Sean Thurlough says that my summary of Marx is what “might be wilfully misinterpreted by a bourgeois economist, so that it would support the idea that, although surplus value is extracted from workers under capitalism, this is all to the good, because economic growth through the accumulation of capital benefits everyone equally, workers and capitalists alike” (Letters, June 16). However, he says, it leaves out all of the rest of what Marx says in Capital about the need for capital to “accumulate (and at times not accumulate) stands in opposition to the interests of workers and leads to periodic economic crisis, unemployment, etc.”
Well, I too had to provide only “a possibly over-concise style”, and did not have space to provide an overall summary of the three volumes of Capital, and of Theories of surplus value. I am already providing that in book form! But let’s look at what Marx and Engels themselves have to say on the matter.
“And so, the bourgeoisie and its economists maintain that the interest of the capitalist and of the labourer is the same. And in fact, so they are! The worker perishes if capital does not keep him busy ... The fastest possible growth of productive capital is, therefore, the indispensable condition for a tolerable life to the labourer” (Wage labour and capital, chapter 6).
“On the other side, the production of relative surplus value … requires the production of new consumption; ... the cultivation of all the qualities of the social human being, production of the same in a form as rich as possible in needs … is likewise a condition of production founded on capital” (Marx, on the ‘Civilising mission of capital’ Grundrisse, chapter 8).
Sean says: “The rest of Bough’s letter seems to assume that I and Macnair are asserting that all gains within capitalism by the working class are solely the result of the existence of the USSR and its satellites (and similarly organised states) before, during and after their existence.”
No, I was just contesting that it played any role in that regard, let alone a major one. As I wrote, western capitalists from the 1940s, until the mid-1960s, were concerned about whether the USSR might grow faster than them, but they certainly were not worried that it offered the workers in those countries a better standard of living or anything else that might be attractive to western workers. The fact is that both he and Mike have attributed the standard of living of western workers to everything other than the real cause, outlined by Marx and Engels, which is the tremendous ability of capital to expand, to raise productivity, and thereby not just the ability, but the necessity, to raise workers’ living standards, including the provision of welfare states.
After 1956, significant numbers of Communist Party members abandoned Stalinism. Many became rightwingers. So what effect does he think it had on the millions of workers that had never been brainwashed into the idea of a Stalinist nirvana to begin with? After all, between 1951 and 1963, large numbers of those workers voted in Conservative governments. The biggest increase in their living standards during that period came not from the welfare state (in fact, Alan Freeman some time ago, in Quantitative Marxism, showed that in every year since World War II, workers paid more in taxes than they obtained back in welfare spending), but from higher real wages, the availability of mass-produced consumer durables, better diets, the availability of good-quality private residential housing and so on, which led to a sharp rise in home ownership.
And, in reality, Sean himself knows that British workers were not attracted to the “awful” Soviet Union, because he says: “To the workers [social democracy] is saying, ‘If you don’t let us negotiate within capitalism for you, look at what the awful result will be if you try more extreme measures against capital.’”
Sean quotes as authority the view of a colleague who lived in eastern Europe that the existence of the USSR must have had an effect. The USSR and its satellites collapsed in 1990. Could Sean then ask his colleague, or perhaps give us an answer himself, why it was that more than 10 years later, when the ‘end of history’ had been proclaimed, that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown trebled spending on the NHS, increased the budgets of local government and other government departments, and introduced the national minimum wage? Surely, on the basis of Sean’s and Mike’s argument, Blair, who was no raving leftwing militant, should have been doing the exact opposite, now freed from the tempting lure for British workers of the Soviet paradise.
In response to Tony Clark’s letter (June 16), Marxism’s use of abstract labour time doesn’t mean that time itself is abstract. What is being abstracted in Marx is the concrete labour embodied within the commodity. When Marx abstracts the concrete labour, it is wrong to assume that what is left is purely abstract. What is left is time itself, devoid of the particular character of that labour.
So, for example, eight hours of tailoring becomes eight hours of labour. Those eight hours of labour are not abstract, in the sense that a worker really does work eight hours. When the worker starts work at 8am, this is not some abstraction - the worker really does wake up and make the journey in. If the worker were to work non-stop they would, regardless of the concreteness of the labour, eventually collapse from exhaustion.
Hence time is not some abstraction, but has very real effects. Any economic theory that disregards time as a critical dimension is not an economic theory of any kind.
I am not arguing whether Marx’s concepts can explain the current crisis or not. I am not even denying the price of energy triggers recession or crisis.
In my letter last week, I highlighted the differences between the reformist ‘remain’, revolutionary abstention and an ultra-left exit. The revolutionary position can be located within the abstention-boycott camp. However, not everything in that camp is revolutionary, because the anarchist idea of a ‘plague on all houses’ is anti-politics, not class politics. Revolutionary working class democracy rejects and opposes anarchism.
The case for a European-wide people’s revolution is not based on utopian dreaming or fantasy reformism. It is an objective reality, based on the facts of European integration. The European Union has created and continues to create a (two-speed) European economy. This shake-up is being carried out by capital largely unseen, but appears in its concrete visible form of wage labour (‘Polish plumbers’) from EU citizens working in the UK.
This revolution needs and requires ‘completion’ by a European democratic revolution, if it is not to wreak ever more havoc. Even if nobody recognises or wants a European democratic revolution, it is being forced or demanded by the conditions of capitalist development. The problem, as Trotsky might have said, is that subjective consciousness does not match up to objective facts. British Marxism has collapsed once again into reformism and ultra-leftism.
The counterrevolution gathers to its banner those capitalists and small businesses who hate the revolution, and many dispossessed and downtrodden workers (whom the democratic revolution would empower). The counterrevolution sees and feels threatened by the European revolution and many working people ‘want their country back’. It was never theirs. They never owned nor controlled it and the old England of the 1950s and 60s is never coming back. The counterrevolution can only end in frustration, driven to madness and despair. It is more than dangerous.
Hence ‘remain’ has two positions. There is reformist ‘remain’, which says that we have to vote for Cameron’s dirty little deal in a popular front with the Tories. The ballot result is the only rope we can hang him by. But if ‘remain’ wins the Cameron deal will come back and bite this opportunism on the bum.
Revolutionary ‘remain’ refuses to back Cameron. At first this seems counterintuitive. Since socialists have made a fetish of bourgeois democracy, then voting for Cameron’s ‘reformed EU’ is surely the best or even the only thing we can do? Not at all. Class struggle is not confined to narrow parliamentary methods. If this biased referendum produces the wrong result, the City and big corporations will intervene using powerful, extra-parliamentary methods.
What is good for the goose can work for the gander. If the working class movement was seriously committed to remaining in the EU, they would not be putting all their eggs in a rigged referendum. The working class has its own powerful levers - political and trade-union. The trade union bureaucrats begging us to vote for Cameron’s dirty deal are doing nothing to mobilise members against the new round of austerity threatened if there is an exit vote.
Most of the outcomes of the referenda are more or less reactionary. This is why a low voter turnout is better than a high one. But there is one scenario which has revolutionary implications - Scotland and Northern Ireland votes to remain (and Wales too) and England votes to exit. Note, I am not calling for England to vote for exit, which would be sheer opportunism. It is reactionary and doesn’t become progressive because some socialists call for it.
I am calling for Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales to vote ‘remain’. Especially the first two have been involved in mass democratic movements and mobilisations and in Ireland a revolutionary struggle for constitutional change. The impact of this can be seen in the opinion polls and in a more European consciousness.
A UK exit requires the repeal of legislation, such as the European Communities Act, which is “incorporated directly into the devolution statutes in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland” (Financial Times June 20). Constitutional experts say that if the UK government insists that “powers repatriated from Brussels go to Westminster this could set Westminster and Holyrood on a collision course”. By convention, Westminster must seek consent of the Scottish parliament on devolved issues.
In short, the vote on Thursday could produce a democratic fracture in UK politics. It is not the most likely scenario, but it is possible. The only thing we know for sure is that after Thursday the winner will have been a member the Bullingdon club.
Left Unity and Rise
For Jo’s sake
The two main Cliffite sects - Alex Callinicos’s Socialist Workers Party and John Rees’s Counterfire - have been working in the absurd Lexit campaign with open or barely concealed Stalinists and nationalists in the Communist Party of Britain and trade unions.
Their insane self-delusion (or possibly conscious dishonesty) that an increasingly probable ‘leave’ victory will have nothing to do with the racism, xenophobia, anti-refugee and anti-migrant feelings being whipped up by Boris Johnson, John Mann, Nigel Farage, etc has in no way been punctured by the ruthless and clearly well-planned murder of Jo Cox by an open Nazi. This came after a growth over the preceding week or so in verbal and physical attacks against people from minority communities born in this country by vociferous, self-proclaimed supporters of ‘leave’ - violent incidents not adequately reported in the mainstream media.
Professor Callinicos issued an encyclical on Facebook on June 17 attacking Billy Bragg, who in the immediate aftermath of the killing understandably linked the ‘leave’ campaign with racism, but made absolutely no mention of the murder of Jo Cox - a woman singled out for targeted assassination as a Labour MP, supporter of ‘remain’ and long-standing supporter of pro-refugee campaigns.
At the moment of writing, the rival Cliffite guru, John Rees, seems to have maintained a deafening silence on the subject. Meanwhile, Counterfire’s rising young star, Reuben Bard-Rosenberg, now playing a leading role as a speaker in public debates on the EU, is renowned over the last few months for xenophobic comments, which seem to go down very well with other young members of the increasingly nationalist cult. He has nothing better to do on Facebook than engage in prolix mockery of some ‘remain’ supporters who ordered French wine in a pub after one of his debates.
Given his refusal, despite my provocations, to address the serious subject of Jo Cox’s murder, it seems in order once again to denounce Counterfire as having adopted a Schlageter line in relation to what they see as a red plebiscite that will pave the way to their victory; or perhaps the election within a month or two of a Corbyn-led Labour government with a massive majority. These are two equally delusional versions of their ‘after Brexit, us’ line, reminiscent of the Communist Party of Germany in 1932.
Whilst neither of these Cliffite sects will have played a leading role in the referendum outcome, their objective blocking with the most rabid racist and xenophobic section of the British right will disarm us in the inevitable defensive struggle to come - not only against the rapidly rising racist tide, but also against the accelerated neoliberal attacks on the working class and the welfare state that will be the starkest consequence of a ‘leave’ victory.
Yes, voting ‘remain’ is ‘lesser evilism’. Yes, the EU is capitalist and neoliberal (although no more so than the British state). Yes, our chances of achieving a Socialist United States of Europe are not high in the short or medium term. But for the sake of Jo Cox and other victims of far-right violence, there was no choice but to vote ‘remain’.
There is no Morning Star ‘position’ on Syria (‘Blundering ineptitude’, June 16). The Morning Star is a newspaper - all it has done is report the news. You are attaching words like “stupid”, “weak” and “blundering” willy nilly, but this name-calling has got nothing to do with the facts.
Syria was invaded by terrorist gangs in 2011 after public disquiet was met with a firm hand. If such a situation broke out here, it would be met by a similar ferocious state response. Can you doubt that? Bahrain faced with a similar situation and crushed it, and this was applauded by the US, the UK and the EU. The difference is that Bahrain is a key western ally, whilst Syria is not; it is a neutral state.
For all its harsh countermeasures used against what was seen as, and probably was, a western-backed attempt to overthrow the government, Syria was one of the better countries in the Middle East. It had a fairer social and distributive economic policy. This was anathema to America.
As to your comparing what you call the Morning Star’s backing of Russia’s air assault in Syria and Britain’s use of its airforce there, the two are clearly incomparable. The Russians sought to back up the legitimate government in Syria; Britain and America and the other axis powers sought to undermine and get rid of that government.
The person muddled is the editor of the Weekly Worker, Peter Manson, not the editor of the Morning Star, Ben Chacko.
What happens - history - is about events and what generates them. Jairus Banaji, in Theory as history (2010) and elsewhere, has argued that analysis and our concepts should be derived, in iterative fashion, from an interpretation of history. Also, sometimes, not least because of dominant ideologies, we forget what’s happened, and when.
Seventy-five years ago the most momentous decision of World War II was put into effect: the invasion by the fascist German armed forces of the USSR-annexed territories that were Lithuania and the greater part of Poland. The invasion resulted in the destruction of a people and therefore their culture: Yiddish culture. And the fascist European Judaeocide also made it easier in 1947 to garner political support for a group, then owning 6% of a territory, to ‘deserve’ 56% of it (UN subcommittee report, November 1947).
Humanity still lives with the consequences of Hitler’s decision.