Thursday, November 27, 2008

Inspiring dread

I've held off making some of these comments, lest I give people ideas. I've often wondered why Al Qaeda terrorists have gone to such convoluted means to make their terror attack - gas cylinders, exploding shoes, whatever, when a couple of blokes in a crossfire with handguns could do more damage and instill more terror by running round for hours afterwards.

Just like they have just done in Mumbai to such horrific and spectacular success. After all, Virginia Tech, Colombine High, kids have shown the way to spread mayhem and terror with a couple of semi-automatics, a planned team job hitting the right targets can, we now know, do much more. Including killing the chief of Mumbai anti-terror police.

The biggest danger is that mickey mouse outfits clock on to what a good trick this is, it is perfect asymmetric warfare, cheap tiger/flea tactics.

I think today is a very bad day indeed for the world.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Socialist Programme against the cuts

I think this point needs to get across. the left are wetting their knickers over the increased top rate of tax.

Lets get down to socialist brass tacks on tax. The burden of taxation doesn't fall on wages/salaries. That is, when taxed, formally, wages/salaries adjust so that the loss, the pain, falls elsewhere, mainly on capitalist profits.

The real wage, the take home wage, the money in your pocket is, to borrow a Darwinian term, the unit of selection. It is take home pay that drives the market, it's rises and falls in real wages that prompt market behaviour. If a tax hike lowers real wages, then wages were due to fall anyway under prevailing market conditions, and tax has stepped in a taken the share that would have gone to the employer.

Ordinarily, however, market pressure, through individual informal and formal action (and preferably through collective union action) would act to restore the previous status quo.

What this means is that our "immediate" objective is to shore up our unions, they are the only hope of seeing this through - although when unemployment rises, they'll be shredded too. So we urgently need to organise a conscious and explicitly socialist movement, not for tax rises or capitalist bailouts or passing the burden back and forth, but clearly and resolutely set on the abolition of capitalism. This is the only practical self defence we have.

Really, seriously, get your mates, get anyone you've ever heard, meet together, debate, discuss. Form a socialist group. Form an international. Form a reading circle. Join the Socialist Party. Set up workers' councils. Whatever you do, raise the banner of "the abolition of the wages system" now, before its too late.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Jottings on a crisis...

OK, lets see.

In strict Marxian terms lowering taxes does not change the amount of consumption in the economy. the state is a non-productive consumer, and putting money into the hands of consumers doesn't change the magnitude of that part of the economy, just the shape and nature of the consumption being undertaken (home rather than office furnishing, for example). Cutting taxes, and borrowing simply means the office furnishing spending doesn't go down, but that money is being taken from profits and (more importantly) from capital accumulation:

So, to take uncle Charlie's reproduction schemas:

I. Production of Means of Production:
Capital. . . . . . . . . . . . . 4,000c + 1,000v = 5,000
Commodity-Product . . . 4,000c + 1 ,000v, + 1,000s = 6,000,

existing in means of production.

II. Production of Articles of Consumption:
Capital . . . . . . . . . . . 2,000c + 500v = 2,500
Commodity-Product . . 2,000c + 500v + 500s = 3,000,

existing in articles of consumption.

Recapitulation: Total annual commodity-product:
I. 4,000c + 1,000v + 1,000s = 6,000 means of production
II. 2,000c + 500v + 500s = 3,000 articles of consumption.
(Obviously, this is the simple reproduction schema, so it's assumed all surplus value is spent on means of consumption, we can stick with that, for now). Now, the point of this schema is that the total capital need to equal the value of the means of production, and the total wages+surplus value, the means of consumption.

Now, put those figures in a spread sheet, and try monkeying around with them. Say, move 1,000c from production to consumption. The total capital remains equal, but suddenly, the total means of production no longer equals the amount of capital available. This is a crisis of disproportion, much like the one we are suffering, as banks, housing and other means of consumption have outstripped production by a long chalk.

No amount of simply transferring between wages and surplus will affect this imbalance, the short way out is to destroy the capital (even though this will, bizarrely lead to an overall shrinkage). Indeed, this has been the traditional mechanism for capitalism, called bankruptcy. Of course, the owners of capital are unwilling to lose their capital, and so will try and pass the buck on. And it's difficult to alter one of these allocations without changing the ratios to the others (ratios which have real world constraints, you can't simply fling capital at a problem without adding labour)...

Raising the wages in means of production does offer another route to sort out the imbalance. Another way out is external resources, whilst bad debt clogs up the spokes, expanding the size of the economy can re-balance it...

I'll keep pondering, but I really don't think Darling's plan will work.

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Friday, November 07, 2008

Local democracy, for local people

Stuart asks in comments (post below) what my views on the Zapatistas are. Well, I have to say, I've never studied the movement in depth, my cursory impression has been that they have been a typical rural geurilla movement filling a space in a remote region that central government is unable/unwilling to fill, and winning a sort of truce with that state. In other words, they have built local administration where there was essentially (in effect) none at all.

Hence, if I'm not wrong, they represent a construction of local democracy, an improvisation. They may bring some interesting characteristics to the pot, but they needn't necessarilly be imitated where there is functional local democratic administration. Now, Stuart and I have disagreed in the past on this question, I maintain that local administration in the UK is pretty democratic (or at least was, under the old council/committee system, the new leader/cabinet model is fundamentally undemocratic). Of course, I reckon that in an upswelling of political consciousness, that would be transformed by the demands for participation by the community, but that would be a quantitative rather than a qualitative shift, using facilities that are formalities and dead letters now and making them the tools of viable engagement.

I am faintly fond of Murray Bookchin's libertarian municipalism, though suspicious of the fetishisation of face to face meetings. I think that broad based, far flung ballot box democracy is functional and liberating enough - I don't think we need to live in cities where a cry can be heard from the city wall (his Aristotelean example). Further, Militant and the Bennites tried something like that in the UK and found central government on their case.

Thus, I think that we cannot ignore the state, nor need we, we can, through active determined use of existing structures make the changes we desire.

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

On Obama

I've resisted so far.

Two quick points. I explained to one of my friends last night that whilst I am pleased Obama won - on the level of it representing an amazing change in circumstance for African Americans in less than fifty years, and a change in the perception of race the world over (I think Socialist Economic Bulletin had some interesting thoughts about this); I'm also pleased that Obama may have some policies that, as Chomsky notes, will tendentially benefit the working class stateside more; I'm also pleased more people were drawn to the polls (64% according to Wikipedia, which, whilst not through the ceiling by other countries' standards, is high for stateside); but I still would not have voted for Obama had I been a yanklander myself.

Howard Zinn seems, as ever to spell it out beautifully:

I CONFESS I am excited by the thought of Obama becoming president, even though I am painfully aware of his limitations–his smooth, articulate intelligence covering up a quite traditional approach to domestic and foreign policy, aided and abetted by a group of advisers recycled from the Clinton administration and other parts of the Establishment.

Does he really think Robert Rubin will come up with a bold approach to the economy? Or that Madeleine Albright will carve a new path in foreign policy? (It was she who ran around the country in 1998 to defend Clinton’s bombing of Iraq, warning of “weapons of mass destruction.”)

If Richard Hofstadter were adding to his book The American Political Tradition, in which he found both “conservative” and “liberal” presidents, both Democrats and Republicans, maintaining for dear life the two critical characteristics of the American system, nationalism and capitalism, Obama would fit the pattern.

His obsequious joining with McCain in approving the $700 billion “bailout” for the financial giants is a sad sign. See my article (I say arrogantly) in a recent issue of the Nation about the bailout, as a futile “trickle-down” act, instead of using the money directly for the people Obama claims to represent.

So it will take a revivified social movement to do for Obama what the strikers and tenant organizers and unemployed councils and agitators of the early 1930s did for FDR, pushing him into new paths, so angering the super rich that FDR, in one of his best moments, said, “They hate me, and I welcome their hatred!”

Obama needs such fire. It is up to us, the citizenry–and non-citizens too!–to ignite it.

Obama is most emphatically not a socialist, and whilst a level of public engagement by the population would be welcome and would open minds to more socialistic ideas, I doubt even he could be lurched leftwards. Still, the SPGB's height was during a period of reformist hope, and socialism is bred from promise not despair. After all, building such a movement can lead to a genuine socialist movement being built, why ask them in power when you can begin to do it yourself?

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