The State We Are In

Editorial for Revolutionary Perspectives 22 (Series 4).

This issue goes to press as the UK celebrates 75 years of its National Health Service. But it’s difficult to see what there is to cheer about. Despite politicians’ assertions that more money than ever is spent on the NHS, British spending on healthcare in relation to GDP comes well behind most of the OECD rich countries. Before the pandemic the UK had the lowest number of doctors, nurses and hospital beds per capita in this comparison and there were 100,000 unfilled posts.

The NHS came into being as part of the tendency of the state to absorb more and more of social life which began with the First World War. The third part of our Capitalism’s Economic Foundations series, which we present in this issue, deals with how this tendency came about. In the epoch of imperialism, wars are total wars which means states have to take the population with them. In the UK, after the First World War, “homes fit for heroes” saw the massive expansion of council housing. The Second World War provoked an even wider recognition that state welfare provision would have to be expanded if there was to be no return to the “hungry Thirties”. After the war, bourgeois minds were occupied by a series of strikes and the squatting of empty properties all around the country, alongside the threat from the supposedly “communist” Soviet Union. The modern welfare state was born in response. It worked (not without problems) because the war had opened a new cycle of accumulation which lasted until the 1970s.

The end of the post-war boom seriously hampered state revenues and the first attempt to make workers pay led to a worldwide resistance. In the UK, printing money to cover future production created inflation which, as the article explains, only created more social strife. In 1977 the Labour Prime Minister, James Callaghan, announced to the TUC that the state could not “spend its way out of the crisis”. The first serious cuts in spending not only on the NHS but on all public services began. We will turn to this in our next issue.

In the meantime capitalism has brought us a new round of inflation and interest rate rises which are bringing misery to millions. This has led to scores of strikes in the UK and elsewhere in an attempt to redress the balance. As long as they remain within the framework of accepting the current system of wage slavery the system is safe. But that is not the only threat capitalism poses. In the longer term, as we argue here, the need is for a massive devaluation of capital in order for a new boom to take place. Even the mainstream monetarist economists are calling for a “Schumpeterian moment” to get out of the “secular stagnation” the system has been in for years. But living in the Victorian past, as they do, they assume that a mere economic crisis will be enough to devalue capital and restart accumulation on a new basis. The fact is that since 1914 only an all-out imperialist war can achieve this, given the already existing accumulated mass of capital.

In this context the war in Ukraine is not just about Ukraine alone. As we have seen in previous issues, this is just one more episode on the road to a wider war between the two really dominant powers on the planet, the USA and China. The war in Ukraine has intensified trade wars (China and the USA are trying to prevent each other from access to raw materials needed for computer chips, for example), galvanised an arms race, and solidified the alliances on both sides behind the dominant nuclear powers. There is no space for compromise – only for an extension of the current war to a wider arena.

Falling living standards and the threat of global war are both a product of the economic crisis, but without working class action and organisation there is no alternative. In this issue we take note of two other anniversaries. It is 175 years since the 1848 Revolutions brought the working class on to the stage of history, and 100 years since the trial of the Left Communist leaders of the Communist Party of Italy (PCd’I). The articles on them are not an academic exercise in nostalgia but an attempt to bring back the memory of class resistance even in the direst of circumstances. Whilst in prison in 1923 Bordiga wrote his Manifesto criticising the steps the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was taking in the International to adopt the united front with the social democrats who had already gone over to the side of capitalism. At the same time they were already “bolshevising” all the other parties of the International. In the process they were removing the Left Communists who had founded the PCd’I and who held a majority in it even when they were being expelled in 1926-8. The lesson of this episode is that a real International has to exist in advance of the revolution and not be dominated by any one national party.

Today we are a long way from having that vital working class political body, thanks largely to the ideological weight of the counter-revolution which still equates Stalinism and Maoism with communism. But that is not to say that the process has not already started. In taking part in the resistance to cuts in living standards and the threat of imperialist war, we have joined with others to form local committees under the banner of No War but the Class War. Instead of rancorous debate about the past amongst those who already side with the working class, our aim is to find common ground where we hope to work together around the essential questions facing humanity (including the question of an increasingly uninhabitable world). We are well aware that No War But the Class War cannot, of itself, be the International, but it may help pave the way for the kind of positive dialogue amongst revolutionaries that can lead to a new International, that much-needed body which can give a clear purpose and unity to the world working class beyond all sectional and national struggles. We have no idea how much time we have left to get politically organised but the article on what No War But Class War is, and is not, is intended to be a contribution to that process.

Communist Workers’ Organisation
July 2023
Tuesday, August 1, 2023

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