Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Is Business Becoming Corbyn-Friendly?

Hegemony is coming, hegemony is coming. Or is it? Among the responses to Jeremy Corbyn's Brexit speech was a cautious but nevertheless welcoming statement from the CBI. Meanwhile, The Times led with the disgraced Liam Fox's attack *on business* for applauding the Labour leader's speech, going on to brand any attempt to stay in the (or a) customs union a "sell-out". It's a funny old world. This begs a couple of questions about the bizarre situation in which the anti-austerity socialist leader of the Labour Party is more in tune with business interests than the trade secretary of the natural party of capital. That is whether business warming to Labour is a pragmatic orientation to a possible government in waiting, a contamination of their thinking by the modernisation programme outlined in the celebrated 2017 manifesto, or something else? And is the customs union divergence between the government and the bosses' union episodic or symptomatic of a deeper alienation?

Capital-in-general is an ensemble of competing businesses with common but divergent interests, and so there has always been some fracturing of political loyalties. Labour, the Liberal Democrats and their predecessors, and the SNP historically have and continue to attract rich backers. But more often than not, capital's chosen clearing house, the party traditionally best suited to serve their class interests is the Conservative Party. Not only has it enjoyed their backing, the Tories have and do adjudicate competition among fractions of capital through the rough and tumble of inner party (parliamentary) battles and the balance struck by the Tory leader in their top team. The party is a continually evolving project, a movement of the minuscule minority in the interests of the minuscule minority (and now, almost with the membership to match), but the party is arguably the most electorally successful political party in the West - even if it is based on a dishonest conceit. Its success lies in being reactive, when not reactionary, and adapting itself to new politics welling up from below. In the 1950s it was carrying on the Keynesian restructure of British capital started by Labour, and preserving and extending its achievements, such as the NHS, nationalisations, council house building and full employment. And again, one cannot understand the basis for Thatcher's long 1980s without accepting her simultaneous adaptation of the Tories to proletarian consumerism all the while smashing proletarian collectivism.

It was this decade that saw a problem inserted into the Tories' relationship with capital. In the first place, the destruction of the post-war settlement didn't just smash union power and sink working class communities, large sections of capital went to the wall as well. The capital tied up in the supply chains of the nationalised industries saw huge losses. The myriad small capitals supplying services to the manufacturing working class - dispersed and destroyed. New avenues of investment were opened up by Thatcher's privatisation programme and the undermining of social housing via right to buy, but nevertheless a wedge was driven into the alliances the Conservative Party expressed. The second problem is not entirely unrelated to the first. With the collapse in confidence in the Major government after the ERM fiasco, and following the untimely death of John Smith, the New Labour project firmly and consciously established itself as a safe-for-business and capital-friendly party that would do nothing whatsoever to imperil those interests. While a Smith Labour Party was never going to do the full communism thing, and business would have made their own unenthusiastic overtures in time, Tony Blair beamed with the zealotry of the convert. Labour would have won in 1997 come what may, but the courting and getting into bed with business ensured New Labour was the new party of capital-in-general. Modelled consciously on Clinton's Democrats, the Blair/Brown alliance was about transforming the B team of British capitalism into the preferred party of business. And it worked, after a fashion. Redistribution came via booming tax receipts and not restructuring capital a la 1945 vintage Labour. Light touch regulation and credit balloons kept finance and property happy, and it made Tory private finance initiatives very much its own, along with myriad other ways in which public services and the state were opened up to profiteering. New Labour was responsible for the creation of new markets that, in theory, would secure business loyalty to it in the same way Thatcher hoped the transformation of council tenants into owner occupiers would turn them Tory.

I'm not New Labour's biggest fan, but it does have one lasting achievement to its name: driving another wedge into the assemblage of capital sustaining the Tory party. The Blair/Brown partnership may have eviscerated its own base which, ultimately, rebounded on the Labour right, but they did draw more political support from capital than any prior Labour government. Yes, that didn't save them when the stock markets came crashing down, nor did they show due recognition to Gordon Brown for sparing them the trauma of a depression, but their backing of Dave's Tories and endorsement of austerity was more hedged, more hesitant, more mercenary than previously. Despite the socially liberal makeover, Dave was determined to capitalise on the crisis and push Britain even further in the direction of deregulation, market fundamentalism, and a race to the bottom in wages. In a number of ways this was warmed over Thatcherism, and the interests such a project served were those parts of capital invested in the city - the most superficially dynamic but socially useless sections - and the largely uncompetitive and labour intensive forms. Who benefited most from austerity, an increasing labour supply, and the scandal of precarious working? These people, these capitals did. Dave's coalition government was therefore very far from being a general committee for the common affairs of the bourgeoisie and more a sectional administration. With Dave's gamble on EU membership failing to pay off and all of us lumped with the losses, it at first appeared the new administration of Theresa May had ditched this blatant sectionalism, stitched together the fraying alliances underpinning the Tories and set about renewing the class settlement established by Thatcher. Her utter incompetence and shambles of an election has fractured all this. Some of capital clings to the Tories out of fear for Labour, but others are thoroughly alienated by the capturing of a decaying party by leading lights who prefer delusion to a clear sighted take on Britain after Brexit from capital's point of view. The crisis of the Tories then was long in making, but the effect is spectacular - a party not just dropping to bits, but becoming increasingly unmoored from the interests that made it and are (were) articulated through it. It is starting to resemble a husk empty of all but the personal ambition of certain dramatis personae, and a compulsion to meet the approval of the editorials of collapsing newspapers. Attacking business for looking out for business interests, dismissing the Irish border issue as if it were flim-flam, pretending Britain's going to get a sweet deal with the EU because Britain, every day the ravings of a fast declining party are heard and broadcast to millions.

Just as some leftists used to argue New Labour meant the working class was without a party, we are getting into a situation where capital itself is caught politically homeless. With the Tories absorbed by existential crisis, and Theresa May's likely successors to be just as short-termist and ruinous for business prospects as she, the Labour Party is the only game in town. But it is a big risk. Labour is under new management and is composing, assembling, and pushing the rising interests of the rising worker and, fundamentally, cooperation with Corbynism means subordinating capital's interests to it. The price of that cooperation is reform and a tilt in the balance of power away from business to labour, but the reward is continued profits, access to Britain's biggest export market and, ultimately, stability inside a new framework. The Tories offer more of the same, which is a status quo that threatens business, and exacerbates the polarisation of politics to such a degree that Corbynism's anger at the Tories might harden into an antipathy against business per se. It's not a case Labour is becoming hegemonic and its views are the new commonsense, at least yet. But it is true that as far as the boss class are concerned, Jeremy Corbyn (Jeremy Corbyn!) is to be preferred over the decadent and dying mess the Tories have become.


Boffy said...

The Tories have always had a problem with capital. The truth is they have never been the natural party of capital.

In the 19th century, as Marx describes in relation to Disraeli and "Young England", the Tories were the party of the landed oligarchy, with which capital as a whole was in a struggle to the death, with the interests of capital and of labour that was in alliance with capital, being represented by the Liberals. It culminated in the 1832 Reform Act.

After that, the Tories continued to act as the representatives of the landed oligarchy against industrial capital, sniping and taking their revenge against industrial capital for the 1832 defeat, in their reactionary critique of the evils of industrial capital, and support for factory legislation etc.

But, as Engels points out, by this point, in the latter half of the 19th century, capital was defined by its dominant component, industrial capital, and increasingly by the big socialised industrial capital. This big industrial capital, still with the backing of the working-class, now opposed itself not just to the landed oligarchy, but also to those similarly parasitic elements of capital, associated with it, i.e. the financial oligarchy, the money-lending capitalists, the bond and share holders who now formed a class of socially useless coupon clippers.

Again, it was the Tories that continued to be the party of the landed oligarchy, and now of this other group of social parasites within the financial oligarchy. It was the Liberals that represented the interests of the dominant form of capital, and that again was played out in the late 19th and early 20th century debates over Protectionism (Tories) and Free Trade (Liberals and Labour) as depicted also in The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.

Already by that time, what existed was a social-democratic bourgeois democracy, whose material base was big socialised industrial capital, in which the interests of capital and labour was mediated by social-democratic institutions, primarily the trades unions, but given the social weight of the working-class, and given that increasingly the personification of this big socialised industrial capital took the form of the professional manager, bureaucrat and administrator, also increasingly drawn from an educated working-class and paid wages as with any other worker, it meant that the interests of this objectively dominant (in the economic sense that its interests ultimately determine the viability of the state) would be reflected in the interests of capital being represented by a social-democratic party based upon that working-class.

And, so it has been since the inception of such parties, most classically in Britain. The Tories represent reaction. They represent the interests of all those parasitic social elements that hold back the accumulation of real capital, and threeby are hostile to the interests of capital in general. On Brexit it is even worse. On that issue they do not even reflect the interests of the financial oligarchy, but only of their reactionary base amongst the small private capitalists.

Ben Philliskirk said...

The whole problem with ideas of a 'natural party of capital' is that capital doesn't vote and capitalists form a very small minority of the electorate. Thus while Labour or other social democratic parties might be objectively 'better' for major sections of capital in terms of promoting aggregate demand, providing infrastructure or indirectly subsidising business through welfare or tax credits, capitalists themselves tend to favour tax cuts, house price rises and social policies that help them maintain their status.

Any political party that accepts capitalism as a socio-economic system also has to accept that its political vision will be circumscribed by the 'needs' and 'wants' of capital. At the present moment the relationship between capital and its political 'needs' is very complex, and Brexit has exposed many of the divisions between various sections of capital. Labour can therefore gain the approval of some groups of organised capital through this or that attitude. That does not mean that it has objectively or subjectively become the 'party of capital' or that the Tories only represent a 'reactionary base amongst small private capitalists' as Boffy suggests, his political world-view coloured by a need to identify 'progressive' capital that will drag us towards socialism in lieu of a weakened and divided working class.

In short, be very wary of applying crude ideas of economic determination to a very complicated political situation.

BCFG said...

I am surprised, given the accusations of sexual abuse and harassment against the institution that is the Labour party, that you haven't demanded it being disbanded given this was your attitude with the SWP.

Why the pathetic double standards?

Are you simply a dishonest twat?

Anonymous said...

Ah bless, somebody who still believes that the parasitical rape cult otherwise known as the SWP is worth saving ;)

Are you actually Comrade Delta?

Boffy said...

@ Ben Philliskirk,

"The whole problem with ideas of a 'natural party of capital' is that capital doesn't vote and capitalists form a very small minority of the electorate."

In which case, it should be obvious that an overt "party of capital" can never get elected. It requires the votes of millions of workers. In which case, whether,

"capitalists themselves tend to favour tax cuts, house price rises and social policies that help them maintain their status."

would be irrelevant, because it would never be possible for a party to win by assuaging those needs for such a small minority of voters. Nor did I say that,

"the Tories only represent a 'reactionary base amongst small private capitalists'"

I said that, on Brexit it was the case that they did not even represent that other component of their natural base, the large money-lending private capitalists, the big share and bondholders, the financial oligarchy. On Brexit they represent the 5 million or so small capitalists, plus the backward elements of the middle and working-class. Nor have I argued, on the basis of

" a need to identify 'progressive' capital that will drag us towards socialism in lieu of a weakened and divided working class."

I only argue as Marx does that the progressive elements embedded within capitalism as a contradictory whole, provide the objective basis for the historical development towards socialism. Labour and social democracy is the natural party of capital, because the dominant form of capital is productive-capital, which is what produces surplus value, and without which there is no interest/dividends, rents or taxes, and the dominant form of productive-capital is now socialised capital, which requires a social-democratic state to engage in long term planning and regulation, to create the framework for long term capital accumulation.

My whole perspective is based not on the idea that the working-class is weakened and divided, which is more the perspective of sects like the SWP, leading them to line up with various reactionary forces as an alternative to that working-class, or the perspective of the catastrophists who look to capitalist crises as a means of driving the working-class into their arms, but is based upon the active role of the working class in engaging in a political struggle for democratic control over that socialised capital, and the creation of new forms of worker's self government.

BCFG said...

Well is the Labour party now a rape cult, only on a larger scale?

Given your low threshold for actually needing any evidence to prove this I guess you lot would have to conclude yes it is!

But the real question is, will you damn the Labour party and be consistent or are you lot juts dishonest twats peddling dishonesty?

The question is merely rhetorical btw!

I think similar 'arguments' were made against the Catholic church.

Are Labour in for a backlash from the decents? No way because the decents are dishonest twats!

It is always nice to have things like this to shine a light on that fact!

Phil said...

I'm just surprised to see you write about something other than your weird and creepy Yvette Cooper obsession.

Ben Philliskirk said...

@ Boffy

"Labour and social democracy is the natural party of capital, because the dominant form of capital is productive-capital, which is what produces surplus value, and without which there is no interest/dividends, rents or taxes, and the dominant form of productive-capital is now socialised capital, which requires a social-democratic state to engage in long term planning and regulation, to create the framework for long term capital accumulation."

There's no necessity for the state that promotes 'long term capital accumulation' to be social-democratic at all, at least in name. Almost all capitalist political regimes have utilised the state in order to try and bolster their economies, whether that be Victorian Britain, New Deal USA, Nazi Germany or Communist China. 'Social democracy' merely happens to be a term that referred to regimes that sought to promote capital accumulation in situations where there was a strong organised working-class and a significant degree of national autonomy. Circumstances have changed, but one thing that hasn't is that the state still plays a leading part in capital accumulation. I'm sure if and when 'worker's self-government' emerges then it will play the same part as a state in promoting capital and alienating many of the very workers it claims to represent.

What we really need to be looking at is how to end capital not to repeat the endless failure to control it.

Boffy said...

@ Ben Philliskirk,

In an era where the dominant form of capital is socialised capital, and when the working-class has become the largest class, the state that creates the conditions for long term capital accumulation already is social-democratic. It can only do that most effectively by attempting to maximise relative surplus value, by incorporating the working-class, and promoting social stability. As Marx put it, in his definition of social democracy in The 18th Brumaire,

“The peculiar character of social-democracy is epitomized in the fact that democratic-republican institutions are demanded as a means, not of doing away with two extremes, capital and wage labour, but of weakening their antagonism and transforming it into harmony. However different the means proposed for the attainment of this end may be, however much it may be trimmed with more or less revolutionary notions, the content remains the same. This content is the transformation of society in a democratic way, but a transformation within the bounds of the petty bourgeoisie."

And, as Engels pointed out, by the latter part of the 19th century, that petit-bourgeoisie, the middle-class that now filled the social functions of capital, day to day professional managers, state bureaucrats, TU bureaucrats, all of whom play that mediating role, realised that the interests of capital could not win out as against the interests of the landed and financial oligarchy without the support of workers.

"...that the middle class can never obtain full social and political power over the nation except by the help of the working class. Thus a gradual change came over the relations between both classes."

(Preface to The Condition of the Working Class)

The State CAN take an undemocratic form such as in Nazi Germany or Stalinism - effectively social democracy without the democracy - but as Lenin points out following Engels the bourgeois democratic state is the ideal for capital, and the one it tries to maintain. If we are talking about the natural form of state, as opposed to the exceptional, for developed capitalism, then it is a social-democratic state, and the natural party of capital is a social-democratic party.

Boffy said...

@ Ben Philliskirk,

You do not seem to understand the meaning of "workers self-government", because you say,

"I'm sure if and when 'worker's self-government' emerges then it will play the same part as a state in promoting capital and alienating many of the very workers it claims to represent."

If there is workers self-government then that would mean workers alienating themselves! Workers self-government involves no aspect of "represent/ation", but of workers directly taking decisions themselves and executing them themselves. You are, however, quite right that marx and Engels point out that such workers self-government itself involves workers being their own capitalists for a long period of transition during which socialised capital is transformed into fully formed social property within the co-operative commonwealth, and to proceed to that end state itself requires that capital accumulation proceed at the most rapid rate.

They understood that the question of how to "end capital not to repeat the endless failure to control it", cannot be answered simply by a utopian and naive wish to do so without the necessary and objective and subjective conditions having been created, which requires that the workers themselves must have passed through a period of transforming themselves into the ruling class, by the expansion of such co-operatives and other forms of socialised capital, as well accumulating capital to such a degree that any such society that embarks on such a transition is able to provide a higher stage of development than any surrounding capitalist competition. Its one reason they did not believe in any nonsense about building socialism in one country, and would have been bemused by the narrow nationalism of some on the left today..

Ben Philliskirk said...

@ Boffy

If 'the necessary and objective and subjective conditions' haven't been created yet, in a technologically-advanced world of mass abundance, then it begs the question how much more 'capitalist accumulation' is necessary before the world crosses the line in the 'higher stage of development' that you regard as 'communism'?

I suspect that you perhaps need to move away from the gospels a bit and contemplate the possibility that committing to maintaining a high rate of capitalist accumulation, by 'workers' self-government' or not, effectively closes off any alternatives to capitalism and does not automatically lead to communism at all. This is aside from the basic political conundrum of maintaining the commitment of the working-class, for whose benefit this is supposed to be taking place, while this transition period of capital accumulation is happening.

Boffy said...

@ Ben Philliskirk,

I think you completely missed the point. The forces of production are undoubtedly developed enough in North America and the EU to enable socialist construction to begin, but the point is that for such construction to begin it must arise at there same time over a wide sphere, or where it does actually start, must not only be sufficient, but to a higher level of development from elsewhere.

Otherwise, a more developed capitalist US could undermine a Britain, or a Western Europe attempting socialist construction. Socialist construction requires a much higher degree of development than does capitalism, and the question of productive forces cannot be considered in purely absolute terms, but has to be viewed in relative terms.

I think that millions of people even in Britain today would question your description that they are living in a condition of "mass abundance".

But, you have also not addressed the question of the development of the subjective conditions, i.e. that the working-class itself has reached a level of class consciousness and self activity that it is capable, and actually willing to take on the task of controlling the means of production, and becoming the ruling class. The experience of Russia in 1917, and other subsequent revolutions showed what happens when that is not the case, as that task then inevitably falls into the hands of a small elite group, who might start out with the best of intentions, but end up themselves in opposition to the workers, and more and more exclude the workers in whose name the revolution was undertaken.

But, you seem to have moved a long way from your argument that social-democracy is the natural form of state for mature capital, and Labour and other social-democratic parties are the natural party of capital.

Ben Philliskirk said...

@ Boffy

'I think that millions of people even in Britain today would question your description that they are living in a condition of "mass abundance".'

We quite clearly do live in a world of mass abundance. As a socialist, I thought you wouldn't need me to point out that this abundance is distributed in a grossly unequal fashion, is wasted on an enormous scale, and is produced in an economically and socially inefficient fashion.

That is the nature of capitalism, and even if workers 'self-governed' themselves under a regime dominated by capital they would only succeed in mitigating its most destructive impulses, impulses that would only be exacerbated if 'Socialist construction requires a much higher degree of development than does capitalism'. In short, by demanding a much greater rate of capitalist accumulation I feel that you are in effect diminishing the chances of a humanist socialist future rather than making them inevitable.

Boffy said...

@ Ben Philliskirk

"We quite clearly do live in a world of mass abundance."

No we don't, and the Fabian reformist notion that the problem is merely one of distribution was shown to be false a very long time ago.

The problem quite clearly is not that a handful of rich people have all of the food, clothes, cars, and other commodities that a large mass of workers and the poor are deprived of. If we examine that situation in terms of the global population that is even more the case.

That three is currently massive, and inefficiency is not in doubt, but its existence is an indication of the actual absence of the abundance. Even to effect such abundance on a minimum level would first require that the whole nature of production and production relations were changed. You are assuming that the situation that could only exist after such a transformation already exists!

If there is workers self-government in an economy where capital has been developed to a level whereby that self-government ensures that capital no long dominates, then your argument falls. There is no reason why increased capital accumulation and development implies acceding to destructive impulses. In fact, even industrial capitalism has illustrated that, even if in its own chaotic and crisis ridden way. For example as Marx says, the development of capitalism includes the development also of the Factory Acts. it has included the cleaning up of the environment despoiled in the 19th century, the cleaning of the air and water, the raising of soil fertility and so on.

But, as I said, you seem to have drifted a long way from your claim that social democracy is not the natural form of state for modern socialised capital, and that social-democratic parties are not the natural party of capital.

Ben Philliskirk said...

@ Boffy

We'll have to beg to differ. I suspect your idea of abundance won't be satisfied until you have a dozen robot-servants satisfying your every need.

I'll settle for a drastic increase in free time and liberation from being a tool of rapid capital accumulation.