Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Is He a Leninist? (2015)

The Cooking the Books Column from the September 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

On a visit to Singapore last month the Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, opined: 'Europe can’t protect itself and preserve its standard of living and social structure if it has to absorb millions of Africans’ (Times, 10 August). Is this true and, if it is, what would be the implications?
Apart from betraying an obvious race prejudice (why just pick on Africans?), he seemed to be saying that if millions migrated to Europe from outside this would have a detrimental effect on living standards by driving wages down.
This assumes that the migrants actually find jobs, but no employer is going to employ them unless they produce more than their keep which can be pocketed as profit and, if migrants do this, they will be contributing to more wealth being produced. This would have some effect on the wages of the low-paid jobs they would be doing but the wages and standard of living of workers generally would be unaffected.
Also, Europe has an ageing population and so capitalism here will need millions of workers to fill the gap as older workers retire. But Hammond is a politician not an economist and his concern is not losing the xenophobic vote to UKIP.
Suppose, for a moment, that he was correct and that the standard of living in Europe did depend on keeping out people from Asia and Africa, what would that mean?
That there’s a conflict of interest between people from different parts of the world, that the people in Europe should unite to defend themselves against ‘swarms’ and ‘millions’ from outside. Which is what Oswald Mosley’s post-war Union Movement preached and what Anders Breivik raved on about. It would also mean that people in Asia and Africa should unite against the people of Europe. In short, it would be a justification – and recipe – for race war.
It would also lend some credence to the Leninist theory of imperialism, particularly in its Maoist form. To try to explain why a majority of workers in Western Europe did not rally to the Bolsheviks after they seized power in 1917 he came up with the idea that the workers in the ‘imperialist’ countries had been bribed into supporting capitalism by being given a share of the proceeds of the imperialist exploitation of the rest of the world. Mao took this a stage further by changing the slogan at the end of the Communist Manifesto to ‘Oppressed peoples of the world, unite’.
Which also implies a conflict of interest between workers in different parts of the world.
This theory was wrong. Workers in the developed capitalist countries got (and get) paid higher wages because the value of their labour-power was higher than that of workers in the other parts of the world. In fact because their productivity was higher too they were robbed of a higher proportion of what they produced, even though workers in less developed countries suffered (suffer) much lower wages and much worse conditions of employment.
So, is Hammond a Leninist? Not really, as he’s not saying that the standard of living of people in Europe depends on exploiting people in Asia and Africa, though his view could be interpreted as implying that employers in Europe are paying workers a higher wage than they would otherwise have to. But no, he is just a racist, and judging by his singling out of Africans not even a pretend one out to steal UKIP votes.

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