Have the September shenanigans in Westminster fatally undermined the chances of a Corbyn-led government being elected this autumn? And, as pertinently, what do they say about the character of such a government if it were to come to power in the midst of the political crisis and looming economic turbulence now confronting British capitalism?
Corbyn’s first concession as Labour leader to the pro-capitalist Blairites who
dominate the Parliamentary Labour Party was to agree, within days of his
victory in 2015, that he would support a remain vote in all circumstances in
the then forthcoming EU referendum. While a referendum, reducing issues to a
simple government-set binary choice, is not an ideal terrain for the workers’
movement to fight for its collective interests, it could still have been an
opportunity to give a working-class lead to the cry of rage at the capitalist
establishment and its austerity agenda which the 2016 vote for leave at root
12 December the ballot will close for the general secretary election of the
civil servants’ union, PCS. For almost two decades the union had been led by
the left. Crucial to maintaining that position has been the role of the ‘broad
left’ organisation, Left Unity. In this election, however, there are two
candidates who are members of Left Unity: the current general secretary, Mark
Serwotka, and Socialist Party member, Marion Lloyd.
This reflects a
move to the right at the top of PCS and a resulting change in the character of
Left Unity. Prior to the election of Mark Serwotka in 2000, PCS and its
forerunner CPSA were led by an extreme right-wing leadership with links to the
security services. Enormous positive changes took place after the left took
control, with the Socialist Party playing a key role. A democratic lay-led
culture and a leadership determined to fight in its members’ interests became
the hallmarks of PCS.
The academic year has again begun
with universities forced to act in accordance with the government’s Prevent
strategy. Prevent was first introduced in 2006, as part of the Blair-led Labour
government’s ‘anti-terrorist’ measures. It was changed by the Tories in 2011
and, four years later, put on a statutory basis. This compelled public bodies
to have “due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into
As there’s no evidence that Prevent has stopped any
acts of violence but plenty that it is racist and has lessened freedom of
speech, opposition to it has grown from many organisations. These have included
the National Union of Teachers passing a resolution in 2016 for it to be
scrapped and the University and College Union calling for it to be boycotted. The
National Union of Students is against it, too, and runs a campaign called
Students Not Suspects, currently promoted by NUS president Zamzam Ibrahim.
No One is Too Small to Make a Difference
is a short collection of speeches and the first book by 16-year-old Swedish
climate activist Greta Thunberg. Thunberg rose to prominence in 2018 as the
youthful face of the international Fridays for the Future school-strike
movement against climate change. What started as an individual protest, with
Thunberg handing out flyers in front of the Swedish parliament, chimed with the
angry mood of young people the world over.
Brutal neoliberalism and
austerity are fuelling mass anger – the growth in Trump-style populism one of
the consequences. In response, a recent book advocates a return to New
Deal-style reforms and the post-war policies of state regulation – points
echoed by Bernie Sanders and others. But, as TONY SAUNOIS explains, capitalism’s
room for manoeuvre is far more limited today, making the case for socialism all
the more urgent.
Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism
By Robert Kuttner
Published by WW Norton & Company, 2019, £12.99
Robert Kuttner’s book is one
of many by commentators and academics in recent years giving a devastating
balance sheet of the consequences of neoliberal policies. Yet, like many, he
has not been able to draw a rounded analysis and alternative from the data he
has published. He graphically contrasts two eras of global capitalism: the post-second
world war boom up to the mid-1970s; and what has followed since. In particular,
he gives a stark account of what the neoliberal era has meant worldwide – economically,
socially and politically. He reveals the increasingly authoritarian and
undemocratic features of modern-day global monopoly capitalism. The book
largely centres on developments in the US and the EU. He rightly regards the
latter as a neoliberal, pro-capitalist institution.
The deep crises in the world economy and political
establishments are not only reflected in attempts to resurrect Keynesian-style
policies. Other capitalist economists are proposing that an even harsher
neoliberal model should be applied – looking back to the 1970s and 80s. That is
the subject of a book by German economist, Rainer Zitelmann, reviewed here by PETER
The Power of Capitalism: a journey through recent history across four continents
By Rainer Zitelmann
Published by LID, 2018, £19.99
This book by Rainer Zitelmann is quite clearly
written as a justification for a further shift towards the right in German
capitalism’s economic policies, a process already underway and reinforced by
the growing crisis of the economy. It can also be used on a much wider scale by
bourgeois economists in other countries. It is likely that Germany will tip
into recession in the third quarter of this year, the country’s central bank
has warned. It has gone from the powerhouse of Europe to an economic laggard,
weighed down by turmoil in the automotive industry, the US-China trade war, and
the prospects of a chaotic UK exit from the European Union.
Europe we have seen a resurgent right making electoral gains. In the US, white
supremacists have grown increasingly confident after the election of the right-populist
Donald Trump. A new book aims to explain this phenomenon but, PAULA MITCHELL
argues, a materialist approach is necessary to understand the alt-right, its
roots, limits and perspectives.
The Alt-Right: what everyone needs to know
By George Hawley
Published by Oxford University Press, 2019, £10.99
US alt-right came to prominence during Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign.
Steve Bannon, former editor of alt-right website Breitbart, was chief executive
of Trump’s presidential campaign and, latterly, White House chief strategist. Bannon
and others linked up with the organisers of the Football Lads Alliance in
Britain, pledging money to build a new street movement.
At one level, this is just simply a
delightful book, a good read, a love story beautifully written. In addition,
though, it is an inspiring true story about a middle-aged couple’s experience of
austerity Britain shipwrecked by the treacherous rocks of finance capital. It
manages to be a travel book and a page turner. It is Raynor Winn’s first book
and was shortlisted for the Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize in 2018.
A rising sense of panic is gripping the strategists of British capitalism as the 31 October Brexit deadline draws ever closer. “Britain’s exit from the European Union without a withdrawal deal would be an unequivocal national calamity”, the Guardian newspaper editorialised (16 August). The usually more soberly-toned Financial Times has also used similar phrases.
Comparisons have been made with Winston Churchill’s decision in 1925 to return to the gold standard at pre-world war exchange rates, an effective 10% appreciation of sterling. This move was famously excoriated by John Maynard Keynes in his pamphlet, The Economic Consequences of Mr Churchill, as a self-inflicted wound on the UK economy – although, as with the no deal, ‘soft Brexit’ or no Brexit debate today, there were no policies within the framework of capitalism that could have resolved the fundamental contradictions of a crisis-inherent system. Meanwhile, a leaked paper from inside Angela Merkel’s German government, reporting that the EU’s preparations for a no deal are “largely complete” in so far as they can be, assesses that Brexit with no withdrawal treaty is now a “high probability”.
US-China trade tensions, Germany’s slide into recession, EU crisis and regional conflicts all bear witness to increasing rivalry between the major powers and trading blocs. They also mean that an understanding of the imperialist stage of capitalism is more relevant than ever. ROBIN CLAPP writes.
When Jeremy Corbyn wrote the foreword to
a 2011 edition of John A Hobson’s classic work, Imperialism: A Study, a Guardian
reviewer called it a “perfectly decent introductory essay”. Yet in May of this year, Corbyn’s endorsement of this 1902 book
was weaponised by a Times
journalist, who claimed that Hobson was anti-Semitic and, by extension, the
Labour leader must be so too.