A Marxist history of the police : Part 1 – Repression in the face of revolution

by Stephen James Kerr, 10th August 2020

Today we are publishing the first part in a series “A Marxist History of the Police”. Part 1 will examine how the birth of the industrial working class and the tumult of the bourgeois revolutions drove the need for new forms of repression.

Part 2 will deal with experiments towards a police force in Ireland by Sir Robert Peel, up to the infamous Peterloo Massacre in 1819.

Part 3 will examine the growing movement for the vote in the aftermath of Peterloo, and reveal how the demands of the workers for suffrage was bound up with the creation of the police. 

Introduction: The “mailed fist” and the “velvet glove”.

A global movement has sprung up in the wake of the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. This multi-racial movement has brought millions of people into the streets with various demands, ranging from reforming police forces to disarming and defunding them. Black Lives Matter (BLM) has framed the problem of the police exclusively in terms of racism. For BLM, the police exist simply to impose ‘white supremacy’. For BLM, police violence expresses the pervasive ‘structural racism’ embedded within the entire white population, across all social and class lines. Such a view of the police serves to minimalize their actual repressive function, and divides society along a racial rather than class basis.  If we are to see how this system of divide and rule works, we must be especially wary of racialist ‘solutions’ to the problem of police violence. The notion that police forces can be reformed to be ‘non-racist’ isn’t only non-workable, it drives a wedge where the ruling class wants it- between black and white workers. If some black workers and the black middle class can be appeased by sensitivity training programs, more black officers, or merging police forces with social welfare agencies – all of which have been proposed – and, if white workers come to believe that they must shoulder the burden of guilt for the racist violence of white cops, then it will be very difficult for black and white workers to come together and question the very existence of police as an institution, and almost impossible to call into question the continued existence of capitalism, the source of both racism and of police violence. This is precisely the outcome the ruling class wants, and therefore the one we must prevent at all costs. 

If we examine the history of police forces and how they were first created, we begin to see a different, more complex picture than that painted by BLM. Modern society was not always policed as it is today. When we consider the history of how police forces were created, a more complex picture emerges. In fact, there were no centralized police agencies in the English-speaking world prior to 1829. First invented in England, they were exported to Canada, the US, and throughout the British Empire. Why they were invented, and how they came to exist in their present form aren’t mere historical curiosities, but rather constitute crucial political questions of contemporary relevance. 

The British capitalist class responded to the great bourgeois-democratic revolutions in America and France and to the rise of the industrial working class in two ways. On the one hand the British elite developed centrally controlled, uniformed police forces, while offering limited, piecemeal reforms to the middle class on the other. While the police were to be deployed against the most militant section of the workers, the better-off sections of workers and the middle class were presented with reforms the better to bind their interests with those of the existing system of class rule. 

If the police are the ‘mailed fist’ of the capitalist state, reform is the ‘velveteen glove’. Both means are deployed with one aim: to split the working class, and prevent its political unification. The more privileged sections of the working class must be convinced they share the same interests as their class oppressors, while the other sections can be ignored, or violently repressed as needed. To be  ‘legitimate’, these processes must bear the imprimatur of democratic consent. For policing to work, the public must permit itself to be policed

This is the story of how and why that permission was obtained. 

The ruling class didn’t suddenly weave this strategy out of whole cloth. It was arrived at by trial and error, and in the face of massive internal and external resistance. In the long run, the combination of mailed fist and velvet glove has proved extremely effective for our rulers. If we, the working class majority, are to unite to destroy the system of class rule once and for all, we need to understand how this system operates to maintain itself.

 This introduction to the history of ‘the police’ will deal with how the English ruling class and the working classes responded to the American and French Revolutions and English policing in the half century from 1749 until 1800.

The industrial revolution and the birth of the working class.

 18th century England was covered by a patchwork of localized ‘police’ institutions, with varying standards and responsibilities, and no accountability to any centralized authority. Each town or parish organized its own ‘night watch’ comprised of local volunteers. These were mainly concerned with thieving, which was then a capital offence. Otherwise it was the responsibility of an aggrieved party to privately use the courts to bring alleged criminals to public justice. The night watchmen could be variably corrupt, lazy or otherwise incompetent. 

In times of civil unrest, the state called upon either the army or the ‘yeomanry’ – small landowners, or minor gentry, who owned horses to form ad hoc mounted, armed brigades- which could be called upon to impose force on insurgents, usually peasants, but later workers and tradespeople. It was common for rebels to be cut down with swords or shot. Treason was punished with being hung, disemboweled, and then cut into four pieces while alive. Petty theft was a capital crime. There was little due process of law for any but the wealthy. It was a brutal society.

Bow St Runners – circa 1800

 Henry Fielding, author of the novel Tom Jones, established London’s first private police force, the ‘Bow Street Runners’ in 1749. Operating out of the Bow Street magistrate’s office, Fielding’s was a private agency of eight men, who also received payments from the government. Their primary day-to-day activities consisted of pursuing thieves. They were also involved in monitoring political opposition.

The material basis of growing political opposition to the British government was the growth of the immense new productive forces of industrialism, and the extraction and accumulation of unheard-of surpluses from colonial plunder in India, the Caribbean, Africa and North America. Prior to the period of mercantilism and rising industrialism, peasant farmers and small trades people had produced the vast majority of wealth in England on the land with the surplus appropriated by wealthy landowners. This formed the basis of the wealth of the landed gentry, who sat atop a political system that justified and preserved their place. 

The industrial revolution of the middle 1700s created new classes of wealthy merchants and then wealthy industrialists. These developments also created an immense new social class – the working class, out of peasants and craftsmen displaced by these new inventions, and who had no means to live but by the sale of their labour power. 

 In his introduction to ‘The Condition of the Working Class in England,’ Engels noted:

With these inventions… the victory of machine-work over hand-work in the chief branches of English industry was won; and the history of the latter from that time forward simply relates how the hand-workers have been driven by machinery from one position after another. The consequences of this were, on the one hand, a rapid fall in price of all manufactured commodities, prosperity of commerce and manufacture, the conquest of nearly all the unprotected foreign markets, the sudden multiplication of capital and national wealth; on the other hand, a still more rapid multiplication of the proletariat, the destruction of all property-holding and of all security of employment for the working-class, demoralization, political excitement.” 

England’s 50 years of riots

Though they created much of 18th century England’s wealth, the emergent social forces were barred from participating in official political life. The vote was restricted to the landed gentry. But the common people reserved to themselves the right to comment on politics. Expression of popular opinion was very important in 18thcentury England, with the proliferation of newspapers and political cartoons. The people also reserved to themselves the right to riot in the streets. 

Without an official channel to express their opinions, violent riots involving masses of people were the only real means for the common folk to make their views known. Street unrest was far more common in 18th century England than today. 

A newspaper account from The London Gazette of October 8, 1763 describes how traditional journeymen silk weavers “and a great number of other evil minded persons, masked and disguised, and armed with Cutlasses and other dangerous Weapons, assembled at different Hours of the Day, and also in the Night-time, about the Houses of several other journeyman silk weavers… and in a most outrageous and riotous manner, broke open said Houses, and cut and destroyed the silk works in the looms…” Workers without the vote did not bother their MP. They took the streets, and often, over many issues, not only such labour actions. 

The political system in Britain was unsuited to respond to the displacements of industrialism. It remains to this day a relic, which had been pieced together over the previous 800 years. The Glorious Revolution of 1688 had, to a certain extent, subordinated the King to Parliament, resulting in what Blackstone refers to as a ‘mixed constitution’ containing elements of monarchy, aristocracy and democracy embodied in the institutions of ‘King, Lords and Commons.’ This notion had a pedigree going all the way back to Aristotle and Cicero, but it was fitted to a static, agrarian society which industrialism was beginning to tear apart. 

A political explosion – the American and French Revolution

The American and later the French revolutions exploded the happy slumber of England’s mixed constitution. The mass sympathy which the American revolution evoked in the English common people first caused the British aristocracy and wealthy classes to react, and to contemplate the formation of a centralized police force. 

Historian Tom Mackaman summarizes the intellectual ferment:

 “The American Revolution was a product of the Enlightenment—that period of discovery emerging from the darkness of the medieval world-view that had seen in all that existed the unchanging work of God. Defying the wrath of the church, natural philosophers—scientists such as Copernicus, Galileo and Bruno—began to question the natural world. Simultaneously, political philosophers such as Hobbes, Spinoza, Locke, Voltaire and Montesquieu began to ask questions about the social order. What was the nature of sovereignty? Why do Kings and parliaments rule? Or, as Rousseau put it, why is it “that man is born free, and yet everywhere is in chains?” 

The Declaration of Independence and the book, Common Sense by Thomas Paine posed that question squarely to the embryonic English working class. These caused an immediate ferment in Europe, and sparked immediate sympathy with workers across Europe.

It’s worthwhile to quote briefly from the Declaration, whose most crucial, revolutionary passage is known to billions of people today:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

The notion that the ‘consent of the governed’ was required for any government to be considered legitimate was a radical new idea in 1776. Still more radical, was the claim that the people have the right to ‘alter or abolish’ governments with which they disagree. But it was an idea that was increasingly appealing to the British merchant class and the then embryonic working class, which had already been in political sympathy with the plight of the colonies for years.

“The merchants of the City of London and of other expanding citiesof the new middle class in England identified their own interests closely with those of the colonists. The London press, almost without exception, was the voice of this class. With the introduction of the tax on the colonists’ trade in molasses and sugar in 1764, the London Chronicle at once reported from the west coast port of Bristol, which dependedon the American trade, that “the principal merchants of the city intend to support with all their interest the independent free trade of the American colonies.” 

The Gordon Riots by John Seymour Lucas

In 1780, at the height of the US War of Independence, unrest broke out in London and the government lost control of the streets for several days. The ‘Gordon Riots’ erupted out of a cacophony of demands of the poor, for political representation, much of it couched in anti-Catholic prejudice in this instance. Their targets were not the Catholic poor but rather ‘persons of high station.’ Regiments of the British Army put down these riots, with several hundred rioters killed. In the immediate aftermath of these riots, bills were brought forth to establish a system of centralized policing on the French model which was notorious in England for its repressiveness. Still even an apprehended insurrection at home and the loss of the colonies in North America could not forge enough support in the Commons to pass such measures. But demands for the vote were growing, inspired by the revolt of the Colonies. 

The storming of the Bastille July 14th 1789

The years 1789 to 1791 were crucial for the further development of English radicalism. The French Revolution, and the execution of the Bourbon King, threw up yet another question mark over the English Constitution. The French Revolution offered a universal Declaration of the Rights of Man, which consciously reached beyond the borders of France, as a challenge to every single crowned head of Europe. It is worth quoting from:

1. “Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be founded only upon the general good. 

2. The aim of all political association is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression. 

3. The principle of all sovereignty resides essentially in the nation. No body nor individual may exercise any authority which does not proceed directly from the nation. 

4. Liberty consists in the freedom to do everything, which injures no one else; hence the exercise of the natural rights of each man has no limits except those which assure to the other members of the society the enjoyment of the same rights. These limits can only be determined by law. 

5. Law can only prohibit such actions as are hurtful to society. Nothing may be prevented which is not forbidden by law, and no one may be forced to do anything not provided for by law. 

6. Law is the expression of the general will. Every citizen has a right to participate personally, or through his representative, in its foundation. It must be the same for all, whether it protects or punishes. All citizens, being equal in the eyes of the law, are equally eligible to all dignities and to all public positions and occupations, according to their abilities, and without distinction except that of their virtues and talents. 

This went far beyond the American Revolution. The English ruling class was horrified. Following on from the French Revolution, the slave uprising in Sainte Domingue (now Haiti) in 1791 further threatened British imperial conquests in the Caribbean by disrupting markets for sugar and slaves, and drew political sympathy in the English working and middle classes for the insurgents. The movement to abolish slavery in England was at its height. 

Revenge taken by the Black Army for the Cruelties practised on them by the French”. Illustration by British soldier and self-admitted “admirer of Toussaint L’Ouverture” Marcus Rainsford

The Haitian revolution radicalized the anti-slavery movement in England, lending it a decidedly republican character, and caused the British government to cool on ending the slave trade. The publication of The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine that year sent further shockwaves through British society, as Paine called upon the British to rise up and establish a democracy as had just been done in France. As republican political clubs formed in London, Paine’s works, printed in cheap penny editions became the most widely read books after the Bible. 

Response to revolution – The velvet glove of reform

The British ruling class also established a ‘respectable’ society to advocate for very limited parliamentary reforms, ‘The Society of Friends of the People’ led by Sir Charles Grey and Sir Charles Fox. Here we begin to see the strategy of co-optation emerging. This was not a popular organization, but a private gentlemen’s debating club. Membership cost the not insubstantial sum of two gold Guineas per year,, and one could only become a member by being nominated by other members. Unsurprisingly, this society disavowed any support for republicanism. 

Fired by Paine’s writing, and inspired by the quickening of the French Revolution, the London Corresponding Society was established in 1792 to agitate for parliamentary reform, and the extension of suffrage to all working people, including women. Its membership and activities spread rapidly across the country. This was a indeed a popular movement. 

Membership in the LCS was open to all who agreed with the statement that “…the welfare of these kingdoms require that every adult person, in possession of his reason, and not incapacitated by crimes, should have a vote for a Member of Parliament.” Its members were tailors, glaziers, hatters, carpenters and other craftsmen, or to Edmund Burke “the lowest vulgar.” 

Where Paine’s ideas promised liberty and bread for the working classes and independent tradespeople, Edmund Burke prescribed that “Patience, labour, sobriety, frugality and religion should be recommended to them; all the rest is downright fraud.” 

The LCS in contrast, according to Burke “audaciously assumed the task of watching over the transactions of Parliament, and of limiting the boundaries to its powers, threatening destruction if it dared to transgress them…. The Corresponding Society had laid before the Constitutional Society a scheme for calling together a convention of the people, manifestly for the purpose of dissolving the government and lodging the supreme power in their own hands.” 

Response to revolution – the “mailed fist” of the hired mob

Still wedded to traditional modes of thinking, the British aristocracy set about forming ad-hoc associations to repress the new revolutionary ferment – riot vs riot. 

The Association for Protecting Liberty and Property Against Republicans and Levelers was formed late 1792, and quickly spread across the country, mobilizing violent mobs in support of ‘Church and King.’ A dictionary definition from 1795 openly suggests there was a direct link between the Associations and the British Government. “Mob – Church and King, – a species of regular militia, kept in pay by the Ministry, for the protection of property against Levelers and Republicans.” This was the alternative to police. 

According to E.P. Thompson, “a mob was a very useful supplement to the magistrates in a nation that was scarcely policed.” The mobs persecuted reformists and their supporters. In one instance, a “leading Jacobin was ‘tied in the saddle of a dragoon’s horse, whilst the mad and bigoted populace stuck pins in his legs.” And in another, “houses of reformers were broken open and persons dragged out, halters were put on their necks, and they were plunged into the muddy waters at the side of town.” 

 According to the Association’s pamphlets, “The press daily produced malevolent writings, in which the Constitution was calumniated, and every sanction of Society was attacked; all ranks, but especially the lower, were inflamed by insinuations of grievances, the soldiers and seamen were tempted from their duty, the artisans and labourers were made dissatisfied with their fate of honest industry… All were instructed to regard the present Establishment as an oppression, and excited to follow the example of France in setting up Equality of Ranks and Liberty without any bounds.” 

 
Ruling class panic at the execution of Louis leads to the suspension of civil rights in England

Inspired by the progress of the revolution in France, in 1792 and ‘93 republicans organized ‘The British Convention’, to which Burke referred above. It held two meetings, both in Scotland where mild proposals for parliamentary reform were put forward, and greetings to the group were read out from the United Irishmen, and also from republicans in Wales. The meetings had been infiltrated by agents of the British government, which was panicked by the execution of King Louis on 21 January 1793 by the National Convention of France.

Prime Minister, Sir William Pitt, suspended Habeas Corpus and charged  leading members of the LCS with sedition and treason. The traditional punishment for this crime underlines the panic of the Pitt government.

E.P Thompson relates how the penalty for Treason was “that he should be hanged by the neck, cut down while still alive, disemboweled (and his entrails burned before his face) and then be beheaded and quartered” and how, unable to stomach the penalty, the jury acquitted the LCS leaders to the jubilation of the London citizenry, if not His Majesty’s government.

While the government made use of terrorism and violent unreason in the streets, it made full use of violent reason in the Commons and the Courts. The Terror of the French Revolution has been mythologized in direct proportion to the extent the terror of the English counter-revolution has been buried. Consider the various repressive measures undertaken by the British government against its own people:

Mass meeting of 100,00 at Copenhagen House – satarical cartoon by Gilray

Habeas Corpus was suspended in 1794 in order to effectively suppress the movement for a Constitutional Convention of the “swinish multitude.” This did not stop the agitation. Demonstrations for the vote continued to mount. On October 26th, 1795 (after a very poor harvest which resulted in famine) a demonstration of more than 100,000 assembled at Copenhagen Fields where it was proposed to organize “the whole nation… combined in one grand Political Association.” Thompson relates how, “A remonstrance was addressed to the King. ‘Whenceforth in the midst of apparent plenty, are we thus compelled to starve? Why, when we incessantly toil and labour, must we pine in misery and want?” 

Three days later King George’s carriage was stoned on its way to the opening of Parliament. The government responded with two Acts that made such demands and demonstrations illegal. The Treasonable Practices Act made it high treason to “within the realm or without compass, imagine, invent, devise or intend death or destruction, or any bodily harm tending to death or destruction, maim or wounding, imprisonment or restraint, of the person of … the King.” This act set English liberties back to the Dark Ages before Magna Carta.

Stoning of the King’s carriage as depicted by James Gilray (1795)

The Seditious Meetings Act restricted public meetings to no more than 50 people. To hold a meeting of any size on a political topic, permission from a magistrate had to be obtained. In 1798 the Newspaper Publication Act restricted the printing of newspapers. In that same year, the Bow Street Runners were expanded. Finally, in 1799 the government passed the Combinations Act, which forbade groups of working people from organizing together in trade unions to improve conditions and made strikes illegal. The Seditious Societies Act forbade political institutions organized on a national basis, directly targeting any future growth of corresponding societies. 

 Thus by 1800 the English ruling class by the stroke of their pens had destroyed the popular freedoms, out of fear of the English people themselves. This situation could not last forever. The following 30 years would see even greater social upheavals leading to the first parliamentary reforms, and the formation of ‘the police’ to contain any further democratic aspirations of the people. 




Marx’s Theory of Crisis and the Current Economic Crash

by Robert Montgomery 14th July 2020


“Why is the world financial system in crisis? First in 2008 and now in 2020 we have seen the world plunge into the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression with incalculable economic and political consequences. Marx’s work has a theory of economic crisis that explains why capitalism is inevitably convulsed by the boom and bust cycle and all the chaos that entails. This article aims to provide a brief introduction to Marx’s crisis theory. It begins with a brief overview, before examining Marx’s view that crises arise from the drive for an ever higher productivity of labor, which leads to a crisis of profitability. The tendency to crisis and that this crisis tendency is rooted in the exploitation of living labor which is the lifeblood of capitalism. This article attempts to summarize Marx’s theory of the economic cycle and why periodic crises happen.”


General Overview


For Marx the process of capital accumulation leads eventually to an overaccumulation, or overproduction of capital. More capital accumulates in the hands of the ruling class than can be reinvested to yield a sufficient mass and rate of profit. This decreased profitability gives rise to a financial crisis. The circuit of capital is interrupted at many points. Creditors call in loans, hike interest rates, and choke off credit. The financial crisis leads to the devaluation of capital in many forms: writing off existing loans, lowering share values, allowing currencies to fall in value, business closings, unemployment, falling wages, and an overproduction of commodities.



We will start with a review of Marx’s theory of value theory, survey some objections to Marx’s claim, and then apply the theory in a more concrete way to describe how crises actually happen.


The Theory of Value


Every child knows a nation which ceased to work, I will not say for a year, but even for a few weeks, would perish. Every child knows, too, that the masses of products corresponding to the different needs require different and quantitatively determined masses of the total labor of society….  Science consists precisely in demonstrating how the law of value asserts itself.”  Marx to Kugelmann 1868


To understand crisis we have to start with the labor theory of value. In Capital v.1, Marx argues that the commodity has a dual nature— it is both a use value and an exchange value. If a commodity had no use for us, there wouldn’t be a demand for it. Because use values are qualitatively distinct, they lack a measurable relation to each other that would allow them to exchange in any proportion. Nevertheless, every useful commodity must be exchanged for other commodities. Exchange implies a common component that is quantitatively measurable, or commensurable. This common component is labor time. The value of commodities is determined by the average labor time expended in their production. Marx called this the labor time socially necessary to produce something at a given time and working at the level of skill and technology in use. Commodities exchange on average at this value.


This holds true for labor power, the only commodity owned and sold by the working class. Different from all other commodities, labor-power is the only one that adds new value to the material it works with. When labor-power is applied to other commodities— machinery and raw materials for example— it adds labor-time to them, which is the measure of value. If labor power is the only commodity that the mass of the working class owns and sells, then what is its value? Like other commodities, the value of labor power is determined by the labor time necessary for its production. For labor power this is the value of the basket of consumption goods needed to keep the worker alive and able to return to work the next day, and to live at the level of culture achieved by the working class in a given country. An expectation of what is needed to keep a worker going differs from one society to another. The expectations and requirements to reproduce the labor of a worker in Detroit and a worker in Mumbai are different. The value of labor power is therefore lower in some countries than others. The value of labor power is governed by the cost of reproducing the laborer, not by the value of the product itself.


We can think of the working day as divided into two parts. The first part is necessary labor time, the period during which the worker produces value equivalent to the cost of reproducing his or her labor power. This labor time is less than the length of the working day. The other part of the working day is surplus labor time. This is the unpaid part of the working day in which surplus value is produced. Surplus value is the source of profit.



Necessary labor time is only one part of the working day. If I work until I produce enough value to equal my wages, I could clock out at noon. Capitalists purchase labor to make a profit. If I only earn the value of my wages, the employer has no reason to hire me. So the value of labor power is less than the value the worker adds to the mass of products produced. The remainder is surplus value the capitalist accumulates as profit. Labor power generates surplus value because a portion of the worker’s labor time is unpaid. In the course of accumulating capital, competition forces capitalists to increase the productivity of labor, enabling more to be produced in less time. The most obvious way of doing this is by introducing new and more advanced machinery. This reduces the time needed for the worker to produce a commodity. The average labor time needed to make a product lessens, and the value of the commodity falls. The first capitalist to introduce a newer technique makes a windfall profit as the more cheaply produced commodities sell on the market either at the previous price, or below it. As more products are produced in a given time, less time is needed for the worker to generate enough value to cover his or her cost of living. Therefore, the part of the working day that makes up the necessary labor time is reduced. While the necessary labor time falls, the surplus labor time expended during a working day rises proportionately, and the capitalist’s profit increases.



Capitalism therefore has an intrinsic drive to increase labor productivity by raising the level of technology used in production. In Marx’s terms, there is a drive to raise the proportion of constant capital (machinery and raw materials) to variable capital (living labor). This boosts the share of profits of the more productive capitalist. To stay in business, competing capitalists in the same branch of production must introduce the same innovation, removing the short-term advantage gained in the market by the first capitalist. But at the same time, something very important has happened. The proportion of capital invested in living labor has fallen relative to the proportion spent on machinery and raw materials. So the constant capital has risen in proportion to the variable capital. Marx calls this an increase in the organic composition of capital, or simply c/v.


Long term trend of increase in the Organic Composition of Capital


This tendency has important consequences for the system of profit generation. Marx established that the source of profit is surplus value, the unpaid labor-time of the worker. Since only the worker produces surplus value, it is only the investment in variable capital that generates profit. The constant capital— machinery, buildings, raw materials and semi-finished goods used — are themselves products of wage labor. A capitalist earlier in the production chain has already pocketed the profit from the surplus labor expended in their production. The constant capital does not add extra value to products that did not exist before; it just transfers stored value to the new product as its value slowly depreciates with each cycle of production. It is only variable capital, representing human labor power that creates new value.


Imagine a Foxconn factory producing smartphones. By increasing the productivity of labor, new technology allows the same labor force to make more smartphones per hour. As the socially necessary labor time embodied in each item falls, the value of each smartphone decreases relative to the value of the competitor’s phones, and Foxconn makes a more profit than its competitors. The new technology appears to have increased value generation, but it has simply transferred the value created by the original labor used to make the new machines. As time goes by, the new machinery keeps transferring its value to new products, and slowly depreciates in value itself. Because it merely transfers the value stored in it to new commodities, Marx called this constant capital because its value remains unchanged. The process recurs as a continual drive to increase labor productivity by introducing new technology, or expressed in value terms, by increasing the constant capital employed in production. However, this process does not simply occur in a single smartphone factory but across all capitalist production, including in the factory that made the machine, which increased Foxconn’s productivity in the first place. This expresses a general tendency in capitalism for constant capital to increase in proportion to the variable capital, although the variable capital is the sole factor creating new value.


Overaccumulation of Capital and the Falling Rate of Profit


 Law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall


In every respect the most important law of modern political economy and the most essential for understanding the most difficult relations. It is the most important law from the historical standpoint. It is a law, which despite its simplicity, has never before been grasped and even less consciously articulated.” Marx, Grundrisse


At the most abstract level capital is self-expanding value. In the process of self-expansion capital goes through a series of different forms. The general formula is M-C-M:


Money buys commodities in the form of means of production and labor power
● Means of production and labor power combine to produce commodities for exchange in the market, which when sold yield profit
● Profit appears in the form of an expanded sum of money that is then re-invested to return even more profits.


In the process value has expanded. To accumulate the additional value as profit, capital appropriates unpaid labor (surplus value or “s”), the only source of profit. It’s essential to keep in mind that this process occurs through the exchange of commodities in the competitive market. Competition drives capitalists to constantly invest in more productive technology in order to appropriate more surplus value than competing capitalists. The effect of constantly rising productivity of labor under capitalism is the replacement of living labor by machines. Under capitalism this happens in a manner that intensifies the exploitation of the workers rather than abolishing it. As Marx explains in volume three of Das Kapital:


This mode of production produces a progressive relative decrease of the variable capital as compared to the constant capital, and consequently a continuously rising organic composition of the total capital. The immediate result of this is that the rate of surplus value, at the same, or even a rising, degree of labor exploitation, is represented by a continually falling general rate of profit. Later we will see why this fall does not manifest itself in an absolute form, but rather as a tendency toward a progressive fall. Therefore the progressive tendency of the general rate of profit to fall is just an expression peculiar to the capitalist mode of production of the progressive development of the social productivity of labor. This is not to say that the rate of profit can’t fall temporarily for other reasons. But proceeding from the nature of the capitalist mode of production it is thereby proved a logical necessity established that in its development the general, average rate of surplus value must express itself in a falling general rate of profit. Since the mass of employed living labor is continually on the decline as compared to the mass of materialized labor set in motion by it, i.e. to the productively consumed means of production, it follows that the portion of living labor, unpaid and congealed in surplus-value, must also be continually on the decrease compared to the amount of value represented by the invested total capital. Since the ratio of the mass of surplus value to the value of the invested total capital forms the rate of profit, this rate must constantly fall.”


Thus, as the proportion of capital invested in variable capital (living labor) falls in proportion to that invested in constant capital (dead labor), the proportion of total investment that generates a profit must decline. The build up of constant capital— fixed capital in machines, buildings, computer technology, software etc., as well as the circulating elements such as raw materials and semi-finished components— rises in proportion to living labor. The result is a tendency for the rate of profit to fall. The rate of profit is not the mass of profit generated in capitalist production, but the mass of profit relative to the level of investment. It is not the case that the mass of profit necessarily falls as the rate of profit falls. On the contrary, increased productivity boosts the mass of profit by expanding the scale of production. However, as productivity increases, capital becomes more centralized and concentrated, and dead labor increases relative to living labor. The worker now has more machinery at his or her elbow as the ratio of constant to variable capital constantly increases. So, as productivity rises, the organic composition of capital rises and the rate of profit falls. 


Graph showing the long term trend to falling rates of profit over last 150 years


The Boom- Bust Cycle


Capitalism is subject to periodic cycles of expansion and contraction. These are periods in which production and economic activity rise and fall. In the rising phase of the cycle profits increase, capital increases, and the rate of profit rises. But over the course of the cycle, capital starts to overaccumulate and the tendency for the rate of profit to fall kicks in. At a certain point in the boom phase of the business cycle, the next round of investment cannot generate a sufficient rate of profit to make it worthwhile to invest in new means of production. As the profit rate falls, investors withdraw their capital from a particular branch of production causing plant closures and lay offs. Or, they withdraw money capital from the financial system, causing a credit crunch. Or, they demand much higher interest for loans, causing bankruptcies and more credit problems. Or, they boost prices for fuel, food and other consumption goods. Wages are cut, unemployment increases, jobless workers put pressure on existing wage levels and workers’ standard of living falls everywhere.



This pressure on profit rates results from the overaccumulation of capital discussed previously. Because profit rates come under the most pressure in sectors with the highest organic composition of capital (those with the highest productivity, in which constant capital is highest in proportion to variable capital), the average rate of profit falls and new capital investment is deferred. The profitability crisis engenders a search for more profitable outlets for capital investment. Overaccumulation of capital at home drives the export of capital to less developed, lower wage countries where higher profit rates can be found because of lower levels of technology in use. It also drives capital into the financial markets to speculate in share values, or complex financial instruments like derivatives, credit default swaps, or into securitized investment vehicles like subprime mortgage bundles, or into commercial property speculation, and into the ever more reckless use of credit to keep the system afloat. Ultimately, it leads to the emergence of widespread forms of fictitious capital that are not related to the underlying value of real commodities.


There are factors that can offset the tendency for profit rates to decline. Marx called them “countervailing tendencies” acting to delay the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. In the absence of these counter tendencies capitalism would be in a permanent slump of ever falling profitability. David Harvey denies that the falling rate of profit causes crisis, arguing that the countervailing tendencies offset the general tendency. For Harvey, the tendency for profit rates to fall doesn’t cause crisis. On the other hand, the tendency suggests ways for capitalists to extract even more profit. In Capital v.3, Marx directly contradicts Harvey’s claim. And a growing body of empirical evidence presented by Marxists like Michael Roberts demonstrates that these tendencies cannot offset falling profit rates indefinitely. In the long run, the law asserts itself against the resistance of the counter factors. The tendency itself is the driving force while the counter tendencies are secondary attempts to restrain the law. Through the operation of these counter-tendencies, breakdown turns into temporary crisis, so that the accumulation process is not something continuous but takes the form of periodic cycles.


As noted above, due to the over-accumulation of capital and falling profitability, the boom phase of the business cycle turns into a bust phase. Falling investment results in recession:


● overproduction appears as monetary demand for commodities shrinks
● goods go unsold as inventories pile up
● production contracts causing a sharp rise in unemployment
● the weakest firms go under.


Money capital advanced on the assumption of yielding high returns is exposed as worth much less than anticipated. A credit crunch follows as bank loans and financial assets are revealed to be massively overvalued. The process of capital circulation comes to an abrupt halt, and the system seizes up as if gripped by a sudden heart attack. A traumatic process of devaluation of capital ensues. Different fractions of the capitalist class fight amongst themselves as to who will bear the costs. This does not take place in the abstract, or just on paper but across the world, affecting the lives and living conditions of millions.


A capitalist crisis is a violent and destructive process. Currencies are devalued, debts are called in, weaker countries have their credit lines frozen (i.e., Greece).  Both the rate and the mass of profit fall and employers frantically seek out “excess” capacity to dump. Eventually, as less competitive capital is devalued, and constant capital is bought up on the cheap by the dominant firms, the rate of profit recovers, capitalists begin to reinvest in cheaper plant, machinery and workers. A recovery begins and the cycle begins anew.


How robust the upturn will be, or how quickly crisis and recession recur, depends on how successful the dominant monopoly capitalists are in making both the weaker capitalist countries and the working class pay the price of the crisis. And there can be strong resistance to this. But the answer ultimately depends on how much capital is devalued over the course of the crisis.


No Recovery after Twelve Years?


Why has there has been no sustained recovery from the financial collapse of 2008? In the space available, only the most cursory answer can be given. The falling rate of profit and the increasing concentration and centralization of capital can help illuminate the failure to recover, as well as the cause of the crisis itself.


The world economy remains in the doldrums as levels of investment remain about 25% below pre-crisis predictions for the most advanced economies. Following the Second World War the average rate of profit was 15%; in 1980, it was 10%; and, today it is stuck at 5%. Even former Treasury Secretary, Larry Summers, refers to the period following the crash of 2008 as “secular stagnation.”


Over 50% of bonds in US market are now “junk bonds”.


Instead of clearing out dead capital, the system was put on life support. The government spent trillions of dollars bailing out banks and financial firms and purchasing toxic assets like corporate junk bonds and securitized sub-prime mortgages. Additional trillions of dollars were pumped into the central banks through quantitative easing policies, injecting a stream of ultra-cheap credit into the system. After all that we are now in another major depressive crisis, triggered by the COVID19 pandemic. This led to another multi-trillion dollar bailout of finance capital, and a half-trillion dollar handout to major corporations in the recent CARES Act. Official monetary policy is now “QE forever”!


Celebrations on Wall Street after CARES Act passed as stockmarket “feasts” on covid deaths.


A far greater devaluation of capital is required to pave the way to a new boom. The scale of capitalist firms, their interpenetration with the state and the financial system, and the transnational nature of capitalist finance, combine to render such a painful process more difficult than in past slumps. For example, 20% of non-financial US corporations are “zombie firms”, kept alive by continual infusions of new credit from banks at near zero interest rates. It must be stressed that we are not witnessing a final breakdown of capitalist production. It is still possible for areas of the world economy to expand, but it’s difficult to foresee a return of the high profit rate expansion of the ‘90s, to say nothing of a return to the sustained boom and 15% profit rates of the post-war “Golden Age.” In the years ahead we are likely to see either prolonged stagnation, or an even deeper economic crisis.


20% of non-financial US corporations are “zombie firms”, kept alive only by continual infusions of new credit from banks at near zero interest rates.


Another very real prospect is war. While the ruling class lacks the understanding of its own system to pursue war as a devaluation mechanism to destroy unprofitable capital, the imperialist world becomes more unstable and volatile. As the global crisis ratchets up tensions between rival powers, the nationally domiciled ruling classes vie to shift the burden of the crisis onto one another to garnish whatever share of the available surplus value they can. New economic powers like China have entered the world market demanding their own share.


The relative decline of US economic hegemony from 30% of global GDP in the post-war years to less than 20% today increases the danger of war. However, with over 35% of global arms spending, the US remains the most dangerous and predatory imperialist force in the world.

“Adam Tooze in his book “Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crisis Changed the World” writes, the “financial and economic crisis of 2007-2012 morphed between 2013 and 2017 into a comprehensive political and geopolitical crisis of the post–cold war order”—one that helped put Donald Trump in the White House and brought right-wing nationalist parties to positions of power in many parts of Europe. “Things could be worse, of course,” Tooze notes.  “A ten-year anniversary of 1929 would have been published in 1939. We are not there, at least not yet. But this is undoubtedly a moment more uncomfortable and disconcerting than could have been imagined before the crisis began.” 


Conclusion


If we could imagine away the capitalist social relations of production, we could visualize what the dominant ideology obscures: improved technology and rising labor productivity should lead to a reduction of necessary working time. Mechanized production would free workers from the division of labor enforced by the law of value to become the planners of production, distribution and consumption. We would work as few or many hours as desired. But for this to happen the world working class would need to transfer ownership of the means of labor from the private property of a privileged few, to the social property of the vast majority of humanity. At the present moment of existential danger to which capitalism has brought humanity, it is fitting to end an article on his theory of crisis, by recalling Marx’s words on the historical tendency of capitalist accumulation in the 1st volume of Kapital:


Karl Marx 1861


One capitalist always kills many. Hand in hand with this centralization, or this expropriation of many capitalists by few, develop, on an ever-extending scale, the co-operative form of the labor-process, the conscious technical application of science, the methodical cultivation of the soil, the transformation of the instruments of labor into instruments of labor only usable in common, the economizing of all means of production by their use as means of production of combined, socialized labor, the entanglement of all peoples in the net of the world-market, and with this, the international character of the capitalistic regime. Along with the constantly diminishing number of the magnates of capital, who usurp and monopolize all advantages of this process of transformation, grows the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation; but with this too grows the revolt of the working-class, a class always increasing in numbers, and disciplined, united, organized by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself. The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production, which has sprung up and flourished along with, and under it. Centralization of the means of production and socialization of labor at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. This integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated.”



Glossary


Constant capital (c) = Means of production (fixed capital) and raw materials (circulating capital)


Variable capital (v)=  Cost to the capitalist to purchase labor power to produce the commodities paid in wages


Surplus value (s) = The value labor expends to produce commodities over and above its own value in wages paid


Rate of Surplus Value (s/v)= The ratio of the surplus labor time, which the producing class works without pay, to the necessary labor time they need to maintain their standard of living. Also called the rate of exploitation


 Organic Composition of Capital (c/v)= The “organic composition of capital” is ratio of the value of the materials and fixed costs (constant capital) embodied in production of a commodity to the value of the labor-power (variable capital) used in making it. Also called the ratio of dead to living labor


The Rate of Profit (s/c+v)= Profit as a percent of the total capital invested in production. ROP = S/C+V




How did we get here? The threat of fascism in the US

History will not forget the US President striding out of the White House – waving a bible – after ordering the beating and gassing of peaceful protesters to clear his path. If the horror of watching George Floyd die was not enough, now we have seen the iron fist of the US ruling-class shoot, gas and brutalise tens of thousands of protesters across the entire country. The question we must answer is how did the US get here? How did we end up with a fascist in the White House overseeing the declaration of virtual martial law? The answer does not lie in the personality of Donald Trump, but in the crisis of capitalism.

The rotten door of US democracy

 In November 2016, US bourgeois-democracy was already a “rotten door” waiting to be kicked in. The rot was evident with the stolen election of 2000. Then came the 911 events; a US equivalent of the Reichstag fire. It justified the ‘War on Terror’ with the US Patriot Act, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the rendition and torture at Guantanamo, the war against whistleblowers like Julian Assange, NSA surveillance and Barack Obama’s “Terror Tuesdays” which decided who the US government should extra-judicially murder, including US citizens.  Meanwhile, in the name of stopping terrorism and protecting human rights abroad, the US escalated its interventionist rampage in the Middle East, Africa and Central and South America. Invasions, coups and sanctions overturned and subverted governments at the cost of millions of lives. These attacks on democratic norms were carried out with the support of both capitalist parties, Democrat and Republican.

President Obama watches a live stream of the execution of Osama bin Laden in 2011

That the gutting of the US constitution and the drive to authoritarianism in the US has been a bipartisan project points to the essential class forces at work. As US imperialism faces challenges to its global hegemony with its economy weakening, it is driven ever closer to policies of total war and dictatorship. As the Russian revolutionary, Leon Trotsky, warned in 1928, “In the period of crisis the hegemony of the United States will operate more completely, more openly, and more ruthlessly than in the period of boom.

However, the same class processes are driving the working class ever closer towards launching a struggle for revolutionary socialism. The ever-increasing gap between rich and poor, the daily struggle of the majority to survive, the growing threats from climate chaos and ecocide, increasing state/police violence, and the opposition to the growing threat of world war, all push the working class into struggle. The ruling class understands this objective process and is adopting ever more dictatorial forms of rule at home. Therefore, for both domestic and international reasons, the US ruling class is moving to throw off the shackles of democratic forms of rule. 

Fascism – an international project for US imperialism

In 2014, the Obama government supported a right wing coup in Ukraine that installed a government which included neo-Nazis. This demonstrates how US imperialism is not just moving to the far right at home. It is consciously seeking to foster fascism and the far right abroad to advance its global aims.  Far right governments have been fostered notably in Brazil, Poland, Hungary and India. Manoeuvers to shift the Australian ruling class to the far right are evident in the parliamentary coup against Malcolm Turnbull in 2018. The Trump Administration’s support for Brexit can also be seen in this context. 

Trump and Modi at a “Howdy Modi” Rally, Texas 2019

Fostering a network of far right and fascist allies is part of US imperialism’s rearranging of the global cards – to ensure that when it does decide to move militarily against another ‘Great Power’ ie Russia or China, it will have the full support of allied powers ready to suppress their own working classes’ opposition to war. Though the Democrats have supported this process – with advisers like fascist geostrategist Steve Bannon, Trump has far more explicitly aimed to create an international “movement” of the far right in preparation for World War 3.

Fascism comes home to the US

By the time of the 2016 US election, a section of the US ruling class decided it wasn’t enough to foster a network of allied fascist powers – these tactics needed to be ‘brought home’. Billionaires such as Robert Mercer worked with forces like Bannon at Breitbart News to whip up fascist politics online in a movement known as the “alt-right”. Murdoch had Fox News spewing out his filth daily. The Koch brothers had their networks and money flowing into the project of shifting the Republicans ever farther to the right. Sheldon Adelson was looking for candidates to further his far-right, Zionist agenda. Intelligence connected forces like Betsy Devos’s brother, Erik Prince, were actively working in the background.

During the 2016 primaries, Trump blustered onto the scene guided by Nixon-era dirty trickster, Roger Stone. The proto-fascist MAGA movement quickly became their chosen instrument. It should be remembered that Mercer originally backed Ted Cruz in 2016, but switched to Trump. They had found their man.

On election night, November 2016, the rotten door of bourgeois rule hung by a thread as a fascist was installed as President. To those who question this notion, I ask which part of fascist ideology and perspective does Trump not fit? He is rabidly anti-socialist, openly supports fascist violence and paramilitaries, expresses the desire to rule for life, has contempt for the rule of law domestically and internationally, defines dissent as treason, has massively expanded the concentration camp system for immigrants (of course with the support of the Democrats), and uses Islamophobia and anti-semitism to animate his base and divide the working class. He has put fascists in key positions in the White House, such as Steve Miller and Steve Bannon.

However, having a fascist president does not transform the US into a fascist state instantly. The US wasn’t then, and isn’t now, under a fascist form of government. Trotsky wrote extensively on the threat of fascism in the 1930’s, and remains essential reading for anyone wishing to understand the threat of fascism. Fascism is more than just dictatorship, or even police terror. It is an authoritarian political system with a clear class aim.  Under fascism, not just the revolutionary left but all civil society and independent organizations, and all forms of working class organizations such as unions and social democratic parties are crushed. The working class must be forcefully atomised to head off the threat of socialist revolution. 

Trotsky wrote that a defining element of fascism is the development of a mass based movement based on “all the countless human beings whom finance capital itself has brought to desperation and frenzy.” In Italy, Mussolini used his Black Shirts, then in Germany Hitler used his Brown Shirts as a battering ram against the working class on the road to power. Once in power, Mussolini incorporated his Black Shirts into the Italian Army. Once in power, Hitler murdered the leaders of the plebeian Brown Shirts in the “Night of the Long Knives” in 1934. These forces were not needed once they had full control of the state apparatus of violence. 

Hitler greeting Brownshirts in Bavaria 1932

Trump has been attempting to follow the old fascist playbook, but rather than repeating itself, history rhymes. Trump has had an advantage over Mussolini and Hitler. He gained control of the executive at the very start of his political career. He has, therefore, been implementing a dual strategy of building a fascist base, both within and outside the executive office — before, during, and after the election itself.

Trump has worked to do this outside the executive through ongoing MAGA rallies, open support for Nazi and fascist militias, and by cultivating support among reactionary evangelicals ie. his recent ‘bible’ walk at the ‘President’s’ Church. The network of fascist far-right media outlets continues to build its ‘Fuhrer cult’. Whilst it is clear that these forces are very much in the minority in the US, they still number in the tens of millions. 

Trump at MAGA rally in 2016

Within the executive Trump openly appeals to fascist sentiments within ICE, the military, police and other armed bodies of men within the state. The police rampage across the US in response to the Black Lives Matter protests demonstrates the success that Trump has made in animating reactionary layers in the security forces. 

Sixteen year old Brad Levia Ayala shot in Austin by police while standing still on a hill

Fascism by a thousand cuts….

Even Germany did not become fascist overnight. The Weimar Republic eroded for years, as the economic crisis in Germany, and internationally developed. Just as the Democrats in the US have facilitated this process, the SPD (Social Democratic Party) in Germany played a thoroughly rotten role. The Enabling Act of 1933 was simply the death blow of Weimar.

Even after being handed the Chancellorship by President Hindenburg in 1933, Hitler had to move incrementally to institute a full fascist dictatorship. Likewise, Trump is not kicking in the “rotten door” in one go. He has continually tested the water to undermine constitutional rule by degrees. He overturned Congress’s ability to control funds with his national security decrees to fund the border wall which the World Socialist Web Site has described as a “Rubicon” moment. The 1st Amendment was shredded with the arrest of Assange on Espionage charges. He has sought to throw off all oversight of the Executive by the Legislature, claiming “executive privilege” to stop his administration giving evidence to both Congressional committees, as well as to the Impeachment process. His lawyers have  argued in court  that whatever actions the President takes are legal by definition. He has tried to assert full Presidential control over immigration by attempting an explicit ban on immigration from Muslim majority countries.

Truump at El Paso rally Feb 2019

However, Trump has now come up against the limits of expanding his current power constitutionally. Trotsky wrote that the bourgeoisie (the ruling class) as a whole has an ambivalent attitude to fascism: “The big bourgeoisie likes fascism as little as a man with aching molars likes to have his teeth pulled” eg an unpleasant but necessary process. Whilst the logic of the class crisis drives the bourgeoisie ever closer to needing the services of fascism, it holds out as long as possible before staking it’s last card on it. And it will not do so until social democracy and bourgeois-democratic forms of liberal rule have completely exhausted their capacity to sow illusions in the working class. Entrusting the “committee of management” of the capitalist state to the hands of an erratic, vulgarian, gangster fascist like Trump is risky. Recall that within a decade of the German ruling class handing power to Hitler, conservative generals were trying to blow him up!

Armed fascists on the steps of the Michigan State House

However, we see an emerging dynamic as Trump moves to deploy his incipient extra-Parliamentary movement, as well as his personal control of the Executive, as he comes up against constitutional limits. During April, Trump asserted an unconstitutional right to override state-based shutdowns to manage the COVID19 pandemic, but he received pushback from Democratic governors in places such as Michigan. Trump, on behalf of Wall Street’s homocidal “back to work” drive, and with the support of the capitalist press, was able to mobilize his lumpen, enraged petit-bourgeois base to bludgeon the Governors into line.

We have seen Trump come up against resistance to his unconstitutional assertion that he can override state governors and put the US military directly on the streets. This came in the form of push back from former Defense Secretary, “Mad Dog” Mattis, and a retired generals revolt. They were clearly articulating that a section of the ruling class do not think the time is right to “drown the working class in blood” and assert full fascist rule. Trump has been able to mobilise his fascist base in the police and other security forces to shoot protestors, but he has come up against definite limits. We shall see if, moving forward, Trump relies further on right wing terrorist violence from extra-parliamentary forces to overcome this resistance in the coming period in the run up to the November election.

Would a Democrat victory in 2016 made things different?

At this point, it’s worth entertaining a counterfactual exercise. Looking at the class forces that Trump and Clinton rest upon, how might Trump and Clinton have behaved if the election result in 2016 had been reversed? 

Then-Sec of State Hillary Clinton, and the -New York City Police Commissioner at New York Stock Exchange Sept 9, 2011, Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Clinton was clearly the preferred candidate of a section of Wall St and the intelligence agencies. She would have continued their agenda of increasing social inequality at home and imperialist war abroad. She represented a faction which wanted to move aggressively against Russia before turning to China. Her government, in order to do this, would have had to continue the twenty year degradation of US liberal democracy in the form of militarizing police, surveillance and censorship. However, Clinton as a Democrat, doesn’t just rest upon Wall St and the intelligence agencies. The Democrats also rest upon a layer of the upper middle class, obsessed with their own privilege and identity politics. In addition the Democrats rely on trapping the working class within the parliamentary framework by pushing the ever more threadbare illusion that they are the “party of reform”. Whilst the Democrats are not, and have never been, a true social democratic party, they have functioned for a long time in the US as the “graveyard of social movements,” promoting illusions that they can be a vehicle for progressive change. The pathetic demise of the “Sanders revolution” is but the latest example. They also have the support of key unions, but not all, as some support Trump. Although union membership in the US is relatively low, their support for the Democrats can still be crucial, as seen for example in their effective reigning in of the teacher rebellions of recent years. So, would the drive to authoritarian rule and war have continued under Hillary?  Absolutely. But the Democrats’ working class social base prevents it from morphing into a full fascist movement.

What might Trump have done? It is important to note that Trump never expected to win in 2016. First hand accounts on election night have confirmed his shock at defeating Hillary. Trump’s game plan had been to use the MAGA movement to build a fascist base to continue his drive to power and to further the fascist agenda in the US. We can’t say with any certainty what would have happened, but it was obvious that Trump was not going away. Perhaps he would have had to follow a more traditional fascist path to power by building his extra-parliamentary forces until he was able to take power. A Clinton presidency’s reactionary policies and hostility to the working class would have served to feed the narrative that Trump was the man to “drain the swamp”, oppose regime change wars, restore jobs, and Make America Great Again.

But history is what it is— Trump won.

Chloroforming the working class?

It is vital that the working class be alerted to the existential threat of fascism, not just in the US but internationally, if Trump is able to consolidate his rule as dictator. We face the prospect of a fascist having full control over the largest military the world has ever seen, with bases in 180 countries and enough nuclear weapons to eliminate life on earth.  The US executive has surveillance and repressive capacities in the form of drones, the NSA and CIA at its disposal that the German Fuhrer could only dream of.

Marxists are rightfully keen to apply the fascist label only when it is scientifically sound. As I have stated, the US is not yet in the grip of fascism. But it is a deadly mistake to deny that Trump, the President of the United States, is a full blown fascist.

The World Socialist Web Site, a widely read Marxist publication, for example, has described Trump’s recent attempts to put troops on the ground in the US, as an attempted “coup d’etat”. They have stated that Trump is trying to set himself up as a “criminal”, “Gangster”, “personalist” dictator resting simply on the military and police.  Clearly, there are elements of truth in this, but it risks downplaying the real threat of fascism in the US. Seeing Trump as merely a dictatorial authoritarian overlooks both his fascist politics, and the volatile mix of class forces upon which he rests for his support.

Marxists must avoid the mistakes of the Stalinist Communist Party (KPD) in Germany in the 1930s. Trotsky addressed the problem with equating all reactionary capitalist parties with fascism in his 1931 pamphlet “For a United Front against Fascism” (Note: Bruning was the German Chancellor from 1930-32).:

There are seven keys in the musical scale. The question as to which of these keys is “better” – do, re, or sol – is a nonsensical question. But the musician must know when to strike and what keys to strike. The abstract question of who is the lesser evil – Brüning or Hitler – is just as nonsensical. It is necessary to know which of these keys to strike. Is that clear? For the feeble-minded let us cite another example. When one of my enemies sets before me small daily portions of poison and the second, on the other hand, is about to shoot straight at me, then I will first knock the revolver out of the hand of my second enemy, for this gives me an opportunity to get rid of my first enemy. But that does not at all mean that the poison is a “lesser evil” in comparison with the revolver.

Russian revolutionaries Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (1870 – 1924), and Leon Trotsky (1879 – 1940), , during the Bolshevik Revolution. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)


Revolution as the order of the day!

There are of course differences between the situation in Germany that Trotsky was writing about and the US today. In particular there are no longer massed based parties of the Left of either a socialist or social democratic character. The internet exists! Whilst the far right is using this tool to great effect, ultimately the internet is a weapon in the hands of the working class of truly historical proportions. I do not think it is an exaggeration to compare the internet to the printing press. The printing press was a key material development that undermined feudal forms of rule leading to their replacement with capitalism. I believe the internet may be playing the same role in the destruction of capitalism. The working class can now communicate, mobilise in real time on a global level. The recent uprising over the George Floyd murder is illustrative. A black man was horrifically murdered and his murder was uploaded to the internet where it was ‘witnessed’ by hundreds of millions. Social media has then been used to organise and amplify the ongoing rebellion which has been supported and even joined internationally as a whole generation of youth take a stand against the poison of racism and police brutality.

Justice for George Floyd and Michael Ramos protest, Austin, Texas, June 7th 2020 (Credit: League of the Fifth International)

However the internet does not resolve the crisis of leadership which is just as stark today as it was in 1938. Trotsky wrote in 1930 in ‘The Turn in the Communist International and the Situation in Germany’: 

the course of events in the very near future may resurrect in Germany, on a new historical plane, the old tragic contradiction between the maturity of a revolutionary situation on the one hand and the weakness and strategical impotence of the revolutionary party on the other. This must be said clearly, openly, and above all, in time.

We must keep arguing and discussing the nature of the fascist threat in the US and internationally and we must continue to find ways to think about what a “United Front” strategy for the working class might look like in today’s context. There is still a window of opportunity to stop fascism – class forces are still in flux and socialist revolution remains the order of the day!

GLOSSARY

The above article assume knowledge of a few key Marxist terms. If these terms are unfamiliar, I have provided a short glossary:

Working Class
In Marxist terms, the working class is everyone who has to survive by earning a wage eg by selling their labor. This is the vast majority of humanity who all share the same social interests of wanting access to good working conditions, healthcare, education and a clean environment. Marxists also call the working class the proletariat.  

The working class is not just “blue collar” or industrial workers but teachers, nurses, retail workers, people in the service industry etc but everyone who survives by earning a wage.

The working class however  is not uniform in terms of its wealth. What is commonly called the “middle class” is really just a layer of the working class that is more comfortable financially.

The unemployed, who are not currently earning a wage share the same interests as the working class

Ruling Class
The ruling class, or capitalist class, is the small percentage of society that makes their money not through earning a wage but from the profits from what they own eg their investments.. They own the “means of production” eg all the factories, banks, companies etc by which things are produced. Each country has its own ruling class which compete with each other. In Marxist theory the ruling class is also called the Bourgeoisie.

Petty bourgeois:
Small business owners are categorised as “petty bourgeois” as they are not waged workers, but neither are they part of the ruling class as they are not economically powerful and only own a small amount of capital.

The upper middle class is also classified by Marxists as petty-bourgeois. Although they earn a wage or salary, they are so privileged that as whole they see their interests as more aligned with the ruling class than the mass of the working class. This would include managers, union bureaucrats, well paid professionals etc

What is capitalism?
Capitalism is the current global economic system that dominates the globe. It is a system where the “means of production” is owned privately by individuals, the ruling or capitalist class. The aim of the production is to maximize profit or capital for the ruling class. Under capitalism, the world is divided up into competing nation states, each with its own ruling class.

What is socialism?
Socialism is a system where the “means of production” are owned and run for the benefit of all. All of the wealth and the productive capacities of humanity are organised for the common good not private profit. True socialism must be implemented internationally, not just in one country. You cannot have isolated socialist countries existing inside a global capitalist system. Although the task of overthrowing capitalism falls to the working class, the aim of socialism is not to replace domination of one class with another to work towards a society where class is abolished. Just as capitalism did not establish itself over night, nor will socialism. It will be the work of an historic period. However, it is becoming clearly by the day that humanity and the planet cannot survive unless we put an end to the profit system.




Russian Revolution Reading reading group to form

www.ClassConscious.org proposes the formation of a wide socialist study/ discussion group to learn from the experience of the 1917 Russian Revolution.

To begin; we propose a read through and discussion of Ten Days that shook the world by John Reed, followed by a screening of Tsar to Lenin, and on to other materials.

During the first two months of 1917, Russia was still a Romanov monarchy. Eight months later the Bolsheviks stood at the helm. They were little known to anybody when the year began, and their leaders were still under indictment for state treason when they came to power. You will not find such a sharp turn in history – especially if you remember that it involves a nation of one hundred and fifty million people. It is clear that the events of 1917, whatever you think of them, deserve study.” – Leon Trotsky (1930)

Events have proved that without a party capable of directing the proletarian revolution, the revolution itself is rendered impossible. The proletariat cannot seize power by a spontaneous uprising.. ..It is high time we collected all documents, printed all available materials and applied ourselves to their study” – Leon Trotsky (1924)

The discussions shall be held via zoom, aiming to start sometime early June. Flexible on dates and times, to be finalised depending on the requirements of the participants.

To express interest please email

ClassConscious@protonmail.com




Continuing the HSC in 2020 favours the children of the rich.

The following is a submission sent anonymously to classconscious.org by a teacher in Australia. We welcome submissions from workers around the world. Please contact us at ClassConscious@protonmail.com

So here is a thought. I work in a high school in which students are economically disadvantaged. It is an overwhelming working class population that draws from an area with higher than average unemployment levels, broken families, poorer income families and non-English speaking backgrounds. I love every one of them. But they need all the help they can get.

The decision today regarding the maintenance of the Higher School Certificate, has given me reason for thinking. Our kids cannot compete with the high achieving academic schools around the country. James Ruse Agricultural, North Sydney Girls etc. etc. etc. are always at the top of the “achievers” list when HSC awards are recognised. The students at these schools are more than capable of performing from home. They have the skills, background and support to undertake the necessary preparation for HSC success.

My students are not. As much as I love them, they need lots of support, teaching and encouragement that cannot be adequately transmitted via online platforms. They need to be in the classroom where teaching really occurs. So this leads me to thinking that the decision to maintain the HSC, while continuing online education, is going to further disadvantage my already disadvantaged students.

But being present in the classroom poses a life and death risk. Encouraging students to return to school poses a threat to their lives and to the lives of their families and loved ones. The lives of our students are not expendable. The lives of our students are precious. And that includes their lives and rights associated with education. However, it seems to me that any rational decision would suspend the HSC and allow students to learn freely, without external examinations, without the pressure of university or tertiary entry and moreover, to be fully protected in any decision that they wish to take.

The HSC is recognised as Australia’s or rather New South Wales’, highest secondary education award. But it is subordinate to the market conditions allowing students to attain a result which allows them to continue onto university study to pay exorbitant fees for the right to “learn”.  In other words, the subordination of the students’ lives, (i.e. the continuation of the HSC under pandemic conditions), to capitalist educational markets, takes precedence over the lives of students and teachers.

And here we see once again how the capitalist system makes it impossible for a free, liberal, and open human education to not only meet the aspirations of all students but protect the lives of those very stakeholders, including students, teachers and their families.




Rent strike poster website launched in build up to May Day global rent strike.

A website entitled “Global Rent Strike Posters” has been created dedicated to building working class solidarity across the world to demand a global end to rent payments, and the socialization of all rental housing stock. It provides posters and links from rent strikes in New Zealand (Aotearoa), Australia, United States (Boston, Columbus, North Carolina), Canada (Toronto, Montreal). The website has been launched in the build up to the May 1st (May Day) call out for a global rent strike.

Below is the text from home page of the website.
Visit www. globalrentstrikeposters to see all the posters.

In the space of a single month, the COVID19 pandemic has exposed the complete failure of global capitalism to provide basic human needs, including healthcare, employment, and housing.

The ruling class of the world, the capitalists, rapidly coordinated a series of responses to the pandemic, with the object of securing the capitalist system – not providing for basic human needs.

We can see this global coordination in the approach to rental housing –  state funds are being directed towards corporate landlords, not to tenants, in many of the advanced capitalist countries such as Canada, the USA and Australia.

If the interests of landlords and capitalists are being coordinated on a global scale, then the only way tenants can successfully fight back – even locally – is by coordinating our efforts globally. Only the international working class has the power.

But before we can coordinate, we have to know each other. This is why the Global Rent Strike Poster website to sharing Rent Strike posters and art from around the world was created. It is so that working people who are engaging in what can seem to be very localized struggles, in a single building, with a single landlord, or in a single neighbourhood, can know that they are not alone, and can have the strength to fight back not as individuals, but as a social class, with its own independent social interests.

Where possible, we have provided a link to the organization which created the poster or leaflet, or else the rent strike group in that local area.

You can send rent strike posters to solidarity@globalrentstrikeposters.com




Ventilators versus missiles – the case for socialist planning.

by Pietro Mascetti

The resources of the world are limited. Whether they are natural, existing in the ground, the atmosphere, in the bodies of water or in life, they are finite and therefore their exploitation and use must be carefully planned and used in a sustainable and prioritised fashion.

Planning is the idea that decisions should be taken so that a priority to meet the most critical functions, is to be the first step in any allocation of resources. Remember that those natural and human resources are limited. This understanding is no doubt easily understood by many people right around the world. Its application today is of critical importance.

Ventilators are extremely important pieces of equipment. Today they are in increasing demand because of the pandemic; the exponential explosion of cases of COVID-19 sufferers and the destructive impact it has on the breathing and respiratory systems of human beings. Ventilators allow for oxygen to be delivered to those patients whose lungs are no longer able to obtain oxygen from the atmosphere, nor able to expire carbon dioxide from their lungs.

Medical workers wear protective suits to attend to people sickened by the novel coronavirus, in the intensive care unit of a designated hospital in Wuhan, China, on Feb. 6. (China Daily/Reuters)

These pieces of equipment combine several key elements that are manufactured. They use oxygen cylinders in which, gas is compressed. The compressors, or blowers are mechanical devices that project air outwards. Regulators are attached to the cylinders so that a healthy flow of oxygen is delivered to the patient in such a way that does not damage the patient’s lungs. Batteries are also needed to be able to power the ventilator. The modern-day ventilator is also attached to a computer processor, utilising electrical circuits, precious metals and silicon chips which perform the vital role of monitoring and regulating the mechanical apparatus.

All these resources, plus the expert human labour in extracting them, processing the manufactured parts and combining and assembling a fully functional ventilator are limited and finite. However, they are all necessary.

And yet, the world is severely lacking in ventilators. Now reflect on those metallic cylinders which contain vital oxygen. Cylinders are also used in the manufacture of arms and weapons of war. Missiles, bullets, grenades, drones and rockets all contain parts which could be used in the manufacturing of ventilators. Digital processing devices which are used to spy on the world’s population could be applied to developing hardware and software systems for ventilation and breathing apparatus. The labour force involved in the production of weapons of mass destruction could be a vital resource for medical equipment manufacturing and the promotion of life rather than death and destruction.

Raytheon Company factory producing its Small Diameter Bomb II, a seeker that uses millimeter wave radar, uncooled imaging infrared guidance and semi-active laser guidance to find its targets.

The point I am trying to make is that capitalism is incapable of meeting the needs of society. Drenched in blood, with fortunes made from war and barbaric imperialism, and the lack of profit from addressing the poor and their urgent medical needs; all driven by market considerations, has exposed the impossibility of addressing human need within its limits. Socialism would plan the world economy according to human need, free from private property, profit and nation states. Production would be planned, organised and resourced so that human protection and not its destruction, sit at the summit of the economic world. And the flowering of human culture would further add to the ability of human society to discover, learn and contribute to our understanding and treatment of deadly diseases such as COVID-19.




NSW Teachers Federation Council buries motion on Assange – a symptom of bureaucratic decline.

by Pietro Mascetti

The NSW Teachers Federation had its Council Meeting on March 14, 2020 in Sydney where it made pronouncements and recommendations on a number of issues that affect education in NSW and beyond. The motivation for this writer to attend was the passing of two motions in different NSWTF Associations. In February, two identical motions were passed at the Hills District Association and the Illawarra Teachers Association that demanded the Federal Government intervene directly to ensure the safe return of WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange, to Australia. It was hoped that the same motion would be passed by the Federation’s Council.

The Council Conference begins its business at 9am with an agenda that touches on many topics which impact on teachers’ conditions and the state of education for students in the public-school system in New South Wales. This observer witnessed the deliberations of the Council and could only conclude that this organisation is the not the vehicle for defence of education and teachers’ conditions.

Bureaucratic methods tend to be very effective tools in ensuring that some issues are never discussed and the politics of the establishment (in this case the NSWTF) exert a very strong bias for some issues and a conversely, a very strong bias against others.

The motion demanding Assange’s freedom made it to the document entitled “Motions From Associations”, however it failed to make it to the list of debated and discussed motions.  It garnered 16 votes from councillors but other motions received substantially more and therefore it was placed 10th position in a list of 14 and was never discussed. As it turned out, only 4 motions were discussed, debated and adopted.

While all of the issues that were raised in Motions from Associations have great importance and warrant, all of these exist in a context that is framed by the ongoing persecution and prosecution of Julian Assange, journalist and publisher. Defence of Julian Assange is defence of knowledge, publishing, journalism, information and education. Educators rely on transparent journalism, honest, courageous and reliable reporters and whistleblowers. But the failure of the Federation to promote either in the public domain or in its conference agendas, the case of Julian Assange, despite the growing support for the campaign as evidenced by the two recent Association motions, confirms that it is an organisation committed to the transmission of government attacks on teachers and the working class including the presentation of the truth to us all

The content of the other major motions discussed at the meeting bore out this political truth. One of the key items on the agenda, was a report on Deepening Membership, Community and Political Engagement, delivered by Angelo Gavrielatos, President of the NSWTF. He identified a decline in membership and more importantly, a decline in density of Federation members at schools across the state, as of a major concern for the long-term viability of the union. Federation membership shrunk between December 2019 and February 2020 by 2.3%, declining from over 60 000 to just over 59 000 over that two-month interval.  There is no doubt that historical trends on union coverage in schools, what the Federation calls “density” has been in decline for years now. However, if Gavrielatos and the Federation were looking to reverse this trend, judging by the level of discussion and the resolutions adopted at the council, this downward trend will continue.

A case in point is the report and discussion which occurred over a latest attack on Education and teaching by the leader of the NSW One Nation Party, Mark Latham. You may remember him as the former leader of the Australian Labor Party and once upon a time, Education Spokesman for Labor on Education. He has authored a report that can only be described as an assault on teachers, public education and the students who attend those schools. Some of the more egregious elements of Latham’s attack on public education include publishing “league tables” of school test results, paying teachers’ salaries based on student performance and setting prescribed targets for schools set by politicians and bureaucrats.

 But the irony is that the Federation, in actions more than words, has been complicit with Labor and Liberal governments in implementing such attacks on teachers over the last ten years at least. For example, in 2012, the Federation agreed with the Government to implement a Local Schools Local Decisions framework for public schools in New South Wales. One of the implications for such a framework was that adequately staffing schools was removed from the central authority to individual schools. Principals were able to determine who was employed at the school which made the process susceptible to favouritism and other forms of discrimination. Local Schools Local Decisions’ central goal was to reduce the expenditures on teachers’ salaries and increase the proportion of casual and temporary teachers who work in the public system. But the Federation agreed to this back in 2012. Today, many schools are staffed by casual teachers who do not seek to “rock the boat” for fear of losing their job. But one thing is clear, tenure as it existed, no longer exists to the extent that previous generations enjoyed. Latham’s attack is just an extension of what Federation has agreed with the Department. 

None of these arguments were made by the mover of the motion, Amber Flohm. In fact, when an amendment to the motion was made, calling for a ban on NAPLAN, she rejected it, claiming, “It is not helpful to have a side debate on NAPLAN”.

But if one were seeking to meet the needs of teachers, to increase the participation of teachers in the Federation,, one would reasonably claim that NAPLAN should be banned, because it is allowing a tool to be used to further attack education and teachers’ salaries, for which Latham’s Report is just the latest attempt.

It should also be noted that Latham was a member of the Australian Labor Party. This is important in this context because, Geoff Gallop, former Western Australia Labor Premier, was invited to address the Federation because the latter has set up what is known as the Independent Inquiry into Teaching. Remember that Gallop and Latham were part of the same political party, only a decade or so ago. To have a former Labor Premier, address the Federation Council, is the height of hypocrisy, given that Labor has been central to the attacks on education for more than 30 years. However, I doubt that such reflections are taking place in the corridors of the Federation, given that it has been the vehicle for transmitting the attacks teachers’ conditions and public education. The irony is that such attacks have been the reason why so many teachers have left the union and are unlikely to ever return.

In light of the failure of the NSW Federation Teachers Council to debate the motion on Assange is not the end of the campaign to organise teachers in his defence. The motions by the Illawara and Hills District Association should be catalyst for other Associations to move similar motions. Teachers in Melbourne have also moved motions calling for the defence of Assange. The fight to defend teachers industrially cannot be separated from the broader political struggle to defend the rights of the working class.




Motion moved in defence of Julian Assange at Illawarra Teachers Association Meeting in Wollongong, Australia

The movement of rank and file teachers in Australia organising defence of Julian Assange continued to grow when teacher Pietro Mascetti moved a motion at the Illawarra Teachers Association Meeting on February 24th. The meeting was held in Wollongong, in the region of Illawarra, which is a coastal region to the south of Sydney. The Association is part of the NSW Teachers Federation (NSWTF) which covers both Primary and Secondary Teachers. The motion was passed unanimously by the approximately thirty teachers present.

The motion was identical to the motion recently moved by Erika Laslett of the SEP and passed by the Hills Association of the NSWTF. Teachers at Footscray Secondary College in Melbourne have also passed motions.

The Illawarra Teachers Association motion read:

“That this meeting of teachers opposes the ongoing persecution of journalist publisher and founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange and courageous whistleblower, Chelsea Manning. The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, warns specifically that “Assange’s continued exposure to arbitrariness and abuse may soon end up costing his life.”

We insist that the federal Morrison government uses its diplomatic powers to organise the safe return of Assange to Australia. We resolve to send this resolution to other schools and workplaces.”

Before the motion was moved, Pietro made the following introductory comments to the union members in attendance:

I am moved to raise critical discussion and the resolution above because a great travesty of justice is being committed which has extremely serious consequences for teachers, for our children and for the world. We are in the business of educating; of informing our students and developing critical thinking attitudes, all of which are being attacked in the persecution of Julian Assange, whose trial for extradition to the United States has begun today in London.

These are but some of the many reasons why Julian Assange needs our active support and why he is being cruelly and inhumanely persecuted:

1. Julian Assange created WikiLeaks that published war crimes atrocities, sent to him by currently imprisoned former US soldier, Chelsea Manning, committed by US soldiers in Iraq, particularly the video entitled Collateral Murder that reveals wanton murder by US forces on Iraqi civilians, including children and journalists. The murderers are free. Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning are not.

2. JA and WikiLeaks revealed the extent of the subversion of due process in the Guantanamo Bay Camp Delta Standard Procedure files in which the US government knew that many prisoners there were innocent and yet still held them incommunicado (unknown to anyone else) including the Red Cross.

3. Julian Assange and WikiLeaks revealed, through the DNC Podesta emails, the extent of the corruption in the Democratic Party primaries of the 2016 Presidential election cycle in which the criminal and corrupt process of rigging an election was exposed through the murdered Seth Rich and Julian Assange. Seth is dead and Julian Assange is in prison. Hilary Clinton is both free and rich.

Julian Assange was awarded Australian journalism’s highest honour, the Walkley Prize for his publications. He has committed no crime but has exposed crimes of the rich and powerful.

If he were to be extradited to the United States, he would not receive a fair trial simply because some have called for his murder, including Hilary Clinton. Also, since his persecution, many other journalists have been murdered, arrested, charged and their sources, including the amazingly principled Chelsea Manning, persecuted or killed. Annieka Smethurst, Dan Oakes, Sam Clark, Glenn Greenwald, Max Blumenthal, Daphne Caruana Galizia, have all been arrested, investigated and persecuted for revealing crimes of governments. The task of journalism, which is a source for us as educators, is to tell the truth. The truth is powerful but it is being criminalised. Honest journalism is being destroyed and the precedent set in this period is the persecution of Julian Assange.

After the passing of the motion the Association Treasurer suggested that the motion be forwarded to Federation News and other channels in the NSWTF.

This important initiative must be built on, not just be other educators but by workers in other sectors of the working class. Julian Assange himself encouraged workers to form blocs in their unions. (The letter can be seen in the top image in article).

Read the full call out for “Workers for Assange” on Independent Australia here.

Join the Facebook Page “Workers of Assange” and help build the international working class movement that will Free Julian Assange!

Picture of Teachers at Hills Association of the NSWTF passing a motion in defence of Assange




Workers for Assange: Uniting to fight for Assange’s freedom

The following call out for workers around the world to unite and join a “Workers for Assange” written by Davey Heller was published by Independent Australia on February 21st 2020. Independent Australia have published several articles of Davey’s on Julian Assange and are strong supporters of Assange and the struggle for democratic rights.
Read the full article here at Independent Australia.

IN A TIME of deepening capitalist crisis, just as in the 1930s, the ruling class is turning to fascism and dictatorship. Fascism requires crushing working class resistance to succeed.

The fascist in the White House, Donald Trump, is leading a global attack on the rights of the working class with his persecution of Julian Assange. The “defend Assange” campaign is correctly characterised as being a free speech campaign, but it must also be seen as part of the class struggle and the working-class fightback against the threat of fascism.

This is why the launch of the Workers for Assange movement is necessary. Today the war on journalism is the spearhead of what is really a class war and Julian Assange is a class war prisoner. Without access to journalism which tells the truth about the crimes of imperial power, without the fundamental right to know the truth, all the rights of the working class won in struggle over a century are existentially threatened.

At root, the fight to free Julian Assange must be seen as an industrial struggle. Therefore, only the international working class organised in the fight to free Julian Assange has the social power to win his freedom — another reason why this movement is necessary.

Julian Assange himself has called for industrial organising in his defence. In early November 2019, one of the few letters from Julian Assange that managed to break through the cruel information blockade inflicted by Belmarsh Prison emerged. The letter sent to a supporter in France encouraged workers to form “blocs” in their unions.

Julian’s letter read:

‘Dear Anne-Marie, you ask what you can do to fight for my freedom? Use your strongest skills, friends, resources and associations. If you are a nurse, gather nurses, create a bloc in the nurses union, etc! defend.wikileaks.org JPA.’

The import of Julian urging workers to organise industrially in his defence cannot be overstated. It reveals that Julian himself understands that only a mass movement of the working class can unleash the power needed to free him. 

Marxists define the working class as everyone who has to survive by earning a wage — for instance, by selling their labour. This is the vast majority of humanity who all share the same social interests of wanting access to good working conditions, democratic rights, safe and stable housing, healthcare, education and a clean environment. The working class is therefore not just “blue-collar” or factory workers, but teachers, nurses, retail workers, people in the service industry and so on.

There have already been the stirrings of a working-class orientated campaign to free Julian. Out of the Yellow Vest movement, who have been bravely marching against social equality – literally under police fire in France for over a year – has grown a contingent of Yellow Vests organising on Facebook who has now travelled to London three times to protest for Assange. Most significantly on 25 January, over a hundred Yellow Vests brought their militant spirit of resistance to Belmarsh.

Workers have also organised in professional “blocs”. This includes the very effective Doctors for Assange. Over a hundred doctors globally have signed an open letter demanding that Julian be immediately moved out of prison to a hospital setting where he can recover his health. Journalists have also collaborated in the Speak Up For Assange open letter, now signed by over 1,000 journalists. Ranks and file teachers in Melbourne and Sydney have passed motions in support of Assange. Motions have been passed by unionists in the San Francisco Labor Council and Pacifica Media Guild in the U.S. This must be built on.

LAUNCHING “WORKERS FOR ASSANGE”

To take this fight forward, workers around the world can join a new campaign entitled Workers for Assange. Whilst unions are a major focus of this campaign, the reality is that not all workers are in unions. It must also be recognised that this struggle must be waged by ordinary workers as union bureaucracies have either been silent or made no more than token gestures. No union has sought to seriously mobilise its members through protests, strikes or even a stop-work meeting. 

1. Join the Workers for Assange Facebook group

Whilst Facebook is a platform that is owned by an oligarch, is politically censored and can be a vehicle for surveillance, it is also one of the most effective organising tools available for workers globally. It has been utilised to organise Yellow Vest protests, wildcat strikes and innumerable political struggles. That is why as part of the launch of Workers for Assange, a Facebook group has been created for workers to discuss ways the working class can be mobilised to free Assange. 

2. Start a specific workers bloc.

Follow Julian’s advice. If you are a nurse, start a nurses bloc. If you are a teacher, start a teachers bloc. Once again, starting a Facebook group would be a good place to start this process. 

3. Pass a motion within your unionised or non-unionised workplace.

Just as teachers have done in Australia, move a motion in your workplace or union branch to defend Assange. 

These motions are stepping stones to action, such as the calling of stop-work meetings, mobilising workers for protests and ultimately political general strikes across borders. Whilst aiming at strikes for Assange might sound overly ambitious, there are already political general strikes breaking out around the world. This includes the general strike in France against cuts to the pension and the general strikes and mass protests in Chile which began with small student protests against public transport fare hikes.

The demand to free Assange would not be the only demand of such a strike but it could be a spark for such a broader movement. If the U.S. and its accomplices in the UK and Australian Government were not concerned about the potential for this campaign to spark a broad political struggle they would not be trying so hard to slander Assange and prosecute this outrageous case in the dark. 

4. Adopt the Yellow Vest as the symbol of protest for Assange.

By wearing the Yellow Vest you are not only being inspired by the spirit of resistance of our French comrades but we are also connecting the Assange campaign to the broader international struggle against inequality and repression. Buy a Yellow Vest and write ‘free Julian Assange’ on the back and/or stencil Julian’s face like protesters in France and Melbourne have done. Let’s make this our international symbol of resistance.

5. Use your associations.

Workers are not only found in workplaces but belong to many associations. Most university students are also waged workers. Some are in political parties or other community organisations. As Julian suggested, organise in these places, too. Labor Party branches in the UK and Greens branches in Australia have begun to pass motions. People have moved motions in Australia at a local council level. Such actions are powerful in building a movement that involves the widest possible layers of the working class.

It’s time to take the campaign to free Julian Assange to the next level. The courts and politicians in the UK must be compelled to free Assange. Join the Workers For Assange Facebook group and start organising. There is no time to waste. Workers must unite for Assange.