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How the SWP-GB Turns its Back on Anti-Capitalism

vngelis | 02.11.2002 23:07

End of 'Globalise Resistance'?

How the SWP Turns its Back on Anti-Capitalism

A marxist analysis of the state-capitalist organisation SWP-Britain will show how in light of recent developments instead of aiding the anti-capitalist struggle they are in turn turning their back on it. After Seattle where the SWP embraced the new movement in its characteristic style of tail-ending anything that is politically new on the horizon it has in particular after Genoa turned its back on the anti-capitalist movement, turned its back on everything that is new about the current political situation and done everything within its power to constructively disengage thousands of youth attracted to the struggle against capitalism. Just as the purely protesting nature o the initial phase of anti-capitalism has shown the physical limits of popular protest with demos reaching the millions in particular Italy, so a turn is consciously being made to throw out the baby with the bath water.

The new turn is encapsulated by the SWP leading theoritician, Chris Harman in the latest International Socialism Journal (num.96). Harman under the guise of attacking Hardt & Negris view on the current political situation sees it correct to make swipes against Naomi Klein and her book ‘No Logo’ as it paints an overall picture which is “not one of a disintegrating or declining working class”. The main thrust of Harmans arguments is that the maquiladoras of the third world can be unionised and that de-industrialisation in the industrialised world is a figment of most peoples imagination.

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

To prove that de-industrialisation hasn’t really affected the working classes of the industrialised North (USA, Northern Europe, Japan) Harman uses various statistics which are a leaf out of the political gnagsters he has voted for most of his life, the Labour Party of Britain. Britain due to its historical relationship with the USA has become a test bed of lies and fraud when it comes to analysing figures regarding its own economy. It apparently has the lowest level of unemployment than any of its European partners, (less than one million – at 1974 levels!) one of the lowest levels of inflation (yet one of the highest housing costs in the industrialised West) when everyone knows it has at least 5-6million unemployed (2.7 million officially on sickness benefits) house-price inflation in double figures annually…

Harman states the following under the heading: “The Myth of De-industrialisation - The argument that the working class has dissapeared usually rests on superficial impressions about what is happening to the old industrial working class, at least in the advanced economies. So there is much talk about ‘de-industrialisation’, the ‘post-industrial society’ or the ‘weightless economy’” as if millions of people that were employed in 1970 in mining, shipbuilding, car making are all a… figment of those peoples imaginations, or as the right used to say in Argentina to the Mothers De La Playa, ‘dissaperances, what dissapearances’!!

Harman goes on to argue that at the end of the 1980’s there was “much panic in the US about ‘de-industrialisation’ in the face of challenges to US industrial pre-eminence in fields like auto production and computers. But in 1998 the numbers of workers in industry was nearly 20% higher than in 1971, roughly 50% higher than in 1950 and nearly three times the level of 1900:
Workers in Industry, US
1998-31,071,000” (p8-9)

The accounting methods of Harman are worthy of Enron, in particular its as if the structure of capitalist production hasn’t changed since 1900 and industry is in-house as it was then, when even the last person on earth knows that today, a car for instance, is produced in a series of countries and a lot of the jobs of manufacturing aren’t in the industrialised countries as firms have refined production techniques on the basis of where raw materials are sourced. So for example whilst Nike started off manufacturing in the USA it now only has marketing departments there and its production is in low cost Asia where rubber is sourced and under capitalist accounting techniques, Nike’s marketing department in the USA will be accounted for as part of the industry of production of training shoes and thus marketing employees will be classified as workers in industry.

Thus Harman manages to turn reality on its head and show that instead of de-industrialisation taking place industrialisation has actually increased attacking thus the central argument of the Seattle workers employed in Boeing, that outsourcing and the ideal future factory of being mobile on the South China Seas as being fabricated. In order to justify his stance of the ‘myth of de-industrialisation’ Harman also states that workers globally have grown in the last quarter century as the world working class has grown. The fact that the Northern industrialised countries can at once be de-industrialising and the low wage, non-union countries of the maquiladora zones be semi-industrialising isn’t such a dialectical contradiction. When wages between the industrialised North of unionised manufacturing workers and non-unionised workers of the South can have a disparity of 1/100 per hour, it would be illogical to believe that the individual capitalist wont globalise and that collectively capitalism isn’t heading for harakiri, as products are meant to be sold to those recently made unemployed or under-employed.

The Race to the Bottom-Myth or Reality?

Harman in order to argue that class hasn’t disappeared, as if that was the central issue of debate outside of hired hirelings of the bourgeois media of mass disinformation, argues against the central argument of the anti-capitalist movement, that globalisation is a race to the bottom of the ocean. What can Harman say to the less than 4 million workers of manufacturing in Britain, that don’t worry Black and Decker is only going to Chechoslovakia and Raleigh Bicycles are only going to China. Hopefully fifty years from now they will achieve the same rights of labour you recently enjoyed, all this talk of ‘de-industrialisation’ is depresssing, ‘restructure’ and ask if you can get a new job as a door to door salesman for imported… Raleigh bicycles.

Harman rebuts the argument that maquilas cannot be unionised by saying the following gem:
“The maquiladoras aren’t unorganisable. Nor are workers in the myriad of small workplaces that make up much of the ‘informal’ sector in Latin America or South Asia. What happened in South Korea can happen elsewhere.”(p.36)

In other words the unionisation that occurred in South Korea in the 1980’s is a sign that previously unorganisable workplaces can achieve unionisation. Here Harman deliberately confuses the role of state owned capitalist entreprises like Hyundai, Daewoo or Samsung with sub-contracted maquilas which work on contracts for a specified period of time and are characterised by their footloose nature. South Korea developed on the back of massive injections of US capital as a bulwark to North Korea, much in the same way that Western Germany did in the boom of post war capitalism. The maquilas developed in the late 1970’s in tax free export processing zones and are part of the monetarist ideology emanating from the Friedmans and the Sachs of the USA, not in the late 1950’s or 1960’s which is when the companies of South Korea started their lives, as Harman alludes.

But South Korea hasn’t really achieved European or North American levels of unionisation primarily because the labour movement hasn’t even managed to create its own labour party and since the 1997 crash the attacks on unionists and unionisation has been immense. Harman pretends that maquiladora workers can be unionised if other groups of workers move and drag them along a popular strike wave. But when that happens and if it happens, the maquiladora owners are terminated by the contractors from the imperialist states who only find somewhere else to move as is recently reported in the Northern states of Mexico who two decades now haven’t achieved basic union rights, but are seeing their factories close and re-locate to China.

Harman Turns His Back on Trotsky

Under the guise of criticising Hardt and Negri and their views on the class struggle, Harman turns his back on Trotsky and his analysis of imperialism in crisis. Maquiladoras represent the future of work in industrial capitalism, a work regime which would make naziism proud, not an arena of normal bourgeois development where year by year, reform by reform, the industrial working class will see its conditions get better. Instead they are a creation of the falling rate of profit coupled with the massive technological developments of modern society, whereby factories do not essentially need workers at all, as everything which is currently produced and sold can be made by machines. But this is the essential contradiction, overproduction and underemployment cannot solve the perrennial capitalist problems of production for the sake of profit and not need. The crisis of the American Empire isn’t its desire to globalise per se, but the fact that the more it globalises the more it makes its position untenable as it condemns millions of workers in its home market to low paying non-unionised jobs, who then don’t have the money to purchase the products that are churned out in a never ending supply form the factories abroad.

Car production for instance is in a surplus of 25-35 million a year in the capitalist West. The overproduction of cars for instance leads to a totally anomalous situation whereby almost every High street has someone trying to sell a car, every supermarket tries to sell credit for car loans and one after the other of the big car companies ford and merge. The centralisation of economic life, the outsourcing of production coupled with the rise of non-unionised firms all linked in one way or another via banks which is the driving force for a global dictatorship of the large transnationals as a way of arresting the capitalist law of the falling rate of profit.

‘Globalise Resistance’ – Big Phrases for Small Minds

Harman has the gall to criticise Hardt & Negri for their infatuation with global responses to imperialism and yet his organisation did precisely that when jumping on the bandwagon of Le Monde in France they essentially adopted a marketing approach to the issue of globalisation. Having spent some time arguing that it is nothing new, just a continuation of the past, they then adopted its language by setting up a front whose sole puprose was to corral anyone who broke away from the Labour Party back to its tradeunion machinery. ‘Globalise Resistance’ became just another fashion statement when its unelected leaders joined platforms to celebrate May Day with the big sellouts of the British union bureaucracy who have been instrumental in imposing the draconian work regime millions of workers find themselves in in both what is currently called the public sector and the private sector, although the distinction between the two is getting less and less.

Whilst workers face the dismantling of their pension systems, ever increasing workloads, wages which do not rise in accordance with house price inflation, privatisation, sub-contracting, forced early retirement etc Harman finds once more statistics to ‘prove’ all isn’t that bad in the House of Labour as Harman adds the following gems:
“the latest survey suggests that the economic recovery of the late 1990’s was accompanied by a fall in precarious unemployment” (p.18)
“a mere 5.5% were working on a temporary work contract of less than 12 months in 2,000 compared with 7.2% in 1992” (p.18)
“average job tenure has remained relatively stable since 1975” (p.18)
“the idea that the working class has been flexible-ised out of existence is completely mistaken” (p.18)

In other words the growth of service agencies which now constitute a significant percentage of the public sector (more than 15-20% of teachers, nurses, railway fitters etc) is a sign that if you work for an agency for more than 12 months you must not be in a ‘temporary’ work contract, or that Blairs accounting for unemployment figures is as already mentioned as skewed as Enrons for its finances.

For those that work, Harmans ideas are more akin to those layers in society that have grown fat over the years from the parasitism of a declining social system, to believe that the situation isn’t dire or that for resistance to occur it has to go global first, one understands why the working class doesn’t replace one set of reforminsts with another. They clearly kept away from ‘Globalise Resistance’ as it wasn’t about resistance, but about disseminating government propaganda with a ‘left’ veneer. Whilst millions are concerned about the state of the worlds economy, millions see their situation deteriorating quite rapidly within their lifetimes, Harmans approach to everything is of a man attempting to portray a picture of economic reality, which isn’t dire for millions of people, but one which with a little push can change the situation for the better.

Its ironic that initially the SWP was arguing that one more protest here or there, from Seattle to Prague to Genoa would lead to the house of cards crumbling down. Having failed to recruit any new people they are now attempting to catapult themselves into opposite political positions. From overglorification of the anti-capitalist ‘multitude’ and protest politics, they now go over to the other side and present a rosy picture of the state of class relations, by asserting the working class is getting bigger numerically on a global scale, not diminishing. But so is pauperisation, the growth of monopoly concentration in almost every economic sphere and the growth of war by the transnationals against the workers of the world.

Never before in history has a revolutionary policy been required to place on the agenda workers power against the domination of the planet by the transnationals. Never before have workers faced so many problems of Empires in decline with nuclear weapons at their disposal, of rapaciousness and greed on an unparalled level. Having turned his back on workers and their ability to confront this multi-faceted crisis, Harman is only reflecting the pressures of capitalist society on those layers which grew fat off the post-war boom which his organisation is a by-product of. The anti-capitalist movement has only just begun and already it is re-shuffling the deck. Harmans ‘new’ theories only follow the line taken by so many before him, from the British Communist Party, the Left of the Labour Party etc. But for the working class fighting isn’t a privilige, its an inescapable necessity up until the bosses and their system is buried six foot under.



Display the following 6 comments

  1. Hm — Marxist_Mike
  2. an excellent critique ! — jirhbjfdokf
  3. an excellent critique ! — jirhbjfdokf
  4. demonstration... — zz
  5. swp control freeks — anarkist
  6. I-M-C, S-W-P, k-i-s-s-i-n-g — amused