Spiralling into a dangerous place

Corruption, attacks on human rights and right wing populism, Britain is spiralling into a deep reactionary nightmare. But we can organise and fight back writes Anti*Capitalist Resistance.


We at a dangerous cross roads.

The authoritarianism of the Conservative party is untrammelled. They pursue their reactionary agenda with relish. Accountability is a joke. The official opposition is weak to the point of non-existence

The U.K government is morally corrupt. The downfall of Matt Hancock only accelerated the Conservatives desire for a bonfire of COVID regulations. Freedom Day on 19 July marked a decisive turning point in government policy away from social responsibility towards individual responsibility. Now the numbers in hospital, the numbers dying every day from COVID will be blamed on the public.

The U.K government is financially corrupt. Every day more stories emerge of government corruption over health contracts, over access to ministers, David Cameron lobbying the Chancellor directly on behalf of businesses. Over £10.5bn worth of pandemic – health contacts issued with no competitive process. The Conservative party received £2.6m in donations from shadowy anonymous funders, with large amounts going to Tory MPs in the so-called Red Wall seats.

The Council of Europe which monitors the human rights and rule of law in member states gave Britain a 42% compliance rating, the lowest since records began in 2000. The danger is the pervasive sense of inconsequentialism about politics. If you believe that all politicians are corrupt bastards then you cannot really muster the anger to be outraged by it. The standard response is to shrug.

But more needs to be done. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill was passed by the House of Commons with all of its reactionary policies intact. Keir Starmer – who stood for Labour leader on the back of his human rights work as a lawyer – chose to focus his time in the debate on the question of pet theft. Now they want to make the humanitarian rescue of drowning refugees illegal. The PCSC bill will criminalise the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community – a blatant racist attack.

Kill the Bill protest at Parliament Square, London 5th July 2021. (Steve Eason)

We cannot underestimate just how serious the authoritarian turn is in Britain. The new powers can be used at will by police to shut down protests. Britain is becoming a country where political and civil rights exist only as hypocrisies – on paper we have the right to strike, the right to protest, but in practice we live under rules that prohibit an effective opposition to the government and the employers.

The opposition to the PCSC Bill started off strong but the coalition wasn’t able bring together the kind of social forces that were needed to scare the government.

This has echoes of the failure to stop the Trade Union Act 2016 where the dead hand of the trade union bureaucracy couldn’t even muster any energy for a campaign despite having 6.5 million members of unions to mobilise. The Kill the Bill Coalition doesn’t suffer from the same problem, but for various reasons couldn’t sustain a campaign during the crucial period of parliamentary debate on the bill. Now the hope seems to primarily lie that the more liberal minded Lords might amend the bill – this is not a sign of strength but of our weakness.

This hollowing out of capitalist democracy and a rise in authoritarianism isn’t only a British phenomena, it is international. Globalisation and neo-liberalism has eaten away at the political fabric of society. Trump may have been defeated in the last presidential elections but the social and economic centrifugal forces that are winding faster and faster will produce more monsters, much worse.

This is a dangerous time. The climate crisis gets worse by the month. The heatwave over the USA and then flooding across Germany are just two of the recent fatal events that will become more common as global heating intensifies. The Amazon Rainforest is now a net producer of green house gases because of extensive logging and all the fires to clear land for farming. Considering the Amazon is referred to as the “lungs of the world” it shows the extent of the crisis. Meanwhile billionaires like Richard Branson and Elon Musk play with their space toys, conspicuous expenditure on vanity projects because they are just so rich they have nothing else to do.

Back on Earth, Biden toys with the idea of a new international tax regime that likely will never happen and even if it does the super rich will just find new ways to evade it. The liberal elites are starting to realise that things cannot continue as they are and that the current situation is only fuelling the growth of the far right. But they are wedded to capitalism, they cannot fundamentally change it or meddle with its essential purpose, so they tinker around the edges hoping to make it work. Meanwhile, whilst the liberal elites prevaricate, reactionary forces continue to muster.

We live in an age of paranoid delusions where there is little trust in mainstream politics. But this vacuum hasn’t been filled by the left, but by an inchoate and nebulous alliance of libertarianism, conspiracy-mongers, fascists and déclassé eccentrics. A clear warning was the People’s Assembly demonstration in late June was dwarfed by the much larger anti-lockdown/anti-vaxxer protest which marched across it. Anti-vaccine voices are loud and very motivated on social media. They often use left wing rhetoric ‘don’t trust the government’, ‘it’s all about Big Pharma profits’ but these are deployed to make the case for a hyper individualist view of the world, that a concept of public health is meaningless and individual liberty trumps  collective social need. 

Socialist values and strategies

But there is hope. Studies into social attitudes constantly reveal the number of young people who consider themselves socialist remains very high. A study from the right-wing think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs, found that 16 to 34-year-olds are “hostile to capitalism”. Around 40% of under 34s stated that “communism could have worked if it had been better executed”. 75 per cent agreed that climate change is a specifically capitalist problem and 71 per cent agree with the assertion that capitalism fuels racism. Significant numbers.

So it isn’t that socialist and left wing values are marginal, they are not.  But there is a problem of political strategy and organisation. The post-Corbyn the left is still in a state of confusion, with few fixed coordinates. Huge rows over Brexit and trans-rights have sowed bitter seeds. Some want to concentrate on the fight going on in Labour. Others want a return to the social movements. Some focus on breaking up the British state as the strategic priority. Parts of the left are doubling down on the concept of the working class as economically protectionist and socially conservative, critical of the ‘liberal left’ and its emphasis on immigrants rights and LGBTQ questions. Others fundamentally disagree with this reactionary view.

The decline and fragmentation of the revolutionary socialist left can be seen in the weakness of the Kill the Bill campaign and the chronic weakness of the trade unions – both symptoms the same wider issue. The trade unions are still the largest organised force across Britain with over 6 million members, yet the leaders remain passive, refusing to actively mobilise their members for mass protests let alone strikes.

There are important protest movements, like Black Lives Matters, women’s rights in response to the murder of Sarah Everard and the Palestine protests, but they urgently need to build upon the organisational  skills and political insights of those involved in order to build and maintain them

However, lots of people believe in socialism, and left wing values are still widely held across the population. The question is to turn the vague sense of wanting a better world into an actual strategy that can mobilise people to greater action. 

Without that significant well organised socialist movement which can sustain activity and a positive intellectual space of ideas and culture, we will always struggle to achieve some of the best moments of what the socialist left has done – the Rock Against Racism and anti fascist campaign of the late 1970s, the anti-Poll Tax movement 1988-1990, the Stop the War movement 2001-2005.

This is not to signal doom, but it indicates that there has to be a real effort to make the case not just for socialism as a value system but as an active strategy that needs to be fought for and therefore needs organisation. Anti-Capitalist Resistance is a contribution towards this but we know we cannot do it alone, it will require wider realignment and engaging with new forces to make it happen.

The fightback

So what way forward? The fight for democracy is central. Defending the political and social rights we have now has to be at the forefront. We need a sense of energy, for instance mass assemblies (either online or in person – COVID permitting) across the country of trade union branches, campaigns and radical organisations where we can discuss the wider fight against the Tories and climate death would help provide focus.

A left network of trade unionists committed to class struggle across the private and public sector would help coordinate socialists across trade unions. Connecting this with a vision of a better world, one based on solidarity and support for each other, not on ethnic or national divisions.

We have to fight the culture war and not shy away from it. Working people are worried about the future, wages are low, jobs are bad, houses are too expensive, there is no sense of security for people. Making clear argument not just against the Tories but against the entire economic system is essential. And young trade unionists in Empower our unions are meeting to coordinate strike action against climate change. There is a lot to do, but a lot of potential not just resistance but revolution.

Anti*Capitalist Resistance Steering Committee

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