Saturday, 31 October 2015

Manifest interjections

Tax credits, the living wage, and the minimum income guarantee
The angry reactions to Osborne's decision to cut tax credits show a recognition that labour is now so cheap to capital that it must sell itself below the cost of its reproduction, a simply intolerable situation to be in. You'd have to think that a situation like this is inherently unstable. After all, several million people who thought they'd done everything right are learning the hard way the class content of the austerity agenda: no one is safe from the predation of the 1% and their political lackeys- the system consumes everything in its path, itself included.

The mere existence of tax credits demonstrates that this reproduction problem pushes towards a solution breaking free of the wage-labour form itself, a solution whose final appearance depends on the degree to which money ceases to be the primary medium of the circulation of labour and its products, a degree which increases the greater the not-for-profit (NFP) sector in the economy. In the context of attacks on the living wage the extra-Labour left should leave arguments over tax credits and the living wage to the reformists, and should instead raise the minimum income guarantee as a concrete demand- a manifesto pledge for a socialist party standing candidates in bourgeois elections.

Automation and zero-hour contracts demonstrate capital's inherent tendency to shed labour, the first great result of which was the Industrial Revolution's reserve army of labour- workers left unemployed and destitute when the production cycle and/or new technology made their form of labour unprofitable for capital to hire. The replacement of poor law welfare payments with state insurance benefits against unemployment was a victory of the workers' last movement; the voting into effect of a minimum income guarantee should be a goal of the next.

The Lords' snub to the Tories, properly democratic bicameralism, and Cameron's secret Stalinist dreams
The whiff of constitutional crisis raised by the House of Lords' timid opposition to Osborne's tax credits cuts exposes a second chamber that is completely out of place in a democratic society. In this archaic bicameralism the Lords is barely a second chamber at all its powers of opposition are so feeble. Cameron's broken promise on tax credits means that people who've voted Tory in the past really want to punish them for the intolerable situation Osborne's dropping them in. If the Lords' meagre powers so annoy the Tories, imagine a second chamber that could really stop them in their tracks. These and other revenge fantasies are exercising a new wave of people people looking to start voting against the Tories.

Marx talked of 'democratic prejudice', immortally expressed earlier by Thomas Jefferson in the The United States Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
These sentiments are what confront the fiasco of the Lords as an barely functioning system of checks and balances against the government's overweening arrogance in the tax credits betrayal. What constitutional reform will commend itself to these people? The primary purpose of a democratic constitution is to foster a multi-party state, best achieved under a bicameral assembly elected according to proportional representation. Britain's maximally democratic constitution is a republican confederation of these islands with home rule and an English parliament, as part of a wider democratic EU. The emerging left- in Labour, the Greens, and elsewhere, will be the radical wing of the changing balance of forces that this everyday democratic prejudice will demand.

The Tories' ideological commitment to the status quo and its medieval backwardness weds them to the desire for a neutered second house- ie. an effective one-party state. If there's one thing the old socialist countries did well it was one-party states. It was the Bolsheviks who invented them after all, in Communist Russia: the one-party no-faction state, totalitarianism at its most successful, and the Bolsheviks' greatest mistake in the face of the crisis that was foreign intervention, civil war and economic sabotage. It was this mistake which created the enigmatic form of the USSR- a counter revolution hidden in the shell of a revolutionary regime with no restoration of the old order. No chimera this- the Stalinist system is an NFP system after all and the return of market economics has proved a mixed blessing in these state socialist countries.

Corbynista Labour and the peace party
Corbyn's a unique specimen in modern British political history- a socialist activist back-bench MP turned party leader, in terra incognita with a hostile parliamentary party at his back as well as his front. This alone would be enough to make his election as Labour leader worth celebrating. More than that, his overwhelming electoral mandate is being matched by an influx of enthusiastic Corbyn supporters into Labour, a mobilisation likely to change Labour membership every bit as much as the SNP's post-referendum intake changed theirs- and that was quite a bit as events have shown. The struggle for Labour's socialist heart is not over yet.

As interventionist cross-purposes in Syria continue to threaten Russia and America getting into an accidental shooting exchange, it's worth considering Jeremy Corbyn's putative vice chairmanship of CND.  This is exactly right for a socialist Labour leader. Getting the PLP to change its mind on Trident renewal won't be easy. CND will surely be significant in the course of that campaign, and Corbyn having an actual CND post (even with light duties) will raise CND's profile to encourage his supporters to join.

Last month's comment that he'd not fire nuclear weapons is a clear testament to Corbyn's commendable nuclear pacificism and something that should be echoed in every socialist manifesto. Still, it's one thing to be anti-nuclear, but the advent of WMD has radically changed the left's familiar moral algebra on the general question of force. The problem for the left is how to become identified as a credible peace party, something which is impossible so long as their Marxist anti-imperialism renders their 'foreign policy' pronouncements branches of bourgeois just war theory. Victory for the armed struggles of the various anti-imperialist 'just causes' is not on the agenda, as Northern Ireland showed as far back as the early 80s. These fratricidal wars need civil conflict resolution instead of military solutions. Conflict resolution is not the hands-off approach so familiar to anti-imperialist positions; indeed conflict resolution is interventionist itself, which is anathema to the military ravers of the putschist would-be Lenins.
In the end it no more matters if Labour changes its line on Trident than if it wins the next general election-  which might sound an odd thing to say for one who was purged by Labour after signing up as a registered supporter to vote for a socialist Labour leader. What I mean to say is this: even if it succeeds beyond its wildest dreams in 2020 Corbyn's Labour will still be an ongoing project, one in which the party will play an important role in a new social movement. Given what this process represents (and the media's hysteria over it), a reasonable goal for 2020 would be for left-wing Labour not to end up with egg on its face. A respectable second would be a painful result in 2020 (another Tory government after all) but it wouldn't be the end of the world if the party doesn't lose its nerve and leads from the left with a proper anti-austerity manifesto. After the tax credits brouhaha I'm more convinced than ever that clearly articulared anti-austerity policies are the key to breaking the Tories hold on government.