Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/29597

Posted on 18 September 2019 at 14:54 GMT

The editorial of Socialism Today no.232, October 2019
Socialism Today edition 232

Socialism Today edition 232   (Click to enlarge)

Stand firm against the pro-capitalist politicians

Have the September shenanigans in Westminster fatally undermined the chances of a Corbyn-led government being elected this autumn? And, as pertinently, what do they say about the character of such a government if it were to come to power in the midst of the political crisis and looming economic turbulence now confronting British capitalism?

Jeremy Corbyn's first concession as Labour leader to the pro-capitalist Blairites who dominate the Parliamentary Labour Party was to agree, within days of his victory in 2015, that he would support a remain vote in all circumstances in the then forthcoming EU referendum.

While a referendum, reducing issues to a simple government-set binary choice, is not an ideal terrain for the workers' movement to fight for its collective interests, it could still have been an opportunity to give a working-class lead to the cry of rage at the capitalist establishment and its austerity agenda which the 2016 vote for leave at root represented.

Imagine how differently the debate around the EU would have developed had Corbyn stuck to his previous position of, correctly, opposing the neoliberal character of the EU bosses' club and its policies; while explaining the need to negotiate a new relationship with the other 27 member states - which is what Brexit ultimately means - based on socialist policies and workers' solidarity across borders. But the opportunity was lost.

A new chance to change the narrative, however, presented itself in September, as the implosion of the Tory party gathered pace.

Jeremy Corbyn's letter over the summer to other opposition parties and Tory rebel MPs proposed a no-confidence motion to bring down Boris Johnson and the formation of a minority Labour government. This, he argued, would then seek an extension from the EU of the 31 October Brexit date in order to avoid a no-deal crash-out and allow for the calling of an early general election.

An October contest on such a basis - vote to stop an imminent no-deal Brexit with its consequences now more apparent to all, and for a Corbyn government to reopen talks with the EU for a new pro-worker withdrawal agreement to be put to a confirmatory referendum - could have decisively defeated Johnson.

But instead, under pressure from the Blairites and the Liberal Democrats in particular, Corbyn's proposal was withdrawn and the consequent alternative 'strategy' of parliamentary game-playing saw Labour twice decline the chance of an election. Johnson remains in number ten.

A fundamental rule of an independent workers' movement fighting for its own class interests is that its political representatives should assume no responsibility for the stances taken by pro-capitalist politicians - let them attempt to resolve their own crises, if they can! The ex-chancellor Philip Hammond, now expelled from the Tories as Johnson seemingly moves to consolidate the right-populists' grip on the party brand, was indignant at the jeers from the government benches that he was helping Corbyn by opposing a no-deal Brexit. "I would sooner boil my head than hand power to the leader of the opposition", he retorted (4 September). But that's for him to decide - his choice, not ours!

Jeremy Corbyn should have stood firm and tabled a no-confidence motion and let the various stripes of pro-capitalist politicians - from the anti-no deal Tories and the Lib Dems through to the Blairites and the Scottish National Party - show their colours.

Instead, Labour was seen to be running away from an election, bolstering Johnson's efforts to portray himself as 'the people's champion' against 'the Westminster establishment' - including Jeremy Corbyn. The 33% opinion poll average currently scored by the Tories, while down on their 43% vote share in the 2017 general election, would not preclude a Johnson victory.

But the September setback can still be recovered from if the trade unions, more particularly the left-led unions acting as a lever on the others, intervene decisively in the events ahead.

Pushing this along is justification alone for the bold decision to stand the leading lay representative and Socialist Party member Marion Lloyd as a candidate in the election for the general secretary of the PCS civil servants' union, the sixth-largest trade union in Britain [see Socialism Today article by Hannah Sell].

An alternative power

While there has undoubtedly been some scaremongering about the consequences of a no-deal exit from the EU, the government's official Operation Yellowhammer assessment document, released in September, did provide a sobering picture of what an acrimonious crash-out could entail.

Vehicles using the Kent channel crossing are likely to be delayed for up to two and a half days, initially, with the 'flow rate' only 'improving' to 50-70% of present levels after three months.

With three quarters of the UK's imported medicines coming through this route, there will be significant supply disruptions for short shelf-life medicines that cannot be stockpiled.

There are similar issues for chemical supply chains, for example, water treatment works, although the document reassures ministers that "the impact is likely to be localised, affecting up to hundreds of thousands of people" - in contrast, presumably, to the millions that could have been affected.

There are expectations of prices rises for fuel and food, including "significant electricity price increases", and warnings of the impact on companies providing adult social care, including the "closure of services and handing back of contracts [to local councils] which are not part of normal market function".

This unvarnished talk of 'market functions' and so on is one reason why the government did not volunteer to publish the report - it was forced to after another defeat in parliament, and after an almost identical draft was leaked in August.

The document also complaisantly observes that "private sector companies' behaviour", in a no-deal upheaval, "will be governed by commercial considerations" (as ever, profit-grasping) "unless influenced otherwise". But it is only independent action by the workers' movement, industrially and politically, that can guarantee to challenge the rule of the capitalist market in defence of workers' interests.

This is precisely the government's fear: of the workers' movement as a potential alternative power. Significantly, the only redacted paragraph in the Yellowhammer document, the contents of which were revealed in the leaked version, refers to the likelihood of strike action by oil refinery workers over the prospect of an anticipated 2,000 job losses in the sector.

Memories of the collapse of the Blair government's poll ratings during the tanker drivers' blockade of fuel depots in 2000, or Edward Heath's ill-fated attempt to take on the labour movement in the 1974 three-day week lockout which led to his election defeat, are no doubt haunting the Tories.

The unions must urgently prepare now, raising a programme of opening the books to workers' inspection of all companies threatening, under the cover of Brexit, investment strikes, reorganisations, closures, redundancies, 'emergency' relaxation of health and safety standards and other attacks on workers' conditions, and profiteering price rises.

This must include the call, where necessary, for nationalisation under democratic working-class control and management, as the only effective way to definitively ensure that 'commercial considerations' do not 'govern'.

Moreover, they must act urgently on the political front, too, fighting for the earliest possible general election that can send Jeremy Corbyn to Brussels - and to meet workers' organisations across Europe to seek their support - to re-open negotiations on the basis of opposition to all EU rules - like those on state aid, market liberalisation or the posted workers' directives - that go against the interests of the working class.

Such a bold intervention really would have the potential to break through the fog of Brexit, unite workers however they voted in 2016, and prepare the way for decisive socialist measures against capitalism.

Socialism not Keynesianism

It is in this context that shadow chancellor John McDonnell's stance during the summer events constitutes the most serious warning to the labour movement about the pressures a future Corbyn-led government would face.

Although he has not done so with sufficient clarity or vigour, Jeremy Corbyn has pointed to the legal obstacles - not insurmountable if faced down by a mass movement, but obstacles nonetheless - that the EU's neoliberal rules and directives would place before an incoming Labour government.

When the collapse in 2018 of the private-sector contractor Carillion exposed what Corbyn termed "the outsourcing racket" forced on public services, he incurred the wrath of the pro-EU Blairites by raising that a Labour-negotiated Brexit deal would have to include a release from current EU procurement and competition policy, including the obligation to offer large public-sector contracts to firms across the EU.

He opposed Theresa May's EU withdrawal treaty because, he wrote in a Guardian article, it would give a Labour government "no say either in its own customs arrangements or key market regulations. While workers' rights would be allowed to fall behind, restrictions on state aid to industry would be locked in" (7 December 2018).

That is why the policy of reopening negotiations with the EU27 and presenting what Jeremy Corbyn refers to as a "credible leave option" to a confirmatory referendum - which can only be a pro-worker Brexit deal - is at least attempting to appeal to workers across the Brexit divide.

John McDonnell's recent position, however, that he would campaign for remain in a confirmatory referendum even against a Labour-negotiated deal, is a dangerous retreat. Speaking to the Society of Motor Manufacturers conference over the summer, McDonnell said that he had campaigned for remain in 2016 "because I can't see anything better than what we have at the moment".

On BBC Radio Four's Today programme, he conceded: "People will want to have a say and see whether there is another option. But we've had that debate in parliament" - in a Tory majority parliament, remember - "and that's why I've come down in favour of remain, because I can't see one [a deal] that will have the same benefits as remain" (19 August).

Is John McDonnell really saying that there is 'nothing better' to be fought for than the current neoliberal rules and directives of the EU bosses' club? What about a deal based on scrapping the austerity-driving European Fiscal Compact, writing off the eurozone debts, and working towards a common economic area which allows public ownership of the banks and major monopolies in each EU country?

This shows the danger of limiting a programme to the confines set by capitalism, and not just in relation to the EU. What will McDonnell say when the improvements he proposes to workers' rights and conditions under a Corbyn-led government meet the same objections from conferences of capitalists - and 'debates in parliament' - as those put against the demands a Corbyn-led government would need to make for a pro-worker deal in its negotiations with the EU27?

As we explain in the articles by Peter Taaffe and Tony Saunois in this edition [October] of Socialism Today, the deep crises in the world economy and political establishments have led a section of capitalist economists to look to a revival of post-war Keynesian policies of public spending and state regulation to put capitalism back on its feet - while others ponder an even harsher neoliberal model.

But neither approach will succeed, in an era when there is no prospect of a prolonged economic upswing to sustain significant concessions to the working class and secure a stable social base for the system. There is no alternative to fighting for a socialist programme to decisively defeat capitalism, at home or abroad.

As Socialism Today has consistently argued, neither a reversal of the 2016 referendum result nor a capitalist Brexit - 'soft' or 'no-deal' - can meet the interests of the working classes of Britain and Europe, or resolve the political crisis for capitalism that Brexit represents.

A no-deal exit would merely signal the start of new negotiations between British capitalism and the EU27.

Revoking Brexit would not overcome a single one of the factors that underlay the 2016 vote. The watchwords of the workers' movement in these volatile times must be: No more retreats! Stand firm against the pro-capitalist politicians with socialist policies!

Why not click here to join the Socialist Party, or click here to donate to the Socialist Party.






Related links:

Workers:

triangleMassive vote for strike action: - "We're out to win!"

triangleUprising in Ecuador forces government climbdown

triangleMinimum wage debate: how can we end the scandal of low pay?

triangleHackney SEND transport workers achieve victory

triangleFlooring workers strike, Derbyshire

Government:

triangleWales: Hundreds march to save the Orb works

triangleCatalonia independence movement two years on

triangleThem&Us

triangleCapitalist elite split - fight for a government in the interests of the working class

EU:

triangleBrexit theatrics continue

triangleIs a workers' Brexit deal possible?

triangleBattered Boris must go... and all the Tories with him!

Brexit:

triangleCorbyn must stand firm against establishment and Labour right

triangleEast London Socialist Party: The captialists' Brexit crisis and fighting for a pro-worker resolution

News and socialist analysis

News and socialist analysis

16/10/19

PCS

PCS union - A reply on political strategy

16/10/19

Low pay

Minimum wage debate: how can we end the scandal of low pay?

16/10/19

General election

Tories out - general election now

16/10/19

Tony Mulhearn

Tony Mulhearn 1939-2019: Courageous fighter for the working class and socialism

16/10/19

Labour

Corbyn must stand firm against establishment and Labour right

16/10/19

Climate change

Climate watch

9/10/19

General election

Cutting, lying Tories - kick them out!

9/10/19

Brexit

Brexit theatrics continue

9/10/19

Labour

Corbyn promises 'power in the hands of workers' - how can Labour do it?

9/10/19

Labour

Labour and the fight for a shorter working week

9/10/19

Domestic violence

Cynical Tories' domestic violence bill not enough

9/10/19

Asda

Asda workers protest callous bosses

7/10/19

Tony Mulhearn

Tony Mulhearn 1939-2019

2/10/19

Brexit

Is a workers' Brexit deal possible?

2/10/19

Boris Johnson

Them&Us

triangleMore News and socialist analysis articles...


Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party
Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube

LATEST POSTS

CONTACT US

Phone our national office on 020 8988 8777

Email: info@socialistparty.org.uk

Locate your nearest Socialist Party branch Text your name and postcode to 07761 818 206

Regional Socialist Party organisers:

Eastern: 0798 202 1969

East Mids: 0773 797 8057

London: 020 8988 8786

North East: 0784 114 4890

North West 07954 376 096

South East: 020 8988 8777

South West: 07759 796 478

Southern: 07833 681910

Wales: 07935 391 947

West Mids: 02476 555 620

Yorkshire: 0114 264 6551

ABOUT US

ARCHIVE

Alphabetical listing


October 2019

September 2019

August 2019

July 2019

June 2019

May 2019

April 2019

March 2019

February 2019

January 2019

2018

2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011

2010

2009

2008

2007

2006

2005

2004

2003

2002

2001

2000

1999