Sunday, May 05, 2019

Conservatism Dead as a Dodo, Part 2, Where Did Conservative Values Go?


Conservatism in its authentic sense, grew as a reaction to the Enlightenment. Theirs was an authoritarian and hierarchical worldview. Liberalism was seen as dangerous to the natural order. Republicanism, democracy, the separation of church and state, were rejected vociferously. This is the aspect common to all the rightwing, conservative, neoliberal and fascist – the preservation of class domination and inequality. However, conservatism cannot simply be reduced to only these negative aspects. They plainly saw the weaknesses and contradictions in liberalism, especially as capitalism and its attendant ideology emerged,.

What did the conservatives see as the weaknesses of the liberal new order and what did they pose as alternatives? They rejected individualism, realizing that humans were rooted in, and existed through, society. Society was relational, but nonetheless real and was virtually an organism. Unlike ultra-free marketers and later social Darwinists, conservatives never rejected the concept of the "common good." Squire or agricultural labourer, everyone had their place, no one was to be denied their existence because they were incapable of enduring the "survival of the fittest." There was a notion of social obligation as well as the rights trumpeted by the liberals, "nobless oblige" and all that. (Of course, the conservatives tended to be more magnanimous in word than deed, but that is a common failing, and not limited to them.) Society was built on custom, tradition and tacit arrangements, more than regulation, plans and statute law. The traditional ways of being, the yeoman farmers, the craftsperson, the village architecture that seemed to grow right out of the earth, all these were revered as was localism and regionalism.

The organic view of society tended to contrast natural development rooted in past ways that had proven valid, with liberal utopianism. The idea that the whole of the past could be tossed to one side and a new order created out of the minds of a few ideologues was an anathema to conservatives. They detested narrow or extreme ideologies, especially the notion of "homo economicus" that underlay the liberal world view. The conservatives saw themselves more engaged in a "way of being", rather than promoting a well-structured dogma. As mass production churned out a host of shoddy goods from workers living in wretched conditions, the fear was that "quality was being replaced by quantity" This lead to a suspicion of capitalism and a loathing of its attended centralization and the cult of "the bigger the better." They scoffed at the notion of progress with a capital "P" .

So what happened to all those conservative values which were not necessarily predicated on upholding hierarchy and inequality? Hold on to your hats contemporary right wingers, they ended up being adopted by the Left. It may come as a shock, but the socialist and labour movements, in spite of dogmatic sects and social democratic philistines, engage in a constant internal criticism. Yes, there are always Orwell's "smelly orthodoxies" and party or trade union bureaucrats only too happy to stifle new thinking, but nevertheless the dialectic unfolds. Just one historical example, in 1900 Social Democracy held sway and the German Social Democratic Party was the model to follow. But the syndicalists, Rosa Luxemburg, Lenin, Anton Pannakoek among others, began to discover the flaws in parliamentary socialism. Out of these critiques came Leninism, council communism and anarcho-syndicalism. And, in turn, the clash among these three new ideologies gave rise to both refined and dogmatic versions of each.

The idol of Progress was the first to fall and with it a number of other liberal suppositions. Progress with a capital "P" was hard to maintain given the horrors of capitalism and a genocidal imperialism. The final blow would come with Auschwitz and the bombing of Hiroshima. Global warming and its attendant looming destruction have only added to this sentiment. Socialists discovered that tradition and custom were double edged, many traditions were certainly upheld authority, but throughout history there were also those which were liberatory or were attempted alternatives to capitalism and the state. Involvement with Aboriginal people gave the realization that traditional knowledge was highly valuable. The centralization and "bigger is better" imposed by both corporate capitalism and Stalinism, proved inhuman and alienating, giving rise to a decentralist impulse.

In 1900 revolutionaries thought that socialism was around the corner, and its imposition would be rather easy, in a kind of socialistic Big Bang, resulting from (chose your tactic) getting elected to parliament, a general strike or a mass insurrection. Such naive utopianism has no takers today. We would be happy if humanity manages to survive. In the last decade of the 20th Century, extreme sectarian doctrines began to fade and have largely been replaced by common fronts, horizontalism and consensus. The left's critique of consumerism focuses on how consumer society destroys the quality of life. It was the left that returned to crafts, organic gardening, farmers markets and such. It is the left that seeks to preserve the forests, the streams, the wild salmon, the old buildings, the neighborhoods, the local school, and it is the right that seeks to thrust them into the ever-greedy corporate grinder.
This is the dialect in action. The left has taken the rational core within conservatism , synthesized it within its own liberatory and egalitarian nexus, to form a higher, more developed, more encompassing concept.

Of course, I have simplified this story to make for clarity. In actual fact, there were always sections of the left that never entirely swallowed liberal ideology. Most of all the anarchists, but also early socialists like Fourier and John Ruskin, heterodox Marxists like William Morris – (indeed, at times even old Marx himself) As well in the 1960s, many old-style conservatives fled to the left when they realized their ideology had become nothing more than a mouthpiece for the corporate technostructure and the war machine. (Indeed one of them, the philosopher George Grant became a mentor to the Canadian New Left)

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Conservatism – Dead as a Dodo


Conservatism in its true sense is an extinct ideology. What it has been replaced with is an extreme, and in many aspects, sociopathic ideology which is called "neoliberalism." Conservatism was suspicious of extreme ideologies, and capitalism. It also had a concept of the common good, lacking in today's korporation uber alles right-wing. Below you will find excerpts from two documents. One is by a 1930s fundamentalist preacher, William Aberhart, and the other is by Pope Leo 13. Today, both men would be sneered at as "socialists" by the fake conservative neoliberal right.

1. THE SOCIAL CREDIT MANUAL by Wm. Aberhart 1935
Our Basic Premise.
It is the duty of the State through its Government to organize its economic structure in such a way that no bona fide citizen, man, woman, or child, shall be allowed to suffer for lack of the bare necessities of food, clothing, and shelter, in the midst of plenty or abundance.


The Province of Alberta is Wealthy Enough to Carry Out This Proposal.
The Canada Year Book, 1933, page 870, gives Alberta the next to the highest place with regard to her wealth pe€r capita. Her total estimated potential wealth is $2, 406, 000, 000 or that is, $3518 per person. British Columbia leads with $4012 per person. Ontario, the wealthiest province with the greatest population has $3188 per person. Nova. Scotia, the weakest of the provinces has $1769 per person.
If Alberta can not provide for the bare necessities of her people, what can the other provinces, especially Nova Scotia, do? Alberta cannot ask Ontario or Saskatchewan or Quebec to provide for her people. .That would be unreasonable. They have all they can do to provide for their own.

So the claim must be admitted, Alberta can and must feed, clothe, and shelter her own people, or they must suffer. No one else can be expected to do that which she must accomplish for herself.
In Alberta last year the total market value of all the raw products, grain, fruit, fodder... was $152, 878, 863 which is about 6% of our total estimated wealth. It is, therefore, evident that we do raise enough to care for our people. . We must not forget, however two facts about these figures: First, the value is figured .at present-day, low market prices. Two, the amount stated is for the raw products, which are often processed, increasing their value from three to fifteen or twenty times that of the raw product...
With these figures in mind it is plainly evident that we could feed, and clothe and shelter our people and still have many million dollars worth for those who are capable of earning through individual enterprise.

This should convince our readers that Social Credit is not based on any confiscation scheme by which we take the wealth of the rich or well-to-do to give to the poor. Social Credit recognizes individual enterprise and individual ownership, but it prevents wildcat exploitation of the consumer through the medium of enormously excessive spreads in price for the purpose of giving exorbitant profits or paying high dividends on pyramids of watered stock...

It is understood by those who have examined the case, that unemployment is a permanent disability of the modern state.
Social Credit points out the three great poisons at the root of our trouble:
(a) There is a Iack of purchasing power in the hands of the consumer. If one man does the work of three men for the same pay, then the two men displaced will have no purchasing power. ff a machine does the work of twenty men, at the pay of one man, then the twenty men displaced will have no purchasing power.
As the people have no purchasing power, they cannot get the goods that are piled high in the factories and warehouses. Thus there is no need to produce more, and the great factories become silent and there is much less purchasing power. So the disease becomes very bad, for we have fallen into the vicious circle.

(b) Besides this the price spread has shown by investigation, that wildcat speculation is going on. This intensifies the trouble by making the purchasing power less efficient. The dollar will not secure as much goods as it formerly did.
(c) Finally, the investment of surplus funds leaves the reaim of commerce, where huge profits are the aim, and enters the realm of bond investments where interest is the main consideration.
Thus the flow of credit is retarded so that a high rate of interest may be maintained. Today about fifty-one cents out.of every dollar taxes collected is required for the payment of interest on bonded debt. The whole country is gradually sinking into a morass of debt out of which it will be difficult to recover itself. Some are now forced to borrow to pay interest on the debt that they have already accumulated..

Social Credit As A Remedy
To understand .the Social Credit philosophy it is necessary for the individual to get the language used in Social Credit:
1. Cultural Heritage. This is the inheritance that falls to the right of the individual citizen living within the bounds of the province. The pioneering work of our forefathers and the inventive genius of scientists and others have enabled mankind to harness the solar energy and produce machinery that will do the work that was formerly done by mankind. The great wealth of our natural resources has, by this means, been brought to the very door of the individual consumer. Social Credit claims that each of these consumers has a right to a share in the production from the natural resources of the province. At the present time this great wealth is being selfishly manipulated and controlled by one or more men known as the "Fifty Big Shots of Canada." Social Credit claims that this cultural heritage is the property of the. individuals who are bona fide citizens of our province, and should ne€ver be allowed to go entirely to the control of any small group of men. We call this heritage cultural because it gives the individual an opportunity to develop his individuality.
The cultural heritage is made operative by the regular issuance of dividends from month to month sufficient to secure for the ind.individual citizen the bare necessities of food, clothing and shelter. Social Credit claims that this is the least that could be offered to .any citizen. It is wholly unreasonable to expect any person or group of persons in a province as wealthy as Alberta to exist without the bare necessities of food, clothing and.shelter. To enable each citizen to secure these bare necessities, each of them will receive a pass-book in which at the beginning of each month will. be entered the basic dividend for that month, say $25.00. This is supposed to provide for the bare necessities of food., clothing and shelter for every bona fide citizen, whether he works or does not work, and he shall not be required to pay it back or work it out. The only stipulation will be that the recipient must co-operate in every way possible. Those who work will be given their salaries, wages, or commissions over and above the basic dividends. This would at once remove all relief and dole from our land and. recover the morale of our people. Our bona fide consumers will at once have purchasing power amounting to $10,000,000 dividends, and probably in addition $20,000,000 salary, wages, and commission.
Basic dividend credit wiII be used by means of non- negotiable certificates issued in blank to each consumer.
3. Non-negotiable Certificates.
These are blank forms issued to each bona fide citizen to enable him to fiIl in the amount and signature, also the name of the recipient to whom he is transfers the credit. As it is non-negotiable, the person receiving the certificate must of necessity deposit it in the bank
or Provincial Credit House. When this is done the issuer is debited in his account and the recipient is credited in his account. The recipient, therefore, is able to issue another non-negotiable certificate of his own to pay his debts, and thus-the circulation of the credit is possible.
It is very evident to anyone who follows this thus far that this issuance of free dividends in order to prevent the province from continuously getting into debt, must be recovered in some scientific manner without introducing a hugh tax scheme. This leads us to the fourth term.

4. The Unearned Increment.
This expression means exactly what it says. There is an increment or increase in price, and this increase is not earned by the owner or the producer of the goods. The term is well known to those who have dealt in the buying or selling of land. ff a man sells a piece of property for more than he pays for it the Government claims rightly that he has an unearned increment and they proceed at once to tax him.
A Coal Mine situated far from civilization or without transportation would be of little value to anyone except in so far as it could be used for his personal needs. If ten people lived near it, it would be more valuable. If a thousand people were within reach of it, there would be that much greater demand for the coal, and, therefore it would be a greater price. Thus the price of the coal above.the cost of production is largely dependent upon the demand caused by the association of individuals in its immediate vicinity. Neither the owner nor the miner are responsible for this increased price. It is an unearne increment which accrues fronr the association of the people withiin the bounds of the Iand controlled by them.
!t sometimes goes by the name of price spread.

2. RERUM NOVARUM by Pope Leo 13
The foremost duty, therefore, of the rulers of the State should be to make sure that the laws and institutions, the general character and administration of the commonwealth, shall be such as of themselves to realize public well-being and private prosperity. This is the proper scope of wise statesmanship and is the work of the rulers. Now a State chiefly prospers and thrives through moral rule, well-regulated family life, respect for religion and justice, the moderation and fair imposing of public taxes, the progress of the arts and of trade, the abundant yield of the land-through everything, in fact, which makes the citizens better and happier. Hereby, then, it lies in the power of a ruler to benefit every class in the State, and amongst the rest to promote to the utmost the interests of the poor; and this in virtue of his office, and without being open to suspicion of undue interference - since it is the province of the commonwealth to serve the common good. And the more that is done for the benefit of the working classes by the general laws of the country, the less need will there be to seek for special means to relieve them...

The members of the working classes are citizens by nature and by the same right as the rich; they are real parts, living the life which makes up, through the family, the body of the commonwealth; and it need hardly be said that they are in every city very largely in the majority. It would be irrational to neglect one portion of the citizens and favor another, and therefore the public administration must duly and solicitously provide for the welfare and the comfort of the working classes; otherwise, that law of justice will be violated which ordains that each man shall have his due. To cite the wise words of St. Thomas Aquinas: "As the part and the whole are in a certain sense identical, so that which belongs to the whole in a sense belongs to the part."(27) Among the many and grave duties of rulers who would do their best for the people, the first and chief is to act with strict justice - with that justice which is called distributive - toward each and every class alike...

Indeed, their co-operation is in this respect so important that it may be truly said that it is only by the labor of working men that States grow rich. Justice, therefore, demands that the interests of the working classes should be carefully watched over by the administration, so that they who contribute so largely to the advantage of the community may themselves share in the benefits which they create-that being housed, clothed, and bodily fit, they may find their life less hard and more endurable. It follows that whatever shall appear to prove conducive to the well-being of those who work should obtain favorable consideration. There is no fear that solicitude of this kind will be harmful to any interest; on the contrary, it will be to the advantage of all, for it cannot but be good for the commonwealth to shield from misery those on whom it so largely depends for the things that it needs...

Rights must be religiously respected wherever they exist, and it is the duty of the public authority to prevent and to punish injury, and to protect every one in the possession of his own. Still, when there is question of defending the rights of individuals, the poor and badly off have a claim to especial consideration. The richer class have many ways of shielding themselves, and stand less in need of help from the State; whereas the mass of the poor have no resources of their own to fall back upon, and must chiefly depend upon the assistance of the State. And it is for this reason that wage-earners, since they mostly belong in the mass of the needy, should be specially cared for and protected by the government...

Let the working man and the employer make free agreements, and in particular let them agree freely as to the wages; nevertheless, there underlies a dictate of natural justice more imperious and ancient than any bargain between man and man, namely, that wages ought not to be insufficient to support a frugal and well-behaved wage-earner. If through necessity or fear of a worse evil the workman accept harder conditions because an employer or contractor will afford him no better, he is made the victim of force and injustice. In these and similar questions, however - such as, for example, the hours of labor in different trades, the sanitary precautions to be observed in factories and workshops, etc. - in order to supersede undue interference on the part of the State, especially as circumstances, times, and localities differ so widely, it is advisable that recourse be had to societies or boards such as We shall mention presently, or to some other mode of safeguarding the interests of the wage-earners; the State being appealed to, should circumstances require, for its sanction and protection...

The most important of all are workingmen's unions, for these virtually include all the rest. History attests what excellent results were brought about by the artificers' guilds of olden times. They were the means of affording not only many advantages to the workmen, but in no small degree of promoting the advancement of art, as numerous monuments remain to bear witness. Such unions should be suited to the requirements of this our age - an age of wider education, of different habits, and of far more numerous requirements in daily life. It is gratifying to know that there are actually in existence not a few associations of this nature, consisting either of workmen alone, or of workmen and employers together, but it were greatly to be desired that they should become more numerous and more efficient. We have spoken of them more than once, yet it will be well to explain here how notably they are needed, to show that they exist of their own right, and what should be their organization and their mode of action.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

MANSOOR HEKMET


Mansoor Hekmet was one of the founders of the Worker Communist Party of Iran. (The WCPI is a contemporary form of worker-council-based communism, but without the dogmatism and sectarianism of the older varieties. The best known member of WCPI is the feminist Maryam Namzie)

Hekmet saw socialism as primarily divided into two forms – BOURGEOIS SOCIALISM and WORKER SOCIALISM. These grew along side each other. The former incorporates bourgeois ideology into socialism – thus you have Second International's positivism and evolutionism, as well as forms like Kantian socialism. Marx's theory was adopted by different class interests who "tried to turn it into a tool to serve purposes with which this theory is incompatible." p. 17. (Marxism is not economics or sociology, but a critique of capital and an analysis of revolutionary change.) But more than just an incorporation of bourgeois ideas, it is the view that "socialism is a derivative of socialist ideology. Marxism is for them the source of socialism. Thus "the relationship between movement and ideas is totally reversed." p. 14 Socialism for bourgeois socialists is only a theory to be applied, or an ideology to be brought to the ignorant masses. (One can quickly see where this attitude leads...)

For Marx, socialism was the abolition of the wage system and common ownership. Bourgeois socialists saw socialism as planning and state ownership. Their state socialism was rooted not in a critique of the labour-capital relationship, but the inefficiency of uncontrolled capitalism.

Worker-socialism is rooted in the actual on-going struggle of workers against capitalism. Workers striving to improve their situation is "a fundamental premise of this struggle." p. 35 Theory, thus grows out of understanding this really existing struggle and is not something brought from without. Hekmet does not state this, but it is implicit that workers in their struggle are combating the logic of capital, even if their overt ideology may not be socialistic. Furthermore, at various times they directly challenge the domination of capital with actions that are implicitly socialistic or leading in that direction, such as general strikes, factory occupations, work-ins etc. These same type of struggles against the logic of capital occur in the neigborhoods and in the environmental movement where people combat capitalist plundering. For capital, humanity and the natural environment are simply resources to be used to accumulate ever more capital. (1)

A very interesting point by Hekmet is that we should not bother to engage in polemics with the bourgeois socialists. He saw doctrinal struggle as "a trap", forget what Marx said and go right to the fundamental roots of the differences with worker-socialism. Why bother with polemics against the Maoists, for example, when "every minute the basic concepts of bourgeois socialism from the sanctity of property, nationalism, reformism [bourgeois] democracy, liberalism... are shaping the minds of millions of people." p. 26 In other words using the example of Maoists, don't bother hassling them over their wrong interpretation of Marx, but attack their foundations which are nationalism and statism.

Bourgeois socialism cannot adequately deal with reforms. One group (reformists) capitulates to reforms alone and removes workers revolution from the agenda. The other, rejects reform completely, reducing revolution to "a wish" . They end up turning into "an isolated melancholic current on the margins of society, without any influence on the objective situation." p.36

However, reforms are the result of the workers actual struggle and these struggles are important in their lives. They are in fact, too important to leave up to the refomists. Worker-socialists must fight "for every degree of improvement in the workers situation which enhances their political and economic power." p. 35 The point to press is, that such reforms need no mediating force, reforms can be fought for without being controlled by a reformist party.

Opposition to reformists and bourgeois socialists does not, however mean hostility toward the pro-reform forces. "one cannot be ... for change and at the same time bare the fangs at those who want... the same or part of the same changes." p. 43 Rather than attacking the reformists, seek to limit their control over the situation, prevent their domination and allow the struggle its autonomy.

To summarize, what we learn from Mansoor Hekmet is the following:

1. don't bother with polemics – go for the root of the differences instead.

2. socialism is not to be brought from outside, but is implicit with struggles, make the implicit explicit.

3. look at the actual existing struggles and develop theory from those.

4. reject reformism without rejecting empowering, strengthening reforms.

5. reject sectarianism – find a common ground with other tendencies over crucial issues.

Source – OUR DIFFERENCES by Mansoor Hekmet, WCPI ND

1. The logic of capital is that the capitalists set the wages and working conditions and that humans and the natural environment are simply resources to be used. Attempts to impose a different situation – higher wages, better working conditions, stopping gentrification or clear-cut logging, thus runs counter to the logic of capital. In this sense, all struggles with the system are implicitly anti-capitalist.

Friday, March 29, 2019

The Black Swan Event – One Small Reason For Optimism


Yesterday I posted a rather dour essay about the difficulties of social change. Today I offer a somewhat more hopeful viewpoint – the very uncertainty that makes us question the possibility of change is also something that may allow for that change.

We are living in the bleakest time in human history. In case this sounds extreme, consider that all the great horrors of the past, such as the two world wars, did not threaten the lives of everyone on the planet the way climate change does. But in the midst of this gloom there is a ray of light.

The world and its many problems are not determined in a clanking, inevitable, mechanical way. Everything clanks along for a long while, and all of a sudden a Black Swan Event (BSE). A BSE seemingly comes out of nowhere and has a paradigm-altering impact. (The term BSE comes from the fact that until the "discovery" of Australia all Europeans though swans were only white in color) A good example would be the French Revolution of 1789. [Indeed, most revolutions, both attempted and victorious, are BSE's)

If you could hop in a time machine and go back to 1788, they would think you were crazy if you said that next year both the monarchy and feudalism would be overthrown. Of course, after the fact, historians can come up with evidence as to why the revolution happened, but at the time no one saw it coming. In the case of France prior to the uprising, there were decades of pamphleteering, small discussion groups, the persecution of dissidents, occasional riots, a rise in government debt and crop failures. In 1789 a tipping point had been reached, one small event was like the tiny salt crystal added to a supersaturated solution that causes the entire solution to crystallize. The thing about BSE's is they cannot be artificially created or planned for. They just happen when they happen.

Though not as dramatic as the French Revolution, there are contemporary Black Swan Events, such as the Battle of Seattle aftermath, the Arab Spring and Occupy. No one saw them coming, they could have just as easily ended up as quickly forgotten, if recognized at all minor protests – as there were all throughout the benighted 1990s. But again, a tipping point had been reached in each situation, and researchers can give you all the after-the fact explanations you could ever want. These BSE's did not become social revolutions, in spite of the participants wishes, because their support was limited to a minority of the population. A tipping point had arisen to create these movements, but not the tipping point to mobilize the bulk of the population for broad social change.

The tipping point is a key to understanding the BSE's that cause rapid change. It can arise when as little as 10% of the population strongly believe in something and the next most politically aware and more numerous sector of the population is somewhat open, or at least not hostile, to their ideas. [While anti-abortionists make up about 10% of the Canadian population, they will never cause a tipping point in their favour, because the vast majority of Canadians are openly pro-choice.] All of a sudden the minority viewpoint makes sense and the mass of the population adopts it as their own.

What really helps the development of tipping points is the existence of a multitude of small groups attempting to deal with a common problem. Many groups allows for creativity and new ideas to emerge. If everyone was in a single large group they would be subject to pressures to conform to an ideology or theory. There would also be bureaucratic pressure to conform to certain tactics and the inevitable squabbles over who was to lead the movement.

Small is the important operating word. Study after study shows that humans can only relate closely with about 150 individuals. (this is our pre- tribal heritage) These bonds of friendship and comradeship, help create the energy that is needed to promote change, to fire up a movement. Each of the 150 will have friends and family, many of whom will be sympathetic, and thus news of the movement travels via word of mouth, which is still the best form of communication. [I am not, however, fetishizing the small group, people also need to come together through mass assemblies and delegate-based federations, it is just that the small group lies at the foundation of movements toward a tipping point.]

BSE's come out of nowhere. This gives us hope. At any moment there could be a tipping point, as years of climate and living condition degradation combined with decades of small group activism produce a BSE that catches the oligarchs completely off guard and begins the transformation to an environmentally sane, egalitarian and democratic social system.

** Note that neither the BSE nor the "tipping point" are my ideas. Both were subjects of pop sociology books, "The Black Swan – A Theory of the Highly Improbable" by Nassim Taleb and "The Tipping Point" by Malcolm Gladwell. Like pop sociology generally, these books take one idea and beat it to death, but this does not mean these simple ideas do not have some valid application. (It should also be noted that both concepts can be found with earlier thinkers, the Surrealists for the BSE and Engel's concept of "quantity changes into quality" can be seen as a tipping point.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

The Problem of Revolutionary Change


Revolutionaries face a virtually insurmountable problem. Only a minority of the population has ever favoured revolutionary social change. This did not matter in earlier times when revolutions were armed insurrections – the revolutionary minority would seize power, and as long as a significant number of people were not overtly hostile, they could impose their program. However, the combination of constitutional governments and a fear of mutually destructive civil wars due to the rapid advances in weaponry, have made the old fashioned insurrection unlikely. (Does anyone really want to turn Canada into a snow-bound version of Syria?) Furthermore, few people today wish to be dictated to by a minority, they have enough of that already. 

So other means have been sought; the general strike, the ballot box, building an alternative society, a mass non-violent uprising, or electoralism backed by direct action. In all cases there is a similar problem – the revolutionaries are in a minority. A significant minority support most of their program, and in many circumstances, a majority of the population support at least SOME of their ideas. Note that any one of the suggested means of social change would probably work if enthusiastically supported by the overwhelming majority – the problem is, the lack of that majority.

What can revolutionaries do? They can pretend that it doesn't matter and beat their heads against the wall in futility. Or they can do what usually happens, and bow their heads to the reality principle, opting for reform within the existing system. They will be roundly cursed by the remaining true-blue revolutionaries. This is all very well, but the true blues don't have an answer to this conundrum either. Hence you get splits within the movement for social change, causing divisions, which in their mutual animosity last for decades, and prevent any unified action. 

Revolutionaries like to pride themselves in being philosophical materialists and indeed some are, but I suspect most are not. While they may talk about economic forces and the contradictions of capitalism, most are really philosophical idealists and moralists. They seek an ideal version of socialism for society, albeit imposed democratically by the workers themselves, and those who question their idealism are criticized in moralistic terms as sell-outs and weak-kneed reformists. The workers however, are faced with a variety of immediate pressing problems, and are also conditioned by the limited life span of the human being. Essentially they want "jam today" and not jam 50 years from now. The workers are the real materialists, even though the vulgar kind. 

The working population is thus divided in three groups – the revolutionary minority, a majority who want some level of reform and a reactionary minority, ready and eager to suppress the other two tendencies at the behest of their masters. Do not interpret this condition as agreement with the Kautsky-Lenin view that workers are incapable of socialist consciousness and hence need an elite to bring them The Word from on high. We have seen from those rare revolutionary moments during the Mexican, Russian and Spanish revolutions, of great masses of working people expropriating the land and work-places and instituting forms of direct-democratic governance. The rub is, these mass uprisings had little to do with most of the revolutionaries, who were often as suprised by these events as the bourgeoisie. Revolutions it seems, are not really made by revolutionaries. 

So what is the answer? Wish I had one, but I don't. Sitting around and waiting for a "spontaneous" revolution is obviously not an option. A population that is more empowered, that has more experience of direct action and direct democracy is much more likely to opt for revolutionary social change than one that is completely dis-empowered. All actions and reforms in this direction ought to be supported. We also face the system's ultimate contradiction – climate change, and this may well be the force that pushes people over the edge into radically changing the system.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Notes on "The Corruption of Capitalism" by Guy Standing,

The Corruption of Capitalism by Guy Standing, Biteback Books, 2017

First a definition – that of "rentier capitalism." According to Standing - income from "control of assets that are scarce or artificially made scarce" such as rental income from land, resources, finance, debt interest, patents, govt. subsidies and capital gains. p. 3

How neoliberalism has effected us - Labour's share of wealth (of USA GDP) 1970 was 53% by 2012 this had decreased to 43.5%. Real wages (USA) 1947-1975 grew 75%, from 1975-2007 fell 4.4%. Profits, however rose from 7.6% global GDP to 10% in 2013. pps. 20,21.

Worker income decline rooted in de-industrialization. In 1950 in the USA manufacturing was 28% of GDP, by 2008 this had shrunk to 11% Even by 1985 FIRE (Finance, Insurance, real estate) was larger than manufacturing in the USA. Today it is 40% of national profits p. 24 In the crisis period 2008-2014 the USA lost 6 million manufacturing jobs. p. 14. Manufacturing is only 9% of the British GDP today (compared with 21% in Germany) and two thirds of manufacturing companies in the UK employing 500 plus employees are owned by foreign companies. p. 38

China is now moving toward rentier capitalism. Half the Chinese economy is now services and the country has foreign currency reserves worth $ 4 trillion. p. 14. By 2015 China had invested $20 billion in Europe, 70% of this from state enterprises. Helped by the EU austerity China bought ports and other infrastructure in Poland, Greece, Italy, and Portugal. State enterprises bought Motorola, Pirelli, Volvo and Club Med as well as buying into North Sea oil and British nuclear industry. As well, $150 billion in illegal money left China though Macao in 2015. pps. 15, 16.

I will now explore some of the various means by which rentier capitalism feeds on the public.

Patents – According to the Carnegie Institute only 10% of patents "had any real economic value" and the rest is to create monopolies or prevent competition. P 54 Companies find ways of extending patent monopolies by "evergreening" – making insignificant changes to a product or process. They also lobby govts to extend "market exclusivity." Big Pharma spends more on advertising and marketing than R and D – so much the argument that these monopolies are needed for development of new products. Pps 57-58

Subsidies - 6% of GDP of most developed countries eaten up by these. 90% of exports from poor countries must compete with subsidized products from rich nations. Pps 85, 87 EU CAP subsidies account for 3.6 billion pounds in the UK and 90% of these go to richest 10% of "farmers" including the Queen and Duke of Westminster. p. 104. Direct US federal govt subsidies to corporations = $100 billion. p. 105 Worst subsidy of all is fossil fuel costing $550 billion worldwide or 4X the subsidy for renewables, according to International Energy Association. p. 107 Welfare subsidy to corporations for low wage workers (food stamps, tax credits) costs $153 billion p.a.

Tax breaks - Income from dividends and capital gains taxed much lower than income in UK and USA. Removing this subsidy would add $53 billion to US govt coffers p.a. p. 88 Low inheritance taxes – cutting in at $5 million in USA – none in Australia. Corporate tax cuts - corporate tax in UK 1980 53% , 2015 – 20% p. 89 Tax breaks altogether account for 7% GDP, USA, 6% UK, 8% Italy and Australia. p. 93 Tax breaks from state and local govts in USA cost 7% of income or about $80 billion p.96

Off-shore tax havens – some two million companies – many "shell" companies – use them. Up to $20 trillion hidden there. p. 100 US only taxes profits from overseas if repatriated. Thus US corporations keep profits overseas in low tax regions, which equals $2 trillion. Pps. 101, 102 Profit shifting generally worth $600 says IMF, p. 103

Bailouts and cheap money – Cost $4.6 trillion to bail out 1000 banks and insurance companies in USA. Artificially low interest money a $70 billion subsidy in USA and $300 billion in EU p. 121 Much of this money went to property speculation. London became centre for laundering billions through property buying. 30% of houses bought in Central London by foreigners – driving prices up 50% pps 122, 126, 127. Most bank lending is for property, and that for existing dwellings, not new ones. 1928 borrowing for housing 30% by 2007, 60% p. 140

Result? A global debt of $199 trillion or 3X global income. 33% of this debt is in or held by China. p. 138

Monday, January 07, 2019

Thoughts on the BC Referendum


Many of who are radical or anarchistic regret the failure of the latest attempt to extend democracy in BC. We do so, not out of any naive faith in the parliamentary system. Rather, we wish that the alleviation of the deadly serious social, environmental and economic problems occur with the minimum of disruption and violence. While some of us wish for peaceful solutions for moral reasons – and these must be respected – I do so for pragmatic reasons – the more peaceful social change, the less likely the lasting bitterness that poisons the social body and the less harm that will occur to my friends and myself.

The kleptocrat, dominator minority plainly do not want peaceful change, and thus have struggled successfully to prevent the installation of a system that would make such change more likely. As our socio-economic-environmental problems mount, so too will the pressure for change. The parliamentary road, while perhaps not totally blocked, will continue to face serious obstructions. What must we do? 

We must acknowledge the problems with the parliamentary route without taking the dogmatic stance of throwing the baby out with the bath. The semi-democracy which is the parliamentary system evolved out of a system of oligarchic rule 200 years ago. It is essentially the Dominator System's adaptation to the growing desire for democracy that arose in the 19th and 20th Centuries. The focus of this evolution was to allow for a certain amount of change without uprooting the dominator class. The ideology of neoliberalism imposed post-1980s seeks to make change impossible and thus helps create and maintain an essentially klepocratic dominator system.

The parliamentary struggle is therefore essentially on the dominator system's terrain.
Centuries of domination can only have an important psychological impact upon the populace. This results in a combination of servility and a mixture of ignorance and acceptance. The former will believe whatever their masters tell them, the latter will be oblivious, with few if any political ideas, motivated more by a fear of change or an attitude of "yeah, there are problems, just don't bother me about them." Taken together, these groups can be a majority, or a minority large enough, given our FPTP system, to allow the formation of right-wing governments.

This is the social base from which the klepotcrats draw support and prevent change. There is a difficulty for the dominator system, in that its supporters are largely passive – voting for them and not much else. (there are the fascists, but they remain a tiny ineffective minority) Let's just say that direct action is not their terrain. 

Direct action, is OUR terrain, whether that action takes the form of building cooperative alternatives, strikes, civil disobedience, blockades etc. (And it goes without saying, given our cultural-historical background that such direct action must be non-violent) Some 1,017,00 people voted for the Greens, and the NDP. If only 10% of those people were to engage in direct action, we could bring the system to its knees should the kleptocrats regain power.
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