The next few months will see the party political machines in full swing trying to draw us into the quagmire of democratic debate and that great privilege – a vote at the polling station. Neither of those arenas offer anything for the working class.
Votes of No Confidence? or No Confidence in Voting!
The British state, aka the “Establishment”, was long the envy of rest of the world’s ruling classes. The revolutions of its capitalist formation were long in the past. It had settled accounts amicably enough with the old feudal order and then inter-married with it. No tiresome written constitution for this ruling class. The political order, like any good gentleman’s club, was framed by “convention” and “precedence”. And the ultimate stability of its rule was founded on the parliamentary fig leaf which conned the masses into thinking that they had some say in the running of the state.
And it still served them well when the post war boom came to an end in the early 1970s. During the long period of the global capitalist crisis of profitability the British party political system was able to provide the ruling class with an assured mechanism to maintain their domination. That safety valve was very visible when the Labour Government introduced the first IMF-demanded attacks on the welfare state and NHS in 1977. It was on show again when the same party helped bail out world capitalism in response to the crash of 2007-8 by agreeing to save the banks. In other words the British state played its part in maintaining the rotting system first by cutting living standards of workers and then preparing the next phase in the ballooning of fictional capital.
2015-19 – Creeping Confusion and Paralysis of the Political Establishment
Today the British ruling classes have become the laughing stock of the world. Since 2015, the ability of the political establishment in Britain to be tried and trusted supporters of the capitalist order has crumbled dramatically. The General Election in May of that year produced a single party Conservative government and the ruling class might well have anticipated business as usual. That has been far from the case!
Month by month, the "best laid plans" went increasingly awry. On our site1 we have documented how the 2015 election of Corbyn as Labour leader was unplanned by the political establishment. Similarly, we have commented on the 2016 referendum on membership of the European Union, a key part of the British bourgeoisie's strategy for half a century, producing a result that the majority of the ruling class neither wanted nor anticipated.2
Since the referendum, the ruling class's political strategy has stumbled from one point of crisis and confusion to another. The 2017 election immediately left May's minority Tory government having to pay a substantial sum of money to ensure the support of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). Since then the DUP has been one of a number of tails wagging the Tory cabinet dog.
The particular irony of the DUP's positioning in the chaos around Brexit has been their absurd insistence on a hard Brexit. Put simply, there is a clear and total contradiction between their rejection of an all Ireland Customs Union and their insistence, at least in public, that they do not wish to see a hard border between the two states on the island of Ireland.
For two years the post-2017 May Government attempted to squeeze the square peg, the needs of British capitalism, into the round hole, the Brexit decision. May failed to pass her Withdrawal Agreement through a House of Commons where both her own Tory Party and the Corbyn-led Labour Party collapsed into squabbling fragments.
The political shenanigans since 2016 can be seen as a tragedy by the supporters of the established bourgeois democratic order. Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister who supervised the nationalisation of banking debt in response to the last financial crash wrote in the Observer (11 August) about the "most serious constitutional crisis since the 17th century". For those who fight for a better alternative, the elements of farce in the political fragmenting and paralysis are more obvious.
Gordon Brown's quote continued with a reference to "an unprecedented economic calamity". Many of the signs of that next phase in the crisis are already apparent. Recent weeks have seen the pound lose value significantly against both the US dollar and the euro against which it hit its lowest point for 10 years. Two main stock exchange indexes (the FTSE 100 and 250) both dropped by more than 3% during the end of July and beginning of August. The trio of negative indicators was completed when figures were released on August 9th showing Gross Domestic Product (GDP) had shrunk during April-July. This was the first quarter where GDP had shrunk since 2012.
As always, when a ruling class's national economic system stutters, it is the working class who are forced to pay the price.
Working class people who travel outside the UK for work or holidays experience higher costs as the value of the pound declines. We also spend a higher proportion of our income on the necessities of life including food. In April 2019, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) published figures showing that UK food prices had reached their highest rate of inflation in almost six years.
Whole chunks of welfare and social provision are at the point of collapse. During 2018 official figures showed that the number of patients waiting for an operation on the NHS had reached 4.3 million, the highest total for 10 years. We have recently commented on the crisis in the care of the elderly on our website.3
Funding is no longer available for services traditionally provided by local Councils. One example is the Youth Service where according to the trade union Unison, between 2016 and 2019, nearly 900 youth worker jobs have been cut and at least 160 youth centres have closed. The picture around public libraries is equally grim. The Guardian on 7 December reported that 130 public libraries had closed during 2018. Remaining libraries are increasingly run by volunteers (i.e. unpaid workers). The same article reported that the number of volunteers working in libraries increased from 41,402 in 2014-15 to 51,394 in 2017-18.
As the economic crisis has accelerated in recent months the traditional scourge of laying off workers has increased. Vauxhall are planning to end production of the Vectra model at the Luton factory in a year's time, with the loss of 2,000 jobs at the plant – and thousands more in associated areas of the car industry. The same company has also threatened the possible complete closure of the Ellesmere Port plant.
Replacement of Party v Party by Faction v Faction
While the working class has been forced to pay the price of capitalism's crisis the political chaos has markedly deepened during recent months. The temporary failure of the capitalist class to stage manage the parliamentary process has produced unprecedented spasms in Parliament.
Theresa May's second period as Prime Minister from June 2017 to July 2019 was marked by an inability to make sense of the referendum decision where Brexit was at odds with 50 years of strategic direction and arrangements that had resulted.
Both the big parties have shed individual MPs and have collapsed into diverse factions, all pushing for their own programme. The Scottish National Party (SNP) have predictably raised the profile of their nationalist aspirations as the prospect of an unpopular Brexit has become increasingly imminent. Likewise, those pushing for a 32-county Irish state have waited patiently but quietly optimistically while the DUP have followed their instinct of siding with the hard right Union Jack wavers in Westminster.
The latest stage in the political establishment's journey into the unknown arrived when the Tories appointed Boris Johnson to replace Theresa May. Johnson has created a Cabinet and coterie of ideological "yes people" to steer, sorry, “turbocharge” towards a Brexit solution that would put the UK outside any of the trading arrangements around the EU structures with an insistence that this will happen on October 31. The other side of that coin is that Johnson and his Cabinet are only one of many factions in the House of Commons.
As the arcane parliamentary rituals play out the competing factions threaten to pull their constitutional rabbits out of the hat. Many learned articles have been written about prorogation (suspension of Parliament), caretaker Prime Ministers, votes of confidence, control of the business of the House of Commons, the role of the Speaker etc. Indeed, it is scarcely possible to view a news programme without erudite comment on these matters. If the likes of Professors Vernon Bogdanor and John Curtice have managed to keep their overtime pay at time and a half then their futures are assured!
Increasingly, these contending factions seek to claim the support of the population with marches and rallies and sooner or later we’ll get the carnival that they call a General Election.
The Democratic Con-Trick
The ruling class has conjured up a toxic mix of economic threats, fractures in the capitalist political parties and the pressure of the parties' self-imposed 31 October Brexit deadline. Against that background, it is impossible to predict precise twists and turns in the establishment's political farce over the next period. Such guesswork will doubtless provide additional profits for the "gambling industry" parasites but is essentially wasteful for workers struggling against the attacks imposed by capitalism.
Irrespective of the details it is clear that the next few months will see the party political machines in full swing trying to draw the rest of us into the quagmire of democratic debate and that great privilege – a vote at the polling station. Neither of those arenas offer anything for those who want to see an end to the permanent worldwide nightmare that has been created by this stage of capitalism.
The labour of the working class is the source of all the goods that capitalism squanders as it drives the world to an abyss of destruction. We gain nothing from debating the shape and size of how aspects of capitalism might run. Neither can we find any succour when the bosses periodically open up their polling stations as and when they see fit. Putting an "x" on a piece of paper simply serves to legitimise the illusion that control rests with "the electorate". The harsh reality of power is embedded in the capitalist class, their vast conglomerate corporations and the worldwide set of state machines and transnational arrangements that defend their poisonous system.
In Britain the laughable spasms in the bosses' political arrangements has only rolled forward because the working class has had our consciousness and willingness to struggle drained over many decades. Despite that there are positive signs, for example, in the sparks of struggle showed amongst workers in sectors where the millstone of historic defeats is not so huge. The struggles by cleaning workers in London and sporadic actions by delivery drivers in the gig economy point to the possibility for future more generalised struggles. Likewise, even where the Trade Unions have imposed their shackles, there have been signs of workers exploring ways of broadening struggles such as initiatives during the lecturers' struggles. Although the class understanding is as yet undeveloped, the recent eco/climate activism amongst layers of working class youth also gives hope for the future.
The road to a situation where the ruling class can no longer exercise their hidden dictatorship will not be short or straightforward. This is because it demands action by the mass of the working class. This will only come about when they recognise the abyss into which capitalism is taking us. Our task is denounce all the false ruling class debates around Brexit (and other nationalisms) and to define what a real anti-capitalist struggle is about.
As part of its process of coming to an awareness of what that is the working class will have to create a new political organisation, a revolutionary international to coordinate the global fight against the system. We are not that organisation but we are helping to create it. We thus appeal to militants reading this to get in touch with us, find out what we stand for and work with us as part of the struggle for a society which is not only sustainable but without poverty, famine and war. We have a world to save!
14 August 2019