The Socialist editorial issue 967
Tories torn – bin them now
May’s EU malaise reflects crisis for capitalist class
Fight for a socialist Brexit to bring the whole lot down
This brutal, broken Tory government is limping. May’s premiership hangs by a thread.
Her party is locked in what could be the deepest crisis in its history. As workers gather outside parliament to protest against the public sector pay cap, it’s clear that the time for the trade union movement to act is now.
The uprising that took place on 8 June – when millions defied the solemn warnings and sneering dismissals of the capitalist establishment by voting for an alternative to austerity – has dealt a potentially mortal blow to May, as well as the whole Tory regime.
Weakened, the prime minister now faces what is, from the point of view of Britain’s capitalist class, a nightmare task. She is attempting to negotiate a deal on Brexit while simultaneously holding her party together. Achieving both aims is likely to prove impossible.
But while this situation is a disaster for the Tories and their super-rich friends, for our class it presents an opportunity. Faced with mass mobilisations of workers and young people, this government can crumble and fall.
This means the leadership of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) must immediately break with its current policy of ‘wait and see and hope for the best’, and instead seize the initiative. It should start by calling a huge national demonstration. This could be used to build up to widespread, nationally coordinated strike action to break the pay cap.
Among working class people there is clearly appetite for action. This was demonstrated over the summer in the many disputes that broke out on a local level – among the Birmingham bin workers, Barts Trust hospital staff, and BA cabin crew, for example. More recently, it has also been shown in the overwhelming vote to strike by postal workers – action currently being frustrated by an outrageous anti-union legal injunction.
If a lead was given, whether by the leadership of the trade union movement or by Jeremy Corbyn calling people to the streets, Britain could rapidly erupt in mass protest. A crisis for the Tories is a crisis for the class they represent – the super-rich 0.1%. But for working class people, it provides a fresh opportunity to build a movement to kick them out and to bring an end to the hated austerity agenda.
The malaise May’s party faces is not really about the antics of Johnson or other Tory mega-egos. Its causes are far more fundamental. It is a result of the profound crisis facing the capitalist system on an international scale. But it is also a symptom of the specific crisis faced by British capitalism.
Four months ago, Theresa May stood on the steps of Downing Street to announce her intention to call a general election. In a speech brimming with hubris, she declared that through securing an (inevitably) increased majority, it would be possible to “remove the risk of uncertainty and instability [posed by Brexit] and continue to give the country the strong and stable leadership it demands.”
In saying this, she unwittingly hinted at reality. May called the election because she was in an already weakened position. This was not a personal weakness as such. It was a weakened position for her party and the capitalist class who it exists to represent.
Because the revolt of 8 June 2017 was in fact the second of two major electoral revolts that took place within a short space of time. The first came just under a year earlier in the form of the vote to leave the European Union.
The Leave vote was not an endorsement of Johnson, Gove or Farage, or of their divisive and racist campaign. First and foremost it was an expression of raw class anger. It was, at bottom, a protest aimed at the austerity agenda, at the capitalist establishment and at the EU as an institution which fundamentally works in the interests of the small, rich few.
May has emerged from ‘unscheduled’ talks with president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker on the Brexit deal looking more vulnerable than ever. There is a reason why, when asked how she would vote in an EU referendum were it held again today, she dodges the question. It is in the interests of British capitalism – of bankers, big business and the rich – that Britain remains within the EU, particularly within the single market and the customs union.
Yet May is being forced to face both ways. Every attempt she makes at a conciliatory approach to the EU can be seized upon by the so-called ‘hard-brexiteers’ in the Tory party. Meanwhile, the heads of capitalist governments around Europe, who make up the European Council and who appoint the European Commission, are anxious to ensure that there is no ‘easy exit’ for Britain – fearful of the potential for the project’s unravelling.
Understandably, many working class people in Britain feel worried about the economic instability that could result from what’s termed a ‘hard Brexit’ – not to mention the continued uncertainty over the future status of EU citizens living in the UK. But the reality is that Johnson, Gove, Juncker and May have no genuine concern for the lives and wellbeing of working class people, either in Britain or elsewhere.
The true face of the European Union has been shown in the last month, by their backing of Spain’s right-wing government in its attempts to brutally suppress the right of the Catalan people to self-determination. It was shown in 2015 when, as working class people in Greece voted overwhelmingly for an end to punishing austerity, the EU used all its strength to impose a crushing defeat on the Syriza government, whose leadership outrageously capitulated to their demands.
What kind of Brexit?
That’s why the real debate must not be about a hard versus a soft Brexit, but a workers’ versus a bosses’ Brexit. During the election campaign, Corbyn correctly hinted at this, and gained a wide echo from working class people. But any attempt by the Labour leadership to correctly use the Tory divisions to hasten the end of the government must not miss the central point, that any ‘deal’ done by May (or any other representative of the capitalist class) will fundamentally be about protecting the interests of big business, at the expense of working class people.
The ruling class are increasingly looking to the Blairites – the representatives of the 1% within the Labour Party –
to exert pressure on the Labour leadership to soften their position on various issues, particularly those surrounding the Brexit negotiations. This is a symptom of the concern among the ruling class about their lack of reliable political representation, as well as their fear of a Corbyn-led government that could further awaken the appetites of working class people for radical change.
Rather than retreating under this pressure, Corbyn must instead stand up to the right, and outline the case for a socialist Brexit. This would be based on protecting the interests of working class people in Britain, whichever country they were born in, and on international solidarity with working class people fighting back across Europe and the rest of the world.
That would mean exiting all EU treaties that act against the interests of working class people. It would include, for example, abolishing all those rules which outlaw nationalisation and which allow for the super-exploitation of workers through agreements like the posted-workers directive.
It would mean being prepared to meet the blackmail of the capitalist class, whose threats of economic Armageddon are creating fear and confusion, with socialist measures. Being prepared to nationalise not just a few selected industries but the banks and the major monopolies that dominate the British economy.
This would pave the way for working class people to democratically plan production to meet the needs of everyone. It would provide the opportunity to use the vast wealth, currently concentrated in the hands of the tiny few, to provide healthcare, education, jobs and housing to all who need them. It would provide the opportunity to build a socialist society for the many, not the few. Such an approach would be popular not just in Britain, but across Europe, and could be a first step towards a socialist confederation of the continent as a whole.