Our Lives Are Not Safe in Their Hands

A comment from a CWO sympathiser.

During and following the Second World War, the British ruling class were aware that the working class were in no mood to return to the old regime, the misery of poverty and unemployment of the thirties. Convinced that the Labour Party was the vehicle for a new society, socialism, many workers voted for the first Labour government of 1945 with its program of the welfare state, whereby the state took on the responsibility of looking after its citizens from the cradle to the grave. Though this did not put a full stop to the class struggle, it has helped the state apparatus to take off its sharp edge, its revolutionary threat to the capitalist system. Indeed, although the means may vary, some looking to individual strategies, some looking to collective strategies, the dominant post-war perspective was one of making gains WITHIN the system, a better deal, children better off than their parents, an escalator to a technology rich “Tomorrow’s World”, where “things can only get better”. For workers who grew up in the Hungry Thirties and survived the imperialist slaughter it looked like that in the post-war boom. But that is all looking like a distant memory, a boom time that many of us have never experienced, and if we continue as we are, never will.

A land fit for heroes, so they said, but fast forward decades later and the UK we are living in no longer revolves around nationalised “commanding heights” of heavy industry, the state has been unable or unwilling to prevent millions falling into unemployment, underemployment, poverty and the jewel in the crown, the NHS, the bulwark against a revolutionary reckoning, has become a shoddy second rate service, well below the standards of other rich countries, giving rise to creeping privatisation and the more well off abandoning it for private care. Everyone who has ears and eyes knows the NHS has been in crisis for decades. The lack of investment has left it with a growing shortage of nurses, doctors and other frontline staff. Callaghan began the cuts at the behest of the IMF in 1976, then Thatcher mothballed the beds and Blair got rid of them. Instead, we have had layer upon layer of well-paid managers imposed on a service which increasingly is forced to rely on more expensive agency staff and private health care to cope with the increasing demand of an ageing population. Now the service is crumbling, there are, at the time of writing, over a hundred thousand unfilled vacancies, many employed by the NHS are crushed by the workload and poorly rewarded, hence the current crop of strikes.

What happened to the promised “Brexit bonus” of millions a week for the NHS? The main bonus seems to have gone in the billions the Johnson regime wasted on dodgy contracts to their pals (including then Health Minister Matt Hancock’s family). It was absolutely predictable that “clap for carers” during the pandemic would turn into “crap for carers” after it. It is in everyone’s interests that the entire workforce gets the wages they need to survive since it is the only way we will get the people to take care of the most important asset we possess – our health. Yet Sunak wants greater productivity before all else. What does that mean for people working 12 or more hours a day?

They can waste money on PPE scams and on weapons for war but cannot find a fraction of that for wage increases. We need to support the demands of all NHS staff in every role.

But that is far from the end of the issue. What we are seeing here are the symptoms of an INEXORABLE crisis of the whole system of capitalist production. This impacts negatively on every aspect of society, welfare state included (in those areas of the world where it exists in a meaningful sense) , and we must take the bull by the horns if we are ever to break out of this spiral of decline.

Capitalism today is not attacking the conditions of the majority, eroding the welfare state it itself set up to prevent revolution, transferring ever more wealth to a tiny minority, because the wrong party sits in parliament or its equivalents worldwide. It is doing so because that is the only way capitalism can maintain profitability, the only way it can squeeze enough profits to carry on functioning. The capitalist system of competition between economic entities ensures that workers can process ever more materials via improved technology, machinery, robots, computers. The result is that an ever-greater share of capital invested pays for factors of production other than paying workers. But since there is no source of profit other than those acquired by the exploitation of labour (i.e., the value of wages is less than the value the worker adds, hence the possibility of profit) the rate of profit is constantly being pressured down and capitalists compensate this at least in part by exploiting workers more. This includes paying less tax for the various services, NHS, etc. included, and benefits workers won in the past as well as holding down wages.

The reality is not that capitalism can be directed to serving the community in general, but that its survival depends on an ever-greater attack on workers’ conditions and even that will not be enough to keep the system going. It has no answer to a climate crisis which it created, and which is becoming ever more critical. Meanwhile, around the world, the great powers are ever more aggressively confronting their rivals, threatening more war. Or perhaps it may be more accurate to say it only has one possible way out of the crisis mechanism rooted in the impossibility of constantly ramping up production and maintaining adequate profitability – a massive act of destruction of capital on the scale of a global war which can give rise to a post-war growth spurt as it did after the Second World War.

Increasingly this is the bleak, binary reality facing us as we take step after painful step down the road of crisis. Either….or….

There are only two paths on offer in our period. Socialism, understood as the elimination of capitalism and its class divide, brought into being by the vast majority of non-exploiters creating the means to usher in a borderless society without wage labour, commodity production, on a global scale, or barbarism – the descent into ruin, destruction, environmental catastrophe, social collapse and ultimately the threat of the very extinction of humanity.

Understanding this is the precondition for the socialist outcome. It means jettisoning the illusions in the so-called Labour Movement, the Labour Party and the trade unions, which all operate on the premise of the capitalist framework. A capitalism incapable of a better deal, a capitalism in fact taking back any concession it could once afford. Anyone with a little effort can find the reality of Labour’s record. Most Labourites supported the First World War whilst its unions suspended all strikes during the war; Labour sabotaged the 1926 general strike, imposed the hated Means Test in the thirties cutting benefits to the unemployed, used troops to break strikes on multiple occasions post the Second World War, and when the crisis returned after the boom of the sixties, Labour was brought back to power to try to sell the cuts to the working class who would have none of it. Labour then found itself out of power as the Thatcher project’s cruelty was unleashed. During the miners’ strike of 1984/85, Kinnock and the TUC refused to support strikers and refused to instruct workers not to cross picket lines. Supporting the neo-liberal agenda, they thus quashed a major opponent, inflicting enormous suffering on communities which never recovered. Under Blair, New Labour emerged as an openly nationalist and capitalist party, abandoning Clause 4 (Clause 4 was adopted in 1918 out of fear of the revolutionary upsurge of 1917, it only called for nationalisation of key features of the capitalist economy, not its overthrow). With both New Labour and the Tory parties singing the praises of neo-liberal capitalist globalisation and overseeing the inch-by-inch erosion of working class conditions, the victims of the process eventually rallied around Jeremy Corbyn who seems to be saying something different. But Corbyn, and all the leftist hangers on – the Morning Star, a whole spectrum of Trotskyist outfits, even some anarchists – were selling a deception, a dangerous illusion. The fantasy that capitalism can be reformed for the benefit of the majority. Hope for the hopeless. This reformed capitalism, they say, can serve as a steppingstone to further gains, all the way to socialism which will be an easy leap once the groundwork has been laid by radical reforms. But the reality is not steppingstones to a brighter day, rather the descent into a hellish future as the planet shows itself ever more incapable of providing the resources for the unsustainable perpetual growth machine which is capitalism in its hunt for ever more profit on the ever-expanding gargantuan mass of accumulated capital. But the point is this, the Labour party, whoever is at its head, is incapable of what needs to be done. The elimination of an impossible to sustain capitalism.

And now, the post war boom long forgotten, the welfare state in tatters, all the illusions pumped into the working class about its wonderful future are falling off the cliff, as ever more workers face conditions that were supposed to have been long consigned to history. Now the only possibility of a better day means rallying around the revolutionary perspective. We can only recognise the truth and repeat what our Italian comrades are saying to workers in their region – “if real proletarian class struggle is indispensable, it is not enough on its own; what’s also needed it the presence of an international revolutionary party, fuelled by the struggle to which, in its turn, it gives political direction, in order to bury this system based on exploitation and oppression, which produces misery and death, once and for all. It's them or us, there's no alternative.”(1) Perhaps some may recognise the phrase from Thatcher –-TINA – There Is No Alternative, and it is as true for us as it was for her and the capitalist class she championed. There is no deal to be had, nothing but worse to come for the working class this side of revolution.

All striking workers need to fight together and with other workers who are in a similar position not just for a new health service but for a new society which has the conscious objective of making capitalism history. And that includes as a pre-condition the construction of revolutionary organisation to spread this message and counter all illusions to the contrary.

10 January 2023


Image: Number 10 (CC BY 2.0), commons.wikimedia.org

(1) leftcom.org

Tuesday, January 24, 2023