Not our job
Chris Gray states that the basic income scheme (BIS) is “necessary to strengthen the power of organised labour, in order to abolish the current mode of production” (‘Basic income urgently needed’, March 17). He believes the scheme is “socialist or progressive” and urges the left to campaign for it.
I disagree. I contend that the BIS does not challenge the hold commodity fetishism has over workers and thus helps to prolong the life of capitalist social relations. It has no socialist content and the left should not be seen to promote it.
The BIS is a social security system in which all adult citizens regularly get a sum of money from the government, regardless of income derived from elsewhere. It is a form of state mini-pension extended to adults of every age. According to one of Gray’s sources, this would be a “modest” sum set at a level that would prevent an individual from starving to death through the absence of paid work. The scheme does not appear to take into consideration the threat of death unemployed workers face through homelessness or hypothermia. It does not address other sources of workers’ injuries and death, such as overwork, exhaustion, mental illness and addiction. Nonetheless, Gray’s article mentions “add-ons” for people with special needs, such as the disabled. I assume these would be means-tested.
How “progressive” is this proposal? Gray quotes Paul Mason, one of Jeremy Corbyn’s economic advisors, favourably. Mason thinks that the scheme gives “people the chance to build positions in the non-market economy”. Certainly the BIS gives voice to a section of the ruling class that realises the attempt to restore the classical operation of the industrial reserve army of labour is now politically unacceptable and a utopian dream. In order to reproduce an exploitable workforce and prevent food riots some form of social security is necessary. Moreover, if the state provided a regular income to every individual, some of the effects of underconsumption can be offset. The scheme could be used to reduce state expenditure on social security. It would diminish the influence of a coercive bureaucratic apparatus on the population surplus to the requirements of capital. The BIS could therefore be a popular measure with cross-class support. It would act as a means of stabilising commodity relations in a declining and crisis-ridden capitalism.
It is therefore not true to state, as Gray does, that “the capitalist class would adamantly refuse to accept the idea”. Contemporary Alaska and Iran both have forms of the BIS and, if the June referendum is successful, Switzerland will be the first European country to adopt it. The “progressive” (ie, left liberal) section of the capitalist class supports the BIS because it is consistent with other measures to recommodify labour-power and make it more productive. These include the continued erosion of workers’ rights, privatisation and cuts in public expenditure on health, education and welfare.
Gray quotes Paul Mason’s generous estimate of £6,000 a year. Mason thinks this could be hiked to a minimum wage of £18,000 through paid work. I calculate that a worker on £7.25 per hour would have to work longer than a 30-hour week to reach Mason’s minimum wage target. In other words, workers would still be forced to sell their labour-power below its value in order to raise their standard of living above near starvation. Moreover, if wages remain low, they will continue to work long hours. As such the BIS - like existing working tax credits and housing benefits - would serve as a state subsidy to small and medium-sized enterprises.
The recommodification of health, education and social care through privatisation and so-called ‘outsourcing’ all contribute to the competiveness of a BIS-supported workforce. Workers would still be forced to compete for a wage as atomised individuals with other workers. Waged work will be needed to pay for rent, debt, mortgages, fuel, transport and other basic necessities. The BIS would not therefore magically “strengthen the power of organised labour”, as Gray states. Rather than bringing into being Mason’s fantasy of a “non-market economy”, the scheme would, at best, ameliorate and, at worst, prolong the existing forms of economic tyranny and control over workers.
Notwithstanding these criticisms, the socialist alternative does indeed mean creating conditions that strengthen the collective power of workers and their families. This power must be sufficient to abolish the commodification of social relations and replace them with a democratically planned, classless society. This means campaigning for the decommodification of labour time, the labour process and the products of labour.
It follows that the socialisation of the means of production and permanent full employment would abolish the operation of the industrial reserve army of labour completely. Moreover, automation and a working week as short as 15 hours would, I guess, produce a surplus product sufficient to meet the needs of the world’s population.
Democratic planning from below is an essential means to these ends. This would involve the collective expression of the needs of specific groups of individuals. Thus planning for the needs of the homeless requires the abolition of rent and the extension of free social housing to the whole of the population. Planning for the needs of the disabled entails the free availability of assistive technology, free access to transport, and properly trained and rewarded teams of support workers. Planning for the needs of ex-prisoners and addicts means they have free access to health and educational resources and generous forms of free social support. No doubt planning for the needs of the mentally ill and the elderly will take similar forms. These demands could be transitional to the revolutionary forms of power of the future.
The BIS addresses none of the above needs. It also ignores their expression as collective forms of power. It is not the job of socialists to advise bourgeois governments on how to use social security systems to control workers’ sale of their labour-power more efficiently. We should therefore resist and reject Gray’s call for the left to lead a campaign for the scheme.
Paul B Smith
Chris Gray has written a few times in the Weekly Worker on his advocacy of universal basic income. It is unfortunate to read his citation of Paul Mason’s concession statement that “This replaces unemployment benefit. Other forms of needs-based welfare - such as family, disability or child payments - would still exist, but would be smaller top-ups to the basic income.”
Universal basic income fails to address: (1) structural and cyclical unemployment; (2) desire to work and avoid the stigma of not doing something; (3) inevitable downward pressure on wages as a result of implementation (Speenhamland, Karl Polanyi’s classical observations, Francine Mestrum’s and Yves Smith’s articles warning about this problem, etc); (4) privatisation of the social wage (welfare being substituted, as Paul Mason put it very, very mildly); (5) class origins of political advocacy and beneficiaries (working class vs lumpen).
Any implementation of a basic income programme should, at best, be in place only as a top-up to an expansive job guarantee/employer of last resort programme (Hyman Minsky, L Randall Wray) as a structural, radical left reform (Jesse Myerson).
As for transitions and directional demands, basic income pales in comparison to this measure: extending workers’ self-management to a labour commons union (Tom Walker, whom I’ve had the honour of meeting in person) and a mandate of systematic work time reduction, decreasing employment participation for a static or growing population, while maintaining present levels of both real labour productivity per capita and real living standards (Robert LaJeunesse). This measure acknowledges that there may by one justifiable anchor for the policy-based maintenance of stagnant, but not depressed, real discretionary income: a slow, but long-term decline in working hours. More importantly, it stresses that the big corporate capitalists and the petty capitalists prefer more money being paid to ‘the 99%’, so that they can keep spending, preferring consumption habitually over leisure.
Don’t blame EU
Surveying the arguments for leaving the European Union put forward by trade union leaders, elements of the left and the Morning Star, I am struck by the absence of any reference to two matters which ought to concern any worker, let alone principled socialist.
The British state, which the ‘leave’ advocates wish to withdraw into, is headed by the monarchy - linked directly to the government and institutions of the state through the Privy Council. It is worth remembering that the reigning monarch still lays claim to the ownership of some one-sixth of the planet’s land surface. How can we ignore this most secretive of institutions? The answer is probably related to the fact that the left has in the last century for the most part failed to campaign for its abolition and the establishment of a modern democratic republic.
The right, on the other hand, and certain ‘liberal’ newspapers, remains only too ready to rub our noses in the real power of the monarchy and Privy Council when it reminds us of what the left chooses to forget. For example, the mockery of the newly-elected Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, for his dress sense in the royal presence and in the posing of questions as to whether he would kneel or bow to the queen in attending the Privy Council. Backing up the mockery came the real threat from the military, warning the general public not to vote for Corbyn. No disciplinary procedure against the army officers concerned was implemented. But the Brexit lobby apparently have no problem with such threats.
Associated closely with this state of affairs is the continued, centuries-old presence in parliament of the leaders of the Church of England. The left again fails to campaign for the separation of church and state - even when the Church of England is no longer representative of the majority of religious persons resident in Britain.
Yet Germany, France and Italy, at the centre of the EU, are by comparison modern democratic republics with separation of church and state. If, as those who advocate Brexit claim, the governance of the EU is shrouded in secrecy, obscure and by inference undemocratic and a threat to workers, is governance in Britain transparent? How much don’t we know about the powers invested in the monarchy, the Privy Council and the institutions within the state and Commonwealth? Who now recalls those very powers being deployed in 1975, for one example, to remove the elected government of Gough Whitlam in Australia? More than that, what role have these institutions played in attacks on the trade union movement in the 1970s and 80s?
How much resort have some prime ministers made to these powers through the Privy Council, without parliament’s assent or knowledge, let alone that of the public at large? Until such matters are widely discussed and transparent to all voters, at least those who are allowed to vote, we cannot begin to understand or make judgement on them, let alone conceive of a genuine comparison with the EU (which does not, of course, have an army).
The second matter being ignored by those in the labour movement advocating a retreat from the EU concerns the history of Europe over the last millennium. I commend to readers Hans Magnus Enzenberger’s Brussels, the gentle monster, or the disenfranchisement of Europe (Seagull Books, 2011) for demystification of the processes leading to the creation of the Common Market and the EU.
Before the 1950s Europe had been a battleground for almost 1,000 years. Napoleon’s armies did not just reach Egypt: they swept through east Europe to Moscow, creating vast cemeteries in their wake. The arrival of the German army at the outskirts of Paris in 1871 witnessed the massacre of the Paris Commune and the end of the First International. All of which and more, including the two world wars, gave rise to racial hatred and violent prejudices, which became component parts of, among other things, ‘British values’, as referred to by prime ministers when it suits them. I reject these ‘values’.
The creation of the Common Market, the EU, has done a great deal to put an end to wars, to occupations in Europe, and to calm down racial and inter-ethnic prejudices. The freedom of movement between countries, travel and settlement, was not possible even in the early 1950s. It has opened up the possibility of the development of human cooperation on many levels.
But how have our trade unions, and particularly the leaders of the TUC, responded to this potential? How many cross-Europe campaigns have they organised in their members’ defence since 1973, and especially since the 1989-90 collapse of the states of eastern Europe? What is the record of the TUC when workers in eastern Europe, Cyprus, Greece and Spain have all been under attack? Have our trade unions initiated Europe-wide campaigns to defend democratic rights, let alone extend them? Why not? In his letter published on February 11, Chris Gray explores the potential for defending and extending democracy within the EU. We cannot know just how much potential there is unless a series of campaigns are mounted across Europe to test the circumstances we are presented with.
Since Jeremy Corbyn was elected Labour leader, he has opened up just one such possibility, linking workers here with those under attack elsewhere in Europe. We are not in a position to conceive what the full potential is in the EU for uniting workers all the way across it and beyond its borders - tasks we urgently need to accomplish in the context of a global market - unless we are present inside the EU. Outside, isolated in Britain, workers will not be in a position to resist or defeat the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
We cannot simply leave this matter at the level of a vote in the referendum, any more than we can trust the TUC to take care of workers’ needs or interests. We cannot, of course, even vote for the TUC general secretary, such are the limits on democracy within our own organisations. So, together with a ‘remain’ vote, we must campaign for the thorough transformation of the trade union movement in Britain and the EU. The contested results of the elections for general secretary in Unison and the GMB unions are real symptoms of the democratic deficit inside Britain, which cannot be blamed on the EU.
Remain in the EU, campaign from the rank and file up for the thorough democratisation of the trade union movement, full stop.
What a couple of miserable specimens of Zionist racism the Weekly Worker indulged in its letters page last week (March 24)! First of all we have ‘Judd Seuss’, who claims to speak for the ‘Jewish left’, but uses as his nom de plume the title of the vilest Nazi propaganda film Jud Süß (‘The Jew Suess’). In my experience, that would make any leftwing Jewish person shudder and wonder what kind of warped individual they were dealing with. It’s obvious through his very anonymity and use of a Nazi pseudonym that he is simply one of the many Zionist trolls in circulation. Any genuine anti-racist would vomit at the thought.
Then there is Peter Leapman, a prime specimen of pro-Israeli racism. The purpose of his hypocritical, psychotic and genuinely racist rant is revealed at the end, where he bemoans that “too many people on the Corbynist left are already deranged by their hatred of Israel, this would merely fan the flames of the hard left’s incipient hostility to Jews”.
This reveals clearly his own racist, anti-Arab agenda. Israel, the pogrom state, was created through a massive population expulsion and suite of Srebrenica-style massacres in 1947-49 that drove out over two-thirds of the native Arab majority population. This was meticulously documented by the Israeli historian, Ilan Pappe, in his monumental work The ethnic cleansing of Palestine. There could be no state of Israel without the expulsion of its Arab majority. Yet Leapman thinks that hostility to Israel is “deranged”. He obviously thereby approves of its expulsion of Arabs and thinks the idea that the Palestinian majority should have equal rights to Jewish settlers over their country of origin to be “deranged”. Anyone who cannot discern the racism in Leapman’s rant is either a bit thick or, more likely, influenced ideologically by Zionist philo-Semitic, anti-Arab racism themselves.
The essence of Leapman’s screed is that Jewish racists should get special treatment, and an amnesty, from the left just because they are Jewish. This is a racist position. Thus, when Gerry Downing pointed out on TV that Israel’s racist ‘Law of Return’ citizenship law gave sections of capital within imperialist countries a material interest in the oppression and dispossession of the Palestinians, he was merely stating the logical, materialist consequences of a known, universally acknowledged fact. The fact that Andrew Neil, Labour Zionist Phil Collins, the likes of Leapman, along with the entire rightwing media, consider merely pointing out this material interest of overseas Jewish bourgeois in the oppression of Palestinians to be a forbidden topic shows the depth of anti-Arab racism in the British establishment today.
That the likes of the CPGB’s Jim Grant, as well as the Weekly Worker’s guest columnist, Tony Greenstein, also consider it to be ‘anti-Semitic’ to mention this fact, let alone to try to use the Marxist method to analyse it, and echo the anti-communist demagogy of Zionists like Neil and Collins that equates Marxist analysis of Zionism and the Jewish question with Nazism, shows how much the CPGB have conceded ideologically to Zionism and anti-Arab bigotry.
This is shown by the ridiculous lecture that Leapman, this pro-Naqba pogromist and racist, feels able to give avowed communists on morality and ‘anti-Semitism’. Trotsky once said that, when one receives lectures on ‘morality’ from such people, it is a good idea to keep one’s hand on one’s wallet. If the CPGB were not capitulatory, such a piece of chutzpah from this bigot, whose ‘morality’ is that of Deir Yassin, the Gaza massacres and other Nazi-like crimes against the Palestinian people, would not be possible. But for the CPGB too it is reprehensible to draw attention to diaspora Jewish bourgeois organised racist lobbying to crush the Palestinians, out of a pathetic liberal guilt over the Jewish question, which is counterposed to the duty of Marxists to be a tribune of the oppressed, according to today’s social reality.
At bottom Leapman’s ravings are anti-communist. Pro-Zionists like him hate the communist tradition that Marxists like us stand in, the tradition that owes much to the best of the Jewish intellectual tradition, such as Marx, Trotsky, Abram Leon, Isaac Deutscher at his best. All these are figures the CPGB is hostile to, in many cases with particular regard to their best work on the Jewish question. Instead the CPGB endorses the baleful tradition of Hal Draper, whose erudition was not matched by principle, and who most infamously tacitly supported the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in the name of Jewish ‘self-determination’. It is odd, to say the least, that Tony Greenstein can live with this, but that is his contradiction.
He has partially defended Gerry Downing, as has the CPGB, on narrowly democratic grounds, while solidarising with the witch-hunters on the substantial allegation of ‘anti-Semitism’, despite Tony testifying that our comrades are not ‘personally’ racist. This inherently contradictory stance has not saved Tony from being witch-hunted and suspended from Labour himself. We welcome this support as far as it goes, but continue to demand a proper united front campaign with full freedom of propaganda for the left tendencies to argue their views.
We reject all restrictions by self-appointed ideological censors on the freedom of Marxists to analyse ruling class politics, including those of the parts of the ruling class that are of Jewish origin. Anyone seeking to restrict freedom of historical materialist analysis in this way is crossing class lines, and siding with bourgeois politics against Marxism. We defend Tony Greenstein despite these important political differences.
It is very clever of Judd Seuss to tell us that the Jewish left is ringing an alarm bell. However, I would be more convinced of his argument if he hadn’t named himself after one of the most anti-Semitic films, the Nazis’ Jud Süß.
As for Peter Leapman, he gives himself away when he refers to the Corbyn left as being “deranged by their hatred of Israel”. Hatred of Zionism is no more a product of mental illness than hatred of apartheid or any other form of racism. Leapman’s assertion that the Labour Party is anti-racist is risible. It is a party of British imperialism and it is unfortunate that John McDonnell in particular jettisoned his anti-imperialist politics in respect of Ireland on becoming shadow chancellor.
Mike Belbin is correct when he says that being anti-Zionist and anti-Israel is no more racist than opposition to the Chinese rulers. False allegations of anti-Semitism are a form of defamation designed to deter criticism of Israel. They create a situation whereby people cannot distinguish between the real thing and the bogus cry. The Zionist definition of ‘anti-Semitism’ drains the term of all meaning.
The question Gerry Downing, Ian Donovan and Socialist Fight pose is more difficult. Are they anti-Semitic or not? In my view their politics leads inexorably in an anti-Semitic direction. If it is true that there is a separate, transnational Jewish bourgeoisie that has a dual loyalty, because of dual citizenship, then there is only one logical outcome. If indeed Palestinian suffering is on account of a specific component of the western bourgeoisie, its Jewish component, then we are bound to campaign against them.
The fact that Downing and Donovan, as far as I know, recoil from their own logic is testimony to the bankruptcy of their position. It would be insanity to campaign against and single out Jews in the bourgeoisie as opposed to non-Jews. Utter madness. It could only create divisions in the working class, not the ruling class. According to Socialist Fight’s new theory, we should campaign against Sir Philip Green and Stuart Rose - both Jewish capitalists - but leave Mike Ashley and John Browne alone. This is not serious socialist politics. It is to go backwards to Proudhon.
I have no doubt that neither Downing nor Donovan are anti-Semitic in a personal sense and that is why I would not support their expulsion. But at a time when the anti-Zionist left is under attack in the Labour Party and I am under threat of expulsion personally, I would want to have nothing to do with any campaign Gerry might mount against his expulsion. His behaviour and his politics are insupportable and have weakened the position of anti-Zionists in the party, myself included.
Gerry Downing also goes wrong in his statement that “those who are fighting imperialism right now are by definition anti-imperialist”. It seems that Gerry has progressed from the socialism of fools to the anti-imperialism of idiots.
It was Trotsky who said that you don’t simply put a minus where the bourgeoisie puts a plus. Islamic State and al Qa’eda are indeed the consequence of imperialist interventions in the Middle East and Afghanistan, but they are not anti-imperialist. An organisation that seeks the genocide of Shi’ite Muslims and Kurds, which uses torture, rape and sexual enslavement as a weapon of war is in no sense fighting imperialism. If anything it is emulating imperialist butchery and adding to it. There is nothing whatsoever progressive in their politics and they are a dire threat to secular national liberation and social movements. That they are relatively weak movements compared to the United States is irrelevant.
The struggle of the Kurds is a beacon in a region plagued by sectarianism and confessionalism. No group hates IS more than the Kurds and their organisations, the PKK and PYD. I suggest we take our lead from the masses rather than Gerry Downing’s bankrupt theories.
Like so many, I have been watching the events of the terror attacks in Belgium and have followed much of the subsequent media coverage with interest. What has been astonishing is the clear absence of any attempt at real analysis as to why and how such attacks occur, with endless debates taking place which attempt to link the attacks with both the refugee crisis and the European Muslim community.
While I understand there may be some concern around both issues, what is amazing is the lack of basic background knowledge on policies such as the covenant of security, where under Tony Blair jihadist organisations were allowed to freely operate on UK soil, on the condition that terror-based attacks only occur against civilian populations across the Middle East. This contract allowed radical Islamist preachers, hate-filled materials, recruitment and fundraising to take place across all major British cities, where, in a post-9/11 environment and under the banner of ‘freedom of speech’, advocates for what we call terrorism were operating under the noses of the British government, which across Europe earned Blair’s Britain the nickname, ‘Londonistan’.
It’s clear the lives of the Middle Eastern people still hold little value for Europeans, even over a decade after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, where all major terrorist incidents across Europe, including the mass shooting of Jewish children in Toulouse, have overwhelmingly been carried out by those who have been allowed to freely travel between their native European countries and into Iraq, Syria or Afghanistan.
European governments have repeatedly been warned of such facts as these, but the political inability to grasp reality has been repeatedly exposed through the attacks on European soil since 2010, combined with membership of Islamic State only becoming illegal in some European countries since the takeover of Mosul and the mass exodus of Iraqis in 2014. It’s amazing that, while some have mocked the Iraqi army’s retreat from Mosul in 2014 and some in the European parliament even attribute the growth of IS to the Maliki government in Baghdad, the very presence of thousands of European affiliates to Islamic State has made even children in Iraqi refugee camps wonder whose side Europe is actually on.