From the January 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard
April 2013, and on bonfires in mining villages in South Yorkshire Margaret Thatcher was burnt in effigy to celebrate her death. ‘The wicked witch was dead!’ Around six and a half years later, in many of those villages, a significant number of the residents vote for her party, the party that actively pursued their economic destruction.
How do those who just four years ago were holding events to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the miner’s strike, where bitterness against the scabs and the authorities is still evident, come to favour Conservative candidates in the general election?
It is not for socialists to bemoan the sorry state of the Labour Party, but there are aspects that are of concern. On the next day’s local lunchtime news a resident of Maltby forcefully stated that Labour under Corbyn had become a far-left Marxist party and wouldn’t get his vote until it represented the working man again.
For a Marxist watching this there was initial incredulity, followed by a grim realisation that if the moderate welfare reforms Labour had advocated could be portrayed as Marxist, then Marxists have a problem. All the more so when the word Marxist has become just shorthand for high-handed, intolerant, extremist politics. It does not make actual Marxist advocacy any easier.
What became apparent from a whole series of vox pops in the broadcast was that the underlying issue remains Brexit. ‘Get Brexit done’ is a slogan that has resonated in the consciousness of so many who live in economically blighted areas. There the Leave vote was highest and the Labour Party made itself vulnerable by promising to honour that vote, then seeming to renege on it.
A general trend emerging from the election is the advance of nationalism. Whatever else it may be, Brexit is fundamentally an expression of English nationalism. In some vague way it’s felt that if only the country was free of interference by Europe in particular, perhaps foreigners in general, then the country would be better off.
It is because there is a lack of Marxism in the public political consciousness that the actual cause of economic blight, capitalism, is not widely recognised. The promise of freedom, of lucrative trade deals boosting local as well as the national economy, has proved seductive.
What is not recognised in all this is that any such trade deals would be with foreign powers who would demand binding agreements similar to those of the EU. People could well be voting for the loss of the few benefits capitalism presently allows: whatever the denials, the US would want the NHS for example.
Corbyn has proved to be useful in that he has become Worzel Gummidge, the straw man the media can knock down again and again, constantly drip-feeding fallacious notions into the popular consciousness. Once the Soviet Union was the exemplar of nasty ‘Marxism’, now it’s a benign social reformer who fills the role. Even better, from the media’s point of view, is that he does occasionally claim to be a socialist.
The damnation of Corbyn was furthered by the frequent assertion, often by members of his own party as well as the media, that his opposition to Zionism was really anti-semitism. Whether that was directly an issue for many Brexit supporters in the Labour heartlands is open to question. However, it did feed into the extremist narrative. And again, that could serve a purpose in so branding socialism, by inference at least. Left wingers are just not to be trusted.
The left-right political contest was born in the assembly of the French Revolution that brought the emerging capitalist class to power. It continues in being the two poles of the present capitalist state, while actual socialism, as yet not realised anywhere, is not left wing as often portrayed, but transcends capitalism and its political arrangements.
Workers need to become aware of the actual causes of their difficulties as lying inevitably within capitalism. In the end whichever of the main Westminster parties, or even the fringe ones like the Green party or the Brexit Party, are voted into power, the election winner is capitalism.
The Marxist analysis remains the best way for workers to understand their predicament and how to resolve it in their own best interests. A society of the common ownership of the means of wealth production, democratically organised to produce goods to supply needs not profits is possible. It is certainly not extreme. How, though, to persuade the voter in Maltby. There’s the rub.