Bring it on!

Writing in the current edition of the London Review of Books (6 December 2018), Rory Scothorne comments that, despite Corbyn and McDonnell’s ambitious proposals to transform Britain’s economic structure, constitutional reform is not amongst Labour’s priorities, and the electoral battle-bus “trundles down the same old parliamentary road towards the same old disappointments”. This moment of constitutional breakdown, he argues, demands a constitutional revolution. Instead the Labour Party is constrained by “adjectival manoeuvres”: Hard Brexit, Soft Brexit, Chaotic Brexit, No Deal, Tory and People’s Brexit. As communists, while recognising that they are dialectically related, we tend to give primacy of economic structure over constitutional superstructure, but Scothorne may have a point when he criticises Labour’s historic tendency to stick with existing constitutional structures. Reform not revolution has always been the Labour approach and , even under a Corbyn-led government, this will doubtless continue.

In his extended editorial in the Morning Star on Saturday, Ben Chacko warns against the expected siren calls for Labour to enter a national government when May’s transitional agreement is rejected on Tuesday and the constitutional superstructure begins to wobble. Ben Chacko’s advice, which we can reasonably assume reflects that of the Communist Party’s Political Committee, is sound. The short-term priority for us following Parliament’s rejection of the May deal has to be to agitate for a general election in which we can exert maximum pressure on candidates (especially Labour ones) to ensure that the interests of the working class are given priority as we leave the EU, not the interests of those responsible for eleven years of austerity – the unsavoury gang comprising Big Business, bankers, the 1% and their spokespersons in Parliament, the Tories, Lib Dems and Labour Blairites.

So bring it on!

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BBC or BgovBC?

In response to the news that 320,000 people are homeless in Britain, an increase of 13,000 or 4% on last year, the BBC dutifully reported the government response that it is “investing £1.2bn to tackle homelessness”.

In response to news that Philip Alston, the UN rapporteur, said that the government should not rely on organisations like foodbanks “to keep people alive”, the BBC dutifully reported the government response that “it had lifted hundreds of thousands of people out of poverty and into work”.

In response to news that Dame Donna Kinnair of the Royal College of Nursing said that hospitals this winter were facing a shortage of both beds and staff with “patients waiting on trolleys in corridors”, the BBC dutifully reported the government response (made through a NHS spokesperson so as to distance itself from direct responsibility) that they had “brought forward £145m of funding for hospitals in England to upgrade emergency departments and wards”.

One is tempted to speculate that there a secret clause in the BBC’s Charter requiring it to conclude every news item reflecting badly on the government with the government’s response, however irrelevant, inadequate or anodyne it might be. In any event, it is self-evident that such responses will now invariably be included.

Some bias is, of course, to be expected in all mainstream news reporting in a capitalist society, and “public broadcasting” is no exception. Furthermore, pro-establishment bias isn’t going magically to disappear on Day One of a Corbyn government. Even if the top people at the BBC could be replaced – and they will probably manage to cling on to their well-paid jobs – the class bias in the composition of BBC staff could take a generation to correct.

Is there anything we can do about it? Not a lot other than to switch off BBC news and seek out other sources of news. Channel 4 News is far from perfect, but is far less biased than the BBC. The internet provides many sources of objective reporting if you access it critically and judiciously; and there is the one national daily newspaper that is worth reading: the one the BBC is forbidden to review or even mention – the Morning Star.

 

References:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-46289259.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-tyne-46130355

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-46277828

There is no parliamentary road to socialism

In the light of its concern that not all of the £8m Arron Banks gave to the unofficial Leave.EU campaign came from profits generated in the UK, the Electoral Commission has referred him to the National Crime Agency. This will only provoke hollow laughter from communists.

The Electoral Commission may have dragged their feet over this matter, but they invariably do this when the government itself is threatened. Amongst other examples is their protracted investigations into dodgy election expense returns by Tory candidates who now help prop up May’s wafer thin parliamentary majority. The work at the Electoral Commission is done by civil servants and, however independent they might consider themselves, they are, just like the legal system, part of the machine, share its outlook and priorities and are led by individuals drawn from its elite.

The central issue is not the feebleness of the Electoral Commission, it is the very nature of parliamentary democracy and its tainted offshoot, national referendums. Universal suffrage was originally feared by the capitalist class, but these fears were gradually allayed and, by the time it was finally attained in 1928, the system had learnt how to cope with the threat it posed to capitalism.

  • MPs were no longer to be mere delegates from their local parties – they were independent persons, responsible to the entire electorate, not those who selected them.
  • The mass media was owned by capital and public broadcasting was under the thumb of the government.
  • There was lots of lovely, unaccountable money sloshing about to lobby and buy influence.

Nothing has changed!

What is the solution? Not another auction/referendum on EU membership with Big Business buying the result it prefers. A general election would be by far the best remedy for the deficiencies in the last referendum; but, while we wish Corbyn well and are most impressed with the energy and enthusiasm of his supporters, they should not be misled into thinking that there is a parliamentary road to socialism. Freeing ourselves from the pseudo-democracy offered by the European Parliament and from the restrictions imposed on labour rights and nationalisation by the European Commission would be a step in the right direction, but what is really needed is

  • Root and branch democratic reform (or, more accurately, revolution) in which money, lobbying and a distorted media no longer plays a part and democracy extends into every aspect of our lives, including the workplace.
  • Recognition that the purpose of an MP or councillor is to represent, until recalled, those who selected him or her. It is not a career.

A Trade Deal with the USA?

The Department for International Trade is inviting comments on a possible trade deal with the USA following Brexit. They invite you to leave your comments here by 26 October.

Is it worth responding? It might be worth the effort for the record, but don’t expect anyone at DfIT to be paying much attention to what you have to say. How can they even be contemplating a trade deal with the USA until it

  • rescinds its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change (COP 21)
  • lifts its blockade of Cuba
  • re-joins the deal with Iran on halting its nuclear programme
  • lifts trade sanctions on Venezuela and stops intervening in its internal politics?

Given these changes we could then contemplate a trade deal with the USA provided it protected our public services, especially the NHS, did not inhibit public ownership, outlawed trade with Israeli businesses operating from the occupied West Bank, protected collective bargaining and the right of employees to withdraw their labour and promoted common policies to protect the environment and discourage fossil fuel extraction.

As Donald Trump would not be interested in a trade deal which incorporated these concerns, one might simply respond by asking DfIT if they have lost their senses

Socialism or death

The Paris Agreement (COP21) in December 2016 is intended to encourage fuel efficiency and develop non-fossil fuels so as to limit global warming to 1.50C above pre-industrial levels. Will it?

The USA has given notice that it will withdraw from COP21 by 2020. This will not help, but the strategy itself is flawed. As the discussion paper on Global Warming from the Communist University in South London (CUiSL), currently in the proof reading stage, argues, catastrophic climate change will only be avoided if fossil fuels are left in the ground. There is, however, no indication that this is happening. According to a forecast from the International Energy Agency, annual fossil fuel consumption is set to increase by the equivalent of 82 trillion barrels of oil by 2040[i]. This is 14% more than at present and is forecast despite a forecast increase in renewable and nuclear energy of 67% by 2040. These will still be contributing less than a quarter of our energy by 2040.

This failure to act to halt global warming should not surprise us. As the CUiSL discussion paper also argues, capitalism is simply incapable of addressing global warming. Its rationale is the accumulation of capital by generating profits. Due to market-based discounting, its time horizons are too near, leading it to under-estimate catastrophe in coming decades; there is simply too much profit to be made today and in future from fossil fuel extraction to leave it in the ground; and there is too much capital tied up in fossil fuel extraction to see it written off. Whether or not every apologist for capitalism recognises it, their mantra is “Pump, baby pump”. Ours should be borrowed from the Cubans: Socialismo o muerte (Socialism or death). Cubans use it to affirm their willingness to die to defend their system. We need to adopt it in recognition that our system, capitalism, will kill our grandchildren if we don’t begin to take steps now to replace it with socialism.

[i] https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=26212

 

 

 

The NHS and Democracy

A well-attended meeting at Ruskin House last night (13 September 2018) called by Croydon TUC was left in no doubt that there has been a covert strategy, intensified since 2010, to dismantle the NHS and feed it to US-based health corporations. Addressed by Dr Bob Gill, a Sidcup GP, and Sandra Ash of Keep Our St Helier Hospital (KOSHH), we learned that attempts to close St Helier were just the first step in the closure of acute and other facilities across South London (including Croydon University Hospital where a new Chief Executive, Matthew Kershaw, may have been brought in to achieve this) and across the country as part of a fattening up process. This was made possible by the Health and Social Care Act 2012  which freed the government from statutory responsibility for providing a universal NHS care and by continued under-funding that is intended, in part, to weaken public support for the NHS by generating more, high profile failures.

The meeting was attended by Joy Prince and Patsy Cummings, two of our most progressive Labour councillors in Croydon, but the absence of other Labour councillors and our two Croydon Labour MPs, Steve Reed and Sarah Jones, was criticised from the floor of the meeting. Are our local Labour politicians unaware that Croydon TUC holds open meetings every second Thursday of the month at Ruskin House and has done so for many years? Is their unfamiliarity with how the Labour Movement functions and the nature of the relationship between the trade unions and the Labour Party an excuse for their dismal absence? We think not.

Earlier this week Chris Williamson MP, the campaigning Labour MP and Corbyn supporter, addressed another public meeting at Ruskin House. Its aim was to call for more democracy in the Labour Party. This is an internal matter for that party and not a matter into which we wish to intrude, but we do very much agree with the basic principles that Mr Williamson was expounding:

  •  MPs and councillors are responsible to, and accountable to, the parties that select and nominate them (OK, Tories are an exception), not to an amorphous electorate that voted for them on the basis of their party affiliation; and
  • being an MP or councillor is not a job for life and should not be treated by those fortunate enough to be selected and elected as a career.

As communists, we would, however, go much further than Mr Williamson and seek to establish real democracy, not the present sham of voting every four or five years to determine which members of the ruling class are to administer their system in our name. A Corbyn administration would be very welcome and might just be able to halt the dismantling of the NHS (if the Parliamentary Labour Party allows it to), but we need real, direct democracy where our votes and our views have continuing significance between elections.

ART AS PORTABLE WEALTH

There is still a week left until the exhibition Picasso 1932 at Tate Modern ends on 9 September. It is highly recommended. Picasso was, after all, “one of ours” – a member of the Communist Party whose art is still loved and appreciated today by ordinary working people despite the not entirely unsuccessful attempt to de-politicise modern art with the cold war promotion of abstract expressionism.

Going round the exhibition, it is, however, noticeable how many of the exhibits are on loan from private collections. Artists, even successful ones who go on to join the Communist Party, have, of course, to earn a living and, under capitalism, that means selling their work in the first instance to dealers and wealthy patrons. It is perhaps therefore not surprising that so many end up on the walls, yacht bulkheads and bank vaults of the super-rich. According to Wealth X, the world’s 2,170 billionaires own collections worth $31 million, representing 0.5 per cent of their net wealth; and the world’s top ten billionaires hold a huge 18 per cent of their wealth in this way. Comrade Picasso’s contribution to this haul is likely to be significant.

The attractions of “art” to the super-rich (and to criminals) are obvious. Art, provided it is not replicable, can be used as portable wealth; is delightfully offshore and thus under the radar of tax authorities and the police; easily convertible into cash via the auction houses of the world; capable of significant tax free capital accumulation provided the pitfalls of changing public taste are anticipated; and a perfect security for loans for more productive capital investment. Add to this the political capital to be gained from occasional loans to public galleries and the creation private foundations and art really is the perfect investment for the super-rich.

What is to be done? It’s our tastes and our enthusiasms as ordinary people, i.e. as workers, that give works of art their exchange value. Without this their price would be minimal – no more than the value of the labour time it took to make them. There’s no easy solution – perhaps none at all in the context of our existing social system – but some alleviation of the problem would be achieved by

  • an international register of private wealth, open to inspection and maintained by the UN
  • the introduction in the UK of a wealth tax and the restoration of a compulsory inheritance tax – the current one is minimal and voluntary;
  • more education to train artists in our schools and colleges; and
  • more financial support for our art galleries.

Are these modest proposals too much to ask?

 

AFTER THE FALL

Writing in the London Review of Books earlier this month (Volume 40, number 13), John Lanchester reminds us how much the world has changed – and in some respects how little is different – ten years after the credit crunch and the beginning of the Great Recession.

Lanchester is one of our smarter contemporary thinkers. He’s the author of one of the best books on the credit crunch – Whoops! Why everyone owes everyone and no one can pay and the only novel i can recall about the resulting London property boom, Capital – you may have seen the television drama made from it even if you have not yet read the book. Although there is very little explicit Marxism in either book, Lanchester is one of the few contemporary writers who knows his Marx . This was apparent when he gave a talk to promote his book Capital to the London Review of Books – much of his talk was about the more famous book of this name.

Lanchester describes in the article the climate of intellectual over-confidence that preceded the crisis in 2007. He points out that most of the time, in conventional economic thinking, debt and credit don’t present a problem. Every credit is a debit, every debit is a credit. The problems arise when no one is sure who owns what. As he points out, on a global scale there are billions of pounds more credits than debits. Why? The rich have hidden their assets in off-shore tax havens to avoid paying tax.

Lanchester reminds us that, following the bail out of banks, no one has addressed the too big to fail problem. Furthermore, the risk of failing remains high. We have previously commented on how John Vickers fluffed the opportunity to ring fence banks’ more risky business from their socially useful activity of providing credit to businesses and consumers. Another problem Lanchester highlights is the failure to rein in shadow banking – all the things banks do but which are done by institutions that don’t have a formal banking licence.

Is another banking crisis on the way? Probably, but one thing is clear. Each new crisis in capitalism shows a different face, a different mix of problems. Into the mix sooner or later global warming is going to feature. This is why the Communist University in South London, CUiSL, is working on a discussion paper looking at how classical Marxist theories of crises and social revolution relate to this new threat. If you wish to see how this is progressing, and, even better, to join in, follow https://communistuniversity.wordpress.com/.

Criminal Irresponsibility

Interviewed on the Today Programme today, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling sought to defend the government’s decision to push through parliamentary approval for Heathrow expansion without waiting for the Climate Change Committee to report later this week on the UK’s progress on meeting CO2 emission targets. His reasoning was that

  • By 2050 aircraft would be much more efficient, thus generating much less CO2.
  • CO2 emissions by aircraft were an international responsibility and don’t affect UK targets.

Both arguments demonstrate the government’s criminal irresponsibility in this area. Basic physics demonstrates that, after more than one hundred years of development of aviation, the scope for further efficiency savings is vanishingly small. Don’t take my word for it – refer to the late Professor David MacKay’s book Sustainable Energy – without the hot air which he generously published as a free book which you can download here. The proof you need is in Part 111, section C

The argument that aviation’s CO2 emissions are none of the government’s business is simply risible.

Global warming and its consequences, including both the need and the potential for social revolution, is the subject of a discussion paper being researched and drafted by the Communist University in South London. Go to https://communistuniversity.wordpress.com/ to follow progress or, even better, to register your willingness to participate.

The Big Four: enough is enough

Financial crises are endemic to capitalism, but the misbehavior of banks and bankers contributed significantly to the 2007-8 financial crash and the period of austerity that still continues. The big accountancy firms also, however, contributed to the 2007-8 crash with their failure as auditors to see it coming. Like the banks, they too have not been asked to contribute to the cost of clearing up the mess they helped create. That fell on the shoulders of working people, while the Big Four accountancy firms, KPMG, Ernst & Young, Deloitte & Touche and PriceWaterhouseCoopers have gone from strength to strength, tightening their monopoly of large company audits, and using this statutorily privileged position to leverage their consultancy services to the businesses they audit and then to government departments and public services, including the NHS. Now with the collapse of Carillion shortly after being given a clean bill of health by its auditor, KPMG, and with PriceWaterhouseCoopers benefitting from the collapse by being appointed manager of the liquidation, it’s time to say enough is enough.

In the best traditions of a Carry On film, the Big Four are advising governments on tax reforms while, as the Panama Papers revealed, they are advising their multinational clients on how to avoid taxes. According to Australian taxation expert George Rozvany, they are “the masterminds of multinational tax avoidance and the architects of tax schemes that cost governments and their taxpayers an estimated $1 trillion a year”. To make things worse, these huge firms don’t even publish their own accounts. They operate as partnerships and are exempt from having to do this. Absurd!

Once the solution might have been better regulation, but, as Professor Prem Sikka of Sheffield University has pointed out, their regulator, the Financial Reporting Council (FRC), has been colonized by the Big Four and, while it is facing a “root and branch” review, don’t hold your breath. The professional accountancy bodies such as the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales are dwarfed by the Big Four and don’t have resources or inclination to tangle with them. There was some hope that the EU’s European Audit Regulation and Directive, which took six years to agree, might have helped, but the Carillion collapse destroyed its credibility. The Markets and Competition Authority (the former Office of Fair Trading) is at last, apparently, showing some interest, but these days it’s a ‘one golf club player’ its single remedy for market failure being more competition.

We are beyond the point of more regulation. The remedy needed now is to give the entire audit function to the government’s auditor, the National Audit Office, providing them with the resources to start the job before the huge fees for statutory audit roll in and they become self-financing. Then the government and public services must stop employing the Big Four and other large accountancy and consultancy firms as advisers. They have already made a big enough mess of public services. Finally, the Big Four and other accountancy firms must be made to publish accounts with at least as much detail disclosed as we require of companies.

Too radical even for a Corbyn led Labour government? Perhaps, but this is what it will now take to cut out what has become a cancer at the heart of our government, public services and what remains of our industry.