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.

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.

TEN WAYS TO IMPROVE DEMOCRACY?

The MPs expenses scandal and now the Brexit debacle have led to widespread dissatisfaction with parliamentary democracy. When working people wrest power from the capitalist class, building new, direct democratic structures will be part of our efforts to build a socialist future but, until then, what are the reforms we should seeking to our present democratic arrangements? Here are my top ten suggestions:

  1. Electronic voting for parliamentary and local government elections and national and local referendums.
  2. True proportional representation. This, of necessity, would include abolition of the House of Lords, chosen by the ultimate non-PR voting system; and while we are about it, let’s do away with monarchy, titles and honours in their entirety.
  3. Regional parliaments in England in lieu of the Westminster Parliament. These would meet in modern, circular debating chambers with electronic voting. Westminster Hall could be turned into a decent Peoples Palace but the rest of the grotesque Victorian-gothic monstrosity that is the Palace of Westminster can be bulldozed. Northern Ireland would be offered a referendum on either a regional parliament along similar lines or joining the Republic of Ireland. No more direct rule.
  4. Much, much lower limits on spending on elections and funding of parties, returning campaigning to unpaid activists, with corporate donations banned. Only individuals who can actually vote or their collectives (e.g. trade unions) should be allowed to donate.
  5. Abolish the Electoral Commission as unfit for purpose and form a truly independent election watchdog.
  6. Maximum possible delegation of powers to local councils with tax raising powers sufficient to meet 100% of the cost of services for which they are responsible.
  7. A UK Representative Council of delegates appointed by the regional and national parliaments to decide UK wide issues, interpret  the written constitution and agree an annual transfer payments between nations and regions to reflect disparities in revenue raising capacities.
  8. Members of the regional and national parliaments to be paid the average national wage. No second jobs, no second income, no private incomes or capital, no phony trusts to conceal wealth. If candidates cannot satisfy these stringent conditions, they cannot stand for election.
  9. Members of regional and national parliaments appointed for no more than two terms of four years each and subject to recall by voters. Being elected a member of these parliaments is an honour and a duty, not a career.
  10. Press and media, if they are to engage in anything other than strictly factual political reporting, must to be owned by readers/users or, in the case of the BBC, brought under democratic control.

 

You may disagree with some or all of these suggestions. If so, what would yours be?

BREXIT and TAX

VAT was introduced in the UK in 1973 as a condition of joining the then European Economic Community, the predecessor of the EU. Changes to the VAT rules require the unanimous agreement of all 28 EU countries. Originally introduced in the UK at 10%, these rules now require a minimum standard rate of 15% with one or two reduced rates, no lower than 5%, for certain specified goods on a pre-approved list. Further reduction in the VAT rate, including the use of a zero rate, is only allowed under EU rules for goods that have been taxed at that lower rate continuously since 1991. It is, therefore, under continued EU membership, a highly inflexible tax, but one not without merits. By requiring firms to deduct VAT paid on purchases from suppliers, it avoids the double taxation problem that arose with its UK predecessor, Purchase Tax. It is, nevertheless, highly ‘regressive’, i.e. it falls disproportionately on those on low incomes and leaves capital essentially untaxed. It is therefore unsurprising that, following the financial crash in 2008, the government relied on VAT to bail out the banks under its austerity strategy. VAT now contributes 21% of all the tax raised, up from 18% in 2009, and the amount raised has increased by 60% since then[i]. VAT has also made no contribution to reducing carbon emissions to help halt global warming.

In its 2017 General Election manifesto, the Labour Party called for VAT to be restricted to its current range of goods and services. However, according to the Communist Party pamphlet on The EU and Brexit – questions and answers [ii] , even this very modest proposal would breach EU rules. The potential for a progressive tax policy after we leave the EU would, however, be considerable and VAT could play a useful part in this. As was argued in From Each According to Their Means[iii], free from the EU we could vary VAT rates to meet policy objectives and give workers rebates paid through National Insurance. VAT could thus be adapted to incorporate a carbon tax along the lines of the fee and dividend model proposed by James Hansen and endorsed by the Communist University on South London in its discussion paper on Global Warming.[iv].

The people have spoken in the EU Referendum. The only vote we need now is a General Election so that the opportunities it opens up, including the reform of VAT, can be seized.

 

Footnotes

[i] according to UHY Hacker Young, quoted in Economia, February 2019

[ii] Available from the Communist Party for £1 plus postage. http://www.communist-party.org.uk.

[iii] Available from the Communist Party for £2 plus postage https://www.communist-party.org.uk/shop/pamphlets/2025-from-each-according-to-their-means.

[iv] https://communistuniversity.wordpress.com

WHAT IS BREXIT FOR?

Discussion around Brexit and the Withdrawal Agreement has concerned the Irish border and the Backstop, the loss of tariff-free access to the EU and the implications for the movement of people across borders. Remainers occasionally express concern about a potential loss of employment rights but this has little substance other than to attract naïve social democrats to the Remain cause as the EU has done nothing to resist the increasing casualisation of labour, the erosion of collective bargaining rights or anti-trade union legislation. The Big Issue that no one is debating is what sort of country will Britain be post-Brexit.

Neo-liberals tend to keep quiet about their ambitions for a post-Brexit Britain. Their dream is for a Singapore style economy twenty miles off the coast of France. This means an economy that is exploitative, de-regulated, minimally taxed, gutted of its social services and open to capital from across the world with no questions asked. Close ties with a USA are called for if only to ensure that we can continue to rent Trident and its up-grades.

Communists have a different ambition. If we are quiet about it, it is simply because the mass media does a good job ensuring that our views are not reported. We want a socialist Britain run for the benefit of those who live within its shores, not the owners of footloose international capital. To get there we will need a progressive tax system incorporating many of the ideas in our pamphlet From Each According to Their Means  (1). But as we point out in this pamphlet, many of these ideas – a land value tax; varying rates of VAT with rebates for workers to address social needs; unitary taxation of corporate profits to nullify the use of tax havens; and a tax and dividend carbon tax as advocated by  James Hansen to address global warming – would be impossible under continued membership of the EU or the Single Market.

So in the end the complexities melt away and the choice is a straightforward one: accept the block on progressive reforms that are a pre-requisite of social revolution or seize the opportunity to begin building socialism – provided, as Marx recommended in the Communist Manifesto, that we first “settle matters with our own bourgeoisie”. 

 

  1. Available from the Communist Party Shop at http://www.communist-party.org.uk/shop/pamphlets/2025-from-each-according-to-their-means.html

 

 

 

WHY COMMUNISTS SUPPORT BREXIT

Communists have steadfastly supported Brexit, or, more specifically, Lexit, the left alternative to the Tory ambition of turning the UK into the “Singapore of the West”. While we found much of the official Brexit campaign distasteful and dishonest, and while we are concerned about how the official Brexit campaign was financed, our support has not waivered. In part, this is because we can draw support from the Communist Manifesto where Marx and Engels wrote:

Though not in substance, yet in form, the struggle of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie is at first a national struggle. The proletariat of each country must, of course, first of all settle matters with its own bourgeoisie.

While communists do not treat the works of Marx and Engels as holy writ, we do find their overall logic reliable, persuasive and borne out by subsequent history. Their advice here is therefore worth re-examining and can help us navigate the current confused and confusing Brexit debate on the Left.

Written some 170 years ago, the terminology used by Marx and Engels is now a little obscure. The term “proletariat” is no longer in everyday use. While it is still employed (in Marxist economic theory concerning labour value), its meaning in the Communist Manifesto, as Engels made clear in his preface to the 1888 English edition, is simply “workers”, i.e. all those who live by selling their labour and who lack an alternative source of sustenance. Similarly, since Marx and Engels employed the term “bourgeoisie”, it has come to mean the aspirational, salaried middle class. Marx and Engels were not referring to these. They were referring to “capitalists” and what we now sometimes refer to as “the 1%”.

Given these clarifications, what did Marx and Engels mean by the struggle between workers and capitalists being “though not in substance, yet in form….at first a national struggle”? This was their recognition that, even in the first half of the nineteenth century, national economies were inter-connected and the exploitation of workers does not stop at national borders. Thus the struggle between workers and capitalists takes place initially within the context of the nation state and workers are therefore well advised to concentrate first on the struggle for state power before seeking to change supra-national structures.

With these clarifications in mind, how should we apply the advice in the Communist Manifesto to the current Brexit situation? There are undoubtedly risks for workers in Britain in any meaningful form of Brexit. These risks are especially acute for workers in our export manufacturing industries and those employed by our “financial services industry”. As the excellent film The Spider’s Web, recently shown at Ruskin House to unanimous acclaim and now available on U-tube, argued, much of this activity is parasitic and concerned with tax avoidance, but it does,nevertheless, employ many ‘workers’ as defined above. There will, however, be economic gains from curtailing much of this activity, and these gains can be put to good use, once we are outside the EU, promoting more useful employment. Less of a threat is the loss of workers’ rights bestowed by the EU on workers in Britain. The most worthwhile worker rights that still exist are those we won ourselves in domestic struggle. The EU did nothing to protect workers in Greece in 2015 and has done nothing to inhibit the disastrous growth of zero hours contacts and the undermining of trade union rights in the UK. The loss of its ‘protection’ will be of little significance.

Notwithstanding the risks to export industry and City jobs, Brexit can provide an opportunity to “settle matters” with our own bourgeoisie, i.e. the capitalists who own and run our country and their hangers on and spokespersons. The first step must therefore be demand a general election so we can kick out this rotten and corrupt Tory government and give a Corbyn led Labour government the opportunity to negotiate a Brexit that ensures that the interests of workers and their families are prioritised. The Tories, with the assistance of the Lib Dems, made us pay for the 2007-8 financial crisis. They must not be allowed, with the assistance of the Ulster Unionists this time, to make us pay for turning the UK into the “Singapore of the West”.

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!

TUC Congress 2016

Largely ignored by the capitalist press and the BBC, who have again declined to reinstate their live coverage of the event, the annual TUC Congress is taking place this week in Brighton. Despite these efforts to discourage public attention, Congress is particularly significant this year as the government struggles to implement the EU referendum decision and while the Parliamentary Labour Party struggles to sustain its self-appointed role as Tory Lite, contrary to the wishes of its elected (soon to be re-elected?) leader. Fortunately, the CP has no such internal conflicts and, as ever, will be in attendance at Congress, distributing each day Unity, our well received briefing for Congress delegates.

One of the most significant issues facing Congress is reflected in Motion 17 and its amendments, grouped together under the heading Protecting worker and trade union rights in the EU Brexit as Composite 7  The composite resolution calls on unions to ‘oppose any assault on the rights of workers arising from the decision to leave the EU. Our rights as workers continue to be among the most restricted in Europe and any further restrictions through Brexit negotiations would be totally unacceptable. The resolution calls for the trade unions to be recognised as key stakeholders in the Brexit negotiations and for

  • a campaign to ensure that the UK government does not repeal any current rights guaranteed by the EU;
  • the rights of existing EU workers to remain in the UK to be protected; and.
  • the IER Manifesto for Labour Law to be promoted.

The CP welcomes these proposals which we anticipate will be adopted by Congress and thus become official TUC policy. In this event, at the local level we will be asking Croydon TUC to acquire, study and seek to implement the IER Manifesto locally. I will report back on the outcome of this initiative..

Follow the Cuban Model

In the posting last week I suggested that resistance to antibiotics should be added to the threats facing humanity. This has been confirmed by the Final Report to government from the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) published today. In the preface to this report, Lord O’Neill, now a government minister, accepts that routine surgeries and minor infections will become life-threatening once again and that the hard won victories against infectious diseases of the last fifty [surely sixty plus] years will be jeopardized. Unless action is taken, the report concludes, the number of deaths each year from AMR could balloon to 10 million, at a cumulative cost to global economic output of $100 trillion. On this basis, by 2050, the death toll could be a staggering one person every three seconds and each person in the world today will be more than $10,000 per annum worse off – quite a problem when the world average income is currently less than $18,000 per annum – but such distributional matters tend not to concern Tory ministers.

Some of the report’s recommendations are obvious, including restricting doctors from prescribing antibiotics until they have confirmed with tests that they are actually required. Others are conspicuous by their absence and reflect the prejudices of the government of which Lord O’Neill is a member. These include the need to block TTIP so that US factory farming methods dependent on intensive antibiotic use are not forced on us when this agreement with the  EU is signed. Leaving the EU is the best, possibly only, way of stopping TTIP  – what a shame that the official Brexit Campaign, dominated as it is by right wing Tories, is so reluctant to point this out.

The report concludes that remedial action can be financed from existing NHS budgets. That will generate a huge sigh of relief from a government unwilling to provide an adequate level of funding for even current services. It depends, however, on the assumption that the drug companies can be made to pay. The key recommendation is a new settlement with Big Pharma, a so-called ‘pay and play’ requirement: pay for the investment in new antibiotics and inoculation in exchange for continuing their privileged position as monopoloy suppliers to governments. Given Big Pharma’s record of dodging taxes and ripping off governments, this has all the prospects of a snow ball in hell. The knee jerk reaction from the trade body the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry was, as would be expected,  immediate rejection.

Big Pharma is the epitome of capitalism and the illusion that if we give the rich and powerful everything they want, the welfare of everyone else will be enhanced. The truth is that, as with global warming, international, profit driven enterprises cannot be trusted with the fate of humanity. They will always put the interests of the elites who own them or feed off them as managers first. They must be cut down to size, stripped of their monopolies and, in the case of Big Pharma,  replaced with democratically controlled research institutes. If the impoverished Cubans can do it, so can we!