British capitalism’s demise and the tasks confronting us

The UK economy is crashing – the latest disaster in the long-running decline of British capitalism. At the same time, the class divide is widening, and industrial militancy is on the rise. We must prepare for revolutionary explosions.

Once again, despite being told that the 2008 slump was a once-in-a-century event, we are in a severe crisis.

All young people today have ever known is instability and crisis. While the older generation may harbour illusions in some return to a more prosperous past, young people have no such feelings.

The youth are therefore far more in tune with the realities of capitalist crisis, which is adversely impacting their lives on a daily basis. On the basis of capitalism, the future is increasingly bleak.

No wonder that young people, who have nothing to lose, have always been at the forefront of revolutionary change. It was the youth that provided the backbone of Lenin’s Bolshevik Party – the greatest revolutionary party in history.

“We are the party of the future, and the future belongs to the youth,” explained Lenin. “We are a party that is waging a self-sacrificing struggle against the old rottenness, and youth is always the first to undertake a self-sacrificing struggle.”

Decline and decay

Decline and decay Image Socialist AppealThe decline of British capitalism is gathering pace. Britain has again become the sick man of Europe / Image: Socialist Appeal

Britain today can be characterised as “the old rottenness”. The decline of British capitalism is gathering pace. Britain has again become the sick man of Europe.

“Even the British term ‘omnishambles’ cannot capture the current despair,” stated the Financial Times, a reliable mouthpiece of the capitalist class.

The responsibility for this decline rests with the ruling class, who have become increasingly degenerate. Rather than invest their wealth in industry, they prefer to salt their ill-gotten gains abroad, engage in speculation and gambling, or storing it in Swiss banks and tax havens.

At the same time, in times of crisis, the ruling elite demands that the working class shoulder the burden.

Ever since the slump of 2008, capitalism has been propped up with massive eye-watering state handouts. In effect, the ruling class nationalised their losses and privatised their profits.

Now, once again, as the Tories tank the economy with their reckless Thatcherite agenda, billions are being poured into the pockets of the bankers and energy monopolies.

Meanwhile, the pound is plummeting, inflation and interest rates are soaring, and living costs and the burden of debt are becoming unbearable.

Class divide

Class divide Image Socialist AppealThis year, the bosses of the UK’s biggest corporations made more money by breakfast time on Friday than the average worker will earn in the space of twelve months / Image: Socialist Appeal

“We are all in it together” is the Tory refrain. But this is completely laughable, as the rich get richer and the poor poorer.

This year, the bosses of the UK’s biggest corporations made more money by breakfast time on Friday than the average worker will earn in the space of twelve months!

At the same time, the ruling class wants to impose more pain on the working class by engineering a slump, in order to squeeze out inflation. Either way, tens of millions will suffer as a result.

While workers are forced to scrimp and go to food banks, the tycoons are laughing all the way to the bank with their bloated profits and salaries. They are simply putting up two fingers to the rest of us.

The Tories now promise to freeze energy prices for a period. But we are already paying massively inflated bills. Tens of millions will still face hardship and even destitution.

Rising interest rates will add to the pressures. And the collapse of the pound will push up the cost of UK imports, further fuelling inflation.

“A catastrophe is coming this winter as soaring energy bills risk causing serious physical and financial damage to families across Britain,” says John Marshall, senior economist at the Resolution Foundation. “We are on course for thousands to see their energy cut off entirely, while millions will be unable to pay bills and build up unmanageable arrears.”

No wonder people are fuming. The mass of workers are facing a disastrous cost-of-living crisis. It is this that is driving them to take industrial action.

‘Britannia Unchained’

Liz Kwasi Image Socialist AppealLiz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng have crashed the UK economy into a ditch, causing panic amongst investors with their mad plans for huge tax cuts and debt-driven growth / Image: Socialist Appeal

At the same time, the Tory government under Liz Truss wants ‘Britannia Unchained’ – the same title of a book that she and Kwasi Kwarteng, the new Chancellor, co-authored, which espouses the primacy of free markets and the power of capitalism.

Instead, however, they have crashed the UK economy into a ditch, causing panic amongst investors with their mad plans for huge tax cuts and debt-driven growth.

Truss wants capitalism in the raw, where workers are all at the mercy of the employers. We have already gone far down this road over the last forty years. And the results are clear to see: a low-skill, low-wage, burned-out workforce. No wonder hundreds of thousands have given up work.

Liz Truss has attacked British workers as “skivvers”. Yet workers in the UK work longer hours than anywhere in the European Union, with the shortest holidays, while many families have to work two or three jobs.

The joke is that Truss is presiding over, not ‘Britannia Unchained’, but capitalism relying on state handouts and taxpayers’ money! They are the real skivvers!

Militancy rising

Militancy Rising Image Socialist AppealToday’s militancy is coming from below, not from the leaders / Image: Socialist Appeal

These Tory leaders are as thick as two short planks, even more degenerate than their predecessors.

Truss, who models herself on Thatcher, is threatening to bring in tighter anti-union laws, in order to “tame” the trade unions who she alleges are “holding the country to ransom”. But as Unite general secretary Sharon Graham has warned: “If you force our legitimate activities outside of the law, then don’t expect us to play by the rules.”

Today’s militancy is coming from below, not from the leaders.

Gary Smith, the general secretary of the GMB, the country’s biggest industrial union, said that the number of workplaces voting for strikes reflected a deepening mood of anger.

“These ballot results are off the Richter scale,” Smith stated. “There are just a lot of pissed-off people saying something has to give.”

The Tories are stumbling from crisis to another. By their actions, they could easily stumble into a general strike – the first in nearly a century.

Sharon Graham has already warned that: “There could be hundreds of disputes involving tens of thousands of workers over the coming months if employers continue to offer real term wage cuts presented as pay rises.”

“Summer of discontent?”, she rhetorically asked. “We’ve had the spring, summer, autumn and winter of discontent with austerity every single season.”

Establishment servant

Kier in pocket Image Socialist AppealStarmer has perfected the art of grovelling before the powers that be. He is, after all, the leader of ‘His Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition’ / Image: Socialist Appeal

Such is the parlous state of British capitalism, it can no longer afford lasting reforms. In fact, all the gains won in the past are under threat. This is a recipe for all-out class war.

The Labour Party under the royalist Sir Keir Starmer, however, has nothing to offer but surrender. Our knight of the realm is a loyal servant of capitalism and the establishment, and will seek to work in their interest (the ‘national’ interest, of course).

Starmer has perfected the art of grovelling before the powers that be. He is, after all, the leader of ‘His Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition’.

“I was proud to underline the commitment of the Labour Party to serve its King,” Starmer has said. “Because service is the permanent bond between sovereign and subject.”

“At a time of uncertainty at home and abroad, the King is ready to renew his bond. Politics will unite behind him,” Starmer continued, waxing lyrical about his beloved monarchy.

These words sum up graphically where the loyalties of the leader of the opposition lie. He is a brown-nosed yes-man of the establishment.

Leon Trotsky accurately summed up the role of such creatures:

“The proletariat itself is restrained by precisely its own top leading layer, i.e. the Fabian politicians and their yes-men.

“These pompous authorities, pedants and haughty, high-falutin’ cowards are systematically poisoning the labour movement, clouding the consciousness of the proletariat and paralysing its will.

“It is only thanks to them that Toryism, Liberalism, the Church, the monarchy, the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie continue to survive and even suppose themselves to be firmly in the saddle.

“The Fabians, the ILPers and the conservative trade union bureaucrats today represent the most counter-revolutionary force in Great Britain, and possibly in the present stage of development, in the whole world.” (Where is Britain Going?)

Lackeys of capitalism

We can expect nothing from Starmer but submission. If he comes to power, he will act in the same way as the Tories, always putting the interests of capitalism first. But he will reap the whirlwind as the crisis of British capitalism deepens.

In carrying out his ‘duties’ he will tread the same path as Ramsay MacDonald, who stabbed the labour movement in the back in 1931, decamping to a Tory-Liberal national government. In passing, it should also be noted that the King at that time was involved in this conspiracy.

From where Starmer stands, there is a short step to a peerage and a seat in the House of Lords, dressed in their finery with the other privileged flunkies of capitalism.

“Workers must at all costs be shown these self-satisfied pedants, drivelling eclectics, sentimental careerists and liveried footmen of the bourgeoisie in their true colours,” explained Trotsky.

“To show them up for what they are means to discredit them beyond repair. To discord them means rendering a supreme service to historical progress. The day that the British proletariat cleanses itself of the spiritual abomination of Fabianism, mankind, especially in Europe, will increase its stature by a head.”

Nobody can have any illusions of this score. The right wing in the labour movement have sold themselves to the bankers and capitalists. They are indistinguishable from the Tories and the lackeys of capitalism.

Epoch of revolution

Revolutionary Organisation Image Socialist AppealWe will reach a point when the masses cannot live in the old way, and where the ruling class cannot rule in the old way. Then opens up the epoch of socialist revolution / Image: Socialist Appeal

The deepening crisis of British and world capitalism poses enormous challenges before the working class. This is no ordinary, temporary crisis, but an organic one. We are facing the death agony of capitalism, which will be protracted.

Everything is now being thrown into turmoil. The old certainties have disappeared. The past idea that tomorrow will be better than today, and the day after that better than tomorrow, no longer applies. This dream has now collapsed and consciousness is being transformed.

While we whole-heartedly welcome the reawakening of the British working class, as reflected in the present strike wave, together with the class language of some of the trade union leaders, our main task is to offer a programme and perspective that can offer a real way forward.

The continuation of capitalism will be a nightmare for the working class. We are not interested in sugary-sweet fairytales of reforming the capitalist system to make it nicer and fairer. There is no possibility of that whatsoever.

The heyday of capitalism has long gone. The epoch of lasting reforms has disappeared. The high-point of reformism has passed, when many held the belief that society could be progressively changed bit by bit.

Now the capitalist system has exhausted itself, as can be seen on a world scale. British capitalism is in terminal decline. Of course, it will not give way on its own account, but will need to be overthrown.

But it is precisely the impasse and decline of capitalism that prepares the conditions for its eventual overthrow. We will reach a point when the masses cannot live in the old way, and where the ruling class cannot rule in the old way. Then opens up the epoch of socialist revolution.

We are at the beginning of this process. Nevertheless, all the signs are there. The institutions and pillars of capitalism are in deep crisis. Public trust in them has plummeted. According to a recent opinion poll, 47% of people have lost trust in British politicians over the last 12 months. That view is much greater amongst the youth.

A feeling of doom is present in ruling circles. “We have dealt with one crisis that was supposed to be once-in-a-generation, and we have just walked into another one,” explained one commentator at the Treasury. And there are more crises to come, we should add.

No middle road

What is required is not this or that sticking plaster, but a root and branch overturn of the system.

But this is precisely the failings of the left reformists, who seek a solution within the confines of capitalism. They think that by tinkering with the system, they can solve its problems. But no amount of ‘taxing the rich’ or ‘closing the loopholes’ will eradicate the deep-seated crisis.

The ‘lefts’ look to Keynesianism, pump-priming the economy, and ‘boosting demand’. They fail to understand that capitalism has reached its limits, and exhausted its role. The entire capitalist system is in a blind alley from which it cannot escape.

The left reformists have no perspective of overthrowing capitalism. As a result, they tend to compromise with the right wing, the open agents of capitalism.

This was the sad experience of Corbynism in the Labour Party. Instead of launching an all-out struggle against the right wing, the left leaders chose appeasement instead. This then sealed their fate.

Likewise, the example of the ‘left’ in Unison, who scandalously abandoned Paul Holmes – the left-wing former president of the union – to his fate at the hands of the bureaucracy.

At the Unison conference, these ‘lefts’ (organised under the ‘Time For Real Change’ banner) capitulated to the pressures of the right wing, and criminally covered up their retreat with concessions to identity politics.

As Trotsky explained:

“The wolliness of the British ‘lefts’ together with their theoretical formlessness, and their political indecision, not to mention cowardice, makes the clique of MacDonald, Webb and Snowden master of the situation which in turn is impossible without Thomas. If the bosses of the British Labour Party form a bridle placed upon the working class then Thomas is the buckle into which the bourgeoisie slips the reins.”

MacDonald, Webb, and Snowden were the equivalent to the Starmers of today. Thomas was a right wing trade union leader who sold out.

Sadly, today’s lefts are little different from those Trotsky referred to in his time. In the face of the aggression of the right wing, they tend to run for cover.

If we are to really change society, we must learn from these humiliating retreats and capitulations. What is required is a firm leadership with a Marxist understanding; one that grasps the seriousness of the situation and draws the necessary conclusions. There is no middle road.

Marxist leadership

Marxist Leadership Image Socialist AppealOn the basis of mighty events, the working class will be pushed in a revolutionary direction / Image: Socialist Appeal

The period we have entered is one of storms and stress. On the basis of mighty events, as night follows day, the working class will be pushed in a revolutionary direction.

Unfortunately, the current leaders are not up to the task. They are continually looking for an easy way out, which does not exist. They have no faith in the working class; and they have no perspective of revolutionary change. When faced with a revolutionary situation, such leaders will inevitably retreat and seek to compromise. That is the road of defeat.

What is needed is a revolutionary leadership that is prepared to go all the way. Of course, such a leadership will not fall from the skies; nor can it be improvised. It has to be built now, in preparation for the future.

In the dark days of the First World War, all the socialist internationalists of the world were able to meet and fit in a small room in Switzerland. Within two years, the Bolsheviks had come to power in Russia. This transformed the entire position internationally.

The situation today is certainly more protracted. However, the task of constructing such a leadership has already begun, in the building of the International Marxist Tendency.

We are under no illusion that our forces are small, while our tasks are enormous. We base ourselves on the unfolding crisis, and on the revolutionary legacy of physical force Chartism and the best traditions of the working class.

“Today in Britain,” wrote Trotsky, “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 education and preparatory work of the party of the proletariat, and at the same time creating conditions for its rapid revolutionary formation.”

Not so long ago, those who raised the possibility of revolution in Britain were regarded as deluded. Today, given the cataclysm facing the working class, such an idea is not so easily dismissed. In fact, with or without us, the revolution is being prepared by the objective situation.

The 1920s and 1930s was a classic period of revolution and counter-revolution. Today, we have again entered such a period, but on a higher level. The question is not ‘is there going to be a revolution in Britain in the years that lie ahead?’ but, more importantly, ‘will it be successful?’

For that to happen, we need to build an alternative leadership now.

We therefore appeal to workers, and especially the youth, to come and help us. Our future is at stake.

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