In Defence of Communism: Sheffield Marxists reply to slurs

Mr Rowland’s article ‘Das Krapital’ of 04/10/17 rings with the familiar unpleasant cynicism of the hard Right, as well as peddling some of the most tired, tepid and easily assailable criticisms of socialism to ever grace a page. Given its utterly paltry content, I’m simply going to deal with his most bizarre assertion, the destruction of which will more or less answer his other points.

In response to the claim that socialism will mean being operated on by unqualified doctors and leaving your offspring in the hands of ‘paedophile child minders’ – it it worth pointing out two things. Firstly that for the last two hundred years the protection of professional skills and defence of wages and conditions in any given job (and by this I mean work that it done for an employer in return for a salary – not the accumulation of profit from property, or being an employer) is not, as Matthew would no doubt argue, down to the invisible hand of the market, but to the self-organisation of workers. De-skilling (tearing up or reducing the value of professional qualifications) as it is known is a favoured trick of the bosses to ensure that wages and morale can be kept as low as possible.

There are two clear examples borne of the last seven years – the first from the construction industry in 2012, when a cabal of building companies led by Balfour Beatty attempted to tear up the JIB (joint industry board) agreement which would have seen workers across the industry take an enormous pay cut – with electricians hit hardest, losing 35% of their salaries. This is before you consider the reduction of day-to-day working conditions that its proposed replacement BESNA (Building Engineering Services Agreement) would have bought about. In response workers organised relentless campaign of spontaneous strikes (at great personal cost to themselves) which led to a national campaign of stoppages following a ballot by Unite the Union. With construction sites across the country ground to a halt Balfour Beatty’s eyes began to water, and they retracted the attack on pay and conditions. I visited a number of picket lines and meetings around Merseyside during this dispute, and I can assure Mr. Rowland and the Forge’s readers that far from being in the hands of stolid grey-faced bureaucrats that his article paints all socialists to be, the campaign was organised and fought incisively and imaginatively by rank and file workers. Please don’t take my word for it though, get on youtube and google, look up the ‘Sparks’ dispute 2012 and see for yourself.

The second example pertains to something much more current, and ties into refuting the horrendous slur that socialists wish to put your children in the care of child abusers. Cast your mind back to 2010 and the ConDem coalition – those halcyon days when Michael Gove (who shares Matthew’s apparent predilection for intellectual charlatanism) was Secretary of State for Education. With his background as an ex-Murdoch hack, Gove saw himself as sufficiently qualified to entirely restructure (and by restructure I mean demolish) the education system in this country. Already in a parlous state following the Blair government’s disastrous Academies programme, Gove took things one step further with his so called ‘Free Schools’. A key part of this programme – which sees schools divorced from local authority control and in the hands of private trusts – was to entirely remove the ‘burden’ of requiring teaching qualifications or experience to get a job as a teacher.

Finally this brings me to approach the second issue I drew from the article – that socialism means leaving children in the hands of abusers. It goes without saying that Rowland touches on a prescient issue, with abuse by groups, individuals and within institution currently being exposed up and down the country. His attempt to score a political point with this is as sickening as it is clumsy, substituting serious discussion of the this issue for a lazy slur. His assertion that the thought of paedophiles looking after our children is a horrific one is perhaps the only thing I agree with him on. Where we no doubt differ is that I, and every socialist I know, is of the firm belief that this needs to be prevented via stringent regulation and dedication to safeguarding in professions where people work with the young and the vulnerable.

I’m as bold to say that we would differ on this because – whilst not in the most honest or articulate form – ‘Das Krapital’ advocates deregulation and the illusory freedom of market forces as the only guidelines for building a healthy and functioning society. You only have to look at seven years of painful Tory government to see these politics in practice – from Gove’s attempt to butcher the professional integrity of teaching, to Cameron’s ill fated ‘Big Society’ which set out – and to a large degree has achieve – the demolition of public services run by qualified and experienced workers and their replacement by hideously under funded volunteer schemes.

As socialists and Marxists we’re not interested in the creation of the dull dystopia that Rowland accuses us of, and nor are we content with the redistribution of wealth that he boils a rich and diverse philosophical, political and historical tradition down to. Our interest is taking apart an economic and social power structure, capitalism, which demands that the reins of society remain in the hands of a tiny privileged elite and replacing it with a system that puts power in the hands of the majority – the workers of the world.

As a final point – perhaps Matthew would like to meet for a pint with the Marxist Society and tell us more about his assessment of the French revolution as a ‘destructive delusion’. From which I can only assume that even the liberal bourgeois order it bought about is too progressive for him, and he’d only be content with the re-establishment of a feudal order.

by James, Sheffield Marxists