Labour is “alarmed at Covid-19 laws being passed without vote”. And so they bloody well should be – the potential for abusing the draconian powers now passed into law is immense.
There are those who say covid-19 is overegged. Some left libertarians call it a fat lie, aimed at (a) further inroads into civil liberties, (b) shifting further the balance of class forces in capital’s favour, and/or (c) shifting blame for a new financial crisis that was coming anyway.
I disagree. I deem the threat real and potentially terrible. But as I argued in my post of three days ago – Covid-19: Capitalism on trial – it also shows up, as never before in my sixty-seven years on earth, the madness of capitalism. To all who love life in its vast and ineffable beauty, capitalism is the dark star, antithesis of everything we hold dear.
I sketched out my reasoning in that post so won’t repeat it here. This post is about the pathetic response so far of a British Labour Party which, like its social democrat counterparts across the Western World, lives and breathes the air of amelioration and appeasement.
The problem – and this has nothing to do with the fat cats in top hats of socialist caricature but the scientifically observable nature of capitalism – is that its own laws of motion do not allow for amelioration or appeasement. Not on any lasting basis.
To think otherwise is to misread the nature of the beast. Hence Labour’s continuing to fail and betray, as it has for a century failed and betrayed. In the game of damage limitation, and in many cases personal advancement too, it long ago fled the arena of ideas. Now its challenge is confined to a dispute over who can claim superior stewardship of ‘the economy’.
But unless you’re new here, you’ve heard me say all this before, whether in this frightening new context or in respect of other aspects – war, peace and the environment, say – of capitalism’s life-negating insanity. You’ve also seen me urge a vote for Corbyn last year, even as I also noted the inadequacy – a necessary but insufficient condition, as scientists would say – of so doing.
If you were on a think tank tasked with dreaming up the most toxic way of organising social relations to create wealth, you couldn’t do better than the one we have: a system premised on a tiny few owning the means of production, in a context where said production cannot – I repeat, cannot – take place unless that tiny few will profit. This is off-the-wall crazy but we’re now so used to it that it seems a law of physics; that we may as well seek to reverse the pull of gravity, or issue a directive that as of tomorrow the sun is to rise in the west.
This failure of imagination has Labour immobilised, a rabbit frozen in the headlights. At a time when it should be shouting from the rooftops about the global inadequacy of capitalism to deal with the multi-dimensional threat of covid-19, it bleats about BoJo’s railroading. Well of course he’ll railroad! Of course he’ll play fast and loose with hard won liberties. That’s his job: to fight with every fibre of his being, under a veneer of democracy and in the name of “The Will of The Country”, the class he truly represents. Duh!
So what would Labour do now, if it were truly for the many rather than the few? Yes, it would fight tooth and nail over the balance of freedom and expedience – if you like over “me versus we” – but in a context of explicit recognition that “we” are not “in this together”. Rather, “we” are the British wing of a world divided by class: by whether our material needs are met by returns on capital invested, or by selling the only thing we have to sell. Our labour power.
But that’s not all. This imaginary Labour would also extract concession after concession from our rulers, not haggle over details of the ‘temporary socialism’ even BoJo will now offer. Rather, it – backed by the unions and using all available media – would go on the offensive: presenting demands unthinkable at any other time.
For starters it should demand the following, lifted from a recent post by Richard Murphy – up there with Bill Mitchell as a guru of modern monetary theory (MMT). I don’t know that I’m a MMT man. I’ve had a Mitchell book on my kindle for a year but never got round to reading it.
MMT or not though, Murphy’s demands as set out yesterday are to my liking. On which note I’ll hand over to him. Don’t be put off by the seemingly tame early demands. They get better …
1) Cancel all tax payments to government. There is no time for finessing who should, and should not, have a tax payment holiday;
2) Cancel all mandatory payments to pension funds: right now they are low priority;
3) Freeze required repayment of bank loans, mortgages, leases, credit card charges and similar. Guarantee funding to banks to ensure their survival, but on condition they are nationalised immediately without compensation. Every bank is now, in any case, effectively insolvent;
4) Cancel all rent obligations for the foreseeable future and let landlords claim benefits of the same type as the self-employed;
5) Nationalise all utilities (electricity, gas, water) and cancel all charges for now. In this one case the government should make good the lost revenues, but they will now be under state ownership;
6) Introduce food rationing, first by limiting the amount any consumer can buy, and thereafter in an organised fashion through store loyalty cards, extending these to locations that do not use them at present;
7) Guarantee payment of 50% of regular net wages to all employees of a company (since rents, mortgages and utility charges are no longer due), and authorise all companies to make these payments and make a claim from the government for the cost. If settling the obligation threatens financial liquidity (with significant penalties for false claims) grant funding should be created to keep basic systems going;
8) Set up a universal basic income equivalent to the national minimum wage for all self-employed people and landlords, with severe penalties for false or multiple claims;
9) Guarantee payment of all pensions whatever the liquidity of their funds;
10) Put price controls in place to prevent racketeering: I explained how here;
11) Create a programme of quantitative easing to create the money required to deliver this programme. There is no limit to the amount of money the government can create in this way and it will not cause any economic harm to do so when the alternative is catastrophe. I explain this here.
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