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Editorial of the Socialist, issue 1058
Tories Out! Lobbying the TUC with the National Shops Stewards Network, Sept 2019, photo Mary Finch (Click to enlarge)
Supreme Court warning to future socialist government
Capitalist elite split - fight for a government in the interests of the working class
This year's Tory Party conference slogan 'get Brexit done' sums up Johnson's attempt to appeal to millions who are fed up to the back teeth with the three years of parliamentary paralysis since the Brexit vote. That paralysis, however, reflects an intractable crisis for British capitalism which none of the warring wings of the ruling elite has an answer to.
The underlying cause of the crisis is the accumulated rage of the majority at a decade of falling living standards.
David Cameron, the ex-Tory prime minister whose political career was finished by the referendum result, has admitted as much. Explaining why - prior to the referendum - he had insisted a vote for Brexit would not force him to resign, only to do so immediately after the result, he blurted out the truth that if 'they' knew they could fell a Tory prime minister the result would have been 'so much worse'.
The fact that the campaign for Brexit was led by the Tory right and Nigel Farage and co, while the campaign for remain was led by Cameron, meant that there was no clear working-class voice in the referendum campaign, with millions of workers voting on both sides.
Nonetheless, the elemental working class revolt that led to Brexit winning was an expression of rage against austerity, unexpected to the leaders of both leave and remain.
Cameron in his autobiography defends to the hilt the vicious austerity he implemented and wishes he had gone further. By felling him the working-class Brexit vote secured a victory, despite the confused period that has followed.
There was nothing pre-ordained about the 'fog of Brexit' that has seemed to hang over everything, obscuring class divisions, during the last year. It can still be cut through by the leaders of the trade unions and by Jeremy Corbyn.
The latter's anti-austerity message has been muffled by his mistaken approach of compromising with the pro-capitalist Blairite wing of the Labour Party in the vain hope of pacifying them. The inevitable result is the current mood of confusion among big sections of the working class.
The Labour left's weakness has been writ large over the last two weeks. Labour Party conference, after a botched attempt to remove the pro-capitalist deputy leader Tom Watson, seemed like it might result in a strengthening of the right wing.
In the event this did not happen, on the contrary the reserves of support for Corbyn were demonstrated in pushing back the right.
At the same time there were a number of policy announcements, including scrapping prescription fees, free personal care for the elderly, and steps to tackle the profiteering of the big pharmaceutical companies.
These were limited - the only really effective way to tackle the profiteering of big pharma would be to nationalise the pharmaceutical companies, for example - but nonetheless are potentially very popular.
The fog of Westminster
For now, at least, however, these potential steps forward have been partially undermined by Labour's mistaken approach in parliament.
Tory toff Johnson is using Westminster as a platform to cynically claim he is standing up for the people against the establishment.
Nothing could be further from the truth. His claims to be planning increased public spending are an attempt to disguise the reality, that a Johnson Brexit would mean a further assault on workers' living standards and privatisation of public services.
His cynical lies are being given some credibility, however, by the failure of Corbyn and McDonnell to fight for a general election and to clearly differentiate themselves from the representatives of capitalism who are desperate to thwart Johnson for their own reasons.
The capitalist class in Britain approve of Johnson's plans to attack workers' rights. They object however, to his preparedness to risk a chaotic Brexit, with the possible consequences for their profits, and to his lightminded willingness to ignore and undermine the institutions of British capitalism, which could set a dangerous precedent for the future.
Hence the dramatic step taken by the Supreme Court, where eleven judges unanimously found that Johnson's prorogation of parliament was 'unlawful, null and of no effect'.
This was combined with the serious representatives of British capitalism, summed up in a Financial Times editorial, calling for parliament to "pass a vote of no confidence in the premier" and "use its right to form a caretaker government that can secure an extension to the October 31 Brexit date and organise a general election".
It is an indication of the severity of the crisis for British capitalism that the Supreme Court unanimously took the same path as the Scottish courts and ruled against a Tory government, the traditional party of British capitalism.
It is also high risk from the capitalists' point of view, undermining the appearance of the judiciary being 'independent' and 'above politics'.
For the workers' movement, however, these serious splits at the top should lead to only one conclusion; to take full advantage of their weakness to fight a general election and for the election of a government that stands in the interests of the working class.
The Financial Times followed its editorial calling for Johnson's removal with another, a day later, entitled "Corbyn's Labour cannot be trusted to govern", calling on parliament to find a new 'credible' opposition - i.e. an opposition that can be trusted to act in the interests of big business.
Corbyn and McDonnell must take an independent stance in opposition to both Johnson and the pro-capitalist leaders of the 'rebel alliance' who - whether Blairites, Liberal Democrats or ex-Tories - are attempting to block a Corbyn-led government.
No common interest with pro-austerity politicians
Instead the Labour leadership have again been dragged into going along with the false idea that there is a common 'national interest'. The workers' movement has no common interest with pro-capitalist MPs who have implemented savage austerity.
Even the prolonged debate on the language used in parliament fell into this trap. Johnson is deliberately using provocative language in order to strengthen his populist appeal, breaking with the parliamentary tradition.
That tradition, however, was designed by the capitalist elite to prevent reality - such as millions living in poverty - being stated plainly. Socialists should not defend that tradition but themselves speak the unvarnished truth in Westminster about what capitalism means for the majority.
John McDonnell in particular, has also emphasised the supposed independence of the judiciary. Tell this to any trade unionist whose strike ballot has fallen foul of the courts' use of the undemocratic trade union laws to block legal strike action.
McDonnell is fuelling a dangerous illusion that the state is neutral, standing above society's different social forces. This is not the case. In capitalist democracies like Britain the working class has been able to win democratic reforms - including the right to vote and the right to join a trade union.
Nonetheless, the ruling class - the capitalists - retain decisive economic power via their ownership of industry and finance.
The state machine, of which the judiciary and legal system is part, exists ultimately to defend the capitalists' rule. The unelected judiciary is selected - as are the heads of the army, police and civil service - for their suitability to defend the capitalist status quo by their background, education and outlook.
More than 60% of senior judges in Britain went to public school, while 71% went to Oxbridge. Of the eleven supreme court judges who ruled on prorogation, nine went to Oxbridge.
Supreme Court warning to future socialist government
It is clear that an important consideration of the Supreme Court was that Johnson could have inadvertently set a legal precedent for actions in favour of the working class by a future socialist government.
Some right-wing commentators have understood that and therefore welcomed the ruling. Matthew Scott, writing in the Telegraph, said for example: "Given that the official opposition is now a strange personality cult of unrepentant Marxists committed to expropriating private property, conservatives of all kinds should be profoundly grateful that the Supreme Court has reaffirmed this limitation on the prime minister's powers."
Daniel Finkelstein, writing in the Times, made a similar point. One of the legal principles outlined in the judgement was that, "the executive cannot exercise prerogative powers so as to deprive people of their property without the payment of compensation".
The precedent used to establish this was the decision of the courts in 1965 that parliament had no right to refuse to pay compensation to the Burmah Oil Company for the bombing of its oil fields in the second world war in order to prevent the Japanese army seizing them.
Finkelstein points out: "It doesn't require much imagination to think of circumstances where that sort of ruling might come in handy."
This gives a little taste of the capitalists' fear of a left government and the measures that they would be prepared to take to frustrate such a government democratically agreeing to carry out nationalisation with compensation paid only on the basis of proven need.
When Corbyn was first elected as Labour leader there were mutterings from unnamed serving generals quoted in the press. One even clearly threatened a coup saying: "The general staff would not allow a prime minister to jeopardise the security of this country and I think people would use whatever means possible, fair or foul to prevent that."
These were the rantings of a few generals and didn't represent they view of the majority of the capitalist class at this stage. Nonetheless such threats are not new. They were also made against the, far from left-wing, Wilson Labour government in the 1970s.
Fight for socialism
To proclaim the alleged 'independence of the judiciary' is to miseducate the working class about the role state forces play in defending the power and rule of the capitalist class.
Instead the class character of the state should be exposed and measures put forward to point in a different direction, such as election of judges under the democratic control of the working class.
That is not to suggest of course that the capitalist class would allow their state to be 'gradually' taken over and run in the interests of the working class. In order to decisively break the ability of the capitalist class to sabotage a democratically elected socialist government it would be necessary to nationalise the major corporations and banks that dominate the economy under democratic working-class control, combined with full government control of incoming and outgoing foreign trade. Provided this was backed up by the power of the worker's movement outside of parliament, the capitalist class would be powerless to stop it.
This would lay the basis for the development of a socialist planned economy, and a democratic workers' state, that would really be able to use the huge wealth, science and technique created by capitalism to build a society for the many not the few.
These issues are not abstract but can become of critical importance in the next period. Despite the hesitations of the Labour leadership, a general election is looming.
Johnson's right-populist posturing is a high-risk strategy fraught with difficulty at the polls, with a danger of losing votes to both the Lib Dems in remain areas, and the Brexit Party in working-class leave areas.
The most important factor in an election, however, will be the role played by the Corbyn Labour leadership. If they stand in the election on a socialist programme they can still cut through the fog of Brexit and convince of millions workers to vote for an end to austerity.
Corbyn could therefore be in power within months. The capitalists are right to fear that outcome, not so much because of Corbyn himself, but because - after a decade of misery - the working class would have its hopes raised and would be demanding a Corbyn-led government acted decisively in the interests of the majority.
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 30 September 2019 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.
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