Friday 16 October 2009


This appears to be the product of a remarkable movement in which religious orthodoxy and religious faith is challenged by the assertion of an essential human spirituality which resides in the oneness of each human being with every other human being, animal, plant, and element within the firmament; we are as Carl Sagan might have said: “star stuff harvesting star light’.

Well, yes, this is a reasonable observation. However, it is part of the film and the Zeigeist Movement’s conceit that this observation will enable a transformation of consciousness, which will, in turn, permit us to take “Actions for Social Transformation”. These actions it turns out are remarkably modest:

  1. We should move our bank accounts and mortgages from big corrupt banks to smaller ones.
  2. Turn off the network news and rely instead on the Internet.
  3. Refuse to join the military and encourage others to avoid military service.
  4. Leave the national power grid by installing solar and wind devices to our houses and apartments.
  5. Buy smaller hybrid cars
  6. Refuse to vote or participate in the political system.

These limited goals are, however, merely preliminary to the struggle to revolutionise our consciousness by signalling our oneness with all other people, things, and phenomena. Although, Zeitgeist is novel in advocating this rather baggy spirituality in opposition to religious faith, it is also novel, or at least unusual in today’s climate, in advocating technology as the solution to all our problems, because “our problems are technical and not political.”

This rejection of the “political”, and indeed of the “social”, is based upon a technical critique of the nature of the money supply and the banking system. In order to do this, Zeitgeist luminary, Peter Joseph, describes the creation of money and debt without any discussion of their relationship with productive activity and the fact that credit is, in fact, advanced in anticipation of future production. Joseph’s mangled and extraordinarily partial account of how a modern capitalist economy functions owes much more to the fears and suspicions of John Adams and Andrew Jackson than it does to any serious attempt to either understand or present a coherent picture of modern capitalist relations.

The system is described as a “scam” which is “designed to conceal” its real nature from the great masses of wage slaves who are compelled to work because of their indebtedness. Indebtedness is also arraigned as the manner in which the “corporatocracy” proliferates dependence, not simply among individual wage slaves, but also amongst the poorer countries of the earth. “Economic Hitmen” are sent out encourage rulers to take on unrepayable loans, if this fails, “the Jackals are sent in” to murder incorruptible leaders and overthrow uncooperative governments; finally, if all else fails, “the military are sent in to do the job.” “This”, says Peter Joseph, “ is Globalisation”. It is a “scam” which aims to build the empire and control the world through “leverage”.

Joseph does not discuss the relationship between money and debt and production. This relationship is often defied or ignored by bankers and many engaged in financial services. The fact that it is ignored is revealed by the manner in which bankers have lent money to people and institutions on the strength of assets, which have turned out to be, not assets at all, but merely more debts. The current financial crisis is in fact a violent adjustment which is forcing bankers to realise what they should never have forgotten: loans must be advanced on the clear understanding that the borrowers will be able to repay, and if they can’t repay, they must have collateral assets which will more or less cover the cost of the original loan should the debtor default.

However, Peter Joseph and Zeitgeist do not want to discuss this or the manner in which loans and investment actually move around the world opening up new points of production, permitting the expansion of industrial and agricultural activity. Interestingly, by insisting that our problems are “technical” and not “political” or social, he is able to avoid the central problem within capitalist society which is that private property in the form of capital is employed, in the pursuit of self-interest, to create many goods and services, with the result that many things which people actually need are not produced, or at least not in the required quantity or at the necessary quality. These problems of the relationship between private capital, wage workers, and public authorities, remain untouched by an analysis which seems to rest upon assertions of conspiracy and evil intent which have little relationship to reality.

This presumably explains why, as a film maker, Joseph has resorted to intense black and white images, a shadowy world, in which black and white figures move through cityscapes and more intimate scenes which appear to be entirely drawn from mid-fifties America; they are spooky images of alienation set amidst office blocks, electric advertising signs, and the multi-finned automobiles of a vanished world. We do get some contemporary images of automated car production and of starving children, but that’s all. The plenitude and prosperity of much of the modern world is nowhere to be seen. For the purposes of this film the industrial revolution in China is not taking place, Brazil has not paid off vast debts to the IMF and yet continued to maintain substantial aid programmes for the very poor, and most of Latin America is not governed by freely elected governments. What is much more important for Zeitgeist is to focus on the coups and repression of yesteryear and to posit the existence of a conspiracy of bankers, a corporatocracy, determined to sustain an “invisible government”.

The world summoned up by Zeitgeist is one in which selfish evil forces plot against the oneness of things. Consequently, Zeitgeist adds little or nothing to our understanding of capitalism, and does little to enable us to think of ways of actually strengthening social solidarity.


The truth is that governments in rich capitalist countries are not responsible to their populations simply because they hold periodic elections which are by and large ‘free and fair’. Governments in the US or Canada, in Britain or in Germany, are responsible to their citizens because they exist within a dense matrix of law governed institutions and practices which ensure that the state protects most of its citizens, most of the time, from arbitrary acts of violence and injustice at the hands of public officials, criminals, local businessmen, power-brokers, or incipient or emergent oligarchs of various kinds.

This kind of democracy rests upon a strong civil society of trade unions, employers’ organisations, professional associations, think tanks, pressure groups, political parties, neighbourhood organisations, and clubs and societies of all kinds; it exists in the context of a widely practised freedom of speech, of publication, of assembly, and of organization. It is these freedoms, which restrict the inevitable tendency of public officials to act arbitrarily and even corruptly. It is these freedoms that make it much less likely that policemen will brutalise or kill prisoners or citizens with impunity. Indeed, it is the exercise of these freedoms, which perpetually constrict the, perhaps inevitable tendency, of a culture of impunity to arise among people and institutions capable of exercising power over us.

These freedoms and practices are the bedrock upon which free and fair elections take place and in which governments, ministers, and public officials are held to account in the law courts, in tribunals of inquiry, in the newspapers, in the broadcast media, and on the Internet.

It appears to be the case that capitalism, the full development of capitalism, is a necessary condition for the development of democracy. Evidently, capitalism is not a sufficient condition, but it is glaringly obvious, that this kind of dense matrix of law-governed institutions and freedoms, surmounted, or crowned, by elected governments, have only developed within the context of highly developed capitalist economies.

Consequently, there is something irretrievably absurd about the angst expressed by the NATO powers about fraudulent elections in Afghanistan. In the absence of law-governed institutions, in the absence of a vibrant civil society, there cannot be ‘free and fair elections’. Public officials cannot be held to account in a society in which power is wielded by patriarchal cliques, neighbourhood by neighbourhood, and region by region. There can be no protection for individual citizens if access to ‘justice’ is handed out on the basis of gender, clan, ethnicity, or merely personal connections. In such a situation elections are merely a cosmetic exercise in which intrinsically corrupt and anti-democratic practices are ratified by the powers that be.

Consequently, it is only the building of effective institutions, it is only the construction of a state whose writ runs throughout the country, it is only the creation of law courts who act without fear or favour, it is only the development of citizens capable of fighting for their rights, and of sustaining them when they’ve won them, that will pave the way for real elections. This means that building roads, airports, power stations and schools must take precedence over everything else. Without breaking up the isolation and ignorance of the citizens – without breaking up their dependence on the power of parochial patriarchs and local potentates – democracy cannot be built. Free and fair elections will not take place in Afghanistan unless the NATO powers make the material development of the country, the development of its infrastructure, and the development of its institutions their principal war aim.

Wednesday 26 August 2009


A couple of week’s ago the Professor of Political Science at Toronto, Ramin Jahanbegloo published an article in the quarterly magazine, Dissent, called ‘Reinventing Stalin in Tehran’. It’s an interesting piece. The Professor compares the show trials of Kian Tajbakhsh and Maziar Bahari, and many others in the hands of the Revolutionary Guard’s regime, to the repressions carried out by Joseph Stalin in the Moscow Trials.

It’s a fair comparison, considering the theatrical nature of these events and the dramatic confessions, of the prisoners in the dock, to plots concocted with foreign enemies of the people. The fact that everybody knows that the victims have been tortured and brutalised into self-incriminating lies is irrelevant. What is wanted is the spectacle of once coherent and intelligent opponents humiliating themselves in the theatre of self-abasement and patent falsehoods. Show trials are just the ticket for a regime intent on imposing a reign of terror and insecurity.

The really important point about the trials in Tehran is, however, missed by Professor Janhanbegloo. Comparisons between Stalin’s regime and that of Ahmadinejad’s are all very well, but the really important comparison is not between Ahmadinejad and Stalin, but between the Green Opposition in Tehran, and the so-called ‘Trotskyite-Bukharinite Fiends’ in Moscow. The central problem for the opposition in Moscow was its commitment to the Party and the Communist state. They were incapable of disentangling themselves from the corrupted verities and pieties of the very regime which they were attempting to reform, indeed they saw reform as crucial to the defence of the revolutionary government; they were in thrall to the very forces that were crushing them.

This is exactly what is wrong with the Green Opposition in Tehran. Most opponents of Ahmadinejad are eager to express their commitment to the “true democratic values of the Islamic Republic”; they are committed to defending the ‘revolutionary gains of 1979’. Unless the opposition break from this absurdity they will condemn themselves to yet another generation of bitter repression and defeat.

Neither Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mohammad Khatami, or Ali Akbar Rafsanjani can lead the democratic struggle because they are wedded to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Until the opposition in Tehran realises that the Islamic Revolution is structurally incapable of ushering in sound economic development and the rule of law, they are doomed to perpetuating the very system that is crushing them.

Friday 24 July 2009


Many people on the left in Britain and further afield are generally dismayed and confused about the nature of Islamism. The traditional Muslim opposition to charging interest on loans, the clear preference of many Islamists for nationalised property, when linked to hostility towards America, Western interests and multinational corporations, creates a thoroughgoing anti-capitalist impression. Despite socialist hostility towards what Tariq Ali has called ‘the social programmes’ of Islamists, many socialists are always prepared to give the benefit of the doubt to America’s enemies.

However, the nature of nationalisation and the relationship that exists between the public and private sector creates an extremely complicated picture in countries where capitalist relations are thin or poorly developed. Such is the case in Iran where the relationship between the public sector, the private sector, charitable trusts (Bonyads), cooperatives, and the organs of state security, are often interfused: sharing a webwork of senior officials, politicians, and clerics between them.

In the struggle to understand more about how these complicated networks function in Iran the US Secretary of Defense recently commissioned a study of the Revolutionary Guards by the RAND Corporation. This study has just been published as The Rise of the Pasdaran: Assessing the Domestic Roles of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp, and it looks in some detail at the nature of the Guards’ relationship to the rest of the Iranian state and society.

Founded by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979 as an ideological police guard for the infant revolutionary regime the Pasdaran (or Guards) have grown into a vast net of political, military, economic, and social influence embracing hundreds of companies engaged in large civil engineering projects, manufacturing, chemicals, housing projects and health facilities. The 120,000 Guards train and supervise the tens of thousands people in the Basij Militia, in youth camps, student and professional organizations; they have interests in think tanks, press and publishing houses; they work closely with the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, and the Islamic Propagation Organization. All this, together with their own army, navy, air force, and the crack troops of the Jerusalem Force (Qods), makes the Revolutionary Guards Corp a truly formidable organization, one sewn into the very fabric of Iranian society.

In their economic role they are not dissimilar from the armed forces of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan or China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) before the reforms of the late nineties. In 1998 Jiang Zemin’s government forced the PLA to give up all its interests in agriculture, transport, information technology, and entertainment: the PLA lost all of its business enterprises. In Pakistan, however, the army continues run the country’s largest construction consortium, it has interests in petrol stations, shopping centres, farming, and in ‘charitable foundations’ that have spun off more than a hundred companies in banking, insurance, education, and information technology.

So Iran’s Revolutionary Guard is not alone in engaging in extensive business activities. There are circumstances in which it is often necessary for military and police formations, in countries unable to subsidise them sufficiently from taxation, to assist the state by generating their own income. In the case of the Guards this is further complicated, and their economic influence greatly enhanced, by their capacity as a police agency and armed militia, to place people in key positions in private companies, in nationalised enterprises, in the judiciary, in Parliament, and in university faculties.

Following the Revolution some eighty per cent of the Iran’s economy was state owned and controlled. Since then only 15% of state enterprises have been privatised. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s attempts to strengthen economic activity in Iran by privatising much of the economy have run into numerous difficulties. To carry out successful denationalisation you need a stable environment for investment, good regulation, developed capital markets, open competition in the delivery of goods and services, and the capacity to get the workers, sacked in the process of privatisation, back into good jobs. None of these conditions exist in Iran. Consequently, the process of privatisation grinds very slow indeed, in the face of considerable opposition within the middle class and throughout many other sectors of society which benefit from the continuation of economic arrangements dependant more upon the quality of personal contacts than upon competence and technical expertise – more upon military, paramilitary, and clerical influence, than upon professionalism, profitability or efficiency.

In a situation like this it is clearly inappropriate to think in terms of the kinds of struggles, which in Britain or France might centre on the defence of public enterprises against the introduction of private capital. In the context of the thin or fragile development of capitalist relations, in which pre-capitalist formations, clerical elites, oligarchies, armies, militias and police organizations are vying for political and economic power by seeking control of the state, the rhetoric of ‘public ownership’ versus ‘private enterprise’ makes little or no sense.

It remains to be seen how the struggles taking place within the Iranian Revolution and within Iranian governing circles play out, but we can be sure that nothing resembling a socialist defence of public ownership will have any part to play.    

  •   See the note on RAND Corporation below.


RAND Corporation: a note

Project RAND began work in December 1945. Its raison d’être was to connect military planning with research and development decisions in both the public and private sectors; the idea was to preserve and develop the close liaison and team work that had arisen during the Second World War between the United States military, other US government agencies, private industry, and the universities.

Project RAND began life under special contract to the Douglas Aircraft Company and quickly evolved into an organization with 200 staff, including mathematicians, engineers, physicists, chemists, economists and psychologists. In February 1948 the Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force approved the spinning off of Project RAND into a not-for-profit corporation, independent of both the Douglas Aircraft Company and the armed forces: this led to the creation of the RAND Corporation in May 1948 and the transfer of Project RAND’s contracts to the new corporation in November that year.

The express purpose of the Corporation is the development of non-partisan research and analyses to assist policy makers in all branches and levels of government and the private sector in the interests of  “the public welfare and security of the United States of America.”

The RAND Corporation is, like the Internet, the product of United States armed forces’ planning and research, and like the Internet, it has moved far beyond its initial focus and concerns. It aims to produce objective research and analysis of use to policy makers throughout the world; it is independent of political and commercial affiliations and interests. Consequently, it is a valuable resource for anybody interested in understanding contemporary political, economic, and social developments.

Friday 17 July 2009


L’Osservatore Romano, the Pope’s very own newspaper has just praised Oscar Wilde as “a lucid analyst of the modern world”.  This is not bad. After more than a century of nastiness about Oscar the penny has finally dropped: homosexuals can be articulate, witty, talented and observant! I wonder if it will take as long for Holy See to give a positive spin to the observations of Sacha Baron Cohen?

This is particularly relevant, now that Sacha Baron Cohen’s movie, Brüno is being released worldwide. The discussion of the film’s contribution to homophobia will greatly exercise those appalled by the appallingly camp Austrian far beyond the first, second and third circles inhabited by Benedict XVI and his boys.   However, this worry will probably only afflict the humourless among the laity, or those straight-acting gay men who can’t abide being remotely associated with effeminate Nancy Boys. However, this kind of discussion will paradoxically be restricted to places where homosexuality is openly acknowledged and widely accepted. In other less liberal places, they won’t even attempt to get the joke.

For example, Ukraine’s culture and tourism ministry is set to ban Brüno throughout the country. This is expressive of the widespread hostility present in Ukrainian society towards homosexuality. The east of the country is dominated by Soviet era heavy industry and the sort of communities and social attitudes that went with that, while the cultural life of Western Ukraine is dominated by Catholicism of both the Eastern and Roman Rites. In this respect, Ukraine is not greatly dissimilar from Poland and a number of other post-Soviet societies dominated, either by large populations of conservative peasant or collective farmers, or by communities that arose around Soviet era heavy industry. In these sorts of societies, anti-Semitism, hatred of Gypsies, and fanatical hostility towards homosexuals is the ‘normal’ state of affairs.

Anti-gay political parties run by conservative Catholics or fascists are not, of course, restricted to Eastern Europe, but it is here that they have real purchase and real social weight within society: what they think matters in Poland or Hungary or, indeed, pretty much anywhere east of Berlin, Prague and Ljubljana.

Poland’s Law and Justice Party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc [PiS]), provide a relatively moderate example of the sort of the attitudes which flourish in lands where the Communist Party once ruled the roost. The party’s chairman, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, said, “The affirmation of homosexuality will lead to the downfall of civilization. We can’t agree to it.” Jaroslaw and his brother Lech Kaczynski are at the centre of a welter of Polish institutions like the League of Polish Families and Radio Maryja, all dedicated to pumping out this kind of trash. These organizations are replicated throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia and anywhere where the struggle to defend civilization from dissolution and moral decay is at its hottest.

Now, as capitalism begins to develop on the ruins of state-directed economies, peasant and collectivised agriculture, and Soviet era heavy industry, the public existence of homosexuals and gay rights have begun to be contested matters within society. Gay Pride marches are called and promptly banned, gay organizations arise, and the battle with nationalist and religious reaction is joined with a vengeance. The attitudes which homosexual people face in these situations are not really caused by religious obscurantism as much as by the pre-capitalist or early-capitalist nature of the social circumstances and social relations, which obtain in much of the post-Soviet world.

If we trace the modern emergence of public homosexuality over the last couple of centuries, and then of the achievement of the widespread acceptance of lesbian and gay relationships we can see, that in all circumstances, we are looking in the first instance at the growth of large capitalist cities and conurbations, and in the second (or latest phase), at the emergence of economies founded upon services, batch production, and communications, rather than those dependent upon the rigid gender, social, and functional hierarchies which dominated industrial working class communities in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It was not until the decline of economies organized around these hierarchies began in the late fifties and early sixties, that the successful struggle to articulate the defence of difference, the fight for the full emancipation of women, of black people, of homosexuals, and finally of the disabled, could come to the fore.

There is an inescapable relationship between the full development of modern capitalist relations and the emancipation of lesbians and gay men throughout most of the big cities of the rich world. Plainly, highly developed capitalism is not a sufficient condition for gay liberation, but it certainly does appear to be a necessary condition. It appears to be the case that it is only when capitalist relations reach a certain kind of density and the organization of the labour process begins to depend more upon articulate modes of cooperation, rather than upon the direction and command of socially homogeneous labour forces, that acceptance of difference begins to gain the upper hand. It is the decay of the need for modes of social organization which rest upon everybody sharing a similar race, class, and social outlook, that has opened up a public space for homosexuals and which has made it possible for lesbians and gay men to fight successfully for their rights. This public space has, of yet, only be produced within fully developed capitalist economies – it is absent everywhere else.

Evidently, this strange emancipatory aspect of capitalist development needs to be investigated more thoroughly.

Friday 10 July 2009


The recent race rioting in Xinjiang has once again revealed the consequences of denying civil rights to people throughout China. While it is clear that neither the Beijing government nor the regional authorities in Xinjiang actually sparked the recent round of bloodletting the Communist party-state is certainly responsible for creating circumstances in which such disorders are all but inevitable.

After many struggles and much strife Xinjiang was annexed by China in 1884 and has been under the continuous rule of Beijing since 1949 when the Communist Party came to power. Since then the Han Chinese population of Xinjiang has grown from six per cent to around fifty per cent; a clear majority of the population of Urumqi, the province’s thriving modern capital, are now Han Chinese. The government has also recently announced plans for the demolition and rebuilding of the province’s second city, Kashgar; this will, in the prevailing circumstances, inevitably increase the size of Kashgar’s Han Chinese population. The region’s native population of Uighurs and other Turkic-speaking peoples are now a minority in their own land; Beijing’s policy of promoting Han Chinese immigration is decisively changing the demographic structure of what many Uighurs continue to think of as East Turkistan or Uighurstan.

The party-state’s policy has been accompanied by the introduction of Mandarin as the language of instruction in the schools, the dismissal of Uighur teachers, and their replacement by Han Chinese. Uighur Muslim weddings and pilgrimages have been banned and children are prohibited from entering Mosques or places of religious instruction. The repression of Uighur religious practice and particularly of their language is key to the unrest because getting a good job depends upon speaking Mandarin, and access to public sector jobs and to the party-state’s apparatus depends upon both speaking Mandarin and rejecting any specific Uighur or Islamic identity. Xinjiang’s Party Secretary, Wang Lequan, emphasised the party-state’s position on demographic and cultural domination when he said in 2002 that the Uighur language was “out of step with the 21st century”.

Without linguistic and religious freedom within a territory directly controlled by the party-state the Uighurs have no other channels for the redress of grievances or protest other than rioting or what the Ministry of Public Security calls “mass incidents” or “public order disturbances”. In this they are, ironically, in exactly the same position as the billion or so Han Chinese in Xinjiang and throughout the rest of China.

The absence of the rule of law within the party-state means that the enforcement of contracts, the determination of property rights, the decisions of judges, the investigation of murders and other crimes, compensation for industrial accidents, the arbitration of labour disputes, or access to health services, housing, or education are all in the hands of around sixty million Communist Party members and party-state officials. Chinese people are simply unable to seek redress or to resolve problems except through the good offices of Party members and officials.

This is why there are some 80,000 “mass incidents” or “public order disturbances” every year in China – and this number seems to be on the increase. Without trustworthy courts, enforceable contracts, or free trade unions the Chinese people (including those belonging to the fifty or so national minorities) have no outlet other than rioting and violent outbursts against the decisions and actions of party-state officials. Even when the official trade union congress, the All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) promotes the unionisation of those working for foreign companies like Wal-Mart or McDonald’s, it is simply to improve the Party’s surveillance and supervision of the company in question, not to protect the wages and conditions of the workers. In fact, every attempt to form genuine free trade unions that put the interests of their members before those of Party officials has been met with repression. Trade union or labour organisations independent of the Communist party-state are routinely denounced as “reactionary” and as enemies of China’s “harmonious society”.

Democracy in the form of elections or of an explicitly consensual form of government is an extremely abstract concept in these circumstances. Slogans like “Free Tibet” or “Democracy Now” are really worthless. What is actually needed is the building up of the elementary or fundamental prerequisite for democracy: the rule of law. Enforceable contracts; the full right of peasants and workers to buy and sell land, houses and flats, courts that make decisions according to law rather than according to political exigency or to the private interests of Communist officials; equal access of health services and to education regardless of residency qualification or ethnicity, and trade unions which are independent of both the employers and the Communist Party. All these must be won before there can be any possibility of freely elected national and local governments in China or genuine autonomy for her national minorities.

If the Communist Party refuses to participate in the development of courts and other institutions which are genuinely independent of the party-state bureaucracy then it will condemn China to an endless cycle of riots and repression which will undermine economic development and growing prosperity, the two things that have legitimated its rule since the death of Mao Zedong. This is the paradox facing the CPC: its future existence depends entirely upon its capacity to promote the development of civil society and the gradual dissolution of the party-state.


Friday 3 July 2009


On Wednesday John Prescott, former deputy prime minister, was a happy man. “I thoroughly enjoyed having a nationalised cup of tea and a nationalised bacon sandwich.” Obviously, John is not a man of taste and discernment, but his relish at the sudden renationalisation of the East Coast main line was typical of a man of the left. The cause of John’s culinary delight was the failure of the National Express franchise that has resulted in a swift, but temporary, government takeover of the railway.

Of course, many on the left proper would regard Prescott as a fierce old right-winger, but they will share his delight at this manifest failure of private enterprise. Even the revolutionaries scattered throughout an archipelago of groupuscules will agree – nationalisation is a self-evident good – even without workers’ control. This is a cardinal truth, an article of faith, for anybody claiming to be on the left. It even extends to defending wretched municipal council housing against the estate management of social housing, by housing associations, and co-ops.

Why this shibboleth? Why is nationalisation and municipalisation thought of as a good thing by socialists and anti-capitalists in general? Some would say that it’s all about democracy. I would say, “Come off it!” There has never been anything democratic about council house building, the allocation of tenancies, or the direct works department dedicated to keeping them in a state of permanent disrepair. What was democratic about the National Coal Board or British Rail? I would say, “Nothing at all.”

Others would attribute their love of the public sector to the ethos of public service; they argue that public service, not profit, is the raison d’être of municipal and nationalised enterprises. This wish is the father to the thought. There is a conflation here between the lack of profit and the ‘ethos of public service’. It is self-evidently the case in capitalist economies that activities, which cannot make profits because of structural or temporary market failure, will fall into the lap of state agencies and local authorities. There is nothing new or socialist about this – state and municipal enterprises have been an integral component of any fully developed capitalist economy for the best part of two centuries.

Life for full-time and lay trade union officials is certainly easier in public service companies than in profit-driven enterprises, in some sectors wages and conditions for workers are much better than in the private sector. However, low pay and rotten conditions are common enough in publically run institutions; certainly none of the benefits of public employment are consistent or reliable enough to justify left-wing veneration of the so-called ‘public ownership’ by the capitalist state and its quangos of railways, hospitals, roads, banks, building societies, social housing, and any other activity that offers little or no prospect of returns for the investing public.

National and municipal enterprises are a vital part of a healthy capitalist economy – they do the things that the capitalist class cannot make profits from – things which provide the capital and social infrastructure necessary for the continued success of private enterprise. If this is true, why does the left love it so much?