What is the significance, for the working class, of the first Tory majority government in 18 years? It is certainly going to mean even more draconian cuts in benefits, as we show elsewhere in this issue. On a wider scale the results of the election have reinforced the state’s offensive against the proletariat at the ideological level. This is as important as its actions at the economic level. The new political line up of the British state’s democratic facade has the aim of deepening the sense of disorientation within the working class in order to weaken its ability to develop its struggle, and above all its capacity to offer an alternative perspective to the hell of decaying capitalism. Thus the proletariat can expect a whole array of ideological attacks to be launched against it.
The central theme of the current democratic campaigns is the idea that each ‘citizen’ can contribute to the political process. This was exemplified by the election itself. There was the constant message that the outcome of the election was in the balance, could go either way, thus it was important to vote. The polls showed Labour and Tories nearly neck and neck; there was the idea that UKIP may make a break through; in Scotland the question was would Labour mobilize enough votes to stop the SNP decimating the number of Labour MPs? These questions were endlessly debated on the news. The whole message was this: voting could make a difference.
All the “surprise” at the results and the opinion polls getting it so wrong was guff. The secret polls carried out by the parties and the state showed the Tories would win. Also looking at the political situation made it clear the Tories would win. The Liberal Democrats signed their own death certificate when they joined the Coalition and agreed to rises in university tuition fees and other blatant attacks. The SNP’s crushing of Labour in Scotland was hardly a surprise, given that the SNP set itself up as the radical opposition to the austerity measures that Labour quietly accepted. As for UKIP, this populist bogeyman served its role in stoking up the anti-immigrant atmosphere during the election: the others parties used them as a justification for making their own contribution to this poison, but then cast Farage and Co. aside and left them in disarray. The BNP had suffered the same fate previously.
The election campaign has also served to continue the nationalist campaigns around questions such as should Scottish MPs vote on matters related to England, or should there be an English assembly like in Scotland and Wales? During the election itself the threat of the SNP forming an alliance with Labour was used to scare voters. The election, like the Scottish referendum before it, has reinforced nationalist illusions in parts of the working class. In Scotland, which has a long history of proletarian militancy, the working class is confronted with an openly nationalist party representing itself as the radical alternative, as the only real opposition to the Tories.
This democratic circus is not going to stop now the election is behind us. There is now the prospect of months of ceaseless campaigning around the referendum about European Union membership. Workers will be called on see their interests as the same as those of the ruling class and to throw their weight into this ‘decisive’ historical vote. This will add further confusion and divisions as we are told we have to choose a side in this referendum, which will also stir up a new hornets’ nest of nationalism and xenophobia.
The idea of democracy as a British value is also a central theme in the whole anti-terrorism campaign. The politicians were falling over themselves to take full advantage of the barbaric massacre of tourists in Tunisia to use the argument that in order to defend democracy it would be necessary to impose even more draconian anti-terror laws and measures.
The referendum on European membership is not simply a democratic circus. It is also an important part of the British bourgeoisie’s attempt to counter the efforts of its historical European imperialist rivals, France and above all Germany, to draw the EU under greater centralised control. The Eurozone crisis has seen German capitalism strengthening its dominant economic and political role in the EU. British imperialism on the other hand wants to use the referendum to reinforce its distinctive role in Europe – hence its drive to re-negotiate the rules of membership, aimed at undermining German and French efforts to strengthen them. It’s a mark of the confidence of the British ruling class, that it has called a referendum on the EU so quickly after the election. It would not do such a thing if it felt it would not get the right result. This demonstrates to those inclined to support British efforts to counter-balance Germany, such as Holland, that the British ruling class is not playing fast and loose with EU membership. The majority and strongest fraction of the British bourgeoisie is pro-EU, and it has reason to hope that the referendum will deliver a powerful defeat to the Eurosceptic fraction which crosses both Labour and Conservative Parties.
The new government is also seeking to take advantage of the growing chaos in Syria and the wider actions of Islamic State to regain the confidence of the population about military action abroad. Recent parliamentary debates about whether Britain should join in the bombing of Islamic State in Syria, rather than just in Iraq, have cleverly used the idea that the government has learnt the lessons of the debacle over Iraq. One of the central tasks of the Coalition government was to overcome popular distrust in the state’s military actions following the Iraq war and the blatant lying about Weapons of Mass Destruction. The last government defeat two years ago over the bombing of Assad in Syria is being presented as a lesson learned, as proof that the new government’s proposals for action will take much more account of the democratic will of parliament. Again we see the bourgeoisie cynically using the bloodbath in Syria and the rise of Islamic State to further its own imperialist aims, above all its efforts to mobilise the population behind its military actions.
Terror and the climate of fear
As with the previous government and the Labour government before that, the new team is making every effort to whip up a climate of fear in the population. The murders in Tunisia and the cases of British citizens running off to join IS in Syria are the most recent excuses for strengthening the state’s repression of the population. The government instruction that teachers must test children for signs of ‘radicalisation’ and inform the police and social services if they have any suspicions is another step in the integration of teachers, social workers and health workers into the work of the secret police. All such workers have to attend education classes about extremism and the defence of “British values”, and are expected to cooperate with the police and security services. This is an integration of the “social” face of the state into the repressive apparatus that would impress the old Stalinist and fascist regimes.
These anti-terrorist measures fit in with the state’s need to keep control of elements who might link up with hostile imperialist forces, but they will be unleashed on the working class and its revolutionary minorities in the future. Already the new guidelines for identifying ‘extremists’ includes anyone opposed to the bourgeoisie’s democratic apparatus and in favour of its forcible overthrow.
The loyal opposition
The right has emerged from the election with renewed strength, whilst Labour is in a “historic crisis”, or so we are told. Labour is engulfed in a leadership campaign between Blairites and one hard left candidate in the shape of Jeremy Corbyn who is not seen as a serious contender. The other candidates talk mainly about the need to reconnect with the “core vote”, to deal more realistically with the question of immigration, to be open about the necessity to make more cuts, to be the party of the Centre etc. At a time when the working class is suffering huge attacks it seems strange that the left face of the capitalist state is seeking to distance itself even further from the class, but this is a well thought-out strategy to reinforce the proletariat’s loss of confidence in its ability to struggle against these attacks and to be able offer an alternative. The whole New Labour project was based on reinforcing the disorientation in the working class following the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, with its rejection of Labour’s old-fashioned “socialist policies”, and its emphasis on the democratic citizen and ‘the people’.
Since the election there have been some small expressions of discontent, such as the unexpectedly large “anti-austerity” demonstrations called by the leftist Peoples’ Assembly umbrella group in June, but these were well controlled events. Such discontent will mount but it will be trapped in the idea that the Tories are to blame for cuts in living standards, not the capitalist system. This new anti-Toryism, which was so powerful in the 1980s and early 1990s, leads nowhere but to looking to Labour and the trade unions to defend the working class, offering the working class a false choice between the left and right faces of British state capitalism.