EU monomania shouldn’t blind us to the starker realities of global economic crisis and ever increasing class tensions, argues Lindsey German
You may have noticed over the Xmas and New Year break that there were rumblings about the world economy. Not very big rumblings, because such news as there was, was much more concerned with the manufactured ‘major crisis’ as a few hundred refugees crossed the Channel. Yet if many of the signals are to be believed, there is already a major slowdown in many of the major economies, including Germany and Japan. There is a likelihood of recession in the US, probably this year. In Britain, the waves of consumer spending which have sustained so much of the economy in recent years were not in evidence over Xmas, and herald a bleak 2019 for retail and related industries.
But it is China that is worrying so many of the economists. It’s not hard to see why. When the financial crash happened over 10 years ago, China helped to pull the world economy out of recession by launching a massive stimulus programme. This time the fear is that the huge powerhouse that is the Chinese economy will be in a reverse position, will itself go into recession, dragging others down, with dramatic consequences for the rest of the world. Chinese growth is still considerably higher than many of the developed world economies, but it is seeing a slowdown in car sales, housing and factory profits – not to mention Apple’s announcement last week that iPhone sales had slowed in China.
All of this is taking place before the launch of Donald Trump’s trade wars, which are likely to further exacerbate economic tensions, as well as political and military ones. As in 2008, the people expected to pay the price of the recession will be working people. We are, or should be, familiar with what that has meant for the past decades. Falls in real wages, intensification of work, greater insecurity at work, austerity, attacks on the ‘social wage’ from pensions to housing, and the greatest levels of inequality seen probably ever.
This past ten years of misery has led to levels of political polarisation not seen for many decades, with the growth of the far right, the disillusionment with traditional social democracy, and the rise of a new left, in the shape of Jeremy Corbyn here, but also Melenchon in France and Sanders in the US. Most commentators consider that at least some of the reason for the Brexit vote was to do with opposition to these attacks, and more widely with the experiences of neoliberal globalisation.
Yet the liberal establishment, which has been such a strong proponent of globalisation and its consequences, seems incapable of recognising the reasons for opposition and anger, whether from the gilets jaunes in France or the Leave voters in large parts of Britain. Their disdain is palpable.
That is very clear in Britain as the Remain advocates launch their latest attacks on Brexit – all too often in the form of attacking Jeremy Corbyn, who they seem to forget is not actually in government but in opposition. The calls for a people’s vote or second referendum have grown over the holiday. It’s hard to overstate how much they depend on a view that the other side are stupid, ignorant or racist – the ‘deplorables’ of Hillary Clinton’s election campaign.
They ignore the wider issues which led many to vote Leave, and want to reduce all politics in Britain to for or against Brexit. This is highly convenient for them as it allows them to avoid precisely what is to be done about low wages, intolerable work conditions, homelessness, attacks on the poor – all the issues of class which are so much staring us in the face. Solutions to those problems would begin with strong militant unions, a left government which repealed laws and instituted different ones, and which aimed for a redistribution of wealth. Above all, it would take mass movements and organisation of those who work and produce the wealth to ensure a different sort of society.
All this would be anathema not just to Theresa May, but to the reborn Remain advocates Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell, to Jean-Claude Juncker, to Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel and the rest. The division in Britain, as in every EU country, is not between pro and anti-EU, but between exploiters and exploited. The exploiters want greater integration to enable them to exploit more smoothly, not because it benefits working people. Indeed, they are prepared to use the most cynical arguments about immigration in order to protect their right to exploit, as we see them doing across Europe.
The issues facing us are much bigger than Brexit – they are about what society we want, and who controls it. The world economy is unplanned and anarchic, expanding at breakneck pace, producing too much, and then contracting as it finds the market cannot sell the goods produced. The system based on competition between capitalists is incapable of producing what people need.
Another financial crisis will further raise questions of who rules, and who should pay for the crisis. The looming fear of this is what helps create the establishment opposition to Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, a fear which is shared by many of Labour’s MPs on the right of the party. It is these who are some of the key proponents of a second referendum, but who recoil in horror at a general election. Yet it is only an election which can lead to a change of government, and to different policies on a range of issues not just Brexit.
That’s why I will be joining the People’s Assembly demo on Saturday in London calling for a general election. Things have to change in 2019, and if we want them to change for the better then we have to mobilise.
We have already seen in the past days some of the dangers facing us. The Tories and their friends are happy to whip up the non-existent ‘migrant crisis’ as they think it helps their Brexit agenda. The tensions internationally are there for all to see, with Trump’s confrontation over the wall on the Mexican border. The Chinese landing on the dark side of the moon will trigger a space (read military) race with Russia and the US.
All this shows politics can’t be left to the elites. The mass of working people have to shape the future – not one based on war, competition and misery.
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’.
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