Sunday, 3 March 2013

They're Still Loons, Fruitcakes and Closet Racists

The Eastleigh By-Election has changed absolutely nothing. Despite winning, the Liberals are still heading for extinction. UKIP, despite coming second, are still a bunch of loons, fruitcakes and closet racists. The Tories who came third are still racked by their historical contradictions that lead them logically to a split. Labour who came fourth, in a seat they probably never should win, still look likely to win the next election with an outright majority.

The Liberals, after a series of truly disastrous poll showings over the last year, were undoubtedly going to make their win in Eastleigh into more than it was. In fact, had they lost Eastleigh, which is one of their strongest seats, and where they control most of the local council seats, then it would confirm that at the next election they would be wiped off the map. Yet, despite winning, that is the true story of this election. The Liberals won, only because a large swathe of Tory votes went to UKIP. According to the polling done for the Tories, 80% of the UKIP vote at the by-election, would return to the Tories in a General Election. That would see them home with a comfortable majority in the seat.

Nor for the same reason, can UKIP take much comfort from the result. However, much they play down the suggestion, UKIP's vote was in Eastleigh, and is everywhere else, largely a protest vote. Yes, its a protest vote of a particular section of the population, those who are pre-occupied with immigration, and a Little Englander mentality, but a protest vote nevertheless. In a way its a mirror image of the same kind of protest vote that sees other maverick candidates, like George Galloway, elected in by-elections. It is a symptom of the generally abysmal level of political knowledge and culture of the British electorate, and one of the in built weaknesses of a bourgeois democracy, that relies on such general ignorance and passivity. It means that voters unhappy with the status quo, instead of themselves becoming active to change things, simply express their frustration by voting for some alternative, without really knowing that much, or caring that much about what they stand for, or what the implications of what they are proposing might be. Its a version of “my enemy's enemy is my friend”.

Remember, Cleggmania at the last General Election? That was a perfect example, of just how ignorant and unsophisticated the British electorate are. But, its also a reason why principled politicians should not see it as their role to simply reflect or respond to the wishes of that electorate. Of course, the politicians we have are not principled, and they will follow popular prejudices, to the extent they think it will get them elected, because they are career politicians. They are people who have gone into politics as a career choice, not to actually change the world according to some deeply held principles and convictions, but simply in order to line their own pockets. That is more the case today, in Britain, than it has been for a long time, and is one reason voters do become so frustrated, and express it in by-elections by voting for mavericks.

But, its also why at General Elections, when the mind is more closely focussed on the real issues, these mavericks tend to be annihilated. In By-elections, the hobby horses of the electorate tend to take a more prominent role, and in the lower turnouts associated with them, those who feel most strongly turn out and vote, and the rest stay at home. In places like Eastleigh, which is the epitome of an upper middle class, constituency the kind of place that makes up the backbone of the Tory Party, its no wonder that Immigration and Europe is a hobby horse that took a centre stage in the election. Concerns over Immigration are always most loudly voiced in those places, like Eastleigh, where there are the fewest actual Immigrants! I doubt, Eastleigh has seen any significant influx of immigrants, other than the occasional Consultant, or other extremely well paid professionals. The concern over Immigration is simply the typical middle class fear over the “others”, a fear that someone might be getting something for nothing, and a fear that you do not really have that stronger hold over what you have yourself. The same is true of UKIP's other hobby horse over Europe, it plays to exactly that reactionary section of opinion, that has not got over the fact that Britannia no longer rules the waves, and has not come to terms with the fact that Britain is really just a second rate power, rapidly declining from there, and which will decline even faster the more it cuts itself off from Europe. Yet, the reality is that poll after poll shows that overall concern over Immigration comes quite low down in voters priorities below unemployment, state of the economy, the NHS and so on. The same is true about Europe. So parties whose sole appeal is on those things will always fail at General Elections.

But, outside those two hobby horses, what does UKIP have to offer? Absolutely nothing. It has no long-term strategy, because it doesn't need one to pick up protest votes. But, it does not have one, because if it did, the contradictions within it, would begin to tear it apart. Those contradictions arise from the fact that it is just a protest party that has been built up by recruiting mavericks and discontents from elsewhere. Anyone, who knows many of the UKIP local council candidates that have any kind of political history knows that to be the case. Its also why, some of these candidates on a frequent basis come out with the most outlandish comments that even the leadership of the party have to dissociate themselves with. Given the effective demise of the BNP, who only a couple of years ago were proclaiming the same kind of breakthrough, and on pretty much the same political ground, that UKIP now claim, its likely that many of its disaffected members will have found their way into the Party, which will heighten the contradictions within even more.

You only have to look at some of the former leading lights within the Party to see what rotten foundations it has been built upon. It is a party created from the top down, by mavericks with a TV presence. Farage, typifies that. In the last year, its been almost impossible to turn on the TV without his face popping up in some shape or form. And, of course, the TV will give him such air time, because that is also the nature of the media in the modern world. It is all about the quick sound bite, superficiality, fast solutions and immediate gratification to go along with a society built on easy credit, consumerism, celebrity, and superficiality.

Another symbol of that was the fact that occupying a prominent position, and pushing his face forward, in the UKIP Eastleigh celebrations was none other than Neil Hamilton. That is someone who was thrown out of Parliament over the cash for questions scandal, and who with his wife has spent most of his time since then occupied in cash for ritual humiliation, on any TV show that would have them.

Yet, the support for UKIP does also illustrate the problem for the Tories, which I identified some time ago. The Tories began life as a party of the old Landlord Class in opposition to the Liberals as party of the industrial capitalists. When Labour supplanted the Liberals as the Party of the workers and industrial bourgeoisie, the Tories filled the gap becoming the party of both the Landed Aristocracy, the Banking Aristocracy, and the reactionary, nationalist elements of Capital, and of the middle class. But, as a party of Government, it is still constrained by the need to meet the interests of the dominant section of Capital, the Big multinational, industrial capital, whose interests are at odds with the latter.

The modern form of bourgeois democracy, that arose at the end of the 19th century, when Capital felt secure enough to give the vote to workers, who had been incorporated into the State, is Social Democracy. It is a system under which workers are allowed to vote, so long as they vote for parties that do not seriously threaten the status quo; under which they are provided with a measure of Social Security via Welfare States, which are designed both to dissuade them from voting for parties that threaten the status quo, out of fear, and at the same time provide Capital with its necessary supply of labour-power, at the cheapest cost; and allow workers to negotiate over the size of that Welfare State just as they negotiate over their wages only in so far as it does not threaten the ability of Capital to accumulate, and that the workers have no control over it.

As Marx described it,

“The peculiar character of social-democracy is epitomized in the fact that democratic-republican institutions are demanded as a means, not of doing away with two extremes, capital and wage labour, but of weakening their antagonism and transforming it into harmony.”

In the 20th Century, it has been those principles that have governed the policies of all the major bourgeois parties in all the developed Capitalist States, where this model has been universally adopted. It is made possible because of what is in effect an historic compromise between Big Capital and workers, a modus vivendi that is possible only so long as capitalism can ensure workers with steadily rising living standards. It is in effect an implementation at the level of the State of the principles of Fordism. Just as Fordism was able to offer such steadily rising living standards, and yet at the same time see rising profits, as productivity rose faster than wages, so the Long Wave Boom, and adoption of Fordist principles across all developed economies was able to see workers wages rise, and see the size of the Welfare State grow along with it.

That meant that the contradiction at the heart of the Tory Party was muted. In the post-war period, the Tories were able to be just as much advocates of the NHS and Welfare State as Labour. It was only when the post-war boom came to an end, and the solutions of Fordism, as much as the solutions of Keynesianism, no longer seemed to work, so that the capitalists side of the deal were met, that it started to unravel. The struggle within the Tory Party at the time between the Thatcherites, and the so called Wets, was the manifestation of that struggle. In the end, it was resolved, as it was in the US, by what is likely to be a one-time solution. That is that stagnant or falling wages were offset, by encouraging an explosion of debt to finance continued, and even expanded consumer spending. It also funded continued state spending to prevent the destruction of welfare states too, but in reality it is the private debt that is far greater, and far more of a problem.

Its within that context that Cameron's Government came to power. As I wrote in my series History Repeating As Farce what Cameron has done is to try to respond to the economic situation by applying the same methods that Thatcher applied in the 1980's, but under completely different conditions. In the 1980's Thatcher was able to bludgeon down wages, because during the period of the Long Wave Boom, they had risen above their average level. But, in the last 30 years they have been falling or stagnant because of the effects of the Long Wave downturn. Thatcher was able to encourage the low-wage-high debt economy in the 1980's, because private debt was relatively low, workers owned assets built up during the Boom they could borrow against, house and share prices were relatively low, and so could be inflated in a bubble economy, providing a basis for further borrowing.

But, the only one of those things that applies today is that some workers still own some assets such as their homes and their pension pots. The other side to that is that the value of those things is grossly inflated, and likely to come crashing down, and that until they do, the vast majority of workers will not be able to buy a house, or move to a better house, or be able to rent at a reasonable level, and their pension contributions will go nowhere. The further problem faced is that workers in Britain that have avoided some of the difficult issues as a result of this debt binge, now find themselves having to compete against workers in China, India and elsewhere.

In conditions of a new global, Long Wave Boom, that started in 1999, the solutions once more are clearly those most appropriate to Social Democracy. That has been clear in the US, which as the most developed industrial economy is also the most developed form of Social Democracy. There, the Democrats, which represent modernity, and the historic compromise between Big Capital and the workers have pursued a policy of fiscal expansion that has seen the economy recover from the Financial Meltdown of 2008, and begin to grow. It thereby provides the breathing space for the economy to begin to restructure so as to be able to meet the challenges of a global economy where new powers like China have a comparative advantage in large areas of traditional industrial production.

But, the Tories could not offer such solutions, because to do so would have meant losing the support of their core membership and voter base. Cameron had to adopt his policies of austerity in order to have a chance of winning the core Tory votes, amongst the small capitalists, the frightened middle classes, and reactionary workers. Having done so, he and Osborne are now held hostage to those policies even when they are clearly failing, and he is being urged by the representatives of Big industrial capital to change course. Worse, still he is being urged at the same time to go even further in the policy of austerity by the Right-wing of his party, who clearly want to push an open break with the Liberals. In the meantime, that core membership represented by groups like Conservative Grass Roots, are latching on to the other more modernist policies pursued by Cameron, on things like Gay Marriage, Environmentalism and so on, as another stick with which to beat him.

As in the US, it is coming down almost to a division between modernism and anti-modernism. In the US, the Republicans, who represent the same segment of reactionary opinion that the Tories do in Britain are having to go through precisely this kind of struggle, because the reality is that the electoral base for those kinds of anti-modern views is fortunately shrinking. The logical path for the Tories is also for a split between its modernist, social democratic wing, and its anti-modernist reactionary wing. The latter has a natural home with the supporters of UKIP, and the BNP, the former with the majority of the Liberals and the Labour Party, creating a modernist Social Democratic Party like the US Democrats, which openly represents the interests of Big Capital, but relies on the votes and activism of workers and the Trades Unions. History of course unfolds by far more complex methods than what is rational in the realm of ideas.

What is clear is that despite what they say the Tories are making a lurch to the Right in response to the threat from UKIP. It is no coincidence that it has been announced that they plan to withdraw from the European Court of Human Rights, that they intend to restrict immigrants rights to use the NHS and so on. Yet, all of these measures are the measures of a Tory Party leadership running scared and in disarray. Prior to Eastleigh, the Tories announced they would hold an EU “In or Out” referendum, in order to try to shoot UKIP's fox. They put up a right-wing candidate in the election, they even used UKIP colours on one of their leaflets. But, all it did was to give UKIP greater credibility, and win them more votes!

Anyone who has studied history would not be surprised by that. In the late 1920's and early 30's, the German Communist Party responded to the Nationalism of the Nazis, by adopting Nationalistic positions itself. All it did was to make nationalism more acceptable, and thereby win more votes for the Nazis! But, this kind of giving ground to try to hold on to support has an older, and no less successful, record than that.

In History Repeating As Farce part 5 I detailed Marx's analysis of the way this kind of steady accommodation to the Right, led in France to the coup of Louis Bonaparte, resting upon the support of precisely those class elements that today provide support for UKIP, and the Tory Right. Suggestions of a palace coup against Cameron within the Tory Party are already being heard, with David Davies as a possible stalking horse. In the above, I suggested that the real challenge could come, however, from Boris Johnson, who occupies far better the kind of position as a charismatic leader that Farage currently enjoys. The fact, that the Tories are openly saying that they intend to walk away from institutions that represent modernity, and basic elements of a civilised society such as the Court of European Rights should be a warning from history, that this is a party rapidly heading towards authoritarianism.

In the case of Louis Bonaparte, as with his German counterpart Bismark, the authoritarian regime that was established came at a time of a developing capitalist economy, indeed their regimes were a means of modernising, and establishing such a capitalist economy at a forced pace. But, that is not true today of Britain. As Trotsky said there are essentially two types of Bonapartism there are those which represent conditions of rise such as those of Bismark, and of Stalin, where the new ruling class is too weak to rule in its own name, which, however, reactionary in their methods are historically progressive because they are based on transforming the social relations, and there are those like that of Hitler, which represent the conditions of decay, and exist to only try to protect the interests of the old ruling class.

But, the problem for the Tories is that their policies are not protecting the interests of the dominant section of the old ruling class. They are defending only the interests of the most numerous part of that class, along with its attendant layers within the middle classes. As in the US, that section of society is not large enough to win elections consistently, and its size is shrinking.

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