The course is for all concerned with the Credit Crunch and those who want to increase their knowledge of social and economic conditions and their likely development. Including but not limited to; women, young adults, the disabled, workers, trade unionists, the unemployed, the retired and pensioners, and anybody who wants to know more about the world around them.
Starting with analysis of where everybody is in the current depression and Credit Crunch. Each week the Course will then go back to the beginning, investigating the foundations of social, economic, and philosophical history, which has shaped our world so far, and lead to the current crisis.
Along the way, you can expect to cover;
• The foundations of social and political thought
• The origins and development of the political system we now inhabit – including the first British republic
• The 18th century Enlightenment that saw the birth of the concept of ‘modernity’, no longer would human beings order their society merely by invoking the authority of tradition
• The Making of the English working class
• Industrial capitalism and class struggle, working class self organisation and the growth of the state
• Origins and development of trade unions, Liberalism
• Taff Vale and the pre WW1 strikes, the General strike
• The Russian revolution and the effect upon British working class politics, the theory of the party, syndicalism
• The 1930s depression and WW2, full employment, followed by ‘you have never had it so good’, including the ‘Who Rules Britain’ election
• Things begin to fall apart, the IMF, the New Right, the destruction of industry, the road to the Miners strike
• Towards where we are today, new Liberalism, globalisation, and analysis of the Credit Crunch, financialisation.
The course is focused upon providing high-quality contributions and practical and theoretical clarification - it will do everything possible to meet your expectations given the time available. The course aims to produce some of the best working class history and practical theory, and examines theoretical practice.
Here are the usual WEA course enrolment details for Newcastle;
The History and Politics of the Credit Crunch course starts at 10-12 on Wednesday March 11th 2009 at;
Workers’ Educational Association
21 Portland Terrace
Newcastle upon Tyne
Tel: 0191 212 6100
I suggest you turn up 30 minutes early for the first one to do the necessary administration, or sort the administration out in advance.
Watch the local press for details too.
Changing Modes of Production
All ideas, Marx would argue, are a product of their time and place in history and we will examine our social experience ‘people make their own history, but they do not make it exactly as they please, but in conditions transmitted and inherited from the past’. Marx formed his ideas as Europe already embarked upon massive transformations which changed traditional, peasant farming societies into modern, industrial ones. As he wrote, for the first time large industrial cities were being developed. Filth, overcrowding, disease and poverty existed alongside a new urban rich.
Marx was not alone in offering a commentary of these changing conditions, Charles Dickens and others did too. What is distinctive about his thought is that he sees the key factor in understanding the development of these new societies, the thing which at the end of the day shapes how the society is organised, what we think and believe, who we are and what we can become, is not the new industrial technologies nor even the new urban culture and spaces but the way in which production is organised. This is Marxism as analysis of changing modes of production.
The Labour Theory of Value
When Marx looked at this relationship between the owners of capital and those who have to sell their labour power to survive, he saw not a fair deal, but a system of exploitation. To take a simplified example: imagine you have a pile of wood, glue, nails, varnish and screws worth £28 and at the end of the day these have been turned into a table, retail price £200. What has transformed these raw materials into a table is the labour of workers.
Even after subtracting the costs of electricity, machinery, distribution and advertising (say another £10 per table) we are still left with a value added by the hands of the workers of £162. Of course they are not paid this much: they are paid enough to keep them alive (so that they come back to work tomorrow) and to enable them to raise children (so that someone will come to work in twenty years time and help to keep the whole show on the road). What’s left over is taken as profit. Profit is not the legitimate reward for investment – it is the theft from workers of the value of their labour. Workers and owners are (says Marxist analysis) thus in a fundamentally antagonistic relationship – each side trying to keep a greater slice of this ‘surplus’ value.
Capitalism has proved to be unstable and its’ theory does not work
Recently capitalists and capitalism have proved to the world that their system does not work, the pursuit of profit at all costs has destabalised our world. Capitalists tell people that Marxism failed because of what went on in Russia because they want you to believe that ‘there is no alternative’ (T.I.N.A. – a phrase popularised by Margaret Thatcher).
However, Marxists have, for generations (even before the fall of the Berlin Wall, or the Prague spring - 1968) been concerned with analysing Russia from different Marxist points of view. Just because Communist Parties may say they are Marxist, does not mean they are. This is classic Marxist analysis, the difference between ‘appearance’ – how something appears to be, and ‘essence’ – what something actually is. There are other possible ways of describing what life in Russia was like, and it certainly was not ‘Communist’ as they never abolished money, hierarchy or classes. This is a brief description of Russia as ‘State capitalist’, a label originated and theorised by Tony Cliff.
Marxism holds that class struggle is the central element of social change in Western society. Since the tension between social classes is deemed to be the cause of political unrest, Marxism attempts to solve this problem by establishing ‘self management’, ‘public ownership’, or ‘public control’ as its dominant feature.
While there are many theoretical and practical differences among the various forms of Marxism, most forms of Marxism share these principles:
1. An interest in the detail of the material conditions of people's lives and social relations among people
2. A belief that people's consciousness of the conditions of their lives reflects these material conditions and relations, albeit a mediated one
3. An understanding of class in terms of differing relations of production and as a particular position within such relations, class is never static
4. An understanding of material conditions, technological change, and social relations as historically changeable and always changing
5. A view of history according to which class struggle, the evolving conflict between classes with opposing interests, structures each historical period and drives historical change
6. A sympathy and empathy for the working class or proletariat, new Marxist theory has suggested that ‘ the multitude’ is a better concept than ‘the people’
7. Finally, a belief that the ultimate interests of workers best match those of humanity in general
This fundamental conflict between workers and owners is for Marx the dialectical engine at the heart of history. All earlier economic systems had contained within them the seeds of their own destruction and capitalism is no different. The logic of seeking greater and greater profit via new markets leads to struggles, amalgamations, mergers, exploitation, and giant corporations whilst skilled workers and small shop keepers would be eaten up by the system and become deskilled and pauperised like all other workers. Eventually the two great historic classes at the heart of the capitalist system - capitalists and proletariat - would face each other across the barricades of history and private property would be done away with.
However, there is no certainty anymore that this will inevitably be the case, and some Marxists have had to rethink and open minds are now essential. As the Miners banner declare – “Come, let us reason together’.