no escape from theory: remarks on the movement against cuts

by Oleg Resin

The following text is just an invitation to begin collectively exploring the character of the credit-crunched state in 2010. To think that now, with cuts falling everywhere, there is no time for general discussions or to develop theory, is to artificially separate theory from action.

You can't smash the state like a bank's window...

This is an illusory idea, for each action involves theory. To rush to the streets with STOP THE CUTS banners is hardly avoiding having a theory, it is just avoiding awareness of the theoretical assumptions behind any campaign action.

‘Save Our Public Services’

The relations between the modern welfare state and the working classes are complicated and changing. The same people who in the 1960s were ‘unmasking’ the welfare state as an instrument of social control and labeled social workers as the ‘soft cops’, turned with the fiscal crisis in the 1970s into fierce defenders of welfare services. Maybe this illustrates the complicated nature of the developed state itself, maybe the lack of any useful materialist theory, maybe both. More important is that the situation repeats itself today: those who dare to criticize, for example, the NHS for the way it controls our power to judge for ourselves and organise, are quickly disciplined from our own ranks for breaking the fresh united fronts against the cuts.

So what are the characteristics of the unconscious theory behind the ‘anti-theoretical’ activism against the cuts? It is obviously based on the positions of defense of the welfare state. The labour movement in general, still now as in the 1970s, sees the welfare state in its ideal form as a kind of political representation of the working class, as an achievement which the class always had and should defend against the cruel laws of the economy. It claims that the state as it really is, has been hijacked by the capitalist class and exercises certain functions in favour of capital, e.g. subsidising private enterprises, bailing out banks, feeding army and police or intervening in the disputes between labour and capital. This concentration on the obvious links between capitalists and the government leads us to believe, that there are still some good aspects of the state, beneficial for the working class, such as free healthcare or education. So the labour movement, according to this theory prevalent in the campaigns against cuts, has to fight to maintain this good face of the state and eventually expand it, to the expense of the other, ‘ugly’, face of the state. One weakness of this argument is that it cannot explain why no labour movement anywhere in the world has managed to transform their societies to socialism in such a fashion.

So are public services ‘our services’ because they are free and satisfy some of our needs, as campaigners usually say? A functionalist version of Marxism denies these claims. It tries to show that every action of the state serves the interests of capital. From this point of view, welfare can be seen as a contribution to the productivity of a company or a national economy in a competitive environment. Employers are motivated to support a healthy, efficient and educated working class from which they can in return get more value. Whereas the state welfare’s proportion of British national income in 1860 was 1-1.5%, its share grew to 24% in 1970. Half of state expenditure in the UK went to social services in 1975. That is why political economists James O’Connor and Ian Gough spoke in 1970s about the diversification of state services in three areas. The first, social investment, covers services increasing labour productivity. The second, social consumption, represents services that subsidize the reproduction costs of labour power. And finally social expenses, which they saw as aimed at maintaining the discipline of the non-working population (e.g. social work).

The State Debate:
An instrument or a form of social relations?

Let us summarize. The first account (social democratic, Labourite) sees the state as ambivalent, with the potential to be transformed into proper socialism. The second approach (revolutionary, Leninist) understands the state as determined to perform certain functions for the capitalist class and the only possible transformation is the revolutionary ‘smashing of the state’. What they both have in common is that they see the state as an instrument of class rule and relatively autonomous from the economy. In the 1970s these were no abstract theses. Both theoretical approaches informed daily actions and arguments among participants in struggles of that period (e.g. the polemics around workers’ control and workers’ plans, the ‘community politics or class struggle’ debate, ‘municipal socialisms’, the feminist ‘prefigurative’ politics, etc.). Out of these struggles but still in dialogue with the ‘hard left’, a new younger position was born, which might be called ‘the State form’ tendency. The most influential statement of this approach was probably the paper ‘Capital, Crisis and the State’, written in 1976 by John Holloway and Sol Picciotto for the Conference of Socialist Economists (CSE).

They reproached both of the above-mentioned theoretical approaches for not seeing the state in its historical context. Basing any theory of state on the remarks of Engels’ Origins of Family, Private Property and State was not useful, if we want to understand how the modern state works. It is not sufficient to declare the state to be an instrument of domination of one class over another. Such generalisation does not explain the particular character of the capitalist state. Its historically unique feature is its separation from the economy. Thus the political, the rule of law and abstract equality, stands in a contradiction to the economic area of class exploitation. The proponents of the ‘State form’ theory criticised the functionalists for taking the fact of an external state ‘intervening in the economy’ for granted. This is historically unfounded since a feudal or any earlier type of state appeared to the lower classes as a unified oppressive force, integrating both economic and political moments. The economic and political position of any person in the feudal pyramid was identical. Only the development of capital as a social relationship, embodied in the free sale of labour power as a commodity, brings about the separation of the political sphere from the economic. Why? The sale and purchase of labour power has got a double character. On one hand, it is direct exploitation, violence of one class over the other. On the other hand, it is a free contract of commodity exchange, one of them being labour power. This voluntary contractual aspect is crucial, without it no sale of working time and production of capitalist value would be possible, hence no capitalism.

This makes the capitalist form of class exploitation different from the previous ones. While a feudal lord disposed of both the ‘economic’ and ‘legal’ power to keep the serf fixed to his piece of land (to maintain the reproduction of the social classes), a capitalist does not need to force a worker to stay in the job. The abstract character of labour allows for a free labour turnover. In cases when workers question their social position as a class (social reproduction is threatened) such as in strikes, road blockades or mass avoidance of work, the capitalists have ‘subcontracted’ the dirty use of violence to an external institution – the state. The existence of the state as an external rule of law is thus dependent on the capital relation and the reproduction of the state depends on the reproduction of the capital relation. With the abolition of wage labour and thus capital, the external ‘above our heads’ state ceases to exist.

From the fact that the state is essential for the production and reproduction of capital as a social relation (via the guarantee and supervision of the contract), Holloway and Picciotto took an innovative step and proclaimed that the state is a form of social relations too. They built on Marx’s unique approach to classical categories of political economy (capital, money, wage, credit, rent, etc.) which saw them as fetishized separate objects and at the same time as internally connected forms of social relationships.
‘The process of capitalist production gives rise to formations, in which the vein of internal connections is increasingly lost, the production relations are rendered independent of one another and the component values become ossified into forms independent of one another’ (Capital, Vol. III, p. 828)

Like other social forms, the state too exists in its double dimension – as a social form and as a fetishized thing (the state apparatus) at the same time.

In and Against the State

In 1979 one CSE study group published the book ‘In and Against the State’ which elaborated an anti-State theory down to the level of strategies and real experiences of state workers and their clients. Community groups, service users, tenants, trade unions, etc. in the UK at that time were demanding various forms of state intervention. The most common demands were to improve social service provision (homeless, youth, access to council housing, etc.) and to stop bureaucratic or humiliating forms of the existing provision such as housing waiting lists, means-testing, delays in benefits, non-cohabitation rules for single mothers, etc. Community and social workers were among those best placed to see how any State-lead solutions actually deepened working class dependency on the state. For example new legal advice centres had been opened on estates but the casework form of state intervention was fragmenting the response of working class people into following individual procedures. Radical community workers were often instrumental in this. How to be an anti-capitalist directly at work, if you are a teacher, nurse, social or community worker employed by the state?

‘In and Against the State’ creatively assimilated the dual perspective of the state as a social form and an apparatus (‘the fossil of previous class struggles’): ‘The problem of working in and against the State is precisely the problem of turning our routine contact with the State apparatus against the form of social relations which the apparatus is trying to impose upon our actions.’ The welfare state is seen not as a meta-structure imposing external constraints on our agency, but as a flexible result of constant class struggle, of everyday state activity as well as activity of the working class in general and state workers in particular. The state apparatus as a flow of state activity constantly divides the working class by imposing state definitions and multiple cross-class identities (citizen, worker, receiver of benefits, voter, tax payer, service user, pensioner, etc.). They proposed oppositional strategies for state workers: overcoming individualisation, rejecting misleading categories, defending ourselves in class terms, defining our problem our way, stepping outside the brief, rejecting managerial priorities, alternative organisation in struggle. Again, no chance to go into more detail here!

Conclusions

The movement against the cuts, which is now just beginning, seems to be built on a very similar model as the movement against the cuts in the 1970s (culminating in an 80,000 strong mass lobby of Parliament on 17th November 1976). The earlier movement was defeated (£3bn of cuts announced in December 1976). The present movement is even more fragmented and the numbers of activists are much smaller, so why should the outcome be different?

Apart from the numbers’ issue, the typical demands coming from the Left are surprisingly limited: taxing financial transactions, nationalisation, workers’ control over banks and the strategic economy, support for productive capital, protectionism, cutting military budgets, green jobs, the cooperative or social economy, etc. I see the major weakness of these demands in the fact that they remain within the state and they are dependent on the capitalist state. They affirm the state and the division between the political and the economic. If we take the separation ‘politics/economics’ or ‘private/public’ (‘base/superstructure’ model) as our starting underlying assumption, we impose limits on our future resistance. So we constrain ourselves within the limits of state and the production of value. We are losing sight of any communist tendency in the material struggle against the changing state. The Left sends as a signal to the working class: ‘you folks may experience your everyday problems with jobs, debts, housing or prices in their unity – as one shitty life – but we, along with the state, will continue to channel your struggles into two separate forms and prevent you from challenging the organisation of society as a whole’.

Seeing the state as a form of social relations means that its development can be grasped only as a moment of a development of the totality of social relations, with their core centred in the changing mode of production. This might help to understand the apparent paradoxes of the austerity regimes: Why does the local state in the Wirral want to save £8 milion on service provision but is going to invest £20 milion in new buildings providing centralised and more automated services? What about the similar paradox in the Royal Mail? If the state is seen not as an agent of this broader restructuring (thus a target that can be pushed or replaced by the popular mobilisation) but as its necessary part and precondition, we start to pose a deeper question of a movement against restructuring, against commodification of our social relations as such. Such a perspective allows us to see real material links between state workers and private sector workers, between the productive and service sectors, much better than the rhetorical expressions of solidarity between the fragmented unions.

It’s not easy to say what the role of communists in the present limited movement should be. I think that some of the questions and conclusions of the above mentioned State Debate from the 1970s provide a useful theoretical framework that might help to avoid the political trap of the minimum consensus programmes – defend the services, join the union, …(Of course, the state changed massively within the last 30 years, especially under the New Labour: the even more perfect integration of trade unions, new divisions inside the working class, new services and needs covered by the state, insertion of capital circuits into the service provision, workfare programmes, etc. What are the exact changes and their implications for the struggle against the austerity regimes?) As I have tried to show, Holloway and Picciotto saw the state as a form of the social relations of capital. This approach allows us to see the state above society as a historical, temporary relation, conditioned by the existence of capital. It provides our subjective desires for living in a society without oppression with a solid materialist theory.

But why should a society without state and classes be desirable for everybody living from their own work? In the UK people have been shaped by the ‘good’ old days of the welfare state. They still remember it and if pushed to choose between a communist experiment or the stability of the old days, the decision would be obvious. However, the crisis in 2010 is different from 1979 and the ‘C’ word has more meanings today. Whilst the idea of a return to the welfare society might be very common, it seems an unlikely option for the world organised by capital. As Sander from Internationalist Perspective points out, the austerity measures will just increase productive overcapacity worldwide, only pushing capital into more speculation again, into new financial bubbles, new debts and more austerity again. He thinks that one survival measure for capital will be to raise profits by lowering wages. This means increasing the numbers of working class across the world, creating an oversupply of labour power on the world market and pushing wages under the value of labour power. ‘The fact that paying wages under the value of labour power destroys labour power is not a limit when that labour power is abundant. As any overproduced commodity, labour power must devalorise. This cannot be resisted from within the logic of capital. Resisting thus becomes in practice refusing to be a commodity, rejecting the value-form.’

I like his approach for it connects a pessimistic analysis of the crisis with an argument for communism. It is put forward as a material necessity rather than previous well-known appeals to the ‘dialectical’ progress of history. Even if Sander was wrong, I find this an inspiring attempt to root the case for communism in the heart of the present ‘meltdown’ which allows us to develop a series of immediate communist arguments within the movement against cuts. We need this new language, clear and powerful images against the wage labour, that we could help circulate through the waves of struggles: talking directly to proletarian hearts, bypassing the traditional Labour/Left filters and defenses.

I think that a communist intervention should be informed by the two, already mentioned, theoretical inputs. First, that putting any defensive demands to the state means moving between the categories of the political and economic or base/superstructure and staying within the cycle of bourgeois forms and life under capital. It’s the job of others, not communists, to do so! And second, that the return to the Keynesian state is no more possible and that the future survival of humans is conditioned on our collective refusal to act as commodities on the labour market. Let me finish with a speculation that while the first insight was theoretically and practically proven by the State debate and the defeat of the European class-based social movements at the end of the 1970s, the second thesis has to be fought for and practically proven to be true in the here and now, given the general capitalist and environmental mayhem facing us.

14 thoughts on “no escape from theory: remarks on the movement against cuts

  1. It may well be that as an economic institution the State is a “social relation” just as is Capital. Within the social relation that is Capital there are times when wages need to rise See my Wages, prices and profits, as a result of the reactions of Supply and Demand for Labour Power to increased Capital Accumulation. This rise in real wages is also “functional” to Capital, which needs to continually expand the market for mass consumer goods, which can only be done if workers are able to enjoy higher real wages. Wages do not rise because it is functional to Capital, however, (certainly not because of any element of “class struggle), but purely as a result of that social relation, which is Capital.

    The same is true in regards to the State in its economic role. The reality is that Capital needs to reproduce Labour Power, and increasingly needs to reproduce it of a particular kind. It is not bothered whether it achieves that via private Capital, or State Capital, so long as it reduces the cost of reproduction. At certain points of the cycle its demand for Labour Power in general is reduced, and so the need to expend funds on thyings like healthcare, and education are reduced, and this also coincides with a desire to reduce any deductions from Surplus Value. It is not necessary to have a conspiratorial view of the State, however, to also recognise that a small, very class conscious Capitalist Class, is able to rationalise how to deal with these problems collectively. The introduction of the Factory Acts and control over working hours coincided, for example, with the fact that Capital had “used up” the excess supply of workers, due to the poor conditions and long hours of work.

    Just as workers are “in Capitalist employment”, whilst being “against Capitalist Employment”, it is quite conceivable to be also “In and Against the State”. But, what exactly does that mean? Workers if they want to survive have to accept the reality of the existence as wage-workers. They cannot simply deny reality and say, I will not work, because I oppose Capitalism, and wage labour! They are forced to wage a “guerilla war”, as Marx describes it, against Capital, and its repeated attacks on them. A war, which he and Engels stress they cannot win, and which can only slow down their decline not raise their condition. Their condition is raised not by this struggle, but by the very process of Capital Accumulation, which at the same time further subjugates them to the rule of Capital.

    The only escape is for them to become the owners of Capital themselves, to create Co-ops, a process which as marx argues in the Grundrisse itself dissolves Capital and Labour as categories, by dissolving that very social relation. But, the same is true of a tactic of being “In and Against the State”. Obviously, it is impossible to simply deny or try to ignore its existence. Nor is it practical immediately to posit a comprehensive workers alternative to it. But, just as workers can establish their own Co-operatives as bastions of workers power, as strongholds from which to organise defecne and attack, so too can workers move from simply a “guerrilla war” within the State, to the development of a workers alternative to it.

    I cannot think of a single war that has been won solely on the basis of guerrilla tactics. It is always necessary to secure your own territory. But, similarly no war has been won by just one big battle where the whole territory was seized. Every war also needs its elements of guerrilla tactics, and skirmishing.

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  2. “the future survival of humans is conditioned on our collective refusal to act as commodities on the labour market”

    What does this involve? work refusal? or co-ops as Boffy says?

    One problem with co-ops is that they are still within the market – and the workers in the coop may have to cut their own wages during a recession. does this lead to self-managed exploitation? Another problem is that the cooperative movement seems to have stalled/failed – we now have big coops that are owned and run by workers – they don’t appear to be getting us closer to a revolution.

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  3. The same people who in the 1960s were ‘unmasking’ the welfare state as an instrument of social control and labeled social workers as the ‘soft cops’, turned with the fiscal crisis in the 1970s into fierce defenders of welfare services.

    Who were these people? Name names.

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  4. Johnb,

    Do you not think that in a Workers State, particularly one that is still having to operate in a world capitalist market, that it might be necessary to also accept wage cuts, to suffer exploitation? Lenin certainly did, and argued against the Ultra-Lefts who said otherwise. Is our goal as Marxists simply the limited one of defending current wages and conditions, or the longer term strategic goal of undermining Capitalist property? Actually, I think your definition of “a revolution” is part of the problem. Every social revolution has actually been a long drawn out process of economic and social transformation, whereby one form of property grows at the expense of another. It took Capitalist property around 500 years before it became dominant from its first beginnings. The “Revolution” you are talking about is only the romantic version that many on the left have, of something akin to 1917, which is merely the end result of that process, or at least should be. One of the reasons that 1917 failed, was precisely that the necesary precedeing process of economic and social transformation had not happened.

    Duncan, actually I have been re-reading some of my old copies of Capital and Class from the late 70’s, and early 80’s recently, and the articles in there are replete with examples of such economism from groups like the SWP. But, if you want names, just look at pretty much all the left today who are the descendants of those groups. you will be hard pressed to find even a strategy of demanding Workers and Patients Control of the NHS alongside demands to defend it in its current State capitalist form, still less will you find any kind of strategy outside a pure economism for defending other Public Services.

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  5. No, i dont have a romantic view of the revolution. I just dont see the cooperative supermarket as leading us towards fundamental social change, (at the moment at any rate).

    Coop’s are usually not aiming for a revolution, nor informed by a socialist ideas about taking over the economy and running it democratically in our own interests. They are just liberal coops, and many have de-mutualised.

    I think the influence of the capitalist market on coops, and the lack of socialist culture in the coops, seems to have led them to stall. Members of coops voted to de-mutualise.

    I personally agree with using coops as part of a strategy, its just that they don’t appear to be succeeding with the aim of replacing capitalism at the moment. What went wrong, and how to we correct this?

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  6. Actually, I don’t think your generalisation in relation to Co-ops not aiming for a revolution is correct. I think the revolution is precisely in a change of property ownership, and social relations. Of course, the type of Co-op is important, but as I said in my review of Nicole Robertson’s book in the Weekly Worker on The History Of The Co-op, even the British Consumer Co-op movement played a significant role in the class struggle against Capitalism.

    The attitude of the left in relation to Co-ops is somewhat similar to that in relation to the LP. It is Ultra-Left. Its like the attitude Kautsky described at the beginning of the last century. He wrote:

    “As regards the attitude of the party towards cooperative societies, the practical advantages … are so great that the opposition which they have met in the ranks of the social democrats is not at first sight to be understood. This, however, explains itself, when one remembers that the private cooperative societies were recommended to the working class by the liberals to tempt them from the founding of an independent political party, and from the acceptance of socialist ideas.”

    But, he says, the liberals did not get what they wanted. But, the left has kept itself apart from the Co-ops, and then wonders why right-wing or bourgeois elements come to dominate them, why workers do not develop within them!!! Priceless. Its simply another application of the kind of Ultra-Leftism that Lenin described in relation to opposition to involvement in bouregois Parliaments, or even that some had to working in Trade Unions. By the way, most of the Ultra-Left have no difficulty working in Unions, who are even less working towards a revolution than are Co-ops.

    Co-ops actually continue to grow quite rapidly despite the failure of the left to assist workers in developing them as part of what Marx describes as “self-government”. They employ more people than do the multinationals. But, as Marx said in advising workers to establish them, firstly its necessary to build producer co-ops – most are consumer or distribution co-ops – and secondly its important that each Co-op be part of a Inter/national Federation, so that a) the economies of scale can be gained, b) it can centralise surpluses so that the Co-op Sector can be continually expanded, and c) the potential for each Co-op to simply operate as a Capitalist enterprise or to demutualise is removed. Again the role of Marxists within that process is clear.

    But, neither I nor marx beleive that Co-ops can simply continue to expand and take over Capitalism in some kind of gradual evolution. Capital will do everything it can beyond a certain level to prevent that. That is again why as Marx says the Workers Party is necessary to elaborate that the conflict between the two forms of property is the most clear eaxample that what is going on is a “class” struggle between the property form of one class, and that of another. That can never happen as Lenin says in relation to the purely “sectional” struggles of the Trades Unions, which is why the “spontaneists” and Luxemburgists are wrong.

    I’m about to write a blog precisely on this point of strategy. The fundamental point is that in no war has the victorious side won purely by waging a guerilla war (which is how Marx describes industrial struggles). Nor has it ever been able to simply wage an all-out assault on the enemies stronghold without first itself developing its own bastions, through which it is able to defend itself, muster and train its forces, demonstrate what they are fighting for, and create the basic war-fighting materials needed for a succesful campaign. Yet, that is what the left strategy amounts to, it is just repeated calls for the troops to launch themselves over the top, or to attack in sporadic guerilla actions (which Marx points out they lose in 99 cases out of 100), in the hope that somehow enough troops will emerge with such conviction as to simply overwhelm the enemy lines. It will never happen.

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  7. I must say, your arguments are pretty convincing.

    The way you describe them, it sounds like coops are part of the necessary ‘war of position’ before the ‘war of movement’ that Gramsci goes on about.

    I have been having similar thoughts regarding community development trusts – this is where a community takes on assets such as land, housing, businesses, and runs them. This is basically collectivisation, only without romantic leftist symbolism.

    I do community organising, and struggle getting leftists interested in this – I think in large part due to the romantic attachment to certain ways of organising.

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  8. Johnb,

    In my series Can Co-operatives Work, I began to dismantle the misrepresentation of the Marxist position on Co-ops, and set out the argument for Co-ops as put forward by Marx and Engels, Jones, Kautsky, Lenin, and Pannakoek. I also referred briefly to Gramsci, but his position is too extensive to have set out briefly. It ties into his whole experience in relation to the Italian Workers Councils – the context of which should be borne in mind when considering what he has to say about Worekrs Control – and strategy. I think the concepts of War of Position versus War of Movement, are useful starting points for considering these issues.

    In Part 3 of that series I linked to the following article re. Gramsci, and discussion of these issues by Jossa. Given David’s link above to the new discussion on strategy, I think it is a useful article for comrades to consider.

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  9. I think there is too much negativity surrounding co-ops on the left. I hear arguments that they are not socialist, or they are not advancing beyond capitalist market conditions. I beg to differ. I think they are socialist and are advancing beyond capitalist market conditions. Co-ops develop new social relations, new forms of democracy, and new approaches to problems. They develop a collective attitude, they develop a sense of social responsibility. If this isn’t socialism, then what is the definition? For me socialism is a process, not a thing that can be erected for people to stare at in admiration. Co-ops are the main motor of that process in my opinion.

    Below are some fantastic links to inform the debate and give a flavour of how Co-ops subtly transform society. Subtlety is something the left need to learn.

    The first deals with one socialist’s experience of the famous Mondragon co-op network, it is really fascinating.

    The second is a brilliant site that posts a number of documentaries, including many on co-ops. You may have to scroll to the bottom and see previous videos.

    The third is a useful presentation on co-ops.

    The fourth is titled The Mondragón Cooperatives as a Model of Collaborative Business for the 21st Century. A title sure to put off all pure socialists!

    The last video is a presentation given by workers at Mondragon to the economics of peace conference, which shows how they are attempting to spread the message, something they seem to be doing more often since the economic crisis. This is probably due to a new found demand! It is in various parts, just look to the selection to the right of the main video to access the other parts.

    http://coopgeek.wordpress.com/notes-from-mondragon/

    http://essentialsharingdocs.blogspot.com/

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  10. In my blogpost here I have provided a link to a report in the local press from California, where the Conference of Worker Co-operatives is taking place. I get regular updates from comrades in California involved in the Bay Area Network of Worker Co-operatives. A link to their website is also to be found on my blog.

    This recent conference is important because it has also seen further developments in the link up between the US’s biggest union the United Steel Workers Union, and the Mondragon Co-ops, to develop worker Co-ops across North America, and to develop a new Trade Union/Co-op structure. Every new Long Wave upswing such as that we are going through sees a blooming of new ideas, forms of organisation, and the creation of new leaderships. Unfortunately, it tends to also be characterised by a lot of Generals insisting on fighting old wars rather than adopting the new ideas. Its one reason we need real marxist organisations capable of open minds, and clear thinking, rather than bureaucratised, sclerotic sects.

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  11. A very stimulating and interesting read however I would raise one point in relation to the following statement.

    ‘The movement against the cuts, which is now just beginning, seems to be built on a very similar model as the movement against the cuts in the 1970s (culminating in an 80,000 strong mass lobby of Parliament on 17th November 1976). The earlier movement was defeated (£3bn of cuts announced in December 1976). The present movement is even more fragmented and the numbers of activists are much smaller, so why should the outcome be different? ‘

    I’m not sure the drawing of this historic parallel is correct as the movement against cuts in the 1970s had a number of distinguishing features that are different from today.I am also not sure if the movement can be characterized as being defeated as early as early as 1976 even though the amount of cuts imposed by Old Labour was estimated to be in the region of not 3 million but over £5bn.

    Indeed I’m not sure if an argument on the defeat or non defeat of the movement against old Labour’s cuts is a part particularly useful way to approach what was a novel and innovative movement in that period not least because it was a new movement that was directly aimed at the policies of a Labour government. This of course is a major difference from the current fight against the cuts.

    A very important part of the story in the 1970s was the challenge to the domination of traditional Social Democratic practice that took the form of the National Committee Against the Cuts. This in my view had many positive features that I aim to write about in the near future. The committee was a movement that the traditional ‘left’ of Jones and Scanlon did not participate in, indeed the Social Democratic left actually voted for the IMF cuts of that period.
    As the economists Glyn and Harrison recounted In return for the loan ‘Healy offered the IMF a package they accepted featuring a $3bn reduction in the public sector borrowing requirement (excess of government spending over revenue) over two years, to be achieved mainly by cuts in government expenditure, in return for a loan. Cabinet opposition to the terms collapsed, as did a proposal to reject them and impose import controls’. The left not only voted for the acceptance of IMF terms but also became ‘ the most influential proselytisers for the package’ ( Sunday Times 28 May 1978). As one of them put it ‘We said to the Tribune Group, you are just going to have to close your eyes and walk backwards into the lobby.’ Hardly a recipe for clear sighted policies.’

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