Britain: The Ruling Class Divided

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jk1921
Britain: The Ruling Class Divided
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The discussion that follows was prompted by the article: Britain: The Ruling Class Divided. The discussion was initiated by jk1921.
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jk1921
Interesting piece. At the

Interesting piece. At the risk of sounding trite, I will ask though--when has the bourgeoisie not been divided? What is different today about the nature of the differences within the ruling class? How is decomposition affecting the ruling class to the point where we see such self-inflicted wounds like Brexit, Trump. etc.? Of course, this raises the question of what is in the "rational" interests of the bourgeoise at any given moment in time and how we determine when the ruling class is acting rationally or not?

I will add that one additional benefit of the last UK election over and above the humiliation of UKIP was a certain defeat for the SNP--which had been at its height of popularity after Brexit. While its clear that the last election was a mistake for the Tories, what about the overall interests of the UK state itself?

Demogorgon
Irrational or Unpredictable?

I think May calling an election was completely rational at the time, for the Tories at least. She was 20 points ahead in the polls and the electoral wipeout in Scotland combined with Corbyn and some gerrymandering had led some commentators to speculate that Labour would be wiped out for a generation, possibly forever. Had she won the majority she was predicted to win, she would have been secure and able to negotiate the Brexit treaties without the embarrassment of the current situation.

There was also a genuine effort here, I think, to crush Corbyn. I'm still of the opinion that his rise to power was a complete accident and not planned by the bourgeosie. However, the election proved to the bourgeoisie that the forces behind his rise - the deepening discontent, especially among young and educated workers - are more deeply rooted than they had anticipated.

Corbyn had already adapted to his surprise role, by acting as a lightning rod for discontent. The necessity for someone to play this role is now clear to the bourgeoisie. And there is now a real possibility of his move into government. Already, there's an impression that the new leadership is being integrated into the central factions of the bourgeoisie - the "Marxist" John McDonnell is meeting with hedge funds and other actors in the city for example.

There is also a growing faction of the big bourgeoisie that is concerned about the direction of society. They are genuinely concerned about the growing inequality, the current economic fragility and the threat this poses. Some are even asking the question, is capitalism broken? Corbyn offers the ideological cover for a new direction, should this prove necessary, although I think this is very much at the early stages.

Regardless of whether the Corbynite left remain as a channel for discontent or actually come into government, the bourgeoisie have won an accidental victory here: they have secured their left flank.

jk1921
Accidential Victories

Demogorgon wrote:

Regardless of whether the Corbynite left remain as a channel for discontent or actually come into government, the bourgeoisie have won an accidental victory here: they have secured their left flank.

Interesting points. Although, the UK bourgeoisie would probably do well to thing carefully of the reprecussions of moving Corbyn into government as the necessities of statecraft would likely discredit him, unless he is able to pull off some kind of "populist" strategy of claiming victimization by the powers that be even though he is sitting in 10 Downing. That is an old trick that even Roosevelt played and which Trump is trying today, although without much success. Of course, if the main factions are seen to too openly frustrate his rise this could lead an even further questioning of the democractic apparatus. The point about the UL bourgeoisie's accidental victory in shoring up the left flank is interesting. This is something the US bourgeoisie has been unable to do in a very effective way, with the Democratic Party seen to constantly frustrate the Sanders wing. While this helps his image as an outsider victimized by the establishment, it also fuels growing and increasingly loud calls for his forces to split from the Democrats--something that would be incredibly destabilizing and dangerous for the US state. For now, there is still a hope that Trump proves so universally awful that the Democrats can win without making major concessions to the left flank.

This raises fraught questions though about the necessities of bourgeois governance and the imperatives of capital accumulation today. Why are the main factions so committed to neo-liberalism and is any real alternative mode of regulation even possible anymore? When "Marxists" meet with hedge funds, I assume it is not to tell them they will soon be expropriated?

baboon
Had May won the election, and

Had May won the election, and what-ifs are difficult, I think that the one sure thing is that the hard Brexiteers whose policies are irrational from the point of view of British capital, would have been strengthened significantly. The result of the election, the political impasse that it's brought about in the Brexit "negotiations", is probably the best that the British bourgeoisie could hope for. As demo says, it was more by luck than judgement and that is a factor of general decomposition. There was a genuine effort to crush Corbyn in that election but it came from a section of the Tory Party and it was not in the interests of the ruling class as a whole. The British bourgeoisie have enough experience, even now, to know that they have a constant need of a credible left.

As the text says, the Tories power to govern is now severely diminished and this is down to some fundamentals detailed in the text: it's the "loss of Empire" and the "Golden Past" that the Brexit wing of the Tory Party constantly hark back to and this yearning for the past becomes even more acute the more the crisis and decomposition bites. It's a much more fraught situation than under Thatcher, who despite her rants against Europe signed everything about it put in front of her.

A couple of other points:

Interesting that the text should talk of the landowning British bourgeoisie (also its involvement in slavery) and how this makes it relatively weaker in regard to the needs of British capital, while it makes Labour closer to the real interests of capital.

I agree with the text when it says that if the Grenfell fire happened just before the election rather than after the Tories would have lost.

jk1921
What is the significance of

What is the significance of the so-called "Momentum" group within Labour?

It is interesting that the UK bourgeoisie has seen the need to revitalize a certain left political formation within the state, but is the intention for this to be a "left in opposition" or for it to actually be a viable governing option in order to attempt some real "reform" of neo-liberalism, due to a growing sense that it is increasingly making society less governable or will eventually hamper accumulation due to collapsing demand?

It seems telling that if the UK bourgeoisie has for now been able to pull something like this off momentarily stemming the tide of a certain right-wing populism, while at the same time blunting the growth of Scottish nationalism, the US bourgeoisie has so far fallen flat on its face in giving the Democratic Party a real left makeover. It appears that the US bourgeoisie has must less interest in revitalizing a left flank right now-- but is this due to specific contingencies of the US situation (big money financing of elections) or the greater weight of decomposition on the bourgeoisie, which appears to be seriously compromised by all kinds of corrupt incentives that flow from the neo-liberal arrangement itself: the revolving door between the state and Wall Street, etc?

This should probably go in another thread (although comparative politics is useful) but the anti-Trump resistance seemingly picked up a huge victory last week when the maniac candidate for Alabama Senate seat Roy Moore lost to the Democrat Doug Jones. This week Jones says he is considering voting with the Republicans. Similarly, the victor of last month's Virginia Governor's race Ralph Northam says he is interested in bi-partisanship and thinks it might be a good idea to more tightly control who gets Medicaid (medical insurance for the extremely poor). This isn't exactly the face of a party cognizant of the need to revitalize a left face.

Demogorgon
Corbyn and the bankers, sitting in a tree ...?

Well, not quite, but the Indie seems to be very interested in the growing attraction of Corbyn to the bankers. Something is shifting ...

MH
historic weaknesses

This is a very interesting text which among other things manages to summarise in a few sentences some of the key features of the bourgeois revolution in Britain that still, as it says, shape the political situation today.  Landowning classes played an important role in bourgeois revolutions elsewhere (like the Prussian Junkers) but in Britain (or more correctly England of course), we are talking as the text says about an unprecedentedly wealthy and powerful class, whose predominant role in the resulting state was strengthened by two factors:

-       The fact that the ‘English revolution’ took place very early on, before the rise of a manufacturing class

-       The need of the ruling class to unite in the face of the ‘threat from below’, which cut short the more radical development of the revolution leading to the restoration of the monarchy as the best way to ensure social order. The landowning class was not expropriated but restored to political power.

What followed was a kind of symbiosis of landowning and manufacturing interests in which the latter was able to advance its own economic interests without having to formally take political power. Despite all Marx’s expectations in the mid-19th C that the manufacturing bourgeoisie would take a central role in the state and do away with all the vestiges of the aristocratic regime as so many ‘overheads’, we know this never happened, which even led some leftist academics like Perry Anderson in the early 1960s to argue that the bourgeois revolution in Britain remained to be completed… In reality the British bourgeoisie created a subtle and effective regime able to ensure social control. But as we can see it also left fault lines that are now opening up. Among other issues, Brexit demonstrates the historic weakness of manufacturing and industrial interests in the highest echelons of the British state - compared say to Germany. 

This is compounded by the fact that the UK state, again for historical reasons going back to the bourgeois revolution, is not a unitary state, but is fragmented along national and regional lines (English dominance, separate Scottish state  identity, the complexities of the Irish situation, etc), all of which is now coming back to haunt it. Former strengths have become definite weaknesses, which should not however lead us to underestimate the British bourgeoisie's continuing strengths in ensuring social control..

 

Alf
virtually an article...

This doesn't need much to become an article. Essential to delve into history to understand better what's passing in front of us now. 

jk1921
English exceptionalism

MH wrote:

Despite all Marx’s expectations in the mid-19th C that the manufacturing bourgeoisie would take a central role in the state and do away with all the vestiges of the aristocratic regime as so many ‘overheads’, we know this never happened, which even led some leftist academics like Perry Anderson in the early 1960s to argue that the bourgeois revolution in Britain remained to be completed… In reality the British bourgeoisie created a subtle and effective regime able to ensure social control. But as we can see it also left fault lines that are now opening up. Among other issues, Brexit demonstrates the historic weakness of manufacturing and industrial interests in the highest echelons of the British state - compared say to Germany. 

This is compounded by the fact that the UK state, again for historical reasons going back to the bourgeois revolution, is not a unitary state, but is fragmented along national and regional lines (English dominance, separate Scottish state  identity, the complexities of the Irish situation, etc), all of which is now coming back to haunt it. Former strengths have become definite weaknesses, which should not however lead us to underestimate the British bourgeoisie's continuing strengths in ensuring social control..

Or Meiksins-Wood to suggest that capitalism, far from some universal historical necessity bubbling up in feudal society, was really the product of very specific factors of the English countryside through which the landed gentry were able to monetize their holdings in a way which led to accumulation and eventually "take-off." The bourgeois revolution, in her view, was a later French phenomenon, which was more the culmination of an historical process of state development than an economically driven outcome.

baboon
I think that one of the most

I think that one of the most telling examples of a "ruling class divided" in Britain was government minister, Priti Patel's trip to Israel in August last year. Patel was Secretary of State for International development which is responsible for allocating government aid. Like in the US under Trump this "aid" has come in for criticism in Britain with the populist press airing stories about pop groups and "terrorists" receiving it. But like in the US, this "aid" is a vital component of imperialist policy which is often directed by the intelligence services for reasons of "national interest".

Patel went on what she maintained was a twelve-day "family holiday" to Israel in August last year, during which she met with PM Netanyahu, DG of Israel's foreign ministry, Yuval Rotem and security and propaganda chief, Gilad Erden. She did this unknown to the British government, the Foreign Office and was unaccompanied by any British officials. She also visited the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, which is not recognised by Britain and rather than giving "aid" to Palestinians, she said that it should go to the Israeli military so that it could help with humanitarian issues, particularly its efforts to give medical assistance to wounded Syrian refugees. Everyone knows that through the Golan the Israeli military patches up wounded jihadi's, including al-Nusra fighters and sends them back against Assad forces. Patel would have been aware of this and her secret visit and policies were entirely opposed to British foreign policy.

Patel is an ardent Brexiteer on the UKIP wing of the Tory Party and it's well known that this wing is pro-Trump, anti-Europe and pro-Israel. The profound divisions in the British bourgeoisie were laid bare when she was initiatlly excused by the Prime Minister's office and what was really her "treason" (as the Daily Mail might call it, with more justification than usual) was underplayed. It took the publicising of a number of her bare-faced lies, day after day, for Patel to be sacked and then only for a minor misdemenour. The frailty and weakness of the current governmental line-up and the choices facing it on the level of its imperialist policies have been exposed by this extraordinary event.