Marxism, syndicalism and neo-liberalism

Well, still not blogging as much as I planned... Once a week seems to be too much just now. Far too busy at work as well as getting An Anarchist FAQ revised for publication.

The good news is that the revision of AFAQ is finished and it will be updated on the 8th of March. Version 14.0 will be what will be published in volume 2! The introduction will be put on-line once the book is out. The other news is that the next update to Property is Theft!" will be on the 17th of March, to mark the Paris Commune. It will include the texts from the Paris Commune appendix, plus Marx related material. This will include Proudhon's letter to Marx, the extracts from volume 1 and 2 of System of Economic Contradictions plus the introduction's appendix on Marx and Proudhon. I'll hopefully have time to write about the 1848 revolution in France and how it vindicated Proudhon's analysis while Marx had to substantially rethink his ideas in the wake of the 1851 coup.

At some stage I'm going to have to blog on how anarchists have quite a good track record in predicting things -- mostly notably the failure of Marxism. I'll probably do that when I write my reply to a Marxist academic article in Anarchist Studies proclaiming that syndicalism is "always an alliance between at least three core ideological elements", anarchism, "the ideas of revolutionary trade unionism" (surely an obvious tautology?) and Marxism! Given that syndicalist ideas developed in the First International, with Bakunin at their head, to suggest that implies an utter lack of awareness of syndicalism's origins and Bakunin's ideas. Particularly given that the so-called "Marxist" elements appear to be related to viewing the working class as the "sole" revolutionary agency, building working class economic power and arguing that workers themselves, not politicians or union leaders, had to create socialism -- which was precisely Bakunin's position and critique of Marx!

I've made this point elsewhere (in my most popular blog post, Synthe sised marxism and anarchism, my arse!). Suffice to say, it says a lot about the level of ignorance of (usualy Marxist) academics of anarchist ideas to suggest syndicalism is indebted to Marxism for ideas Bakunin expounded and which Marx and Engels explicitly rejected!

There is an interesting post on unemployment benefits and the changing options of "vulgar" economists Nassau Senior. Senior was the person who first put forward the notion that interest was the reward "abstinence" (which became "waiting"). The working class were responsible for their own poverty because, Senior argued, "the worse educated" classes "are always the most improvident, and consequently the least abstinent"! So the poor are poor because they spend their money on food, housing and such like... The key Senior quote from the article is:

“The connexion between him and his master has the kindliness of a voluntary association, in which each party is conscious of benefit, and each feels that his own welfare depends ... on the welfare of the other. But the instant wages cease to be a bargain - the instant the labourer is paid, not according to his value, but his wants, he ceases to be a free man. He acquires the indolence, the improvidence, the rapacity, and the malignity, but not the subordination of a slave.”

Oh, right, the moment a worker recognises that he is not dependent on his master and starts to be uppity, he "ceases to be a free man." Interesting logic... But, then, complaints by the masters that their workers are too indolent are a constant refrain within capitalism... and they have always got the state to ensure a situation economic environment that ensures that the worker is grateful to have a job ("feels that his own welfare depends . . . on the welfare of the other"). And as noted in AFAQ, if there were harmony between classes then the property-owners would not use the state to hinder the "free market"...

Not that a "free market" capitalism would produce full employment -- the notion that capitalism "naturally" would do so is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature and role of unemployment (as discussed here). The obvious role of welfare is to decrease the cost (to the worker) of job-loss. If workers are not faced with economic misery if they are unemployed then they will be more willing to stand up to their bosses -- as Senior suggests. Also the need for things like the NAIRU to maintain reasonable levels of unemployment over long periods (as discussed here, the arguments for it are driven by the express desire to "cow" workers). Without that state aid for the capitalists, the economy would be more unstable (as in nineteenth century with booms quickly followed by busts and high unemployment).

Interesting, though, how economic ideology essentially suggests that workers should consider the welfare of their masters first (as their "welfare" depends on not being fired!). And when workers start to express their own feelings? Well, they express "indolence . . . improvidence . . . rapacity . . . malignity"! Much better when workers fear getting fired. That way, presumably, the worker will be nice, quiet and respectful to his "master" -- like "the subordination of a slave," perhaps?

I was on the train last night and I noticed a big block quote in the Evening Standard (I still do not read it, even though it is now free --horrible rag). It read something along the lines of:

“Raising the top rate of income tax to 50 per cent is likely that tax income from the middle classes will actually fall”

It was actually based on a quote from a "leading London tax lawyer":

“Raising the top rate of income tax to 50 per cent has led to people trying to protect their incomes. Pushing it up to 50 per cent is a psychological level at which they start taking steps. So it is likely that tax income from the middle classes will actually fall as a result of the increase.”

Except, of course, those earning more than £100,000 are the top TEN percent of the population! Since when is the top ten percent the "middle classes"? I fear that as most people are utterly ignorant of how unequal the UK actually is, they will think the 50% really does affect people actually in the middle income bands. I've written on this before.

Useful method of social control, ensuring people are unaware of how unequal a society is. After all, a poll in 2000 found that 39% of Americans believe they are either in the wealthiest 1% or will be there "soon"! Why organise and fight in that case? And best not mention that social mobility has plummeted since the 1980s as well -- hardly surprising, as it is easier to climb a hill than a mountain! Neo-liberalism in action! Also see this interesting article in The Guardian:

"Over the last 30 years the share of the nation's wealth owned by the bottom half of the population has fallen from 8% to 5%. The share of national wealth going to wages has dropped dramatically. The connection between productivity and wages was broken, and by 2000 productivity increases ran at twice the rate of wage increases. The Conservatives tore up the welfare safety net by undermining the value of benefits and the state pension. Low- and middle-earning households borrowed to sustain their standard of living, creating unprecedented levels of personal debt."

That rag (the Evening Standard, not the Guardian!) is also running a campaign against poverty in London (bet that gets dropped soon after the election if the Tories win!). They had a quote from our numpty of a Mayor (Boris Johnson) who proclaimed that rising poverty was a problem for the last 20 years... so skilfully ignoring the awkward fact that inequality and poverty exploded in the 1980s, 30 years ago, under his beloved Thatcher.

It is deeply sickening to see the Tories use poverty and inequality to attack New Labour when the real explosions in both happened under Thatcher! Hypocrites.

Interesting article on the right and the Great Depression, entitled Let Them Eat Dogma It does make the usual American mistake of confusing propertarian with libertarian ("the 'Austrian' school of purist libertarian economics", for example). It is funny, I suppose, to see the right protray Herbert Hoover as some kind of socialist. Not to mention quaking at the power of the unions (which organised around 10% of the workforce) on him and their ability (never explained) to keep wages up above their market clearing level for the 90% who were not unionised. Who knew unions had such power? Or the fact that Hoover had such power to make capitalists not cut wages -- merely by asking them up to! Except, of course, they did -- but prices dropped even more... (it is like Keynes never existed). Still, as I've pointed out before, propertarians are rarely bothered by logic or evidence.

This brings out the obvious point that, as AFAQ discusses, depressions expose that the claim "the market" (capitalism) allocates resources efficiency as being a half-truth, at best. If people have no money then they have no demand and, consequently, it would be "inefficient" to meet their needs. It is like privatised health care -- if they really wanted an operation they would buy one and the mere fact that they cannot afford it shows they don't "really" need it ("revealed preference" or "demonstrated preference", and all that). Much the same can be said of depressions, where the need for capitalists to make money outweighs the need of people for food, housing, etc., on a large-scale. It also shows that the notion that only "the market" knows how best to allocate resources because surplus value accrues to the few ("Austrian" economics "logically" deducts that self-employment would be inefficient as there are no bosses, landlords or rentiers to allocate resources -- yes, really!) is flawed. Without profits, it is claimed, resources cannot be efficiently allocated -- but what counts as "profitable" is dependent on income distribution and so what is "efficient" in one income distribution becomes "inefficient" in another.

So, for example, if you tax the rich to create "socialised" medicine, a welfare system, unemployment benefits (or organise a strong industrial union movement!) then you change the income distribution and so what counts as "efficient." Ironically, neither neo-classical nor "Austrian" economics can say whether this increases or decreases social utility because they reject the idea that utility can be measured between people (because that could, and was, used to justify redistribution!). Opps...

That what counts as "efficient" is depends on income distribution, needless to say, impacts on uncertainty. After all, if income distribution changes (due to a slump and people being fired) then your previously "efficient" investment could no longer be so (even if people obviously need its products or services). This, again, makes it difficult to "efficiently" allocate resources for with rising uncertainty you cannot be sure that your investment will make a profit. And during a depression, capitalists are unlikely to invest precisely because economic conditions are so uncertain. One of Keynes' basic points and so his suggestion that the state intervene to stabilise the situation. Which is, of course, a no-no for "Austrians" and so they are left with the call to attack labour, cut wages, benefits, etc. Which may make the situation far worse (as Hoover showed and Keynes proved in his General Theory).

All in all, it is sad to see the good name "libertarian" associated with such reactionaries like von Mises, Rothbard and so on... Still, we anarchists can protest that these people are just propertarians... Suffice to say, we don't get funding from millionaries to set-up think-tanks so our protests may not be as loud as the propertarian abuse of the word libertarian.

And talking of sad things, Colin Ward died recently. Strangely enough, I found out when I was looking up quotes from his excellent book Anarchy in Action (recently reprinted by Freedom Press and recommended!) for AFAQ. That is now Howard Zinn and Colin Ward dead this year -- I hope that that is all for this year for very old comrades shuffling off this moral coil!

Until I blog again, be seeing you...

Iain

  


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