BREXIT DEBATE at Ruskin House

To reiterate our previous posting, communists seek fundamental change – to our economy, our democracy, our constitution, our relations with other nations, our response to climate change and, above all, change to break the power of the capital. It was good to hear Dave Ward, the General Secretary of the communications and postal union, CWU, express not dissimilar sentiments at the public meeting at Ruskin House last night. The other speaker, Cllr Patsy Cummings, running for the Croydon and Sutton GLA Labour candidate and widely acknowledged as a sound left winger and easily the best candidate on offer, simply declared that “Labour is a remain party”. Dave Ward showed a greater awareness of the difficulty for the Labour Party if they too blatantly abandon the commitment in their 2017 election manifesto to respect and implement the referendum decision to leave. He finessed the position significantly, stressing the need to negotiate ‘credible’ leave arrangements and referring to Jeremy Corbyn’s speech to the TUC this week where he confirmed the sequential strategy comprising

  • Stop a no deal Brexit in October.
  • A general election once this had been accomplished – Tom Watson’s argument for a general election first was dismissed.
  • Negotiations by a Labour government for a ‘credible’ exit from the EU.
  • The Labour negotiated deal to be “put to the people” – presumably a second referendum but there appeared to be some wriggle room here. There was, however, no mention of the nonsensical strategy advocated by Emily Thornberry of campaigning for remain regardless of any deal Labour might reach.
  • A programme of fundamental reform by the Labour government, including trade union freedom and the reintroduction of sectoral bargaining. This presumably (still) includes re-nationalisation of key industries, but the point was not stressed.

 

This strategy requires quite a few dominoes to fall in line and in sequence. As Marx wrote, we make our own history, but not in conditions of our own choosing. The weak spot in the Corbyn-Ward strategy is, first, that Labour could lose the next general election if they try to pass themselves off simply as a “remain party”. A substantial proportion of working class Labour voters, especially in key constituencies for Labour in the North, are Brexiters and, anyway, the LibDems got there first. Second, and even more critical, if we stay in the single market, as Labour favours, we would remain subject to the EU’s Four Freedoms. These comprise free movement within the EU of goods, services, people and capital. While free movement of goods and services can confer economic benefits, the EU referendum was fought by both the official campaigns, often dishonestly, around the issue of the free movement of people. It is, however, the free movement of capital that would undermine any attempt by a future Labour government operating within the single market to curtail the power of capital. This happened in Greece when the government found itself unable to halt the flight of capital following their own referendum in 2015. In consequence, in 2016 34,000 Greeks aged under 40 left the country to look for work. While many of them were no doubt grateful for their “right of free movement “, it’s pretty certain that most of them would have preferred a right to work instead.

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FLOPPY JOHNSON CAN’T GET AN ELECTION!

Not my words, but the tasteless banner headline today in the Scottish edition of the Sun. It’s an interesting contrast with their banner headline in the English edition: Is this the most dangerous chicken in Britain? beside a childish photofit picture of Jeremy Corbyn. How gullible does the Murdock press think we are? Don’t they realise that in the internet age we can spot the contradictions between their English and Scottish editions?

2019 has not been a good year for parliamentary democracy. With Teresa May’s government, shackled by its dependence on the Ulster Unionists following an ill-judged (by her) general election, it wasted the years following the EU Referendum in 2016 failing to negotiate a credible withdrawal agreement that parliament would approve. Now her successor, elected by a few thousand moribund Tory Party members, has been thwarted by the Tories’ own Fixed Term Parliament Act 2011 from calling a general election intended to run the clock down to 31 October. How ironic that this Act was never intended to deprive future prime ministers from calling mid-term general elections, it was passed to shore up an unpopular Tory-Lib Dem coalition while it implemented the austerity programme to pay for the bailout of the banks.

Communists seek fundamental change – to our economy, our democracy, our constitution, our relations with other nations, our response to climate change and, above all, to break the power of the capital. Johnson may very well find a way to wriggle out of the Fixed Term Parliament Act. He might even find a way to free us from the political and economic constraints that the EU imposes on us – but only with the intention of again requiring ordinary working people to pay the price and of seeking to subordinate us to US capital. We need to be rid of him and his loathsome government but not necessarily at a time of his choosing.

Greening the Labour Party

A key argument in the Communist University in South London paper on global warming at https://communistuniversity.wordpress.com/2019/01/28/global-warming-a-discussion-paper/ is that capitalism is incapable of responding to the threat because:

  • There are no technological fixes for global warming – the only solution is to leave fossil fuels in the ground.
  • There is too much profit to be made from fossil fuel extraction for capitalists to do this.
  • Market based and capitalist governmental assessments under-estimate the damage of global warming due to the implicit (and in the case of governments, explicit) discounting they apply to future costs .
  • The super-rich may not necessarily believe these assessments and may reckon they can survive catastrophic global warming with the help of technological innovation without the need for 6 billion workers worldwide to support them.

Some of these conclusions appeared to be gradually dawning on at least some of those attending a public meeting at Ruskin House last night , 27 August, convened by Croydon Central CLP. While the consensus appeared to be that we should focus on local initiatives and trust in social democracy and a Corbyn government to tackle the bigger issues, one platform speaker, James Meadway, clearly understood the need for substantial structural and social change if global warming is to be addressed.

James Meadway has written an interesting paper at https://common-wealth.co.uk/greening-the-green-book.html proposing some modest reforms intended to weaken the dead hand of HM Treasury on government policy in this area. Sensible stuff – but we need to go much, much further if we are to avoid global catastrophe.

Work ’til you drop

In 1940, amidst the darkest hours of World War 2, the age for the state pension for women was reduced from 65 to 60. There things remained – pensions for men at 65 and for women at 60 – until New Labour, claiming to be concerned about ‘affordability’ but actually yielding to pressure from the financial services industry to privative pensions, legislated in 2007 to raise the state pension age to 68 by 2046. This had the effect unlocking the flood gates – just as it did when New Labour introduced other ‘modest’ measures such as PFI, student loans, and academies. Predictably, the Tories with LibDem support seized the opportunity and enacted a series of increases in state pension age. Women of the WASPI generation were especially badly hit, losing their earlier pension age with little time to prepare for the change. The Pensions Act 2007, which raised the state pension age for both men and women to 68 by April 2046, was supposedly the last such increase, but further ones are now threatened. An opaque, right wing “think tank”, the Centre for Social Justice (sic), recommended last week that the state pension age should rise to 75 by 2035. As the Morning Star aptly put it in a banner headline, this would mean “Work Til You Drop”.

Patrick Spencer, the Head of the Work and Welfare Unit at the Centre for Social Justice, defended the proposal in CityAM on 22 August. His argument was that in 1940 someone aged 65 could expect to live until 66 while today a 65 year old might expect to live into their 80s. The meagre state pension has thus become, in some unexplained way, “unaffordable” despite the fact that GNP per head has increased by some 300% in real terms since 1940.

The real issue here is not “unaffordability”, it is indeed “social justice” and it concerns who has a better claim on the fruits of  economic progress, the workers who generated the wealth or the capitalists who appropriate it. There are many ways in which the state pension could be improved, including: raising it to match levels paid elsewhere in Europe; providing credits for time out to care for children and dependents; and allowing those with physically demanding jobs to retire earlier. Further increasing the age at which it is paid to everyone is the precise opposite of what is needed.

ENTER THE CLOWNS

Clowns and jokers are intended to amuse but some of us find them scary, especially when they pop up in the wrong place as happened on Thursday this week.

Boris Johnson may appear clownish, but he isn’t stupid. Reckless, yes, but stupid, no, not when it comes to protecting the class interests he represents. In a series of statements and actions, including his appointments to the cabinet, his intention to do so was crystal clear:

  •  Money for the NHS and schools? We cannot afford it. Tax cuts for the rich?  No problem!
  • Humanitrian relief for refugees? Too expensive. Military adventures to protect oil reserves?  No problem!
  • Social security instead of food banks? It would encourage laziness. Printing money to keep bankers’ bonuses flowing? No problem!

But perhaps the most chilling policy statement from our new Prime Minister came in his answer to a question from Anneliese Dodds MP in his first Prime Minister’s Question Time. Asked why he had said so little about global warming, he replied:

The Conservatives are the only party that believes that private sector driven new technology can provide a solution to the problem.

This astounding answer deserves unpicking. Why do Tories alone believe a technological fix will be discovered? Belief (for some) is a wonderful thing, but communists prefer scientific analysis and evidence and they indicate that no such technological fix is possible, at least not one that would result in a stable climate. Of course, it is possible to believe in anything -fairies with magical remedies for example – but even Tories are not that self-deluded. Some further unpicking is called for.

The emphasis on the private sector to find and implement the imagined technological fix assumes that markets can be relied on to do this. Markets are great for meeting the immediate, inessential needs of consumers but they cannot distinguish between immediate, containable costs in the medium term and catastrophic cost in the more distant and less certain future[1]. Are Tories really willing to leave global warming to a mechanism with such a serious defect to address global warming?

These extraordinary beliefs might better be explained by examining the nature of the ‘solution’ they seek. Could this be not global temperature containment but rather the survival of the 1% (0.1%?) on a mountain top (not necessarily metaphorically speaking) and the extinction of the rest of us? Such a solution might not be so implausible in a world in which automation and robotisation rendered most of the 8 billion world population redundant. In other words, could the solution be a ‘final solution’ in name and deed?

So don’t be amused and distracted by the grease-paint. Clowns and jokers can be really scary.

[1] By way of example, markets reflecting a risk adjusted discount rate of 10%markets, cannot distinguish between a cost of £1 million incurred in eighty years from now, when someone born today might expect to still be alive, and one of £480 incurred today.

CHANGING THE WORLD, NOT MERELY UNDERSTANDING IT

The collapse of the class-based, slave -owning society of late antiquity might appear on casual reflection to hold few lessons about the future of capitalist society in the first quarter of the 21st Century, but a recent book by Professor Kyle Harper of the University of Oklahoma (The Fall of Rome – Climate, Disease and the End of an Empire, Princeton University Press) can give us pause for thought.

Professor Harper is no Marxist, but his approach is evidence-based, scientific and socio-economic. He does not directly address, as a Marxist might, whether the collapse of the social structures of Late Antiquity  arose from a failure of those structures to protect and grow the economy, but his findings can readily be considered from this perspective. The fundamental cause of the collapse of the Roman Empire, according to Professor Harper, was not, as has often been suggested, the growth of Christianity within its borders or Islam beyond its crumbling eastern edge; nor was it some intrinsic fault that only worked itself out in the fullness of time, suggestions for which have included contested imperial succession and the abandonment of the short sword and armour by Roman infantry. Drawing on both the latest archaeological and paleo-genetic evidence and on classical sources including judiciously assessed eye witness reports, Professor Harper convincingly demonstrates that the collapse was caused by climate change and pandemic disease: first the Antonine Plague in the mid-second century (probably a voracious smallpox pandemic), then the hammer blow of bubonic plague from 558 until 749. The way in which the consequences of disease and climate change interacted and undermined the economy of the Roman Empire, including its tax and fiscal structures, is dealt with in an admirably dialectical way; and the resulting class struggle– especially the efforts of the Roman land owning class to cling on and even expand their estates at a time of economic crisis and population decline is not ignored.

Professor Harper concludes his book with a muted but cautionary warning to the 21st Century reader. This concerns the recent discovery of the speed with which history’s great pathogens have evolved. This evolutionary facility to exploit opportunities opened up as society changes represents a threat to us today although it is one that Professor Harper only hints at. He is even more reticent about the threat today of climate change due to CO2 emissions even though the effect could be far greater than that which contributed so significantly to the decline and fall of the Roman Empire following the Antonine Plague.

We are indebted to Professor  Harper for an excellent book which helps us understand why the Roman Empire fell. We, his readers, need, however, to bear in mind Marx’s advice: it is not enough to understand the world – what we have to do is change it.

 

The Anthropocene

Commenting on progress in the Anthropocene Working Group (AWG) of the International Commission on Stratigraphy in recognising the Anthropocene as a distinct geological epoch, one in which human activity is having a dominant impact, the eminent geologist Steve Drury points out (see link below) that, while it is essentially a political, not a scientific statement, it is nevertheless to be welcomed, coinciding as it does with the rapidly escalating efforts, mainly by young people, to end massive threats to the Earth System. The only way, according to Professor Drury, to erase the “exponentially growing human buttock print on our home world” is for growth-dependent economics to be removed. If that social revolution doesn’t happen, there will, he argues, be a mass extinction to join the ‘Big Five’ previous ones (the most recent one being 65 million years ago) and society in all its personifications will collapse.

The growth-dependent economics to which Steve Drury refers is capitalism. Capitalism is the social system based on the accumulation of capital through economic growth and it cannot function in a world where that growth is curtailed. Previous and, in China, on-going attempts to build an alternative to capitalism, i.e. socialism leading to communism, may not always have prioritised sustainable growth and the welfare of future generations. Lack of scientific understanding resulted in some serious ecological mistakes in the USSR such as the draining of the Ural Sea, but at least the potential to plan the economy for the benefit of future generations exists under socialism. No such potential exists under capitalism. Under capitalism there is one objective: capital must accumulate; and one criterion for judging this – the market, which means net present value arrived at by discounting the future at a rate which reflects the required rate of capital accumulation. Capitalism is incapable of valuing the welfare of future generations without applying this savage discounting. It is therefore only to be expected that our government is seeking to placate climate change protestors with its tentative commitment to “zero carbon emissions” by 2050 while ignoring the carbon content in our imports – about to soar if British Steel is closed – and from aviation – similarly about to be boosted by Heathrow expansion.

 

https://wileyearthpages.wordpress.com/2019/06/12/anthropocene-edging-closer-to-being-official/

The Next Financial Crisis

It is now 11 years since the global financial system teetered on the brink of collapse and governments were forced to intervene to prop up it up. These interventions took the form of governments effectively guaranteeing all counterparty risk across the system. This secured the continuation of banks’ deposit taking and business and personal credit activities (i.e. their core banking business) but most of the risk guaranteed by governments arose from their speculative activity and this was also allowed to continue largely unchecked. Furthermore, the cost of this intervention by the subsequent Tory government in the UK, with the help of their supine Lib Dem collaborators, fell on the shoulders of UK workers and their families – the Tory strategy of ‘austerity’ that continues to this day. Meanwhile, following the feeble report by John Vickers in 2011 in which he ducked the opportunity to call for the complete separation of core banking from speculative trading, nothing has been done to reduce the risks being taken by banks “with other peoples’ money” as John Kay aptly described it [I] except for some further, over-complicated and ineffective regulation. Yet without fundamental changes to the ownership, conduct and activities of banks, and without bring the self-proclaimed ‘masters of the universe’ to account, another financial crisis is inescapable. The only question is when it will arrive.

The Croydon Branch of the Communist Party sponsors the Communist University in South London (CUiSL) and has good links with the Communist Party’s Economics Commission. We are currently exploring with both bodies the possibility of conducting a study of banking and banking crises and how the latter can be avoided in future. If you would like to be kept informed of progress and perhaps even participate in this work, please contact us at Croydon@communist-party.org.uk

[i] Other People’s Money – Masters of the Universe or Servants of the People?  John Kay, Profile Books, 2015

 

System Change, Not Climate Change

The government’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has finally been awakened from its slumbers by the school kids strikes, Extinction Rebellion demonstrations over Easter and Greta Thunberg’s visit to the UK and meeting with opposition leaders. With the UK slipping behind on its legal obligation to cut emissions by 2032, this is long overdue, but don’t expect too much from it. This is the body that gave the government cover for Heathrow expansion and has remained silent on fracking. Its assertion that the UK could and should lead the global fight against climate change by cutting greenhouse gases to nearly zero by 2050 is welcome, but, as one of its principal authors has admitted, there is no way this can be done without government action. How likely is this?

As the Communist University in South London argued in its discussion paper on climate change [1], there is no known technology that can remove carbon economically from the atmosphere once it’s there. The only known remedy for global warming is to keep fossil fuels in the ground. This cannot be done under capitalism, however many windmills we construct, however efficiently we burn hydrocarbons, however many solar panels we manufacture. There is simply too much profit to be made from pumping the known reserves of oil and gas, not to mention those waiting to be discovered when the poles melt as a result of the CO2 we have already pumped into the atmosphere. The capital this profit has created has given the extractive industries a death-grip on governments. It lobbies them, it finances their political parties and their leaders and it appears to be working on the assumption that, assisted by robotisation, the global elite can, unlike the rest of us, survive the threat of global extermination. Gated communities on top of mountains?

System Change, Not Climate Change is a slogan we can rally behind. Society can address climate change, but not under capitalism. As a system it has generated huge economic growth over the last two hundred years, but only at a price, and that price is now approaching the destruction of life on our planet. It’s not government action such as that called for by the CCC that can save the day, it’s changing the system from one whose function is to accumulate capital to one which meets everyone’s needs. That means a planned, democratic society managed for the benefit of ordinary working people. It’s called socialism.

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

PROTECTING CORBYN’S LEFT FLANK

We should take some comfort from the increasingly hysterical attacks on Jeremy Corbyn in the pages of our corrupt and corrupting national press. Recent examples:

  • Sunday Mail – twenty pages dismantling his entire life in an attempt to show he’s ‘unfit for office’.
  • Express – attacks over his entirely proper call for Bloody Sunday soldiers to face prosecution.
  • City AM – claims that his inner team includes communists (he should be so fortunate!).
  • Sunday Times – smears about his “anti‑semite army” supposedly revealed in
  • “Labour’s hate files” .

A Corbyn led government is their big fear. It’s much more frightening to them than falling out of the EU in a disorderly fashion. May’s bungling and dysfunctional management, her hubris in triggering Article 50 without securing support in parliament, her dependence on the Ulster Unionists – a party that has wrecked power sharing in Northern Ireland and is implicated in a scam to heat empty warehouses – are ignored. When they are addressed, blame Corbyn!

The experiences of the Allende government in Chile and Maduro’s current problems in Venezuela provide stark warnings about the difficulty of challenging the power of capital when the press remains in the hands of the owners of that capital. What Corbyn has endured at the hands of the press in recent months is nothing compared with the vitriol and lies that will be pumped out when he forms a government. What can be done about this?

First of all, of course, Labour has to win a general election and Corbyn has to ensure that his own Parliamentary Labour Party don’t try again to unseat him. That’s a job for the democratic socialists in the Labour Party, especially the many enthusiastic young people who have flocked to Momentum; but if a Left Labour government, once elected, is to survive, it will require support on its left flank to counter-balance the threat from the capitalist right. This is why we need a strong Communist Party. It can propose necessary policies and strategies that can tilt the balance of public opinion – policies and strategies that, while sensible, are simply too provocative for Labour to propose themselves but which are necessary to counterbalance those from the right.

One such strategy might be to dispossess the current owners of newspapers and transfer their shares into the collective ownership of their readers – just as the Communist Party did in 1945 with the Daily Worker (now the Morning Star). This is no panacea. We will still need regulation of the press, with, for example, a statutory right of reply, prominently displayed when individuals and their collectives are mis-reported or traduced. The regulation of other media – TV, radio and internet-based media, will present different problems, but none are insurmountable, especially if the BBC is swept clean of its current pro-capitalist and anti-working class bias.

Neither, of course, will a Corbyn government be a panacea; but, as the alarm shown by the rich and powerful at the prospect demonstrates, it could be a step in the right direction.