Upheaval in Britain: where are we heading?

Events are now moving at a lightning speed. Everyday there is a new twist and turn in the situation. Britain has become the focal point of the European crisis and even the world crisis. As we have explained in previous articles, the crisis which began in 2008 represented a turning point and would have massive repercussions around the world.

Editorial statement of Socialist Appeal - Britain

Today, the movement towards revolution is expressing itself as a political and constitutional crisis. This is in reality a reflection of the limits of the capitalist system, similar to the 1930s.

The special crisis of British capitalism, which has gone on for decades, has built up colossal pressures and contradictions. The factory closures, the loss of jobs, the constant squeeze and on-going austerity have become a nightmare for British workers. This has produced widespread anger, especially towards the establishment.

This goes a long way in explaining the EU referendum result, which has been described as a “pitchfork” rebellion, a cry of despair and anger. Large sections, especially in those areas devastated by the years of decline, revolted against their plight. However, Brexit took a reactionary tone given the failure of the labour leaders to offer a real alternative. On the other hand, millions voted to remain, especially the youth, disgusted by the xenophobia of Farage and Johnson. This was a healthy reaction, despite its mixed character.

The consequences of the Brexit vote have been earth-shattering. It has turned everything on its head. It is likely to plunge Britain into a recession, with investment frozen and output falling. We have seen the worst fall in the pound fall for nearly 40 years. Britain has also lost its top credit rating, meaning that the cost of debt will begin to rise. Impotently, Carney is saying that the Bank of England can do very little.

With Britain’s current account deficit of £100bn, the wellbeing of the economy relies on speculators, who will shift their “hot” money to wherever they can make the most. The cracks which were papered over are now being exposed.

Establishment panic

Britain EU-Dave-KellamPhoto: Dave KellamThe British crisis has become a European crisis. For the first time in its history an important state has voted to leave the Common Market. The capitalist establishment are in a state of panic, fearing the contagion from Brexit. They fear that Italy could be next given its heavily indebted banks, but Greece is also on the brink. Many see Brexit as the beginning of the end.

“What has started to look shaky are Europe’s banks, with share prices tumbling and some bond prices also under pressure”, states the Financial Times (8/7/16).

In this period of sharp and sudden changes, this turmoil could easily provoke a new world slump, which is very much on the cards. Clearly globalisation has reached its limits. There are tendencies now in the direction of protectionism and isolationism, not least in the United States. Such tendencies can easily turn a world slump into a depression, as was the case in the 1930s. That is the perspective for the coming period and will everywhere intensify the widespread anger and bitterness.

This explosive mood has given rise to the phenomenon of populism of the right and of the left. The deeper you go down into the working class the more intense is this mood. This has produced a widespread anti-establishment mood internationally.

Britain has never been so polarised. A massive gulf exists been the billionaire class and those at the bottom, the 99%. This is having revolutionary consequences as the pillars of the establishment are undermined one after the other.

Tory crisis

Brexit has thrown the Tories into crisis. Cameron was forced to resign, after gambling everything on the Referendum result. The whole gamble opened up a Pandora’s Box and set Blue against Blue. This completely poisoned relations, with Gove sticking the knife into Boris Johnson and sinking his leadership ambitions. Now, with Andrea Leadsom forced out of the race, Theresa May has been crowned Tory leader and therefore Prime Minister. But this will not prevent a future bust up.

This is what we said in our most recent British perspectives:

“How the referendum, possibly set for the summer or autumn of 2016, will turn out is uncertain. At the time of writing, polls suggest a majority are against staying in the EU. This could change as the campaign heats up. The likelihood of a vote to leave the EU is greatly increased by the immense instability and crisis of the EU itself, which is in terminal decline. Another breakout of the debt crisis, a terrorist attack, a further influx of refugees, or the success of the far right in another EU country would make a vote to leave much more likely. Whatever happens, it looks like being a narrow outcome. The narrower the result the more this will fuel resentment.

“Given the volatility, it is possible that there will be a majority to leave the EU. This will be a shattering blow to Cameron, whose authority would be in tatters; he could be forced to resign. This, in turn, could force the SNP to come out forcibly for a new referendum on independence for Scotland. The way the mood is developing there, the most likely result would be Scottish independence.”

These perspectives are being borne out by events.

The war inside the Tory party, which has temporarily been put on ice, could still prepare a split at a certain stage. “In other words, the Conservative Party, in its present form, is unlikely to last”, we have explained.

The dominant sections of the ruling class are furious with Cameron and want to remain in Europe. Pressure will therefore be brought to bear on the Tory government to negotiate to remain in the single market no matter the cost. This will put Theresa May on a collision course with the ranks of the Tories who voted to leave.

If she backtracks on Brexit she will face the wrath of the eurosceptics in parliament and outside. UKIP would capitalise on this. It will be viewed as a betrayal by the Brexiteers. These tensions and conflicts could provoke a split in the Tory party. In such a scenario, the Eurosceptic gang would end up fusing with UKIP to form a new reactionary nationalist party. Given its small majority, this would see the fall of the Tory government.

Whatever happens, the Tory government will be prone to crisis. Whatever they do will be wrong. The crisis of British capitalism means a crisis of all the established parties.

The Corbyn movement

The election of Jeremy Corbyn transformed the political landscape. It reflected the colossal anger and resentment in society. The Corbyn victory sent shockwaves through the right wing, as well as the British establishment, which became alarmed at the possibility of Corbyn coming to power and the forces that stood behind him.

The previous slow pace of events in Britain that characterised the last thirty years has been shattered. As we wrote in our Perspectives: “A new turbulent period has opened up in Britain, more characteristic of the inter-war period.” We see this graphically confirmed in the events of today.

Again we wrote:

“As Marx once explained, there are times in which 20 years passes as though it were only days, but there are other times where 20 years of events seem to be incorporated into one day. For us, the slow days are over. Events are moving very quickly. These last months have been a roller coaster of events, one following quickly upon another.”

But this was only the beginning. Events were to happen much faster than we predicted. Of course, it is impossible to exactly predict the tempo of events. The task of Marxism is to outline the general processes developing in society.

Our analysis did explain: “The mood of discontent and anger did nevertheless find expression in the historic movement in Scotland over the Referendum. This provided a lightning rod for all the pent-up frustration and anger north of the border… In the May general election, the SNP swept the board by winning 56 seats out of 59. The once dominant Labour Party, under the leadership of the Blairites, lost all its seats bar one. It was a humiliating defeat. It was a sign of what is to come, where sharp and sudden changes are on the order of the day. All that was needed in the rest of Britain was a point of reference.”

That point of reference came with the election of Jeremy Corbyn. The ruling class had in effect lost control of the Labour Party. Their only basis of support was in the Parliamentary Labour Party.

Ever since Corbyn was elected, the right wing has been waging an all-out civil war to remove him. Behind them stands the ruling class, who are determined to restore the Labour Party back into safe hands, i.e. the camp of capitalism.

At every turn, the Blairites have attempted to discredit Corbyn, whether over Trident or the bombing of Syria. Over Syria, 66 Labour MPs voted with the Tories, a real indication of their future intentions. Hilary Benn became their cheerleader and was the chief architect of the latest coup. As we predicted: “In reality, this revealed the truth that there are two Labour Parties, which will inevitably split at a certain stage.”

Given this situation, more than half the new members who joined the Labour Party now support mandatory reselection of MPs. Unfortunately, the leaders of Momentum have strongly resisted pushing this democratic right of party members for fear of provoking the right wing. But the Blairites needed no provoking as they were determined to try and get rid of Corbyn at the earliest opportunity.

Labour's civil war

Corbyn Eagle Smith - Socialist Appeal Britain CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. jpgPhoto: Socialist Appeal (UK)The latest coup attempt has served to increase the temperature in the party’s bitter internal civil war. The entire British establishment is attempting to oust Corbyn. But this has also created a backlash, with mass meetings all over the country.

Some 130,000 new members have joined the party since the Brexit result, most of whom would have supported Corbyn in any vote, if they had been allowed. Nevertheless, an astonishing figure of over 180,000 paid £25 and signed up as registered supporters in the space of just two days.

These unprecedented numbers are a clear indication of the radicalisation that has taken place in Britain, with a fresh layer of thousands of workers and youth being drawn into political activity for the first time.

As we explained previously, the right wing not only dominates the Parliamentary Labour Party but has reserves of support amongst right-wing Labour councillors and those right-wing cliques that control party structures at a local level. These are now being mobilised – the graveyard vote – to try and oust Corbyn.

Originally, the right wing were forced to bide their time but events have forced their hand. They could not wait any longer. The referendum result gave them their excuse to act.

The union leaders, under pressure from the ranks, have come out against the coup and have given support to Corbyn. They cannot be entirely trusted, however, and were seeking some kind of “negotiated compromise” at one point. But the right wing and the capitalists do not want a compromise that leaves Corbyn in place. They have tried to pull every trick in the book to remove him, including a failed bid in the High Court this week. But removing Corbyn has not been as easy as they previously thought.

Corbyn has now been forced by plotting MPs to fight another leadership election. In a head-to-head race with Owen Smith, surveys of Labour members show that Corbyn could win a striking majority. And this is before the votes of registered supporters and affiliated trade unionist are included. Nominations from dozens of CLPs so far already show Corbyn leading 4-to-1 against Smith.

It is even possible that Corbyn could win a larger majority than he achieved in last year's leadership election. This would be a devastating blow to the Blairites, who have been desperate from the beginning to avoid another humiliating democratic defeat.

This time, however, there is no turning back. This is a fight to the finish. Big business has given them their marching orders. There is only one possible outcome to this: a split in the Labour Party. That is what they are preparing for.

At a certain point, therefore, the ruling class will come to the conclusion that Corbyn cannot be removed and they will have no choice but to split the party and create a new pro-European Centre Party, like the SDP in the 1980s. The serious mouthpieces of the capitalists are already pushing this. With the Tory party divided and becoming increasingly unpopular they cannot allow a Corbyn Labour Party based on anti-austerity to come to power.

As we wrote in our British perspectives:

“Once again, the idea of splitting the Labour Party would become part of their calculations. That could serve to keep Labour out of power as in 1983, when the SDP split the Labour vote. But, unlike in 1983, the ruling class could go further and champion the idea of a National Government as in 1931. That would be a way of creating a more stable government composed of elements from all the main parties.”

However, unlike in 1931, where a handful of Labour MPs crossed the floor, the vast majority of the 172 who passed the no confidence motion are likely to desert the party. They have so much in common with the pro-European Tories that the formation of a new Centre party would be plain sailing. This could easily lead to the formation of some kind of National Government.

At a certain stage we could see the splitting of the Tory Party and the creation of a far-right party on one side and on the other, we could also the pro-European Tories fuse with a Blairite split, and also absorbing what was left of the Liberal Democrats. This is the realignment of British politics that the ruling class are now preparing for.

However, the Labour Party, with the right wing being spewed out, would move dramatically to the left. Corbyn would preside over a radicalised left-reformist or even centrist party, with the support of the unions and hundreds of thousands of newly politicised workers and youth.

We initially thought that this would open up over the next two or three years, but the process has unfolded far faster than we anticipated. Events are moving at lightning speed. This will open up big possibilities for the ideas of Marxism. We must urgently build up our forces so that we can shape events.

Defend Corbyn! Fight for Socialism!

The task is to clearly put forward a revolutionary socialist programme that can offer a way out of the capitalist crisis. All attempts to “reform” capitalism will fail and prepare the way for a shift to the right.

However, even if a National Government is created it will not last long. A new world slump will shatter it. All attempts by the ruling class to restore the economic equilibrium will lead to political and social disequilibrium.

The centre ground is collapsing everywhere, and this polarisation is destabilising the entire situation. Eventually, this will lay the basis for the coming to power of a left Labour government under Corbyn. This will open up a new convulsive chapter in Britain.

The ruling class will attempt to undermine a left government, which will be under the pressure of the working class. It will be regarded as completely unreliable from the capitalists’ point of view.

As in the 1930s, this will provoke all out class war. Behind the scenes, the ruling class will be preparing for a showdown with the working class. As was the case before the Second World War in Europe and even Britain, they will see the need to try and crush the workers’ organisations.

As the capitalist crisis deepens, the ruling class will have no alternative but to turn towards reaction. For the ruling class, democracy is only a device to further their class rule. When democratic rights become a hindrance to capitalist rule, they will seek to end it.  A reading of Trotsky’s writings on Britain in the 1930s can serve to illuminate the dramatic processes taking place today.

We must warn the labour movement of what is at stake. The continuation of capitalism in a period of terminal decline will seriously endanger the democratic rights of the working class. The overthrow of the system becomes an ever-pressing task.

Any attempt by a Labour government to resolve the crisis without overthrowing capitalism will simply intensify the crisis. It will mean that the bankers and capitalists will still control the economy. They will engage in sabotage and furious resistance. They will carry out a strike of capital, provoke a run on the pound and engage in all manner of blackmail to force the government to capitulate.

The dead end of capitalism

There are only two paths: either capitulate or overthrow the capitalist system. There is no middle road. Either the working class will come to power and establish socialism or it will lead to a crushing defeat.

The whole situation in Britain will be transformed and re-transformed. This will provide the Marxists with great opportunities for building a mass movement. 

We must keep our eye on developments, which are now moving fast. We must participate fully in the struggle against the Blairites and energetically intervene with our ideas and programme.

There is no way out on the basis of capitalism. We are facing permanent crisis. We must fully appreciate what this means and draw the necessary conclusions.

“In the present world situation, time is the most precious of raw materials”, explained Trotsky.

The crisis of society is a crisis of revolutionary leadership. We must approach the task of building the Marxist tendency in Britain with a sense of urgency.