Unfortunately this isn’t an April Fools joke

The Reward of Cruelty

 

And so it begins.

From today (1 April) the Government will begin do to things; it will give a tax cut averaging £100,000 to each of the 13,000 people in Britain earning over £1m a year and it will launch the most concerted an ferocious attack on the incomes and dignity of poor people ever seen in this country. As Polly Toynbee recently wrote  An avalanche of benefit cuts will hit the same households over and over, with no official assessment of how far this £18bn reduction will send those who are already poor into beggary.’

First, the link between benefit levels and the cost of living has been abandoned and the increase in benefit levels has been limited to 1%, despite the fact that inflation is running at 2.8%.

Second, ‘benefits cap’ which will limit the total benefit payable to families to £500 a week will start to roll in. By the end of the year at least 80,000 adults and 190,000 children will be affected and the average family hit by the cap will lose £93 a week, with 20% losing more than £120 a week.

Third, around 3.2m people who are unemployed or on very low wages will have to pay council tax for the first time. A typical single parent with children in childcare who works part time for the minimum wage faces increases ranging from £96 a year to £577. A typical couple with children, with one parent working full-time work for the minimum wage, will see a rise of between £96 and £304 a year.

Fourth, 660,000 households will be hit by the bedroom tax, with each losing an estimated average of £14 a week.

On top of all that, Disability Living Allowance is, from today, being progressively converted to Personal Income Payment and new Atos medical tests on all applicants have a target of ‘discovering’ that 500,000 people aren’t disabled after all.

The Citizens Advice Bureau Logo.

And from today, legal aid has been removed for advice on benefits, housing, divorce, debt, education and employment. Oh, and the budget of Citizens Advice for such cases has been cut from £22m to £3m.

However, perhaps the Tories, blinded by hubris and self deceiving belief in the spiteful lies they tell about the poor in the golf club bar, have gone one vicious step too far. They may have thought that by targeting not just the poor but the most vulnerable of the poor they would avoid the organised dumb insolence of the Poll Tax revolt that led millions to refuse to pay and the eventual downfall of Thatcher.

Local authorities have conceded that up to 84% of people on low incomes will refuse to pay council tax  – or will simply be unable to do so – and that there is little they can do about it, since the costs of recovering such relatively small sums (on average a little under £5 a week) from very large numbers of people will be too high. Similarly, for many poor families, finding an additional £14 a week (and much more for some) is going to be just out of the question. Thus, over the next few months tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of the poorest families will be forced into utter destitution and will be forced to tell their local councils that it is genuinely a case of ‘can’t pay, won’t pay’ and thus be at risk of eviction. It is at that point that organised resistance by the rest of us has to begin.

In order for such resistance to have an effect it has to concentrate on the weakest points in our enemy’s lines. There are two. The first one is that the Tories are going to have to rely on Labour councils up and down the country to collaborate with them. The second is that they have to rely on the continuing ignorance of most working class people about the human effects of these policies on their neighbours in order for their PR strategy to work.

So first we need to put pressure on Labour Councils to publicly refuse to evict tenants. That won’t help tenants of Tory or Lib Dem councils of course, nor housing association tenants, but a rash of refusals to act as agents of government policy by  a significant number of Labour councils would both undermine the confidence of the Government and boost the confidence of it’s opponents. While a frontal attack on Milliband and Byrne to come out in favour of a policy of defiance – even though such a policy would be perfectly legal and could save councils money – is unlikely to produce results, more targeted pressure  could. At an anti bedroom tax meeting two weeks ago, the Deputy Leader of Islington Council was forced to make a public statement saying that evicting tenants ‘would make no sense’ and that he ‘didn’t believe’ that the Council would carry out evictions of victims of the bedroom tax.

Camden Defend Council Housing Campaign Bill

Every Labour councillor on every council holds regular surgeries. Over the next three months we must ensure that people attend every surgery to insist that the councillor actively opposes evictions or court action for rent or council tax arrears. We must ensure that every Management Committee of every local Labour Party is flooded with resolutions from affiliated unions demanding non-cooperation with the Tories. Those of us who are members of affiliated unions must try to get them to refuse future funding to any local Labour Party that does not oppose evictions and to threaten to withhold any future donations to the national party if it does not call for defiance.

But some people are still going to be taken to court and possession orders will be granted. We have perhaps three months to organise a fast reaction network capable of getting mass pickets both inside and outside the homes of those under threat on the day that the bailiffs are due. National and local newspapers and TV news must carry pictures of mass civil disobedience day after day all over the country. This evil work of the Tories has to be done away from the public view for them to be able to get away with it. We must ensure that they have to try to do it in the full glare of public daylight.

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Posted in Cuts, Democracy, Labour Party, Resistance | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

The Times They (may be) a’Changin

Protesting about the bedroom tax in Hastings, ...

Protesting about the bedroom tax in Hastings, East Sussex (Photo credit: Aspex Design: Photos by Dean Thorpe)

Over the past couple of weeks, three things have served to lift the gloom of an apparently endless winter in Tory Britain. First has been the first stirrings of what may well become a real wave of popular revulsion at and opposition to the Government’s vicious Bedroom Tax. Three local councils have already publicly announced that they will not evict tenants forced into arrears by the odious measure – Dundee (SNP), Burnley (Labour) and Brighton (Green) – and there are signs that more may well follow their lead. At the same time, the first demonstrations against the tax have taken place in a number of cities across Britain.

The second event has been the flood of resignations from the SWP as a result of the bureaucratic and bullying attempted cover-up of the the ‘Comrade Delta’ affair by the party’s inept and dishonest leadership. While sadly, many of those resigning are likely to drift out of political activity all together, a number of them, along with a few of the many thousands of other ex SWP members, have established the International Socialist Network, whose web based forum is already showing fresh and independent thinking and a determination not to reproduce an SWP Mark II (i.e. much the same politics only much smaller).

Ken Loach

Ken Loach (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The third event has been the appeal by Ken Loach for socialists to get together to discuss the formation of a new political party of the Left which could bring together those who wish to defend the welfare state and present an economic alternative to austerity. Within a few days, over two and a half thousand people had signed up and now I gather it’s over three thousand. It’s early days, but there is clearly some enthusiasm on the left for a fresh start.

However, the capacity of socialists not to listen to each other, to make assumptions about each other and to be knowingly or unthinkingly sectarian, appears to be almost limitless.

In response to Ken’s appeal on the Left Unity website, Will Duckworth, Deputy Leader of the Green Party, member of Green Left, the party’s ecosocialist tendency and, it should be stressed, a fine comrade and a really admirable bloke, wrote the following sectarian nonsense ‘Coalition of Resistance is the movement and the Green Party is the political party. There is no need to reinvent the wheel; just get behind it and push.’ Will’s post was followed by similar contributions by perhaps a dozen other Green Party members from the left of the party in much the sam vein.

I responded to Will by posting the following: ‘This is a classically sectarian response. Just change a couple of names and see what Will’s statement sounds like – “Unite the Resistance is the movement and the SWP is the political party. There is no need to reinvent the wheel; just get behind and push.” Catch my drift?’  (To be fair to Will, he responded by saying that I had made a good point).

However, the excellent Andrew Burgin, who runs the Left Unity site, asked Tom Walker, who has recently very honourably resigned from both the SWP and his job as a journalist on Socialist Worker, to ‘write in response to the concerted effort by the Green Party to suggest that we should all join them.’ (Although, to anyone who knows the way the Green Party operates, the idea of it mounting a ‘concerted effort’ on anything is laughable). Tom responded to the invitation with a article entitled  ‘How left is the Green Party?’ .

Now, cards on the table, I am (currently at least) a member of both the Green Party and Green Left – but I am also fully behind Ken’s appeal and the project to renew the left and move towards the establishment of a new mass party. So I have to admit that I was slightly depressed by both the naive sectarianism of the Greens and Tom’s rather shallow analysis which did nothing to aid an understanding of the nature of the Green Party.

Green Party of England and Wales

I’ll deal with the reaction of many of my comrades in the Green Party/Green Left first. As Tom says of some of his Green friends, they ‘seem not so much angry as bemused as to why there is even a discussion on this subject at all’. After all, as Tom himself points out ‘the Green Party’s most prominent spokespeople are all left wingers’. Will himself of course is, as is the party’s leader, Natalie Bennett and the party’s only MP, Caroline Lucas,  who is one of the left’s few representatives in parliament, is widely admired across the left and has frequently explicitly described herself and the Green Party as anti-capitalist.

The responses from Green Party members seem to me to have been, on the whole, needlessly defensive and prone to a naive sectarianism. For example; ‘The Green Party is the only Party who’d renationalise railways, reverse Health and Social Care Act, provide a fair welfare system, etc. It is the Party of the Left’… ‘The Green Party is already in the forefront of the fight for social justice’… ‘The Left does not need another party to split the vote and allow Tories in. The left needs to unite behind the Green Party and make a massive change for all our good at the next election… ‘The Green Party is the party of equality – the party’. And so on.

First, all of this nonsense seems to me to betray an obsession with programmatic purity, which, as Hal Draper pointed out many years ago, is a defining mark of sectarianism. Second, it reveals an extraordinary degree of self deception about the influence and reach of the organisation – another fatal sign of the sect mentality.

‘Sect’ is a term usually used as as term of abuse to mean a group one doesn’t like, as in the People’s Front of Judea vs the Judean People’s Front, but I see it as a group that claims for itself exclusive rights on the Full and Correct Programme. The sect mentality typically sees the road ahead as one in which one’s group will grow and grow, because it has the Full and Correct Programme, until it becomes a small mass party, then larger and larger until it becomes large enough to impose itself as the party of the working class (or in the Green Party’s terms, to win a general election).

The Green Party may be an unusual sect (and, unusually, a pretty civilized and tolerant one), but a sect it is nonetheless. Like other sects it is obsessed with the Full and Correct Programme (in this case it’s Policies for a Sustainable Society rather than the Transitional Programme of 1938 or the British Road to Socialism) which, if presented to the unenlightened masses assiduously enough will eventually lead them to recognise their previous shortsightedness. Like other sects it tends to view actual concrete struggles through the distorting prism of its own programmatic priorities. Of course, it doesn’t share with most far left sects an obsession with a ‘Leninist’ conception of the party (although, arguably, neither did Lenin) and it doesn’t have a class analysis (or much of any kind of analysis) of society and the state. It doesn’t have any of the various laughable programmatic tics and obsessions of what some have called ‘the 20th century left’ – but then it doesn’t need to as it has plenty of its own.

It is largely the hollowing out of the Labour Party and the continuing failure of attempts to regroup the far left sects and reshape them into something that has even a nodding acquaintance to reality, that has led the Green Party to become, largely by default, a pole of attraction for an increasing number of homeless socialists. For many of them, the party is a sort of Sargasso Sea where isolated (and often disillusioned) lefties can drift, substituting attendance on demonstrations and the drafting of radical motions for party conferences for real political activity – rather like student politics for the middle aged.

For many lefties in the Green Party, the experience of being in an organisation that is, for the most part, clearly to the left of Labour, is extremely congenial. Thus Howard Thorp, the party’s Campaigns Co-ordinator (and member of Green Left) responded to Tom’s article by asking whether he had ‘ever bothered to read the GPEW’s policies? Yes, there are many of them, pro-trade union, pro-economic democracy, pro-NHS and public services, and dealing with the realities of climate change rather than just talking about as the other parties do’. Of course the problem is that ‘dealing with the realities of climate change’ (what hubris!) is interpreted as simply putting up candidates in elections at every opportunity – who rarely win – and going on the annual climate change demo.

As far as the party’s size and importance is concerned, comrades in the Green Party need to stop deceiving themselves and making puffed up claims for the organisation. Officially, the party has around twelve and a half thousand members but in reality barely 10% of the paper membership is active in any meaningful  sense .

The claim that the Greens are the fourth largest party in terms of elected officials and paper members is meaningless. Leaving aside the fact that the rest of the left, whether aligned or non-aligned, have thousands more elected members in the trade union movement, which remains the most important democratic institution in Britain, being fourth is nowhere. Having 155 councillors and 1 MP when there are over 14,000 councillors and 650 odd MPs makes the Green Party a midget – and it has taken it 40 years to become that midget.

There is no chance at all the the GP can, on its own and with it’s current eclectic blend of economic and environmental crankery, sentimental reformism and socialist demands for justice and change, become the mass movement that is capable of  mounting an electoral challenge – or any other sort of challenge – to the two and a half parties of the ruling class.

But disappointingly, Tom’s article really doesn’t really attempt to understand the peculiar nature of the Green Party or the socialist left within it. Instead, it approaches the question in a rather shallow journalistic fashion and merely attempts to dismiss the party as not really on the left and therefore more or less irrelevant.

Having conceded in his introduction that the party’s main spokespeople are clearly to the left of Labour he then goes on to resurrect the old ‘ah, but what about the Greens in Germany and Ireland’ chestnut. So it doesn’t matter if most British Greens think that they are to the left of Labour and act as if they are to the left of Labour – what really matters is what other Greens elsewhere have been up to. And Tom is selective in his choice of Greens when playing the guilt by association card – he doesn’t mention the Catalan or Portuguese Greens, who work in alliance with communist and trotskyist parties, for example, nor the Greek Greens, who are part of Syriza.

And then there is the clincher – Brighton. Of course, the capitulation of the the Green Group on the council without even putting up a show of resistance has been disgraceful, but this has been attacked just as forcefully from within the Greens’ ranks as from outside and even Caroline Lucas has distanced herself from the decisions of the discredited leadership of Jason Kitkat. But for Tom, this wholly predictable collapse of an inexperienced bunch of left reformists when unexpectedly handed a local council to run as a minority administration is ‘the canary in the coal mine’ that reveals the true nature of the party as being essentially the same as Labour.

English: Councillor Bronwen Maher of Dublin (r...

Tom misunderstands the development of the Green Party towards an idiosyncratic left social democratic politics over the last few years; a politics more or less in the tradition of the ‘sandal wearers and fruit juice drinkers’ of the ILP that so maddened Orwell. While he acknowledges that the party has ‘many good socialist members’ (thank you very much) ‘and some radical policies’ he insists that nonetheless it is not only not a party of the left, but it is deliberately not. He doesn’t mention which secret cabal has made this decision, but goes on to say that quite a large section of the party ‘are devoted to an agenda of ‘cycling and recycling’, with a narrow focus simply on environmental issues’ . While this is unfortunately true, although less so than Tom might think, he then goes on to say that the left in the party are ‘happy to work alongside those who use the phrase “neither left nor right” with a straight face’. This is simply not true, not only because the organised left in the party has relentlessly opposed this sort of politics, but because the numbers clinging to such a daft and reactionary position are small and growing smaller by the day.

Of course, when Tom concludes that ‘the Green Party offers no solution to the problem of working class representation, or a left alternative to the mainstream consensus’ he is right – we need an entirely new sort of mass party of the left that can mobilise millions. The Green Party is not that party, nor can it be. It is merely the largest sect on the left and like all the others cannot provide the basis of such a party. At some point we must make a fresh start.

However, it has played a valuable role in bringing  green issues, once derided or ignored by most far left groups, into the mainstream of socialist politics and it certainly contains as many socialists as the SWP or the Socialist Party. It, or at least a large section of it’s membership, could and should be a valuable asset in our common endeavor of working towards that new party of the left that Ken has so eloquently called for.

Posted in Green Party, Left regroupment, Politics, The Left | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Know Thy Enemy

I first came across Christopher Logue when, in 1963, a friend played me Red Bird, an EP (an extended play 7 inch record – a format now known only to pensioners and vinyl geeks) of Logue reading some of his very free translations of Pablo Neruda love poems to the accompaniment of jazz from the Tony Kinsey Quintet. Being a rather pretentious youth, I was immediately hooked. But I still am, and it’s still really good.

I met him, just once or twice, five years later when he was on the Editorial Board of the Black Dwarf and I was the production editor. I can’t remember whether his poem Know Thy Enemy was written for Black Dwarf and then produced as one of his poetry posters or the other way round, but we did print it in the second or third edition of the paper. I only wish that I still had the poster – and my old copies of Black Dwarf for that matter.

Know Thy Enemy

Know thy enemy:

he does not care what colour you are

provided you work for him

and yet you do!

he does not care how much you earn

provided you earn more for him

and yet you do!

he does not care who lives in the room at the top

provided he owns the building

and yet you strive!

he will let you write against him

provided you do not act against him

and yet you write!

he sings the praises of humanity

but knows machines cost more than men.

Bargain with him, he laughs, and beats you at it;

challenge him, and he kills.

Sooner than loose the things he owns

he will destroy the world.

SMASH CAPITAL NOW!

But as you hasten to be free

 And build your commonwealth

Do not forget the enemy

Who lies within yourself.

 

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Squeezing blood from stones – Tory style

Taxes

Under the current system, people on low or no incomes have up to 100% of their council tax paid by their local council through Council Tax benefit.

However, in just five weeks time, at the beginning of April, the  current council tax benefit scheme will be scrapped. Instead, local authorities are being made to to introduce local council tax support schemes – and the government has cut the money available for these schemes by 10% or £500m. Because the government has promised that no pensioners will affected, the effect on people of working age, including not only unemployed and disabled people but working families on low wages, will be disproportionately higher. The researchers at False Economy have discovered that the overwhelming majority of councils – 82% – plan to reduce support for low income households by an average of 20 per cent in order to cope with central government cuts. This means that the poorest families in the country will, after April, have to find an extra £247 a year, or nearly £5 a week, at the same time that the iniquitous bedroom tax is introduced and child benefit frozen.

The fact is of course, that many people will simply be unable to pay. Local authorities have conceded that up to 84% of people on low incomes will refuse to pay council tax after being caught in the net by benefit changes this April, and admit there is little they can do about it.

In Harlow, the local authority expects to collect council tax from just 800 of the 5,000 poor households supposed to be paying it for the first time this year. In Gravesham in Kent, the council estimates 70% of the proposed tax will not be paid. Overall, False Economy figures show that on average councils are budgeting for a third of residents not paying the new charge.

However, with average bills running at under £5 a week it will prove uneconomic for many councils to try to enforce collection of the tax – although the Tory Mayor of North Tyneside is planning to try to deduct tax directly from benefits.

So the Tories may well have created a perfect political storm, with local authorities facing severe administrative difficulties, while the new tax, combined with the bedroom tax and all the the other welfare cuts being quietly being slipped in through the back door over the next few months, will be a hammer blow to millions of people either out of work or on low incomes, particularly as most people’s wages are also falling in real terms.

What is frightening many local authorities is that swingeing cuts to council tax support could lead to levels of non-payment similar to that which happened under the poll tax, with huge amounts of local authority money spent chasing council tax payments through the courts from people with no hope of ever being able to pay up.

Its vital that we help make that nightmare come true for the government. We must be demanding of Labour councils that they make a public commitment not to pursue people who have up until now been exempt from council tax through the courts, as apart from the inhumanity of it it is likely to lead to even greater financial losses by councils. We must demand that our councils start to stand up to the Tories.

English: Caroline Lucas, Leader of the Green P...

That start may have been made. Earlier this week an emergency meeting of Brighton Green Party resolved by by an overwhelming majority (including Caroline Lucas MP) to:

  1. Publicly condemn the ‘Bedroom Tax’ as an ideologically-driven attack on the least well-off in our society.
  2. Request that the Convenor of the Green Group makes a clear public statement that no household will be evicted from a Brighton and Hove City Council owned home as a result of rent arrears accrued solely as a result of this cut to Housing Benefit.
  3. Request that the Chair of the council’s Housing Committee instructs officers accordingly.
  4. Publicise this position, externally and in our own publications and websites

This is an excellent lead from Brighton Greens (or it will be if the Green Group on the council abides by the democratic will of the party) which should be followed up in areas with Labour councils – and extended to refusing to chase poor people for money they just don’t have for council tax.

Instead of trying to squeeze blood out of stones for the Tories, Labour and Green (and Plaid) should be throwing the bloody stones at them.

The Captain will be out of action for the next week, so just talk quietly among yourselves for a bit. Oh, and start squeezing blood out of Tories!

Posted in Austerity, Cuts, Green Party, Labour Party, Politics, Resistance | 1 Comment

The Buddha’s parable of the burning house – Brecht

Picture of the role or function of a Buddha: t...

Guatama the Buddha taught
The doctrine of greed’s wheel to which we are bound, and advised
That we should shed all craving and thus
Undesiring enter the nothingness that he called Nirvana.
What is it like, this nothingness, Master? Every one of us would
Shed all craving, as you advise, but tell us
Whether this nothingness which then we shall enter
Is perhaps like being at one with all creation
When you lie in water, your body weightless, at noon
Unthinking almost, lazily lie in the water, or drowse
Hardly knowing now that you straighten the blanket
Going down fast – whether this nothingness, then
Is a happy one of this kind, a pleasant nothingness, or
Whether this nothing of yours is merely nothing, cold, senseless and void.
Long the Buddha was silent, then said nonchalantly:
There is no answer to your question.
But in the evening, when they had gone
The Buddha still sat under the bread-fruit tree, and to the others
Those who had not asked, addressed this parable:
Lately I saw a house. It was burning. The flame
Licked at its roof. I went up close and observed
That there were people still inside. I opened the door and called
Out to them that the roof was ablaze, so exhorting them
To leave at once. One of them
When the heat was already scorching his eyebrows
Asked me what it was like outside, whether it wasn’t raining
Whether the wind wasn’t blowing perhaps, whether there was
Another house for them, and more of this kind. Without answering
I went out again. These people here, I thought
Need to burn to death before they stop asking questions. Truly friends
Unless a man feels the ground so hot underfoot that he’d gladly
Exchange it for any other, sooner than stay, to him
I have nothing to say. Thus Gautama the Buddha.

But we too, no longer concerned with the art of submission
Rather with that of not submitting, and putting forward
Various proposals of an earthly nature, and beseeching men to shake off
their human tormentors, we too believe that to those
Who in the face of the approaching bomber squadrons of Capital go on asking too long
How we propose to do this, and how we envisage that
And what will become of their savings and Sunday trousers  after a revolution
We have nothing much to say.

Berthold Brecht

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Can’t pay? Don’t pay

Slides from the DWP workshop on the changes in...

Obviously, we all know that this is Government is absolutely vile. But of all the vile things that they have done, or are planning to do (or at least, that they currently admit they are planning) the imposition of the Bedroom Tax or, as the Department for Work and Pensions so quaintly describes it “housing benefit size criteria restrictions for working age claimants in the social rented sector” must be in with a fighting chance of winning the prize for the vilest. In fact, it would be a dead cert except for a late challenge due this autumn with the introduction of Universal Credit (just don’t get me started).

From April, housing benefit for tenants of social housing will be restricted to allow for one bedroom for each person or couple in a household. Children under 16 of same gender will be expected to share a room and kids under 10 will be expected to share regardless of gender

All claimants who are deemed to have at least one spare bedroom will be affected. This includes:

  • Separated parents who share the care of their children and who may have been allocated an extra bedroom to reflect this. Benefit rules mean that there must be a designated ‘main carer’ for children (who will receive the ‘extra’ benefit)
  • Couples who use their ‘spare’ bedroom when recovering from an illness or operation
  • Foster carers – because foster children are not counted as part of the household for benefit purposes
  • Parents whose children visit but are not part of the household
  • Families with disabled children
  • Disabled people including people living in adapted or specially designed properties.

The cut will be a fixed percentage of the Housing Benefit eligible rent, which has been set at 14% for one extra bedroom and 25% for two or more extra bedrooms.

Because 31% of social housing tenants between the ages of 16 and 61 currently claim housing benefit, the new regime will affect an estimated 660,000 households. The Government’s impact assessment indicates that those affected will lose an average of £14 a week, with housing association tenants are expected to lose £16 a week. And these are people who are currently expected to live on £71 if jobseekers, or the princely sum of up to £105.05 if you are severely disabled.

However, that is only the average cut. In Hammersmith and Fulham for example, the weekly rent for a three bed council house is £122.97. If one bedroom is deemed to be ‘surplus’ a tenant formerly received Housing Benefit equivalent to 100% of the rent will be expected to find £17.20 a week and if two bedrooms are ‘surplus’, £30.74.

Official logo of London Borough of Hammersmith...

So far, the reaction of Labour controlled councils and the lone Green controlled council in Brighton to being required to implement the Tories’ cuts programmes has been a corporate wringing of hands and statements of regret, but no active opposition. But this, surely, has to be a red line for at least some of them, and now real opportunities exist for councils to resist the Government if they have any guts – or consciences – at all.

As with the imposition of some Council Tax, typically between £1.80 and £3.50 a week, on all those apart from pensioners who have previously had 100% Council Tax relief, the effect of the Bedroom Tax will be to pauperise a large proportion of those it affects and many will simply be unable to pay and will thus inevitably start to run into arrears.

Chasing up these arrears is likely, in the case of Council Tax, to be uneconomic. The cost of taking tenants to court for a couple of hundred pounds will be far more than any revenue recovered. We should be demanding of Councils that, if only in the interests of saving money, they should announce that they will not be pursuing tenants who were previously exempt for Council Tax and who have subsequently fallen into arrears.

Similarly, it is absolutely inevitable that tenants who are already very poor will be simply unable to pay what even the Government says is going to be at least £14 a week from their tiny incomes. Councils will have a choice, either they threaten tenants who are forced into bigger and bigger arrears with eviction or they state publicly that they won’t. If, say, Hammersmith and Fulham evicts a family with two small children from their home because of their inability to find £17.20 a week, the Council will be legally obliged to rehouse them in emergency accommodation at a cost, in London, of possibly £1,000 a week. Financially it makes much more sense for the family to be left in their own home.

So we should be demanding that Labour councils (and the solitary Green one) adopt and publicise a policy of not pursuing families hit by the Bedroom Tax to the point of eviction.

The Welfare Reform Act contains a curious loophole – doesn’t define what a bedroom is. As a result, one housing association, Knowsley Housing Trust has already reclassified ‘spare’ bedrooms in its tenants’ homes as dining rooms and studies etc. – in other words, the sort of rooms that the swine who introduced these new regulations have in their own homes. We should be demanding that councils should start doing the same.

Now, clearly the Government would not like this policy of dumb insolence, but it would have to challenge mutinous councils in the courts – where it might not win – and/or change the law to force them to heel. In both cases it would force the bastards onto the back foot and increase the self confidence the hundreds of thousands affected by these iniquitous policies.

Of course, in the long run the Tories would find ways of using state power against recalcitrant councils and revolting tenants, and many councils would, no, will use methods like forced removals to other cheaper parts of the country to enforce the new rules, but it would be the start of a fight back. And that’s what we desperately need right now.

Posted in Austerity, Cuts, Democracy, Green Party, Labour Party, Resistance | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Orthodoxy and the Left

Karl Marx' grave

A few days ago I wrote about how the SWP’s leadership, who endlessly go on about the need to ‘defend the IS tradition’, have over the years coarsened and stultified the organisation’s politics and practice to the point that they are now the antithesis of those of the tradition they claim to uphold. This set me thinking about the whole problem of orthodoxy for socialists. One one hand, marxists usually claim that they are rigorous and scientific in their unblinking analysis of capitalism – but on the other are extraordinarily prone to resorting to poring through the Sacred Texts of Marx and whichever of his later disciples they find most congenial (and useful) in order to find self serving quotes to give the imprimatur of orthodoxy to justify whatever it is they want to do. Too many ‘theorists’ of the far left sects are as obsessed with hermeneutics as much as the most narrow Talmudic   scholar or the Biblical students of the schools of Alexandria and Antioch.

But some – a few – Marxists have always challenged this tendency to cleave to a comforting orthodoxy rather than attempt to continuously seek to apply the marxist method rather than long established formulae derived from once relevant analysis. They have welcomed the charge of heterodoxy.

the modern world

One such was the American socialist and autodidact Harry Braverman, author of the classic Labor and Monopoly Capitalism. In 1958, in the essay, Marx in the Modern World he wrote:

…the capitalist system has persisted, and restabilised itself repeatedly, over a much longer period than had been expected. The great expansion in labor productivity which has created such new and different conditions was not unexpected in the Marxian economic structure, a structure which, as no other before or since, focused on the technological revolutions which capitalism is forced to work continuously as a condition of its existence. What was unexpected was capitalism’s length of life and its ability to expand. Marx and the movement he shaped operated on the basis of imminent crisis. If he never gave thought to the kind of living standard inherent in a capitalism that would continue to revolutionize science and industry for another hundred years, that was because he thought he was dealing with a system that was rapidly approaching its Armageddon. He thought the social wars that would usher in socialism would take place under the social conditions he saw around him. In that sense, the economic obsolescence we can easily find in him today is of a piece with his errors of political foreshortening.

Now we live in a day and age where socialism, while clearly on the order of the historical day, will shape up under conditions far different from those under which the socialist movement was originally given its stamp.

Every movement develops its own style, rhetoric, way of making itself heard. Socialism was cradled in the intolerable conditions of the primitive working class, and flamed with the barricades spirit of the revolutions of 1848 into which it was launched at its infancy. Instead of evolving with changed conditions, this tone and approach survived in frozen rigidity which sometimes even outbid Marx. One of the main reasons was that the first of the long-awaited revolutions broke out in a country whose condition was more appropriate to the Europe of the early nineteenth century than the early twentieth, and whose social struggles reflected that fact. Then, to compound the difficulty, that revolution got ossified and bureaucratized at the top, and insisted on imposing its every prejudice and dogma on the world socialist movement. The result was a Communist formation, the recognized repository of ‘Marxism,’ with a Zeitgeist from another century and a paralyzed mentality. Is it any wonder that the work of digging out Marxism and restoring it to usable form is so difficult?

If the thought is right that the trouble lies not in original error but uncorrected obsolescence, then the job is not to see where ‘Marx was wrong’ so much as to make a fresh application of his theory to the world around us as it is, not as it once was. To borrow a comparison from the field of physics, we need socialist Faradays and Maxwells or if we are lucky, Einsteins and Plancks, not people who confine themselves to knocking Isaac Newton.

Isaac Newton outside the British Library

Over 50 years later,this time in Britain, another self educated working class intellectual, Jim Higgins wrote:

For the revolution, we may well need a revolutionary party, but that party will certainly have to be of an even newer kind. The Leninist model did well enough in 1917 but, in the 80-plus years since, it has not marked up any successes; indeed, the Stalinist variant used its command structure to ensure that there were no successes. A socialist organisation finds its justification in the fact that it provides the geographical spread, the publishing resources and a forum in which to discuss and learn from workers; within such a relationship there is a mutual growth and understanding. It is in this too that the possibility of developing transitional programmes can arise; the more successfully this policy is pursued the more the organisation grows in time with developing class awareness and struggle.

In so far as such organic growth takes place, so will the new reality clarify all but the most heavily fortified of closed minds. This is not the realisation of that other Trotskyist unity fantasy, where our membership figures prove to all the other groups that we were right all the time and that the rest had best line up behind the new Lenin. Not at all – this is a movement for the self-emancipation of the working class in which socialists can play a constructive part, not acting the fool as some kind of entrist with a secret agenda for the greater glory of an antediluvian sect…

The world has moved on and, no matter how much we might like make-believe swashbuckling in a historical drama, it merely confirms our irrelevance in the same way that the chaps who hurtle about firing muskets in re-enactments of Civil War battles achieve nothing except looking like prats. The communist tradition has, over the decades, acquired such an accretion of dross that its founders would be hard pressed to recognise it as their creation, and where they reject the child, we should be most careful not to adopt the bastard.

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