“It was all this hatred, coming to a head after long years as the selfishness of the rich became more and more apparent,” wrote P.A. Kropotkin about the mood on the eve of the French Revolution.
At its core, the key question in France at the end of the 18th century was who was going to pay for the national debt, which had risen astronomically. Certainly not the nobles, clergy or the rich. The French people had to pay! But they had other ideas.
“The people still declare that they will pay nothing, neither taxes, nor dues, nor debts”, stated a report from the governors. It was this that provoked the revolution.
Today, the British budget deficit and national debt are rising relentlessly. But who is going to pay? Certainly not the rich and privileged. The British working class must pay!
Austerity on the cards
The ruling class and their political representatives are preparing plans for a new wave of austerity, the likes of which we have never seen. Of course, these plans are kept under wraps for the moment. But there will come a time when they will announce TINA: There is no alternative!
Smooth-talking Rishi Sunak, the Tory Chancellor, has made it plain that there will be no further handouts. “It’s wrong to keep people trapped in a situation and pretend there is a job they can go back to”, he recently told the BBC.
"It's wrong to keep people trapped in a situation and pretend that there is always a job that they can go back to," Rishi Sunak says.— Andy Bruce (@BruceReuters) August 7, 2020
Universal Credit beckons for many.
Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey also made a similar point. “I don’t think we should be locking the economy down in a state that it pre-existed in.”
In other words, unemployment is going to rise dramatically and living standards are about to collapse for millions.
But the Tories face grave dangers in imposing further austerity, as the French monarchy found out in 1789.
As then, public anger is already rising. The shine has rapidly worn off from the Tory government and Boris Johnson. The veneer of ‘national unity’ in face of the pandemic has quickly dissolved. There is little, if any, trust in the government or politicians. Social divisions are again on the increase.
A number of new surveys show that the public mood has rapidly changed already. In particular, the hypocrisy exposed over Dominic Cummings’ trip to Durham was a significant turning point, according to a report by the British Future think tank.
This scandal clearly showed that there was one rule for the government and their hangers-on, and another for the rest of us. The widening divisions between rich and poor are also a growing concern.
In answer to the question ‘Is the country now more divided?’, one respondent said: “More divided, two reasons. The first is the Dominic Cummings saga. The vast majority of people see it as one rule for those in charge and one rule for everyone else…Others are…worried about government advice and whether to trust them.”
“In short: undoubtedly more divided”, explained a further respondent. “More detail: it was relatively easy to persuade the country to go into lockdown. Easing the restrictions has produced a whole spectrum of differing opinions, never mind the uproar the Dominic Cummings saga has added to the debate.”
The British Future report stated that: “The perception that the prime minister’s adviser, Dominic Cummings, had broken the lockdown rules was a highly salient issue that appeared to damage trust in politicians.”
It warned that tensions could re-emerge in the coming recession over issues such as the gap between rich and poor. “That sense of togetherness is starting to fray”, said the report’s author, Jill Rutter.
There is now plenty of talk about ‘the next stage of the crisis’, which is looming. In the foreword to the aforementioned report, the Bishop of Leeds, Nick Baines, wrote:
“We are entering a period of deep economic uncertainty, one that will heighten existing inequalities and strain our society further still.
“We must start to disagree better: Recognising and respecting our differences while remembering our common humanity and citizenship, with all the mutual obligations these demand of us.”
But these sickly-sweet words from the bishop are an attempt to save the capitalists and their system, by stressing “our” society and “our” obligations – as if we were all in the same boat. But we are not.
Britain, as elsewhere, is a deeply divided class society. The ruling class – who hold the reins of power – have never been so rich and divorced from the rest of us. They live on a completely different planet.
The overwhelming majority of people in society are working class, living from pay-cheque to pay-cheque. The capitalist class live by systematically exploiting the working class. Their wealth – their accumulated profits – are parasitically obtained from the unpaid labour of the working class.
The only “obligation” that the capitalists have is to make money. Our “obligation” is to earn a living. But the capitalist system is in deep crisis and can’t even provide us with a living. Millions are about to lose their jobs. The ruling class will demand that the workers – and not them – pay for the crisis through cuts and austerity.
The mood of anger will certainly increase as the impact of the crisis bites. This experience will turn millions against the capitalist system. In the process, as in France 1789, revolution will be placed on the agenda in one country after another, including in Britain.
We have to prepare for what is coming.
Things will not develop in a smooth process. We are in a period of sharp turns and sudden changes. Consciousness – which tends to lag behind – will catch up with a bang. All the old illusions will be burnt away by the white heat of events.
We have to fight for a socialist programme to answer the crisis; for a programme that will do away with capitalism. No half-measures will suffice.
Only by taking over the 100-or-so giant monopolies that dominate the economy can we plan the economy in the interests of the majority, and not for the profits of the few. This must include the banks and big financial companies, along with the other ‘commanding heights’ and major industries, run under workers’ control and management.
To achieve this, we need to build up the forces of Marxism – a determined, militant leadership – for the battles that lie ahead. In this spirit, we urge you to join us in the fight to change society!