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#Coronavirus, Austerity, #Brexit and Bureaucracy

March 25, 2020. I have just posted the introduction to my Kropotkin anthology Direct Struggle Against Capital. Hopefully, something interesting to read if you are self-isolating – although I would recommend you buy the book from AK Press as it has a lot of interesting and often rare works by Kropotkin in it. Here I plan to make a few comments about the coronavirus crisis and Brexit. These follow on from my recent discussion of how an Anarchy would handle such events – and as with that blog, there may be more typos than usual…

Originally pushed by Anarchist writers.

It is obvious that Johnson is shockingly out of his depth. This is not unexpected but he really has failed to rise to the occasion. Rather than show competency and direction, we get a rabbit in the headlights making rambling, smirky press briefings – and without the benefit of a fridge to hide in. This explains why his minders hid him from press scrutiny during the last election – the Tories place power above all and it never really mattered that he never showed competency nor sense before (not least when Mayor of London – his vanity projects showed this). It would have been nice to know before electing this muppet into office that he was unable to seriously answer awkward questions as this would have shown his inabilities to more than just those paying attention to politics. While the right-wing press here seems to be remaining on-message, internationally the media has made obvious comments on Johnson.

So the last few weeks of Johnson changing the message and calling it advice, contradicting himself and not being clear comes as no surprise to me at least. As for Johnson’s appeal to the nation, clearly someone told him to sit down and read from the script — precisely to try and avoid his usual persona coming through and spoiling the message by giving yet another rambling, smirk-laden press conference. Indeed, so bored with the daily briefing, Johnson sent human-shield (and willing sycophant) Matt Hancock to give the next one.

Some commentators – even on “the left” (i.e., liberal-left) – proclaim that Johnson is having to overcome some kind of “libertarian” (the word has been invoked by those who clearly do not know its history) ideology within himself and this explains his indecision. Nonsense — they do not seem to want to believe that the “leader” of the nation is a self-centred, incompetent, lazy opportunist. An exception is:

“The prime minister’s supporters say he has been reluctant to impose social controls that grate against his liberal instinct. There is some truth in that defence, although it flatters the man to prop up his wobbly indecision with a sturdy-sounding philosophy. Johnson likes freedom, but above all for himself. His creed that is now said to be anti-authoritarian is just the stuff of old Daily Telegraph polemics against pettifogging bureaucracy . . . Johnson likes to be liked, so he tells people what they want to hear. He is a master of politics that makes no moral demands of citizens. He offers freedoms unburdened with responsibility.”

Also, these people scrambling for any straw to cling to in order to avoid the reality of who is meant to be “in charge” forget he, for example, banned drinking alcohol on public transport as one of his first acts as London Mayor and was happy to support the last round of anti-union laws (and his thin election manifesto promised yet more) – not to mention buying illegal water cannon bought when Mayor when he finally returned from his holidays during the riots. In short, he was and is an opportunist who will act in any way he considers best – for him and his career. He may end up doing the right thing but it will be by accident and who knows how many people will die as a result of his dithering?

Which is a problem with hierarchies – you need to wait until the person at the top of the pyramid decides what to do before acting and any decisions they make will hardly reflect all the information needed to make an informed ones. At least a satirist has noticed this:

“The weird thing was, he was only telling most people something they had already clocked long before him. It’s been the country nudging the government into action, rather than the other way round. After all, these were the sensible measures many had already taken. On the coronavirus, the UK has had two months to learn from China what was coming and to to make necessary preparations.

“And in that time Boris had managed to do next to nothing, apart from taking a week off over the half-term recess to pick a wedding date and argue over baby names.”

It is interesting to watch the dynamics of this in terms of hierarchies. Rather than, as many claim, being the most efficient means to react to a crisis, it seems the opposite is the case. Here in the UK, the government is definitely behind the curve and playing catch-up with individuals, organisations, companies, local councils and even the devolved governments (the latter are, I am sure, likewise playing catch-up). This is understandable as they can react quicker in light of local and changing circumstances while the central authority has to wait until it had appropriate information sent to it and processed – which takes time and resources (and staff who may be self-isolating). Also, the information being provided is often unclear and contradictory, this encourages people to ignore it – that and people are used to politicians and corporations lying to them (a problem made far worse with the likes of Johnson and Trump in office, to name but two of the current crop of right-wingers in office across the globe) – and best not think too much of the impact of the careerists and sycophants they have surrounded themselves with.

So, all in all, we are seeing the so-called “leaders” playing catch-up and sowing confusion in terms of the messages being spread. Best practice is being done locally and then spreading sideways and the, sometimes, upwards. If people did not show initiative but rather waited for orders from above, we would be in an even worse position (as the Bolsheviks showed, command economies based on fear do not work very well). Even in terms of centrally mandated orders, these are dependent on local forces being able and willing to implement them – I quoted Malatesta to this effect in my last blog. In short, we are seeing the limitations of centralisation anarchists have long pointed out – indeed, in some ways this repeats on a wider scale the problems with vanguard parties and as expressed in 1917.

And it is worth repeating that Johnson’s long history of lying – which has accelerated since 2016 and has been the defining characteristic of his time as Prime Minister – does not help. He lacks the gravitas and trust needed to make a call which people will follow – sure, those who understand the science and are willing to listen to the experts will follow the guidelines but they would have been doing so before anyway. But, then, as a satire webpage notes, Politicians who campaigned for Leave shocked that people won’t listen to experts and on this note a Republican political consultant writes:

“The failures of the government’s response to the coronavirus crisis can be traced directly to some of the toxic fantasies now dear to the Republican Party. Here are a few: Government is bad. Establishment experts are overrated or just plain wrong. Science is suspect. And we can go it alone, the world be damned.” (via here)

Yet the Republicans never thought that “Government is bad” – they were more than happy to become part of it and use it to further their agenda – and that of the capitalist class. They were simply against the idea that the government could be used to improve the conditions of the working class in any way. Any increase of governmental power was embraced – particularly if it were directed against those at the bottom of the social hierarchy (women, blacks, workers, etc.). However, they also managed to convince enough people – including the political and professional “opposition” and many academics – to ignore the reality and embrace the rhetoric. It is also helped by the assumptions of capitalism – thus imposition and enforcing capitalist property rights and the hierarchies that generates is not considered “state intervention”. Likewise, school children are given classes on entrepreneurship and business but not trade unionism and activism for the former is “natural” and the latter is “ideological” – yet while both should be considered “social engineering” by the State only one is embraced while the other would be denounced if it were even suggested.

Nor should we forget the 10 years of Tory cuts which have hindered responses to the virus now. Nor should we forget that the Tory response to this crisis shows that austerity was not needed in 2010. It was an ideological choice to inflict so much suffering on people — and it was counter-productive in terms of stalling the economic recovery (although every bit of bad news was simply used to justify more austerity — just as every bit of good news likewise was used to justify austerity). Which means that the Tories spent a decade stripping the country of the ability to cope with an emergency like the coronavirus and now they want us to sort it out for them – for free via unpaid volunteers.

So the neo-liberal ideal– privatise profits, socialise loses – remains in operation. This can be seen from the nationalisation of the railways. After years of saying this was impossible and undesirable, the Tories did it was the stroke of a pen – the rail franchises have basically been temporarily nationalised with all revenue and cost risk now on Government. While the franchises will run services (well, the workers will run the actual services but you know what I mean) they will hardly make a profit after passenger numbers fell 70%. Action was needed to keep the wheels turning on the system – which shows on a small-scale the problem the capitalist economy is facing across the board. So losses are given to the public during the crisis and we can expect the Tories to ensure that any profits will be pocketed by shareholders once the crisis is over.

Likewise, during the 2008 global financial crisis  I wrote an article entitled “Sacrifices are required to appease capital says Bank of England” and this time some Republicans — the lieutenant governor of Texas in this case — are asking for a literal sacrifice to capital:

“You know, Tucker, no one reached out to me and said, ‘As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?’” Patrick said. “And if that’s the exchange, I’m all in.”

So older people – who no longer can create surplus value for our masters – will be called upon to give their lives to ensure capital lives… and the silence on these statements by those who were proclaiming that ObamaCare meant “death panels” is deafening. But then, Trump is in power now and expansion of state powers to aid capital under white wealthy men seems to be fine to them – as is the expansion of the national debt caused by the Trump tax cuts for corporations and the rich (if you are surprised by any of this, you really have not been paying attention).

Needless to say, Trump seems to be following this suggestion. Perhaps inspired to outdo Johnson’s 12 weeks nonsense, Trump proclaimed recently:

‘The president, known for his love of media spectacle, said he picked Easter because “I just thought it was a beautiful time, a beautiful timeline, it’s a great day”, adding: “It was based on a certain level of weeks from the time we started. And it happened – actually, we were thinking sooner. I’d love to see it come even sooner.”’

To be fair, Johnson has aged noticeably in the past few weeks – Obama aged a lot over his 8 years – but Trump looks exactly the same… which suggests somewhere in the back of Johnson’s mind is some awareness of the nature of the crisis and his own limitations, unlike Trump. He seems more concerned about his Golf Courses, Hotels and other business interests (his travel ban from Europe excluded, for a while, the UK and Ireland in which he had golf courses…). He also seems more concerned about the stock market than people – he seems to think a high stock market means people will vote for him but someone should mention that dead people cannot vote…

Trump says that the economy crashing will cost more deaths than the disease – yet forcing people back to work (for without support most will have no choice but to return due to economic necessity) means the disease will spread and, well, dead and sick people cannot work and so the economy crashes later and much deeper. Perhaps here we see the indirect effects of neo-classical and “Austrian” attempts to dismiss the labour theory of value and downplay, if not deny, the obvious fact that labour is the source of value and surplus value? After all, who needs labour if “capital” is productive and bosses are “wealth-creators”? Well, as this crisis shows, we all do – labour makes the world go around and key workers lists are enlightening in this respect.

All in all, I cannot help thinking that a crisis shows the benefits of anarchy rather than showing the need for authorities – not least because an anarchist society would not have these pressures and vested interests to worry about. Then there is the abuse of the crisis to add to the on-going abuses of power. An American’s words as regards Trump and the Republicans spring to mind:

“The Constitution wasn’t designed to deal with people who don’t give a shit.”

It is quite staggering how the last few years have shown that “good government” has always been underlined by those in power not being complete arseholes. May clinging on after 2017, Johnson and his lying and prorogation of parliament, the increase in the powers of the executive (usually nodded through by a compliant Parliament), the constant abuses of position by Trump… it shows that our liberties are less secure than many think.

Even in spite of this crisis, Johnson seems intent on not extending the current transition period (and both main negotiators on both sides have tested positive for the virus!). With this almost certainly lasting months with corresponding negative economic and social consequences, the Brexiters want to add the disruption of a non-trade-deal Brexit? That is ideology above sense – Johnson’s one redeeming feature (he is lazy) may mean an extension will be agreed (as it would involve less work for him) but you never know. So a few comments on Brexit are called for.

Yes, the UK is now out of the EU (A day to mourn) and in the transition period. I’ve finished working on AFAQ’s appendix on Kronstadt and as part of that I had re-read a lot of disingenuous comments by Leninists, so seeing ones by Brexiters comes as no surprise – so people who do know better are echoing claims by people who don’t seem to appreciate we are in a transition or don’t understand what it means (i.e., nothing changes until the end of the year).

Then there is the contradictory utterances coming from the Tories – on the one hand, proclaiming that “free ports” due to the lack of regulations and then also pursuing a trade agreement based on divergence of regulations and so increased bureaucracy and costs (not that “free ports” are anything but a con, of course). Someone has called this “Blue Tape” and I think this should be used as it is apt.

So there is the extra 50,000 staff for post-Brexit paperwork – and that is just those needed to process millions of extra declaration forms from 1 January 2021. We can add to that those needed to process and check the millions of EU citizens who now need to prove they should be here – and we can add all the extra work needed to validate that those using, say, the NHS should be .

The extra bureaucracy required for recording and processing the millions of EU citizens has wider ramifications. Take the right-wing tabloid pleasing rhetoric on “health tourism”—now, that is really a trivial issue in the grand scheme of things but to stop it there will be a need for everyone using the NHS to prove that they are entitled to use it. Which means British people along with others will have to provide evidence before they can be treated – or, at best, provide evidence afterwards. Which means someone will need to record the details, track down and validate the evidence and then take measures to recoup the monies. Similarly, those who were happy to cheer on the Tory cuts to the welfare state (encouraged by distorted press coverage) will discover that it does affect them now that hundreds of thousands now have to apply for the punitive disaster which is “Universal Credit”.

Brexit them means more money spent on bureaucracy rather than useful services and goods – and the need for people to carry proof of their nationality at all times. I would not be surprised is the monies not “sent to Brussels” is used to create a national ID card and database (Labour opposed it when the Tories suggested it in the 1990s and then raised it under Blair, so some element of the British State wants one). Amongst other expenses on bureaucracy and unnecessary duplication driven by ideology – such as this example amongst many:

“the government will not seek to maintain any form of membership of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), and will develop its own national system. This is to cost an estimated £30-40 million a year to develop, against an annual EASA contribution of £1-4million”

This sort of thing is precisely why anarchists support federalism – working together on specific issues in common at an appropriate level without lumping everything into the hands of a few politicians and bureaucrats in the centre (centralisation). And, obviously, a federal system allows both local initiative to flourish and to be co-ordinated – as clearly needed in the current crisis (or, for example, when responding to a fascist coup as in Spain 1936 when workers in the CNT organised militias, war industries and a host of other essential services from scratch). In terms of Brexit, best not mention direct costs as recorded in the National Audit Office report which showed that last year the government spent £4.4 billion on preparations for Brexit. Then there is this:

“More than 10,000 EU nationals have left the NHS since the Brexit referendum, including almost 5,000 nurses. These new figures will add fuel to concerns about a wider staffing crisis.”

And this:

“The UK’s decision to leave the European Medicines Agency (EMA), an arm of the European Commission, has been discussed at length. The EMA is responsible for overseeing clinical trials for new vaccines and medicines for pandemics, and deciding on marketing authorisations for them that apply across the EU. Media attention has highlighted the damage that being outside the EMA will do to the British economy . . .However, the consequences of being outside the EMA go much further. After the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020, the UK will be outside the EMA’s rapid authorisation mechanism for pandemic vaccines and medicines for treatment.”

Still, I’m sure the Blue Passports will make up for it all – along with the estimated 0.07% growth by the mid-2030 of a UK-US trade compared to the drop of at best 5% due to the bureaucratic barriers put up to the EU. Needless to say, the issue of the Sun I was flicking through while at a café failed to mention the negative impact as regards EU trade while “sexing up” the suggested benefits of the US trade –lying by omission is hardly limited to Leninists… as can be seen by the recent turn of the Tories to the “magic money tree” with no shame (austerity is now in the memory hole – along with arguments used to justify it – but unfortunately its legacy remains). Still, we should not confuse state intervention with “socialism” as the capitalist state has always intervened in the economy – in the interests of capital usually, sometimes for wider interests when pressured from below to do so (talking of which, where are the American Tea Party folks?) – and we can be sure that bailouts will be for the few rather than the many (see the lack of urgency for the self-employed and workers compared to corporations and railway firms). If we sit back and assume our masters will prioritise us then, well, you have been paying attention.

I wonder how many people will draw the very obvious anarchist conclusions of all this – namely, electing kings and hoping they will not abuse their position may not be the wisest form of organisation? Trump and Johnson are really testing democracy as electing dictatorships to the limits while, as it did last year during the Brexit extension, Parliament is showing its relevance by… going on recess – but there seems no public calls for alternatives yet. This is not too surprising, as there is no social movement creating alternative structures and perspectives yet. So now I turn to socialism and its crisis.

Finally, Icame across this review The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History, by Boris Johnson (PDF) by John Newsinger in Lobster magazine which is quite amusing:

“As far as Johnson is concerned, the rich and super rich are the custodians of a civilised society and the first object of government is their protection and the advancement of their interests. From this derives his belief in the Great Man view of History: that it is great men (and the occasional great woman) who have shaped and made history. The mass of the population, in Johnson’s world view, are either onlookers, cheering their betters on; an obstruction – pursuing their own narrow interests through trade unions and such like; or collateral damage in the wars where Great Men really demonstrate their worth.”

And I can agree totally with this comment:

“One is shocked that the author of this nonsense is a Member of Parliament, let alone the Prime Minister, and can only hope that the book never falls into the hands of someone studying for their History GCSE.”

When you elect a clown, the joke will ultimately be on you.

On that note I end: until I blog again… be seeing you!


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