Why has the left abandoned support for Julian Assange? His situation - trapped in the embassy of Ecuador for six years in the face of persecution by the US authorities - merits a vigorous campaign on his behalf. Assange and Wikileaks did an immense service in releasing files that showed the brutality of US forces in Iraq deliberately shooting civilians.
Many on the left were glad to receive these files and other material, and are well aware of the moves to have him brought to the US to face severe penalties at the hands of a secretive grand jury, yet are unwilling to lift a finger in his defence. The latest twist in the case is a move to force Chelsea Manning to give evidence against him. She has courageously refused and been jailed for contempt until she gives in or the legal process is over.
Socialist Worker respond to the latest development by publishing an old article from 2013 describing the early moves to prosecute her and Wikileaks, while managing to avoid mentioning Assange at all. By contrast, there have been pickets and rallies internationally in his support - most recently in London and in Australia, whose government has lined up with the US to deny any assistance to Assange, its citizen. These are extensively covered on the World Socialist Web Site.
Just about everywhere else there is complete silence: this includes the Weekly Worker. Back in 2010 the paper took a principled stand (‘Hands off Assange’, December 9’; ‘Drop trumped-up charges’, December 16). But by 2012 the position was more ambivalent, labelling Assange a “paranoid narcissist” (September 6): not exactly helpful in an article seeking to clarify “confusion on the left”.
Having managed to get it about right in 2010, could the editors explain why they no longer feel the need to actually support the campaign or even report on it?
Value for money
Maren Clarke writes, in reply to Moshé Machover: “As Marx says, exchange-value is simply the form of appearance of value” (Letters, March 7).
But, of course, that is not what Marx says. He wrote: “And the form in which this proportional distribution of labour asserts itself in a state of society in which the interconnection of social labour expresses itself as the private exchange of the individual products of labour is precisely the exchange-value of these products.”
Marx is saying that exchange-value is an historically specific and determined form of value, the corollary of which is that in other forms of society value itself takes different forms to that of exchange-value. In other words, exchange-value is the form that value takes in a society where the exchange of products has developed into the production and exchange of commodities. In fact, it would be unnecessary for Marx to make this comment if he did not also believe that value exists as a concept, and as a reality, separate from such exchange-value, and in societies that are not based upon the exchange of products as commodities!
If we look at the start of that paragraph, in Marx’s letter to Kugelmann, that is clear. First of all, making clear that Marx is discussing value, and the law of value, in all societies, Marx writes: “As for the Zentralblatt, the man is making the greatest possible concession in admitting, that, if one means anything at all by value, the conclusions I draw must be accepted. The unfortunate fellow does not see that, even if there were no chapter on ‘value’ in my book, the analysis of the real relationships which I give would contain the proof and demonstration of the real value relation. The nonsense about the necessity of proving the concept of value arises from complete ignorance both of the subject dealt with and of the method of science. Every child knows that any nation that stopped working, not for a year, but let us say, just for a few weeks, would perish. And every child knows, too, that the amounts of products corresponding to the differing amounts of needs demand differing and quantitatively determined amounts of society’s aggregate labour.”
So, it is clear that Marx is talking about the value of ‘products’. In Capital volume 1, Marx distinguishes a ‘product’ from a use-value by setting out that a ‘product’ is a use-value which is not just a free gift of nature, but is also the result of free human labour. The ‘value’ of the product is determined by the amount of labour embodied within it. Marx further explains that not all such products are commodities. A commodity is something produced for the explicit purpose of being exchanged, so as to obtain some other use-value, representing an equivalent amount of value. He further explains that this excludes, therefore, the surplus products produced by peasant labour that is paid to the landlord as feudal rent. These products, as Marx explains, are not commodities, but they still represent value.
This is the point of his comment: “Compulsory labour is just as properly measured by time as commodity-producing labour; but every serf knows that what he expends in the service of his lord is a definite quantity of his own personal labour-power.”
Marx’s point here is that the nature of value, and the law of value, is not cloaked in mystique by commodity fetishism, and the form of value as exchange-value. And if we look at Marx’s analysis of the development of pre-capitalist rent, in Capital volume 3, this is clearly indicated in the form of feudal money rents. Money is exchange-value incarnate; it is impossible to say, therefore, that the money rent paid by the peasant to the feudal lord is not a transfer of a given amount of value. But, as Marx explains in that historical analysis, the money rent under feudalism is merely the last stage in its process of development from being the labour rent, described above, to then being rent in kind, whereby the peasant hands over a given quantity of products to the feudal lord, to being money rent, as merely the money equivalent of the value of those products.
It’s quite true that the concept and nature of value itself changes over time, as I am discussing in an upcoming blog post that deals with this issue, and the points previously raised by John Bridge, in more detail, but that does not change the fact that value, and the law of value, operates, for all the reasons Marx describes in his letter to Kugelmann, in all societies. To say that prior to a certain time society had no concept of ‘value’ is meaningless, for the reason Marx states above - because it represents a failure to understand the “method of science”. It is like saying that prior to Priestley society had no concept of oxygen, and so oxygen did not exist! As Marx goes on to say, in his letter to Kugelmann, “science consists precisely in demonstrating howthe law of value asserts itself”.
Again, if the concept of value and the law of value only applies to commodity-producing societies, and so only ever exists in the form of exchange-value, this statement is rather meaningless.
The idea that we cannot speak about the exchange-value of a commodity, and can only speak of exchange-values, is simply wrong - Marx speaks of the exchange-value of a commodity repeatedly. It’s true that, unless more than two products take the form of commodities, then commodity production and exchange would not develop, but that is a different issue. It’s wrong to say that value does not exist outside of the concept of exchange-value for the reasons I have previously cited, and, as Marx sets out in Theories of surplus value, chapter 20, unless products have value, and this value increasingly becomes the basis upon which the exchange relation between those products develops, there could be no development of commodities in the first place, and no objective rational basis for the development of exchange-values.
I think that Moshé gave too much ground in relation to the question of value in post-capitalist societies. Engels does not say that value ceases to exist under communism: he says that its fetishised form - ie, exchange-value/money - prices ceases to exist. In Anti-Dühring, he writes: “The useful effects of the various articles of consumption, compared with one another and with the quantities of labour required for their production, will in the end determine the plan.”
And: “As long ago as 1844 I stated that the above-mentioned balancing of useful effects and expenditure of labour on making decisions concerning production was all that would be left, in a communist society, of the politico-economic concept of value ... The scientific justification for this statement, however, as can be seen, was made possible only by Marx’s Capital.”
That is also what Marx says: “Secondly, after the abolition of the capitalist mode of production, but still retaining social production, the determination of value continues to prevail in the sense that the regulation of labour-time and the distribution of social labour among the various production groups, ultimately the book-keeping encompassing all this, become more essential than ever.”
The nature of value changes, depending on the nature of society, and the social form of production. The hypothetical case of Robinson Crusoe, as set out in Capital volume 1, indicates the nature of value as individual value, where society consists of one individual. Robinson’s labour is immediately both abstract as well as concrete labour, and is average social labour, precisely because he constitutes the whole of society. When Friday joins him, the society is enlarged. Together they form collective labour. The individual value of Robinson’s labour continues to exist, but is added to by that of Friday, so that the individual value produced by both becomes aggregated into social labour, and the individual value of that output now consists in the combined labour embodied within it by both. To the extent that, by working cooperatively, they enhance their productivity, this does not change the value of their output - it amounts still to their combined social labour - but is now embodied within a greater quantity of use-values, representing an increase in social wealth. This is the point of Marx’s further comment in Capital volume 1, explaining the nature of this individual value of products:
“We have one close at hand in the patriarchal industries of a peasant family, that produces corn, cattle, yarn, linen and clothing for home use. These different articles are, as regards the family, so many products of its labour, but as between themselves, they are not commodities. The different kinds of labour, such as tillage, cattle tending, spinning, weaving and making clothes, which result in the various products, are in themselves, and such as they are, direct social functions, because functions of the family, which, just as much as a society based on the production of commodities, possesses a spontaneously developed system of division of labour ... The labour-power of each individual, by its very nature, operates in this case merely as a definite portion of the whole labour-power of the family, and therefore, the measure of the expenditure of individual labour-power by its duration appears here by its very nature as a social character of their labour.”
In so far as we are talking about products here, rather than commodities, it is this individual value that is decisive for the society in allocating its available labour-time. The individual value produced by each individual in this production is now subsumed within the individual value of the collective labour involved in the production. But, as Marx and Engels describe, as different tribes and communities come into contact with each, and trade develops between these different communities, the individual value of the products of each community itself evolves into a social value, which forms the basis for the development of exchange-values.
But this development of value - not exchange-value - itself requires a long historical process: from the production of products to their occasional exchange; from the development of individual value based upon the labour of individual producers to the collective labour of producers working cooperatively and enjoying the benefits of the division of labour, through to the more regular trade in such products as commodities, and thereby to the production of those commodities specifically for the purpose of exchange or sale; and so the development from individual value into social or market value, which then forms the objective basis upon which exchange-values can be calculated.
We all know how much Binyamin Netanyahu loves anti-Semites, and they love him: Trump, Orbán … better not put in too many names in case someone wants to sue. But it is interesting that they like to share in their criminal activities too.
Netanyahu recently kicked out the ‘Temporary International Presence in Hebron’ (TIPH), which was established to monitor the local terrorists - sorry, ‘settlers’ - who terrorise the local, majority, Palestinian population, including children on their way to school. This was deemed necessary after Baruch Goldstein - in some Israeli eyes a national hero - murdered 29 Muslims, who were praying in their mosque in Hebron.
Local Palestinians are trying to fill the gap by keeping their children, among others, safe - much to the indignation of the ‘settlers’. But, with the expulsion of the TIPH, the ‘settlers’ - as usual protected by Israeli soldiers - have become even more aggressive, with their shouts of “Death to Arabs!” and throwing rocks at Palestinian homes. The Palestinians must be very happy that that the existence of a state of Israel is by no means a racist endeavour.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s good friend, Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, is busy dismantling the protections offered by the Brazilian constitution to indigenous peoples. Not that they have had much protection in the past, but with Bolsonaro invasions of these lands have increased, along with the killings. Along also, for the rest of us, with the deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.
So Netanyahu and Bolsonaro share their desire to get rid of indigenous peoples as well as their no doubt other numerous reasons for mutual admiration.
Tony Blair has said: “President Macron is right. Any extension of the article 50 process should be for a reason. It should be to eliminate the blind Brexit Theresa May proposes. But first her deal must be defeated” (The Observer March 3). Blair has put his finger on the key issue - defeating May’s deal. He says: “If I were an MP I wouldn’t want to own this putrid porridge of poor political leadership.”
And, of course, May’s deal went down. It has now been defeated in parliament twice. Has it finally been killed off or will it come back for a third time? While May survives, this is surely possible and the Tories are unlikely to get rid of her unless really forced to, because they fear a general election.
We are in a peculiar constitutional situation between crown, parliament and people. The ‘sovereign people’ voted to leave, even though they have no place in the constitution. The crown, through the prime minister, promised to carry out the will of the people. Despite repeated evasions and defeats in parliament, the PM has continued ‘representing’ the people against parliament.
In the UK constitution the people are not sovereign and have no authority to halt the parliamentary farce by taking control of the decision. Of course, there is no need for a ratification referendum if the May deal is finally finished. But is it? It may now hide in the shadows awaiting a moment to come out again. The people seem powerless to prevent this nonsense carrying on.
The Observer editorial says: “The principled case for a referendum on May’s deal remains as strong as ever. It is critical that the negotiated agreement is put before voters for ratification or rejection. This is not rerunning the 2016 referendum, but about making sense of its result: the government has not been able to secure what voters were promised, and it must give the public the chance to accept or reject the deal” (March 10).
Unfortunately liberals, like Blair, are playing a different game. Last week he said if all else fails MPs should “accept her deal”, but “with a Kyle-Wilson amendment for a confirmatory referendum”. This is smoke and mirrors. In the name of ‘confirmation’ Blair and his allies want to us to vote against putrid porridge and for remaining in the EU.
Keir Starmer takes the same line. He calls for a public vote between “May’s deal and ‘remain’”. He is backed up by John McDonnell MP and no doubt deputy Labour leader Tom Watson under the banner of a second referendum. Michael White is cautious about this. He says: “I am not sure ‘remain’ will pull it off” (New European March 6).
There are two obvious objections to voting for “May’s deal or ‘remain’”. It will be seen as illegitimate by many who voted to leave. There would be no question in this kind of ballot for millions of ‘leave’ voters who want no-deal. It will be seen as the liberal elite fixing the result.
Polling evidence suggests that public opinion has not changed much among those who voted. It may even have hardened people’s views. But there is a shift towards ‘remain’, because new, young voters have joined the electoral register. Refighting the 2016 referendum with a marginal shift among those who voted first time will deepen the divisions and settle nothing.
Hence White says: “I remain nervous about the prospect for a second referendum. It is hard for reason to defeat zeal, especially when coupled with anger and mendacity on a scale likely to be far nastier that the last time, because ‘leave’ voters will insist that the 2016 verdict must stand.”
Corbyn seems to have been dragged into a ‘confirm or remain’ second referendum, because he, his advisors and his supporters don’t seem to have grasped the basic democratic case for a ratification referendum. If May or her deal survives, it is Labour’s only route to an early general election with the prospects of a Labour victory. Otherwise there is a danger that Corbyn will drown in a bowl of “putrid porridge” - with a Tory dollop of alleged anti-Semitism and a dash of Hezbollah sauce. Let us see what happens when the dust settles.
In a survey carried out last week on behalf of two anti-Brexit youth groups it came to light that 74% of newly eligible voters would back ‘remain’ if there were to be a second poll, while 91% actively support another referendum.
Whilst probably not suggesting any blind faith in the European Union to solve all the problems resulting from the capitalist system, it does seem to be the case that these youthful participants in the survey have a gut instinct that being part of a larger entity than our ‘sovereign’ little set of islands will provide better opportunities than wandering off in a direction most politely described as suburban, bigoted, small-minded and laughably backward-looking. But this is not shared by many modern-day Marxists - certainly not comrades at Weekly Worker/CPGB.
OK, nobody in their right mind could suggest that pandering to delusions or misconceptions about the primary nature and core function of capitalist entities would be a sensible - let alone productive - thing to do. However, it does seem to have slipped your notice that these youngsters are the very people to form the basis of any next-level ‘wokefulness’. A potential influx of revolutionary cadres to be entirely lost in the enveloping mists of history, if only ‘automatic’ hostility to the EU is projected in their direction.
Well, how simultaneously tragic and idiotic that would be. Indeed, how dangerous, given that any consequent distrust and despair on the part of that upcoming generation may lead them up the Satanic pathway of nihilism. Even worse, a psychic wave of disgust and fury might descend upon them - one that propels this youthful treasure into the welcoming arms of rightwing populist reactionaries.
It seems clear that any such fostering of alienation may well come to haunt our Marxist movement as a whole. Surely it’s now crunch time - a customised Year Zero is looming above stormy horizons! The insensitive, inflexible and stubbornly old school position taken by yourselves in relation to the EU is becoming a veritable living/breathing apparition of the Goddess Nemesis.
One thing certainly is true: Brexit continues to lengthen its already long list of hostages taken - the next casualty is being pushed onto the rails in front of that runaway train!
There’s a saying in Marxist circles that if you want firm predictions, you should ask the astrologers.
My late father when deciding the best time to set his seed potatoes always referred to Old Moore’s Almanac. Interestingly, this year’s edition has an article titled ‘Is Jeremy cut out for Number 10?’ Old Moore’s assessment is that Jeremy Corbyn is unlikely to achieve the highest political position in Great Britain.
As his leadership of the Labour Party rapidly draws to a close, Marxists should be preparing for the aftermath. A Labour Party with a dozen Marxist MPs living on the wage of a skilled worker would have a greater effect on British politics than a Labour Party with 250 Blairite MPs. Marxists should go on the offensive and call for a workers’ government, which will build one million council houses and flats each year, for five years.
Coincidentally, the Yellow Vests movement in France has the building of five million affordable homes as one of its key demands. The demand for the building of one million council houses and flats would put enormous pressure of Theresa May and the Tories. This is especially so, given that ‘Generation Rent’ were amongst the hundreds of thousands of young people who have been abandoned by the Tories and now support Jeremy Corbyn.
I have often thought that the big dividing line in politics is not whether one wants to nationalise 150 monopolies, but whether one supports the building of council houses and flats. Even the rightwing Institute of Economic Affairs supports the building of council houses and flats as a way of eliminating the £32 billion-a-year government subsidy given to private landlords in the form of housing benefit.
One of the reasons for the anger of Generation Rent is that they have nowhere to have sex and bring up the next generation of workers to be exploited. Theresa May and the Tories are well aware of this anger, but they mistakenly think building council houses and flats would just create young Labour voters.
It must be remembered that during the 1950s both Tories and Labour competed with each other in the number of council houses and flats they said they would build. It must not be forgotten that in 1954 under a Tory government 440,000 council houses and flats were built in the UK - the highest number of homes ever built in one year. A Labour Party with a dozen Marxist MPs could force the Tories to do the same today.