Socialist Appeal - British section of the International Marxist Tendency

We publish here the third and final part of a discussion document, written by the editorial board of Socialist Appeal, which outlines the economic and political perspectives for Britain. In this final part, the document analyses the political developments taking place within the Labour Party and the Tories, as well as looking forward to the 2015 General Election and the upcoming referendum on Scottish indepence.

We publish here the third and final part of a discussion document, written by the editorial board of Socialist Appeal, which outlines the economic and political perspectives for Britain. In this final part, the document analyses the political developments taking place within the Labour Party and the Tories, as well as looking forward to the 2015 General Election and the upcoming referendum on Scottish indepence.

[Read parts one and two]

The Labour Party

At a time when capitalism is more and more exposed as a bankrupt system, the Labour leaders rush to defend capitalism. “I am for the reform of capitalism”, says Ed Miliband in an interview in the FT, “not for the overthrow of capitalism.” This is a law. Like all reformists, Miliband is a faithful servant of capitalism. In times of crisis, they become the greatest defenders of the system. Everything is said and done to justify capitalism and maintain the system class rule and exploitation.

When Miliband gets into office, which is the most likely perspective, his programme to prop up capitalism will mean savage attacks on the working class. The reformists do not dictate to the economy, the economy will dictate to them. It is not good intentions, but the laws of capitalism that will prevail. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. A new Labour government, in times of capitalist crisis, will be mercilessly squeezed, on the one hand, by pressure from the working class, and on the other, by pressure from the capitalist class. Early on, it will be a government of crisis caught between the millstones of the class struggle.

In the past, the reformists would at least promise some reforms in order to get elected. Now they have become “realistic” statesmen and women. They do not wish to raise false hopes and expectations that they cannot satisfy. The capitalist cupboard is bare. They have only promised to implement policies that do not cost money – in other words hardly anything. Of course some things will be welcomed. For instance, they have promised to abolish the bedroom tax. They have also promised to freeze energy prices for 20 months, which again, has widespread support. They will “review” the minimum wage and also a living wage, which, Miliband believes can be funded through tax breaks for businesses. But this is utopian.

In any case, Miliband intends to continue with the wage freeze in the public sector, affecting some six million low-paid workers. Labour will increase the amount of nursery places, financed by a bank levy. They promise to build 200,000 homes, by exerting pressure on the building companies to build more houses. But this is a dream if there is not sufficient profit from building houses. Today house building is at its lowest level since the First World War. At the same time, the Labour leaders have promised to be even tougher on those living on welfare benefits.

Instead of “Tory” cuts they want “Labour” cuts, and have promised to continue with the Tory spending cuts in the first year of office. “There will be no reversal of Tory spending cuts”, states Ed Balls, the Shadow Chancellor, emphatically. “The next Labour government will have to make cuts too.” This statement is aimed not at the working class, but is an attempt to reassure big business. A Labour government will not flinch from its responsibilities. Very quickly, all “reforms” will be abandoned in favour of “balanced budgets” and “sound finance”.

While we can never be certain about the outcome of the next general election in April 2015, it seems likely that the Labour Party will win, possibly without an outright majority. Although Labour is ahead in the opinion polls, there is no great enthusiasm for Labour. Workers and especially young people have been increasingly alienated from “party” politics, including Labour. Westminster is distant from real life. Politicians are viewed as careerists and out-of-touch. A recent Guardian/ICM poll showed that nearly 50% are “angry” with politicians.

As the cuts continue to bite, bitter discontent with the coalition parties will continue to grow. Their call to “safeguard the recovery” will sound completely hollow, when there is no recovery for the mass of workers. The Liberal Democrats will be crushed, squeezed by the polarisation between Labour and the Tories. They will suffer the greatest blow. Their “radical” image has been shattered, especially amongst the youth. The Coalition with the Tories has been the kiss of death. Many former Lib Dem supporters will shift to the Labour Party, which will benefit from the general opposition to austerity. When the time comes, most workers will hold their nose and vote Labour to get the Tories out.

The Tories and Europe

The Tory Party has not won a general election since 1992. It only managed to climb into power in 2010 in a coalition. The frictions with their Lib Dems over electoral reform resulted in the Lib Dems blocking boundary changes the Tories had hoped for. The rise of UKIP has also eaten into Tory support, forcing Cameron to offer a referendum of Europe after 2017 if he is returned to power. He is prepared to risk Britain’s membership of the EU for electoral advantage, much to the annoyance of big business. Cameron is prepared to jettison the “national interest”, namely the interests of British capitalism in Europe, in order to get back to power.

With 40-50% of British exports going to the European Union, the interests of British capitalism are firmly in Europe, and not outside. This is the view of the big monopolies. However, for short-term gain, Cameron is increasingly forced to lean on his euro-sceptic base, which is a dangerous game to play.

The Tory party has never succeeded in casting off its “Nasty” party image. The shadow of Thatcher, hated by millions of workers, still dominates the party, as was seen at the last party conference, where gushing eulogies were delivered to their dead former leader. At the conference, traditional deep Tory blue replaced Cameron’s green tree-like modern image. Measures against immigrants and benefit scroungers drew the greatest applause from the aging mob of reactionaries.

In the distant past, the Tories dominated Scotland and had a base in the Northern towns and cities. Now that has been completely undermined, a legacy of the Thatcher years. The Tory Party is therefore likely to get fewer votes than in the 2010 election. A recent opinion poll by Lord Ashcroft found that more than a third of those who voted Tory in 2010 say they would not do so in an election tomorrow. Half would defect to UKIP. The only way the Tories can regain office is if the Labour Party leaders succeed in throwing away the election, which cannot be totally excluded.

Electoral prospects

Over the past period, the electoral prospects for Labour have improved with its concentration on the standard of living crisis. This has certainly struck home with the ever-squeezed electorate. The promised freeze on energy prices, together with Miliband’s attacks on the energy companies and construction corporations, have certainly resonated with many. Prior to this, Miliband’s whole strategy seemed aimed at losing the election. He refused to make any commitments for fear of raising peoples’ hopes. He made it plain that a Labour government would not reverse the cuts and would continue with austerity. He did everything to dampen down the mood, while putting out an olive branch to the Liberal Democrats, especially Vince Cable. At best, he was looking for a Lib-Lab coalition or a minority Labour government resting on Liberal support.

This feeble policy was giving rise to massive discontent in the working class, especially the trade unions. Miliband was eventually forced to change tack and offer something more, however small. On this basis, with Labour offering something positive, the party could win at the next general election. The problem is that Miliband, and the leadership as a whole, are frightened of winning with a big parliamentary majority. They can see what is coming and are terrified of what they see. They can see the mounting class pressures.

A big Labour majority would take away their excuses. In fact, the pressures would mount for greater action to solve the problems of the working class. This is a nightmare scenario for the Labour leaders and the ruling class. That is why Miliband prefers a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, which can act as a brake on such pressure. He needs however to give Labour’s ranks something positive to offer the electorate. This is a difficult balancing act. What Miliband wants and what he gets may be two different things. This explains his dithering and zig-zags.

It cannot be ruled out that the Tories could scrape back into power, in a possible coalition. But they would face massive opposition and they would be perceived as a weak government. This is not at all satisfactory for the ruling class who need a strong government under present circumstances. The austerity programme needs to be intensified. 70% of cuts still have to be introduced. A new world slump is not far away. They will face a referendum over Europe, unless the Lib Dems can block it, which will create a new crisis. Another Tory government or coalition will face increasing anger. Pressures will mount in the trade unions to act decisively. The working class would swing back from the political front to the industrial front. New fierce class battles would be on the order of the day. Even the question of a general strike will be posed more forcefully, as frustrations mount with the dithering of the union leaders.

A Tory victory would spread demoralisation in the Labour Party ranks. There could be a new leadership election, but given the lack of a left candidate, there would not be a fundamental change in direction. Dissatisfaction would mount in the unions, which would attempt to exert greater influence. Workers for the time being would turn their attention to the industrial plane.

While the capitalists would see the problems with a weak Tory government, they would not be enamoured with the prospects of a Labour government. Despite all the reassurances from Miliband and Balls, the bourgeoisie can see what lies behind the Labour Party. They can see the increased pressures from the trade unions and the working class generally. Nevertheless, they may feel it time for the workers to be sent to the school of Miliband to learn a few lessons, and allow the Tory Party to recover under a new leader.

Miliband, Blairism, and the Unions

The attempt by Miliband to use the Falkirk affair to introduce party “reforms” (in reality counter-reforms) shows how much he is afraid of greater trade union influence. It also shows how susceptible he is to the wishes of big business. He is nevertheless unlikely to succeed in weakening the trade union base of the party, given the opposition of the trade union leaders. Under pressure, it now seems that these “reforms” have been kicked into the long grass, much to the annoyance of the Blairites and the ruling class. If Blair could not break the Labour-trade union link, it is clear that Miliband will not be able to do so. He has less authority and faces far greater opposition from the trade unions than Blair.

In the eyes of big business, Miliband has many weaknesses. He is not Tony Blair. He appears too unreliable and open to pressure from below. He is not viewed as a man able to carry through draconian measures with a steady hand. If Labour comes to power, big business will exert extreme pressure to ensure the government remains faithful to capitalism and carries on where the Coalition left off. The ruling class will rest on the Labour government to do its bidding. If elected, Miliband and Balls will seek to carry out the dictates of big business, as all previous Labour governments have done. The crisis is too deep to offer any respite. Nevertheless, there will be massive pressures from the working class, which will lead to big parliamentary revolts and splits.

While Miliband may offer some initial concessions if he gets to power, they will not buy him much time. He has already committed himself to carrying out the Coalition’s austerity plans for the first year in office. This will be extended indefinitely. Balls has willingly surrendered his spending plans to the Office of Budgetary Responsibility for their approval. These policies will cause howls of protest from the trade unions, which will in turn be under pressure from their angry members. Very quickly, the unions will be forced into opposition to the Labour government. This will place tremendous pressure on the Parliamentary Labour Party, especially the new intake, who will be more responsive to the unions. Pressures from outside will eventually lead to the crystallisation of internal opposition. Some figure will break ranks and reflect these pressures, around which a new left wing is likely to form.

The Labour Party is not at this stage yet, however. Bureaucratic policy forums and “reviews” have replaced largely democratic conferences. While there is latent discontent in the party, it remains subdued. This is inevitable. The machine still dominates. The years of right-wing domination, first under Kinnock and then Blair, have had their effect. The number of working class Labour MPs has been reduced to a handful, and replaced by professional careerists. The PLP is more out of touch than ever before. The small number of youth in the party has been kept under control and largely dominated by upcoming careerists.

As we explained before, the left in the Labour Party will be built on the basis of the fresh winds of heightened class struggle outside the party that will lead to a rebirth of the left. The class struggle still remains – for now – relatively subdued. The trade union leaders have played a baneful role in this regard. At this stage, the working class is largely marking time and absorbing the experiences of the past.

This situation will inevitably change, as beneath the surface there is enormous anger and rage. We have already had the biggest trade union demonstration in history. Three million workers were involved in strike action over pensions. With the revival of the class struggle and the crystallisation of opposition within the movement, we will see the re-emergence of a mass left tendency inside the Labour Party. At a certain stage, the right wing will be vomited out and the left will take over the party. It will be events that will transform the situation, breathing new life into the labour movement and build the left, as was the case in the 1970s.

Protracted class struggle

The mass revolutionary party will be built not on sectarian lines, but on the basis of historic events. These events will transform the working class and eventually transform the mass organisations, starting with the unions. These organisations will be transformed and retransformed on the basis of events. There will be mass splits and mass left, possibly even mass centrist, currents formed. Centrism is a political current in the process of breaking from reformism and moving in the direction of Marxism. The mass revolutionary party will be built, as in the period 1919-23, through mass left splits in the traditional organisations of the class.

This process will not be an immediate one, or one of linear progress. Rather, there will be a drawn out period of ebbs and flows. This protracted situation is bound up with a number of factors. The trade union and labour leaders act as a colossal brake, more so now than in the past. They consciously sow confusion and spread demoralisation in an attempt to maintain their control. Rather than unite the movement, they act to divide it. Following the movement over pensions, the trade union leaders intervened to force through a deal with government and deliberately derail the struggle. At every step, they have sought to maintain this disunity.

The level of degeneration of the workers’ organisations is unparalleled. The corrosive long-term effects of the boom of capitalism over two generations have also left their mark. Thus, apart from late 2011, there have been no coordinated mass struggles. Each attempt has run into the sand. The reason why the Coalition government has lasted till now was a result of the passivity and sabotage of the trade union leaders. Of course, this situation cannot last indefinitely. Mighty pressures are building up in the working class, but are not yet reflected in the mass organisations.

The attempt by UNITE to “reclaim the party” for the working class is a step forward and is an indication of how the process will occur in the future. We predicted this development. However, the attempt to carry this through bureaucratically from the top can lead to all kinds of complications. Falkirk was an example of this. Instead of a political campaign to build the active membership and involve trade unionists in the party, union members were recruited simply as voting fodder to select a favoured candidate.

While we support UNITE’s efforts in attempting to change the party, we also explain that this must be part and parcel of a campaign for socialist policies. We stand for the maximum involvement of workers in the party, not backroom deals. We push forward the idea of a “workers’ MP on a workers’ wage”, to counter the careerism from the trade union bureaucracy. We demand the adoption of a socialist programme as the only alternative to capitalist policies and the only way to generate real enthusiasm and build the Labour Party.

Scotland

Events in Scotland in 2014 will be coloured by the Independence referendum. We are against the status quo, which has failed to satisfy the aspirations of the people of Scotland. We are in favour of the right of nations to self-determination, and believe in the maximum autonomy for Scotland, as part of the fight for a socialist Britain and world federation of socialist states.We believe an independent capitalist Scotland will offer no solution to the problems facing the people of Scotland and will only serve to divide Scottish workers from their brothers and sisters in the rest of the United Kingdom. That is why we argue for a “no” vote in the referendum.

While we reject the arguments of the nationalists, we are equally critical towards the so-called official “No Campaign”, a popular front led by Alistair Darling. Their arguments are based upon maintaining the union on a capitalist basis, which has little attraction, especially for the youth. The support of the Conservative Party has proved to be the kiss of death for many.

The coalition government is very unpopular north of the border and the Tories have been repeatedly rejected by Scottish voters. Lead by Darling, the No Campaign has been dubbed a “headless campaign”. He has correctly been described as “dreary” and “almost comatose”. But there are very few willing to take the job. While the Scottish Labour Party forms the core of pro-union political support, its leader, Johann Lamont is more of a blur than the invisible Alastair Darling. A recent poll in the Herald found that 40% of voters did not know who she is.

The opinion polls suggest that independence will be rejected by a sizeable majority, although events can cut across this. The suggestion by Cameron and Osborne that the next Tory government would carry through a further £25 billion in cuts was seized upon by the nationalists to argue for independence. The “No Campaign” offers no real alternative to just more of the same. It has therefore no attraction. The offer of independence has the appearanceof seeming to offer an alternative, despite the reassurances of the nationalists to maintain the monarchy and the pound. The feeble “No Campaign” just plays into the hands of the nationalists, .

Nevertheless, the rejection of independence still seems most likely. Attention would again focus on the nationalists and their inability to offer a way forward. The Scottish Labour Party would also face a crisis given its political impasse under the present leadership. A victory for independence would produce a constitutional crisis. The eventual establishment of an independent Scotland would solve nothing and could be an economic disaster given the fragility of the economy. It would be a set-back for the struggle for socialism in creating divisions in the working class but would soon expose its inability to solve any of the problems on a capitalist basis. While it would boost the nationalists in the short term, events would serve to expose their real role and, with a new slump, lead to a radicalisation in Scotland. We would fight for a socialist federation of the British Isles, as a step towards a socialist united states of Europe.

The youth

The capitalist crisis has had a massive effect on the youth. They have been the hardest hit. Youth unemployment stands at nearly one million or 21%. The number of under-25s in work has fallen rapidly since 2008, reaching 49.9% in recent months, the lowest figure since records began in 1992. Long-term unemployment is also increasing. The number of workers aged 18 to 24 and unemployed for over two years trebled since the start of the recession to 115,000—the highest figure since July 1994. A third of those unemployed, a quarter-million youth, have been jobless for more than a year. More than 650,000 young people are classified as NEETs, that is, not in education, employment, or training, or 9% of the total.

Youth unemployment is pushing increasing numbers into further education or training, with the number of full-time students up 10% since the onset of recession. These youth must shoulder a huge student debt burden and face a stagnant job market after graduating. Most graduates cannot find work commensurate with their skills, with 47% of recent graduates in unskilled jobs, up from 39% in 2007 and 27 per cent in 2001. Student debt burden has increased 60% since 2007, as the tuition fee cap was almost tripled in 2012 to £9,000. Universities now charge an average of £8,400 per year, in addition to living expenses.

Youth have also been targeted for cuts to housing benefit and even the loss of benefits themselves. Cameron plans to eliminate housing and unemployment benefit for under-25s, which will condemn hundreds of thousands to continue living with parents or homelessness.

Under these conditions, where the youth are being systematically downtrodden and face a bleak future, they become radicalised far more than other sections. Youth are more disillusioned with capitalism. They are increasingly alienated from “party” politics, reflected in many refusing to vote in elections. This disenchantment is getting worse and worse, and was reflected in the views of Russell Brand. Politicians are seen as out of touch liars, establishment figures, who are generally corrupt.

The youth have been turned off by “politics” and New Labour politicians. They see no difference between the parties. Rage has become the dominant sentiment. Such layers have already gone beyond reformism and want to challenge the capitalist system. A large number are drawing revolutionary conclusions.

Economic, social, and political turmoil

The slump of 2008-9 was only a foretaste of what is to come. It is not the end of the process but the beginning. “The new crisis, which promises to be more terrible than the last one, will deliver a terrible blow to all these illusions,” remarked Trotsky before the war. Events will shake up the working class and prepare it for its historic role. There will be no shortage of economic, social and political turmoil in the coming period. Such is the stuff of revolution and of counter-revolution, which characterises our epoch. Trotsky once remarked that those who are looking for a comfortable existence have chosen a bad time to be born. There has never been a better time to fight to change society.

British capitalism is one of the weakest links in the chain of European and world capitalism. Here, the deepening crisis poses a grim future for the working class and young people. In spite of their hold on property, and the mass media and the tradition and habits of obedience, the ruling class cannot control and regulate the development of events. There are many upheavals in front of us. Ahead of us lies a period of protracted struggle as in Spain 1931-37 where our tendency will be built and tested. However, over the next decade or so, the crisis will push things to the limits. There will come a point when the ruling class will want to settle accounts with the working class once and for all.

The working class and its organisations will go through transformation and retransformation. Mass left wing and centrist currents will emerge. As Trotsky explained in “Where is Britain Going?”, the working class will in all probability have to renew its leadership several times before it creates a party really answering the historical situation and the tasks of the British proletariat.

Commentating on the situation in Britain in the early 1890s, Frederick Engels wrote: “the epoch is pregnant with change.” We can make the same observation today, only more so. He went on to say that there were periods in which 25 years can seem like a day, as in the long post-war period. But, on the other hand, there are periods when there can be days in which 25 years are compressed. This is the situation we are in now.

The events in Britain and worldwide are and will have a major impact on the consciousness of the working class and youth. Although the situation will be protracted, given the strength of the working class and the weakness of the ruling class to impose its solution, there will be sharp and sudden changes in the situation. The crisis will at a certain point become pre-revolutionary, as in Greece today. After all, Greece is only a mirror reflection of Britain in the future. Then the situation can open up in the direction of a revolutionary one, where there occurs a profound break in consciousness.

Of course, the situation will not be a straight line. Revolutionary waves are likely to be followed by periods of lull, despair and indifference, even reaction. This is part of the ebb and flow of the period. But these, in turn, will be followed by even greater movements to the left and struggles of the working class.

For decades, the Marxists have been swimming against the stream. For the most part, the important thing was to keep alive the ideas, methods and traditions. That was the major contribution of Ted Grant. Now the situation has begun to change, as we predicted. We are beginning to swim with the stream. We have the correct perspectives, ideas, methods and traditions. Our aim is nothing less than the end of capitalist barbarism and complete material and spiritual liberation of humankind.

 

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