Friday, 24 March 2017

Friday Night Disco - Girl, Why You Wanna Make Blue - The Temptations

Defend Scots Democratic Rights - Part 5 of 6

What we have are two competing nationalisms, confronting each other. We have the Scottish nationalism of the SNP being confronted by a Popular Front comprising the Tory Party, Labour Party and Liberal Party that is promoting English nationalism in opposition to it, wrapped up in the clothes of Brexit. Socialists should give no support or succour to the illusions fostered by either, but should work for the unity of the working-class on the widest, and deepest possible basis. That in itself poses a problem, when the immediate consequence of demanding that the 5.25 million Scots workers remain united with the 53 million workers of England, within the confines of the British state, is to demand that they simultaneously thereby become separated from the 450 million workers of the EU, including the nearly 5 million workers in Ireland. In that respect, only, the nationalism of the SNP is at least, more progressive and outward looking, than the purely Little Englander nationalism of the English Popular Front, which looks only inwards, and backwards.

As I have written recently, this is further complicated by the fact that the British state itself is moving backwards and towards disintegration, whilst the EU is moving forwards and in the direction of a more extensive and intensive integration. The EU is being driven by the logic of social-democracy, and the objective requirements of socialised capital, whilst English policy is being driven by conservatism, and an attempt to turn back the clock, based upon the ideas of mercantilism and colonialism, and the antediluvian forms of capital that underpin it.

The rational solution here would be, not for Scotland or Northern Ireland to become independent from Britain, but for England to become independent from Britain, a possibility that is not at all impossible were it the case that all nations within the union were actually equal. It would be quite rational for England to leave Britain simultaneously with leaving the EU, enabling a Britain of Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales if it chose, to remain in the EU.

Had England actually negotiated, on an equal basis, with the governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, that is a solution that could have been agreed upon. Theresa May's argument is nonsense when she tries to claim that the SNP's demand for independence, so as to hand sovereignty back to Brussels, is muddled. If I put my money in Bank A, because I believe it is the best place for it, if B comes along and steals that money, there is nothing muddled or irrational about me then trying to remove it from B's thieving grasp, so as to put it back in Bank A, where I wanted it to be in the first place! What would be irrational would be to allow B to simply get away with their act of theft.

It is also nonsense for May to insist that Scots can only hold a referendum after Britain, and thereby Scotland, has been taken out of the EU, thereby necessitating Scotland having to reapply for EU membership. One option would be for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to hold referenda jointly calling for England to be expelled from the Union, thereby enabling the other nations to remain inside both Britain and the EU.

Theories of Surplus Value, Part I, Chapter 4 - Part 18

As capitalist production extended to cover all aspects of life, and all aspects of life was geared to facilitate the accumulation of capital, so this provided the basis for the apologists to claim that anyone engaged in any activity was in some way a productive labourer. In this way, all of the restrictive monopolies and absurdities of feudal society and its state were replicated by the bourgeois state.

An example, in that respect, is provided by healthcare. For Smith, and the early industrial capitalists, the role of a doctor was unproductive, and a cost to production, because it is only required due to “physical infirmities”. In other words, rather than adding something positive, it is simply something correcting some existing imperfection. The goal was then to minimise this cost. The best way of minimising the cost was to avoid the imperfections to begin with, which is one reason the industrialists placed emphasis on temperance. But, modern bourgeois society places much less emphasis on the prevention of ill-health, and instead spends tens of billions on providing remedies for sickness, after it has arisen. The companies that sell these expensive cures, hospitals, machines, and so on make billions in profits from doing so, and nothing from people enjoying good health. The bureaucrats who earn huge salaries from running the hospitals and health systems, only exist on the basis of providing such healthcare, and would lose their raison d'etre if instead people fell sick in far smaller numbers to begin with.

As Brecht put it.

When we come to you
Our rags are torn off us
And you listen all over our naked body.
As to the cause of our illness
One glance at our rags would
Tell you more. It is the same cause that wears out
Our bodies and our clothes.

The pain in our shoulder comes
You say, from the damp; and this is also the reason
For the stain on the wall of our flat.
So tell us:
Where does the damp come from?

A Worker's Speech To A Doctor – Berthold Brecht

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Defend Scots Democratic Rights - Part 4 of 6

Scotland clearly is not the equal of England, within the British state. It is Westminster that collects the vast majority of taxation and other forms of revenue, and then allocates it to the devolved parliaments and regions etc.; it is England that has the overwhelming majority of MP's in the British Parliament, so that, even with the SNP holding all but three of the Scottish seats, at Westminster, whilst the Tories hold only one, it is the writ of that English Tory government that holds sway across Scotland.

And that inequality has been demonstrably marked, when Tory English nationalism sought to assert itself over Brexit. When Scotland held its 2014 independence referendum, 16 and 17 year olds were rightly given the vote. Had they also been allowed to vote in the EU referendum, a majority for Remain would have resulted, but the English Tory government denied 16 and 17 year olds the vote, not just in England, but in Scotland too.

When the Scottish independence referendum took place, the Westminster parliament insisted on its right to determine the basis on which it was held, but at least it accepted negotiation over those terms. No such negotiations with the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly or Northern Ireland Assembly was allowed over the EU referendum, or on the terms of Brexit, however much the Tories prattle about the dialogue of the deaf they undertook, as a cover for such negotiations. They can refer to the vacuities that May included in her Lancaster House speech, but none of those twelve principles were even included as commitments in the Brexit Bill!

If the nations of Scotland and Wales, and the people of Northern Ireland, were to have equal rights to England, in relation to the EU, the referendum should have recognised them from the start, so that they could not be wrenched out of the EU against their will. But, England utilised its dominance over those other nations to impose its terms, and to assert its privileged position within the union, to override the democratic wishes of those other nations.  To claim that the Scots have proportional rights, as part of a unitary state, is itself to admit that they do not have equal rights, because political rights are not divisible.  Scotland cannot be in or out of the EU, in proportion to the size of its vote, it can only be either in or out, just as you cannot be a little bit pregnant.

Moreover, even in terms of the process following the referendum, the English nationalists, of the Tory Party, in Westminster, have imposed their authority in defiance of the democratic rights of Scots. Article 50, even according to the promises given by the Tory government, should only be triggered after agreement with the Scottish Parliament and Welsh and Northern Irish Assemblies, has been reached, on the terms of the separation. But, no such agreement has been reached, and its clear that the Tory government had no intention of reaching any such agreement. The fact that Labour collapsed into English nationalism (also grotesquely symbolised by its use of the flag of St. George on its election leaflets in the Stoke Central by-election) in lining up with the Tories' Brexit Bill, facilitated the Tories in pursuing such a disregard for these democratic rights.

The Scottish government had proposed a series of principles for such an agreement, and those principles, such as continued membership of the single market and customs union, and so on, were principles that Labour itself had originally claimed were its own red lines, for any triggering of Article 50. Yet, Labour has not only surrendered itself, in relation to those principles, but now does not even offer any support to the Scottish government, or the Scottish people, who voted to remain in the EU, in insisting on those principles.

Theories of Surplus Value, Part I, Chapter 4 - Part 17

5. Vulgarisation of Bourgeois Political Economy in the Definition of Productive Labour

The polemics against Smith's distinction between productive and unproductive labour were mostly undertaken by the second rate economists and vulgar apologists. It wasn't difficult to see the motivation behind these polemics. In its growth, bourgeois political economy, like the bourgeoisie itself, is revolutionary, in setting itself up against all of the restrictive monopolies and absurdities of feudal society.

The bourgeoisie has no reason to wish to see its profits eaten up in rents paid to landowners or in taxes paid to a bloated bureaucratic feudal state, or payments to any of the other lackeys and functionaries associated with it. But, all of these individuals and functionaries, having held positions of high status for generations, are not likely to sit quietly by whilst their position in society, and the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed is called into question.

People of such wealth and status are in a good position to hire apologists to fight their corner.

“The great mass of so-called “higher grade” workers—such as state officials, military people, artists, doctors, priests, judges, lawyers, etc.—some of whom are not only not productive but in essence destructive, but who know how to appropriate to themselves a very great part of the “material” wealth partly through the sale of their “immaterial” commodities and partly by forcibly imposing the latter on other people—found it not at all pleasant to be relegated economically to the same class as clowns and menial servants and to appear merely as people partaking in the consumption, parasites on the actual producers (or rather agents of production). This was a peculiar profanation precisely of those functions which had hitherto been surrounded with a halo and had enjoyed superstitious veneration. Political economy in its classical period, like the bourgeoisie itself in its parvenu period, adopted a severely critical attitude to the machinery of the State, etc.” (p 174-5)

All of those that were not involved in some actual production of commodities “... are regarded by Adam Smith, as by the industrial capitalists themselves and the working class, as incidental expenses of production, which are therefore to be cut down to the most indispensable minimum and provided as cheaply as possible.” (p 175)

But, once the bourgeoisie has established its own hegemony, it reproduces, “in its own form everything against which it had fought in feudal or absolutist form.” (p 175) But, also economists representing the interests of one or another group came forth to declare that some other group was unproductive.

Ricardo, representing the industrial capitalists, came forth to declare that the landlords were unproductive; Carey declared the merchants to be unproductive; and the capitalists themselves were declared unproductive.

“Many intellectual workers seemed inclined to share the scepticism in regard to the capitalist.” (p 176)

This was only likely to increase, as those intellectual workers took on the role of functioning capitalist, and as with the worker owned co-operatives, the distinction between the wages of supervision and the profit of enterprise became ever more apparent, as well as ever wider. That was sharpened itself as the workers themselves developed their own critique of the unproductive labourers, and as public education expanded, thereby reducing the difference between the wages of the functioning capitalists and other workers.

“It was therefore time to make a compromise and to recognise the “productivity” of all classes not directly included among the agents of material production. One good turn deserves another; and, as in the Fable of the Bees, it had to be established that even from the “productive”, economic standpoint, the bourgeois world with all its “unproductive labourers” is the best of all worlds... Both the do-nothings and their parasites had to be found a place in this best possible order of things.” (p 176)

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Defend Scots Democratic Rights - Part 3 of 6

Labour seems intent on self-destruction, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Having won the leadership, and grown the party to half a million strong, Corbyn, McDonnell and Momentum have refused to organise to replace the old Blair-right/soft-left MP's (as witnessed clearly in the Stoke Central by-election, for instance), and party apparatus, and have allowed themselves to become captives of it. Not only have they lined up with the Tories to push through the reactionary policy of Brexit, but they are now lining up with the Tories attempt to deny the democratic right of self-determination for the Scots. The Blair-rights have no need to rush now to remove Corbyn and McDonell, as they are getting them to do their bidding with the minimum of pressure applied to them, and can simply wait for the steady drift away, and demoralisation of the newly acquired party members, and the collapse in failure of the existing leadership.

Corbyn was quite right, a week ago, to say that another Scottish independence referendum would be quite alright. In fact, Gordon Brown, at the weekend made an almost identical comment that if the Scottish parliament voted to hold such a vote, it would be quite wrong for Westminster to try to deny it that right. To say so does not in any way commit Labour itself to calling for such a referendum. In fact, there are very good reasons for socialists not calling for a referendum now, just as there were before 2014, and for socialists arguing against a vote for independence in any such referendum.

But, it is quite different to say that socialists will not call for such a referendum than to say that if Scots themselves demand such a referendum, socialists will oppose them being granted that democratic right. Yet, within hours of Corbyn making his perfectly reasonable comment, Blair-right and soft-left MP's and MSP's were decrying it, and as has all too often been the case, Corbyn retracted, leaving Labour now once more wedded to the position of May's reactionary government, and its authoritarian stance of denying democratic rights to the people of Scotland, as it tried to do in relation to Parliament, in pursuance of its policy of hard Brexit.

Lenin wrote,

“The Social-Democrats will always combat every attempt to influence national self-determination from without by violence or by any injustice. However, our unreserved recognition of the struggle for freedom of self-determination does not in any way commit us to supporting every demand for national self-determination. As the party of the proletariat, the Social-Democratic Party considers it to be its positive and principal task to further the self-determination of the proletariat in each nationality rather than that of peoples or nations. We must always and unreservedly work for the very closest unity of the proletariat of all nationalities, and it is only in isolated and exceptional cases that we can advance and actively support demands conducive to the establishment of a new class state or to the substitution of a looser federal unity, etc., for the complete political unity of a state.”

That is why I opposed the demands of liberals for the creation of a new class state in Kosovo, for Tibet and so on, and why I opposed Scottish independence in 2014.

But, Lenin also distinguishes the priority for socialists in the “oppressor” nation to those in the “oppressed” nation.

“People who have not gone into the question thoroughly think that it is “contradictory” for the Social-Democrats of oppressor nations to insist on the “freedom to secede”, while Social-Democrats of oppressed nations insist on the “freedom to integrate”. However, a little reflection will show that there is not, and cannot be, any other road to internationalism and the amalgamation of nations, any other road from the given situation to this goal.” 

Now, of course, as I described back in 2014, Scotland is not an oppressed nation, vis a vis England. For the last 300 years, Scotland has been an integral part of the British state, and acted as an imperial power, in that vein, during all that period. Yet, the general principle, described by Lenin, still applies.

English socialists emphasise the right of Scotland to secede, even if they argue against it doing so, whilst Scottish socialists should emphasise the importance of integration and class unity. Moreover, as Lenin describes in relation to the situation in regard to Sweden and Norway, the existence of oppression is not decisive in this regard.

“Until 1905 autonomous Norway, as a part of Sweden, enjoyed the widest autonomy, but she was not Sweden’s equal. Only by her free secession was her equality manifested in practice and proved (and let us add in parenthesis that: it was this free secession that created the basis for a more intimate and more democratic association, founded on equality of rights). As long as Norway was merely autonomous, the Swedish aristocracy had one additional privilege; and secession did not “mitigate” this privilege (the essence of reformism lies in mitigating an evil and not in destroying it), but eliminated it altogether (the principal criterion of the revolutionary character of a programme). 


Devolution, and the further autonomy that Gordon Brown has proposed, mitigates, the privilege that England possesses over Scotland, but it does not eliminate it. And, there is no doubt that England does possess privileges compared to Scotland, and nor is there any doubt that, under Theresa May, aided and abetted now by Labour, the guiding principle of the Westminster parliament, is English Nationalism designed to defend and extend those privileges, in pursuance of Brexit, and English particularism.

Theories of Surplus Value, Part I, Chapter 4 - Part 16

For Smith, the commodity appears either as past objectivised labour embodied in a physical commodity, or else it appears as labour-power itself. But, the commodity is never living labour, i.e. the actual performance of labour.

Productive labour would therefore be such labour as produces commodities or directly produces, trains, develops, maintains or reproduces labour-power itself. Adam Smith excludes the latter from his category of productive labour; arbitrarily, but with a certain correct instinct—that if he included it, this would open the flood-gates for false pretensions to the title of productive labour.” (p 172)

For Smith, a commodity is a material product, which has required the expenditure of labour-time. It would include a machine produced by a manufacturer not for sale, but for their own use, in the production of other commodities for sale. In this case, the machine is sold bit by bit, as its wear and tear is transferred to the end product. But, likewise for Smith, the actor does not produce commodities but only immediate use values, even though they sell a commodity, their labour-power to the theatre owner.

“... the fact that their purchaser cannot sell them to the public in the form of commodities but only in the form of the action itself would show that they are unproductive labours.” (p 172)

As Marx points out, the commodity is the most elementary form of bourgeois wealth, and so Smith's second definition of productive labour as that which produces these material commodities is itself a more elementary definition than his first, as that labour which produces capital.

Smith's opponents disregarded his first definition and concentrated on his second, with all of the contradictions in it highlighted by Marx above.

“And their attacks were made all the easier for them by their insistence on the material content of the labour, and particularly the specific requirement that the labour must fix itself in a more or less permanent product. We shall see in a moment what it was that particularly gave rise to the polemics.” (p 173)

Marx quotes Smith's comment that the great merit of the Physiocratic system was that it represented the wealth of nations as consisting “... “not in the unconsumable riches of money, but in the consumable goods annually produced by the labour of the society”( [Wealth of Nations, O.U.P. edition, p. 299], [Garnier] t. III, l. IV, ch. IX, p. 538).” (p 173)

Here, Smith's second definition is clearly in view, as wealth is defined only in terms of these physical commodities – consumable goods.

“The definition of surplus-value naturally depended on the form in which value itself was conceived. In the Monetary and Mercantile systems it is therefore presented as money; by the Physiocrats, as the produce of the land, as agricultural product; finally in Adam Smith’s writings as commodity in general.” (p 173)

For the Physiocrats, value is merely use value, whereas for the Monetary and Mercantile schools it is pure exchange value – money. Smith combines both use value and exchange value as contained in the commodity, “... so all labour is productive which manifests itself in any use-value, any useful product.” (p 174)

Smith thereby goes beyond the Physiocrats and restores value – labour-time – as central to bourgeois wealth, but without its fantastic form, as it appears for the Mercantilists, as gold and silver. By re-establishing value as labour, Smith demonstrates that,

“Every commodity is in itself money.” (p 174)

Every commodity is money, because it is a representative of a certain quantity of social labour-time. Like the money-commodity, it is a claim to a quantity of social labour-time, in exchange for it. But, in re-establishing this centrality of value, Smith himself falls back into a Mercantilist concept of permanence, of a concept of the embodiment of labour within the commodity, which thereby establishes exchange value as a relation between things – embodiment of labour – rather than as a relation between between people - commodity fetishism. Consequently, the concept of the commodity itself becomes restricted to only physical products.

Marx refers back to “A Contribution To The Critique of Political Economy”, in which he criticised Petty's view “... where I quote from Petty’s Political Arithmetick) where wealth is valued according to the degrees in which it is imperishable, more or less permanent, and finally gold and silver are set above all other things as wealth that is “not perishable”.” (p 174)

Marx concludes this section with a quote from Adolphe Blanqui's Histoire de l’économie politique, commenting on Smith.

““In restricting the sphere of wealth exclusively to those values which are embodied in material substances, he erased from the book of production the whole boundless mass of immaterial values, daughters of the moral capital of civilised nations,” etc.” (p 174)