"Middle Class" now votes Labour

James Farmelant farmelantj at juno.com
Mon Dec 28 07:25:06 PST 1998

On Mon, 28 Dec 1998 08:35:31 +0000 Chris Burford <cburford at gn.apc.org> writes:
>I am glad to be challenged by a correspondent as thoughtful as Jim
>BTW one technical problem: I see as he quotes my stuff there is no
>around. Is this something I can correct or he can?
>At 01:43 PM 12/27/98 -0500, Jim wrote:
>>On Sun, 27 Dec 1998 17:35:55 +0000 Chris Burford
><cburford at gn.apc.org>
>>>My prejudices are that in marxist terms it is better that a left
>>>bourgeois party tries to unite the great majority of the working
>>>(including those who think they are middle class) rather than divide
>>>by supporting the poorest at the expense of better off workers.
>>This simply shows that the political strategies of New Labour are
>>remarkably similar to those being followed by Clinton's New
>Yes. Consciously so.

Indeed, as I remember there have been exchanges of personnel between the Labour Party and the Democrats. Some of Blair's people had assisted in Clinton's '96 campaign and there were some Clinton people involved in the Labour Party campaign that brought Blair into Number 10. And at the time of the general election, Blair's people made no secret that they were copyong Clinton's political strategies and tactics.

>>> This
>>>provides the opportunity for better consensus about how to manage
>>>reasonably fairly for the great majority of people, and in the long
>>>puts the private ownership of the means of production and
>>>of capital under pressure.
>>I find this statement rather confused.
>The main point that concerns me here is the possibility of breaking
>the bourgeois two party system. That requires a political party not to
>recruit votes only from the consciously working class half of the
>class but from all the working class including those who think they
>middle class. Or to have a system of proportional representation with
>plurality of parties that work in coalitions by consensus politics
>that can
>produce the same effect.

I certainly would agree that proportional representation would be a most significant democratic reform both in the US and the UK. It is really the only thing that could break the two party monopoly that exists in both countries. In the UK the question exists what incentive Blair will have for actually going through with it. Perhaps if his government's standing in the polls drops sufficiently then maybe he will have an incentive to push it through, otherwise why would he want to change an electoral system that is obviously benefitting him.

In the US, proportional represntation would be I think be even of greater significance. As you say hardly anybody in the two major parties has a stake in even raising this as an issue not to speak of actually trying to enact such a reform into law.
>>It is probably true that a
>>Labour government, even Blair's, is more likely than a Tory
>>government to impose some degree of social control over capital
>>rather than blindly following laissez-faire policies. However, Chris
>>seems to think that there is necessarily something progressive
>>about this in terms of making society more democratic. I would
>>submit that this is not necessarily the case. Historically in the US
>>much of the impetus for government regulation of the economy
>>came from capital itself which had come to recognize the destructive
>>effects that cutthroat competition could have on its own interests.
>I accept you probably have empirical data supporting this. It is what
>would expect and it is in conformity with marxist theory. Capitalism
>has a
>tendency to monopoly.
There is a fairly sizable literature on this point. Some important writers are James Weinstein, Gabbriel Kolko, William Domhoff, William Appleman Williams, and David Eakins. They have all documented how in the past century monopoly capital has succeeded in using and expanding the power of the federal government to promote its own interests.

>>Thus in the US the so-called progressive of the beginning of this
>>century were largely movements of the bourgeoisie and petite
>>bourgeoisie who were concerned with regulating capitalism
>>for the sake of preserving the system from its own excesses.
>Broadly yes. At various times in this century contradictions within
>capitalist class have given the opportunity for the working class to
>extract some progressive reforms which have in fact stabilised the
>sometimes only with a small concession to greater democratic control.

See the writers I mentioned above.

>But there is one catch about the reforms at the beginning of this
>The anti-monopoly reforms that for example broke up Standard Oil, are
>highly reformist in nature. Anti-monopoly legislation in all
>countries is a reform against the natural tendendy of capitalism,
>which is
>essential to keep an appearance of justice and benefit to the people
>maintaining the right of the capitalist class to own and control the
>of production and to extract surplus value through it from the

The impetus for the anti-trust case against Standard Oil came both from actual or potential competitors to the Rockerfellers within the oil industry as well as from corporate users of petroleum or petroleum products who felt they were being overcharged by Standard Oil. Today, one can pereceive similar forces pushing the Federal Goverment's antitrust case against Microsoft. It is on the one hand being pushed by software industry competitors to Microsoft like Netscape, Sybase, Sun Microsystems, and Oracle but its also being pushed by corporate users of software products

who believe they are being overcharged.

>>It seems to me that both Clinton's New Democrats and Blair's
>>New Labour heark back to that kind of politics.
>I do not agree. I think there is something technologically new,
>of the will of any one individual. It is new in the last 10 years, 20
>at the most. It comes from computers. These can now manage focus group
>on a regular basis and feed it into government. It can manage the word
>processing to do it fluently and represent it in numerous different
>just as we can communicate today at this moment with the aid of

The Progressive reformers aimed to reduce the uncertainies that beset the bourgeoisie and petite bourgeoisie at that time. Actually, I think that Chris' point about the use of computers supports my point in that it enhances capital's power to regulate society for its own best collective, long-term interests. There is of course a contradictory aspect to this in that the development of such technology likewise makes socialist economic planning more feasible as well. Lou Proyect for instance has argued that such technology may make it possible for socialist economic planners to circumvent the objections to the feasibility of such planning from F.A. Hayek and Ludwig von Mises. Albert & Hahnel have focussed on the Internet and intranets as making feasible decentralized socialist economic planning.

>It provides an answer to the dichotomy between command socialism and
>laissez faire liberalism. For example I referred yesterday in another
>to the existence of 20,000 CCTV cameras in London. One of these
>flashed me on Boxing Day to tell me I was breaking the speed limit.
>will alter my behaviour.

Big Brother is watching you.

>This morning I see that the not so nanny state is claiming that it
>30,000 TV license dodgers in the 3 weeks up to Christmas in the UK.
>Now the
>TV license is a largish sum for an old state monopoly, the BBC, which
>often under attack from Thatcher. The news item claims that modern
>technology allows the inspection vans to use hand held monitors which
>even identify the room in the house where the receiving TV is sitting.
>BBC is therefore secure and has ridden out laissez faire market
>fundamentalism, and can develop more as a monopoly company in the
>international market place for news.
>These are two concrete examples about the increasingly sophisticated
>ability of government to manage society technically. We are not
>on a model of computer use as argued by Paul Cockshott that assumes
>centralised computer capable of managing once again a command
>economy. The point is the proliferation of computers allows a
>way of managing society in a socially coherent fashion, albeit
>indeterminate in precise details. But living processes do not have to
>mechanically precise to work. They have merely to deal effectively
>probabilities with appropriate feedback mechanisms. Competers have now
>incorporated into this biological, *not mechanical*, management of
That would seem to fit in with Albert & Hahnels' arguments for particpatory economic planning. The strength of the case for market economics has always rested on the existence of feedback mechanisms for co-ordinating economic activity. If it can be shown that socialist economic planners can implement similarly effective feedback mechanisms of their own then case for the necessary superiority of capitalism over socialism on grounds of efficiency (and Schumpeterian dynamism) will be weakened.

>>>It would be a considerable gain to break the ability of capital to
>>>politics through the two party bourgeois electoral system.
>>Why would that be. I would think just the opposite would be true.
>>An embourgeoified Labour Party that could hold onto its traditional
>>working class base while at the same time following policies
>>friendly to the interests of the bourgeoisie and petite bourgeoisie
>>would greatly strengthen the control that capital has over the
>>electoral system. I take it that it is no accident that business
>>managers, and affluent professionals have suddenly developed a
>>fondness for Labour.
>Precisely not accident. Quite deliberate on the part of New Labour.
>But as
>the survey showed, the consciously working class are losing still
>any sense of loyalty to Labour. And a good thing too. It would be
>better if
>we had proportional representation with a massive centrist party or
>coalition of parties representing working people including those who
>they are middle class, plus the opportunity for 5 or 10% to vote for a
>radical anti-capitalist party which might draw from the conscious
>of the working class and the conscious radical strata of the
>>>But I do not think marxists, or would be marxists, should confine
>>>perspectives to such a party or such a left-centre coalition of
>>I would hope hope not. Yet Chris and many other British leftists
>>in fact do seem to confine their perspectives to working within
>>the Labour Party. Whether they intend to or not (and Chris I
>>think does intend to) this has the effect of shoring up Tony Blair
>>and his rightist brand of Labour politics.
>I have never been a member of the Labour Party, and I am not intending
>join. I think Jim F is here wrestling with an argument relevant for US

>I feel on this list about a month ago Nathan adequately answered the
>challenge that he was tailing behind Clinton.
>>Similarly, in the US
>>many left groups including the DSA, CPUSA, the Committees
>>of Correspondence etc. are all avidly pro-Clinton despite the
>>fact that he is the most right-wing Democratic president the
>>US has seen in this century. With all these left groups taking
>>such a pro-Clinton line this means that Clinton has had little
>>opposition to fear from the left. (The most prominent left
>>Democrat, Jesse Jackson has proved himself to be a loyal
>>Clinton lieutenant). All this has made it easier for the Clinton
>>Administration to drift further and further to the right in terms
>>of actual policies (i.e. abolishing welfare, proposing to privatize
>>social security, pushing through NAFTA and GATT).
>Well I agree that the left should not give the impression that there
>nothing to fear from it. That is a question of combining struggle with
>unity on any tactical question. I think Blair and New Labour need to
>continue to be pressed on constitutional reform.

How are you going to do that if you also at the same time acting to shore up his position both within his own party by depriving Labour from any effective challenge from the left. This gives him every incentive to keep going rightwards. It weakens the Labour left which has been effectively muzzled since Blair took over the party (completing a process that Neil Kinnock had initiated).
>But nor should the left play fantasy games of would be revolutionaries
>about how influential it is. If Clinton or Blair caves into the right,
>is because that is what represents the balance of actually existing
>forces at the time.
>Similarly Doug commented:
>>>If Clinton is any precedent, Blair will piss on the Labour left -
>should Blair hit a rough patch, the left will be among his strongest
>defenders. Of course, Britain is a different country....
>Blair has already done this. And on the most important question, the
>of surplus value going to the working class, he will do it again, if
>international competition makes the UK economy uncompetitive. Blair's
>camaign for jobs is a clever technocratic way of saying that British
>costs must be internationally competitive. Now they will use computers
>give people personal interviews, and moral support, but Blair's
>emphasis on
>individual responsibility is intended to make sure the stick of market
>discipline is there. And they now have sophisticated ways of
>>Traditionally Democratic presidents usually had to be on the
>>watch for opposition from the left. Democratic presidents from
>>Roosevelt to Truman to Kennedy and John all had to guard their
>>left flanks. Therefore, they were under some pressure to support
>>reforms that would benefit workers, the elderly, African-Americans,
>>women etc. The last two Democratic presidents that we have had,
>>Carter and Clinton, have not had to worry about this. Hence their
>>administrations in terms of substantive policy have differed little
>>from we might expect to see from a moderate Republican
>You know the emprical data better than me, but more recently the way
>Clinton has leant on Afro-American support implies promises and
>expectations here.

Clinton already has a long history of pissing on loyal Democratic constituencies. What these groups ought to be doing is making their support fro him conditional. Instead it looks like they are going to give him their unconditional support and if as expected he survives the impeachment process in the Senate he will go back to pissing on them some more. At this point the politics of a censure compromise would seem to favor Clinton once more caving into the Republicans on important policy issues.

>>What Chris Burford seems to be proposing is that British leftists
>>follow the same route as their counterparts across the pond.
>I do not accept that. I have heard of no movement towards proportional
>representation in the USA. And no discussion on this list about reform
>campaign funds to restrict the ability of the capitalist class to
>the political parties. Perhaps I missed it in the volume. But more
>it would be shat upon from a great height as inherently reformist (and
>certainly it could be either reformist or radical).
>>And the results I would expect to be much the same. A Labour
>>Party drifting further and further to the right. A rise in
>>among the party's traditional working class constituencies with
>>no readily available vehicle to express it. Therefore, like in the
>>US voter participation in elections will probably decrease as people
>>perceive correctly that there is little difference between Labour
>>and the Tories.
>Well I think we have to have an analytical perspective that does not
>on one individual or one party as to whether they are an inch or two
>to the
>right or left. We should focus on the whole system and ask how well it
>transmits and amplifies the interests of the working class versus the
>capitalist class. And what levers it gives to the working class to
>control of the state and the means of production.
>A New Labour party or New Labour democratic coalition, and a
>Party in the US, secure that they had the support of industrial
>could make consitutional changes to give greater control to the
>class as a whole (including all middle class elements).

Why would either the New Democrats or New Labour want to do that in the absence of significant working class insurgency? I think that the hopes you place in them are misplaced and are doomed to disappointment. To the extent that New Labour or the New Democrats are successful there will be less room in electoral politics for the working class.
>If the Republicans collapse in 2000 there may be the opportunity to
>the landscape but that process of redrawing needs to start now!

If the Republicans implode I think there will be even less incentive for the Democrats to pursue electoral reform. After all if both campaign dunds and votes start going on mass in their direction, why fix the system?

>I agree that as the process of government became more technical,
>will fall still further. It is a good thing because it means the
>class has no illusions in any one party. New Labour is very worried
>this, and I think this will further accelerate the process of
>constitutional change. Labour is for example very worried about the
>possibilities of corruption scandals in towns that it controls
>overwhelmingly by first past the post elections, and may well
>introduce PR
>locally to avoid damage to its national image. And then voting will
>still further.
>It is a good result from a marxist perspective if class conscious
>constituencies have no faith in the Labour Party, but do have to have
>sober awareness of the balance of class forces whether the Labour
>successfully wins elections or not. This undermines crass
>not reinforces it. That is what we want.
>>Well, if Chris wants to come to the US I am sure there will be a
>>for him in Al Gore's Y2K presidential campaign.
>I am sure there is. But I do not think Gore needs me, nor Blair.

Well, in the US British accents are in fasion right now. I am sure Al Gore would welcome a new spin doctor with a Brit accent.

> Their
>is to win elections, and I hope they do so efficiently, until I am
>convinced that there is a better alternative in bourgeois politics
>that can
>efficiently win an election.
>We have to shift perspective from thinking linearly to thinking in
>terms of
>The linear thinking that emerged as the momentum of the third
>subsided in capitalist societies this century was as follows: There is
>two party system. At least the slightly lefter wing of these is more
>amenable to influence from trade unions [themselves bourgeois organs
>that tended to get forgotten]; let us use the influence of marxists
>the trade unions to hope we can pull or push the more left wing party
>electoral power and then hope it will remain left wing.
>Entrism was a hopeless sub-variety of this linear type of thinking.
>I would suggest by contrast that in complex late capitalist societies
>it is
>not possible to conceive of one centre of correct Leninist leadership
>every matter, capable of deciding one and only one policy towards the
>Democratic Party, the Republican Party, the US Labor Party and all the
>other entities of civil society in the US. They are all playing their
>in an interactive system where everyone affects everything and the
>resultant depends on the balance of forces.
>It is therefore not a logical contradiction to see that one good
>person may
> contribute in Gore's campaign team by trying to make sure that
>environmental issues do not fall off the agenda yet again (I mean
>while another is trying to make sure that a particular union genuinely
>represents its members. And another is trying to network to ensure
>that the
>capitalist economy gets subject to informed criticism even if it
>cannot be
>overthrown tomorrow. These three good individuals do not have to know
>other or be in communication directly, each to have some slight
>effect. They are all playing a role in a complex contradictory civil
>society. They largely communicate unconsciously by experiencing the
>of forces that each come up against in trying to achieve their short
>goals. They will in addition be helped by conscious communication, and
>can be fostered.
>I am suggesting it needs to be fostered in a pluralist way now and we
>a greater understanding of the political system and the class struggle
>as a
>process not a mechanical engine that we try to lever onto slightly
>left wing tracks for a few miles until the points switch it back to
>right again.
>So although I find Jim Farmelant's questions challenging I do not feel
>challenged on the terms he proposes. I do not think in any material
>that I am supporting Blair or supporting Gore. Nor that they need
>from one trivial individual like me. I am talking about the system.
>Chris Burford

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