In These New Times

A new paradigm for a post-imperial world

Great Britain: What is it and where is it going? Part 2

Posted by seumasach on October 19, 2008

Cailean Bochanan

19th October, 2008

Despite the fact that the world map no longer shows massive areas in the red of the British Empire, I have characterised Great Britain as an empire, or rather, the base or rump of such. However, the British people may see their nationality, as British, English, Scottish, Scottish but British, Irish, loyal etc. at a certain level, at the level of the elite, the financiers above all, Britain is a base for operations.

Consider this passage by Karl Marx:

“With the national debt arose an international credit system, which often conceals one of the sources of primitive accumulation in this or that people. Thus the villanies of the Venetian thieving system formed one of the secret bases of the capital-wealth of Holland to whom Venice in her decadence lend large sums of money. So also was it with Holland and England. By the beginning of the 18th century the Dutch manufacturers were far outstripped. Holland had ceased to be the nation preponderant in commerce and industry. One of its main lines of business, therefore, from 1701-1776, is the lending out of enormous amounts of capital, especially to its great rival England. The same thing is going on today[1850s -edit.] between England and the United States. A great deal of capital, which appears to-day in the United States without any certificate of birth, was yesterday, in England, the capitalised blood of children.’

In other words it was the financier who knew no country, not the proletarian. Marx is describing a transnational elite. Marx also confirms the Venetian and Dutch origins of London’s wealth. Holland, of course, ceased to be preponderant because of the transfer of it’s wealth to London.

Incidently, the whole of this  passage from Capital volume 1, Chapter 31, is ruined by Marx’s insistence that this whole process of colonial and financial exploitation  was merely the prelude to the ascendancy of industrial capital, for which it served as “primitive accumulation”. In doing so he was reflecting the generalised hostility to industrial capitalists prevalent in the British elite of the time, notably Disraeli who never ceases to berate them. There is absolutely no evidence that the massive wealth of the city of London found its way into industrial investment: quite the opposite. Statistics quoted in Michie’s History of the Stock Exchange show that, apart from railway shares, which were anyway underwritten by the government, the business conducted was in the bond markets of Amsterdam, London and New York in the 18th century, extending to Europe and South America after the defeat of France in 1815. At the beginning of the 20th Century, Lenin, taken in by Marx’s analysis, claims to have found in these parasitic practices a new departure, a new stage in capitalist development. In reality, it began as “primitive accumulation” and continued as “primitive accumulation”, notwithstanding the changes to the “Venetian system” which Disraeli introduced, as part of the nation building process necessary if Britain was to defeat those nations, particularly Germany and Japan, which were attempting to orientate their financial systems to industrial development. Marx’s error was one of the most consequential in the history of political and economic theory and has allowed the modern left to spend their time and energy berating “the bosses”, the same bosses who are being wiped out by the financiers. More importantly, it has allowed Marxists to operate as fifth columnists trying to subvert national construction projects, as we have seen most dramatically in Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

And so we are dealing with an elite which operates transnationally in trying to  secure an extend its interests. We see this process today reaching its culmination with the attempt to create a truly global oligarchy. This imperial project is however, floundering in  Iraq and Afghanistan and in a wider process of national resistance to it from Russia to Venezuela, from Zimbabwe to China. Now the great battle for Europe has begun and we must hope that Europe will not be tricked and betrayed into the destruction of the real economy which we have seen here.

Needless to say, most of the attempts to “fix” the current crisis are nothing other than attempts by the globalising elite to turn the crisis to their advantage. But it is this elite which is itself at the root of the evil and it is their policy which is now intolerable both at home and abroad.

Marx attacked Cobbet for seeing in the national debt “the fundamental cause of the misery of modern peoples.” But Cobbet is being proved to be correct: the cost of the latest government bailout of the financiers is reckoned at £16,000 per head. That is roughly equal to the average personal debt per head and will soon supersede it if this is to go on. We have no hope of paying this back and are, therefore, all else being equal, heading towards debt bondage. We are about to face a tsunami of taxes, inflation and public spending spending cuts which will place us under an intolerable burden. This can only be made worse due to the fact that selling these fraudulent initiatives to the public involves the mobilisation of a veritable standing army of professional liars whose maintenance will hold priority over our own.

Whereas in the past, despite the generally negative influence of imperialism on British society, we have had the benefits of “bread and circuses”, as had the Roman plebs, the imperial system can now be said, without reserve, to be wholly negative. It is in our immediate interest to end it.

The same follows even more clearly for the rest of the world. That this is the case is clear from the alternative globalisation process based on the defence of national sovereignty which has arisen in the last ten years and which is the only hope for the future. It is not in the interests of other countries to allow a predominating and parasitic financier interest to take hold; nor to go on accumulating reserves in dollars and pounds; nor to allow the carry trades to go on distorting investment policies and draining the wealth from certain countries; nor to engage in distorted and one-sided development within an international division of labour directed from London and Washington.

But, returning to the question of where Britain is going, what measures, concretely must we call for?

It is encouraging to see a number of people in this country calling for the reorientation of our economic priorities towards productive investment and industrial and agricultural development; and, more specifically, the nationalisation of the banks and creation of a new credit system designed with these goals in mind. This is undoubtedly correct. It is also clear that this change would entail a further taking of control by the state of a large part of the housing stock to be rented out on reasonable terms to occupiers now struggling to pay mortgages. The Bank of England would, of course,  be abolished. While we’re at it we should renationalise the utilities and cancel the fraudulent “public-private” partnership schemes. I see no particular reason to fear great opposition from these quarters given the activities of some of the players involved.

All this, as well as much else, could and should be done; but, as I have sought to  show, we are not “an island entire of itself”. Our situation resembles that of Italy at the end of the Roman empire. It was part of a Mediterranean -wide division of labour and highly dependent on North Africa and Spain for grain and other basic products. The loss of control of these areas to the Barbarian invasions was therefore catastrophic in its effects. It is worth remembering that it took almost 2000 years for the level trade in the Mediterranean to reach the levels it had known during the highpoint of the Roman Empire in the first two centuries AD.

We are similarly  integrated into the global economy. We cannot retreat into Little England: rather, the terms on which this integration is based  must be altered. For Gordon Brown it is a question of visiting the same chaos onto the rest as we have brought to ourselves, and thereby maintaining the relative advantage of London ad Washington in what can only be a greatly impoverished and depopulated world. For us it is a question of turning coercive and parasitic relationships into voluntary,collaborative and productive ones.

No matter what we do to reform our internal system, we cannot escape the negative effect of the Thatcherite years. We lack productive capacity and

infrastructure. We are dependent on imports for much of what we consume including food. We survive because our suppliers are obliged to accept our fiat currency and reinvest it in our government bonds. Such an arrangement is clearly no longer in their interest given the abusive expansion of credit and the consequent devaluation of the pound. However, we are totally dependent on this import of capital.

On what terms can this influx of capital continue? Internal reform, clearly, is necessary, otherwise all moneys will continue to be gratefully received by the oligarchs. But there must be a quid pro quo: we must completely abandon our present foreign policy. Britain occupies a strategic position in the world. Nominally a member of the EU, it is effectively  a trojan horse in Europe for  Atlanticist interests. As such it underpins the ambiguity of the European project as, on the one hand a regional grouping like others emerging in Asia and South America and on the other a means of extending and reinforcing a Europe subordinate to US/UK interests. This ambiguity has to be resolved quickly in favour of the former. Full UK integration into Europe and the Euro would greatly facilitate a new joint European-Russian security arrangement which would sound the death knell of NATO. It is hardly necessary to stress how welcome such a development would be in Russia , China and beyond, given the increasing danger to world peace that NATO poses.

But that would be only a negative gain: the positive aspect would be the emergence of an independent Europe able to elaborate a unified and coherent foreign policy. This, in my view, is an essential step towards the new multipolar epoch of peace and prosperity which is within our grasp.

The fracturing of NATO would facilitate  the neutralisation of the “stay-behind” fifth columns within Europe, active since WW2 and help Europe to correct some of its more aberrant policies such as that in the Balkans. Similarly, the neutralisation of Britain’s offshore, free or all, or free for some, economy would hasten the adoption of a new European economic and social paradigm.

It goes without saying that the more aberrant, or simply mad, aspects of British foreign policy such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan must be ended. Given the obvious failure of these adventures, their ongoing cost to all concerned and their immense unpopularly in the armed forces and beyond I am kicking through an open door in calling for this. Similarly,  the  campaigns to destabilize Zimbabwe, China and Russia would have to be immediately reversed. Since these are largely covert activities I see no particular difficulties in doing this: it requires merely the deactivation of clandestine networks, front organizations, NGO’s etc.

Thus Britain has a great deal to offer by simply following the precept of “first of all do no harm”. Viewed more positively, British diplomacy, having once broken from the post-1688, imperial paradigm has an enormous power for good in the world: having created the patterns of divide and rule, of the overruling of other nation’s sovereignty, of shadow state activity, of covert financial manipulation, of  usury and the destruction of productive capacity, our own break from these will have a disproportionate and salutary effect throughout the world.

Thus, having taken concrete steps to show good faith, we can, like reformed racketeers, hope to extract a final protection payment to compensate ourselves  for the definitive liquidation of our business. We find ourselves after all reduced to the most desperate straits and will need time to re-establish ourselves after “going straight”. It is difficult to find a historical analogy to this bizarre resolution but then it is hard to find a case in which a nation has reduced itself to a state as abject as our own (perhaps, Venice in its decadence?) Without incoming investment it is difficult to see anything but the complete implosion of this country, the full consequencess of which are in no one’s interests. Our membership of the Euro would certainly facilitate the recapitalisation of the country and we can only hope that we can persuade those with funds to dispose of, that they have an interest in such investment.

I can already hear the cries of “imperialism” from  the left and of betrayal from the right. In my defense I can point out that none of these political forces has been able to put forward a programme to deal with this unprecedented situation and more particularly, none of them has been able to put forward anything which is a response to this concrete situation rather than being merely a plank of a pre-existing ideological programme. None of them has attempted to view the situation either in its specificity or from a global or holistic point of view.

So it will be claimed that I aim to have Britain colonized by Chinese “soft power”. Unlike the process of colonization , I am calling for a voluntary policy. I am calling for a “Marshal plan” for the UK on the basis of a new paradigm within international relations and economic development as a necessary initial step towards our reconstruction and in recognition of the fact that our disastrous, thirty year departure into the fantasy realm of virtual economics and  neo-imperialism has made this necessary.

I am calling for a continuous process of international and national consultation to reverse the processes of destruction set in motion and emanating out from London and Washington beginning in the seventies, and I am posing the resolution of Britain’s particular difficulties within that context.

5 Responses to “Great Britain: What is it and where is it going? Part 2”

  1. niqnaq said

    Cailean, I really enjoy your writing, and I think I can see where you are coming from, but it is unfair to Marx, to criticise his account of the process of organising the methodical extraction of surplus value, by pretending to find an unexamined or unexplained contradiction between industrial and financial capitalism in it, when in fact he analyses this contradiction in fantastic detail. I think this is because you want to paint a rosy picture, like Friedrich List’s, of the possibility of the resurgence of national industrial economies, purged of globalist finance, but I don’t think you can claim to have improved on Marx, yet.

  2. smeddum said

    I think Marx looks at a model of capitalism. He does go into the abstract categories of capitalism in great detail. Considering for an example http://econlib.org/library/YPDBooks/Marx/mrxCpC19.html.
    I found this paragraph interesting from volume 1 Capital.
    ‘At their birth the great banks, decorated with national titles, were only associations of private speculators, who placed themselves by the side of governments, and thanks to the privileges they received, were in a position to advance money to the state…the bank of England began with lending its money to the government at 8%; at the same time it was empowered by parliament to coin money out of the same capital, by lending it again to the public in the form of bank notes. It was not long ere this credit money, made by the bank itself, became the coin in which the Bank of England made its loans to the state, and paid, on account of the state, the interest on the public debt. It was not enough that the bank gave with one hand and took back with the other; it remained, even whilst receiving, the eternal creditor of the nation down to the last shilling advanced.’
    Even after this I was always under the impression that Marx thought that financial capital served industrial capital. It might be a failure of understanding of mine but I think Marx brought in commodities as the primary unit of capitalism because he primarily sought to define industrial capitalism in a period just at near the end of the industrial revolution.
    I think we have to look at the details closely and it is not enough to defend Marx on the grounds that he had a better understanding of the social relations of production than anyone and perhaps everyone who will come into existence.
    As to Cailean’s “rosy picture”, I find that a bit trite, immediate practical measures are by implication not ideal. We are looking for a pragmatic solution whose main merit, is that is a desperate remedy for quickly worsening conditions and are born out of necessity . The ideal alternative is communism now, but that is all I have seen from the left. This surely is not on our immediate agenda. Marx in the Communist manifesto calls for the centralization of credit to the state as one of the steps toward communism. The modern left would ding his ears with charges of reformism.

  3. inthesenewtimes said

    What do you mean niqnaq, “unexamined and unexplained”. I have examined the issue in some depth and as for explaining it- well, this is an article not a thesis or a book. In my view Marx obscured the fundamental nature of what was happening by explaining away colonialism and financial parasitism as being merely the prelude to the industrial revolution, as the genesis of industrial capital. I recommend you read the chapter in question, chapter 31,with an open and critical mind, not like a believer reading the testaments. This is the most important section in the whole book, but to my mind it is completely contradictory, even dishonest. The reason for this is that Marx, I suspect, is trying to get some inconvenient truths out of the way. Read it yourself and tell me if you really think there is anything in it to justify Marx’s put down of Cobbett.

  4. Fritz said

    Thanks – very interesting study in todays situation.
    Don’t know much about economy myself, but maybe good thinking: Ellen Brown: webofdebt.com ?
    The “Venetians” possibly had gained part of their capital from the plunder of Constantinopel?

    I’ve got two additional cases that are not so much known in Anglo countries:

    In 1999, he Social Democrat leader and minister of finance Lafontaine only had demanded a limitation of international speculation. In 1999. It followed a storm of outrage in the financial papers from London to New York – he left office overnight, jumped into his car and drove home without explanation.
    Also here in the article on WSWS.org
    He was assumed to be the last leading social democrat in Europe to defend a policy of social checks and balances. In fact in this regard he was only to a very limited degree a “left”, …
    However in opposition to the business wing of the SPD, Lafontaine advocated a programme of state measures to counter the negative social effects of globalisation and an unrestrained market–both on a German and also European level…..
    Shortly after taking office in autumn of last year his notions met with stiff international resistance. In particular Dominique Strauss-Kahn, French economics minister, a man who supposedly stood close to Lafontaine politically, swept aside the latter’s proposals for exchange rate zones for the most important world currencies at the first German-French summit meeting–to the evident approval of the assembled bankers…..
    The British press built him up as a bogey man and on the front page of the tabloid Sun he was described as “the most dangerous man in Europe”.
    At the most recent meeting of the G-7 in Bonn, US finance minister Robert Rubin made unmistakably clear that the mightiest economic power in the world would not tolerate any attempts to restrain the free movement of capital: whoever wants stable currencies, he instructed Lafontaine, must not attempt to manipulate the markets but rather….

    Jörg Haider
    has demanded to try financiers, who have become criminal in courts for economic misconduct. – from a last interview:
    Q. “Highly-paid managers caused the misery. Is there sufficient cause to prosecute them for their irresponsibility?
    HAIDER: “Those who thoughtlessly dealt with entrusted money must reap the consequences. We need stricter oversight, a change of the criminal law, and a special courtyard for economic crimes. Those who earned gigantic sums of money are not poor. Their criminal responsibility must be established, then they must be locked up.
    (correct translation <a href=”here)
    His country Kärnten (Carentia) is in good shape and despite the lies and defamation of the world-press, 25 000 people or more who payed respect at the obsequies in Klagenfurt, held on to the honor of the beloved Landeshauptmann.

  5. Fritz said

    Sorry made a mistake – this was the address on the often dubious rumormill but here correct:
    http://www.rumormillnews.com/cgi-bin/forum.cgi?noframes;read=133649
    original “last interview Joerg Haider’s” in German:
    http://www.kleinezeitung.at/nachrichten/politik/haider/1575885/index.do

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