This resolution, adopted by a conference in January 2019, seeks to draw out the main perspectives for the British situation in the coming period. It is one of the core responsibilities of a revolutionary organisation to put forward the most coherent understanding of the perspectives for the national situation. This takes on even more importance when the whole social situation is dominated by the ruling class’s unprecedented political crisis around Brexit – a crisis that is going to continue to worsen in the coming period. Without an understanding of the roots and consequences of this turmoil it is impossible to draw out the probable implications of this for the proletariat in Britain and internationally in the coming years.
The role of the resolution is not to provide a detailed analysis of dynamics at work - this is done in the report on the national situation from the same conference - but to lay down a general theoretical framework and its implications. In the last issue of World Revolution we published the historical section of the report, which readers can refer to.
In this introduction we want to examine if the resolution has been verified by the unfolding of events.
The resolution argues that Brexit is the product of the combination of the century-long decline of British imperialism, the divisions within the ruling class that this has generated, the deepening of the impact of the decomposition of capitalism since the 2008 financial crisis, and the rise of populism. The resolution demonstrates that the bourgeoisie is caught up in irreconcilable contradictions. These are not only represented by the rise of populism, but also by the already existing divisions over Europe within the main parties, which have been pushed to a point where they could destroy the carefully constructed parliamentary political apparatus that has served the British bourgeoisie so well over the last two centuries.
This has been fully confirmed by the paralysis of the parliamentary machine over the last 6 months. Both the main political parties have been torn by factional struggles over Brexit. The Withdrawal Agreement drawn up by the May government and the EU, aimed at preventing Britain from simply crashing out of the EU, has been undermined by the inability of the main factions of both parties to agree on how to carry out this plan. May was unable to compromise because of the pressure exerted by the pro-Brexit hardliners, whilst Corbyn was constrained by the divisions within Labour where important factions want a Customs Union or a Second Referendum. The last desperate effort to get this Agreement were the common talks between both parties but these were doomed because it became obvious that May was going to be driven from power by factions in the Tory party opposed to a deal with Labour, as proved to be the case when May announced that she would resign on 7 June. This paralysis has now produced a leadership contest in the Tory party, with the most rabidly pro-Brexit figures easily in the lead, but whatever the result it will not resolve the stalemate.
This political vacuum has stimulated a new upsurge of populism, fed by anger and frustration at the inability of parliament to progress on Brexit. Farage and his wealthy bourgeois backers have taken full advantage of this void by forming the Brexit Party. This new party expresses a serious danger to the main parties. It represents a new face to populism. Gone is the strident anti-immigration rhetoric and the odd and bizarre characters that made UKIP unacceptable to many. The new party is very slick, it has a very sophisticated internet campaign and sells itself as being both multi-cultural and supported by younger voters. Farage has made much of his rejection of UKIP’s increasing racism and Islamophobia. This operation is a serious effort to make inroads into the main parties, based on being the only party able to defend the democratic vote of “the people”.
The rise of the Brexit Party, has thrown a spanner in the works. A new leader of the Tory party will not want to call a general election, as long as Brexit is not solved, because as one former Cameron aid put it, they will be “toast”. Labour will also be very reluctant to go for an election because the Brexit Party is making an effort to sell itself as the party of working people.
This means that three years after a referendum that was meant to push back the tide of populism the ruling class is now faced with a re-invigorated and more sophisticated populist party pouring petrol onto its political crisis.
As the resolution says, this crisis is threatening the territorial integrity of the British state. The election of a hard-line Brexiteer as Tory leader and/or the arrival of the Brexit party in parliament would worsen tensions with the pro-Independence Scottish fraction of the bourgeoisie.
The impact of this is not confined to Britain. As the resolution explains Brexit contributed to the strengthening of populism in Europe and the US. The EU and the main European powers have responded with a very hard line towards the British bourgeoisie. This line has paid some benefits, because the political chaos has produced a real fear even amongst the European populist parties and governments, who have now abandoned or toned down the demand to leave the EU. However, the populist far right still poses a serious threat to the future of the EU.
The Brexiteers hopes of a new “global” Britain able to strike up free trade deals have already started to hit the hard rock of reality. The developing trade war between the US and China has made it clear that the US has no hesitations to undermine the interests of its former allies in its increasingly desperate struggle with China. The Huawei scandal has seen China threatening its investment in Britain if the British government gives in to US pressure to ban Huawei from its infrastructure.
The struggle with China for global dominance, along with its intention to undermine its European rivals, means that the US has little interest in a weakened Britain outside the EU. Trump was happy to encourage Brexit in order to hurt the EU, but, once Brexit takes place, what role can the UK play for the US?
The resolution’s perspective of the deepening of the political crisis has been verified by events. Its warning of the threat of populism in this situation of paralysis was justified. The emergence of the Brexit Party is another factor of chaos and instability, further endangering the British state’s efforts to ensure an orderly Brexit.
The implications of this situation for the working class are grim. More than a decade of austerity has taken place with hardly any response from the class. This does not mean there is no discontent but it has not found expression through the class struggle due to the proletariat’s profound lack of self-confidence. This disorientation and demoralisation have been exacerbated by Brexit and the political crisis. The support for populism and its simplistic promise of a better tomorrow among parts of the proletariat is an expression of this despair and hopelessness. However, an even greater danger to the proletariat is being mobilised behind anti-populism and its defence of democracy and the democratic state. At present and in the coming period the proletariat will find it hard to avoid being mobilized behind these different bourgeois factions.
But the economic crisis will continue the deepen, and no matter which bourgeois faction dominates, they are all going to have to attack the proletariat. It is only through struggling against these attacks that the working class can defend itself. Such struggles will see the same response from the Tories, Labour or populists, because in the end they all defend capitalism. WR, 25.5.19