The Early Days of a Better Nation

Friday, June 06, 2008

Reasons to be Cheerful

The privatisation of the Labour Party, mooted here and discussed in the post below, may or may not be a joke. What is well past a joke is the need for creative market-based solutions to the problems of the farther left. The way forward has long since been pioneered by two groups at opposite poles of the British Marxist spectrum: the ultra-left RCP became the contrarian, libertarian think-tank spiked, while the right wing of the old CP morphed smoothly into the left-of-centre think-tank Demos. Both are more influential than they ever were as parties: a strong indication that a wealth of untapped talent and assets await the enterprising venture socialist within the crumbling edifices of democratic centralism. A thousand weeds are ready to bloom, just as soon as the walls are knocked down and the roof blown off.

So how could the rest go?

Let's start from the top. The diverse, diminished, but still millions-strong international Communist movement has global brand recognition, and could very well be run as a franchise. Who better placed to do that than the mighty CPC? This is less outlandish than it sounds. In the 1970s, squabbling sects of US Maoists contended for what they quite openly referred to as 'the China franchise' (the losers had to make do with Albania). Meanwhile, China's official Foreign Languages Publishing House even-handedly flooded the market with cheap, excellent translations of the Marxist classics, whose font and print were so easy on the eye as to make reading even Stalin's duller pages tolerable. With China's more general turn to the market, FLPH disposed of its surplus Marxist stock by shipping bales of the stuff to any Communist party that would take the books and pamphlets off its hands for nothing. Local stocks around the world are now dangerously low, and the Chinese Communists could earn some much-needed goodwill on the left by cranking up the presses again, in whatever slack time the FLPH has between production runs of business manuals. As for the supply of baseball caps, flags, T-shirts, ball-point pens and other agitational ephemera, it would merely be a matter of changing the stencils in the sweatshops. If 'Free Tibet' flags can turn out to be Made in China, why not Red ones? With its decades of diplomatic experience and ingrained sympathy for national prickliness, the CPC would be well placed - and could well afford - to take an above-the-battle view of the minor differences among its clients.

Trotskyism presents a knottier problem. The only answer here is in radical restructuring. Trotsky himself was notably better at producing interesting descriptions of reality than at devising practical policies to change it, and the flaw has replicated down the entire clade of his successors. However, the whole point of this exercise is to turn setbacks into opportunities, and here the answer just drops out of a clear statement of the problem: separate the analysis from the actions! The Socialist Workers Party is the obvious case in point. If only the intellectuals who produce International Socialism would concentrate on what they're good at, and the rank-and-filers who sell Socialist Worker and who hand out placards and leaflets did likewise, everything would be fine. It's when the intellectuals try to formulate a policy that they tend to come to grief. Policy formation should therefore be taken out of the hands of the Central Committee and hived off to a think-tank (details below). Having no say in the policy of the paper they sell shouldn't embarrass the sellers, who have no such say at the moment in any case.

OK, so we have our Marxist intellectual book publishers, and our socialist street newspaper sellers. That leaves the little matter of the policy that will inform the papers they sell. How is that to be decided, if not by the intellectuals? Why not the rank and file? We search the blogs of the far left with a sinking feeling. How is it that so many bright, well-informed, intelligent people can bear to either carry the cross of their party's line, or drift into inactivity (disguised, often enough, as left-wing blogging)? Again, a clear statement of the problem provides the answer: turn the army of lefty bloggers into a prediction market! The clearing-house of that market would then determine policy from week to week; and a small automated system, from day to day.

Speaking of predictions and markets, the rigour of Marxist economics spokespeople would be greatly stiffened if they had to put their money where their mouths are. If their salaries were to be linked to the performance of shares bought and sold on the basis of their predictions, many economic crises that have never happened would never have been predicted. Again, there's a real-world precedent for this: in 1987, while more excitable Marxists (and others) were predicting the final crisis, the Communist Party's pension fund did very well by buying shares hand over fist at the bottom of the crash.

To take this further with more detailed suggestions for the smaller groups - to consider, for example, the Scottish Socialist Party's potential as a relationship counselling service - would take us too far into the realms of speculation.


See, this is why I've been known to say:

"I'm whatever Ken MacLeod is these days... and once he tells us what that is, I'll be sure to let you know."

If there is ever a market for "emo-cutter-leftism," you'll corner it for sure.


Brian, I blush. (And hastily add you blog to Comrades and Friends.) But you've generation-gapped me: what does 'emo-cutter' mean?

It could also be a trans-Atlantic communication problem, but emo is a sort of morose ('emotional') pop-punk music typified by relatively androgynous male lead singers (and the latest 'Elvis is corrupting the youth' scare). Cutters are self-abusers who use knives to cut themselves without suicidal intent.

Emo-afficianados are derisively held to be cutters... more unfair 'kids today' business, and minority subculture darwination in public-meaning-public schools.

Thus... if self-hating leftists of weak spirit ever constituted a demographic, you'd really know how to make it sting. (As a US citizen, The Execution Channel really stung... deservedly.)

Also, while we're on the general subject, you can't buy wine in Boston-area convenience stores. Puritanical blue-laws. (Then again, it was alternate history.)

Relationship counselling? Wouldn't it rather more resemble a protection racket?

Hey, it just occured to me a week ago that political parties should be incorporated and MP's privatised. The idea came to me when I was reading Private eye about Richard Carbon, getting £70,000 froM AMEC whilst working as an MP.
Now, English law being what it is, I'm not entirely sure what I can say, but at the very least, getting the kind fo pay that the MD of a small company might get, or a major adviser to a alarge company, would suggest he'll be spending rather a lot of time not on constituency business.

Wasn't "putting their money where their mouths are" what Julian Simon asked Paul Ehrlich to do, in that famous bet on the commodities markets?

Regarding guthrie's comment on MPs' outside earnings I came across today the factoid that the former Labour Party chairman, Ian McCartney, MP for Makerfield, earned himself £115,000 by advising the Texas based nuclear power firm, Fluor Corp. Apparently, he describes himself on his parliamentary notepaper as the 'Socialist MP for Makefield'. I wonder if it states after that - available for hire, rates very reasonable.

the only time i've ever encountered spiked was when i came across a blog post by jared taylor (white supremacy's house intellectual) built around one of their articles.

if that's the future then um.

spiked is sound on MMR. The rest is interesting at least. I enjoyed this posting greatly.

I actually saw a Spiked Stall at a free festival in Stoke Newington on Sunday. It was some "charity" that argues for open borders under the slogans "The More The Merrier" and "Let Them All In". They were also doing a collection for some Ugandan village. It was definately Spiked though, they had loads of their graphics and I recognised one of their Stall people...

It is not likely the Communist Party of China can make much money reprinting the Marxist classics. I hadvea friend who worked at China Books - US distributor of books from the PRC - and he told me all the Marxist crap they imported in the 1960s & 1970s was unsellable. China Books now concentrates on literature, DVDs from China, and books on doing business with China.

The US left group that has become a business is the Socialist Workers Party, which holds the copyright to Trotsky's books, and runs a chain of Pathfinder Bookstores in 7 countries. They bought thousands of books by Marx & Lenin from Progress Publishers @ 25 cents each, and they advertise them on their website for $25 each. They make enough doing this to support Jack Barnes and Mary-Alice Waters in a bourgeoios lifestyle.

Several years ago, they sold the Pathfinder Building in New York for $20 million, and relocated their warehouse to Georgia, where they can pay low wages to their non-union help.

And don't forget the World Socialist Web Site, AKA the Socialist Equality Party (SEPtics). They've done extremely well out of their printing business, which enables them to fund their presidential campaigns and a full time staff for the website.

Gene, doesn't the experience of Pathfinder run counter to that of China Books - that there's still a market for the Marxist classics? Mind you, I'm not sure Pathfinder makes most of its money from Marx and Lenin.

avps - about the WSWS. They run a commercial printing business, which presumably prints party lit as a sideline. I'm very dubious about the SEP, but I do link to WSWS in my sidebar. I check it every day, and I usually find at least one article worth reading and often more. Their arts coverage is far better than that of most Trotskyist groups.

I very much hope that the Marxist classics are still in print and will remain so! But not too long ago I heard that the latest edition of Paul Samuelson's hyperdoorstop economics textbook contains no mention of Marx or his economics. This is surely a bad sign.

George, perhaps saying nothing would be preferable to what Samuelson used to write about Marx!

Yes Ken, you are right. His last stuff, if I understand it correctly (I know little about this), was a "proof" that the Marxian Transformation Problem is mathematically ill-formed and hence insoluble. But I've seen recent books that claim to save what can be saved. If at least one of them is correct then Samuelson either botched his maths, was fully uncharitable, or knowingly engaged in symbolic obfuscation. So whatever's going on, your comment is correct.

What leftists think and what they actually do is an interesting phenomenon.

After many decades on and around the left I've come to the conclusion that leftist parties could do a lot worse that bringing in Time & Motion Experts who would follow them around and analyse such trad left activities like paper selling, Saturday street stalls, hopping around from one lost cause to the next, and suchlike.

Spreadsheets could then be presented to central committees, new recruits, and writers of speculative fiction.

Real Life would continue.

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