Monthly Archives: September 2011

“Enough of this UAF triumphalism!” – How to Fight Fascism.

By Chris Page

So, in the aftermath of the much-hyped EDL demonstration in Tower Hamlet’s earlier this month, the common slogan seems to be “They did not pass!” Anyone who knows their anti-fascism history will know this as a reference to the Battle of Cable Street in 1936, where the noble actions of residents, activists and trade unionist stopped Oswald Moseley’s Union of Fascists from entering Cable Street.

Let’s be clear on a few things: firstly, the EDL did, essentially, march. This is in spite of Theresa May’s reactionary attempts to prevent this from occurring. The EDL travelled as a large group across London, in a procession which essentially equated to a rowdy and noisy march, as well as back to their coaches at the end of the day. Around 1000 people attended a rally at Aldgate Station, where Tommy Robinson spoke (after making a joke of dressing up as a Rabbai. He’s totally not racist, is he?) If anything, this proves that measures from the top down will not stop an Active demonstrations of fascism, something I have written on at length elsewhere.  The UAF organised demonstration certainly did march as well (good on them for doing so) but eyewitness accounts from the ground suggested that much of the anti-fascist demo was spent listening to somewhat clichéd speeches, and then a lot of waiting around, before learning that the EDL had left.

Hooray! We stopped them! They did not pass! Sitting at home, recovering from a major depressive episode, I watched the triumphalism pour over Facebook. Yet the question that came to my mind was “How?” The anti-fascists were separated from the EDL by a small army of riot police. The closest they ever got was a distant glimpse of England flags and the far-off discordant notes of “God Save the Queen.”

But let’s look at the grander picture. What did the anti-fascists achieve? Are we a step closer to stamping out the EDL? Did we win a decisive victory, or tackle a root cause of fascism – no. In fact, the UAF demo was, for want of a better word, passive. Tommy Robinson was arrested, but this will not kill off the EDL. Indeed, it seems to have galvanised support for them, as they can now claim that they have been deprived of their freedom of speech.

 A stalemate is food for thought – it suggests that it is time to reconsider tactics and ends. UAF’s response to Tower Hamlets suggests either a total divorce from reality, or a blind triumphalism. The latter is much more worrying – if the anti-fascist movement is willing to accept a stalemate as a major triumph, then it is clutching desperately at straws, albeit with a glazed and self-congratulatory smile on its face.

 THE STATE AND FASCISM

In doing so, the anti-fascist movement is entering dangerous territory, by playing into the hands of the state. Let us be clear: despite the bland assurances of mainstream politicians that they oppose fascism, it is they who are upholding, and, indeed, creating a system which breeds fascism. Even if there is genuine anti-fascist sentiment in mainstream politicians, it is almost childish in its simplicity. They are “evil” or “nazis” – whilst I would agree with both, to some extent, simple name calling does little more than de-contextualise fascism as a movement from its social circumstances.

Furthermore, it wasn’t the anti-fascists who prevented the EDL from entering Tower Hamlets, but the small army of riot police. On the surface, bravo! But on closer analysis, we see a worrying attitude by the state. Yes, the police kept the fascists out, but they allowed them to hold a large, static demo. The police, it would seem, played to role of a parent, trying to keep two feuding children apart. Credible eyewitness accounts suggest that the police were actually helping the EDL get to their demo, by giving them the monopoly over Tube travel to Tower Hamlets. When an EDL coach was targeted after driving into Tower Hamlets (not supposed to do that, are they?) the police launched a heavy crackdown in Mile End.

Can this really be called a demonstration, or simply a tame celebration of state power?

FASCISM AND THE WORKING CLASS.

A potential counter argument comes to the mind: what, exactly, am I advocating? Am I simply annoyed that there wasn’t a good old fist-fight between Red and Nazis? Not at all.

It is important that we draw a distinction between so called “classical fascism” and the EDL. Broadly speaking, there are similarities – the racism, obviously, and the strongly nationalistic world view. That said, the EDL has more been more effective at masquerading its views as those of the workers. The EDL taps into, and claims to respond to, an Islamaphobic cultural hegemony, and claim to be the voice of the “ordinary” British person against a threat to the lifestyle of the British worker, an idealised lifestyle situated within the framework of extreme nationalism. “Classical Fascism” is exclusively nationalistic; that is to say it vehemently opposes class based internationalist ideologies (socialism, communism, anarchism). It may be verbally anti-capitalist but, in practice, destroys working-class organisations and leaves capitalist power relatively unscathed. The EDL give more a primacy to ideas of race, rather than economics. But, by the very fact that they are a fascistic movement, they stand for the same things as classical fascism.

What I am saying is this: EDL fascism masquerades as a working class ideology, when it is clearly not. It attempts to appeal towards the working class by offering simple solutions to their wage slavery and alienation. As Hal Draper writes, fascism often thrives on a lack of education – a burden the working class will feel more than ever in a country which is savagely cutting funding to education. James Cannon in Fascism and the Workers Movement (1954), writes that it is workers who must force a counter-movement to fascism because of fascism’s middle class appeal:

“The workers are the strongest power in modern society. If they show a resolute will to take hold of the situation and effect the necessary revolutionary change, the millions of desperate middle-class people—impoverished farmers, bankrupt small businessmen and white-collar elements—who have no independent power of their own, will follow the workers and support them in their struggle for power. This was demonstrated in the Russian Revolution of November 1917.

On the other hand, if the workers, as a result of inadequate or pusillanimous leadership, falter before their historical task, the allegiance of the middle-classes will rapidly shift to the support of the fascists and lift them into power. This alternative outcome of the social crisis was demonstrated in Italy and Germany.”

WHY A WORKERS MOVEMENT?

Let us sum up briefly: Fascism, including the form offered by the EDL, is not a working class ideology. Fascism opposes internationalist workers unity, and it substitutes class based politics for the politics of race, and nationalism. The origins of fascism are found in capitalist system, a product of the bourgeoisie, the ultimate reactionary movement when faced with the crisis of capitalism.

The sober lesson of history shows us that where the workers do not take action, fascism flourishes. In his essay “For a Workers United Front Against Fascism” Trotsky pinpoints a similar problem with the German left’s reaction to Nazism.

“If you place a ball on top of a pyramid, the slightest impact can cause it to roll down either to the left or to the right. That is the situation approaching with every hour in Germany today. There are forces which would like the ball to roll down towards the right and break the back of the working class. There are forces which would like the ball to remain at the top…The Communists want the ball to roll down toward the left and break the back of capitalism. But it is not enough to want; one must know how.”

The tragic flaw of the German left was the belief that a) the victory of fascism was certain but that b) the ball would roll to the left and fascism would be little more than the death throws of capitalism. Whilst the modern left does not see the victory of fascism as inevitable, it is drawing a similarly conclusion to the Stalinists of the 1930s though complacently claiming victory where none can be found. We may not be under threat of a immediate fascist dystopia, but we are ignoring the reality of the situation if we claim victory where there isn’t one.

Trotsky takes his analysis of “anti-fascism” further, in his later essay “Once Again on the Causes of the Defeat in Spain” (1939):

“The very concept of “anti-fascism” and “anti-fascist” are fiction and lies. Marxism approaches all pheneomena form a class standpoint. Azana is anti-fascist only to the extent that fascism hinders bourgeoisie intellectuals from carving out parliamentary or other careers. Confronted with the necessity of choosing between fascism and the proliterian revolution. Azana will always prove to be on the side of the fascists. His entire policy during the seven years of revolution proves this.”

Trotsky’s point here is the fascism is a threat to the working class, because it is anti-revolutionary. Despite having an anti-capitalist veneer, fascism can win the support of the bourgeoisie. In this case, Manuel Azana, the republican president of the Second Spanish Republic, was seen as an ally of the communist and socialist movements when the majority of the bourgeoisie supported Franco. Trotsky bemoans this as a tactical error; not only did this allow the bourgeoisie to set a limit on the workers revolutionary movement, but actively played into the hands of the bourgeoisie. In a world where the choice is socialism and fascism, Azana and other aspects of the bourgeoisie would, and did, choose to oppose socialism, which meant that they played into the hands of the Fascists. When Trotsky says that “anti-fascism” is “fiction and lies” he does not, of course, mean the ideology itself – but that, on its own, it is not enough. If you are anti-fascist, you must be for something; for a workers revolutionary movement, a true alternative to reactionary fascism.

I do not oppose UAF at all – I merely oppose seeing a victory where there isn’t one. They are, like the SWP and SP, comrades, and we have a common ground in our battle against fascism. I would not discourage anyone from going on a UAF demo – of course we must turn out against the EDL. Indeed, I would advocate a greater involvement in the UAF, so that (*hat of optimism placed on head*) we might change the organisation and methods of UAF. We must take advantage of the structures which are already in places to fight fascism, even though they are not, at the present time, perfect.

What is victory for the anti-fascist movement? We are we aiming for? If “victory” means standing behind a line of riot police until the EDL get bored and go home, then perhaps I’m in the wrong movement. I am not satisfied with a ban on marches, or the brief prison time of Tommy Robinson. Surely, “victory” would mean the EDL and other fascist organisations withering away. This cannot be accomplished by passive measures, but by countering fascist hatred with a genuine alternative, a workers movement committed to socialism.

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Aspirational Proletarian Offspring

by Anne Archist

I saw this and simply didn’t know what to think.

Yes, it’s a kids’ ride-on mechanical toy thing, like the ones with Noddy’s car or Postman Pat’s van or whatever. Should this be interpreted positively, as an attempt to generate/show more respect to traditionally humble jobs that nevertheless keep the wheels of our society turning, or as a reflection of the sad inevitability with which people are resigned to a life in repetitive alienated and ‘unproductive’ labour? Or is there a new kids’ cartoon character I’m not aware of – Barry the Forklift Truck Operator?

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Milton Friedman’s Vision for Universities

by Anne Archist

In 1955, Milton Friedman published a highly influential paper entitled ‘The Role of Government in Education’. All the major UK parties have borrowed policies from the text. It argues that lower levels of education should be funded by the state, with only “citizenship or leadership” education being funded beyond this (not “vocational or professional” education); all levels of education should be administered privately, through a system subject to market pressures.

The goal here is to ensure that education providers must respond to “consumer” demands, there is no “unfair” competition between the state and private providers, and only appropriate educational activities are funded. While recognising the difficulty of distinguishing between the two types of education in practice, Friedman holds that they are in principle separable. A key passage dealing with the latter type argues that the market ensures appropriate incentives and it is unjust for taxpayers to bear the costs while graduates reap the benefits.

“[Vocational or professional education] is a form of investment in human capital precisely analogous to investment in machinery, buildings, or other forms of non human capital. Its function is to raise the economic productivity of the human being. If it does so, the individual is rewarded … by receiving a higher return for his services than he would otherwise be able to command. This difference is the economic incentive to acquire the specialized training … [I]f the individual undertakes the investment and if the state neither subsidizes the investment nor taxes the return, the individual (or his parent, sponsor, or benefactor) in general bears all the extra cost and receives all the extra returns: there are no obvious unborne costs or unappropriable returns that tend to make private incentives diverge systematically from those that are socially appropriate”.

The American higher education system has led to an underinvestment in human capital, according to the paper, so easier access to capital must be provided for this purpose. However, if this easy access to capital took the form of state subsidies for students, there would tend to be overinvestment in human capital. Friedman’s solution is to provide an advance for up-front investment secured against later earnings. In the modern political vernacular “the funding follows the student”, exercising market pressures, while the system as a whole is still funded through a form of semi-progressive taxation.

What Friedman’s article doesn’t give due consideration to is the difference between training in different areas – “education” and “training” are treated abstractly. The “return” varies greatly depending on degree subject, and to a lesser extent with race and gender. All of this is obliquely acknowledged when Friedman says that “[Repayment] should in principle vary from individual to individual in accordance with any differences in expected earning capacity”, but there is no exploration of the effects.

Where does this leave arts degrees, which I presume are not covered under training for “citizenship or leadership”, and others that represent a low return compared to the current cost of education? At present, all undergraduate degree courses generally cost the same at a given institution. In some subjects the cost is already greater than the return, and this will only become more common as fees rise and graduate premiums potentially fall due to greater supply of graduates. Medicine degrees, for instance, have a huge impact on earning potential, whereas male arts graduates may not earn any more than they would otherwise, according to some studies (this varies, but there is unanimity on the fact that the arts are currently very low-payoff disciplines). If the student were to bear all the costs of such a degree up-front, they would have no economic incentive to study it. Nobody would want to invest in students on such low-earning courses so easily available capital would dry up in these disciplines; it would represent the death of the arts for all but the wealthiest.

On the other hand, Friedman wants graduates to bear the costs of their own education, so there is no reason why he should support cross-subsidisation between faculties. For consistency, arts subjects would have to be provided at a much lower cost, meaning that medicine, engineering, and similar high-cost, high-return subjects would be even more expensive than they currently are. The gulf in graduate earnings would be reflected by a gulf in tuition costs. This would avoid the death of the arts but may cause less expensive degrees to be seen as the poor person’s degree, as low-quality (‘cheap’ in a derogatory sense), or as unattractive due to evidently low returns.

All of the above is an attempt to impose market logic onto the education system. Despite our best efforts, consecutive governments are following Friedman’s paper as a blueprint – this puts us in a difficult position if we want education to be about more than individuals investing in future earnings. Not only this, but it raises the question of whether the idiosyncrasies of higher education (e.g. providers select consumers as well as vice versa, we only know what we were paying for after the transaction has been completed, etc) conflict with the neoliberal market logic that Friedman sought to discipline it to. I’m interested in that question and might write about it later, but for now I just want to leave you with this question of what further ‘marketisation’ could do in terms of differentiating courses financially, and the broader consequences that these changes might have. Any ideas are welcome in the comments section below.

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