Editorial: The ‘national unity’ threat to Corbynism

Socialism Today September 2019 issue 231A 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”.

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Imperialism past and present

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.

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Capitalism: a scorched-earth system

Tackling global warming is, to state the obvious, a global problem. The environment and climate are everywhere. It is also inextricably linked to the global political economy: the way the world is run.

A consequence of greenhouse gas emissions, human-induced global warming is, by definition, a systemic crisis, a crisis of capitalism. Even the measurements for the amount of carbon in the atmosphere are comparisons with pre-industrial levels – the dawn of the 18th century industrial revolution and mass production driven by fossil fuels.

Report after report has detailed the interconnectedness of the environment and human activity, and the need for far-reaching action on this existential threat. Summit after summit claims success. In reality, however, the progress has been glacial.

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Marxism and the second world war

Eighty years ago, the major powers plunged humanity into the horror of world war. Despite the contending claims this was, at root, a struggle for markets, and economic and political dominance. In a shortened version of an article first published in Socialism Today No.131, PETER TAAFFE looks at the background to the war and the responsibility of socialists in wartime.

The total number of victims of the second world war dwarfed even the carnage of the first. Estimates of the number of casualties suggest some 60 million died, 20 million soldiers and 40 million civilians. Many civilians died of disease, starvation, massacres, bombing and deliberate genocide. The now-disappeared ‘Soviet Union’ lost around 27 million, just under half of all the casualties in the war.

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A graphic depiction of Peterloo

Peterloo: witnesses to a massacre

By Polyp, Eva Schlunke and Robert Poole

Published by New Internationalist, 2019, £11.99

Reviewed by Kevin Parslow

When peaceful protesters were slain in St Peter’s Fields, Manchester, on 16 August 1819, the first media reports were articles in The Times and then the radical Manchester Observer, which gave the massacre its name, ‘Peter-loo’ – to echo the battle of Waterloo. Major Dyneley of the 15th Hussars Regiment dubbed it the ‘battle of Manchester’. Later accounts were accompanied by illustrations, notably those of cartoonist George Cruikshank. He illustrated The Political House that Jack Built, by satirist William Hone, and depicted the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry’s brutal assault on the crowd.

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Class and gender war story

Common Cause

By Kate Hunter

Published by Fledgling Press, 2019, £9.99

Reviewed by Heather Rawling

Set during the first world war, Common Cause continues the story of Iza, a skilled compositor in Edinburgh (see Women in the Workplace 1910, a review of The Caseroom, in Socialism Today 218, May 2018). Kate Hunter has placed the story around real events and trade union struggles with her in-depth knowledge of the print industry. As with her first novel, there are graphic descriptions of working-class life – the poverty, overcrowding and disease, as well as the feeling of community and common cause. The characters are sketchy as the author prioritises recounting the events.

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