General Election will Provoke a New Phase of Class Struggle (Issue 30 Editorial)

The announcement of a 12th December General Election has sparked off what will be the most significant campaign for decades. Never has a prime minister represented so few people and commanded such little respect and never has the opposition looked so ready for a fight.

Issue 30 Editorial, by Ross Walker, IMT Edinburgh

Since the Brexit vote, mainstream commentators, both liberal and conservative, have only been able to predict misery and many honest workers have been understandably demoralised. However, Marxists have consistently pointed out that beneath the surface, mass anger with explosive potential is building up. This General Election will release much of this anger and in doing so will propel us into a new period of class struggle.

The Brexit crisis in Britain is just the political expression of a much wider crisis of world capitalism which was sparked off by the crash of 2008. Austerity packages have been opened all over the world and the working class has been forced to endure unemployment, uncertainty and misery. 

Liberal pro-market commentators, who for twenty years smugly celebrated the end of the USSR, have had nothing to say as mass anger has built up throughout the world at parasitic bankers, capitalists and the corrupt politicians who represent them. The fact that millions of youth throughout the world took to the streets on the 22nd of September demanding that something be done about climate change, shows that the rich and powerful are now not even trusted to ensure the existence of our species.

The failure of liberal capitalism has allowed the nationalist and protectionist wings of the capitalist class to gain authority. Campaigns based on false anti-establishment credentials and scapegoating minorities have become more prevalent in Europe and North America, something which has lead to the Brexit vote and the election of Trump in the USA. Such movements wish to turn the clock back to a time before globalisation but this is impossible.

However, there is a vastly underestimated force in society that can offer us a way out. This is the force of the working class, a force which will be released in the General election which has come at a time of explosive class struggle developing throughout the world.

Just since our last issue was published, the workers and farmers of Latin America have risen their heads in potentially insurrectionary movements in Chile, Ecuador and Haiti. In Lebanon a revolution has halted the country. In the USA, GM workers carried out the company’s longest strike since 1970, and last year more Americans took part in strikes and lockouts than in any year since 1986. In France a potentially very militant transport strike is being prepared for December. These are just additions to a long list of mass class-conscious movements that have sprung up in every continent in the form of strikes, left wing political parties and movements in the last decade.

In Scotland, in recent times, class-consciousness has taken on a perhaps less orthodox but no less significant route in the struggle for independence, a struggle which will also play a critical role in this election. After decades of betrayal of right-wing Labour leaders, class conscious Scots en mass turned towards the struggle for independence. This eventually lead the mass movement for independence that developed around the 2014 referendum and completely transformed the political landscape in Scotland.

This movement has continued to show its potential strength with mass marches throughout Scottish towns and cities in the last two years. On the 5th of October, estimates of over 200,000 marched in Edinburgh. Just like in 2014, the slogans of the march were explicitly against the Westminster establishment, austerity, war, and bigotry that this establishment is associated with.

The weekend before the Edinburgh march, the Labour Party had a historic conference in Brighton. The Tory and liberal media were naturally hell bent in distorting this event, but from the point of view of the working class, this was the most positive conference for decades. To give just some examples, the conference voted to bring in a 32 hour work week, abolish private schools, establish a national care service and implement a Green New Deal, create 67,000 new public sector climate jobs and set a target for zero carbon emissions by 2030. 

All this has big implications in this general election which, as in 2017, will propel this mass movement into action, only this time likely on a much more powerful scale.

In recent weeks, Ian Blackford, the SNP Westminster leader, has spoken about the likelihood of doing a deal with Labour if Corbyn is to lead a minority government. Despite tribal posturing between Labour and the SNP, this has been on the cards for a while and a recent survey showed that 83% of Labour members would be in favour of such a deal.

The SNP is ridden with class contradictions. On one hand, Westminster leader, Ian Blackford once called for 0% corporation tax and earns an extra £3,100/month for sitting on a board of Artisan Global Equity fund, which makes money from investing in defence companies. We put zero trust in the likes of him or anyone else in the leading clique of the SNP. 

On the other hand, the bulk of its membership are significantly to the left. In recent conferences, the membership have pushed the leaders to adopt a more radical position on land reform as well as developing public banks and infrastructure. Many other left wing motions, for example to change the party’s commitment to NATO, have been rejected by the party’s notoriously undemocratic structures. On top of this there’s a constant battle around the Growth Commision plans for an independent Scotland. This vision, developed by SNP bureaucrats and city financiers, has proven to be very unpopular among the membership and the wider independence movement, leading to the leadership being defeated on the currency debate at the April conference.

Marxists support Scottish Independence, but unlike Sturgeon, Blackford and the leading SNP clique, we do so on a socialist basis. We fight for a Scottish Workers’ Republic as a stepping stone to a World Socialist Federation. Over time, the class contradictions evident in the independence movement will widen. This general election will play a role in drawing more independence supporters to explicitly anti-capitalist conclusions.

The general election is the most important event for the working class in Britain for decades precisely because it could get a left wing Labour government into power. The independence movement can and must play a critical role in supporting and defending such a government and in doing so would in turn be strengthened.

The general election will be a huge test for Corbyn’s Labour but will also put pressure on the SNP, particularly in the event of a parliamentary deal. The working class throughout these islands would demand the reversal of austerity, and a repeal of anti trade union laws. Such a government would come under immense pressure from the capitalist class and their lackeys in the media, the House of Lords and the courts, and last but not least the Blairite wing of the Labour Party, who are determined to destroy a Corbyn government. This pressure will be felt by SNP MPs.

Blairites, Lib Dems and pro-EU Tories have been using the question of the EU to rally SNP MPs against Corbyn and will continue to do so. This will be a test for the SNP MPs who would lose authority if they made any alliance with the very same clique of Westminster politicians who led a very dirty campaign five years ago to prevent independence. 

At the same time Labour must show that they will not stand in the way of Scottish independence. A survey carried out in July revealed that 4 in 10 Labour members in England support Scottish independence and almost all members think Scotland should at least have a referendum if the Holyrood parliament so chooses. Labour Shadow chancellor John McDonnell stated that this would be the case in August, but after pressure from Labour right-wingers it was clarified that this would not happen “in the formative years”. Such obscure and evasive positions don’t impress anyone. 

By standing against the referendum, Labour are making the life of the SNP leadership very easy. The SNP correctly criticise Labour for this position and also frequently correctly criticise Labour for not calling for the abolition of Trident on the Clyde and opposing freedom of movement. If the Labour campaign is to reverse these positions, (all of which are concessions to the right wing and are generally opposed by the rank and file) it would take away the SNP’s moral high ground and pressure them to support Labour’s programme.

Labour’s programme is far from perfect. Its reliance on taxing the rich and borrowing money to spend on public services will be met with flights of capital and sabotage, as happened when Syriza came to power on a similar programme in Greece. This can only be fought by taking on the capitalist system itself, starting with the nationalisation of banks and big employers under workers’ control.

However, despite its limitations, a Corbyn-led government will be a big step forward for class struggle throughout these islands and will inspire many more into political activity. The victory of explicitly left wing ideas like these would give a boost for left wingers within the YES movement who see the fight for Scottish self-determination as inseparable from the fight against capitalism. This years’ Radical Independence Conference was the biggest since 2014, a reflection in the growth of a thirst for left wing ideas within the movement.

Labour’s proposed reversal of anti trade union laws will impact the trade unions. Postal workers and university workers have beaten anti trade union laws and are preparing to strike and there’s been an increase in strikes in the service and retail sectors, for example at McDonalds, Uber, TGI Friday’s, Amazon, Weatherspoons and Tescos. A reversal of the Trade Union bill and other anti union legislation including and the ban on solidarity pickets will be a big confidence boost for such struggles, which will spread.

An implementation of the Green New Deal would also be a boost for the climate strikes. It is clear that these have inspired Labour’s policy and have the potential to be much more powerful and militant, particularly if the struggle gains support from the trade unions.

As Marxists we bring the lessons of the history of class struggle, that is the ideas and programme of Marxism, to the movement. We will be carrying this out in the independence movement, the climate strikes, the trade unions, workplaces, campuses, schemes and streets. It is only these ideas that clearly show the way out of the dead end of capitalism. If you agree with our ideas, do not hesitate to get in touch with us and join the IMT.