After a weekend of numerous mass mobilisations, Lindsey German analyses the growing mood to fight
What an absolutely remarkable time in politics this is. The Left is on the ascendant here in Britain, as witnessed by growing enthusiasm for demonstrating and campaigning. Over the weekend there were huge mobilisations for the Durham miners' gala, for London Pride and for events like Palestine Expo. The demonstrations in Hamburg against the G20 attracted, according to some reports, up to 200,000. This follows on from a huge 'May must go' demo the previous weekend in London. There are countless reports of protests, campaigns and strikes going on locally, all signs of a mood to fight.
Look meanwhile at the spectacle of the G20 leaders as they met for their latest summit. The space in which they met seemed surreal, with cream armchairs for each world leader arranged in a kind of circle, maybe aimed at making them look more friendly, but actually making them look as though they were in a void. If the aim was user friendliness it didn't work. Not for the demonstrators, who made their displeasure felt despite a brutal police presence, and not for those of us who looked on at the ridiculous bilateral meetings, bedecked with national flags, the photoshoots, concerts and river trips, all taking place as Hamburg - and of course the wider planet - burned.
Trump will always steal the limelight at these events, both for his official position as leader of the most powerful country and for his crass right-wing political stance. But what are we supposed to make of the other leaders, who don't seriously challenge the neoliberal agenda which is so discredited to so many now, and which even some of its loyal adherents admit has come to the end? What are we to make of the failings to grapple with climate change, with war and peace, with a global economy that is likely to go into recession? Are we seriously expected to believe that anyone listens to Theresa May anymore, or that Emmanuel Macron's ludicrous gestures at Versailles are evidence of him being the saviour of neoliberalism's centre politics?
If there was one thing that Hamburg reminded me of, it was the fairytale of the emperor's new clothes. They surround themselves with pomp and ceremony, and protection from their electors at the cost of millions, they tell everyone that there is no alternative to their policies which bring so much misery to millions, yet they are as naked as the emperor, have nothing to contribute and are incapable of effecting real change which would benefit people. The problem they now have is an increasing number of people are seeing through them.
They understand and fear this process, talk increasingly of the rise of the 'hard left', and seek to protect themselves in any way that they can. Since this is now proving more difficult at the ballot box, because their policies are so unpopular, we can expect to see more authoritarianism in and around government. No one should think that this is just the preserve of Putin and Erdogan. Trump is in this mould, as are his big mates in Poland, the Law and Justice party. It is what Theresa May was pitching for before her disastrous election campaign went into reverse, and no doubt it informs Macron's Napoleon analogies. Expect to see more of it as their failures become more apparent and as working people demand more of the wealth in society.
Don't wait for the Tories to fall apart - they need a helping hand
Most Tories now fear an election because they know Labour is likely to win it. Jeremy Corbyn's tactic of turning up in Tory marginals is a good one and will undoubtedly deepen their fear. It is clear to me that we have to keep up the pressure on them to force them out. Here I very much disagree with the idea that we just wait and let the government fall apart. Everything we know about the Tories tells us that they are mean and venal and will hang on unless they are forced out, cherry-picking bits of Labour policy to placate working class anger in the meantime, and using racist and divisive policies to keep their base.
We should remember the 1992 election where soon after he won a small majority, John Major was faced with a revolt over pit closures and a major economic crisis when the pound was forced out of the ERM. He hung on for the full five years, despite being deeply unpopular. May won't be able to do that, but she will try. That means more austerity, more privatisation, more attacks on trade unions, as well as more NHS, housing and education crises.
There is only one way to deal with this, and it requires going beyond the parliamentary maths to the power of the workplaces, the streets, and campaigns. It means rejecting the narrow parliamentary approach that some Labour MPs will want, of playing this in purely electoral terms, and opening up new fronts where we can fight the Tories. It also means seeing this as a broad movement. The Labour movement has always been divided on this, with some wanting campaigns as exclusively Labour and trade union. That isn't enough. The trade unions have immense strength if they use it, but they are also much weakened by neoliberalism. The best chance of changing that is to organise on a mass scale, within and beyond the union structures, encouraging those who voted Labour to join unions, but more importantly to take action in any way that they can to turn this mood of anger at the Tories into mass civil disobedience.
Rotten wherever you look
On a wider level, it is clear that the state of British society is such that a few minor reforms aren't going to cut it. The more you hear about Grenfell, the more it is a case of collective corporate manslaughter - if there is such a legal term. It appears actually that there are few regulations in this country that withstand the power of money and the rich: fire regulations, planning permission, building on green belt and flood plains. Or take another example - social care for the elderly. Much of it is revealed as dangerous, and what isn't is clearly inadequate not least because of the profit motive. To deal with housing, care, health, and education, will all take billions of pounds plus a total rethink of who benefits, why the profit motive is key in public services and why that must change.
We're always told you can't throw money at a problem. I'm not so sure. It seems to work for welfare for the rich, for education for the rich, for housing for the rich. So why can't we have money thrown at our schools, hospitals and houses? The rich do have enough money to go round for all of us, don't they?
This is a problem which is only going to get worse if there isn't real system change. I went to a very interesting event on zero hours contracts at my university last week. Among other things discussed was the impact of such contracts on pensions and on mental health. This isn't just about how precarious workers are treated but about society's ability to deal with problems created by deregulated, anti-union capitalism.
It's foreign policy stupid... again
I was delighted to speak at the Palestine Expo in London on Saturday which was a huge celebration of Palestinian history, culture and politics. People made the links with other protests and with Corbyn in the session I was in. That needs to be done the other way round. There is a school of Labour movement thought which says politics is about domestic policy. Not in an imperialist country like Britain with its long history of empire it's not. What happens here impacts on people around the world. Foreign policy is never very far from the thoughts of our rulers.
Mosul and Raqaa are falling and ISIS is on the retreat but that isn't the end of the story. There will now be myriad conflicts over who controls the region, with Saudi Arabia and Israel both boosted by the Trump presidency. Links with Saudi are a big weakness for the British government as they continue to bomb Yemen and to increase conflict with Qatar. Sitting these issues out is not an option for the left. Narrowing down your platform to concentrate on the domestic isn't either.
- Come along to Counterfire's "What is Marxism?" Saturday sessions starting this week!
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’.
More articles from this author
- This is an attack on our class: we must escalate to win – weekly briefing
- After the Tory budget: the movement we need now – weekly briefing
- The masters of war are fanning the flames – weekly briefing
- Tories preach politics of the gutter – weekly briefing
- Remember, remember the Fifth of November – weekly briefing
- The rich turn to Rishi – weekly briefing
- Tories try to turn their drama into our crisis – weekly briefing