It's spooky season! Drawing on Frankenstein and his Monster, a comrade reflects on Silvia Federici's Beyond the Periphery of the Skin from a trans- perspective.
To change society and end oppression we need a clear perspective of our current social formation, of the revolutionary forces and the forces that oppose our aims and a strategy for liberation based on scientific socialism. With this document, then, we aim to give a brief analysis of the conditions and forces in Britain, as well as Britain’s position within world imperialism, and then go on to explain what actions we believe are necessary to begin to build a communist movement in Britain.
The three classes and the Labour aristocracy
In Britain the idea of class is deliberately misrepresented and there is understandable confusion surrounding the class system and the roles of each class. The result of this confusion is an obscured understanding of the real relations between classes and a deadened class consciousness. As such, we hope to raise class awareness within Britain to work against those who currently stultify and oppress the working class.
Before we begin our explanation of the class system in Britain today, however, we must first explain that capitalism is a mode of production based upon the appropriation of surplus value from workers. In capitalist societies (as in all other class societies) society is based around production and, as such, classes are the result of the individual subject’s relations to the means of production. This may sound complex, however it can be explained with a simple example.
In our current society a working class labourer sells their labour power for a certain amount of money for a certain amount of time. The worker may produce a large amount of value during (for example) an hour, but only a part of that value goes to the worker, the rest goes to the owner of the means of production, these owners are traditionally known as the bourgeoisie. There are numerous other considerations to take into concern and other ways in which the bourgeoisie generate profit from the working class, such as charging rent for the right for people to live or work in their property, but for now this will suffice as a basic explanation of the capitalist mode of production.
Within the capitalist social formation, the three classes we must look at are: The bourgeoisie, the class which owns property and lives off of profits derived from this ownership; the petite bourgeoisie, individuals that own some property but still have to take part in production themselves; and the working class or proletariat, the class that owns no property. To expand further, the bourgeoisie are a parasitic class which lives off the profits of other people’s labour. Furthermore, in the imperialist stage of capitalism, the capitalists can be split into two sections; the monopoly capitalists and the non-monopoly capitalists. The monopoly capitalists are the dominant capitalists in Britain that own and control the big corporations.
The non-monopoly capitalists are the capitalists who are important on a local or regional level. While the monopoly capitalists are dominant, there is collaboration between the monopoly and non-monopoly capitalists for the realisation of profits and preservation of their class. The bourgeoisie, in capitalist society, are the class with true state power and control of production. Whereas the bourgeoisie’s relationship with the working class is parasitic, the relationships within the bourgeoisie are more concerned with self-preservation.
The petite bourgeoisie are a class between the two main classes, as such their position is unstable. In the long run they cannot compete against the bourgeoisie, but many of them are ideologically tied to capitalism. This class can be split into three sections: the upper-petite-bourgeoisie, whose wealth is expanding; the middle-petite-bourgeoisie who are keeping afloat but failing to expand their wealth; and the lower sections of the petite bourgeoisie whose are being pushed into the working class through failing profits.
The working class constitutes the majority of the people in Britain, and as Marxists we recognise that they must because of their subject position be the leading force for revolutionary change in this country. It is composed of people of all genders and nationalities, the able and the disabled and includes the employed and unemployed. It is the class which lives entirely from the sale of its labour and does not draw profit from any kind of capital.
Another faction that must be considered is the labour aristocracy. This is a segment of the working class rather than a class in itself, but is vital in understanding much of the British left today. In his pamphlet Imperialism and the split in socialism; Lenin wrote about the process by which super-profits from imperialism are used to improve conditions domestically for all classes (though these profits disproportionately benefit the bourgeois classes). This causes a tendency for some workers to view their position within society as aligned with capitalism, and therefore support capitalism. The labour aristocracy is a political category, strata or tendency (not a class), based on this relationship between imperialism and the better-off sections of the working class, who often benefit particularly from imperialism.
The capitalist crisis: driving down of the conditions of the working class and the proletarianisation of the petite bourgeoisie
A capitalist crisis is a disruption or interruption in the process of expanded reproduction; however, it is in this process of the exponential expansion of reproduction under capitalism, within which the inherent problem of capitalist crisis lies.
Since the 2007–2008 great recession there has been an economic stagnation within the British economy and the world capitalist system. This has been caused by the inherent contradictions in the capitalist accumulation cycles which in turn naturally result in “boom” and “bust” cycles, as well as the tendency for profits to fall over time.
Technological improvements in production mean greater productivity, which leads to workers setting in motion greater and greater capital all the time. As a result, a greater amount of capital is needed to expand production during each cycle, and only the variable components produce a profit.
At some point in this process, the organic composition of capital becomes so great that profits returned from production are no longer enough to further expand production; or at least, predicted returns from investment are no longer great enough for the capitalists to risk the required investment. At this point, capitalists sit on their property and hoard it outside of the production process, as we are currently seeing with companies and investment firms holding trillions of pounds in reserves. With this in mind, we have to conclude that many within the British Left have an incorrect view of the cause of the current economic problems that we face. They view these problems as a result of the working class not getting a large enough share of the profits of capitalism, and thus they claim that commodities have become unsaleable due to under-consumption and overproduction. In fact, in a system where the workers’ surplus value is taken by the bourgeoisie, the workers can never buy all the goods that they produce, and even less-so drive along the economy. Instead, the drive of the bourgeoisie for maximum surplus value means that workers’ wages are driven down to the lowest possible amount.
This understanding of the capitalist crisis forces us not to accept half-measures. Whilst much of the British Left is pre-occupied with fighting for the working class to have slightly better conditions in order to increase spending, we instead recognise that the inherent contradictions of capitalist accumulation process can only be fought, not with Keynesian social democratic policy, but with a socialist revolution.
Imperialism, racism and Brexit
Britain made much of its wealth off the back of imperialist exploitation of other nations. Indeed, the wealth of Britain today is still dependent on the wealth extracted from these nations. As such, the maintenance of this exploitation is a determining factor of British politics. Internally, this manifests itself in the propagation of domestic racism, both systematically and individually. This racism is used to justify national oppression and the imperialist’s interests in the oppressed nations. These interests are fought for by imperialists both directly and indirectly by complicity in the oppressions of other states and by organisations such as the US and the EU. Racist ideology arises from Britain’s parasitic relationships as a necessary justification for the expropriation of land, labour and resources that is essential for capitalism to keep growing once it has reached the stage of imperialism. The issues surrounding Brexit are therefore defined by this relationship between British imperialist interests and the exploitation of other nations.
As such, Britain (particularly the City of London) has previously been in a fortuitous position as far as this exploitation of oppressed nations is concerned. Britain has had its foot in the door of both the EU and the US imperialist blocs, creating a profitable situation for the British ruling class by passporting money between the two. Recently, however, the capitalist crisis since 2007/2008 has meant that the contradictions between the US and the EU imperialist blocs have become antagonistic, and the inter-imperialist collaboration that had being going on for decades could go on no longer. Collaboration is now turning into rivalry for profits and domination. This issue then, is one that neither of the potential results of the Brexit referendum could have resolved.
Currently, material conditions (the capitalist crisis) mean it would not be possible for Britain to be an independent imperialist power. Either Britain would have had to break with the US and form closer ties to the EU with a “remain” vote as imperialist rivalries strengthened, or they must become more dependent on US imperialism and break with the EU with the “leave” vote. This has traditionally been, and is currently, the cause of a split in the capitalist class as some prefer one option over the other.
The British Left’s response to Brexit has involved all the typical tropes that we have become accustomed to, rather than recognising the Brexit vote as a choice between two imperialist forces and boycotting the decision outright.
In the current stage of imperialism, the parasitic oppression of the colonies and neo-colonies upholds the capitalist system in the core imperialist states. As such it is necessary to form a united front against imperialism for the benefit of the working class and oppressed people of all nations. In this united front, we in the core imperialist states may challenge our own and other core state’s imperialism. By doing this, we will support revolutionary movements in oppressed nations and their rights to self determination.
Social Democracy, the labour aristocracy and Trade Unions
The common narrative concerning the Labour Party from the British Left is that they were once a socialist party that ‘gave’ us the welfare state and the NHS. They argue that Tony Blair turned Labour into a capitalist party, before socialist Corbyn took control and now all we need to do is make him Prime Minister and all will be well with the world. This is a fairytale from start to finish. Labour has never been remotely socialist – in fact, during the supposed golden era of the party after World War II, Labour attacked socialists domestically, conducting McCarthy-style purges, attacking striking workers on 18 separate occasions with armed soldiers, waging war against socialists worldwide (including through the use of fascists and fascist collaborators in Greece, Korea, and Malaya), and setting up organisations like NATO to combat socialism in Europe. Labour is not only not socialist, it has spent its entire existence attacking legitimate socialists in order to prove that it isn’t. You would struggle to find a single imperialist war that the Labour Party has not supported in some form or other.
Since the Second World War Britain’s ruling class still draws its power from the control and exploitation of the oppressed nations through financial mechanisms and institutions, in this regard Britain is arguably second only to the USA. Furthermore, as we have already discussed, there is a split in the working class between those enjoying privileges and status who are dependent upon the ruling class, and then there is the rest of the working class, who have no such privilege. The former, the ‘labour aristocracy’ emerged as a result of Britain’s imperialism and combines with the petite-bourgeoisie (see earlier section on class) to form a potent force in society. Since their position depends on the ruling class and its imperialism, the labour aristocracy is ideologically and materially in alliance with the ruling class. There is still a working class element to this grouping, thus we get the inconsistencies, tensions and the hypocrisy of the politicians representing this sub-class in the Labour Party, which all result from the contradictions inherent in capitalism itself.
The left of the Labour Party performs a function: it inspires militants at a grassroots level to pound the pavement and canvass for votes. The leadership has often been drawn from the left of the party in a familiar pattern of building credibility with the membership and voters, only then moving sharply to the right under great pressure as they get closer to real power. Moreover, the Labour Party has always performed the function of blunting and undermining working class demands, whilst then taking credit for the compromises and bribes that the ruling class grant in exchange for maintaining control over the working class. The Trade Unions in this country have generally worked hand in glove with the Labour Party, again, representing the upper sections of the working class.
British Trade Unions have never represented all of the working class, and certainly never the poorest sections of it. The position of the Trade Unions depends upon reaching amicable compromises with the bosses of the working class, meaning that they have throughout their history (with few exceptions) pulled back from anything approaching a real challenge to the ruling class. Rather, any such challenge that has occurred has happened despite the Trade Union leaderships and against their will (for example, the 1926 General Strike and 1980s Miner’s Strikes). The Labour Party and British Trade Unions exist to encourage faith in bourgeois institutions and to divert radical resistance back into such channels.
The entire Social Democratic project has been an attempt to protect the bourgeoisie from the worst excesses of economic crises that are inherent to capitalism. In fact, the welfare state, for which Labour claims credit and cites as its main socialist credential, was founded in coalition with the Tories and with the approval of the Liberals: the architect of the education reforms was a Tory (R.A. Butler), the author of the founding document was a Liberal (Beveridge), and the nationalisation program was welcomed by the capitalists because it took the most unprofitable fifth of the economy under government control and compensated them very well.
The only solution to poverty and war, rather than to place our hopes in the Labour Party, is to overthrow those who cause such war and poverty (and benefit from it): the capitalists. You cannot overthrow such a class by validating their institutions and actively supporting their superintendents in the main political parties. In other words, you cannot simultaneously oppose something and support it: clearly, this would be self-defeating. You cannot slowly infiltrate these organisations in the hope that one day you can take over: it has been tried and failed, and would require a repurposing of every facet of the party. Instead, such efforts at infiltration usually end in the infiltrators being co-opted.
The alternative to Labour, is to build a revolutionary organisation that is part of a movement outside of bourgeois organisations. In other nations this has lead to revolution, and successful revolution has led to unimaginably large gains for the working class involved. Revolutions cannot be made out of thin air, of course, and so the conditions have to be right. But, a Marxist understanding of capitalism means that those conditions are inevitable sooner or later.
Therefore, we have to be ready when the time is right, and that means getting to work now, not waiting until we’ve seen if Jeremy Corbyn can offer us a few crumbs that would be negated at the next Tory government in any case. It means being truthful to the less politically-conscious about the nature of Labour and not telling them lies about how progressive Labour is.
We don’t need to see Corbyn in power to expose him – his record in opposition is already bad enough!
We’ve already seen Corbyn:
- Write to local councillors demanding that they impose Tory cuts.
- Spread imperialist propaganda about every country that comes under attack, whether it’s Syria, Venezuela, Iran, or China.
- Fail to support striking workers being attacked by his own party.
- Allow tenant to be evicted by his own party.
- Allow rough sleepers to be attacked by his own party.
- Allow zero-hours contract workers to be employed by his own party.
- And we have seen him try to placate, to indulge, to pamper and to apologise for the right-wing of his party.
He is not interested in fighting on the behalf of workers, tenants or Syrian civilians if it means jeopardising party unity.
There is hardly a leftist organisation in Britain which actually opposes the Labour Party or, as a result, Britain’s imperialism. They all fail to stand firm in support of working class demands, and fail to oppose chauvinism and reactionary behaviour within their own ranks. It’s time for something new.
It is impossible at this stage to predict the exact nature of, or pathway towards, a socialist Britain. However, we recognise that to overthrow capitalism and end British imperialism we must build a grassroots movement uniting and educating all people that are oppressed under capitalism, that we must lead them in class struggle while developing our theory and practices, consistent with the material conditions in Britain and necessary to bring about a revolution.
Whereas many groups and parties hope to spread class-awareness through selling newspapers, we hope to spread awareness by forging links with the working class communities that we live in, personal mentorship and online media. For us, the focus upon paper-sales and simply attending protests of many other groups is an obsolete tactic, and we wish to look for new ways to reach and make connections with the people of Britain. We’ve identified the two areas in which to focus this work as being first of all in our own communities and second online.
To build a grassroots movement we need to be rooted in our communities. Rather than only appearing in a community whenever there is a protest and then leaving again, not to be seen until the next protest, we need to forge solid connections with the people of our communities, offering advice and support and creating organisations to challenge the horrors of capitalism that we are experiencing. Of course, protesting is also a vital part of our strategy, as our opposition to oppression will in itself generate sympathy to our cause, however we seek to do this with the oppressed people-group or community as much as possible.
To make connections with people outside our immediate communities it is essential for us to utilise the internet in such ways as online educational groups on audio-chatting apps (Skype and Discord), blogs, podcasts and personal interactions, building comradeship and individual skills. By building a working class community that is interconnected and has the resources to educate itself, we hope to build links into multiple communities and, in turn, further spread class consciousness. By gathering the diverse skills and innovation of the masses, concentrating them through the perspective of revolutionary Marxist theory and returning these skills and ideas to the masses, we hope to develop both our own membership, and to help to develop the masses. As such we hope to develop all of our membership to the level of a professional revolutionary, in practice and in theory.
Written by the central committee of Red Fightback