Friday, 20 January 2012

When Nixon goes to China...

... Lower Your Expectations!

Only Richard Nixon could have gone to China to make peace with Mao, for it was Nixon who was the most staunchly anti-Communist of Republicans and had been embedded in McCarthyism in the 1950s. If the step had been made by a Democrat then they would have been torn apart by the right-wing media. Only Obama can legally enshrine killing American citizens aligned with the "associated forces" of al-Qaeda, even as the conservatives accuse him of being a 'socialist' and the liberals remain silent just to keep the Republicans out of office. This is the lowering of expectations that Alexander Cockburn talks about. The business of conventional politics is rooted in a kind of realism which forecloses any manifested opposition to the ruling-class. We can see this in Britain where the Labour Party signed onto the Thatcherite programme in the 1990s, which amounted to nothing less than an assault on the minimal living standards of working-class people.

The architects of New Labour were well aware that the trade unions would hang on no matter what, a large chunk of Scotland and the North would vote Labour no matter what, so it was only a matter of winning over the Southern middle-class. Under Blair the Party quickly dumped it's commitments to any kind of socialist development, indicatively the common ownership of the workplace by workers was abandoned. It was only because of Labour's history that it could hand over the Bank of England to the private sector and let the markets run amok in the NHS. So it should be no surprise that Ed Miliband has signed onto every pathetic decision of the Conservative Party to trash health-care, education, pensions and benefits in general. The opposition has been foreclosed. Now no one stands on the side of the vulnerable and the exploited in this time of great turmoil. No doubt if Blair was in power he would be pushing through bigger cuts than the Conservative Party could get away with.

So it would seem that the Labour Party is beyond reform, you can thank Tony Blair for that. In another sense then the ground is ripe for the radicals to tap into popular disillusionment, widespread grievances and the people's wrath. We need some major decisions, perhaps the trade unions should break off from the Labour Party and align themselves with the Greens. Of course, the unions won't because they're afraid that would forfeit any influence in Parliament whatsoever. The trite of Ed Miliband is the best they can hope for and clearly the unions have lowered their expectations. There is widespread outrage at what has gone on for the last 30 years. Now we have to think of what is to be undone. It wouldn't take much to reach out to ordinary people, we've seen nearly 1 million march against cuts through the streets of London. The Coalition of Resistance seems to have petered out since Ed Miliband gave a crap speech at the March for the Alternative. The Occupy movement is a good thing in terms of popular energy, but it is insufficient in many respects.

We can't lower our expectations and give in to this crowd. We should remind ourselves that it isn't all gloom and doom. Take a close look at the hubbub around SOPA and PIPA, what do you see? So Wikipedia goes on strike because libertarian Jimmy Wales wants to take a stand for free-speech online. Can't you just make out one of the contradictions of capitalism prevalent today? The more the common is captured as private property, the more its productivity declines and yet the further expansion of the common undermines the relations of property.  Neither the state nor the market has any substantive answers to this matter. Both have demonstrated a remarkable ability to shoot themselves and each other in the foot. Jimmy Wales took a stand for free-speech and undermined property rights in doing so. The state acted to defend the interests of corporations vested in private property, but it will only reduce the productivity of the system if it succeeds. This is just another repeat of when Nixon went to China, except we won't be lowering our expectations this time!

As for the question of what's your alternative? We shouldn't shirk away from central planning even though it was largely a disaster in the 20th Century. There does exist a model for socio-economic planning within the current system and this is reason enough to not dump all talk of planning from radical programmes. In a capitalist system the markets are meant to provide coordination to an intricate network of firms, the only alternative is central planning to coordinate a network of worker self-management. The Left doesn't want to talk seriously about the question of coordination. The corporation is the most advanced, sophisticated and dynamic command and control system in world history. It is a profit-based planning system but the corporate model is not a free-market one, it sends order through supply chains to extract and distribute resources. These techniques of planning can be ripped out of the capitalist system and applied to an egalitarian end.

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