Friday, May 1, 2015

Left Right, Left Right (2015)

Book Review from the April 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

'The Ideology of Fascism and the Far Right in Britain', by Mark Hayes. Red Quill Books. 2014

Here, Mark Hayes examines the ideological basis of fascism in Britain, seeking to learn the lessons of how it arises and how to combat it. There is much detailed discussion about the key defining categories of fascism and its variants, the genesis of fascism in the UK, and how political activists and academics alike have sought to interpret it.

Written from a particular leftist perspective the book attacks the Trotskyists who have often used ‘anti-fascism’ as a means for recruitment, and Hayes argues that anti-fascist campaigns have often been shorn of their class element, rarely addressing the underlying concerns of those who might be attracted towards fascism in the first place. In many respects he has a point here of course and there is plenty to like about this book as it takes a genuinely serious, in-depth look at the issues. However, there are deficiencies here too and they tend to stem from the same particular source. In one section, he argues that the mass murder carried out in Russia by the brutal Stalinist regime was somehow clearly and qualitatively different to that carried out by the Nazis:
‘Death was often a by-product of malevolent mistreatment in the former, while it was the inevitable consequence of the latter’s inexorable, ideologically motivated desire to eliminate whole categories of people in the name of Aryan supremacy’ (p.368).
This won’t do. Not only because a great many of the deaths in the Holocaust were caused by brutal treatment in forced labour camps just as they were in Stalinist Russia, but also because Stalinism did indeed attempt to eradicate entire categories of people, mainly its ideological and political opponents. There is nothing to be gained by such sophistry – each brutal regime killed people on a mass scale, both in a calculated fashion and as a product of general neglect and mistreatment.

Hayes also claims that the attempts to link the regimes using the concept of ‘totalitarianism’ was a politically-motivated product of  the Cold War, seeking to discredit one by association with the other, and ignoring ‘some remarkable social advances’ by the so-called  Communist regimes. In what appears to be a partial apology for repression in Soviet Russia he claims the ‘case for an identity between communist and fascist systems is very weak. Much as it might offend assiduously cultivated liberal sensitivities, it is entirely legitimate and indeed desirable to distinguish between a forced or necessary repression and a voluntary or inherent coercion’ (p.367).

It is this sort of attempted defence of the Stalinist regimes – half-hearted in some ways but noticeable enough – which undermines the credibility of the other arguments put forward here. Indeed, in line with the Communist Party’s views before the Russian regime did a deal with Hitler and signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in 1939, the main argument appears to be that ‘active resistance’ to fascists is the only way forward, implying physical force. As such, Hayes claims that for years anti-fascists have been ‘far too preoccupied with the idea of free speech and the idea that fascism should be exposed to the penetrating light of democratic debate in the hope that sensible, rational people will see through the lies and half-truths of fascist discourse’ (p.438). While he doesn’t entirely dismiss democratic and educational activities, it is odd indeed to think that this has somehow been the dominant approach on the radical left. On the contrary, most leftist organisations have long argued for ‘no platform’ for the fascists and have spent much of their time plotting to disrupt their meetings and block their marches.

In truth, few in Britain and most other advanced economies have been attracted to fascist ideas in recent decades – even the now riven BNP was a hardcore of fascists that developed a political orientation and support base that was more akin to the sort of right-wing populism now associated with UKIP. When fascist ideas have been put to the serious test in democratic debate they have always been found wanting soon enough and the defenders of authoritarian revolution on the far left have often not had much to coherently add beyond the shouting. After all – and despite all their undoubted efforts – it is difficult to meaningfully oppose authoritarian barbarity of one sort if you support (or are prepared to apologise for it) in other circumstances. That is one of the main reasons why fascist organisations may come and go, but the self-styled anti-fascists of the Stalinist and Trotskyist left remain as distrusted now as they ever have been.

A Better World For Everyone

From the May 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

To aim for a better world, we first have to explain how our present society is arranged. For the last few hundred years, society has been divided into just two main groups, or  classes. There’s the overwhelming majority of us – possibly up to 95 percent – who don’t own much in the big scheme of things and can only get what we can afford through our wages, savings or state subsidies. If we’re able to find employment, we get our money by selling our time and our abilities to companies and organisations. These same companies and organisations then sell the services we run and the products we make back to us. But collectively, we don’t get back all that we put in. It’s a lop-sided arrangement in favour of the corporations and land owned by a tiny minority of people, around 5 percent. Owning the means of production allows them to cream off a profit or a surplus for themselves, and they do this by exploiting the rest of us. Their economic power is backed up by  political power. The state is there to try and manage the status quo, and protect the interests of those with all the wealth. This doesn’t mean that they have control over the economy, though. Market forces fluctuate between growth and slump regardless of what politicians and corporate strategists want. Instead, they’re more likely to be playing catch-up and trying to keep things financially viable in a shaky economy. It’s like being on a fishing boat on a choppy sea, struggling to stay afloat while the boat’s owner relaxes on a desert island.

This arrangement leads to massive inequalities in wealth. Goods and services only go to those who can afford them, not necessarily to those who need them. Those who can’t afford the basics risk falling into a lifestyle of poverty it’s hard to escape from. Living in an unequal world  where everything is rationed creates divisions between us, leading to prejudice and discrimination. Even if we’ve got a reasonable standard  of living we never have enough real involvement or sense of ownership in where we work and live. We often feel powerless to influence what  really matters to us. We end up stuck in unfulfilling jobs, stressed about whether we can afford to pay the bills, or frustrated by our lack of  independence.

Other political parties support the basic way society is structured, or just assume it’s the only way things can be. They would say that it can be improved from within, by changes to the law, or finding more funding for public services. Reforms or increased public spending may help  some people in the short-term. But they only last as long as they fit in with the economic and political climate, which runs in the interests of the elite. The needs and wishes of the vast majority of people aren’t as important. People have campaigned for higher wages, or increased funding, or protecting the environment, without long-lasting, satisfactory resolutions ever being found. This shows that the problems haven’t been addressed at their cause.

We would say that to solve society’s problems, we have to change the way society is structured. This means going from our world where the means to produce and distribute wealth are owned by a minority, to one where those resources and facilities are owned by everyone in common. Then, goods would be produced and services would be run directly for anyone who wants them, without the dictates of the economic market. Industries and services would be run just to satisfy people’s needs and wants. Our natural resources could be managed in a sustainable way, as the waste and short-term profitability which lead to environmental damage wouldn’t be there.

All this could only be achieved by fundamentally changing the way society is organised. As every country is part of a global economy, the vast majority of people worldwide would need to want to change society. The only legitimate and practical way this could be happen is by organising equally and democratically. This means voluntary, co-operative, creative work, with decisions and responsibilities agreed through everyone having an equal say. This would mean a much broader and more inclusive use of democracy than we’re used to. The Socialist Party is using what limited democracy we have in our current society to advocate a better world for everyone.
Mike Foster