Love thy neighbour or class struggle?

Submitted by cathy n on 20 November, 2015 - 6:34

At Workers' Liberty summer school – Ideas for Freedom 2015 – socialist Daisy Forest debated the Bishop of Manchester David Walker, on the question of 'Love thy neighbour, or class struggle?'

Below is a video recording of the debate, and also a transcript of Daisy's speech.

We live in a world in which enough food is grown to feed everyone, in which the productive capacity of human kind could meet the needs of each and every human being. Yet we live in a world where everyday children die of starvation or from preventable diseases or are blown to pieces in one of the dozens of conflicts which rage around the world

We live under capitalism, an economic system designed not to meet human need but to create wealth for a minority class through the exploitation of the labour power of the many.

In Britain today the wealth of the richest 1000 totals 547 billion twice what it was in 2009.

So while the rest of us have been tightening our belts the rich have been getting richer.

High pay centre study, Britain today living conditions of poor aren’t comparable to most of western Europe but to the conditions of the poor in countries like Slovenia and the Czech republic.

In the face of this what do we do, what do we call for? How do we make a better world. The title of this debate is Class Struggle or Love Thy Neighbour. The title kind of suggests it is a debate about different strategies to achieve a common goal. So, if we share a common goal some common ground in the face of the barbarity that is capitalism, what might that be?

In the run up to the general election the Church of England bishops produced a letter to the electorate entitled Who is my Neighbour? It professes to seek political answers that will “enhance human dignity”, we want to do that, rebuild communities, promote fairness and protect our natural environment, yep, yep and yep.

So is this debate about different strategies to common goals. Are we, as Trotskyists, unlikely but happy bedfellows of the Church of England. I had an uncomfortable moment of political crisis.

But in fact we are not.

Very far from it. This not a cosy debate of compadres and I think the contribution to politics offered by the bishops is actually deeply regressive and backward looking

So, whats the basic thrust of their argument? It’s that concepts of mutuality and solidarity between people have been eroded, that communities face disintegration and individuals are left isolated and in need. So far so true. But the blame for this is apportioned equally between the ravages of the free market and the creation of the welfare state
undermined voluntarism and neighbourliness.

Alongside bigging up the voluntary sector and the church itself as the way forward what they are essentially talking about is charity. So, instead of expecting maintenance benefits, care in old age and support of children to be rights available to all and paid for through taxation we should be lauding the adoption of these responsibilities by local communities, providing from their own time and pockets the care of those falling through the net of welfare provision.

What this means in reality is that working class communities be expected to do this, since when do the rich rely on the goodness of local charity or kindly neighbours to provide meals, transport, clothing or help with rent or mortgage payments? Since when do the well-off have to take a trip to their local food bank to feed their families or rely on services provided through charity.

Charity.

I hate charity. It’s an insult to the human dignity that the bishops say they want to enhance.

Does the existence of a highly developed charitable sector mark out a progressive caring society. No it doesn’t!

Charity exists because want, need, poverty exist. It isn’t an answer, it’s a symptom of a sick society.

We have charities for everything, charities for cancer and other health research when drugs company GSK reported pre-tax profits of 548million for three months in 2014

But doubtless the shareholders, who were due to receive another 4billion in dividends through some share scheme have given a bit to charity, so that’s alright then.

Charitable giving by the wealthy serves to salve consciences, if they have them, it’s good for public image makes people feel good about themselves. Think of all those posh charity events, lunches and dinners, elite rubbing shoulders and slapping themselves on the back. Maybe sharing canapés with the odd bishop….

Some of the biggest philanthropists are and have been the most vicious of exploiters.

There is a document, similar to the one the bishops have written called A Call to Action for the common good. Its produced by the Carnegie trust UK.
Charitable trust set up by the US industrialist and steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. Revered as one of the greatest philanthropists who believed no man should leave this world with his wealth intact. So called progressive who supported trade unions. Well, yes he did, until they got in his way.

He presided over one of the biggest and most viciously repressed strikes in US labour history at his Homestead steel plant, utilising the state militia to violently put down the strike in order to cut wages, sack workers and as a result broke the power of the US steel workers union.

Carnegie is a wonderful example of the limits of the charitable approach. It’s all very well giving away parts of your wealth but who created the wealth in the first place! Carnegie was a venerable gentleman until the workers in his plant dared to challenge the decisions he was making about his private property. Then the true colours emerge. Know you place workers of the world. It is for you to doff your caps and be thankful for the crumbs swept from the master’s plate but don’t you dare to threaten the private ownership of property, the right of individuals to accumulate wealth on the back of the labour of the masses.

This is the picture I get of the kind of society the bishops are promoting. One of charity, self-sufficiency, respect for hierarchy and knowing your place.

I’m reminded of that verse from All Creatures Great and Small, you know, the cute little hymn we were forced to sing in school before being forced to pray and amen on a daily basis

It goes ‘the rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate, god made them high and lowly and ordered their estate’
Of course I’m not suggesting the bishop doesn’t genuinely want to help the poor, the bishops letter is clear they are for more help, just treatment, fairness yadayadayada. Bedroom tax… homeless.

I’ve read some things DW has said and he returns frequently to the concept of struggling against injustice , he seems to think some struggle is sin as he quotes Martin Luther “if you must sin, sin boldly” and criticises many Christians who he says are guilty of inaction through fear of error.

I wonder what Christians he is talking about, the ones who scream abuse at women going into abortion clinics, those who condemn same sex marriage and gay relationships, maybe Bush and Blair whose Christianity didn’t stop them waging their wars in the name of god.

Or maybe just your average pro family, union hating, homophobic varying degrees of sexist tory voting Anglican?
I’m firmly convinced of his good intentions, but of course the road to hell.

not liking to see suffering doesn’t a radical agenda make. Without addressing how society is fundamentally organised, about the private ownership of the means of production, you limit yourself to alleviating capitalisms worst excesses.
Whats interesting is that they do want to see provision for those in need but seem to have problem with that provision being via the state and through an organised redistribution of wealth.

Welfare gives the state too much power apparently. So its not providing for people that is the problem but who does the providing.

I think that what is going on here is the bishops trying to create political space to gain more power for the church itself.
Their view of society is backward looking because what they want is for the church to become a renewed power, a centre of communities, the conduit for charity and local organisation. I’ll bet the Cof E look on in envy at the power of churches and bishops in countries where religious belief is still more entrenched than it is in modern day Britain.

The population of the UK is 64.1 million and by the churches own figures only about a million people attend church on a regular basis most over 55

British social attitudes survey found 50.6% of population identify as no religion and you gov poll put it at 77%.Even most of those who identify as Christian when questioned further say they don’t actually believe in god or jesus. The Cof E membership has declined from 40% to just 16% of the population.

I see an organisation of dwindling numbers, power and influence desperately trying to find a place for itself as society moves forwards and harking back to a golden age of the vibrant local parish, where everyone knows everybody
Or maybe where everybody knows everybodies business, including who has lost their job, or cant pay their rent and if you form part of the worthy poor you will get a helping hand.

When the class struggle sees the labour movement in the ascendancy, creating things like the welfare state; this challenges the place of the church. No longer is social provision the task of the pious, to who the grateful poor must go to cap in hand in times of need.

No, if basic maintenance, the care of the elderly and children, schooling, public services are provided by right, through redistribution of wealth, organised by local or national government then what point is there for the church as an intermediary organisation.

So they have a vested interest in a lesser welfare state. Maybe hence the arguemnts about ws undermining personal responsibility.

Their language is softer than the tories and the daily mail but the political narrative here is the same: the welfare state led to work shy dole scroungers and a culture of dependency. What we need is a little state welfare support, and leave the rest to neighbours and charity, and of course, the church.

The dole scrounger or welfare dependant, whatever description you want to use is one of the biggest myths of post war Britain. The idea that there has ever been welfare benefits that enable people to live well without working is a joke.
As for Culture of dependency, And what is wrong with being dependant, food on the table, a job, warm housing, healthcare.

When the bishops published their Who is my neighbour letter, The Daily Mail and various Tories called it a left wing manifesto. I think that says more about quite how right wing and ferocious the current Tories are being in their attacks on the conditions of life of the working class in the UK than it does a letter which sings the praises of the Tories own policy of big society cannot be called anything approaching left wing

The document explicitly endorses the Big Society concept,

Remember that? a short lived and cynical propaganda tool raised by the Tories in the 2010 election. about shifting the cost of services from the state, encouraging social enterprises, volunteer activity and private business to take over as much of local services as they could get away with. It was about leaching public money to fund free schools, further undermining our comprehensive education system and taking it further from any democratic control.

Back to the days when any old person can set up a school outside any democratic control and teach what the hell they like with no educational knowledge or understanding of children and their developmental needs.
More faith schools, more room for the church to try to arrest its falling membership.

Faith schools, segregation of children by their parents religion. Enabling religious fanatics to set up schools that teach children they will burn in hell if they transgress religious rules or that the world was created in seven days by god ten thousand years ago. Otherwise known as teaching lies.

The bishops political treatese makes a big deal of promoting a new form of political method and new ways of political thinking. It attempts an even handed criticism of both right and left approaches to politics and in a manner that you might make a culinary dish trys to take a little bit of this and a little bit of that, an influence here and an influence there to make a new concoction. It reminds me a bit of the parody of the liberal democrats, neither this nor that but somewhere in between.
Roland Barthes in the book Mythologies discusses neither nor criticism.

“One reckons all the methods with scales, one piles them up on each side as one sees best, so as to appear oneself as an imponderable arbiter endowed with a spirituality which is ideal and thereby just”

It seems to me that the bishops portray themselves in just such a way, superior arbiters able to rise above the murky sea of factional politics and come up with something new. But like we said its not new.

This attempt at superior even handedness results in statements that would be ridiculous if they weren’t so dangerous.
The bishops criticise ‘othering’ and say “ethnic minorities, immigrants, welfare claimants, bankers and oligarchs – all have been called up as threats to some fictitious ‘us’”

Someone must have had trouble with that sentence

Can you seriously say that the racist scapegoating of black people and migrants and the mythologizing and scapegoating lies told about welfare claimants is in any way comparable with placing the blame for exploitation, poverty, financial chaos and economic collapse at the door of bankers and oligarchs??

It is true that unregulated irresponsible banking has created a world financial collapse It is true that oligarchs and business magnates across the globe use their wealth and power to exploit and oppress with no care for human dignity and human life. You cannot treat these things with the same meaningless generalities about not creating ‘others’ There are moral differences here.

I would remind you of the Paulo Friere quote “Washing ones hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral”

Lets not for one minute think the church is any kind of neutral force in politics.

They raise concerns about the power of the state and but lets not forget, they are part of it. The church of England has been a pillar of the British establishment since it was established, as Brendan Behan put it, “on the bollocks of Henry the Viii”

The CofE used to be referred to as the Tories at prayer and while I keep referring to them as separate entities lets not forget that most Tories are members of the CofE. And no matter what criticisms the bishops might make of tory policy they will always welcome them back to the altar.

We have 26 Lords spiritual , unelected representatives of jesus in government. One improvement to our democracy would be to get rid of them and all the other Lords and Ladies.

The churches canon law forms part of civil law in the UK so much so that the legislation on gay marriage had to explicitly state that gay marriage was illegal in the church of England so as not to contradict canon law and upset god who apparently still feels that gay relationships are not legitimate.

The church has considerable wealth of its own around 5.2 billion in fact. Including, investments, land, housing. I’d say they have a very vested interest in many areas. Class struggle, challenging capitalism threatens that
One thing they really don’t like to talk about is class.

The bishops letter attempts a kind of meta analysis of post war history looking at the Thatcher and Atlee governments. Its not much of an analysis. Basically Atlee brought in the NHS and welfare state and undermined voluntary action by doing too much and Thatcher supported the free market, overdoing it on individualism and so undermining voluntarism and social solidarity in that way.

I haven’t read something for a long time that is so self-consciously superior and yet so completely ahistorical, inaccurate and simplistic. To discuss the Post war creation of the welfare state and the victory of Thatcher in 1979 without referring to the question of class or struggle is either a sign of wilful misleading or naivety so extreme you wonder in what world the bishops have been living.

After the first world war there was a wave of revolutionary working class militancy across Europe and the ruling class at the end of WW2 were in fear of a similar wave in the post war period. In 1943 the Tory MP Quintin Hogg is famously quoted as saying “we must give them reform or they will give us revolution”.

The point I am making here is that it was class struggle in which the labour movement was in the ascendancy which gave us the greatest set of reforms we have seen brought in by the 1945 Labour Government. It wasn’t a benevolent gift of conscientious capital. In so far as it was willingly conceded by the ruling class it was done so not least as a means of rebuilding a shattered economy.

When Thatcher came to power, she came to fight for her class. She didn’t want to free the market to serve the common good. She acted in the interests of her class, the ruling class. Her aim, to free the wealthy to accumulate as much wealth as they were able and to claw back what had been won by the working class in the post war period.

Nor was she neutral to the working class of Britain. Her government had a specific and thought through strategy to smash the organisations of the working class. There actions were calculated and deliberate with devastating consequence. The deindustrialisation of the UK created ghettos across the country, particularly in the north. How can communities help themselves when they are thrown as one into poverty and degradation?

The church letter makes more than one reference to the immoral nature of the free market. But the free market isn’t a being, it doesn’t exist beyond the people who buy, sell, trade and exploit. It is the people who make it work and it is that class of people who lack the morals. It wasn’t some mythical market that created the banking crisis it was the human beings who run the banks, it isn’t a mythical market that is deforesting the world, it is the actions and decisions of human beings for whom the right to make profit trumps all else. It is the ruling class owners of factories and workplaces over the world who knowingly preside over polluting industry, working practices that kill and maim workers daily.

The market isn’t a force outside of human control it is the actions of one class of people exploiting another class of people.

Pretty much the only mention of class in the document is in point 76 where it says “parties of the extreme right and extreme left have sometimes sought to rekindle the language of class – but by trying to tap into class resentments rather than speaking of warmer virtues of mutuality and solidarity”

Well lets talk about mutuality and solidarity. I can think of an institution that typifies this perfectly. The bishops don’t mention it in their letter.

The NHS.
I’m a nurse, I know what it’s like trying to provide care in the health service we have. It’s hard, it isn’t always the best but it’s still a gain that transformed the lives of millions of working class people. Under thatcher, attacks on the NHJS saw the closure of hundreds of hospitals and in an interesting statistic the number of private beds rose by almost the exact same amount as the number of NHS beds fell.

Talk about doing a job for your class.

Now they are back for more of our health service. It has been a thorn in the side of conservatism since its inception that private profit couldn’t be made from the NHS. The ability of private companies to bid for NHS services is a victory for the class that has no moral limits to how they make their money.

Now, tell me, how shall we defend our NHS, love thy neighbour or class struggle? Setting up charities to fill the gap left by cuts or joining the picket line, supporting workers like the porters at the ninewells and royal Victoria hospital in Dundee who have taken all out strike action to win their demands.

We are for solidarity but class solidarity, joining together against a common foe.

LGSM local communities in strikes, miners,

What we need moving forward is clarity, why do we have poverty injustice, inequality – its because of capitalism.
Struggle to change the world relies on solidarity, but it must class solidarity standing together with those who want to fight oppression, inequality and exploitation.

Our aim – not to tinker with this system but to create a new one. where human need is paramount, where every human being matters where the economy is run cooperatively to benefit the whole of human kind.
That is our task. It is a bold one and I invite you to join us.