Socialist Economic Bulletin

Austerity isn’t over – the Johnson/Trump Brexit will deepen it

By Tom O’Leary

There is no basis for the belief that the incoming Tory government will end austerity. The reality is, from their own perspective and from the interests they serve, the Tories will be obliged to deepen it.

It is extremely important that the labour movement, all those who want decent living standards and public services and the left are not suckered into believing that this Tory government will be any improvement on its predecessors. Instead Johnson will pile up further misery, in addition to the damage that has already been inflicted.

Early pointers

It is easy to list some obvious pointers to the government’s direction on austerity.

First, the government’s legislative programme (the ‘Queen’s Speech’) contains measures to outlaw strikes in the transport sector. There is no need to outlaw strikes unless you are planning a confrontation with unions. If the Tories are successful they will be emboldened to take on other workers. In recent days, this has been supplemented by the frame-up arrest of a union leader at a peaceful picket as well as an attack on the role or even the existence of the FBU from the government’s inspectorate of fire services.

Secondly, in the same programme there is planned legislation for permanent underfunding of the health service (as well as the threatened removal of performance targets on waiting times at A&E services). In real terms, the NHS funding law will provide the lowest cumulative rise in real spending since the inception of the NHS. Labour attempted to amend it so that the real increase is 4% per annum (which, although still modest rises by historical standards takes some account of both rising population and the higher inflation of medical equipment and drugs, plus the costs of technological innovation). The amendment was rejected.

Thirdly, on this government’s own assessment the economy will be severely hit by the Trump/Johnson Brexit. GDP will be 6.7% lower by 2034 than it would if the status quo was maintained and real wages 6.4% lower. This is not George Osborne’s stupidly exaggerated ‘project fear’ of immediate and sharp recession. It is this pro-Brexit government’s own assessment of the consequences of something like a ‘No Deal’ Brexit. Typically, these official estimates tend to underestimate the damage, as SEB has previously shown.

Finally, the economy is contracting. GDP in November shrank by 0.3%, and outright contraction for the whole of the 4th quarter is possible. With just one month’s data remaining it is almost certain too that industrial production will have fallen for the year as a whole 2019 compared to 2018. Business investment is not rising and was lower in the 3rd quarter of 2019 than it was for the same quarter in 2016.

The Tories are clearly faced with a worsening economic crisis and the global economy offers no grounds for optimism. The idea that they will address this crisis in the interests of the working class and the poor is plainly ridiculous. Instead, they have given strong indications they are gearing up for a major fight.

Why is there an austerity policy at all?

Austerity has not been adopted because Tory politicians are nasty. A change (in this case policy) cannot be explained by a constant.

SEB has repeatedly explained that austerity amounts to a transfer of incomes from workers and the poor to big business and the rich. So, in the very first austerity budget, the Treasury documents showed that the projected revenue increase from raising VAT of £13 billion (which mainly hits workers and the poor) was almost exactly the same as the revenue lost by cutting Corporation Tax. The deficit was unaffected by these measures, but income had been transferred upwards, to business and the rich.

Using correct, Marxist terms there were two main elements to austerity. The rate of exploitation was increased by cuts in real pay and pensions. In addition, the social surplus was redirected away from workers and the poor (cuts to welfare payments, rise in VAT) towards capital and the very rich (tax cuts).

The combined effect of these measures was to force workers to work more for less and to incentivise businesses to invest more. But the second part of this policy has failed. Real wages did fall, but businesses did not increase their rate of investment.

Fig.1 below shows the quarterly real annual rate of growth for business investment from the 1st quarter of 2000. Business investment has been slowing since the beginning of 2014 and is now beginning to contract outright.

Fig 1. UK Business Investment, quarterly real annual rate of growth from the 1st quarter of 2000 to 3rd quarter of 2019

In the last great crisis of British capitalism, Margaret Thatcher was drafted in to do a very similar job to the one attempted by Cameron and Osborne. Helped along by the huge windfall of North Sea oil revenues, which were frittered away, she did produce a recovery in business investment.

This was achieved by increasing the rate of exploitation. Cameron and Osborne followed her example quite slavishly with spending cuts, real cuts to public sector pay, cuts to welfare, cuts to taxes for the highest earners and big business and privatisations. The cloak for these policies, the hue and cry over the deficit, was different to their predecessor, inflation and monetarism, but the project was broadly similar.

But the failure of the later Thatcherites can be shown decisively in terms of business investment, the renewed expansion of capital accumulation based on a series of defeats for the working class which allowed her to increase the rate of exploitation.

Fig.2 below shows the change in investment, (GFCF, Gross Fixed Capital Formation) from 1949 onwards. Data for UK business investment alone only begins in the 1990s. But, as the UK is a capitalist economy the majority of the investment throughout will have been made by the private sector, and so provides an approximate guide to what the relative impact of Thatcherism was in this area.

Fig 2. UK GFCF, % change year-on-year, 1949 to 2018

In the immediate post-World War II era there were relatively high rates of investment, but it slowed markedly. This reached outright contraction in the early 1970s. Thatcherism was the antidote to this, by cutting real wages and business taxes. Although there was initially a slump, Thatcher’s project was successful and investment recovered throughout the 1980s, until it was brought to a crashing halt by the excesses of the Lawson boom, where the government refused to use the oil revenues for public investment and cut personal taxes instead, fuelling an unsustainable boom in consumption.

As the chart shows, investment growth has only ever been meagre since. Worse, the sharp contraction of the 2007 financial crash and the 2008-09 recession has only ever produced a meagre and short-lived investment recovery. Investment is now slowing to a stop once more. Cameron and Osborne completely failed to emulate Thatcher’s temporary ‘success’.

This is now the situation that confronts Johnson.

Of course there is an alternative to renewed austerity and some seem to believe the renewed breathless PR about the ‘Northern powerhouse’, ‘an infrastructure blitz(!) in the regions (Guardian)’ and ‘pouring cash into the Midlands’ (FT).

This will not happen. The splits in the British ruling class over Brexit were set aside in their united opposition to Jeremy Corbyn precisely because he intended to increase the role of the state in the economy. This diminishes the ability of most parts of the private sector to maintain their profits, or to expand them. It is anathema to them. The Tories will not do it.

Instead, there are protections for workers that currently apply in British law because of adopting EU law. Johnson has signalled repeatedly that he does not want to continue with ‘alignment’ with EU laws and rules. The Trump/Johnson Brexit will include a programme of rolling back workers’ rights.

The objective conditions are also set firmly against Johnson’s economic policy being some version of Corbynomics-lite, as much of the press seem to want to believe. The government’s own negative assessment of economic prospects under Johnson’s Brexit policy will also mean a sharp deterioration in government finances. Under those circumstances a sharp increase in state investment is not impossible, but goes beyond the limit of what the private sector is likely to voluntarily provide in the form of buying increased government debt. Some form of compulsion, including nationalisations and raising taxes on business would be required. The Tories will not do it.

From their perspective, the Tories cannot and will not abandon austerity. Instead, it should be clear they are preparing for a further attack, and that this time it will include major political struggles, over union rights, the right to organise and to protest and other issues.

Labour’s Green New Deal is the correct response to the climate crisis

By Carlos Martinez

Climate change is the most important political issue of our generation. There’s 99 percent scientific consensus that humans are causing global warming and that, unless we stop putting greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, life on earth will become increasingly unviable. If we continue at the current trajectory in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, we’re facing over four degrees Celsius of warming by the year 2100. David Wallace-Wells writes in his book The Uninhabitable Earth: A Story of the Future that, “according to some estimates, that would mean that whole regions of Africa and Australia and the United States, parts of South America north of Patagonia, and Asia south of Siberia would be rendered uninhabitable by direct heat, desertification, and flooding.”

According to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), humanity needs to halve its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and hit net zero by 2050. If we fail to hit those deadlines, hundreds of coastal cities (including New York, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Mumbai and Lagos) will likely be permanently submerged; the agricultural system faces collapse; wars will be fought over climate change-induced scarcity of resources; and there will be hundreds of millions of climate refugees. Floods, droughts, hurricanes, typhoons and wild fires will become so commonplace as to barely be newsworthy. The results of climate change are already all too visible: 18 of the 19 warmest years on record have all occurred since 2001, and we’re witnessing an unusually high rate of extreme weather events.

Most environmentalists agree that the safe upper limit for global warming before the planet reaches an irreversible tipping point is 1.5 degrees centigrade. Bearing in mind that the average global temperature today is already 0.9 degrees higher than it was in 1880, we’re only left with 0.6 degrees before we hit the point of no return.

What needs to happen?

There is one critical target to focus on for the next decade, as outlined in the IPCC Special Report on 1.5 degrees, which is to reduce global carbon emissions to 50 percent of current levels.

Labour’s manifesto sets out an even more ambitious target, aiming to “achieve the substantial majority of our emissions reductions by 2030 in a way that is evidence-based, just and that delivers an economy that serves the interests of the many, not the few.” Labour has made a world-leading pledge to generate 90% of electricity and 50% of heat from renewables and low carbon sources by 2030.

Globally, the target will be to get to net zero emissions by 2050. Note that ‘net zero emissions’ doesn’t necessarily mean not emitting any carbon at all – but whatever is emitted must be captured and stored.

Practically, this means that “flying, driving, heating our homes, using our appliances, basically everything we do, would need to be zero carbon”, writes climate change expert Kevin Anderson.

This goal is achievable. We already have the technology to generate all our electricity via renewable energy. Particularly in technologically advanced countries, it should be perfectly possible to completely phase out fossil fuel-based power plants within a few years; it simply requires investment in the surrounding infrastructure, along with the political will to stand up to fossil fuel capitalism.

We can also massively cut down on waste and inefficiency. Energy efficiency – making our economy less energy-intensive – is “widely considered to be the most important single option for carbon reduction”, in the words of Neil Hirst, former Director of the International Energy Agency (The Energy Conundrum). David Wallace-Wells notes that around half of British greenhouse gas emissions come from inefficiencies in construction, discarded and unused food, electronics, and clothing. Retrofitting homes for heating efficiency, for example, would make a significant contribution to reducing emissions in relatively cold countries like Britain. According to Mike Davis, “heating and cooling the urban built environment alone is responsible for an estimated 35 to 45 percent of current carbon emissions.”

Transport is another key area for reducing – and ultimately eliminating – carbon dioxide emissions. There’s tremendous potential for fully-electric public transport systems, along with electric car pools, electric bicycles, and urban designs that encourage cycling. Again, this requires major investment, along with rigorously-enforced laws to stop the climate criminals. In the words of Gus Speth, former Dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, “a reliably green company is one that is required to be green by law.” (Cited in Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate) Meanwhile, until we find a way to power aeroplanes without burning fossil fuels (the technology isn’t far off), we’ll need to reduce air travel significantly.

We also need to change our diets. We don’t all have to become vegan, but meat consumption will need to be reduced in wealthy countries. Mike Berners-Lee writes that “the single most important change will be an amazingly simple dietary shift towards less meat and dairy consumption, with a particular focus on reducing beef. This will markedly reduce greenhouse gases, improve the nutritional output of our land and, by relieving land pressure, ought to be pivotal in stemming deforestation.” (There Is No Planet B: A Handbook for the Make or Break Years)

However, it’s important to note that individual acts of good planetary citizenship are not going to solve the problems we’re facing. As Wallace-Wells observes, “we frequently choose to obsess over personal consumption, in part because it is within our control and in part as a very contemporary form of virtue signalling. But ultimately those choices are, in almost all cases, trivial contributors, ones that blind us to the more important forces.” Without concerted action at a national and international level, without large-scale decarbonisation, we will not avoid catastrophic climate change. As such, the problem is a political one.

Responsibilities of the rich countries

At a global level, China leads the way in tackling climate breakdown, in terms of investing in renewables and electric vehicles, driving the costs of green energy down via massive state-led investment, carrying out vast afforestation projects, and rolling out fully-electric buses and trains. However, China is still a developing country, with over 1.3 billion people, many millions of whom are likely to increase their energy consumption in the near future, since they are still at a stage of development where increased energy consumption correlates directly with improved quality of life outcomes. China can’t save the planet on its own, nor can it be expected to. In terms of “common but differentiated responsibilities”, the technologically-developed wealthy countries of the OECD have the greatest responsibility when it comes to averting catastrophic climate change.

The rich countries fuelled their own industrial revolutions with coal and oil, resources which they came to dominate in no small measure through colonial conquest and imperialist manoeuvring. The US and Europe – with around 15 percent of the global population – have contributed to over half the cumulative carbon dioxide emissions since 1850. And the horrific irony is that these countries are the least affected by climate change. Catastrophic climate events will hit – are hitting – the poorer regions of the planet first.

As such, countries like Britain have a clear moral responsibility to take the lead in addressing climate change. To this day, it’s the wealthy that are living wasteful lives, contributing to the ever-worsening situation. According to Ann Pettifor, “just 10 percent of the global population are responsible for around 50 percent of total emissions. Per capita carbon dioxide emissions in Africa are less than 10 percent of those in Western Europe and North America. Tackling the consumption and aviation habits of just 10 percent of the global population should help drive down 50 percent of total emissions in a very short time.” (The Case for the Green New Deal)

Furthermore, it’s precisely the rich countries that have the resources to lead the way on climate action. As has been pointed out before, “we bailed out the banks, so now we can bail out the planet.” In countries where large numbers of people don’t have access to modern energy, it is understandable and correct that people want to provide that access with a minimum of delay and cost. Sometimes that may even mean new coal capacity in countries like Pakistan, where coal is by far the cheapest and most accessible fuel (although the west should be offering the material support necessary to allow such countries to meet their energy needs in a way that doesn’t damage the environment). In OECD countries on the other hand, there is absolutely no excuse for pursuing anything other than a rigorous and thoroughgoing energy restructuring based on renewable sources.

How are we doing so far?

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was adopted in 1992, committing the 154 signatory nations to “preventing dangerous anthropogenic interference with Earth’s climate system”. The sad fact is that, in the intervening 27 years, “the sum of all the world’s climate action has so far made little or perhaps even zero detectable impact on rising global emissions.” (Mike Berners-Lee)

We are nowhere near on track to meet the targets discussed above, for the simple reason that we’ve left it to the capitalist market to provide solutions to the planet’s problems. The domination of neoliberal economics over the last few decades has reduced governments’ ability to set economic policy in the national interest. Fiscal revenue isn’t sufficient to finance large-scale green development, and shareholder-driven capitalism is incapable of long-term strategic planning on the level that’s needed. Meanwhile, the big fossil fuel companies have an extraordinary level of entrenched power that they’ve used systematically to slow down the energy transition.

There isn’t even any meaningful agreement among the western ruling classes as to how to respond to climate change. Although there is a relatively more forward-thinking section that understands that they too would be affected by climate breakdown (in much the same way that sections of the English bourgeoisie became interested in public health when they realised that they too could fall victim to cholera), there are also the neoliberal extremists who are happy enough with the idea of moving to Finland or New Zealand and setting themselves up in gated communities.

In summary, neoliberal capitalism has shown itself to be utterly incapable of averting environmental catastrophe. Even in Britain, where there has been some focus on wind power, this has been far too slow. Today, wind contributes 17 percent of electricity generation in Britain (well behind gas, at 40 percent). The economist Mariana Mazzucato, arguing for concerted state-led investment in green development, complains that the strategies thus far employed in the US and Britain “lack a clear direction and fail to offer long-term incentives, resulting in a start–stop approach to green initiatives that produces dubious outcomes at best.” (The Entrepreneurial State)

The Green New Deal

The Green New Deal (GND), conceived a decade ago by British economists and environmentalists but recently popularised by progressive US congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, provides the first viable, comprehensive and actionable plan for developed countries to decarbonise their economies whilst creating jobs, tackling inequality and promoting equality and social justice. Measures include investment in renewable energy and zero-carbon public transport; upgrading buildings for energy efficiency; building ‘smart’ distributed power grids to provide affordable clean electricity to all; reorganising the food system; ending subsidies to the fossil fuel industry; and prioritising basic needs.

The key to implementing a programme such as the Green New Deal (or as it’s often referred to by Labour politicians, the Green Industrial Revolution) is public investment on a grand scale. As Berners-Lee points out when discussing the future of renewable energy, “the solutions we need to the problem of intermittency and storage are all coming along nicely; the critical factor is investment.”

This is precisely what has been agreed by Labour’s recent conference, and what is being put on the table by shadow chancellor John McDonnell: a programme of government investment “mobilising £250 billion of capital spending on the projects needed to decarbonise Britain to avert irreversible climate change.”

Supported by a National Investment Bank and network of regional development banks, the programme will seek to ensure that “the transition to sustainability is one that benefits everyone across our society.”

Starting with the infrastructure for widely deploying clean energy, along with a plan for retrofitting homes to be energy-efficient, the Green New Deal would create hundreds of thousands of skilled jobs. The plan includes nationalising the major UK-based energy companies, replacing all gas boilers, closing fossil fuel-based power stations, investing in and subsidising electric cars, vastly expanding off-shore wind capacity, and decarbonising the public transport system.

On top of the Green New Deal, it’s worth mentioning that Labour has also committed to making green technologies available cheap or free to the countries of the Global South. Plus of course the present Labour leadership is deeply opposed to war, which has a major environmental cost on top of its more obvious human cost.

If Labour wins the General Election on 12 December and a Jeremy Corbyn-led government can implement its version of the Green New Deal, it will be a huge boost for the global battle to save the planet. Britain will blaze a trail for the rest of the OECD to follow, towards a global Green New Deal that is, in Ann Pettifor’s words, “a global banner behind which millions can assemble with one voice in order to address the gravest crisis humanity has ever faced.”

If, on the other hand, Labour loses the General Election and Britain has to endure another five years of hard-right Tory government, the result for the fight against climate breakdown would likely be disastrous. Boris Johnson’s ‘hard Brexit’ vision involves leaving the EU customs union and negotiating a free trade deal with the US. That will mean a wide-ranging political alignment that could well see Britain leaving the Paris Climate Agreement. With both Britain and the US outside the Paris Agreement, the prospects for international cooperation to combat climate change would look increasingly grim.

The planet needs a left Labour government in Britain.

This is a slightly amended version of an article which originally appeared in the Morning Star.

Only Labour is willing to address the twin crises

By Tom O’Leary

The election plans laid out by the two major parties mean that it is crystal clear only Labour has policies to address the current crises (the LibDems can be disregarded in policy terms, as they only have one policy, which they claim is ‘stop Brexit’ but which is actually ‘stop Corbyn’).  There are combined crises of the climate catastrophe as well as the stagnation of the economy and living standards.

The depth of the British economic crisis is not at all widely understood.  It should be as only a proper appreciation of the scale of the problem can lead to the appropriate measures to tackle it, the policies that are necessary and the political choices that follow.

The scale of the economic crisis is illustrated in the chart below. Fig.1 shows the growth rate for the capital stock, the total value of machinery, factories, software, computers and so on used in the production of goods and services across the economy.  Also shown are the growth rate in the consumption of capital, all the machinery used up in the production process, the equipment the becomes obsolete and the factories that become dilapidated. From this, the growth rate of the net capital stock can be derived, which is the growth rate of the capital once the capital consumption has been taken into account.

Fig.1 Growth in UK Net Capital Stock, 1998 to 2017

From 1998 to 2017 the annual growth rate in the net capital stock has fallen from 2.7% to just 1.1%.  This exceptionally low level is a return to the earliest periods of capitalist development in Britain.  In the 1760s as George III became the monarch, the growth rate in the net capital stock was about 1% annually.  The only period which was significantly slower was in the exceptional period 1933-34, which saw an outright fall in the net capital stock, as part of the Great Depression.

This all matters because the net capital stock is effectively a measure of the fixed means of production for the whole economy. It is extremely difficult for the economy or living standards to grow sustainably beyond the growth rate of the net capital stock.  The other main route is to increase the hours of labour, either by getting more people to work or getting the existing workforce to work longer hours.  But without a rising level of the capital stock, the productivity of labour cannot rise.

At the same time, an increase in one specific area of the net capital stock is needed to tackle the climate crises. This is the required level of investment in the production of renewable energy as fossil fuels are eliminated.  In addition, investment is also needed in energy conservation and in the reduction of energy consumption.

The Labour party policy precisely addresses this key component of the crisis by sharply increasing the level of public sector investment.  Labour plans to invest £250 billion over ten years in a Green Transformation Fund to achieve all these aims.

Labour will also add a further £150 billion in a social transformation over 5 years to invest in infrastructure, transport, housing and capital investment in public goods such as health and education.  The dilapidation of the schools and hospital will be tackled.

The contrast with the Tory plans is not mainly the inadequately small pledge of £20 billion per annum, or even the sharp U-turn in Tory government ideology about borrowing to invest (no more ‘magic money tree’ nonsense).

 The main issue is that the Tory plans are completely fake. They are undeliverable under either Boris Johnson’s deal or No Deal, which is still an option and which is the clear preference of Trump.  Under the government’s own forecasts, the British economy will be 9.3% lower than it would otherwise be in 15 years’ time with No Deal. Even if this forecast is accurate (and mainstream economics tends to underestimate the negative impact on investment), then the damage to government finances is likely to be very large.

To illustrate this point, the British economy did not recover to its pre-recession peak until the 1st quarter of 2013, fully 5 years later. This implies that the economy would have been about 12% larger if the recession had not occurred. Over that time and in later years, public sector debt trebled from under 30% of GDP to over 80%, including fierce austerity measures. 

This gives some indication of the likely damage to government finances following a major negative development, either Johnson’s deal (which is just No Deal for just Britain) or No Deal for the UK. There will be no money at all for additional Tory public sector investment.

In fact, the long-standing ideology of the Tory party in favour of small state economics combined with the absence of any resources under their Brexit plans means that the entire government ‘programme’ of investment is a complete fraud. 

The Cabinet ideologues, almost all of whom have voted for and written in favour of privatisation and outsourcing, have no intention of allowing a sustained increase in public investment. And Trump has no intention of allowing it either. His imposed deal will be the opposite, privatisation and outsourcing with US corporations at the head of the queue.

By contrast, Labour gets it.  The scale of the ambition is in line with the objective environmental and economic crises within the constraints of the current level of public ownership of the economy.  Looking ahead, one of the key benefits of a large-scale nationalisation programme is that the state would be able to have an even greater impact on the total level of investment in the economy.  These are the real economic and environmental choices at stake in the election.

The stakes in the Bolivian elections

By Tom O’Leary

Bolivians vote in a general election on October 20th.   Evo Morales has been the President since 2006, winning three successive terms as President. 

A victory for him would continue the development of the economy and the rise in living standards since he took office.  It would be a considerable boost to the left across Latin America, which otherwise faces the impositions of Bolsonaro, Macri and Moreno, backed by the US and in some cases the IMF.  Socialists internationally have every reason to support a Morales victory.

The success of the project begun by Morales and the MAS (Movement for Socialism) can be shown in 2 charts.  The first below shows the level of Bolivian real per capita GDP since 1976. In the 30 years before Morales came to power, real GDP per person effectively stagnated.  In 1976 it was US$1,687 and was only $1,692 in 2006, barely altered.  Since then it has risen to US$2,506, according to World Bank data.  This represents a rise in average living standards of 48%.

Fig. 1 Bolivia Real GDP

However, it is possible that average living standards rise but that the bulk of this increase is claimed by the rich and the upper classes.  But this is not the case in Bolivia.  Chart 2 below shows the proportion of the population below the poverty headcount rate of US$5.50 per day, adjusted for inflation and PPPs (purchasing power parities).

Fig.2 Bolivia, % of Population on Incomes Below US$5.50

Once again, this measure of poverty shows there was little progress before Morales.  In 1997 52.6% of the population were subsisting on incomes equivalent to below US$5.50 a day in real terms. By 2006 that rate had edged down to 48.1%.  But the fall since then has been dramatic, with the poverty rate at 24.7% in 2017 (the latest available data). As the population of the country is now over 11 million, this means that literally millions of people, about one-quarter of the population, have been lifted out of poverty.

The success of Morales

There are a number of factors which have contributed to Morales’ success.  Initially, like many countries in Latin America and beyond, Bolivia benefited from the rise in global commodities’ prices, which were spurred on in particular by the rapid pace of China’s industrialisation.  There was too a major shift in the population from the countryside to the towns and cities, which rapidly expanded the workforce available for more advanced production, including manufacturing.

But these factors were common to many countries, especially in Latin America, but unlike Morales they failed to maintain their gains, or even to hold onto office.  That commodities’ price boom has since faded as the Chinese economic model has adjusted, and the pace of the migration into the urban centres has slowed in many countries. The world economy is also slowing, so none of the previously favourable conditions is likely to return in the foreseeable future.

To explain Morales’ success, one key area where the Bolivian economic project stands apart, certainly in Latin America, is that the gains of rising prices and output were not simply used to boost consumption, but also to increase investment.  Chart 3 below shows the proportion of GDP directed towards investment, or GFCF (Gross Fixed Capital Formation). 

Fig. 3 Bolivia, GFCF as % of GDP

In 2006 GFCF as a proportion of GDP had fallen to a 14.3% and had been even lower in the preceding period.   It has since risen to 21.4% in 2015, although it has softened a little in following years.  The urban population is now 70% of the total, so there is diminishing scope to increase the workforce available for more advanced manufacturing or industrial production.  Further gains will require the return to previous high levels of investment, and even their extension.


The validity of opinion polls is hotly disputed, although many show Morales well ahead but short of an outright majority for the first round of voting. 

The stakes are very high.  The insurrection in Ecuador against enormous price hikes, imposed by the Moreno government acting on the instructions of the US and IMF, shows what the likely alternative to Morales will be.  This includes both huge attacks on living standards, and severe state repression to carry it out.

Morales’ political background is as organiser and then general secretary of the peasant farmers, which experienced fierce repression from the large landowners and the state forces, and forced the farmers into guerrilla warfare, Morales included.  This is a political formation which creates an understanding of the role of the state, which classes it defends and the brutality of it attacks, all supported by the Unites States.  It also teaches the need for collective discussion, unity of action and strong discipline among the resistance fighters.  It is clear too that, through this experience and his own ethnic identity, Morales enacts a highly advanced policy towards the indigenous populations.

Despite or because of all this, here in the West there is a campaign of slander against Morales, led by the ‘liberal’ press.  So, the Guardian repeatedly runs entirely distorted arguments and outright lies, including describing Morales as ‘the murderer of Nature’ in the Amazon.’  The reality is that it is the far right poster boy Bolsonaro in Brazil, an ally of Trump’s who is destroying the Amazon, and Morales is using every mechanism to combat it.   

The stakes are also high for the planet as a whole.  The Bolivian elections will not decide that fate, but they are an important battle in the struggle.

Trump is already imposing new tariffs on this country – and what he wants from them

By Tom O’Leary

Despite the claims of the Tory party and other supporters of a No Deal Brexit that a new golden age of trade awaits with the US, the Trump administration has just imposed new trade tariffs on British producers.

This is important for two reasons. It reveals the falsehoods underlying the entire No Deal project. It also sheds light on the global perspective of Trump, and how he aims to address the US economic crisis at the expense of the rest of the world.

New tariffs

The US Treasury has issued a series of new 25% tariffs on UK producers and others in the EU (pdf).  This list is 8 pages long and includes a wide range of goods, from aircraft, to whiskies, to woollens to pipe cutters and many more goods besides.  The tariffs are due to come into effect on October 18.

The tariffs are allowed under the WTO rules (which are themselves skewed towards the US) because it has found that the EU’s Airbus production receives state subsidies.  However, experts suggest that a similar finding will be made against Airbus’s big rival Boeing in a matter of weeks. 

Both entities receive state support. In fact, it is inconceivable that any private corporation would undertake the vast investment required for large-scale aircraft production without state financing and subsidies.  Inadvertently, the free market ideologues of both the US and the EU make the case for socialised investment.  In the case of the aircraft makers, the investment would simply not take place without state intervention. Airbus is also partly owned by European governments.

Boeing and Airbus are the two main global rivals for the demand of airlines’ new carriers. They are at each other’s throats for decades, and the cases against each other at the WTO have rumbled on almost as long.  This has taken a new twist with Trump’s aggressive imposition of tariffs on a number of countries (including ‘allies’ in Europe, as well as Canada and Mexico).  There is too the issue of the disastrous roll-out of the Boeing Max 737, which has led to crashes, huge numbers of fatalities, lawsuits and a threat to the company.

The imposition of the tariffs has received very little coverage in the mainly Brexit-supporting press. Tariffs on existing production destroy jobs and raise prices. If they are sustained these sanctions will raise prices for US consumers (and EU tariffs will do the same in the EU) and destroy jobs in the sectors concerned.

The sanctions have a strategic aim and reveal Trump’s approach to the problems of the US economy.

Trump’s strategy

The US economy is slowing – and the Presidential election is now little more than 12 months away. GDP growth in the 3rd quarter slipped to 2.1%, from 3.1% in the 2nd quarter. But the US is also experiencing a long-term slowdown.  As John Ross has shown elsewhere, the medium-term trend in the US economy, removing the effect of business cycles, is towards slower growth.

Therefore Trump has two problems. The immediate issue is to raise the growth rate to a level that gives him a better chance of re-election. The most recent poll shows his approval rating at -16, which is normally far too low for an incumbent to be re-elected. But he also has a strategic task in his role as the representative of the general interests of US big business as a whole.  This is to ensure that the US growth rate can recover over the medium-term, or at the very least that other countries do not continue to gain ground on the US.

That strategic aim, and the country whose advance most threatens US global dominance, explains the aggressive US trade tariffs against China. This is despite the fact that the tariffs are imposed on goods to the US and so raise prices in the US and destroy US jobs, just as economic theory predicts.  Trump’s replacement for the North America Free Trade agreement (NAFTA) is the US-Canada-Mexico Trade Agreement (USMCA) is remarkable similar to NAFTA.  The key change is a series of measures that effectively prevent both Canada and Mexico striking any new deals to improve their trade with China without US approval.

China is clearly the main target of Trump’s trade policy but is certainly not the only target. Taken together, and making no judgement on its likely success, from Trump’s perspective this amounts to an entirely new trade policy for the US in the post-World War II era. Historically the superior productivity of US industry and agriculture meant that it was an advocate for free trade. While there were general benefits, the US would always be the biggest winner.

Trump has turned that outlook on its head. The US slowdown will be addressed by a re-ordering of the global trade system in US interests. Specifically, other countries will be subordinated to the US, providing it with unfair advantages and crimping the growth of non-US industries where they are in direct competition with major US companies.

In this light, the attack on Huawei (which leads on 5G telecoms technology) should be seen as driven by the same policy as the attack on the makers of Airbus (Boeing’s sole global rival).

Airbus attack

Airbus had sales of €31 billion the first half of 2019. It employs 136,000 people worldwide, 14,000 of them in the UK, where production of the high value-added wings and part of the engines takes place.

Because of the integration of production across Europe, Airbus has already publicly stated that any Brexit outcome which includes leaving either the Single Market or a customs union would pose the company with enormous challenges, which could require relocation in the EU.

The Trump/Johnson No Deal project does mean leaving both the Single Market and the customs union.  This is also true of the latest Johnson proposal, which means that Britain would leave both.  The major Airbus plant is based in North Wales.

There is clearly an advantage to the US from severely disrupting the production of Boeing’s only global rival. But it should be equally clear that there is no advantage to producers in the UK to accepting such a deal. Unions and business groups here have been right to highlight this.

This country will have to operate under WTO rules if it crashes out without a deal. Under those rules, the trade tariffs are allowed once an unfavourable ruling is made. In fact, there are few other mechanisms available under WTO.  But, until recent years, the US was the by far the largest economy in the world. So, any system allowing bilateral trade tariffs massively favoured the US.  That will still be the case between the UK and the US, with Trump holding all the cards in any negotiations or in any subsequent trade dispute.

At the same time, it is futile to protest that Trump should have targeted other countries instead, if he wants to get a US-UK trade deal.  This is the approach of some business groups in this dispute.

Trump’s aim is firstly to attack Airbus so that it does not gain an insurmountable advantage over Boeing.  But he also rejects any soft-pedalling in his aggressive trade policy, even for ‘allies’.  Outside of the EU’s Single Market and customs union, Britain will have to accept whatever Trump offers.  And what he offers, or at least intends, is a complete restructuring of the global trade system in US interests.

70 years of China’s social miracle

By John Ross

Socialism’s aim is to improve the well-being of humanity. And nothing in history has remotely improved the condition of such a large part of humanity in such a small period of time as the development of the People’s Republic of China since 1949 – the 70th anniversary of the founding of which occurs on 1 October 2019.

China’s was one of the two greatest socialist revolutions of the 20th century – the other was the October 1917 Russian revolution. The international impact of the Russian revolution, overthrowing the weakest link in the imperialist system, among its other enormous achievements, played a decisive role in smashing to pieces the colonial empires which had oppressed the great majority of humanity for centuries. China’s was the greatest revolution within the developing countries, those oppressed by imperialism, within which the great majority of humanity still live.

In 1949 China, oppressed by a century of foreign invasion in which around 100 million Chinese people were killed, was almost the world’s poorest country – the details are in the article below. Angus Maddison, former head of statistics of the OECD, and the world’s most renowned analyst of long term growth, calculates that at the time of the creation of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) its per capita GDP was not only lower than 130 years previously but far lower than Western Europe or England in 1500 – that is lower than in the late European Middle Ages and far lower than at the time of Shakespeare. Reflecting this fact average life expectancy in China was only 35. But by 2019 China’s people, almost 1.4 billion or nearly a fifth of humanity, had been lifted from poverty to a living standard to the verge of becoming a high-income economy by international standards. Nothing approaching such a rapid improvement of the life of such a large proportion of humanity has ever taken place anywhere else in human history. That is the measure of the literally incredible achievement of the PRC since 1949.

The article below examines that improvement in the life of China’s people via the most direct of all measures – life expectancy, which is well known to be the most sensitive measure of overall social well-being. The figures are staggering. Leaving aside China itself, China’s life expectancy has increased by more than that of 99.2% of humanity! This is in addition to China being responsible for lifting over 850 million people out of internationally defined poverty – three quarters of the reduction of world poverty. China has lifted out of poverty far more people than the entire population of the European Union or the entire continent of Latin America.

Capitalism naturally lies regarding China

To anyone who can think seriously about the well-being of humanity what is reflected in these ‘dry statistics’ about China is such a gigantic improvement in the lives of people that for anyone understanding it they must almost be moved to tears. Therefore, naturally capitalism does everything it can to make sure such realities are known to as few people as possible in the world. Nothing else is to be expected from capitalism, because if such realities were widely known it would be a gigantic blow to the standing and hegemony of capitalism. As China becomes still more successful, and the life of the 1.4 billion Chinese people improves further, all that will happen from capitalists and the media they control is that the amount of distortion and lying will increase – because it is vital for capitalism to prevent the rest of the world knowing how much the life of the Chinese people has improved in the 70 years since China’s socialist revolution. Because if that truth is known more people, particularly at present in developing countries, would want to follow that route. 

Any serious progressive individual or media, let alone socialists, would, of course, hail the gigantic step forward for humanity which has taken place in China – while doubtless making whatever were their liberal qualifications or critiques of it. But capitalism and liberals long ago ceased to be progressive. If you read newspapers such as the Guardian or the New York Times around the 70th anniversary of the PRC you will see not analysis of what a huge step forward for humanity this is but suppression of the real facts regarding China’s development – liberals long ago ceased not only to be progressive but to pay any attention to the truth.  

In addition to the overall lies against China there are of course specific ones which any examination of the facts disproves. One is related to the gigantic support for Mao Zedong in China. Supposedly this is inexplicable given that it is claimed by capitalism Mao Zedong was a vile oppressor.  In reality in China during the period of Mao Zedong, despite the huge mistakes of the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution, China experienced the most rapid improvement in social conditions, reflected in increase in life expectancy, in human history – a reflection of China’s emphasis on health care and education. As the article notes: ‘In the 27 years between the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, and the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, life expectancy in China increased by 31 years – or over a year per chronological year…. Far from being negative, China’s record in this period was one of history’s most extraordinary social achievements.

‘Instead of engaging in factual falsification and myth making, foreigners can more accurately understand the support for Mao Zedong in China, even leaving aside other issues, such as the achievement of real national independence, merely by the lived experience of this fact. If someone leads you to live an extra 31 years it is unsurprising you hold them in esteem! ‘

The fact that capitalism systematically lies about China of course makes it incapable of understanding the real dynamic in that country.

Confusion in parts of the left

But if rejection of reality is to be expected from capitalism and its apologists what is ridiculous is that sections of the left refuse to face such a gigantic reality as China’s social achievements – these ‘left’ criticisms in fact only repeat capitalist propaganda. At the most absurd they spread capitalist lies such as that Chinese workers life in ‘slave like’ conditions – something which is refuted in 1 second by looking at the figures on China’s life expectancy dealt with in this article. The idea that a ‘sweatshop’ produces a more than 40 year increase in life expectancy, more than every major country in the world, is an absurd joke, or more precisely ‘leftist’ repetition of capitalist propaganda.

Illustrating even more lack of seriousness about socialist and Marxist theory is left repetition of the claim that China is capitalist. This is refuted by any Marxist analysis of China’s economic structure – see ‘Why China is a socialist country – China’s theory is in line with Marx (but not Stalin)’. For those who claim China is capitalist it is then necessary to explain why these gigantic and measurable steps forward for humanity took place in a country which declares itself socialist and no such step forward was taken in countries which declare themselves capitalist. But it is also necessary to understand the profound consequences. If ‘capitalism’ is capable of lifting more than 850 million people out of poverty then capitalism is not reactionary but is a profoundly progressive system. This foolish so called ‘left’ criticism of China therefore turns out to be…. a justification for the progressive role of capitalism!

But the practical consequences of confusion on the left on this issue are extremely serious. China has an economic system which demonstrably delivers in practice, not merely in theory, enormous improvements in the living conditions for the overwhelming majority of the population and in particular the poorest sections of society. It is based on the socialisation of the dominant sectors of China’s economy – that is the ability of the state to control the level of investment in China. As it was stated at the 3rd Plenum of the Central Committee of the 18th Congress of the CPC, the latest comprehensive statement of China’s economic policy: ‘We must unswervingly consolidate and develop the public economy, persist in the dominant position of public ownership, give full play to the leading role of the state-owned sector.’ Any study of how China’s economy is regulated confirms that decisive role of the state sector.

The left should be using this model to explain that it is the most effective method to raise living standards and eliminate poverty. In Latin America, for example, where the left was unable to deal with the consequences of the downturn in commodity prices after 2014, this is decisive. As Brazilian socialist Elias Jabour put it recently: ‘The rise of China means that Brazil and Latin America has a real alternative to neo-liberalism. It provides the possibility for greater economic integration outside the orbit of imperialism. It is impossible to imagine the existence of progressive governments in Latin America without the existence of socialist China.’ This applies both to the support that economic interaction with China can give to Latin American, and other developing, countries and to how the Chinese economic model provides a proven practical alternative to neo-liberalism within Latin American countries.

The left in China

But also, internationally, it is necessary to understand that the biggest left in the entire world is in China. The best way to understand that is to read Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, or to follow websites such as – something it is entirely possible for anyone who does not read Chinese to do with modern translation software. And for those who do not trust anything produced in China, or find it too tiring to use translation software, they can get a distorted but not wholly inaccurate vision by reading Jude Blanchette’s China’s New Red Guards. No where else but China do you find obviously left-wing leaders who have 3 million, 5 million, 6 million followers on social media. And these huge left-wing forces are unequivocal in their support of the overall path, naturally not every specific policy, of the CPC. They are ‘Maoist’ in their overall world outlook. The Fidelista left in Latin America is undoubtedly the other mass socialist/Marxist current in the world, but even that is much smaller than the left in China.

Understanding the actual reality of China, and the impact this has on its population, will immediately lead to realities the ‘Western left’, in particular the left in Europe and North America, finds very hard to immediately understand. But they are based on the social realities analysed below. For example, this is the evaluation of Fidel Castro, the greatest Marxist/socialist leader ever to have lived in the Western hemisphere, of China: ‘If you want to talk about socialism, let us not forget what socialism achieved in China. At one time it was the land of hunger, poverty, disasters. Today there is none of that. Today China can feed, dress, educate, and care for the health of 1.2 billion people.

‘I think China is a socialist country, and Vietnam is a socialist nation as well. And they insist that they have introduced all the necessary reforms in order to motivate national development and to continue seeking the objectives of socialism.

‘There are no fully pure regimes or systems. In Cuba, for instance, we have many forms of private property. We have hundreds of thousands of farm owners. In some cases they own up to 110 acres. In Europe they would be considered large landholders. Practically all Cubans own their own home and, what is more, we welcome foreign investment.

‘But that does not mean that Cuba has stopped being socialist.’

Of China’s current president Xi Jinping this was the evaluation of Fidel Castro: ‘‘Xi Jinping is one of the strongest and most capable revolutionary leaders I have met in my life’. The left in China clearly supports Xi Jinping – naturally not without abandoning their specific views but clearly as regards the overall course of China. For exactly the same reason the capitalist press in the West is particularly full of bile and hatred against Xi Jinping – innumerable articles spewing out attacks on him as the 70th anniversary of the creation of the PRC approached.

It is not necessary for the Western left to become involved in detailed assessment of China’s leadership – although for China this is extremely important. What the international left does have to understand is that the greatest rapid improvement in the condition of the greatest proportion of the world’s population in human history has taken place in the 70 years of the PRC.

The role of the socialist left

For the mass of the population who live in Europe or North America it is difficult for them to imagine what it meant to make a socialist revolution, and to commence constructing a new society, from an economic starting point lower than their own countries in the Middle Ages and in only 70 years to achieve a standard of living and a life expectancy that is on the verge of high incomes economies. Only China’s continued development will convince the mass of hundreds of millions of people. That is why there is a much wider and more understanding of China’s stupendous achievements in Africa, developing Asia, and Latin America than there is in Europe or North America. But what there is no excuse for is that parts of the so called ‘intelligentsia’, who are supposed to understand the course of human history, do not grasp such facts.

The following article, written for China for the 70th anniversary of the creation of the People’s Republic, focuses not on the data on GDP but on the most important factor or all – the impact of the 70 years of the Peoples Republic of China on the life of the Chinese people.

*   *   *

‘The Chinese people have stood up,’ the title of this famous speech by Mao Zedong in 1949 embodied a promise made by the Communist Party of China to the people of China. This promise was that if China adopted the socialist programme and methods of the CPC the Chinese people would be progressively lifted from more than a century of poverty, foreign invasion, foreign oppression, and humiliation by foreign powers to regain a position in which no country or people in the world was superior to China.

Measuring China’s social progress

There are numerous ways to measure whether the promise by the CPC was kept. A number specifically relate to China’s specific national identity and its situation in 1949. For example, in a total transformation of China’s position from the preceding century, no country any longer dares militarily attack China – due to the strength of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the economic and technological power that now sustains it. China has now also completely regained its territorial integrity – all former foreign concession territories in China have been abolished, Hong Kong and Macao have reunified with China, only US controlled Taiwan province still remains to be regained practical control of and that is only a matter of time. Numerous foreign countries now seek friendly and equal relations with China. That the socialist path of the CPC has delivered its 1949 promise on the field of China’s national integrity is beyond doubt.

But it is also legitimate to make international comparisons by more universal and less specifically national criteria – those regarding the development of the overall social position of the Chinese people compared to other countries. Fortunately, since 1949 the situation of humanity as a whole has advanced – the old colonial empires have been destroyed, living standards have improved, life expectancy has increased. How has China developed in comparative terms? Has China improved its social conditions more rapidly than other countries – justifying the CPC’s promise that its programme and methods, based on Marx-Lenin-Mao Zedong, were the best to achieve China’s rejuvenation – or do the facts show that other countries have achieved superior social progress in the 70 years since the creation of the PRC?

Why life expectancy is the most sensitive measure of social progress

Among the different potential criteria that could be used to measure China’s relative social progress compared to other countries one is in reality decisive. The declared aim of the CPC is to ‘Serve the People’. In policy terms its framework is ‘people centre development’ – which is necessarily integrated with China’s national rejuvenation because China’s people are overwhelmingly its greatest power and resource. How much, therefore, in overall terms has the overall condition of the ordinary people of China improved since 1949? Has the CPC delivered on its promise that its methods would deliver improvement in the conditions of the ordinary people of China in a way superior to any other? 

One single criterion is in reality sufficient to dramatically demonstrate the superiority of the socialist path China embarked on 1949 compared to alternatives. This is the increase in the life expectancy of the Chinese people compared to other countries. This fact also entirely adequately demonstrates that the slogan of the CPC, ‘Serve the People’, is not empty words but is the precise result of the party’s activity.

The reason the criterion of life expectancy is decisive and chosen for analysis is not simply, or even primarily, that increase in life expectancy is a universal wish of human beings – although it certainly is! It is because it is well known to economists that life expectancy is the most comprehensive and sensitive measure for judging the overall impact of changes in social and environmental conditions. This is due to the fact that average life expectancy summarises in one single figure the effect of all positive social developments (high quality consumption, good health care, improvements in education, environmental protection etc.)  and subtracts the negative ones (poverty, poor health care, lack of education, environmental degradation etc. Life expectancy is therefore a more adequate measure of social well-being than purely per capita GDP – significant as the latter is, and despite per capita GDP being the single biggest determinant of life expectancy. As Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen summarized regarding the relation between these variables:

‘Personal income is unquestionably a basic determinant of survival and death, and more generally of the quality of life of a person. Nevertheless, income is only one variable among many that affect our chances of enjoying life… The gross national product per head may be a good indicator of the average real income of the nation, but the actual incomes enjoyed by the people will also depend on the distributional pattern of that national income. Also, the quality of life of a person depends not only on his or her personal income, but also on various physical and social conditions… The nature of health care and the nature of medical insurance – public as well a private – are among the most important influences on life and death. So are the other social services, including basic education and the orderliness of urban living and the access to modern medical knowledge. There are, thus, many factors not included in the accounting of personal incomes that can be importantly involved in the life and death of people.’

By studying the development of life expectancy during the 70 years of the People’s Republic of China therefore in fact what is being studied is the overall development of the Chinese people’s standard of life compared to trends in other countries.

The conclusion of such comparative study of international facts is simple and clear. The CPC has delivered on its promise that its methods and programme would create results superior to any other – in particular China’s socialist path of development has achieved results which are superior to any capitalist alternative. These are not empty boasts, or purely nationalist rhetoric, but are simply the objective results of the study of global development since 1949.

Resolving historical debates on China’s development

Carefully establishing the facts on this question also casts a clear light on key issues in China’s own history, on international discussion regarding China’s success, on understanding of China’s perception of itself, and in grasping the role of the CPC and the socialist path of development that flows from it.

It is extremely important internationally to establish this fact regarding the unparalleled increase in China’s life expectancy compared to other countries and the conclusions that flow from it. While, as will be seen, the scale of China’s economic and social development in the 70 years since the establishment of the PRC is unequalled this is frequently not shown in China’s research in  presentation of its own achievements – particularly as presented internationally. Too often systematic comparison of China’s achievements compared to other countries is not carried out, which allows excessive international circulation of slanders against China and also even allows the spreading of false analyses within China.

To attempt to contribute to a more widespread understanding of the truly enormous scale of China’s social achievement this article therefore carries out a systematic study of the development of life expectancy in China compared to other countries since the establishment of the PRC. This establishes clearly that the increase in life expectancy since 1949 shows that China’s is by far the greatest social miracle in any country in the last 70 years, and probably the greatest social miracle in the entire history of humanity. It will be shown that such a conclusion is not overheated nationalist rhetoric, but simply follows from an objective and impartial study of the facts.

China’s extraordinary achievement in life expectancy

Turning to the overall comparative results of China’s increase in life expectancy compared to other countries these are summarised in Table 1. Ideally a comparison would be made of life expectancy for all countries starting in 1949, but systematic World Bank data is not available before 1960 – a specific study of China for the period 1949-1960 is given below. However, from 1960 to 2017, the latest available data, systematic World Bank data covering 189 countries exists, accounting for 99.3% of the world’s population. That is, from 1960 entirely comprehensive international comparisons can be made – systematic international comparative data therefore exists for 57 out of the 68 years of the existence of the PRC. Furthermore, as will be demonstrated, there is no indication of countervailing data for the period 1949-1960. There is, therefore, no doubt as to China’s performance compared to other countries.

The comparative international results are overwhelming and conclusive.

  • In 1960-2017 China’s average life expectancy increased by 32.7 years – from 43.7 years to 76.4 years.
  • By 2017 China’s 1,386 million people had enjoyed a higher increase in life expectancy than 6,027 million people, living in countries with a lesser increase in life expectancy than China, and only 46 million people living in countries with a greater increase in life expectancy than China.
  • China’s increase in life expectancy was therefore higher than that of 99.2% of the population of the world’s countries excluding China.
  • Only 0.8% of the world’s population, excluding China, lived in countries with a longer increase in life expectancy than China – this was purely in six small countries, Bhutan, the Maldives, Tunisia, Timor-Leste, Nepal, Oman.

To show clearly how overwhelming is China’s increase in life expectancy compared to other countries, Figure 1 shows graphically the percentage of the world’s population living in countries with higher and lower increase in life expectancy than China in 1960-2017- including China in the calculation.

Figure 2 shows the percentage of the world’s population living in countries with higher and lower increase in life expectancy than China in 1960-2017 excluding China.

The social impact of China’s increase in life expectancy

This fact that China’s increase in life expectancy exceeded that of almost all other countries, and far exceed that of all other major countries, is itself a decisive vindication of the superiority of China’s socialist path of development. There are today literally hundreds of millions of people in China alive because of China’s far superior performance in increasing life expectancy. But in addition to this direct effect on China itself this overwhelming comparison is also is decisive in deciding other issues.

The claim made in rabid anti-China Western media that the people of China live in ‘misery’ is entirely laughable – the life expectancy data shows the Chinese people have experienced a greater improvement in their overall social conditions than countries representing over 99% of the world’s population.

The claim that China has pursued economic development at the expense of its people is evidently untrue. On the contrary, as seen, China’s increase in life expectancy is superior to all except 0.8% of world’s population excluding China.

It is well known that China’s achievement in world poverty reduction is completely unequalled – as is confirmed by the latest World Bank data shown in Table 2. Taking the World Banks’ extreme poverty criteria of expenditure of $1.90 a day, measured in 2011 PPPs, China was responsible for 74% of the reduction in the number of people in the world living below this level of poverty in 1981-2015 (the latter year being the latest available data). Taking the alternative, slightly higher, World Bank criteria of poverty of expenditure of $3.20 a day, measured in 2011 PPPs, China was responsible for 138% of the reduction in the number of the people in the world living at this level of poverty –  i.e. the number living below this level in China fell by 889 million while in the rest of the world it increased by 245 million. But while data for poverty shows the improvement in life conditions for the poorest in society, the data for life expectancy are, of course, an average – with the dramatic increase showing that the improvement in China’s social conditions applied to the overwhelming majority of China’s  population.

Having established the overall framework of the development of China’s life expectancy the light this throws on resolving some specific issues of controversy will now be analysed in more detail 

China in 1949

As a starting point for analysis it is crucial to understand China’s position in 1949. After more than a century of foreign invasions China was almost the world’s poorest country. Systematic international data does not exist for 1949, which was the last year of China’s civil war, but it does for 1950 – the PRC’s first year of peace. This will therefore be taken as the comparative starting point for analysis.

Of systematic international analyses that have been made, Maddison, former head of statistics of the OECD and the world’s most renowned analyst of long term growth, concludes that in 1950 only 10 countries in the world had a lower per capita GDP than China – two in Asia (Myanmar and Mongolia), eight in Africa (Botswana, Burundi, Ethiopia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Lesotho, Malawi, Tanzania). The Conference Board, using a slightly different method of analysis, concludes that only six countries in the world in 1950 had a lower per capita GDP than China – two in Asia (Cambodia, Myanmar), four in Africa (Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Malawi and Mozambique).  On Maddison’s data, in 1950 only 2.4% of the world population lived in countries with a lower per capita GDP than China. These detailed differences in conclusions are clearly entirely insignificant compared to the overall finding. At its starting point the PRC was established in a country which was almost the world’s poorest.

As would be expected, China’s extreme poverty in 1949 was reflected in very low life expectancy. As already noted, comprehensive comparative World Bank data on life expectancy is not available for 1950, it begins in 1960. However, the most relevant comparison is to India, which with China is the other largest developing country. This is because India is the only country comparable in size to China in terms of population, because India achieved independence from Britain in 1947 at almost the same time as the creation of the PRC, and because India’s life expectancy at that time was close to China’s. Studying not only the 1950-1960 period but also the pre-1978 reform period in China’s history compared to India therefore casts a clear light on numerous issues.

In 1947, the year India achieved independence, its life expectancy was 32. China’s life expectancy in 1949, the year of the creation of the People’s Republic of China, was 35 – a gap of three years compared to India. By 1978, the last year of pre-reform China, China’s life expectancy was 67 and India’s 55 – a gap of 12 years. This is shown in Figure 3.

This sharply growing difference was not because India had a bad record – as an increase of 22 years in life expectancy over a 31-year period graphically shows. It is simply that China’s performance was sensational – life expectancy increasing by 32 years in a 29-year chronological period. This means that in pre-reform China life expectancy increased by more than a year for every chronological year that passed – an annual average increase of 2.3%.

To understand the true scale of such an achievement in comparative terms, it need simply be noted that China’s rate of increase of life expectancy in the three decades after 1949 was the fastest ever recorded in a major country in human history. For comparison:

  • The US in the thirty years after 1880, a period of sharp increase due to recovery from the Civil War, saw a 0.9% annual increase in life expectancy.
  • Life expectancy in the UK after 1871, a period of rapid growth, was under 1.0% a year.
  • Japan, a country considered to have an outstanding record in increasing life expectancy, and enjoying a rapid increase due to recovery from World War II, raised life expectancy by 1.3% a year in the 29 years after 1947.

China’s 2.3% increase in life expectancy in 1949-78, therefore, far outperformed all these countries whose records, by normal standards, are considered exceptional.

When did life expectancy increase?

The period in which this spectacular increase in life expectancy was concentrated is highly interesting and casts a strong light on debates concerning the continuity of the PRC’s development  – and in particular shows clearly the falsity of ‘historical nihilism’, the claim that trends in China only became favourable after 1978. During the 1950s China made very creditable progress – life expectancy increasing by an average of slightly over nine months in each chronological year. India’s performance in this period was comparable – between 1947 and 1960 its life expectancy increased by slightly less than nine months for each chronological year. India continued this progress in the period up to 1978, with life expectancy rising by slightly under nine months for each chronological year. But after the 1950s China’s life expectancy began to rise extremely rapidly. Between 1960 and 1970 China’s life expectancy increased by a dramatic one year and nine months per chronological year. Over the entire period 1960-78 China’s life expectancy grew by an average one year and three months per chronological year.

This spectacular, indeed historically unprecedented, social achievement during 1949-78 does not overturn any analysis of economic developments in this period, nor of political judgements concerning the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution. But it shows clearly that attempts to present the pre-1978 period in an overall negative social light, as ‘historical nihilism’, and as represented in the West by a series of books attempting to present pre- reform China as socially disastrous, is, to put it straightforwardly, a blatant falsification. In the 27 years between the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, and the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, life expectancy in China increased by 31 years – or over a year per chronological year. In comparison, in the 27 years after India’s independence average life expectancy increased by 19 years. Far from being negative, China’s record in this period was one of history’s most extraordinary social achievements.

Instead of engaging in factual falsification and myth making, foreigners can  more accurately understand the support for Mao Zedong in China, even leaving aside other issues, such as the achievement of real national independence, merely by the lived experience of this fact. If someone leads you to live an extra 31 years it is unsurprising you hold them in esteem!

Historical accuracy certainly means clearly noting that China’s economic growth was superior after 1978, but this should not lead to underestimation of the astonishing social achievements of the preceding pre-reform period. Xi Jinping put it precisely on these two periods of China’s post-1949 development, that is from 1949-1978 and 1978 to the present:

The two phases – at once related to and distinct from each other – are both pragmatic explorations in building socialism. … Although the two historical phases are very different in their guiding thoughts, principles, policies, and practical work, they are by no means separated from or opposed to each other. We should neither negate the pre- reform-and-opening-up phase in comparison with the post-reform-and -opening-up phase, nor the converse.

Systematic international comparison

While India is the most relevant single comparison for China there could be an accusation that it is selectively chosen. From 1960 onwards however, as already noted, such an accusation cannot be made as systematic World Bank data exits and leaves no doubt as to China’s performance.  It is therefore useful to expand further on the overall results after 1960 noted above.

Due to China’s very low starting point in life expectancy in 1949, by 1960, despite the progress made in the 1950s, it was still the case that 55% of the world’s population lived in countries with a higher life expectancy than China and only 23% in countries with a lower life expectancy than China. The astonishing transformation is that by 2017, due to the very rapid increase in China’s life expectancy, only 19% of the world’s population lived in countries with a higher left expectancy than China and 62% of the world’s population lived in countries with a lower life expectancy than China. This is shown in Figure 4

To understand the significance of this still more clearly, it may be noted that in 2018 only 15.6% of the world’s population lived in countries which were high income, that is advanced, economies by World Bank classification. Therefore, less than 4% of the world’s population lived in developing countries with a longer life expectancy than China – out of 84% of the world’s population which lives in developing countries. In short, from being one of the world’s poorest countries in 1949, with a low life expectancy, in 1949 China has already achieved a longer life expectancy than almost all every other developing economy.

The increase in human well-being and real human rights which is reflected in those simple figures is truly staggering – precisely because average life expectancy is the best overall indicator of overall social and living conditions. It means the Chinese people, almost one fifth of humanity, has enjoyed by far the greatest improvement in social conditions, reflected in their average life expectancy, of any major country in the world. Literally over a billion people have enjoyed a greater improvement in their standards of life than that by any other means. It precisely means that Marxism in China has delivered its promise, made in 1949, that its programme and methods would achieve the national rejuvenation of China in a way superior to any alternative. The facts show that what was a promise in 1949 was delivered as a reality in the 70 years that followed.


In conclusion, the fact that after 1949 China’s increase in life expectancy outperformed any other major country is of course of the greatest significance to China’s people – it shows the unparalleled increase in living and social conditions that has occurred due to China’s socialist path. But it also decisively settles a number of other issues.

  1. Those in who apologize for capitalism are simply wrong – it is clear China’s socialist path has achieved a greater improvement in overall living conditions, reflected in the increase in life expectancy, than any capitalist path of development over the last 70 years.
  2. Attempts to essentially counterpose the two periods of development of the PRC, between 1949-78 and 1978-2019, are wrong. The fundamental task in both periods was to ‘serve the people’, to achieve ‘people centred development’ – which was successful achieved as shown in the sharp increase in life expectancy in both periods.
  3. The theory of ‘historical nihilism’, the claim that China’s development prior to 1978 was negative is the purest nonsense. Economic growth was faster after 1978 but the increase in life expectancy, reflecting the overall improvement in social conditions, in 1949-78 was unparalleled in human history. Therefore, the attacks made on Mao Zedong in the West simply mean that those making them cannot accurately understand China or understand its dynamic. The period of Mao Zedong saw an increase in life expectancy which was unparalleled in human history – which in no way contradicts negative judgements on the Great Leap Forward or the Cultural Revolution. What is involved is the overall course of China during the Mao period, which the data on life expectancy proves saw an unprecedented step forward in the overall social conditions of the China people. By denying the facts of this reality the West, among other things, renders itself incapable of understanding China and its dynamics.
  4. The facts on the development of life expectancy in China since the founding of the PRC confirm in a single decisive and verifiable figure that the CPC delivered on its promise that its socialist methods and programme would be superior for the rejuvenation of China to any other method. They show that the improvement in the conditions of the Chinese people since 1949 is the greatest ever achieved in a major country in a 70-year period in the whole of human history.

These are the fundamental facts of the truly staggering scale of China’s ‘social miracle’ during the last 70 years.

The myth of Japan’s lost generation – and lessons yet to be learnt

By Tom O’Leary

Japan remains an important economy, the third largest in the world behind China and the US. If the EU Single Market is considered as a single economy it is the fourth largest in the world, although considerably smaller than each of these.

But it is a much less important economy than it used to be.  A period of extraordinary growth in real GDP in the post-War period gave way to recession and then virtually complete stagnation from 1990 onwards. From 1950 to 1990 the Japanese economy increased by over 13 times, much faster than the world economy (Angus Maddison data). But in the 28 years since the Japanese economy has expanded by less than a third (OECD data).

In 1990 Japan accounted for 8.6% of world GDP (Maddison). By 2018 this had fallen to 4% of world GDP (World Bank). This period of economic stagnation was first known as ‘Japan’s lost decade’. But it has dragged on to become the ‘lost generation’.

This period bears closer scrutiny, being the most recent period when an advanced industrialised country stagnated over such a prolonged period, not least because the G7 economies as a whole have been effectively stagnating since the crash of 2008.

The myth of Japanese investment

One of the abiding myths about the period of the Japanese crisis from 1990 onwards is that the government tried to revive the economy with a sharp increase in public works spending.  It is further frequently asserted that the governments were so useless that it mainly built ‘bridges to nowhere’ and that they eventually ran out of money.  It is also asserted that China’s public works investment will go the same way, and that no government in the West should be so foolish to emulate it now, and that the Corbyn/McDonnell investment programme is therefore bound to fail too. 

This Thatcherite morality tale is very widely repeated. But it is completely untrue.

What is true is that the Japanese governments frequently announced large new public works spending, often with great fanfare. But it is not true that they increased public sector investment.

Chart 1. below shows both Japanese total Gross Fixed Capital Formation (GFCF) as a percentage of GDP, as well as the private sector’s GFCF as a percentage of GDP.  There is a clear downtrend trend in total Investment, or GFCF.

Chart 1.

The decline in the contribution of Investment to GDP is exactly as would be expected in a period of outright stagnation, given the decisive contribution of Investment to GDP growth.   In 1990 (not shown in the chart) total Japanese GFCF amounted to just over 34% of GDP.  This was not massively below the post-World War II peak of 38.7% in 1973.  But by 2010 total GFCF had fallen to just 21.3% of GDP. From accounting for just over a third of Japanese GDP, GFCF slipped to little more one-fifth of GDP and has not recovered fully since that time.

To be clear, this is quite separate from the Consumption of the Japanese public sector which did rise sharply in response to the crisis. This is shown in Chart 2. Below. Government Consumption rose throughout most of the crisis period, at least until 2010. But increased Consumption cannot sustainably lift production because it provides no new means of production. That requires Investment to create new productive capacity. Put another way, attempting to use Consumption to drive GDP higher over a sustained period will end in failure on both counts.

Chart 2. Japanese Government Consumption, % GDP

Returning to Chart 1 once more, it should be noted that the decline in Investment was not driven solely by the private sector. In 1994 (the earliest available date for the disaggregated private sector data), private sector GFCF accounted for 20.4% of GDP.   By 2015 (latest available data) this had slipped to 18.3% of GDP.

This is highlighted in Chart 3. below.  This shows the calculated level of general government GFCF as a percentage of GDP, arrived at by subtracting private sector GDP from the total GFCF.

Chart 3.  Japan General Government GFCF as % of GDP

Over the period general government GFCF as a percentage of GDP fell from 9.1% in both 1994 and 1996 to a low-point of 4.8% of GDP in 2007 and 2008. It has only recovered to 5.5% in 2015. Therefore the total loss in terms of public sector Investment has been 3.6% of GDP, while the total cumulative loss in private sector Investment has been 2% of GDP over the same period.

Far from Japanese government assertions, echoed by a wide array of analysts and pundits, that public Investment was increased but it proved useless in reviving the economy, the opposite is the case. The Japanese public sector slashed its own Investment, almost cutting it in half.  The cut in public sector Investment was mainly responsible for the decline in total Investment.

This cut in public Investment was much greater than the simultaneous cut in private sector Investment – despite being a much smaller initial value.  Throughout the process, it was the fall in public sector Investment which also led the way, and private sector Investment did not reach its own low-point until three years after the public sector (spurred on by the fall in the level of profits in 1992, which have never properly recovered).

A public investment diversion

As noted above, the change in Japanese public Investment was a fall of 4.3% of GDP from its 1994 (and 1996) level to its low-point in 2007. Even the most strongly growing economies would struggle if any factor was reduced by 4% of GDP.  But the decisive role of Investment in accounting for GDP growth means that slump and stagnation was effectively unavoidable.

What caused the Japanese public sector to choke off Investment, slow the economy to stagnation and lead the Japanese private sector into cutting its own Investment? According to US Treasury data (pdf) Asian holdings of US Treasuries (government bonds) rose from $84 billion in 1984 to $283 billion in 1989 and upwards to $418 billion in 1994.  As the US Treasury notes, these are overwhelmingly held by Japan.

Low levels of Asian (mainly Japanese) US Treasuries’ holdings in 1984 ballooned fivefold in just 10 years.  In relation to Japanese GDP, total Asian holdings were less than 1% in 1984 and approximately 10% in 1994, even taking into account the surge in the value of the Yen over the same period.

That surge in the Yen did not occur simply as a result of market mechanisms. In 1985 the Reagan Administration, struggling with the accumulated debt of the Viet Nam war and recession of the early 1980s, insisted that other countries, Japan, West Germany, France and Britain sell US Dollars to engineer a depreciation which would make US industry more competitive. The US allies were also obliged to cut their own Investment and increase Consumption, partly to boost US exports. This agreement was formalised in the Plaza Accord of 1985. It also allowed the US to maintain very large budget deficits as it pursued the Cold War arms race to destruction.

The effect on Japan and Japanese industry was profound and dramatic. In February 1985 there were 260 Japanese Yen to the US Dollar but by 1987 the exchange rate had fallen to 121. This was excruciating for Japanese industry, which now struggled to compete internationally because of this more-than-doubling in the exchange rate value of the Yen. 

The Japanese government in particular was obliged to sharply increase its purchases of US Treasuries, under threat of hollowing out Japanese industry via the exchange rate. This demand was later reinforced under the separate Louvre Accord. The author of the policy was the US administration under Reagan.

The widely-repeated claim that Japanese public Investment failed to rescue the Japanese economy is no more true for repetition. The opposite is the case. The cut to public Investment was decisive in causing the slump, being both earlier and deeper than the cut in private Investment.  Instead, the Japanese government followed US demands to ‘stimulate demand’, that is increase Consumption in its own economy.

Both of these policies, the cut in Japan’s public Investment and the increase in public Consumption were the effects of the US measures to support its own economy, fund its budget deficit and hugely increase its military spending.  But it has hobbled the Japanese economy for almost three decades now.

Currently, but for different reasons the US is once more looking to overseas sources of capital to maintain current US living standards and increase spending.  How it is attempting to engineer that inflow this time around will be examined in a follow-up piece.

Only Labour will end austerity – the Tories plan a whole new offensive

By Tom O’Leary

There are widespread claims that the government is ending austerity. The reality is that it is engaged in a pre-election spending spree, just as Osborne and Cameron did in 2014.  Subsequently, it should be clear that the small-state right-wing ideologues in Johnson’s Cabinet intend to use a No Deal Brexit as a platform for another huge assault on living standards, workers’ rights and the public sector. They also have no intention of tackling the climate crisis. It is only the Labour Party of Jeremy Corbyn which has a plan to end austerity, with clear commitments to increase public investment, restore public services and tackle climate change.

What are the Tories promising?

The government and their faithful supporters in the press are touting the real terms increase in both current spending and in public investment. Current spending is set to rise by 2.0% in real terms and public investment set to rise 5.6% on the same basis.

But the first point to note is that this is a promise almost certainly for the next parliament as an election now seems inevitable.  If the Tories win the new government will not be bound by the promise of the last one.  It is also a one-year promise, to get through an election. The widespread consensus is the government departments and all their agencies require a minimum of three years funding so that they can plan ahead. 

Claims that this is the biggest spending spree for decades are false. This plan is similar to the Osborne/Cameron one in 2014/15.  Under them public sector gross investment was increased 8.7% in real terms in 2014/15 compared to the previous financial year, in time for the 2015 general election. The rise in public sector current spending was far more modest, perhaps because Osborne understood the importance of investment to spur growth.  But if we take the whole of increased government outlays together, both consumption and investment in Total Managed Expenditure, the current plan is to raise TME by 2.4% in real terms, while Osborne/Cameron increased TME by 2.3% on the same basis.

The cynicism of the Tories was such that these totals were actually cut in real terms once they had won the 2015 election. There is no reason to suppose that the current Tory Cabinet, which occupies a political position even further to the right, will be any different.

What are the Tories going to do?

The current Cabinet is packed with right wing ideologues. The Health Secretary, who claims to be more moderate than his colleagues, argues for the accelerated privatisation of the NHS, and is putting that into practiceAcademisation is the main weapon in the privatising of secondary education. The teaching union the NEU has highlighted the UK’s role in the privatisation of education globally, including through the aid budget (pdf). Boris Johnson is himself an advocate of privatisation and his Chancellor claims to be an avid fan of the neoliberal guru Ayn Rand.

But the Tory perspective is not determined by the outlook of its key members. It is the objective conditions that will determine their choices. The British economy remains in a crisis. The austerity project has failed it its own terms – which is the transfer of incomes from workers and the poor to business and the rich in order to revive a business-led expansion of the economy.

The transfer of income has been real, and real wages have fallen and the social surplus has been redirected from social security to tax cuts. But the profit share has not risen. In 2008 the Gross Operating Surplus of firms was 39.3% of GDP. In 2018 it had fallen to 37.9% of GDP. Profitability has not revived.

As a result, investment has not revived either.  In 2008 it was plummeting and accounted for just 17.2% of GDP. In 2018 it was 16.9%.

For a sustainable business-led expansion, a decisive defeat of the working class and its allies is required. That has not been achieved. Now, the extremists in the Tory Cabinet, orchestrated by the Trump administration, believe that crashing out with a No Deal Brexit is the opportunity they need to impose that decisive defeat.

This will entail not just a fall in living standards, and loss of well-paid jobs in advanced manufacturing sectors such as cars and pharmaceuticals. But, as British-based businesses will be obliged to compete more directly with US rivals, they will in turn demand far lower union rights, health and safety standards, lower pensions and other entitlements. There will be an Americanisation of the British working conditions.

The Corbyn alternative

The scope of the Corbyn-McDonnell project makes the Tories’ pre-election bribe look like the chicken feed it is. Using the same TME measure, which combines both government current spending and public investment, the Labour plan increases it by 3.4% of GDP. Crucially, this is not a one-off, but a sustained increase over each and every year of the next 5-year parliament.

This is about 7 times what Johnson’s Cabinet promises. And it does not include the additional effects of the National Investment Bank on raising investment, nor does it include the probability of some businesses being obliged to increase their own investment, to provide the inputs for the increased investment from the public sector.

The Corbyn-McDonnell plan is a sustained effort to raise the growth rate of the economy, contribute to the global effort to tackling climate change and genuinely ending austerity.

What the Tories plan is not an end of austerity. Instead they plan a whole new attack on workers and the poor.

I have witnessed three coups – power not only protest is needed to stop them

By John Ross

I have witnessed three coups and attempted coups – two in Russia and one in Britain. One was ended politically, one with tanks, the present coup attempt is still not settled. There are decisive lessons on how to deal with them which precisely apply to the present attempted coup by Johnson.

These three coups were in March 1993 in Russia – ended by political means, October 1993 in Russia – ended by tanks. August 2019 in Britain – which will be ended by political means. But each had the same key lessons.

To summarise the events in these three coups each of which I witnessed first hand.

  • In March 1993 Yeltsin attempted to overthrow the Russian constitution, in order to concentrate power in his hands and continue the implementation of economic shock therapy. He was successfully defeated in this by the Russian Congress of People’s Deputies and ministers in the government. However, having defeated the coup, the Congress of People’s Deputies then made the disastrous mistake of compromising with Yeltsin to hold a referendum, in which Yeltsin used his control of the courts and electoral fraud to determine the outcome of. This gave to Yeltsin the political initiative to prepare the coup of October 1993.
  • In the October 1993 coup Yeltsin unconstitutionally declared the dissolution of the Congress of People’s Deputies – the highest authority of the Russian state. This was opposed by massive street mobilisations of Moscow’s population. Yeltsin then ordered the Parliament to be surrounded by armed police which were under his control. The armed police were prevented from taking control of the Parliament by armed resistance by numerous people inside the Parliament building, some with sub-machine guns and similar weapons. The police action was simultaneously opposed by even larger mobilisations of Moscow’s population until the police blockade of the Parliament was broken after several days – the armed police had been demoralised by the steadfast opposition of the Moscow population. But then, instead of consolidating this victory, the leadership of the Parliament made the disastrous decision to launch an attempt to take control of the main television station. Pro-government armed forces stationed there, who had not been subject to popular pressure, obeyed orders to open fire on the crowd carrying out a massacre. Following that the Parliament was attacked by heavy weapons, notably tanks, which the defenders of the Parliament were not able to resist. Yeltsin therefore was successful in this coup d’etat.
  • In August 2019 Johnson attempted to force through a No Deal Brexit through suspending Parliament. The outcome of this struggle remains to be determined.

Each of these coups, however, has the same key lessons which totally apply to Johnson’s attempted coup.

In a coup the issue of state power is what is ultimately decisive – not just protest

The first key lesson is that in confronting a coup it is the issue of state power which is decisive – everything else has to focus on this or it is ineffectual. Everyone who opposes the coup is on the right side and an ally, but there is confusion. As an example on this at present, for example in Britain faced with Johnson’s coup various MPs have proposed so called ‘alternative Parliaments’, MPs occupying Parliament if it is suspended etc. These are beside the point and are in reality to accept Johnson’s coup. MPs have to do something much more powerfu and important than this – simply vote legislation that there will be no prorogation of Parliament, and then, in the present situation, there will be no prorogation and Johnson’s coup will be blocked for the reasons clearly outlined below.

Similarly, writers such as Owen Jones and Paul Mason have called for ‘protests’. Momentum has said it will block streets and bridges. Mason has even made a supposed arithmetic calculation on the percentage of the population that has to be involved in protests for them to stop the government: ‘What we need now is a mass peaceful movement of civil disobedience. Protest theory tells us that if around 4 percent of the population simply refuses to comply with the powers that be, we win.’

But Mason’s look at the possible steps does not even mention Parliament legally blocking its prorogation: ‘The parliamentary options are now limited. Phase one is for MPs to take control of the parliamentary agenda… Phase two – being prepared right now – is to publish legislation stopping No Deal. Phase three is preventing Johnson and his allies from filibustering or sabotaging that legislation.’ Mason declares: ‘Parliamentary options to protect democracy are limited, but we can use mass civil disobedience to create a situation politically unbearable for the Tories.’

The truth is the exact opposite. Protests will not stop Johnson’s coup, only action by the state will – which in the present situation (not all situations) means laws passed by Parliament.

Protests must demand changing the law

The largest possible popular protests are indeed very necessary. They will influence the political dynamics. But in defeating a coup protests cannot be sufficient to decide it. Bluntly, demonstrations so far in Britain are very small compared to the enormous ones in Moscow to confront Yeltsin’s  coup of October 1993. But protest demonstrations will not stop a coup – only something which affects the state power will.

In Moscow there were there truly gigantic demonstrations against Yeltsin’s October 1993 coup, there were hundreds of armed people many of whom were willing to die, and a significant number of whom did die, to defend the Russian Parliament. But they were simply overwhelmed by the greater power of the state – in this case by tanks.

In Britain neither people with machine guns nor tanks will be involved in the fight to block Johnson’s coup. But the state, whether using the police, the riot police, or even the armed forces if necessary [which won’t be in the present situation] can overwhelm by force any protests which challenge its power. The strongest possible protests are necessary to put pressure on the state power, and to determine the political situation, but they cannot defeat the state power – which in the present situation will be expressed in the law.

These decisive points are not meant in any sectarian sense. To use the Chinese formula, because it is the most precise, it is necessary to carefully distinguish between contradictions among the people and contradictions between the people and the enemy. The ‘enemy’ in the present situation are all those who support Johnson’s coup, the ‘people’ are all those who oppose it. MPs proposing occupying parliament/alternative parliaments etc are unequivocally against Johnson’s coup, part of the ‘people’. It is necessary to stand with them shoulder to shoulder in fighting this coup. But because they do not understand the issue of state power, which is what is decisive in a coup, they have tactics for fighting against it which are not sufficiently effective. Therefore, it is necessary to show the conditions which can stop the coup – which in the present circumstances can only be legal action by Parliament. Protests are absolutely necessary and important, but they must aim at securing that legal change.

Why preventing proroguing Parliament is vital

Blocking Johnson’s No Deal Brexit is certainly vital but it is also absolutely crucial to prevent the proroguing of Parliament – which is entirely possible legally. Johnson cannot be trusted on anything. Under the British constitution Parliament is the supreme authority – but if Parliament is not in session the highest authority will be the government and the Prime Minister. For example, once Parliament is prorogued there is nothing legally which prevents Johnson advising the Queen to extend the prorogation beyond 31 October, the date for Brexit. No assurance by Johnson/Cummings this will not be done can be relied upon one inch – they have already shown they are prepared to disregard any of their previous statements.

Three government ministers – Johnson in his interview with the Sunday Times, Gove and Gavin Williamson – have already taken the unprecedented step of saying that the government will not necessarily obey a law passed by Parliament (which could include advising the Queen not to sign a law) – an unprecedented violation of Britain’s constitution. Any such step by the government would normally be countered by a vote of No Confidence and removing the Prime Minister with a replacement who would carry out the law including advising the Queen not to refuse to sign Acts of Parliament or prorogue Parliament. But if Parliament is not sitting, if it has been prorogued, this cannot be done. There would, therefore, be no way to overturn the advice given to the Queen.

If legislation is passed Johnson will set about ‘discovering’ ‘loopholes’ in it.

There are also numerous other steps which Johnson/Cummings could doubtless dream up.

In short to allow Parliament to be prorogued would create an ultra-dangerous situation removing control of the situation.

Therefore, while measures to prevent a No Deal Brexit must certainly be passed by the House of Commons over this coming week it is also absolutely essential to pass a law blocking the proroguing of Parliament. It is imperative that, in addition to any measures on No Deal, Parliament remains sitting – that is it is not prorogued. This can be done by Parliament passing short legislation preventing it being prorogued in the present situation.

Defeating a coup

Defeating a coup means starting off by understanding that the outcome of this will be determined by state power, and determining this means a precise analysis of the relation of forces.

The first key step was been taken by Jeremy Corbyn and the joint statement by opposition parties when the said they did not accept the prorogation of Parliament. For reasons outlined below there has to be a laser like focus on maintaining this.

On 28 August Jeremy Corbyn stated:  ‘Suspending Parliament is not acceptable, its not on. What the Prime Minister is doing is a sort of smash and grab on our democracy in order to force through a No Deal Brexit… So when Parliament does meet, on his timetable very briefly next week, the first thing we’ll do is to attempt legislation to prevent him doing what he’s doing and second we’ll challenge him with a motion of confidence at some point.’

On 29 August Jeremy Corbyn repeated: ‘We’re back in Parliament on Tuesday  to challenge Boris Johnson on what I think is a smash and grab raid against our democracy where he’s trying to suspend Parliament in order to prevent a serious discussion and a serious debate the prevent a No Deal Brexit.

‘What we’re going to do is try to politically stop him on Tuesday with a Parliament process in order to legislate to prevent a No Deal Brexit and also to prevent him shutting down Parliament during  this utterly crucial period.’

Later on 29 August there was the joint statement by the Labour Party, SNP, Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru, For Change Now, and the Green Party.

‘We condemn the undemocratic actions of Boris Johnson following his suspension of Parliament until 14 October….

‘In our view there is a majority in the House of Commons that does not support this prorogation, and we demand that the Prime Minister reverses this decision immediately or allows MPs to vote on whether there should be one.’

This statement had only one ambiguity which should be removed. It is not necessary for Johnson to ‘allow’ MPs to vote on prorogation. Parliament is supreme. It can decide, but this is just an ambiguity in the statement not a wrong position.

Reliance cannot be placed on the courts. In Russia in March 1993 one of the disastrous mistakes made by Congress of People’s Deputies was to attempt to compromise with Yeltsin by stating that a referendum supporting him had to receive support of 50% of the electorate and not just 50% of those voting. Yeltsin used his control of the courts to overrule this.

Parliament, the law and the monarchy

In Britain at present, as Chris Daw QC reminds us: ‘The first thing they teach in law school – The Queen-in-Parliament is sovereign. Not the Government, not the Prime Minister.’  That means it is the action by Parliament which is decisive because it determines the law. Protests are extremely important but will only prevail if they help influence the decisions of Parliament.

As for the Queen, naturally socialists have no illusions in the monarchy. If what was threatened was the end of capitalism she might well act illegally and outside Parliament. But Brexit, either way, will not end capitalism and in these circumstances she will act in a way to strategically preserve the monarchy. And that means not going outside the law set by Parliament because to do so would for the first time endanger the monarchy.

The decisive issue is therefore that Parliament pass legislation preventing itself being prorogued. That legislation is the key issue, not challenges in court. If Parliament has not passed legislation to stop itself being prorogued the Queen will act on the Prime Minister’s advice as she has done so far. But if Parliament passes legislation she will act in accord with that law in order to preserve the monarchy from strategic threat. And if a Prime Minister advises her not to sign an Act of Parliament that Prime Minister can be removed, and the advise reversed, by Parliament – but only if Parliament is sitting!

Johnson cannot be trusted – therefore Parliament must remain in session

Jeremy Corbyn’s statements on 28 and 29 August, and the joint statement by opposition parties on 29 August, were spot on regarding the impact of a coup. But a broader picture is that a number of people cannot rapidly adjust to standing up to power and they accept the framework of the coup while ‘protesting’ about it. This is inevitable because as Marx says the ruling ideas of society are the ideas of the ruling class. It takes a serious struggle for people to break with obeying authority. Therefore, the first reaction of many people to a coup is to accept its framework and only attempt to take measures within its framework.

This was seen in March 1993 and October 1993 in Russia when Yeltsin, with the full weight of the US behind him, and with US advisers, acted illegally, rapidly, and decisively.

In contrast was the fatal mistake made by the Russian Congress of People’s Deputies in March 1993. By the time the Congress had finished its first session the coup had been decisively defeated. The head of the so called ‘power ministries’, that is the forces of repression, refused to carry out Yeltsin’s unconstitutional action. The Congress of People’s Deputies, the supreme constitutional authority of Russia, not only did not accept Yeltsin’s unconstitutional steps but voted by 60% for the impeachment of Yeltsin – only 7% short of the necessary two thirds majority to remove him. Yeltsin coup attempt was stopped dead in its tracks.

But instead of simply consolidating Yeltsin’s defeat, standing up to Yeltsin having blocked his coup, the Congress instead set about seeking a compromise with Yeltsin – agreeing to a referendum but attempting to set its own conditions. Naturally Yeltsin, in contrast, had no intention of ‘compromise’. As soon as the Congress of People’s Deputies was not in session Yeltsin used his control of the courts to overturn the conditions set by the Congress and then used his control of the electoral system to falsify the referendum.

The present situation in Britain shows a similar dynamic. Johnson is acting in a centralised, illegal and decisive way.  Talk of protests, alternative parliaments and so on will not stop such actions. Passing of a law which decides that Parliament cannot be prorogued in the present period is the decisive measure. This is vital to pass alongside legislation blocking a No Deal Brexit.

The fate of Parliament lies in the hands of the House of Commons – as this House of Lords will not support Johnson on prorogation. If the House of Commons immediately passes legislation, as soon as it sits, that Parliament cannot be prorogued at present Johnson’s will be defeated. If the House of Commons does not pass such a law Johnson’s attack will roll on.

If Parliament is prorogued it will only be due to the wrong judgement or cowardice of MPs. The fate of Parliament lies entirely in its own hands not those of Johnson. That is the lesson of three coups.

‘Boosterism’ and economics, or exposing the lies of Boris Johnson

By Tom O’Leary

All good jokes summarise or tell us something new about our society, or the times we live in, or about human nature. There is a very old, and very bad joke (repeated by Margaret Thatcher, among others) that, ‘The problem with socialism is that you run out of other people’s money’. It is a bad joke because it relies on a number of falsehoods.

There never has been a genuinely socialist government in Britain, and the largest and most famous economic crashes in this country have nearly all taken place under Tory or Tory-led governments. These were the depression of the 1930s and Churchill’s return to the gold standard, the Barber boom of the early 1970s, the Lawson boom of late 1980s and the imposition of austerity in 2010. The sole exception to this pattern was the crash under New Labour in 2008, which had adopted the Tory mantras of privatisations, PFI and bank deregulation.

Now, the new Prime Minister has adopted an economic policy he describes as ‘boosterism’. Boris Johnson as PM, or even as an architect of economic policy is itself a joke in poor taste. But the definition of boosterism under Johnson is simply promising anything in order to gain popularity.

This is important to grasp, as Johnson is not simply continuing Cameron/Osborne austerity. First, he has to get elected and is willing to scatter promises to achieve that.

Boris Johnson has form in this area. There is no garden bridge over the Thames, there is no ‘Boris Island’ airport, firefighter numbers were reduced and fire stations closed despite pledges to the contrary, and police cuts were only reversed when it threatened his re-election. The pledges were false, even where significant amounts of public money were spent.

Johnson’s current lies

Boris Johnson has effectively come to office after a coup against the previous Tory leadership. The electorate have not endorsed as Prime Minister, even indirectly, and pollsters have noted that his ‘bounce’ in the polls is far lower than Theresa May’s and is already fading – Labour is once again frequently marginally ahead in national opinion polls.

Under these circumstances, and leading a government which is supported by a bare majority that is the result of bribes to the DUP, Johnson does what comes naturally. He lies. He has promised:

  • £1.8 billion for the NHS. This is a tiny amount compared to what the NHS needs and it has emerged since that £1 billion is not new money, and the source of the remainder has yet to be identified
  • A total of £6.3 billion (£2.1 billion of which is new money) to prepare for No Deal Brexit, despite claiming it was a ‘million to one chance’ against happening
  • 20,000 extra police officers, which is nearly as many as the Tories have cut since 2010, but says nothing about the similar numbers of police community support officers, and police admin staff that have also been cut over the same period
  • More prison places and longer sentences, even though there are no new prisons and they would take years to build
  • Full-fibre broadband across the country by 2025 – but no plan to achieve it, not even in outline, and no suggestion of the resources it would require
  • To ‘level up’ per pupil funding in schools (which is aimed at Tory voters in the shires who complain about the greater funding for inner cities’ schools). The estimated cost for secondary schools alone is just £50 million per annum, a pittance compared the £4.6 to 5 billion needed simply to reverse Tory cuts to schools
  • A tax giveaway to the higher paid, raising the higher tax band threshold from £50,000 a year to £80,000 (which benefits someone earning close to £80,000 or more much more than the benefit to those just above £50,000). There is no indication of the cuts elsewhere, to fund this giveaway, or a justification for the higher borrowing it would entail.

Politically, his agenda is aimed squarely at his own base, ‘with law and order’ measures to the forefront. Random stop and search will certainly increase the number of black and Asian boys harassed by police, but will do virtually nothing to halt crime, as Home Office analysis shows.

Boosterism and economic fundamentals

This string of false promises, untrue claims and distortions are widely believed to be associated with a planned general election campaign around the time of the Tories’ central project of a No Deal Brexit. As No Deal itself and the likely plans of a hard right Tory Cabinet represent a double blow to living standards, this will be discussed below.

Yet, even before these two new blows to the economy and living standards, it is important to recall that the British economy is already in a crisis. The main source of this crisis is highlighted in Fig.1 below, reproduced from the Office for national Statistics (ONS). It shows that a weak recovery in business investment following the crisis of 2007 to 2008 has given way to outright stagnation and even decline. The economy has also begun to contract once more in the 2nd quarter of this year, in the recently-released preliminary data.

Chart 1. UK Business Investment

One way to illustrate how the weakness of business investment has been the main brake on growth and prosperity is by comparison. Fig.2 below shows that business investment has been far weaker than GDP growth since the beginning of the crisis. For illustration, business investment has also been far weaker than the growth in household consumption.

Chart 2. UK Real GDP, Household Consumption and Business Investment from Q4 2007 to Q1 2019

Since real Business Investment peaked in the 4th quarter of 2007 it has risen by just 3.25% to the 1st quarter of 2019. This is much weaker even than the growth in real GDP, which has risen cumulatively by 13% over the same period. In addition, it is often incorrectly asserted that the source of the crisis is the absence of ‘demand’, which is primarily Consumption. But real Household Consumption, which is the bulk of domestic demand has largely kept pace with the rise in GDP over the same period, increasing by 12.6%. In simple arithmetical terms, it is shown that the weakness of Business Investment is the main drag on UK growth.

But it is also possible to highlight this point in a more fundamental way. Consumption requires production – for most of us, even the apples we eat don’t just fall from the trees. They are commercially picked, processed, transported and sold by retailers. The main means of sustainably increasing that production is to add to the means of production through net investment, or to increase the number of hours worked.

Fig.3 below shows the growth rate in what the ONS calls the level of the capital stock (the means of production) over time, as well as changes in the net capital stock once the consumption of capital is taken into account. The consumption of capital is simply the capital that is used up in the production process, whether that is a rubber washer, a machine tool or a factory, which are each consumed or depreciated over different time periods.

Chart 3. Percentage change in growth rate of capital stock, net capital stock and capital consumption

The ONS summarises these trends as follows, “The UK’s net capital stock was estimated at £4.6 trillion at the end of 2017, increasing by 1.1% compared with 2016. Prior to the economic downturn, net capital stock increased on average by 2.0% per year, slowing to an average of 1.3% per year since 2010.”

Over the medium-term from 1997 onwards the annual growth rate of the capital stock has slowed from fractionally under 3% to just over 1%. As business is responsible for the bulk of the growth in the capital stock it is this prolonged deceleration in the growth of the means of production of the private sector that is the decisive factor in the medium-term slowdown and stagnation of the economy.

To raise the annual growth rate of the capital stock to 2% would require an additional £46 billion of fixed investment (which would itself need rise over time as this additional new capital itself depreciates).

Of course, set against this fundamental problem Boris Johnson’s ‘pledges’ of tax cuts for the rich and more spending on No Deal are simply another joke in poor taste. Failing to address this problem (unlike Labour, which promises to increase public investment) means that none of Boris Johnson’s pledges can possibly lead to economic growth or rising living standards over the medium-term. That is even without the damage from his central project, No Deal Brexit.

The threat of No Deal

A No Deal Brexit entails the severing of Britain’s close economic relationship with the EU, for the assumed benefits of a closer economic relationship with the US. But this is fool’s gold. In 2016, total UK trade with the EU (goods and services) amounted £554 billion, compared to £166 billion in total trade with the US (source, ONS).

There is no conceivable improvement in the trade relationship with the US that could even compensate for the likely fall in trade with the EU. At the same time, much of the country’s trade with other countries in the rest of the world is currently governed by trade agreements with the EU, and many of those are reluctant to offer the same terms to this country when it leaves.

More importantly, production in many sectors in the UK economy is closely linked through highly intricate supply chains to output in the EU. For many reasons, including geography these cannot be reproduced in supply chains connected with the US. Therefore any sector that has either tariff or non-tariff barriers will be faced with series of painful adjustments, including closure and relocation, with all the consequent loss of jobs.

There is too the obvious negative impact of the terms of any likely trade deal with Trump (and many of his possible successors). These range on everything from environmental standards to workers’ rights to food regulations and the accelerated privatisation of public services, including the NHS. In addition to China, Trump has already imposed tariffs and trade restrictions on neighbouring Mexico and Canada (effectively tearing up NAFTA), as well as India and the EU. This is in addition to the growing list of countries sanctioned for purely political reasons, such as Venezuela, Cuba, Iran, Syria and Russia.

But it is probably an error to assume that this government is even mildly uncomfortable with a US trade agreement that will increase fracking, sell off the NHS, reduce rights at work and allow US agri-business unregulated access to UK markets.

This is an ideologically hard right Tory Cabinet, many of whom, for example have explicitly advocated private health insurance or have financial links to it. Privatisations, fracking, ignoring the catastrophic risk of climate change and reducing workers’ rights can all contribute to an increase in labour exploitation and have the potential to boost profits.

For this government, and a small number of sectors, Trump’s demands can be seen as an opportunity, not a threat. The domestic beneficiaries of No Deal can include hedge funds and other speculative capital, private health insurers, private school owners and managers, frackers, sweatshop employers and landlords, as well as their apologists and PR agents.

For the overwhelming majority of the population a No Deal Brexit would have a very serious negative impact on living standards. It is also true of large sections of British capital. The fall in living standards has already been renewed with the fall in the pound leading to higher inflation and lowering real wages, as well as the job losses which have already begun simply from the threat of No Deal. No Deal will also reverse even the limited contribution to date of addressing the climate crisis.


Boris Johnson’s is a political campaign, where false promises are designed to win an election. They will do nothing to improve the economy or living standards for the vast majority.

Worse, his central project of a No Deal Brexit will deepen the economic crisis, by severing the closely inter-connected production supply chains within the EU. The replacement free trade deal with the US will only exacerbate the crisis and widen it to include policies which will add to the climate crisis, worsen public services and worker’s pay and conditions.

Labour already has the economic weapons to fight Johnson. Its fully-costed programme of measures to begin reversing austerity for the 2017 election amounts to £48.6 billion (pdf). This is massively greater than anything Johnson will ever promise, because it benefits workers and the poor the most. More importantly, as shown above, Johnson has nothing to say about raising the growth rate of the economy and living standards in a sustainable fashion. Labour does, with increased public investment and the National Investment Bank. It is also possible that Labour could build on its own successes of 2017, with additional funding for both, especially as interest rates are so low. But the defeat of No Deal is the next decisive step in Labour’s anti-austerity fight.