The ruling class can survive any crisis if the working class lets it. This must be a our starting-point.
The Johnson regime is facing a perfect winter storm caused by Brexit, Covid, and Tory austerity.
There are around a million job vacancies in Britain. More than a million foreign workers have left Britain in the last few years. You do not need a degree in economics to make the connection. These drastic labour shortages are due to Brexit and Covid – though we can only guess at the relative weight of each.
The vacancies include around 100,000 in the NHS, 120,000 in care homes, 120,000 in hospitality, and 100,000 in road haulage. All four of these sectors traditionally rely heavily on migrant workers. So another way of looking at this is to say that the crisis has been caused in large part by Tory racism.
Brexit was never about economics: it was about nationalism and racism. It was perfectly obvious that, in the context of an increasingly globalised capitalist system, British withdrawal from the EU trading bloc was a form of economic sabotage. Brexit was – and is – a culture war. It is about right-wing ideology, not capitalist rationality.
The black nucleus of Brexit is anti-migrant racism. It comes wrapped in a layer of vaguer anti-foreigner xenophobia and vacuous flag-waving. It is a political amalgam of the politics of The Sun and The Telegraph. It is a device for rolling the backward working class, the reactionary petty-bourgeoisie, and the shire middle class into an electoral bloc.
More specifically, Brexit was a mechanism to enable the Right to take control of the Tory Party and then to win a general election under the leadership of a hollow narcissist and opportunist who believes in nothing except his own advancement.
Lexit madness and reformist accommodation
This was never understood by the Left sects – who campaigned for ‘No’ in the EU Referendum and in favour of something they called ‘Lexit’ (Left Exit), while denouncing the rest of us as liberal supporters of the EU bureaucracy. The argument was that the breakup of the EU would set Europe on the road to socialism. This fantasy – at a time of historic weakness for the working-class movement – befuddled and comprised the entire Left, from Corbynistas to Trotskyists, leaving it incapable of waging an effective counterattack against Tory Brexit.
This was most obvious inside the Labour Party. The party – which under Corbyn surged to a mass membership of 600,000 – could have carried the message onto every working-class estate in Britain. What would the headline messages have been? ‘Don’t be conned by Tory racism. Migrant workers are not to blame. They live and work alongside us. The Tories want to divide and distract us. Our enemies are the bankers and the corporations. We must end bailouts for the rich and austerity for the rest. We need massive public investment in homes, hospitals, schools, jobs, and a green transition. And we must make the tax-dodgers and money-launderers pay.’
But this is not what happened. On the central issue of the day – Brexit – they fudged. This is what reformists always do. They duck the hardest arguments and accommodate to the Right.
This applies not only to the Labour Left. It applies even more to the Labour Right. Starmer is a perfect illustration. There is no need to elaborate on what everyone knows: he is mind-numbingly dull; he is devoid of vision and ideals; he is a neoliberal technocrat who represents the rich and the corporations; and so on. I make only this point. Starmer was in the forefront of the ‘Yes’ campaign during the EU Referendum. Not on a socialist basis – that is, because, like the anti-Brexit Left, he was opposed to the nationalist-racist ideology of the Tory Right (and its UKIP/Brexit Party fellow-travellers) – but because he is a neoliberal centrist like Blair. Look what is happening now.
If Starmer was an effective opposition leader, he would be tearing the Tories apart. He might say: ‘The food and fuel shortages, the crisis in social care, the crisis in the NHS are a direct consequence of Tory Brexit – of Tory racism – of Tory attacks on migrant workers.’ But he does not, and will not, and that is because he will not use the B-word for fear of scaring off backward working-class voters in the Red Wall. Like all reformists, instead of taking on the hard arguments – instead of representing working-class interests in the ideological realm – he accommodates to the prevailing mood.
Gramsci talks about wars of position and wars of manoeuvre; and he talks about a ruling-class ideological hegemony based on the ‘commonsense’ of everyday life under capitalism. Every time socialists duck or fudge an argument, they leave ‘commonsense’ unchallenged, strengthen ruling-class hegemony, and lose ground in the war of position. This, in a nutshell, is the whole sorry story of Lexit since 2016.
From culture war to class war?
We might now be poised to move from a Tory-managed culture war to a Tory-triggered class war. As well as massive labour shortages and a crisis in public service and supply chains, we also have a full-scale attack on working-class living standards, with cuts in real-terms public-sector pay (notably in the NHS), cuts in benefits (the axeing of the £20 Universal Credit top-up), increases in taxes on ordinary people (the National Insurance hike), and rapidly rising inflation.
But Labour has ceased to be an opposition party. It is an alternative neoliberal party that supports austerity, privatisation, corporate power, the relentless siphoning of wealth to the top, and, of course, the nationalist flag-waving and anti-migrant racism of the Tories.
The trade union leaders are little better. They are rhetorically to the left of Starmer and the Blairites who now control the Labour Party. Some of them, like the new Unite leader, are vocal in their distancing from Labour and their assertion of ‘bread and butter’ working-class interests.
But the litmus test is this: will they call on their members and the wider working class to break the anti-union laws, take all-out industrial action, and adopt the militant tactics essential to victory – mass pickets, flying pickets, solidarity strikes, self-defence against police attacks, and so on? To ask the question may be to answer it.
The Tories will survive the winter storm if we let them. If our side is going to turn their crisis into our opportunity, we are going to need to organise from below.
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