A cure for self-isolation

The Centenary of the Communist Party in Britain isn’t the only notable centenary to be celebrated this year. 22 April 2020 is the 150th anniversary of Lenin’s birth (22 April, 1870, new style dates). To mark this event, and to help keep those of us who are not key workers usefully occupied, a group of comrades in Latvia calling themselves the Latvian Labour Frontline have laid down this challenge. In the month of April

• read/re-read Lenin’s works at a rate of 20-30 pages a day. That’s more than enough. Don’t cram and try to finish Lenin’s Collected Works in just a month!

• Post our daily reading report with the hashtag #Lenin150Challenge

If our reports could also contain• a photo of ourselves holding one of Lenin’s books.
• a proud sign saying “I have finished [name of the work]!”
• thoughts on what we have just read – for example: “I’ve just read Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. Now I know I want to become an imperialist! ” (Yes, comrades, humour is allowed!)

that would be perfect!

But please don’t post individual quotes. They just go from one corner of the Internet to another and will be largely forgotten by your audience. If you really like a particular quote, just retell it in your own words.

If You don’t know where to start, try “The Three Sources and Three Component Parts of Marxism”. But the choice is yours. You don’t have to rely on your bookshelf. You will find all Lenin’s most significant works at

https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/index.htm.

This isn’t going to get us out of the current problems besetting society, but it might help us deal with things later.

 

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