Fear and Loathing: Electoral Politics in a Capitalist Crisis

What we are looking at in this election is the victory of the concept of nation over that of class. But then it could be said of all elections.

Submitted by Internationali… on December 20, 2019

"As the Brexit pantomime plays on, a General Election is now thrust upon us. Like all capitalist elections it will be a sham. About a third of the electorate (mostly working class) already have no illusions that a vote will do anything for them. In the UK the sham does not mean that ballot boxes will be stuffed with fake votes. Our rulers don’t need to do that. They have worked out how to get a result acceptable to the system without it." - Don’t Play the Capitalist Game! Don’t Vote! Aurora 49

So we wrote in the run up to the latest UK General Election. The Tory landslide might have just about got “a result”. The hopes of the Remainers have been eviscerated and there is now only one option on the table. Even business and investors (long opposed to Brexit) have come to see it as preferable to the continual political impasse, if the immediate overnight rise in sterling and in the FTSE 100 are anything to go by.

Some might also say it is a sigh of capitalist relief that they have been relieved of the prospect of a Labour Government that promised to re-nationalise major services with minimal compensation. However Labour’s programme (which most never heard of) was hardly even considered. It was “Brexit wot won it”. Corbyn and his supporters claimed to be standing on a platform of “hope” for an electorate which has long since tired of empty promises that are never implemented. Both main parties promised the earth (but everyone knew they would deliver shit). The one thing that the electorate could be clear on was “getting Brexit done”. As we wrote in the article already quoted:

"… going into the polling booth is to enter “a fine and private place”. Here each individual is isolated. Faced with the choices on offer most go for the immediate."

“Getting Brexit Done” won’t be as magically “immediate” as Johnson made out of course, but it is a simple enough message in the ballot box. What reinforced this message was the fear of “the other” which is manifest around the world. Immigration and refugees are seen as barbarians at the gate who must be the real cause of the misery some families have experienced for generations. Whether it goes under the name of “populism” or, as in Italy, “sovereignism” (or, as it really is, “xenophobia”) it is a rejection of the globalised speculative economy which has seen the working class share of national income fall continuously since 1979.

Globalisation, financialisation and in the end outright gambling or speculation allowed a global capitalist economy to give the appearance of growth (built on cheap Chinese commodities which allowed wages to remain stagnant everywhere) even after the post war boom came to an end in the early 1970s. Brexit isn’t an answer to the crisis but its supporters pretend it is. It is just the British version of a nationalist phenomenon across the world. You can find it in Germany in the rise of the AfD, or in Poland and Hungary in the form of the PiS and Orbán governments, or in any place you care to mention (like Modi’s India with its Hindu nationalist agenda). What we are looking at in this election is the victory of the concept of nation over that of class.

Labour’s Lost Momentum

But then it could be said of all elections. It was the eleventh General Election in which we as the CWO have called for abstention from such national politics. This call to workers not to participate in the electoral farce brought the wrath of the Labourite fellow-travellers, who also pretend to be revolutionaries, down on our heads. We welcomed such criticism as it gave us the opportunity to explain that Labour had long since turned its back on the working class. Again it is part of an international pattern. The phenomenon of social democratic parties changing their programmes to gain wider electoral favour is not confined to the UK. In Germany, the SDP having played its part in saving German capitalism from a workers’ revolution in the post-World War One years, gradually moved (in the 1970s) to the middle ground to become as good a manager of capitalism as the conservatives. In the end it was the SPD and the Green Party which brought in the infamous Harz IV legislation against workers which has been so useful to German capitalism ever since.

In the UK Labour basked for some years in the glory of the “spirit of ‘45” which did not bring socialism but brought in the National Health Service and the welfare state. What they don’t say is that the plans were drawn up the by the Liberal William Beveridge in 1943 in anticipation of post-war working class discontent. And as Churchill later conceded, Labour in 1945 was the most credible force to implement this plan in the face of a recalcitrant workforce, which struck so often that the Army was called in 14 times to break strikes before 1951. It was a Labour Government that began the cuts in the same NHS in 1977 when the capitalist crisis was still in its infancy.

However, it was the massive restructuring of the class in the Thatcher years that finished off the idea that Labour was predominantly a “bourgeois workers’ party” as some Trotskyists still like to call it. Openly accepting Thatcherism, the New Labour project of Blair and company recognised that a) a good part of the working class never vote, and b) that those that don’t vote are actually amongst the poorest workers. The conclusion therefore was that the Party had to appeal to “Middle England” (whatever that means). The result was that today Labour has only one seat in its former Scottish heartlands – the rest being surrendered to an SNP which (however spuriously) outmanoeuvred Labour on the Left. And as the appeal was no longer to a defence of the working class (the most that could be hoped for from a social democratic party under capitalism) Labour turned to a progressive agenda of entrepreneurship and opportunity for all in its search for votes. The working class vote (such as it was) was simply taken for granted whether anything was done for the working class or not.

All this was supposed to change under Corbyn. Hailed as a “messiah” only two years ago, with adulation only accorded to pop stars, Corbyn was supposed to take Labour back to its roots. Perhaps offering to end student fees may have had something to do with his popularity then – but he did not repeat that simple promise this time. His supporters will argue that he never had a chance. The capitalist press labelled him a Marxist and a danger to UK Capital Inc. But 'twas ever thus. What this electoral campaign once again reveals is that you cannot have a parliamentary road to “socialism” (not that nationalising one or two utilities is socialism).

In the first place the capitalists are not going to sit idly by watching their expropriation whilst the necessary legislation is passed. Today they just need to mobilise their propaganda weapons – if the situation were more desperate tomorrow they would mobilise more lethal weapons. Socialism isn’t a capitalism tamed of the worst aspects of exploitation. It is an entirely different mode of production. It cannot be brought about by voting for it although it is the work of the immense majority. This though requires people to act for themselves not to vote for someone else to hold their destiny in their hands.

"There will be no end to exploitation through voting for a Parliament in which the ruling class always wins. As capitalism lurches towards another crash, there is no way that things are going to get better. If we are going to put up a real fight we have to organise for ourselves against all the attacks. In the course of this we can forge our own organisations to coordinate the fight and set up our own “democracy”. This would not be a “representative” system where you elect someone for five years and never see them again. It would be a direct system where workers delegate one another to workers’ councils. We can recall delegates when we need to, and mandate or re-elect them according to our real needs. This is workers’ democracy if you like and it is vastly superior to the current system which works only for the moneybags of capital." - Don’t Play the Capitalist Game! Don’t Vote! Aurora 49

We are well aware that from the perspective of today this appears a long way off. But the struggle for that society begins now. Ultimate victory will be all the more likely if we can persuade those who think you can support reformism and a revolutionary strategy in the same breath that they are damaging the latter by pandering to the illusions of the former. Instead of chasing what appears to be “possible”, but which is in fact a utopian chimera, we need to build an organisation for the future struggles that lie ahead. Given the crisis ridden nature of the system these struggles are inevitable. To make their victory more likely internationalists everywhere have to come together to work for a new political organisation based inside the working class. This international is not a government in waiting. It does not take on the task of building socialism which is that of the whole of the class. It is however a unifying international political force which promotes the communist programme and acts as a guide in the struggles of tomorrow.

Above all it will lead the fight against the future which today’s nationalists and xenophobes are preparing. As the crisis deepens today’s trade wars will develop into more wars of annihilation and a capitalism in crisis is never going to solve the environmental disaster which it continues to create. We have a world to win and species to save.