A desperate struggle to stabilise class rule
11 November 2019
The one thing that is certain about Britain's Brexit election is that the underlying issues of Brexit will not be resolved. Whatever the outcome there will be years of external negotiation and internal conflict. The main purpose of the election for the Conservatives is to break the stalemate in Britain's political system and allow a new form of class rule to emerge by seeing off the challenge from the Farage current. Immediately following this lunge for political survival comes the need for a parliamentary majority that will push through a Brexit deal and shift the balance of forces decisively in their direction. For the workers Brexit would mean a major threat to their rights. Remain would be a stay of execution. However the broader picture is that the Brexit struggle is one battle in a class war across Europe that cannot be decisively resolved without the independent organisation of the working class.
Years of austerity have seen a large section of the Tory Party base move to the right and the Conservative leadership has struggled to retain them, partly through their constant drumbeat of bigotry and intolerance aimed at migrants, and under the Cameron leadership, through the granting of a referendum on Brexit.
This election, based around a hard Brexit, is meant to re-absorb the far Right and confirm the Conservative Party as the party of government. It also hopes to resolve a major economic contradiction based around Britain's low levels of Labour productivity. The resolution of these issues is similar to the resolution that Trump offers to American capital. Politically it gathers in a hard line base unswervingly committed to preserving capitalist rule. However this is at the cost of an immense shock to Britain's economic interests as local capital will have restricted access to the enormous European market. Boris Johnson and his clique believe that this contradiction can be resolved by building a new sweatshop Britain based on deregulation of workers’ rights and much greater levels of exploitation of the working class. If they are successful the Tory Party will remain the political instrument of capitalist rule but it will be a party even further to the right of an already extreme right wing formation.
As for the opposition, the majority of the Remainers are themselves committed to the current European programme which is for many more years of economic austerity. The idea that the Liberal Democrats are a serious opposition is laughable, given that they could have stopped the Brexit process at any time by agreeing a temporary government led by Jeremy Corbyn. They are more opposed to Corbyn than they are to Brexit.
The only possible method of preventing Brexit is the election of a Labour government. The Democratic Unionist party have now been demoted to their real status as an appendage of British reaction. The Scottish Nationalist Party are simply Lib Dems with a Scottish accent. While given much greater legitimacy by the British dismissal of the Scots vote against Brexit, the SNP's proposed independence would be inside a capitalist Europe, which they fully accept as it stands, and would be bound by all the austerity measures that are in place.
A vote that opposed both Brexit and ongoing austerity would require action by a united working class to be successful.
The reactionary nature of much of the Labour Party and the divisions within it are the main obstacle to a Labour victory. The majority of the parliamentary Labour Party are Blairite reactionaries fervently in support of European capital. Another large section represents old Labour and sections of the trade union leaderships which is guided by Stalinist influenced economic nationalism and now expresses itself as a pro Brexit tendency which stands for 'British jobs for British workers'.
Corbyn wants to establish a left social democratic government and believes that this can be done by holding the different wings of the party together. This has meant a rapid shift to the right: capitulating to the weaponizing of fake antisemitism claims used to attack the left and arguing that Brexit damages the British presence in Ireland which he has always opposed. The main contradiction here is that to preserve a united party he must continuously project neutrality on Brexit – while at the same time promising a referendum but without indicating his preference for an outcome.
Nevertheless a Corbyn government represents far and away the best terrain for the working class. In the absence of a working class party attempts to boost public services and workers’ rights by Labour would mean an immediate uptick in workers morale and battles with both Europe and the British right.
Much of the election campaign has become a Dutch auction of new services for the workers. Boris is of course lying. He tried the same trick in the Brexit referendum – claiming that “we would save £350 million for the health service” if Britain left. Now he scatters promises left and right. He has an easy way out. A post Brexit administration could look gloomily at the books and announce that we all had to tighten our belts.
The situation on the Labour side is more complex. Corbyn has advanced a genuine reform package and the right wing of his party has agreed to it. However their support is conditional on it being costed - that is, accepted by the banks and financial cartels. Given that the banks would react negatively to a Labour victory the aftermath of such an election would be a savage battle between Corbyn and the Right around reform - after all, over the past two decades every social democratic party in Europe has been ready to commit suicide to implement the capitalist austerity programme. Corbyn's support, around the Momentum group and left leaders of trade unions, has consistently weakened him by urging retreat on the anti-semitism charges, conciliating racists in the party and, above all, by enforcing a policy of neutrality on Europe that holds the party together at the expense of attracting full support from the remain majority in the electorate.
The election will not see a resolution of the Brexit question. Success for the Brexiteers would lead to them claiming that the vote gave them the power to dispense with workers’ rights. The workers will certainly dispute this. It is not even certain that a full realignment of politics will occur. Johnson is having success in facing down Nigel Farage and re-absorbing the Brexit rump into a new, and even further to the right, Conservative party. However the Labour Right have learned to their cost through the Change UK group that life outside the party means oblivion and forming a pro-Europe party with reform Tories and Liberal Democrats is fraught with difficulty, as demonstrated by deputy leader Tom Watson and other right wingers falling on their swords and retiring.
What can be guaranteed about the election campaign is that it will drill down below the formal issue of relations with Europe to the class realities below. The Tory party are already revealing themselves as the nasty party, with the leaking of plans for deregulation and abolition of many workers rights, Jacob Rees Mogg explaining that old Etonians, with their superior mental capacity, would not have died in the Grenfell fire and the Welsh secretary Alun Cairns resigning amid allegations of lying about his knowledge of a rape trial sabotage by a Tory candidate.
The Labour campaign will be marked by the Labour Right proving that they would rather lose the election than see Corbyn in power. Many right wingers have evaded reselection rules and the extreme Right Jewish Labour Movement has already set the tone by announcing that they will not campaign for a Labour victory because of fake anti-semitism claims. The former Labour MPs Ian Austin and John Woodcock are calling for a Tory vote and left MP Chris Williamson's has been barred from standing as a Labour Party candidate and has been forced to declare he will fight the seat as Independent Labour. The way in which socialists in the Labour party respond to these attacks will play an important part in the building of an independent working class movement in the aftermath of the election. The monstrous claim by the right that Corbyn is unfit to be Prime Minister but that the orange Trump clone Johnson would be a model leader is a reminder of just how reactionary sections of Labour are. The fight that is erupting inside the Labour party can only be a staging post on the road to a workers’ party.
Although voters in the North of Ireland have a vote in the Westminster election, political imperatives are different. Will the slavish support of the Democratic Unionist party for Toryism and for Brexit, without even the hint of any economic policy for the region, weaken the traditional unionist monolith? And will Sinn Fein's slavish tailing of taoiseach Leo Varadkar in his abandonment of the backstop set by Europe be rewarded? It was after all this act of class interest by the Irish bourgeois that enabled the British government to stage the current election which, if they win, will see a reinforcement of partition in Ireland.