Friday 6 August 2010

How Labour Can Win Again

Everyone's probably seen or heard about this report from Demos by now. Much of the media and blog comment has focused on the spin Demos has given the results, which claims Labour lost the election because it was too leftwing and wanted to save public services. The way back into the electorate's good books, it argues, is to embrace the Big Society and join the Tories in butchering the public sector.

You could be forgiven for thinking Demos were attacking the Labour manifesto of 1983, not that of 2010. While it may not have been to the taste of the Tories, for whom the deficit and the Big Society are foils for bombing Britain's welfare provision back to the stone age, by any measure
A Future Fair For All was no radical break with the status quo. It was an amalgam of Brown's late conversion to Keynes-lite, a dose of creepy illiberalism, interesting stuff on arts, communities, and the environment, and rounded off with a superficial dusting of mutualism.

Nor could the election campaign be described as leftist (or even leftish). I did not imagine Brown's defence of Trident or competition with the Tories to see who could be most beastly to immigrants. I *wish* I had hallucinated Alistair Darling's claim that cuts under a re-elected Labour government would be worse than Thatcher's, but I didn't. For all intents and purposes this was a campaign fought on the centre ground of the neoliberal consensus, which is a terrain far more congeal to the Tories and LibDems.

My intention however is not so much to pooh-pooh the Demos recommendations, but pre-empt its reception among the more right wing elements of the party. You can almost hear the arguments now as triangulators and technocrats fall over themselves offering leadership contenders (and anyone who'll listen) the same advice that has seen party membership, standing and support tumble over the last 13 years. This is the worship of accomplished fact at its most stark, of the (contradictory) flipside of New Labour's arrogance and elitism, that ultimately we must bow to the wisdom of the crowd.

I don't accept this for one second. Beatrice Webb is said to have noted "there is no such thing as spontaneous public opinion. It all has to be manufactured from a centre of conviction and energy". Even if we accept the Demos findings as gospel (and I do not), it also means acknowledging this is the product of the social and political changes of the last 30 years. It rests on the realisation that public opinion can be changed. Setting out alternatives to the cuts, renewing the trade unions, active campaigning at the community level, attacking the Tories' 19th century agenda, rebuilding, reorganising ... all of these things and more is what we need to do for Labour and the labour movement to win again. Labour shouldn't follow public opinion: it should seek to *l
ead* it. That's the path back to power, not pandering to prejudice or tailing received wisdom.


Chris said...

It is like the bank bailouts never happened for these people. We are living through the goldfish epoch.
It seems to me most people have already forgot the lies told in the run up to Iraq and they are now ready to believe everything the ruling class representatives tell them.

Anyway, it just doesn't tally with the facts to say Labour lost the election because of it's 'defence' of public services. You can argue against the state by all means but these people just make up lies to support their position.

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

Great picture, stirring stuff!

Boffy said...


I don't think you need worry too much about the DEMOS position. A political realignment is occuring as I suggested would happen before the election. Around 30,000 people have joined Labour in the last few weeks. About a third are former Liberals, and about a third are LP members who have rejoined. As I blogged recently groups like the AWL are preparing to collapse back into the LP, because they have nowhere else to go, and its probably only a matter of time before others wake up to reality too. Although, such groups will no doubt continue their sectarian politics, the past shows that in respect of organising a "Left" wing they can have an effect. My concern would be that their sectarianism, and past behavoiur suggests they would be more interested in simply "Party building" and destructive attacks on the leadership, rather than building the kind of active base that would create the conditions for developing a new leadership.

The Liberals are cratering, and the obvious direction is for them to split and the Right to merge with the Tories. The same process is likely to see the Tory Right defect to UKIP. But, with the failure of all the sectarian "New Party" ventures, the Trades Unions will also be forced to raise their propaganda inside the LP at a time when LP leaders will see an advantage in attacking Tory Cuts. The danger is that this will simply be diverted down a statist, economistic route.

The discussions being held over at The Commune are interesting in terms of building a Marxist altermative to the old failed, statism.

Phil said...

I was talking to some friends on the Left before the election. We could see it was going to be a tough one for Labour to win, but we were cautiously optimistic. Some of us were also attracted by some of the scenarios where Labour didn't win: a hung parliament, for example, would surely lead to a Lab-Lib coalition and the introduction of PR, which would be ultimately good for the Left. Even if Labour lost outright, somebody said, at least that would mean the party would have to abandon the current rightward march and move back to the Left.

Something about this last suggestion didn't sound right to me. "If Labour lose, I think they'll move to the Right," I said - or rather, heard myself saying: once the words were out of my mouth I realised that I had no idea what they meant. Why would they move Right instead of Left, when a right-wing agenda had just been defeated? More importantly, how could they move any further Right? My friends made these points themselves, leaving me to mutter something unconvincing about how it was just a feeling I had.

The election in question took place in 1992. Labour did lose - and we can probably all agree that they did move to the Right.

The lesson I draw from that memory is never to underestimate the Labour leadership's desire to abandon left-wing commitments, or how far Right they're prepared to go in the process. Unfortunately I think we're in for more of the same after the leadership election - there's only one candidate who uses the word 'Left' without feeling the need to prefix it with words like 'new' or 'renewed' (meaning 'not Left'), and she's almost certainly not going to be elected.

Gary Elsby said...

It should also be noted that Stoke-on-Trent's Labour Party is busily canvassing the public for a 'lead' on where to adminsiter nice cuts.
This City is a regenerating City in the beginning stages and is looking forward to £30M worth of cuts.
Labour should take the lead and demand no cuts whatsoever and not pander to prejudice.

Labour moves to a more right wing agenda simply because a more right wing agenda defeated it.The mindset of post Kinnock is that a more left wing agenda was an achilles heel made up of gesture politics such as unilateralism.In those days, we just rolled over and went with the flow because our arguments always failed at the ballot box.
The renewing of the missile system to trident is a case in example. It is sheer lunacy and vandalism politics to even suggest such a course of action.
Labour's lead is to renew.
The public say different.

Phil said...

Boffy, I'm not worried about what Demos have to say. I'm more concerned what the right of the party will do with these findings, seeing as it suits their prejudices. If Labour goes to the polls again with an anemic, technocratic campaign no different in political substance to the last four manifestos and campaigns, the party will not win.

Phil said...

TGR, while it is true Brown's light touch regulation made the financial crisis deeper than it could have been, it's also true his policies (which didn't go far enough IMO) prevented the shit really hitting the fan. But in so doing he transformed a banking crisis into a public spending crisis. Ask yourself why public sector workers and those that depend on welfare provision should be driven into poverty while the wealthy and the super rich continue to coin it? Surely a key measure of civilisation is for those who benefit the most from the system to sacrifice the most when it goes belly up?

Incidentally, by what measures are the coalition doing a "good job"?

Phil said...

I'd agree with that, Gary. Most Labour folk are against the cuts, and yet do not believe Labour-controlled authorities should do their best to resist them. Ken Livingstone has clearly said if he wins back the London mayoralty in 2012 he will use his position to oppose cuts. Why can't others?

The position of Stoke council is particularly absurd. It seeks to lop off £30m while it is owed £40m! Instead of pouring resources into identifying cuts surely they would be better spent chasing the money its owed?

Boffy said...


For so many reasons this is not 1992. I'm not suggesting that any of the Labour leaders are even going to go back to the politics of Old Labour, or even the right-wing Labourism of Kinnock, but for their own careerist ends they will have to adopt a more Leftish stance, and that will open a space. The question is what the left does with it. In 1983, I was expelled from the Labour Group for refusing to vote for a 50p rent rise. In 1984, I made a very public resignation from the Council, on the basis of refusing to vote for any Cuts, or Rate Rises – the policy I'd stood on. But, that was 1984. We were only 5 years into Thatcherism. Some Councils were fighting – though on an inadequate basis, and not joined up, partly due to Militant sectarianism, and we were about to go into the Miners Strike. A tactic of basically, more militancy, “We won't pay for your crisis”, was viable. Today it isn't. The Left needs a much more thought out, much more subtle strategy.

I'm reminded actually of some of the things Marx wrote against Lassalle, where he basically said, “We've uncovered all these laws about how the Capitalist economy works, and that should form the basis of our understanding of what is going on, what is and is not possible. Instead, you take this understanding, and completely ignore it in your tactics and strategy!” Let's be honest, Greece is an extreme version of the problem that faces most developed European economies. If we use Marx's economic analysis, then the truth is that in the current global economic reality workers in Western Europe, and North America, face a large reduction in their living standards over the next few years, because a seismic shift in global economic power has, and is taking place, and western living standards are simply not compatible with being competitive in the global market. There are three alternatives. Socialist Revolution (which I discard because given everything else we know simply is unrealistic), a massive shift of production up the Value Chain, so that western workers can be employed in skilled work paying higher wages (only a part solution because there is only a limited number of such jobs that is realistic), or considerably reducing the cost of reproducing Labour Power, so that lower wages still enables real living standards to be maintained. Given the large proportion of the cost of reproducing Labour Power that is taken up in the Social Wage in developed economies, it is no wonder that Capital sees this as its best option. That doesn't mean reducing the quantity of quality of Health or Education, and so on (because that would also mean that the Labour Power reproduced would become lower quality, and create less Value). It means doing what Capital has always done when it wanted to reduce the Value of labour power – finding a more efficient, lower cost means of producing the elements of the wage bundle.


Boffy said...

At a gut level workers understand this – they have seen there jobs disappear overseas as part of this new reality already. It is why they accept that Cuts will have to be made, though they will respond differently when those cuts affect them directly. But, the fact that the more militancy solution will not work is being demonstrated in Greece before our eyes. In fact, repeated Public Sector worker strikes are partly doing the Government's job for them, because workers aren't being paid, and costs aren't being incurred for the Government when the strikes are on. The Government says we need to reduce services to the Public, and the strikes are doing just that. The question, in terms of tactics and strategy the let has to address is how can the unity of the working class best be achieved, and I simply don't think it can be done by repeating old mantras that fly in the face of economic reality. I'm reminded of Engels comment in his Condition Of The Working Class in England p243, where he says,

“The history of these Unions is a long series of defeats of the working-men, interrupted by a few isolated victories. All these efforts naturally cannot alter the economic law according to which wages are determined by the relation between supply and demand in the labour market. Hence the Unions remain powerless against all great forces which influence this relation. In a commercial crisis the Union itself must reduce wages or dissolve wholly; and in a time of considerable increase in the demand for labour, it cannot fix the rate of wages higher than would be reached spontaneously by the competition of the capitalists among themselves.”..

This concept of unions negotiating wage cuts would, of course, get Engels vilified by today's left as a class collaborator. But, its a good example of what I'm talking about. He uses Marx's economic analysis to understand what is realistic, and argues for a strategy that attempts to keep the class unified, and organised. The same is true today when considering the Social Wage, especially considering the weakness of the Labour Movement. Take the example, of Council House sales. For years Marxists, and others on the left have argued in favour of Workers Control, though in reality they have had no credible strategy for achieving it. Workers too recognise the need to exercise control over their lives. The reality was that for 60 years, Council Housing was generally poor, the ability to get repairs done frought, it was expensive, and tenants faced not just bureaucracy in their dealings with the Council, but frequently found Councils hide bound with petty rules, and not infrequently oppressive. The left presented workers in Council estates with no real alternatives to that situation, and so when Thatcher came along and offered those workers the opportunity to exercise control by buying their property, they grabbed it with both hands. If the left is not careful it will find itself in the same position.

We need to take some of the elements of what both Cameron and New Labour are saying about wanting to devolve control, we should frame it in terms of a recognition of the need to reduce costs by greater efficiency, and present workers thereby with a reasonable solution that undermines the real goals of the Tories.

Chris said...

So what is Boffy arguing here, that we accept the lowering of living standards as an inevitable result of capitalist economics? Well why not fight the cuts and the attacks, the worst you can do is what Boffy is proposing anyway! And this way you keep some self respect!

“we should frame it in terms of a recognition of the need to reduce costs by greater efficiency”

Spell out what ‘efficiency’ actually means and what the consequences of achieving ‘efficiency’ are.

Boffy said...

No Chris, if you bothered to actually read what other people write rather than insisting on just putting your own words into their mouths so that you can disagree with them, you would see that I most certainly DID NOT argue for simply accepting the lowering of living standards. What I did say was that, Engels is right that so long as we simply use your limited strategy of Trade Union struggle, then that reduction is inevitable. If you think Engels was wrong tell us why. Tell us how your more militancy will change the basic laws of economics!

Actually, there is not much self-respect in fighting and inevitably losing time after time due to poor strategy. Still less if that strategy divides the working class, and sets its conscioiusness back.

I'd have thought most people understand what greater efficiency means in the terms I have set out. When the bourgeoisie defeated the landlords and Repealed the Corn Laws, that resulted in greater efficiency and lower food prices. Importing goods from China has had the same effect. Introducing new, better machines, and computers, and use of the Internet has increased labour productivity fantastically and had a similar effect on reducing the price of wage goods.

There are many such innovations that could be introduced to bring about similar efficiencies, and we should try to ensure that they are introduced under workers control, and the only sure way of doing that is if the means of production are under the ownership of workers. Some Trades Unions like the USW in the US are recognising that fact, which is why they have joined up with the Mondragon Co-ops to spread worker owned producer Co-ops across North America.

Better that than to simply folloow your tactics which are those of Gneral Haig and the other WWI Generals, who were quick to send the troops over the barricades in yet another fruitless assault. No doubt their prep talk involved ideas about self-respect too.

Boffy said...

One further comment. Chris asks what the consequences of greater efficiency of the kind I am speaking of would have. Well imagine that we are living in a Workers State. Take something like Education. Would the starting point be to provide the best possible education for Workers and their children in the most efficient way possible, or would it be simply to provide jobs for teachers and other people working in Education? For a socialist the answer is clearly the former, though I'm not sure what Chris believes from his comments elsewhere I suspect the latter.

So what should be our starting point be here and now in determining our attitude to workers education. As workers have to pay to purchase that Education out of their wages, just as they have to pay for Health in the same way via taxes, should we also not want it to be the best possible Education provided in the most efficient manner? As socialists do we not beleive that the best way of doing that is for workers to own and control that provision. If not what is a Socialist society all about?

Gary Elsby said...

Boffy, the selling od Council houses to tenants was a Labour policy and not Thatcher's.
Labour dropped it and Thatcher ran with it.

Buying cheap Chinese goods helps British consumers by importing deflation (less wage needed). On the other hand, importing higher Middle east oil, imports inflation (higher wage needed).
The answer is for China to realign its currency to a reasonable level meaning higher prices for the British consumer, but China is then in a position to import British goods which means higher living standards for British workers.
The importation of Chinese deflation is just about keeping the British ship afloat but the key factors lie in reduced oil prices and Chinese realignment as the desired end.

Chris said...

“you would see that I most certainly DID NOT argue for simply accepting the lowering of living standards.”

By tailing the Tory message of waste and inefficiency that is precisely what you are doing. Now I fully accept you are doing this with the workers best interests firmly at the forefront of your mind, I just reject your strategy. Most people on the left do, including Marxists.

“Engels is right that so long as we simply use your limited strategy of Trade Union struggle, then that reduction is inevitable.”

Who said anything about limiting strategy to trade unionism? You are the king of putting words into other people’s mouths
Your strategy is to drop all questions about distribution, all defensive strategies and begin the great co-operative experiment today. It doesn’t work like that, co-ops are a great model and example of how society could work but they can never be the singular viable alternative to the working class getting control of state power.

“Importing goods from China has had the same effect.”

So we get cheap labour to run our public services?? That is the option already being put forward by the ConDems! Do you know anything about the ‘efficiency’ targets the public sector has been compelled to achieve since 2003?

“Introducing new, better machines, and computers”

We already use computers. Most of my reports are done by a combination of Excel macros, databases and procured software. We ditched the abacus years ago.

“and use of the Internet has increased labour productivity fantastically”

Your point being?

“Well imagine that we are living in a Workers State. Take something like Education. Would the starting point be to provide the best possible education for Workers and their children in the most efficient way possible, or would it be simply to provide jobs for teachers and other people working in Education?”

This sums up my problem with your position. Moving from the abstract instead of the concrete. This leads to all kinds of errors and contradictions.

Boffy said...


Labour introduced the option of Council house sales, but it was only Thatcher who introduced Compulsory Council House Sales. The point is, workers recognised
the fact that if they wanted control over aspects of their lives, it could only come via ownership. Socialists could and should have offered the prospect of such ownership on a collective basis - housing Co-ops, estate Co-ops and so on, which have been proved to be the most efficient means of housing provision. In so doing they would have undermined the Tories individualist solution, and would have strengthened the economic and social position of workers, as well as providing them with an important political lesson - they can own and control aspects of their lives without the need for private or state bosses to do it for them.

China will and is revaluing the RMB, its in its interests to reduce its import costs, which are rising rapidly. But, my point is precisely that if British workers are to be able to compete by selling goods and services to China, they have to be of a kind that is competitive. That means basically Financial Services, or high-technology production whether it be bio-technology, or computer games. But, others will be adopting that strategy too, including China and India themselves. And actually oil prices are still low compared to the 1970's in real terms, and because of new technology oil forms a much smaller component of costs, for any GDP increase.

The reality is that standing against the economic tide is not going to be easy. Already the enxt wave of economic development has begun in Africa, which will be a new source of Surplus Value for Capital over the next 50 years, as it exploits vast reservoirs of available cheap labour. That's why China is investing there big time. In simple economic terms, Britain cannot find a solution outside the EU, and for workers too, the solution has to be to look to building workers solutions across Europe, which is again where Europe wide Co-operatives come in. A look at the Mondragon move into high-technology Co-ops, bio-technology, and its link-up with the USW shows the way ahead.

Boffy said...


a)What does tailing the Tories message on waste and efficiency have to do with arguing for simply accepting lower living standards? These are two completely things. You introduced the first, and linked it to the second simply to have soemthing to disagree with. A true troll.

b)I have said nothing here about waste and efficiency other than to say that as a Socialist I beleive that workers can run things more efficiently than can Capitalism. That is the basic argument for Socialism. Arte you saying you disagree with that proposition.

c)Actually Marxists do not disagree with the strategy of developing Co-operatives. There are people who call themselves Marxists who disagree with that strategy, but in fact their politics are not those of Marxism. I don't doubt there commitment either, but they do not argue from the standpoint of Marxism, but of Lassalleanism and Fabianism.

d)You claim not to have a strategy based on Economism, but then go on to reject any alternative strategy outside it!

e)I wrote a comment about how Capital would resolve the problems it faced in having an economy with high wages, and suggested it would, as it has in the past seek to do so by reducing the Value of labour power by various means including greater efficiency. I suggested that we should use that to put our own definition and solutions to that efficiency rather than allow the Tories to set that agenda. You asked me what I meant by efficiency, and I answered that question, both in terms of how Capital has historically achieved that greater efficiency, and how we could intervene in that process.

I said nothing about using cheap labour, I simply pointed to the fact that Capital has used cheap imports to reduce the Value of Labour Power. As socialists we do not oppose cheap imports, but part of a socialist strategy has to be to address the question of how to realistically find jobs for workers here made redundant, and how in the process that can pay for those cheap imports.

f)On the use of technology, my point was that Capital has reduced the value of labour Power by such methods, and will continue to do so. It may have escaped your notice that the computers and software you use today are not those of even 5 years ago.

g)I did the very opposite of moving from the abstract to the concrete. I asked a very concrete question what is the starting point for a Marxist in dealing with the question of Education. I gave a concrete answer. It is to begin with the idea that we want to provide the ebst education in the most efficient way. As a socialist I beleive that is by socialist means i.e. by bringing it under workers ownership and control. I see no reason to wait until some indefinite point in the future to implement such a solution. On the contrary, by implementing that solution now we not only resolve workers immediate problems, but we show that Socialist solutions work, and thereby bring the day of the Socialist society that much closer.

So tell us. Exactly what IS your strategy?

Chris said...

On A) The reason is quite simple, you bang on about inefficiency in the public sector and in** reality** ‘efficiency’ equals worsening conditions for workers, nothing to do with being a troll, more to do with being on the receiving end of ‘efficiency’ measures. Which leads us through to point b) I do disagree with presenting the argument in terms of efficiency, I would say different priorities.

On C) Marxists and the left generally do disagree that cooperatives are the single main strategy for advancing us towards socialism. What they do is present an example of how workers can own and control production themselves without the need for some elite. This is a great lesson and the more cooperatives the better. I have been reading the Mondragon accounting statement, attached here :

And no doubt it does show that an alternative is not only possible but very desirable.
The problem is you raise private coops above being great experiments and examples to the actual pivotal role of transformation.
Mondragon, for the first time in its history I believe, saw negative job creation of 8.4%. This was mainly in the industrial production sector, the finance sector actually performed above average and is the growing area of the coop. Earnings were down 18% in the industrial sector, though its impressive research and innovation department has been protected. Also the training budget increased by 7.8%. This included 259 senior execs taking part in executive development training – no doubt that would be listed under inefficient in your schema.
Actually Mondragon were recognised as market leaders in terms of firstly, quality of service delivery and secondly, quality of financial information. This seems to be something they take pride in, they don’t seem to share your aversion to it. In fact they were awarded the title of Financial Institution with the Highest Quality of Service
over the past ten years. Also the finance branch has contributed 6.6m Euros to the training and education fund. This is something you would include in ‘inefficient’ overheads when working out your statistical analysis. They also use 3.5% of profits to support community activities, again your method of not looking beyond the balance sheet would label this inefficient overhead.

Chris said...

On D) Why are you so focused on wages? What about conflict over how the surplus is distributed? The fact is though some workers by struggling have received higher wages than if they hadn’t struggled.

On E) we do oppose cheap imports if those are based on workers being subjected to horrendous working conditions, we form internationalist struggles for workers in those countries to better their conditions. That is a basic ABC of socialism!

On f) The point is that Local authorities are constantly updating their technology, so what is this obsession with inefficiency? The problem is you mix up inefficiency with having different priorities. No doubt under a mature socialist economy the surplus will be distributed very differently from how it is today BUT some of that surplus spent today is needed to mitigate the effects of a capitalist system. You cannot erase that overnight. We should ditch talk about efficiency and concentrate more on priorities. Every efficiency proposal I have been involved in has resulted in less people doing more intense work, or one job being advertised a couple of grades lower etc etc. You can talk all you like about efficiency from your arms length position, the reality on the ground is that increased ‘efficiency’ means worsening working conditions for workers and all the costs that create.

On G) You have moved from the abstract by making some stupid connection between teachers jobs on the one hand and more efficiency on the other. You use efficiency like you can tap some figures into a computer and arrive at definite figure. You don’t even take time to consider what consequences result from your abstract proposals. At least your latest remarks under G) are free from such idiocies. But your ideas for state free education require a workers party that would be willing to implement such a thing, or an advancement of productive cooperatives to such an extent that workers would have enough capital to create their own alternative structures.

My belief is that during this **period** a defensive strategy is called for. The ruling class are attacking and we must defend. We can use the divisions within the ruling class to aid the struggle. The left is already discussing tactics to oppose these cuts but it is early days. We need the unions to step up to the plate and be more pro-active. The fact is the ruling class do have a choice, they are not being compelled by some iron law. They are making ideological decisions, they are scaling back the role of the state rather than increasing it.
I am not arguing against some long term goal of promoting cooperatives as a better alternative to the capitalist firm but I think the working class needs to take the power of the state into its hands. I cannot see how cooperatives, by themselves, can begin to transform society in any significant way.

Boffy said...


Your comments are just more trolling. Because you do not bother to actually read what other people say, and instead just look to have an argument for the sake of an argument, you have simply gone off on an exegesis that has nothing to do with this thread, or the comments I made to it. In fact, in doing so you have put forward arguments that actually undermine your general argument about being able to defend living standards.

The argument here was about the problem that workers in Britain and other developed economies face as a result of trying to compete in a global market, in which workers in China and elsewhere have the latest technology and equipment, and are also paid only a fraction of workers in developed economies. The point I made in response to that was that you cannot simply defy the laws of economics implied in that relation, and believe that workers in the West can retain existing living standards whilst competing in those areas with workers in China and elsewhere. Just “more militancy” is no solution. The question for a Marxist then is, what solution is credible. I set out the ways that Capital seeks to address the situation. One solution will be to move to high value production such as Green technology. Another solution will be to try to reduce the Value of labour-Power in the West, by cheapening the cost of wage goods. A significant part of those wage goods comes in the form of the Social Wage, and hence the drive to look for more efficient means of providing its components.

The next point is how do Marxists relate to this. Firstly, its necessary to identify how successful any of that is likely to be. The first is limited because by nature these industries require very highly skilled and high-paid, but relatively few workers, and also because other countries will attempt the same strategy. But, it is a solution that workers should encourage, because it means that real living standards for workers in these industries can be maintained. Moreover, these industries are very suitable for workers to establish as Co-ops. On the second, the scope for Capital to reduce the value of Labour power by cheapening wage goods by importing cheap food, and manufactured goods is even less an option, because the development of China and India and other developing economies means that global commodity prices are rising, and rapidly rising living standards in these countries also means that the prices of these goods are increasing rapidly. That is exacerbated by the rise of their currencies, and fall in the value of western currencies. The only way that Capital could reduce the Value of Labour Power, and thereby avoid a dramatic fall in real living standards by maintaining nominal wages, would then by if it could increase the efficiency by which the domestically produced components of the wage bundle (including the social wage) are produced.


Boffy said...

Now in your rush to simply take up a counter position on the basis of a narrow definition of “efficiency”, which for some reason you only seem to consider in relation to Public Services, you have actually shot your argument in the arse. You have effectively said that no such reduction in the Value of Labour Power through greater efficiency of production is possible, pointing to the fact that efficiency savings have already been made. But, if that is the case then workers in Britain are screwed, and your suggestion of trying to defend living standards on the basis of Trade Union struggle is hopeless for all the reasons Marx and Engels outline. In whole swathes of production of goods and services British and other western economies will find themselves unable to compete if your prognosis is correct. There will then be only two solutions. Either British workers will face a massive reduction in living standards in order to be able to re-establish competitiveness, or else Capital seeing a falling rate of profit, will pack up shop even more quickly and go to where the cheap labour is, with the same consequence that living standards will fall here dramatically. In other words, exactly the scenario that Marx and Engels spelled out as to why such Trade Union struggle cannot resolve workers problems, or change the laws of economics. You still have not told us why you think they are wrong. Incidentally, your argument that “efficiency” means worse conditions for workers is economically illiterate. I suggest you read that book on “Marxist Economics” to understand the difference between Absolute and relative Surplus Value, and when Capital stopped using one as its main weapon, and moved to the other.

Chris said...

“you have simply gone off on an exegesis that has nothing to do with this thread”

This really is a joke. In my previous comment I specifically answered your A – G points directly and you say I am diverting the post!!! I would not have made those arguments if YOU hadn’t brought them up!!

“The argument here was about the problem that workers in Britain and other developed economies face as a result of trying to compete in a global market”

The argument is actually how Labour can win again. Read the title. I am guessing in the coming period, when workers have been squeezed for every effort and penny they have, attacking immigrants will be pretty popular. Personally I am not interested in Labours immediate general election prospects. I am more interested in strategies to stop the ConDem axe. Most of the left are organising and supporting defensive strategies to fight the ConDem policies. The talk on the left is how can we stop the Tory cuts and protect workers, not how can we get one of the Milibands into number 10.

“I set out the ways that Capital seeks to address the situation.”

Only some ways. You have not mentioned reducing workers benefits, battering their public services, raising taxes. You have not mentioned any struggles over the surplus, closing tax loopholes for the rich, things like that.

“Now in your rush to simply take up a counter position on the basis of a narrow definition of “efficiency”

The way ‘efficiency’ is framed means workers working more intensely for less pay. That is what is meant by efficiency most of the time. It is not class neutral.
Workers are conditioned to see this ‘efficiency’ as being good for them. Frankly your definition, whatever that is, is irrelevant because in this **period** of ruling class attacks this is what efficiency means. I for one will not accept it without a fight. I will not bow to economic ‘laws’ as if they were sent from heaven.

Chris said...

“You have effectively said that no such reduction in the Value of Labour Power through greater efficiency of production is possible”

No I haven’t. I am making the point that ‘efficiency’ is not class neutral, and in reality means something different to what it would mean if workers had control of the means of production. This is why workers taking control of state power is so important, this way workers can shift priorities away from those of capitalists and to those of workers. Then we can define what efficiency means. Then we could challenge the power of the retail sector for example. A sector that can’t move abroad because it serves the domestic consumer. But there is obviously some truth in the process you describe, which for me is a diversion from what I am discussing, the current ConDem attacks on public services. Actually the whole of your last response was a diversion and an invitation for diversion. However, a discussion on the whole process of global capitalism would require more than a couple of comments on this thread.
But of course workers will have reduced pay and workers will be made to work more intensely, it is already happening and was happening under New Labour. I am painfully aware that ‘efficiency’ is all too possible! But let us forget about the social problems and extra costs that will set forth, these are considerations I can see you object to.

”Incidentally, your argument that “efficiency” means worse conditions for workers is economically illiterate.”

Not in the real world it isn’t. In the real world when someone leaves their post, the job is not filled. Fewer workers do more work. In the real world workers get less pay. Instead of vague references to efficiency give me concrete examples of how efficiency can be achieved right now – I mean spell them out in black and white.

“I suggest you read that book on “Marxist Economics” to understand the difference between Absolute and relative Surplus Value”

Didn’t he say attempts by bosses to increase the exploitation of workers would lead to conflict? Isn’t that what is sometimes referred to as class struggle? Actually reading your comment carefully it actually has no meaning. Nothing I have said could possibly have prompted such a comment. Classic trolling. Trolling par excellence!

I suggest you need to get your head out of books and look to what a Tory actually means when he talks about ‘efficiency’ savings. Efficiency is NOT a class neutral concept baby!

Boffy said...

Precisely, this thread was about how labour could win – a subject you admit you are not interested in discussing, because you only want to troll further on issues surrounding Public Sector “efficiency” - to which I responded by saying that the danger was a return to statism, which the majority of workers have no faith in – quite rightly – and simplistic notions that the Cuts could be defeated, or workers problems resolved on the basis of “more militancy”. Your exegesis was at the point on to wanting to talk only in terms of Public sector efficiency.

My points a-g were entirely in the context of what I had previously written, and in response to the points you raised. Despite that, you insisted in going on again about my reference to “efficiency” - raised in the general context about reducing the Value of Labour-Power – as though I had said something about Public Sector INEFFICIENCY, despite the fact that I had deliberately avoided making any such statement here to avoid what I anticipated would be another of your long running trolling sessions. In fact, what I said about framing a discussion around “efficiency”, was precisely because it is NOT class neutral. I raised it because, the majority of workers ARE concerned about the question of efficiency – and quite rightly as it is their taxes, and earnings that are being spent on a range of goods and services, and should be concerned about the inefficiency of the Capitalist system – and we should relate to that concern a) because Marxists are in favour of addressing workers concerns not ignoring them, and b) because it is a strategically wise move to be able to undermine Tory propaganda, by advocating socialist solutions to the problems workers face, and by demonstrating that only socialist solutions can offer an “efficient” solution.

I have asked you repeatedly whether you deny that Socialist solutions are more efficient than Capitalist solutions, but you either refuse to answer, or else answer only in vague terms, whilst refusing to fight for such solutions here and now, preferring instead to defend State capitalism, and to argue for its defence by Trade Union struggle.

I did deal with the other ways of capital addressing the question of the Value of Labour-Power you mention, though closing tax loopholes is not one of them. I pointed out that if you attack Education, Health etc. then the consequence is that the Labour-Power produced is diminished, so it is counter-productive for Capital, which established the Capitalist Health and education services precisely to reproduce Labour Power of the kind it required for a modern economy. It only makes sense for capital to try to provide such components of the reproduction of labour-Power, if it can provide the same quality at lower cost. That's why Obama introduced the policies for socialised healthcare in the US. And, this is where your economic illiteracy comes in – I take it you still haven't read that Economics book from your answer, you need to Google Relative Surplus Value. The idea that the main way that Capital (State or Private) reduces costs is by reducing workers conditions is nonsense. It does use such methods, of raising Absolute Surplus Value, including extending working life, but this is minor compared to the increase in efficiency, and Relative Surplus Value, achieved via improvements in technique and technology. A method employed since the middle of the 19th Century, and which overall has led at the same time, not to a worsening, but an IMPROVEMENT in workers conditions!


Boffy said...

Despite your denial, you HAVE said that no improvement in efficiency in relation to those large areas of the cost of reproducing Labour Power, accounted for by the Social Wage, is possible because you have been at pains to tell us how “efficient” current State capitalist provision is! Even in these last posts when I have spoken about raising efficiency by the use of technology etc. you were quick to respond that such methods were ALREADY being used, the implication being clearly that no further improvement by such methods was possible.

Your suggestion of a solution involving workers taking over State Power is the typical kind of troll meaningless phrase I would expect. Given that workers have just voted in a Liberal-Tory Government; given that support for this Government has risen; given that poll after poll shows large numbers of workers believe that Cuts are inevitable, exactly who are these workers who are going to storm the barricades of ruling class power? If you believe arguing for the establishment of Socialist solutions based on the creation of Worker-owned Co-operatives is not feasible under the current conditions, how feasible do you think THAT solution is????

Boffy said...

I forgot to respond to one other point because quite frankly its tedious replying to the rolling crap you continually comne forward with, and that is the ridiculous statement you also made about the retail sector.

Are you not aware that ASDA belongs to the giant US Company Wal-Mart? Are you not aware that ALDI and LIDL are also foreign owned? Are you not aware the TESCO has considerable operations overseas in the US and Asia? What makes you think that as British workers living standards decline, and their ability to consume falls considerably that these Retail Capitalists will not move to China, India (Wal-Mart already has opened up in Inida in conjunction with Tata), and other parts of the world where they can make bigger profits?

But, it also says soemthing more about your lack of understanding of basic economics, because what are we to assume here - that you think that British workers could all be employed working in shops, whilst manufacturing jobs, and other service jobs were allowed to simply continue to disappear overseas? Obviously, we should take your comment about not bowing to economic laws, which makes you like a modern day King Canute - except he actually knew he couldn't hold back the sea, and engaged in his folly to mock those courtiers who came out with the kind of crap about being able to defy basic laws as you do.

Its precisely the kind of nonsense that Marx and Engels had to spend their time countering.

Chris said...

I agree that technology, new techniques, new forms of organisation have led to improvements to workers conditions. I am not against research and development. But these improvements have taken place under capitalism, so your celebration of this rather shoots your position in the arse about capitalism failing to advance this sort of efficiency. As you have noted this position would fly in the face of evidence. Now socialism may be able to do this to an even greater degree what with more sharing of information etc. The evidence from worker coops is that it certainly does not have a detrimental effect. My main belief in socialism is that it will begin to radically alter social relations, will distribute the surplus more equitably, will see an end to war, hunger, will deal with problems that put the weakest first and not the strongest, will gradually see wasted human labour transferred to areas of higher social utility, will see working hours reduced, not only by new technology but by job sharing as all those professions made moribund by socialism free up the available labour. That people are not tied to one job, that they can advance all their potential. In other words socialism is more than simply capitalism but with marginally better technology.

“you were quick to respond that such methods were ALREADY being used, the implication being clearly that no further improvement by such methods was possible.”

How silly, of course new software and computer technology will replace existing equipment. Just last year we introduced a new budget monitoring software application into the authority I work for. Though to say it has had teething problems would be an understatement. Don’t tell anyone but I continue to use the old system.
But I am interested in the use of the word efficiency in THIS **PERIOD** of ruling class attacks, which means something very different from inventing new technology. The Robot drainage engineer is some way off I am afraid. The efficiency proposals I am being paid to deliver for my sins are cutting stuff, it is important not to fool people into believing it means something else. So in THIS **Period** of ruling class attacks I am not playing your game of how efficiency might look under a worker cooperative market society. That just muddies the waters, clarity is crucial when we are going into battle, and when I say we I of course exclude you. It does make me laugh that you call me a troll, when I am on the front line of these ConDem attacks and you are NOT! Actually it makes me fucking angry.

Some ‘efficiency’ solutions I admit do spring to mind, let us cut the pay of the top managers. I am all for that.

Chris said...

“Your suggestion of a solution involving workers taking over State Power is the typical kind of troll meaningless phrase I would expect.”

It’s the position of socialists the world over and has been a cornerstone of socialism for over a century. You are in the minority here. You have taken Marx’s view that coops are great experiments to mean they are THE exclusive vehicle for transition. This is bullshit and the vast majority of socialists agree with me. You spin Marx’s words to fit your own agenda, nothing wrong with disagreeing with Marx of course. The history of state ‘socialism’ has not been a glorious one it has to be admitted. Lessons do need to be learned, I just think your lessons are wrong.

But if you think I am a troll then shut the fuck up and stop wasting both our time.

“If you believe arguing for the establishment of Socialist solutions based on the creation of Worker-owned Co-operatives is not feasible under the current conditions, how feasible do you think THAT solution is????”

Not very! But that is my long term solution. No matter how far workers coops advance in practice you will still need some central directing economic control. There will still be a requirement for strategic macroeconomic planning. You cannot avoid the issue of state power.

My short term goal is to fight a defensive battle to protect jobs and public services. Some of that is driven by self interest but much of it is driven by a genuine determination to see that workers do not pay for the bulk of this economic downturn. I think we need to turn the heart up on the wealthiest in society. Let them pay for the crisis they created. Let’s raise taxes on them and their property, let’s close the tax loopholes, and let’s defend our position. We can talk about the transition to socialism when this period of intense class struggle is over.

Chris said...

“Are you not aware the TESCO has considerable operations overseas in the US and Asia? What makes you think that as British workers living standards decline, and their ability to consume falls considerably that these Retail Capitalists will not move to China, India (Wal-Mart already has opened up in Inida in conjunction with Tata), and other parts of the world where they can make bigger profits?”

What does this have to do with anything I have said??? Do you plan to leave the retail sector to the capitalist class??

“But, it also says soemthing more about your lack of understanding of basic economics, because what are we to assume here - that you think that British workers could all be employed working in shops”

Who said anything about Brits working in shops? Go on Mr know it all, tell me where I said that. The point I was making was that the retail sector make massive profits and workers should gain control of this area. That not only means prices for goods could be reduced but if some surpluses are needed, let workers decide where that surplus is directed.

Or am I missing some heaven sent economic law here?

Boffy said...

"What does this have to do with anything I have said???"

You said,

"Then we could challenge the power of the retail sector for example. A sector that can’t move abroad because it serves the domestic consumer."

But, it CAN move abroad. That is what it has to do with what you said. And, the implication of your statement was that because you didn't belevie it could, workers could use TU struggle to achieve their goals. But, if you think that OTHER industries COULD move, and Retail couldn't the implication of your argument is, well tht's okay then we can all work in shops, because they can't move!

Boffy said...


More trolling from you.

1. When have I EVER said that Capitalism does not advance efficiency by using new technique and technology?

2. Its precisely because I do not want to allow the Liberal-Tories definition of “efficiency” to be only defined in terms of cuts, speed-up, and so on, that I believe it is necessary for Socialists to intervene in the space they have opened up, and to demonstrate to workers – who are being won over to the idea that Cuts are inevitable, and that this is synonymous with efficiency, and to demonstrate that a different type of efficiency is possible, an efficiency that flows from adopting Socialist methods, and forms.

3. It is your refusal to relate to that, and instead to simply attempt to defend the status quo, which will fail to attract ordinary workers – outside those in the Public Sector whose jobs and conditions might be on the line, and on past experience many of them will also have one eye on the potential for early retirement, and access to redundancy pay – to the kind of campaign that will be necessary to defeat the Liberal-Tory policies.

4. You talk of clarity being needed. I agree, but there is no clarity in anything you write. You reject immediate, practical solutions such as establishing Workers Ownership and Control, attempting to portray such solutions as being something that can only be viewed as a future solution – when in fact, there are already thousands of such solutions already established from Housing Co-ops, to Credit Unions and so on – and yet when asked to provide some practical solution, all you can put forward outside industrial action, is appeals for the overthrow of the State, or other measures that could only be achieved if that had already been accomplished, or if we had something approaching a Workers Government. Who do you think, for example, is going to implement your policy to slash top salaries, or to increase Income tax, and so on? Have you not noticed that the Government that has just been elected is comprised of Liberal-Tories not Leninist revolutionaries?

5. On State Power, your answer is again that of a troll. I've never said anything other than that ultimately Workers have to take State power. My point here was that your use of it here was a typically vague, trolling use, because no one – not even you – believes it is a credible solution here and now! Its like saying to someone about to be evicted from their house for non payment of Rent, the answer to your problem is to win the Lottery! Worse, your concept previously set out by what you mean by taking State Power is NOT what Marxists have argued for over 100 years. The concept you have set out is the Bernsteinian/Fabian notion of gaining control over the PRESENT State, whereas the position of every Marxist since Marx has been that the PRESENT State is the State of the Capitalist Class. It most certainly is NOT class neutral. It is why Marx sought to minimise the size of that State, to keep it out of control of workers lives as far as possible, and instead to argue for workers self-government. As Lenin puts it, in regard to the PRESENT state there was no difference between the position of Marx, and the position of the Anarchists Proudhon, and Bakunin.

6. The reality of your strategy is that it calls for workers to fight against the Cuts, on which we agree, but, whereas, I recognise with Marx and Engels that workers can never ultimately win such struggles, you mislead them to believe they can, which reinforces bourgeois ideas, and offer them no practical immediate alternatives, because the other vague things you come up with are not in our capacity to bring about without a change of Government, if not complete social overturn.

Chris said...

The point about the retail sector moving abroad is to say that retail can be taken over by workers and the vast profits made can be used to either reduce prices or direct it to areas TESCO wouldn’t think of. And the argument that if we did this they could just move and trade somewhere else doesn’t stack up because they serve domestic consumption. It seems a weak link in the chain of a capitalist economy. The same goes for the banks. If the implication from what I said is that more people will work in shops (which wasn’t the idea) then isn’t that the implication of your description of globalisation and the scarcity of high value employment?

Like most of the left my energies will be on fighting the cuts, we may get defeated but if you go into every battle thinking you will be defeated then there will come a point when you totally give up. If we lose, we will regroup, assess where we are and start again. It will not be the end of the world. So for this period my focus is NOT on the transition to socialism and how eventually socialism will make society more efficient in the future. I will deal with the ruling class usage of the word efficiency and expose how this means an attack on workers.

Just a few comments on socialism. A market system needs a state to mitigate against its effects, concentration of wealth, inequality etc. Marx realised that capitalism raises productivity to unparalleled levels, he had the insight and methodology that allowed him to see this revolutionary, progressive side of the system. I accept he believed socialism would control this productivity better than capitalism and reduce waste, direct it to human need etc BUT this presupposes more planning, less market, more integration and coordination of the production and distribution process. Replacing one market system with another is not only unlikely to organically occur in practice but even if it did that would not by itself solve the problem of controlling productivity more effectively. Bringing up Lenin has your main witness in defence of the ‘anti state’ position is frankly laughable.

Just a few comments on your position,

You defend the privatisation of public utilities, which polls have shown the majority of British people want renationalised!

You say that privatised companies have provided a far better service than the previously but most people do not share your experience!!

Then you attack unions for engaging in a defensive strategy to protect their workers, you say there are economic laws that make these struggles worthless.
I think I am right in saying that when Marx was writing it was called political economy and not economics. You seem much taken with the latter. Even Marx’s law of falling rate of profit turned into a tendency. They even had to state that there was no iron law of wages, as some of their followers had fallen into the trap of believing there was. You say very little about the battle over the surplus.

You make generalised statements like the Marxists support cheap imports, with no need for any context!!

I have trawled the net to find anyone else on the left who shares your outlook and I can tell you it is like hunting for aliens. I am in the majority, most on the left generally share my view and not yours. Most Marxists generally share my view and not yours also. The trolls are in the majority, trolls are on the up. Trolls of the world unite. Shrek is king!. Down with the charlatan Boffy.

On Trolling if you look back YOU widened this debate to a discussion about the current cuts, then again how can these issues be avoided and separated from how labour can win again?

Boffy said...

Reply To Chris

1. There is no difference in workers taking over TESCO or any other enterprise from the perspective you now outline. If they take over the buildings and machines etc. they take over the ability to serve the firms market wherever it is. You are wriggling on the hook here.

2. On Globalisation, precisely. My point is that workers in Britain DO have a serious problem that simply Trade Union struggle, “more militancy” cannot deal wit, any more than it is dealing with it in Greece. There are some things that Capital can do to reduce the Value of Labour Power in Britain, there are some things that can be done to move to high value-added production, where a comparative advantage exists, for now, and so the decline of real living standards can be mitigated. But, short of the kind of efficiencies that Worker-Owned, Co-operative production can achieve, the reality is that no amount of “more militancy” will prevent the living standards of British workers declining significantly in the next twenty years.

3. If you continually go into battle having failed to learn the lessons of the past, having taken no account of balance of forces or terrain, and having failed to work out a strategy accordingly then you are an idiot, to whom the workers should give no credence.

4. Your comments on the State and the market show you are no Marxist. Firstly, if its the current market then the State is a Capitalist State, and its function is not to prevent any excesses as you put it, but to defend the interests of Capital! If its not, if its the kind of Market that Marx and Lenin envisaged, one during a period of transition to Socialism, then your argument does not apply, because Marx made clear that what gives rise to inequality is not the Market, but the private ownership of the means of production. Establish Co-operative production, he said, even under Capitalism, and you immediately change the basis of distribution, and, therefore, inequality!

5. Marx's position does NOT say anything about the advantages arising from Planning. As Draper demonstrates Marx had no fetish for Planning. The advantages and efficiencies Marx emphasises are those arising directly from workers ownership, and the undermining of the alienation of Labour. That's what he says in relation to the Lancashire Co-ops, for instance. Its also what Connolly says about the Ralahine Co-op, and what Kautsky also outlined in relation to agricultural Co-ops. In fact, Marx is at pains to point out that the Workers State, should begin to wither away from the beginning, along with democracy itself, as both become unneccessary, as workers simply make decisions as part of their every day lives. He makes clear that a means of administration is not a state.

6. Why is Lenin's position on the State laughable? Do you even know what it is? Have you even heard of “State and Revolution?”

7. I do NOT defend the privatisation of utilities. I have specifically argued against it many times.

8. I DO NOT attack unions for engaging in defensive struggles, any more than I attacked workers at LOR for doing so. As a Marxist I have a duty to point out to workers if such struggles are soundly based or not, and to offer an alternative more likely to achieve their desired result.

9. I have said what needed to be said over the Surplus in repeating what Marx and Engels had to say in response to your argument put forward by Weston.

10. I didn't say Marxists support cheap imports, I said they didn't oppose them.

11. Most on the Left do not share your view, bad as some of the views on the left are, but even if they did, so what? Marx and Engels were in a Minority for all their lives. Even those who came after them and established parties that were supposed to follow them, in actual fact were advocating ideas that Marx and Engels would have opposed. Lenin was in a tiny minority when he first put forward the April Thesis. What are you some kind of populist? Or is that just your latest persona for the purpose of trolling?