification” (Lenin). It’s a society were, eventually, each receives according to their need. Let’s make 2017 the year when we take significant steps towards this.
All the best for the New Year from Croydon Communist Party.
The BBC’s news coverage is practically indistinguishable from that of the capitalist press, and even its topical comedy output is full of jibes about Jeremy Corbyn’s supposed “unelectability” , so it is gratifying when a programme that questions, however modestly, the capitalist status quo occasionally slips through. A recent example was a 30 minute programme on Tuesday, 14 December when the self-styled “Global Philosopher” Professor Michael Sandel asked Do Those on Top Deserve Their Success?
Professor Sandel is no Marxist, but he does share with us the approach Question Everything. It is not Professor Sandel’s method to provide answers: rather, he poses questions to a worldwide, selected audience, albeit a predominately middle class one, and examines their responses. This programme was essentially an exploration of whether we should be aiming for a society in which there is equality of opportunity or equality of outcome. Capitalism cannot, of course, provide either, but to facilitate debate, the Professor hypothesised a society in which everyone started equally and then asked whether his audience whether they would prefer a meritocracy or a lottocracy, the former, being a society in which a minority ‘won’ through ability and effort and the latter being one where chance determined success.
The Professor’s hypotheses, stated and unstated, were flawed. We cannot have a society in which everyone starts with the same chance of success unless inherited wealth is banished. This obvious point was left unstated, probably because it is incompatible with all class-based societies, including capitalism. Another unstated assumption was that society must inevitably be based on competition between individuals. Again, while this is an implicit assumption under capitalism, it is not the way in which we will organise society under socialism. As Marx said in his Critique of the Gotha Program , in the transitionary period it will be from each according to their ability to each according to their work and, under full communism, to each according to their need.
If we overlook the failure to state awkward assumptions, the discussion in this programme was the type of probing debate that the Communist University of South London was supporting last year. CUiSL took a breather in 2016 but is considering if and how it might be re-activated in 2017. One possibility is a return to student presentations followed by debate; but another possibility is to conduct some collective research into a specific issue. One that has been suggested is the economics of the housing crisis and how to address it. If you have views on these or other possibilities, please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org .