Marxism 2012: A review (by someone outside of the SWP)

From the 5th-9th July the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) hosted ‘Marxism 2012’ in and around University College London. Here is a brief review of several lectures and conclusions.

1)Keynesian Economics
2)The left in Germany
3)Precarious jobs?
4)The oil road: Baku to London
5)How the vote was won and lost
6)BRICS and South Africa
7)Politics of Autonomism
8)Conclusions

Keynesian Economics

Argued that Keynesian Economics does not work. Keynesian can be: capital financed, redistribution/investment, civilian or military. Civilian sectors often chosen as theoretically doesn’t compete with private sector. The crisis is caused by the fall in the average rate of profit (ARP), as stated by Marx. The worker is the result of ARP and rate of wages. The most efficient Neoliberalists often replace people with machinery.

If the quantity of money is increased this does not add more ‘real’ value. If this money is borrowed then all that is created is debt. Borrowing merely postpones the crisis, ultimately the crisis cannot be resolved until capital is destroyed. (Does this mean debt jubilees every 50 years?) Potentially this postponement is getting shorter with technological changes? Any government cuts merely decrease losses rather than increase ARP. The ‘golden age’ in the USA might not be due to Keynes but rather the pent up purchasing power from the war period.

Capitalism only ‘prospers’ if profitability does. Wage rise then profitability is destroyed by inflation IE gain in 1 sector is negated by loss in another. Demand may be increased but profitability is lowered. While this is called ‘equilibirum’ by economists, in reality the system always veers towards crisis. In any crisis as weaker capitalists go bankrupt overall production decreases. This can lead to ever bigger international corporations. Older capitalism should exhibit ever larger companies.

If the state sector takes a larger share then inevitably it starts acting like a ‘capitalist’. He argued you would need a ‘class consciousness’ before the state would act fairer. This would also be a requirement for any ‘debt jubilee’. While state can redistribute money it cannot end ‘boom and bust’ economy. Quantitative Easing is slow to have an effect, this lag is because ‘growth’ conditions are not present.

(very little discussion about tax!)

The left in Germany

You may have heard of ‘Die linke’ in Germany.

2011 3%  economic growth
2012 1% economic growth

Germany is often held up as a successful economy yet actually it hasn’t been very dynamic in recent years. The biggest changes have occurred between boss and worker. Unemployment fell to 7.1% unemployment in Germany but 50% youth unemployed. If you include those on state ‘top ups’/benefits then could be 63% or 70%.

‘Ruling class’

Real wages fell by 2.4% in 2007 and no National Minimum Wage (NMW), for examples wages can be £5 an hour in affluent areas. Over 1 million people are topped up by state. Benefits have been reduced to force people back into work. 80% of new jobs are within low wage sector. Trade unions made mistakes by accepting ‘competitive’ argument and allowing wages to devalued. The workforce is also becoming increasingly divided with with reduced wage working alongside full wage!

Eurozone

They have been trying to build a currency hegemony since 1870!, after WWII they decided that “if you can’t beat them you should join them”. After re-unification they were considered ‘sick man’ of Europe in the 1990s. Yet the people now think the opposite. In the past other countries could devalue their currency to defend against German exports but not once in the strict Euro. The fall of unemployment in Germany is mirrored by rise in other countries, also huge trade surplus. German exports broke €1000 billion but have fallen by 3% since 2007. German upper class are biggest benefactor of Eurozone. They want confident markets and corporations. Scared of defaults and debt. They assume:

1)Economy continue to grow.

2)That ‘ruling classes’ in eg. Greece and Spain will win.

3)That countries agree with Germany.

Germany is still trying to sell ‘austerity’ to other countries. Trade unions are undermined by decisions in recent years eg. accepting ‘your jobs will go abroad’ argument. Germany’s industry is also tied up with education, does this squash independent thinking?

Die Linke & Left

2005+2006 – reforms led to formation of Die Linke from all the splinters!

2009 – 11.4% vote in Parliament, biggest ever, but against a liberal-tory government.

But recently have been losing votes as Social Democrats adopted some of Die Linke policies. Reduced vote brought divisions and recently almost split Die Linke. Die Linke rely on ‘non-voters’. They have a membership of 8000 but rely on their 1500 activists but as soon as they got elected suddenly 400 activists were lost due to been voted in. In certain areas they tried joining SPD but then lost their anti-establishment votes! This lead to  internal fighting between left and right of Die Linke. Finally they became too fixated on parliamentary elections and not critical enough of unions.

They are now left of SD: left Keynesian, NMW, nationalisation of banks, organiser of social forces. SPD/SD vote for every rescue package but not Die Linke. Looking forward to 2o23 elections.

Similar pattern seems to be happening in Netherlands BUT recently they fell out over budget.

Pirate party!

Background of usual ‘New Labour’ vs Tory story. Greens got 24% after Fukushima but then went down to 12%. Pirate party ripped into Die linke in Berlin. Latest poll puts Die Linke and Pirate Party on same amount. Pirate party is definitely ‘anti-establishment’ but anyone can join pirate party.

Precarious Jobs

Until 1970s  there was 1.5% unemployment for 3 decades. Was the 1980s a crisis of Fordism?

1986 > polarised workforce between flexible and inflexible.

1990s > concept of ‘precarious’ or ‘insecure’ appears according to OECD research.

Labour no longer in a fixed location, which led some to call it ‘turbo capitalism’. Bonds between boss and labour are weaker. Public perception of no ‘jobs for life’ yet the amount of workers in job longer than 10 years has increased. Temporary agency work only make ups 1% of jobs. Employers prefer existing workers. So why has the idea become more prevalent? He argued that the idea of ‘precarity’ is a form of social control, IE a empty threat. Idea of a ‘precarious’ class is nonsense. Playing on people need for emotional ‘security’ eg. fixed retirement age.

Crisis

In the UK house price collapse not as big as elsewhere eg. 53% drop in Ireland. The US ‘crisis’ wiped out £7 trillion of equity, reckon will take 30 years to sell all excess housing! In Ireland expect more than 40+ years to clear stock!

Debt passed onto public sector and so leads to austerity. The 2010 shock different to 1980s as no ‘family silver’ left to sell. Crisis is not just unemployment as this is lower than in 1980/90s. There is now a market in everything eg welfare, fees, education, benefits. Quantity rather than quality? You can’t cut health/education in same way as coal/gas, it is now completely political decision. .

Young people are disproportionately affected. ‘precarity’ is a form of social control, IE a empty threat. Idea of a ‘precarious’ class is nonsense. The crisis generalises across society. He argued “there is no separate salaried bourgeois”

(as you can imagine this generated a lot of questions, here are some of the answers)

There is stories of zero-hour contracts but “precarity is a symptom of capitalism but it has not increased recently”. The turnover of staff may be increasing but so is the turnover of employed and unemployed. In USA from 1983-2010 the average job tenure increased by 25% over 3 decades. To be flexible with labour it has to be guaranteed labour. There has been increased long term employment, particularly amongst women. No growth in agency jobs. We are falsely told we are in competition. Unions sometimes make things worse eg. In USA a union campaigned against outsourcing when not the issue! There are fewer young people in trade unions?

The oil road: Baku to London (book launch)

Book: ‘The Oil Road: Travels from the Caspian to the City’ (to be published late august 2012) also see Since the 1870s oil has been exported from Baku on a large scale. There has been British investment in area since 1890s. The Nobels and Rothshilds involved in 19th Century. This led to radical papers spreading via new tankers + rail. Eventually working conditions led to strikes and led to some victories.

Modern day

There have been various  protests against modern oil pipelines running from Baku towards the Mediterranean eg. Local Kurdish fishermen suffered. By buying oil BP is actively underwriting Azerbajahn regime. Oil companies ensure near political immunity along their pipelines. I one example they were keen to avoid resettlement so put pipe beneath two communities. Locals had little choice and would have preferred resettlement. RBS is a big sponsor and their NGO projects in area are mostly useless. BP sponsors the Olympics, various London institutes, Tate and UK military!! BP owns 40 tankers named after birds or trees!, a blatant example of green washing. BP but mostly hires tankers. They Get navy protection when passing through Aden. They pay for an officer in a London based command sector who is seconded to MOD! The connections between the MOD and UK oil companies is disturbing. Subsidies to oil industry could be around £3.2bn once factor in MOD etc? Only 2% of the Tate gallery is sponsored by BP yet logos make up a large % and the rest of Tate is government funded.

In Ireland there has been a similar fight against the pipeline against a West Coast pipeline. The land beneath the pipe was sold for a pittance. In Canada the Tory government is increasing the amount oil tar sands exploitation. To get 1 barrel of crude oil takes 3 barrels of water. The process releases climate changing gas and destroys wetland carbon sink

Yet many green alternatives to oil use Rare earths and which are mined in terrible conditions.

The ‘invisibility of oil’ is astounding, you only see it when something has gone wrong! This is the complete opposite to many other commodities. Does this give them power?

Is Labour finished?

65000 people have joined so far in 2012 but electoral turnout is low. In May 2012 less than 1 in 3 voted. They insisted on cuts, condemned the strikes and have recently made right wing statement on immigration. Labour intiated NHS privatisation and was one of reasons unions didn’t campaign around it. Labour are like the ‘unruly relative’.

History

Trade unions are reformist not revolutionary. From 1924-29 there was the first labour government. They ended up similar to the Liberal party by been for trade union laws and against general strike. In the 1930s they even had a coalition with the Tories. From 1945-51 the left had a potential to take to gain control, they created theNHS and welfare but arguably Tories would have done same thing as people were unhappy and potentially revolutionary. However…

1947 crisis > made strikes illegal and can order in troops, initiated nuclear weapons and created prescription charges.

Yet Ralph Milliband argued against reformism and for revolution!

2012 Galloway won as he ‘looked like a winner’

Recently GMB was highly critical of Labour. PCS will now support any candidates in election against any party : )

Are the technocrats now in control? Part of the ‘insideous’ ideology of capitalism is to reduce solidarity and common interests.

The vote: how is was won and undermined 

Tony Benn

He is scared of ‘left pessimism’, people need and should have confidence. He argued for ‘more democracy in industry and trade unions’ and “do it ourselves; or not at all”. He believes that politicians facilitate change but it is the public who decide

He then reiterated his famous quote:

“what power do you have; where did you get it; in whose interests do you exercise it; to whom are you accountable; and, how can we get rid of you? Anyone who cannot answer the last of those questions does not live in a democratic system”

First they call you ‘mad’, then ‘dangerous’ and finally put you in ‘prison’ before then claiming it was their idea!

BRICS and South Africa

China’s economy will be bigger than USA by 2016. Then India will take over by 2043. Economists still look at ‘linear growth’ IE eternal growth!

Average size economies based on 2011 IMF/WD/CIA data
1)USA
2)China
3)Japan
4)Germany
5)France
6)Brazil
7)UK
8)Italy
9)Russia
10)India
11)South Africa

But how well is USA holding on? China is growing by 8% per year but that is now decreasing. BRICS are increasingly becoming foreign investors and now have large holdings. Similar to Asian tigers in 1950s, eg South Korea?

In 2010 China had 10.4% of exports… US = 8.4%….Japan = 5.1% and Russia 2.6%

Cure the crisis?

If you don’t include China than the BRICs show no increase in output  (See indispensable economy) in recent years. BRICs are just as dependent on the world economy and therefore a limit to how much they can ‘save’ capitalism. Investment is simply displaced from one place to another and ecological crisis is made worse. The most polluted cities are in China. In COP 2009 Obama told countries to ‘take it or leave it’.  China, India, USA and S.Africa formed a mini cartel. This was as much a cartel as part of geopolitics. For example there are Chinese ports around India. India was non aligned but has now signed nuclear deal with USA. Vietnam may have nuclear deal with China. Siberia is churning out gas yet 30% of Siberian households are without gas! China and USA are posturing in the Pacific. USA has 12 of the world’s 15 aircraft carriers!!

The recent Rio conference appeared to be about commodifying nataure

Rather than new  ‘growth’ many would argue it is simply ‘catch up’ growth. Eventually this they will reach equilibrium or decline. Containerisation was important in this process but China only gets a relatively small % (lower ‘surplus value’) due to long chain of production. China is now been forced to invest more in development and research. US has focused on high end design + computers. Yet Chinese research institutes predict by 2015 a car will be cheaper to produce in the USA than China!

Politics of Autonomism

Examples income NGOs, direct local action, alternative lifestyles, co-ops. Anti-authoritarian and “reject reformist parties”. Argued that refusing to negotiate with capital is not the solution as causes division. Also may lead to emphasis on technology over people. Possibly if co-ops become too big the ‘ruling class’ will take action.

Can small groups have impact or as Tony Negri says lead to the ‘multitude.

Speaker also argued that socialists share ideas but don’t reject ideas, elections or revolution.

I have to say I found this talk poor and the questions were highly critical. They knocked the ‘occupy movement’, yet if it was so poor why are they still talking about it? I would argue that many small groups are willing to work with others and activists once they have taken that leap will often remain activists.

Conclusions

I was initially wary of going to a SWP event but didn’t get into too many arguments! I appreciated that they had set up different areas of the university grounds for different regions, all though arguably this may encourage division (!). The bars on campus were expensive but you could buy food/drink in local shops and sit in the university grounds. The ‘crash space’ was several Kurdish community centres out in North London. The Kurdish centres were involved with Stalinist Kurds and so support Marxism in any form. The nightclub hired on the final night was a bit expensive but I suppose it is London.

Laetitia Sadia (Stereolab) playing at final night event

It appeared than 50% of attendees were SWP members. These could be broadly divided again into ‘hardline’ and non-hardline. The ‘hardline’ refused to consider anything outside of the SWP and were very sectarian (SWP front = ‘right to work’ etc). The others would talk about other groups. Someone spotted that amongst the DVDs of last years one of her friends has been removed because he was no longer a member. Another issue is who runs the SWP? while claiming no leader there central committee seems shady. However I enjoyed the conference and may attend again. And I appreciate the SWP campaigns against fascism.

I wonder if perhaps we should have a northern or at least midland left wing conference, inviting all of the groups in the top image of this page and any other similar ones. Ensuring that all speakers do not stray into party policy and strict rules on political stalls/hustings.

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