A rethink about Labour

  • Posted on: 20 February 2018
  • By: thecollective

via Freedom News

For most of the last 40 years it has been quite simple making anarchist arguments against the political system. There has barely been a cigarette paper’s difference between the main parties as both rushed to embrace the neo-liberal consensus that sees the role of the State as guaranteeing good conditions for business. And always taking the side of capital over labour in any dispute. Even people far removed from any sort of anarchist or communist politics make the same observation.

Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader of the Labour Party and subsequent reinforcement as leader after the General Election has changed that. I am personally sceptical that he can deliver very much of what he has promised, but I am not alone in finding it refreshing that a now mainstream political figure has addressed issues that I hold dear, such as housing and workers’ rights. To use a phrase from Chomsky, Corbyn has committed to “widening the floor of the cage.” The experience of Syriza in Greece ought to make Corbyn’s cheerleaders take pause, though to their credit, Corbyn and McDonnell do seem to have thought about this quite a lot. Nor is there any getting away from the fact that there is an awful lot wrong with our society.

But none of this is an anarchist response. What do we say now that the easy “they’re all the same” line is not possible? It’s quite tempting to either fall back on the usual refusal to engage with politicians or be swept up in the momentum of a mild, fairly principled socialist leader suddenly being very popular — at least among certain parts of the country. Neither actually help. We need to revisit what is distinct about anarchism: we are opposed to Capital and the State. We should be talking about our problems with power in all its forms — and it will be interesting if Corbyn ever succeeds in his aim of devolving some powers away from Westminster, likely to be anathema to a centralising Labour Party.

Nationalisation is seen as a panacea by the left. While it is a logical step to try and bring some sense to our fragmented railways and cash-cow utilities, the idea that it is somehow a good thing independent of how it is operated is ridiculous. At no point have any of its cheerleaders suggested the idea of nationalisation under workers’ control.

Who will be in charge of a nationalised utility or railway? The government. Who has kept public sector workers’ pay frozen for eight years? The government. The Birmingham refuse strike was about a local council, Labour-run, trying to force through a significant pay cut. It was not alone — teaching assistants in Labour-run Durham have been fighting a long campaign against massive cuts in pay. This sort of thing seemed to get a lot more traffic when it was being done by the Greens in Brighton, I wonder why?

The Left imagines that the State can be captured and used to overturn the policies of the last 40 years, that all it takes is different personnel at the top. This ignores the class nature of the bureaucracy. Once senior managers in public services are in position, they always bring in reorganisations and new ways of working and usually leave shortly after. This does not just fall from the sky — bureaucrats are motivated by career opportunities and nothing burnishes a CV like a successful reorganisation.

Anyone new coming to this, without the experiences that have formed other bureaucrats, will inevitably look to what their colleagues suggest so as to fit in. The “good” people get captured by the system, which would tend to support a classical anarchist view that it is the system itself which is the problem.

Svartfrosk


This article first appeared in the Winter 2017 issue of Freedom Anarchist Journal

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Comments

Britain is still based on racism. The school teachers (who want more cash) teach the indoctrination! So, fuck them and their demands for more money: how about less indoctrination? Corbyn will sell his soul for the drug of power, that's why anarchists don't do democracy and voting. As a vegan, welfarism (aka widening the cage , humane treatment of non-humans) hasn't been successful for non-humans as can be seen by the horrendous conditions of factory farming, both on land and in water etc. Corbyn and the left are about welfare; I'm about abolition. The use of non-humans has to go. Non-humans as human property has to go. Humans having to rent themselves in order to live has to go. Abolition has to be the aim: abolition of hierarchy and sentient life being treated as property and for profiteering.

sentience is overrated. i'd rather be an avocado.

It's possible that Corbyn could achieve as much as Attlee achieved. Reforms which keep the system going, but reconfigure it in a more worker-friendly direction. A transition from neoliberalism to neo-Keynesianism - which, according to Kondratiev wave theory, capitalism actually needs right now. It takes a context, however. And Corbyn faces a number of major obstacles.

Firstly, he hasn't purged the Labour MPs (British equivalent of Congress) and Britain is a parliamentary, not a presidential system. With a small or even a large majority, the Blairites can blackmail Corbyn by abstaining or voting against the party line (the Tories are currently having the same problem with Brexit). It's even possible that the Blairites will leave and form their own party after the next election if Corbyn doesn't sell out - at which point he will lose his majority and probably need a second election (or the Blairites will join with the Tories in a national government). Corbyn may avoid this by forcing reselection contests before the next election - but this may cause the Blairites to leave and split the vote *before* the election, instead.

Secondly, a Corbyn victory would probably be followed - or preceded - by capital flight. This is what happened in Brazil prior to the Lula victory. This may pressure Corbyn to sell-out pre-emptively so as to stabilise the economy or avoid a resultant defeat. Hence, Corbyn will probably be forced, either on the eve of the election or right after, to make a strong decision either to sell out or to openly confront global capital.

Thirdly, a lot of the British right-wing are primed to absolutely loathe Corbyn. There is a constituency there for mass right-wing or far-right protests, assassination attempts, disruption similar to the Venezuelan guarimbos. This constituency would get support, if not outright incitement, from most of the British mass media, and maybe the United States.

Fourthly, countries which deviate from global capitalism (even rather moderately, and even if they remain democratic) come under sustained economic, media, and political attack. Look at what's happened down the years to countries like Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Iran, Cuba, and Libya. In Britain's case, this would entail a sudden cold war with the country's closest allies (the US and EU), and probably a realignment towards Russia and China. This isn't going to sit well with the British deep state, and Corbyn certainly hasn't proposed it. But the alternative would be to capitulate to whatever the US demanded so as to remain on good terms with the world order. Hence, basically, a repeat of Syriza or Lula.

I'm not sure how anarchists should stand in relation to such possible shifts. They aren't anarchist shifts, and they leave the root problems of capitalism unsolved. There's a huge risk of Corbyn selling-out on his agenda, and not everything on the agenda is progressive in any case (e.g. idpol and COIN bullshit). If he doesn't sell-out then there's risks he'll become much more authoritarian in response to right-wing-induced instability. But, a rebuilt welfare state, nationalised services, and a universal basic income or easier benefits would create a more conducive environment for anarchist activity. Provided it doesn't involve cybernetic/biometric control and Sesame Credit-style measures, a transition to neo-Keynesianism would be very beneficial for the anarchist movement, as well as for individual anarchists.

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