General Strike needed – We Must Eliminate the Neo-Liberal Capitalist Elite!
The £693 rise in the fuel bill cap announced at the beginning of February is a massive attack on the working class and the poor in general. It will cause people to choose between starving and freezing, not merely ‘heating and eating’ as the soft-peddled media formula goes. Meanwhile the Tory government is being slowly pulled apart. The chickens from its decade-long austerity attacks are coming home to roost. This massive fuel hike goes with the £20 cut in Universal Credit last October. The £20 uplift to this pathetic, miserly benefit was added to stave off disaster when the pandemic began in March 2020. But of course, the pandemic, though weakening, is still around, which is by Tory design since quarantine measures that could have led to its elimination were deliberately sabotaged by Johnson, who is known to have exclaimed “let the bodies pile up” in late 2020 at the suggestion of the need for a lockdown at the beginning of the biggest, deadliest Alpha wave of the pandemic in Britain, before any vaccines were available. They did pile up, despite the half-hearted ‘mockdown’ that followed, and Britain has 170,000 dead from Covid according to the Organisation of National Statistics. In China, where the government embarked on a serious strategy of eliminating the disease, the Covid death toll for the whole of 2021 was ..,. 2.
In April, there will be a 1.5% rise in National Insurance, targeted on the low paid and middle earners – the wealthy do not pay NI on the upper elements of their pay. Taken together, this is a massive redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich, particularly to shareholders of privatised energy companies. And all this is on top of large rises in petrol prices and a general rise in inflation that have seen creeping, insidious rises in the price of basic foods that the poorer sections of the working class particularly depend on.
As this journal goes to print, we do not know how long Boris Johnson will manage to cling to office. But the British Establishment, i.e., the bulk of the ruling class, have given up on Johnson and want rid of him. This was made very clear when in the House of Commons, he attacked Labour leader Keir Starmer for failing to prosecute the (in)famous celebrity sex abuser, Jimmy Saville, when he was Director of Public Prosecutions in the late 2000s/early 2010s, as well as persecuting ‘journalists’. In this episode Johnson was attacking through the truth, a sign that this habitual liar is truly desperate. Even though he was not directly involved in the Saville case, Starmer did have oversight of all cases as DPP and the idea that he would not keep himself informed of a case involving someone as well-known as Saville, is for the birds. He would not have been doing his job if he did not inform himself. And the reference to ‘journalists’ clearly means Julian Assange: Starmer was centrally involved in pressuring Sweden not to drop the fake sex abuse case against Assange, laying the basis for extradition to the US on the real, political charges against him. What Johnson said about Starmer was true and yet the entire establishment accused him of lying, including his top aide Munira Mirza who knows what side her bread is buttered. Starmer is being groomed by the ruling class to lead a successor government to this, as it is obvious that when Johnson is finally forced out his Tory successor will have no mandate and will have to call an election quite soon.
Johnson’s government is the most calamitous in recent British history. And there have been some pretty calamitous governments in recent British history, from Blair who with Bush plunged the Middle East into bloody chaos through invading Iraq, and with the same US imperialists carried on blindly with deregulation of capitalism stoking up a capitalist boom based on fraudulent financial instruments that came close to destroying the capitalist financial system when the fraud was exposed in the 2007-9 Financial Crisis/Credit Crunch. The financial system was bailed out by taking money from the poor.
New Labour’s Gordon Brown made a start on this but was predictably crucified electorally in 2010, after his chancellor Alistair Darling let it be known that were New Labour to retain power in the 2010 General Election, it would enforce austerity that would be “more brutal than Thatcher”. This simply legitimised Tory attacks and unsurprisingly Brown was succeeded by a coalition of Tories and Liberal Democrats under Cameron and Clegg who massively lied to blame the financial crisis on the sick, the disabled and benefit claimants. This involved a cult-like denial of reality by part of the population who had seen the banks collapse and yet denied it was a capitalist crisis. Blaming the poor became an article of faith for Tories, LibDems and New Labour alike.
These benefit cuts and all-sided war against the poor were an exercise in premeditated mass murder, and caused the deaths of over 150,000 people, as intended by Cameron, Clegg, Duncan Smith, and the other vermin. Lives destroyed to extract a bit more profit to shore up the capitalist system that craves profit like a vampire craves blood. There was much more.
There was the hate campaign against migrants that escalated to Nazi-like racial persecution against African Caribbeans in the Windrush scandal. Again, often elderly African Caribbeans who had lived in Britain since the 1950s in some cases were deported away from families and social support, and health care, and to their deaths. As was intended by Theresa May and her successors, including the garbage in the current Tory regime from Patel to Johnson who are virtually openly seeking the deaths of refugees, and seeking to enlist the Navy in ‘pushbacks’ aimed at killing at least some of them and terrorising others. The anti-migrant hate campaign had its epitome in the Brexit referendum, where rage against the decline of living standards was channeled by the corrupt, billionaire media in a crusade against ‘foreigners’ as the cause of all our problems.
However, the brutal and surreal nature of this regime produced a popular backlash which was directed into Labour, and resulted in the victory of Corbyn, winning the Labour Party leadership in September 2015 after the collapse of the Lib Dem vote resulted in a Tory majority government the previous May, which proved short-lived. After Cameron was unseated by his failure in the Brexit referendum in 2016, and replaced by Theresa May, the Tory majority was taken away by a surge of working-class support for Corbyn’s reformist programme in the 2017 election, which came close to victory. A key ruling class priority project after Corbyn’s ascent, and particular after 2017, was ousting Corbyn and destroying the left in the Labour Party, which is being carried out with gusto by the ruling class agent Starmer.
Then there is the pandemic. The many years of austerity have also involved a huge attack on the NHS, its run-down and in many places semi-privatisation to slake the thirst for profit of a dying system through cuts in corporate taxes. This undermined and massively underfunded the NHS, and provided the background, but the huge death toll in Britain is deliberate killing by Johnson’s regime. The smoking gun was Johnson’s bizarre speech on 2 Feb 2020 in Greenwich just as the pandemic was beginning:
“…in that context, we were starting to hear some bizarre, autarchic rhetoric, when barriers are going up, and when there is a risk that new diseases like Coronavirus will trigger a panic and a desire for market segregation, that go beyond what is medically rational, to the point of doing real and unnecessary economic damage, then at that moment, humanity needs some government somewhere, that is willing at least to make the case, powerfully, for freedom of exchange.”
“Some country ready to take off its Clark Kent spectacles, and leap into the phone booth and emerge with its cloak flowing as the supercharged champion of the right of populations, of the Earth, to buy and sell freely among each other. Here in Greenwich in the first week of February 2020, I can tell you with all humility, that the UK is ready for that role.”https://www.facebook.com/185180654855189/videos/512321552989037
What is the significance of the grotesque spectacle of Boris Johnson, the partying that evidently went on repeatedly throughout the pandemic, and the Sue Grey report? These events went on behind closed doors in government buildings in which Tory politicians and some of the officials who served them, partied through the night. Ordinary people who broke the rules were often fined £10,000 or more. But Johnson’s cronies who made the rules, and then sabotaged the lockdowns so they did not deal with the problem, in secret, broke them with impunity.
They partied through lockdowns in which working-class and middle-class people alike sought to protect themselves against an insidious, often crippling and deadly disease that killed the infirm and those with disabilities and long-term conditions despite which, with modern medical care and a decent public health system, they could be expected to survive for often decades longer. Each of these events risked their lives through spreading the disease. As well the disease struck down sporadically and unpredictably a minority of the physically fit, even some who were fanatical about exercise and had no obvious major health issues, reduced to gasping for breath as the viral pneumonia that Covid at its worst is, blocked the flow of oxygen. Those to whom the oxygen flow could not be restored, again for reasons that were often accidental, suffered tragic deaths that left their loved ones bereft.
Covid-19 is a coronavirus, one of a family of viruses whose ‘corona’ or spike protein makes it a relative of other viruses that already occur in humans, and form part of the pathogens that cause the common cold. Yet this relative, with its own distinctive and novel features, crossed a species barrier and evolved rapidly into something atypical of coronaviruses that attacked the lower respiratory system. A very infectious viral pneumonia was the result, that spread around the world.
There is no doubt that it is a natural disaster, despite all kinds of esoteric conspiracy theories being propagated particularly by right-wing populists and fascists, who have an interest in promoting anti-scientific obscurantism to advance their programme of attacking all manner of social progress and gains for the oppressed.
In this period of capitalist decline and a desperate search for sources of profit to prop up the capitalist system itself, extremist neoliberal trends arise within the bourgeoisie that see such a pandemic as a blessing to the capitalist system. A disease that kills mainly those with health problems that cost money to treat can be seen as a money-saving device that, if enough such people die, could provide a boost to capitalism so that social expenses that would have been spent treating such conditions can cut business taxes, raising the rate of profit. Johnson’s ‘superhero of capitalism’ speech in Greenwich is a prime specimen of such inhuman neoliberal extremism, that belongs alongside the demented ravings of Trump and Bolsonaro, who are also mass killers of their own people, to benefit parasitic capitalist oligarchies.
Johnson and his cohorts evidently believe themselves to be superhuman. But this is a curious kind of megalomania because they are constrained to hide it, to cover it up. The parties took place in secret and were a closely guarded secret for most of the pandemic. In the United States, and in Brazil, where such populist neoliberal extremists came to power, they were brazen in their virulent contempt for the huge numbers at risk from Covid-19. Yet in Britain it was hidden, there were the lockdowns (or later mockdowns) and also Johnson spent a lot of effort promoting vaccination once vaccines became available. For a while in early 2021 Britain was the leading country in terms of vaccinating its population which Johnson saw as a way to recover popular support. This duality was fundamentally because of fear of the working class in Britain, which is still suffused with social-democratic, partial class-consciousness despite Blairism having been imposed on it, and which the ruling class knew would not tolerate an openly propagated programme of mass death in the Trump/Bolsonaro mould.
‘Partygate’ only came out into public view after in early November 2021 Johnson was politically wounded by the exposure of an unrelated piece of grotesque corruption: the attempt to change the rules by which parliamentary misconduct is punished to overrule findings by the Commons Standards Committee of breaking lobbying rules (which forbid paid lobbying of ministers and regulators), for payment of over £100,000 against Owen Paterson, a former minister (in David Cameron’s government) and Johnson cohort. Paterson was suspended from the House of Commons for 30 days by the Commissioner, but Johnson and Rees-Mogg spearheaded a campaign to overturn that and change the rules so that their cronies could pretty much be exonerated at whim.
Instrument of a ‘Soft’ Coup
The spectacular backfiring of this blatant corruption broke Johnson’s “Teflon” shield that appeared to have given him the power to lie with impunity to the public shamelessly and repeatedly, for more than two years. This was in fact a degree of license granted to Johnson by the ruling class as the most effective weapon they had to defeat a real, if modest, challenge to the hegemony of their preferred politics – neoliberalism – from the Labour leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. And more importantly than Corbyn himself, the millions of voters who supported Corbyn as evidenced in the General Election of 2017, when Corbyn’s ‘surge’ among the voters deprived Theresa May of her majority and came close to making Labour the largest party by a number of metrics, despite an organised campaign of sabotage of Labour’s General Election campaign by the same right-wing members of the Parliamentary Labour Party that tried to oust Corbyn in the ‘Chicken Coup’ a year earlier.
Johnson was the man chosen by circumstance to carry out a ruling-class coup against the Corbyn Labour leadership. This was brought to fruition in the 2019 General Election, when Labour suffered a major election defeat and the Tories won by an apparent landslide. This was despite Johnson repeatedly running away from media scrutiny in the election campaign, and even hiding in a fridge on one notorious occasion. The accepted wisdom is that Johnson’s slogan “Get Brexit Done” and his claim to have an “oven-ready deal” appealed above all to the working class who were supposedly ‘outraged’ at the ‘undemocratic’ people in the Labour Party and others who wanted the public to have an informed vote on Brexit once what it would involve was widely understood, which was certainly not true in 2016.
Apparently, the population were so outraged at dissent at a vote that was won by the narrowest of margins, that the working class all queued up in their droves to vote for Johnson despite his well-known reputation as a pathological liar. This is garbage. The most class-conscious working-class conurbations voted remain. Liverpool, the most class-conscious working-class city in England, voted remain. Scotland voted remain. The huge working-class population in London, borough by borough, voted remain. Only mainly Tory areas on the fringes of London, and one very run-down more working-class borough, Barking and Dagenham, whose car industry was previously destroyed, voted leave. The North of Ireland, whose nationalist working class is still suffused with anti-imperialist sentiment, voted remain with some liberal unionists going along with this and outvoting the loyalists because they (no doubt) benefitted from cross-border trade. In England, of the major cities only Birmingham narrowly voted leave. Wales voted leave, but those areas with the least English population – the Welsh-speaking areas, voted remain. In the nationalist terms employed by Brexit, it was mainly English ‘invaders’ of Wales who voted for Brexit. This was an English nationalist project that mainly won out in the Tory shires and those working-class areas that had been the most deindustrialized, the most hammered by neoliberalism.
Which are the easiest to manipulate, as class organisation in such places is at its weakest and social and political demoralisation at its height. This appears to be what happened in an attenuated way in 2019 also. A great many of the Labour seats that went Tory in 2019 were by small margins, which is why so many of these Tory MPs are so nervous now that Johnson’s criminality has been exposed. What was also remarked upon at the time of the 2019 election was the large size of the postal vote, administered by a private company led by the Tory right-winger Peter Lilley, and the fact that on several occasions leading personalities in and associated with the Tory party, such as Dominic Raab and the notorious Tory BBC Political Editor, Laura Kuenssberg, boasted of knowing electoral results from the postal vote before it was even legal to count these votes.
This came on top of the clear statements from ruling class spokespeople, from Theresa May to Trump’s US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, to military officers and ideologues such as Richard Dannat, that a Corbyn victory could not be tolerated. The Labour right also played a major role, with Blair making clear he was opposed to a left-wing party winning an election, Mandelson boasting that every day he did something to undermine Jeremy Corbyn, and Starmer’s aggressive promotion of the Second Referendum on Brexit – which did antagonise some Brexit-voting working-class layers – was revealed to be a cynical ploy when he subsequently supported Johnson’s Brexit deal and repudiated any campaign to reverse Brexit.
All these forces, from parliamentary wings of neoliberalism working together against Corbyn across party lines, extra-parliamentary and openly anti-democratic, and the whiff of manipulation and fraud within the election itself, were manifestations of the ruling class project of crushing Corbynism, which may well have been the last hurrah of Labour as a working-class party. It was an attenuated form of right-wing coup, which Johnson’s most strident ministers, such as Patel, are straining at the leash to take further with their attacks on democratic rights to protest in the Policing and Crime Bill, the attempt to abolish the right of Asylum, to rig future elections through photo ID requirements that exclude the poor, and other provocations. Now the ruling class has seen the back of Corbyn and the threat of a revived movement for social-democratic reformism, Johnson has outlived his usefulness, and we get passages like this appearing in the media, from Dominic Cummings, who was formerly Johnson’s co-conspirator, now acting as his political assassin:
“People also underestimate the extent to which he [Johnson] lies to literally everybody literally all day – including to Carrie and about Carrie.
“‘Lies’ isn’t even a useful word with him – he lives inside a fog of invention and ‘believes’ whatever he has to in the moment. E.g He both knows he’s lying about the parties AND thinks he did nothing wrong. This doesn’t make ‘sense’ unless you’ve watched him carefully or similar sociopaths.”https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2022/feb/01/boris-johnson-attended-leaving-do-during-strict-january-lockdown
Of course, this was true all along; the Tory media knew it, the liberal media who joined in the hate campaign against Corbyn (that they knew full well could only bring about the victory of Johnson in a General Election), the right-wing saboteurs in the Labour Party, and their leader, Starmer, who is equally devoid of conscience: all knew it. They all knew that Johnson was a lying sociopath that does not know the difference between truth and lies just as well as Cummings knew it.
Social Explosions and Class Political Leadership
The decay and disintegration of Johnson’s regime, and its gross instability, coupled with the brutal attacks on the working class and the poor, contain all the ingredients for a social explosion. The mainstream ‘opposition’ from Labour under Starmer is no opposition at all; Starmer has effectively been politically endorsed by Munira Mirza, numerous and prominent Tory MPs and much of the billionaire media, which is unmistakably signalled by their defence of Starmer on the rare occasion that Johnson attempted to use the truth, about Starmer’s class treachery about Saville and Assange, against him. This endorsement of Starmer is a huge contrast to the torrent of lies about so-called ‘anti-Semitism’ directed against Corbyn. This ruling class endorsement underlines why no labour movement organisation should support Starmer. No Vote to Zionist Neoliberal New Labour!
We need a social explosion, but not a leaderless and undirected one. We need major struggles to overturn the whole gamut of austerity and neoliberal attacks on working-class people. This crisis of the Johnson regime could be a huge opportunity for the left to establish a genuine working-class party in this country, which has never existed. Such a party must be a leadership in mass struggles, not a parliamentary machine. Parliamentary interventions must be subordinate to leading struggles for gains for the working class in battle.
The Labour Party was from its inception dominated by pro-capitalist bureaucratic forces whose class-consciousness was diluted by material relations with imperialism, which forced pro-imperialist politics on the working class. It was only a half-step towards working class politics, and eventually it retreated from even that. The working class was in retreat going back to the end of the 1970s, when neoliberalism took hold under Thatcher and Reagan. Thatcher herself said that Blairism was her ‘greatest achievement’ – the Labour Party under Blair embraced anti-union laws and privatisation. We have had more than 40 years of neoliberal attacks on the working class without a break. Socialist and working-class trends cannot co-exist in a single party with supporters of neoliberalism: that is the main lesson of the Corbyn leadership that must be learned. The entire concept of the ‘broad church’ embracing anti-socialist ‘Labour’ politicians must be rejected.
We need a unified party of the working class left, rejecting any unity with neoliberals, while building on the basis of full freedom of debate for all socialist and working-class trends. The emergence of neoliberal trends in reformist parties was a symptom of the fact that the falling rate of profit that is an inherent feature of capitalism had undermined the possibility of any serious and systematic social reform within the system. Reformists would either have to abandon social democracy to become neoliberals or go beyond reformism to look for revolutionary solutions. We need the political space for the labour movement to develop politically, drawing in militant trade unionists and fighters for the rights of the oppressed across the board, to debate and adopt such a programme that can really abolish capitalism. Some of the tactical questions of how to organise and the various left initiatives are to be found in our article on the Socialist Labour Network (see page 6).
Another important point is the need to support left candidates, such as that of Dave Nellist in the parliamentary by-election in Birmingham Erdington, who is standing for the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) with the support of other left-wing groups and activists, including people who were recently involved in the Labour left.
We need to find ways to organise jointly with socialists in other countries. Obviously, we are at a very early stage in this political struggle, but considerations of how to take it further must be a top priority for all socialists.