The decisive majority for Boris Johnson in December’s general
election represents a turning point in Britain, all the consequences of which have
yet to fully work themselves out. The British capitalist class still looks upon
2020 with trepidation. For them 2019 was a nightmare – with economic
stagnation, a deadlocked and unpopular parliament, the risk of a chaotic
Brexit, and above all the fear of the consequences of a Corbyn-led government.
The fact that the Supreme Court intervened directly in politics – against a
Tory prime minister – was a clear indication of the pitch of the crisis. The
serious strategists of capitalism are now hoping that the election outcome will
provide their class with some temporary stability or at least a breathing
space. But even if this momentarily appears to be so, none of the underlying
problems have been resolved and new crises will be posed in short order, which the capitalist class will not be able to trust
Johnson to reliably deal with in their best interests.
Labour’s vote fell further in Scotland, proportionately, than in
England and Wales in December’s general election. What conclusions should be
drawn for how working class political representation will be secured now, asks
Socialist Party Scotland’s PHILIP STOTT?
December 2019 saw Scottish Labour suffer the worst general
election result in its 119-year history. Once again the party has been reduced
to a solitary Westminster MP. What makes the outcome more catastrophic for
Labour than even four years ago was the loss of a further 196,000 votes even
compared to the near wipe-out of 2015 – an election which was widely thought to
be the very worst it could possibly get. Scottish Labour’s vote fell to 511,838
(18.6%) in December from 707,147 (24.3%) in 2015.
Following in the
wake of the previous year’s independence referendum, the collapse of Labour
support in working class areas in 2015 was dramatically illustrated by the loss
of 40 of their 41 MPs elected in 2010. Open collaboration with the Tories and
the capitalist establishment in the anti-independence ‘Better Together’
campaign had sealed the fate of the Blairite-dominated Scottish Labour Party.
Its then leader Jim Murphy boldly declared in the wake of the evisceration that
saw the SNP secure 56 of the 59 available MPs: “The Scottish Labour Party has
been around for more than a century. A hundred years from tonight we will still
be around”. Murphy hastily resigned after a short-lived six months as Scottish
leader and is now a well-paid advisor to the Tony Blair Institute.
On December 12, the same day as the general election, the result of the
general secretary election for the PCS civil service union was also announced.
Mark Serwotka, in office since 2000, was re-elected with 16,420 votes. However,
Socialist Party member Marion Lloyd, standing for the first time in a national
officer’s election, was second, receiving an impressive 9,278 votes, 30% of the
poll. Bev Laidlaw from the Independent Left came third with 5,059.
This was a crucial
election in the battle to ensure PCS is maintained as a fighting, left trade union.
The votes for Marion now provide a platform to build a new vibrant socialist
left within the union, ready for the challenges set by a Boris Johnson majority
Tory government. This will be next fought out in the national executive
committee (NEC) and group executive elections that will take place this spring.
Adding to the mounting difficulties
for the Trump administration, in December the Washington Post published a
six-part exposé of the US strategy in
Afghanistan. The report was based on the so-called ‘Afghanistan papers’, an
echo of the 1970s Pentagon Papers revealing the systematic official lying over
US policy in Vietnam, whose release contributed to the fall of president
The Afghanistan papers
are notes and transcripts from over 400 interviews conducted between 2014 and
2018 with people who have been involved in the Afghanistan conflict in varying
capacities. The Post had to pursue a three-year court case to obtain the
interviews – done by a US federal agency known as SIGAR (Special Inspector General
for Afghanistan Reconstruction) – and is still fighting for full disclosure today, as
some of the information was withheld.
‘Time for action’ read the subheading of the United
Nation’s most recent climate change conference, known as COP25. Held in Madrid
in December, it was the right call. Following record forest fires in California
and the Amazon, and against the backdrop of bushfires raging across Australia,
it appeared that, at last, the UN might mean business. That it would put the
world’s governments on red alert and ensure decisive action is taken to halt
the global warming caused by ever increasing emissions of greenhouse gases.
the start of the annual gathering of representatives from 190 governments and dozens
of agencies, NGOs and businesses, the UN issued a stark warning: greenhouse gas
emissions had risen 4% since the Paris accord of 2015 and the world will need
to cut them by 7.6% every year of the next decade to stay within the limits
advised by climate scientists.
To meet an ever-growing questioning of capitalism since the crisis
of 2007-08, the system’s defenders look to theoretically justify its continued
rule. The latest effort, by the renowned former World Bank economist Branko Milanović,
which claims that capitalism is now unchallenged for the first time in history,
is reviewed by PETER TAAFFE.
Capitalism, Alone: The Future of the System That Rules the World
By Branko Milanović
Published by Belknap Press, 2019, £23-95
Like the majority of capitalist economists, the author of this book
hails what he proclaims is the ‘victory’ of capitalism over ‘socialism’ and ‘communism’.
However, Branko Milanović goes
further than his predecessors by seeking to argue that the only choice on offer
for mankind now is between so-called ‘liberal capitalism’ exemplified by the
US, Western Europe and most of the rest of the world, and what he describes as ‘political
capitalism’, for which China and Vietnam are the authoritarian models.
What We Have Lost: The Dismantling of Great Britain
By James Hamilton-Paterson
Published by Head of Zeus, 2019, £9-99
Reviewed by Niall Mulholland
Up to 1939,
Britain was the world’s largest exporter of manufactured goods and of energy
(coal). From 1939 to 1945, it produced around 125,000 aircraft and a huge
number of ships, motor vehicles, armaments and textiles. After world war two, Britain
was a pioneer in antibiotics, radar, the jet engine and the computer. In 1950,
Britain recorded the highest percentage of the workforce in industrial jobs and
80 percent of the population were classified as “working class”. In the 1970s,
trade union membership was at its highest levels and inequality at its lowest.
Yet, within a few decades, much of
Britain’s major industries, such as ship-making, coal mining, car-making and
steel, were gone or greatly diminished, throwing millions out of work and
rupturing working-class communities.
“The crisis of capitalist political representation signalled by continuing Tory divisions”, we wrote then, “the uncertainties surrounding the Brexit negotiations; the battle around a new Scottish independence referendum… almost all the conceivable electoral scenarios will bring them into sharper relief”.
Two-and-a-half years later the underlying
contradictions have only intensified and the political consequences are, if
anything, even more unpredictable.
But, while there are a range of possible outcomes from the 12 December election, the
most immediately important for the workers’ movement is the prospect of a Jeremy
Corbyn-led government, with either a Labour parliamentary majority or in
another ‘hung parliament’, and the consequent question: how could a prime
minister Corbyn deliver the reforms he has promised the working class?
The Green Party often present themselves as a radical alternative
to the capitalist establishment parties. However, their actions repeatedly
undermine that image. In this general election they have reached an agreement with
the decidedly pro-establishment Liberal Democrats in order to promote remaining
in the establishment’s EU club. This follows a record of voting for austerity
measures when the party has held positions in local government.
protests, including the worldwide youth strikes, have seen environmental issues
rise rapidly in public consciousness. A YouGov poll earlier this year showed
more than a quarter of people in Britain now consider the environment to be
among the top three issues facing the country. This rises to 45% among 18-24
million workers, youth and students, took to the streets throughout Chile on 12
November, in yet another mass protest and strike, sparked initially by a price
hike in metro fares in the capital, Santiago, in October.
After nearly one month of protests and brutal state repression,
this magnificent movement has refused to accept concession after concession by
the regime of President Sebastián Piñera. Prior to the strike, Piñera undertook
yet another u-turn and announced that the constitution would be revised and
submitted to a referendum.