Further Developments By William Bowles

14 September 2004

After writing my previous essay, I realised that I was touching on a number of quite fundamental issues that required further investigation, not the least of which is the issue of the nature, formation and the possible direction that opposition to the imperium could take. I admit that this is mostly speculation but speculation based upon already visible trends that I touched upon that point toward these new formations and new alliances that could come from the most unlikely directions.

The problem it seems to me lies in the fact that without solid foundations that are rooted in social formations such as trade unions, communities united by common objective (eg AIDS) and broadly, social classes, opposition is forever doomed to occupy positions on the periphery of society. The anti-globalisation ‘movement’ is a perfect example of this process at work. Essentially formless and to all intents headless, it rages at global capitalism in splendid isolation. This is not to say that it doesn’t reflect real concerns and issues, especially in the developing world but it is disconnected from trade unions and other social formations in the developed world. Moreover, the traditional left has on the one hand been bypassed by it and on the other has pretty well treated the anti-globalisation movement as juvenile and apolitical (in traditional left terms anyway).

Historically, socialist and revolutionary movements in the capitalist world have their roots in the organised working class starting with trade unions that eventually produced political parties that represented the interests of the organised working class such as the International Working Man’s Association, the Labour Party and finally the various ‘flavours’ of Marxist and Communist parties.

Alongside these formations were other expressions such as women’s suffrage, unemployed movements and so forth. Broadly, we can say that all fell under the umbrella of working people struggling to better their conditions of life with some working to ‘reform’ capitalism and others seeking to overthrow the capitalist state and replace it with some kind of socialist society.

Throughout the 20th century, the only working examples socialists had of ‘socialism in action’ were the Soviet Union, China and later, countries like Cuba, Angola or Mozambique. What they all held in common was the fact that they were all undeveloped countries, either former colonies or the remnants of former empires. To date, socialism has not been built in a developed country even though capitalism has appropriated many aspects of socialism such as the ‘welfare’ system, economic planning and ‘public’ ownership. But essentially all have been the result either of capitalism’s inability to deliver or a response of the state to demands from the organised working class for social and economic justice without dismantling capitalism.

The 1980s saw a rollback of these gains with a vast transfer of wealth from working people and the poor, back into the hands of the already wealthy – the so-called neo-liberal agenda. In part this was because existing socialist societies had not, at least in the public’s eyes, delivered their promises and in part because the West won the propaganda war. Clearly, the socialist project had failed, no matter that the reasons were complex and not simply the failure of socialist economics to adjust to developments in the productive nature of the economy.

So essentially, what has occurred over the past twenty-plus years has been a rollback of all the gains of the previous decades of struggle, especially those that were achieved during the post-WWII period as a result of the defeat of Fascism and the liberation movements that followed.

In the UK, socialists had a Labour government that essentially sought to ameliorate the worst excesses of capitalism. The first Labour government of the post-war signed a ‘social contract’ between capital and labour but was also intensely anti-communist and firmly welded to the Cold War policies of the US. The Cold War was the thread that united successive British governments whether Tory or Labour.

The Left meanwhile, struggled vainly to win majority support via the parliamentary route, contesting elections and expending enormous amounts of energy in holding on to the leadership of trade unions. Over this period, the Labour Party has moved inexorably to the right, culminating with New Labour. At the same time, the organised working class has seen its power and influence wane not only because of attacks by the state but more importantly because of fundamental changes in the nature and location of industrial production.

Central to this process has been the Information Technology revolution that has enabled the leading capitalist states to transfer production to the developing world. In addition the emergence of the global financial trading system has transformed the way capitalism makes a buck. In the UK for example, the bulk of the profits come from financial services, loans and stock trading, much of it based not on the production of real wealth but on speculation in a bewildering array of financial ‘services’ of one kind or another as well as the lock the major US and UK financial institutions have on the world’s commodity markets in raw materials and energy supplies.

Banks, insurance and other major financial institutions dominate the economies of the major capitalist powers and through them, they own and control the stocks and shares of the major transnational corporations of energy, pharmaceuticals, media, weapons, retailing and IT.

In the major capitalist states, the largest employer is the state itself and it is here that we see the ‘final’ onslaught on organised labour taking place through the process of privatising public services. In the UK and the US, the largest labour unions are the public service unions, government employees in the national, regional and local government services, health, education, social services and so forth.

In the UK this is now the location of the major struggle between labour and capital but in the guise of the state. Moreover, this is a struggle that is being replicated across the developed world. What distinguishes this struggle from the earlier struggles of the industrial working class is the fact that it hinges on the principle of public service, for example of a national health system, free to all or pensions and other entitlements that are part and parcel of the gains made by working people over the past century of struggle.

Demoralised and fragmented, what’s left of the Left has mounted only a desultory opposition to the state’s attacks on the last vestiges of public ownership under capitalism. The public, isolated and alienated from social action (although the ultimate victim of the privatisation of social services), lacks the voice that used to be supplied by the grassroots of the Labour Party, the trade unions and the combined voice of the Left (in spite of its endless internal squabbles over this and that, all made moot by the end of socialism).

The failure of those who led the opposition to the invasion of Iraq is at least a failure to connect the attack on Iraq with the attack on what remains of the gains we have made over the past decades. A failure verging on the criminal in my opinion but then the StoptheWar coalition was led by a gang of unreconstructed Trotskyists and opportunists left over from a previous era.

It should be obvious by now, that any new movement of the Left has to be firmly rooted in the global crisis of capital for in part, the ‘War on Terror’ is a grand diversion from the fundamental problems faced by terminal capitalism. It is only by organically connecting the increasing attacks on the poor of the world with the attacks on what’s left of the gains we have made, that we have some chance resisting further predations of the imperium.

It should also be obvious to those on the Left that the cancer of racism is not only a domestic issue but is also part of a global process whether it be the issue of ‘illegal aliens’ or the continuation of the colonial mindset in Iraq and elsewhere in the poor countries of the world. This is an issue that has to be confronted head-on.

Exposing the utterly corrupt nature of imperialism that is now so plain to see through the destruction of the ecosphere, the deep unhappiness of people in the ‘developed’ world that expresses itself in all manner of addictions and dis-ease, the breakdown of social relations, increasing xenophobia and racism, the blatant failure of consumer capitalism to satisfy our human needs no matter how many things we possess (even if not actually owned but purchased on credit).

All and more of the above points toward the extreme urgency of our situation, a situation that capitalism will attempt to address only through increased repression and social control, ergo the Security State and possibly some new form of Fascism even a convenient ‘Reichstag Fire’ to follow on from 911, something that is a distinct possibility that will be the final excuse for the Big Clampdown.

The central elements of a new strategy for the Left are here for all to see, I’ve touched on some of them I think. What needs to be done next is to formulate them into a combined programme of action that connects all the dots together. What the hell are we waiting for?


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