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June 29, 2006


Igor Belanov

The traits he describes could be identified in much of 19th century thinking, I can certainly see some similarities with utilitarianism and positivism. Plus, he compares Blair to vulgar marxism rather than the more complex nature of marxian thought. I think the point is that Blair is a 'vulgar' thinker with a mish-mash of motivations. It is his sheer religious certainty that he's right that stands out most of all, though.

Bob B

Personally, I still think Ted Honderich makes the more dependable diagnosis of Blair's mind state:

"Honderich is also a consequentialist, which partly explains his hatred towards Tony Blair. 'He is always asking to be judged by the morality of his intentions,' he spits. 'He doesn't understand that no one cares about his fucking morality. We judge him by the consequences of his actions. In any case, his morality is so muddy and ill-considered. I'm increasingly coming to the opinion that Blair's main problem is that he's not very bright.'"

When news first broke about Blair's 29-page, handwritten letter to Michael Foot extracted from the Labour Party's archives, I browsed the story in the New Stateman at my local superstore seeing as how I would have needed to subscribe to read it online - sorry, Geof Robinson (he went to the same school as myself btw).

Candidly, it seemed to me that the handwritten letter would have been pretentious and naive had it been written by an undergrad but was amazingly so coming from an Oxford law graduate. As for Blair "reading Marx", I do muse on just how many volumes of Capital he managed and how much of those he took in - I'd really appreciate a digest of Marx's solution of the Transformation problem as would doubtless many self-styled Marxists of my acquaintance. Possibly what impressed young Blair was this bit from Engels's preface to the first English edition of Capital:

"Surely, at such a moment, the voice ought to be heard of a man whose whole theory is the result of a lifelong study of the economic history and condition of England, and whom that study led to the conclusion that, at least in Europe, England is the only country where the inevitable social revolution might be effected entirely by peaceful and legal means. He certainly never forgot to add that he hardly expected the English ruling classes to submit, without a 'pro-slavery rebellion,' to this peaceful and legal revolution."
Frederick Engels: November 5, 1886

Instead of churning out all that turgid stuff, would that Marx had instead read the works of JS Mill - an approximate contemporary - for that might have saved much misery for countless millions in the 20th century. As it was, there is something especially delicious about Marx and family seeking asylum in London on being hounded from mainland Europe after the revolutions of 1848. And there is something manificently ironic about the most vociferous critic of emerging capitalism living in the capital city of the leading capitalist superpower of his time. For tourists in London seeking sights to see, Marx and family took up modest rooms in Dean St, Soho - see the blue plaque up on the Quo Vadis Restaurant.

Francis Wheen's recent illuminating biographical study of Marx reports that Bakunin, a Russian anarchist and a contemporary of Marx, believed that he served as a police spy. Wheen regards that as a credible claim.


Bob - don't bother with the transformation problem. You don't need all that gibberish about value to establish that workers are exploited. Just get hold of John Roemer's Analytical Foundations of Marxian Economic Theory, Free to Lose (an easier read) or General Theory of Exploitation and Class.

Igor Belanov

I wish Bob B had read the part of Wheen's biography where he pours scorn on the idea of Marx and his ideas 'causing much misery for countless millions in the 20th century'. I'm sure Marx did read Mill, they corresponded with one another, but they were both interesting thinkers but with differing emphases.

Bob B

Chris - You weren't to know but for years I once worked in an academic department close to where you went to school which was headed by someone who was (widely and properly) rated as the foremost Marxist economist in Britain in his time. Unlike many of my sociologist colleagues in the faculty, I rather tended to share Harold Wilson's famed disregard for Karl Marx as compared with Groucho:

"New Labour was born and bred in the 1970s, and there it remains ideologically - somewhere back in the days when Harold Wilson made sarcastic remarks about the nationalising tendency: 'Oh, so you want to make Marks & Spencer as efficient as the Co-op, do you?'"

All of which puts into better historical perspective Blairite claims about inventing New Labour.

Igor - As for the misery inflicted by Marxism and avowed Marxists in the 20th century, Stalin and Mao rate as much worse mega-murderers than Hitler according to this assessment:

It seems verging on ridiculous to me to rate Marx for the insight that suppliers of good and services have conflicting interests at the point of sale with the buyers of those goods and services - suppliers prefer higher prices while buyers prefer lower prices.

We have markets to find points of agreement between buyers and suppliers as to the respective value of prospective transactions to each of them. Isn't that truly amazing?

Amongst other provisions, Hammurabi's law code in Babylon of c. 1800 BC covers aspects of property rights and commercial law as well as straying into the legal territory of statutory prices and incomes policies in the latter part of 20th century Europe, which shows us that markets as institutions have being going on for thousands of years. Communism, according to Marx, is that novel social arrangement for allocating resources so as to avoid the conflicts of interests inherent in markets but for understandable reasons Marx was distinctly coy about the details of how it would actually function. Criticising capitalism was so much easier.

Luis Enrique

I'm yet to understand why Roemer's definition of exploitation is of any interest.

Firstly it seems to equate profit with exploitation and secondly it is entirely relative so a barrister may be as exploited as a factory worker. It doesn't explain how non-exploitative economies would operate, without anybody being able to hope to make excess returns. Where would capital for investment come from?

Mind you, I only got half way through the book, so perhaps instead of wasting cyberspace I ought to finish it.


This Honderich chappy must be a bit dense - it took him until 2005 to recognise that Blair is a bit of a dim bulb.

Bob B

I think Honderich was just a little slow in being utterly explicit about it in a press interview. After all, it's not often that ranked academic philosophers in retirement come out and say that the prime minister is slow on the uptake.

The New Labour spin machine goes on about Blair winning a historic third term last year. Of course, what isn't mentioned is that Labour's share of the total vote sank from 43.2% in 1997 to 35.2% in 2005 - the lowest share any winning party has achieved. Between the elections, Labour lost 4 million votes and current party membership is now half of what it was in 1997. Turnout in the last election was the second lowest in any general election since 1918. In all, not much of a popular testimonial for Blair's competence in government.

Chris Williams

Bob: "I once worked in an academic department close to where you went to school which was headed by someone who was (widely and properly) rated as the foremost Marxist economist in Britain in his time."

Who was that then?


In his "A History of Fascism 1914-1945" Payne gives a 'Typological Description of Fascism'. I score Blair's Labour at 9 out of 12. For comparison, I scored Thatcher's Tories. They have 13 marks available, since anti-communism was still an issue in their time. I scored them at 3 out of 13. Neglecting the anti-communism issue, they score 2 out of 12. Versus, I repeat, Blair's 9 out of 12. And this is about Fascism, not Nazism: no points were awarded for that nasty little whiff of Labur anti-semitism before the last election.

Bob B

I have to agree, dearieme. There are too many flashing fascist vibes in Blair's political strutting - the continual spinning and political manipulation to stress the Presidential style, the sidelining of Parliament, the retrospective taxes, the fixation on "modernisation" as the blanket rationale for whatever bit of botched reform is being pushed through regardless, blaming everyone else for failing policies - a sure sign of the doctrine of leader infallibility . .

When Blair's Third Way first showed up on the political radar c. 1998, someone online posted a claim that had a provenance going back to Mussolini. Surely not, I thought but since I knew little detail about Mussolini, it seemed wise to check.

The second book I picked up, Martin Clark on: Modern Italy 1871-1995 (Longman, 2nd ed. 1996) p.250, where he writes about the policies of Mussolini's fascist government, there is the line: "They seemed to offer 'a third way', between capitalism and Bolshevism, which looked attractive in the Depression. . . "

The author is an academic historian at Edinburgh and the book was published before the 1997 election which brought New Labour to power so the connection is hardly retrospective. Besides, the Third Way academic gurus who emerged from the woodwork would have surely checked on the provenance, wouldn't they? At the time, it seemed all those beguiling freebie Blair family holidays in Geoffrey Robinson's villa in Tuscany might explain it but that was before we knew about the 29-page handwritten letter to Michael Foot.

Curiously, Mussolini was a member of the Italian Socialist Party and editor of Avanti, the party newspaper, before he was expelled from the party and went on to found Fasci di Combattimento in 1919. I dug a little more and came upon this:

"However it was with the idea of a state planning agency that [Stuart] Holland [Labour MP for Lambeth, Vauxhall 1979-89, and shadow Financial Secretary to the Treasury 1987-9] hoped to show the new possibilities open to a more just economy. He looked to the Italian example of the IRI (the Industrial Reconstruction Institute), set up by Mussolini and used by subsequent Italian governments to develop the economy. This had, of course, already been tried through the IRC (the Industrial Reorganization Corporation) set up as part of the National Plan in 1966, but the IRC had been too small to have much effect on the British economy. A revamped IRC in the form of a National Enterprise Board would, however, have a major effect in stimulating the private sector through an active policy of state intervention and direction."

From Geoffrey Foote: The Labour Party's Political Thought: A History (Palgrave 1997) p.311. Holland's own book, Socialist Challenge (1975) sets out in greater detail policy proposals for a Labour government modelled on the policies of Mussolini in the 1930s. Holland's CV is here: http://www.econ.uoa.gr/UA/files/1960985655..pdf

On the evidence, the fascist propensities of the Labour Party evidently pre-date Blair but then Sir Oswald Mosley, founder of the British Union of Fascists in 1932, had been a cabinet minister in Ramsay Macdonald's government of 1929-31 until Mosley resigned in 1930 saying the government was doing too little to address the mounting problem of unemployment - which was true enough. In April 1968, Mosley wrote to The Times: "I am not, and never have been a man of the right. My position was on the left and is now in the centre of politics." In the late 1940s, Mosley was among the early exponents at the time of the benefits of European integration - but then so was Hitler after his fashion.

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