China, Mao and the markets

At a time of intensifying economic and geopolitical rivalry between the United States and China, HANNAH SELL reviews a book that stresses the role of the Communist Party-controlled state in China’s economy.

Mao and Markets: The Communist Roots of Chinese Enterprise

By Christopher Marquis and Kunyun Qiao

Published by Yale University Press, 2023, £20

Mao and Markets is an attempt to educate the US capitalist class about the peculiar character of China and to appeal to it to find a way to “productively live with it”. On one level it is an odd read because it attempts to ‘objectively’ explain Maoism in the past and today, and the role of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), without having any real grasp of the historical processes, above all of the class forces at play. Nonetheless, it contains a lot of interesting information about China today, including on the attitudes of different sections of the Chinese capitalist class.

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Marx and Engels: The role of the unions

One year on, the current strike wave shows no sign of abating. Striking workers have shown enormous resilience in fighting to defend their living standards and working conditions, often challenging the low expectations of their union leaders. At the same time, Keir Starmer’s Labour has nailed its colours to the capitalists’ mast, against the interests of strikers and the working class in general. At this crucial time, as part of the debate about how to strengthen trade union organisation and working-class political representation, we reprint an edited article by PETER TAAFFE which first appeared in Socialism Today, issue No.98, February 2006, in which he reviewed a book on Marx and Engels and the trade unions, with very relevant lessons for the struggle today.

Marx and Engels on the Trade Unions

Edited by Kenneth Lapides

Published by International Publishers (New York)

This book is essential reading for all those who wish to understand the role of the trade unions and the tasks of socialists within them. Although first published in 1987, containing the works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels on this issue, it has great contemporary relevance.

Written in the nineteenth century, inevitably parts of the book are dated. However, in the main, the freshness with which Marx and Engels approach the real movement of the working class is evident. What has not dated is the method of analysis of these two great socialist teachers, their almost unerring ability to put their finger on the pulse of the working-class movement at each stage, not just in Britain but internationally.

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Money, markets and capitalist madness

Government spending, budget deficits and public debt hangs over political discussion in the UK – from Gordon Brown’s ‘fiscal prudence’, the Con-Dems’ austerity drive, through Theresa May accusing Jeremy Corbyn of wanting a ‘magic money tree’, to public sector workers being told by both Starmer’s Labour and the Tories today that there’s not enough money available to give them a living pay increase. NICK HART reviews a recent contribution to the debate.

Follow the Money: How Much Does Britain Cost?

By Paul Johnson

Published by Abacus, 2023, £25

To pull back the curtain on how the UK government raises and spends its money, Paul Johnson has written Follow The Money. A former government economist, Johnson has for the last 12 years been director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies think tank (IFS).

Founded by a quartet of City money men to lobby post-facto against the introduction of Corporation and Capital Gains tax on businesses and wealthy individuals in the late 1960s, the IFS today describes its mission as “guiding politicians and civil servants in implementing effective economic policies”.

In reality, it plays a dual role. As well as carrying out academic research, through its appearance in the opinion pages of newspapers and provision of talking heads to news channels, think tanks such as the IFS provide cover for the broad approach of capitalist politicians in managing public finances – even if they might sometimes speak out against current policies or advocate for reforms.

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Where now for Scottish independence?

The recent, and unfinished, crisis in the Scottish National Party raises questions about the future prospects for Scottish independence. PHILIP STOTT from Socialist Party Scotland (CWI Scotland) analyses current events and looks at where the independence movement is going.

Almost a decade after the working-class uprising that was the 2014 Scottish independence referendum – an event that shook the British capitalist class to the core – the prospects for a second indyref seem very remote.

Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation as leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) and the crisis that has engulfed the party have given an enormous boost to the strategists of capitalism desperately seeking to avoid the break-up of the UK. Falling poll ratings for the SNP have quickly followed, also reflecting how their record on cuts to public services and pro-capitalist policies generally have undermined support among their core working-class base.

Scotland’s leading historian Tom Devine, who voted Yes in 2014, said recently: “Given recent events, I would honestly have to say that the cause of independence is virtually dead for at least a generation”. SNP president Mike Russell has described the catastrophe as the worst crisis the party has faced in 50 years. While SNP MP Pete Wishart bluntly stated: “The referendum route to independence is now dead”. Wishart’s comment reflects the long-standing disorientation and confusion among leading nationalists over how to overcome the resistance of British capitalism to Scottish independence.

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From Windrush to hostile environment

Seventy-five years on from the arrival of the Windrush ship from Jamaica, HUGO PIERRE, a Black male members rep on the Unison trade union national executive council (writing in a personal capacity), traces the experiences and struggles of Black workers in Britain.

The docking of the Empire Windrush at Tilbury in June 1948 is considered the beginning of modern immigration from the former colonies into the UK, particularly of Black workers from the West Indies. To disguise their role in fomenting racism and discrimination, both historically and more recently, the Tories have pushed the limits of hypocrisy, putting up £750,000 to fund Windrush celebrations around the country. Split on many issues, including on immigration, the Tories are on the one hand desperately signalling ‘national unity’ celebrations while at the same time extending the scope of the ‘hostile environment’ for migrants.

Historically the ruling capitalist class in Britain largely created its wealth because of the enormous exploitation of its colonies. The massive profits from the slave trade prior to the 1775-1783 American War of Independence turned small fishing villages like Liverpool and Bristol into major cities. And the importation of goods such as cotton created the development of industry in Manchester and cities in Yorkshire.

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Is India the next China?

While the US economy is still the most powerful in the world, its dominance is being challenged in a rapidly shifting multipolar world, with China an economic force. With India’s population now surpassing that of China, some commentators have suggested that India could be the next global superpower. CWI International Secretariat member TU SENAN contributes to the debate.

The US is attempting to enforce various measures to counter the perceived ‘threat’ from China, but it faces obstacles as the interests of different economic blocs compete with each other. Despite US efforts to revive archaic agreements and institutions established during and after world war two, when the US dominated the capitalist world, there is no full agreement with Europe, for example.

All countries in the Asia-Pacific region are subject to sharpening geopolitical tensions. One aspect of these developments is the increased importance of India, which has seen significant growth in recent years, as a counterbalance to Chinese influence in the region and the world.

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Don’t just get angry – get organised

At a time of increasing turmoil in the US and globally, Bernie Sanders has produced a devastating critique of capitalism, argues PETER TAAFFE. But unfortunately, not with a clear path to a real socialist and democratic alternative.

It’s OK to Be Angry About Capitalism

By Bernie Sanders

Published by Allen Lane, 2023, £22

This book is a devastating critique of American capitalism in all its shocking detail. Virtually every page teems with facts and figures indicting US and world capitalism. Bernie Sanders lays the groundwork for the reader to draw socialist and revolutionary conclusions. He explains that over the last fifty years we have seen public policies that benefit the very rich at the expense of everyone else. He warns that the American working class, indeed the world working class, has paid a heavy price already, and will face a terrible future if the millions of working-class people do not rise to put an end to this system.

He bluntly states: “They say the older you get the more conservative you become. Well, that’s not me. The older I get, the angrier I become about the uber-capitalist system under which we live, and the more I want to see transformational change in our country”.

At the same time, he outlines a vision of what could be a socialist future: “We can finally end austerity economics and achieve the long-sought human dream of providing a decent standard of living for all. In the 21st century we can end the vicious dog-eat-dog economy in which the vast majority struggle to survive, while a handful of billionaires have more wealth than they could spend in a thousand lifetimes”.

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Identity, class and the struggle for LGBTQ+ liberation

As a contribution to Pride month, SARAH SACHS-ELDRIDGE reviews a book that raises interesting points about identity and class.

Bad Gays: A Homosexual History

By Huw Lemmey and Ben Miller

Verso, 2022, £16

In the introduction to Bad Gays: A Homosexual History, Huw Lemmey and Ben Miller set out their ambitious aim to investigate “the failure of homosexuality as an identity and a political project”. The book, formed of a series of historical pen portraits, is based on the writers’ podcast of the same name, and is a somewhat dizzying eclectic rush through the lives of their selected protagonists.

Lemmey and Miller say explicitly in the introduction that their approach is story-telling not scholarly. Nonetheless their book offers a wealth of interesting facts and wide-ranging references, many of which can help point to the need for class politics, without necessarily joining all the dots. By examining the development of the ‘homosexual identity’, through repression and struggle, Bad Gays provides food for thought in the ongoing important debate about identity politics and the struggle for liberation from oppression.

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The brutal class logic of austerity

The age of austerity is clearly not over as capitalist politicians of all persuasions compete to manage economic crisis in the interest of the capitalist class. PAUL KERSHAW reviews a book that places economic austerity in its historical and political context.

The Capital Order: How Economists Invented Austerity and Paved the Way for Fascism

By Clara E Mattei

Published by the University of Chicago Press, 2022

There were 335,000 deaths in the UK attributable to government austerity policies between 2012 and 2019 according to a recent Glasgow University study. Austerity policies were supposed to result in improved growth and reduced debt. In fact, by 2019 public debt was higher than in 2012. That was before the pandemic, and debt has of course risen further since then. The growth rate in 2019 was identical to 2011 at 1.5% – so no transformation in growth. Despite the terrible pain inflicted by austerity it has plainly not achieved its declared goals.

Nevertheless, the Tories continue with the programme. Although the Starmer and the Labour leadership shy away from using the actual word, they are also using the arguments of austerity to justify scaling back spending commitments. For example, dropping their commitment to free higher education.

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Corbyn, the left and the fight for a new mass workers’ party

After the Labour Party national executive committee voted 22-12 to ban Jeremy Corbyn from standing as a Labour candidate in the next general election, HANNAH SELL looks at the fight for a new mass workers’ party and contrasts the approach of the Socialist Party with others on the left.

The rise and now the dramatic fall of Jeremy Corbyn within the Labour Party opens up a qualitatively new terrain. Discussions on how the workers’ movement can have a political voice are set to intensify.

This is not a new debate. It has ebbed and flowed, in different forms, ever since Tony Blair began the process of transforming the Labour Party into ‘New Labour’ over 30 years ago. In 2004 the Fire Brigades Union disaffiliated from Labour, following its national strike against a pay offer overseen by Tony Blair’s New Labour government. Also in 2004 the Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) workers’ union, whose predecessor union was central to Labour’s foundation, was summarily expelled by the Labour Party executive for the ‘crime’ of some of its branches backing non-Labour socialist candidates.

Nonetheless, despite huge discontent, the majority of trade unions maintained their Labour affiliation throughout the Blair years, and no new mass trade-union based party came into existence then or afterwards. This is used by some as an argument that the trade unions’ relationship with Labour is immutable and unchangeable. But this is negated by reality. Substantial and rapid shifts have taken place over recent decades, and much greater changes are likely in the coming years. The ground is being prepared for a new political upsurge, which the lessons of the last period could potentially lift onto a higher level than Corbynism.

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