The Point
Last updated: 11 December 2017.

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Postcapitalism - a review

 

Steve Arnott reviews Paul Mason’s ‘Postcapitalism’ from a Marxist perspective, part 1.

 

Introduction

Let’s cut to the chase: whatever its flaws, and whether or not it has all the answers (it doesn’t pretend to), Paul Mason’s Postcapitalism is a seminal work of Marxist theory for the 21st century.

One might paraphrase one of Tolkien’s early reviewers on The Lord of the Rings, ‘there are those who have read it and those who are going to read it’, but alas this is probably not true.

Already walls of resistance are being mounted by the multiple ‘vanguard’ parties of the far left who claim the one true Marxist lineage that must properly pass through Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, and whose principle model of the overthrow of capitalism remains the Russian revolution of October 1917.

But then the first reaction of such organisms is always to circle the polemical wagons to defend that which matters to them most: their own existence.

Postcapitalism certainly doesn’t present or market itself as a work of Marxist theory – it aims at a wider audience. Mason is explicit is saying that doesn’t just want his ideas to become the property of the traditional left but of a new wider movement. As a stylist he is refreshingly entertaining as well as direct, and when complex ideas are introduced he attempts to explain both the concept and its intellectual origins in a way that the new or lay reader can follow. And any book that both defends and re-invigorates Marxist economic theory for the 21st century while referencing, along the way, Frank Herbert’s Dune, Carry on at Your Convenience, and Greggs in Kirkcaldy High street automatically gets a plus tick for accessibility in my view.

Prior to the Scottish independence referendum, I was probably aware of Paul Mason only as the admittedly capable and sometimes forthright economics editor of Channel 4 News. During the independence referendum and particularly in its latter stages I was encouraged by his forthright support for the YES campaign and his ability to see through the London media froth and understand the progressive nature of the campaign. I had no idea he was about to place a thought grenade under the collective butt of the complacent left.

The trouble for some will be that the book could easily have had another, admittedly less commercial subtitle: PostLeninism.

One can already hear the predictable cries, that it ‘downgrades struggle’, that it suggests ‘a peaceful evolution of capitalism’ is possible, that it is ‘gradualist’ etc etc.

In fact a careful reading of Mason’s work reveals such fears and allegations either to be groundless, or at best to be very unfair simplifications of what he actually argues.

And far from being a soothing pablum about how capitalism will peacefully grow over into something nicer, it is an urgent call to arms to bring about the necessary initial conditions from which a post-capitalist society might emerge. But more of that in part 2.

Mason draws on the work of a number of thinkers, but pre-eminently at the heart of Postcapitalism lie the ideas of one man. His name is Karl Marx.

In the first part of this review, I’ll concentrate on what might be the most surprising element of Mason’s book for some - his defence of Marxist economics and his attempt to build a viable and materially consistent ‘long’ view of capitalism that allows us to see why we may now have entered the ‘early days’ of its final stage as the dominant global economic system.

In the second I’ll look at Mason’s claim that it is the qualitative difference in some of the new technologies that capitalism has created – notably info-tech – that creates the incipient conditions for its demise, and how he looks back again to Marx for insight and theoretical support for his theory.

 

In Defence of Marxism

“(Marx) realised that the ultimate source of profit is work; specifically, the extra value coerced out of employees by the unequal power relationships in the workplace. But there is an inbuilt tendency to replace labour with machinery, driven by the need to increase productivity. Since labour is the ultimate source of profit this will tend, as mechanisation spreads across the whole economy, to erode the rate of profit…Marx called this ‘the fundamental law of capitalism'."

Thus Paul Mason introduces us to the fundamental Achilles’ Heel of capitalism and the underlying reason why capitalism operates in boom and bust cycles: what Marx called the law of the tendency for the rate of profit to fall. This law and the labour theory of value in which it is embedded are defended throughout the book as the most scientific descriptor of the underlying laws of capitalism and its regular crises. Mason even submits it to Karl Popper’s test of falsifiabilty; what experiments or evidence would show the theory to be wrong?  Mason replies that if boom and bust didn’t clearly exist as a capitalist cycle, or if we wait 500 years and capitalism is still a thriving system, that would certainly count. He clearly doesn’t expect that to happen.

There has been a debate amongst Marxist economists, sometimes reflected here and there within the movement itself, between advocates of the law of the tendency for the rate of profit to fall (LOTRPF) as the base law of crisis, and those who claim that crises occur because the working class (the majority in society) can never have enough money to buy back all the goods that are produced, usually referred to as ‘underconsumptionism’. Now is not the time and place to rehearse that debate, but Mason declares himself unequivocally for LOTRPF and is scathing towards theories of underconsumptionism, which if were true would see capitalism in permanent crisis, and which cannot explain the boom bust cycle.

Mason argues that Marx saw and understood capitalism as a whole system; a living and complex system with its own laws whose outcomes would often be the direct opposite of the intentions of individual capitalists themselves, even when acting in their own rational self-interest.

But he also argues – as Marx did - that capitalism is a highly adaptive system, constantly seeking new methods and markets to overcome the inherent tendency for the rate of profit to fall.

From that point of view, both Marx and his early followers living in the early stages of capitalism were unable to predict the extent to which capitalism could reinvent itself, recovering from destructive crisis through the development of new technologies and the opening up of new markets – not simply through imperialist or colonial means – but at home, domestically, through new technologies creating new hierarchies of needs and wants that didn’t previously exist.

For a complete and satisfactory historical material view of capitalism from its beginnings, through all of its stages up to the present, Mason argues that while Marx’s theory of crisis is absolutely correct, it is insufficient.

To fully understand capitalism, and how it may be superseded, Marx’s theory of crisis must be synthesised with something called Long Wave theory.

 

Kondratieff and the Long Waves

Soviet economist Nikolai Kondratieff was executed in his cell by a Stalinist firing squad in 1938. He had been accused of leading an ‘anti-soviet’ Peasant’s Labour Party – which didn’t really exist. As Mason explains:

“Kondratieff’s real crime…was to think the unthinkable about capitalism: that instead of collapsing under crisis, capitalism generally adapts and mutates. In two pioneering works of data-mining he showed that, beyond short term business cycles, there is evidence of a longer fifty year pattern whose turning points coincide with major structural changes within capitalism and major conflicts…Kondratieff was the first person to show the existence of long waves in economic history.”

Mason himself is an economist by trade, and his treatment of Kondratieff’s Long Wave Theory, its strengths and weaknesses, critiques from Marxist figures, misappropriations by capitalist managerialism are rigorous and in depth.

Most importantly, he sums up the key features of the theory thus.

“…each long cycle has an upswing lasting about twenty five years, fuelled by the deployment of new technologies and high capital investment; then a downswing of about the same length, usually ending with a depression. In the ‘up’ phase, recessions are rare; in the ‘down’ phase they are frequent. In the up phase, capital flows to the productive sectors, in the down phase it gets trapped in the finance system.”

The end of such long cycles are often characterised by wars and revolutionary waves, which can act as an impetus to new technologies which the capital that has taken refuge within the financial system can utilise to begin the next wave, where the fundamental mode of production is maintained but which has new and unique characteristics.

Mason has a problem with Kondratieff, however. As an adaptive model of capitalism, it lacks an underlying modus operandi to explain it, or more correctly how the shorter cycle operates within each long wave to bring about small evolutionary changes to capitalism and then the bigger ‘revolutionary’ changes that signal a new long-wave.

In a brilliant piece of dialectical logic, however, Mason argues that it is only Marx’s theory of crisis – the law of the tendency for the rate of profit to fall - that completes Kondratieff’s theory and makes it sensible and robust. Marx provides the underlying and fundamental law of capitalism which explains the shorter term cycle within the long wave that both pushes first the new wave of radical technologies and markets that characterise the long cycle’s upswing, and the limits of adaptivity within the new technological paradigm that brings the accompanying long downswing.

Thus having successfully synthesised the two theories, Marx’s theory of crisis and the long wave theory of Kondratieff, into a coherent whole, he is able to give a historical materialist account of capitalism that has a beginning, a middle and…an end.

And of course, that’s when it starts to get really interesting.

In part 2 of this review I’ll deal with the part of Postcapitalism that has been most widely trailed…the idea that in the niches and interstices of current capitalism – and particularly in the very nature of information technology - lie the potential forces to bring it to an end and establish a more harmonious and human social system of production, distribution and exchange. Surprisingly – or perhaps, unsurprisingly – we will find that it is Marx that Mason turns for the theoretical underpinnings of this view.

To close part one however, and to see how it builds a logical bridge to the second central thesis of his book, it is worth quoting Mason’s historical materialist summing up of capitalism as viewed through the lens of the Marx-Kondratieff synthesis, at length.

 

“1. 1790 - 1848: The first long cycle…the factory system, steam powered machinery and canals are the basis of the new paradigm. The turning point is the depression of the late 1820’s. The 1848-52 revolutionary crisis in Europe, mirrored by the Mexican War and Missouri compromise in the USA, forms a clear punctuation point.

 

  1. 1848 – mid 1890’s:  The second long cycle is tangible across the developed world and, by the end of it, the global economy. Railways, the telegraph, ocean going steamers, stable currencies and machine produced machinery set the paradigm. The wave peaks in the mid 1870’s, with financial crises in the USA and Europe leading to the Long Depression (1873-96). In the 1880’s and 90’s, new technologies are developed in response to economic and social crises, coming together at the start of the third cycle.

 

     3.   1890’s – 1945:  In the third cycle heavy industry, electrical engineering, the                          telephone, scientific management and mass production are the key technologies.               The break occurs at the end of the First World War; the 1930’s Depression, followed           by the destruction of capital during the Second World War terminate the downswing.

 

 4.     Late 1940’s – 2008:  In the fourth long cycle transistors, synthetic materials, mass consumer goods, factory automation, nuclear power and autonomous calculatiion creates the paradigm – producing the longest economic boom in history. The peak could not be clearer: the oil shock of October 1973, after which a         long period of instability takes place but no major depression

 

5.       In the late 1990’s, overlapping with the end of the previous wave, the basic elements of the fifth long cycle appear. It is driven by network technology, mobile communications, a truly global marketplace and information goods. But it has stalled. And the reason it has stalled is something to do with neo-liberalism and something to do with the technology itself.”

 

          Alex Salmond interviews Paul Mason at the Edinburgh Book Festival    

 

Part 2 of Steve Arnott’s review will appear later this week.    

Our Last Best Hope?


 

No one on the Left can fail to have been heartened by the surge of support in recent weeks for Jeremy Corbyn, now the clear frontrunner for the Labour leadership. The sheer enthusiasm for something genuinely progressive and socialist, completely counter-intuitive to the machine politics of spin doctors and focus groups, is palpable. So too has been the bewildered panic of the Establishment, and not only the one in the Labour Party.

This wave of support for change has been accompanied by a degree of hagiography which, while eschewed by the man who is its focus, illustrates the desperation of many to find some relief from the oppression of austerity as well as the seemingly contradictory tendency of collective movements to sometimes place individual leaders on pedestals. Got a problem with Tories? Inequality keeping you awake at night? NHS at risk from predatory capitalism? Just ask JC (which one, you may ask) to lay his hands on it and everything will be put right.

Consequently, his campaign has become something of a repository of hope for all on the progressive side. This has led already to inevitable disappointment for some when #JezWeCan, the White, Red or Green Knight depending on your viewpoint, declared his plans to re-open Welsh coal mines, downplayed his already lukewarm support for electoral reform and argued that there should not be another Scottish independence referendum.

Yet let’s not quibble. Not only is Corbyn himself a patently genuine person, it is what he represents that matters in the longer run. Just weeks ago, the received wisdom of the neoliberal media was that he was a hopeless also-ran. But now, this 68 year old man without a tie, in his Lenin hat and on his bicycle, is the choice of millions, enthusing young people to join Labour and seemingly moving his party to the point where it might finally reject austerity and return to the values of equality, community and public ownership that once sat at its beating heart.  The Left is awash with hopeful speculation and encouragement, while the Right has called time on the contest and instead is busy constructing the Tory story of a spoilt rich kid who is “a threat to national security” according to George Osborne in his most sinister Sith-like mode. (The gutter press has also come up with bizarre non-stories such as one where he was divorced by his first wife because he preferred a night in with a tin of cold baked beans and his cat Harold to going clubbing.  Another relates how he also made a sun-dial when he was 14, which apparently disqualifies him from socialism, according to the Daily Mail.)

We will know the outcome on 12 September. But that will only be the beginning.

What is certain is that whoever wins, what is undoubtedly fantastic news for the broad left throughout these islands is not good news for the Labour Party. However the ballots fall, the slow death of Labour will not be arrested.

Labour has been in the hands of a centrist narrative for at least the 21 years since John Smith died and arguably since before that under Kinnock. Although I was not a socialist at the time, I was baffled by the haste with which the establishment Left across Europe jettisoned even pale pink socialism when the Soviet Bloc collapsed, as if validating the rightwing claim that big state communism was indeed socialism, and vice versa, all along. Of course, an alternative view might be that, with Communism seemingly discredited and out of power, the capitalist states no longer felt the need to pay lip service to the idea of a social democratic choice within their own political systems: as Fukuyama proclaimed, neoliberal capitalism with its deregulated markets and privatised state was the only game in town. The “End of History” had been reached.

So Blair and Co were people of their times, reinforcing the narrative of “modernity”, embracing the effluence of trickledown political economy and forever focussing on a “centre-ground” which was ceaselessly tracking rightwards. Although Labour had already abandoned most plans to renationalise state services privatised under Thatcher and Major, Blair still found a symbolic need for his “Clause 4 Moment”, when he persuaded the party to abandon any commitment to significant public ownership. The End of History indeed and in the years following the neoliberal consensus has seemed embedded irrevocably, even post-crash in 2008.

Yet both dynamic theory and human history show that you can only drive in one direction for so long. For each action comes a reaction. Slowly but surely the disconnect between politicians and people has been building at least since the 2008 crash and 2009 expenses scandal, and maybe as far back as the disdain shown by Blairites to the public opposition to the Iraq War in 2003 – indeed, even in 1997 polls showed the majority of the electorate was well to the left of New Labour on tax and equality. With austerity digging deep now for seven long years, destroying the lives and hopes of millions of ordinary people while the super-rich augmented their already substantial holdings, the desperate attempts at “business as usual” are paying fewer and fewer dividends. Even the elite know the game, if not quite up, is certainly at risk and needless to say they will not go down without a fight of epic proportions.

So if “Corbynism” is the latest stage in a longer movement for change, what was the first? Outside of Scotland, perhaps perversely from a socialist perspective, the earliest significant manifestation was probably the rise of the British National Party back in 2005. The boom years of New Labour did improve services to most parts of society whether in terms of health, education or employment. Yet, as Wilkinson and Pickett so powerfully demonstrated in “The Spirit Level” in 2009, social cohesion and personal happiness are driven far more by equality than by overall prosperity. In such a context, a poor but comparatively egalitarian society such as Cuba rated higher on the Happiness Index than Blair’s Britain, with its “intense relaxation about the filthy rich”. In the UK, as in much of the Western world since 1989, the one compelling consistency has been the relentless widening of the gap between rich and poor. By some indices, Britain is now even less equal than Czarist Russia on the eve of revolution.

Consequently, the BNP and later UKIP deftly drew on the relative poverty and exclusion of poorer white communities to detach them from the Labour Party, whose arrogant electoral strategy was to take their support as a given. They then crystallised their grievances against a range of vulnerable groups, with ethnic minorities the primary but far from sole targets. As Ford and Goodwin’s 2014 book, “Revolt on the Right” showed, what started as an electoral uprising among the blue rinse brigades of the Shire Tories in the form of UKIP was soon transformed into a much wider populist renunciation of the Establishment – even if its leadership’s greatest wish seemed to be to become a new part of it.

This rebellion encompassed Labour as well as the Tories (and hoovered up a good chunk of the disillusioned Lib Dem vote) and its origins explain the evident Teflon quality of UKIP’s support. After the series of dire failures of the current political system, attacking UKIP because some drunk candidate sent offensive tweets or because Farage got his party magazine printed abroad had no effect. And on the main themes of UKIP’s  General Election campaign – immigration and Europe – the mass media and the neoliberal parties had already cravenly contributed to their validation rather than take any stand to oppose them. On other policies, most notably the NHS and PFI, UKIP struck decidedly leftwing stances, pragmatically if cynically reflecting the majority views of their supporters, whom polling showed to be significantly to the left on a range of issues – voters in search of a new home indeed.

And so, in England, we saw Farage’s party top the 2014 European Parliamentary poll nationwide – the first time since 1918 that neither Tory nor Labour was in first place.

In Scotland of course a different narrative has played out. The more democratic voting system for the Scottish Parliament has developed a highly engaged electorate, more than capable knowing how to effectively elect progressives. Since the very first Parliament, Scots have become used to a wider plurality of party representatives than elsewhere in the UK: Scottish Socialists, Solidarity, Greens, Pensioners, Independents and of course the SNP have made the concept of two, three or even four party UK style politics irrelevant.

Though, for a time, Labour’s predominance at Westminster persisted, here too, as we know, things were changing and ultimately far more dramatically so than anything south of the Border. The referendum campaign was clearly the catalyst, drawing progressives together in what must have been the most positively inclusive campaign for national independence in our planet’s history. And of course, as anyone who experienced any stage of it knows, its hallmark, on the Yes side, was its utter enthusiasm and creativity. Unleashed perhaps by the power voters realised they had to make a real decision, it marked a breakthrough in the political zeitgeist, and not only in Scotland. With the Yes vote consolidating into a record high for the SNP in May this year and reducing the neoliberals to just 3 seats between them, the message that ordinary people can force real change, even in an assuredly undemocratic system, was heard across the UK. The reverberations of Syriza and Podemos’ successes on the Continent further reinforced the drive towards a new paradigm.

Post-referendum, in England it was the Green Party that saw its stock rise most: its membership rocketed from under 20,000 in May 2014 to over 65,000 by October (ahead of UKIP and the Lib Dems). Strikingly, just as it was the three “Westminster Parties’” joint attempt to bully Scots over the use of the Pound Sterling that unlocked the drive up to 45% Yes, the main impetus for the Green Surge in England was the avowed refusal of the same three parties to give the Greens a place in the leaders’ debates.

The Greens’ rise was spiked in due course by a combination of bad media and the lack of a democratic voting system, but even now our vote is holding in UK-wide polls at 6% to 8%, a huge advance on the 1% and 2% at the equivalent point in the last Parliament.  By contrast, UKIP is becalmed and the populist right seems to be making little headway. Indeed, while migration is high on the political agenda, the obvious desperation of the refugees drowning in the Mediterranean has perhaps finally shown up the evident inhumanity and self-interest behind UKIP’s agenda, itself rooted in capitalist neoliberalism. There is, it seems, a rare but wide open window of opportunity for socialists.

And so Corbyn is no isolated phenomenon. His exponential rise continues the growing revolt against the Establishment. But it is only one step in a much longer process, and one whose outcome is far from assured.

For, just as the neoliberals closed ranks in Scotland and against the Greens, so too has their local chapter within the Labour Party turned on Corbyn and his supporters. Nearly every day has seen some Labour Big Beast – or maybe more appropriately some Aged Dinosaur – trundled out to explain why the “selectorate” of members, union affiliates and registered supporters are voting the wrong way. Patronising and arrogant by turn, it seems they have no understanding at all of how irrelevant and offensive ordinary voters find them. Like many liberals, their concept of democracy is a four or five yearly voting event where the masses dutifully confirm their inherent right to rule. Like the ancient Roman election rituals that were stopped as soon as the Emperor was acclaimed, our political leaders, extending deep into the corporate and media worlds, perhaps unsurprisingly assume that they will always be there. In this set up, the “modern” Labour Party has become little more than a pressure valve, a tool to undertake a spot of PFI meddling here and Surestart tinkering there, to keep the “core vote” in its place. As we saw just weeks ago, this even led to three of the four leadership candidates abstaining from voting against the Government’s harsh Welfare Bill, supposedly for the most tenuous of procedural reasons.

But, just as it nearly didn’t work in Scotland in 2014, it seems not to be working within Labour ranks now. Party officials have hurried to exclude tens of thousands of applicant voters, the vast majority clearly Corbyn supporters, using the most nefarious methods. This #LabourPurge has included banning longstanding activists and trade union leaders from the vote. It even stooped to asking a schoolboy member to spy on two of his classmates who joined the party. The 1960’s joke line attributed to the old corrupt Glasgow Labour Party –“You cannae join, we’re full up” – is now seemingly a tragi-comical reality.

 

Brown, Kinnock, Blunkett, Alistair Campbell, David Miliband and of course Blair himself have all denounced Corbyn in the most vituperatively apocalyptic terms. Bridges haven’t been burned – rather they have been nuked. While Brown, bizarrely pacing up and down and gurning wildly at the walls like some captive bear driven insane in a tiny cage, decried Corbyn’s ideas as “not modern”, Blair has emerged from hiding on at least three occasions to warn of the party’s impending “annihilation”. Indeed, in a breath-taking show of how not to win hearts and minds, in his latest proclamation he accused the Islington North MP’s supporters of living “in a parallel universe”.

 

Regardless of the outcome of the ballot, a political bloodbath will inevitably follow – none of these men will ever be able to work with a Left leadership. Nor shall their craven proxies like Liz Kendall, Tristram Hunt and Chuka Umunna, who have already set up a new group with the risibly ridiculous name of “The Resistance” to work against a Corbyn leadership. New Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale is similarly hamstrung by her hostile comments and stories circulate of coups by Christmas by overwhelmingly unsupportive MPs, unheard of hubris in a supposedly democratic process.

So, if he wins, Corbyn will likely face civil war leading either to his eventual deposal or to an SDP-style break by the rightwing. If he loses, perhaps topping first preferences but losing out as Burnham, Cooper and Kendall’s second preferences transfer to each other, then in spite of the huge level of support he will have garnered, the vitriolic right will clearly be on a mission of vengeance. In such circumstances, a huge tide of new members and longer-standing leftists is likely to flow out again, once more in search of welcoming harbours.

Where then does that leave the rest of us on the Left, especially the non-Labour Left?

Few people I have come across in the Greens, TUSC, Left Unity or the Scottish Left have anything but goodwill towards Jeremy Corbyn. Both his own integrity – eschewing the favours of the party whip in order to rebel over 200 times in his career (to puppet Burnham’s proudly proclaimed zero) – and the attraction of the policies he is proposing are beyond question. He has worked closely with Green MP Caroline Lucas both inside and outside of Parliament as well as with a range of non-Labour political parties and groups and appears to seek a more pluralist approach. He has acknowledged the need for Labour to co-operate with the SNP, a welcome return to reality compared to his naysaying colleagues. How far this would go without conflict over a second referendum or if there was some revival of Scottish Labour under an anti-austerity UK leader of course remains to be seen, but the tone is far more positive than before.

 

The challenge for us all will be that perennial one for the Left – of being willing and able to set party aside, to support broad policies as opposed to perfect ones and to see the paradox that the plainly modest and unassuming Corbyn indeed leads “Not A Man, But A Movement” as one over-enthusiastic internet meme declared.

It is also about being generous, imaginative and flexible. We have seen the founding of RISE this last month. And just as the last decade or so has witnessed a maelstrom of political change with new parties rising and old ones fading, the likely fissures in the Labour Party point to both threats and opportunities for the broad left. If the Corbyn phenomenon is the latest step in a long-term political realignment, the question we should be asking is what the next steps beyond are. Sticking rigidly to existing party silos would be to make the same fossilized error as the neoliberals.

No political party is forever – not even Labour which, as Will Self has pointed out, is now too much of a “broad church” to continue in its current form with any real meaning. Parties are simply vehicles for putting ideas into effect. They are not ends in themselves. If we want to transform our society, we need to be ready to work across boundaries, to form new electoral alliances and morph into new parties. Egos will have to be set aside and the collective future prioritised ruthlessly over individual pride and place. Only in this way will we have any hope of the new world we want, of a fairer society, of an economy based on sharing and sustainability and where the generations to come have futures to imagine and make real. The hundreds of thousands of newly engaged citizens will neither understand nor forgive us if we draw lines in the sand over which precise policy sub clauses to include in a programme or fall out over the selection process for joint candidates.

This is the challenge for the Left. Very soon we may have our best chance in a generation to make the change we need. With the global crises increasingly engulfing our world, it may also be our last chance to change in time. We must not fail.

 

 

Adrian Cruden

Blogger at Viridis Lumen, Green Party of England & Wales activist & former parliamentary candidate for Dewsbury.

Independence and how to get there - a short essay with a few ideas

What kind of Independent Scotland?

And how do we get it?

 

There's been some debate on social media recently as regards how to win over NO voters for the next independence referendum, how we should approach the currency question, should we be in Europe after the EU's treatment of Greece and so on.

I think it's important to remember that there will be many visions in people's heads about what an independent Scotland can or should be but that the direction we take can be determined democratically by all of us once we secure independence collectively.

There are some issues and ideas I would like to throw out there for discussion, however.

There are three issues the YES movement needs to do better on in order to win a YES vote and some we should be able to park until after a YES vote.

Let me deal with the three issues we need to do better on first.

Firstly, we need to reassure pensioners that their pensions will be safe.

Scaremongering on this issue by Labour and Better Together was effective, if utterly immoral and dishonest. I would propose that the Scottish Government sends an official letter outlining the facts to every pensioner and potential pensioner as an official guarantee of their pension; that it should contain a helpline number for people to report scaremongering and seek accurate information, and that this is backed by a campaign of billposters and newspaper adverts.

Secondly, we need to deal more effectively with the question of identity.

Like it or not some people see themselves as British as well as Scottish, or even primarily British. Many of these will vote against independence no matter how strong the case or how badly Westminster is actually treating them, but it will be necessary to win some of those votes over.

We need to say more loudly to people that their British cultural identity is not only NOT at risk from independence, but will be guaranteed in an independent Scotland's constitution as part of our national diversity. We need to repeat – again and again – that our movement is a democratic movement, not a national ethnic movement. That anyone who wants to consider themselves British cannot have that taken away from them because the British Isles is a geographical entity, not a political one. Just as someone from Denmark or Norway is Scandinavian despite those countries being independent, someone's Britishness doesn't change just because Scotland becomes independent. Posters in certain parts of the country emphasising these points and the right to continue to hold a UK/duel passport could chip away at the Brit identity vote, particularly if UK Labour continues to abandon traditional social democratic ground.

Thirdly, we need to have a firm position on the currency.

The option I would argue for is a Scottish Pound, backed by a newly created Scottish Central Bank and pegged to a basket of international currencies in the first instance. This could be the case for the first years of independence, with a review after 3 years and a guarantee that other options would be put to the Scottish people if certain key targets weren't met.

And talking of referenda.

Should we be in Europe or out of it?

Should we keep the Monarchy or become a modern democracy?

Should we be in NATO or out of it?

Should public ownership of key sectors like banking, energy, transport be written into our new constitution?

Across our broad movement there would be disagreement on all of those things. They would be contentious and potentially lose votes if written in, either way, to a second YES prospectus.

Yet these are key issues. I believe that the way to deal with those issues is to say that the Scottish people will have the final say on them in a second, multi-question referendum to take place three years AFTER Scotland becomes an independent country. That would allow plenty of time for people to debate the issues and for them to be well aired on both sides. In the course of the referendum itself it would allow all pro-independence parties to unite while different parties could put their own positions, and everyone could say: the Scottish people will decide on that ONCE we are independent.

What do you think about these modest – but potentially game changing – suggestions. Please let me know, either here on the thread or on our Facebook page.

Steve Arnott July 2015

A New Education System for a New Future

 

In order to shape for the future we need to start with the people who are the future. These people are school pupils. Secondary school is the place in which majority of us gain our first steps of independence from our parents, where most of us begin to learn the things which will help form our opinions and our lives. As a socialist, I want to see a fair society but in order to achieve a fair society we must look at every issue facing the country and I for one believe tackling the education issue is an important one that must be done sooner rather than later.

Current Situation

As it stands the education system is failing our young people every single day. Their futures hang in the balance due to societies failure to stand up and sort out the mess. Can we allow lives to be thrown on the scrapheap just because some never succeeded in passing tests made up by someone in a room somewhere when they were 16? No, we cannot. It is immoral and must be changed.

1st and 2nd year of Secondary School are used as teaser years as such. They are used to give pupils a taster of all subjects before they go onto choosing their subjects and sitting exams, in essence splitting Secondary School into two parts. Recently education in Scotland went under a slight change. The Curriculum of Excellence has scrapped the use of Intermediate and Standard Grade leading to Highers and replaced them with Nationals which then lead on to Highers. While Highers are one level, Nationals are of multiple levels (I.e National 4, National 5) which may be taken at different times depending on the ability of the pupil. Nationals have attempted to move away from the strict exam system that was in place under Intermediates and Standard Grades. While undertaking National 4, there is no end of year exam as there are tests throughout the year and graded on coursework. National 5 and Highers though are still concentrated around the final end of year exam. National 4 is a step forward though it is not nearly enough.

The end of year exam is futile as - rather than ability - it measures how well someone can remember information and spew it up onto a page. There is also the fact pupils understand that these final exams could be make or break for the rest of their lives which has adverse effects for many. Just as before though, there is a strict curriculum in which pupils must follow with coursework that rarely differs year-to-year. This is set up in order for them to "Learn" the information required for the final exam. The problem with this though is that there is very little room for creativity and pupils learn from textbooks rather than from entertaining ways and using their own initiative. It must be remembered, the blame cannot lay at the feet of teachers as they must try to get their pupils through the exams meaning uninspiring, strict coursework is the only method of doing so most of the time.

Pressure on teachers result in pressure on pupils. Since the formation of School Tables – Measuring how well a school is performing based on exam results – there has been more pressure put on teachers and pupils than ever before. It has not helped improve the education system at all. It has resulted in teachers feeling that they must try to get as many pupils to pass the exams as possible so that they look like they are succeeding in their job. Both Conservatives and Labour have touted the idea of performance related pay for teachers which will then just inflate the problem. It effects pupils as schools will not put pupils through the exam who may not pass as they want to get the highest pass percentage possible, meaning many pupils do not even get the chance to sit exams which are so important to their futures. The idea behind this is that schools compete against each other and so will inspire each to improve. First of all, schools which are located in areas of worst poverty tend to perform "Badly" despite the best efforts of teachers. We also know from experience that competition more often than not harms progress particularly in the public sector, look no further than the setting up of NHS Trusts.

There is a basic failure to understand the needs of pupils. Education is very much academic orientated. This has resulted in many pupils who are not great academically falling through the cracks and leaving school with little or no qualifications. There has been an attempt to combat this through the use of Vocational courses which result in pupils undertaking the courses in which they learn skills that can be applied to hands on jobs such as construction. While this is a positive step, it still fails to meet the needs of the pupils as they still rely on achieving good results in their exams. Employers even for apprenticeships such as joinery ask for a good Maths and English qualification even though the exam proves little of what skills the applicant may have in either of these subjects due to the nature of the exams. Pupils are being churned out to be obedient workers rather than knowledgable people ready to take on the world.

The Solution

"Each according to their ability, to each according to their need"

This quote from Marx is the perfect way to sum up how education should be based. In order to make the most out of education we must tailor it to pupils not tailor it to how "experts" believe it should be. Firstly, we must change the age pupils can leave school from 16 to 17. This will not only benefit pupils of having an extra year to mature and develop. It may also ease unemployment meaning that there are not so many people leaving school and going hunting for full-time work. The school years should also be increased from 6 years to 7. One of the reasons behind this is that many people leave school at the end of their time and still do not know what they would like to do career wise. It will not totally solve that problem but it will help. Secondary school holds the key to the future and we must ensure to act like it does. I believe that secondary school itself should be split into three parts; Junior, Academic and Vocational. There must also be a complete dumping of the School Tables.

The Junior years of school are compulsory for all beginning at 1st year and continuing until the end of 3rd year similar to that of the teaser years (1-2) currently. During these years pupils will undertake a range of subjects with the main aim being not only to educate in all areas useful in everyday life but also to help them develop their own ideas and use their own initiative and to be creative. It is very important that we bring creativity back into schools as it is through this that people come up with world changing ideas and where young people become individuals rather than an army of workers. Stimulating the minds of young people pays off rather than boring them in tedious lessons. If we make lessons more exciting for pupils then they will be more likely to engage in class which will be of massive benefit to those many pupils who find it hard to concentrate or are easily distracted in school. In the figure below you can see an example timetable made up which shows what an average school week may consist of between the years of 1-3.


The first thing you will notice is that the length of the school day is roughly the same as it is now in most schools but the difference is that each class last 2 hours. Having classes for 2 hours is the perfect way of engaging with pupils and having exciting lessons. Pupils will have the time and space to be creative and come up with their own ideas. During these years pupils will be graded although it will be through the use of small tests throughout the year and more importantly, on coursework. The idea that someone cannot remember a handful of quotes to analyse a poem they aren't even interested in during a 2 hour exam should make or break their future is ludicrous. Home Economics classes will help pupils learn about how it is like to take care of themselves and prepare them for the outside world rather than leaving school not knowing how to cook etc. Computing Skills are a vital part of the world today while it is important to learn of politics, ethics and the likes in both Modern Studies and RMPS. Creative Studies will be the class in which pupils can choose to do art, woodwork, music or other creative classes such as that. They will not be graded in this class as the idea of it is to let them free to express themselves and have a bit of fun while doing so. Maths at this early age should be concentrated around dealing with problems that you may run into during your everyday life such as wages etc. although Advanced Maths will also be a subject available to take after 3rd year but I will come to that later. Physical Education is important for every pupil, particularly with the obesity problem facing the population now so there should be 4 hours of PE per week. Having the ability to communicate in more than one Language is becoming all the more important so that too should be undertook compulsory. History and Geography are among the most valuable subjects someone can be knowledgable in and so both should be compulsory and looked into at great depth. Science will cover all the sciences and give pupils an insight into everything from Tesla and Ohms law to the human body and Zinc.

Once Junior years are completed there will be two options facing pupils. They can either choose to go down a more Academic path or a Vocational one. In these years you will choose subjects that you wish to undertake in more depth and that will be your speciality. The subjects will be very much as they are now which include things such as Biology, Physics and Chemistry - rather than just Science - Advanced Mathematics and many others. These subjects taken should have 2 exams per year with both together contributing to 30% of the pupils final grade with the rest made up from coursework. The subjects mentioned above would be taken by those going through the Academic Path although they are not totally limited to those pupils. Academic pupils will choose their subjects when they first start the pathway and it will take them 2 years to complete the subjects. After the 2 years they will have options available; to take more subjects that they wish to do and never did the previous 2 years, to take the subjects they have done previously but at a higher level if possible, to go to college and study for an entrance level certificate, to change over to Vocational 1-2.

If a pupil decides to do Vocational then they would have the ability to do the likes of Advanced Maths should they wish. There would be room in the timetable for this to ensure that they do not miss out on academic studies. They would also be encouraged to take academic classes that would compliment their Vocational Studies (They may look to be becoming a Civil Engineer in which Vocational along with Advanced Maths would suit them for example). During their time in Vocational the pupils would undertake a range of activities in the first 2 years such as construction, bricklaying, plumbing, forestry and other subjects. Every school would have good working links with their local colleges so that in the pupils final 2 years they would be able to have spells of doing beginner level certificates in specialised subjects at college (Civil Engineering, Welding etc) which would mean they would not need to leave school and have achieved good exam results to get into college. The schools should build up relations with local businesses so that during the final 2 years pupils could also do work experience with local tradesmen. Also, during these final 2 years they should be coming back to the school to continue with studies that will only be done within the school. Together this would see a three pronged approach in the final 2 years of the Vocational path which will give pupils a good knowledge and understanding of a trade etc. they may wish to make a career in. If desired, pupils could also move from Vocational to Academic once they have completed the first 2 years and although this would mean a wide ranging knowledge, it would mean that it would not be so in depth. This could help pupils who are still unsure of what they would like to do as a career path as it will leave more doors open when looking to go to college/university when they have finished school.

In the figure below you can see the pathways available to pupils

Schools have been under funded and mismanaged for too long. While to some this idea may seen far fetched and not possible, I believe that it is very much possible. It just takes time, effort and the confidence to make such change. We have failed to see change in the class room for so long because politicians are too scared in case a mess is made of it and they do not wish to direct more funds that they feel is necessary. You cannot put a price on the future and so we shouldn't try. Anything spent over what the current education budget currently is could be repaid double if it is done correctly and the pupils are given the chance to reach their full potential. Schools cannot be behind new trends. Classes must be created in order to meet the demands of new jobs and careers. Coding for example is fast becoming an important part of our world yet schools are still to have Coding and Programming as subjects to take in.

While not perfect, I have set out what I believe will give pupils more options and help mould them into the people that they want to be without putting needless obstacles their way. As someone who only left secondary school a few years ago, I have experienced first hand how the modern education system works and believe me, it does not work. There is much work needed though it is this basic idea which could hold the key to improving the lives of thousands which if works, will also improve the country in many, many more areas. One of my key arguements behind this is that keeping secondary school so academically orientated not only damages pupils but infact our society and economy. If pupils who are better with their hands than with their minds do not get the change to use them, we will have thousands of possible joiners, bricklayers, electricians, plumbers etc sitting either on their couches at home, a till in a shopping market or at a phone in a call centre. Lets open up the future. 

 

 

P.s Apologies for the figures above, my skills on Paint leave a lot to be desired!

Should socialists vote tactically for the SNP in May?

Tommy Sheridan makes an eloquent and impassioned argument for all YES voters to give/lend their vote to the SNP this May.

 

This post recently received 177, 000 views and nearly 1700 shares on our facebook page.

Do you agree, or disagree? Let us know what you think.

Carrying Ourselves Forward

In an important and thought provoking article for The Point Robin McAlpine attempts to frame the key questions everyone on the left has to answer if we are to carry forward the success of the YES grass roots campaign beyond the referendum
It is often believed that it is how you react to failure that defines your ability to succeed. It's the Nietzschian 'that which does not destroy me makes me stronger' idea of the truth of character being seen in adversity. In Scotland a parade of calamities from deindustrialisation to our football team has almost written this concept into our constitution. It's how you carry yourself when you lose that counts.
This is a big issue for left Scotland right now. Our losses over the last three decades have been innumerable and our responses (or how they are perceived) very varied. I actually think we responded to failing to prevent the Iraq war effectively, continuing to draw people's attention to those who should be blamed. I don't think many people would argue that that the UK left's response to austerity has been particularly impressive. No-one could find much merit in some of the domestic political feuds in Scottish left politics. But if nothing else, no-one could doubt our doggedness.
But this really is a loser mentality. It's not how you carry yourself in failure that counts, it's just plain-old how you carry yourself. At this moment in Scotland's history, the left is winning.

Eyes on the Prize - Building a new left for the post-referendum Scottish Parliament

Gary Fraser looks at Scotland after the referendum and where next for a ‘new’ Scottish Left?

 

 

 

I apologise for the cliché but this truly is an exciting time to be living in Scotland, and I say that as someone not typically prone to bouts of political excitement. Something is happening and unlike the character Mr Jones in Bob Dylan’s memorable song, we in Scotland know what it is – it is called the Yes campaign.

In less than a year, Yes has morphed from being a top down centralised campaign into the biggest grassroots popular movement Scotland has ever seen. Irvine Welsh, in a recent article, captures this well when he writes:

Something strange and beautiful is happening in Scotland. The country is reinventing itself from the inside out. People are talking about their futures as if they actually have them. It’s that exhilarating, intoxicating and occasionally exasperating phenomenon at work: welcome back participatory democracy. How these islands have missed you.

Radical Independence Declaration

The Radical Independence Declaration, in full. First read to the world by David Hayman, at the Radical Independence Conference, the Marriot Hotel Glasgow, 2013.

 

"A community, a society and a nation. An economy, an environment and a home. These are not objects that exist because they are measured and weighed and counted. They are not commodities. They are not someone's gift.

They are the footprints each of us leave. They are the sum total of our actions and our will. Scotland wills itself to be a better nation, one we rebuild with our own hands. Who then will tell us our will is not big enough? Who then will tell us our hands are not strong enough?

Must the hope of the Scots for a better Scotland be the hope of the beaten for a less painful defeat? Must the will of the Scots once again come second to greed and privilege? This despair has a name. Its name is NO. It is a despair that believes poverty inevitable and the decline of public service necessary. It is the cry of people who believe that wealth should belong to whoever has the sharpest claws. Our poverty, our decline, their wealth, their NO.

For 30 years we have waited for Britain's rulers to live up to our hopes. They either didn't notice or didn't care. But now they notice. Now they see the chance for working men and working women to take back a nation. Now they tremble at the thought that we might really do it. Because what drives NO forward is the fear of those who stand to lose their privilege. They fear that in a land beyond Westminster we will rediscover hope.

That hope has a name. Its name is YES.

It is a hope fashioned from knowledge. We know a better economy is possible because we have seen it in other nations. We know greater equality among citizens is possible because we have seen that in other nations. We know that ending poverty, reviving democracy and respecting our environment are possible because we have seen these things too.

And we know how to bring these things to Scotland. We must abandon 30 years of the politics of exploitation, the damning corrosive exploitation that makes a few rich from what the many lose. We must replace it with the politics of sharing, where we all gain from the riches of our land and the fruits of our labour.

It is a fine Scottish tradition to find what works, to find out how it works and to make it work better. For centuries Scotland's ingenuity has been a gift to the world. Now let be also a gift to ourselves. Let us gift ourselves an economy where we make and create. Let our creativity make working people prosperous. Let prosperous people sustain a great welfare state. Let that state end the fear that comes with insecurity. Let us gift ourselves that Scotland.

Look at the forces that stand behind NO. Look at the forces that stand behind YES. Choose your side.

Together we can raise up our heads and work for a Scotland yet to come, but visible already.

A Scotland of the Common Weal, of shared wealth and shared wellbeing.

Our Scotland. All of us first."

Visit radicalindependence.org

Never hate your enemies: it affects your judgement...

          

Gary Fraser reviews Unhitched -The Trial of Christopher Hitchens by Richard Seymour

 

Christopher Hitchens was one of the most talented writers of his generation and also one of the most provocative thinkers. He is a political thinker who is difficult to pin down politically – akin to trying to nail jelly to a wall. For some, like Salman Rushdie, he was a leftist, for others, like Unhitched author Richard Seymour, an apostate, who became a neo-conservative. For Richard Dawkins, Hitchens was too complex to be either left or right, whilst more mainstream commentators usually refer to Hitchens as an ‘iconoclast’, or in that ubiquitous term, a ‘public intellectual’. If we must to label people’s politics then perhaps we should go by how they define themselves, and to his dying day Christopher Hitchens, despite a decade of quarrel with the left continued to describe himself as a Marxist.

The Ragged Trousered Comic Book

“Poverty is not caused by men and women getting married; it's not caused by machinery; it's not caused by "over-production"; it's not caused by drink or laziness; and it's not caused by "over-population". It's caused by Private Monopoly. That is the present system. They have monopolized everything that it is possible to monopolize; they have got the whole earth, the minerals in the earth and the streams that water the earth. The only reason they have not monopolized the daylight and the air is that it is not possible to do it. If it were possible to construct huge gasometers and to draw together and compress within them the whole of the atmosphere, it would have been done long ago, and we should have been compelled to work for them in order to get money to buy air to breathe.”
 Robert Tressell (Noonan) – The Ragged The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists
It is doubtful if there has been a more influential book for socialists in Britain than The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. Published three years after the premature death of its author Robert Tressell (real name Noonan) the novel has been a source of inspiration for generations for those fighting against capitalism, poverty and injustice.