2018 Chartist prospectus – challenges and opportunities

Don Flynn sees challenges and opportunities for the left in abundance over the next 12 months. He seeks to make some sort of order out of them and argues why a putative and actual Corbyn-led government needs to be internationalist to the core.

Overall the political scene will be dominated by the internal faction fights within British capital’s leading circles over their options in the world order.  At its simplest level these can be characterised as the Brexit and Remain groupings, though the latter has now largely thrown in the towel with regard to its greatest hope and has accepted that, come March 2019, its membership of the club of European nations will have expired.  

Brexit’s most avid supporters view the decision to leave the EU as an opportunity to revitalise the old Thatcherite dream of a world of free markets and swashbuckling entrepreneurs liberated from the shackles of state regulation.  The outcome of the 2016 referendum threw this grouping a surprising life-line, coming at a point when public faith in the virtues of rampant neoliberalism was at its lowest ebb.  The financial sector – of all parts of the capitalism system the one that had advanced furthest to unfettered global reach and a state well beyond the hope of regulation – had been the cause of the deepest and longest period of recession since the end of the nineteenth century.  

The true-believers wriggled and squirmed, unwilling to accept that the crisis was of their making and eventually steadied themselves by concentrating attention on the often floundering efforts of the mainstream establishment – in the United States the Obama presidency and in Europe the EU – to get things back on track.  This tactic has worked to a surprising degree.  Obama’s unwillingness to break with American exceptionalism and claim to world leadership – a fundamental feature of US liberalism for generations past – doomed him to being a defender of a busted version of globalisation just at the point when the country’s working class was rising against it in a nationalistic revolt.  

In Europe recovery from the recession was fatally damaged by the role of the euro currency and the determination of the leading states to do whatever was needed to ensure its survival.  This turned out to be throwing overboard the working class of half dozen of the economically weakest nations (particularly Greece) in a bout of austerity that continues to the present day.  All this drama has underscored the sense that the hardship inflicted on millions arises not from the structure of world capitalism, but the poor response of governments in trying to clear up the mess it has created.

This ought to be a time when arguments for socialism are on the ascendancy, making the most powerful case possible for democratic forms of governance that would bring forward the resources needed to tackle poverty, homelessness, ill health and poor well-being, building a sustainable and growing world economy offering good quality jobs to all. Further, proposing  the capacity and international cooperation needed to meet the challenges of climate change and the insecurity experienced as a consequence of refugee and economic migration.

Instead the spirits of Thatcher and Reagan are loose around the world again promulgating ideologies which tell us we’d all be better off if only the CEOs of our companies were free to do business in world markets.  An additional spin is put on this argument with the appeal to return to supposedly sovereign national parliaments which alone would have the authority to set the rules within which capitalist competition would operate.

The left would do well to acknowledge the fact that this is a rival to the socialist analysis of our current predicament which has sufficient vitality even now to trump (no pun intended) the best hopes that the future is set firmly in a leftist, social democratic direction.  The obvious weaknesses of the Conservative Party at this time bears comparison with its position back in the 1970s, when the Heath government was defeated by a militant working class opposition to national incomes policy and the austerity measures taken in those days, but still managed to rally and rebuild itself around a previously derided figure (the “milk snatcher”) who went on to rule the roost for over a decade.

So, the biggest challenge for the left in 2018 is that the Conservative Party might do this trick again, using arguments that prosperity lies within our reach if we can just free ourselves from the shackles of EU regulation, and thereby re-establish the hegemony of right wing, pro-capitalist politics.

The opportunities lie in the fact that a large part of the country continues to surge around a pole which, on the face of it, is setting out a different political agenda.  Namely, Corybynite opposition to continued austerity and his message of hope that good government, accountable to the votes of working people, is capable of sorting out the mess we are currently in.  The social base for this support – young, educated people who have been marginalised by the wretched state of the jobs market and the failures of housing policy – is robust and likely to be resistant to the allure of the half-measures based on snippets from Labour’s policy platform currently being served up by the Tories. The sense that these people have that they are the ‘real people’ of Britain, whose voice is yet to be heard, is sustaining the populist moods that have an excellent chance of bringing a Corbyn-led Labour Party to power.

But if this happens during the course of 2018 – and there is an good chance that it might – we have to be conscious of the fact that a socialism that is merely populist in its appeal will not be strong enough to survive the onslaught that will come the way of a Labour prime minister who attempts to govern on the basis of a left wing social democratic programme.

The socialist movement that will be needed to resist this attack to turn back the clock will have to be conscious of the fact that the full extent of its ambition is to change the world, and not just the bit of it that lies within the ambit of the territory of the United Kingdom.  Programmes to tackle the housing crisis, generate high quality jobs, provide for the health and well-being of the population will need to be linked at every single point to an internationalism which aims to win allies and build solidarity across the world.  

The real opportunities that exist for the left in 2018 lie in the work that can be done to build a political and social movement strong enough to meet the challenges that will face us in 2019 and beyond.  Making sure that this is a socialist movement, thinking and acting as a force for solidarity and change across the world, will be key to the possibility of success.

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