Posted in China, World Politics

China and the “End of History”

In the summer of 1989 we were told that “anti-communist protests” were sweeping across the Soviet Union. This was of course a bare faced lie, typical right wing propaganda. The vast majority of Soviet citizens wanted to preserve the Soviet Union (depending on the region that number was in the high 90% of the populace in the referendum). The people, as usual, were betrayed by the rich and powerful who not only totally ignored the wishes of the vast majority of the working people but then lied to the world and claimed to speak for the majority. (As a side note, another lie they told us was that the Soviet Union was broke because of communism. Yeah, well where did all these Russian oligarchs get their money from then? By stealing public resources and funds. The Soviet Union was bankrupted by corruption on an industrial scale which created the Russian oligarchy, not by any communist policies).

So the people were told that communism had failed. Liberal democracy had apparently triumphed against all other ideologies. Fukuyama famously called it “the end of history”, borrowing a phrase that had been used many times before by the likes of Thomas More (Utopia) and even Hegel and Marx.

That we have just lived through a uni-polar ideological age is probably true. Neo-liberalism has been pretty hegemonic for the last 25 years. So the right wing claiming victory is unsurprising. What needs further thought and scrutiny is why the left have bought into this “end of history” type of thinking.

When I was a kid the working class were fighting a ferocious battle against Thatcher and her ilk (mine is the generation that Thatcher stole the milk from). But then Thatcher gave way to Major and a supposedly new way of doing things; Major’s ‘back to basics” when he ordered the Tories to concentrate less on ideology and more on things that actually mattered to people in their daily lives. This was of course just a sham. Ideology never went away. Neo-liberalism just learned to disguise itself as a sort of pragmatism, but it kept doing what neo-liberalism is ideologically driven to do – privatise, privatise and privatise.

After Major came Blair who was supposedly “beyond left and right”, and more recently we’ve had Obama who called for a “declaration of independence from ideology”. And of course, neo-liberalism survived during these two all the while doing what neo-liberalism does – stealing our resources and our wealth. And as that is what the right want they’ve only been to happy to repeat this “end of history” and “end of ideology” nonsense.

While declaring that the old polarities no longer pertain, all the main parties have shifted to the right. In such a political environment it is the left that loses – which is why “left wing” groups like RISE are so dangerous, with their candidates who proudly announce that they’ve never read any political theory “ ‘cos politics is just old men “ (an actual quote from one of their candidates at the last Holyrood election). When parties like RISE reduce politics to single issue campaigns and internet petitions (not that I’m suggesting there isn’t any room for these) it greatly harms the potential for a genuine organised opposition to the status quo.

I’m not advocating getting angry with RISE types, they are just the result of a wider problem of the Western left – its current intellectual bankruptcy. With the exception of perhaps some French Marxists there has been no real attempt recently by the Western left to produce a unified alternative theory to neo-liberalism. They’ve not done this in part because that would be an ideology, or ideologically informed, and they’ve bought into this “end of ideology” rubbish.

Its worth remembering that Fukuyama, unlike say Daniel Bell before him, didn’t actually mean that there was to be no more ideology. For Fukuyama “the end of history” meant the victory of one particular ideology – Western liberal democracy. (For Marx the “end of history” meant the victory of communism). While the likes of Blair and Major may have used the “end of ideology” type rhetoric of Bell, examining their policies highlights that they were more in the Fukuyama camp – that the one true ideology forevermore was to be Western liberal democracy, which to these people is synonymous with free markets and capitalism. And while Western lefties continue to use “end of ideology” or “end of history” type rhetoric the right will continue to dominate – because that type of rhetoric only solidifies the right wing myth that the current neo-liberal inspired policies such as austerity are somehow beyond ideology, as if they are just prudent responses to “natural economic and market conditions”.

While all this has been going on in the West, on the other side of the world an alternative has gradually been gathering strength. Western lefties tend to dismiss China – but that’s just because they’ve unthinkingly swallowed another piece of right wing propaganda, namely that China is just capitalist now. This piece of propaganda relies on Western left wing ignorance of what is actually happening in China, as well on the Western lefties ignorance of their own ideologies, which results in them failing to appreciate that China is still a very Marxist country. Indeed, within in the last few months the Chinese leadership have vowed to continue Mao Zedong’s revolution until the end. But that is sadly a message that is lost on Western “lefties” who lack any understanding of Marxism, economics or ideology.

Is China still Marxist? The answer is an unequivocal yes. They have famously allowed limited capitalism within their borders, but it is very highly regulated and government directed. Make no mistake about it, in China business is subservient to the people via the CPC. Businesses of course have the right to operate, but they have very strict social and environmental responsibilities. Neglect those responsibilities and they lose their right to operate. Attempts by the rich to buy political influence is punishable by jail terms – unlike in the West where that kind of interference in the political process is encouraged by politicians trying to line their own pockets.

We should also remember that the Chinese intellectuals who initially sought Westernisation gave up on this idea a long time ago in favour of “Socialism with Chinese characteristics”. Wang Meng is just one example, an author and former Culture Minister who was once labelled a “rightist” because at the beginning of the opening up period he couldn’t wait to see radical change and Westernisation. “In the 1990s, most of us abandoned the illusion of total Westernisation as we saw the social system was moving forward smoothly,” explained Wang. “We began to think about how we could benefit society and people under the current system. In other words, we became reconciled, at least partly, with the social system. Most intellectuals didn’t stand in opposition to socialism with Chinese characteristics.” So in the words of one of China’s most famous “rightists”, most Chinese intellectuals are not in opposition to socialism – contrary to what you’ll hear in Western propaganda mindlessly repeated by Western “lefties”.

But does this “limited capitalism” mean that technically China is no longer Marxist despite the government, people and intellectuals identifying as Marxist? That’s a firm no, but this one’s a little trickier to explain as it requires some knowledge of Marxist theory.

Let’s start with Hegel and dialectics. Hegel, when putting forward an alternative to Aristotelian logic (analytics), gave us the triad of thesis – antithesis – synthesis (dialectics). In admittedly over-simplistic terms we can explain dialectics like this: the thesis is the original idea, the antithesis is an alternative idea and the synthesis is a sort of compromise between the two – we can say it takes the best of both.

While Hegel used dialectics to explain ideas or arguments (i.e. logic), Marx and Engels took the basics of Hegelian dialectics and applied it to the real physical conditions of the world. This is what we call dialectical materialism and it is used to explain the evolution of societies. Lenin stated that “development is the “struggle” of opposites”. In other words, development and progress is the struggle between the thesis and the antithesis. The thesis represents the way the society currently is, the antithesis represents the way we want it to be, and the synthesis (the new condition of the society that we progress to) is a combination of the two – it contains elements of both the thesis and the antithesis. The synthesis now becomes the new thesis, a new antithesis emerges and the conflict between thesis and antithesis begins again. Those who benefit from the status quo will defend the thesis while those who do not will struggle for the antithesis.

We can see now what China has consciously chosen to do. They were a very hard line Marxist state. But the international community of which they wished to take part in was predominately capitalist. This created a conflict in China between the thesis (those who defended a sort of dogmatic adherence to Marxism) and the antithesis (those who wished to Westernise the country).

If Fukuyama was correct about the “end of history”, China should have become simply another liberal democracy. On the other hand, if the dogmatic Marxists were correct in their understanding of “the end of history” China should have remained as a sort of copy of Stalin’s Soviet Union.

Instead, something else has happened. China has found a different way of doing things – a Marxist path to the end of the revolution, but one which has found room for the less insidious aspects of Western capitalism. What they have also shown is that there is no “end of history”. Every new synthesis becomes a thesis, which in turn comes into conflict with its antithesis. Understanding this is, in my humble opinion, key to understanding both Marxism and also why there can be no “end of history”.

Posted in China, World Politics

China puts “People First”

The first official meeting between President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida reconfirmed the long-standing normal relationship between the world’s two largest economies, thus dispelling the previous concerns about the possible confrontation of the two powers.

As Xi put it, “There are a thousand reasons to make the China-U.S. relationship a success, and not a single reason to break it.”

China and the U.S. must cooperate, but the cooperation will never be easy, as the two countries have different ideas about governance and development.

China adheres to the principle of People First while Trump advocates America First. The two slogans sound similar, but they are different in essence.

To the rest of the world, America First means America Only.

At the annual meeting of G20 finance ministers that ended March 13 in Germany, no concrete agreement on free trade and climate change was reached after the U.S. blocked any language that encouraged past commitments on the open flow of goods and services.

Trump  has vulgarised his America First policy as “buy American and hire Americans,” typical ideas of parochialism and protectionism.

But within the USA, America First does not necessarily mean benefits for the majority of the people. Trump proposed repealing ObamaCare. If successful, this would leave millions of Americans without health care again. He has increased military spending dramatically while slashing expenditures on education and scientific research. He even drastically cut down on food stamps for children.

As for China’s People First, in a nutshell, the Communist Party of China represents and serves the interests of the overwhelming majority of the people, rather than that of certain groups.

In a recent speech, a chief Party official warned against some businesspersons’ attempts to acquire political influence and power. The involvement of businesspersons in politics is a global phenomenon except in China.

The CPC is a genuine party of the people, born out of the people, consisting of the people, and working for the people. The nature of the CPC partly explains why China can achieve sustainable development.

Before the founding of the CPC, there had been a number of political parties or forces that attempted to change the miserable fate of China, but none succeeded, because they did not represent the fundamental interests of the majority. Nor did they have the political will or abilities to carry through the arduous task of seeking the liberation and independence of the nation and the people.

A basic knowledge of China’s modern history displays the truth that without the extraordinary leadership of the CPC, China could not have won independence from the grips of foreign invaders and control of foreign powers, not to mention the building of a strong nation.

It was with the support of the people, especially the grass-roots masses, that the CPC, with a will of steel, and solidarity of rock, achieved seemingly impossible feats one after another. It was under the leadership of the CPC that the Chinese people have acquired an unprecedented national sense of cohesion and pride.

The people are to the CPC what water is to fish. That’s the secret of China’s success and that’s a unique political advantage that China possesses over the West.

With the top leadership’s policies and popular will in unison, China is the only country in the world able to implement long-term and short-term plans with high efficiency and little interference and opposition.

That’s why China has lifted the largest population out of poverty within a mere three decades. That’s also why China has morphed from an agricultural society into an industrial one with the best high-speed railways, super highways and mobile payment systems.

Western doctrines define popular election to be the only way to legitimise a government. But the “universal value” has failed to explain what has happened in China. China’s epic achievements in economic and social development have endowed the CPC with indisputable legitimacy.

China’s People First is also an inclusive policy internationally; China seeks shared development and prosperity with other countries.

Posted in China

China is committed to Marxism

(I’m now in China! Being on the other side of the Great Firewall means that Facebook and Twitter are now not an option for me, so I’ll be making more regular use of this blog. I’ve decided to use it to share stories (mostly political) that I come across in China. Happy reading.)

I felt compelled to share this story, mostly because of the lazy lie that we hear in the West that “China is a capitalist country now”. Explaining the differences between capitalism and communism would be a lengthy, and boring, rant. So I’ve decided to tell you all about a speech made by the Chinese President recently. The content of his speech makes it clear that they intend on pursuing a Marxist agenda.

I came across this in an article published by Outlook Weekly. The article recounts an important speech delivered by CPC General Secretary Xi Jinping at a recent seminar for provincial and ministerial officials. Outlook Weekly is regarded as the most authoritative political periodical in China and is dubbed “China’s Time Magazine.”

The article starts with a quote from Xi’s speech: “History indicates that, as a Marxist political party, our Party must have a clear-cut political stance, and conduct intraparty political activities seriously. A clear-cut political stance is the fundamental guarantee for our Party to stay strong. It is also the fundamental way for our Party to improve itself and enhance the Party’s immunity.” Xi Jinping has given the first lecture for the annual seminar for ministerial and provincial officials at the Central Party School at the beginning of each year since the 18th National Congress of the CPC. At this year’s seminar opening ceremony, Xi Jinping expounded on the importance of implementing the spirits of the Sixth Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the CPC, and answered important questions on standardizing intraparty political life and strengthening intraparty supervision. The article revealed that Xi Jinping pointed out prominent problems existing in the Party, gave in-depth analysis of the essence of the problems and their harms, and put forward solutions to the problems.

Every political party has set its political stance since the inception of modern political parties, whether in the West or in the East, the article says. Marxist parties make their political stance most prominently. As a Marxist party, the CPC certainly must have a clear-cut political stance and conduct intraparty political life seriously. The article points out that the history of the CPC has shown that whenever the whole Party sticks to its political stance and has a normal and healthy intraparty political life, the Party will be clean, united and full of vitality; otherwise, it will be plagued by prevalent maladies and low morale.

The article stresses that the “Four Consciousnesses” — “consciousnesses of the ideology, the whole, the core and the line” — hold the key to our political stance, in other words, resolutely upholding and safeguarding General Secretary Xi Jinping’s core leadership of the Party is paramount in our political stance. The article further points out that “Four Consciousnesses” should be put into action, and political disciplines and political rules should be strictly abided by. Every Party member should be absolutely loyal to the Party and the Party’s core at any time and under any circumstances. The leadership core is of vital importance to a state and a party. General Secretary Xi Jinping is the core of the Party’s central leadership, and the core of the whole Party. This reflects the common will of the whole Party and the common aspirations of the Party, the armed forces and people of all ethnic groups in the country. The article requires every Party member to take action to uphold General Secretary Xi Jinping’s core leadership, and stay absolutely loyal to the Party’s core. Resolutely upholding the core is the fundamental test of our political stance.

The article especially points out that the whole Party should be loyal only to the central leadership and no other individuals can have unchecked power. It is politically wrong or even harmful for Party cadres at different levels to call for upholding their own authority and demand loyalty to themselves.

The article explains that the “Four Consciousnesses” and advocation of Xi Jinping’s core leadership are essential now given the current complicated, changing international environment and more difficult tasks for reform and development. This is an inevitable choice for the country to realize the Chinese Dream and the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. This is also an essential prerequisite for the Party to solve outstanding problems and strengthen the central leadership. The article points out that as the Party and the country are now at a crucial stage of development, the Party’s unity and advocation of the authority of the central leadership and the party’s core are more necessary than at any time before. Therefore, party organizations at all levels should unswervingly implement the decisions by the party’s central leadership, uphold its authority and keep in line with the central leadership with Comrade Xi Jinping as the core.

The article unequivocally points out that the advocation of a clear-cut political stance is pointedly relevant to reality. The article says that some cadres still regard a political stance as “outdated.” Party members and cadres in some places pay lip service to or play tricks on the implementation of Party disciplines and political rules, using “special circumstances” as an excuse. Some take no action when a few cadres talk irresponsibly about or even smear the central leadership, sowing the seeds of grave incidents. The article states that the essence of the problem lies in the fact that a murky political stance will lead to political mistakes being committed knowingly or unknowingly. The fundamental reason for the corruption of some senior officials lies in the absence of a correct political stance, the article revealed.

The article states that political ability refers to the ability to grasp the direction, learn the trend and overall situation, stay politically committed, and prevent political risks. It urges cadres at all levels to study Xi Jinping’s new ideas and strategies in governing the country, gain more knowledge in economic and social management, and pay special attention to the training of political ability. They should conduct self-reflection to see if they have grasped the correct political direction and if they are strictly abiding by political rules. Leaders should enhance self-discipline, and stay loyal, clean and devoted.

At the end of the article, the author quoted what Xi Jinping said at the CPPCC New Year party: “Vigorously carry forward the spirit of carrying on the revolution to the end.” This inspiring sentence is reminiscent of Chairman Mao Zedong’s New Year address titled “Carry on the revolution to the end.” The article points out that General Secretary Xi’s call requires us to strengthen our belief to carry on the great cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics. And it requires every Party organization and every Party member at all levels everywhere to be united around the central leadership with Xi Jinping as the core, to follow the instructions of the central leadership with Xi as the core, and “roll up our sleeves” to take actions to carry on the CPC-led revolution to the end.

 

Posted in Inverclyde Politics, Scottish Politics

John MacLean and Inverclyde

On Friday 30th November 1923 a stunned working class population of Scotland read in their newspapers that their great leader, John MacLean, was dead. He was only 44, but years of selfless toil in the service of the people coupled with the hardships he had suffered during successive terms of imprisonment had seriously undermined MacLean’s health. MacLean’s death was a blow to the working class movement, not only in Scotland, but throughout the world. The esteem in which he was held was reflected at his funeral which was attended by over 10,000 people. The poet Hugh MacDiarmid recalled MacLean with the following words, “Scotland has had few men whose names matter, or should matter, to intelligent people. But of these MacLean, next to Burns, was the greatest, and it should be of him with every Scotsman and Scotswoman to the end of time, as it was of Lenin in Russia. When you might talk to a woman who had been a young girl in 1917 and find that the name of Stalin lit no fires, but when you asked her if she had seen Lenin her eyes lit up and her reply was the Russian word which means both beautiful and red. Lenin, she said, was “krassivy, krassivy”. John MacLean too was “krassivy, krassivy”, a description no other Scot has ever deserved”.

At times it seems like everyone in Scotland claims to be following in the footsteps of MacLean, from the Communist Party on the left to the SNP on the right. This has led many to ask the question, was MacLean a socialist or a nationalist? To those who have studied the man, it is obvious he wasn’t a nationalist. His desire to see Scotland independent was not based on a narrow parochialism, but on a much broader understanding of the necessary eventual failure of the British capitalist class and on a belief in internationalism. In fact, the stand that MacLean took on the topic of Scottish independence in the first few decades of the 20th century are remarkably similar to the stance that the Scottish Socialist Party takes now in the first few decades of the 21st century. While this is now regarded as the obvious moral position of any true socialist, in MacLean’s day it was the opposite and led to many criticisms of the man from people who should really have stood by him. As the referendum has shown, history has proven MacLean to be correct, and so we see many people who were always dismissive of MacLean’s politics on independence (such as the ultra London centric Socialist Workers Party) now try to claim MacLean’s name.

While John MacLean’s legacy belongs to the whole of Scotland, he did of course have a special relationship with Inverclyde, and Greenock in particular. Early in 1908 MacLean issued his first pamphlet, The Greenock Jungle. In this early piece of writing MacLean displayed his characteristic concern for the plight of the working classes and anger at the selfishness and insidiousness of the profit chasing classes. The pamphlet itself was a strong indictment of the slaughterhouse methods and trade in diseased meats that was being carried out in Greenock at the time. This pamphlet was a result of the tireless campaigning MacLean did in Greenock. He could often be found at the gates of the slaughterhouse in what used to be Crown Street, addressing the workers as they arrived for or left work. One such worker is prominent in MacLean’s pamphlet, and I’m certainly interested in finding out more about the person.

The Greenock worker who featured so heavily in Maclean’s pamphlet was a Mr Houston. He plays a central role due to the fact that he was the one who exposed many of the practices being carried out by the owners of the slaughterhouses, which included selling diseased meat for human food. It was a practice that targeted poor people, as any diseased meat would be made into “cheap sausages” for being sold to the working classes. MacLean argued that this was a direct cause of tuberculosis among the working class, and as a result of his campaigning a government inspector was appointed to investigate the slaughterhouse conditions.   

Mr Houston deserves further mention for his role in these events. As a socialist, he was fully aware that he was risking his own job by exposing the practices of the slaughter house owners, but he did so anyway as he was driven on by a desire to protect his own class from disease and death. Mr Houston, after 31 years of service, was forced out of work as a result of his whistleblowing. His employer was a broker, who the owners of the slaughterhouses boycotted until they got rid of Mr Houston. When the pamphlet was published, Mr Houston had already been unemployed for 8 months, and MacLean makes an appeal in it to the good people of Greenock to assist in finding Mr Houston new employment. They certainly owed much to him, given his selfless defence of their health to his own detriment. So while the guilty owners continued to enjoy the profits of their enterprises, for only protecting others Mr Houston ended up in poverty. MacLean commented, “Why should the guilty one enjoy such a great privilege, while the innocent one must suffer the worries of unemployment, and the fears and forebodings accompanying the prospect of immediate financial ruin”. MacLean is commenting here on a theme that continues to this day, when we think about the persecution of the likes of Snowden and Manning. I don’t know what eventually became of Mr Houston, if anyone does know I would be delighted to hear from you.

Of course, this affair was not the only time MacLean would visit these parts. We find many references in the history books to MacLean coming here to address the working class. One such reference captures perfectly MacLean’s attitude and enthusiasm for politics. A member of the Scottish District Council recorded, “I stayed with John MacLean and I must say he is the most earnest worker for socialism I have ever met. He has just spent his seven weeks’ holiday preaching socialism in the North of England and Scotland. On my last day he arranged a sail down the Clyde, getting back to Greenock in time to give my last address. After I had left to catch my train to London, MacLean stepped onto the platform and went on with the meeting.”

MacLean also gave up much of his free time to give education to working men and women, and was often giving evening classes in Greenock on the topic of Marxist economics.  

For many though, MacLean will always be remembered as a great anti-war hero, and it is probably for this reason more than any that his memory is so dangerous to the British ruling class, to the extent that his name doesn’t even appear in the approved school text books from which our children learn about the first world war. There is as much a need today for MacLean’s message as there was during that terrible war. As we see our country drift closer and closer to militarism, we need those voices who speak out, those who see the working class as more than mere cannon fodder to be used by our imperialist masters in their illegal wars. The poppy, once a symbol of remembrance of all those wasted lives is now being used by right wing politicians as a symbol of British exceptionalism. We have TV adverts from companies such as Sainsbury’s portraying the First World War as a rather pleasant experience. And now we even have the Royal British Legion attempting to sanitise the war by releasing heavily edited versions of an anti war song, The Green Fields of France, which omits any criticism of the war.

What MacLean knew was that, despite the jingoism and propaganda from the British state, the First World War was not fought to keep us safe. It was a war for colonies, for spheres of influence, for markets. In other words, it was a war for profits. A great Scot and contemporary of MacLean said: “If these men must die, would it not be better to die in their own country fighting for freedom for their class, and for the abolition of war, than to go forth to strange countries and die slaughtering and slaughtered by their brothers that tyrants and profiteers might live?” These sentiments were shared by MacLean.

In the years leading up to the outbreak of war, Britain had seen a great deal of left wing activity, and MacLean was certainly recognised as one of the stalwarts of the left. Between 1911 and 1914 trade union membership had doubled, and Brits were increasingly active in the internationalist socialist circles as well. At the Internationalist Socialist Congress in Copenhagen British socialists were amongst those who agreed that “should war break out, their duty is to intervene to promptly bring it to an end and with all their energies to use the political and economic crisis created by the war to rouse the populace from its slumbers and to hasten the fall of capitalist domination”.

Instead, and much to MacLean’s dismay, when war did indeed break out, many of these same socialists entered their national governments to help the war effort. Leading British socialists, such as Hyndman, actively and enthusiastically supported the war – including speaking on recruitment platforms. While a majority of socialists in the country didn’t sink this low, many did argue that the war could be supported on grounds of defence, to keep us safe from supposed German aggression.

MacLean had no time for either position. He argued right from the start that the war couldn’t be defended on any terms. “Plunderers versus plunderers with the workers as pawns. It is our business as socialists to develop class patriotism, refusing to murder one another for a sordid world capitalism”. MacLean was clear that only socialists could bring about an acceptable end to the war. He insisted that a capitalist settlement of the war could only lead to further wars between the capitalist powers. His position stood out like a sore thumb at the time, but has proven to be correct as the settlement reached at the end of that war lead directly to that other great war of the 20th century – the second world war.

When we look back at the First World War through the eyes of the British state and its propaganda machine, the main stream corporate media, we would be forgiven for believing that there was universal and enthusiastic support for the war in the country. We’re told that “conscientious objectors” were widely hated and considered to be cowards. This of course is a complete misrepresentation of history. The war was in fact deeply unpopular with the population, and there were massive anti-war demonstrations all over the country. In fact, the anti-war movement during the First World War was even larger than what greeted New Labour when they made the despicable and illegal decision to take us to war in Iraq. The greatest threat to Lloyd George’s terrorist regime in London was not the German troops, but the anger of the British working class, which in Scotland was lead by MacLean. In order to impose their will and ensure their monarch got his war with his German cousin, the London government had to enact a series of emergency draconian laws to control the workers, which included suspending many civil liberties and making it illegal to strike.

To MacLean they were even more severe. For speaking out against their war, the British ruling class twice had MacLean jailed in Peterhead. The treatment he received while he was locked up was horrendous, he was drugged and force fed, and this time inside had such an adverse affect on his health that it contributed to his early death in 1923. That the ruling class would turn on MacLean is no surprise. He was after all, according to their own head of military intelligence Basil Thompson, the most dangerous man in Britain. Basil Thompson, we now know from declassified documents was involved in a deliberate campaign to smear MacLean by spreading rumours about his sanity.

The British State knew fine well that MacLean was sane, but the British left were only too keen to jump on this particular bandwagon. MacLean stood for an independent Scotland, which has earned him an everlasting vilification by the British left. All the British writing about MacLean declare him to be insane. Even today, the Socialist Workers Party continues to vilify MacLean due to his stance on independence.  Their reasoning is easy to understand, as due to their own political bigotry they are unable to view any Scot who does not want to be ruled by London as anything other than insane or fascist or racist. Any slander will do.

While the British left vilified MacLean, to the Scottish left he was a hero. Beyond this island he was held in the highest regard by international socialists. In recognition of his principled stand against the mass slaughter of ordinary people in the First World War the Bolsheviks elected MacLean an Honorary President of the First All Russian Congress of Soviets, along with Lenin, Trotsky, Liebknecht, Adler, and Spiridonova, which was ecstatically received on his beloved Clyde; an area which had become known as Red Clydeside due to the likes of MacLean and many others. He became Lenin’s man in Scotland when the Soviet leader ordered that the Russian Consul be handed over to him. He was refused a visa to visit Russia; he could have travelled illegally but decided not to.

It was a tactical error on MacLean’s part and one which only increased his isolation in British politics. As it transpired, a certain Willie Gallagher took the opportunity to meet Lenin which MacLean had passed up. Like other revolutionaries of the period, MacLean hadn’t fully grasped the significance of the Bolshevik Party, even after the October revolution. With the encouragement of Lenin, Gallagher became instrumental in setting up the Communist Party of Great Britain, largely funded by Moscow wealth. The Bolsheviks regarded MacLean as the authentic voice of the revolution in Britain but he never joined the new party, although he remained a convinced revolutionary and supporter of Lenin.

His own party would never enjoy the success that MacLean’s popularity seemed to indicate it should. Party membership never amounted to more than a few hundred, and votes never more than a few thousand. His tactical errors in failing to meet with Lenin or secure funding from the Soviets were fatal to his political career. He continued to campaign for the Scottish working class right up to his death, but sadly left nothing behind in way of a Bolshevik style political organisation.

Rather than fade into political obscurity, however, MacLean remains every bit as relevant today as he was to those countless working class men who were sent to their unnecessary deaths during the Great War, or to Mr Houston whom he personally campaigned for when the bosses turned on him. Today, MacLean’s message about the necessity of revolution appeals to a new generation who are clamouring for real political change.

In May 1918, when facing jail for inciting the workers to transform war into revolution, he made his famous speech from the dock:

“I am not here as the accused – I am here as the accuser of capitalism dripping with blood from head to foot. In the next five years there is going to be a great world trade depression and the respective governments must turn more and more to the markets of the world to get rid of their produce. And in fifteen years time from the close of this war we are into the next war – if capitalism lasts we cannot escape it. My appeal is to the working class. I appeal exclusively to them because they, and they alone, can bring about the time when the whole world will be in one brotherhood, on a sound economic foundation. That, and that alone, can be the means of bringing about a reorganisation of society. That can only be obtained when the people of the world get the world and retain the world.”

MacLean stood for internationalism, socialism and independence. That message is relevant now more than ever. We must keep the memory of MacLean alive, to ensure that the message did not die with the man.

Posted in Political Philosophy

Marxism, the Proletariat and the Working Class

“The proletariat is not the working class. All of Marxism has misinterpreted Marx in confusing the two”. (Bernard Steigler, 2010)

“The lower strata of the middle class – the small trades-people, shopkeepers, and retired tradesmen generally, the handicraftsmen and peasants – all these sink gradually into the proletariat…  Thus the proletariat is recruited from all classes of the population.” (Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto)

Marxism has a problem, and while many have noticed it Steigler addresses it in his 2010 work For a New Political Economy as part of his project of applying the Marxist method to the modern economy. Those who have held the mistaken belief that the proletariat is synonymous with the working class will be surprised by some of the conclusions Steigler (begins) to draw. In the short piece that follows I will try to sketch out the correct way to understand the proletariat, and think about what that means in today’s economic and social reality.

Now I don’t want to suggest that the entire history of Marxism is somehow redundant because of this common misunderstanding. It’s not. But to truly understand our reality it’s important to correct this misunderstanding. There are of course very good reasons why people have historically misinterpreted Marx in this way. Marx did at least two things. He gave us a scientific method with which to critique our society, and he applied that method to his own time and place. In Marx’s time and place, at the early stages of capitalism, it could have been correct that the proletariat was limited to the working class. That is just an observation, a snap shot if you will, of that particular moment in history. It should not mean that we forever use the terms working class and proletariat interchangeably. To do so would be to confuse Marx’s method with the particular results gained from that method at an arbitrary point in history. When we apply the Marxist method to the economies of today’s world we find that the processes of proletarianisation, the processes which act upon members of the proletariat, have acted upon a wider range of the society than in Marx’s day. This points to the simple fact that the proletariat is wider than merely the working class.

A very simple Marxist definition of “proletariat” is those who do not have ownership of the means of production and whose only means of subsistence is to sell their labour. There are some well known objections to this definition, such as pointing out certain groups of people who don’t seem to fit into either the proletariat or the bourgeoisie. I am of the opinion that this simple definition is indeed inadequate, but can be salvaged by in some way making reference to the processes of proletarianisation. That is an intuitive feeling I have, I don’t pretend to have found an unproblematic way to solve the problem. Needless to say the existence of the proletariat is not in any doubt, the history of class struggle is ample evidence that the proletariat is a real aspect of our society. Although for the sake of philosophical completeness I would like to see a definition that truly captures the essence of the proletariat, and that is where I find the simple definition above to be lacking.

So what are these processes of proletarianisation? Most of us who have been taught Marxist thought (sadly not nearly enough of us) will probably have been taught about alienation. It’s quite a simple avenue by which to gain access to Marxism. Simply put, alienation is a sort of estrangement of people from aspects of their humanity. This is usually taught in regards a worker’s relation to his own labour.  In capitalist society each worker becomes an instrument or a thing, not a person. The advent of Fordian or “assembly line” production took this further. Each part of the production process was identified and delegated to different workers, with none of the workers knowing the full “beginning to end” of the production. In Steigler’s terminology, the workers had become separated from savoir-faire; literally “knowledge of how to do” although better understood as “skills”. The craftsmen of old had owned their own labour, had known their endeavours intimately and made a living by selling the products of those endeavours. Not so with the newly emerged working class. They didn’t own their own labour; they sold it to the capitalist class in return for just enough money to survive. Further, another process was becoming evident, one that removed knowledge from the workers and placed it in systems out with their control. The result is alienation, the processes that result in alienation can be thought of as proletarianisation. The proletariat are those upon whom the processes of proletarianisation act, regardless of whether or not they have resulted in some form of alienation yet.

That is the account of proletarianisation or alienation that is typically taught at schools and colleges. It is one very much rooted in Marx’s own experience of life in the Industrial Age. When we consider modern times, the Information Age, we see the same processes in action – but now in different ways. In the Industrial Age it was skilled workers who became estranged from their labour, in the Information Age we see this occurring with knowledgeable workers. Information technology has reached a stage whereby anything we could want to know is easily available at the touch of a few buttons (or a touchscreen). When we phone a company for specialist advice, often we find ourselves talking to someone in a call centre somewhere who merely inputs information you give them into a computer and then respond to you by following the on screen prompts. We no longer speak to experts. Once again, knowledge has been removed from the worker and placed in external systems (literally into the computer systems in this case). The result being workers who are estranged from the knowledge they are working with.

This is isn’t restricted to workers either. It extends into our lives away from work. How many of us shop online now? This probably involves simply buying whatever recommendation the system makes. I’m certainly not immune to this. I just bought flights to Russia. It was as simple as typing “Glasgow to St Petersburg” into Google on my iPhone, then purchasing one of the (cheaper) results. My knowledge of making travel arrangements is now reduced to knowledge of how to use my phone. All other aspects of that knowledge (such as knowledge of routes, which airlines fly where, etc) are contained in the IT systems. Knowledge of how to get myself from here to there has begun to be removed from me and put into the modern information systems. It’s not only travel arrangements where this is happening either. As more of our consumerist habits take place online, so more of our savoir-vivre (“knowledge of how to live”, to borrow another of Steigler’s phrases) is lost to us and relocated to external systems.  (Arguably this proletarianisation of consumers actually started with the advent of supermarkets.)The result, and one which Marx could not have predicted, is that it’s not just as workers that we find ourselves in the proletariat, it is also as consumers.

It is not just among members of the bourgeoisie that we find evidence of the spread of proletarianisation either. The 2008 economic crash suggests that these processes are now working on those many of us would consider to be the elites. Just think of the confusion when the crash happened. Many of the so called experts just didn’t see it coming. And in hindsight why would they have? Far from being experts, they are simply the assembly line equivalents of the financial industry. They may know their own little part of the gig inside out, but they lack that “beginning to end” knowledge that assembly line production removed from the factory worker. The financial elites, or at least the lower strata of those elites, have been deprived of the knowledge of their own financial industry, and without that bigger picture view they were unable to see the trends careering towards global financial catastrophe. Many bankers, simply responding to data and prompts much like the call centre worker, have become grossly overpaid proles!