What we always had
If we always do what we always did, what do we get?
What we have
There's an old phrase that I have heard a lot: if you always do what you always did, you always get what you always had. I've tangentially been involved with some left parties talking about creating a new, radical (or even just mildly socialist) alternative to the current Labour party. There's a few things about this that have made me think about that phrase a lot.
Many of us have been trying to find a socialist alternative for a long time. It seems harsh to say this, but the crop of left parties that survived the millennium and still exist are pretty stale. They usually did a bit of entryism in the Labour party back in the day without much success. A lot of us are rather old now, too. As for being in Labour I've never been able to join a party, no matter how red its flag, that has always sided firmly with the old empire and the thievery and mayhem it caused. The idea of British worker class people being protected from the rapine of empire while the exploitation and destruction is visited on those less powerful is repulsive. Labour has always had this central contradiction - it created some fantastic things for the British working class, but did it at the expense of the poor and working class in what we now call the Global South.
I joined Left Unity as it was created to directly be a socialist alternative to Labour, Ken Loach himself proposed that those of us who were disillusioned with the war mongering and self-serving arrogance could found a new party to give socialists a political home. This is still a project I believe in. I didn't want to join a Trotskyist or Maoist splinter group and spend my days shouting in the corner, or dancing some sectarian dance that only holds us back. In my youth I had been a member of one of these groups and I knew that their approach didn't work. Left Unity were growing slowly, standing in elections, explaining why things were happening the way they were for less experienced people, and fighting the good fight. We were small but we had some intellectual and political weight.
Then we lost a lot of good people to the Corbyn surge, and very few have returned. The betrayal and exhaustion have really damaged the attempt to create a real alternative to capitalist boot licking and the cognitive dissonance of living in a colonial power. A cynical part of me wonders if that was always the intention, but I don't believe the man himself is that clever, plus he has great personal integrity. Despite this, if you look at how ascendant anti-human ideas have become since Corbyn's defeat it almost seems planned. If you look at how his cold custard steamed pudding replacement behaves it seems deliberate and chilling.
Left Unity are working with the Transform project, calling for a new party of the left. Find out more here.
After 50 years, the worker class has been sliding backwards, but we have also been lulled to sleep. A great part of the Blair project was to lay the groundwork for the fire sale to the wealthy parasites that has happened since the tories gained power, along with a massive transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich. Thatcher began the selling off and the preparation for the transfer of wealth with all of the changes to regulations designed to protect people like us, but the opposition in the general population was far too strong to directly attack things like the NHS. Her party hated the NHS and the social and educational programmes that existed as a hang over from the 60's and 70's but she couldn't move against them because sentiment was too strong. Instead we needed dear old Tony to quietly lay the groundwork for the systematic stealing and corruption we see today. The people who would never have let the government mess with the NHS started getting older and dying off. The people who remembered how hard they had to fight to live somewhere that had basic human decency as a default started to lose their political weight.
Anti-union laws were quietly strengthened despite promises to undo them, the NHS was set up to fail with the financial traps of PFI contracts and the internal market (which was also supposed to be abolished and wasn't). Labour put quite a lot of money into education and health, the health service had the best user satisfaction survey scores it had ever had. They had the cash to do this because the economy was temporarily booming with a credit boom and we were told we could all be well off, educated, and decently housed forever. We were told boom and bust is over and we could all sail off into the sunset on the promise of infinite growth. We were told we didn’t need to worry about the black hole of wealth distorting society into poisonous patterns because trickle down meant everyone and everything would be ok.
The fundamental nature of capitalism as a Ponzi scheme put paid to all that with a vengeance in 2008, and as usual the majority had to pay to bail out the minority.
I was listening to a very interesting analysis of people voting to reduce harm, in the USA known as "vote blue, no matter who". Here we have the numbing cry of get the tories out , when we know full well that the current opposition are best known for saying all the things they won’t do, rather than what they will. It will be business as usual with a vengeance.
The faux progressive wing of the political establishment know they've got the more radical voters in the bag and don't need to actually do anything to keep them on side. This means they're gonna go for the middle class swing voters that might vote for the other liars.
If the less harm people are in charge it also takes the wind out of the sails for the ones who are willing to go to battle, saying, "ooh look, our guy's in charge". Welp, he's not "our" guy and doesn't have to even pretend to listen to us because of voting to reduce harm means he has no need to court us.
Have you got it yet?
Unless they're scared of us they will give us nothing, and it doesn't matter which colour you pick.
Build and fight as best you can, no-one is coming to save you.
So, if this is what we always have (or had) ..
What have we always done?
Parliamentary Saviour Complex
Something that has astonished me recently is that all the people I interact with hate what the Tory government are doing to the NHS, they hate the corruption, they want the natural monopolies returned to public ownership and democratic control, and they want to return to a politics where shame has some meaning. They also want to see an opposition that opposes this crap and doesn't let them get away with the corruption and pocket lining. I think the folks in Britain are every bit as angry as those in France but they aren't having running battles with the police or turning off the power to politicians' houses, or blockading ports or any one of a large number of things that hurt the predator class's attempt to steal the things we need to live.
After giving this some thought I think it comes at least partly from Britain being so class-ridden. Our minds are trapped by this learned helplessness that means there has to be some useless posh authority figure (or a proxy for one) to rescue us. The unwritten subtext that no-one talks about is that this authority figure decides who gets to live and who gets to die. They just give us the things we need and tell us what to do. Like some kind of secular Jesus, all of the optimistic things that people want in their hearts just comes true. When I think about it it's a very strong part of British culture. I mean, look at the enduring popularity of shows like Doctor Who, which is the quintessence of secular Jesus saves everybody who was doomed, helpless and incapable of saving themselves. Look at the fawning stupidity of the recent coronation, where Charles marched behind pieces of the one true cross or some such nonsense.
This spills over into how we do our politics, if you remember all the hope that was pinned on Corbyn's Labour a lot of it revolved around an unrealistic if we get someone who cares into government then we can go back to watching our favourite soaps. It was never going to happen. If his faction had been elected it would have been the beginning of a titanic struggle first to implement the policies in any form, and then to keep them honest. Just look at all the saboteurs who have come out of the woodwork since his fall, can you imagine they would have stopped their activities if he had been elected?
There is also the ridiculous spectacle where our system doesn't have very many checks and balances because there is an assumption that the people in charge will behave honourably. Our politicians call each other the Right Honourable this and that, the assumption is built into the system. However, as recent events have shown all too clearly, most of them wouldn't know what honour was if it vomited all over them. Part of behaving honourably is also having a sense of right and wrong that gives a sense of shame, and that too seems to have disappeared. This kind of paralysis also affects US politics; with the allegedly progressive parts of the Democrats always claiming they can't do things because they haven't got enough votes and people suddenly act like they're really Republicans, they do this over and over again and people keep falling for it. The Republicans have stopped even pretending to give lip service to honourable behaviour, which in a way is much more honest.
This yearning is idealist in the philosophical sense. In a world that is made up of ideas, that only lives in the mind, it's easy to understand that wishing for something might well make it happen. This is one of the reasons our idiot media spend so much time on the leaders of the various parties and invent differences that aren't really there. The world they want us to buy into is a world where wishes can come true. That world only exists for the predator class who control the resources and have turned everything into a way to make themselves even richer. The rest of us find the world is painted with a far darker, more dangerous, palette.
Materialist in the philosophical sense means you have to start with what's in front of you, with what you can get hold of. It means rooting thinking in the material world, rather than the twee pseudo religious position that loving material things makes you a bad person. We all need the physical basis of human life and reproduction, which I talked about in an earlier article, The six pillars of human happiness - these are things that we are systematically deprived of unless we work to get enough money to pay for them or have somehow managed to wangle enough wealth to fulfil our needs without working. The predator class makes sure we have to struggle to get them, it means they can control and coerce us into making them rich by pretending there is scarcity. As I've said many times here, the freedom they expect us to get worked up and go to war for is the freedom to sell our labour and avoid starvation, or be one of the people that rents that labour, this is the fundamental building block of capitalism. The predators use the word freedom in a way that completely devalues it and leaves a bitter taste, their freedom is the freedom to predate on the rest of us.
The opposition’s disappearance
In what now feels like the distant past, but is still well within living memory, about twenty years or so ago, we had systems that had been partially dismantled but nevertheless worked. Despite this Blair's New Labour had already started demonising the poor and vulnerable, labelling disabled people undeserving, the narrative about bogus asylum seekers and benefit scroungers started with them, or perhaps a little earlier, but they used it to divide people. It actually seems quite mild now, when you see the hatred that has been stirred up in this country that gave us things like Brexit. You still occasionally hear some fool saying that Britain's benefits system is over generous when it's probably the meanest in Europe. If I recall the racist nonsense where people who aren't citizens have to pay for their health care was introduced by New Labour, for example, even if they work and pay taxes here.
We picked up a very bad habit from our cousins in the USA, who have been convinced that things like universal health care and decent education will go to the undeserving, so they should therefore be none at all for anyone. The undeserving being code, of course, for poor, Black and Hispanic people. Depriving people of the resources they need to live decent fulfilled lives has always been a racist project over there, and it has racist overtones in Britain too, just not so obvious. There is a chilling and sad book called Dying of Whiteness that looks at this crazy resentment and its consequences. In the early chapters it talks about a man dying of a painful cancer, who was ok with not being treated because it meant poor black people weren't being treated either. This is desperately sad, and it infects British politics as well but more subtly, but we still have the stupid trope of the deserving poor which was a staple of New Labour. In Britain it isn't race but class that seems to be the determining factor, but the establishment use race when it's easy to fit into the story.
For example, you see this on social media where someone will be yelling about how his mother has to pay for her social care by selling everything and illegal immigrants are being put up in hotels and given houses. This isn't even remotely true. The real picture is that the same predators that won't fund their mother's care are the ones that blew the refugees' homes to pieces with bombs, and the refugees even slightly humane treatment is a hangover from times when Britain was run by halfway decent human beings. Our current government is using manufactured sentiments like these to undo what little humanity is left. No human being is illegal, the idea is ridiculous, but it suits our rulers just fine if we think like this.
Make no mistake, this divisive crap keeps us from working together against the real enemies of humanity. The corporations and the banks that are destroying the world and our lives with no consequence. There has been a constant news cycle of trivial crap keeping our eyes away from the real suffering. There are over 14 million people, of which 4.2 million are children in poverty and we have a media full of stories about billionaire Royals and an irrelevant grifter no longer being able to bank with an elite bank.
While we're waxing nostalgic about the Thatcher period let us briefly mention the deficit con. Regan and Thatcher's governments gave tax breaks to the wealthy and then ran up deficits in government finances because there wasn't enough revenue coming in to cover the difference. Then they said, we have to pay for this (note the use of we here) and suddenly all of the social programmes and things that made life liveable or at least tolerable for the working class were reduced because we had to live under austerity.
This resulted in a massive increase in inequality and a transfer of wealth from the poor to the predator class. The predators can buy assets, and the poorer classes cannot, so the prices of assets goes up. The poorer classes end up with less of the resources that are available and the process repeats for most of the last forty years. They have run out of things to sell, now, so attacking our living standards and bolstering the privately owned services we all need to survive has become the new wheeze to rob us.
They've done this bogus deficit to justify austerity over and over again since in this country, the USA, and Europe. In fact the battle to keep the NHS is the last battle in this long story of theft and privatisation. The trillions in debt our government has run up is preparation for pretending that the sale is necessary and forced upon us, when simply taxing the wealthy in various ways, such as making the tax on unearned income such as dividends have parity with the standard rates, could turn things around relatively quickly. This is something Starmer's Labour will never contemplate either, but you can bet they will happily line up behind selling the last thing we have left without shedding a tear should they gain power.
I have covered the consequences of the post-war period putting us to sleep while our enemies got ready to steal everything back in my book Empire Socialism if you would like to read more. It's also available for free on Medium.
Forgetting to fight our corner
Our enemies divide us up into individuals or small groups and pick us off. This is also one of the reasons that we have this cultural narrative about how the individual matters more than anything and they (whoever that is) are going to take things from you. It takes a shift of viewpoint to realise that if everybody has what they need then no-one can take it from anyone. The story needs to change to one of making sure no-one is left behind, and everybody's needs are met. This is why the people who start down the sovereign individual route are so wrong, we can only gain individual autonomy if we create it collectively. Isolation is defeat. It seems paradoxical but it's true, we have to guarantee each other's freedom. The capitalist state has a virtual monopoly on violence, we can only stop it interfering with us if we work together.
Before the creation of the modern welfare state and the NHS worker class people had already created mutual support networks, union-funded hospitals, co-operative shops, etc. to help if you fell sick or became unemployed, or even just to stop price gouging. Many of these organisations were nationalised when the NHS was created, and the the introduction of state benefits meant that the mutual societies were no longer needed, although some still survive even now to help with dental costs and the like.
The creation of these systems after the Second World War was a major victory for the working class. After the first war and the great depression, there were thousands of people who knew how to wield modern weapons and had seen their fathers and grandfathers suffering in the 1920s and 30s when there was a promise to make the country fit for heroes, which proved to be another lie.
It's largely unremembered now but the troops coming back after the war were holding their own parliaments and had said clearly that they didn't want to go back to the way things were in the 1920s. Worker class militancy was high, the Soviet Union had contributed massively to the defeat of the Nazis and demonstrated you could have a country run by the worker class. Our owners were terrified we would start to think things could be different.
So they allowed the creation the NHS in order to persuade us that we didn't need to put them in the bin and change the way things are done. Similar programmes happened in the USA for similar reasons, the New Deal - which was great if you were white - created the modern US middle class. The massive destruction wreaked by the war and the flowering of new technologies meant that there was a long period of peace between the predator class and the worker class. The predators were terrified, and there was still plenty of money to be made.
The state took over the hospitals and mutual societies that helped worker class people survive. It also started paying pensions to all citizens and building houses, knocking down slums. They nationalised and streamlined industries that were slowing the rebuilding effort, which some folks thought was socialism, but it was pragmatism, nothing like workers' control was implemented in those industries or any other publicly owned industry for that matter.
Part 7 of Empire Socialism discusses this from a slightly different angle if you would like to read more.
So do something different
We are not friends with the parasite class that leeches from us. There are no conversations to be had, there is no reasonable or polite approach we should be forced to take. We need to take back what was stolen. There is no moral or acceptable way to become a billionaire that doesn't involve appropriating things that aren't the products of your own labour. The same goes for the company execs that get paid obscene salaries when nothing they do justifies it.
Saying there aren't enough resources to fix social and environmental problems is a lie. We live in times of great plenty, for example we have systems that can feed and clothe several billion more people than exist, but because the predators can't make money from it the surplus is destroyed and people starve and go naked. Clothing is being thrown away in poor countries, and its manufacture is said to be responsible for 20% of global water waste.
Start with people's needs, the six pillars mentioned earlier is a good place to start, we need to clearly define what we need to survive and thrive, and then what everybody needs to to the same. They are us and we are them. No-one should be left behind.
Once we know what people need, start developing ways to meet those needs.
The place to start is rebuilding the mutual aid systems that the state took over and have been abandoned by our captured governments, this starts with joining a union and encouraging others to do so. The state was never our friend, but it bent a little when its owners were afraid of us. We need to actually take back control and not rely on the state or wealthy donors to do things.
If you know how, do some research into what your area needs and start working out how to campaign for it. Building organisations comes from doing things with others, and this is a good place to start. Reading is no substitute for action, doing even a small thing that helps your community is better than doing nothing.
Find people who share your goals.
Share and study these ideas. Put simply: do we want a world built for profit, that rewards short sighted greed and destruction, or do we want one built on needs, that keeps us all safe and guarantees a future where we can live? It isn't hard. Some of the ideas from the great socialist writers are hard to grasp, and so on, but start with needs and you won't go far wrong.
Do not, under any circumstances, accept money from the state or wealthy philanthropists. It is a poison chalice. Build with the resources you have to hand and within the consciousness of the people around you. If you don't you won't engage properly with the people you are trying to serve, because you will try and short circuit things and not learn how to do it using self reliance and listening to the people you serve. There is no short cut, although events might help wake people up more quickly.
Calls for a socialist party
As I said earlier I joined a party that came from a call for a genuine socialist party in Britain. I haven't been directly involved in discussions with other organisations. One of the difficulties is everyone is still addicted to Labour, it has all the resources and we can't access them, and it still promoted by the mass media as an alternative to the Tories, even though to those of us with working eyes it seems to become less so every day.
For example, there was a lot of fiery criticism of Sharon Graham (Unite's General Secretary) and Mick Walsh (Rail and Maritime Workers' General Secretary) when each said that they would hold Starmer to account over trade union legislation. It centred on the belief that Starmer's Labour will never back trade unions, the Shadow Cabinet have been having cosy dinners and breakfasts with business leaders and that's where their focus lies: making themselves acceptable to our owners. So why even bother asking them to back you? Well, given there isn't an alternative to Labour yet, what are the union leaders supposed to do? If they want to expose how useless Labour will be to the worker class and its organisations then this is the only way to do it, and it's the only way they could carry their membership with them. Maybe people should think a little more long term and strategically.
I recently read an interesting and sad book called Labour's Coming Split by Roger Silverman, who describes how the party was a genuinely worker class organisation, albeit not revolutionary, and was hijacked and turned into the alt-Tory party we have now. We had an opportunity to use Labour as a vehicle for change in the Corbyn years, but that is gone now. So those of us in the party who want a better world will have to split and leave, join with others to start creating an actual alternative. There's nothing to hold on to now since the right wing started lying and purging everyone to the left of Attila the Hun. In fact, some Tory policies are now to the left of those espoused by Sir Kid Starver, which is beyond parody. You can't expect dear Sharon and Mick to endorse you if there's not yet anything to endorse.
As I said in the previous section we learn by doing. Any new party will be born out of work to prevent the breakup of the NHS and defending and building unions to hold back the downward pressure on living standards. There's also the issue of the Right wing diversionary obsession with woke and culture wars attacking small minorities like trans people, and LGBTQ+ people in general, who must be defended, but we must also use it as an opportunity to say why does your obsession with trans kids matter when 4.2 million children are in poverty? When are you going to do something about them? Why not stop making stuff up, leave trans kids alone, and take some responsibility for the mass hunger and distress? The culture warriors never answer this question. One of the anger making things about the Kid Starver controversy is that undoing the cap which is putting millions of kids in poverty will cost money, and that's what the idiot politicians (with the laudable exception of Corbyn) are arguing about. So this policy that was supposed to encourage people to work harder (and failed) was really about saving what is a trivial amount of money in the overall budget. This shaving a few pennies and then lying about it as long as poor people suffer not the wealthy is pure Toryism. This is a good conversation starter if you want to start talking about how things are actually run in this country.
We need campaigns we can work together on. It doesn't matter which political tradition you come from. If you can agree that we must build campaigns to frustrate the worsening and cheapening of the conditions we need to live under, fight for services and systems based on needs instead of penny pinching budgets, and who the enemy is, then let's do that. A new party, or coordinating group, or whatever, will come from this work. No more talking. Doing, based on a clear idea of what's needed.
There are no defeats, just painful lessons to learn. Like don't trust the people now in charge of Labour, they will lie and you won't be able to do anything about it.
We also need to be mindful that the enormous gains we made were built with imperial plunder on the backs of people in the Global South, and how we must make sure that doesn't happen again. This is why socialists always call for and act in international solidarity, our comfort should never come at someone else's expense - unless you mean the billionaire class, of course.
What we always had was a system where the state would look after us that came from the situation after the second world war.
What we always did was elect politicians who would look after that for us, without realising that things had changed.
What we need to do differently is organise ourselves and not rely on the old politics, because the new politics we sleep walked into are killing us so we need to make our own.
Any new party will come out of putting sectarian differences aside and concentrating on our class winning things back that have been stolen from us.