It seems we’ve lost a revolution before it even got started
I’ve spent the last couple of months trying to get my head around the absurdity that is British capitalism as it tries to square the circle. Engaged in what can only be called even by capitalist standards, an act of economic suicide, aside from an inevitable increase in strikes as capital exerts pressure on what’s left of the organized working class, the response from the public is noticeable only by its absence to the proposed massive cuts in public spending.
The BBC of course is working flat out to put the ‘correct’ spin on the disaster that is the British economy simply by assuming that the deficit has to be reduced and thus ‘news’ reporting on the subject is pre-ordained, it’s just a question of how much? According to a BBC poll conducted this month, 66 per cent of the great British public are in favour of cuts to the social services “in order to cut the government’s deficit”. Whose deficit?
The question of course is loaded as do the people questioned equate social services with ‘benefits’ and all that the word means? In other words, ‘scroungers’ and the inevitable ‘work-shy’ amongst us.
“[Don’t cuts in social spending] set the building blocks for economic recovery?”
“You do accept that private sector investment will eventually pick up the slack after cuts in public spending?” (BBC ‘news’ announcer to GMB Union spokesperson 8/9/10).
And so it goes…
By proposing cuts as high as 40% of our social infrastructure, the government might just as well hand out free vials of cyanide to millions of public service workers and then to the thousands of small, medium-sized businesses that get fifty per cent of their business from government according to the BBC.
The economy in the UK is per se the government, period. The rest is consumption and the financial sector and of course the ubiquitous media/propaganda sector. Take away the government as the main investor/employer and the UK has no economy. It’s that obvious.
The reality is that millions in the middle classes are going to be shoved back into the working poor, on minimum wage and no longer able to drive a consumer-based economy, on credit of course. We need only to look at the US where the process is more advanced for a taste of things to come here in the UK. The final act of a parasitic capitalism with a tiny percentage owning everything, managed by a shrunken middle class who consume most everything and of course the rest of us. Welcome to the world of fast food and part-time work.
I imagine that this is how Karl Marx felt after the failure of the Europe-wide (failed) insurrections that took place in 1848, the so-called Year of Revolutions? Not that we’ve had one yet alone several, revolutions, failed or otherwise. Nevertheless, looking back on the past sixty-five years to the year I was born, 1945, and the birth of ‘liberal democracy’ or capitalism with a human face, it becomes much clearer as to why the left failed to carry through a full-blown revolution following WWII and we’re living with the results right now as ‘democratic capitalism’ dumps all pretense at being democratic or even being anything other than a giant printing machine, dishing out the dosh to the banks who lend it back to government (with interest) and we get to pay the interest on the money we (that is, ‘our’ government) lent the thieves in the first place! It’s a real neat sleight-of-hand and done in full view of the public. It’s like rubbing salt in the collective wound.
The failure of the left to offer a viable alternative is often put down to the fact that the Soviet Union, our ‘role model’ so-to-speak, failed and while the birth and death of state socialism is intimately connected to our own national, political identity, ultimately the failure of the left is ours and ours alone.
In reality, the left, in most its forms, jettisoned the idea of revolution decades ago, if not in words then most definitely in deeds. Instead what we have is the central dogma that somehow capitalism can be reformed from ‘within’ (though within what is not apparent), a process that came to fruition with the election of the post-war Labour goverment in 1945.
Not coincidentally, this was also the birth of the idea of a ‘liberal democracy’ and the adopting of the ideas of Keynes, that is, massive state intervention in the economy as capitalism in its pre-war form was utterly discredited as well as being bankrupt right across Europe.
Acting under pressure from below as well as the literal bankruptcy of capitalism, the state was forced to replace private investment with public, the so-called nationalization of private assets; energy, transport, health, communications and housing being the principle areas.
Then came the Cold War.
This was capitalism with a ‘socialist face’ and it followed from this that most of the left outside the Labour Party saw the road to socialism through the parliamentary process. The British Communist Party called it “The British Road to Socialism” and it was codified in the Party’s programme. No rolling into Parliament Square on top of a T-34 tank, or whatever the current equivalent is, comrades.
The problem of course was that the British CP was tiny (as was the rest of the left), even if very influential in many areas but it spent most of its energies battling to place party members in positions of power within the trade unions, where it carried on vicious fights with the right-wing who were doing the same thing. Or just as worse, carrying on endless internecine battles with ‘ultra-lefts’ or ‘revisionists’ of various flavours. This was the legacy of a political party borne out of industrial trade unionism allied to an left intellectual middle class, borne out of Empire.
Meanwhile, successive Labour governments carried on with ‘business as usual’, that is to say carrying out imperial/colonial policies that had absolutely nothing to do with socialism but doing it in the name of socialism!
This presented a real dilemma for the left where the battle cry (or whimper) was ‘keep the Tories out’ even if it meant electing a Labour government that was little different from its Tory counterpart, operating under the illusion that we had more leverage over a Labour government. For some of us, voting for a reactionary candidate allegedly belonging to the ‘party of labour’ was a step too far, yet decades later I am witnessing the same thing all over again! Even that champion of the left, George Galloway, when questioned by the writer as to what kind of ‘social democratic’ government he (that is, the Respect Party) wanted to see, the answer was: a return to ‘old Labour’!
Well, if nothing else the illusion has finally been shattered but not because of our own actions but by the failure of capitalism itself. What an irony! You have to ask yourself why it is that the birthplace of trade unions, the idea of modern democracy and socialism has come to such an ignominious denouement?
Immersed in Empire
It’s obvious, at least to me, that virtually every public expression, whether from the state or the corporates articulates an almost unconscious view of the world through the eyes of Empire. And I mean everything. Every utterance on the radio, TV, the newspapers, in our legal system, education, our dominant culture, you name it, reek of Empire.
And it has the appearance of a force of Nature, so deeply entrenched is it in our consciousness, so much so that it is part of our everyday speech. It’s a view of the world much like that of the Catholic Church five hundred years ago that put the Earth at the centre of the Universe. So too, we here in England and other so-called developed nations, view the world through the same prism; an unconscious assumption about our innate superiority and centrality to everything deemed important in the world.
Take for example how we have responded to the plight of the Palestinian people. Why can can we care about millions of innocent victims of floods, earthquakes and the like but not the imprisonment and the slow, tortuous extermination of an entire culture?
Why do we even contemplate our government threatening a war against Iran? A country that has never to my knowledge invaded anyone. How else do you explain our collective indifference to the threats by the US and Israel to bomb Iran?
So okay, one million-plus people marched against the invasion of Iraq in 2003 but once ‘our boys were over there’ it was back to the imperial mindset. Never mind that for the previous twelve years we had acquiesced to the deliberate murder of over one million Iraqis through the misnamed sanctions imposed on Iraq.
That the British Empire is very much a thing of the past, if anything exacerbates this myopic and inbred view of the peoples of the planet through a yearning expressed daily in our mass media for the Empire’s glorious past. I kid you not, a day doesn’t pass without at least one WWII movie being aired on the TV as well as our current obsession with examining ‘our’ past through the same imperially-tinted glasses that has no end in sight. The airwaves are littered with Victorian this and Elizabethan that and what with the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain (closely followed by the Blitz) upon us, the wave of Patria overwhelms all else, even as the economy collapses around our ears.
Most miserably and depressing of all, is the realization that viewing the world through the eyes of Empire permeates the left here almost as completely as it does everything else. Do I include myself? Well of course I do, how can I not? I am also immersed in Empire. Okay, I’ve lived in a lot of different cultures, adsorbed different worldviews and consequently I have for a long time considered myself a citizen not of the UK but of the Earth. But I can’t get away from the fact that I’m still a ‘white boy’, even if pretty much a mongrel version of same.
I have been struggling with how to present the ‘change of government’ from a left perspective and try and explain, especially the left’s such as it is, response (such as it is) to Tory/Lib-Dem ‘coalition’s’ attacks on pretty much whatever remains of the gains we have made over the past sixty years.
In part, the lack of a response can be put down to the all too comfortable relationship between the political class and what’s left of our trade unions, the bulk of which consist of public service workers, transport and communications. The rest is down to our almost total lack of a political culture.
I contend that the above explains in part why our reaction, or lack of one, to the current crisis is virtually non-existent. Yes, some of the major public service unions have made public grumbles about the cuts, amputations would be a better word, to our social infrastructure. But these are the same unions that are part of the state that would amputate its own limbs and the state is not only biggest single employer in the country, it also the single biggest spender on capital investment. The state is everything what with private capital fleeing to greener pastures like China or into the intangible world of financial speculation where nothing ever gets added to the social good. What we have now is a parasitical capitalism writ real large. And, it would appear, a parasitical trade union leadership whose public articulations reflect their allegiance to a capitalism that no longer exists, represented by calls for a return to ‘old Labour’.
But the actual reality is somewhat different: the UK is no longer an industrial capitalist economy with a large industrial working class. Actual manufacturing in the UK now constitutes around six percent of GDP. The only solution to the crisis of capital is to simply do away with vast chunks of the infrastructure that has been constructed. But it won’t be the occupation of Afghanistan (£3 million a day), Trident nuclear missiles (£20 billion) that gets axed.
It’s true to say that rather than recognize that capitalism is now simply an untenable system that produces nothing of any real value to anybody except the owners of capital, it has harnessed the political class with the task of devouring our social assets until there’s nothing left to devour.
What we have in the way of socially owned (if in name only) resources were won through decades of struggle conducted by millions of people in all walks of life, but principally through our once proud trade unions and the mass political organization of the Labour Party, supported by other left and progressive formations, principally the Communist Party, small as it actually was. But a truly imperial working class nevertheless as events have revealed.
Our collective immersion in the mindset of Empire goes pretty much all the way when it comes to our reactions to the ongoing (for the umpteenth time) crisis of capital, each successive crash worse than the last.
Thus, the change in government is in reality, no real change at all, propelled as it is by the demands of the financial class determined to reverse the gains won through decades of struggle, in order to maintain profits for a parasitical class that contributes nothing in the way of real value to society.
So what I’m saying here is that we have reached the point in the degradation of liberal democracy when it doesn’t matter which political party is in power, they are all slightly different flavours of the same thing: a professional political class whose main objective in life is to maintain their positions of privilege and to defend the interests of capital.
If nothing else, the ‘betrayal’ by the Liberal Democrats of its (shrinking) support illustrates the dilemma to perfection. The political class is in crisis and the role played by the ‘deficit’ as a justification for dumping whatever alleged principles our political class possesses has forced the LIberal-Democrats to commit political suicide.
And as the enormity of the Tory government’s massive cuts ‘trickle down’ to the populace, we see even the Tory Party itself divided, with its traditional right-wing core challenging the young upstart David Cameron for control and after all Cameron did to try and outdo Labour and drag the party into well if not the 21st century then perhaps the 20th.
It’s all so predictable and as I predicted at the beginning of this piece, it’s the ‘hard right’ of the Tory Party that is now openly baying for the blood of all those ‘scroungers’ on Benefit.
No wonder the public reaction is noticeable by its absence, divorced as it is from the political process completely. Frankly, we all might as well be living on a different planet from our rulers, that’s how much control we have over our own futures.