Broadband Nationalisation, Communism and the Kibbutz Movement
From the Telegraph, 15/11/2019: “Boris Johnson has dismissed Jeremy Corbyn’s plan to nationalise broadband as a “crazed Communist scheme” to make internet in the UK free, as he launched the Conservatives’ battle bus with a vision to get Brexit done.”
The Labour Party’s plan, as I understand it, is to nationalise OpenReach, BT’s broadband provider, and issue Government Bonds in compensation. Their view is that, with only 10% of the population supplied with fast broadband services, market forces in the UK have shown themselves unable to meet the demands of the total population. Moreover, treating broadband as an essential service and making it free of charge, would have beneficial effects for small businesses, schools and isolated communities. Market forces were, in general, at least diminished as a perceived tool of economic management by the Financial Crash of 2008.
An astonishing 62% of opinion polled were in favour of this Labour policy, although not necessarily the means of achieving it. That, in itself, is a comment on the value of Parliamentary Democracy versus Direct Democracy.
I spent most of 1968, at age 19, on a Kibbutz in Israel – the beautiful (in those days) Mishmarot, near Pardes Hannah. There were several types of Kibbutzim linked to political or religious movements. Mishmarot was linked to either Mapai the centrist socialist party or Mapam, the left-wing socialist party, I cannot remember which and I don’t seem to be able to find a reference for it. That is of no consequence, as I’m sure someone will send me the answer. There were also Communist and Religious Kibbutzim. By the time I left Israel and hitchhiked back overland after a two-day boat journey to Turkey, I was totally convinced of the benefits, for me, of Collectivism. The accurate distinctions between words like Communism, Collectivism and Socialism, if there are any, may be important but are not necessary to understand for the purposes of this article.
On arrival at the Kibbutz, volunteers like me had to give up all our possessions. We received little actual money, just vouchers for the shop which contained a very limited range of goodies such as cigarettes, chocolate and banana wine. After all, we were given clothes and as much food as we needed and all our basic needs were provided free of charge. This was, by the way, my first experience of vegetarianism because any meat we had was mostly given to those who had suffered in the concentration camps and remained damaged by the experience. They lived separate from us to a large extent and did not work as a rule so my first-hand knowledge of their circumstances is limited. Children left home and lived in the school before their 4th birthday, if I remember well. I spent a lot of time with the Kibbutz Manager and his wife in their tiny, one-bedroomed bungalow, discussing politics, philosophy and Israel and occasionally watching their television. The only perks the Manager had for his responsibilities were the use of the Kibbutz car, a telephone, liaising with the Kibbutz Movement, mixing with the outside world frequently and being treated with admiration. We also had professionals, such as doctors, living with us but working in the town, yet giving their salaries to the Kibbutz. Life was extremely pleasant, we all felt secure, despite the on-going threat of war, the kids were well-behaved, people treated others with respect and we led a very healthy lifestyle. Some of the Kibbutzniks at Mishmarot self-identified as Communists, some Socialists, some religious, a few just didn’t care about those things too much.
To describe that life, or any life in a Kibbutz, as Communism is patently foolish, to me. The Kibbutz is not a macro-political system. It’s just a community of a few hundred people – a couple of thousand maximum – sharing their assets and liabilities, profits and losses, fears, tears and joys. The system functioned because were bound together, to a greater or lesser extent, by ‘Zionism’ which, despite various modern interpretations of that word, only really meant a belief that the “Jews” should have a homeland. It is important to mention that although Jewish emigration to Israel accelerated after the WWII, the persecution of the Jews did not start with the ‘holocaust’ in eastern and central Europe nor with the ‘pogroms’ in the Russian Empire. Some say it started with the rise of Christianity (see, for example, the excellent book, by James Carroll – Constantine’s Sword). I won’t get into the arguments about Zionism here, except to repeat that words do matter. What most anti-Zionists actually object to is not Zionism as a belief but Zionist expansionism, Zionist exclusivity and Zionist extremism. These are things that my fellow Kibbutzniks talked about a lot and, for the most part, rejected. Moreover, if we look at the origins of Zionism, we should also remember that, for many, Zion could be anywhere and could even be a state of mind for some. It is worth also mentioning in passing that our harvest could only be completed with the aid of the Arab community living in a neighbouring village, equipped with their wonderful, gleaming, modern tractors. There was no local conflict. In general, in those days, the Kibbutz system was seen as the backbone of Israel in terms of its economy, defence and its political thinking. That has all changed for the worse, in my opinion, as the population has more than tripled, religious extremism developed and the original idealism been lost or diluted.
But, to get back to the title, by giving this little insight into my personal experience, perhaps people will understand why, when a professional UK politician describes the nationalisation of the broadband network as Communism, I am forced to either laugh or cry. Laugh because we have a Prime Minister who is just talking rubbish by any standards when the project is examined. Cry, because this sort of discourse by what has become our ruling clique should make us all sad. Let me list how some things might happen under Communist rule:
- It would not just be the broadband network that would be taken over it would be the whole of the telecommunications infrastructure and probably the majority of large companies – the “Means of Production”.
- Existing shareholders would not be compensated by government bonds of certain value and rate of return but could be the subject of confiscation or given worthless paper.
- There would be fear for the continuance of democratic principles. Ironic indeed, given that the current ruling clique has done its utmost to undermine parliamentary democracy.
- There would have to be a much broader organisation and control by a Communist Party (however they wish to name it) and the Trades Union movement. This would be or become an alternative power base replacing, or in competition with, parliament and the organs of the state.
- There could well be forced ‘Collectivisation’ not just of the broader agricultural sector. I put the word in inverted commas because, in my sense, Collectivisation can only succeed if it is voluntary.
I could go on, if necessary. But, to finish this rather rambling piece and get back again to the subject, at election time we have the right to expect that our political class will use words carefully so as not to inflame, exacerbate or identify divisions. Certainly, they should be able to distinguish their policies from those of their opponents, but using words incorrectly deliberately obscures the facts behind policies.
To call Nationalisation of the Broadband Network a “crazed Communist scheme” is clearly an insult to Communist sympathizers and their entourages but, above all, to the people around the world who have suffered under Communist rule. I am sad to say that that description is typical of the political discourse of the times in this country and others.