Letters: Cronyism and capitalism; Chilean democracy and political parties

Submitted by AWL on 24 November, 2020 - 9:14
Ian Lavery

Cronyism and capitalism

Jim Denham’s criticisms in Solidarity 572 of the No Holding Back report produced by Ian Lavery, Laura Smith and Jon Trickett were on point, particularly in terms of its nationalism and lack of a coherent understanding of what the working class is.

There’s one aspect which I think deserves to be drawn out further. The report proposes a “cronyism watchdog” as a way of “challenging the Tories’ economic priorities”. It fails to define what they mean by cronyism or what this “watchdog” would do. It’s hard to see how it would have the significance and cutting edge even plenty of quite limited social-democratic reforms do.

Further, I think the idea of “cronyism” itself needs criticising. It’s commonly understood as a process whereby jobs, contracts or other awards are given to friends or others with close personal connections. Implicit in the watchdog proposal is the idea that the concentration of wealth and power that allows a narrow elite its control is an aberration, a mistake easily righted.

It’s not. “Cronyism” surely grows out of capitalism acting as it always does, the working out of the bourgeoisie acting in its own class interest against ours.

Cronyism is a real issue, obviously, with this Tory government, but the idea that cronyism, not capitalism, is the fundamental issue is an oft-touted myth of the libertarian right and of “anarcho-capitalists”, who justify the farcically contradictory nature of their ideologies by claiming we don’t have true capitalism but crony capitalism, which needs to be done away with to usher in the capitalist utopia they seek to create…

Obviously this is not the perspective of Lavery, Smith and Trickett. The point is that members of the socialist wing of the Labour Party should aspire to a better, more substantial undertstanding of capitalism and class struggle than the libertarian right!

Wilson Gibbons, Croydon

Who represents whom?

I think Victoria Rivera Ugarte ( Solidarity 572) is right that as Chile writes a new constitution, it’ll make a big difference if workers, students, and others stay mobilised in the workplaces and on the streets.

Voting people into the constitutional convention and then leaving them to it would maximise the effects of inertia and of lobbying and pressure by the wealthy.

As Victoria writes, “the action and pressure of the citizenry, as an actor that can influence the agenda, outside of the formal constitutional process, is essential”.

However, Victoria also seems to hint at some system of election to the convention which wouldn’t be a straightforward democratic vote (with whatever proportional-representation or other safeguards), but would allow groups self-proclaimed as representing different constituencies to bypass that.

Thus she writes of “representation of autonomous citizens not depending on political parties”. In every country, the people who don’t support (and, if more energetic, try to shape) any political party, the “don’t know”, “never vote”, etc. are not a homogeneous group which someone can “represent” just by claiming to.

If they had a common view and program, they would be… another party.

Equally, no one can claim to represent “feminists”, “LGBTQ+”, or “environmentalists” without debate and voting between the differing “party” programmes within each of those groups.

The idea of assemblies being composed not from democratic contest between parties, but from a patchwork of leaders of movements self-proclaimed as representing different demographies, has an unpromising history. It was pioneered, as far as I know, by Mussolini in Italy and Stalin in the 1936 constitution of the USSR.

They could make it “work” by solving the problem of who represented each demographic group by administrative decree. Not in Chile now! If the parties aren’t good, then the task is to build a new one and win democratic support.

Colin Foster, London

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