On Friday 15th October, the Tory MP for Southend West, Sir David Amess, was fatally stabbed while he was holding his weekly constituency surgery. It is still unclear what the motivation that drove the attack was and the police still have not confirmed the full name of perpetrator. However, various media sources have named the suspect to be Ali Harbi Ali, a 25-year-old British citizen with Somali heritage. Some sources have suggested that he had been previously known to the security services who had been reported through the Prevent programme. If correct, this leaves many unanswered questions.
With the investigation in its early stages and ongoing with much unclear, what is clear are the politics of the victim and the overlooking of this in the eulogies that have followed from all sides of the political Parliamentary system. While we don’t condone this act, we certainly do not mourn for this Tory MP. Such violent spontaneous actions are unproductive and result in reactionary measures from the state, with calls for removal of civil liberties and attacks directed towards the Muslim community, which the attacker came from. Priti Patel has immediately called for the removal of anonymity on social media platforms, this is in all probability unworkable but shows the mindset of this reactionary government to capitalise from this attack.
It must be made clear that David Amess was an MP representing the Tory party, along with their ideologically driven class warfare attacks on British workers and their families, and British imperialism overseas. He was a strong advocate for capital punishment, Brexit and its racist driven agenda, and was a Honorary Secretary of Conservative Friends of Israel; a racist state responsible for the dispossession and ongoing oppression of the Palestinians. He was a member of a party overseeing the austerity programme responsible for the premature deaths of 120,000 leaving 4 million children living in poverty, increasing homelessness and the deaths of rough sleepers on British streets, 160,000 dead from COVID malign neglect with its ‘herd immunity’ programme, and the demonisation of refugees with British indifference to the suffering and drownings taking place in the Mediterranean and the Channel.
The best way to understand what happened in the recent Labour Party conference is to bear in mind some basic facts about the General Election of 2017, recounted by UNITE’s recently retired former General Secretary here:
“Labour won 40 per cent of the vote. Since 1970, only two Labour leaders have achieved that: Jeremy Corbyn and Tony Blair. Bar the latter’s 1997 landslide, more people voted Labour in 2017 than in any election since 1966. In England the party won its second highest number of votes ever. Such statistics would usually mean an election victory. The reason that wasn’t so was because—contrary to popular perception and despite a terrible campaign—the Tories actually did extremely well, securing their biggest vote since 1992. The smaller parties were squeezed out of the picture. The British media and political class prefer to forget that 12.9 million people voted for a radical manifesto fronted by a left-wing leader in 2017.”
Len McCluskey. Always Red . OR Books. Kindle Edition.
It is quite clear what the conference signified for the ruling class. They do not want and will not tolerate any ‘radical manifesto’ from Jeremy Corbyn or the Labour Party. They are in no mood to make concessions to the working class, even the modest ones Corbyn was proposing. They demand a tame, utterly fake ‘Labour’ leadership to act as an alternative Tory/Neoliberal government for when the actual Conservative Party ceases to be viable as a ‘party of government’.
That is evidently not true at the moment, but the Conservatives under Johnson are skating on very thin ice, with both the disaster of the Covid death toll and Brexit now resulting in considerable and growing hardship. It’s obvious that the ruling class is trying to groom Starmer as a possible successor to stand in for Johnson at some point. The friendly reception he has received by the broadcast media, particularly the BBC, which unceasingly vilified Corbyn, is very noticeable, as is the fact that he recently wrote an Editorial (!) for the Sun (!)
Starmer, having gained office in the Labour Party through a set of 10 ‘pledges’ to maintain many of Corbyn’s popular left-wing policies that self-evidently was not worth the paper they were written on, became an echo-chamber particularly for Johnson’s appalling and murderous handling of the pandemic (“whatever the government decides to do, we will support it”) while running an all-out war on the left-wing pro-Corbyn membership. In the run up to this conference, his clique consolidated their hammerlock on the Labour apparatus. First Starmer floated a trial balloon of abolishing Ed Miliband’s One Member, One Vote (OMOV) system of electing the Labour leader, and restoring the Electoral College outright, giving MP’s the decisive say in who in future becomes leader.
This was not designed to actually get through, but as a negotiating position with the right-wing of the trade union bureaucracy, particularly that of UNISON, who then voted with Starmer to abolish registered supporters, and raise the threshold for nominations to stand as leader to 20% of the Parliamentary Labour Party. This is basically what they wanted: to ensure that never again could another left candidate like Corbyn be able to stand. If these rules had operated in early 2020 Starmer would have been ‘elected’ unopposed: i.e., appointed by the self-perpetuating Blairite PLP clique. The corruption is so blatant, without even a fig leaf, as to make Labour very publicly into an anti-democratic sick joke.
But Blair’s right-hand man, Peter Mandelson, who is also now Starmer’s mentor and right-hand man once again, told a rather feeble and transparent lie on the BBC’s Today programme about the objective of the changes:
“Jeremy Corbyn built on the rules that Ed Miliband introduced, which allowed hundreds of thousands of people to apply to vote for our future leader without actually caring about the Labour party, knowing about the Labour party and in many cases not even becoming a member of the Labour party.”
What these rule changes mean, and this is perhaps absolutely fundamental for people out in the country, when they’re asked to vote for Keir Starmer as their next prime minister, they can know with almost complete certainty that they’re not going to wake up one day and find Jeremy Corbyn there instead.”
Feeble mendacity as in 2015 and 2016 Corbyn won quite openly after neoliberal Labour leaders Brown and Miliband heavily lost two elections in a row. Without Corbyn Labour could well have become a minor party after 2015. But Mandelson and co are rigging future elections to prevent a revival of Labour’s mass base. This flirting with electoral suicide by Mandelson reflects his role as a faithful servant of billionaire oligarchs. That is what they demand. Such blatant corruption from a man who had to resign twice from Blair’s government for his own involvement in corrupt practices appears like a big ‘fuck you’ to anyone who has the slightest concern about honesty in politics. Thus, Labour has openly embraced the Trump-Johnson paradigm of blatantly lying in public.
Ballot-fraud and Institutionalised Racist Discrimination By Design
In the conference the election rigging was equally blatant. Large numbers of left-wing delegates were suspended, on an industrial scale, over many weeks as branches were preparing their delegations. A leading member of Jewish Voice for Labour, Leah Levane, was expelled when she arrived to attend the conference as a delegate on the second day, having been seated legitimately as a delegate when the conference opened. It is blatantly obvious that the purpose of all this was to fix votes. In particular to ‘elect’ David Evans, the blatantly crooked General Secretary, and the passage of new rules that allow him and Starmer to veto the membership of anyone seeking to join Labour.
Every fig leaf of labour movement democracy that was present in Labour was systematically unpicked by rule changes that were passed at the conference, which are so draconian that even the feeble Momentum leadership felt compelled to oppose it. Labour democracy is being replaced by a Zionist police state lawfare model, which replaces elected representatives with supposedly ‘independent’ legal eagles appointed by the General Secretary. The patter from the Blairites is that this was supposedly ‘legally mandated’ by the EHRC. If that were clearly true it would amount to a serious attack on freedom of association in British politics, though in fact the EHRC did not dare to go so far as Momentum correctly noted. The core of the changes are as follows:
“Labour’s national constitutional committee (NCC) will not hear disciplinary cases involving protected characteristics after the end of 2021;
“An independent review board (IRB) of lawyers is introduced to review disciplinary decisions involving protected characteristics;
“An independent complaints board (ICB) is introduced to adjudicate cases involving protected characteristics, made up of four lawyers, four Human Resources or other regulatory expert professionals and four members who have been in the party for at least five consecutive years. These board members will be picked by a ‘standing recruitment committee’, the members of which will in turn be picked by the general secretary.”
The General Secretary was appointed by the leader who swore loyalty to the racist, Zionist BOD. This was in practice a condition of being allowed to stand for the leadership itself without being suspended and barred by the already bought Labour Party apparatus (he was then ratified in a crooked conference vote in which he determined who was able to vote through numerous crooked suspensions of elected and mandated delegates). The GS appoints the “standard recruitment committee’ which in turn appoints the Independent Complaints Board (ICB) which will relieve the elected National Constitutional Committee (NCC) of responsibility for disciplinary cases involving ‘protected characteristics’. In other words, cases involving ‘anti-Semitism’ allegations will be decided by a puppet ‘Independent’ Committee of composed of ardent Zionists and lawfare specialists appointed by another committee appointed by the party leadership. The decisions of this committee of lawfare specialists will in turn be reviewed by another committee of similar lawfare specialists directly appointed by the party leadership. And this will operate within the framework of the IHRA pseudo-definition of ‘anti-Semitism’, endorsing Zionism as amounting to Jews’ supposed “right to self-determination” through the mass expulsion of the oppressed Arab population, and says that it is ‘anti-Semitic’ to deny this ‘right’ or to say that this is a “racist endeavour”. This defines Palestinian Arabs as inferior human beings with inferior rights: it is Labour’s Nuremburg Law. This apparatus is nothing to do with opposing oppression or discrimination: its purpose is to institutionalise Zionist racism. It is consciously designed for this purpose.
Nothing about it is independent at all. It is completely totalitarian in intent and its complexity is simply camouflage to disguise that a committee (the NCC) elected by the Labour Party membership, has been replaced duopoly of Zionist lawfare bodies for waging war against anti-racists, to maintain a racist hierarchy in Labour. Both committees are appointed by the Zionist leadership, the higher one directly, the other through an intermediary committee. Both are puppets, therefore. Zionist Jews and allied racists are to rule the roost over black people through this system. The allied racists are actually white supremacists whose real nature is actually obscured by their bloc with Zionists in a particularly perfidious form of mutual camouflage. This will wage inner-party lawfare against ‘uppity’ blacks, Muslims and anyone else lower down the racist hierarchy sanctioned by Starmer and the party leadership, which mirrors the racial hierarchy the bourgeoisie itself seeks to enforce.
Individual mercenaries and dupes from other groups will be permitted to make themselves useful in helping to camouflage this arrangement, but this is not about them, it is about keeping the oppressed in line. Thus, Labour has now adopted a lawfare disciplinary structure whose purpose is to maintain the dominance of the Zionist and allied forces who threw Corbyn out of the leadership and now intend to hound his mass base out of political involvement in Labour, in the hope that this amounts to driving them out of politics altogether. This is about Zionist police-state politics taking control of Labour and putting in place a totalitarian structure to ensure that control can never be challenged.
Police State Zionist New Labour
Right in tune with this police-state ethos was the presence of armed police, within and without the conference. Armed cops openly carrying machine guns blatantly walked backwards and forwards through the protest outside of the conference on the Saturday organised by expelled and smeared members. It was just about within the realms of possibility that they were there by coincidence, to protect the conference against some potential armed threat, and not to intimidate those members protesting. But that was shown as untrue by what happened inside the conference, when during Starmer’s speech mace- and nightstick-wielding police stood at regular intervals down the gangway, an obvious threat to any dissenter or heckler. Some of these cops sported white supremacist tattoos. They obviously were working with the machine gunners and had such weapons available. These forces are enemies of the workers movement and should never have been allowed in a conference of a nominally working-class organization in the first place. It’s obvious that they were there to threaten the working class left.
Another outrageous manifestation of this is the announcement of ‘Labour Friends of the Police’ from the Blairites, which really does show their appreciation for police state repression against left-wing dissent. It should be recalled that Starmer abstained on the ‘Spy Cops’ bill which ‘regularised’ (i.e legalised) crimes such as rape, torture and murder by undercover cops. And Starmer planned to have Labour refuse to oppose the Policing and Crime Bill, which gives the government that power to ban ‘annoying’ protests. They only retreated from this after the grotesque scandal where women mourning and protesting for Sarah Everard, a young woman arrested by a serving cop, who then raped and murdered her, were themselves very publicly and violently attacked by the Metropolitan Police last summer using Covid regulations as a feeble excuse. Cops were photographed tearing masks off socially distanced, masked protesters who were clearly taking precautions against Covid, and throwing then into police vans maskless. Starmer clearly has more in common with these cops than with their victims.
Other means were employed also to intimidate dissidents. While bona-fide elected delegates were excluded, a whole layer of ‘visitors’ were bused in at key points to whip up a phoney semblance of ‘support’ for Starmer and his cronies. People who were inside related how these non-delegates demanded that people applaud at key points and tried to intimidate those inclined to heckle. They also led standing ovations, for Starmer and for the arch-Zionist and US asset/ smear merchant Ruth Smeeth.
Without the ballot rigging, corruption, and thuggery, it would have been a disastrous conference for Starmer. Discontent is still rampant at the base of Labour, though it is simply impossible for it to win out within the framework of the party – the party apparatus is simply irreformable and the party itself needs to be defeated. The sole remaining Corbynite in the Shadow Cabinet, Andy McDonald, resigned and denounced Starmer for trying to coerce him into opposing the demand for a £15 per hour minimum wage. The conference itself then defied Starmer and voted to support the same demand. Likewise, even after Smeeth’s raving, the conference showed the real feeling of the membership by voting by a large majority a motion that called Israel an apartheid state, condemned the “ongoing Nakba” and called for various kinds of selective bans and sanctions on arms and trade with Israeli settlements. Despite its limited demands, its denunciation was fairly sharp, and the Labour leadership made it very clear it fully intended to ignore it. Yet many tens of thousands have been purged for expressing the same views as most delegates. Labour’s membership on this crucial question is 180 degrees at odds with the leadership to such an extent that ultimately, one or other will have to go.
But there is no way the apparatus will allow the chance for another Corbyn to arise. Their objective is clear: to smash the left even if they must destroy all potential electoral appeal of the Labour Party itself. This is happening as Labour lags in popularity behind the most openly corrupt, extreme right-wing government in Britain since the days of “rotten boroughs” in the early 19th Century. The conference brought no bounce whatsoever in Labour’s ratings in opinion polls – still far below Johnson. In fact, one post-conference opinion poll showed Labour 13 points behind.
Starmer’s job is to protect the ruling class from any possible political challenge from the labour movement that could prove a social danger and a conduit for a working-class fightback. Conor McGinn expressed the view of the leadership when he said that those who joined the Labour Party to support Corbyn – the membership surge that made Labour into the biggest social-democratic party in Europe by a huge margin, and one of the biggest in the world — were “misguided or misled” though some were perhaps “not irretrievable” (for the ruling class, that is).
Stamping Out Reformism under Capitalist Neoliberalism
Jeremy Corbyn, contrary to the fantastic nonsense peddled by the entire neoliberal media, is not a Marxist, or a revolutionary, nor “hard left”. He is an ordinary social-democratic reformist, politically similar to leading Labour reformists of the past, the like of Attlee, Bevan, Wilson or Tony Benn. These were the kind of parliamentary reformists who created the National Health Service, the ‘crowning glory’ of British social democracy, and numerous other social gains such as social security, council housing, legalised abortion and homosexuality, which accompanied it.
These gains were conceded in an earlier period when the working-class movement was powerful, and the bourgeoisie had good reason to fear that the working class would be won to communist revolution if they did not make important concessions. The economies of the advanced countries at that stage were centrally based on manufacturing industry, and huge industrial armies of workers constituted the core of the workforce. Their organizations gave the labour movement, and the Labour Party in Britain, its social power and strength. Thus, the bosses had no choice, particularly in the three ‘Golden’ decades since the end of the Second World War, but to tolerate and work with that powerful labour movement and to resign themselves to the reforms that the labour movement had conquered.
The hegemony of neoliberalism over more than 40 years since the mid-1970s has changed that enormously. Neoliberalism is a strategy designed to counteract the inherent tendency within capitalism, which was analysed at length by Karl Marx in Capital, for profit rates to fall. This tendency, in a particularly pure form, undermined the long post-WWII boom over 30 years or so since WWII, and by the early 1970s had produced a major capitalist crisis. Neoliberalism was designed to counteract the fall in the rate of profit in the imperialist countries centrally by a major attack on the social power of the proletariat, in part through a major relocation of its most productive sectors to low wage countries, as part of an offensive against the whole working class. Mass unemployment was deliberately used as a weapon to weaken and crush workers organisations, which is not new, and was made permanent by sending jobs overseas on a massive scale, which is a newer tactic.
Large swathes of manufacturing industry in key advanced countries, Britain being a prime example, have been done away with, and many of the jobs formerly done by organized workers have either been mechanized out of existence, or when possible, outsourced to other, low wage countries where the labour movement must effectively start from scratch in conquering economic and social rights. The organized working class has been substantially weakened, in a way that is qualitatively worse than in previous defeats in the heyday of British imperialism, such as after the 1926 General Strike, when organization and politics suffered major setbacks, but the industrial workforces that underpinned the labour movement remained intact even if they were temporarily driven into severe hardship and unemployment, such as in the Great Depression of the 1930s. Those industries revived once the Depression came to an end. But that will not happen today as those strategic industries have largely moved overseas, as part of neoliberalism’s massive restructuring of the industrial proletariat.
This has led to a weakened, more fragmented labour movement in Britain. The large industrial battalions were a product of the strength of British imperialism; their decline mirrors its own decline. The growth of ‘services’ as a supposed replacement for formerly hegemonic manufacturing does not arrest that decline, as a great many service industries do not produce surplus value. Rather the financial sector appropriates, manipulates, and redistributes surplus value often produced by workers overseas, and employs a considerable number of highly paid ‘knowledge workers’, few of whom produce actual surplus value, but are essential to the process of manipulating it. This is not to say that no surplus value at all is produced in Britain today, but its production at home has been very much reduced, which is itself an index of British imperialism’s chronic decline.
The dominant sections of the labour movement today have shifted. In the old days of hegemonic manufacturing, they tended to be the large, often militant, unions of militant workers in manufacturing, extraction, and transport: miners, steelworkers, car workers and engineers, railworkers, dockers and lorry drivers. Now the extractive industries are tiny, and manufacturing has lost its mass militant element where it exists at all: engineering for example has become much more labour aristocratic as a result. Probably the most powerful groups of workers today are in transport, large scale retail (e.g., supermarkets) and the postal services, whose labour of transportation and distribution is an essential contribution to the production and realization of surplus value, most of which is produced in other industries. They maintain their social power therefore, and the bourgeoisie is looking to find ways to mechanise and do away with them to pocket the difference that their earnings make up.
The labour aristocracy has gained social weight in a much smaller labour movement and has been reinforced from the higher end of the service sector, which shades over into the financial sector and the essentially parasitic financial apparatus that it sustains. Union membership in Britain fell from 13.2 million at its peak in 1979 to 6.6 million today, which itself reflects a slow rise from an even lower trough over the past few years.
At the same time, the lower paid service sector workers have generally been neglected, under organized or indeed in many cases left unorganized. Health service workers are nominally organized by UNISON and the like which have many fine activists at the base but have been hammered by austerity along with other public sector workers even before the disaster of the Covid pandemic. An army of extremely badly paid workers provide essential services, from food to cleaning to care, again often under-organised or unorganised. Many work in the so-called ‘gig economy’ with appalling lack of rights, bad working conditions, zero hours contracts and the like, no job security and very little if any basic benefits such as annual leave and sick pay, which should be part and parcel of any half-decent employment contract.
Reformism is Utopian Today, For a Revolutionary Programme
This weakening of the Social Democratic-led labour movement in what was once, before WWI, and to a degree lingering up to WWII, the most powerful imperialist country, has produced a change that is not merely quantitative, but qualitative. The labour aristocracy and labour bureaucracy, has become yuppified and financialised, so that whereas much of it once had cozy and class-collaborationist relations with the large industrial employers or groups of employers in industries that are now decimated, much of today’s political bureaucracy in particular, and part of the union bureaucracy also, interpenetrates with financial sharks whose calling is not the production of surplus value in the old way, but scams and ruses involving financial chicanery, the creation of asset bubbles and the like. Which explains why New Labour, during the Blair/Brown government, presided over the most incredible, inflationary boom in property prices. Although the Thatcher government in the 1980s pioneered the housing inflation scam as an artificial means of generating an economic boom, it was Blair’s government that really ran with this and created the massive inflation both of house prices and rents that have led to the huge housing crisis in Britain today. The Tories since 2010 have just built on what the Blairites did.
This led to a ‘Labour’ party that was in practice no longer reformist in the old way that the British working class had become accustomed to. Every reform the 1997-2010 Blair government delivered was accompanied, and far outweighed, by a fusillade of reactionary attacks. This led to a situation where Labour’s mass base began to atrophy and dissipate, with the loss of millions of votes and a decisive collapse of Labour in Scotland adding to their woes. This manifested itself through the loss of the two General Elections in 2010 and 2015, where the Labour Party lost over 5 million votes in 2010 as compared with 1997 with its neoliberal campaigns.
In 2017 Corbyn’s social-democratic campaign recouped several million votes in the face of a much stronger Tory adversary, as in 1997 the Conservatives were in a catastrophic state and achieved only 30%. In 2017 Corbyn’s 40% was achieved in the face of a much stronger Tory vote of 43.6%. The 2015 campaign, where neoliberalism was slightly diluted by Ed Miliband’s soft leftism, gained Labour around 800,000 more votes, but in 2017 Corbyn advanced by over 4 million votes over Gordon Brown in 2010. They were different votes from those under Blair/Brown, as a key part of Blair’s project was to appeal to disillusioned Tory voters by the simple device of stealing many Tory poliices, whereas Corbyn did the opposite and gained votes – and many members – from working class people who had been so alienated by Tory-Blairism that they refrained from voting for New Labour.
The sabotage of Corbyn’s leadership was achieved by two combined tactics: the ‘anti-Semitism’ smear campaign waged by Zionists, and mischief-making over Brexit designed to drive that part of the Labour-voting working class that voted for Brexit, towards the Tories. Starmer was central to both. In 2017 Corbyn tacitly accepted the result of the Brexit referendum but campaigned to make Brexit as soft as possible. In 2019 Starmer in effect unilaterally changed that policy shortly before the general election to one of stridently demanding a second referendum, without any serious political preparation. And Corbyn allowed him to do it. Though Corbyn did refuse to endorse Starmer’s call for a remain vote in such a referendum, publicly stating that his leadership would take a neutral stance in such an eventuality
There were dilemmas in this for socialists who defend the rights of migrants and oppose the anti-immigrant thrust and economic irrationality of Brexit. Given that sections of the working class had been taken in hand by reactionary populist demagogues and the Brexit referendum, however crooked, had already been lost, how to fight against these things is open to question and debate. There could be an argument for all-out war against the Brexiters by a stridently internationalist party, as advocated by Tony Greenstein among others. However, the Corbynites are left reformists who, though opposed in general to anti-migrant demagogy, were not and are not such strident internationalists. A tactical acceptance of a soft Brexit looked likely to be the best way to neutralise the issue, which is what succeeded in undercutting the right-wing populists in 2017. We would obviously give critical support to Labour in such circumstances without endorsing their programme, but on this question of how precisely to undermine the right-wing populists and win their working-class supporters to the side of Labour under Corbyn, which did have a class aspect to it, was a tactical question.
Starmer’s intervention in the election was not one of principle: his ‘tactic’ was simply to exploit these weaknesses to rile up the Brexit-supporting element of Labour’s base, alienate them, dissuade them from voting Labour, or even get the most backward elements to vote Tory. He worked hand in hand with the saboteurs in the Labour apparatus; this sabotage was extensively documented in the Spring 2020 leaked 851-page report on The work of the Labour Party’s Governance and Legal Unit in Relation to Antisemitism, 2014 – 2019, which Starmer attempted to suppress, amidst extremely damaging material documenting bigoted abuse of a racial and anti-disabled character from some elements involved in undermining Corbyn (see No Vote to Zionist New Labour!, https://www.consistent-democrats.org/uncategorized/no-vote-to-zionist-new-labour/, for a full analysis).
Trying to defuse the impact of these damaging revelations, Starmer set up a supposedly independent enquiry under Martin Forde QC to investigate the leaking, the circumstances of creation of the original report and the veracity of its findings. Laughably, but entirely predictably, it has been kicked into the long grass up till now with various excuses including one of supposedly intruding on the work of the Information Commissioner, and though it promised to report by ‘Early Autumn’, it still has not done so. As a result, it has become a standing joke and is obviously being suppressed as was the report it is supposed to be investigating as the material it is forced to examine is too damaging particularly to the Starmerites. However now Starmer has tried to divert attention from the non-publication of the Forde Report by publicly accusing five leading Corbynites of leaking the report despite admitting that it does not have any actual evidence of this and having admitted in court that it does not know who leaked the report.
All this blatant corruption and lies underlines that Starmer is simply an instrument in the hands of the ruling class to crush the mass base of Corbynism. They see no need to tolerate social democratic reformism, they want untramelled domination of capital. The period in the past when the bourgeoisie was prepared to tolerate, and accommodate to a degree, social democratic reformism was the period when it had good reason to fear that if it did not make concessions to ‘moderate’ social democracy the working class would abandon social reform and overthrow the ruling class through social revolution.
The existence of the USSR and other deformed workers states as the embodiment of the remaining gains of the Russian Revolution was a dagger pointed at the heart of the ruling class, forcing them to make concessions to maintain their class rule. The Stalinist betrayal and undermining and then destruction through capitalist restoration of most of the workers states has removed this dagger and given the bourgeoisie the confidence to ride roughshod over the working class in advanced countries as much as in backward ones. Working class ‘privilege’ expressed in a dominant labour aristocracy in advanced countries is dying away, and indeed it is that dying away that at this stage has produced reactionary excrescences like support for Trump and Brexit in the working class.
But in the longer term, this blowing away of reformism also signifies the blowing away of the safety mechanisms that protect the ruling class from the wrath of the masses, and thus from revolution. The ruling class do not live in fear of revolution emanating from the USSR these days, but they are creating conditions that logically point towards the need for revolution by their destruction of past social reforms. Socialists should not despair from the political death agony of reformism that we are witnessing. We should use it to develop something better: a genuinely revolutionary programme, parties and an international movement that can destroy capitalism and save humanity from the spectre of civilisational collapse and barbarism that capitalism is threatening us with today.
During the 2016 Brexit debate leading up to the referendum to leave the European Union, Boris Johnson sold Brexit as an answer to Britain’s economic and social problems against the backdrop of an emblazoned bus, with the now infamous lie that £350 million would be given to the NHS each week instead of membership payments made into the EU. The global economic crisis of 2007-2008 caused by the financialisaton of advanced capitalism, manifested by the US property bubble, the subprime mortgage crisis and the unregulated, catastrophic use of derivatives, created the conditions that led towards the end of Gordon Brown’s Labour government with a general election in 2010.
The impacts of the economic crisis and the subsequent implementation of austerity led to a rise of hostility towards ‘foreign’ workers, with Gordon Brown’s dog whistle ‘British jobs for British workers’, followed by the rise of UKIP and the election of David Cameron. Cameron feeling pressure with Tory voters gravitating towards the racist policies of UKIP promised a referendum on European membership in 2013, which was to then form part of Tory policy leading up to the general election in 2015. Cameron was banking on failing to get an overall majority in 2015 and continuing in coalition with Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats, who would veto such a referendum as they had done previously. Once re-elected with an overall majority, Cameron had to deliver the referendum. The whole debate surrounding Brexit polarised politics in the UK. The main drivers in the debate were issues surrounding immigration and sovereignty, which also coincided with the ongoing refugee crisis caused by British and American imperialism in the Middle East and Libya.
The refugee crisis was capitalised on with Farage’s sickening Nazi-esque ‘Breaking Point’ poster of queues of refugees, and the ‘Leave’ campaign’s absurd claim that Turkey was imminently joining the EU with 75 million Muslim Turks ready to flood into Britain. While the European Union acts as a protectionist neoliberal cartel, Brexit was always a project driven by Islamophobia and racism from the right wing of the Tory Party with its ‘hostile environment’ policy and the reactionary elements of the British working class, accentuated by the poison in the British press. There were elements on the left that embraced this under the banner of ‘Lexit’, in the mistaken belief that it could somehow evolve and pave the way to ‘socialism in one country’. The reality is this position was always flawed, particularly as the left were never in control of events, or even with any noticeable contribution to the narrative. Brexit was sold to British workers not based on material reality but as a ‘wish-list’ of fanciful wants that bordered on the absurd.
Britain’s serious decline led to a split developing in the ruling class over questioning their position in Europe and looking for deeper ties with the US, with many clamouring for Britain’s lost imperial past. Britain finally leaving the EU came after Johnson defeated Labour at the 2019 General Election with the mantra ‘Get Brexit done’ with his ‘oven ready deal’. However, the incompetent and duplicitous Johnson lied to the British public, his half-baked deal was unilaterally withdrawn, and another deal had to be re-negotiated with threats exchanged between both Europe and Britain in the fall out. The general election resulted in a major defeat for the British left, leaving it demoralised and opening the door for more reactionary right-wing politics from an emboldened Tory Party.
Consequences of Brexit
Hard Brexit has created supply problems with the UK’s biggest trading partner due to the creation of tariff barriers and the ending of free movement of people, which were sought to satisfy the hardened Eurosceptic ERG right-wing of the Tories that installed Johnson as leader of the party. This was under the pretext of ‘taking back control’ with Britain regaining sovereignty but has in many ways done exactly the opposite with the UK economy left completely exposed and isolated. Attempting to dismantle 40 years of a ‘just in time’ economic model that had become fully integrated into the EU, to become a European ‘Singapore’ tax haven with trade barriers in a matter of a few years was always going to be problematic, with the burden falling onto the working class.
Leaving the European Union coincided with the onset of the COVID pandemic, which has exacerbated the economic effects that Britain now finds itself in. Since leaving late 2019 it is estimated that 1.3 million non-UK workers have left the UK, leaving serious gaps in the labour market, which in turn is impacting on the supply chain and other vital sectors of the UK economy. In the meat industry alone, 62% of the UK workforce were EU nationals, with some producers reporting workforces of up to 85% EU nationals.
UK farmers, many who voted to leave the EU, now find themselves with crops that cannot be picked, the NFU have said only 11% of seasonal workers in the 2020 season were UK residents, with farmers heavily reliant on migrant labour. Farmers are also faced with the prospect of having up to 120,000 pigs being slaughtered in fields and burnt because of being overgrown and not able to travel to the abattoir. This is the biggest slaughter of animals carried out in UK fields in the history of British agriculture. It is a travesty that while we have families with children going hungry, the UK which is not food self-reliant finds itself in the absurd position that food and livestock are being laid to waste.
The Brexit exodus has resulted in empty supermarket shelves, shortage of CO2 causing disruptions within the food industry and more recent fuel shortages that are spiralling out of control. With the country now deep into its second week of a fuel crisis, lengthy queues of frustrated motorists have been trying to get onto petrol garage forecourts, with many of them dry and completely out of fuel. This crisis is completely of the government’s own making and just as the emperor had no clothes it shows Brexit for what it truly is, a disaster as a result from an argument within the British ruling class who have no real answers from the quagmire that they now find themselves in. The UK Southeast peninsular lies just 29 miles from France. Being the UK’s biggest trading partner, it makes no sense economically to forge new trade deals unilaterally halfway around the world. The increase in air miles alone makes a mockery of Britain’s commitment to tackle climate change.
The Tories’ response has been woeful, with decision-making conducted on the hoof, lurching from one crisis to the next. Johnson and his ministers are scrambling around to find quick fix answers to fix an economy that has deep structural problems. These quick fixes include ‘temporary visas’ in a desperate attempt to attract European HGV drivers back into the UK, which instead of the initial 3 months have been extended to March 2022 and sending out letters to German nationals who have licence categories on driving licences issued before 1999, which allow them to drive medium-sized lorries of up to 7.5 tonnes, even if they have never been behind the wheel of a lorry. Other desperate measures include ‘streamlining’ current HGV training, which is code word for cutting corners in the training programme with only one test taken to drive articulated and rigid vehicles, as opposed to two different tests. Other changes include shorter tests with the removal of the ‘reversing exercise’ element, and for vehicles with trailers, the ‘uncoupling and recoupling’ exercise.
The main concern must be workplace safety with such measures being introduced. Heavy goods vehicles are much more likely to be involved in fatal accidents per mile travelled than any other vehicle in the UK. Data from TSGB (2007) showed that 12.1% of motorway traffic was by HGVs, which were responsible for 41% of fatalities. Between 2016 to 2017, there was a 50% increase in fatal accidents involving lorry drivers, which resulted in the union, Unite, calling for urgent reforms into how road accidents with lorries are recorded. The concern was how they are recorded as traffic accidents and not workplace accidents with workers working with time pressures, long hours away from home, terrible road conditions and in poor working conditions with workers being denied basic welfare facilities. Accidents should be investigated by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) as to the culpability of employers and industrial negligence. According to figures released by the Department of Transport in 2019, 1,258 people were killed or seriously injured in accidents involving HGVs during 2018.
The UK has a shortage of around 70,000 HGV drivers and while Europe also has shortages, this is not leading to scenes of empty supermarket shelves and dry garages with queues trying to get onto the forecourt on the continent. European free movement means that the impact of driver shortages is mitigated by drivers moving around between member states as well as the practice of cabotage; delivering and collecting consignments within member states to prevent return journeys with empty containers. This is not simply a Tory problem with European workers, even Labour has succumbed to this petty nationalist backwardness with Lisa Nandy, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, in her interview on Newsnight (29th September 2021) suggesting that there is ‘no appetite for free movement’.
While Labour chimes with the Tories for ‘home grown supply’ and a ‘higher wage economy’, the reality is that Labour oppose the £15.00 per hour minimum wage and oppose increasing statutory sick pay. Labour has clearly positioned itself alongside the Tories and towards big business with Starmer rowing back on his 2020 leadership election campaign pledge to “support common ownership of rail, mail, energy and water”. Starmer’s recent 14,000 word ‘essay’ published just before coming into conference mentioned business 29 times, while workers were mentioned just a mere 3 times. Speaking to The Times newspaper, Nick Thomas-Symonds, the Shadow Home Secretary, confirmed that Labour would continue the ‘hostile environment’ with the continuation of deportation flights and would never bring back freedom of movement. This is a pitch towards the right and the dog whistle to what it sees as the Tory Brexit working class vote. The Labour Conference re-branding of the traditional red background with its new colour scheme of turning blue towards the right was clearly intentional, a subliminal message for its new patriotic stance.
Political and Economic Crisis
Johnson and his ministers are trying to downplay the seriousness of this crisis and while the fuel crisis has eased in some parts of the UK, in London and the Southeast there is evidence that the situation has deteriorated. The whole idea of enticing demonised European workers back into the UK on a short-term visa after they have been previously made to feel unwelcome is an obscenity, feedback suggests that many Europeans are hostile to the idea. This is the desperate act of a floundering government and shows the contempt they hold for workers. The narrative coming out of both Tory and Labour politicians is that EU workers were to blame for the lack of training, the suppression of wages, and the deterioration of working conditions because of the influx of ‘foreign’ workers during Britain’s membership of the EU. This is a sordid attempt to hide the effects of neoliberalism introduced both by Tory and Labour governments over the last 40 plus years, which has crushed British workers.
The Tory conference in Manchester is upon us and the Tories find themselves coming into a potential winter of discontent. Just as the economic consequences are unfolding, the furlough scheme has now been withdrawn with an estimated 1 million workers finding themselves in limbo, according to the Resolution Foundation. It is all too simplistic to assume that these workers will walk out of one position and into another vacancy caused by a European national leaving. This is the age-old problem of training and geographics not taken into the equation, which can only be resolved by having a planned economy and not one driven by the greed of market forces.
The Tories are also withdrawing the £20.00 uplift to Universal Credit, with 6 million people in receipt of this payment, this will leave many families already in a precarious position even more desperate. The National Education Union claim that 4.3 million children are in poverty in the UK, which is one of the world’s richest nations but one with one of the worst hunger rates in Europe according to figures released by UNICEF. The UK has a GDP per capita four times the global average. Yet, UNICEF figures show 19% of children under 15 in the UK live with adults who struggle to buy food. Over 2.5 million people rely on food banks in Britain, and the Tories response to the working poor and those in receipt of welfare is to let them fend for themselves turning the clock back to the Victorian era.
The supply chain crisis is creating a situation of higher demand and restricted supply, which inevitably leads to an increase in inflation. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has predicted that inflation will reach 4% by the end of 2021, which is far outstripping wages. This on top of the 1.25 % increase in National Insurance payments, which will see the poorest subsidise the wealthiest with a tax to increase revenue to pay towards the NHS. This itself blows wide open the Brexit bus lie of saving money from EU membership to pay the NHS instead. While there is a low level of class consciousness in the UK, these attacks on workers and their families could create the spark that causes real resentment to build up towards the British ruling class. We need a revolutionary movement outside of the UK Labour Party, one that will provide answers for people instead of laying the blame solely at the feet of our fellow European workers.
Trotsky wrote in ‘The United States of Europe:
“We shall not here indulge in speculations as to the speed at which the unification of the European republics will proceed, in what economic and constitutional forms it will express itself, and what degree of centralisation will be obtained in the first period of the workers’, and peasants’, regime. All these considerations we may safely leave to the future, remembering the experience already gained by the Soviet Union, constructed on the soil of former Tsarist Russia. What is perfectly obvious is that the customs barriers must be thrown down. The peoples of Europe must regard Europe as a field for a unified and increasingly planned economic life.”
Trotsky’s key point was that there would be no way out for the people of Europe with the isolationist politics of the narrow nation state, and that the demand for a “United States of Europe” would need to be a transitional programme that could provide the basis for peace and progress, one on a revolutionary basis. Britain cannot divorce itself either geographically or politically from Europe, it is in Europe whether it likes it or not.
New threat of imperialist nuclear war amid climate danger!
Hot on the heels of the US cutting its losses in Afghanistan in August, comes the formation of AUKUS, a new imperialist bloc between the United States, Britain and Australia, transparently to target China in the Asia-Pacific region. This carries a potent war threat for the future to try to preserve US world dominance and exposes completely the nonsense being talked by Biden et al about doing something about climate change. They prefer a good old dose of aggressive nuclear blackmail with the threat of a nuclear holocaust. As does British Labour’s execrable imperialist thug leader Starmer, who saluted this in the House of Commons and seemed even more enthused about it than Johnson himself. So much for fighting for human and ecological survival. Fighting for the hegemony of the US and its lackeys over the workers and oppressed of the world is much more important for such reactionary rabble.
This is evidently the second part of the Biden plan to reorient US imperialism to the Far East to confront what it sees as its most important adversary on a global level. It appears above all to be a nuclear submarine pact, and Australia will be building a new fleet of nuclear-powered submarines in Adelaide with mainly US technology. Apparently, the submarines will be armed with long-range missiles, but not nukes, as that would be a major breach of the Non-Proliferation treaty. But nevertheless, the aim is to harass China with submarine activity off its own coastline and put military pressure. US and potentially British nuclear submarines will be leased to Australia in the interim until its own dedicated fleet is ready, so this could well be up and running much earlier than the construction schedule suggests. China has warned that such behavior could even result in nuclear retaliation against Australia.
This development seems for the moment have silenced the Trumpians screaming about Biden’s abrupt implementation of Trump’s Afghanistan withdrawal agreement last month. Indeed, Biden’s move appears positively Trumpian itself, and is likely calculated to wrong-foot his far-right critics – by stealing some of their clothes and appropriating aspects of the strategy they would like to be carrying out – before they have chance to try this out, so Biden and the Democrats can present it as their idea. But this is not just a cynical triangulation maneuver for domestic reasons.
The fact is that the US might be the imperialist hegemon, but it is a declining hegemon. One major index of US decline is that it was even humiliated by its economy being kept afloat by Chinese money when its banking system teetered on the brink of collapse in 2008-9. An intolerable situation for an imperialist world hegemon! Recent wars and conflicts in the Middle East have exacerbated and highlighted its decline. Some of Trump’s sporadic rhetoric about puling the US out of conflicts in the Middle East and the Muslim world – together with his Muslim ban on immigration – also reflected a desire for the US to cut its losses in such conflicts and focus on China as the main enemy. But Trump had his own entanglements in the Middle East and could not follow up on his rhetoric about this in part because of his extremely close relationship with the Israel lobby, which directly sponsored his presidency to implement their policies over Jerusalem, Golan and other annexations, while hoping that he would attack Iran on their behalf.
Biden, who is not as deeply entangled with the Zionists as Trump was, has more freedom to pursue aggressive initiatives like AUKUS in the wider world, outside the restrictive focus that excessive subservience to the Lobby dictates. AUKUS, as a Far-Eastern geopolitical initiative with a global span, can be considered a more ‘pure’ expression of the current interests of US imperialism than some of its recent conflicts. Hence Biden is likely onto a winner on this domestically, as long as nothing goes spectacularly wrong in the short term.
Biden’s speech about the withdrawal from Afghanistan, made it very clear that the purpose of the withdrawal was to clear the decks for a renewed drive against China and Russia:
“We are in fierce competition with China. We have dealt with challenges from Russia in many ways. We are facing cyber attacks and nuclear proliferation. We must strengthen the competitiveness of the United States to meet these new challenges in the 21st century competition.
We can attack on both sides: while fighting terrorism, while dealing with current and new threats that will continue to exist in the future. In this competition, China and Russia are eager to let the United States fall into the quagmire of Afghanistan for another decade.
When we turn to the page that has guided our country’s foreign policy for the past two decades, we must learn from our mistakes. For me, there are two crucial lessons: First, we must set tasks with clear achievable goals, not goals that we can never achieve. Second, we must clearly focus on America’s most fundamental national security interests.
This decision about Afghanistan is not only about Afghanistan. This is about the end of a major military operation aimed at reshaping other countries.”
The formation of AUKUS drew a strong rebuke from China’ Foreign Minister Zhao Lijian on 16 Sept:
“The nuclear submarine cooperation between the US, the UK and Australia has seriously undermined regional peace and stability, intensified the arms race and undermined international non-proliferation efforts. The export of highly sensitive nuclear submarine technology to Australia by the US and the UK proves once again that they are using nuclear exports as a tool for geopolitical game and adopting double standards. This is extremely irresponsible. As a non-nuclear weapon state under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and a party to the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone (SPNFZ) Treaty, known as the Treaty of Rarotonga, Australia is now introducing nuclear submarine technology of strategic and military value. …”
But what is also quite sinister is that all three of the states involved in AUKUS have a common central ethnic core. Which is a new development in recent history. All the components of this alliance have major records of hostility to and atrocities against East Asians and Chinese people in particular. “Yellow Peril” racism is both ancient and recent in the US, and the Trump/Biden repeated attempts to blame China – where the disease may (or may not) have originated – for the Covid-19 Pandemic, have the character of racist war propaganda. Britain’s record of colonizing China from the Opium wars onward is obvious, and “White Australia” nationalism has from the beginnings of Australia as a genocidal white colony defined itself against the masses of Asia to the North, China being one of the post powerful potential adversaries. And of course, the recent political evolution of Britain under the Brexit regime of Johnson has been one of rampant official xenophobia and racism. The Brexiters would like to expand the navy and ‘rule the waves’, but have no hope of anything of the sort except as lackeys of the US.
Notwithstanding the disingenuous claims by these imperialists that they are countering Chinese ‘bullying’ of states like Vietnam and the Philippines who have disputes with China in the region of the South China Sea, everyone knows this is about the US, as world imperialist hegemon, with its lackey states, trying to reassert its hegemony. The Anglo-Saxon makeup of this bloc is provocative.
The ethnic aspect of AUKUS has caused major unease in Europe, particularly France. It has its material pretext, but there is more than that involved in the sentiments expressed. In order to be part of the new nuclear submarine pact, Australia tore up a $66 billion dollar deal for France to supply them with 12 non-nuclear, diesel-powered submarines. But French anger is not just about this submarine deal. French President Macron used the dramatic diplomatic device of recalling French Ambassadors from Washington and Canberra.
The French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves le Drian said the following about the US and Australia:
“That is why I say there has been duplicity, contempt and lies, and when you have an ally of the stature of France, you don’t treat them like that….When we see the US president with the Australian prime minister announce a new agreement, with Boris Johnson, the breach of trust is profound. In a real alliance you talk to each other, you don’t hide things, you respect the other party, and that is why this is a real crisis.”
Guardian, 18 Sept
Even more contempt was reserved for Johnson, as another French official said “The UK accompanied this operation opportunistically. We do not need to consult in Paris with our ambassador to know what to think and what conclusions to draw from it.” (ibid). L’Albion Perfide is taken as read again. And a former British Ambassador to France added:
“There is a deep sense of betrayal in France because this wasn’t just an arms contract, this was France setting up a strategic partnership with Australia and the Australians have now thrown that away and negotiated behind the backs of France with two Nato allies, the US and UK, to replace it with a completely different contract.
“For the French this looks like a complete failure of trust between allies and calls into doubt what is Nato for. This puts a big rift down the middle of the Nato alliance … Britain needs a functioning Nato alliance. I think people underestimated the impact that this would have in France and how this would seem as a humiliation and betrayal in a year President Macron is running for election in a very tight race with the far right.”
The reason that the US is inclined to do things like this that undermine NATO has causes that go back to the Cold War. The refusal of France and particularly Germany, for instance, to sign up fully for Reagan and Thatcher’s early 1980s nuclear crusade was simply because the core countries of Europe have solid material interest in a degree of collaboration with countries like the USSR and today’s post-Soviet Russia that resist the US’ aspirations to dominate the world. Such things as cheap plentiful sources of energy from Russia are of particular importance. They preferred to undermine the workers states through economic penetration than crude military pressure. Today with post- Soviet capitalist Russia, which is currently allied in effect with post-Maoist capitalist China in an informal non-imperialist bloc, they are even less keen on nuclear brinkmanship.
Which has the tendency to marginalize NATO in the European theatre. Given China’s economic and military power this tends to shift the theatre of potential conflict of this type away from Europe, which undermines NATO’s raison d’être. US decline makes it more difficult to pressure other powers into line and so, NATO becomes less central and can be considerably undermined as it seems to be here. This is accentuated by China’s new infrastructure projects in Asia like Belt and Road that appear to be creating a counterweight to US hegemony with even more incentive for some of the European powers to hedge their bets on Washington’s increasingly desperate attempts to preserve its position. Apart from Washington’s unsinkable aircraft carrier centred in London of course.
This is not a simple development, and its early days yet, but the position of Marxists regarding it is straightforward: we oppose it tooth and nail, as we oppose NATO and all other imperialist alliances of this type. We are not for preserving NATO, if this does prove to be the disintegrative force that some surmise, but equally we oppose this as a putative replacement alliance. We are for the defence of China and other non-imperialist countries against the war drive that is evidently behind this and for the defeat of AUKUS in any future conflict with the non-imperialist states targeted. It is also a sign, when human civilization is being put in increasing danger by capitalist-induced climate change, the real priority of imperialism is hegemony and its own survival even though countless deaths through war and counterrevolution. This war drive needs to be smashed by the world proletariat, led by a new revolutionary communist movement that our comrades are seeking ways to build.
The counter-revolution in the USSR was not fought, not even admitted and even less studied by those who claim to be revolutionaries today, beyond rare exceptions.
The final destruction in the USSR, after 74 years of existence, in August 1991, was the biggest defeat of the working class and the communists in the last 50 years. It is necessary to recognize this truth and say it however bitter it may be. This is a starting point for understanding the current reality for those who want to change it, for anyone who has the fight for communism as a strategy. The lessons of this defeat are as or more important for our time as the lessons of October 1917 and the causes of bureaucratic degeneration in the following decades. Like revolution, counterrevolution needs to be studied. A clear understanding of the liquidation of the USSR serves the struggles of the present and the future. We claim the USSR and the set of experiences of workers states created in the 20th century, criticising the limitations and deviations committed.
The crisis that led to the final liquidation of August 1991 was a consequence of the exhaustion of the USSR economy, compromised by:
1. Isolation of the USSR (attenuated by the existence and relationship between the USSR and part of the other workers’ states), aggravated by the policy of “socialism in one country”, on the one hand, and by the permanent economic war of boycotts, sanctions and blockades of imperialism, on the other;
2. By the arms race, as a war economy. If investment in destructive forces is beneficial to the imperialist political economy, the same economic policy exhausts the productive forces of a workers’ state. In this context, the involvement of the USSR in the Afghan War, with the concentrated war effort, was the coup de grace, falling into the trap of imperialism (explained in “The adventure of imperialism in Afghanistan was a blow against the revolution “);
3. By conciliation, bureaucratic indebtedness, liberal measures, dismantling of planning and control of foreign trade over the 74 years that led to Perestroika and Glasnost;
4. Finally, the complete liquidation of bodies of workers’ democracy by Stalin’s bureaucratization, continued by Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Andropov, and Gorbachev, meant that in the decisive battle in which the bureaucracy was divided between restorationists and conservatives there were no independent mass bodies of the two wings to fight for a destiny that would serve the immediate and historical interests of the majority of the population of the USSR.
The collapse of Yanayev’s bureaucratic coup (explained by us in ” The Soviet bloc’s counter-revolution still traumatizes humanity “) and Yeltsin’s restorationist counter-coup imposed historic defeat and started the plunder of the workers state and 14 other republics by imperialist finance capital . According to the geopolitical writer William Engdahl, in his work Manifest Destiny – Democracy as Cognitive Dissonance (2018):
“Boris Yeltsin and his “free market reformers” were part of one of the most criminal undercover looting operations in CIA history. It was the rape of Russia by a corrupt circle of treacherous Soviet generals, together with their young KGB squad protégés, who were turned through the operation into billionaire oligarchs. This economic rape was only possible through Western banks and Washington’s so-called “machines of democracy” under three successive presidents – Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush and Bill Clinton.
William Engdahl, in his work “Manifest Destiny – Democracy as Congnitive Dissonance”, p. 29, 2018.
The tragedy was not limited to the economic field or to the peoples of the former USSR, it reached the last generations of social fighters and was also a political and theoretical-ideological tragedy for the world proletariat.
In terms of theory, the counterrevolution potentiated the most effective anti-communist propaganda machine since the McCarthyism in the US in the 50s. Neoliberalism, postmodernism, identitarism, are variants of this anti-communist ideological offensive, catapulted by these counterrevolutionary processes, although they are schools of conservative or reactionary thinking that were created before the processes of 88-91.
Within the workers’ movement and the majority leaderships of the mass and left-wing movements, this offensive contributed to a qualitative leap in the bourgeoisification of social democracy and the consolidation of conciliatory leaderships. This defeat is also expressed in the abortion, or precocious decay of the processes of accumulation of class consciousness since the victory in Vietnam in 1975.
In the last almost five decades, none of the revolutionary processes have resulted in the expropriation of the bourgeoisie as a class in any country, nor in the conquest of power by the working class, just check the revolutionary processes in Iran, Nicaragua, Burkina Faso … the deformed way in which the post-1917 revolutionary processes occurred, especially after the Second World War. This period of relatively short setbacks in historical terms makes many contemporary social fighters believe that the social revolution is an outdated phenomenon. For many of the new generation, the 20th century would not have ushered in the era of proletarian revolutions. They just believe that proletarian revolutions were a phenomenon unique to the last century.
Trotskyism, critical of the hegemonic and traditional leaderships and which could have assumed a leading role in the struggles with the retreat of social democracy and Stalinism, did worse than the first two trends. Confusion reigned in Trotskyism, the charlatanism of selling defeat as victory, indifference to the valuable achievements of the past in the class struggle. Almost all self-proclaimed Trotskyism celebrated with imperialism the end of the USSR and almost all workers’ states.
In terms of economic policy, the majority trend in most nations and moments was the loss of political, economic and social rights for workers, which is generically agreed to be called neoliberalism or globalization.
On the defensive, disorganized, without parties that would at least help it to distinguish allies from enemies, victories from defeats, the proletariat accumulated losses in all terrains: organizational, in conscioiusness, in living conditions. Which also impacted on the backward sections, the consciousness of certain fractions of the proletariat receded from conservatism to new versions of reactionary (neo-fascism, Trumpism, Bolsonarism).
The militant communist, revolutionary and internationalist forces represent only a small minority of the workers’ movement today. But they were never in the majority, not even in revolutionary periods. With determination, a dialectical and materialist understanding of history, a willingness to fight for programmatic clarity, it is possible to regroup revolutionary cadres prepared for the struggle in the current situation and for new social revolutions.
– 30 Years since August Coup and Collapse of the USSR.
– Almost 20 years of imperialist occupation in Afghanistan collapses in days.
– A critique of a flawed analysis of the counterrevolution and its effects
The Russian October Revolution was the greatest event so far in human history. It was the first opportunity for humanity to begin to abolish the capitalist system whose quest for profit had already led to the nightmare of millions of workers being dragged into massacring each other across Europe as the various imperialist powers fought each other to divide and redivide the world.
For us, the USSR was a state unlike any other. The proletariat built its own bodies of power, the popular councils, built its own revolutionary party, the Bolsheviks, and seized power from the bourgeoisie, establishing its own class dictatorship. The class character of the state born out of the Bolshevik and Soviet revolution is determined by the expropriation of the bourgeoisie, by the nationalization of the means of production, by economic planning. As long as this state maintained and defended the property relations born of this revolution, for us the USSR was a workers’ state.
But, in less than a decade, the USSR underwent a degenerative process, a political counterrevolution. A bureaucratic caste emerged from the material conditions imposed by the class struggle, the legacy of Russian society’s agrarian backwardness, the aftermath of the First World War, the civil war and invasion of the country by an international bourgeois military coalition and later by the siege, sanctions and blockades established by imperialist world capital. Therefore, it was a degenerated or bureaucratized workers’ state. A political revolution was needed to re-establish the political power of the workers and reject all attempts to restore the bourgeoisie, by internal or external agents, carrying out, if necessary, a united front with the bureaucracy in the face of the capitalist counter-revolution.
And in the second post-war period, as part of the gaps left by the defeat of fascism, a whole series of workers’ states emerged from East Germany to North Korea, passing through Albania, China, Yugoslavia and Cuba. They were the result of different revolutionary processes under nationalist, Stalinist leaderships, or simply bureaucratic annexation to the USSR. In any case, these were processes that were born under bureaucratic deformations, without workers’ democracy. The bourgeoisie was expropriated, but the workers did not organize themselves into revolutionary Marxist parties or create bodies of dual power as in the first years of the USSR, and that is why they are called deformed workers’ states.
So, if the Russian revolution was one of the greatest achievements of the proletariat in the history of class struggle, conversely, the defeat of the degenerate Soviet Union (USSR) in 1991 was, on the contrary, a great defeat for the world working class, which demands analysis. and proper understanding. The degeneration of the Russian Revolution, the analysis of the reasons for that degeneration and of the self-reinforcing series of betrayals that cemented Stalinism in power though the repeated sabotage of opportunities to extend the world revolution, all these are matters which must be clarified by the would-be revolutionary left today to understand our tasks going forward. So are the processes by which the counterrevolution was able to succeed, the points of continuity and discontinuity in the situation today, the points of support that persist which Marxists need to make use of to advance the class struggle today. This document attempts to address some of these questions.
Its 30 years almost to the day since the bankruptcy of Stalinism brought about the collapse of the USSR. The attempted coup in late August 1991 by a group of bureaucrats, military men, and dignitaries (including Vice President Gennadi Yanayev) in the apparatus of the disintegrating Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) briefly overthrew the government of the last Soviet President, Mikhail Gorbachev, imprisoning the Soviet leader and his immediate circle for three days, before the coup collapsed. The bankruptcy of Yanayev’s Emergency Committee is associated with the bankruptcy of Stalinism (and Krushchevism), however, in retrospect, if we could establish a political position in August 1991, it would be that of a critical alignment in a united front anti-capitalist restoration policy with the Emergency Committee against Yeltsin.
One reason that the coup collapsed is that it did not manage to get the support of even the bulk of the military and repressive apparatus of the USSR. It also failed to get any significant mass support. The coup-plotters were themselves thoroughly demoralised and according to some accounts, spent much of the three days of the coup drinking heavily, no doubt suspecting they would lose. Gorbachev’s programme of political liberalisation (glasnost) and ‘market socialism’ (perestroika) failed to overcome the stagnation of the Soviet economy as the regime hoped and had led to growing economic turmoil and declines in living standards over the period of his presidency from 1985-1990.
Toward the end of 1990, jointly with Boris Yelstin, he put together a 500-day plan for the rapid transformation of the USSR to a capitalist, market driven economy, through large-scale privatisation and attacks on social rights, while still sometimes talking of ‘market socialism’. This was the point at which Gorbachev himself crossed the Rubicon and became an advocate of capitalist restoration. But getting the conditions in place to implement this dragged on through 1991. Yelstin was the former head of the Moscow Communist Party, and from 1990 an openly bourgeois politician outside the CPSU. Yelstin gained the Presidency of the Russian Soviet Federal Socialist Republic, which as the Russian Federation, became the core successor state to the USSR after the counterrevolution.
The collapse of the coup, partly in the face of civil resistance – ‘democrats’, privateers and fascists organised publicly behind Yelstin outside the Russian parliament or ‘White House’ — was followed by the public humiliation of Gorbachev for his evident weakness in the face of the coup, and by the end of the year, the formal dissolution of the USSR and Gorbachev’s resignation/redundancy as its last president. This merely formalised what happened in the immediate aftermath of the failed coup in any case, as the de facto state power became Yelstin’s Russian Federation, with many of the non-Russian republics, notably the Baltics, declaring their secession from the USSR during the coup itself, de facto disintegrating the USSR and not even waiting for Gorbachev’s proposed new union treaty (stopping which was one of the coupists’ prime motives) to see the light of day.
Imperialism’s Afghan Adventure was a Blowback from Counterrevolution
In addition to the anniversary of the Soviet collapse, the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan has led to the collapse of the pro-US puppet regime of Ashraf Ghani in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is bound up with the counterrevolutionary collapse of the USSR. Massive US funding of a jihad against the left-nationalist, Moscow-allied People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) began in the late 1970s, and when the Soviet Union intervened in December 1979 to prevent the overthrow of the PDPA by these counterrevolutionaries, Afghanistan became a cause celebre of anti-communism. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher very publicly associated themselves with the mujahedin, the ‘holy warriors’ who were given hi-tech weaponry like Stinger missiles to fight the PDPA and USSR.
The retreat of the USSR from Afghanistan under Gorbachev was a major capitulation to imperialism and heralded the collapse of the USSR itself. Yet the PDPA regime was among the last of the USSR’s client states to fall; it did not collapse until April 1992, 6 months after the USSR collapsed. The diffuse coalition of mujahedin with some PDPA defectors was swept aside in 1996 by the youthful, austere and fanatical Taliban faction of Islamists, based in ‘refugee’ camps in Pakistan, who have politically dominated Afghanistan ever since.
The Afghanistan invasion and occupation at the end of 2001 was always a sideshow and a fig-leaf for imperialism and Zionism’s intention to take advantage of the terrorist attack the US received from Al Qaeda fighters on September 11th, 2001. The imperialists were always aware that as well as being an expression of extreme reaction with pre-capitalist, medieval origins, and social base (to a degree), Islamist movements are also capable of giving expression to popular rage against imperialist crimes. They are difficult clients that sometimes bite their patrons. The sheer scale of 9/11 was shocking to US imperialism, which undoubtedly through its intelligence agencies had some awareness of the perpetrators’ activities, but not the degree of their ambition. But irrespective of this, the effect of 9/11 was to strengthen the Zionist faction in the US ruling class which wanted to remake the Middle East in Israel’s interest, initially through the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
In that, the occupation of Afghanistan had to be maintained for a prolonged period to make some show to the Western public that something direct was being done to confront the actual home base of Al Qaeda. But it was a bipartisan exercise in hypocrisy, as there was never any Western intention to undermine the social basis of the counterrevolution they had fomented to destroy the PDPA. So, it was always pretty much inevitable that when the West finally cut their losses and withdrew from Afghanistan, it would revert to the Taliban.
The rumours of deals with the Taliban by Trump or even Biden are highly likely to be true. The expressions of ‘shock’ by some in the West at Biden’s withdrawal and the Taliban victory are just disingenuous nonsense. So are the comparisons being made by some with the fall of Saigon in 1975.
Though many desperate Afghans may well have believed in some sort of Western good intentions, they were being cynically duped and exploited. Many now, desperately trying to escape, are not the equivalents of counterrevolutionaries fleeing the Vietnamese revolution in 1975, but victims of Western duplicity, and as refugees are targets for right-wing populists and fascists in the West. We must demand full rights of asylum and settlement in the West for all those Afghans seeking to escape. No restrictions or quotas.
All these things are simply the logic of fomenting counterrevolution in a country like Afghanistan. What may be the international role of the Taliban now the US occupation is over is an open question. Will they become a Western client state, and participate in Western attempts to sabotage the efforts of semi-colonial countries and former workers states to build infrastructure to counter dependency upon imperialism, such as the Chinese-led Belt and Road initiative in Eurasia? Or will they be drawn into this sphere of influence? There are all kinds of contradictory speculations about at the moment, and it is likely to take a bit of time before it is clear which way the situation evolves.
A flawed analysis of the counterrevolution
The collapse of the USSR was long forecast, in broad outline, by the Trotskyist movement, though the details, processes and outcome have proved to be a source of strong disagreement and division. One Trotskyist tradition that particularly stands out as making seemingly robust, but in fact problematic and ultimately false claims to have uniquely and correctly analysed the collapse of the USSR, and resisted it to the last, is the comrades of the now-splintered International Bolshevik Tendency, an ostensibly orthodox Trotskyist tendency that emerged from the Spartacists in the early 1980s, and which claimed to be the latest embodiment of a continuity of revolutionary tradition derived from them.
Confusingly, the group that is now using the name ‘International Bolshevik Tendency’ is based centrally in New Zealand, with a smattering of supporters elsewhere. Its best-known leader is Bill Logan. They insist that post-Soviet Russia is now a rival imperialist power to the US. Whereas the other main wing of the IBT, whose best-known leader is Tom Riley, based in North America but also with supporters elsewhere, and which now just calls itself the ‘Bolshevik Tendency’, insists correctly that Russia represents a relatively backward, dependent form of capitalism, that should be defended against imperialism along with other semi-colonial countries. But both agree that China is still a deformed workers state and make a great show of criticising those on the left who refuse to defend it again a supposed danger of capitalist restoration.
The starting point for this is their common position on the August coup of 1991. They correctly berate the bulk of the pseudo-Trotskyist left internationally who sided with Yeltsin against the coup-plotters as basically siding with the clarified, consistent advocates of the capitalist destruction of the USSR:
“In the weeks following the failed coup attempt of 19‐21 August, the International Bolshevik Tendency was virtually alone among self-proclaimed Trotskyists in recognizing that this event marked the end of the Soviet workers state. Every major political development has since confirmed our view. … The major political institutions of the Soviet state could be dismantled without armed resistance because the fate of the USSR had already been decided. The post-coup developments were a mere epilogue to the three days in August when the demoralized defenders of the old Stalinist apparatus made and lost their last desperate gamble.
“The success of the coup plotters would have represented an obstacle, however temporary and insubstantial, to the victory of the restorationists now in power. It was therefore the duty of those who defended the Soviet Union against capitalist restoration to side with the coup leaders against Yeltsin, without offering them any political support. Yet, to our knowledge, every other tendency purporting to be Trotskyist failed this last test of Soviet defensism. Most sided with the forces gathered around Yeltsin in the name of democracy. Others were neutral. To excuse their failure, many of these groups now find it expedient to play down the significance of Yeltsin’s August victory.”
1917 no 11, Soviet Rubicon and the Left, third quarter 1992
This is no doubt correct, at least as a criticism of the pseudo-Trotskyists. It was indeed scandalous that the bulk of the ‘Trotskyist’ left actually applauded and sided with the consistent advocates of rapid capitalist restoration and overt subordination of the USSR to imperialism. The IBT are quite rightly scathing about this. However, despite this position, the IBT still managed to fragment with major disagreements about questions derived from the outcome of the counterrevolution. Quite correctly they wrote in the aftermath of Yeltsin’ victory:
“On what terms will Russia and the other republics join the imperialist ’family of nations’? The productivity of Soviet labor has always lagged far behind that of advanced capitalist countries. The products of Soviet industry simply can’t compete in price or quality with Western goods. Western capitalists are reluctant to invest even in Poland and the former DDR, whose industrial plant is more advanced than Russia’s. Russian and Ukrainian industries are even less likely to find foreign buyers. Aspiring Russian ’entrepreneurs’ cannot simply take over existing state industries and start making money. To become competitive internationally, most Soviet enterprises would require massive retooling and upgrading, and that can only be financed from abroad. The imperialist giants, locked in ever intensifying economic rivalries with one another, are not about to underwrite the development of a major new competitor. The total ‘aid’ earmarked for the former Soviet Union so far is only a fraction of what the imperialists spent each year preparing to wage war on the ‘evil empire.’ The assistance they are providing is only enough to help Yeltsin keep a lid on his unruly population. There will be no latter-day Marshall Plan.
The lands that once made up the USSR are not without value to the predators of Wall Street and the Frankfurt bourse. The former Soviet Union was the world’s number-one producer of oil and timber, and its territories are also rich in minerals, metals and grain. The population is well educated even by Western standards, and is thus a huge potential market and reserve of exploitable labor. But the imperialists see the former Soviet Union chiefly as a producer of raw materials and agricultural products and a consumer of the finished goods of the U.S., Europe and Japan. The deindustrialization which will accompany capitalist restoration will lock the various republics into a pattern of economic dependency and backwardness more typical of third-world countries than the developed capitalist world.
The former Soviet Union, however, is no third-world country. The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 tore the former czarist empire out of the imperialist orbit and laid the foundations for transforming it from a backward, largely peasant nation into a major industrial power. At the time of the revolution, over 80 percent of the Soviet population lived in the countryside; today, more than 60 percent are city dwellers.
The reintegration of the Soviet Union into the international capitalist division of labor will mean the ruin of entire economic sectors: steel, machinery, military hardware and consumer goods and the destitution of many of the tens of millions of workers whose livelihoods depend upon industry.
The states emerging from the breakup of the USSR are not likely to be reduced to third-world status without explosions of popular anger. As mass indignation at free-market ‘shock therapy’ continues to mount, Yeltsin could easily fall. He has already been forced to modify some of the harsher aspects of his economic package. Yet none of Yeltsin’s would-be successors is any less committed than he to capitalist restoration; they differ only over tactics and timing.
The correctness of this evaluation of the destiny of the territories and peoples that made up the USSR does not seem to have prevented one part of the IBT from breaking from the logic of this and concluding that Russia has somehow overcome this future of dependency and become an imperialist rival of the West. In this regard, the New Zealand centred IBT has already, in fighting supposed ‘Russian imperialism’ sided with the reactionary, Nazi-infested Maidan movement in Ukraine. This has been armed, funded and egged on by US imperialism and the EU, against Russia which has now moved away under Putin from Yeltsin’s subordination to imperialism, and has been attempting to resist the project of extending NATO deeply into the former USSR itself, an obvious continuation even despite the counterrevolution, of the imperialist policy of outright political reconquest of the former workers states. The New Zealand-based IBT has also taken a neutral position on the Syrian conflict, “As in Ukraine, Marxists have no side in the Syrian civil war or the imperialist struggle weaving through it and demand the departure of all imperialist forces from the region.” (1917 no 41, 2019)
The confusionism of the whole ex-IBT diaspora is striking. Superficially this would appear to be an empirical falling out over the further evolution of Russia over time since the counterrevolution. However, it does seem to have been the result of Russia’s break, under Putin, from overt subordination and clientelism of the West that was previously dominant under Yeltsin, to an attitude of at least partial resistance to Western incursions and offensives. The Logan-led IBT drew the conclusion from this that Putin’s Russian has overcome the devastating material handicaps the IBT earlier pointed to and become imperialist.
But much of Russia’s activities along these lines are in a bloc with China and other semi-colonial countries such as Iran and Syria to resist imperialist domination in Eurasia, a bloc that also has allies in the Americas, such as Cuba and Venezuela. Some of these states at odds with imperialism are still deformed workers states, such as Cuba, others are ex workers’ states, such as Russia and China, while others still, such as Iran and Syria, were never workers’ states at all. However, all, wings of the ex-IBT defend China as supposedly still a deformed workers’ state, which therefore has to be defended in all conflicts with imperialism. Yet they logically must have radically different attitudes to its major international initiatives, such as the Belt and Road initiative, which hardly has anything ‘socialist’ about it, rather consisting of infrastructural development that will benefit both China and its other capitalist partners. All of which are being co-ordinated in a bloc with (to the IBT) ‘imperialist’ Russia. These contradictions make for a very confusing, contradictory mess.
A crucial ambiguity….
To explore the roots of this, it is necessary to go back to a crucial ambiguity in the IBT’s analysis of the events surrounding the collapse of the USSR. At the time, the IBT wrote:
“The barricades of August formed a dividing line between those bent on bringing back capitalism and those who wanted to slow down the market reforms and preserve, at least for a time, the social and economic status quo. Social democrats, liberals and all those who openly favored capitalist restoration had little difficulty in grasping the significance of the coup and its defeat. Pseudo-Trotskyists, however, must falsify reality to justify shirking Soviet defensism and prostrating themselves before left-liberal public opinion.”
“The struggle for power was between the Stalinist parasites who sought to preserve their host and the Yeltsinite restorationists who sought to destroy it.”
But here is the ambiguity:
“The men of the Emergency Committee were not Stalinists of the 1930s mould. Their will to act was compromised by the fact that they were demoralized enough to accept the inevitability of loosening central controls and giving market forces a wider scope. Their difference with Yeltsin was that they favored market ‘reforms’ within the overall framework of bureaucratic rule. By the time they decided to strike in defense of the beleaguered central state apparatus, it was already in such an advanced state of decay that it no longer commanded the unquestioned allegiance of the armed forces. These factors fed into each other, leading to the August debacle.”
In other words, even the IBT admit that the aim of the plotters was not to stop capitalist restoration per se, but to slow it down to maintain bureaucratic control of the process. If that is the case, then they effectively concede that it is perfectly possible for a Stalinist regime to itself preside over a process of capitalist restoration, while maintaining bureaucratic control over the process. It might well be appropriate to take a side on an issue like this because the character of such a conflict could impact on such matters as to whether the outcome of the conflict will result in the resulting regime or state being reduced to semi-colonial servitude to imperialism, or in some way resisting it. But to imply, or half-imply, that such bureaucrats are waging a real struggle against capitalist restoration, is to build illusions. Only the class-conscious proletariat can do that.
…. which besets their understanding of China
This is what happened in China, becoming definitive within around a year of the collapse of the USSR in late 1992, and what gets the ex-IBT into a terrible mess. Since the split the NZ centred IBT group do not seem to have written a great deal about China, but the North American-centred Bolshevik Tendency have produced a major polemic against those on the left who have concluded that capitalism has been restored in China.
The Bolshevik Tendency point out that Mao’s China, once it had expropriated the bourgeoisie, had basically the same contradictions as the USSR under the Stalinist regime that existed in the USSR from Stalin’s day until August 1991:
“’Communist China’ under Mao was characterised by essentially the same contradictions that Leon Trotsky had enumerated for the USSR in his 1936 book The Revolution Betrayed:
‘The Soviet Union is a contradictory society halfway between capitalism and socialism, in which: (a) the productive forces are still far from adequate to give the state property a socialist character; (b) the tendency toward primitive accumulation created by want breaks out through innumerable pores of the planned economy; (c) norms of distribution preserving a bourgeois character lie at the basis of a new differentiation of society; (d) the economic growth, while slowly bettering the situation of the toilers, promotes a swift formation of privileged strata; (e) exploiting the social antagonisms, a bureaucracy has converted itself into an uncontrolled caste alien to socialism; (f) the social revolution, betrayed by the ruling party, still exists in property relations and in the consciousness of the toiling masses; (g) a further development of the accumulating contradictions can as well lead to socialism as back to capitalism; (h) on the road to capitalism the counterrevolution would have to break the resistance of the workers; (i) on the road to socialism the workers would have to overthrow the bureaucracy. In the last analysis, the question will be decided by a struggle of living social forces, both on the national and the world arena.”
Though actually the use of this passage from Trotsky is problematic, as the relationship between the revolution ‘in the consciousness of the toiling masses” in a workers’ state that was qualitatively bureaucratically deformed since birth, as in China, and that in the USSR, which was initially a revolutionary workers state, must necessarily be different. The difference lies in the fact that the agency of the creation of the Soviet state was a class-conscious action of the proletariat led by a revolutionary vanguard party, whereas in China the state was the creation of a privileged bureaucratic caste whose main social base was the peasantry, which excluded the proletariat from political power right from the creation of the workers’ state. The consciousness of the masses in a country where a class-conscious proletariat played no role in the revolution cannot be equated with that of a country where the proletariat was the central locus of the revolution.
However, the BT go much further than this. They seek to equate the situation in China today, not under Mao, with the situation of the USSR under Stalin and his successors, and minimize the significance of the existence of a powerful bourgeoisie in today’s China:
“The single biggest factor distinguishing the Chinese economy from its advanced capitalist competitors is the central role played by the state sector—particularly in banking and strategic industries. Unlike the Soviet Union under Stalin, China has a significant private capitalist sector which accounts for a large chunk of its economy and produces most commodities for export. But the SOEs, which remain at the core of the economic and social order, do not operate according to the same principles as for-profit enterprises.”
And under the heading “China’s capitalists: a vulnerable class”, they further argue:
“China’s economy has a significant capitalist component, unlike the Soviet economy which was virtually entirely collectivised.”
“A 2011 study by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission which estimated that China’s state sector made up at least 50 percent of the economy, failed to take into account the fact that the mixed ownership reform programme permitting private investment in SOEs did not give investors any influence over decision-making. Assigning such investment to the private sector, while technically correct, can therefore result in significantly underestimating the effective weight of state ownership.”
“It is essential to understand that despite the nominal introduction of many features of a capitalist market economy the fundamental relationships established by the 1949 Revolution have not changed. Many of the apparent changes are essentially cosmetic and introduced solely to encourage foreign investment.”
Those gullible foreign capitalist investors must have been terribly fooled by such trickery, into not understanding that no fundamental change has occurred since Mao, and the state still does not in any sense exist for their benefit and does not defend their property against the masses.
The BT admit that the figure of 50 per cent private ownership is ‘technically correct’. They do not surmise that the existence of this powerful bourgeois layer, and its evident interpenetration with the state, creates a different relationship between the state and private capital than exists in a workers’ state, deformed or otherwise. In a workers’ state, one primary function of the state is to suppress private ownership of the means of production in order to guarantee the inviolability of state property. In the Chinese situation, the state itself has a hybrid character, and the state itself and state property is being used to promote the interests of a Chinese bourgeois layer whose social weight is considerable. So, the BT say:
“Bloomberg’s 27 February 2012 online edition estimated the net worth of the 70 wealthiest delegates to the CCP’s National Peoples’ Congress as $89.9 billion. While they undoubtedly favour taking ‘market reform’ all the way to outright capitalist restoration, they are also very aware, unlike the IMT, SEP and sundry other leftist impressionists, that China has yet to undergo a social counterrevolution.”
So, the 70 wealthiest delegates at the CCP’s National People’s Congress were, on average, dollar billionaires. Well money talks. Why should these billionaires need a ‘social counterrevolution’ if they have enriched themselves to the point of becoming dollar billionaires under the supposed dictatorship of the proletariat? It is obvious that it is the regime of the CCP that has enriched them. Even if they have to sacrifice some of the prerogatives of capitalists in the ‘free world’ and abide by what may seem like a more draconian form of state regulation, that is being done for their benefit, for the promotion of the interests of Chinese capital, and it certainly has brought them large fortunes. It has also, to a degree, protected their profitability and fortunes from some of the bankruptcies that have afflicted some sections of capital in the older capitalist countries. Maybe, like the Western bourgeoisie in the 1970s, some future fall in profits may cause them to complain about the burden of state regulation and seek a more complete, neoliberal privatisation of the economy, but they seem to be doing pretty well out of this setup at the moment. Chinese capital is doing well out of this arrangement, and as long as this is the case it has no reason for them to seek to change it.
In putting forward the thesis that today’s powerful Chinese bourgeoisie, the massive beneficiary of state largesse, is a ‘vulnerable class’ and thus perpetually on the edge of extinction, the BT asserts:
“The legal status of private capital—particularly domestic capital—is not clearly defined. Xi’s on-going anti-corruption campaign, which served to simultaneously mobilise popular support while eliminating or intimidating potential factional opponents, signalled that domestic capitalists transgressing ground rules laid down by the party do so at considerable risk. Xi explicitly identified his campaign to reign in bureaucrats flaunting ill-gotten gains with Mao’s ‘tigers and flies’ anti-corruption drive of the mid-1950s”
But the fundamental purpose of Mao’s campaigns had a different content and objectives. Mao’s purges were of bureaucrats who acted outside the framework of the specific polices of Mao’s faction of the bureaucracy in the regime that he dominated, which had decided that for reasons of its own self-preservation that the national bourgeoisie had to be suppressed and its property expropriated.
Xi, who is acting in a manner somewhat analogous to a social-democratic or perhaps liberal populist politician in the post-WWII period of ‘welfare capitalism’ that preceded neoliberalism in the advanced capitalist world, is merely threatening with punishment for corruption capitalists who transgress the rules of a project that uses the state for a project whose objective is to enrich the ‘vulnerable’ new Chinese bourgeoisie that has considerably enhanced its wealth under this capitalist arrangement.
Absurdly, the BT say that:
“Xi plays essentially the same role in China today as Stalin did in the Soviet Union:”
And then quote Trotsky to elaborate on what they mean
““The function of Stalin…has a dual character. Stalin serves the bureaucracy and thus the world bourgeoisie; but he cannot serve the bureaucracy without defending that social foundation which the bureaucracy exploits in its own interests. To that extent does Stalin defend nationalized property from imperialist attacks and from the too impatient and avaricious layers of the bureaucracy itself. However, he carries through this defence with methods that prepare the general destruction of Soviet society. It is exactly because of this that the Stalinist clique must be overthrown. The proletariat cannot subcontract this work to the imperialists. In spite of Stalin, the proletariat defends the USSR from imperialist attacks.”
But Xi is not defending ‘state property’ per se as is evident from the above. He is defending Chinese capital, and the new Chinese bourgeoisie, and a hybrid project that makes use of elements of the state apparatus that were inherited from a deformed workers state to promote the accumulation of profit and thus capital, in the hands of this new Chinese bourgeoisie. This project has been highly successful and has enabled this post-Maoist form of Chinese capital to resist the semi-colonial subordination of China to neoliberalism, which is the concrete expression of imperialism today, and even to provide aid to other non-imperialist bourgeois states in backward countries like Syria and Venezuela, among others, to resist imperialism’s war drive, economic sanctions, proxy, and hybrid wars.
The BT conclude by issuing their own warning about the danger of promoting illusions in what they still insist is Chinese Stalinism:
“The CCP’s recent moves to strengthen the state sector no more signify some sort of revolutionary regeneration than Xi’s anti-corruption campaign was aimed at transforming the bureaucracy into a cadre of revolutionary communists. The CCP remains a historically unstable, contradictory and transient formation which can only maintain its privileged position by suppressing any form of independent working-class political expression or dissent. A transition to a genuinely socialist society is only possible through working people ousting the CCP bureaucrats and establishing their own direct political rule.
“Only the programme of ‘permanent revolution,’ based on recognising the necessity to establish workers’ power in every country on the planet, can provide a coherent alternative to the Stalinist/Maoist programme of ‘socialism in one country,’ which is premised on the illusion of a permanent reconciliation with international capital. To open the road to socialism Chinese workers must create a new revolutionary party based on the internationalist programme of the early revolutionary Communist International in the time of Lenin and Trotsky.”
This is all very well, but Xi is not engaged in building ‘socialism in one country’, but a post-Maoist programme of building Chinese capitalism, using a hybrid state-private capitalist model that aims to build a counterweight to Western imperialist domination including by aiding other semi-colonial nations to resist imperialist domination. This is in fact a logical extension of Stalinism’s illusions of building ‘socialism in one country’ when the Stalinist apparatus loses confidence in its ability to defend economic planning. It’s a new utopia, effectively of ‘capitalism in one country’ built as an alternative to imperialist domination. It also dovetails somewhat with the retreat of the still-infant bourgeois regime in Russia under Putin from subordination to neoliberalism and imperialism, and its efforts to combat outright imperialist domination from Ukraine and Syria. This does involve a new variant of the social democratic worldview, which is where the labour reformist features that the BT point to in their study of China actually come from.
A denial of reality, and its facets
The ex-IBT trends as a whole have a big problem with this. Recognition of elements of this reality led the New Zealand centred part of this trend to flip over to characterising Russia as imperialist. It does appear that the denial of the capitalist character of China by both wings is based on the fear that if they recognise reality, they will capitulate and conclude that China, too is imperialist, a position that leads into the social-imperialist camp. So, they deny reality, in a manner analogous, though in reverse, to the denial of reality by the Healy tendency in refusing to accept that a deformed workers state had been established in Cuba after 1960. The Healy tendency did this because they feared that if they accepted the Cuban revolution as real, they would become Hansen-like cheerleaders for Castroism. The ex-IBT trends fear that if they accept that capitalist restoration in China has taken place, they will become pro-imperialist third-campist types. Indeed, this has partially happened to the New Zealand centred IBT over its position that Russia is ‘imperialist’. But somewhat eccentrically, they continue to insist that China is a workers’ state that must be defended against counterrevolution despite many of its initiatives being closely coordinated with ‘imperialist’ Russia.
This contradictory mess is a result of the flaws of the IBT tradition itself. It is necessary to defend the powerful but still dependant capitalist states in Russia and China against imperialism without promoting illusions that there is something socialist about them, any more than with Iran or Venezuela. That is the conclusion that consistent Trotskyists need to draw from the current situation.
Communist Fight issue 6 is out now, in hard copy format. It features articles on Palestine, and the need for international workers action to liberate Palestine and fight the genocidal Zionist project through international workers revolutionary action. Also this issue focuses on the need to defend Cuba as a deformed workers state, in the context of the recent counterposed demonstrations. We also have coverage of the huge protest movement in Brazil against Bolsonaro driven by the suffering of the masses in the Covid-19 pandemic under his fascistic regime, which is crucifying the masses and at the same time destroying the Amazon basin as a crucial part of the global ecosystem humanity and other higher life forms depend on.
Related to this is an article on recent catastrophic climate events, which indicate that capitalism is already pushing us past tipping points that threaten disaster for human civilisation. The overthrow of capitalism by the working class is becoming more and more urgent.
Regarding British politics we have extensive coverage of the criminality of the Johnson regime over Covid, and its attacks on democratic rights. We have a major examination of the issues in the Unite General Secretary Election and how the ‘left’ bureaucracy is risking opening the way for a right-wing Murdoch stooge. And we have a historical/programmatic article on how neoliberalism, deindustrialisation and financialisation have changed the nature of the Labour bureaucracy, and hence the class makeup of the Labour Party.
This 36 page edition contains substantial material on the international and domestic class struggle, and we urge socialists and those sympathetic to revolutionary politics to take out a subscription, which costs £17 per year for 4 issues. See our Communist Fight page for details.
“The-times-they-are-a-changing”: as one well known Palestine Solidarity activist, of Jewish origin, recently said, evoking Bob Dylan in a call for the formation of a new Palestine solidarity movement in Britain. They certainly are! Criticisms of Zionism that were considered taboo just a few short years ago are now becoming so obvious that they will soon be mainstream on the left. That Political Zionism is Jewish supremacism is increasingly becoming common knowledge and entering the left mainstream, this stronger emphasis of many fighters for Palestine on this is to be welcomed. Political Zionism is indeed a Jewish supremacist movement.
The old prejudice that Zionism was simply a tool of Western colonialism, that was by that token not really Jewish at all, and had no independent agency of its own, is being dissipated by the radicalisation that has happened in Britain as a result of the experience of the orchestrated role of Zionism in undermining Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, where Zionist smear campaigns managed to reach where ordinary British imperialist chauvinism was unable to. This radicalisation has now been deepened, and on a world-wide level, by the victory of the Palestinian people in the Saif Al-Quds (Sword of Jerusalem) war of May 2021, which for the first time for decades united the Palestinian people from the River to the Sea in a struggle against Zionism, and forced Israel to make concessions and call a face-saving ceasefire much earlier than planned in the face of such Palestine-wide resistance, which threatened the very stability of the Jewish state.
The activist referred to earlier, Tony Greenstein, gets it almost right when he writes of the comparison between Zionism and the earlier struggle against South African apartheid:
“The campaign against Israel is different in one crucial respect from that against apartheid in South Africa. Whereas the latter had no domestic support base, apart from the capitalists, right-wing Tories and fascists, the Israeli state has a lobby that is strong and powerful.
“Israel has support within the Jewish community. The last survey by Yachad of British Jews in 2015 found that 59% identify as Zionists. However 31% said that they weren’t Zionists. This was down 13% on a similar survey 5 years previously.
“Despite the attempt to label BDS as anti-Semitic, 24% of British Jews support some form of sanctions on Israel. Among secular Jews this rises to 40% and among the under-30s it is 41%. Compare this with the Board of Deputies, which purports to speak for British Jews, which never criticises Israel. Zionist organisations have hijacked the voice of “British Jews”. British Jews are in the words of Barnaby Raine the Establishment’s ‘favourite pets: heroic colonists in the Middle East and successful citizens in the West.’”
One important difference between South Africa and the Zionist state is that the latter has a powerful ethnic lobby as its base of support in the West that the Boer/Anglo regime never had, separate and distinct from the run of the mill bourgeois forces that over South Africa, as over Kenya, Malaya, Ireland, you name it, backed the West’s colonial allies in all its more conventional colonial type wars.
This reference to the Zionist Jewish establishment as ‘successful citizens in the West’ can only refer to the Jewish-Zionist bourgeois layers that use the power of their property and wealth to give rise to the ‘strong and powerful’ Israel lobby, which is primarily an ethnocentric lobby or faction within the bourgeoisie. Which is disproportionate in size simply because of the much higher proportion of Jews who have risen into the Western bourgeoisies over a prolonged period, a historical legacy of the social role of the Jews as a class of commodity traders under European feudalism. The younger, more secular Jewish layers who are less enamoured with Zionism’s crimes are obviously outside this bourgeois, ruling-class layer.
But the point about Zionist Jews who are ‘successful citizens’ (i.e. leading figures in the ruling class) being mere ‘pets’ is a misreading: they are much more valuable to the bourgeois establishment than that, a class-conscious reserve, previously mistakenly maligned from the standpoint of the gentile bourgeoisie, now among their most celebrated class brethren.
Israel is more than a Western pet in another sense, as typified by the Israeli arms company Elbit systems, whom Palestine Action’s activists, are organising against with great courage while being maligned by PSC. Elbit is no subsidiary of the West, it epitomises the imperialist nature of Israel and its overseas lobbies as a distinct force within the pantheon of imperialist powers. As we wrote recently:
“This is not some Western arms exporter supplying arms to a client, like Saudi Arabia in Yemen. This is an Israeli arms company that supplies high-tech weaponry to the West and its clients: to the British armed forces, those of the US, France, Italy, Belgium, Brazil, Colombia, the Philippines; from military drones to night-vision equipment and other military surveillance equipment. Its military hardware is marketed as tested in action, i.e., against the Palestinian people. Israel is a far tougher nut to crack than any mere colonial outpost, it is an imperialist enemy in its own right. Therefore, you get the contradictory phenomenon where, while Israel sometimes acts like a Western client state, at other times the US and other Western powers act like Israeli client states. The overlapping of the ruling classes means there is an element of truth in both.”
The current scandal involving another Israeli hi-tech company connected with the Israeli military, NSO Group, and its spyware Pegasus, being used to spy on and steal the data of human rights activists, lawyers acting for the victims of political persecution, in numerous countries around the world, including that of Israel’s kindred anti-Muslim persecutor Modi in India, Mexico, Saudi Arabia (Israel’s client), Morocco, Kazakhstan, and Hungary whose right-wing nationalist government both fulminates against alleged ‘subversion’ from prominent Jews like George Soros, and is an Israeli client state. These things might seem incidental, except that they emphasise that Israel is in the vanguard of reaction, a quartermaster to imperialism generally and its repressive clients around the globe, and a danger to democratic rights wherever its operative go.
Zionism is a genocidal project in its own right; it always has been. Right from the beginning its aims were substantially different to movements with which is it often compared, such as the movement led by Marcus Garvey that advocated that the descendants of those Africans kidnapped and used as slaves by early Western capitalism, particularly in the Americas, should return to Africa. These movements were simply both utopian and limited in their aims: basically, to ameliorate the oppression suffered by the descendants of the enslaved by creating Black African states that they could ‘return’ to. Their forcible exile was real, and ‘return’ was no answer to their oppression. The outcome of that movement was the creation of two impoverished neo colonies in Africa, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, that have proved, because of their somewhat artificial nature, more impoverished and unstable than the more traditional African semi-colonial nations that neighbour them, and completely unable to liberate any black people.
The Zionist project was very different from these. Right from the very beginning, far from expressing hostility to imperialism and colonialism in any sense, Zionism modelled itself on colonialism. The effective founder of Zionism as a movement, Theodore Herzl, praised the British arch-coloniser of Africa, Cecil Rhodes, and sought to emulate him. It is now very clear that Zionism did evolve a strategy that indeed was able to liberate the Jews from the historic oppression that began in the late feudal period in Europe and persisted through both the progressive phase of capitalism and the early period of imperialist capitalism, culminating in the obscenity of Hitler’s genocide.
That strategy involved using the social weight that Jews had achieved in the imperialist bourgeoisie despite their frequent oppression and persecution, to create by transplantation an advanced capitalist, imperialist state in the Middle East, that could create the conditions where the bulk of Jews could be liberated from oppression by joining the world’s dominant, oppressor peoples. This strategy has proven highly successful as Israel is now, despite its comparatively small size and population, an imperialist regional superpower in the Middle East, armed with hundreds of nuclear weapons and an advanced, hi-tech computer-derived armaments industry that acts as a quartermaster to many of the most powerful imperialist countries.
However, it was not a universalist strategy that aimed to liberate Jews alongside all other peoples from systematic oppression. It always aimed to liberate Jews at the expense of another people, the Palestinian Arabs, whose population was actively unwanted. Logically the project of Political Zionism could only succeed if the Palestinian Arab population were expelled or otherwise disposed of. But mere expulsion is problematic as it means a large, exiled refugee population exists as a permanent reminder to the world that Israel is built on land taken by force from them, and thus was founded through a massive crime. So, the logic of Zionism can only be genocidal, and that is now becoming widely recognised.
Only Zionist lobbying power can keep the lid on this. The Zionist lobbies are a unique formation based centrally on ethnocentric Jewish chauvinist politics within the Western imperialist ruling classes. They are an alliance of similarly minded but sometimes dissenting factions – they are not monolithic. A Jewish-born capitalist in the West is entitled by right to Israeli citizenship under Israel’s racist ‘Law of Return’, and thus to become part of Israel’s ruling class. Many though not all do. Much of Israel’s power comes from these pro-Israel ruling-class factions overseas. Israel’s ruling class overlaps with the ruling classes of the West, which is why its power is proportionately much greater than its size and population. Without this, Israel’s power would be no greater than that of, say Denmark. But Denmark’s Prime Minister cannot do things like marching into the US Congress to ovations from all sides while denouncing Obama’s Iran deal, as Netanyahu did in 2015. Denmark does not have overseas interests who can do things like sabotaging the Labour Party here, as happened to Corbyn through a torrent of smears and lies.
We must know what we are up against. Otherwise, we will be suckers for the smears about ‘anti-Semitism’ that have driven back the left repeatedly. Israel is a key element of world imperialism and will not be defeated or humanised by liberal pressure tactics or boycotts based on moral disgust. While boycott campaigns like BDS have some value, this is only as a step towards mobilising working-class actions. Mass solidarity demonstrations like the ones in Britain are crucial. But even more the labour actions boycotting Israeli ships and/or arms shipments in San Francisco, Italy and elsewhere. These point the way toward internationally based working-class revolutionary action to inflict major defeats on Zionism, and indeed given Israel’s key role as a quartermaster and a centre of neo-liberalism, on world capitalism itself.
It is crucial, but not enough, to protest and mobilise against Zionism and imperialism’s wars, their crimes against the Palestinians, their threats to Iran, to Syria, and the region. What this points to is the need for a strategy of permanent revolution, of the working class acting as the leader of all the oppressed, with the centrally Arab working class in the Middle East struggling for its own power, overthrowing class and national oppression, liberating both itself and the Jewish population from Zionism which is a key mainstay of capitalist oppression.
At the time of the Industrial Revolution Britain gained the moniker of the ‘workshop of the world’. Its industrial strength made it the first truly capitalist industrial world power. Statues of its conquering heroes litter the cities of imperial Britain: Cromwell, Wellington, Rhodes, Clive, Churchill, Montgomery, and often from a slightly earlier period, those of its slave-traders, Colston, Cass, Havelock, Drake. The anti-racist movements that have rocked the Western ‘free world’ in recent years, having their initial epicentre in the United States, in this country have hit against the ethos of Brexit and its glorification of the ‘buccaneering spirit’ of early British capitalism that was integral to imperial expansion.
Basically this ‘buccaneering’ spirit they are trying to invoke is the 17th century one of plundering and exploiting other nations and peoples. Buccaneering is often a euphemism for piracy, though outright pirates were deemed so because they plundered and killed purely on their own account. Those plunderers whom the British term ‘buccaneers’ were acting at least partially on behalf of Britain, had official approval, with a kind of British letter to prove it. But to all intents and purposes they were indistinguishable from pirates. In those days the British in the Caribbean were trying to drive out the Spanish and Portuguese as much as possible, their ‘buccaneering’ largely took place a long way from home and was at the expense of colonisers mainly from the Iberian Peninsula, as well as the French.
Today, British imperialism is no longer the workshop of the world, but a third-rate military power with precious little industry left. It depends instead for its wealth on its financial services industry, whose material basis is rooted with Britain’s so-called ‘invisible earnings’, which amount to the economic interests remaining around the world from its former Empire that do not depend on formal political control, also bound up with tax havens, which the British ruling class closely guard, and which have a tendency to draw in financial resources from around the world. Protected of course, now that political control has gone, by the world power of US imperialism, as part of the quid-pro-quo whereby in return for such protection Britain becomes one of the most slavish supporters of US imperialism in the world (a.k.a. the ‘special relationship). Britain’s financial industry is crucial to the survival of British capitalism and such activities as tax dodging and money laundering have become much more central to this than it was in the days when Britain had substantial manufacturing industry. Indeed, it is those sections of the bourgeoisie most bound up with such activities, as opposed to Britain’s residual industries, that drove Brexit. The ‘buccaneering’ that the Brexiters seek to promote is the plundering of as much as they can from the world’s poor and oppressed by Britain’s financial capitalists.
British Capitalism: from Finance Capital to Financial Capital
Financial capital (as opposed to old fashioned finance capital: the union of industrial and banking capital) is what drives British capitalism today. That was what the ‘Thatcher revolution’ consisted of, basically. The eclipse of industrial capital, of the old banking-industry relationship by a financialised model of capitalism in the 1986 ‘Big Bang’ of financial and stock market deregulation was the whole point of Thatcher’s anti-union attacks of the 1980s. Indeed the ‘Big Bang’ would not have been considered possible until the vital, strategic defeat had been administered to the social-democratic-led British labour movement with the defeat of the 1984-5 miners’ strike.
The British ruling class had been trying to defeat the unions for quite a while previously – both the 1964-70 Labour government’s White Paper In Place of Strife and the Heath government’s Industrial Relations Act were obviously aimed at decisively weakening the unions with the aim of restoring the profitability of British manufacturing and finance capital. But with that economic model, they could not really succeed, as with an intact manufacturing base, the working class was simply too strong. But the evolving strategy of neoliberalism, which crystallised in the late 1970s, and not just in Britain, encompassed the need to substantially, and (they hoped) decisively weaken the proletariat in the advanced countries, though the export of large number of manufacturing jobs to lower waged semi-colonial countries, in effect inflicting a major defeat on the organised proletariat by moving large chunks of it lock, stock and barrel to places where its historical struggles would have to start virtually from scratch.
This major restructuring of British capitalism also meant a major restructuring of the British labour movement. The apotheosis of Britain as the ‘workshop of the world’ in the 19th Century had led to the growth of a mass working class and trade union movement, which initially the British ruling class tried to crush both in terms of its agitation for political freedom and democratic rights (Peterloo), and later repression against the Chartists, and in terms of trade union struggles (Tolpuddle). But despite such setbacks, trade unions did grow to substantial strength in the 19th Century. They became quite respectable and bourgeois during the period of Britain’s world hegemony and monopoly in the mid to late 19th Century, generally giving their support to the Liberals.
The dawning of the epoch of imperialism towards the end of the 19th Century, i.e., monopoly capitalism whose expansionist essence was expressed in a massive expansion of colonialism, led to Britain’s world dominance being broken by other emerging imperialist powers, including France, the US and most notably Germany. The economic convulsions of this change, by degrees, broke the British labour movement from its allegiance to the Liberals. In parallel with a new and more militant growth of trade unionism. This gave birth to a class collaborationist, but independently organised, Labour Party, dominated by a political and trade union bureaucracy who saw its function as negotiating with the bosses of industrial/finance capital over the price of labour power and social benefits derived from that, within the framework that their pro-capitalist politics considered that British capitalism could afford. These limitations were at times contested by Communists of varying types, but never overcome. Within this framework, the class struggle and the political fortunes of the Labour Party ebbed and flowed through the 1926 General Strike, two world wars, culminating in the scare that British workers gave to the ruling class in the early-mid 1970s, when for the first time in British history a Tory government – Edward Heath’s – was brought down essentially by workers’ own class struggle actions and the political effects of that.
The defeat of the miners a decade later represented a qualitative break from that. The jobs massacre that both preceded and followed that shifted the axis of British capitalism and also its relationship with the political labour bureaucracy. There had been anticipations of outright treachery from this quarter earlier, most notably in 1931 when in a major unemployment crisis triggered off by the 1929 Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression that followed it, the Labour Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald and his Chancellor Phillip Snowden, in order to launch a major attack on the already meagre benefits available to the unemployed, was forced to break with the Labour Party completely and go into coalition with the Tories. In those days, despite the depression over the British working class caused by the defeat in 1926, there was no way that bulk of Labour’s political bureaucracy, linked to finance capital and industry by the substantially developed ‘common interest’ of class collaboration with large scale employers of the working class, could accept such an attack. MacDonald and Snowden signed their own political death certificates with this action and were forever excoriated as traitors, though the labour bureaucracy under their successors in that decade were incapable of fighting back against the attacks the MacDonaldites had perpetrated.
Ramsay MacDonaldism now Dominates Labour
Today there are forces in the political Labour bureaucracy that have repeatedly done similar things and are not so isolated. In fact, the bulk of today’s political Labour Party bureaucracy has a very different relationship with British capitalism to those in the earlier period, which in large measure can be explained by the shift in the makeup of British capitalism itself and the rise of financial capital at the expense of the older model. From the mid-1980s we had the rise of what was called Ramsay MacKinnockism, with the flagrant stabbing of workers struggles by the Labour leadership under Neil Kinnock without any attempt to disguise it. Kinnock’s leadership first saw the rise to prominence of Peter Mandelson, who became even more of a central ideological figure in the Blairite period and as is well known, is the mastermind behind Starmer’s massive purges of the Labour left today. Mandelson summed up the entire changed relationship to capital of the Blairised, that is, financialised, Labour right-wing leadership when he said that Labour was “‘intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich”, as part of the Blair government of New Labour that was praised by Margaret Thatcher as “my greatest achievement” and which made clear before it was elected that it intended to keep the vast majority of Thatcher and Major’s anti-union laws and privatisations. Not to mention that under Blair’s leadership, Labour became the pro-US war party, the initiator of the Iraq war, unlike the days when Harold Wilson carefully avoided direct involvement in Vietnam.
Thus, a major shift in the makeup of British capitalism has catalysed a major shift in the relationship of the bureaucracy of the Labour Party with this reconfiguring British capitalism. The position of the Labour left is key in the Party is key to this. The archetype of the Labour right from the earlier period, Denis Healey, once remarked that Labour was like a bird: it needed two wings to fly, its left wing and its right wing. This summed up the attitude to the reformist left of the mainstream of the labour bureaucracy under the old regime of collaboration with finance capital. It was one of co-optation and a degree of compromise.
That is no longer possible. The whole point of Thatcherism and neoliberalism, of which Kinnockism/Blairism and that wing of the Labour bureaucracy have become an integral part, is that it is quite right that the social power, collectivity and living standards of the proletariat, should be qualitatively, substantially reduced. Therefore, there can be no compromise between the Blairised right and even mild-mannered left reformists like Jeremy Corbyn, who do not seek at all to overthrow British capitalism but would like to reverse at least the worst aspects of the ‘Thatcher revolution’ and deliver some basic social reforms. The problem is that Thatcherised ‘Labourism’ does not inspire mass support from the working class, and in the mid 20-teens New Labour faced a sustained loss of support, as expressed in losing elections.
Their desperate attempts to overcome this produced an opportunity for mass support for basic social-democratic reforms to be expressed, through Corbyn’s being elected leader. But the Blairised, financialised political Labour bureaucracy and parliamentary contingent could not tolerate this for a moment, and their tactical response was simple sabotage and deliberate attempts to undermine Corbyn, sabotage and engineer the loss of elections, and even boasting publicly about an attempt to destroy Corbyn “as a man” in the manner of some nutcase cult psychological gangbang. The financialisaton of British capitalism and its loyal servants in the Labour bureaucracy has led, also, to a growth in influence of Zionism among such layers, for reasons that are quite explicable historically. Thus, the war of these Zionised Blairites against Corbyn and Corbynism, which is still accelerating, signifies the opposite policy to that of Denis Healey. Far from needing two wings to fly, their concept after Corbynism is that the British Labour Party should be purged of social-democratic reformism altogether.
Reformist Utopianism Needs to be Overcome. Fight for Communism!
The underlying reason is that the decline of British imperialism, and its industrial base, has rendered the core programme of social-democratic reformism unrealisable within the framework of the British capitalism we have today. Past gains won by the mass pressure of the workers and implemented by social democratic governments, archetypally the NHS, are under massive attack from the Tories and the ruling class, and the Blairites fully support this, even if at times their representatives have to dissemble and try to hide this to avoid giving ammunition to the left. The only way that substantial, sustainable social gains can be achieved today is through the establishment of a workers’ state, and the forcible suppression of the political power of the capitalists.
As Marxists today, we do not seek to put into power the neoliberal crypto-Tory right-wing leaders of the Labour Party. The Ramsay Kneel MacKinnockites, the Blairites, the Mandelsons, the Starmers, the Jess Philipps and Stephen Kinnocks who visibly celebrated in the mass media when the Corbyn-led Labour Party lost the 2019 Election, and were visibly shocked and horrified when Corbyn destroyed Theresa May’s majority and came close to winning outright in the election in 2017. The mass of the working class does not have any illusions that these types represent a class alternative to the Tories and other bourgeois parties.
We seek to help the subjectively socialist, left social democratic elements to fracture Labour decisively and create a new working-class party. There is an historic opportunity, right now to do this, to create a genuine working-class party with a mass base – the mass base of the Corbynite movement – that would not, at least at the beginning, have a privileged bureaucracy ruling the roost over it. Thus, the possibility exists of replacing Labour, as a bourgeois workers party with a hardened bureaucratic and now neoliberal caste on top of it, with a genuine workers party, completely devoid of such a caste, which would be capable of political development beyond left-reformist utopianism toward revolutionary Marxism. Indeed, the very impetus of such a split might very well propel many of its followers further left.
Of course, Labour and its mass membership do not exist in a vacuum. The trade unions are a key part of the broader labour movement, were marginalised by the Blairites in their ascendancy, and are under attack from Starmer once again. Such a party would have to confront the right-wing in the unions and move beyond the left bureaucracy and its limitations and potential for treachery also. As part of fighting for a transitional programme to point toward the need for revolution, Marxists must raise demands to end the privileged salaries of union officials and subordinate their activities to workers democracy.
In any case, this analysis must underpin the political activities of revolutionary Marxists in this period and we in the Consistent Democrats will do all we can to popularise it and build a movement around it.
“When one individual inflicts bodily injury upon another such that death results, we call the deed manslaughter; when the assailant knew in advance that the injury would be fatal, we call his deed murder. But when society  places hundreds of proletarians in such a position that they inevitably meet a too early and an unnatural death, one which is quite as much a death by violence as that by the sword or bullet; when it deprives thousands of the necessaries of life, places them under conditions in which they cannot live – forces them, through the strong arm of the law, to remain in such conditions until that death ensues which is the inevitable consequence – knows that these thousands of victims must perish, and yet permits these conditions to remain, its deed is murder just as surely as the deed of the single individual; disguised, malicious murder, murder against which none can defend himself, which does not seem what it is, because no man sees the murderer, because the death of the victim seems a natural one, since the offence is more one of omission than of commission. But murder it remains … ”
The Condition of the Working Class in England (1845), https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/condition-working-class/ch07.htm
It is not new to speak of social murder, indeed the then-Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, spoke of in the sense that Engels used it, regarding the deaths caused by unsafe building materials in the terrible Grenfell Tower fire in 2017. However, the deaths referred to in this way in Grenfell ‘only’ amounted to 72. When we talk about the Covid-19 pandemic we are talking about 129,130 deaths as of now, and still counting (the ONS says 150,000).
In terms of per million/per capita death rates (it’s the same thing!), the UK is in 20th place in the entire world, out of 222 countries registered on the Worldometer as of 25th July. But the UK is the fifth wealthiest country in the world. Not only that, it has no land borders, only air or seaports, so it is obvious that the UK, as well as having advantages in terms of wealth in keeping the spread of Covid under control, also has natural advantages in terms of geography. The only advanced capitalist/imperialist countries that are ahead of the UK in per-capita infections, Belgium and Italy, both have extensive land borders with several states.
Furthermore, the statistics produced by the British government are considered too low by the Organisation for National Statistics, which is independent of the government. They announced in May that the real total of Covid deaths was more than 150,000.
Why this is becomes obvious when you examine the pronouncements and actions of the Johnson government in dealing with Covid, and the sporadically implemented, manoeuvrist, but discernible and clear strategy that has been implemented by Johnson over the entire pandemic.
The latest manifestation of this was laid out by Professor Robert West, an adviser for the Government’s own SAGE body (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) who have worked for the government for the entire pandemic, as reported in the Guardian. Regarding the July 19thFreedom Day, he wrote:
“What we are seeing is a decision by the government to get as many people infected as possible, as quickly as possible, while using rhetoric about caution as a way of putting the blame on the public for the consequences” .
The article continues:
“’It looks like the government judges that the damage to health and healthcare services will be worth the political capital it will gain from this approach,’ West said, adding that ministers appear to believe the strategy is now sustainable – unlike last year – because of the vaccine rollout.
“A large wave of infections, coupled with mass vaccination, would push the UK closer to ‘herd immunity’, where enough people in the population are resistant to the virus that it no longer spreads. The threshold for herd immunity with the Delta variant is unclear, but scientists estimate that transmission would need to be blocked in about 85% of the population. Ministers have repeatedly denied that achieving herd immunity by letting cases rise is the government’s goal.”
Its perfectly obvious to everyone what the purpose of this gamble is. Johnson hopes to use herd immunity through infection as a lever to re-open the country ahead (he hopes) of Britain’s economic competitors. To try to achieve such an advantage, he is prepared to risk the death or serious, crippling injury through ‘Long Covid’, of a part of the population considered expendable, or even the possibility of the emergence of a new Covid variant that evades the vaccines in use at the moment, which would likely result in a lot more deaths. In the face of a partially, but insufficiently vaccinated population, this is not a fanciful threat, as many have pointed out.
It is possible that this tactic may succeed, but even if it does, it involves risking the lives of mass of the population and holding them hostage to the unpredictable genetic variations that can occur in a virus population allowed to circulate widely before genuine herd immunity is achieved by vaccinating in excess of 80% of the population, an optimum derived from scientific experience of previous vaccination campaigns to deal with endemic disease. This is the ‘buccaneering spirit’ of Brexit that Johnson, Cummings and co frequently spoke of over the past several years. Even if it works, there is a criminal intent behind the strategy.
Government strategy now is a modified version of its original strategy of herd immunity through mass infection without a vaccine. They had to abandon that in the face of a huge outcry, the forecast likelihood that it would result in half-a-million dead, and they would be strung up from the nearest lamppost. Now, instead, they are using herd immunity through mass infection to as a risky shortcut to speed up the development of herd immunity through vaccines, and they are prepared to risk a disaster that if it occurs would have world-wide implications, to steal a march on the competition.
The government can deny until it is blue in the face, but the evidence corroborates that its initial strategy at the beginning of the pandemic was “herd immunity” without vaccines. Not only did Johnson talk openly of it on Breakfast TV, but it was also promoted by Sir Patrick Vallance, who told Sky News:
“Communities will become immune to it and that’s going to be an important part of controlling this longer term … About 60 per cent is the sort of figure you need to get herd immunity.
“Our aim is to try to reduce the peak, broaden the peak, not suppress it completely; also, because the vast majority of people get a mild illness, to build up some kind of herd immunity so more people are immune to this disease and we reduce the transmission, at the same time we protect those who are most vulnerable to it.”
This was in early March 2020, long before any vaccines existed.
The policy since has been, as was noted in a prescient article by George Galloway’s ‘Workers Party’, that of “punctuated herd immunity”. Even though, bizarrely, Galloway has been prepared for his own opportunist ‘tactical’ reasons to advocate votes for Scottish Tories during the pandemic, he managed to an astute and sharp characterisation of this:
“It is increasingly clear that these lockdown measures simply represent a kind of ‘punctuated’ herd immunity, and that the government has no intention of taking the measures necessary really to safeguard the wellbeing of those unemployed, elderly or impoverished workers from whom it makes little money, and therefore sees only as a burden.
“For effective protective measures – including the reversal of NHS privatisation, investment in public services, the creation of decent jobs and livelihoods for working people – undermine the very essence of the government’s goal, which is to safeguard the interest of the billionaire class at all costs, and at workers’ expense.”
He was not talking of public health measures here, not about measures to limit or suppress the disease. He was also talking of measures to ‘revive’ the economy, even at risk of greater Covid infection. Indeed, at times he attacked Johnson from the right, for being too hesitant to send working class children into schools, before any section of the population was vaccinated because no vaccines were yet available:
“So, let me send a very clear message to the Prime Minister: I don’t just want all children back at school next month, I expect them back at school. No ifs, no buts, no equivocation,”
The schools were not only re-opened; parents were forced under threat of fines and criminal penalties to send their kids to school, which was the first time the government had tried to enforce this on families that feared Covid infection since the beginning of the pandemic.
Starmer is on the warpath against the left. A direct expression of this was his sacking of the sometime leftist Rebecca Long-Bailey as Shadow Education Secretary as the result of an ‘anti-Semitism’ smear. But as Skwawkbox revealed at the time, the real reason was her support for the teachers’ unions’ opposition to unsafe reopening of schools:
“Rebecca Long-Bailey has been sacked after a massive internal row over the Labour leadership’s support for Boris Johnson’s back-to-school push – after a doubling of school infections followed even Johnson’s abortive plan to push children and teachers back into the classroom”
This rushed and unsafe reopening of schools was the starting point of large-scale Covid infections in the Autumn of 2020, the emergence of the Kent variant, and the enormous second wave that followed from that, effectively tripling the number of deaths from the first wave over the winter. Not only that, but the Kent variant made Britain into ‘Plague Island’ because of inadequate testing and tracing, siphoned off to mates for a fast billon or forty, and was allowed to spread from here around the world because of inadequate emergency health-related border restrictions (by people who pride themselves on demanding border restrictions for racist and xenophobic reasons). Dominic Cummings has exposed some of the outrageous sayings and doings of Johnson over this whole period. But on the core issue, Johnson had Starmer’s support.
Not only Johnson, but also Starmer, have a mountain of corpses on their hands. They represent together a kind of brotherhood of social murder. They are both killers.
Break with Re-Blairised Labour
Starmer is on a rampage against the Labour left and those who ever supported Jeremy Corbyn. His vendetta against those on the left who have in any way objected to previous Zionist-led purges within Labour, is characteristic. He inspires no one at all -certainly not working-class traditional Labour voters, who stay at home. He has been losing by-elections to the most corrupt, decrepit government imaginable. He only survived by the skin of his teeth in Batley and Spen because of Matt Hancock’s exposure and fall. His task as a mercenary for the bourgeoisie is to destroy the political element of the labour movement and politically erase all class-conscious elements.
But he can only succeed if the left accepts Labour Party fetishism and refuses to break with the organisational framework of the Labour Party. These circumstances have created a historic opportunity, and necessity for class conscious elements in Labour to defy its rigged structures and found something new. We have the opportunity to build a mass, subjectively socialist party based on the hundreds of thousands of left activists who joined Labour to support Corbyn’s challenge, and who have nothing in common with the Starmer Blairites. It is desperately necessary to begin this in the coming months. The October conference of Resist – Movement for a People’s Party (https://resistfest.co.uk/) looks like a starting point for this and we urge all socialists to join and participate in this.