From the March 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard
We’ve been hearing a lot about traditional politics being ‘broken’. There is deep dissatisfaction and disillusionment with all political parties, with their failed promises, their increasingly transparent dishonesty, the personal ambition of their representatives, and their idiotic circus of privileged shouting matches in the Palace of Westminster. But beneath the surface, our discontent is really a frustration at the social system itself, and its perpetual inability to deliver genuine comfort and security for all, regardless of which party has its hands on the wheel.
This is an era of profound social crisis, both culturally and economically. We are witnessing new levels of corruption, decadence and mendacity in public life. Decades of intelligent discourse and positive social evolution seem to be unravelling in front of our eyes. Frustration with the way things are is leading to a new surge in irrationality and abuse. The past year has seen a dramatic increase in the number of violent racist attacks in the USA, Britain and throughout Europe. The gap between rich and poor widens, and the rich and powerful are succeeding in persuading large numbers of the impoverished to scapegoat those even poorer or more vulnerable, rather than focus on their actual exploiters.
More and more the issues facing us are global and deadly in their urgency. In that context, the petty squabbles within the British Labour and Conservative parties are irrelevant and absurd in their self-importance and pomposity. There is an increasing risk of major and possibly nuclear conflict, which could kill millions. Even though Britain is one of the world’s most developed states, the figures for poverty are chronic and worsening. Confidence in the democratic process is plummeting to new lows. There is evidence of the French gilet jaunes, who started by protesting against fuel price rises, now being partly hijacked by expressions of anti-semitism, whilst groups of political thugs in Britain have also donned high-vis tunics in a crude, confused and blunt protest against the so-called ‘liberal elite’.
The social problems which have vexed us throughout modern history could have been solved long ago, by a radical and imaginative change in the basis of society, but true radicalism has at each turn been dismissed, as much by the Left as by conservatives, in the name of ‘realism’ and reasonable expectations. We inhabit a social system of brutal capital accumulation and dehumanisation which can only get worse, and periodically implode as it is doing now. This could be a time for a great positive change, if we question and replace the underlying economic system – or for a plunge into the abyss, if once again we don’t.
Whilst Labour and Tory seem to be falling apart at the seams, the new groupings are essentially no better. There was a very telling moment when Kirsty Wark interviewed Anna Soubry for Newsnight about the new Independent Group. Wark pressed her on what they stood for and she had absolutely no answer. Eventually, she actually paused and laughed patronisingly at Wark, pityingly saying: ‘You see, you’re still in the old way of doing things. This is something new!’ However, she then admitted that they had ‘no policies’ yet. Pushed again, she said they ‘believe in sound economic policies, and a sound economy’. So, that’s clear, then! That moment when she tried to reverse roles and criticise the reporter questioning her was similar to what Trump does, attacking reporters for asking the right questions, turning the question back on them, switching roles in order to avoid scrutiny.
Within three hours of being formed, one of the Independent Group, Angela Smith MP, referred to ‘people of a funny tinge’ in the context of saying that discrimination against minority ethnic groups was not just about colour, and had to apologise for her offensive phrase.
On a much more positive note, February saw the beginnings of a new global movement for change from school students, with strikes and protests about the lack of action on climate change. Inspired by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, who protests every Friday outside her country’s parliament, the British action (Youth Strike 4 Climate) was swiftly condemned by Theresa May and others as ‘wasting time’! – wanting to avert global catastrophe is clearly sneered at by these dinosaurs of political depravity. These advocates of a rotten and murderous system, who would herald a new dark age if we let them, should be held in utter contempt.
There is one thing which ties all of this together, and overshadows the petty, parochial politics of Britain, Brexit, Labour, Tory, Independent Group and all of the other intellectual pygmies bleating to sell us into slavery on the altar of the profits of a few. The uniting thread running through all of these crises, of climate change, militarism and war, insecurity, racism, violence and political cynicism is the unspoken, open secret of ownership and control. On this, Karl Marx was spot on, and the clarity of his observations is even now becoming more and more compelling. Capitalism is still the social system which exists throughout the world and its effects get worse every day that it staggers on. Wealth concentration is now even more extreme than it was in his day, increasing the already extreme social power of a tiny and largely anonymous elite, which cuts across every country and culture.
Such an absurd system can only continue to cultivate support and acceptance by persuading us to see a world divided into rival states, cultures and religions rather than realise that the absolutely fundamental divide, between the billionaire class and the rest, between capital and labour, in fact cuts across such cultural contrasts and is blind to them. British billionaires like James Dyson and James Ratcliffe of Ineos (Britain’s richest man) supported Brexit, but have recently both moved their headquarters and assets away from Britain in order to protect their value. This simple point is often missed. For example, why do so many industries, businesses, and governments resist the need to reduce carbon emissions? Because they believe that to do so might cut into certain profit flows. Because we inhabit a system which depends, regardless even of the greed or kindness of individual investors, on maximising profits.
To resolve the climate change crisis will absolutely necessitate ending the economic system of minority ownership and of profit. Likewise, wars are fought between rival groups of those who own and control the planet’s resources. More than 99 percent of us have no real stake in any country. We are already ‘the dispossessed’. All of our problems in society will be solved by dispossessing the tiny but all-powerful global minority, and replacing private and/or state ownership of the world and all its resources with a new and thoroughly democratic system of common ownership, democratic control and production not for profit, but instead purely to meet needs.