Sunday, December 2, 2018

Craig Murray — Nationalisation Without Compensation

What the Labour Party should be going for?

What Craig Murray is addressing, without being explicit about it, is the theory of natural property rights based on John Locke's just-so story about mixing labor with land to acquire a natural right through use. This is based on a narrative that is unhistorical, on one hand, and on the other, it doesn't justify transfer, especially through inheritance.

Marx gave the correct historical account based on "primitive accumulation," which amounts to "enclosure" — seizure really — by those powerful enough to do so. This resulted in the bifurcation of society into property owners and workers as separate classes with opposing interests.

Ayn Rand provides perhaps the most outspoken but honest statement of this mindset:
"[The Native Americans] didn't have any rights to the land and there was no reason for anyone to grant them rights which they had not conceived and were not using.... What was it they were fighting for, if they opposed white men on this continent? For their wish to continue a primitive existence, their "right" to keep part of the earth untouched, unused and not even as property, just keep everybody out so that you will live practically like an animal, or maybe a few caves above it. Any white person who brought the element of civilization had the right to take over this continent." — "Q and A session following her Address To The Graduating Class Of The United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, March 6, 1974"
Murray proposes that it is high time to address this. What he doesn't address is the importance of the concept of the commons, which Ayn Rand denies. As nomadic tribes, the Native Americans were obviously using the land collectively as do other such groups worldwide to the present day, although in decreasing numbers as "civilization" and enclosure encroach on the commons.

In Locke's account there was no commons, just unused land waiting to be made useful — given utility — through work that confers property rights as natural instead of institutional. Institutional confirmation was subsequently added to that which was gained naturally in his view.

Again, this is unhistorical. The truth is that until enclosure the vast majority of people were collectively self-sufficient based on the commons, Enclosure ended that self-sufficiency, forcing them to labor for others — the property owners — on terms dictated by the others‚ the ownership class. Initially, this was "the palace" (warrior class) and "the temple" (priesthood). This developed into feudal aristocracies in the Agricultural Age.

What Murray is proposing is real socialism rather than pseudo-socialism that is a weak reform of monopoly capital based on the spurious history and logic of the bourgeois ideology that came to dominate as bourgeois liberalism replaced the divine right, capitalism replaced feudalism as the dominant socio-economic system in the Industrial Age. Property owners became the new aristocracy through inheritance laws — inheritance of estates contradicting personal initiative and meritocracy as the basis of capitalist accumulation and political rule. 

While Murray's proposal may seem utopian in the current environment, such proposals are needed in order to shift the narrative and engage in consciousness-raising by addressing what Marx and Engels called "false consciousness," in which workers are persuaded by owners' control of the narrative to accept an ideology that disadvantages them. This narrative "proves" how this is just — all receive their "just deserts." Moreover, the narrative runes, this the only alternative.

Based on this starting point — Thatcherism in the UK, Murray's proposal is a beginning but not enough. Based on the lessons of history, sudden change doesn't not always produce the optimal result and may even worsen the situation. Diagnosis must be complemented by etiology (identification of causes) and treatment by addressing causes in order to not only remove the systems but also to return the system to health. Murrays' post remains on the level of symptom. Deeper analysis is needed.

Reflection is required on how to meet the challenge of getting from here (monopoly capital) to there (socialism). The most promising path seems to be through social democracy as pioneered in the Nordic countries but which some of them are moving away from under the pressure of neoliberalism, the current flavor capitalism that has become dominant through globalization. 

What is "capitalism"? Favoring capital as a factor of production based on growth and assuming trickle down. What is "socialism"? Favoring people as a whole and land as the environment ("the nest") over growth for its own sake. This requires an integrated ecological approach that prioritizes the factors differently in terms of human purpose consistent with human values, including human rights, e.g., as set forth in the UN General Assembly's Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Social democracy can be developed as a transition to socialism and the regaining of the priority of the commons as humanity's home and life-support system. The "correct" approach to economics would therefore be something more like ecological economics and green economics instead of conventional (neoliberal) economics.

The problem with much "heterodox" economics is that it is a reaction to conventional economics and is concerned with reforming a system that has outlived its usefulness and is now becoming a threat not only to the human species but all species as the Earth hurtles toward the next extinction event.

Craig Murray's post is just a beginning of the debate that is needed where change can happen, the ballot box. Bold action is required.

Craig Murray Blog
Nationalisation Without Compensation
Craig Murray, formerly British ambassador to Uzbekistan and Rector of the University of Dundee


Andrew Anderson said...

Moreover, the narrative runes, this the only alternative. Tom Hickey

Nor is the complete abolition of private land ownership the only alternative either:

In ancient Israel, after the Conquest of Canaan, the arable land was roughly equally parceled out to all Hebrew families with provisions in the Law (Leviticus 25) to prevent the subsequent loss of a family's land for more than 50 years if they (or a relative) could not redeem it earlier.

And, iirc, the small private gardens allowed families in the Soviet Union were producing ~25% (!) of the total food supply - putting the much, much larger collective farms to shame.

So Tom, for the record, how much private land ownership would you allow, if any?

Konrad said...

“For the record, how much private land ownership would you allow, if any?”

This question can be thrown right back at the person who asks it. “How much private land ownership would you allow?”

Neoliberals, of course, demand 100% private land ownership, with rich oligarchs as the owners.

I took Tom to be calling for changes in our collective orientation and narrative. Workers today are programmed to think “there is no alternative” to neoliberalism with its endlessly widening gap between the rich and the rest.

“There is no alternative” to growth for growth’s sake.

“There is no alternative” to treating everything and everyone as a commodity.

“There is no alternative” to endlessly worsening debt bondage.

“There is no alternative” to endlessly rising housing prices.

“There is no alternative” to treating monetary profit as the most important thing in the universe.

“There is no alternative” to rich oligarchs owning everything.

“There is no alternative” to the US and UK having balanced national budgets.

This is the narrative today, and it is all lies.

Kaivey said...

A good post!

Andrew Anderson said...

“How much private land ownership would you allow?” Konrad

Not just allowed, PROVIDED if necessary.

But for each individual adult citizen, in the country, not much more than would allow them to start a family and be self-sufficient wrt food. Plus a single home/lot in a town or city.

In other words, something quite reasonable with the aim being EQUAL land ownership by all adult citizens and legal provisions to keep things that way.

S400 said...

”But for each individual adult citizen, in the country, not much more than would allow them to start a family and be self-sufficient wrt food.”

That’s an assumption that all land is equally good for that but it’s not. Some will get good land others not so good down to poor land. That’s why commons is the fair way.