When The Facts Change … the British Election Plays Out


Tim Pendry

NB – This essay does not constitute an endorsement or condemnation by the Libertarian Alliance of any candidate in the present General Election. SIG

I am not sure I have been so detached from a General Election in my life. Others seem to feel the same – excepting committed left wing activists who are clearly highly energised, far more than conservatives who seem to be asleep and complacent, at least on social media.

Just under two weeks ago, it seemed simple. The issue was Brexit and that meant a simple decision – to go with a Government that promised to see it through against an Opposition that could not be trusted on the issue, perhaps despite itself. Two events have shifted opinion slightly though not yet decisively.
The first is the sheer energy of the beleagured Labour Party. While everyone else is complacent or whining about things already done, Corbyn’s campaign team has come out slugging in all directions on matters that are quite separate from Brexit and which should be matters of public debate regardless of our entrapment in the European political project.

This is still, frankly, mostly talking to the support base, reminding wobblers that the faith is strong but it does seem to have pushed Labour up to 30% and halted the Party’s decline even if the total package is not in place and still seems incoherent. Above all, Corbyn has raised issues of austerity, public services, poverty and peace and war that a complacent Conservative Party has thought to bury under the carpet.

The second was the intervention in The Sun of the pseudo-patrician Boris Johnson who managed, in one rather ridiculous attempt at populism, to alienate in a few hundred words many natural Labour voters who were prepared to give the Tories the benefit of the doubt on the basis of May’s promise of good governance in a time of crisis.

He reminded us that the Parliamentary Tory Right operated in a sub-Churchillian rhetorical world that talked down to the voter and still behaved in foreign policy matters as if the Crimean problem was no more than a re-run of Palmerston’s. May’s barely suppressed irritation at the intervention was no comfort because it reminded us that these fools on the Parliamentary Right would have a say on Brexit when the right message to get across was one of national unity in the face of a potential foreign threat – and I don’t mean Russia!

In fact, Johnson showed to his Leader a cynical disregard of the national interest in his own interest, not even the Party’s. A big majority for May allows her to dispose of him, a rather second rate politician who managed to ride the tide of history last year but who is really surplus to requirements. By making a bid for leadership of the populist Tory Right as last of the Etonians, Johnson was really trying to ensure that he remained a Big Beast in a post-Election reshuffle and was quite prepared to knock off 1-3% of May’s national unity vote to do so. I hope she sends him to the back benches for that act of occult disloyalty alone.

But why be so detached? This is certainly the most critical election in a very long time in terms of the national interest. Perhaps because it all appears to be absurd. Perhaps because the combatants seem not to be able to rise to the occasion for all their energy (Labour) or promise of stability (Tory). The Prime Minister mounted a sort of coup against a divided and useless Opposition which has not come to terms with the events of last year but seems incapable of ensuring that the Conservative Party conveys a national interest rather than a party interest argument for office.

The Labour Party itself is just not ready for office. It is deeply unstable and may end up being the lynch pin for a coalition that would include parties I really do not like. These parties will divert the people’s resources and the State into issues (green, petty nationalist and liberal) that are irrelevant to our primary concerns which are economic survival and some degree of cultural cohesion. Their presence in Government would be disastrous.

On the other hand, the Tories are about as trustworthy as the Blairites, which is tantamount to saying no more trustworthy than a rattlesnake, on a number of issues. As we have seen with Johnson and his circle of buffoons, they seem to have rapidly degenerated into the worst sort of tub-thumping militaristic foreign policy and to be utterly blind to the necessity for necessary sacrifices to be necessarily made in a fair way.

Labour does not seem to get our serious economic situation (which actually has nothing to do with Brexit and everything to do with the previous Labour Government and the last lack-lustre Coalition Government). Its policies to date are a mish-mash of crowd pleasers without coherence. The Tories certainly do not get that their policies are set to create social problems that will cost more to rectify than the savings they hope to make from austerity.

Both sides are out of touch still with the country and its needs. Corbyn and Starmer have trimmed once too often. May and Hammond have no finger on the national pulse but are hoping merely to ride the general fear of instability in difficult times. The tribal loyalists on all sides may be getting very excited but what we really want is competence and, of course, stability so I am sticking to three principles for the moment:-

1. What we need as a country is not partisan stupidity, whether it comes from excitable activists or Boris Johnson, but strong Government to see us through Brexit and out the other side. Anyone seeking to limit strong Government in the hope of reversing the vote on June 23rd is giving comfort to the enemy in a tough negotiation on which all our futures depend. When Article 50 was invoked, from that day on, the EU became ‘the other’, our opponent. Not being able to trust a possible progressive coalition to understand this – which is actually one of choosing treachery over patriotism (there is nothing shameful in patriotism in a crisis) – is a serious barrier to voting Labour on June 8th.

2. Once Brexit is out of the way, the Tories really will need to be removed but not by a ramshackle, squabbling bunch of competing and rather dim-witted egoists. The Blairites and Hard Remainers need to be isolated and contained, the Liberals, Greens and Petty Nationalists thrust into the dustbin of history and a serious hard-edged alternative to class-based Toryism needs to develop that can seize power by democratic means in 2022. This can either be a transformed Labour Party or a New Party of the Left (since UKIP is now an obscene and destructive joke) but it has to happen or the Tories will complacently be in power for over a decade, only to be replaced by some depressing abortion of the Centre-Left carrying on the Tories’ policies in muted form.

3. Theresa May and David Davis are tolerable as the caretakers in these difficult times but not so second raters like Johnson, Gove, Hammond and Fox. Moreover, even May should be tolerated only because of the need to see through Brexit. She should be challenged on her class-based politics, her Deep State militarism, her insistence on still being a poodle to Washington and the essential unfairness of her Government’s approach to what should be fairly shared burdens as we adjust to new conditions. She is no more to be trusted than the Labour Party apparat that would knife Jeremy Corbyn at the drop of a hat.

So what would be the best result, knowing that such a result is not in our power and that each of us is making fine judgements on local constituency politics? In my case, Johnson has obliged me to withdraw, as a matter of honour, my planned loaned vote to our very nice and competent liberal Remainer Tory who will loyally serve his Prime Minister. It does not yet have a home to go to.

Nationally, out of my control, the best result would be a sufficient majority for the Government to be able to stand up to both Tory Remainers and Hard Brexiters alike during the process of negotiation, so long as there are no compromises on national democratic self determination, but also a relative strengthening of the Labour Party against the Liberal Democrats, Greens and Petty Nationalists (not necessarily in terms of numbers of seats but in terms of an increase in the share of the vote from the low opinion polling levels of recent weeks).

It would be good to see the Liberals wiped out, the Greens and UKIP positioned as extra-parliamentary forces and nothing else and the Petty Nationalists reduced to minority status in their own territories. It would also be good to see the balance in the PLP shift towards the Left and Corbyn secured as Leader in order to undertake the two to three year programme required to democratise the Labour Party and change its culture, with new candidates systematically in place before 2022.

By all means, given its base, the Labour Party should challenge the Tory Government throughout the Brexit process in the interests of the vulnerable and workers but it should not be so foolish as to seek to overturn the result on June 23rd or give comfort to the enemy during the negotiations. Once Brexit is out of the way, the Labour Party can surely, by then, have earned our trust as a unified national democratic socialist alternative to the decadent posturing of the current Party of the State.

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15 comments

  • The author, Tim Pendry, seems to be in much the same situation with the Labour party as I was with the Tories back in 1987; the year before I discovered the ideas of liberty. I do like some of his sentences, though. “It would be good to see the Liberals wiped out, the Greens and UKIP positioned as extra-parliamentary forces and nothing else and the Petty Nationalists reduced to minority status in their own territories.” Yes, indeed; though Tim is far too kind to the greenies. And the Tories, and the Labourites.

    I have a confession to make. Though I’ve only voted for politicians three times, one of them (in 1983) was for Rhodes Boyson. To be fair to him, he was considerably less evil than the awful Labour woman opposing him in Brent North, where I lived at the time.

    But now I know better. I won’t make that mistake again. And nor should Tim. I’m really worried about the sanity of anyone that could feel felt attracted to Labour in the first place. For Labour, from the get go, was directed towards the interests of one particular sector of society – unskilled and semi-skilled industrial workers – at the expense of everyone else. And Tony Blair converted that into almost the opposite; promoting the interests of the politically rich and their cronies at the expense of everyone else. And guess what? The Tories followed suit.

    I won’t go on about what Blair and his cronies have done to me – that would fill a book. I’ll merely repeat what I said on another thread recently:

    None of the major parties is electable. Except, perhaps, UKIP. But UKIP have their own problems. The answer is not “more of the same.” It’s fresh thinking which is required. Is it not the function of the Libertarian Alliance to provide fresh thinking?

    I think Tim should perhaps try some fresh thinking.

  • As I said in reply to Sean’s election piece yesterday, the LA is not in the game of the two main practical political parties, Neil. It does attempt fresh thinking but it is not likely to abandon its aim to roll back the wasteful state for the benefit of one and all.

    Socialism is just a name for the Court party or the Tory party or for collectivism. But collectivism is dysfunctional for almost everyone.

    I would say to Tim Pendry that facts [qua facts] cannot change but things do. Thus with each day there are more facts for my autobiography but not one of the earlier facts ever change and nor will they even when I am dead and gone.

    Political Parties (1911) by Robert Michels explained democracy to me and why so many hate it. As an enthusiastic democrat, I had been puzzled by that fact before I read the Michels book back in 1970.

  • Tim Pendry: Your mates in ZaNu may be windmilling their arms like a pot of boiling spaghetti but only to fling absolute shite in all directions. Every mouthy demand from the EU undermines them. All political parties need the scrapheap but your “democratic” Labour pals are the scum of the Earth.

    And Johnson’s crapola is just that–verbal ordure. The pals of poli-pork such as yourself may hang on every word emerging from the gobs of political grandees. The vast majority of voters will never even have heard of the utterance.

  • The author of the piece seems to think that Labour’s mission is to protect the interests of workers and the “vulnerable”, whereas I would say that was only ever its formal purpose, and only had some substance until 1994 at the very latest. Since at least 1994, Labour’s real mission has been to promote a metropolitan leftist agenda, and there were pre-indicators of this as early as the Wilson governments of the late 60s. The Wilson years were ‘pre-Blairite’ in their own way, in that they involved the first attacks on labour rights (something that is now forgotten) and the first liberal social agenda enacted in government. I would argue that this was one of the consequences of neo-liberalism, which demolished Labour’s traditional working class base. This process really dates back to the 1960s, but Labour always has been essentially a middle-class political party. The people who are promoted within its ranks, especially those who work within the national party or become MPs, tend to be from middle-class backgrounds.

    • [Cont’d…]

      Twenty years ago, the grassroots of the Labour Party was still quite working class in industrial areas of the north of England, but I would think the Labour Party has now transformed sociologically just like the country has. Who wants to be seen as ‘working class’? Most of those who protest on labour issues are themselves quite middle-class, if only culturally. It’s a middle-class party, whereas what we need in this country is an independent working class movement that speaks for Britain both traditionally and socially. That brings me on to libertarianism. There is a syncretic libertarian tradition in England that embraces both the national interest and working class interests. I’m thinking in particular of the ‘liberal socialism’ of R. H. Tawney and E. H. Green.

      I accept Neil Lock’s sentiment that we need fresh thinking, but we also need to be realistic and pragmatic. Fresh thinking is all well and good, but speaking for myself, I am not an academic.
      What I really want is to discuss plausible and realistic ideas that can be put into action and that will appeal to ordinary working people. If ‘traditional English libertarianism’ can agree such a narrative and formulate such a plan, you may find yourselves with a winning formula.

      • Tom,

        My reply (more than 3,000 words) is on the latest thread.

  • The working class never existed, those called such never had any class economic interest, as Marx claimed there was. That is why they overlooked their common interest but Marx and Engels knew no more about it than they did. Their theories lacked any existential import.

    Green and Tawney need to be opposed, or what is still remembered of them do.

    • I disagree with you about that. I think it’s clear there is an objective, scientific basis to Marxism (which is not to imply doctrinal approval of it here, nor that I adopt a ‘Marxistic’ position necessarily) in that there are, to simplify, two main classes in society with different social relations to capital.

      However Tawney and Green were outside the neo-Marxist tradition within the labour movement, and instead belonged to a quite distinct tradition that connected democratic socialism to classical liberalism, stemming from J. S. Mill, believing that equality and liberty were not contradictory, but complementary and co-dependent. A revival of this ‘ethical socialism’ – harking back to politicians like Nye Bevan – was the intellectual basis of New Labour in its early days, with ideas for a stakeholder society, though Labour abandoned this train of thought more or less as the 1997 general election came into view.

      The problem with Bevan’s generation of course was that their ‘ethical socialism’ subsided into bureaucratic statism. Blair, likewise, lost track, partly for understandable political reasons (the need to win power in order to enact Labour policies), partly also due to just forgetting who they were there to represent, and partly out of a desire not to alienate trade unions. Had the Labour government of 1997-2001, and especially 2001-2005, not allowed mass immigration, then I would probably still be in the Labour Party today.

      I have always had more time for Tony Blair than most other people. I think a lot of the criticism is thoughtless and uninformed. I do sincerely believe that the Blair era is in need of an honest critical reappraisal that takes account of the above points and which highlights the cleave within New Labour between, on the one hand, the Blairites who favoured an ethical socialist approach that might have been conducive to libertarianism (even if it wasn’t libertarianism), and on the other hand, the Brownites who were very much statist socialists. In the end, as Neil Lock would probably observe, it was the ‘pull of statism’ and the temptation of big government solutions that demolished New Labour and its ‘progressive’ project as anything other than a flash in the pan proposition. Had they been braver, and had Blair followed his own political, social and moral instincts more, they could have built something special.

      But the general point is that democratic socialism can have a libertarian basis.

      • Thanks for your criticism, Tom.

        Peter Medawar once said there was natural science and unnatural or social science, the later that was largely bogus. That seems to be roughly right.

        Marx attempted to make out that what he called the proletariat was an economic interest group but clearly it never was. Marx’s idea of surplus value is very clearly a false assumption. History has nothing remotely like what he says is class struggle. Trade unions are anti-proletariat sectional organisations against the blacklegs and “scabs” to try to create a monopoly, as Robert Owen said in the 1830s. Marx’s reply to the Owenite, Weston, just ignores Owen’s case in the 1870s. Fools feel the unions are signs of the working class, but that is clearly false, and it never was other than clearly false, but it still is not obvious enough for people who will not even begin to think about the matter concerned, and Marx spoke like one such fool in his reply to Weston.

        I detest the despicable T.H. Green. Tawney is not much better.

        Capital is just savings and most of that is done by the masses who earn, thereby, a bit of interest at the banks. The entrepreneur may borrow some of that and then pay interest on it but he may earn a profit by providing wares that the customers buy. The workers earn wages or salaries and the landlords rent. All incomes but the entrepreneurs pose fixed costs for most projects. The profit is what remains out of the project’s funds.

        The so-called liberals, from the 1870s on, tended to be backward statists thus actually like old Tories. They were collectivist, or right wing.

        Mill did not deny that equality and liberty clashed.

        Got to go.
        TO BE CONTINUED.

        • (i). I can agree with Peter Medawar’s remark when it is considered in isolation, but it was really a narrow attack on induction written in the context of a debate over the validity of IQ. Medawar was endorsing Popperian methodology, and it is well-known what Popper thought about ‘scientific socialism’. Yet Popper’s own philosophical take on science is, I find, rather naive, and comes with all sorts of difficulties.

          The assertion that Marxism (socialism) is ‘scientific’ is based on the idea that Marxists seek to understand history scientifically rather than in light of metaphysical rationalisations. Marxism also has a metaphysical aspect to it, in that Marxists aim to make socialism a total philosophical position, so that at some point it ceases to be ‘socialism’ as such, and just becomes the accepted day-to-day social reality. Did capitalists call capitalism ‘capitalism’ before capitalism? Probably not when the idea was first being formulated, but today adherents of free market philosophy like to pretend that their ‘capitalist’ ideology is not an ideology at all, it’s just the natural state of affairs, to the point where capitalism is considered a branch of the sciences through the discipline of economics and various other disciplines that is influences. Those who question market systems – buying and selling, bartering, etc. – are considered not to live in the real world. Thus we see how nostrums of political economics can, given time, metamorphise into ‘science’, or at least, naturalism.

          Marx’s work has to be placed in some context. He was writing in late 19th. century England, at a time when ‘scientific method’ was in vogue. No doubt there was a motivation to give his ideas greater credibility by attaching them to ‘science’, but at the same time, Marx’s claim to scientific rigour had a specific purpose: it was an attempt to connect historical materialism (Engels’ term actually) with Darwin’s evolutionary theory, and therefore explain Man and history. This in turn was an application of Marx’s dialectical materialism (though Marx did not actually use this term either).

          Popper dismissed Marxian ‘science’ as ‘historicism’, by which he meant basically that Marx was just indulging in ex post facto rationalisations rather than falsifiable hypothesising. Of course, this critique goes to the root of Marxism, since Marx’s whole stall is that he is rejecting a priori rationalisation in favour of true empiricism. To help us assess the Popperian critique, we can apply to the purportedly scientific bit of Marxism – historical materialism (Engels’ terminology for Marx’s materialist conception of history) – the Einsteinian test that Popper himself endorsed, which can be expressed as follows: Does the effect described by the theory exist in Nature?

          In the case of historical materialism, the answer to that is an emphatic: ‘Yes’. It is compatible with Darwinian evolutionary theory. We can test and re-test history based on historical materialism and reach the same summative conclusions regardless of the facts selected. Let me explain that.
          Let’s assume we’re having a discussion about the causes of the Second World War. I’ll probably go on about the Versailles Treaty and how Germany was unfairly treated. Hitler was a rational actor who was just trying to revive his nation. The Germans were being picked on by the Poles and the Czechs in the East, and the French and the British in the West. There was also the threat of the Soviet Union, and so on. For your part, you might turn round and tell me that the real cause of the War was Hitler’s irrationalism. He was a nut case and a psychopath bent on world domination and had to be stopped at all costs. A Marxist listening in on this discussion might interrupt us and explain that we’re overlooking something important. All of our explanations for what happened can be reduced to one common factor: the class struggle.

          Capitalism itself, the Marxist goes on, is based on the conflict between economic interests. This conflict has been going on throughout history. War is not an accident or an unfortunate happenstance. It is the result of a conflict between different sections of the capitalist class over resources. These conflicts, both between capitalists, and also between capitalists and workers (and their ersatz iterations back into history) are what explain history itself and Man himself. This does not of course explain everything, nor does it necessarily subvert the explanations brought forth in our own discussion about the War, but it does provide a common factor, which can now be falsified: as should be the case with any scientific theory.

          Critics often attack Marxism on the basis of the absence or otherwise of ‘class struggle’ in history, but the existence of classes is evident throughout history: one group owns property, the other doesn’t (or doesn’t own significant property, as in the case of peasantry). Are we to believe that there is no struggle over resources, or that these classes have not emerged from such struggles?
          Even wars between nations can be seen as glorified property disputes. This seems to be a natural state of affairs, if you believe anti-Marxists, but Marxists would reject the naturalist explanation and argue that the class struggle can be ended if the working class can finally control the means of production. We can also consider the contemporary superficialities from which dialectical analysis springs: There is a working class (non-owners and notional owners) and there is a capitalist class (owners). There is conflict between the two major classes, just as there has been throughout history. Much of what Marx described is observable in the workings of capitalism today.

          Marxism is scientific. That doesn’t mean Marxism is true or explains everything, it’s just a theory that explains something: i.e. how and why societies change. I am not suggesting we should adopt it in some form. His theories are not perfect, and a Marxist position does not necessarily follow from a provisional acceptance of historical materialism. Marx never sought to explain why there are class divisions in society, which is a very significant question in its own right, the answer to which might overturn Marxism completely.

          (ii). Marx acknowledged the existence of entrepreneurs and small business owners and placed them in their own class.

  • I continue here on yesterday’s reply to Tom.

    Those called the working class do not have a different relationship to capital as workers. Capital comes from saving and most savers are also workers too. But important for Marx, there is no class of class interests. The class struggle is a myth. So are classes, as Marx had them in his writings.

    As Adam Smith saw, the price system does tend towards equality. But the facts since 1776 seem to show that deliberate political aims at equality, ironically, fail in that quest. And as an ideal, equality is well worth hating. So are men like Bevan. As politics flouts liberty, in being gratuitously coercive, so any political drive for equality does clash with social liberty, hence the fairly common idea that they clash that we can find in some college departments. But the market drive towards equality does not flout liberty.

    I think the problem with the Labourites as well as the Tories is that they both overlook that politics is intrinsically dysfunctional, being negative sum in all cases, as well as being immoral too. Politics and the state need to be rolled back, and taxation needs to be ended. Some socialists are more liberal than others. Although I did not realise it at the time, I was fairly liberal in my Marxist days and my criticism of Lenin and the Bolshevik-Nazis, or the Hitler-Stalin outlook in general, was on tacit liberal criteria. But the Labour-Tory outlook is not so much better; though certainly better nevertheless. Whilst we still have the state, social liberty remains a matter of degree.

    New Labour disappointed owing to its war-lust. It was a bit more liberal in being back to McDonald and away from Attlee [Bevin/Morrison] but war is the very opposite of free trade and liberty.

    It is not clear what you mean by Blair’s special aims, Tom. Democracy is proactively or gratuitously coercive towards other people. It, thereby, flouts liberty.

    • (i). I’m not an acolyte of Marx, I’m not even a Marxist, I’m just observing facts: namely, that some people own the means of production, the majority of people don’t, and then there is a third group in-between who own small businesses or who are in self-employment. It stands to reason that each of these broad groups will have class interests. Of course, this does not explain everything. Nobody is suggesting that it does, and described in this manner it is also a vast simplification of things.

      What makes historical materialism ‘scientific’ (or ‘social scientific’, if you want to be an epistemological materialist) is that material conditions (whether in the physical environment or in the mind itself) change and influence ideas irrespective of time or place. Thus historical materialism and its thesis statements can be observed and tested. For instance, class interests mentioned above (and their historical equivalents) exist independently of time, place, ethnicity, race, civilisation and geographical location, and thus independently of rationalisations.

      The ultra-materialist, who transcends Popper’s epistemological quibbling, would add that this ‘science’ is ‘social’ and a creation of the workers themselves. That’s essentially what ‘social science’ means in the proper sense: it’s our own (democratic) creation, the counterpoint of the elitist rationalisations just mentioned. Thus, ‘social science’ embraces the ‘natural sciences’ as well, since these are a social creation (which, by the way, is not to say they are relativistic).

      Judging from your comments here, I would say you fall firmly into the social science school yourself, but without realising it. You are arguing from a capitalist (bourgeois) epistemological case. In a sense, I am doing the same, but more naively, in that I am taking the ‘values’ at face in suggesting that I can make objective rationalisations and observations and speak of ‘classes’ and ‘class struggles’ without any inherent commitment to Marxism. In other words, I am speaking ‘scientifically’ in the Victorian tradition, as Marx intended Marx, remember, opined: “I am not a Marxist”: a statement of great significance.

      (ii). [quote]”As Adam Smith saw, the price system does tend towards equality.”[unquote]

      It is true that a close examination of Smith shows that, while he did not care about equality in any normative sense, his theory of value and price mechanism were based on a system of ‘designed equality’ that was meant to prevent wealth concentration and instead enable the widest possible wealth distribution. He did not believe in inequality, and regarded rentier practices and extremes of wealth as market distorting. However his view was that an unhindered price system would result in not equality (I think you’re wrong there), but in very little inequality. Smith was an interventionist and believed that in healthy capitalism, there would be strong labour rights, high wages and only a very tiny number of people would be ‘capitalist’ in the strict sense, and even they would be living off relatively small profits.

      (iii). “As politics flouts liberty, in being gratuitously coercive, so any political drive for equality does clash with social liberty, hence the fairly common idea that they clash that we can find in some college departments. But the market drive towards equality does not flout liberty.”[unquote]

      But what is liberty? I think the point is normative and situational and hinges on what you define it as. In a vastly unequal society, a rich man is theoretically free and a poor man may or may not be, depending on how and why he chooses to be poor. If the poor man is employed by the rich man, then he is certainly less free because he is dependent on somebody else for a living. He is not his own master, and he most likely has to buy the products he and other workers produce. But what of the peasant, who is poor but controls his own means of living? Surely he is freer than the worker (and even the millionaire, whose worries and burdens he does not share).

      What I am getting at is that I would define ‘freedom’ in Marxian terms: freedom is the control of one’s own means of living. Given the choice, I would sooner be the peasant than the worker. The worker may be able to travel and enjoy other things, and may be able to afford better education and healthcare, but the peasant has a healthier and less worrisome life in the first place. The peasant is free, the worker is shackled (albeit that the worker receives certain superficial compensations). Even the millionaire’s life doesn’t look all that attractive on closer inspection: he has pressures and worries that the peasant doesn’t have.

      In communism, we would not live in a world of peasants, but in a world of co-operators. Thus, communism takes the above insight one step further practically and abolishes the ‘pressures and worries’ of the millionaire, removes the shackles from the worker, and makes them as free as the peasant, putting everybody in a position where they have to co-operate. Everybody is free (at least in principle) as the means of living no longer have to be fought over, but are provisionally accessible to all (provided the co-operation continues).

      Turning back to your post, the phrasing “gratuitously coercive” seems to imply you accept that some coercion is necessary if an economy is to be soundly run. If so, I agree. I think Adam Smith was correct on this point. The market, if run within a sound framework, cannot achieve equality but can achieve greatly less inequality than would otherwise be the case if Man were left to his brutish and primitive nature. Thus, government and politics are necessary, ergo a degree of coercion is necessary that manages or ameliorates human drives such as leadership/follower tendencies, tribalism and group-based interests (what Smith called ‘special interests’), and the innate drives that strongly influence human social behaviour: such as sex, hunger, love, hate, compassion, territoriality, and so on.

      As for Marxism, to what extent communism would involve coercion and the politicisation of decision-making is unclear. No doubt there would be elected assemblies needed to take some production decisions on a large-scale, but it seems inevitable to me that most production activity under such a system would be self-directed and take place on a small-scale and would be community-based or domestic. A Marxian economy would work in a similar way to a Smithian one, in that it would be anarchic, but unlike in Smith’s model, there would be no price signals, instead people would decide what to produce based on what is needed and what productive activity co-producers are willing to engage in and economic calculations would reflect this.

      What are the implications for freedom in such a system? I defined freedom earlier as control of the means of living. In the system described, each individual would have the opportunity to control his own means of living, if he wished. However it is not as simple as that. Clearly this would be a anarchistic society, as there would be no state, but it would not be pure anarchy. There would have to be a degree of customary compulsion and maybe enforceable ‘laws’ to ensure compliance and sanctions for those who did not engage in co-operative behaviour, which does present a problem. On the other hand, there would be nothing to hinder or hold back the talented and able, who would be able to pursue their own interests.

      The moral calculus of all this would be based on the dictum: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”. I do not see that as anything objectionable. I probably have some skills that you lack, so I’ll help you in those areas. You might have some skills that I lack, so you help me in those. Capitalism works in the same way, but based on a different mechanism and has a different underlying moral philosophy. Marxists as I understand it do not argue for equality of outcome among human beings, only for equality in theoretical access to resources. Even in a democracy of resources, there would be unequal outcomes because some people, having greater needs, would take more than others. ‘Needs’ in this sense are not necessarily axiomatic of ability or capacity. I might need more plumbing services next month, whereas you might need more bananas. The objective is efficient resource allocation. Thus, the aim of Marxists is not equality per se, but a sounder (and some would say, fairer – though the morality of it is beside the point) system for the distribution of resources, echoing Adam Smith but taking the opposite view about the underlying moral economy needed. Marxism is just a critique of capitalism on the grounds of economic efficiency. Just like with Adam Smith, there is a moral dimension involved, but it is not per se a moral system.

      (iv). [quote]”It is not clear what you mean by Blair’s special aims, Tom. Democracy is proactively or gratuitously coercive towards other people. It, thereby, flouts liberty.”[unquote]

      As a general point, I think you’d struggle to devise a decision-making system that isn’t based on coercion to some degree. As to what Tony Blair actually believed, I was simply making the point that his socialism had its roots in the ethical socialism derived from classical liberalism. I’m not clear why you find that difficult to understand. It doesn’t follow that Tony Blair or other socialists are pristine liberals, but I never said they are.

  • Thanks for your fresh reply, Tom.

    Medawar seemed to mean that experiments and testing works way worse in what is called social science.

    Induction is not logic and, not even once, was it ever truly or validly used. It is a fallacy or invalid logic every time some fool feels he has used it. It is just a stupid and ignorant idea that never can relate to reality. It is like trying to divide by zero in elementary arithmetic. It is a supposed algorithm that never could work. So there is no viable excuse for it.

    I doubt if you have a good case against Popper on science, Tom. But he was a bit weak on Marx, and his few good critical points seemed to be well hidden in a fashionable and rather conforming eulogy of Marx. And Popper thought that immoral and dysfunctional politics was, basically, all right. It is not all right at all. It is the main problem with the world today, as ever. It needs pushing back then it needs getting rid of; entirely.

    History is not a science, as Popper argues quite well. Science is about general laws but history is a particular set of events that rules out experiment, and clear testing too.

    Popper erred in his use of the term “metaphysics”. Testing does not rule out metaphysics; which is just the study of what there is. Maybe “non-testable” might have done but it looks a bit odd. “Unscientific” looks better as a label for his demarcation between what is scientific and what is not.

    I am sceptical of this epoch before capitalism; and also of sociological epoch theory in general. Thus I think ideas like “revolution” are quite mythical and the idea leads to no end of silly claptrap being written in books on history and on social science.

    I do not often call the market or money system capitalist. So your question of whether the savers [i.e. the capitalists] called capitalism before capitalism seems not too clear to me, Tom. I repeat that most savers are also workers. There is no clash of economic interest on that basis.

    As ideology means a false paradigm, or set of ideas, as Marx had it in his 1845 book, written with Engels, why should any ideologue think he had an ideology, but if you just mean a set of ideas, whether they are true or false, then maybe they might accept the term, Tom. But we get an equivocation between the two all too often in discussion and in many books too. When I say ideology I usually mean the non-Marxist meaning.

    The idea that there is no alternative to the market for the mass urban society seems to be quite true. The economic calculation argument [eca] ended me as a Marxist back in 1974. It holds there is no alternative to money in the mass urban society. [see D.R. Steele _From Marx to Mises (1991)]. I later joined the LA that seemed to have the solution to war and to mass unemployment that Marxism promised.

    Is economics a science? Political Correctness [PC] distorts any science, and it is phenomenal how many just conform to it, but the social sciences are corrupt by PC to a greater extent than the natural sciences are but the Greens seem to have moved PC into natural science too, but economics tends to do a bit better than the other social sciences. But economics is not free of conforming to PC claptrap. It was very silly on the late USSR and it still is even after the fall of that state.

    Popper’s idea was not that the ideas of Marxism could not be tested but rather that the Marxists did not want to accept the clear results.

    Those who question the market system are very silly. It is like questioning whether we should still use the sun in the future. But their criticism is, nevertheless, still welcome by the LA. Do they want to face the replies? Popper thought not, but a few of them will. I did.

    Marx was clearly wrong in 1867. He was also wrong before then, of course. But he got a few things right. He correctly said that the market was anarchic. He also got inflation roughly right. He is much netter than the average socialist. He would never accept the daft Leninist theory of imperialism, for example. That could never fit the bogus theory of surplus value but were way more stupid anyway, if nearer to current common sense and easier for fools to comprehend.

    Marx was miles away from Darwin, Tom, which is that we are all individuals. Marx remained an Aristotelian that went on about species being. Darwin effectively refuted the idea of species i.e. of uniform populations.

    I hold that there has never ever been any common irrationalism. It is a mere myth. See Ray Percival’s _The Myth of the Closed Mind (2012).

    How do you imagine the class struggle relates to the 1939 war?

    On the unrealistic Marxist meme, the state is the Executive Committee of the bourgeois class so why should there ever be any war on that idea? The “capitalists” [Marx conflated landlords, savers, entrepreneurs, and even politicians, under that inept label] know they can do it cheaper by normal than by war and Marx openly holds that they normally favour the market process of buying and selling. That is the grand liberal solution to war: free trade crowds war out as uneconomic. See _The Great Illusion (1910) Norman Angell.

    Marxist theory of surplus value is clearly false. So are all of his main ideas. So he explained exactly nothing whatsoever, Tom.

    Are you truly saying the workers have no property? Do they rent their shoes, for example? Do they ever own any food?

    I say people do not form economic interest groups relating to the factors of production and it was very silly of Marx to assume they ever did; not just false but very stupid.

    Yes, people sometimes fall out over resources. But never in a Marxist class way.

    But war is an end rather than a means for the perverse state. And the perverse state is a pleonasm. So war cannot, realistically, be seen as being over scarce resources. Instead it is a political collective but wasteful and perverse consumer good! War is an end in itself!

    No, no one has ever seen any Marxist class struggle. The backward E.P. Thompson wrote over 900 pages in his _The Making of the English Working Class (1963) without giving us even one clear example of this supposed universal class struggle.

    Politics is warmongering as it is gratuitous coercion that should expect a reactive retort. War is the acme of state activity.

    Marx had the rather stupid idea that wage bargaining showed an opposition of class interests, as we always get haggling, or bargaining, between buyers and sellers, but the haggling he saw, which is zero sum, is a mere pocket within the overall positive sum trade where both sides gain, ipso facto. So Marx’s sole example was, ironically, a counter example that refutes his very silly but main idea. Thus Marx was utterly incoherent. Marxists simply do not think about the theory. Matching it to Leninism, as fools have attempted to do since 1917 involves even more absurdities. Nothing like it could ever be seen in the actual world.

    Marxism never was scientific. It never correctly explained anything. Marxism was overthrown, completely, way before 1900. See the critical books of the editor of the later volumes of Capital, Eduard Bernstein.

    Marx conflated what he took as the upper classes, as I have already said above.

    • (i). [quote]”Medawar seemed to mean that experiments and testing works way worse in what is called social science.”[/quote]

      Yes, but Medawar was attacking a narrow sub-discipline of social science as an indicator of broader malpractice: specifically the use of random empirical facts to support generalised conclusions. I think his criticism of IQ science’s inductive methodology is valid, but in fairness, I am not sure if it was a general attack on induction and in support of Popper’s hypothetico-deductive method.

      Anyway, I am unclear on the relevance of this to Marxism. If Medawar really was saying that social science is methodologically inferior to natural science (and I’m not at all sure he meant that), then he was both ignorant and wrong, but Marx’s theorising was not (or not purely) founded on induction. Aren’t you confusing induction with empiricism?

      (ii). I don’t really follow what you are saying about induction. Induction seems to me inescapably intuitive. It arose due to the practical impossibility of deductive certainty in reality, and given this limitation, the need for some kind of probabilistic reasoning. Whether induction is valid (or useful) depends on whether the reasoning is weak or strong in the particular case.

      (iii). I didn’t say or imply that history is a science. I stated that historical materialism – a particular way of understanding social change – is scientific.

      (iv). Regarding questioning the market system, would you concede the point that the market system has not always existed in human societies, and that being the case, it is possible for society to be organised without a market system?

      (v). I didn’t say that Marx and Darwin would agree on anything about politics or philosophy, but the point is that Darwinian evolution provides the naturalistic foundation of historical materialism. I would go as far as to say that Marxism is Social Darwinist.

      (vi).[quote] “How do you imagine the class struggle relates to the 1939 war?” [/quote]

      I’ve already explained this in summary form in my previous post.

      (vii). [quote] “Marxist theory of surplus value is clearly false. So are all of his main ideas. So he explained exactly nothing whatsoever, Tom.” [unquote]

      If it’s false, then explain (briefly) how capitalists make profits.

      (viii). [quote] “Are you truly saying the workers have no property? Do they rent their shoes, for example? Do they ever own any food?” [/unquote]

      I didn’t say workers have no property or possessions. Workers have no capital or significant property from which they draw income, as capitalists do.

      (ix). [quote] “So war cannot, realistically, be seen as being over scarce resources. Instead it is a political collective but wasteful and perverse consumer good! War is an end in itself!” [/quote]

      Do you accept the economic problem exists or not? If you do, then how do you explain war? If you are saying that war is fought for the sake of it, that is not an explanation. It may be true on its face, but it doesn’t tell us what causes war. It would be like saying that somebody reads French poetry for the enjoyment of it. That is indubitably true, but why do they enjoy it? The point is that a scientific analysis gets to the root of problem. At the moment, you’re giving us the surface explanations. “People go to war because war is an end in itself!”, you tell us. I’m sure that’s true, but I want to know why.

      (x). [quote] “Marx had the rather stupid idea that wage bargaining showed an opposition of class interests, as we always get haggling, or bargaining, between buyers and sellers, but the haggling he saw, which is zero sum, is a mere pocket within the overall positive sum trade where both sides gain, ipso facto. So Marx’s sole example was, ironically, a counter example that refutes his very silly but main idea. Thus Marx was utterly incoherent. Marxists simply do not think about the theory.” [/unquote]

      You assume that buyers and sellers of labour are equally placed in negotiations over pay and conditions. We can observe generally that this is not the case and that there is conflict. We then have to ask why and what the implications are. Marx’s explanations for this generally reflect reality in most parts of the economy: which is that the economic interest of the capitalist is normally (but not always) to minimise pay and the economic interest of the worker is normally (but again, not necessarily in all cases) to maximise his pay. These are competing interests, which present a conflict. The conflict arises due to the different economic positions of capitalist and worker, each forming a class of interests that are expressive in society, especially in politics. One class exploits another (not necessarily particularly, but as a whole).

      • Thanks for your fresh reply, Tom.

        I think Medawar meant that what is called social science is usually not science at all. Thus sociology was founded by Comte as a religion, and it looks like one today; ditto psychology, etc. It is just the creed of political correctness [PC]. There, maybe, could be such sciences but Popper expected most of them not to be concerned with facts but only with their PC dogmas. So Marx might have tested his ideas but, in fact, he generally never did do so. That was Popper’s criticism in the 1940s. He is not right in all cases, for, as he admits, the Marxist can check up on his ideas.

        There is no induction or any methodology relating to it just as there is no proletariat as an economic interest group. Those are just false ideas. We cannot attack what does not exist, so there is no attack on induction.

        Popper also held there was no epistemological support, or justification, of ideas. A true statement constitutes only an hypothesis. That is as far as we can get; it is like the Ph.D. in college degrees, the top one. We might refute a thesis but can never use a mere hypothesis to support it. Similarly, a valid argument is no means of support, as it, too, can only be hypothetical. So we have an unending quest for the truth in science. Nothing can ever be quite settled. We need to keep testing.

        So the hypothetico-deductive method lacks any means of support. Evidence tends to refute rather than to ever support any idea.

        Well, Medawar said, and meant, that science is not going to be ever very common in what we call the social sciences. We can expect them to be more like a religion, with unrealistic dogmas, such as the working class. No, he was not both ignorant and wrong on unnatural science, Tom. He was quite right.

        Nothing can be founded on induction, just like nothing is ever done by fairies or goblins. There is no induction, and there never was. Ditto the working class. No, I am not conflating induction with empirical checking, or observation, as the latter is very common and so it does exist. But the results of observation remain hypothetical and a mere hypothesis cannot justify any thesis.

        There is nothing foolproof about deduction, as any child who repeatedly gets his maths wrong at school, and there are all too many of them, can tell you. But deduction it is logic and induction never was.

        Odd how many feel about the myth of induction as you do, Tom, but not the masses, for they have never heard of induction. What you call induction is just an assumption i.e. we all just assume ideas and later we test them. It is, roughly, hypothetico-deductive method. But we ought to test hem better than we do.

        Induction is a non-starter, thus it cannot be strong or even weak.

        What is scientific about historical materialism?

        It is not possible for the modern mass urban society to exists free of money. In the past, humans may have not had money in some very primitive society, but Marx was on about the mass urban society. He thought communism might emerge but it had exactly no chance.

        No, Marx was an Aristotelian and it was Aristotle that Darwin refuted. Herbert Spencer was also an individualist but Marx was keen on the refuted idea of species; species beings. Benjamin Kidd was more like Marx and Social “Darwinism” was collectivist too but it was a misnomer for Darwinism is that we are all individuals and that no population is completely uniform, or of equals.

        No, you did not try to explain how class struggle relates to war. Do you, truly, imagine that you did, Tom?

        I told you why the bourgeois state [as Marx supposed it was] would never go to war. But the state is not as Marx imagined it; and his idea of class is simply silly.

        Profit does not begin to relate to employing people, does it? Marx is so very unrealistic with his idea of surplus value. His account is not one whit germane to profits.

        Profit is the return to entrepreneurship thus the entrepreneur things the customers will buy this or that. He sets up a firm, or joins one, to make the ware he thinks will sell. He is in competition with all the rival firms for custom of the public. He has costs like wages, rent, interest payments to savers and if the ware sells well enough there will be some profit from sales after he has paid all his costs. So profits flow from serving the customers.

        Profit is zero sum, as it is from competition with other firms. It is not a big part of the economy and there is way more money in wages than ever there might be in profits but the backward account of Marx assumes that there is as much profit as there are wages viz. about half the working day but the working day is miles away from actual profit. It is from sales not from work.

        Workers often do have capital or savings. They often get more income from, say, owning their own house than they do from work.

        War is uneconomic, wasteful. It is paid for by taxation. But you, for no clear reason, feel it relates to the economic problem! I have faced that problem since I left school but I have never been to war. So why do you feel they are related, Tom?

        I am saying that the state causes war and taxes to pay for it. The state is proactively coercive and thus risks a reaction. When states meet there is a risk of war. War gives the state prestige or glory, if the war is won, but shame if ever a state should lose. War is intrinsic to politics.

        I do not say people go to war, though they sometimes do.

        Why do we tolerate the state going to wasteful war? Well, most of us do not realise that the aim of the state is war. And most people [falsely] think we must have a state.

        No, I do not think any traders are equally placed. Nor do I think a level playing field is desirable in any way. It is just irrelevant. We gain by trade, however unequal we are.

        I fully explained to you, last time, why haggling was an example of overall common, or mutual, interests rather than of a clash of interests. You kindly cited it back to me, Tom, but you still want to say the haggling is indeed an example conflicting interests! You suggest it might not be so if it was between equals but that seems beside the point. Haggling is a counter example rather than an example, as I said last time, Tom. You are still thinking completely unrealistically as far as I can see. And politics does not relate to any of the wage bargaining anyway. Politics and the state taxes to waste money and to use it to mess society up with. The solution is anarcho-liberalism.

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