CON-DEM-nation

Well, I’ve not blogged for a month. Time flies! Suffice to say, this was a combination of personal life (moving home, thanks to our old parasitical landlord selling the place), work (much more busy now, thanks to cuts), not sure of having anything particularly interesting to say (what’s new there?) and getting this month’s “Property is Theft!” update sorted out.

The Proudhon update focused upon elections, mostly because we in the UK suffered the joys of a general election. This produced the first hung Parliament in a few decades, the net result of which is that the ostensibly “left-of-centre” liberal democrats joined a coalition with the Tories who had failed to win an outright majority. I do hope that next election the Lib-Dems are wiped out – after all, no one will believe their claim to be a vote against the Tories anymore. My local M.P. made it clear in his election propaganda that Labour could not win so it’s the Lib-Dems or the Tories. I hope he, like the others, will have the decency to remove such comments in future election material…

So in terms of election results, not much to comment upon. The Tories, even in spite of the economic crisis and Labour’s general naft-ness, could not win! So most people still dislike the Tories and many more will be hating the Lib-Dems for ensuring we suffer them for however long the coalition lasts. Given that Cameron could not win an outright majority and has the tone-down some of their policies to survive, I’m sure the Tories will be sharpening their knives in readiness… as for the Lib-Dems, well, they showed that power was more important than principle and that, when push comes to shove, they will side with the Tories (perhaps unsurprisingly, given that the leadership are “Orange Book” lib-dems, i.e., neo-liberals). Such a policy is, I think, immensely stupid and will backfire in subsequent elections (it will definitely harm them in Scotland).

It was interesting, though, that all the parties basically campaigned against neo-liberalism while being neo-liberal. This was particularly the case with the Tories, who basically campaigned against the legacy of Thatcherism. So we say Gideon proclaiming the new for “fairness” and “equality” plus the need to regulate the banks during the Chancellors debate! Bet he felt dirty after that (whether that was pleasant feeling for him, I don’t know). The Tories actually had the gall to denounce Brown for allowing the greatest inequality in British History without mentioning that Thatcher oversaw the real explosion of inequality while New Labour effectively did little to counter that poisonous legacy (although inequality was less than if the Tories policies had remained). But, then, that is unsurprising given how the Tories could not care less about inequality, unless they can utilise it (like unemployment) in the campaign rhetoric to get a few votes from people who did not pay attention during the 1980s…

Also, talking of inequality, after the Cameron became PM the “Evening Standard” had a two-page article entitled (I kid you not) “Born and Bred to Rule” (first couple of paragraphs on how much more better spoken Cameron is compared to oiks like Blair). How disgusting! In this day and age, someone writing an article on how the elite are naturally better than us. What a shame that Cameron had to convince those “born and bred to obey” to vote for him. The shame! The horror! It is SO difficult being born into privilege, poor baby… My thoughts instantly turned to Rousseau:

“it is . . . useless to inquire whether there is any essential connection between the two inequalities [social and natural]; for this would be only asking, in other words, whether those who command are necessarily better than those who obey, and if strength of body or of mind, wisdom, or virtue are always found in particular individuals, in proportion to their power or wealth: a question fit perhaps to be discussed by slaves in the hearing of their masters, but highly unbecoming to reasonable and free men in search of the truth.”

When I posted the extracts from the LONG introduction to the Proudhon Reader refuting claims that Proudhon was a conservative, fascist and propertarian, I speculated on what really differentiates the left from the right. Both can talk of freedom (for example, the BNP’s paper is “The Voice of Freedom”), in terms of “property” obviously the right is generally more in favour of Lockean schemes than we are but no one on the left really disputes the importance of possession these days (long gone are the utopian communists). I decided it was equality, the notion that people are basically equal and should be treated as such. The right consider some people to be better than others and so fit to rule them (who that “some” is varies, with property owners for Rothbard and Rand, the leaders of the master race for fascists, the aristocracy for Tories, etc.). Compare, for example, (very) right-wing liberal von Mises to Ayn Rand and Hitler to a group of industrialists.

Von Mises: “You have the courage to tell the masses what no politician told them: you are inferior and all the improvements in your conditions which you simply take for granted you owe to the efforts of men who are better than you.”

Hitler: “Everything positive, good and valuable that has been achieved in the world in the field of economics or culture is solely attributable to the importance of personality.... All the worldly goods we possess we owe to the struggle of the select few.”

Perhaps Hitler was not a politician? Going back to freedom and equality, what differentiates the right from the left. Apparently once we recognise “the outstanding achievements of individuals” as Hitler suggested in Düsseldorf, we must conclude that “people are not of equal value or of equal importance.” The Hitler quotes are from an interesting article on Ayn Rand in “The Nation” (which name checks a few anarchists, pointing out we, along with others, warned of the dangers of statism long before Rand came along).

And, no, I’m not suggesting that Rand or von Mises were Nazis (although we should never forget the latter’s eulogising of fascism in the 1920s), I am pointing out a commonality of anti-egalitarianism and how they share a support for authoritarian social structures (in the case of business, an identical arse-licking approach to capitalists). As I said, that sort of mentality is hard to build freedom upon and, unsurprisingly, we find that for the propertarian the “liberty” of the property owner always trumps that of those who use that property. Most obviously, wage slaves under capitalism but also customers in the case of “white-only” stores in the American South before the civil rights act. Here is “conservative-libertarian” (i.e., a very right-wing propertarian) Rand Paul tying himself into knots trying to defend the “liberty” of racists to deny black people access to shops.

The very next day he flipped on this and sacrificed “principle” for political expedience. Obviously Paul stresses that he himself hates racism and would oppose such activity (and violence against protestors), but ultimately he supports the power of the state to be used by those property-owners to arrest black people seeking to end discrimination by seeking, using direct action, to get served in such shops. On this issue Rousseau, again, springs to mind:

“That a rich and powerful man, having acquired immense possessions in land, should impose laws on those who want to establish themselves there, and that he should only allow them to do so on condition that they accept his supreme authority and obey all his wishes; that, I can still conceive . . . Would not this tyrannical act contain a double usurpation: that on the ownership of the land and that on the liberty of the inhabitants?”

As a shop, like a workplace, is no longer personal property, used exclusively by its owner, but rather used by others then the just of the civil rights protesters becomes obvious. They are seeking to overturn the “supreme authority” of the property owner or, to quote Proudhon, they recognised that property “violates equality by the rights of exclusion and increase, and freedom by despotism.” It has “perfect identity with robbery” and the worker “has sold and surrendered his liberty” to the proprietor. Anarchy was “the absence of a master, of a sovereign” while “proprietor” was “synonymous” with “sovereign” for he “imposes his will as law, and suffers neither contradiction nor control.” Thus “property is despotism” as “each proprietor is sovereign lord within the sphere of his property.” In short, that freedom does not stop at boundary fences and that property does not trump liberty. As Proudhon suggested, “we who belong to the proletaire class, property excommunicates us!”

Genuine libertarians, on the other hand, recognise that genuine freedom can only exist and be premised in equality (hence the need for socialisation rather than private property or nationalisation). And we get that, I think, from Rousseau and the ideas he advocated (and, obviously, reality as inequalities of wealth and power mean inequalities of freedom). If Proudhon is the father of anarchism, Rousseau is the granddad (so to speak). Sure, we have critiqued many of his ideas but because his conclusions do not meet the ideals which fired them. For example, Proudhon (in General Idea of the Revolution) concurs with Rousseau that the aim of any social organisation is to ensure that the person is a free within it as before hand (he also criticises Rousseau for advocating a state in which the property owners exploit the workers). He, however, pointed out that Rousseau's centralised state vision did not achieve that (although Rousseau's other suggestion of a decentralised system does). But, the influence of Rousseau is clear and the themes he started we developed.

I would say that Rousseau is one of my favourite non-anarchist political writer. Marx has his moments, but there is too much baggage with him (not to mention the 101 interpretations on what Marx “really” meant!). As for the person I consider worse, well, Rothbard and Trotsky spring to mind (amongst others). Trotsky’s analysis of Stalinism is matched by its awfulness by Tony Cliff’s, although Cliff’s is worse in the sense that him calling Stalinism “state-capitalism” associates his superficial and flawed account with those far better analyses which focus on the social relations of production to conclude that it was state-capitalism. Which was, it must be stressed, something Cliff singularly failed to do while, like a good little Marxist, ritualistically and inaccurately denouncing Proudhon for failing to do so with regards to capitalism! This failing is understandable, for to focus on the relations within production would lead to the obvious conclusion that it was Lenin who created state-capitalism in Russia…

So it’s hard to be too excited over which neo-liberal party will impose austerity upon us, although to be fair to New Labour their cuts would have been less regressive in terms of effects that the Tories. One bit of reasonable good news, namely that the BNP got wiped out both in terms of the general election and in local elections in Barking. As to be expected, Griffin blamed the electorate for his defeat. So we are CON-DEM-ed to Twiddle-Dum and Twiddle-Dave… and a repeat of the Thatcherite “bled-the-patient” quackery of the early 1980s… Unlike then, though, the unions are much weaker, as is general class consciousness and a willingness to act. This can be seen from the Queen’s Speech in which we see tax rises for the workers, tax-cuts for business (whatever happened to “we are all in this together”?) and we can expect rises in VAT soon (the Tories favourite tax as it is so regressive).

Talking of which, this whole “Constitutional” process is so embarrassing in its genuflecting to an institution, monarchy, which is an insult to every person subject to it and defender of liberty – although, not all as Sean Gabb (“Director of the Libertarian Alliance”, i.e., the Propertarian Alliance) is “a committed monarchist”! So a “libertarian” can now support dictatorship? Which is, after all, what a monarchy is – a dictatorship which has survived the centuries and got people to believe that they are born and bred to rule... still, it is nice to know that the Monarch really wants the best for her subjects... I have never understood how people can suggest that dictatorship is more libertarian than democracy... absolutist power and liberty simply does not go together... And it points to a massive contradiction in propertarian ideology (which I have also explored in AFAQ), which is also discussed by Professor Karl Widerquist.

I should also note that Widerquist has produced a good summary/introduction to the varied uses of the term “libertarian” (aka, “libertarianism”). He, rightly, points out that we anarchists used “libertarian” first, noting that “Before that [the 1950s], and in most of the rest of the world today, the term has been associated almost exclusively with leftists groups advocating egalitarian property rights or even the abolition of private property, such as anarchist socialists who began using the term nearly a century early, in 1858.” He states the obvious that “The three are not factions of a common movement, but distinct ideologies using the same label.” And this one is great (I said as much in a previous blog):

“Right-libertarians seldom call themselves right-libertarians, preferring to call themselves simply ‘libertarians,’ often denying any other groups have claim to the name. It is perhaps poetically appropriate that property rights advocates have appropriated a term that was already being used by people who subscribe to the idea that property is theft, and that these property rights now accuse anarchists of trying to steal it from them.”

Suffice to say, there may be an opening (yet again!) for the left in all this. Given that a Green was elected, I half expect a few Trot groups will be discussing entryism into it now. However, it seems obvious given the fiascos of the Socialist Alliance, Respect, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, the Scottish Socialist Party, ad nauseam, that, firstly, the left will continue repeating the same mistakes in the hope that this time it will be different and, secondly, any real opposition will need to be built exclusively outside of the ballot-box. I would suggest that the left recognises that few people vote FOR anything now, simply AGAINST the worse of a bad crowd and that resistance must be by direct action and solidarity. This means that while people thought it difficult for the Tories to get in, they would have been more willing to vote for alternatives (particularly given the neo-conservative and neo-liberal agenda of New Labour) – mostly, the Lib-Dems (an option closed now, obviously). With the Tories back in power, most people I think will hold their noses and vote Labour as an anti-Tory vote. I expect the Lib-Dems will suffer in many marginal seats as a vote for them is, now, a vote for the Tories…

I mentioned this to a comrade recently, but in terms of electioneering we anarchists have long won the argument. Few modern Marxists (SPGB being the exception) subscribe to the position of Marx and Engels on universal suffrage. None would argue that this gives working class people “political power” and, even if it did, none would argue that we can capture the state and transform it into something more democratic (namely, in line with Marx channelling Proudhon’s ideas via his commentary on the Paris Commune). Indeed, if you suggested either of these things most Marxists would, I am sure, dismiss you as naïve – while probably dismissing suggestions Marx and Engels held precisely those views.

So, in terms of the socialistic possibilities of elections most socialists agree with Bakunin, not Marx. The one area of disagreement is on whether socialists should stand for election in order to raise awareness of socialist ideas. Yet an anti-voting campaign or using standing candidates who will refuse their seat in the unlikely situation they win raise awareness just as much and stop people placing hope on others to act for them while undermining illusions in universal suffrage. Ultimately, if you stand as a socialist who thinks that bourgeois democracy cannot be reformed or used to further working class interests, then you really are being hypocritical asking people to vote for you – particularly as you will be drawn into managing the system.

In other news, attacks on the BA strikers are continuing. The steadfast anti-strike and anti-union propaganda in the media is quite staggering, with the reasons for the strikes consistently misrepresented. All the focus is on “selfish” and “pampered” workers, somewhat ironically invoking the politics of envy (which the same commentators habitually and inaccurately denounce socialists for holding) into order to justify grinding workers down to the same (low) level. And who will win any race to the bottom? The bosses of course. Still, this theme has been around for quite a while now and one we need to combat.

Finally, I saw Michael Moore's “Capitalism: A Love Story” over the weekend. Not too bad, given its left-social-democratic assumptions. I could get myself into a bother and attack how Moore assumes social-democratic capitalism is not capitalism (which he equates with neo-liberalism) and his illusions in FDR and the New Deal (something shared by the likes of Paul Krugman) but I’m not going to bother. What do you expect? He is not an anarchist so why fault him in producing a non-anarchist film? On the positive side he stresses working class self-activity, pointing to workplace occupations as a positive example. He even mentions co-operatives (democracy in the workplace!) as an alternative (a long standing libertarian socialist position which I’ve mentioned before) and the S-word in a positive way. Could do without the Catholic Priests though, but I guess he needs to wrap himself in both flag and religion to counter-act the attacks he was expecting to get (although, talking of religion, I did like the “Republican Jesus” dubbing segment). I was surprised he did not mention falling social mobility alongside rising inequality – particularly as the right go on about “opportunity” so much.

Finally, our union branch won its current dispute with management. They caved-in in the face of a quite high-turn-out pro-strike ballot. There will still be cuts, but compulsory redundancies will be avoided. So a victory of sorts, in the face of extremely difficult anti-union legislation. Suffice to say, this struggle will continue – particularly when the government’s cuts get going (good chance of a double-dip recession, I think, given Tory love of neo-classical economic ideology and the silly notion that cutting wages will make things better!). Still, a victory and it shows that there is power in a union – even a social democratic one.

Until I blog again, be seeing you…

  


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