Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

A Triumph Of The New Tribalism

Over a hundred years ago, the Labour Party was formed to protect the interests of the trade unions, against the Tory Party. After 1945, the Attlee Labour government established the so-called welfare state and a national Health Service, free at the point of use. This was - together with the nationalisation of the railways and other utilities - falsely described as and widely seen as 'socialism', a lie.

This latest election showed the Labour Party's candidates widely rejected in areas where only Labour candidates had ever been elected, the so-called Labour heartlands. These were constituencies which have now turned their back on Labour and even voted Tory. For these voters, living in regions of real deprivation, the post-industrial regions, where so many felt 'left behind' and unrepresented after the closure of the mines, shipbuilding, steel works, manufacturing - formerly active areas, now an abandoned derelict waste land of unemployment and food banks, preyed on by drug dealers, loan sharks. Such regions have a feeling, even a smell, of despair and hopelessness, as nothing there ever changes for the better.

Far away from the world of Westminster politics, suddenly a Pied Piper appears with an inspiring good news story - telling how their misery is all the fault of the EU. His slogan "take back control" suggests a way forward and so their vote goes for Brexit, both in the 2016 referendum and in the European elections. So too in the General Election, with the Tories - and their media allies like the BBC, Sky News etc. - declaring this was the "Brexit election". The naively simple slogan "Get Brexit Done!" was easy to put over, however empty of meaning, deceptive and misleading.

Socialists take no pleasure in this result. Yet as Socialists we are opposed to the Labour Party. At best this was simply a party of reforms, propping up support for capitalism by softening the impact of exploitation and the class system. At worst, it muddied the waters, confusing the working class by its claim to stand for socialism, its MPs when convenient declaring themselves to be Socialists.

But if you asked their supporters what they mean by Labour's Socialism, they would be lost for an answer. Better state pensions and benefits for the unemployed? The NHS? (These were actually supported in the 1940s by the Tories and major employers, as likely to save costs - i.e. in accountancy terms of a 'cost-benefit' analysis it made sense to them, and was in their interests.) Internationalism and world peace? (But the Labour Party was an active supporter of both world wars; was in Churchill’s coalition government, enforcing conscription and banning strikes; and Attlee's post-war government actively pursued the development of the atom bomb and the creation of NATO, an armed alliance of 'western powers' in the Cold War, etc .)

To socialists arguments about nationalisation are not about Socialism. Nationalisation may take private profit out of running railways or prison and probation services, but nationalisation - which Labour referred to as "public ownership" - is simply state ownership. The NHS itself is basically a nationalised health service, in part funded from levies on the pay packets of the workers, as with National Insurance, a state insurance scheme to provide for pensions and other 'benefits'. Both of these were argued for in the war years on economics grounds: after the Thirties, there was a confusing and inefficient medley of a variety of pension and benefits schemes. The Beveridge Report came up with a simplified and so more 'efficient' scheme, a state-run scheme. The NHS could buy medicines etc cheaper as a huge monopoly, and so save money. The National Insurance scheme meant that the pensions of tomorrow would be paid for by the contributions of today's workers, so not a huge drain on government resources.

Nationalising the railways was seen as restoring an efficient railway system after the 1930s and the war years when the railway companies had failed to invest in new rolling-stock and track maintenance - again, nothing to do with socialism, everything to do with the state intervening to bail out the shareholders who were happy to take their dividends but unwilling to invest long-term.

Such are the policies of so-called Corbynism - harking back to the Bevanite 'mock socialism' of the 1945 government, that odd and opportunistic mix of state 'efficiency' and workers' welfare.

For the many millions of voters disillusioned with the Labour Party, who have lent or surrendered their votes to other parties, we can say this with confidence. They will be equally disappointed and disillusioned with these as well.

If they believed that to "Get Brexit Done!" was the single issue in this election which decided their vote, they would be disappointed. Even if this 'Brexit' stuff gets "done" - in weeks, months or years - it is probable the housing crisis will continue to worsen; the hospitals will still be understaffed, the nurses overworked and underpaid; workers' wages will still be too low, so that many in-work families have to rely on food banks, even in relatively affluent Surrey towns; likewise the rip-off 'gig economy' - the lineal successor to the docks' 'lump labour' system, relying on casual labour hired by the day, with maximum insecurity - and minimum workers' organisation for better terms and conditions.

And with increasing use of robotics to replace labour in whole new sectors of the economy - in manufacturing and wholesale distribution, call centres and banks, the legal profession and medicine, in farming, and transport with driverless vehicles now being trialled: there will be increasing pressure to eliminate any trade union organisation, and to cut so-called 'restrictions' on free trade.

The 'Brexit' illusion peddled to the hopeless 'left behind' former Labour heartlands fits neatly with the desires of the employers and dodgy, but influential, hedge fund financiers with their offshore funds, hidden from the UK tax system, and the network of so-called 'think tanks', backed by hidden funders, some linked to those who backed Trump in the US such as the Koch brothers. This 'free market' ideology promotes the interests of the employers, not the workers, and the Tory party - even now re-labelled as "One Nation" conservatives - have never worked to protect the interests of any but the rich.

What all these parties have in common is a refusal to recognise that the single issue which should be dominant in this and every election is capitalism, a world system of class exploitation, of production for profit, which is the root cause of all our social problems. This election with its bogus 'choices' never focused on the class system as the real cause of workers' problems. As this class system is a worldwide system, voting for a nationalist party is simply a distraction from looking for a real solution, and only reinforces divisiveness.

Voting for reformist parties is to miss the point. In a class society, where there are some that are rich and many who are relatively poor, this inequality is inevitably reflected in a variety of social and economic problems. That some are rich and others are poor is the unavoidable result of this social system. If housing is a problem, it is not a problem for the rich. But many unlucky workers get only a choice between re-furbished council tower blocks like Grenfell, a death trap, or sleeping - and sometimes dying - homeless on the streets. If the NHS is under impossible stress - e.g. with a sick child on the floor of a Leeds hospital, unable to get to a hospital bed for 8-9 hours - that too is not a problem for those who can pay for health treatment in the profitable private sector.

Pensions too are increasingly not the responsibility of the state as more and more groups of workers have first been shunted into company or employers' pensions schemes, only to find these abandoned so that then workers are encouraged - or forced - to take out equity-funded pension schemes, run by investment managers in the City finance firms.

Mass unemployment is disguised by the prevalence of casual labour, so-called 'self-employment' but the hopelessness and despair of many stuck in the 'gig economy' is real and deeply embedded. And the worst regions for long-term unemployment are still likely to be those areas worst hit by the unemployment of the Hungry Thirties and later by the Thatcher years of the 1980s, when mines, steelworks, manufacturing, shipbuilding etc were stripped out, leaving the North, Midlands, South Wales, Cornwall etc, as the derelict hopeless regions of the 'left behind'.

When social problems are especially acute, capitalist politicians turn to the politics of division. Usually it is racism or xenophobia -scapegoat some 'foreign' group, e.g. immigrants, and your problems are solved. Echoes of Enoch Powell in the Midlands, of Oswald Mosley in the 1950s, of the National Front etc - this divisiveness was shouted with a megaphone in the 2016 referendum, and this opportunistic divisiveness has resulted since then in a huge increase in racist 'hate crimes', both on line and on the streets.

As for Socialists, we argue that the working class needs to unite, to organise democratically "without distinction of race or sex", to overthrow this system of class exploitation. And the first step is to recognise their identity as a class, to become class conscious, and abandon the illusions of nationalism and reformism. Our aim is to establish a social system based on the common ownership of the means of production and distribution, with democratic control by and in the interests of the whole community.

Socialists argue for a better system, one which offers hope, a hope of a world without poverty and wars. And we urge you to reject the falsehoods of reformism and divisive nationalism, and try with us to create a new society.

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