Democratisation – a Game They Say We Can All Play!

The crisis continues and capital introduces new ways to impose its counter measures

Yes the crisis of capital continues, in some ways slowed but continuing to exert itself first in one way and then another. There is plenty of evidence for this. Basic steel production and its demise has just cost several thousand jobs in the UK. Just as the Chinese premier visited to progress new deals over things such as nuclear power, the figures emerged about recent Chinese steel production – essentially throwing it away via ridiculously cheap exports as the world crisis continues, thus destroying the already weak industry in Europe and beyond. It has also only been vaguely mentioned in the press and wider media that major companies are being given a massive tax break to ease their profitability. At the same time junior doctors are facing worsening working conditions alongside the rest of the NHS workforce and working families have new depths of poverty facing them via tax credit cuts.

The new tactic being employed to divert attention and to shovel blame onto others that is being worked on relates to those new catchphrases – “northern powerhouses” and “new metropolitan areas”. The Government is looking to create new metropolitan areas and/or processes of 'democratisation' via new bodies organised in one way or another. It has been said that the deals have already been done in a number of areas – Manchester-ish, Cornwall, South Yorkshire-ish. The details, though, have not been fully thought out and written down in a final draft. Conferences are taking place allowing local and national politicians to discuss these matters with various 'experts' – business, politics, services etc. Studies are being undertaken by academics utilising members of the public, consultants, officials, the media, politicians and others 'of some standing'. Out of all of this central government hopes to be able to build the beginnings of a groundswell of positive opinion about such changes and also to find the best ways to implement new ways of passing the buck (such as it is, even though seriously devalued).

The setting

Capital is doing what it can to find its way out of its inevitable and ongoing crisis. The UK is no different to that worldwide situation. Just as we are greeted by news concerning new problems with the actions of multinationals in various parts of the world as they attempt to screw better profits out of the generation of raw materials – be they minerals, metals, food products and more. Similarly wage rates are under severe pressure wherever you look. In that this country is no different.

In the UK we have seen a generalised attack on real wage levels and employment overall. The government has done this via the encouragement of the expansion of zero hours contracts, a generalised movement towards self-employment, thus placing the burdens of care of workers on the workers themselves and the use of workfare. In this latter instance we have seen large retail outfits such as B&M either sack or cut the hours of long-standing employees replacing them with people on benefits forced to work for no wage whatsoever, without any extra benefits thus cutting the wage bill of the company and so giving them a greater opportunity to ramp up profits. Similarly there are a large number of so-called charities doing exactly the same. While they rely upon gifts and donations from the public they force people to work for them for no true wage, leaving the 'charity' able to pay its higher ranks ridiculous salaries and then pass on next to nothing to the proposed recipients of the charity's services etc.

For the Tories they have a slightly different problem as well. Their major allies are very often financiers, the denizens of the City, attempting to profit through plying this country and generally the world with financial products of one sort or another, sometimes dealing in property, the media (for example, Murdoch, also a close friend of Blair, and now in a heated battle to have the BBC dismembered and replaced essentially by Sky). Hence the neat fit recently with the abandonment of basic steel production in the UK in effect to the Chinese dragon. For the Tories such industrial production, mainly financed now by corporations outside of the UK, was a mere detail. It may provide employment for many, directly or indirectly, but it was an easy sacrifice to make so that other business could be done with the Chinese.

Then we must also mention the gradual dismemberment of the welfare state . There is still going to be increased pressure placed upon workers, particularly in those positions so beloved of the Tories – the low paid. Osborne desperately wants to hack away at any and all aspects of the budget so that it will be far easier for him to slide in a whole series of tax breaks for the Tory allies in big business and finance. He is hoping to add more and more of those able to get free passes from corporate taxation or reduce it to a level that is insignificant. Billions in tax cuts are being mentioned. To do this he is looking to slash working tax credits – one of the only means some families have to make ends meet or to come close to it and then manage something of a stable life in terms of the basics – food, rent, power, clothing etc. Similarly the NHS is under further attack as are those with health problems. The UN is looking at further investigations of IDS and the treatment of the sick and disabled and their benefits, believing them potentially (hah!) to be abusive and discriminatory. Hospitals and health provision in all aspects and areas is threatened with further changes and cuts. More involvement of private healthcare operations is being pushed through one way or another. Cameron's hope is to the UK turn back clocks to pre-welfare state times, where those with money could afford suitable and proper care leaving all others to the precarities of a system endlessly teetering on the edge of the cliff of despair. If all of this to be done by central government then Cameron and the rest of his creatures of Westminster are likely to face growing backlash similar or hopefully worse than that suffered by Thatcher. Therefore they are looking at any and all means at their disposal to pass changes of whatever forms they finally take onto the general population, particularly workers, those on benefits and those with diminished abilities (sick, disabled etc.).

Proposals from above

We are now being treated gradually to a series of proposals from Westminster concerning changes to local government. One possibility is to create large metropolitan areas in various parts of the country and give them not just figurehead mayors, a la Boris, but to give them a range of powers backed by all sorts of decision-making authorities elected to a greater or lesser extent. In other words we would be treated to a local politics of celebrity characters backed by generally hidden bodies and all of the soap-opera and cartoon-ish antics that go with it . Other possibilities seem to include a series of unelected imposed bodies feeding into new partially elected local councils. In other words we would have business based central government friendly quangos having a direct influence on decisions made or providing at the very least the foundations or frameworks in which such bodies would generally operate. Then we also have the possibility for larger local government areas, one that is well underway is a Greater Manchester metropolitan area with or without a super-mayor (clown or otherwise). Other areas envisaged include either one centred on Sheffield/South Yorkshire or wider in various ways – including West Yorkshire, perhaps parts of North Derbyshire etc. or perhaps Yorkshire as a whole.

The aim of central government is to pass on major areas of policy implementation to those areas. Along with this could go certain amounts of finance raising capacity but probably with serious conditions attached but not necessarily obvious to the general public. In all of this there are likely to be major qualifying conditions and restrictions. Given underlying conditions placed upon the whole agreement if the new bodies do not manage to hit certain targets and achieve certain of central government's aims, thus making central government look good, then there will be penalties of one sort or another imposed. There has been talk of new funding being made available, what is not said is that this is absolutely conditional, if x is not done then such funding would be withdrawn. The x in question is not something the new bodies would have any real choice over either – these are obviously going to be key features needed within the general plan of Cameron and his allies so they can achieve their grand design. The areas of operation of these new bodies would include roads, public transport, workfare, city planning, skills training implementation, housing, employment, certain areas of trade, business support, and more – the major area completely rejected by all those with whom this has been discussed is health – because it is obviously radioactive as an issue.

Firstly_, almost all the money on offer for the City Region is dependent on the delivery by them of Central Government policies. Whether that is in terms of new housing targets, Economic development or the implementation of the 'Welfare to Work' programmes._

Secondly_, many of the budgets being made the responsibility of the City Region are those likely to suffer significant cuts going forward. The new powers over business rates will phase out any redistributive element, potentially hitting the poorest towns and districts hardest._

Thirdly_, we the public have had no say in this so called 'devolution' plan yet. Whether we want a Mayor or not, it will not be our choice. The change is being done to us rather than by us. It is also a deal that can be taken away at the next change of government, or the next change of party political whim by the current one._

Nigel Slack

In all of this what we are seeing is a series of vague and faint promises and inducements given to certain people and groups so that central government can impose a whole raft of new policies on areas of the country and point the blame at others where things are problematic and cause hardship. All of this is not only sleight of hand it is typically underhand. It would be local government imposing harsh 'indentured labour' on claimants via workfare. It would be local government raising finance for government projects via new taxing of local people so that government allies can profit from what is set up. Sitting neatly behind most of this are LEP's – local business groups, unelected and hidden committees of business interests – neatly in bed with various local interests, elected or not.

In fact, entwining state structures with the need of capitalist corporations is very central to these proposals. Alongside the channelling of "public funds" through the new City Regions there is also the push to further reduce the feeble restrictions offered by existing Planning Law. The combined effect will be to ensure that huge chunks of state (UK and EU) funding continues to flow to the private housebuilding companies, those companies who make vast profits from infrastructure and redevelopment and the endless armies of consulting, accounting and "facilities management" firms.

Only bits and pieces of this have been agreed so far – all without proper scrutiny of those it will affect. The waters are being tested via consultants, vaguely advertised conferences, focus groups and academic projects. Eventually, some variant is very likely to be craftily imposed after the "consultations" with selected groups has been completed.

The shuffling of the democratic layers and structures is part of the "smoke and mirrors" to mystify the real dynamics and decision making within capitalism. Certainly this round of changes is aimed at ensuring that Central Government can share the blame for austerity with the local tiers of Councils, Mayors, City Regions et al. Equally surely the waxing and waning of various elements of the local state structures will in no way defend workers in any way, shape or form. The more such things change, the more they stay the same!


Friday, November 20, 2015


This is a highly informative article. What, to me, seems particularly notable is the way in which, within capitalism in the UK, there is a struggle for power between centralised and local powers. But would the same sort of strruggles also occur during and after a revolution ? How would a plethora of workers' councils co-ordinate to effectively impose workers' power without some sort of state, assuming that a capitalist state has been overthrown ? You might be interested to read from the second paragraph on page 7 of a heavyweight 2015 hardback new biography of Stalin, by Khlevniuk, published by Yale. I have only looked at it in a bookshop, so am not necessily advocating the whole book, but regard it as forming part of an ongoing wish to determine just what could and should be done from now on. If the only way to get rid of the dictatorship of capital is to construct a proletarian dictatorship, to what extent is a range of options available ?

In my understanding, workers' councils aren't seperate individual organs which must somehow on their own figure out how to co-ordinate with each other. They are, by nature, a centralized system. Councils"co-ordinate" by sending delegates to form a "higher" council. For example, a particular city will have a council, this council will send a delegate to a regional council composed of delegates from all the cities in its jurisdiction, (this regional council will send a delegate to a higher council, possibly a national one, composed of delegates from all the regional councils in its jurisdiction, and the national council will send a delegate to an international council). This system of workers' councils as a whole is a state: it is the apparatus used by the working class to exercise its dictatorship. This is not the same kind of "state" that we are used to seeing though.

I have always had to make long explanations to explain why and how this state will "wither away", why it will look so radically different from other states, etc. I have noticed myself really drifting towards using the ICT's terminology, "proletarian semi-state", just for ease of discussion (so I don't have to get into dialectics and such explaining why I use the term "state" each time I am trying to give a quick summary of my politics to some liberal who's freaking out because they heard I was a communist, and also so I can avoid the painful discussion that follows anytime I accidentally use the term "workers' state").

The reason for the special attention being paid to the labelling of "state" to the apparatus which is the the centralized system of workers' councils is that its very functions undermine the conditions which lead to its existence as a "state" in the first place. The very things which the workers' councils are meant to do undermine their "state"-ness. Hence why ICT uses the term "proletarian semi-state" (I think).

As far as the "range of options" go, I think it really depends on the circumstances.

The other thing though, (watch as I lose any progress I've made here, this is the part where I lose a lot of people, especially some of the more anarchist-y types [those who reject it simply because its "authoritarian"]) I think one of the roles of the party is to intervene in the councils if the councils fail to establish a revolutionary communist program. While I agree for the most part with the Luxemburg-esque criticisms (the working class can't be deceived into seizing power, forced to establish its own dictatorship, etc.), but I do think that the job of the most class conscious minority, the communist party, is to steer the working class towards the correct policies, and that there are situations where the party must take some control of the situation to ensure this is the case. This doesn't necessarily mean a substitutionist dictatorship of the party, but the most class conscious can't simply sit there with their thumbs up their ass if the councils decide that a government full of SR's (albeit a some of them Left SR's), Kadets, and a few Mensheviks should be the ones running the show.

I would be interested as to what ICT has to say about it though.

Q This is a debated issue but you have expressed the nearest to the ICT overall mainstream position. There are no easy answers as your thoughtful post makes clear. One key element has to lie in the genesis of workers' class wide bodies (we'll call them councils in deference to the historically discovered bodies by the class in the last revolutioanry wave). we expect these to arise out of the centralisation of strike committees, residents' struggle committees etc. Obviously the revolutionary minority is inthem via its individual members and even accepts delegation by the wider class movement to higher bodies. And we agree with you that there will be a pyrimidal structure (this causes anrchist to accuse us of seeing new hierarchies but if the delegates are permanently tecallable we don't see this as a valid objection). We need to have some way of all feeding into a system which administrates a global economy for sustainability of the planet and for the decent existence of all people even those in the most geographcally challenging places. The problem though is the statist task of the supporession of the world wide bourgeoisie. For us the armed workers' councils are the only body which are capable of carrying this out and also of being transformed in the process from being "semi-statist" bodies into the administrators of a stateless and classless society once the bourgeoisie now longer exerts its sway. As socialism/communism is an entirely new mode of production which depends on the activity (and not passive acquiesence) of the mass of humanity it can only be built by the mass of the class and not by the party/revolutioanry minority. However it would indeed be a very strange set of affairs if the most class conscious did not take a practical lead in this, Communist ideas will be taken up way beyond the existing "vanguard" and the party will not be in power as such. In our pamphlet on class consciousness we say that the Party as a body plays no part in administering any geographical area. Its task is international and internationalist - to spread the revolution. The party's executive bodies remain outside any structure of the class-wide organs (this was the lesson of Nov 1917 when Sovnarkom was imposed on top of the Soviet structure rather than letting the Vtsik or Soviet Executive elected by the Congress play the leading role. This will not solve all the problems. What if a certain area soviet elects communist by then demands they carry out a policy which runs counter to the spread of world revolution? Any party member delegated would either have to remain with the internationalist policy (and the Party) and resign their mandate or if they chose to go with the demands of those delegating them would have to resign from the Party. If party members had to pass into opposition in a workers council in a particular area it would not be the end of the revolution - they would have to carry on fighting for internationalist policies in order to regain the initiative. The outcome will be decided by where the overall movement is going. If counter-revolution is winning there are no organisational gurantees that can halt it. The struggle for socialism/communism would not be as neat as any schematic treatment (like this one!) makes out but something like this will be part of real struggle for a new society which we cannot ignore. I don't know if this answers your question but you are certainly in the same general area on this as ourselves.

You mention 'armed workers councils'. At pressent in the UK, as distinct from the USA, it is most unusual for workers to possess and/or have access to arms and any training and experience in the use of them, except, of course for those who have been in the armed forces. So how do you envisage any practicalities of workers coming into possession of weapons ? Also, do you think that a worsening situation for the working class would sufficiently boost class consciousness for workers to turn to weaponry ? If so, would workers overall need to have far more weapons than those retained by the bourgeosie and its supporters, to be able to out-gun them ? If ICT are not pacifists, then these questions seem to need to be addressed.

Fair question but the answer has to based on assumptions we cannot readily confirm (i.e we are guessing). We assume that a real class conscious movement will be so massive involving a mass strike that it will actually force the the state to either back down quickly in the hope of recuperating it later or initially carry out atrocities which will then force the military to ask itself what is doing. Even a professional army is made up of youg workers who signed up to fight abroad not at home (and the Territorials which were prepared for that role during the Cold War seem now to have been absorbed into the external forces i.e they sent them to Iraq and Afghanistan). Dealing with a mass movemetn at home is when the question of class kicks in for the rank and file soldier. If some go over to the movement we have our arms (but you can see why the British bourgeoisie got rid of National Service (did you do it?) - training workers and giving them guns has never been their idea of a good way to keep control. And you can use a Navy to threaten whole cities without the sailors having the slightest contact with the population (cf Churchill 1911 Liverpool). But we don't know in what conditions these things will take place hence we are in the realm of hypothesis (but based on past experience to guide our approximations).

Cleishbotham, many thanks for your response of 2015-11-25 12:13, which provides much food for thought. As you asked, I did alternative National Service, almost all of it on a busy casualty dept in central London, holding down drunk infested down-and-outs, laying up dead bodies etc. We had a superstition that B.I.Ds came in threes, thus get one, expect two more, of course that would depend on when you started counting ! That hospital has closed down long ago and been replaced by another one, where its casualty dept has been under threat. I dread to imagine the chaos which would result if a major disaster were to take place in central London, if A&E tends to be available outside the central area, with roads blocked by traffic jams and so on. I am not trained to shoot down workers nor class enemies, but respect the bravery of forces which liberated nazi death camps. In the latest news of the shooting down of a Russian bomber there have been press reports of a potential world war. One website argues that that can only be averted by world revolution. However, as that still seems remote, maybe the imperialists should be provided with explanations that by wiping out millions of customers and making material resources radioactive, their problem wouldn't be one of overproduction, but nonproduction, devoid of opportunities for profit, with all their lush playgrounds turned to rubble.

"...with all their lush playgrounds turned to rubble." Nice post T 34!

Thank you, Charlie !