According to many of the bourgeoisie’s journalists the Labour party has thrown away the opportunity to elect a mature, serious leader in the form of David Milliband and instead chosen his younger brother, nicknamed by the press ‘Red Ed’. These journalists and political analysts seem to think that the Blair years of ‘New Labour’ provide the paradigm for judging everything, without observing that recent developments at the economic level have substantially changed the situation. The bourgeoisie have to prepare for the future, not look to the past. The Labour party and the trades unions that played the key role in deciding on Ed Milliband as the new leader have to adapt themselves to the deeper, open expression of the economic crisis and the social instability that is likely to go along with it – in particular the obvious danger of greater levels of working class struggles.
The great idea of the Blair years was that all parties have to compete for the ‘centre ground’ and to appeal to the ‘middle class.’ This class appears to include practically everybody except for an excluded underclass of poor workers (either with badly paid jobs or else unemployed). The government is exhorting the unemployed to stop making the ‘life style choice’ of staying at home, and to get jobs (since, naturally, the lack of jobs is not due to the capitalist crisis, but due to their own lack of ‘aspiration’). There is a small amount of sympathy for those with lower paid jobs, but again this really shows a lack of effort and aspiration. And then there is the great ‘middle class’ who basically are doing fine – according to the way the story is told.
In reality the middle strata of the population – the petty bourgeoisie in marxist terms – is not the majority of the population and neither is it doing fine. Made up of the proprietorss of small businesses, owners of small landholdings, small farmers, partners in professional firms etc it is just as affected by the crisis as the working class – worse in many ways. This is a normal and inescapable feature of the crisis and typically has political manifestations. In USA the problem of the declining incomes of the greater part of the population (white collar and blue collar) is actually acknowledged. Obama recently gave an interview to Rolling Stone magazine where he listed middle-class income decline – along with civil rights and civil liberties – as a key issue in the next couple of years. Like the British the American bourgeoisie use the term ‘middle class’ in a very broad and inclusive sense, but at least they acknowledge clearly that the incomes of all except the very rich have actually been declining for many years.
The middle class in the proper sense of the term are hard hit by the crisis even if some of them are relatively well off from the standpoint of workers – precisely because their ‘aspirations’ are destroyed. This adds to social instability, but can be contained by the bourgeoisie because the petty bourgeoisie have no historical perspective.
The working class is often identified as only blue collar industrial workers, but in reality all those who have only their labour power to sell are part of the working class. Whether white or blue collar, working in an office or factory, whether in a ‘service’ industry or in manufacturing, all are workers. The working class is a much more serious problem for the bourgeoisie because they do have an historical perspective – the communist revolution – and because they are ultimately capable of a level of struggle that contests the bourgeoisie’s control over society. The bourgeoisie are very aware of this and have to organise themselves to deal with the threat, even if we are clearly some way from massive confrontations between the classes. The most important role of the Labour party is to position itself to deal with the developing threat of the class struggle – this it does in conjunction with the trade unions, which are the main weapon of the bourgeoisie against the class struggle. In government the Labour Party imposes austerity, in opposition it denounces the suffering caused by government austerity measures.
‘Red Ed’ despite owing his election to the unions, has immediately distanced himself from them. Does this make sense? It does, because the Labour Party may have other responsibilities to fulfill. In any case, even when the party is in opposition it does not simply identify itself with the class struggle – after all, neither the party nor the trades unions are actually trying to encourage the class struggle - their role is to contain it. But clearly, it is not advantageous to the bourgeoisie to have the Labour party continuing to make the sort of attacks as are going to come in the coming period.
Furthermore, matters are not even as simple as that for the bourgeoisie at the current juncture. The coalition seems at present quite stable and there is no obvious reason they should not be able to make the necessary attacks, even if there is disquiet among sections of the Liberal Democrats about the position they have got themselves in. Nonetheless it is at least possible that the Labour party could need to move into government again at some point in the not too far distant future, since the economic crisis is so profound that almost anything is possible at the political level. For example, although the Labour party’s ‘opposition’ to the cuts is mainly political – to make itself look good in front of the working class – it also has sound economic sense in it. It is not that the cuts are not ‘necessary’ – they are. But there is also a danger that they will undermine the tentative signs of a very limited recovery in the economy – and that will make the debt situation even worse, since the key is the ratio between the size of the economy and the level of debt. Many serious economic commentators are pointing this out – including a senior commentator in the Financial Times, for example. Even Cameron and Clegg can hardly be unaware of this danger and that they are taking a very big risk.
Because there are so many uncertainties in the situation the bourgeoisie has to maintain its flexibility. And this is the other reason why Ed Milliband is a good choice for the bourgeoisie. He is carrying a lot less political baggage than the other contestants for the Labour leadership, mainly because he is younger. This allows him for the present to be all things to all people, and gives him a great deal of room for manoeuvre if the political and economic situation gets more difficult.