Nothing induces stress more than the slump that capitalism has plunged Britain into. And nothing eases stress better than the commitment to make a revolution...
This article is a shortened and edited version of a speech given at this years CPBML May Day Rally, held in Conway Hall, London, on 1 May. The speakers is a health worker based in London.
How many of you work in workplaces where everyone is pretty anxious about the state of the country? If you are retired or not in work, you may indeed come across this view even more frequently. So what to do about this anxiety?
Nurses and doctors on a regular basis hear people say, the worst thing is “not knowing”. I have seen people get a difficult diagnosis but they visibly become less stressed because they know what they are dealing with. The human race is here because it can deal with difficult problems. We are not daunted by adversity.
No one in the Communist Party of Britain Marxist-Leninist doubts that a revolutionary change in the way we do things would be extremely difficult but human beings have achieved very difficult things in the past. So although “make a revolution” is not the standard treatment for anxiety, I recommend it.
You might be sitting there still toying with the Labour Party being different to the Conservatives, but in your heart you know that Labour in power did not reverse any legislation hostile to trade unions, and it supported the Private Finance Initiative started by Thatcher.
Indeed, you know that John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were Thatcher’s sons in that they all continued the policy of destroying Britain’s industrial base and promoting finance capital, which led directly to the financial crash of 2008.
Face up to it
So face the situation as it is. Yes, it’s grim. Yes, it is anxiety-provoking. But once you have faced how it is, the anxiety starts to lessen because you channel your anger into doing something about it. Better for your blood pressure and the state of the country.
Workers deal with difficult stuff. In day-to-day nursing and medical work, we use a simple process for any situation: Assess, Plan, Implement, Evaluate. Probably no different to an engineer building a bridge.
So in tonight’s title we are not just thinking about the struggle of ideas in an abstract way. No, we need to have our ideas and our assessment in order to plan, to act and then evaluate. Imagine being the first emergency service at the scene of that hen party minibus crash. It must have been horrendous. But they just got on with it – assess, plan, implement, and probably everyone involved is still trying to evaluate whether we could have done it better.
Politicians try to tell you they deal with the difficult stuff but how do you think Cameron, Duncan Smith, Gove would have coped at that crash scene? Workers every day deal with much more daunting things than politicians can even begin to imagine.
Marxists talk about practice, theory, practice. What you will notice is that everything starts and ends with practice, meaning your active involvement. We are up against an enemy that wants to prevent this process even beginning.
Take one very recent practical example. On the 23 April the Archbishop of Canterbury said we are in an economic depression. George Osborne, who appointed him to the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, was asked on the Today programme on Radio 4 that very morning, “Do you agree that we are in a depression?” To which he answered: “I agree with the Archbishop’s analysis” and so he was asked again, “So, do you agree that we are in depression?” To which he answered: “I agree with the Archbishop’s analysis.” It was like one of those nursery stories but the big bad wolf was short of time and wasn’t able to ask the little pig for the third time•
Of course, if you have been reading our journal Workers or have attended our public meeting series you would have known that we have been writing about the current depression, the first of the 21st century, for some time. I merely use the story of the Archbishop and the Chancellor as one illustration of things we are not allowed to think and indeed in this instance a word we are not allowed to utter.
The reason that the acknowledgement that we are in an economic depression is important is because solving any problem begins by a process of assessment of it. At the moment the state of the country is like a patient in denial who never presents for assessment let alone diagnosis and treatment.
The City: the heart of London, and the heart of Britain’s problems. Billingsgate, once the biggest fish market in the world and now an “events venue” sits dwarfed by expensive and bombastic new buildings. Tourist boats float by. And where in all of this is production?
The Thatcherite maxim “There is no alternative” is underpinned by another daft idea which needs tackling. Version One is that no one saw the financial crisis of 2008 coming. Version Two is that the whole world economic crisis was created by the last Labour government – even though they admit that the subprime mortgage market was an important trigger, and as you know, that started in the United States. So pick and choose from those two incompatible daft ideas.
In 2008 the Queen went to the London School of Economics and upon meeting some learned economists asked, “Did none of you chaps see this coming?” A top question.
The crises keep coming back
If any one of those academics had an ounce of history about them they could have said that a certain chap with a bushy beard back in the 19th century wrote about “crises that by their periodical return put the existence of the entire bourgeois society on its trial, each time more threateningly”.
Karl Marx wasn’t predicting the future, he was analysing his present time. He was analysing the nature of this system that human beings have created, and he worked out it was pretty naff:
“And how does the bourgeoisie get over these crises? On the one hand by enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces; on the other, by the conquest of new markets, and by the more thorough exploitation of the old ones. That is to say, by paving the way for more extensive and more destructive crises, and by diminishing the means whereby crises are prevented.”
The final stage in our everyday work process: Evaluate. Evaluate that learning.
Marx has been proved right so far and with the 1930s Great Depression lasting 10 years, his reference to “more extensive” proved accurate.
Marx also understood finance capital. Money-lending long preceded industrial capital and was external to it, he explained. It existed in a symbiosis much like that between a parasite and its host. “Both usury and commerce exploit the various modes of production,” he wrote. “They do not create [production], but attack it from the outside.”
But even Marx underestimated quite how stupid our current day capitalist class would be. Anything like the 2008-09 Bush-Obama-Brown-Cameron bailouts of financial speculators in his day was unthinkable.
Talking about finance capital Marx said, “The entire artificial system of forced expansion of the reproduction process cannot, of course, be remedied by having some bank, like the Bank of England, give to all the swindlers the deficient capital by means of its paper and having it buy up all the depreciated commodities at their old nominal values.”
Marx never dreamt that this ludicrous solution would be attempted in autumn 2008 as the US Treasury paid off all of AIG’s gambling and “casino capitalist” losses at taxpayer expense, followed by the Federal Reserve buying junk mortgage packages at par. We are in uncharted waters here.
And in Britain we started a list of bank bailouts with Northern Rock. According to the National Audit Office, Britain has since 2007 committed to spending £1.162 trillion at various points on bailing out the banks. The actual figure has fluctuated.
How to get a sense of scale here? Well, the whole of the NHS, despite a rise in the population and an even greater rise in the elderly population, has to save £20 billion in the period of this parliament. And in the past week we have had more chatter about health and education budgets bailing out defence.
Real wealth only comes from two routes: from natural resources which have a value and from the labour of workers who make things which are then sold. The employer takes the lion’s share in profit. Workers get back a little in wages, the amount dependent on how organised they are. The factory owner in Dhaka and all the long chain associated with him were so keen to take profit that they forgot to keep back even the tiny fraction needed to keep the factory standing.
What is going on across Europe now is an investment strike of epic proportions. And all our historic wealth as a country is being diverted to what Marx called the “swindlers”: banks, tax avoidance schemes, energy company rip-offs. Add them all. Can a small, medium or large enterprise get a loan from a bank to produce something real? No! The parasite that Marx talked about is bringing down the host. It will even sacrifice industrial capitalists.
Most definitely it is content to take down workers and indeed whole countries, even though we are the only ones who can generate wealth. Greece down, Cyprus down, Spain, Italy – and so on.
Money flows to swindlers, there is an investment strike, and all the time they’re telling us to do our bit. Yes we do need to get our ideas straight on those things but self-inflicted blocks to our thinking are more serious. We workers have been equally stupid. Instead of fighting for decent wages – investing in ourselves – in recent years we have also “printed our own money” by getting the credit card out. Of course the banks sent us letters sometimes more than one a day, encouraging us to take loans out. But we did it.
Employers soon worked out that getting employees into debt was a top plan for them, making it less likely that we would take industrial action – that and the readily available reserve army of labour flowing across Europe to keep wages low.
We have disinvested in trade unions, sometimes by leaving them but more often by treating them as an insurance company. Unless trade unions are grounded in the workplace and are about a collective solution to everyday problems, they are nothing.
Free movement versus planning
A huge section of the population has worked out that the free movement of labour across Europe means you cannot plan anything. Life is endlessly unmanageable. In our recent Congress we said that the British people have to declare their intention to leave the EU, they are looking for a means to do that.
The real struggle of ideas is with ourselves – within the working class. There is even a motion going to the annual congress of my union, UCU, from the national executive saying we have to stay in the EU to protect the rights of workers. We need to get our own heads in order.
We have stayed out of the single currency. As a people we are now looking for a way to declare our intention to leave the EU. We want to stabilise the population to rebuild.
Only Marxist economics can get us out of this hole. The enemy class is mobile, it doesn’t care about Britain. It does not care if the lights go out.
I don’t underestimate the difficulties we would face if we tried to impose our assess, plan and implement – our logical workers’ way of doing things. They would not like it. They would definitely try to pull the plug. But we remain a very skilled working class, and we are good at solving problems.
• Don’t make it harder by waiting for the attacks to increase.
• Play your part in the struggle for ideas.
• Join this Party! ■