Terrorism graphic by Vector Stock Terrorism graphic by Vector Stock

Lindsey German on the assassination of David Amess and recent US strikes

It’s shocking to consider that in Britain we have recently seen the killing of two MPs, both in the course of carrying out constituency surgeries. The horrible murder of the Tory MP David Amess is being treated as a terrorist attack and its alleged perpetrator is of Somali origin. The killing of Labour MP Jo Cox in 2016 was carried out by a far-right terrorist.

There have been other similar incidents which fortunately have not been fatal – Stephen Timms MP was stabbed in his surgery by a Muslim woman supposedly in revenge for the Iraq war. George Galloway and Jeremy Corbyn have also both suffered attacks by right wingers.

These all indicate a society in a state of crisis, and where some of the responses to crisis are violent and nihilistic. They exist in a situation where supposedly democratic institutions are weaker and more discredited than they have been in modern times. MPs are obviously a relatively accessible target.

There can be no justification for such attacks. This is true on an individual level because of the destruction of life and the distress caused to all those directly affected by it. But it is also true at a political level. Individual terrorism never benefits the left. Those of us who are socialists have much to take issue with over Amess’s politics. He was on the right of the Tory party and very conservative on social issues such as abortion or LGBT rights. He supported government foreign policy on wars and interventions, and he voted for a range of policies which harmed working class people.

None of these causes which we feel strongly about will have been advanced by this killing. In fact the opposite. These killings tend to lead to further restrictions on civil liberties, and a further narrowing of parliamentary democracy. The Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky also made a very important point about these sorts ofindividual acts. He wrote at a time when there were many, often anarchist, assassinations of politicians and royalty, and coming from a country where such acts had very much defined previous generations of the left.

‘In our eyes, individual terror is inadmissible precisely because it belittles the role of the masses in their own consciousness, reconciles them to their powerlessness, and turns their eyes and hopes towards a great avenger and liberator who some day will come and accomplish his mission.’ 

He goes on to say:

But the smoke from the confusion clears away, the panic disappears, the successor of the murdered minister makes his appearance, life again settles into the old rut, the wheel of capitalist exploitation turns as before; only the police repression grows more savage and brazen. And as a result, in place of the kindled hopes and artificially aroused excitement comes disillusionment and apathy. 

Such acts lead to this combination of state repression and working people feeling further alienated from any control over their lives, and more apathetic about what they can do about the system.

What needs to be dealt with is society’s crisis – and that can only be done collectively and as part of mass movements for change. The inability of government to deal with really major issues – from the pandemic to the energy crisis to climate change to the record levels of inequality we face – feeds this sense of crisis. The widespread and correct belief that Keir Starmer’s Labour is incapable of mounting any serious opposition or of mapping an alternative lead to a whole range of conclusions, some of which are actively harmful, like these attacks on MPs.

The left has to try to find its voice through movements and activities which can challenge the priorities of capital and which can organise collectively. This is most effective when it is where our greatest power lies – in our ability to produce the wealth of society. Building workplace organisation and trade unions is key to that. And that would be a real reckoning with a system which is incapable of delivering for the majority.

Snap, crackle and strike  

There is already a growing strike wave in the US. It’s something that US former Labor Secretary Robert Reich has called an undeclared ‘national general strike’, meaning that workers in the US are flexing their muscles and refusing to take up jobs that are low paid, unsocial or with poor conditions.

‘No one calls it a general strike. But in its own disorganized way it’s related to the organized strikes breaking out across the land – Hollywood TV and film crews, John Deere workers, Alabama coal miners, Nabisco workers, Kellogg workers, nurses in California, healthcare workers in Buffalo’.

This is a lot to do with the Covid 19 pandemic which has shown to the eyes of millions the real worth of so many jobs that are undervalued and underpaid. That in turn has built the confidence (and often union organisation) of many workers. And it has created labour shortages in distribution and haulage, hospitality and health and care services themselves. 

We know that this is happening to some extent here too. The lorry drivers’ shortage is leading to big pay increases in some places, and there is growing concern over inflation and low pay. University and college lecturers start balloting for strikes over pay and in some places pensions. There are transport strikes in Scotland to coincide with Cop26 and battles against fire and rehire in places like Weetabix.

Even more notable is the record number of unfilled vacancies for jobs. Workers are beginning to see the boot on the other foot – and that is likely to lead to more fights and more organisation. Not before time. The left has to put these struggles at the centre of organising and campaigning because their successful outcomes will have a great effect on the balance of class forces. And that in turn will mean a significant change in British politics.

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Lindsey German

As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.

Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.