Friday, 16 November 2007

Amish politics

Like many reactionary enemies of the working class in the Labour Party, I am primarily following the Respect split for its comedy value. Partly this is straight up schadenfreude. Respect is a pain and an electoral challenge for Labour in some areas. And its splitting of the Left vote has helped a Tory win a council by-election recently, something Respect actually crowed about on its website.

But more so it's the kind of discussion you see on the far left about the split. I have seen the main protaganists be compared to people the Bolshevik/Menshevik split, or to Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, without a trace of irony. It's a tiny corner of the UK where you can go and watch people talk about whether the USSR was state capitalist or a degenerated workers state as if their lives depend on it. And such factional issues are far more important to members of this community than current issues. It's telling that on the (actually rather good) Trot blog Socialist Unity, posts about the Respect split have recently often attracted more than 100 comments. Yet an article by Martin Wicks on the same blog about private equity - which you might think has been a rather important issue for the labour movement this year - has just one comment. And that's mine!

I realised the other day that what it actually reminds me of is the Amish community in the film Witness. Like the Amish, the far left has cut itself off from the rest of society and refuses to live in the modern world. It's an inward-looking community that has its own arcane language that no-one else uses. Members talk about 'layers of activists' and 'recomposition' and use the word 'bourgeois' a lot. This is terminology that leaves me, as a lefty, feeling cold and I share a little bit of common ground with them. My other half, who is a 24 carat prole from a council estate in Northern Ireland, and as such presumably the sort of person they ought to be appealing to, just thinks they are loonies.

Equally they have built giant belief systems on top of premises that the rest of society no longer shares. Whereas for the Amish this was the existence of God and strict religious rules, for the far left it's Marxist mumbo jumbo that has predicted 15 of the last death throes of the capitalist order. For both groups the fact that the rest of society shows no interest in their belief system does not demonstrate that they are wrong, it shows that the rest of society doesn't 'get it', primarily because they haven't read the right books.

Part of me has some grudging respect for their decision to stick so firmly to their principles, like the Amish sticking to non-violence despite provocation. But, like with insular religious groupings, my overwhelming reaction is that it's a community I have no desire to ever be a part of.


Copey86 said...

Lol, clearly because our class has yet to read the correct books, as opposed to your arguments that if only people read this or that book/blog post about how 'we' use our financial assest responsibly everything would be fine! Equating the desire to explain a pov does not make it wrong, and neither does dismissing a political analysis on the grounds that some of its slef proclaimed adheretns are fruitcakes. A very good analysis of why respect has failed from a marxist pov is relatively easy and has been proved correct given the reasons for its disintefration, this example proves the futility of popular fronts based on old wars and of the swps tactics of sacrifing principal for power, thus opening up avenues for new and better ideas to supeercede them - the battle of ideas.

As for esoteric debates on whehter or not Russia was state-capitalist/ bureaucratic collectivist etc, I fully understand how you feel, especially as a relative youth on the far left (21), however, given the association between marx, socialism in general and Stalinism, it is important to understand exactly what it was, and what it was not, and why - the burden for propounding our views falls on us, so we ought to have answers.

As for the 'responsible use of finanical assets' people dont have time to manage each of their own investmetns to be used ethically or whatever, or to found companies that can carry out these purposes if none currently exist. A class of professional administrators would have to exist - yet be responsible to the community and to individual shareholders at the same time. I just don't understand your blogs entire viewpoint, I cant comprehend that the selling of fair trade chocolate and the 'responsible' use of workers defered wages and investmetns will solve our problems. Surely the state would have to co-ordinate all this on peoples behalfs... and there we are slap bang wallop state capitalism whoopee! Capital requires expansion and pension funds will get cashed in and spent, and besides soon no one will have meaningful pensions as the baby boomer pop their clogs! How will the self expanding requirement of capital, under 'responsible' control avert the current ecological crisis, or plan production for need accross the globe, rather than a fat minority and a slum majority? What about free provision of life saving drugs on a global basis? What about the profit motive?

Tom P said...


I don’t claim to have an overarching theory – like marxism – that can explain how every bit of society functions, or what will happen in the future. I’m interested in simple ideas based on practical experience that achieve incremental change. I’ve been working on this stuff with trade unions and others for about 6 years now and I have seen it achieve some positive results.

my simple-minded non-marxist analysis of the USSR is that it was a giant human mincing machine that denied its citizens basic rights, murdered them in their hundreds of thousands, and failed to provide a standard of living comparable to the West. It failed on all fronts. By a process of dialectical reasoning I have come to the conclusion that is was A Very Bad Indeed-ist regime, as so many other Marxist-inspired states have proven to be. Understandably therefore it was overthrown by the proles as soon as they thought they could do so without self-appointed champions of the working class shooting them.

My final point is that to be honest I think it is actually much easier to take yourself off into the far left ghetto and spend your life talking about the USSR and the 4th International and all that other guff than it is to deal with the mundane reality of stuff that really affects working people, like pensions.

The workers’ capital movement isn’t intended to solve ‘everything’ but it can play a positive role. What’s the alternative? Hand over all our money to the City no questions asked and wait for the revolution to sort it all out? That just seems like a cop-out to me.

John Gray said...

Comrade Tom

Do not worry, the Trade Union Workers Capital Pension Collective have added the young red tiger to our list.

Come the Glorious day of the Revolution he will be placed against a wall and be subject to 24/7 Actuarial presentations on Asset Liability Modelling Techniques – that will sort them Russian Doll Splitters and Wreakers out! Don’t you worry!

Copey86 said...

Yes the ussr was indeed Very Bad Indeed, but we have to be able to explain why and why it wasn't a socialist society, wheras you dont.

As for simply acting, laudably, on your own experience, this is no basis for really changing society, For instaance, yesterday I attended the 'People and Planet' conference/events day, and went to a talk on the various horrors and evils of the supra-national pharma companies. The figures were presented starkly, the blood price, the neccessity that people die from prohibitively expensive drugs so that they can have them at all - the logic of an exchange value economy driven by the profit motive. But then, despite this and all the other terrible facts and iniquoties presented to us, the lady giving the presentation decided that the solution was to engage with the WTO and WHO to try and set up a voluntary drugs pool that would allow co-operative buying by a number of poverty stricken nations at once, as if this is going to save more than a handful of lives whilst guranteeing consistnet royalties to drugs corps! Her lack of a coherant analysis thus led her from,as a visceral opponent of the horrors of the current system, to acting as an unwitting support for it and all that she claimed to abhor. Likewise she was acting only on her own experience.

Neverthelees, good on you for doing somehting. You certainly seem to know the ins and outs of bizzare finance stuff.