Sunday, 28 September 2014

Reckless Abandon

Mark Reckless MP, has abandoned an increasingly unseaworthy Tory ship. His journey towards UKIP shows the dangers of a reckless accommodation to nationalism. Its a lesson politicians should have learned many times by now.

In the 1930's, as the Nazis pushed their nationalistic agenda, based on the extent to which the German nation was suffering from the imposition of the Versailles Treaty, the German Stalinists responded by trying to be better nationalists than the Nazis. It was a strategy that was bound to fail, and only acted to strengthen the Nazis.

In the 1950's,60's, and 70's, not only were the social democrats of the Labour Party in government for more than ten years, but the social-democratic wing of the Tory Party was dominant, and in government for the rest of the time. Under Ted Heath it pursued a social-democratic agenda that turned outwards towards Europe.

As the post-war long wave boom started to falter in the late 1960's, and was felt first by the less profitable smaller capitals, the effect of that was apparent within the Tory Party, which moved to reflect the interests of the party base of small capitalists, putting the social-democratic wing of the party on the defensive. Not only was that reflected in the role of Enoch Powell, but it was also reflected in the ditching of Heath, and the rise of Thatcher, though this palace coup was for many years until around 1982, not consolidated.

The fact that Powell had been able to garner considerable support for his nationalistic, racist rhetoric not only encouraged those of like mind within the Tory Party. It also stimulated a growth of those political forces outside the Tory Party, that for forty years had been nothing more than a political freak show. All those cranks whose political activity for years had been more or less restricted to dressing up at weekends in Nazi regalia, and goose stepping around country mansions, like an episode of Jeeves and Wooster, now crawled out into the sunlight, reflected in the growth of the National Front, in the 1970's.

As had been the case in the 1930's, the response of the political establishment was first to ignore the fascists, in the hope they would just go away, and then when they didn't, to accommodate to their politics, in order to try to undermine their vote. One of the first aspects of Thatcherism, therefore, was not the adoption of the policies of privatisation etc., which only appeared in the mid 1980's, but an accommodation to that nationalism.

The Tories were quite clear that they had undermined the NF, by stealing many of their clothes on immigration policy etc. Its true, that the NF vote did decline, but only because the NF had themselves succeeded in pushing the Tories on to their ground, and opening up the Tory Party to an entrist tactic from the right. Large numbers of fascists simply transferred their activities into the Tory Party at a grass roots level, lots of them turning up as Tory Party councillors, for example. In a mirror image of the Militant within the LP, the Tories were even led to close down the Federation of Conservative Students organisation, after it was taken over. Many of the leaders of the BNP today, and members of UKIP grew up within these fascist groups, both outside and inside the Tory Party.

The steady move to the right of the Tory Party during the period has to be seen in that context, that its economic policies were designed to appeal to that base of small capitalists, and its adoption of increasingly inward looking nationalism, had the same roots. Thatcher demarcated herself in relation to Heath by an increasing rejection of Heath's embrace of the EEC, but that trajectory down the nationalist road, also led to further attempts to gather in populist right-wing electoral support, by wrapping herself in the flag, such as the adventure of the Falklands War. Prior to that reckless adventure, not only were the Tories looking set for a big electoral defeat , with Michael Foot's Labour Party scoring more than 50% support in opinion polls, prior to the sabotage of the SDP, and tens of thousands marching behind him in London, Liverpool, Birmingham and other cities to oppose rising unemployment. That fact, is one that the media and political historians conveniently have forgotten.

That period, determined political trajectories in many ways. It set up the division within the Tory Party between its increasingly diminished social-democratic wing that looked to big industrial capital, and its interests, and the conservative wing that looked to the Tory Party base of small capitalists, and those of like mind, and the reflection of that division in the repeated feuds over Europe. Each time Tory Party leaders have responded to flagging popularity by appealing to that same nationalism, as Cameron has done in recent years, the consequence has always been the same; it is to strengthen the right-wing elements even further, and to encourage a widening of those divisions.

But, the Tories are not the only ones to have made the mistake of this accommodation to Nationalism. Labour too sought to win votes by appealing to Scottish nationalism in particular, with the offer of devolution. And, having offered it to Scotland, was thereby obliged to make a similar offer to Welsh nationalists, though in a much watered down form, given the smaller political gains to be made there from such pandering. Once again, rather than slaying the nationalist dragon, as on every other occasion in history, it only acted to feed it, to make it stronger, and encourage it to make further attacks.

Labour's pandering to that same kind of nationalistic populism was also reflected in its adoption of ever tighter immigration rules, and measures against asylum seekers, which made it then impossible to deal with the arguments of bigots when large numbers of Eastern Europeans entered the country on their accession to the EU. As with social democracy, in general, across Europe, rather than framing the argument in terms of the fact that the interests of European workers as a whole can only be furthered by their united action across the continent in solidarity with each other, pushing forward to a United States of Europe, with common rules throughout, the argument has continually be framed in terms of what would be good for British workers, French workers, German workers etc. It reflects a failure of the two elements of social democracy – big capital, and the organised working class – to take on the ideology of conservatism, and its nationalistic reflection.

That is what prevents the necessary political solution for the Eurozone Debt Crisis. The US has just seen its economy grow by 4.6% in the last quarter, and the growth appears to be gathering pace. The reason for US growth, compared to the lack of it in Europe, has nothing to do with QE. Monetarist policies to expand the money supply, like QE, have repeatedly shown that under current conditions, they can do no such thing. Loose money will not cause businesses or consumers to spend, if they think the economy is going to contract due to measures of austerity. By contrast, the US has been growing because it has adopted policies of Keynesian fiscal expansion.

The same policies could have prevented the lacklustre recovery in Europe, and avoided the collapse of the economies of peripheral Europe. But, the continuation of conservative politics, that put the interests of individual states ahead of the whole prevented that. A United States of Europe, would have introduced a similar policy of fiscal expansion to that used in the US. It would have focussed on a policy of large scale investment in the peripheral economies to modernise them, and facilitate the development of globally competitive industries, so that these economies could pay their way. It would have financed this expansion by selling Eurobonds, backed by the whole of the EU, i.e. by its most powerful and wealthy states, such as Germany, France and Britain, and would thereby have borrowed cheaply.
On the back of a rapid economic recovery the current growth of support for conservative, nationalist forces such as UKIP, the FN in France, Five Star in Italy, and so on would have been undermined.

The lesson of history is that nationalism is never defeated by pandering to it. It is only defeated by vigorously countering its reactionary, divisive ideology, and providing a modernist, internationalist vision of the future in its place, based upon solidarity. The reason that a Conservative Party can never do that is clear. Its base is rooted in those backward looking elements of society that make up its grassroots membership, and its electoral support. That is why the future looks bleak for Cameron's Tories, as they face continued fragmentation. Only Labour and the Labour Movement can provide a progressive vision of a future based on solidarity with our fellow workers across Europe. The time has come to present it.

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