The end of September brought the usual season of party conferences, with the Liberal Democrats attempting to defend capitulation to Tory policy, such as the huge hike in tuition fees, with promises of free school dinners; the Tories returning to their “nasty party” image with Osborne pledging to cut all benefits for under 25s – at a time when youth unemployment is 21%(House of Commons Library, 17/10/2013)and this does not include those in unstable employment – 37% of those on zero hour contracts are aged 16-24 (Resolution Foundation, June 2013); and Labour, after a quiet summer and promises of continued cuts if they were to come to power, making something of a small sidestep to the left with Miliband pledging to freeze energy prices, build 200,000 new houses and ‘bring back socialism’.
It is important to see these comments in a context where Rachel Reeves, shadow secretary for work and pensions, later stated that Labour would be harsher on those on benefits than the Tories! Nonetheless, it is important to recognise that Miliband, who up until this point had only pledged “softer and slower” cuts, must have felt some pressure to respond to the anger and squeezed living standards of ordinary working people. The fact that since the conference Labour have moved 11 points ahead of the Tories in the polls (Guardian, 19/10/13) goes some way to explaining the right-wing media reaction, with the Daily Mail leading the charge. Firstly, it should be noted, that Miliband’s comments, whilst important in the context of a Labour party still bound up in New Labour politics, are far from a return to Clause IV and socialist policies of widespread nationalisation. Miliband was quick to reassure big business that his policies remained committed to capitalism and the free market. If anything, this makes the media reaction more interesting, as it shows that there is that even small moves in a leftward direction can provoke a climate of fear and reaction amongst the ruling elite.
The Daily Mail’s article, stating that the root of Ed Miliband’s policies was to be found in his socialist father, Ralph Miliband – a professor at LSE from 1949-1972 – “the man who hated Britain”, was clearly written in an effort to provoke fear and backlash against any left rhetoric. This is hardly surprising given the climate that we are living in. The high rate of youth unemployment in the UK is supplemented by figures such as the increase of 300,000 children living in absolute poverty from 2010-11 to 2011-12 (BBC, 13/06/2013). As with the rest of the world Britain has experienced a deep financial crisis that has impacted upon the living standards and prospects of the working class and has only been worsened by cuts to benefits and public services.
It is in this climate that we have seen jolts of action such as the November 30th public sector strike in 2011 and the huge anti-austerity demonstration on March 26th 2011. These reactions have mostly been constrained to strike days and demonstrations, with the class struggle yet to be played out in the tumultuous forms we have seen in Spain and Greece, where crisis and austerity have been on an even higher level. But at this time of deep crisis, protests and strikes will not solve the problems facing society. What is needed is a clear political lead from leaders of the labour movement: the fight for a socialist programme to this crisis of capitalism and the ensuing austerity policies. The ruling class, as represented in the mass media by papers such as the Daily Mail, is only too aware that the conditions are ripe for class struggle; that ordinary people are open to socialist policies that break with capitalism. It is for this reason that small leftward moves, such as those by Ed Miliband, have resulted in such a hysterical reaction.
Having looked at the reasons for the ruling class’s reaction, we can now turn to the issue of the role of Marxism: do Marxists really hate Britain? Karl Marx stated ‘the workers have no country’ – in this sense, British nationalism, as purported by the British bourgeoisie, based on colonial images of “rule Britannia”, is certainly at odds with Marxism. But does this really amount to “hating Britain”? And what does the Daily Mail really mean when it refers to “Britain”? Does this image of Britain include the young people unable to find jobs because of a crisis they did not create but are being forced to pay for in the slashing of services? Does it include those who are giving up the opportunity to go to university because they don’t want to be saddled with nearly £30,000 of debt in their early 20s? The only Britain that is hated by Marxists is the ruling classes who exploit the majority in order to amass obscene amounts of wealth for themselves. Even the bankers, who played their part in creating this crisis, have returned to their bonuses with April 2013 seeing an 82% year on year rise (Labour Market Statistics 2013) in the amount paid out in bonuses in the financial sector.
The nationalistic image played out by the Daily Mail, one of the great, colonising British bulldog created through the hardworking, loyal citizens of Britain, is of no use to anyone but the ruling class. This nationalism must be seen as a jingoistic attempt to cut through class antagonisms with the idea that we’re all British and we’re “all in this together”; the “British” way is to put your head down and get on with it. This is part of the superstructure of ideology used by the ruling class to retain the economic base of capitalism – to encourage workers and students not to revolt and change society but remain under capitalism.
Marxists recognise the importance of national identity and culture but this should not be conflated with loyalty to the systems and structures of power within the country you happen to be born in. The bourgeoisie has proved it has no loyalty to Britain as it is in the process of tearing the country apart with promises of continued austerity, a dismantling of the welfare state and lack of access to higher education. The only loyalty we should have is to workers and youth across the world who are also being exploited by the same ruling class with a different face. In this time of global capitalism, and global capitalist crisis, we cannot be separated by national barriers but must move forward to a united international class struggle.