The Day After Tomorrow

Despite the obsequious coverage in the mass media, it self-evident that the government has bungled its response to the coronavirus pandemic. It failed, in part, because ministers didn’t follow WHO’s advice to “test, test, test” every suspected case when they had the opportunity. They didn’t isolate and quarantine. Perhaps influenced by Dominic Cummings, they appear initially to have thought “herd immunity” would protect the rich while letting the old and poor perish. They failed to contact trace. They now have a new plan, Suppress–Shield–Treat–Palliate, but this was agreed too late and has left the NHS wholly unprepared for the surge of severely and critically ill patients. My view? No – those of experts. See link below.

What happens when the pandemic is over? The Tories will want to return to ‘business as usual’, ring fence the rich and powerful and require workers – survivors from the NHS, social services and the “unskilled” (SIC) workers to pay for rebuilding the capital owned by the 1%, just as they did after the 2007-8 banking crisis. A helpful strategy to this end will be to start a generation war. Sir Max Hastings on BBC Radio 4 yesterday argued that his generation had benefitted from the previous one’s efforts to defeat Hitler, benefited from the post-war booming economy until 2007, extracted from taxpayers “free bus passes” and other perks and now expects succeeding generations to pay for the cost of protecting them from the ravages of the pandemic and restoring the economy.
It’s not the elderly per se who have benefitted most in the last 75 years, it’s the wealthy – the owners of capital. Sir Max is, however, partially right. After the pandemic is over, we must establish a steeply progressive inheritance tax that covers wealth secreted away in trusts and other avoidance measures and use the huge amounts this would release as a true inheritance and ‘thank you’ for younger people who enabled the older and wealthier amongst us to survive.

As Solomon Hughes writes in the Morning Star today, it won’t be easy, but we must resist with all our might the coming attempts to revert to “business as usual” after the pandemic. We must build a better society for all working people – a society that can avert or withstand the next crisis coming over the horizon, global warming. If we can also bring to account those responsible for undermining the NHS, creating the gig economy, destroying free college and university education, undermining trade unions and destroying social housing and social welfare, so much the better.

 

References
https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)30727-3/fulltext
https://morningstaronline.co.uk

Doing capitalism differently?

Professor Mariana Mazzucato is a heterodox economist at the UCL some way from Marxism but she shares with Marxists recognition of the importance of “value” in economic analysis. In neoclassical economics, the kind they currently teach in universities, a marginalist approach is adopted and value is synonymous with markets and market prices. For Marxists, value is the labour time consumed in producing a commodity, whether directly or through the consumption of other commodities in its manufacture.

Professor Mazzucato argues in an article in the Guardian today that neoclassical economics goes a long way to explaining the mess the world finds itself in today and the Covid-19 pandemic will provide an opportunity to abandon it and do capitalism differently . Since the 1980’s, she argues, it has resulted in: weakened institutions like the NHS that are needed to respond to crises; a loss of confidence in what governments can achieve; the destruction of the social safety net; and growing inequality.

There was, however, no golden age prior to the 1980s, just a brief period after the War when the mere existence of the USSR required western capitalists to treat their workers a little better.

Professor Mazzucato believes capitalism can be reformed provided governments

• invest in and, if necessary, create institutions to prevent and manage future crises.
• co-ordinate research and development, steering them to “public health goals”.
• structure public-private partnerships to ensure “both citizens and the economy benefit”.
• attach conditions to bail outs of private business to ensure that the firms we save with public money become part of a new economy delivering lower carbon emissions and “investing in workers”.

A version of “soft capitalism” that incorporated these features would certainly be a great improvement on the current version, but it ain’t gonna happen. Capitalism is a system whose sole purpose is the accumulation of capital. Until it is itself overturned, all obstacles that impede this accumulation will be swept away. When the current crisis is over, public institutions like the NHS that restrict capital accumulation will continue to be under-funded and undermined; private sector R&D will continue to be driven by profit, not social need; public-private partnerships will continue to rip off workers; and, while there are still hydrocarbons left in the ground that can be extracted and burnt at a profit, CO2 levels will continue to rise. This is how capitalism works. The only solution is a social revolution that ends it.

The Coronavirus Pandemic: a view from Croydon

The coronavirus pandemic and its social consequences are moving so quickly that anything we write today is likely to be rendered obsolete tomorrow, especially when it is written from the narrow perspective and vantage point of Croydon and its local Communist Party branch. Nevertheless, here are a dozen recommendations that we might have been discussing at our AGM on Thursday had it not been postponed.

1. A government of national unity. It is unacceptable that someone as unsuitable, untrustworthy and clearly as out of his depth as the Fat Controller should be heading up a Tory government at a time of national crisis.

2. Full disclosure of the government’s modelling of the epidemic in England, Scotland and Wales so that it can be scrutinised by the wider medical and academic community. Remember how wrong were the government’s narrow pool of medical advisers over mad cow disease?

3. More comprehensive reporting and publication of the numbers of infections and deaths at the local level.

4. Responsibility for managing the epidemic in Northern Ireland to be transferred to the Republic. A single, unified strategy is called for in the island of Ireland. Covid-19 does not respect borders, least of all ones as porous at that between the North and the South of Ireland.

5. Compulsory requisitioning of private hospitals. It is simply unacceptable that the government should be further subsidising these parasitic institutions by hiring their facilities at commercial prices.

6. Nationalisation without compensation of UK retail banks, i.e. those behind the ring fence set up following the Vickers report, before they fail.  They should then be supervised by the Bank of England, which itself should be brought completely under government control. We must learn from the mistakes in the 2007-8 bail out of banks and not use public funds to protect bank shareholders and their over-paid senior management while leaving their customers to suffer. We can then ensure that banks support socially useful activities rather than prioritise building up their own reserves as they did following the 2008 financial crisis. If necessary, relevant parts of UK industry should also be taken over to preclude profiteering, co-ordinate manufacture of respiratory equipment and promote not-for-profit vaccine research and distribution.

7. The homeless should be taken off the streets immediately and properly housed. The acquisition of vacant properties and second homes could be undertaken to facilitate this.

8. Food banks should be run down as quickly as practicable and replaced with adequate levels of social payments. To this end, Universal Credit should be immediately transformed into a more generous and less restrictive system and workers on zero hours contracts and others in the gig economy brought within its ambit.

9. The government should disregard the bleating from Richard Branson and other UK airlines to bail them out. If they are failing, they should be put into administration and their fleets mothballed. The opportunity this would provide to formally abandon Heathrow expansion should be taken.

10. The wealth of UK citizens held abroad in tax havens should be re-patriated and further flight of capital abroad halted by the immediate imposition of capital controls. A comprehensive wealth tax should be imposed to help finance the crisis.

11. Evictions and mortgage foreclose on individual’s primary homes should be made illegal.

12. A mandatory role for trade unions in every workplace. This would ensure that exposure to infection by employees is related to social need and is fairly distributed. Employers cannot be trusted to carrry this out unchecked.

This list of recommendations isn’t comprehensive; nor does it necessarily represent current, official CP policy. In essence, a social revolution is called for – and that is CP policy. These recommendations are how we view things from Croydon. If you agree or disagree with any or all of them, let us know.

HEATHROW, DEMOCRACY AND SOCIALISM

On the same day that City AM reported the plea by Mark Carney, the outgoing Governor of the Bank of England, to the finance sector that “every financial decision takes climate change into account” (Friday, 28 February), it chose to lead with a hysterical front page banner headline Global Britain: Delayed in response to the High Court of Appeal’s decision on the third runway at Heathrow. The government’s plans were held by the court to be “unlawful” due to its failure to take into account the UK’s Paris Climate Agreement commitments. The government itself says it won’t be appealing the decision, but it will doubtless assist Heathrow’s operators to do so. Under capitalism nothing must impede capital accumulation.

The aviation industry lacks any alternative to fossil fuel for at least the next thirty years. Its attempts to de-carbonise are, consequently, merely cosmetic. While aviation currently accounts for only 2% of global emissions, this proportion will rise as other sectors make progress in decarbonising. Zero carbon emissions will be unattainable globally with an ever-expanding aviation industry. As we have argued previously, the only way to avoid catastrophic climate change is to keep fossil fuels in the ground (1).

The Appeal Court’s intervention was, nevertheless, essentially a technical one and some cynical, legalistic manipulation of the record of how the government reached its decision might well be enough for the Appeal Court’s judgment to be overturned. The government did, of course, secure a huge parliamentary majority of 296 to proceed with the third runway. Did that make it a democratic decision? While socialists are nervous about the power of courts to overrule democratic decisions, our current parliamentary system is, itself, far from democratic. Democracy, as Marx observed, is much more than deciding once every three or six years which member of the ruling class is to represent and repress us in parliament. The real issue here is a class issue, and courts under capitalism have no interest in defending the working class.

70% of all international flights by UK residents are taken by only 15% of the population while 57 per cent of the population in any year take no flights abroad (2) . At a deeper level, if we continue to extract and burn fossil fuels, it will be the global working class who will be rendered extinct, not the super-rich in their bunkers and atop their mountaintop retreats.

Democracy and reduction in CO2 emissions are inter-related. The intervention of the court in this instance has provided a welcome, temporary respite, but to halt global warming we need system change. We need socialism. Never has the slogan of the Cuban Revolution been more apposite or possessed such a global significance – Revolución o muerte.

 

Notes

(1)  See https://communistuniversity.wordpress.com/2019/01/28/global-warming-a-discussion-paper/

(2)  All statistics based on surveys are problematical, but these appear reasonably reliable. See https://fullfact.org/economy/do-15-people-take-70-flights/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIra_R0Ib55wIViaztCh2KzQZjEAAYASAAEgIzh_D_BwE

John McDonnell at Ruskin House

Speaking to a packed meeting at Ruskin House on Tuesday, John McDonnell defended Labour’s decision to campaign on a remain/second referendum ticket at the general election. It was necessitated, he argued, both by the Labour Party Conference decision in 2019 and evidence the leadership had gathered on voters’ intentions. A firm leave line would, he argued, have resulted in an even worse outcome. The important thing now, John McDonnell said, was for the Labour Party to rally behind the new leader, whoever he or she was, and campaign vigorously outside parliament for the next four years. His assumption was that, regardless of the Fixed Term Parliament Act,  the Tories would call the next general election at a time of their choosing, not at the end of the fixed five year term.

While taking full responsibility of the electoral defeat, there was, understandably, a measure of denial and excuse in McDonnell’s speech and in his answers to the questions that followed. As Tariq Ali argues in the current edition of the London Review of Books (1), one of the few progressive voices left in the UK’s printed media (the other shining example being, of course, the Morning Star), if Labour had stated clearly that the referendum and the chaos that ensued were the result of a Tory split and if Labour had then let them get on with it, Theresa May’s deal with the EU might have gone through and the general election scheduled for April 2020 could have been fought on the NHS, education and other public services.

On one point made by McDonnell there can be no dispute: his warning that any Labour leader who threatened the capitalist status quo would be subject to the same level of vitriolic abuse as that directed at Jeremy Corbyn. One of numerous examples of this was the absurd question relating to nuclear buttons put to Jeremy Corbyn and are now directed at his potential successors (2).

As Tariq Ali observed, the question would be more meaningful if expressed as “Are there any circumstances in which you would refuse US orders to fire the missiles?” However, as we have pointed out previously on this website, our nuclear missile technology is supplied by the USA. Does anyone seriously doubt that the Americans would not have installed a disabling switch in the Pentagon? A more worrying question is whether they have installed another switch enabling the US President to launch “our” missiles regardless of the wishes of a future UK Prime Minister.

Notes

(1) Short Cuts, Tariq Ali, London Review of Books, Volume 42 Number 2, 23 January 2020
(2) With depressingly successful results. Unlike Corbyn, they all appear willing to declare themselves potential war criminals.

The Meaning of Conspiracy

With concern mounting about the spread of the Coronavirus, is it perhaps time to take a step back and ask ourselves whether this outbreak and the criticisms in the mass media of how China is dealing with it fit in with some other issues that have dominated news coverage in recent months: Hong Kong; Taiwan; the plight of the Uyghurs in China’s western Xinjiang Province; Trump’s “tariff war” with China; and the Huawei/G5 controversy. The common link is, of course, China.

Could the reporting of the Corona virus outbreak be exaggerated or worse, could it have been created in a laboratory to undermine the Chinese state? The Communist Party is largely indifferent to such conspiracy theories – with one exception. The capitalist state itself is, in our view, a ruthless conspiracy against the majority of the people who reside within its borders. Our evidence?

• The success of historical materialism in explaining the world we live in – and in particular its rejection of the idea that the state as simply the means of balancing competing interests.

• The self-evident fact that, regardless of elections every four or five years, the welfare of the great majority of those in capitalist states is simply not the state’s priority. Further evidence of this was provided this week in a report by the Rowntree Foundation that found that around 14 million people in the UK, one in five of the population, are in poverty.

• The evidence, when we can get hold of it, about how capitalist governments actually respond to perceived threats to the status quo. It’s too soon to discover the smoking gun that saw off Corbyn and the probably failed attempt to radicalise the Labour Party, but a re-reading of The Enemy Within by Seumas Milne will provide a salutary reminder that government (aided by the security services) and the judiciary will act as one to protect the status quo.

While the unity of action between government and the judiciary is predicted by historical materialism and supported by hard evidence such as that found by Seamus Milne, why is the government then, according to Whitehall speculation, apparently intent on restricting judicial review and tightening up on the selection of judges? Clearly the finding by the Supreme Court that parliament was illegally prorogued was an embarrassment for the government and it wishes to remind the judiciary that its independence a token independence only. Class interests are what bind the state together. That is the real conspiracy, and, if the judiciary wishes to prosper, they had better keep it in mind.

 

References

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation Report on UK Poverty 2019-20 http://www.jrf.org.uk/report/uk-poverty-2019-20
The Enemy Within – MI5, Maxwell and the Scargill Affair by Seumas Milne, Verso, 1994

Sorry we missed you

Anyone who has seen the moving film Sorry We Missed You directed by Ken Loach will have been left in no doubt about the horror of the gig economy and the misery it heaps on workers and their families. Once referred to as McJobs, casual employment, zero hours contracts and spurious self-employment are now ubiquitous throughout the economy. Yet the Office of National Statistics (ONS) reported on Tuesday that the unemployment rate in three months to November was only 3.8%, its lowest since the 1970s, while the number of people in work has risen by 208,000. The employment rate, according to ONS, is at a new high of 76.3%; and a report by Whiteshield Partners, in collaboration with the Said Business School, Oxford University, concludes that the UK remains the “ninth most resilient labour market in the world”. What exactly is going on here?

According to ONS someone who works only one hour a week is considered to be “employed”. They deny that this distorts the figures as the number of workers on less than six hours a week is “only” 1.4%. As the unemployment rate is “only” 3.8%, this presumably means that, as those working less than six hours a week are effectivly unemployed, the unemployment rate is actually 5.2%, not 3.8%. But even this figure is likely to be a gross underestimate.
ONS tend to hide behind internationally agreed definitions of employment and unemployment. That might assist international analysis, but it does nothing for assessing the economic reality that should be the basis for economic policy – and will be when we start to build a socialist future. Some 9 million people in the UK aged 16 to 64 are “economically inactive” and 14.5% of UK homes are “workless”. The official unemployment figure doesn’t reflect part-time workers who want full-time jobs, “inactive” workers alienated from the workforce and workers who are prematurely “retired“ by their employers . Analysing these groups leads some analysts to conclude that the true unemployment rate is not 50% bigger, as suggested above, it’s three or four times the official figure. That makes sense. How else can we explain the misery, so convincingly portrayed in Ken Loach’s film, of workers driven to seek jobs in the gig economy ?

Another route to social revolution?

Marx argued that, in acquiring new productive forces, men and women change their social relations, illustrating this with the example that the windmill resulted in a society with a feudal lord and the steam engine resulted in a society with industrial capitalists. Social revolution occurs, according to Marx, when these social relations – feudal and Victorian industrial capitalism in the examples – inhibit the development of productive forces. This helps to explain the interest communists display in reports about new means of production. These developments can signal  social revolution to come.

As the CUiSL paper last year on global warming argued (link below), our need to leave fossil fuels in the ground will lead to social revolution – or the destruction of humanity, for, as Marx recognised, effective action precedes social revolution and, without it, the mutual destruction of all classes is a possible outcome. The fires raging in Australia may give us some indication of whether this necessary action will be forthcoming. Will Australians permit their government to deny the true cause of the conflagration (global warming caused by increased CO2 in the atmosphere) and fail to hold them to account for their failure to respond?  Will they be gulled into believing that the fires are a random event – an “Act of God”? Or will they hold their government and the corrupt system that supports it to account? We shall see.

The development of new productive forces is reported by George Monbiot in the Guardian Journal yesterday – lab grown foods using a new process, the hydrogen pathway, developed by a company called Solar Foods. Brewed in giant vats, the company estimates that it is 20,000 times more efficient than conventional farming. Monbiot is clearly convinced – he calls it “farmfree” food and predicts that we are on the cusp of the biggest economic transformation in 200 years and the end, after 12,000 years, of conventional farming. While not quantifying the effect, Monbiot appears to be arguing that farmfree food is the answer to global warming, enabling us to continue to extract and burn fossil fuels, albeit less with be needed for fertiliser. Clearly, the effect on global temperature needs to be modelled, but the correct initial response should surely be one of scepticism.

Of course, economic transformations have been predicted before. Remember nuclear fusion with its promise of free electricity? Furthermore, even Monbiot recognises that this development might not flourish in a capitalist world reliant on copyright and patent law to secure profits for capitalists. The owners of this new means of production will be aiming to become immensely rich, content, no doubt, to see much of the world’s population reduced to the status of unemployed peasants. Fertile territory for a thousand Che Guevaras!

https://communistuniversity.wordpress.com/2019/01/28/global-warming-a-discussion-paper/

NEW YEAR DISHONOUR

The New Year Honours list contains the usual mixture of time-servers, government stooges, tax dodgers, donors to the Tory Party (typically the same thing), over-paid entertainers, sportsmen and women and those unctuous recipients who accept ‘to recognize the contributions of others’. It’s time again to remind ourselves that recipients can decline the ‘honour’. We salute those who have, over the years, had sufficient principle and self-confidence to do this. This honourable band includes, amongst many others:
Stephen Hawkings
Ken Loach
Alan Rickman
Bill Nighy
Peter Capaldi
Benjamin Zephaniah
Jon Snow
Rudyard Kipling

The New Year honours list has, however, plumbed new depths this year with the award of a knighthood to Iain Duncan-Smith. It’s this government’s way of poking two fingers in the face of claimants of Universal Benefit and everyone who has campaigned against its introduction.

You can sign a petition objecting to this award here:

https://eur03.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fchng.it%2FGZn9YfWK4F&data=02%7C01%7C%7Ced863a0bf7a0420a560208d78c5d3de4%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C637132204398848736&sdata=AikWEQaacnjB3avEHLnGLABoKuSHRC%2FXwhNEZaRAIGw%3D&reserved=0

No notice will be taken of your objection, but at least you will be able to say not in my name!

HOPE DESTROYED?

Croydon communists share the dismay and disappointment of our friends in the three Croydon Constituency Labour Parties at the general election results last night. Their own results were good, with Croydon North and Croydon Central (a marginal) retained and a little bit of a shock for the Tories in the smug Tory heartlands of Croydon South due to a spirited campaign focussing on school cuts. Although we questioned Labour’s decision to abandon their commitment in the 2017 manifesto to implement the EU Referendum, we recognised (although didn’t agree with) the argument that this was a strategic necessity given the leave/remain split amongst Labour voters and we welcomed many of the other commitments in the manifesto for this election.  How sad the strategy failed. This was the true cause of the results last night, not, as the right wing of the Labour Party are already claiming, a shift too far left.

An internal battle inside the Labour Party for its future has already begun and the prospects don’t look good. The Parliamentary Labour Party is even further to the right than it was before the general election and it’s hard to believe they would allow another left wing candidate to stand, even assuming a credible candidate could be found. The left won’t easily surrender the gains they have made in the constituency parties but it nevertheless seems inevitable that much of the political struggle for the next five years will have to be extra-parliamentary and ‘on the streets’. The prime target? Aside from fighting Austerity and advancing privatisation, it has to be exposing Tory acceptance of  global warming and their implicit belief that the 0.1% who fund them can insulate themselves from the consequences.