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Book Reviews

How anti-capitalist?

John Carter and Dave Morland (eds): Anti-Capitalist Britain. (New Clarion Press £12.95)

This is a collection of articles on the anti-capitalist/anti-globalisation movement as it exists in Britain. The quality and relevance vary, and one paper in particular (on the consequences of 9/11 for British Muslims) belongs in a different book.
Two main themes can be picked out. One is that the anti-capitalist movement (ACM) did not grow out of thin air but represents a continuation of earlier activities, such as 1970s free festivals, road protest camps and various environmental groups. All these movements supposedly share a propensity for direct action and a general hostility to leadership. Linked with this is the second theme, that of the predominant role of anarchism within the ACM. There are definitely positive aspects to this, including opposition to the tactics of vanguard groups like the SWP and rejection of leadership. The particular variant of anarchism that is singled out in a chapter by the editors is saddled with the name ‘post-structuralist anarchism’, a viewpoint which they do not explain at all clearly (but see, for instance, ). This claims that power and oppression are not confined to just the state and the workings of capitalism but can be found elsewhere too (as in misogyny or anti-gay prejudice). But it downplays the crucial role of capitalism as the underlying cause of oppression.
The anarchist influence is seen as partly a reflection of the decline of the traditional Bolshevik left. As Carter and Moreland say, “The death of the old authoritarian Soviet anti-capitalism has cleared the way for more radical and vibrant ways of fighting money and all of its works.” This perspective is partly balanced by Derek Wall’s chapter, which refers to the Social Democratic Federation and William Morris, and notes that at the end of the 19th century, “Marxism looked pretty green”.
But along with the anarchism are some ‘fair trade’ and ‘deep green’ ideas which are hardly radical at all. For instance, one chapter advocates, as the opposite of globalisation, localisation, which means a country should produce as much as possible of what it needs within its own borders. Now, it is quite likely that in socialism there will be far less transport of goods from their place of production to place of consumption, as there will be no need to seek out the cheapest and most profitable place to make things. But national borders, which won’t exist in socialism, are an irrelevance here, and the argument assumes the continuance of trade (and hence of money, wages, etc.).
A chapter by Green Party member Molly Scott Cato argues that greens are anti-capitalist, even if many deny this. Rather than a revolution, she advocates a gradual green undermining of capitalism, by means of Local Exchange Trading Schemes (LETS) and co-operatives. Her ways to challenge capitalism include such gems as ‘Switch all your bank accounts to the Nationwide or another mutual building society.’
Actually it would be unfair to let trivia like this condemn the volume as a whole. It certainly offers a different perspective on aspects of the ACM. And if the book lacks a clear single view of the movement or of what should replace capitalism, then it merely reflects the anti-capitalist movement, after all.



The role of the state

Consensus or Coercion? The State, the People and Social Cohesion in Post-War Britain. (New Clarion Press. £12.95)

This is a collection of studies of various aspects of social and political life in Britain from 1945 to the end of the 1970s, covering such fields as television, immigration, housing policy, even the role of the defunct Communist Party.
But what is the state? To most people it will be the centralised administrative machine controlled by the government, which provides various services (health, education, social security, defence) for “the nation”. To Marxists, the modern state is indeed a centralised administrative machine controlled by the government, but one which is used to manage the common affairs of the national ruling class (today, the capitalist owners of the means of wealth production), including the provision of education, health care, etc for the subject class (the majority class of wage and salary workers), and whose ultimate weapon is force, coercion; hence Engels’s definition of the state as in the final analysis a body of armed men.
For the Oxford sociologist, Ross McGibbon, who has provided a foreword to this book, the state “represents the governing elites, both political and bureaucratic, but is distinguishable from (say) the ruling party and has an interest which, although influenced by party-political competition, stands above such competition”. To which the anonymous author of the introduction adds, its role is to ensure the social cohesion of the population of the “administratively defined community” that is the “nation-state”, ideally by consensus but otherwise by coercion.
Although Marxists see, even define, the state as a coercive institution at the service of a class, this does not mean that they are committed to the view that the ruling class rules only by coercion. That would be an absurd view since no “nationally administered political community” could survive if it was held together by coercion alone. A degree, in fact a fairly high degree, of consent is required: the subject class has to agree to being ruled by the class that controls the state. So, one of the important functions of the state is to actively promote such agreement. Obviously this wouldn’t work if the state tried to openly persuade people to be ruled by a ruling class; it has to be more subtle and is done by promoting the idea that all the subjects of a particular state form a national community and are in fact “citizens” rather than subjects. The state is then seen as the management committee, not of the ruling class which owns and controls the means of production, but of all the citizens, who elect the government.
Surprisingly in view of the book’s title, only two of the studies address this question directly, dealing with the question of immigration from the Caribbean and the problem this has presented the state in terms of integrating such and other “non-white” (to use the old Apartheid classification) immigrants into the British “national community”, given the previous definition of this community as being made up of “white” English-speakers. After passing racist legislation in the 1960s to stop “non-white” immigration, the British state opted for extending the definition of “British” to include “non-whites”. It appears to be working, but now their problem is the reaction of a signification minority of “white” people who don’t agree and who may well have to be coerced into accepting it.
A third essay, on the Labour Party’s attitude to Europe in the period 1945-50, does, it is true, touch on another such problem: how the British state is to get its subjects to agree to its policy – in the interest of its ruling class – of European integration. After having successfully inculcated the idea of a “British nation” this is now proving a barrier.
The other essays, even though off-subject, are still interesting in their own right, especially the one on the Labour Party’s opposition in the 1950s to the introduction of commercial television. Everything that was said would happen if this was introduced – dumbing down, commercialisation, the “idiot box” dominating the home – has come to pass, and worse. But it was always going to be a losing battle since, in a capitalist society, the capitalists are always going to get their way in the end.
Conspicuously lacking from the book are studies of how promotion of support for “national” sports teams and the teaching of history and civics in schools work towards sustaining the myth that all who live within the administrative boundaries of a particular state constitute a community with a common interest, whereas in fact in all states there are two classes: an
 owning, ruling class and the rest of us.