Another Bottle of Wine, Please, Comrade Waiter

It is not always appreciated that a communist is, by definition, someone who is a member of a communist party. It is not a set of beliefs that one can choose to adopt much as one can, for example, call oneself a socialist or a Marxist. Merely reading the Communist Manifesto or donning a Che T-shirt doesn’t make you a communist. For that you need a Party Card. To decide whether this is the right step for you, you could do much worse than read the Communist Party Handbook[i]. This is intended for CP members but is ideal for someone seriously thinking about “becoming a communist”.

The aim of the Communist Party is succinctly summarised in the CP Handbook as

“…to achieve a socialist society in which the means of production, distribution and exchange are socially owned and utilised in a planned way for the benefit of all. This necessitates …ending the existing capitalist system of exploitation and replacing it with a socialist society in which each will contribute according to [his/her] ability and receive according to work done. [This] creates the conditions for the advance to a fully communist form of society in which each will receive according to need.”

No one should, however, be misled by the succinctness of this summary. For example, while the basis for distribution in a socialist society is summarised as “to each according to work done”, it does not mean that only those who work would be rewarded. A society planned “for the benefit of all” is a humane society in which those who cannot work, whether through lack of skills or ill health, age or infirmity, will be looked after. It will not be a world of the current , ruthless ‘fit for work’ assessments; nor will it be a world where ordinary workers have to work into old age before they can draw a pension while company directors receive in their fifties pensions worth millions of pounds per annum.

Another issue not covered in the summary is how, under socialism, we would treat our opponents, or at least those who didn’t flee abroad trying to take their wealth with them. This time, we must take seriously our commitment to a society planned “for the benefit of all” and not persecute our former opponents. That means re-training the 1% and recognising that everyone has some abilities. Many of our top financiers are, for example, quite good at maths and could be retrained in more useful activities such as traffic management. Admittedly, some who do very well under capitalism will present problems. It’s difficult to see what useful skills are possessed by judges, police chiefs, Tory MPs and non-executive directors of public companies but, as with the last Emperor of China, retraining as gardeners is always an option. As for David Cameron, as he already has the uniform, would he not make, with suitable training, an excellent waiter?

[i] Available for £2.50 including postage from the Communist Party

Love’s Labour’s Lost? Not yet!

The clear message to emerge from the Croydon Assembly held at Ruskin House on Saturday was that people are desperate for an end to austerity and want progress towards a more equal and democratic society. Equality of opportunity, once thought sufficient by New Labour, just won’t do. Star speakers, all echoing this theme, included John McDonnell, the Labour Shadow Chancellor, Christine Blower, General Secretary of the NUT , Philipa Harvey , President of the NUT, and Andrew Fisher, economics adviser to Jeremy Corbyn and currently suspended from the Labour Party. This followed a complaints by Emily Benn about a tweet he made about her prior to General Election when she stood as the Labour Party candidate in the Tory stronghold of Croydon South. One wonders what her grandfather Tony would have made of her efforts in support of the malign Stop Corbyn lobby inside the Labour Party.

Whether the Labour Party is actually reformable by Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters is an open question. He received a massive endorsement from Labour Party members and supporters and, as the event on Saturday showed, he continues to have wide support amongst ordinary working people inside and outside the Labour Party. Labour’s payroll membership – MPs, MEPs, councillors and those like Emily Benn seeking well paid jobs within the structure –  are the huge obstacle. While they are a pretty uninspiring bunch, they do represent a powerful interest group within the party. Due to their privileged positions, they are, however, completely out of touch with needs and interests of ordinary working people. This was never better illustrated than when, on Saturday, Jamie Audsley, Labour Councillor for Bensham Manor and a leading light on the ruling Labour Group running Croydon Council, joined in the debate and told the Assembly that he would be happy to ‘consult’ them and others on where the next round of cuts imposed by the government should fall. His inept intervention duly received the response from the meeting one would expect.

Even if Lost Labour can be brought back from the Blairite abyss, it would be a mistake to think that this would be sufficient for progressive change. Even if Corbyn holds on and wins the next general election, his party will remain a coalition of disparate interests – more Methodist than Marxist as Morgan Phillips once put it – and full of class collaborationists, opportunists and self-promoting careerists. As Marx and Engels argued 167 years ago in the Communist Manifesto, while we should support parties of the working class where they exist, real progressive change requires a strong and independent Communist Party. Fortunately we have one and we are not going away.

A Reverse National Lottery?

The Croydon CP Collective has been converted into a full Communist Party branch. We will meet at 6.30 pm on the third Thursday of each month  at Party Centre, Ruskin House, 23 Coombe Road, Croydon CR0 1BD. Meanwhile, here is a personal reflection on the National Lottery.

A Reverse National Lottery?

With the chance of being struck by lightning in the UK one in three million, the odds on winning the National Lottery jackpot prior to October of one in 14 million didn’t look too encouraging. Since October, however, the odds of winning the jackpot have fallen to one in 45 million. With such unfavorable odds, the justification for buying a lottery ticket might still be justified by the fact that 28% of what you paid for your ticket goes to “good causes”. But isn’t that what taxation is supposed to do? Thus in practice the National Lottery actually functions as a somewhat inefficient tax. But is it a tax on the gullible or the poor?

A study carried out in 2009 by Theo’s, a British think-tank, found, unsurprisingly, that the poor spent a greater part of their income on lottery tickets than rich ones. Expenditure by the mega-rich is, of course, insignificant – what’s another million pounds when one has billions? Other interesting findings come from US studies. In South Carolina, for example, households with incomes of less than $40,000 a year account for 28% of the state’s population but more than half of its frequent lottery players. According to a Tax Foundation study, more than one American in five thinks that buying lottery tickets constitutes a sound retirement plan.

Regardless, however, of the poor chance of any one individual winning the National Lottery jackpot, someone has to win. That, after all, is the pitch made by the National Lottery to punters. Over the last 20 years, the National Lottery has created five billionaires and 4,000 millionaires. The question must, however be asked: do we actually need five more billionaires and 4,000 more millionaires in the UK? As Thomas Piketty has demonstrated, we are now a more unequal society than at any time since the Edwardian era. Don’t we have enough billionaires and millionaires already?

Equality in the UK would be improved if the National Lottery were scrapped and the “good causes” were supported by progressive taxation. But could we go further than this? One idea to ponder is a Reverse National Lottery. There are thought to be more than 100 billionaires in the UK. Could we not require each one to take up a ticket every week with the ‘winner’ paying , say, £1 million to the Exchequer to fund “good causes”? Just like the current lottery it would generate lots of public interest, media attention and overall fun, while “good causes” would be provided for from the proceeds. The one difference would be that inequality in the UK would go down each week, not up. Now wouldn’t that be a good idea?

The Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing

It was Oscar Wilde at the end of the nineteenth century who gave us the definition of a cynic as someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. It’s also a good description of 21st Century capitalism. Under capitalism, human activity is increasingly commodified and traded in markets. The market is held out to be the supreme arbiter, providing the price of everything from a loaf of bread to knowledge. Markets are assumed to be ‘perfect’ in the sense that they don’t reflect the interests of individual buyers or sellers and both have perfect knowledge about the commodity being traded. Any exceptions to these conditions are considered to be infrequent, relatively trivial and capable of being remedied by regulation. To the extent to which ‘value’ has any meaning under capitalism, it is the price indicated by a ‘perfect’ market and corresponds to the sum of future benefits from owning the commodity discounted to a present value, the discount rate being the so-called cost of capital, i.e. the average return on capital.

Marxists have a different view. Under capitalism, value derives from the labour, past and present, used to create a commodity. The function of markets is simply to re-distribute this labour value according to the current demand for the commodity. Furthermore, we don’t share the idealised view of markets held by neo-classical economists, the priesthood and apologist for capitalism. Many markets are far from ‘perfect’ and one in particular, the labour market, does not begin the approach this idealised fiction. The tendency in labour markets is to drive prices down to the minimum required for labour to replicate itself. When capitalism, riven by its own contradictions, is eventually overturned and the work to build a communist society begins, the role of markets will be reduced and the economy will be run to meet the needs of those who work, including future generations, not the needs of the 1% who currently own capital.

The difference between these two world views has been brought into sharp focus this week by the reports that, according to Professor Vladimir Romanovsky of the University of Alaska, permafrost in parts of Alaska would start to thaw by 2070, resulting in the release of huge quantities of methane into the atmosphere. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas and its release could trigger a huge climatic and economic catastrophe 55 years from now. For Marxists, action must be taken now to avoid this catastrophe and protect future generations of workers. Our government should therefore be pressing at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in November for solid agreement on the policies needed to keep global warming under 2 degrees centigrade by 2050 and to make our contribution to achieving this. From the capitalist perspective, however, an event 55 years in the future has little impact on current market prices. Assuming a long run average annual return on capital of 6% real, the price of such a catastrophe, the price reflected in the market, is only 4% of its eventual cost. When we factor in the market ‘imperfection’ that the 1% who trade in capital markets expect to protect themselves and their families from the coming catastrophe which will disproportionately affect the poorest and we can begin to understand why our government, and other governments across the world, won’t be too concerned if they fail to reach the required agreement in Paris in November.


An exception to the near total absence of comment in the mass media (Morning Star excepted) of the BBC’s “institutional bias” in its coverage of Jeremy Corbyn has been Paul Myerscough’s analysis in the current edition of the London Review of Books. The fact that LRB is a low volume, specialist literary monthly illustrates the extent to which the capitalist press, including the Guardian, is united in its hostility to Jeremy Corbyn and explains why Corbyn’s team must bypass them and the BBC if they are to reach out to voters.

Myerscough’s article cites a number of occasions when the BBC’s editorial independence and objectivity when dealing with Corbyn’s leadership has broken down. Readers of this blog could no doubt provide many more examples. Interestingly, Myerscough identifies the cause not as the imposition of a producer’s or presenter’s personal views but rather the dislocation between the new state of party politics following Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour Leader and the broadcaster’s entrenched conception of what constitutes ‘impartiality’. The BBC’s idea of impartiality remains centred on the fine gap between the Tory-big business nexus and the Blairite rump in the Parliamentary Labour Party. They have failed to take account of the fact that the Burnham/Cooper/Kendall option, more of the same from Labour, was totally rejected by Labour members and supporters.

An opportunity to assist Jeremy Corbyn in his strategy of bypassing the mass media will present itself on Saturday, 7 November when John McDonnell, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor and Jeremy Corbyn’s principal ally in parliament, will open the Croydon Assembly at Ruskin House, Croydon. Registration is from 10.00 am and the Assembly will close by 4.30 pm. Other speakers include Christine Blower, NUT General Secretary, Andrew Fisher, economic adviser to Jeremy Corbyn, and Candy Udwin, the PCS shop steward the National Gallery sacked and were forced to re-instate. This is a stellar line up and, although you can turn up on the day unannounced, it would be appreciated if you could register at There is no entry fee.

The Croydon Assembly is an initiative by Croydon TUC to make contact, radicalise and organise the wider community. It has the enthusiastic support of the Communist Party members on Croydon TUC. A manifesto has been prepared over the last few months and will be debated and voted on at the meeting. This is definitely one meeting worth attending.

The Future of the NHS and the role of the Independent Left

The news, suppressed until the Tory Party Conference had ended, that NHS Trusts and Foundation Trusts have gone nearly a billion pounds in the red in just three months did not come as a surprise to the Communist Party and others such as Keep Our NHS Public who have been waiting for the figures. Make no mistake, the Tories intend to destroy the NHS and replace it with a US style private insurance based scheme, not stop at merely tendering out services. The outsourcing of Croydon University Hospital’s A&E service, now shambolically and expensively run by Virgin, is just the start. As a step to achieving their aim, the Tories, naively supported by the Lib Dems for the first five years, engaged in a programme of inadequate funding and enforced ‘efficiency savings’. But these alone will not enable them to bring their plans to fruition. For all their bluster, they know they lack enough support across the country to enforce a complete privatisation of the NHS. Not even the backing of the capitalist press and sympathetic coverage by a BBC cowed by the prospect of charter renewal will be enough to force it through. They need a TINA argument – There is No Alternative. They are looking for continued membership of the European Union and ratification of TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, to provide this.

From where will the opposition to the Tories’ plans come? Jeremy Corbyn deserves our support following his election as Labour Leader, especially in his struggle with a sullen Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) – many Labour MPs resent the power exercised by new members and supporters in electing him and will seek to oust him as soon as they can. The NHS cannot, however, be saved by parliamentary opposition alone; nor should everyone on the independent left, especially those in the Communist Party, tear up their membership cards and pile into the forthcoming internal struggle inside the Labour Party. It will take time to clear out the PLP (assuming it can be done) and, meanwhile, we need to organise independently in the trade unions and trade union councils, support what’s left of our free press (the Morning Star and the internet) and campaign on the streets and in our community groups. Even more important than the next meeting of Croydon Constituency Labour Parties is the next public meeting of the Croydon Assembly. This is a genuine, bottom-up democratic initiative by Croydon TUC and will take place on Saturday 7 November at Ruskin House, 23 Coombe Road, Croydon CR0 1BD. Confirmed speakers include John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor, and Christine Blower, the NUT General Secretary. Such grass roots initiatives, conducted independently of the current struggle within the Labour Party, are essential if continued membership of the European Union on unsatisfactory terms and ratification of TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, both essential steps in the destruction of the NHS, are to be opposed. We cannot rely on an internally divided Labour Party to do this for us. We must do it ourselves.

Jeremy Cobyn’s Patriotism

Patriotism, love for one’s country, is a virtue when uncontaminated by xenophobia, but when trumpeted by those whose personal contribution to the welfare of their countrymen and women is, at best, tenuous, it is, as Samuel Johnson wrote, the last refuge of scoundrels. It was the latter form that was employed last week in many of the attacks on Jeremy Corbyn in the capitalist press. This was perhaps inevitable given the foreign ownership and non-dom status of most of the owners, but we had a right to expect better of the BBC. They may be desperate to ingratiate themselves with the Tory government prior to their charter review, but surely they appreciate that a day of reckoning from a successor to this present, venal government awaits them.

Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘patriotism’ was questioned on three occasions: first by his questioning the need for obsequious flummery before he could be appointed to the Privy Council; second by his failing to sing aloud the National Anthem in the approved ‘patriotic’ manner ; and third for undermining Britain’s Independent Nuclear Deterrent by asserting that he would never, as Prime Minister, launch a nuclear attack. The first two questions arose from the continued conflation of the nation with the Crown. This may have been the formal position at the time of the Norman Conquest when England became William the Conqueror’s personal property and its people his ‘subjects’, but that this arrangement should linger on into the 21st Century is almost beyond belief. A heredity head of state may be defended by the establishment as both a symbol of the nation and a device to ensure continuity of government, but this does not mean that this symbol/device should substitute for the nation itself and her people treated as mere ‘subjects’, not citizens . As an intelligent individual, of course Jeremy Corbyn questions these absurd arrangements. We in the Communist Party share his views.

The attacks on Jeremy Corbyn, including those from his own front bench, for asserting that, as Prime Minister, he would never launch a nuclear attack are either disingenuous or condoning the crime of global genocide. The disingenuity arises because the British Independent Nuclear Deterrent is neither British nor Independent – does anyone seriously think anything would actually happen if a British Prime Minister pushed the red button without US approval? If Volkswagen can hide software in our cars to defeat US emission testing, the US can surely incorporate failsafe software in the missiles they sell us. Condoning the crime of global genocide arises either because a first strike by Britain is envisaged or because, without such a strategy, retaliation would be a genocidal war crime of monstrous proportions. By the time a future British Prime Minister has to consider whether or not to retaliate, most British ‘subjects’ (for once the term would be appropriate) would already be dead. In this situation, in a bunker under a mountain in Scotland, he or she must choose whether to extinguish Homo Sapiens completely or allow some of the descendants from a common ancestor to survive and possibly re-build civilisation. If the patriotic response would be to push the red button because these survivors would not be British, the capitalist press is right for once: Jeremy Corbyn is not a patriot. And, by this definition, neither are we in the Communist Party.

What Regulators Are For

Last week the Financial Conduct Authority proposed as its contribution to solving the housing crisis to “look at the products and markets that are developing to ensure they work for consumers.” This week it was the turn of the Bank of England’s Financial Stability Committee to address the housing crisis. They were, however, no more concerned about the housing needs of working families than were the Financial Conduct Authority. Their concern was with “wider financial stability” which they saw threatened by bank lending to the buy-to-let market. “Wider financial stability” is banker-speak for avoiding another banking crisis. Fuelled by Quantitative Easing, the policy whereby the government prints money and gives it to the banks in the hope that they will lend it to UK industry, the banks chose, instead, to increase lending for buy-to-let by 40% since the 2007-8 banking crash and bailout. This increase has been a major factor in escalating house prices. The Financial Stability Committee is right to be concerned that another banking crisis could be triggered by a collapse in the buy-to-let market, but just like the Financial Conduct Authority, they are focussing on the wrong needs: those of banks and financial services providers, not the unmet needs of working families.

Needless to say, the Financial Stability Committee refrained from suggesting that the government should regulate or restrict bank lending even though it is effectively with our money. The role of a regulator in a market economy is to bestow legitimacy on markets and the accumulation of capital. Protection of ‘consumers’ is very much a secondary consideration and protection of workers completely out of the question. Appointed by ministers but supposedly at arm’s length from the government of the day, their true independence is as fictitious as that of the judiciary and the police. We should not be surprised when they represent the interests of the 1%, not the 99%.

Crisis – what crisis?

The call this week by Lynda Blackwell, Head of Mortgages at the Financial Conduct Authority, for older people to downsize their homes in order to alleviate the housing crisis demonstrates just how out of touch the ruling class have become. Her employer quickly distanced itself from her lame attempt to blame the housing crisis on ‘last time buyers’ refusing to shuffle off to the care home quickly enough but it was unable itself to come up with anything better to solve the housing crisis than to “look at the products and markets that are developing to ensure they work for consumers.” This regulator’s gobbledygook translates as ‘Crisis – what crisis?’ I doubt, however, whether we have heard the last of Ms Blackwell’s analysis. After all, it is already being applied as the bedroom tax in the fast diminishing social housing sector. Ineffective as that policy has proved in solving the housing crisis, it does help the ruling class (or the 1% if you prefer) to stir up inter-generational strife and thereby draw attention away from the real cause of the housing crisis.

It is certainly true that the generation born immediately after the end of the Second World War have been exceedingly fortunate. Benefitting from free education and full employment, they were offered secure social housing to rent or could buy their homes with cheap, tax deductible loans from building societies. The next generation were deprived of access to such cheap finance – the government having abolished the tax relief on mortgages and allowed the banks to gobble up the building societies (the few that remain being forced to adopt the same profit driven strategies). Many in the next generation were, however, also able to build up significant equity in their homes, but this was more the result of escalating house prices than any sustainable policy. For the current generation of young people other than those born into the privileged 1%, conditions are much harsher. While some will benefit (eventually) from inheritance inflated by the sale of their parents’ homes, this benefit is eroded by too many siblings and step-siblings, increases in life expectancy and exorbitant care home costs. In the longer term this benefit too will melt away. For young people today, facing a ratio of national house prices to male average full-time earnings of 5 and average house prices in London of 33 times the annual full time earnings of £7 an hour, the first rung of the so called housing ladder is completely out of reach.

From the perspective of the 1%, this doesn’t matter. Housing is simply a valuable and valued part of their capital. Provided the rest of us can afford to rent in the private sector, however inadequate and insecure this may be, topped up where necessary with subventions to landlords to house those who cannot afford the ‘market’ rent, what’s the problem? These are secure investments, underpinned as they are by interest rates manipulated by an unaccountable Bank of England. Provided the rich on the way to the opera can still step over the homeless or, failing that, have them washed away with Mayor Boris Johnson’s water cannon, who cares?

One way to analyse the mess we are in is to compare it with how things would be done in a socialist society – one on the way to building communism where society is rich enough to meet everyone’s needs and class antagonisms and exploitation has melted away. In a socialist society, housing would be assessed by its usefulness, not as an investment to owners seeking a profit. An adequate stock of housing would be a social priority and provided by collective effort. Security of occupation would be ensured; and democratic control would be exercised by those living in a local community, whether it be a tower block or local neighbourhood. The continuity of local communities and familial ties would be prioritised.

What could be achieved under the existing social and economic structures? A massive programme of council house building, financed, as Jeremy Corbyn has proposed, by a peoples’ quantitative easing would be a start. Tough regulation of the private rented sector and more security of tenure for tenants would help. A ban on foreign ownership of London housing would help. Perhaps most important of all, attention should be given not to “looking at the products and markets that are developing to ensure they work for consumers” as the FCA fatuously proposed but to removing the props that underpin sky high prices in UK property and ensuring that when prices come down we are not asked once again to bail out the banks who were responsible for these prices in the first place.

If this cannot be achieved under capitalism, there is always the alternative solution.

Jeremy Corbyn and the Trade Union Bill

Jeremy Corbyn’s victory in the Labour leadership election has been warmly welcomed by the Communist Party although, given the composition of the Parliamentary Labour Party, no one in our Party expects his task to be an easy one. The immediate resignation of six members of the Shadow Cabinet and the universally hostile reception he received in the capitalist press and the BBC (with little to differentiate them these days) illustrates the difficulties he will face. Yet on his first day in Parliament as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will lead his party’s opposition to the Trade Union Bill. If the dissidents in the Parliamentary Labour Party cannot rally behind him on this issue, they will expose themselves for the Tories they are. Mass mandatory re-selection of MPs will be the only solution.

The Bill is pernicious. It will allow agency workers to be drafted in to strike break whether or not they are competent to do the job. Amateur train drivers? Longer notice of strike action must be given to employers of impending action (fourteen rather than seven days) and, more significantly, unions will have to publish, fourteen days in advance, a written plan of any intended protest and specific details about it, including social media use. Demonstrations will be severely circumscribed and simple majorities will no longer be sufficient to authorise strike action. In effect, and unlike other elections including those for parliament, an abstention will count as a vote against. On that basis, Scotland voted for independence and the Tories lost the last general election.

Yet there are trade union law reforms that are needed. Electronic voting by union members in the workplace would greatly enhance workplace democracy; firms that engage in blacklisting should be prosecuted; and police spying on trade unionists and left wing activists should end immediately. That the last activity is still going on was revealed by Dave Smith, a victimised trade unionist and author of Blacklisted (New Internationist, 2015), to Croydon TUC on Thursday.

Dave’s revelations did not come as a surprise to the significant number of Communist Party members at the Croydon TUC meeting. Anyone who knows our Party’s history knows that systematic efforts were made in the past to penetrate and spy on the Communist Party.  There is even evidence that the sanctity of the voting booth was systematically broken in order to identify and report the names of those even daring to vote for Communist Party candidates. Given the reduced scale of the Party’s electoral activity in recent  years, necessitated by the need to re-build the Party more or less from scratch in the 1990s, and the obstacles faced by smaller parties in parliamentary elections (the dominance and bias of our mass media including the BBC, the high cost  of lost deposits, the undemocratic nature of first-past-the-post  etc), it is unlikely that Special Branch expend much effort these days on this particular nefarious activity but other forms of spying on trade unionists, activists and communists continue and will continue until they are exposed and our reluctant authorities are forced to abandon them and legislate accordingly.

Now those would be sensible reforms! No doubt Jeremy Corbyn will propose them on Monday. Good luck, Jeremy!