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Critique Notes 81

Published: 18 May 2018


As we watch or participate in the continued decline of US hegemony, and perhaps of civilization, it appears more urgent to understand our present period. There is an obvious comparison with the thirties in the rise of far-right or semi-fascist parties and the economic downturn. However, the left is neither defeated nor challenging for power; these are the contradictory conditions applicable at this time.

The downturn has not yet become an upturn except in the minds of optimists. The stock exchanges of the world fell sharply, more than once in the first quarter of 2018, but have risen somewhat since. The rise was largely the result of the reduction of taxation on the rich, and the continued investment in equities in the absence of other outlets for assets. It has a limit, however. The series of protective measures introduced by Trump included both legislation to repatriate profits earned overseas and tariffs on imports; conditions which are more likely to reduce global trade, profits and US control over its hegemony.

At the same time, the rate of growth in the UK has fallen sharply - though less sharply in the EU. Nonetheless – and contrary to bourgeois economists’ expectations – in effect there has been somewhat of a decline in growth in the EU. The usual solution to reduce economic troubles under a declining capitalism is war or preparations for war (or perhaps a war fever without actual conflict). Currently, it is not possible to stage a world war without the possibility of global nuclear extinction. Threats of regional wars and increased tension in various areas have led to enforced increases in contributions to military alliances like Nato.

As is normal in a declining capitalism, right wing parties are demanding greater expenditure on arms to fight an enemy. North Korea is best described as a far-right regime than anything else. It is certainly nowhere on the left. However, the chances of it launching nuclear missiles are low. There is, of course, a real danger that they could spark an interchange of weapons, the endpoint of which is unpredictable. The North Korea regime is genuinely afraid of being overthrown, given the interventionist record of the Western powers. Indeed, it might still happen and whether the outcome would be better or worse is not clear. Either way, Trump’s sabre rattling is clearly dangerous, even though he is unlikely to do anything much either. What is critical is that a warlike capitalism can mobilise its citizens, isolate dissidents, particularly on the left, and ensure the election of a Conservative-type party. In the UK, the attempted assassination of a former spy and his daughter - presumably by the Russian state - is being used as a means of rallying support for the ruling party and rubbishing the opposition. The real economic failure of the last decade has not been offset by any hope for the future.

In the meantime, the drama is being stretched out, in a curious ideological dance. First, in the face of the collapse of the stock exchanges in 2008 and the subsequent economic downturn, a new line was peddled. There had been, it turned out, massive over-expenditure by governments, particularly the social-democratic. Savings were needed. Austerity became the name of the game. Everywhere governments cut their expenditure, with the unemployed, the old and the sick being most affected. That remains, with the numbers unemployed hidden behind the increase in those not seeking work, in the self-employed and those in zero-hours employment. Wages have still not risen above the level of 2007 in the UK. In the Third World, unemployment remains massive and incomes very low. Austerity justifies the decline in real incomes. In the UK it is the fault of the Labour Party according to the conservatives. Amazingly the Labour Party has been unable to rebut the charge that it was they who overspent in their period in office, thus causing the downturn. In other countries, there are different parties and specific politics, but the ideology is fundamentally similar. Austerity rules.

The ruling class needs an alternative. As indicated above, the threat of war - the source of which appears to be largely from Russia, Iran, North Korea or China - is being used. It has little traction, however. Few people support these regimes and the period of the Cold War is over.

To summarise, the world of the post-war period was stabilised via social democracy and the Cold War. From 1980 the world moved away from social democracy and the Cold War, restoring mass unemployment and finance capital. Its inherent instability led to the crash of 2006 onwards, with the mantra of austerity. That propagandist slogan has now worn thin.

Instead, we now have a period of political confusion, partly deliberate, and partly reflecting the disorganisation and bewilderment of the population. Given the concentration of negative state propaganda and repression on the left, it has left the way open for the far right. Education, radio and tv, religious organisations and the media in its various forms do their best to exclude, banish, or penalise those who put a classical left-wing argument. The vicious campaign against Jeremy Corbyn and his cohort is testimony to the contemporary weakness of the ruling class.

The failure of the right wing social-democrats has led to splits or even their elimination as an important party in Parliament, as in Holland. In the UK and the USA, the scenario has begun to change. A left social democratic force has begun to show itself. The same is true in several other countries. Austerity is rejected, and a reflation is proposed.

As a project, this is not anti-capitalist, but it does threaten the mode of control over the working class and reduces the income of the large corporations and individual members of the capitalist class - or the top 1 per cent of earners. It is superficially true that where there is unemployed labour and unused resources, economic expansion is refunded through the economic process itself. It is even true that where formally employed labour and resources are diverted to more productive uses it can also be repaid by the diversion itself. In fact, such investment does more than repay the costs, it leads to real growth of the economy. The only question is why the populations of the countries involved fell for the rightwing chant that it was impossible because money had first to be saved. In the UK the population has been indoctrinated so long with this fairy-tale that it may be understandable. However, it has now lost credibility everywhere.

It is against this background - of a threat to the established order in a bewildered world - that we are seeing new disordered or muddled assaults on the left. Although the form may be upside down, as it were, the attack is intentional. The perpetrators are afraid to come out in their true colours.

In this case, it is right wing Labour Party members who are acting out the attack on the Left. Afraid to put their case for a right-wing programme or scared that no one wants to hear them, they are trying to raise a false case of anti-Semitism.

The Right’s attempt at political confusion: Anti-Semitism

There are times when blue seems red and red seems blue. Today, we see a crazy witchhunt of the left under the banner of hunting anti-semitism among the section of the population who are the most opposed to anti-semitism. In fact, the true anti-semites are attacking those who stand against persecution of anyone based on race, colour, or belief. Indeed no one ought to be persecuted for being opposed to genuine crimes against humanity such as anti-semitism or racism.

That a vicious campaign against the left has been launched under false premises indicates just how desperate the right has become

The overall ideology which has blanketed the world since 2007 has folded. In fact, ‘austerity’ is the modern form of commodity fetishism in which the market is seen as the eternal stern controller of the economy. The reserve army of labour or permanent unemployment is seen as essential to keep the working class in line and the ideology of the primacy of profits governs all. Surprisingly, the downturn was successful in reinforcing this ideology until recently.

Anti-Semitism in the present time

Anti-Semitism has long been used – from the Middle Ages - by the bourgeoisie and a declining aristocracy, as a means of establishing stability. Once in power, they had less need for it and, indeed, Cromwell invited Jews to England. Famously, Robespierre argued in 1790 that Jews should be given citizenship, instead of being excluded as was first mooted in the National Assembly in France. It resurfaced with the threat to capitalism posed by the rise of the working class in the last quarter of the 19th century. It was useful to redirect the anger of the majority on to a small group, a few of whom were known to be wealthy.

This is the first time that a pro-capitalist - albeit reformist - grouping is using a dubious charge of anti-semitism to blacken their left-wing opponents. Their legal case is highly doubtful. They identify anti-Zionism with anti-semitism.

The idea that criticism of Zionism is necessarily anti-semitic, or that it easily spills over into anti-Semitism, has no merit. There are many Jews who are critical of Israeli policy. There are many Jews who are critical of Zionism itself, with the odd religious movement regarding it as blasphemous. Given the large disparity in numbers killed and injured in the various wars, contests or fights in or around Israel, it is inevitable that there will be strong anti-Israel views in the world. Zionism was not the dominant view among the Jewish population before the thirties and the Jewish Left, or Far-Left as some might call them, has continued to oppose it since the Second World War.

There is no question that Hamas is anti-semitic. It does not try to deny it. Iran and Hezbollah are little different. However, the far left is not only not anti-semitic it is more strongly opposed to anti-semitism than most opponents of anti-semitism. Consider the following:

Marxists are fundamentally opposed to nationalism as uniting capitalist and worker, exploiter and exploited, discriminator and discriminated. Zionism is obviously a specific form of Jewish nationalism. Marxists have called for a society without exploitation, and without ethnic discrimination, in which control comes from below, and in which planning comes from the “associated producers”. It foresees a society of abundance, without money. There is no room here for anti-semitism or racism. The right and centre might regard this as utopian, but the direction is clear. It is the very opposite of anti-Semitism.

On the other hand, we know that Stalinism was anti-semitic, and most particularly in the USSR. The various purges in Eastern Europe in the fifties and sixties had an anti-semitic element. In the nineteenth century, Bakunin and Proudhon were anti-semitic. These are two of the founders of anarchism, not to be confused with the Marxist left. They are only mentioned because they have been cited as proof that there were anti-semites among the left.

We know that there was an overall anti-semitic shadow over the Communist Parties of Eastern Europe and the rest of the world. Paradoxically, many Jews upheld their belief in the Soviet Union, while in the Communist Parties, partly because they did not realise the nature of the USSR itself. Critique has always been clear about the anti-semitic nature of Stalinism.

Marxism is explicitly opposed to anti-Semitism or any form of ethnic discrimination. It is above all internationalist, universalist and devoted to abolition of all forms of exploitation and oppression. Of course, it follows that the Stalinist Soviet Union was not Marxist and nor were the Communist Parties either Marxist or communist.

The present campaign being conducted in the UK inter alia by the Jewish Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council is quite clearly a right wing - not to say, far right – campaign. It is led by a President who is a supporter of Trump1 and thus someone who may be regarded as not unfriendly to the far right. That some Jewish Labour Party members of Parliament are supporting this witchhunt is testimony to the fact that the Labour right are supporters of capitalism. The mass market newspapers all support this campaign and have had a considerable impact on the Labour Party, and possibly on the general public. It is unfortunately the case that the days of the militant Jewish inhabitants of the East End of London are long gone. Support for the Labour Party has been well down among the Jewish population in London from before the time of Corbyn.2 They are not apathetic but tend to be more conservative than in earlier times. The Zionist movement itself is more right wing than it once was. The point is that right wing Labour probably reflects a specific section of Jewish opinion, irrespective of Zionism. The US journal, the Jacobin, has produced a useful article detailing the false nature and motives of the anti-semitic campaign.3

The Skripal Case and Russia

The attempted murder of a Russian-British citizen, who spied for the British in Russia, has provided a wonderful opportunity for the British Conservative Party and right-wing Labour to strengthen their cause. The Conservative Party has shifted discussion towards patriotism and the need for defence against Russia. Discussion of war and defence is always viewed as a means to shift the masses the right. It also allows the government to divert more money to defence and internal control.

It is entirely possible that the government interpretation is correct. After all, the Russian regime is a specific form of an unstable semi-capitalist regime, in an epoch of transition. The ruling group is itself uncertain of its future and capable of extraordinary measures. Its internal repression indicates that there may be no limit to its actions. Time will tell. Whatever the regime, its economy is weak, and its size is less than that of Italy. A point often made. It has inherited considerable nuclear capacity and a means of delivery, which makes it invulnerable to military aggression. While it has clearly invaded the Ukraine, which is closely integrated with it, further adventures are unlikely. It is not the Soviet Union, which was a non-capitalist regime and hence could find indigenous sources of support until its real nature became clear. The cost of occupying Poland, for instance, would bankrupt Russia several times over.

What then is going on? Why is the UK, the EU and non-Trump USA insisting on the increasing danger of Russia? There is no question of its undemocratic, repressive and unstable nature, but that is not the same thing as saying that there is a new Cold War – or even that if there is not one, there should be one.

The rational policy of a modern conservative ruling class would be one in which they try to lead Russia towards developing a substantial, competitive modern capitalist economy. In that process, they would develop a formal democratic apparatus as in Western Europe. In principle, that ought to be possible if one accepts contemporary political science textbooks. However, of course, they assume a benevolent, rising – even if competitive - capitalism, which does not exist. In principle, that was the official aim of the US administration. Instead, they negated the attempts of the developing Russian capitalist class to enter the global capitalist economy. They have also done their best to encourage Russia’s fellow former Soviet states to break with it, even where their economic ties were crucial to both economies. If one accepts capitalism, there are arguments on both sides. Clearly, opening the world economic market to Russian enterprise would create problems for some Western companies. Presently, there is a similar question over Chinese companies. Even before Trump, the West had been stopping Chinese companies buying Western firms or acquiring the most modern techniques. One commentator - Martin Wolf of the Financial Times - makes a distinction between innovation, the secrets of which are kept to the founders, and current level technology, which inevitably spreads to more than one firm.4

There are effectively two theoretical arguments here. First, there is the question of free trade and its necessity for the full development of the market and welfare, as argued by liberal economists. Secondly, even rejecting that argument, there are the proponents of the market who take the view that the Russian and Chinese states have too much influence or control over the market. Too much, here, means that the state encourages the drives of the firms in its own market in favour of preferred outcomes. As a result, its firms can be more competitive on the world market. In effect, Martin Wolf is arguing that the West should take the initial rewards of first discovery and accept that new techniques will necessarily spread.

The whole argument on comparative advantage leaves out the inequality of the global market. When the UK was the global colonial hegemon it used its initial industrial and military superiority to subordinate the inhabitants of its colonies, keeping them effectively as hewers of wood and drawers of water. With independence the population could be educated to higher levels, in principle, and governments select industries or occupations more favourable to their inhabitants. In practice, the poverty and internal inequality of the Third World has been an important factor which has limited such a change. That, however, has not been the only reason. The major factor has continued to be the dominance of the hegemonic powers which try to maintain global economic control. That has been the real problem for the emergence of Russian capitalism. Indeed, it may be regarded as the ultimate reason for the failure of the original Soviet Union, in that sanctions were applied immediately to the regime.

It is, of course, true that the challenge facing the capitalist class was such that they could do nothing else. They were, and it seems still are, unlikely to understand their own limited future.

By not absorbing the newly emerging capitalist class in Russia and China, the West has created a group of discontented national capitals. As is evident from their far-right governments, this may include Eastern European countries like Hungary and Poland. It is an interesting question as to why the global capitalist class, which primarily means that of the USA, did not have the sense to attempt to absorb the new capitalist class in Russia and elsewhere. It is true that the UK gave residence and even citizenship for payment of sufficient sums to the state, but that was effectively conditional on those new citizens leaving or partly leaving their source of wealth.

In the case of Russia, the West effectively went back on their word not to absorb the territories outside Russia. This was done under Clinton.5 As Russia had ceased to be Stalinist or based on nationalised industries with central ‘planning’, it is not clear what US decision makers were afraid of. Alternatively, they may simply have wanted to extend the territory under US hegemony in a cruder manner than was needed. There is no left-wing force in the territories of the former USSR today. One could also argue that it is in the nature of a declining hegemonic capitalist power that it cannot see its own long-term interests.

The territories of the former USSR are the ultimate remnant of the October Revolution. It is wholly devoid of its ideals, but not yet fully incorporated into a successful developed capitalist framework and is awaiting the fullest exploitation of the area by Western capitalism, with a local capitalist class as its junior partner in their own territory. Given the fact that at least half of the ordinary population in Russia apparently continue to support the ideals of the October Revolution,6 while the history of the Soviet Union itself was one of low productivity, with substantial industry, the area was never likely to progress as in the underdeveloped countries.

The result has been the emergence of a capitalist class acting in partnership with a relatively independent state which has no clear direction other than the immediate protection of its own ruling class. It is undoubtedly possible that it can act as a rogue state, as it is now described by some Western politicians. It is looking for a direction or home and cannot find one which suits. In an elongated period of transition from capitalism to socialism one might expect such forms. At the same time, it suits a declining Western capitalism to have an enemy to rally the population, under conditions where the present and future appear either bleak, unknown or both.

Social and political relations in Russia are both complex and in process of formation, where there is no obvious end result. If there were to be no real change in Russia, the rational result will be its direct subjection to US capital, to the point where it will effectively be an economic colony. It is already the case that Western finance is important for Russian raw material firms,7 as shown by the considerable impact of the sanctions imposed on Russia. The same applies in relation to markets for the raw materials, particularly oil and gas. The decision on sanctions was made by the USA and accepted by its ‘allies’.

The Russian ruling class or elite is still in process of formation or elimination. Politically, Western governments and ruling circles have preferred to act as if Putin was a solitary dictator, something which was inherently improbable. As it stands, there is a ruling circle around Putin and his administration, and a less well-known number of people who prefer to remain in the shadows. The secret police play a crucial role and their leading lights are no doubt critical in maintaining stability to further a policy which supports them, their well-being and their goals. The exact nature of the rest of the ruling class has not been described. The inherent instability of a system which is run by the secret police indicates the kind of reasons for their unique historical role. The role of force, gangsterism, the dissolution of industry and mass unemployment combined with a future which has no hope does not make for a stable society. Those who had ties outside of the former Soviet Union or had a historical home elsewhere like the Volga Germans, have left together with a considerable section of the intelligentsia and the Jewish population. The latter have sought countries with lower levels of anti-semitism, which would accept them.

Russia has reached out to the far right in Europe. It is not a coincidence that Russia is accused of helping Trump be elected. On the other hand, the ruling class in the West has a section on the far right, illustrated in the activities of Bannon in relation to Trump and Robert Mercer, a far-right tycoon. Their credentials as illiberal nationalists are well-known.


In fact, the failure of the US imperial form has now shown itself quite clearly in the EU. The latter was consistently backed by the United States up to the point where it supported the UK joining it and deplored its break with it. The EU has been instrumental in absorbing the former Eastern European Soviet bloc states and making moves to incorporate the Ukraine. Articles now deplore the shift to the far right, corruption and lack of democracy in those countries.8 The votes for the far right, as in Hungary and Poland, are not based on dreams or rhetoric alone. The fact is that the countries have lost industries but gained assembly plants for Western firms. The ruling parties have given subsidies to individuals and families. The latter see migrants as threats to their standard of living and they vote for illiberal parties of the right. The EU subsidises these countries - Poland in particular - so they are unlikely to break away. The EU is talking of reducing those subsidies to give money to Southern Europe. If it should do so, the consequences for Eastern Europe will be critical. In Gideon Rachman’s article, he deplores the shift to authoritarianism in the Eastern European states.

In fact, he also mentioned the growth of far-right parties in other countries of Europe as in Italy and Austria, where they are now or about to be in power. The difference in Western Europe is that the standard of living is considerably higher and emigration often easier in countries like France and the UK. The onset of the downturn/depression has obviously been critical. The fact is that economic prospects are at best anaemic. Debt has risen to levels where commentators constantly refer to it as a lurking danger. Since there is no party in power, other than the far right, prepared to relax controls over labour or raise salaries, the centrist parties are likely to lose support.

Capitalism in decline

The fact is that the contemporary capitalist economy is not delivering what it did in the 30 years after the last world war. Put another way, the seventies were a watershed when the capitalist system had to make concessions by going for higher growth rates, higher wages, loss of control to the workers etc – that or pull the plug. They chose the latter course by attacking the unions, privatising nationalised sectors and reverting to finance capital as a mode of control. The reversion to finance capital and denationalisation was done almost to its limits in some countries. Finance capital has been a fetishised form, a step away from the direct producers. It forced the expropriation of houses, businesses and companies on the grounds of unrepayable debt. From this point of view, the crash beginning in 2006-8 was inevitable under conditions where ultimately the total debt was unrepayable without forgiveness or forced labour.

Capital today exists outside its natural term. In principle, competitive capitalism cannot control its total production as there is no planning or collusion among firms. In contrast, non-competitive or monopoly capitalism can control its product in specific sectors. Finance capital can collude with productive firms, like automobile producers, to limit production according to the number of possible solvent customers. The state plays its role by providing credit through actions of the central bank and through financing parts of the economy if necessary.

The problem does not arise with the productive firms, as they can control their output over time, but with finance capital. In principle, the state sector can expand its supply of money to reduce unemployment or a downturn. That is what happened after 2008. China has had no problem doing so, as an ultimately state capitalist economy. The EU is still pumping money into the economic system. The real situation is not quite so abstract. Banks, and some firms are supported, others are not.

One of the crucial features of the global transition from capitalism is the change in power of the ruling class and its relation to its instrument - the state. They are not fused together and can have differences.

Brexit is an example where most of the powerful sections of the ruling class are opposed to the policy of leaving the EU but prefer to allow the state to take the measures required. They are handling it quite delicately in general, with occasional outbursts. The question is only whether the outcome is formally Brexit, or formally a break with the single market, or not.

Similarly, the ruling class has delegated part of its power to the central banks and formal economic administration of the state and has regular tussles with them, within an overall capitalist framework. The essential point is that capital today administers capitalism to a considerable degree. The concept of the free market in its application to the economy is limited. Milton Friedman’s idea that oligopoly does not change the rules of the market is simply wrong. Above all, capital wants a somewhat free market in labour, but it is not about to have many more aircraft companies to compete with Boeing, or many Amazons, Googles, Facebooks, Intels, Qualcoms, Oracles, IBMs. If President Trump creates a second Amazon, little would change. Where there are several companies, as with automobiles they are not many. We are at a stage in the development of technology where abundance in staples could come quickly, but it is held up by the market form. There is normally sufficient overall control to ensure that overproduction does not take place through action by the firm combined with the state.

In other words, we have more than reached the stage of capitalism in which human beings can consciously plan their society to the benefit of all. The ruling class is afraid to go that way, since they will lose their role, and position in society. The result is that they are consciously restraining the forces of production from delivering their potential.

Where are we now?

In short, the present stage of society is one in which the ruling class is very conscious of their precarious situation and have the means to delay their demise. We cannot understand economic policy as something automatically delivered by an unmanaged market economy.

While a capitalist economy cannot be genuinely planned, it can be steered and have limited, partially conscious controls. In other words, the so-called economic or capitalist production cycle is much more limited as a cycle than in earlier times. Firms can plan their production over time and restrict production and, with it, investment. There have been a series of predictions of upturns and downturns in the last 10 years, but they have not generally meant much. Michael Roberts has discussed the issue in many of his blogs, including, very usefully, why he turned out to be wrong in predicting a downturn last year.9 At present the relative upturn has been called in question, at least for Europe.10 It was thought that the EU was entering a boom period, but this year the economy has turned down.

The rate of growth in China has gone upwards this year, so making some economists look foolish. The simple fact is that a large growing economy in which the state is all powerful has an advantage. It can pump in money easily, and open plants and close them down when it deems them unnecessary. It does take a toll on the incentive system, but a substantial level of de facto unemployment in the countryside helps. This does not make the Chinese economy socialist in any sense, but it does illustrate the disadvantages of a capitalist economy, particularly in a transitional world.

Unsurprisingly, the global hegemon is trying to do something about it. This point is made in some detail by Phillip Alldrick, under the title of ‘Trump didn’t start the trade war, it has been a long time coming’.11 Given the friendship between Murdoch, owner of The Times and Trump, this might have been expected. Trump’s intended large-scale imposition of tariffs on Chinese goods thus appears as no novelty.

Martin Wolf 12 has written articles on both the rise of China and on the present predicament of a protectionist world.

The Left’s Dilemma

The left has been placed in an impossible position for almost a century. It argues that the world is ready for socialism, which will be a society which is superior, in all respects, for all humanity. However, until capitalism is overthrown globally, the socialist transition cannot begin. Furthermore, we now live in a transition of a different kind, one which involves the decline of capitalism and the emergence of non-socialist non-capitalist forms.

Analysis of the present is necessarily difficult and confusing. Forms of action, of trying to encourage society to move forward are contradictory. Slogans in a transitional programme risk providing a reformist solution, which, if initially successful, eventually collapse on top of their progenitors. Furthermore, such a solution may help only a section of the workforce and disadvantage others.

Lenin, famously, had little time for the trade unions of the time in Russia, who were generally were reformist. In the October revolution of 1917, it was workers councils, Soviets, that played the revolutionary role, even though such unions as the railway workers helped on occasion. Much of the left, since, has sought to enter the trade unions as a means of spreading the gospel as well as acting politically.

The problem has been debated often - under various titles - but not solved. If one puts forward immediate demands and they are conceded, where are you going next? There can be no question but that the pressure of the working class, and left-wing leadership, has helped to raise the standard of living and reduce the brutality of life under capital. But it is not socialism, and the demands are humanitarian rather than socialist. Nor are they steps to socialism.

On the other hand, if the only demands are for a new society, for the working class to take power as a class, there is little meaning when we are talking of small groups, or sects. Only if the demands come from a party of sufficient popular support to constitute a realistic threat to the power of capital, is there likely to be some movement.

What then was done in the last century, once social democracy accepted capitalism and Stalinism established control over much of the left? The latter effectively accepted the status quo, putting forward essentially reformist demands and doing deals which supported the ruling class as in France in 1968.

The small genuine left remained on the side-lines experimenting with support from students and the youth in general, as well as layers of intellectuals and workers. This has been the reality essentially based on the de facto defeat of the left, first by the betrayal of German social democracy and then by the Stalinist coup d’état in the USSR.

On what basis can we formulate a programme or individual demands today? We can only answer this question by deciding on the stage that we are currently in. Socialism in one country has failed in the USSR, China, Cuba and Venezuela; but both Stalinism and social democracy are either dead or dying. People are turning to the far right in many countries, as in the thirties. The post-war mould is broken. For the first time, since the twenties there is a real possibility that the working class will take up its class demands. That class is largely skilled and white collar in the developed countries, although peasants and unskilled workers dominate in the underdeveloped countries.

Immigration - open borders

In this situation, it is crucial that internationalism rules. It is important that the international nature of the struggle is strong and clear. Socialism in one country as stressed above would be a nonsense if it were not a tragedy. Nor does it help to have just two countries going socialist, as it were. It must be a victory which is effectively global, in which the developed countries help the rest. The process may take a few years to develop, but it is obvious that the capitalist class will crush or fatally undermine any revolution in one or a few countries immediately it begins, unless it extends itself.

The central basis of Marxist political economy lies in the extraction of surplus value by the capitalist from the worker. To keep wages down, the capitalist system must maintain a reserve army of labour. Historically, the reserve army was maintained partly through replacement of workers by machinery, and by the absorption of labour from the countryside and from other countries. It is not surprising that workers should see the flow into the towns - whether from the countryside or other countries - as competitors, as the capitalist class has used the inflow of farmworkers/peasants and non-citizens as a means of lowering wages. The United States was clearly built on immigration. In the UK, Irish workers were superexploited, something that Marx discusses in Capital. The process is continuing in the EU. From this point of view, the bourgeoisie appears today in a dual category: as a super-exploiter of imported labour, and as a liberal on immigration.

It is not enough to stand for equal wages for citizen and non-citizen labour. The fact is that the employer will not want immigrant labour at the same wage, as the whole point is to raise surplus value. On the other hand, the immigrant worker is in desperate circumstances with little choice. There is no solution under capitalism. Inevitably, some trade unions end up preventing the employment of immigrant labour and against immigration.

Racial discrimination is another aspect of this phenomenon. In South Africa white workers fought to protect their higher wages. The whole structure of apartheid was based on the protection of white workers. There is no way around the point that the left must stand for both equal wages/opportunity for all and open borders. They must endorse a ban on discrimination based on colour or citizenship.

Where does this leave left activists in unions? They must demand open borders and equal wages for immigrant and local workers. This means that they need to help organise both sets of workers to be able to control the bargaining with the employers to ensure non-discrimination and equality of wages. It is not a straightforward struggle in anything but the aim - for a truly human society, where work has become humanity’s prime want.


1. ‘Board of Deputies president answers critics over support for Trump on Jerusalem’,

2. The New Statesman, July 4 2015, , Thomas Zagoria,,

3. Daniel Finn: Corbyn, ‘Under Fire’:

4. Martin Wolf: “The US can huff and puff about Chinese theft of intellectual property. But every catch-up nation, very much including the US in the 19th century, seized the ideas of others and built upon them. The idea that intellectual property is sacrosanct is also wrong. It is innovation that is sacrosanct.” Martin Wolff: ‘US-China rivalry will shape the 21st century: Beijing’s rising economic and political power poses great challenges to the west’, Financial Times, April 10,2018

5. Michael Binyon: ‘Kremlin has torn up the rule book’: “Moscow feels betrayed by the West and the disillusion dates back to the Gorbachev era. After German unification, the West pledged that Nato would not expand eastwards but within a few years Clinton had promised membership to Poland and other former Warsaw Pact nations. Russia felt weak and powerless to protest, and President Putin’s macho posturing is part of his determination that this will never happen again.” The Times, London, April 7th, p.43.

6. “In a survey published in April, the Levada Centre, Russia's most reputable pollster, reported that 48 per cent of respondents had a very or mostly positive view of the Bolshevik revolution.” Tony Barber: “1917 — the year Vladimir Putin would rather forget”, Financial Times, August 3rd 2017. Interestingly, the Huffington Post preferred to downplay the significance of the same poll: “48 per cent considered that the October Revolution was inevitable”, George Gilbert: “How Is Russia Remembering The 1917 Revolution?”, 8/08/1917 Huffington Post,

7. The Times

8. Gideon Rachman: ‘Authoritarians on the rotten fringes imperil European values. Viktor Orban’s victory in Hungary is the latest threat to the EU’s rule of law’,

9. See his useful blogs, giving commentaries on the present and raising important questions eg:

10. ‘The global recovery has hit some resistance, Spatterings of weak economic data should have policymakers worried.’ Editorial in Financial Times April 14 2018. They run through the indicators in the EU area, USA, Japan and China and point out that the indicators are ‘soft’, while the recovery period from the downturn would historically presage a downturn. They are reflecting a more general view of caution.

11. Phillip Alldrick: ‘Trump didn’t start the trade war, it has been a long time coming.’ The Times, April 10, 2018, p32.

12. Martin Wolf: ’Let Knowledge Spread Around the World’,, Financial Times, April 24, 2018. Martin Wolff: ‘US-China rivalry will shape the 21st century’. Beijing’s rising economic and political power poses great challenges to the west”, Financial Times, April 10,2018

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