"Here is the social-historical foundation of a revolutionary situation. Of course it is a question of the struggle of living historical forces and not an automatic accumulation of arithmetical quantities. And this alone makes impossible a passive prediction of the stages of the process and the timing of the denouement. A finger must be kept on the pulse of the British economy and politics, and while not omitting overall perspectives for a moment, one must attentively follow all the partial fluctuations, the flows and the ebbs, and determine their place in the process of the capitalist decline. Only upon the basis of such a general orientation can the revolutionary party conduct its policy, the flexibility of which is expressed by the fact that while it does take partial fluctuations into account, it in no way loses sight of the basic line of development."
Leon Trotsky, February 11, 1926 (From Volume Two of Writings on Britain)
What are perspectives?
In the twelve months since the publication of our last perspectives document the political landscape of Britain has altered dramatically. Events internationally have continued to develop at breakneck speed too, from the continuing revolutionary developments in Argentina, and the revolution and counter-revolution unfolding in Venezuela, to the prospect of war in the Middle East. However, alongside these international developments, a year ago events in Britain were developing at a painfully slow rate. At times they looked like a slow motion replay of a snails' race. Now that has begun to change.
For a period of some years we attempted to chart and analyse the profound discontent that was being built up beneath the apparently calm surface of British society. In particular, we laid heavy emphasis on the accumulation of pent-up anger, bitterness and frustration in the workplace as a result of the ‘counter-revolution on the shopfloor'. British capitalism's concentration on increasing absolute and relative surplus value through new management techniques, speed-ups, and dependence on overtime - in other words the maintenance of the capitalists' profits at the expense of the sweat, stress and strain of the working class - could not continue indefinitely without provoking a response. At a certain stage new movements of the working class were inevitable. These movements, we explained, would have major repercussions inside the organisations of the working class, beginning with the trade unions, and then at a certain stage inside the Labour Party as well. This was the basis of our general perspective, within which we attempted to take into account each change and turn in events, whilst keeping our finger on the pulse of the economy, politics and the outlook of the working class.
We are now at a fundamental turning point. The accumulated anger of the British proletariat has begun to burst through the surface. The sleeping giant of the British working class has begun to stir. Even though we are still at a very early stage in this process, already there have been important consequences inside the trade unions, where a transformation has begun to take place, with the election of a whole series of new left leaders.
It is always necessary before proceeding to make an analysis of the present situation to review our previous perspectives. Not simply to correct this or that detail, which may have become outdated, superseded or proven incorrect by the march of events, but more importantly to look at the general trends we described, the broad processes at work in society. Did we analyse these correctly? Are events moving in the direction we thought likely? Answering these questions is an important starting point in preparing ourselves, orienting the tendency to intervene in the new situation which is unfolding before us.
This document should therefore be read in conjunction with previous perspectives. In relation to many detailed points these perspectives have been largely borne out. More importantly, in relation to the general process at work in the economy, in politics, and in the movement of the working class, they bear out how vital Marxist theory is for workers and youth who want to struggle to change society. By understanding the process, hidden beneath a thin veneer on the surface of society, we should not be blown off course by sudden and sharp changes in the situation but meet them fully prepared.
In preparing for the new situation developing in Britain, Trotsky's Writings on Britain, particularly his writings on the general strike, on the trade unions, and Where Is Britain Going? are required reading for every comrade. These are living, vibrant ideas with enormous relevance to British workers today, full of lessons which every thinking worker should study and absorb.
At the same time, this document must be read in conjunction with the latest World Perspectives. It is not possible to understand events in Britain in isolation from the rest of the world. The word globalisation has been rammed down our throats in the media for the last decade. Marxists have long understood that we live in the epoch of the world market, world relations and world politics. This fact dominates all our lives. For this reason we also live in the epoch of world revolution. The struggle of the working class of Britain is inseparably tied to the struggles of the workers internationally - far more than in any other epoch.
Events in one part of the world economy inevitably affect the rest. Political changes, diplomatic developments, wars, revolutions and counter-revolutions have repercussions in every country. The movement of the working class in one country after another has an impact on the workers' movement everywhere.
Here we find the purpose of Marxist perspectives. Using the method of Marxism, dialectical materialism, Marxism attempts to uncover the connections between events, not in order to make predictions, but in order to understand the different and often contradictory processes at work in society. To the degree that we can understand these processes, and which direction they are heading in, we can arm ourselves and advanced workers with an understanding of what is happening and why. This, as Leon Trotsky explained, is the superiority Marxism has over all other trends in the labour movement, "the benefit of foresight over astonishment."
If we look back over the past year or so, there is not one single event, but in reality a chain of events in the economy, in international relations and in the movement of the working class, which signal a turning point in the situation. Consciousness, which tends to lag behind, has begun to catch up with a bang!
To many commentators in the British media the magnificent one million strong national strike by members of UNISON, the T&G, and GMB on July 17, 2002 was 'a bolt from a clear blue sky.' They were suffering from a case of astonishment over foresight. Page after page and broadcast after broadcast was devoted to convincing us that such militant action was an aberration, a one-off. According to them, the fact that London Underground was brought to a standstill by a strike the following day was unconnected, and caused by the 'hothead left-wing leadership' of the RMT. How does the RMT come to have a left wing leadership? On this they are silent. They admit no connection between these events and the election of left leaders in a whole series of unions.
The magnificent strike of the firefighters, the first such action for a quarter of a century, left them speechless, except to say there was no connection with any of the other developments taking place. There will be no return to the "bad old days" of the 1970s we were all assured - after all, the trade unions are now social partners not militant workers' organisations. Simon Jenkins in the London Evening Standard (July 18, 2002) for example: "I doubt if London is in for a run of industrial disputes. Too much has changed. The public sector is not the monopoly it was. Union leaders may be more left-wing but few other than Mr Crow wield much power and he is only an occasional pain in the neck." Or even the editorial of The Guardian (July 19, 2002): "It is a bit premature, to say the least, to extract a lasting trend from events as disparate as a strike over safety at London Transport, a dispute over a trade union leader trying to hang on to his job too long and a strike by low paid council workers."
If this were the case in just one union, or just one strike, then it could be an accident, an isolated development, a question of personalities or special circumstances. However, the election victories of the left are not confined to one union but spread across every single union to hold such a ballot. Industrial action, especially the strike of the firefighters, although not on the same scale as in the 1970s, has dramatically increased. With only one or two exceptions, these are the first such national strikes in a decade.
In truth our ‘expert' journalists and analysts are taken by surprise because they have an empirical and impressionistic outlook. On the one hand they stubbornly refuse to see the connection between these events, seeking an explanation in the existence of some secret conspiracy of 'reds under the bed' and left wing agitators. On the other, they have been entirely seduced by the previous apparent stability, taken in by the bourgeois propaganda that the class struggle had ended - with capitalism the victor, naturally.
This shortsighted view is shared by the right wing in the labour movement, and in reality by the lefts, who also lack a perspective. One despairing supporter of defeated right wing union leader Sir Ken Jackson, speaking at the TUC, compared it aptly to the film, the Perfect Storm: "There is a certain amount of rain and a certain amount of wind, but it is coming together in a way that no one meant or could have foreseen."
On the contrary, the process of change that has now begun in the trade unions, the new upsurge in militancy, although still at a very early stage, was not only predictable but also inevitable. Only by seeing the connections between events, being armed with Marxist theory against the propaganda of the capitalists, by understanding what Trotsky called "the molecular process of revolution" which takes place now in the open, now beneath the surface, can workers and youth be prepared for the mighty events - and for the ebbs and flows in those events - which will unfold in coming years.
The current world situation is characterised by profound instability. The world economy, international relations, diplomacy and politics are in turmoil. The root cause of this tremendous volatility is the fact that capitalism has outlived itself on a world scale. The productive forces now strain against the limitations imposed upon them by the private ownership of the means of production and the division of the world into competing nation states.
The development of society, as Marx explained, is fundamentally dependent on the development of the productive forces. Over the last decade of boom, despite all their profligate waste, the American capitalists, along with the capitalists of all countries, have invested colossal sums in new technology and new machinery. As a consequence, inevitable because of the inherent contradictions of capitalism, we now have massive overproduction and overcapacity to produce.
Even the conservative economists of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) are now forced to concede that the US economy has not entered a new upturn but is experiencing a 'double-dip' recession. This will have profound consequences for the entire world economy.
The new slump will see much of the economy's overcapacity destroyed, but it will not be possible to simply pick up where they left off, with high rates of growth, in the new recovery that will inevitably follow the slump at a certain stage. There will not be a permanent slump any more than there could be a never-ending boom as the capitalists had dreamed. The boom-slump cycle is like breathing in and out for capitalism. Once a new equilibrium is reached, through the destruction of the slump, there will be a new recovery. This will be a much weaker period of growth however, and it will be accompanied by rising unemployment and a further intensification of the exploitation of the working class in all countries.
This new situation unfolding before us - a world dominated by war and slump - is unprecedented in the half a century since the second world war. For a period of decades the capitalist system experienced a considerable upswing, the reasons for this have been explained in previous documents. At least in the advanced economies there was full employment and rising living standards. This accounted for a relative social peace between the classes, and as a consequence, the further degeneration of the workers' organisations. There were notable exceptions to this social peace, of course. The revolutionary movement in France in 1968, for example, where ten million workers occupied the factories and even the theatres and could have transformed society peacefully were it not for the role of the workers' leaders, especially the leadership of the Communist Party.
At the same time the stand off between US Imperialism and Russian Stalinism ensured a relative stability between the nations, again with notable exceptions. These 'exceptions' occurred towards the end of the upswing and demonstrate something which Trotsky explained - it is not boom or slump that causes peace or revolution, but the change from one period to another, the instability and insecurity that inevitably accompany such change and disturbance.
These remarks of course concern the advanced capitalist countries. Meanwhile for the majority of humanity, living - or more accurately - existing in the more backward economies, particularly of Asia, Africa and Latin America, there has been never ending misery. The masses endure one indignity after another to prop up capitalism in the 'west', demonstrating the inability of capitalism to offer any way forward in a single one of these countries and on a world scale.
Now the world economy is entering its first simultaneous slump since 1974. This on its own would strike fear into the hearts of the strategists of capital. However, to this must be added the profound instability in the relations between nations. Economic and political instability are in reality two sides of the same process.
The US, as the world's lone superpower since the collapse of Stalinism, holds in its hands the most powerful weapons of mass destruction known in human history. Aggressively and arrogantly US Imperialism now stamps its authority on the world. Following their intervention in Afghanistan - which has solved nothing and aggravated everything - comes a new assault on Iraq. There are important economic factors involved in the intervention of the US in the Middle East, not least the control of oil supplies. Above all their intention is to strike fear into the hearts of the masses in these countries and the whole region. If they do not do the bidding of US Imperialism they will be bombed to kingdom come.
For the last period the world economy was kept afloat by the boom in the US. The steep falls of the stock market in 2000 and 2001 meant that the US boom was effectively running on one engine. That engine was being fuelled by consumer spending, which, in turn, was based on a massive expansion of credit and indebtedness. The net wealth of US households has fallen by 20% in the last two years, but American consumers continued to spend. They have been spending tomorrow's money today, i.e. they were spending credit. This has its limits, which is now being reached. Despite all the claims of "sound fundamentals" - a sure sign that slump is on the way - profitability has fallen and investment with it. There appeared to be some signs of recovery early last year. In reality this was only a case of returning to the downhill path, after the shock of September 11th.
To hide the truth about falling profits, in order to maintain the value of their shares and their dividends, the US monopolies pursued a crude policy of lying and cooking the books. The result was the bankruptcy of Enron and others, which served to expose the weakness of the US economy. Their 'logic' was easy to follow. The boom was supposed to continue forever. Therefore the fall in profits must have been a blip. If they covered it up, sooner or later profits would improve again, and in the meantime they would have maintained confidence. It was a giant confidence trick.
Although Christmas spending has been weaker than expected, they will once again convince themselves that a recovery is underway. In reality there can be no real recovery until the levels of profits recover. Investment has fallen month on month throughout the last twelve months. Two million Americans lost their jobs last year. In a desperate attempt to maintain growth in the economy the Federal Reserve has cut interest rates to their lowest level since the early 1960s. If you combine the interest rate with the level of the consumer price index, then real interest rates (the cost of paying back loans compared to the decline in value of money in your hand eaten away by inflation over the same period) are actually negative. While profits are falling however, no matter how low interest rates get the capitalists will not invest in production. They will not borrow to invest when there is not only little chance of making a decent return on their investment, but also they cannot even afford to pay back their current debts. American Airlines have filed for bankruptcy unable to pay up on debts of a billion dollars.
After all interest rates of zero have not helped the ailing Japanese economy. Faced with twelve years of recession, with no real recovery, the Japanese capitalists have pumped the equivalent of the GDP of France into the economy in an effort to stimulate growth through Keynesian measures, but to no avail. They are terrified that Japan's experience could be repeated in America. The decisive factor in Japan's crisis is the enormous level of debt inherited from the 1980s boom.
In the US low interest rates have fuelled consumer credit and above all an unsustainable property boom, just as in Britain, Australia and elsewhere. House prices have been climbing at a rate of over ten percent in the US (in Britain the rises have now approached 30 percent!). When this house of cards crashes it will have a massive impact on consumer spending dragging the whole economy down still further.
American consumer spending has been responsible for mopping up much of the world's overproduction. This is testified to by the trade deficit running at an historic $37 billion per month. When US consumers stop spending - as they will when they can't afford to pay their debts, when their jobs are threatened, when the value of their houses fall, and when the instability of war hits home - the world economy will be hit for six.
War with Iraq, rather than providing an opportunity for economic recovery through arms expenditure as some economists have claimed, will have a negative impact on consumer spending, and will drive the price of oil upwards with drastic consequences for the world economy. Politically and economically this war, will solve nothing, Instead it will add a new element of instability to an already volatile international situation.
Whilst it is impossible to predict the exact nature of the slump, what the capitalists fear is not slump in itself. They know, at least some of them know, that sooner or later they will recover from a slump. What they fear more is the prospect of the slump leading to a rise in protectionism. The development of world trade, the much-vaunted globalisation, has played a central role in the development of the world economy over the last fifty years. The growth of international trade, the lowering of tariff barriers and so on, enabled capitalism to partially and temporarily overcome the limitations of the nation state. That could all unravel in the next period. In the last two years there has been virtually no growth in world trade. Intensified struggle for shrinking markets could lead to new tariff barriers and other protectionist measures. The US has already introduced such policies in relation to steel, textiles, and other commodities. If this policy becomes generalised it can result in tit-for-tat measures, even trade wars and competitive devaluations resulting in an even more severe crisis.
At the heart of this developing crisis is overproduction. Marx explained that this is the root cause of every capitalist crisis. Capitalism's insoluble dilemma is that if the workers' wages increase then the market is expanded but the capitalists will not invest because of the limitations of their profits. On the other hand if they increase their profits by limiting the wages of the working class, then the capitalists will not invest because of the limitation of the market. Ironically it has been the massive overproduction of new technology, computers, chips, and mobile phones that has led to the crisis in the US. This sector we were told just a few years ago would be the saviour of the world economy. By some mystical process, never explained, Information Technology would transform the economy, and end the boom-slump cycle. At the very least it was going to provide the basis for a new expansion for decades ahead. This was the New Paradigm. Instead, the fact that even the newest industries have fallen foul of the basic contradictions of capitalism in just a few short years demonstrates the decline, disease and enfeeblement of the capitalist system.
The Marxists explained that in economic terms these developments were nothing new anyway. Marx long ago explained that capitalism means the constant revolutionising of the means of production, in order to increase their profits. Capitalism always seeks new fields in which to invest the surplus value they extract from the working class, and at the same time they are always seeking new markets in which to sell their goods. Despite all their pipedreams about first Russia and then China becoming new markets for their goods, they neglected the fact that a market is not just a number of people with needs. It is a number of people with money to spend. Despite their vast populations, there are not many with enough money to spend on US consumer goods.
There remained the new field of investment, new technology. As always under capitalism a new field of investment offers spectacular returns, and consequently all the capitalists pile in producing more and more. Meanwhile the rate of return falls back towards the average, and eventually there is overproduction. Rather than being the saviour of the world economy, new technology has been the field in which overproduction, the ultimate cause of the current crisis, began.
This overproduction is not confined to the IT sector, however, but now applies to all commodities. The overproduction of cars, which has reached unprecedented levels, has resulted in price wars in the US, and further devastation to car plants in Britain.
We have explained previously how even during the boom the world was dividing into rival trading blocs, the US and NAFTA, the European Union, and Asia and Japan. This is an indicator of the trade wars that will develop in the future. Under conditions of ferocious competition for shrinking markets the tensions between these blocs will intensify.
Not so long ago the capitalists of Europe were claiming they would avoid a recession. Now they are not so smug. Except for the British capitalists, who even now are vainly making the same empty boast. The European economy is already in recession. In Germany unemployment has risen to over eight percent of the workforce. The introduction of the Euro has not saved them. Its purpose was to stimulate trade between European nations, thereby developing the productive forces and the profits of the capitalists. Having been introduced just as unemployment takes off and the economy has gone into decline, it has meant that member states have been unable to use the mechanisms used in the past to ameliorate conditions, such as devaluation, and public borrowing and spending. Instead the entire burden of the crisis has been placed on the shoulders of the working class, with massive cuts in spending, attacks on pensions, wages and conditions. This has already resulted in big strike waves on the continent, in Germany, even general strikes in Greece, Spain and Italy, where three million workers took to the streets of Rome.
The limitations being imposed on each of the nation states of Europe along with the cutthroat competition between them for markets could even lead to the break down of the whole single currency experiment, though not the EU as a trading bloc. The conditions of a prolonged boom expanding markets and profits for all might have enabled them to succeed and even go further. The development of slump however will tend to throw this process into reverse. In reality the European Union is a glorified trade bloc of European nations against the US and Japan.
In theory, Europe and America are allies - one big happy family of democratic nations, united in the common interest of defending "western civilisation". In practice, the antagonism between Europe and America is growing all the time. The struggle for diminishing markets on a world scale has led to a sharp increase in protectionist tendencies, such as those illustrated by the actions of the Bush administration in relation to steel, textiles and agriculture.
Preparations are now supposedly underway to form a European defence force. The European bourgeoisie wants to build up its own military force because it does not trust the Americans to defend European interests. On this score they are correct. The interests of the US bourgeois and their European counterparts are not only different, but often contradictory. At the same time, there are many contradictions between the rulling classes of the main European powers themselves. This means that a real common foreign and military policy is impossible to realise.
When trying to analyse the different tendencies involved in international relations, it is important to be careful to distinguish between the public propaganda about the so-called European ideal and the interests and cynical manoeuvres of the different national capitalist classes that are constantly seeking to gain an advantage at the expenses of the others.
In the last analysis, the idea that Europe could rival the USA on a capitalist basis is absurd. In reality, the USA has forced Europe to accept its dictates, as it did in the war in Kosovo, without the slightest regard for its European "allies".
Since the European capitalists will be compelled to participate in foreign military adventures anyway, would it not be better to do so under their own flag, instead of constantly being blackmailed and bullied by Washington? Such is the rationale behind the idea of a European defence force.
However, the decisive questions relating to a European defence force are never stated. First, who pays for it? And second: Who will control it, and decide where and when it is to be used?
Some people have apparently tried to argue from a "left" point of view that a European defence force would be progressive since we Europeans are more civilised than the American imperialists and would use military force to uphold peace and democracy, or words to that effect. Clausewitz correctly pointed out that ‘war is only the continuation of politics by other means.' The bourgeoisie will wage war only to further its own selfish interests, whether they are American British, German or any other nationality.
It is rather strange to argue that "we Europeans" are more civilised than the Americans. Such an argument leaves out of account the conduct of British, French, German, Dutch or Belgian imperialism in the past. History hardly provides much evidence of our supposedly "civilised" conduct! The only difference today is that the European imperialists are too weak to show their teeth as they did in the past.
The force itself is still only an embryonic project. It is supposed to consist of 60,000 troops with Britain and Germany paying 15 percent each, and France slightly more. Its role is supposed to be confined to "peacekeeping, crisis management and humanitarian operations." These days virtually all armies are supposed to be engaged in such activities, just as in George Orwell's 1984, the ministry of war was called the ministry of peace. But as Kosovo showed, a "humanitarian" "peacekeeping" mission can be very effective as a means of bombing and occupying territory.
Here, however, we arrive at yet another contradiction. The notion of "European interests" is itself an abstraction. The interests of the German, French and British capitalists do not necessarily coincide. The fact that France, despite its long colonial involvement in west Africa, has not lifted a finger to help Britain or the UN "peacekeeping" mission in Freetown testifies adequately to this.
Since a standing army is not envisaged, but each country will be asked to provide troops as and when required, there is plenty of scope for future quarrels. In fact, they have tacitly recognised this by stating that no country will be obliged to contribute soldiers to a mission whose objectives it does not support! This does not augur well for the future of the force as an effective fighting operation.
The move towards a European defence force is an expression of the growing tensions and rivalry between Europe and America. This leads us on to yet another contradiction. If the European defence force gets off the ground, what role will be left for the US-dominated NATO?
The Americans, fearing loss of control, are insisting that the new force must only be used in situations where NATO (i.e., the USA) does not want to get involved. They are also concerned about the inevitable duplication of planning, intelligence and procurement. But the Europeans are determined to pursue their own interests. Already, it seems, Lord Robertson has warned Tony Blair that the new force could spark off a transatlantic crisis.
The French, pursuing their old ambitions, want to loosen America's influence in Europe. Britain, and to some extent Germany, have resisted this in the past, but this may now change. If the new force does get off the ground it will inevitably lead to a crisis, and even a split in NATO at a certain stage. This is an expression of the growing tensions between Europe and America.
Should we welcome this development? There is nothing progressive about either NATO or the proposed European defence force. From the standpoint of the European working class, the attempt of the European bourgeoisie to place their armies on an equal plane with those of the USA can only signify one thing: new and deep cuts in living standards. Such a policy would be ruinously expensive and, in the context of a world economic crisis, could only signify further attacks on social spending.
The first problem is that a European defence force, if it is to be effective, must be properly armed and equipped, at least up to the latest American standards. Who will pay for this? At a time when the working class is being told there is no more money for schools, hospitals and pensions, we are also told that more money is needed for bombs, tanks, satellites and warplanes. But it is clear that one thing excludes the other.
The working class must oppose wasteful arms expenditure, counterposing a programme of useful public works: not more guns and tanks but more hospitals, houses, schools and nursery schools are what are needed.
The development of slump in the next period will tend to throw the process of European integration into reverse. The utopia of European integration is only the screen behind which the capitalists of the big European nations, particularly Germany and France hide their ambitions to dominate Europe's immense markets. The decision to include ten new member states is a recognition of Europe's main capitalist powers' intention to spread their domination through the Balkans, southern, central and Eastern Europe.
The ambivalence of the British ruling class towards the Euro and Europe in general is a reflection of the splits in the British bourgeoisie. Those linked to manufacturing industry recognise the vital importance of Europe's markets for their goods. They favour joining the Euro as an antidote to the high value of the pound, which contributes to making British goods less competitive. The parasitic finance wing of capital, on the other hand, sees the future of British capitalism as a satellite of US imperialism. The British ruling class may dither and hesitate, dreaming of a renewed role as a world power, but while they fiddle the Euro is struggling, and whilst not burning, the streets of Rome become very hot beneath the feet of three million workers.
Bank of England Governor Eddie George, speaking on behalf of the city of London, has thrown further doubt on Britain's compatibility with the eurozone economies, with little more than six months to go before the Treasury decides whether its five tests for entry have been passed.
"What you have in the eurozone at present is substantial weakness in the German economy in particular... and that has an impact on the whole of the eurozone which is more pronounced than the situation here," he explained.
"In those circumstances, I don't think there's any reason at all to assume that interest rates should necessarily converge."
In the next period the contradictions between the nation states of Europe, Germany and France in particular, between whom Britain will attempt to manoeuvre, will intensify.
The formation of the EU was a tacit admission by the bourgeoisie that the old national states have outlived their usefulness and become transformed into reactionary barriers to the free development of the productive forces.
We are in favour of the unification of Europe, but we recognise that on the basis of capitalism, as Lenin explained, a united Europe is only a reactionary utopia. We are opposed to the Europe of the big banks and monopolies that represents a future of unemployment, cuts and misery for millions. On the basis of capitalism as we have always explained there can be no united Europe.
The past is now behind us. We have entered a new period on a world scale. Instead of New Paradigms, and New World Orders the future unfolding before us will be dominated by wars, slumps, revolutions and counter-revolutions. Such crises already exploded in the more peripheral countries of world capitalism, Indonesia, Ecuador and so on. They have spread to Argentina, and now impinge on the shores of Europe and the US. Even Britain, which on the surface appeared to be immune to the disease of capitalist crisis, has now entered a new period of storm and stress. The British proletariat will play its full role in the struggles of the working class internationally. In the decades in front of us the fate of humanity will be decided by those struggles.
The British economy is the second biggest in Europe, with a GDP of around £1,000 billion. Only Germany is bigger. However bald statistics can be used to mask the real situation. This figure tells us little about the continuing deterioration of British manufacturing industry which has been partially hidden by the development of services, banking and speculation. It is true that the UK economy has grown faster than Europe and even the US over the last year. Inflation and unemployment are low. Such figures have no doubt served to bolster Blair and Brown's delusion that they had succeeded in abolishing the boom-slump cycle.
This has been the mythical Holy Grail chased after by every bourgeois politician and economist. There is no such cure. Booms and slumps are like breathing in and out for capitalism. In the words of the song "you can't have one without the other". In reality it is precisely the weakness of Britain's economy, its heavy reliance on services and the financial sector, which has masked the further destruction of manufacturing industry. However, as a result, Britain is more dependent than ever on the world economy. Recession internationally will hit Britain very severely indeed.
Blair and Brown have persisted with the delusion that Britain can escape the effects of a world slump. Now their words of foreboding about the "dangers ahead" suggest that reality has begun to penetrate even the skulls of the Labour leaders. In the next period all their delusions about abolishing boom and bust, and abolishing the Labour Party, will be blown apart. Participation in the single currency would not save the British economy, which fundamentally suffers from decades of under investment. Besides the Euro and the eurozone economies have troubles of their own. At the same time remaining outside won't save them either. Britain's manufacturers complain that remaining outside the Euro with an overvalued pound is crippling them. The main reason for their lack of competitiveness however, is their failure to invest in updating machinery and skills in the economy.
We have charted the destruction of Britain's manufacturing base over many years. The last century witnessed the slow, inglorious decline of British industry. From the workshop of the world Britain has been transformed into a sweatshop. Dark Satanic mills have been replaced by dark satanic call centres.
This decline has continued apace even during the recent years of boom. The last car to be produced at Ford's Dagenham plant rolled off the production line last year, marking the end of 70 years of production. Vauxhall's Luton plant, with a similarly long history, was closed too. These two examples illustrate quite clearly the continuing destruction of manufacturing industry in Britain. A further quarter of a million manufacturing jobs were destroyed in the first half of last year.
Steel production was always considered an important indicator of the strength of an industrial economy. Judging by the furore surrounding Bush's implementation of a massive tariff against imported steel to protect the US steel industry (which is a foretaste of future trade wars) it still is. Previously Britain dominated the world in this vital sector. Now Corus, the privatised remnants of the British steel industry has fallen out of the FTSE 100 index of the biggest companies. In the 1970s British steel employed 250,000 people. Today Corus employs just 25,000 in Britain, and another 25,000 overseas. They are more concerned with mergers, like that with Brazilian steelmaker CSN, than with investing in production. In fact, such mergers and acquisitions are the main concern of Britain's capitalists. In this sector at least they dominate the world. They prefer to buy up already existing production, in order to asset strip - and the same applies to privatisation, which is a licence to print money rather than to invest in public services - instead of the risky business of investing to develop production.
The British coal industry was almost destroyed by Thatcher in the 1980s. What remains of the privatised coal industry in Britain is on the verge of closure. As a result, compared to the past, Britain now has a much depleted steel industry and coal industry, and the same is true of the shipbuilding and car industries.
Employment in manufacturing in Britain now represents just 14 percent of the total. This is a damning indictment of the destruction of British industry over a whole period. The British economy is heavily dependent on banking and services. In 1990 the UK had a trade surplus of £7billion in insurance, finance and computer services. By 2000 that had grown to £28billion.The triumph of finance capital over manufacturing is reflected in their political dominance too. Not just the Tories, but also the Labour leaders now do the bidding of the city of London.
Having said that, manufacturing industry remains decisive, despite the shortsighted approach of British capital. It represents 62 percent of all returns on exports. It is not possible for the economy to survive on the basis of services alone. This was the delusion of Thatcher and co, which has been continued under Blair and Brown. Surplus value is created in industry. Capitalism is above all the production of commodities. Services meanwhile are parasitic by nature. They consume surplus value. There has to be manufacturing to create the wealth to spend on services, as Mike Legg (Chairman of the Engineering and Machinery Alliance) points out "it creates the wealth and spending power that feed the service sector." (Financial Times 05/02/02)
Manufacturing output is falling at a 3% annual rate, bringing overall growth in the economy down towards just 1%. Of course, the forecasts for 2003 remain optimistic. The economic experts expect 3% growth in manufacturing and 2.5% growth in the economy as a whole.
But leaving aside the likely economic recession in the rest of the world - world trade, the former motor of world capitalism, did not grow at all in 2001 and barely registered in 2002 - there is little justification for expecting the UK to resume 2-3% growth next year. UK businesses resolutely refuse to invest in Britain. What investment takes place is often to move production to cheaper locations abroad.
Investment is falling at a near 10% rate (See Chart) and imports flood into the country to compete with UK industry. As a percentage of GDP business investment has fallen from 15 percent to 12 percent since 1999. Property prices are an indicator of the state of the economy in more ways than one. While house prices have enjoyed meteoric rises, commercial property prices rose by just two percent last year. In reality, Brown and the Treasury know the real truth about British industry. There has been so little investment over the last decade that despite working the longest hours and having the shortest holidays in Europe, the productivity of British workers remains well below that of France, Germany or the US.
The Treasury's own recent study shows that American workers are 30% more productive, French workers are 25% more productive, and German workers 15% more. Only Japanese workers do worse with the collapse in output. No matter what productivity improvements are squeezed out of British workers they cannot compete with productivity levels in their competitors' economies, which is boosted by both squeezing the workforce and investing in new machinery. In the last five years, productivity has improved by nearly 2% in the US and Germany, but only by 1.4% in the UK.
Between 1995 and 2000 manufacturing output grew by 27% in the US but only by 11% in Britain. Approximately speaking the US economy now produces almost twice as much as it did in 1973 with the same number of workers, whereas Britain produces about the same amount with the workforce cut by one half. This means that the US economy has invested in new machinery and increasing productivity in order to expand output and gain a bigger share of the world market. Meanwhile Britain's capitalists have concentrated on squeezing us harder to get more profits but a declining share of the world's markets. This is the real meaning of the counter-revolution on the shopfloor over the last two decades. It has been a desperate attempt by capitalism to increase Absolute and Relative Surplus Value.
A recent report by The Institute of Management Services acknowledged that "the superior performance (in improving productivity) in manufacturing relative to services reflects efforts by manufacturers to further reduce staffing levels while simultaneously boosting output."
While British workers work longer hours than their counterparts in Europe and the US, their productivity while in work has been increased through a remarkable increase in toil. This pressure could not continue indefinitely without provoking a response from the working class. It is not the ‘laziness of British workers' but the failure of British capitalism to invest which makes British manufacturing uncompetitive.
This is also illustrated by the UK Treasury survey, which shows that US capitalists invest 46% more in capital equipment per worker than their British counterparts. In the high-tech sector they invest nearly three times as much! The French capitalists invest 75% more and the German capitalists 50% more.
The other factor that drives productivity is the skills of the workforce. Britain's short-sighted capitalists prefer cheap unskilled labour. According to the Treasury study, 57% of UK workers have no qualifications compared with 54% in the US, but only 32% in France and just 20% in Germany. No wonder the profitability of UK companies has fallen sharply in the last five years and is now back to the lows of the early 1980s. Profit levels are £30 billion below what they would have been if they had grown at the same rate as GDP.
The UK's poor productivity and company profitability demonstrate that to a large extent British capitalism gave up on industry and manufacturing a long time ago. Instead, the UK has increasingly become like a rentier economy. It is an economy that does not make much any more, and what it does make is largely foreign owned, the result of foreign investment. Instead, British capitalism concentrates on selling things others make or on lending money to others to make them, or else it lives off the income 'earned' from investments it makes abroad. This is increasingly an economy that survives through business services and finance. That sector alone now contributes nearly 29% of each year's national income. Financial services contribute 9% towards annual income and they now provide the single biggest area of employment outside the public sector.
Investment is not into the productive sectors of the economy or even into the public sector to maintain the infrastructure (railways, roads) and services (health, education) that are vital to make the private profit sector work. Despite the headline figure of the second biggest economy in Europe - which in any case depends on what measure you use - anyone travelling on Britain's roads or railways would conclude that Britain was at best a second rate economy.
Although Britain's GDP per person is high, so are prices and the cost of living. At what the economists call purchasing power parity levels Britain's per capita GDP is ninth out of the 15 EU economies. At the same time Britain is amongst the most unequal of all industrialised countries. GDP per capita is just a statistic. The wealth is not really divided up evenly amongst the population. The share of total income received by the poorest tenth of the population is under 3 percent, while the richest tenth share nearly a third between them.
There are 3.9 million children in Britain living below the poverty line. There are 150,000 16 and 17 year olds who receive nothing, not in education, training or work, they are too young to claim job seekers' allowance. Many of the parents of the millions of children living in poverty are not even unemployed. 1.75 million children live in households where one or both parents work, and yet their income falls below the poverty line by more than £50 per week. So much for the minimum wage, and Brown's stated, yet hardly ambitious aim of reducing child poverty by half in the next half a century.
Half of all parents on Income Support are paying off loans from the social fund, which lends rather than grants money for things like household repairs. British capitalism is very democratic. Even the poorest are forced to get up to their necks in debt. The Citizens' Advice Bureaux are dealing with new cases of bad debt worth more than £1.2 billion each year.
Door-to-door loan merchants are leeching fortunes out of the poorest estates in Britain. Offering loans at massively inflated interest rates compared with the banks, which would refuse the unemployed and the low paid, they charge anything between 100 and 1000 percent for their loans. A survey conducted on three streets on the Meadowell estate on Tyneside found residents paying out more than £60 a week each to such credit companies. Their average income meanwhile is £200 per week. In total the residents of these three streets are paying out £375,000 a year to companies like Provident who made a pre-tax profit of £150 million on loans like these last year.
These facts, which can be added to at will, are sufficient to illustrate the terminal decline of British capitalism. On the basis of this miserable, diseased system there is absolutely no way out for the working class and the mass of the population.
Far from the fundamentals being sound, the weakness of the British economy - the decline of which has been masked by the world boom, but which has not halted - means that Britain will be hit hard by a new slump. Blair, Brown and co who imagine they have solved the boom slump cycle will find they have no more solved the contradictions of the capitalist system than they have solved the problem of Ireland.
The heavy reliance of the British economy on banking and services, and the decline of her manufacturing base mean that Britain is especially dependent on the world market. This is reflected in the record trade deficit. Falling exports saw Britain's trade in goods fall into its deepest deficit since the state began collecting records in 1697 during the reign of William of Orange. Imports in 1697 were £3,344,000 while exports and re-exports were £3,391,000, giving us a surplus of £47,000. Today, the economy is worth around £1,000bn a year, and the trade deficit in goods was running at well over £100m a day in October. UK trade in manufacturing, food and oil was in the red by £3.6bn in October, compared with a shortfall of £2.7bn the previous month.
Meanwhile, Brown predicts a rebound in Britain's exports next year on the back of a stronger global economy. There is no evidence to suggest such a recovery in the world market, on the contrary, all the evidence points in the opposite direction. Brown's statement nonetheless confirms the extent of the reliance of the British economy on the world market. The Labour leaders have placed all their faith on the world market, but that horse will prove to be lame.
The value of Britain's goods exports fell by almost 4% in October, while imports were up by just over 1%. Over the latest three months, which statisticians consider a better guide to the trend than one month's figures, both exports and imports were down - by 8.2% and 1.6% respectively.
Even though the deficit in goods was partially offset by a surplus in services, officials said that the country's underlying trade picture was deteriorating. In the three months to October, the figures showed a deficit in goods of £9.8bn - another record. The Office for National Statistics said that total exports had fallen by £4bn over the latest three months, with the collapse in the demand for hi-tech goods blamed for a hefty drop in overseas sales of computer components, such as microchips. Exports to the Irish Republic, which became a European base for US computer firms in the 1990s, fell by £1.4bn as a result of the global downturn since the end of the dotcom boom almost three years ago.
Traditionally, the balance of payments became a worry to the government because excess demand sucked in imports. The trade gap was an early warning of inflationary pressure building up in the economy. This would prompt them to increase interest rates, as would the dumping of sterling on world markets, which would follow a continuation of such poor trade figures. Such an increase now would result in a further collapse of investment, and of consumer spending, sending the economy spiraling into recession.
This time, however, the problem is exacerbated by the weakness of exports, with the widening of the deficit a reflection of the competitive - and deflationary - pressures in the global economy. This would usually prompt a cut in interest rates to try to boost spending and investment.
The bourgeois economists cannot agree on what to do next. Some argue that Britain should join the euro. Others argue for a devaluation. Raise interest rates, cut interest rates. Blair and co prefer the Mr. Micawber approach - "something will turn up". In the end, whatever they did would make no difference. Something will indeed turn up - a slump.
Weak global demand, the strength of the pound and the failure of Britain's capitalists to invest means that industry in Britain just as elsewhere has already been in a recession for the past year. This has been masked, however, by consumer spending, which continues to defy gravity.
The successes of the UK economy under Labour since 1997 were made possible in the first place by the great stock market boom of the late 1990s. That boom drove up the wealth of the rich massively. On average, the wealth of UK households reached four times their annual income. Of course, that ratio was much higher for the rich. With the rich and the middle-class feeling rich, they spent money and the economy went forward. Brown and co's claims to have fixed the economy appeared to have a ring of truth about them - but only if you were taken in by the glitter on the surface.
The bubble of the stock market has long since burst. Stock market prices are down 60% since their peak in March 2000 and the bonuses of the fat cats in the City of London have been cut, while the big investment houses are sacking their workers (the lower-paid ones of course). The wealth ratio has fallen back to just three times, a 25% loss (on average and higher for the rich). If the stock market continues its decline in 2003 it will be on course to be the longest bear market on record.
But there is still one bubble left in UK capitalism - the property market. While UK industry stagnates and the financial sector cuts its throat, house prices go on rising at a 30% rate. This cannot last. And while it does, in the words of the deputy governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, it is causing 'major imbalances' in the economy.
Sir Eddie George, the governor of the Bank of England, has confirmed that the fear of stoking the boom was one reason why they had held back from lowering borrowing costs.
"The risk of cutting interest rates now is if it would exacerbate larger risks further down the road... of a larger shock later on," he said.
Much of the surplus value created by British workers is being sucked into property speculation or investment overseas instead of being invested in improving productivity and profitability in productive sectors or into exports. As a result, the Bank of England fears that inflation will stay higher than in Europe or the US because of the property boom, forcing the Bank to keep interest rates higher than in Europe or the US (UK 4%, US, 1.25% and Europe 3.25%). In turn these high interest rates will stop companies borrowing to invest, so economic growth will weaken. The economic gurus at the OECD demand that the Bank of England increase interest rates to reduce borrowing and spending. They imagine this would allow the economy to achieve a soft landing. It would result in an almighty crash, with a collapse in investment and spending. With rates at 4 percent, a rise of just one percent would represent a rise in monthly mortgage payments of 25 percent. The consequences for spending would be calamitous. Yet the Treasury itself is forecasting such a rise over the next twelve months. Even if the onset of a slump encouraged them to cut rates instead as Eddie George points out that would only extend a little more credit, resulting in a greater crash later. Doing nothing will not cause investment to rise, any more than doing something would. Jobs will be lost and the property bubble will burst. All this could happen just at a time when the world slips into a new recession.
The Bank of England admits that consumer spending on the basis of credit is all that is keeping the economy afloat. Such growth is unbalanced and unsustainable but, says Eddie George, "We have taken the view that unbalanced growth is better than no growth at all."
As a result the level of indebtedness has reached record proportions in Britain during the boom. Consumer borrowing has been growing by 14 percent a year. While outstanding home loans now amount to £400 billion, other personal debt, credit cards, overdrafts etc, now total over £80 billion. As Marx explained credit takes the market beyond its limits. It is spending tomorrow's money today, and consequently when tomorrow comes there will be nothing to spend. This is a binge, and as we all know from experience, there is always a morning after the night before. As ever it will be the working class who will be asked to pay for capitalism's hangover.
Hanging over the British economy right now is an unsustainable property boom, or more accurately, property bubble. House prices have reached record highs, with prices rising in some parts of Britain by 30 percent last year alone, almost reaching the 34 percent record at the end of 1988. One year later prices collapsed. (See Chart) This is a crisis of capitalism's own making. But it will be the working class who will be asked to foot the bill. Capitalism peddled the myth that the boom was never going to end. Interest rates fell to 40-year record lows. Borrowing was easy. So why not buy a new house? The statistics are clear, but you only have to look at the TV schedules dominated by such programmes as The House Doctor, Hot Property, and Location, Location, Location to see the obsession with housing in the British economy.
Of course if everyone starts buying houses then inevitably prices rise, and if they rise so much that the house you bought just a few years ago is now worth far more than you originally borrowed, why not borrow a bit more of that spare equity, to buy a new car, a new television, or to pay for a holiday? The Centre of Economic and Business Research calculates that such equity withdrawal amounted to almost £40 billion last year, £10 billion in the three months from April to June alone, financing six percent of consumer spending. A colossal speculative house of cards has been built which must sooner or later crash.
Yet in a desperate attempt to place one more card on top of the already wobbly structure the banks come up with scheme after scheme to convince you to borrow. The Northern Rock Building Society is prepared to loan up to £1 million on the basis of a self certification mortgage, i.e. a mortgage where they don't bother to check your income before they lend you the money. Bristol and West have just introduced a 40-year mortgage for 110 percent of the value of your property, where you can borrow up to four times your income. Some lenders will offer you a loan for six times your annual income. This is a desperate attempt to keep the property bubble from bursting. It is also a recognition of the fact that workers are already struggling to pay for their housing needs. There is a chronic shortage of rented accommodation, and workers on average wages cannot afford to buy. In the past you could typically only borrow three times your income for a mortgage. With average house prices in London now over £200,000 however, you would need to earn over £60,000 per year to get a 95% mortgage on a modest family home.
In fact the housing shortage and the cost of housing have already played an important part in generating the new mood of militancy. Workers in London in particular, but not only in London, have been on strike precisely over wages to pay for housing. This is true of several disputes over London weighting. Even the firefighters have explained that in many cases they cannot afford to live near their fire stations, and have to take on second jobs to pay their bills.
This bubble will burst. With jobs under threat people will not buy new houses. Already prices are reaching a limit, which explains all the new schemes to entice you to borrow. With average prices, in London particularly, reaching seven times average income, they cannot rise much more. The rise of 30 percent will be followed by a fall of similar proportions. Many thousands will be trapped with negative equity (owing more than the value of their property). Some will lose their homes. Now it is only a question of whether slump in the economy will lead to a crash in property prices, or whether the bursting of the property bubble and the collapse of consumer spending which will follow will push the economy deeper into recession.
For all their pipedreams Blair and co will not prevent a slump. Old King Canute had more chance of holding back the tide.
In any case, even before the slump there have been important political developments, affecting all classes in society. There is a renewed mood of militancy developing in the working class. At quite an early stage there have been important changes taking place in the trade unions. Political and economic developments, at home and abroad, in the next period will have dramatic consequences for British society.
The boom did little to benefit the lives of millions of workers. The onset of a new slump, factory closures, rising unemployment, will hit workers hard. However it is not simply conditions of boom or slump, which determine the outlook of the working class. It is above all the uncertainty caused by change, the movement from boom to slump and vice versa which disturbs the outlook of workers and indeed all classes in society. We do not welcome a slump because of the consequences for the lives of millions of workers. Nor do we await a slump, anticipating that such a development will mean an explosion of strikes and militancy. On the contrary, the first effect, of a deep slump in particular, is usually to check the movement of the working class, because of the fear of losing their jobs and their houses. However, this is not a black and white, automatic response either. What is decisive is the situation that existed before the onset of slump. In the event of a deep recession following a period of heightened militancy, after an initial shock, the impact of the recession can lead to important defensive struggles. It can also result in a political radicalisation of the working class. There are no cookbooks that can tell us the exact course that events will take, or the nature of the impact of booms and slumps on the movement of the working class. Instead we have to study the history of the movement, keep our finger on the pulse of each element in the equation, in order to understand the process at work and the direction in which it is moving, in the words of Trotsky, to understand "what the situation is, and what it is becoming."
The failure of the British capitalists to invest in industry, their obsession with speculation and making a quick buck, their huge investments abroad, are all symptomatic of their outlook. They concentrate on today and hang tomorrow. They have no confidence in the future of their own system. This lack of confidence lies at the heart of the splits emerging in the ruling class. These will intensify in the next period, as will the process of radicalisation amongst the working class and the broad mass of society.
The Ruling Class
The crisis of capitalism affects all classes in society, beginning at the very top. Splits in the ruling class are the first condition for the development of revolutionary crisis in society. The British ruling class is hopelessly divided on how best to proceed. They have no confidence in the future of their own system. This is clearly illustrated by the crisis affecting the three traditional pillars of the ruling class, the three component parts of the British 'Establishment' - the three C's, Church, Crown, and Conservative Party. All are mired in corruption and sleaze. The unprecedented depth of their crisis is an important illustration of the profound nature of the crisis of the capitalist system.
Something Stinks in the House of Windsor
The shenanigans of the Royal House of Windsor have become transformed into the plot of a soap opera. Suspicious deaths, sex scandals and dodgy dealings all have a long tradition in the monarchy. They are not new. What is new is the degree to which these scandals are public knowledge. The monarchy, which is placed before us on a pedestal as different, superior and mystical, is being daily shot down as a bunch of immoral, decadent wastrels. "We must not let in daylight upon magic," advised Walter Bagehot, the 19th century author of one of the most important works on the English Constitution. The daylight let in has exposed not magic, but degeneracy.
This is more than simply entertainment, however. The monarchy serves a serious purpose under capitalism. It is intended to be a reserve weapon of the ruling class for use in times of severe crisis. The monarchy is not simply a harmless anachronism with no powers. It is an important reserve weapon of reaction. In reality, the monarch has considerable powers that would undoubtedly be used against any Labour government that attempted to challenge the power and privileges of the big banks and monopolies, that threatened the future of the capitalist system. In his remarkably frank book, Bagehot argues that the "ignorant masses" do not understand politics and cannot really be trusted with the vote. Since they have won that right, the ruling class must do a trick with mirrors, blind and confuse the masses with pageantry and Latin phrases, while behind the scenes, capitalism continues in the same old way.
Moreover if these "ignorant masses" were to use their votes to elect a Labour government pledged to carry through a fundamental transformation of society, then the monarchy would have a more important role to play in defending capitalism. The Queen's signature is necessary before any decision of parliament becomes law. By refusing to endorse the socialist programme of a left Labour government the Queen would provoke a constitutional crisis. The army swears an oath of allegiance to the ruling monarch, not to the elected parliament. In these circumstances whom would the army, police and civil service obey? The Queen could suspend parliament and rule through the Privy Council. This is the reserve plan of the capitalist class for a ‘legal coup' in the event of their system being threatened.
Bagehot explained this plan as follows:
"The king, too, possesses a power, according to theory, for extreme use on a critical occasion, but which he can in law use on any occasion. He can dissolve; he can say to his minister in fact, if not in words, ‘This parliament sent you here, but I will see if I cannot get another parliament to send someone else here'." (Bagehot, p.71.)
In his Writings on Britain, Trotsky makes the same point:
"Royalty is weak as long as the bourgeois parliament is the instrument of bourgeois rule and as long as the bourgeoisie has no need of extra-parliamentary methods. But the bourgeoisie can if necessary use royalty as the focus of all extra-parliamentary, i.e. real forces directed against the working class." (Trotsky's Writings on Britain, vol. 2, pp. 40-1.)
In such a crisis, when the reserve powers of the monarchy are finally called upon, it is essential that the monarchy should command the unswerving obedience of a large part of society. This is the real reason for the maintenance of the monarchy and the mystique that—at least until recently—surrounded it. As Bagehot points out:
"A secret prerogative is an anomaly—perhaps the greatest of anomalies. That secrecy is, however, essential to the utility of English royalty as it now is. Above all things our royalty is to be reverenced, and if you begin to poke about it you cannot reverence it. When there is a select committee on the Queen, the charm of royalty will be gone. Its mystery is its life. We must not let in daylight upon magic. We must not bring the Queen into the combat of politics, or she will cease to be reverenced by all combatants; she will become one combatant among many." (Bagehot, p.53.)
So discredited has the monarchy now become that even sections of the ruling class themselves have called for its abolition. There is undoubtedly a section of the capitalist class who would favour a republic. They are a small minority however
Years ago the monarchy was not looked upon with reverence at all. In order to bolster the monarchy for its new found role, great expense was lavished towards the end of Victoria's reign on pageants and jubilee celebrations, which are not ancient traditions at all but fairly modern inventions to surround the monarchy with a mystique and an authority it did not previously possess. A great deal of that authority has now been washed away. Today's royals stumble from one crisis to the next.
At each stage, just when they believe they are having some success, a new scandal creeps out of the woodwork to scupper them. The death of the Queen Mother at Easter 2002 was seen as a fresh opportunity for pomp and ceremony, a fresh opportunity to gain sympathy for the monarchy. The capitalist press launched a campaign for to revive the monarchy's public standing. The editorial in The Mirror on the day after the funeral was a typical example:
"...It was a turning point. A day after which the future of the Monarchy is assured...Long may they reign over us. After almost 50 years on the throne, the Queen has never had such authority." (April 10, 2002)
The Mirror claimed that recent events had "reignited the British people's faith in, and love for, the Monarchy." However, this jars with the way events really unfolded. The news broke late Easter Saturday afternoon. There was a furore, especially in the Tory press, over the BBC's Peter Sissons' failure to immediately wear a black tie. However, whereas 15 people complained to the BBC about this, over a 1000 complained about the moving and cancellation of scheduled programmes for that weekend. This was an early sign that the nation was not in fact paralysed with grief. The repeated attempts by camera crews to find the sort of grief in the streets that had surrounded Diana's death were in vain. Books of condolence had been opened and signs set up for the expected queues of loyal subjects. No such Queues ever formed. In a front page leader, headed by a picture of a non-queue outside St James's Palace, The Mirror once again pleaded for some respect for the monarchy: "To many people, the Queen Mother meant very little. To others, she was a symbol of a past best forgotten. But the truth is, we should all stop and think again." (April 3, 2002)
The Mirror had noticed that people had just not been stirred by this death; certainly not in the way they had following Diana's death five years earlier. To repeatedly describe the Queen Mother as a commoner, "one of us", was clearly being seen as nothing short of laughable.
The Mirror decided that a drive was required to reestablish some public sympathy with the monarchy. Their leader article of April 3 concluded, "There is a big and important debate to be had on the future of the Monarchy. What relevance has it to 21st Century Britain? How much longer should we continue with an unelected dynasty as our heads of state? But there is time yet for that...So, over the next seven days, we should make the effort to think again about the Queen Mother...to pay her a fitting tribute."
The Royal Funeral Procession was in effect turned into a great pageant, a free day out during the Easter holidays with gold coaches etc. In the end a considerable crowd turned out. But it had taken a great effort to get them there, unlike the spontaneous attendance of a far greater crowd for Diana's funeral. Around the country a two-minute silence was observed, and shops were shut for a few hours. Then it was back to business.
The next stage in the campaign to boost the monarchy's public image was to be the Queen's Golden Jubilee in June. But these jubilee celebrations were entirely different to those 25 years before. There was little royalist public support in evidence. The granting of a public holiday, and once again a regal pageant attracted some attention. However, all the money, all the effort to restore the authority of the monarchy amounted to nought. In a matter of weeks new scandals would rock the monarchy and send their public support plummeting still lower.
The outbreak of the scandal surrounding Diana's former butler Paul Burrell uncovered all kinds of new shenanigans. There were allegations of rape at the palace, and the sorry tale of the richest elite in the country organising the sale of the presents they receive from other royals and governments around the world. The Sun carried the front-page headline "Del Boy Royals."
The consequence of these new scandals is reflected in the latest poll reported in The Guardian (20/11/02), which shows a further collapse in public support for the monarchy, to its lowest level in modern times. Given the real role of the monarchy in capitalist society, their crisis is an important factor in perspectives.
Only 43% of people now say Britain would be worse off without the royal family. After recording solid 70%-plus support in the late 80s and much of the 90s, backing fell to 48% in August 1997, just before the death of Princess Diana. The results show that all the work Buckingham Palace has done since then to painstakingly rebuild the royal family's reputation has been wiped out. Public esteem peaked at 59% in May at the time of the Queen Mother's funeral and celebrations for the golden jubilee.
The Guardian/ICM poll shows that one in three people now say Britain would be better off without the royals. The only age group that still registers support for the monarchy is the over-65s, and even among the "coronation generation" it stands at just 53%. Among the young, those aged 18 to 24, 45% say Britain would be better off without them. Among 25- to 34-year-olds, 36% express indifference.
The role of Blair and co in all this has been quite scandalous. As on every other question, the so-called realists of Labour's right wing are in fact the furthest removed from reality. Every serious political observer agrees that the monarchy has been badly damaged and is losing support. This seems to be particularly true of sections of the middle class. Yet precisely at a time when even life-long monarchists are beginning to question the monarchy, Tony Blair steps in to prop it up, acting, in effect, as the unofficial adviser to the Queen on how to extricate the monarchy from the mess it had gotten itself into.
Even from the most elementary standpoint of democracy, the institution of the monarchy is a survival of feudalism. By what right does a man or woman become the head of the nation merely by an accident of birth? What has genetics got to do with democracy and the administration of society? Their reverence for this remnant of feudalism tells us all we need to know about the sort of ‘modernisation' the Blairites believe in. Their idea of modernisation is to return to the era before the ‘mistake' of creating the Labour Party was made. They would like to drag us screaming and kicking back into the nineteenth century.
We have devoted some space to this question because its importance is all too often overlooked. There are many people today who agree that the monarchy is an expensive anachronism. That is the position of most on the left. However the real role of the monarchy is not so widely discussed or understood. Expensive it is, of course. The millions wasted on this bunch of parasitic idlers could and should be spent on other things—schools, hospitals, and houses. That is the real answer to those who prattle endlessly on about the supposed "good works" and charitable activities of the royal family. It is impossible to find out the real wealth owned by the Queen. Whatever method they use to fiddle the figures every year, the Sunday Times Rich List is forced to concede that the Queen is somewhere near the top of the wealth pile. Yet they sell off their wallets and used clothes! The Queen, allegedly standing "above classes and party politics", is a member of the capitalist class with an enormous investment portfolio. They have benefited too from the steep rise in property and land prices. Unlike the rest of us however, they will not suffer from the collapse of this speculative house of cards.
The monarchy is far from finished. We have already explained the role of the monarchy as a reserve weapon of the ruling class. This weapon has now been seriously dented, but it is not yet completely destroyed. It still has important reserves of support in the masses. On the one hand the polls quoted here demonstrate a huge decline in support for the monarchy; on the other they demonstrate that important reserves remain. Therefore, the ruling class will do everything in its power to prop it up. Despite the powerful impact on the minds of the masses of all these scandals and intrigues, memories fade with time. The mass media remain a tremendous instrument for moulding public opinion. There are still a few cards up their sleeve. They could simply bypass the unpopular Prince of Wales and hand the crown to one of his sons. In time Charles could even succeed in developing a new image. The different combinations are unimportant. The main thing is that the monarchy itself be maintained as a weapon against the Labour Movement and a bulwark against social progress. In terms of perspectives, it is vital to understand the real meaning of the crisis in the monarchy as an illustration of the crises and splits affecting the ruling class as a whole
It is not only the monarchy that has been rocked by scandal and corruption. The church, in all its denominations, has become mired in the same mess, reflecting the moral decay of society.
Alongside the stories of impropriety, the scandals and the sleaze, we have the remarkable development of "church workers", vicars etc, fighting through their union - Amicus - for employment rights. For all the church's claims to moral authority, local vicars have been complaining of bullying by bishops and unfair dismissal.
The Church of England has conceded that it will have to change the terms of employment for vicars due to concerns that some do not have adequate redress against injustice. The first change is to concede that they are employed by the church to do a job on earth, rather than their previous claim to be 'employed by God.' Apparently having a 'divine employer' means you get no job protection!
The move follows a case involving a clergyman in Stoke who found himself dismissed after his contract ended and took more than three years trailing through the courts, up to the European court of human rights, before reaching a resolution with his bishop.
As with the monarchy however, these developments of splits and divisions in the church are more than material for light relief. The church is an arm of the ruling class too. Its purpose is to protect the social structure of capitalist society, through its alleged moral authority.
It is no accident that the question of homosexuality and single sex adoptions has opened up the same divisions within the Church of England as within the Tory Party. It always used to be said that the Church of England was the Tory Party at prayer.
The Church of England's hardline wing fired a shot across the bows of Rowan Williams, the new Archbishop of Canterbury, by insisting that heterosexual sex within marriage is the only "permissible" model of human sexual relations. Williams wants to reform the church to bring it more up to date, at least in relation to what he believes to be secondary issues. The conservative wing does not agree.
The statement, by leaders of groups such as Reform and the Church Society, which have opposed the choice of archbishop and described him as a heretic and false teacher, claims that the Bible contains all that is necessary for salvation and that its guidance is entirely relevant to all sexual relationships.
One English diocesan bishop - Graham Dow, the evangelical Bishop of Carlisle - has so far signed up to the statement, together with the Archbishop of Nigeria - leader of 20 million Anglicans, nearly a third of the worldwide total - and three other developing world archbishops. Although some members of the group claim they are willing to listen to the views of others, the Rev David Phillips, director of the Church Society, said: "I don't believe debate is possible. We have already discussed this and, after 2,000 years, why should we change our minds?" Another signatory, the Rev Chris Sugden of the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies, said: "We should always listen to others, but there is such a thing as the mind of the church which does not change."
Their real concern is a little more down to earth than they might like to admit. The new Archbishop wants to reform the church to bring it more into line with society as it is today, in order to try to prop up a declining authority. His main concern seems to be the dwindling attendances at his churches. Apparently they are struggling to pay their vicars and maintain their vicarages and property. So much so that it seems they have decided to imitate the head of their church, by selling off goodies just like the Del Boy Royals. They now have a website where one can purchase such religious artefacts as a nodding Jesus for your car.
The hardliners meanwhile are concerned that the very development of capitalism is undermining its future. They have recognised what Leon Trotsky once explained that capitalist society rests on generations of habit, custom, tradition and routine. The very development of capitalist society is undermining the social structures which prop it up. In this sense capitalism resembles a man sawing away at the very branch of a tree on which he is sitting.
The hierarchy of the church is desperate to maintain this ‘social fabric' beginning with the bourgeois family. Women having careers, single parent families, the acceptance of homosexuality are not matters of getting into the kingdom of heaven, but of maintaining the social foundations of capitalism. They admit as much in their statement:
"If ... norms of marital faithfulness are not upheld, social cohesion and sense of belonging begins to unravel, with consequential threats to individual happiness, children, health, community harmony and social well-being," it declares. The divisions in the hierarchy of the church, just like the splits in the Tories represent an uncertainty about how best to proceed, how best to protect the capitalist system.
The Tory Party
The Tory Party has always striven, with considerable success, to give the impression of a united organisation free from fissures and splits. In the past, as Engels explained, they were led by aristocrats, who saw themselves as above the fray, concerned with the greater interests of 'the nation', i.e. British capitalism.
Alongside the decline of Britain's world role, the decline of her economic and military power, the old aristocratic layer were elbowed aside to be replaced by upstarts representing the needs of finance capital, the city of London, and the monopolies. This process was completed by the election of Thatcher, whose government faithfully served the interests of modern British capital. Instead of looking ahead, planning for the future, seeing decades and centuries ahead, these pygmies acted in the short term interests of making a quick buck today through speculation.
This process of handing over the main party of capitalism, to the rabid, xenophobic, 'blue rinse' membership continued under William Hague, who introduced the new system for electing the Party leader. The parliamentary party elects a shortlist of two candidates, and then the membership gets to choose one or the other. The first leader elected in this way was the incumbent, Iain Duncan Smith. This was clearly to the chagrin of what remains of the 'grandee' wing who wanted Kenneth Clarke. After allowing Duncan Smith a period to dig a large hole for himself, the old guard have, in the long tradition of the Tory Party, sharpened their knifes ready to insert into the back of their leader. What is different now is the degree to which they do this in public. In the past such attacks would have taken place behind the scenes, not on our TV screens and in the pages of the newspapers.
Take Tory backbench MP Anthony Steen. He recently declared that Duncan Smith is "murally dyslexic," that is, "he can't read the writing on the wall!" The "nasty party" as their own chairman Theresa May MP dubbed the Tories, stumbles from one crisis to the next. The storm caused by the vote in parliament over adoption for unmarried and gay couples was only one expression of the profound crisis in the Tory Party. The press makes much of Duncan Smith's history as a plotter and a backstabber in the days of John Major's leadership. He voted against the 'party line' more than 40 times over Europe. True as this undoubtedly is, the Tory leader's paranoia, seeing plots around every corner, is not the source of their crisis either.
The Tory Party is the most successful bourgeois party in history; its longest period in the wilderness came between 1846 and 1866. Otherwise from the 1830s to the present day, the Tories have never been out of office for more than 11 years. Former Cabinet Minister Ian Gilmour wrote in his book Inside Right that for Conservatives to be out of power was against the natural order of things. Today they are not only out of office but hopelessly split, reflecting the divisions in the capitalist class about the way forward for their system.
Electorally, in 1997 the Tory party was hammered into a worse position than they had suffered since 1832. They have failed to make any significant recovery in the years since. The significance of 1832 is that it was the birth of the modern Conservative Party. That was a major turning point.
The Tory party is the oldest political party in Europe tracing their roots back to the Cavaliers. In the nineteenth century the Tories were defeated by the Whigs on a programme of reforming parliament. Earl Grey's 1831 Whig government introduced a Reform Bill to enfranchise all householders rated at £10 per annum, thereby extending the electorate from 500,000 to one million, while still excluding the working class of course. More seats were proposed for the expanding cities and metropolitan areas, passing more power to the industrialists and manufacturers. In the best traditions of democracy this was a case of reform from above to prevent revolutionary upheavals from below'. Lord Macauley addressing the Commons on March 2, 1831 warned starkly, "Unless the plan proposed be speedily adopted, great and terrible calamities will befall us. At present we oppose the schemes of revolutionists with only one-half, with only one-quarter our proper force. We do more. We drive over to the side of revolution those whom we shut out from power. Turn where we may, within, around, the voice of great events is proclaiming to us - Reform that you may preserve!"
The newly widened franchise saw the Whigs take 500 out of the 658 seats in the new Parliament. The Lords, industrialists and manufacturers hoped the reform bill would prevent revolution. The workers expected real improvements in their conditions to follow. In reality it solved nothing. Elections in themselves do not. But they do reflect the mood developing in society at a given moment. The failure of the government to solve the problems of the working class led to the explosion of the Chartist movement.
At every stage working people have had to fight for every reform we have won, including the right to vote. Eventually the workers' movement had to form its own political party, the Labour Party. This whole process began with the defeat of the Tories under the Duke of Wellington. The Whigs renamed themselves Liberals, while the Tories became the Conservative Party.
The birth of the Tory party was a turning point in British politics. Could the current crisis spell its death? Iain Duncan Smith demands his party "unite or die" - for now, they can do neither.
The Tory leader stumbled blindly into a crisis over the adoption debate. John Bercow resigned from the shadow cabinet in protest. "We cannot go on in this fashion," Duncan Smith retorted. "We have to pull together, or we will hang apart."
Thatcher then made her customary helpful intervention in the crisis. Asked about the future of the party and its leader she replied, "The Tory party will last. I don't know about Iain Duncan Smith because we all die... but the party doesn't."
Rather than "unite or die", the feelings expressed in the press by leading and backbench Tories alike suggest a different slogan aimed at their present leader - "You die and then we'll unite."
"Who persuaded IDS to make that crass, that catastrophic statement?" asked one frontbench MP, quoted in The Guardian. "He holds a press conference to say: 'I lead a party that is out of control, and there's nothing I can do'."
Another was even more blunt: "That bastard was the most disloyal bastard of all the bastards John Major had to cope with. And do you know why? Because he's a bastard!"
Former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind warned the party was in danger or "tearing itself apart" and said Mr Duncan Smith needed better advice:
"I hope there is a clear strategy there. I have to confess it's difficult to identify at this stage," he told BBC TV's Newsnight. Unlike in IDS's plotting days it seems Tory MPs no longer bother with backstabbing, preferring to stab the current leader in the front instead
They cannot unite, but, unfortunately, they will also not die. For the present the capitalist class is happy enough with the performance of the Blair government, which is assiduously defending their interests and their profits. The 'second eleven' (the reserves the bosses call upon when their first team, the Tories aren't doing so well) are doing fine, up to the present. However, with each passing day the outlines of the future crisis in the Labour Party are clear to see. The Labour leaders are happy to do the bidding of the bosses but the Labour Party has another side - its rank and file and its organic connection to the trade unions. Despite the efforts of the Blairites the party remains wedded to the trade unions, themselves already passing through the first stage of transformation after years of right wing stranglehold. The process of change taking place in the unions and the developing crisis in society must find a reflection inside the Labour Party at a certain stage. The ruling class will not always be able to rely on the Labour leaders to carry through their interests. They will turn back to the Tories.
The present Tory leadership is all at sea precisely because Blair and co have stolen their clothes, spending limits, privatisation of public services, immigration control. Whilst the response to crisis at some point will be Labour moving left and dumping Blairism, the Tories will move further to the right. They have within their ranks the outlines of future splits to the right too, in the shape of their most xenophobic, monarchist and racist elements.
Yet the Tories can get back in to office. That seems unlikely in the next election, at this stage. No-one would put money on the Tories; in fact, in the bookies you can get good odds on when Duncan Smith will be removed as leader, but not on the Tories actually winning the election. Yet it is their own crisis rather than enthusiasm for Blair that leads some papers to ask whether the Tories might be driven into third place behind the Liberals next time around. Disillusion with Blair led to massive abstentions at the last election. That can only grow as Blair and co continue with their devastating plans to privatise public services. Even by the next election many former Tory voters may decide to return to their roots, while Labour voters increasingly sit at home. A lot can happen before the next election.
Papers like the Mail mourn the death of their beloved party and blame the pygmies in the leadership. Major, Hague, IDS are compared most unfavourably with their great favourites, Thatcher and Churchill. Lord Cranborne, the former Tory leader of the Lords, was withering. "They look increasingly like the latter days of the Roman empire, with six or seven dwarves fighting for the imperial purple, and the very battle will ensure that once one of them has got what remains of the purple, a rag, that there will be no empire to run."
So will there be a challenge for the Tory leadership? The Guardian reports that the 25 MPs needed to spark an election are on standby to move at any time. Supporters of Kenneth Clarke and Michael Portillo are going out of their way to talk down a leadership contest. That should be enough to make one suspicious.
Leon Brittan made it clear that a new election for leader would be damaging for the Tories, making them look as hopeless, hapless and divided as when they elected IDS just over a year ago. Instead Brittan strongly suggests that IDS should do the honourable thing and fall on his sword. In their usual deceitful round-the-houses method he doesn't actually say this, but combines the statement that there should not be an election with the thought that maybe Duncan Smith would not still be leader come the next general election. Only one conclusion can be drawn from that. He should resign and leave the choice of a new leader to the MPs, not allow the Tory party's hang 'em, flog 'em, and kick 'em out of the country rank and file to elect a replacement.
The splits at the top of the British Tory Party, the most successful bourgeois party in history and the consummate representatives of British capital, are not merely a question of personalities. These splits have to be seen alongside the crisis in the monarchy and the church as reflections of the divisions in the ruling class.
The 'old guard' of the Tory Party wants to ditch leader Iain Duncan Smith, but they do not want the reactionary rank and file of the party getting involved. Michael Heseltine spelled this out in an interview in the Independent newspaper. It is not just the official leadership of the Tories that is in a sorry state, if Heseltine and Brittan are now the grandees, and Clarke the political heavyweight, they have sunk low indeed. This is what Heseltine had to say:
"The difficulty now is these leadership rules. If there were to be a re-run of the leadership process the rules might well stop Ken winning again. You are dealing with a small number of people, the party members, with an average age of 67, who are obsessed with this issue of Europe. They're obsessed by it." (The Independent 09/12/02)
The way around this problem of course, is to ignore the party's members:
"The parliamentary party should say, 'Those are the rules of the party as a whole, but we are going to have a separate leader for the parliamentary party.' They would then choose Ken Clarke. I suspect also that this would bring Michael Portillo back into the front line." (The Independent 09/12/02)
Heseltine says out loud what Brittan and the others would only hint at. Twisting the knife in further, Heseltine argues that the Tories have no chance of winning the next election, and perhaps little chance thereafter unless they change leaders:
"We've got a better shadow cabinet on the back benches than we have on the front bench." (The Independent 09/12/02)
The prospect of taking over the leadership of the Tories is not one many relish at the moment. Even defeated candidate, and dumped Party Chairman David Davis wishes to hold off for a while yet. One of his supporters leaked to the press that he is desperate to avoid a challenge this side of the next general election because he fears that he will just inherit a "wasteland". Following Heseltine's public endorsement, Clarke also talked down any challenge before the next general election. Clearly he would like to be leader, but only after Duncan Smith takes the flak for losing next time.
In any event whoever leads the Tory Party at the time of the next General Election does not make much difference. The key to that election will be events. It will be war in Iraq, the economy, and privatisation of public services that will be decisive. The Blair leadership of the Labour Party on its present course will create more disillusionment, support for Labour will fall again, and the turnout will decline too. All these events will play their part in a new process of radicalisation within the Labour Party in the next period. It is too early to assume that Blair will survive until the next election. But even so it is difficult to imagine the Tories staging enough of a comeback to win that poll. It would be the greatest comeback since Lazarus.
Some have even proposed a takeover of the Tories by the Ulster Unionist Party, making David Trimble party leader. This is going too far. The present splits and divisions in the Tory leadership, now being fought out in the open, are not yet their final death rattle. They can recover in the next period, despite all their current woes. Equally, one can see within the current divisions the outline of future splits, the development of an even more reactionary, right wing grouping as the crisis in society develops. This is the inevitable fate of the Conservative Party.
The dearth of leadership in the Tory Party is not the cause of their crisis, but it is not an accident either. The failings of these leaders faithfully reflect the impasse of their system. Nye Bevan once said of the Tory leaders (including Churchill) they have nothing to say about tomorrow, and harp on about the past because they have no part to play in the future. They are a doomed party representing a doomed class and a doomed system. The crisis in the Tory Party is symptomatic of the impasse facing the profit system. The sickness of that system spreads like a cancer affecting every aspect of society.
The crisis of this system affects all classes in society, beginning at the very tops. For us it means stress, low pay, a housing crisis and so on. The divisions in the Tory Party are part of this process too. They are an expression of the divisions in the ruling class over how best to proceed. Up to their necks in sleaze, or corruption, scandal or intrigue, the crises afflicting the different branches of the Establishment reflect the inability of the system to offer any way forward for society. These crises are unparalleled in British history, they cannot be passed over as mere entertainment. They are in fact a clear illustration of just how profound the crisis facing the system really is.
It is too early by far to announce the obituary of the Tory Party. For Marxists the important thing is to recognise these developments as part of a process, the deepening crisis within the ruling class, which itself is a reflection of the developing crisis of British capitalism.
The Tories will move virulently to the right in defence of diseased and decaying capitalism in years to come.
The great Tory leader Lord Salisbury mused on what it would be like to be the last Tory. Salisbury wrote in 1882: "It will be interesting to be the last Conservative. I foresee that will be our fate." Duncan Smith will not be the man to find that out, but the writing is on the wall not only for Duncan Smith but also for the capitalist system and its most consummate representatives The British Conservative Party.
It is the destiny of the Liberals to be trapped between a rock and a hard place. Historically the Liberals trace their roots back to the Whigs, in the days when the capitalists could afford to divide their forces between two parties. Since the growth of the Labour Party the Liberals have been reduced to the role of fifth wheel in British politics. For all their dreams of government, their real role is to mop up the votes of disaffected Tories and stop them going over to Labour.
The modern Liberals emerged from the split caused by the Liberals entering the National government of 1931. At that time Lloyd George led a split refusing to support the Tories, right wing Labour MPs and the majority of his own party who formed the National government, in an effort to present himself as a 'radical' alternative to Labour. In the Eighties they swallowed up the remnants of the SDP, at least those who had not already joined the Tories or been welcomed back into the Labour Party.
They are indeed seen by sections of the population as a 'radical' party, with their appeal to local democracy, and various single issue campaigns. In fact, the rank and file at least is considerably to the left of the Labour leaders. Unlike the Labour government the Liberals have called for the railways to be renationalised. However, whilst the membership may see this as a measure to repair public transport, the leadership see it as being in the interests of capitalism. Their membership and support is largely middle class and concentrated in the countryside, the south west of England, parts of west Wales and some areas of Scotland. However radical they may appear on the surface, the Liberals accept capitalism, and only differ with the Tories over this or that detail.
In the 1960s and 1970s the Liberals propped up minority Labour governments. They served as the cover behind which Wilson and Callaghan could ditch any socialist policies, they 'couldn't scare away the Liberals.' In reality the Liberals are a big business party, albeit junior to the Tories. Doubtless the Liberal leaders of the past would have preferred to do deals with the Tories, but the 'radical' ranks would never have worn it. They like to see themselves as 'left of centre.'
This in part explains why they cannot replace the Tories as the main capitalist party today. Internal contradictions between the 'radical' middle class ranks and the essentially Tory leaders would lead to the same splits. In addition the capitalists already have the Tory Party, which, in spite of its current woes, remains a more stable base for them.
In the nineties the Liberals swapped their delusion of replacing the Tories as the main party of business for the promise of a taste of power. Blair promised Liberal leader Paddy Ashdown that he would find him a place in the government. This was all part of 'the project.'
The Blair Project was predicated on the myth of the new paradigm, the triumph of capitalism and a new prolonged upswing in the economy. Their ultimate goal was no secret. Since the class war was over, there was no longer any need for a workers' party. Britain like the US should have two capitalist parties, tweedle dum and tweedle even dummer. They sought to break Labour's links with the unions and unite instead with the Liberals, creating a new party. They had even given it a name, The Popular Party. Blair announced that his aim was to "heal the rift" of the beginning of the last century when the "mistake" of creating the Labour Party was made. It must be unprecedented for the leader of a political party to be opposed to his own party's existence.
However, as Robert Burns explained "the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley" (often go astray). The Project went a long way. However the Labour Party is not Blair's plaything to do with as he wishes. He has no history in the labour movement, and no understanding of the dialectical connection between events in society, changes in the unions and changes in the Labour Party. He is in for a very big surprise.
In some ways, the attempt to go back to the turn of the last century when the Labour Party was born out of the need for the working class to organise politically as well as industrially, has been successful. The attacks on union rights and on workers' conditions have attempted to return to the position that existed before the workers made many gains through trade union struggle and through the Labour Party. However the attempt to recreate the conditions which led to the birth of the Labour Party, will lead to its rebirth, not a fusion with the Liberals. Not the creation of some new party either, as the phantom armies on the fringes of the labour movement have long dreamed, but as the whole history of the movement demonstrates, the transformation and retransformation of the party the workers have already created.
The idea of turning back the clock to the position of two capitalist parties is a reactionary dream. Despite the illusions of the sects, the class roots of the Labour Party go too deep for that. The Labour Party is a reflection of the class division of society. The idea of returning to the position of the nineteenth century, before 'the mistake' of creating the Labour Party is entirely futile under modern conditions.
The death of the Blair Project and the crisis in the Tory Party, have pushed the Liberals back to the fantasy of replacing the Tories as the main party of big business. The disarray in the Tories may make this look like a realistic prospect. However, at the moment the capitalists are happy enough with Blair's performance. When he can no longer get the results they want, they will turn back once again to their first eleven, the Tories, or some variant.
The Liberals may yet have some role to play. They may yet get one or two seats in government, but they would be very hot seats indeed. In the event of severe crisis, the formation of some sort of government of national unity could include some Liberals. Given their unstable base this would again lead to splits. Otherwise they will be doomed to the fringes. Luckily leader Charles Kennedy has carved out another career for himself as a presenter of TVs Have I Got News For You. He is more likely to get that job on a full time basis than the keys to Number Ten. The Liberals will not become the capitalists' main party. Their attempt to appear to straddle the class divide means they will be crushed by the development of class struggle. The middle ground will be squeezed by the process of class polarization. For the Liberals, in the long run, all roads lead to ruin.
The Trade Unions
With around eight million members the trade unions remain the most powerful organised force in British society. The capitalists realise this, and therefore they try to shackle the unions with legislation, and pour attacks and bile on them through their media. Decades of such attacks combined with the destruction of manufacturing industry saw union membership fall parallel with manufacturing workers losing their jobs. This fact conspired with the propaganda of the bourgeois to peddle the myth that the unions were dead, and the class struggle was over. To these factors must be added the role of the union leaders whose policy of class collaboration has amounted to sitting idly by while millions of jobs have been destroyed.
For a whole period following the defeat of the miners in 1985 the right wing have been dominant in the leadership of the unions and pursued a policy of class collaboration first under the guise of ‘new realism' and then so-called social partnership.
Following the heavy defeat inflicted on the miners, the idea became prevalent in the movement that ‘if the miners can't win no-one can'. Activity and participation in the unions declined, leaving control in the hands of the right wing. With a boom in the economy, albeit at the expense of immense strain on the working class, with no lead from the top, many workers sought an individual solution, through working overtime and so on rather than struggle. The interaction between a lack of industrial activity and the grip of the right wing on the trade union leadership took place in a dialectical way with cause becoming effect, and effect becoming cause. That is, the lack of activity that allowed the right wing to take a firm hold at the top of the unions meant that in turn the right wing leaders became an obstacle preventing workers taking action. The numerous instances of repudiation, particularly in the post office are a case in point. On many occasions the postal workers would walk out on strike, only to be told by their leaders that because of the anti-union laws their strike was illegal and would not be recognised by the union for fear of having their assets sequestrated by the courts. In time this would have important repercussions in the postal workers' union.
Leon Trotsky pointed out a little over 60 years ago the tendency for the tops of the unions to fuse with the state. The union leaders come under intense pressure from the capitalist class. At the same time they also come under pressure from the working class. When they are to some extent freed from this latter pressure they will bend to the will of capitalism. They have no perspective for changing society, and no faith in the ability of the working class to struggle. This process went a long way in the last period
Thus for fifteen to twenty years we had a shift to the right at the tops of the trade unions. This in turn had important repercussions in the Labour Party. Ironically, considering Blair's disdain for the trade union base of the party, it was the right wing union leaders who played a key role in forcing through the abolition of Clause Four and Blair's other ‘modernising reforms', against the wishes of the rank and file.
The leadership of the AEEU in particular, like the EETPU before them, wanted to transform their organisation into a company union. While the steel, shipbuilding and car industries were being downsized the leaders of these unions were dining with the bosses of industry signing single union no-strike deals. They were also the bulwark of Blairism inside the Labour Party.
Along with Reamsbottom, the former leader of the civil service union, Sir Ken Jackson belonged to a CIA backed European organisation of union leaders and bosses. These people were agents of the capitalists in the workers movements. In the words of the American socialist Daniel DeLeon they were truly "the labour lieutenants of capital". They represented a real low point in the history of the British trade unions.
These right wing elements in the labour movement are based on the inactivity of the masses; their success was predicated on defeat, and on economic boom. The effect of these factors could not last forever, however. Sooner or later the workers always recover from a defeat. At the same time the boom could not last indefinitely. No matter how long it lasted, it was in any case based on stretching every nerve and sinew of the workers to the limit. The myth that the class struggle had ended seemed to be supported by statistical evidence. The number of days lost through strike action reached historic lows. Statistics, however, are just figures, what is important is how those figures are interpreted. They did not reflect contentment, but the effect of previous defeats, the impact of the anti-union laws, and above all the role of the union leaders themselves in preventing struggle. Statistics are important, but they are not enough. They are one indicator of how things stood yesterday. Alongside statistics one must have one's finger on the pulse of the movement. Often an anecdote from a factory or an office can tell you as much if not more about the mood of the workers than bald statistics. In any case there are many statistics, and Marxists should take note of all of them and view them in the context of all the other factors involved. For example, while days lost through strike action fell, days lost through ill health - the consequence of the bosses tightening the screw in the workplace - doubled and doubled again. This statistic tells us a great deal about the accumulation of anger, bitterness and frustration beneath the apparently calm surface of low strike figures.
With no lead on the industrial front, in 1997 the working class turned to the political front to solve their problems. After 18 years they toppled the Tories and handed Labour an historic landslide victory. The new Labour government could have immediately moved to restore public services and trade union rights. With the backing of the working class, who had voted for a decisive change, they could have proceeded to begin the socialist transformation of society. However, the same process had occurred at the top of the Labour Party as in the unions. Their first act was to privatise the Bank of England and stick to Tory spending plans. They maintained the Tories' anti-union laws. The leadership of the party was firmly in the hands of the openly pro bourgeois Blairite clique. They acted in the interests of the city of London rather than the working class.
Nevertheless, the working class granted them a great deal of licence. After all, the Tories had been in office for 18 years, therefore the Labour leaders 'needed time'. By the time of the last election however, that patience had worn decidedly thin. Some workers voted Labour to give them another chance, some holding their noses, because despite the persistent pipedreams of the little sects there is no alternative outside the Labour Party. Many others simply stayed at home. The Blairites claimed that the record low turnout was a result of ‘voter contentment'. In reality it was the opposite. It represented a profound discontent, which had not found a solution through the election of a Labour government. The process would move once again onto the industrial front as workers in one sector after another began to try to take matters into their own hands.
Thus the process of mounting militancy and changes in the unions we see today traces its roots back to the 1997 election and before. As we explained in previous documents, feeling the pressure mount beneath them, the union leaders move into opposition or at least semi-opposition to the Labour leaders. Union leaders like Edmonds of the GMB began to make speeches attacking Blair and his privatisation plans. In other unions new left leaders have been elected, replacing Blair's supporters with leaders who have begun to call on their members to reclaim the Labour Party.
If we view the evolution of the workers' organisations as being like the movement of a pendulum, then we would have to say that it has swung a long, long way to the right over the last two decades. But if we remember Newton's mechanics, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. The pendulum has now begun to move in the opposite direction. The entire process of inactivity and right wing dominance will be turned into its opposite in the next period.
We have long predicted that such developments would occur. Not on the basis of some blind faith, although unlike the right wing leaders of the unions Marxists do have faith in the struggle of the working class. This is not blind faith however, but based on sound science - Marxism.
In a very profound expression 150 years ago Marx explained that conditions determine consciousness. The constant attacks on the working class, wage restraint, teamworking, short term contracts, longer hours, inevitably create a volcanic build up of anger and discontent beneath the apparently calm surface, which strike figures alone might otherwise demonstrate existed in the workplace. In the end, no matter how hard the right wing union leaders try to keep a lid on it, that volcano will explode. If the union leaders get in the way of that process then they will be blown away too and replaced by a new generation of leaders. In recent months we have witnessed the first explosions through the surface of the crust.
It is important not to exaggerate the stage we are at. This process has just begun. It will not be over in a day, a week, or even a year. Nor will it simply proceed in a straight line. There will be ebbs and flows. The best stewards and union activists tend to put all their faith in each new struggle of the working class. The only downside to this approach is that, without a perspective for the movement as a whole, any defeat or even setback can result in demoralisation and confusion.
Marxists have an unshakeable faith in the struggles of the working class, but we also recognise the fact that many industrial struggles end in defeat. After all, if every strike was victorious there would be no need for political organisation, and we would already be living in a socialist society. More than that, we also recognise the importance of each struggle not only for its own sake, but also as part of the process of the changing consciousness of the working class.
In his pamphlet The Third Period of the Comintern's Errors, Trotsky provides us with a model of a balanced, Marxist understanding of the process of working class radicalisation. At the time that this pamphlet was written, December 1929, the Communist Party was going through an ultra-left phase seeing revolutionary upsurges in every movement of the working class. Trotsky demolished the arguments of those who overstated the radicalisation of the workers in exactly the same way that he dealt with the opportunist and empirical elements who were blind to any such developments. Both exaggerations are equally dangerous and only serve to disarm the movement.
"The political mood of the proletariat" Trotsky wrote "does not change automatically in one and the same direction. The upturns in the class struggle are followed by downturns, the flood tides by ebbs, depending upon complicated combinations material and ideological conditions, national and international. An upsurge of the masses, if not utilised at the right moment or misused, reverses itself and ends in a period of decline from which the masses will recover faster or slower under the influence of new objective stimuli.
"Our epoch is characterised by exceptionally sharp periodical fluctuations, by extraordinary sharp turns in the situation, and this places on the leadership unusual obligations in the matter of a correct orientation ... A simple denial of the radicalisation is as little use as its complete affirmation. We should have an estimate of what the situation is and what it is becoming" (Leon Trotsky, The Third Period of the Comintern's Errors.)
This is a very good definition of perspectives, what the situation is and what it is becoming. The situation in the unions has been transformed in the space of twelve months. This is the key to understanding the present situation. We must not exaggerate these changes. The process has only just begun. But what a beginning!
The million strong public sector strike in July of 2002 marked an important turning point.
This was a strike against low pay. Militant action achieved more in 24 hours than five years of consultations between union leaders and the fat cats who sit on the Low Pay Commission had done. At the same time the claim made by the T&G's Jack Dromey that this marks "the beginning of the end of low pay in local government" is an exaggeration. Five pounds an hour is still poverty pay, and incidentally is it not a scandal that after five years of Labour government there were still workers in local government earning less than a measly fiver an hour. In reality far more could have been won. The mood of those on strike up and down the country was clearly to fight on.
This was a million workers from three unions announcing that they had had enough. This was the first national strike of its kind in twenty years, the first joint manual and non-manual workers industrial action, the biggest strike by women workers in British history, and, according to the London Evening Standard, the biggest industrial action since the 1926 General Strike.
Of course, in the first place this strike was caused by the scandalous level of wages in local government. The Labour Research Department have produced figures showing that local government workers earn less as a percentage of the average wage than they did in 1979. If you are struggling by on this money though, you hardly need statistics to tell you how badly off you are.
The real question is why did the strike take place now? Local government workers' pay was bad last year and for years before that. Their patience has now worn thin. In the second term of Labour government nothing was getting better. Another insulting pay offer represented a line in the sand, and a million workers said this far and no further. Their action brought immediate results. That lesson will not be lost on the strikers themselves nor on other workers now preparing to take action. No doubt it was not lost on the firefighters, whose strike followed just a few months later. The union leaders of the local government workers settled for too little too early, and the mood of the rank and file in these unions will no doubt be expressed in the next round of internal elections. Both the GMB and the T&G will shortly hold elections for new General Secretaries and we can predict that the swing to the left will continue here too.
It is not an accident that this strike coincided with the shift to the left in the unions, or with other strikes on the Underground, and ballots for strike action by postal workers and above all the firefighters. These developments are all part of the same process. Seen alongside these other events, and not separate from them, the local government strike was an indication of a profound change taking place in society.
Important changes were also taking place inside the unions. Notably those changes began in those unions which had been engaged in action. The railway workers in both ASLEF and the RMT now have left leaderships. To the surprise of many, the left candidate in the CWU, Billy Hayes, won the election for General Secretary. Years of unofficial action and official repudiation had their impact inside the postal and telecommunications workers' union. There were more surprises to come. An unofficial right wing election task force had been set up by the right wing at Congress House to ensure the victory of right wing candidates in union elections. This must be the most unsuccessful task force in history - the right wing has not won a single election since their campaigning began!
The shift left spread to the larger unions with the victory of Mark Serwotka in the PCS, which came as a surprise even to many on the left in the civil servants union. Serwotka became the left candidate in effect because the left refused to stand. Instead they wanted to support the lesser of two evils out of two right wing candidates. Our comrades opposed this. Many others on the left had misjudged the situation.
Then came the election of Tony Woodley as Deputy General Secretary of the T&G, and the earthquake, the final proof for those who still refused to see the process unfolding before us, the election of Derek Simpson in the AEEU and the defeat of Blair's closest ally in the unions, Sir Ken Jackson. If any one single event demonstrates the profound nature of the changes beginning to take place in the unions it is surely the victory of the left in what was seen as the bulwark of the right wing in the movement, the AEEU. Our tendency can be justifiably proud of the role we played in this campaign. New elections for the Executive of the new AEEU/MSF merger, Amicus, could create a left majority at the top of this union for the first time in decades. This will have dramatic consequences across the trade unions and in the Labour Party. It can also provide the Marxist tendency with enormous opportunities provided we grasp them with sufficient energy.
Looking back from the present situation the local government strike of July 2002 could now be clearly seen as part of a profound change taking place in society. A Guardian/ICM opinion poll conducted at the time found 59% of people in favour not only of this strike, but also of other future strikes being planned. This figure is one more expression of the mood of anger which has built up within society over years. It was a precursor of the public support for the firefighters strike a few months later.
This broad level of support indicates a change in mood that is widespread across every part of society, a condition which can prepare the way for a general strike in the future as we have explained before - usually to the derision of those cynics who argued that the working class was finished. The same cynics who claimed that there could never be a national public sector strike, and that there could never be any change in the AEEU. They are the same cynics who will tell you that Tony Blair has the Labour Party firmly under control and that there will never be any change there either. They have now received their answer.
Opinion polls in themselves prove nothing, of course. In fact, depending on what question you ask, they can probably prove everything. Seen alongside all the other developments however they are an important element in the equation. MORI regularly conducts an opinion poll on people's attitudes to class. In 1994, 51 percent of those interviewed considered themselves working class. In 1997 the figure rose to 58 percent. In 2002, a staggering 68 percent declared themselves "working class and proud of it". The Guardian, who published this poll, then devoted a large article by Roy Greenslade to excusing this inexplicable declaration.
Greenslade's argument goes as follows. Whilst we are all really much better off, and should really call ourselves middle class, we can't bring ourselves to do so because of the connotations of snobbery. Whether such a feeble argument convinces anyone or not, it does not explain why the number of people describing themselves as working class has grown so consistently over the last ten years to its current record height.
There is a much simpler and more convincing argument that does explain this changing outlook, however. There are no cosy jobs any more, no jobs for life, no-one feels safe. Those who in the past might have thought themselves middle class, bank workers, social workers, civil servants and teachers, for example, face intense pressure, falling wages, and job insecurity. We have referred previously to the statistics for days lost through ill health. That number has doubled again since Blair's election. The Labour leaders boast that Britain has the ‘most flexible workforce in Europe', by which they mean workers enjoy the least rights, work the longest hours, with the least holidays. So flexible in fact, that our backs are bent double under the strain. It is this profound level stress, of insecurity and indebtedness, which has now resulted in a rapid increase in that other statistic, the number of days lost through strike action.
These changing conditions accurately explain the rise in militancy, the shift to the left in the unions, and the growth in union membership. While the changes in union recognition rules have had some effect, the GMB recruited 44,000 new members on the basis of their campaign to keep the private sector out of public services. Other unions have seen their membership begin to grow too.
In November 2002 the political landscape was transformed again when the firefighters began their first national strike in 25 years. In itself this was powerful evidence of the changes taking place in society. The level of public support, despite the torrent of abuse and slander heaped on the firefighters through the mass media, reflected something far more profound than the respect in which firefighters are generally held. It represented also the mood of millions of workers for whom a line in the sand had also been crossed. The firefighters represent not so much a special case as the front ranks of millions of workers who have had enough.
With public support, and the official backing of the TUC, thanks in no small part to the new left grouping on the General Council, the firefighters found themselves in a very powerful position. If it had been left to John Monks, the TUC would have adopted a neutral position. This would have been an outrage, but hardly a surprise. Instead the new left on the General Council moved support for the firefighters. Everyone present supported them. No doubt more than a few TUC leaders were feeling a bit of heat from below in their own unions.
The firefighters demand of £30,000 immediately caught workers' imagination. If their strike had developed and spread to other sectors this figure could have been achieved already and the floodgates would be open for other workers to start demanding decent pay rises. Blair and co were terrified of this prospect. In reality, they had provoked the dispute deliberately in order to confront and defeat one union so as to cow the rest in preparation for wholesale attacks on public services. This was their real agenda. The Sun was quite right when they declared that Blair was ‘doing a Maggie'. When it was suggested that the FBU might settle for a 16 percent rise, Prescott intervened to prevent a deal being done. Instead, massive cuts - the destruction of 10,000 firefighters jobs - and wholesale changes to working conditions were proposed by the government. This was a new provocation. Even a 16 percent pay rise would have been seen by everyone as a tremendous victory and would have opened those dreaded floodgates.
Tactics are very important during an industrial dispute. A forward momentum needs to be established. The workers must be involved in the decision making process at every stage. The leadership must lead but the membership needs to know where they are being led. Otherwise confusion can set in. If things do not move forward for a time, then they can begin to move backwards. The FBU decided to go to ACAS for talks. Marxists are not opposed to negotiation of course, but a union should negotiate from a position of strength. The calling off of two strikes on the trot can sow confusion in the ranks. It also does little to encourage the employers to back down.
Gilchrist and the leaders of the FBU are no doubt genuine. In many ways they have shown themselves to be highly astute and have outgunned the Labour leaders at every turn. For all their claimed expertise at ‘spin-doctoring' they were beaten hands down in the battle for public opinion by the firefighters. In addition the FBU leaders' appeal for workers to transform the Labour Party strikes exactly the right note.
However in the long run courage and militancy are not enough. Above all the workers' movement needs a perspective, a broader view. The firefighters are still in a powerful position to win their dispute. Spreading their action to public transport, the airports and power stations would guarantee them an outstanding victory. If their action is not spread, Blair seems content to sit tight and wait for some acceptable compromise. However, at the same time he is determined to commit troops to fight in Iraq. The Blair government has already been humiliated once by the head of the armed forces publicly announcing that they couldn't fight in Iraq and put out fires at the same time. Such a public statement must be unparalleled. Admiral Sir Michael Boyce who made the statement went further. He warned Blair that the morale of his men was at a low ebb. They do not like scabbing on firefighters. The firefighters have shown themselves to be adept at fraternising with both troops and the police at their picket lines. This is a warning to the ruling class for the future.
Meanwhile there are other sections of workers preparing to take action, postal workers, airport workers, prison officers. Blair will be under attack from all quarters in the next period.
We have argued for some time now, that all the conditions were being prepared for a generalised movement of the working class in Britain. This does not mean that we are predicting a general strike next week, but that nevertheless a general strike, which would have been impossible to imagine twelve months ago, now becomes a very serious possibility at a certain stage. The firefighters strike could easily have spread to many other sectors, first of all on safety grounds, and may yet do so.
All these developments represent the beginning of the catching up of consciousness with reality. Things are not going to get better on their own. Blair and co are not going to solve anything either. This represents a fundamental change taking place, a change that has already begun to find an expression inside the trade unions, even at the somewhat removed level of the TUC.
Billy Hayes of the CWU and Derek Simpson of the AEEU now sit on the General Council, where they have been joined by Jeremy Dear the General Secretary of the NUJ, Andy Gilchrist of the FBU, Mick Rix of ASLEF, with Bob Crow of the RMT only narrowly missing out on election. This constitutes the biggest swing to the left in the TUC for decades. These new leaders constitute a formidable bloc. That bloc must not be confined to the tops of the movement, however, but used to rally and organise activists across the trade unions. The left must be built in each union, gaining majorities on National Executives so that left General Secretaries are not isolated. This is not an end in itself, of course, but part of the struggle to change the policies of the unions, to return to their militant, fighting traditions in the interests of their members, and put an end to the period of social partnership - in reality class collaboration - once and for all. At this stage the election of new left leaders is an immense step forward. However, the work of Marxists in the unions is not concluded by the election of left leaders. In reality, our work here has just begun. It is not our task to sow illusions in these left leaderships, some of whom are more left than others. In many cases in the future we will find ourselves in opposition to most of these leaders. Our task is to offer clear ideas and perspectives to the active workers, a perspective for their own union, for their own struggles and for the struggle to transform society.
In their own unions and collectively across the movement these new leaders will hold a great authority, an authority that must be used in the interests of their members and of the working class as a whole. United behind a common programme of struggle, against privatisation, for public ownership, against closures and redundancies, for a shorter working week, for the repeal of all the anti-union laws, such an opposition would form an immense pole of attraction. It is the task of Marxists to participate fully in this struggle, and in so doing to raise our ideas and programme in order to build the forces of Marxism in the trade unions.
Struggle on the industrial front in defence of jobs, wages and conditions is vital, but is also only a part of the task in front of us. The struggle needs to be taken onto the political field too. The fight must be taken into the Labour Party. Our understanding of the relationship between the working class, the trade unions and the Labour Party is unique. It will prove to be an enormous strength for our tendency in the next period.
The Blairites are once again raising the idea of state funding of political parties. They are desperate to sever the link between the party and the unions before the disease of militancy can spread. The initial support amongst some activists for breaking the link will turn into a realisation that the link must not be broken but used to reclaim the Labour Party. In yet another poll, a big majority of Labour voters expressed their opposition to breaking these historic ties. 64 percent of Labour voters are opposed to breaking the link. 53 percent of Tory voters are in favour. So while the Tories and the Blairites agree, the big majority of workers want to defend the link and that will be expressed in the political fund ballots, which begin again this year.
The trade unions are the key to reclaiming the Labour Party from the Blairite hijackers. The struggle to reclaim the unions and the Labour Party form an integral part of the struggle to change society. Ultimately only breaking with capitalism and carrying out a socialist transformation can permanently address the problems facing all working people.
None of this will happen overnight. But many believed even the first transformations which we have already seen could never happen. The trade unions look very different today to what they did five or ten years ago. They will look very different again in the next ten. They will go through a process of transformations and changes. As, at a certain stage, will the Labour Party. The new period we have entered will see explosive developments. The strike of the local authority workers was an anticipation. The firefighters too have shown the way; now a queue is forming of workers preparing to take action. The floodgates may not yet be open but the damn has been breached. A wall of pressure is mounting behind and will burst through again and again. The process will not proceed in a straight line. There will be ebbs and flows, quiet periods and periods of rapid change. It will take some time, but the important thing now is to recognise that this process has begun.
As night follows day the same process which has begun in the unions will take place in the Labour Party too. Indeed it will be the unions that will play the key role in the battles to come inside the Labour Party.
In the late 1970s disillusion with the Callaghan Labour government led to a whole series of strikes, particularly in the public sector, including the strike of the firefighters in 1977. This found a reflection in the growth of the left in the Labour Party, reaching its height in the deputy leadership election narrowly lost by Tony Benn in 1981. At that time the left was based on the constituencies of the Labour Party, which were to the left of the unions. Today the local organisations of the Labour Party are largely moribund. This will not always be the case. In the first place it will be the union delegates who will take up the fight against Blair inside the Labour Party. They in turn will inspire opposition within the ranks. These changes along with other major events will see splits and a new left developing even inside the Parliamentary Labour Party.
The great American writer Mark Twain once said, "history doesn't repeat itself but sometimes it rhymes." The process of change in the Labour Party and in the unions will not simply be a re-run of what happened in the seventies or the thirties. It will contain some of these elements and other new ones. The important thing is to recognise that the process of change has begun, and to intervene in it to build the forces of Marxism.
Over a period, not overnight, many active workers will move into the Labour Party, taking up their seats in the wards, the GCs and conferences. Inevitably some advanced workers become impatient with the failure of the Labour government and break from the Labour Party. This road leads nowhere. The overwhelming majority will move through the unions transforming and retransforming the Labour Party on the basis of events and experience. The unions will become bastions to defend and improve the conditions of the working class and also an indispensable weapon in the struggle to transform society. If we work correctly, patiently explaining our ideas, our perspectives and our programme the trade unions can become a bastion of Marxism in the next period.
The Labour Party
We will not repeat the points made about the Labour Party in earlier paragraphs. However, it is not redundant to restate our basic position. It is a law worked out by our tendency that when the masses move into action they always turn to their traditional organisations, beginning with the trade unions and then, at a certain stage, the Labour Party.
The Blair clique represents an openly pro bourgeois tendency in the labour movement. Their victory inside the Labour Party was dependent on the continuation of the boom in the economy, and on the inactivity of the rank and file of the party and the unions, explained previously. If the perspective which opened up before us was the one Blair and co dreamed of, i.e. never ending boom and social peace than maybe they could have succeeded in their project to transform the Labour Party into a British version of the US Democrats. Unfortunately for them however, that is one perspective we can rule out. The process that led to Blair's success in the party was fundamentally the same one that led to the triumph of the right wing in the unions. At the same time it is also just as temporary as the stranglehold of the right in the unions, which even now has begun to unravel.
Even during the lowest ebbs of activity in the movement Blair had to fight a titanic struggle, and was in fact dependent on the support of the right wing union leaders, to push through his ‘reforms', the abolition of Clause Four, the emasculation of the party conference and so on. Although Blair's victory was a real low point for the movement, even during this period, there were important skirmishes, which gave a hint, to anyone with eyes to see, of the process that would unfold in the Labour Party in the future. This was true of the Livingstone affair in particular, as we explained at the time. When they could see the point the Party rank and file and trade unionists turned out in their thousands. This was a foretaste of what is to come.
It is events that will shake up the Labour Party. The changes inside the unions do not necessarily lead to changes in the party overnight. At the same time we should be prepared, things can change even more quickly than we think. On the basis of the firefighters dispute there was a radicalisation at the London Labour Party Conference. Even before that with activity in the party still at a low ebb, we saw the key role that the unions will play in the future demonstrated at last year's national conference. The unions defeated Blair over PFI, the government's flagship privatisation scheme. There is an interesting story about the mentality of the sects and their complete blindness in the face of the changes taking place before their very eyes. One of them commenting on the 2002 Labour Party conference remarked with bitter disdain "did you see? 60 percent of them voted in favour of war with Iraq!" These imbeciles could not see the dramatic importance of the fact that, even in the currently rarified atmosphere of a Labour Party conference, supposedly under the complete domination of Blair, thanks to the unions 40 percent had voted against!
The connection between the Labour Party, the trade unions and events is entirely lost on these people. They claim to believe that the working class can change society, yet they deny that they can change their own organisations - which by anyone's measure must be easier. In reality they give away their whole arrogant approach by their attitude towards the mass organisations of the working class. They do not really believe that workers can change society. They believe that they can change society, if they can convince the masses to line up behind them.
The AEEU delegation at the 2002 Labour Party conference still reflected the previous leadership of the union under Sir Ken Jackson. Therefore they voted with Blair. A new left leadership in the AEEU would presumably have voted the other way, and defeated Blair on the question of war as well as on privatisation. This remember at a very early stage, when the Labour Party's structures are still largely empty, and the conference is supposedly under the control of the spin doctors. We do not wish to exaggerate the position inside the Labour Party, which is still virtually comatose in most areas at this stage. What we are describing here is a foretaste of the opposition that will develop inside the Labour Party in the future, and the decisive role which the unions can play in that development. This has certain parallels with the period 1967-69.
We recognise that the shift to the right at the top of the Labour Party has gone further than ever before. But we do not see things in the black and white, immutable way the sects do. We recognise the process at work in society, and inside the workers' organisations.
There is a process of interaction between events, changes in the unions and changes in the Labour Party. This does not occur overnight, nor does it simply proceed automatically and in a straight line. This process will take time. It is the reverse of the process that led Blair to power. Events propel the unions to the left. The pressure of the working class below forces them into opposition with the Labour government. This is the stage we have reached.
In the next period splits and divisions will open up at the top of the party on the basis of events, and become focal points for opposition from below. The war with Iraq can play an important role in this. The opposition from the ranks and the unions is reflected inside the party. A process of interaction and change will take place inside the Labour Party. Over a period, a new left will emerge. At a certain stage in the future it will even become dominant inside the Labour Party. That may be some time off yet, but we must begin to prepare for this development. We recognise the vital importance of the links between the working class, the trade unions and the Labour Party. In particular, Marxists must understand the history and traditions of workers in different countries as well as theory, if we are to build a mass force on the basis of events to come.
Scotland and Wales
The election of a Labour government in 1997, and its re-election in 2001, has not solved any of the problems facing British workers. The low turnout in 2001 especially in traditional Labour strongholds, was neither apathy nor voter contentment but a clear illustration that patience with Blair and co was running out. In the Scottish and Welsh elections, where Labour has for some time enjoyed automatic majorities, the party given the combination of proportional representation and a protest vote against Blair failed to gain outright control and was forced into deals and coalitions with the Liberals. This was a clear indication of the failure of Blair and co.
One of the few reforms introduced by Blair and co was devolution for Scotland and Wales, albeit in the shape of a toothless Assembly in Cardiff and a Parliament in Edinburgh without the powers necessary to introduce major changes in the interests of the working class. So weak is the Assembly in Wales, in fact, that a recent poll found 25 percent in favour of its abolition. The Scottish Parliament meanwhile finds itself in a stronger position with just ten percent favouring its disbandment - this is a little less than the current support for the Tories north of the border.
Up to the present the much vaunted rise of nationalism predicted by many groups on the left has failed to materialise in either Wales or Scotland. This may be in part due to devolution, but is mainly explained by the continuation of the boom up until recently - though few workers in Scotland and Wales benefited from the booming economy as the destruction of manufacturing continued apace in these industrial heartlands - and the initial honeymoon for Blair. That honeymoon ended some time ago, indeed all talk now is of divorce.
The magnificent two million strong anti-war marches on February 15 mark a real turning point and the beginning of the end for Blair. With war in Iraq imminent the local elections in May will be used as a referendum on Blair, and as such will see a further fall in the Labour vote, especially in its heartlands. However whilst in England there is no real alternative even for a protest vote, in both Scotland and Wales such an alternative does exist, to an extent, in the shape of the Nationalist parties.
In the forthcoming Holyrood election the Nationalists will undoubtedly make some gains as will the Liberals and possibly even, on a smaller scale, the Scottish Socialist Party of Sheridan. The explanation for this cannot be found in any significant rise in nationalism, but instead the same growth of disappointment and anger with Blair and co seen throughout Britain. In Scotland and Wales, however this is compounded by the failures of Labour in the devolved bodies to defend the interests of Scottish and Welsh workers respectively.
The latest polls in Scotland show support for Labour ahead of May's election down by eight points in the first month of 2003 at 32 percent, just ahead of the SNP on 31 percent. However there has not been a swing to any single party. The Liberals have gained most with a rise of 3 percentage points, while the SNP, the SSP, the Greens and the Tories have all gained just one percent each. This means support for the SNP has risen by just two percent since the last Scottish election in 1999. The Liberals vote has grown by two percent over the same period, while the Tories have seen their support plummet a further five points.
In other words disaffection with Blair is resulting in a big fall in support for Labour. Participation in a war in Iraq could yet see that support fall still further. Whilst in England there is no alternative to voting for Blair other than staying at home - the so-called Socialist Alliance is in reality a joke - in both Scotland and Wales there are alternatives that can attract at least a portion of disaffected Labour voters. In both Scotland and Wales the petty bourgeois nationalists (the SNP and Plaid Cymru respectively) have already gained as a result of disaffection with Labour on a local and an all-British level. While not discounting for a minute the genuine national aspirations of workers in Scotland and Wales, it is clear that the recent increase in votes for the Nationalist parties represent a protest against Blair.
It is possible that the SSP could pick up a few seats in May. However they have signally failed to make the gains they predicted on the basis of disaffection with Blair.heir dream of becoming a mass alternative to Labour has failed to materialise. Dissatisfaction with Blair clearly exists, but the vaguely left reformist programme of the SSP, which is now veering even further in a nationalist direction as witnessed by their recent conference, does not provide much of an attraction outside of its strongholds in parts of Glasgow. In reality they are a one man band in the figure of Tommy Sheridan. All their earlier claims of standing as a barrier between disaffected workers and nationalism have now been shattered. Their propaganda, peppered with more than a little nationalism, is aimed at winning votes from Labour, and those who don't normally participate in elections.
For a period now Labour in Scotland and in Wales have attempted to create some distance between themselves and Labour at Westminster, or more specifically to distance themselves from some of Blair's most unpopular Tory policies. The demand for greater powers for the devolved bodies is in part an expression of this fact. There have been minor stands against Blair and co over student fees, and one or two other issues. That process is likely to continue, particularly now that Blair is becoming more and more isolated.
In Wales too despite the lukewarm reception for the powerless assembly in Cardiff the demand is growing particularly within the Labour movement for increased powers. The idea seems to be if we are going to have an assembly let's at least have one that can do something other than just provide cushy careers for bureaucrats.
Rhodri Morgan came to power in Wales over the bones of the career of Blairite Alun Michael. The platform of the Labour Party Wales Conference 2003 was decorated with the title "Welsh Labour", the prefix "New" has been largely abandoned in both Wales and Scotland in the last period. There will be no ‘Foundation hospitals' in Wales, Best Value has been scrapped, free bus travel for the over 60s and free prescriptions for those under 24 have been introduced. These may be minor reforms but the Welsh Labour leadership, distancing themselves from Blair, claim they are implementing a Socialist Agenda, and need a majority in the Assembly, instead of having to rely on the Liberals, in order to do more. However a combination of national and international issues, with large council tax rises and cuts in services in Labour areas could still mean a big fall in Labour's vote in May and a rise in support for Plaid as a protest. If that protest resulted in Labour losing the Assembly to the Nationalists - which is possible if not the most likely outcome - then a far more serious revolt against Blair would be on the agenda in the Welsh labour movement. In any event, mounting opposition to Blair, already evident in the unions will be more and more reflected inside the party in the next period.
The most likely outcome of the Scottish elections at this stage is still the return of a Lib-Lab coalition with the number of Labour seats reduced and the Liberals increased. Ironically thanks to their stand over student fees the Liberals are often portrayed as the left wing of the coalition. This image could be enhanced still further if they maintain their current anti-war position. That said it still cannot be ruled out that Labour could even lose outright in Scotland. In that case any attempt to forge an anti-Labour coalition from amongst the other parties would tear them apart. Whatever the result, Labour's support will decline and the process of change within the Scottish Labour Party will accelerate in the period opening up. In fact, this is beginning to happen over the war issue. Six Labour MSPs voted against the Blair resolution put before the Scottish parliament. Now, Malcolm Chisolm, the health minister, has broken ranks and stated he was wrong to support the leadership. This is the thin end of the wedge. The Blairite leadership in Scotland could be shipwrecked in the coming period. Scotland may be where Blairism collapses first. If Labour were to lose control of the Parliament altogether then holy hell would break loose.
The position of the Tories in both Scotland and Wales, where they have been reduced to a rump, is even worse than in England. In the Scottish elections they will probably manage to scrape double figures in terms of percentage of the vote, down yet further on their last disastrous outing.
In the future a real growth of the poison of nationalism is still possible especially under conditions of crisis with a feckless Labour leadership. Lenin long ago pointed out that the national question is in the last analysis a question of bread. The failure of the Labour leaders to address the problems facing the working class of Scotland and Wales could lead to a resurgence of nationalism in the future. However that process can be completely undermined by the development of class struggle across Britain. That after all is the perspective for the next period. Mounting disillusion with Blair will be expressed in industrial action, and by the development of divisions within the Labour Party. Although initially this can result in a rise in support for nationalist parties as a protest in the long run the development of class struggle will completely undermine them. The working class of Scotland and Wales can be at the forefront of both the industrial and political struggles in the period that now opens up.
Not only in Scotland and Wales but across Britain as a whole New Labour is dead. Blair himself now treads on thin ice. British participation in US imperialism's adventure in Iraq will have profound consequences throughout society, and inside the labour movement in particular. Tam Dalyell MP and others are demanding a special party conference to remove Blair if war goes ahead without the backing of a second UN resolution. The revolt of 122 Labour MPs, which it is reported will rise to over 200 in the event of Blair and Bush ‘going it alone'; the mass demonstrations in London, Glasgow and around the world on February 15; and now the first attempts to deselect Blairite MPs (Oona King only managed to win her reselection because of the backing of five affiliated union branches) all demonstrate what we have long explained, the process of change taking place in society and in the unions must at a certain stage be reflected inside the Labour Party. This is no longer simply a perspective for the future but is happening right now.
Although local Labour Parties remain largely moribund for the present, it is the question of union affiliation, not breaking the link but sending delegates to GCs and other party bodies, which now assumes a greater importance than in the recent period.
The perspectives we have long outlined, especially in relation to the unions and the Labour Party are now unfolding before our eyes. Whilst all and sundry abandoned these fields of work and lacked a dialectical understanding of these developments, we have been preparing for precisely the period which now opens up in the British labour movement. The Labour Party will not fill out with workers - and certainly not with youth - overnight. To begin with the most important revolutionary work in the Labour Party will actually be the work we do in the unions. Our tendency alone maintained a Marxist attitude towards the mass organisations over the last decade or so. We must now ensure that we use our understanding of this question, an advantage we have over every other tendency, to build the Marxist tendency.
Blair and the Labour Government
Blair's second term is already proving somewhat more difficult than his first. There is far more to come. With no history in the movement, and no understanding of the process at work in society, Blair is in for some nasty shocks. In the long run Blairism will be spewed out of the Party.
Blair has been in government in a boom, with relative social peace as the working class gave the Labour government time to undo the damage of the Tory years. All that has now begun to change. Even in advance of a crisis, large sections of workers have run out of patience with Blair and co.
It seems that even the Blair family cannot escape the sleaze and corruption rife in present day British capitalism. The scandal surrounding the flats they have bought in Bristol for the use of their son who is attending university there has further undermined their popularity. The BBC's Today programme conducted a poll in the style of the reality TV shows. Listeners were invited to ‘vote someone out of the country'. Blair won hands down. The BBC then decided that this was a little unfair, so they changed the poll to exclude the prime minister. Looking at the vote again in this light, listeners had voted to kick out … Cherie Blair.
The Blair government has had to deal with many such episodes before of course, the funding from Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone linked to tobacco advertising, Peter Mandelson several times. Now however these dents in their popularity are against a new background.
The war against Iraq can have a big effect in opening up the divisions, even at the top of the Labour Party. Every poll conducted delivers a majority opposed to war with Iraq, but Blair is intent on maintaining his role as Bush's number one poodle. This can easily lead to divisions and splits in the Parliamentary Labour Party and even in the Cabinet. Already 100 MPs have stated their opposition to the war, and their intention to vote against in parliament. This represents the most significant parliamentary revolt to date. Now the Campaign Group is demanding a recall Party Conference to discuss the war in Iraq and Blair's war on public sector workers!. Blair has been ruling through his little coterie of spin doctors up until now. In itself this is an important issue. Blair has increasingly shifted power away from parliament , and even away from the cabinet, to a court camarilla of advisers and experts. This ruling clique is accountable to no-one. In reality this represents a move away from even the limited democracy of bourgeois parliamentarism. As a result they are even more out of touch with the mood in society, in the Labour Party and even in parliament. Consequently they can blunder into all kinds of mistakes and confrontations. Blair will not find the ground so stable beneath his feet when he faces splits in the cabinet, confrontation with the unions and an economic crisis.
The boom, which had served to mask the continuing decline of Britain's industrial base, is drawing to an end. Blair rode the calm waves of the world boom for his first term of office, in his second term he will be rocked, perhaps even shipwrecked, by the stormy waters of world recession.
If this were not enough, the Blair government faces an almighty confrontation with the trade unions in the next period. "Tony Blair in 2003 will endure his most uncomfortable year in power so far. The shine has long since gone off his administration. In 2003 the paintwork itself will begin to crack and peel. The British economy will falter, but that will be the least of Mr Blair's worries…" according to Anthony King writing in The Economist. "Instead, one of Mr Blair's most painful afflictions will be highly disruptive public-sector strikes. For years pay increases in the state sector have lagged far behind those in private business, and in 2003 chronic discontent among public-sector employees—teachers and health professionals as well as manual workers—will turn into outright anger. Some groups of aggrieved workers will take to the street; others will dose down parts of the railway system, the London tube and even schools and some hospital services. Britain in 2003 will be like France in almost every year since the second world war. The British public will be annoyed and inconvenienced. But, as in France, it will back the workers. Most ordinary Britons see the Blair government as "them" and public-sector workers as "us". They will instinctively side with "us". Most people have friends and neighbours who work in the public sector and regard the long-term clampdown on public-sector pay as unfair. The national sense of fair play will come to the workers' aid." (The World in 2003).
The firefighters struggle is far from over, and in any case is only the first of many such struggles to come. The extension of privatisation into the public services is just one of many grounds on which disputes will be fought. Standing behind all of them will be years of built up anger and disappointment. Inevitably these struggles will not be confined to the industrial front, but will be taken into the organisations of the Labour Party as well.
We have raised on previous occasions that in the event of a severe crisis, if the Labour leaders lacked the authority to carry out an austerity programme of attacks against the working class - which the ruling class would demand in the event of a deep slump - they could move in the direction of some kind of government of national unity. This remains a very real prospect in the event of a deep enough crisis. However, it is not a step the ruling class would take lightly. It would carry many risks for them.
Until now the capitalist class have been perfectly happy with Blair's performance on their behalf. Yet they have always recognised that the Labour Party has two sides. As well as its Tory leadership it also has a working class base and an organic connection to the trade unions. They will not hesitate to turn their fire on Blair and co, if things start going badly wrong.
The next election is some years off. If it were held today Labour would win. A lot can change in the next few years, however. In a crisis Blair might be dumped, in favour of some other right-winger. It is in no way certain that Blair will even last ubtil the next election. One thing that Blair, Labour's right wing, many on the left and even the sects have had in common is a belief that the victory of Blair inside the Labour Party was permanent. Everything was sewn up. Those stitches are now starting to unravel, and in the next period Blairism wil come apart at the seams. "For the better part of a decade—between his election as Labour leader in 1994 and the autumn of 2002—he has ruled his party in the style of an absolute monarch", states The Economist. "Everyone owed him allegiance. No one dared question his authority. His cabinet was quiescent to the point of ceasing to be a traditional British cabinet. Labour members of the House of Commons were slavishly loyal. Even party activists in the country remained silent."That phase ended abruptly amid Labour's disputes over Iraq in 2002. Tony Blair no longer appears to be, as he did during the 1990s, a necessary condition of Labour electoral success. He will be blamed for the wave of labour unrest and for the public's discontent with Britain's public services. Like previous absolute monarchs, he will, in the end, be held absolutely responsible." (The Economist: The World in 2003).
At the same time whatever manoeuvres they try at the top will not stop events in society being reflected inside the Labour Party, with the growth not only of opposition to Blair but also of a new left wing, and support for the Marxist tendency.
New Labour is in reality dead. The Labour government is on a collision course with the unions. Events, both at home and abroad will kickstart a struggle inside the Labour Party in the next period. As with the struggle inside the unions, this will provide the Marxists with tremendous opportunities to build our forces.
The left, the CP and the sects
The sects have signally failed to build in what must have seemed like the ideal circumstances for them. The Labour Party in power, carrying out attacks against the working class, under the most right wing, openly bourgeois leadership, in its history. Instead they lurch from one crisis to another merger. This is a lesson in how impossible it is to build a revolutionary tendency outside the labour movement under modern conditions. Above all it is a warning of the dangers of abandoning Marxist theory. The ideas of Marxism are both a compass to point the way forward, and at the same time an anchor to remain stable in stormy waters. The constant search for ‘new' ideas results in these organisations flailing around in all directions. They imagined that the triumph of Blairism was permanent, that as a consequence there must be thousands of active workers outside the Labour Party desperately seeking their enlightenment. They did not grasp that the victory of Blairism was in fact temporary and predicated on a lack of workers active in politics. Once that activity picks up in a new situation like the one developing at present, then all attention turns to the workers own organisations, beginning with the unions and then after a certain delay the Labour Party too. In reality, these groups have done us a favour by abandoning the Labour Party and leaving the field wide open for us. Whilst some of them retain small followings in some of the unions, most notably in the public sector, they do not really constitute a serious obstacle to our tendency. Where they make contact with individual workers and youth they can miseducate them and burn them out. We have to make sure that we reach those workers and youth first.
The youth in particular are now more open then ever to our ideas, but tend to join up with the first group they encounter who talk about revolution and socialism. We must therefore redouble our efforts to build amongst the students and the youth. These new forces will be the future cadres who will build our forces in the unions and in the Labour Party.
The Communist Party never attained a mass base in Britain as it did in some other European countries. The splits and divisions that have opened up in the Communist Parties in other countries following the collapse of Stalinism have created important opportunities for genuine Marxism.
Nevertheless for years despite their theoretical bankruptcy the small Communist Party in Britain maintained a certain base amongst industrial militants. After slavishly supporting all but the most right wing of trade union bureaucracies in recent years, they now tie their chariot to the new layer of left wing leaders who are emerging. Through the enormous resource of a daily paper, they (or more accurately their paper) do attract newly active layers of trade unionists, especially in the industrial unions. We can win these newly militant layers to the extent that we can reach them and explain our ideas to them. We should skillfully answer the ideas raised in the Morning Star. In their current attempts to put forward a variation of the two-stage theory, arguing that for now we must fight privatisation, or for better wages, or whatever, and then in the future when all these battles are completed, we will have to turn our attention to fighting for socialism, we have to explain that the struggle in defence of conditions or for better wages is an integral part of the struggle for socialism. These battles will never be concluded until the socialist transformation of society does away with capitalism once and for all. Therefore the struggle for socialism must not be postponed; instead we must build the struggle for socialism now out of every struggle of the working class. Not see each struggle as separate and an end in itself, but fight for every penny, and against every attack, whilst fighting to build a mass Marxist tendency within the labour movement. It is not enough to just support this or that left MP or union leader, it is necessary to build an organisation with a perspective and a programme for transforming society.
With one or two exceptions, such as Tony Benn - though even he has now retired - the left reformists in the labour movement evaporated under the impact of the collapse of Stalinism coinciding with the boom in capitalism. Fundamentally they were disoriented by these events because of their complete lack of theory and perspectives. Over the last decade or so they disappeared, either giving up demoralised or capitulating to Blair and the right wing.
In the next period a new left will emerge inside the Labour Party. This process is already visible, at least in outline. It has been foreshadowed by earlier divisions at all levels of the party over Mandelson, Lvingstone etc. The opposition seen at the 2002 Party Conference and the London Labour Party Conference, and now the opposition of 100 Labour MPs to war in Iraq, represent a new stage in this process. Together with the changes taking place in the unions this represents the beginning of a new period of transformations within the labour movement as a whole. For the present the lefts are happy to support and work with us inside the party. This will not always be the case. The new left wing will bring with it its own ideas and half-baked programme. As ever this will consists in one form or another of all the old discredited ideas of Keynesianism, partial public ownership, borrowing and taxes. The Marxists have answered these ideas many times in the past. We will have to answer them again tomorrow, so we need to study and relearn old lessons. We will support the lefts in the unions and the Labour Party in their struggle against the right wing, and for progressive policies. At the same time we must clearly and boldly advance our own ideas and programme. Precisely the clarity of those ideas will be attractive to the new layers of workers and youth coming into activity, as opposed to the woolly ideas of reforming capitalism.
We have entered a new stage in the British and world revolution. This does not mean exaggerating the character of the new situation in Britain. It does mean that the past period is now decisively behind us. Over coming years, through many periods of ebbs and flows, through defeats and setbacks as well as victories and leaps forward, the working class will take to the road of struggle. They will transform their organisations, the trade unions and the Labour Party time and again. In the coming struggles the older layer will cast off any cynicism they have succumbed to in recent years and entirely fresh layers will come into the movement.
In general, the mass of workers learns from experience of broad issues. On the basis of events there will be no shortage of movements that will affect the workers' organisations. Our fundamental task is to provide the active workers and youth with clear ideas and perspectives. We will have to combat the ideas of left reformism as well as those of the right wing in the movement. We will have to inspire and convince workers and youth with the power of our ideas, and our work in the movement.
The task of Marxism is to make conscious the unconscious strivings of the working class. The molecular process of change within the working class is conditioned by the crisis of capitalism which is unfolding at the present time. White-collar workers, industrial workers, students and youth, all sections will be looking for answers to their problems and the problems of society. Those answers can only be provided by the ideas of Marxism. Therefore we must build and train our forces in those ideas. We must explain that only the socialist transformation of society can meet the needs and aspirations of the working class, and put an end to the nightmare of capitalism.
We have stood our ground. We have defended the ideas of Marxism from all-comers. We have done so precisely in preparation for the new period that now opens up.
Our task now is to build. Let us to our task
"Today in Britain the question is not one of assigning a 'day' for the revolution - we are a long way from this! - but in clearly understanding that the whole objective situation is bringing this 'day' closer and into the ambit of the educational and preparatory work of the party of the proletariat and at the same time creating conditions for its rapid revolutionary formation."
Leon Trotsky, February 11, 1926 (From Volume Two of Writings on Britain)