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The left and immigration

Nicola Lawlor – http://www.communistpartyofireland.ie/sv/05-immigration.html The left must embrace the debate about immigration from a working-class viewpoint and not run away from it, or shout over it, or ignorantly paint all workers who have fears and concerns as racists. The recent British referendum has revealed a number of serious weaknesses of the left, and consequently a

LENIN, MAO FACING THE CHALLENGES OF HISTORY

samir amin at WAPE honory member and lifetime achievement

The 11th Forum of WAPE took place from June  17. – 19, 2016 in Patiala, Punjab, India. At this event Samir Amin took part in the Forum and was a main speaker. He also became an honorary member of WAPE and received a lifetime achievement award. Below is his speech given to the event which

What should the reaction of Irish democrats be to the Brexit vote?

The Peoples Movement June 26, 2016 What should the reaction of Irish democrats be to the Brexit vote? Having campaigned for such an outcome, the People’s Movement is in no doubt that the vote is an important blow against what is a reactionary and anti-democratic project. Democrats in the Republic should now seek to win

Book Review: 21st-century imperialism

Seán Edwards John Smith, Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century: Globalization, Super-Exploitation, and Capitalism’s Final Crisis (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2016) In 2002 Anne Daly produced a documentary called Race to the Bottom, provoked by a fire that killed fifty-two workers in a garment factory in Bangladesh. John Smith’s book begins with the Rana Plaza disaster in

Another Europe is possible—another EU is not

The Communist Party of Ireland expresses its solidarity with and welcomes the decision of the British electorate, with working people having played a decisive factor to vote to leave the European Union.  The decision of the people is a victory over Project Fear, unleashed by big business, global banks and financial institutions, with the EU

The left and immigration

Nicola Lawlor – http://www.communistpartyofireland.ie/sv/05-immigration.html

The left must embrace the debate about immigration from a working-class viewpoint and not run away from it, or shout over it, or ignorantly paint all workers who have fears and concerns as racists.

The recent British referendum has revealed a number of serious weaknesses of the left, and consequently a lot of working-class anger and frustration is expressed though right-wing groups.

The social-democratic left jumped to the defence of the European Union, a regional political, economic and social structure of monopoly capital, largely Franco-German, while the self-proclaimed “radical” left spent much time calling for “open borders” as a counter to the anti-immigration rhetoric of the leading Leave campaign groups. There were, of course, exceptions to this, in the RMT Union, NIPSA, the Communist Party of Britain, and the daily Morning Star.

The social-democratic position has obviously failed workers, and humanity, in that it allies itself with the very forces exploiting and abusing workers, creating increasingly violent and uncontrolled divisions and wrecking the environmental system that we require to sustain our lives. It seeks to defend the free movement of labour, which in reality is the freedom to exploit. It is the creation of an internal EU reserve army of labour, which drives down wages and divides working-class organisations.

But the “radical” left position is equally destructive to working-class unity and to building an actual working-class movement in opposition to capitalism.

“Open border” policies when monopoly capitalism remains the dominant social order will only benefit monopoly capital, economically in its greater access to cheaper labour within core economies but also politically, when inevitably workers will be further divided along racial lines and racism will be used to manipulate, control and disrupt organised fight-back.

It will be different when monopoly capitalism is being challenged seriously by socialist states, with military back-up, and by socialist international structures. But that is not, sadly, the present balance of class forces. The socialist policies of transformation and struggle towards socialism have to be very different from the socialist policies of a socialist hegemonic, or near-hegemonic, order.

Samir Amin, quite rightly, sees the movement we must build as being both anti-imperialist and anti-liberal.

Our task is to give new life to workers’ internationalism. Workers and working people ought to unite at all levels, both within their countries and across borders, and stop competing with each other. This can only happen on an anti-imperialist basis, working with an anti-liberal strategy.

The cornerstone of liberalism as an ideology, and also of monopoly capitalism as practised through a managed technocratic system within the EU, and dominant globally, is the free movement of capital, goods, services, and labour. An anti-imperialist and anti-liberal strategy needs to challenge all four of these points, at both the national and the international level, by progressive movements but also progressive states, where the workers’ movement has gained hegemony within a state or even become the ruling class within a state.

While Marx favoured free trade and the growth of capitalism, that was in the context of breaking down old feudal structures and ideology, when capitalism was still in its progressive phase. It has now, of course, moved well beyond that, and so our policies must too.

Again, Samir Amin sees this strategy based within national boundaries but with an obvious international dialectic.

     A precondition is to restore priority to national policies over international ones. Nations need self-determination—not just for cultural reasons, nor because they are black or white, Christian or Muslim, but because of their political history. A high degree of national independence is necessary to reduce inequalities between nations in the world today. That’s how we must define working-class unity.

     This debate must come from the grass roots. I see no contradiction between national and international levels, but I think that no progress will ever be made on the international level as long as there is no progress on the national level. Things always start to happen through a bottom-up process, and essentially this means on the national level.

While it is fair to say that the media and establishment politicians wanted the Brexit debate centred around immigration and not democracy, public services, the environment, war, workers’ rights, or real economic sovereignty, the left still failed to engage in that immigration debate from a solidly anti-imperialist and anti-liberal standpoint.

Workers have fears, concerns, and worries. Some are perceptions, some are based on ignorance, some are manufactured; but some are legitimate, and the roots of these views are real. This talk of Leave voters from some on the left as being racists or misled is itself deeply ignorant as well as being politically arrogant and obnoxious enough to turn people off the left altogether, which indeed it does.

This argument was brilliantly espoused in a post-Brexit article headed “The demonisation of the working class shames our nation” by Paul Embery, regional secretary of the Fire Brigades Union in Britain, published in Huffington Post, where he wrote:

A group of people, the most exploited within our society, are under attack . . . Few among the political class really understand them. These people live in modest homes in the grittier parts of the country. They work in factories, call centres and on building sites . . . They like football and watch Coronation Street . . .

     They are the people who tipped the balance to lead us through the EU’s exit door. They are the new scapegoats. They are the working class . . .

     The sneering contempt displayed towards these and all 17 million who voted Leave by the resentful new alliance of metropolitan liberals, know-all academics, no-mark “celebrities” and know-nothing-yet students should trouble us all . . .

     The opprobrium heaped on working-class voters post referendum demonstrates just how little their critics know of their lives . . . They considered their own lives, the perpetual strains they were under, the financial hardships, the impact of near decade-long austerity, the lack of affordable housing, the ravages of deindustrialisation, the challenges of mass and unrestricted immigration in their communities and its resultant pressure on wages and local services, and they concluded that the elite in neither Brussels nor Westminster gave a fig for their predicament . . .

     So the backbone of the nation, the people upon whose labour we rely, the section of society which creates the wealth, stands condemned, vilified by the pro-EU liberal intelligentsia, voiceless and without a political party it can truly recognise as its own.

A recent survey showed that only 35 per cent voted leave on the basis of immigration issues or concerns. But for this 35 per cent, do we write them off, or do we engage in a real conversation and with a solidly based position on immigration and borders that can help to educate but also be a fundamental principle of internationalism and national sovereignty?

Firstly, we should listen. Brexit has shown that the social-democratic left and many trade unions are largely out of touch with and irrelevant to most of the working class. They are not the political influencers or leaders of our class in Britain, and the same can be said for Ireland.

Capitalism is a barbaric and inhumane system that remains hegemonic because it is based on a political and media structure that creates division, sows hatred and fear, and does not always present the working class or the left with simple questions, or questions as we would like them presented. While Rosa Luxemburg’s proposition, “socialism or barbarism?” is ultimately correct, that is not the immediate political question.

So we must face questions like Brexit in a form and a way presented to us by the establishment. We have to tackle questions such as immigration in the context of a barbaric system and how it creates these contradictions. As Julian Jones wrote in the Morning Star:

The grim economic reality behind this free movement is in essence a free exploitation of a primarily young European work force with no job security and no prospects . . . Quite simply, those at the bottom of the pile are more likely to have witnessed the basic principle that if a boss can use a cheaper foreign work force, they will do so.

The economic structure of monopoly capitalism today includes an openness of borders within politically defined areas for the purpose of the exploitation of working people, cultivation of a bigger, more mobile reserve army of labour and driving a race to the bottom as well as a closed approach to borders for defined areas “outside,” where immigration policy can pick and choose as a form of brain drain from peripheral regions within the global economic order.

Indeed Marx noted that the English bourgeoisie “exploited the Irish poverty to keep down the working class in England by forced immigration of poor Irishmen . . . Ireland constantly sends her own surplus to the English labour market, and thus forces down wages and lowers the material and moral position of the English working class . . .”

The policies we must put forward on immigration during the struggle for socialism are different from the absolute policies that would be pursued under socialism. It is the right of all sovereign states, and an essential part of the transition to socialism, to control their borders as regards capital, labour, goods, and services.

This is a vital distinction. If the political left doesn’t realise it soon it will move further and further away from the working class and hand influence and the leadership of our class to the right, with all the dangers this presents.

LENIN, MAO FACING THE CHALLENGES OF HISTORY

samir amin at WAPE honory member and lifetime achievement

The 11th Forum of WAPE took place from June  17. – 19, 2016 in Patiala, Punjab, India. At this event Samir Amin took part in the Forum and was a main speaker. He also became an honorary member of WAPE and received a lifetime achievement award. Below is his speech given to the event which we reprint with his kind permission.

Lenin, Mao Facing the challenges of history

Samir Amin

Lenin,   Bukharin, Stalin, and Trotsky in Russia, as well as Mao, Zhou Enlai, and Den Xiaoping in China, shaped the history of the two great revolutions of the twentieth century. As leaders of revolutionary communist parties and then later as leaders of revolutionary states, they were confronted with the problems faced by a triumphant revolution in countries of peripheral capitalism and forced to “revise” (I deliberately use this term, considered sacrilegious by many) the theses inherited from the historical Marxism of the Second International. Lenin and Bukharin went much further than Hobson and Hilferding in their analyses of monopoly capitalism and imperialism and drew this major political conclusion: the imperialist war of 1914–1918 (they were among the few, if not the only ones, to anticipate it) made necessary and possible a revolution led by the proletariat.

With the benefit of hindsight, I will indicate here the limitations of their analyses. Lenin and Bukharin considered imperialism to be a new stage (“the highest”) of capitalism associated with the development of monopolies. I question this thesis and contend that historical capitalism has always been imperialist, in the sense that it has led to a polarization between centers and peripheries since its origin (the sixteenth century), which has only increased over the course of its later globalized development. The nineteenth century pre-monopolist system was not less imperialist. Great Britain maintained its hegemony precisely because of its colonial domination of India. Lenin and Bukharin thought that the revolution, begun in Russia (“the   weak link”), would continue in the centers (Germany in particular). Their hope was based on an underestimate of the effects of imperialist polarization, which destroyed revolutionary prospects in the centers.

Nevertheless, Lenin, and even more Bukharin, quickly learned the necessary historical lesson. The revolution, made in the name of socialism (and communism), was, in fact, something else: mainly a peasant revolution. So what to do? How can the peasantry be linked with the construction of socialism? By making concessions to the market and by respecting newly acquired peasant property; hence by progressing slowly towards socialism? The NEP implemented this strategy.

Yes, but…. Lenin, Bukharin, and Stalin also understood that the imperialist powers would never accept the Revolution or even the NEP. After the hot wars of intervention, the cold war was to become permanent, from 1920 to 1990. Soviet Russia, even though it was far from being able to construct socialism, was able to free itself from the straightjacket that imperialism always strives to impose on all peripheries of the world system that it dominates. In effect, Soviet Russia delinked. So what to do now? Attempt to push for peaceful coexistence, by making concessions if necessary and refraining from intervening too actively on the international stage? But at the same time, it was necessary to be armed to face new and unavoidable attacks. And that implied rapid industrialization, which, in turn, came into conflict with the interests of the peasantry and thus threatened to break the worker- peasant alliance, the foundation of the revolutionary state.

It is possible, then, to understand the equivocations of Lenin, Bukharin, and Stalin. In theoretical terms, there were U-turns from one extreme to the other. Sometimes a determinist attitude inspired by the phased approach inherited from earlier Marxism (first the bourgeois democratic revolution, then the socialist   one) predominated, sometimes a voluntarist approach (political action would make it possible to leap over stages). Finally, from 1930–1933, Stalin chose rapid industrialization and armament (and this choice was not without some connection to the rise of fascism). Collectivization was the price of that choice. Here again we must beware of judging too quickly: all socialists of that period (and even more the capitalists) shared Kautsky’s analyses on this point and were persuaded that the future belonged to large-scale agriculture.   The break in the worker-peasant alliance that this choice implied lay behind the abandonment of revolutionary democracy and the autocratic turn.

In my opinion, Trotsky would certainly not have done better. His attitude towards the rebellion of the Kronstadt sailors and his later equivocations demonstrate that he was no different than the other Bolshevik leaders in government. But, after 1927, living in exile and no longer having responsibility for managing the Soviet state, he could delight in endlessly repeating the sacred principles of socialism. He became like many academic Marxists who have the luxury of asserting their attachment to principles without having to be concerned about effectiveness in transforming reality.

The Chinese communists appeared later on the revolutionary stage. Mao was able to learn from Bolshevik equivocations. China was confronted   with the same   problems as Soviet   Russia: revolution in a backward country, the necessity of including the peasantry in revolutionary transformation, and the hostility of the imperialist powers. But Mao was able to see more clearly than Lenin, Bukharin, and Stalin. Yes, the Chinese revolution was anti-imperialist and peasant (anti-feudal). But it was not bourgeois democratic; it was popular democratic. The difference is important: the latter type of revolution requires maintaining the worker-peasant alliance over a long period. China was thus able to avoid the fatal error of forced collectivization and invent another way: make all agricultural land state property, give the peasantry equal access to use of this land, and renovate family agriculture.

The two revolutions had difficulty in achieving stability because they were forced to reconcile support for a socialist outlook and concessions to capitalism. Which of these two tendencies would prevail? These revolutions only achieved stability after their “Thermidor,” to use Trotsky’s term. But when was the Thermidor in Russia? Was it in 1930, as Trotsky said? Or was it in the 1920s, with the NEP? Or was it the ice age of the Brezhnev period? And in China, did Mao choose Thermidor beginning in 1950? Or do we have to wait until Deng Xiaoping to speak of the Thermidor of 1980?

It is not by chance that reference is made to lessons of the French Revolution. The three great revolutions of modern times (the French, Russian, and Chinese) are great precisely because they looked forward beyond the immediate requirements of the moment. With the rise of the Mountain, led by Robespierre, in the National   Convention, the French Revolution was consolidated as both popular and bourgeois and, just like the Russian and Chinese Revolutions, which strove to go all the way to communism even if it were not on the agenda due to the necessity of averting defeat, retained the prospect of going much further later. Thermidor is not the Restoration. The latter occurred in France, not with Napoleon, but only beginning in 1815. Still it should be remembered that the Restoration could not completely do away with the gigantic social transformation caused by the Revolution. In Russia, the restoration occurred even later in its revolutionary history, with Gorbachev and Yeltsin. It should be noted that this restoration remains fragile, as can be seen in the challenges Putin must still confront. In China, there has not been (or not yet!) a restoration.

Since 1947, the United States of America, the dominating imperialist power of that epoch, proclaimed the division of the world into two spheres, that of the ‘free world’ and that of ‘communist totalitarianism’. The reality of the Third World was flagrantly ignored: it was felt privileged to belong to the ‘free world’, as it was ‘non-communist’.   ‘Freedom’ was considered as applying only to capital, with complete disregard for the realities of colonial and semi-colonial oppression.   The following year Jdanov, in his famous report (in fact, Stalin’s), which led to the setting up of the Kominform (an attenuated form of the Third International), also divided the world into two, the socialist sphere (the USSR and Eastern Europe) and the capitalist one (the rest of the world).   The report ignored the contradictions within the capitalist sphere which opposed the imperialist centres to the peoples and nations of the peripheries who were engaged in struggles for their liberation.

The Jdanov doctrine pursued one main aim: to impose peaceful coexistence and hence to calm the aggressive passions of the United States and their subaltern European and Japanese allies.   In exchange, the Soviet Union would accept a low profile, abstaining from interfering in colonial matters that the imperialist powers considered their internal affairs. The liberation movements, including the Chinese revolution, were not supported with any enthusiasm at that time and they carried on by themselves.   But their victory (particularly that of China, of course) was to bring about some changes in international power relationships. Moscow did not perceive this until after Bandung, which enabled it, through its support to the countries in conflict with imperialism, to break out of its isolation and become a major actor in world affairs. In a way, it is not wrong to say that the main change in the world system was the result of this first ‘Awakening of the South’.   Without this knowledge, the later affirmation of the new ‘emerging’ powers cannot be understood.

The Jdanov report was accepted without reservation by the European communist parties and of those of Latin America of that era.   However, almost immediately it came up against resistance from the communist parties of Asia and the Middle East.   This was concealed in the language of that period, for they continued to affirm “the unity of the socialist camp” behind the USSR, but as time went on resistance became more overt with the development of their struggles for regaining independence, particularly after the victory of the Chinese revolution in 1949.   To my knowledge, no-one has ever written the history of the formulation of the alternative theory, which gave full rein to the independent initiatives of the countries of Asia and Africa, later to crystallize at Bandung in 1955 and then in the constitution of the Non Aligned Movement (from 1960 defined as Asian-African, plus Cuba). The details are buried in the archives of some communist parties (those of China, India, Indonesia, Egypt, Iraq, Iran and perhaps a few others).

Nevertheless I can bear personal witness to what happened, having been lucky enough, since 1950, to participate in one of the groups of reflection that brought together the Egyptian, Iraqi and Iranian communists and some others.   Information about the Chinese debate, inspired by Zhou Enlai was not made known to us by Comrade Wang Hue (the link with the journal Révolution, whose editorial committee included myself) until much later, in 1963.   We heard echoes of the Indian debate and the split that it had provoked, which was confirmed afterwards by the constitution of the CPM.   We knew that debates within the Indonesian and Filipino communist parties developed along the same lines.

This history should be written as it will help people to understand that Bandung did not originate in the heads of the nationalist leaders (Nehru and Sukarno particularly, rather less, Nasser) as is implied by contemporary writers.   It was the product of a radical left wing critique which was at that time conducted within the communist parties.   The common conclusion of these groups of reflection could be summed up in one sentence: the fight against imperialism brings together, at the world level, the social and political forces whose victories are decisive in opening up to possible socialist advances in the contemporary world.

This conclusion, however, left open a crucial question: who will ‘direct’ these anti-imperialist battles?   To simplify: the bourgeoisie (then called ‘national’), whom the communists should then support, or a front of popular classes, directed by the communists and not the bourgeoisies (who were anti-national, in fact)?   The answer to this question often changed and was sometimes confused.   In 1945 the communist parties concerned were aligned, based on the conclusion that Stalin had formulated: the bourgeoisies everywhere in the world (in Europe, aligned with the United States, as in the colonial and semi-colonial countries – in the language of that era) have “thrown the national flag into the rubbish bin” (Stalin’s phrase) and the communists were therefore the only ones who could assemble a united front of the forces that refused to submit to the imperialist, capitalist American order.   The same conclusion was reached by Mao in 1942, but only made known (to us) when his New Democracy had been translated into Western languages in 1952.   This thesis held that for the majority of the peoples of the planet the long road to socialism could only be opened by a “national, popular, democratic, anti-feudal and anti-imperialist revolution [the language of the day], run by the communists.”   The underlying message was that other socialist advances were not on the agenda elsewhere, i.e., in the imperialist centres.   They could not possibly take shape until after the peoples of the peripheries had inflicted substantial damage on imperialism.

The triumph of the Chinese revolution confirmed this conclusion. The communist parties of South East Asia, in Thailand, Malaysia and Philippines in particular, started liberation struggles inspired by the Vietnamese model.   Later, in 1964, Che Guevara held similar views when he called for “one, two, three Vietnams.”

The avant-garde proposals for initiatives by the independent and anti-imperialist ‘countries of Asia and Africa’, which were formulated by the different communist groups of reflection, were precise and advanced. They are to be found in the Bandung programme and that of the Non-Aligned Movement, of which I gave a systematic presentation in my L’eveil du Sud (Awakening of the South).   The proposals focussed on the essential need to reconquering control over the accumulation process (development which is auto-centred and delinked from the world economy).

It so happens that some of these proposals were adopted, although with considerable dilutions in certain countries, as from 1955 to 1960, by the governing classes as a whole in both continents. And at the same time the revolutionary struggles waged by all the communist parties of South East Asia were defeated (except in Vietnam, of course).   The conclusion would seem to be that the ‘national bourgeoisie’ had not exhausted its capacity for anti-imperialist struggle.   The Soviet Union also came to that conclusion when it decided to support the non-aligned front, while the imperialist Triad declared open warfare against it.

The communists in the countries concerned were then divided between the two tendencies and became involved in painful conflicts that were often confused.   Some drew the lesson that it was necessary to ‘support’ the powers in place that were battling imperialism, although this support should remain ‘critical’.   Moscow gave wind to their sails by inventing the thesis of the ‘non-capitalist way’.   Others conserved the essentials of the Maoist thesis, according to which only a front of the popular classes that was independent of the bourgeoisie could lead a successful struggle against imperialism.   The conflict between the Chinese communist party and the Soviet Union, which was apparent as from 1957 but officially declared as from 1960, of course confirmed the second tendency among the Asian and African communists.

However, the potential of the Bandung movement wore out within some fifteen years, emphasizing – if it should be needed – the limits of the anti-imperialist programmes of the ‘national bourgeoisies’.   Thus the conditions were ripe for the imperialist counter-offensive, the ‘re-compradorisation’ of the Southern economies, if not – for the most vulnerable – their recolonization. Nevertheless, as if to give the lie to this return imposed by the facts to the thesis of the definitive and absolute impotence of the national bourgeoisies – Bandung having been, according to this vision, just a ‘passing episode’ in the cold war context – certain countries of the South have been able to impose themselves as ‘emerging’ in the new globalization dominated by imperialism.   But ‘emerging’ in what way?   Emerging markets open to the expansion of capital of the oligopolies belonging to the imperialist Triad? Or emerging nations capable of imposing a genuine revision of the terms of globalization and reducing the power exercised by the oligopolies, while reconducting the accumulation to their own national development?     The question of the social content of the powers in place in the emerging countries (and in the other countries of the periphery) and the prospects that this opens up or closes is once again on the agenda.   It is a debate that cannot be avoided: what will – or could – be the ‘post-crisis’ world?

Would the results be better now, when a second ‘Awakening of the South’ is on the horizon?   Above all, will it be possible this time to build convergences between the struggles in the North and in the South?   These were lamentably lacking in the Bandung epoch. The peoples of the imperialist centres then finally aligned behind their imperialist leaders.   The social-democrat project of the time would in fact have been difficult to imagine without the imperialist rent that benefited the opulent societies of the North.   Bandung and the Non Aligned Movement were thus seen as just an episode in the cold war, perhaps even manipulated by Moscow. In the North, there was little understanding of the real dimensions of this first emancipatory wave of the countries of Asia and Africa which, however, was convincing enough for Moscow to give it support.

 

What should the reaction of Irish democrats be to the Brexit vote?

The Peoples Movement

June 26, 2016

What should the reaction of Irish democrats be to the Brexit vote? Having campaigned for such an outcome, the People’s Movement is in no doubt that the vote is an important blow against what is a reactionary and anti-democratic project.

Democrats in the Republic should now seek to win back Ireland’s independence by following Britain out of the EU and the euro zone. Leaving the EU is the only way in which Ireland can disentangle itself from the disastrous euro zone. Ireland does two-thirds of its foreign trade outside the nineteen-member euro zone (two-thirds of its exports and three-quarters of its imports).

It is essential that Ireland have a special deal governing its UK trade; but while it stays in the EU it is the Brussels Commission, not an independent Irish government, that decides the Republic’s trade arrangements.

Although the Government and opposition intervened shamelessly in the referendum campaign, the Government should immediately open a structured dialogue with London to help facilitate a smooth British withdrawal from the EU, especially in matters relating to NorthSouth relations. This should start immediately, even before the British government invokes article 50 of the Treaty on European Union.

The Government needs to decide whether it serves Brussels or the Irish people, north and south, unionist and nationalist. So it must not allow itself to be drawn into any EU plans to punish Britain in order to deter other EU members from following its example. Talk of the imposition of “hard borders” must be immediately rejected.

Dublin and Belfast must adopt an agreed joint approach. Up to now the Dublin political establishment has always preferred to act as Irish satraps for EU rule rather than stand up for the interests of the Irish people. Perhaps the lesson of the referendum—that at the end of the day the people will have their revenge for political arrogance and opportunism—may, just may, force them to rethink this stance.

Probably the first stage in the process will be an amendment to Britain’s European Communities Act to prevent any new EU laws or court decisions applying in the UK. There will then be a special act of Parliament to continue in being all existing EU laws, court decisions, and international agreements, pending a gradual working out of which ones are worth keeping in the interests of British citizens and which ones are best got rid of.

Then there will be notification of Britain’s intention under article 50, so setting in train the two-year or longer period for concluding an agreement that is referred to in that article.

Irish democrats will need to carefully scrutinise all aspects of these stages to ensure that the interests of people in this country, north and south, are protected. Probably this should be done by a joint working group of the Oireachtas, the Northern Ireland Assembly, and the British Parliament.

The prospect that membership of a developing European Union would help to bring the people in both parts of Ireland closer together politically was a significant element in securing the assent of the Republic’s citizens to joining the then EEC in the first place. This formed the core of official Ireland’s all-Ireland thinking.

But the fatal blind spot of that policy is that it never had the answer to the fundamental question as to why Northern nationalists or unionists should look favourably on a united Ireland when that would merely mean exchanging rule from London for rule from Berlin and Frankfurt. Official Ireland never had an answer to this question, nor perhaps did it ever really feel that it needed one.

On the other hand, the traditional aim of Irish democracy has not been a united Ireland but a united independent Ireland—or, to put it another way, an Ireland united in independence. After all, Ireland was united between 1801 and 1921 as part of the United Kingdom, but it had no independence. Uniting Ireland or encouraging a united Ireland through “evercloser union” would have had many similarities to that nineteenth-century Irish unity inside the United Kingdom.

The alternative that democrats offer Northern unionists and nationalists is a central role in running an independent Irish state—not subordination to a Franco-German economic fiefdom in which most laws and policies are decided in Brussels or Frankfurt.

Those who aspire to a united independent Ireland should be aware of the new terrain in the struggle for independence and national democracy that Brexit has opened up, and develop their policies and political struggles accordingly.

Book Review: 21st-century imperialism

Seán Edwards

John Smith, Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century: Globalization, Super-Exploitation, and Capitalism’s Final Crisis (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2016)

In 2002 Anne Daly produced a documentary called Race to the Bottom, provoked by a fire that killed fifty-two workers in a garment factory in Bangladesh. John Smith’s book begins with the Rana Plaza disaster in 2013, when another garment factory collapsed and 1,131 workers died. Clearly, the race to the bottom continues. 
The conditions derive from the cut-throat competition between suppliers in Bangladesh and other oppressed countries that is mandated by the transnational corporations in the imperialist countries. The more monopolised the garment industry in the North, the more intense the competition between countries, between businesses and between workers in the global South. Most of the profits accrue to the North. According to an example given in this book, only €0.95 of the price of a H&M tee-shirt sold in Germany for €4.95 stays in Bangladesh. 
Along with other examples of intensified exploitation, smartphone manufacture, and coffee-growing, John Smith connects the outsourcing of production to the lowest-wage economies with the nature of capitalism today. 
The twenty-first century dawned with capitalism—according to most observers in the media—swinging along nicely. The taoiseach of the time, Brian Cowan, cheerfully exclaimed that the era of booms and slumps was over. Only Marxists predicted a crash. (They would say that, wouldn’t they?) 
When the crash came, the economists and the politicians were taken by surprise. They are still thrashing about looking for an explanation, blaming each other, blaming deregulation, blaming rogue bankers, always addressing the superficialities, afraid to look into the abyss: the crisis of capitalism. 
Among the Marxists, Monthly Review Press not only saw the crash coming but described many of its features in advance. It has maintained a spirit of inquiry into the workings of contemporary capitalism, so it is appropriate that it is the publisher of John Smith’s book. This book is strictly about economics, not so much the political and military means of maintaining imperialist hegemony—that would be another book. 
The crash of 2007 was not a surprise; the only surprise is that it was delayed so long, which Smith endeavours to explain. 
One of the responses to the stagnation crisis of the 1970s was the drive to cut costs by moving production to countries with cheaper labour. This was closely associated with increasing financialisation, which the author insists is not a separate phenomenon. Both were facilitated by the advances in information technology. What began as an economic solution has become a pathology. After thirty years, it was fundamental to the new crisis. 
The outsourcing of production, ever seeking cheaper labour power, accelerated up to the crash of 2007: for example, Levi-Strauss, which in the 1960s operated sixty-three factories in the United States, closed its last factory there in 2004. The process was pushed also by the emergence of such retail giants as Walmart, Tesco, and Carrefour—commercial interests coming to dominate manufacturers and growers, at home and abroad. The pressure on suppliers inevitably leads to further pressure on wages. 
According to mainstream economics, the “developing countries” should be catching up with the developed. There is no sign of this happening, however (apart from a few special cases), for a number of reasons. 
The process is controlled by the transnational corporations, whether through direct investment or subcontracting. While there is free movement of capital, there is no free movement of labour. The reserve army of the unemployed and precariously employed is so large, and continues to be reinforced by the displacement of peasants from the land. 
Development is largely limited to the particular activities required by powerful corporations and by commercial and financial interests. It is unusual for a product to be manufactured entirely in one country. For example, transnational companies and their subcontractors operating in China typically assemble articles for export from parts made elsewhere. This keeps control in the hands of the corporation. 
The direct rule of the colonial powers has been more or less successfully replaced by neo-colonialism. Imperialist hegemony is enforced by economic means, in alliance with the local ruling class—not that force, or the threat of force, has been abandoned. Levelling up is just not happening. 
Meanwhile the wages and conditions of workers in the imperialist countries continue to deteriorate, with jobs in production only partly replaced by service employment. They are facing austerity policies imposed by governments and employers. These have so far met with only sporadic resistance, but this may be changing. 
John Smith argues at some length that Marx’s theory of surplus value needs to be interpreted in the global context of contemporary imperialism. As he sums up his argument, “global labour arbitrage—super-exploitation—that is forcing down the value of labour power, is now the increasingly predominant form of the capital-labour relationship.” This he sees as “a defining feature of the neoliberal era,” along with the financialisation with which it is closely associated. He makes the point that financial assets are largely derived from the surplus value extracted from super-exploited workers in low-wage countries. 
Behind the financial crisis of 2007 lay a crisis of production, that is, of capitalism itself, of imperialism. After nine years, no solution has been found. The policy of North American and European governments has been to protect business, keeping share prices up by “quantitative easing” and imposing austerity on working people. They have certainly succeeded in making the rich richer, but the underlying crisis remains, and is spreading to the oppressed countries, which depend on exporting to what is now a stagnant market. 
The return to Keynesian strategies and re-regulation advocated by the left is hardly more promising; nor is the “non-interference” proposed by some on the right. The author argues that there is no capitalist solution to the crisis. There has been, he maintains, an enormous growth in the working class, the industrial working class in particular, which includes women and men, all races and all religions, “more closely resembling the face of humanity than ever before”—a powerful force. 
Either humanity will destroy capitalism, or capitalism will destroy humanity. We are back to Marx: “Workers of all countries, unite!”—never more difficult, never more urgent, never more necessary.

Another Europe is possible—another EU is not

The Communist Party of Ireland expresses its solidarity with and welcomes the decision of the British electorate, with working people having played a decisive factor to vote to leave the European Union. 
The decision of the people is a victory over Project Fear, unleashed by big business, global banks and financial institutions, with the EU and the ruling elite throughout the EU, including the Irish government, playing back-up. We congratulate those in the north-east of Ireland who had the opportunity to vote in the referendum and voted to leave. 
We call for a new referendum here in the Republic on continued membership, coupled with a halt to any further or deeper integration within the EU. We need to reassert national democracy and sovereignty. Also required is an end to the secret negotiations by the institutions of the EU and the United States regarding TTIP. 
The working people of Britain have sent a resounding message to London and Brussels, that they have had enough of the bullying, enough of permanent austerity, enough of putting the interests of big business above those of the people. This is also significant rejection of the straitjacket economics of the EU. The political and economic strategy of the EU is an affront to democracy and the ability of people to democratically decide their countries’ economic and social priorities and possible alternative direction. 
Throughout the EU, millions of workers will welcome this vote to leave, which may well mark the beginning of the end of the EU itself. Project Fear, masterminded by the EU, has been used to bully the Greek, Spanish, Italian, Cypriot and Irish people into accepting debt slavery, that there was no alternative but to bail out the banks and speculators over the rights of the people. But not only them: this strategy has been used against all working people right throughout the EU, using fear to impose the feeling that there is no alternative, using it to mask savage attacks on workers’ rights and conditions, and the further erosion of democracy and national sovereignty. 
The cycle of fear has now been broken. Working people need to take the opportunity now presented to assert their own demands throughout the EU, to assert themselves and build unity of action against these massive assaults. 
Now is the time for the mobilisation of working people to assert that there is a progressive left democratic alternative to the the plans and strategies being imposed big business through the institutions of the EU.

The Brexit debate and the left

Letter in the Irish Times http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/letters/the-brexit-debate-and-the-left-1.2674376

Sir, – Many people will have been repelled by the selective xenophobia of the Brexit campaign, concluding there is little option than to vote to Remain in the EU for fear of being tarred with the same brush. However, we would all do well to consider the membership of the “Remain Club” – the combined forces of international capitalism, including the World Bank, IMF, multinationals, the US and, of course, the European Central Bank itself.

As a result of the Brexit campaign, the idea that a country might retain a degree of sovereignty and border control has been rendered toxic and even racist. This despite the fact that it is commonplace around the non-EU world! Nor can it be in the interests of countries to see large numbers of their working population leave, many never to return.

The postwar democratic consensus of full employment, public ownership and a welfare state has been systematically dismantled. In the event of a vote to Remain we will see a continuing attack on the public sector and privatisation of services as the EU moves towards federalism.

The next step is TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), an agreement with the most far-reaching consequences to date. In essence this elevates a multinational company to have the same status as national governments, will erode further the right of a state to protect its citizens, and force states to go to a third party to justify its actions if a company deems these to have eaten into its profits!

Tell the people of Greece, Spain, Portugal and Ireland that the EU has equality as a priority. When equality has come up against the interests of employers, the latter have won (check the Viking Line and Laval judgments).

There are those in the trade union and labour movement who argue that membership of the EU will protect our members’ rights and conditions. What have they got to say about Greece, with the destruction of wages, pensions, jobs, healthcare and the forced sale of public assets and enterprise on the insistence of the EU? Or France, where the social democratic president’s decision to proceed with legislation to remove the legal protection for working hours and wages at the insistence of the EU, despite political opposition, widespread protests and national strikes? Or Ireland, where the EU insistence that no more than 2 per cent can be spent on social initiatives or infrastructure to alleviate the effects of austerity, which was caused by irresponsible behaviour of world and European banks, irrespective of GDP growth?

Britain does pay in more to the EU than it receives. The common fisheries policy has decimated the local fishing industry. There is endemic waste through the common agricultural policy. There is a trade imbalance which other countries will be loath to lose after a vote to leave. Of course, we are under no illusions that money no longer spent on EU membership will used to replace current funding, which will in any event stop as other regions take precedence. We would have to fight hard to achieve this. The point is though we would be able to do so, a capacity we will lose if the vote is to Remain.

The consensus on the impact of Brexit on Ireland is that a “Border with attitude” is unlikely and even far-fetched. There are precedents for relaxed borders between member and non-member countries.

The headline debate reflects a disagreement about the way ahead for British capitalism, and we are under no illusions regarding the anti-working class credentials of the Brexit Tories. However, a vote to Remain will further erode the capacity to defend living standards, the public sector and in particular the NHS.

The Communist Party of Ireland has opposed the “European project” in all its guises, and we take no pleasure in saying that what we predicted has happened. We support a left exit campaign – a Lexit! – Yours, etc,

LYNDA WALKER,

Northern Area

Committee,

Communist Party of Ireland,

Belfast.

10 Reasons to #leave #brexit

1.   Northern Ireland  … Economy
The EU subsidies in the form of Regional Grants,  Structural Funds, Farm Payments and money for local ‘Peace Process’ activities  are, in fact, UK taxpayers’ money being recycled through Brussels.  The UK is a major net contributor to the EU Budget, so that local EU projects which people think Brussels is funding are really being paid for by UK taxpayers. Voting ‘Leave’ would in principle make possible increases, not reductions, in all such funding.
2.   Northern Ireland …The Peace Process
Claims that a ‘Leave’ vote would endanger the Northern Ireland peace process are wholly unfounded. This is part of ‘Project Fear’.  Remember 1999 and the threats of job losses and economic ruin if Britain did not abolish the pound sterling and adopt the euro?  Or 2011 when Germany’s Chancellor Merkel claimed that peace in Europe was under threat if the Banks were not bailed out to protect the euro-currency?
3.   The Anglo-Irish Common Travel Area
The long-established Anglo-Irish common travel area, which goes back to 1923, is  a matter exclusively for the British and Irish Governments and is not an EU matter.  Irish people will continue to move freely between the two islands and across the North-South border inside Ireland as they have always done.
4.   Social benefits and Wages
If people vote ‘Remain’ David Cameron’s recent EU agreement will be implemented, which means that new immigrants to the UK will have lower social benefits than those already there. It will be impossible under EU law to differentiate between Irish immigrants on the one hand and non-Irish ones on the other. So that new Irish immigrants to the UK must face cuts in social benefits too.
Under EU law  any of the 500 million people who are citizens of the EU can come and live and work in the UK if they wish. This leads to cheap labour, lower wages and reductions  in social standards. This is the main reason why so many employers, especially big ones, want to remain in the EU.
5.  National independence
Remaining in the EU means obeying EU laws made in Brussels by unelected bureaucrats without the ability of either Britain or Ireland to change a single one of them. These laws  and regulations serve the interest of EU-based Transnational Banks and Big Business and not the ordinary people of Britain or Ireland. Brussels can impose heavy fines on any State that disobeys. Is this “the unfettered control of Irish destinies” which the men and women of the 1916 Easter Rising aspired to in the Proclamation?  Is this democracy?  Irish people have a proud record of standing for the national independence of whatever country they are living in. That is why they should show solidarity with the British people by voting ‘Leave’ in the June referendum.
6.   Free Trade
Free trade does not require the supremacy of EU law. Free trade will continue between Ireland and the UK under all realistic ‘Leave’ scenarios, so there will be no customs posts on the North-South border within Ireland, no passport controls or anything like that. Such claims are simply scaremongering. If the ‘Remain’ side wins it means the job-destroying TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) is inevitable. This was negotiated by the EU on behalf of its 28 Member States, with its dangerous Private Investor-State Dispute Settlement Tribunals –  instead of Britain independently negotiating its own trade treaties with the 170 States in the world that are outside the EU.
7. More money in one’s pocket
Over the past decade the UK paid over £150 billion to the EU budget – far more than it gets back. It sends £350 million to Brussels every week. This is about half the English schools budget and some ten times the Northern Ireland schools budget. If the vote is  ‘Remain’ it will make this payment permanent and people cannot change it. Why not put this money back in one’s pocket by voting ‘Leave’?
8. This is where the jobs are
Only 1/10th of the UK economy is involved in exports to the EIU. The other 9/10ths  are involved in domestic UK business and in exporting outside the EU.  This is where the jobs are – in the domestic economy, freed from job-destroying EU regulation, and in the export business, with Britain trading with the five continents and with the far-flung English-speaking world.  The EU is an inward-looking shrinking market mired in recession, with a disfunctional currency and hugh unemployment.  The EU is far more dependent on the UK economy than the UK is on it.  By taking back control from the EU Britain can become an economically booming Singapore of Europe.
9.  Hamstrung indefinitely or free?
Do you want to be part of a manifestly failing experiment in continent-wide federalization to be run by non-elected committees in Brussels?  Or to regain control over our fishing industry, tax, economic regulation, energy and food bills, migration, crime and civil liberties by voting ‘Leave’?   By voting ‘Remain’ you copperfasten control of your life and those of your children  for the indefinite future by an increasingly  German-dominated EU.  By voting ‘Leave’ you bring back control to the democratically-elected centuries-old British Parliament.  You regain the right to make your own laws, which Britain helped restore to the rest of Europe in two World Wars. In these circumstances voting ‘Leave’ is clearly the safer optiom.
10.  Human Rights Courts
Membership of the European Convention on Human Rights, which 55 European countries subscribe to, underpins various freedoms but has nothing to do with the European Union. The European Court of Human Rights is a separate body entirely from the EU’s Court of Justice, so that voting Leave will not affect the human rights protections of people in the UK and Ireland.

 

Anthony Coughlin

Why #Brexit?

The National Platform EU Research and Information Centre

24 Crawford Avenue
Dublin 9
Tel.: 01-8305792
Thursday 21 April 2016
 
Dear Sinn Fein Friends
                                    Lost Opportunities?
For Sinn Fein to embrace the European Union at its Ard Fheis on the very centenary weekend of the Easter Rising, behind a rhetoric of working to turn the EU into a ‘Social Europe’ – with Ireland’s 1% EU Council vote? –  and to commit itself to ‘campaigning vigorously against Brexit’ in the UK’s June referendum on the EU, is assuredly deeply ironical.
It would be so partly because Sinn Fein has opposed handing over Irish sovereignty to the EU in every EU referendum from that on the original EEC Accession Treaty in 1972, through those on the Single European Act 1987, the Maastricht Treaty 1992, the Amsterdam Treaty 1998, the Nice Treaty 2001 and 2002, the Lisbon Treaty 2008 and 2009, up to the Fiscal Stability Treaty of 2012 … And partly because the EU is in such a mess these days – and getting messier, with the euro-currency crisis, the migration crisis and the ‘Brexit’ crisis.

I make these points in this ‘open letter’ to you and your Sinn Fein colleagues as a lifelong Left Republican who was involved in setting up the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association in 1967 and who took part in the 1968/9 Northern civil rights marches before ever Provisional Sinn Fein was established, and as someone who has had no party political involvement since my student days and who has supported the ‘peace process’ over the years.

By taking such a course, with seemingly minimal discussion among the party’s members, the Sinn Fein leadership, behind a screen of leftist rhetoric, would be moving decisively down the same road as the erstwhile ‘Stickies’, using similar slogans and demands as they did in their time, and abandoning the possibility of offering a genuinely alternative course for the Irish people on the principal issue of the day in our part of the world – the issue of national independence and democracy vis-a-vis the EU.
Sinn Fein would be throwing away two political opportunities by this development.
The only way to bring about a United Ireland over time is to win over a section of current Unionist opininion to that position, however long that may take, so as to bring about eventually a majority in the North for ending Partition.  For if the Unionists are Irish – as they are – that should in principle be possible.
If Sinn Fein supported ‘Brexit’ it would enable Republicans to side with such Unionists as the DUP against the mainstream policy of the British Government and Prime Minister David Cameron. The latter is being supported by the most reactionary forces in Europe and the USA, from Goldman Sachs* and Wall Street to the German and other EU Governments, the American Government, the Brussels Commission, and EU-based High Finance and Transnational Capital against those people on the Left, Right and Centre of British politics who want to get back the right to decide their own laws and international policies.
If Sinn Fein had adopted such a course it would open other opportunities for influencing hard-line Unionist opinion in a more progressive direction over time.
Instead Sinn Fein seems set on siding with the Goldman Sachses and Prime Minister Camerons of this world – something which Bobby Sands and his H-Block comrades would surely never have credited could happen!
I am well aware that for Sinn Fein to advocate ‘Brexit’ would be politically tricky in presentational terms, but it could be done.   Of course it would not be so tricky if the Sinn Fein leadership had carried out a sustained campaign of education in the party’s own ranks and amongst the wider Irish public on the reactionary and anti-democratic character of the EU over the years: building on its record of referendum opposition to the successive EU Treaties.  But the Sinn Fein leadership has not been telling people that.
For anyone who looks objectively at the facts, Irish membership of the EU/Eurozone is the very opposite of ‘the unfettered control of Irish destinies’, the genuinely independent Irish Republic, which the men and women of 1916 set out to establish a hundred years ago.
The second opportunity being thrown away by this policy volte-face on the part of the Sinn Fein leadership is the maintenance of a significant policy distinction between Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail.  For once Sinn Fein embraces the EU there is no objective basis for Irish voters to prefer Fianna Fail ‘Lite’ as against Fianna Fail ‘Heavy’.  By removing the one significant distinction between real political Republicanism on the one hand and  bogus Fianna Fail Republicanism on the other, Sinn Fein is copper-fastening objectively the revival of Fianna Fail.
That great Socialist Republican Peadar O’Donnell used often say that Republicanism was the most ‘left-wing’ thing in Ireland until the country had attained real national independence and unity.  By that he meant that any ‘leftist’ or radical-sounding talk that does not give priority to establishing real national independence is just so much codology, meant to deceive the gullible.
At the present time the EU’s euro-currency and migration crises are making the ‘national question’,  the issue of national independence and democracy, the big issue of politics right across the EU – including for former imperial countries like Britain, Germany and France which for generations caused national problems for others.
This is happening as these different nations discover the drawbacks of having their laws made for them by people they do not elect, and as citizens everywhere begin to react against how their mainstream politicians have allowed their Nation States to be hollowed out by means of successive EU Treaties – all of which Sinn Fein opposed over the years.
This is not a time when Sinn Fein should effectively abandon Republicanism behind a rhetoric of advocating a so-called ‘Social Europe’ and ‘leading the Left’.  It is not a time when sensible Republicans should abandon the one significant feature that had hitherto differentiated them from Fianna Fail and all the other parties in the Dail – namely criticism of and opposition to the EU/Eurozone – that being the one policy feature which objectively justifies Sinn Fein’s claim to be offering the Irish people a genuinely alternative course of national policy.
Of course one can pretend that talk about ‘leading the Left’, standing for ‘a Republic of Equals’ and advocacy of more radically redistributive tax and spend policies, provide a real policy alternative to the Irish people; but they do not.  Labour in opposition, Fianna Fail in opposition, the Social Democrats, the Anti-Austerity Alliance and the rest will all be doing the same thing in the coming period, with minor variations between them, while at the same time they support Irish membership of the EU/Eurozone and all that necessarily goes with that.
I send you three items below in support of the points made in this letter. The document ‘Tackling the EU Empire’, which gives the basic facts about the EU/Eurozone and what it is all about, has already been sent to you by letter post.
The first item below is ten points on why Irish people in Britain and the North should vote ‘Leave’ in June.The second is an article, originally published in Village Magazine, which shows how the EU, by  eroding national independence and democracy, is the very opposite of the independent Republic that the men and women of 1916 whom we commemorate on this centenary weekend set out to achieve.  And the third  is an article on what the EU/Eurozone policy of a genuine political Left rather than a bogus one should be.
That would be a Left in the James Connolly tradition which gives political primacy to achieving real national independence and unity as against the national sell-out policy of the Social Democrat and neo-Trotskyite parties of one kind or another, all of which embrace the EU and submit to its laws and rules while using Left-sounding slogans and rhetoric to cover their accommodation to it.
Syriza’s former Finance Minister Janis Varoufakis is currently a prime example of this as he campaigns alongside David Cameron, Goldman Sachs, the City of London and the most reactionary economic and political forces in the Western world against those British democrats on the political Left and Right who who seek to regain their national democracy and independence by supporting ‘Brexit’.
And is Sinn Fein now set to join the anti-democratic side?
Yours faithfully
Anthony Coughlan
Director
 
* On 22 January the Financial Times reported that Goldman Sachs on Wall Street was donating £500,000 towards the anti-Brexit campaign in Britain. This is the same Goldman Sachs as is behind the threatened Tyrrelstown evictions in Dublin.

Capitalism is bad for your health

By David Hugh Hartery

Taken from http://www.communistpartyofireland.ie/sv/07-health.html

Going hand in hand with a reduction in the stigma attached to mental illness is a growth in diagnoses. Some of this can be attributed to better health education, leading to fewer sick people going untreated; but with unprecedented numbers now receiving treatment, we have to ask, What part of modern society is making us ill?

This article does not aim to critique the practice of mental health treatment under capitalism—though Peadar O’Grady’s excellent “Stop making sense: Alienation and mental health” in Irish Marxist Review (no. 11, 2014) provides that analysis (and some of it is relied on here); instead it tries to explain why the capitalist system necessarily causes stresses—leading to mental illnesses—and how the very response to that phenomenon has been weaponised by capital.

Firstly, part of the reason for an increase in diagnoses is a definitional one. Increasingly, normal aspects of life under late capitalism are medicalised. Stress, anxiety and uncertainty are often foundational (even laudatory) aspects of the capitalist system, with the precariousness of workers’ contracts seen as a boon to bosses and working yourself to your stress limits seen as dedication, which will be rewarded.

In this way, it could be argued that the anxious, medicated, CBT-practising precarious worker is in fact the ideal citizen of late capitalism.

Marx’s assumption is that humanity is defined by how it labours: there is a drive to create new surpluses, new needs, new value. Alienation from labour, however, is obviously a precondition of capitalism, necessary for the extraction of surplus value.

However, such alienation has takes a psychic toll, with a survey by the British government showing that workers at lower rungs of professions exhibit higher levels of stress than their bosses. Similarly, the report of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America for 2006 shows that workers who were given more autonomy showed less signs of mental illness. Alienation, then, is a scale, and when the degree of alienation increases we see more mental illness or distress, and when it wanes, workers should see mental and physical benefits.

However, such forces have existed since the advent of capitalism. What has led to the surge in mental illnesses in late capitalism? The tendency of the rate of profit to fall—and its effect on the balance between work and life—has a lot to do with this. In the modern neo-liberal order, work is increasingly precarious and highly specific: this is necessary to get the maximum productive value from each worker, as capitalists try to arrest this fall in profit. The advent of zero-hour contracts and an app-based service economy has provided a new way to circumvent hard-won employment protections and introduce a culture of scientific management through the back door.

Even the liberal paragon of employment, the tech start-up, inculcates a culture of absolute devotion through the provision of sleeping areas, free food, and on-site leisure facilities. Tech companies exploit the passion of computer enthusiasts to create a culture of competition—and long working hours. The increasing use of productivity micro-targets in all work-places also adds another stress factor to employment.

When combined with long commuting times, poor nutrition from convenience food and a highly sedentary life-style, this mix of stress and poor self-care is toxic to mental health. Sleep, long established as one of the primary factors in preserving our mental resilience, is also affected by these long, stressful days—with Silicon Valley investigating pills that would defer the need for rest, allowing capital to further colonise sleep. Coffee, however, is our current substitute.

In the face of these factors, these stressors, there is an understandable outbreak of mental illness.

The culture of individuality, so prominent in the economic sphere since the 1980s, is also the predominant mode of combating mental illness. It’s impossible for health to be conceptualised within the wider socio-economic framework when the “blame” for mental illness is individualised. We are told to “Please talk” or to watch the “little things” that will foster better mental health, but there is no talk of the systemic factors that lead to illness. The closest that practice will come to understanding how capital divorces us from our human nature is to talk of the importance of “occupation,” a term that practitioners strive to keep “apolitical” and often a synonym for busywork.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is perhaps the most egregious example of this. It works through teaching patients to think about their life differently, positing that through thinking more “factually” about events and behaviour we can learn to stop “negative automatic thoughts” and improve the quality of life.

CBT is cheap, short, and scalable, so it has become the poster-child for the neo-liberal health model. It does work for a lot of people—though, as the excellent article “Therapy wars: the revenge of Freud” by Oliver Burkeman in the Guardian (7 January 2016) explains, the success rates are dropping continuously; but it is a sticking-plaster for a social ill. The increasing use of programmed CBT artificial intelligences in many health services, or drop-in centres dispensing CBT worksheets without access to a practitioner, shows how the CBT practice is becoming increasingly cold and inhuman.

We cannot “fix” mental illness by socialising more, arbitrarily choosing to think differently, or making token life-style changes. This amounts to mere commodity consumption, something that can superficially fill the gaps in our human needs, but does not fix the underlying problems of alienation. Our position within the socio-economic system dictates whether we can meet our needs through satisfying work or whether we are left to seek fleeting relief through rituals of consumption.

When we look at the incidence of mental health among homeless people, the incarceration of vast swathes of “undesirables” in mental health asylums throughout Irish history, the tragedy of addiction and the prevalence of mental health issues among the working class, we can see that mental health is undeniably a class issue, and one that is getting worse.

Instead of celebrities enriching themselves through bourgeois calls for “awareness” we need to form a comprehensive, politically aware response to this crisis.

Interview with Prof Ben Fine, SOAS

www.politicaleconomy.ie interview with Professor of Economics Ben Fine of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

PDF version of interview Interview with Ben Fine Prof Economics SOAS

Thank you Ben for taking the time to do this interview.

  1. Can you briefly outline for us what you think the causes of the great 2008 crash and subsequent years of crisis were?

Over the past thirty years, the volume of global financial assets to GDP has risen three times. That means that each unit of output has involved three times the level of financing than previously, something that would have been deplored had it been anything else underpinning provision, such as energy to produce electricity, steel to produce cars, and so on. It is hardly surprising that such a system should blow at some point, ultimately globally, with ever larger and uncontainable crises emerging at earlier points along the way.

But something else, and deeper, is involved than the increasing ratio of finance to production, and the increasing proliferation of the types of assets. What we have seen is the increasing role of finance in what might be termed economic and social restructuring and accumulation of capital. Thus, within the capitalist economy itself, more and more finance has been involved, together with financial motives and operations in what firms do. In the USA, for example, non-financial firms make as much money out of their financial dealings as they do out of their real operations. Such, what is termed financialisation, has meant, for example, increasing pursuit of short-term profitability at the expense of long-term investments for increasing productivity and wages. Together with corresponding worsening to extremes of income inequality also over the last three decades, and the priority in policymaking to restore not only the profitability of finance but of its continuing operations, it is hardly surprising that, following the global financial crisis, there should be no signs of rapid recovery.

These processes of financialisation, and their effects, are uneven within and across countries and within and across sectors of the economy. They have also, as indicated, been extended to social restructuring, by which is meant the ways and means by which social provisioning takes place, economic and social infrastructure in general and health, education, welfare, etc, in particular. Not least through privatisation directly, and through all sorts of other mechanisms indirectly such as user charges, public private partnership and contracting out of government services, financialisation has increasingly become embroiled in social reproduction, something that is vital for the rhythm and pace of accumulation.

All in all, the result has been a slower pace of growth across the capitalist world, following the collapse of the post-war boom in the 1970s, with globalised, financialised neoliberalism ultimately suffering a global crisis from which it can barely recover growth in prosperity despite the enormous interventions on behalf of finance as both the levels and efficacy of accumulation and the conditions under which it occurs have been increasingly dictated to by financial motives and markets.

  1. You defend the more traditional Marxist declining rate of profit theory which has come under some scrutiny by Marxian economists in recent time. Can you explain the theory first and then why you see it as still a strong tendency in the system?

Let me answer this question indirectly. Broadly, debate over Marx’s law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall (and, for me at least, its counteracting tendencies, CTs) have, again for me, been based upon two false framings. The first is does the rate of profit empirically fall or not for some theoretical reason or other. The second is that given the rate of profit has fallen, for whatever reason, does this give rise to a crisis. Answers to the first question have resulted in huge debates across method, conceptualisation and theory, especially concerning the validity of Marx’s value theory and its application. Much empirical work has also been devoted to the issue of whether the rate of profit has fallen or not over particular periods for particular countries, with the presumption that crises can be explained by falling profitability (although capitalists themselves at the time did not have the benefit  of these retrospective calculations). For me, Marx’s law and CTs do not revolve around either of these framings, at least directly. Rather he is concerned with underlying forces that necessarily accompany accumulation and what I have termed restructuring of capital in answering the previous question. The law concerns increases in productivity that arise out of the accumulation of capital; the CTs concern the realisation of these developments in or through exchange. For Marx, this interaction is always contradictory rather than a simple sum in terms of profit going up or down. The issue is less this than whether the market (and non-market) mechanisms for accumulating and restructuring capital can be sustained without an economic and/or social crisis.

Now, if parodying, some argue that Marx’s law resulted in the end of the post-war boom and that the resulting crisis has yet to be resolved so that the current crisis is not a financial crisis at all but an unresolved crisis of profitability. Others argue that, especially in the USA with stagnant wages, profitability was fully restored and so the current crisis is purely financial (arising out of undue speculation and/or insufficient demand because of low wage income). These are wrong or limited, respectively, as the current crisis is one of inability to sustain and renew accumulation and restructuring of capital through what has become the major mechanism for doing so, financialisation.

  1. How do you see the recent years of austerity across Europe in terms of class? Why was it imposed and who did it benefit?

Everyone knows the bankers were to blame but they have got off scot free more or less – socialism for the bankers, capitalism for the rest of us. The imposition of austerity is indicative of the priority to restoring finance in the wake of its crisis so that the working class has been particularly hard hit even though arguments blaming them concerning unduly high economic and social wages do not hold true (although they are offered in case of the EU periphery in general and Greece in particular).

  1. I have to ask you now also about the upcoming referendum on Brexit. How would like it go? and what way do you think it will go?

The single most important thing about Brexit is political. For whatever reasons, the most horrendous coalition of forces is being put together to support Brexit and it would be disastrous if they were to win in terms of strengthening their political position, that is of the right more generally. More substantively, if a little over-simple, Brexit is about whether we want to be ruled directly by a European (predominantly German) capitalist class (think what has been done to Greece, although Britain has not offered any counterweight) or by a British one (think finance). It is hardly a choice that offers anything to working people, with the longer-term prospect being whether British finance is best served (by being eroded) in or outside the EU (as with membership of the Euro itself).

  1. Without doubt there has been a renewed interest in Marx and Marxist analysis in recent years do you see this translating into a raised level of class consciousness in Britain and, if so, will this translate into a rebalancing of forces in the country over the coming years in favour of working people?

I suspect the main direction of causation is in the opposite direction with interest in Marxism responding to developments rather than vice-versa. So the prominence and impact of Marxism will depend upon the growing strength and organisation of working people for which the unexpected and fortuitous rise of Corbyn is a welcome if fragile first step until such strength and organisation emerges and is consolidated.