Brexit Britain’s Collapse also Reveals Failure of Free Market Capitalism

I wonder sometimes if the Communists and Trotskyites didn’t throw in the towel too soon. They were always looking for the collapse of capitalism, and while that didn’t happen and probably won’t, they would have realised that Thatcherism, at least, isn’t working and made real efforts to make the British public realise it. Communism collapsed with the velvet revolution in eastern Europe in the late 1980s and early 1990s as the countries of the former Soviet bloc threw off their chains and embraced democracy and free market capitalism. Francis Fukuyama declared that it was ‘the end of history’. Liberalism in the broad sense of the mixture of liberal democracy and capitalism, had seen off its rivals and would now reign supreme and unchallenged as the global ideology bringing peace, freedom – both political and economic – and prosperity to everyone.

But it hasn’t worked out like that.

Thatcher’s privatisation of the public utilities here in Britain haven’t brought the necessary investment these sectors needed. As Ken Loach’s superb documentary, The Spirit of 45, makes very clear, the power, water and railway industries are natural monopolies that need national planning and support. This has been particularly shown time and again in the management of the railways. Major’s privatisation of British Rail in the 1990s and its breakup into separate companies resulted in a spate of horrendous train crashes. Insult was added to injury by the rail companies passing the buck and accusing each other of responsibility for the disasters. As a result, the company owning the railway network itself, Railtrack, had to be renationalised in 2002. Privatisation did not work. And it has continued to fail with the private railways companies. Several have had to be taken back into state administration after providing poor service. However, this has always been excused as a temporary measure and the government has insisted on finding some other private company to run those services afterwards. After a series of such failures, this strategy now looks more than a little desperate. It’s an attempt to fend off the obvious: that private enterprise isn’t providing a proper, decent rail service and the only way to run it properly is to renationalise it.

It is very much the same with the government’s part-privatisation of Britain’s schools. Declining standards in state schools led Thatcher to experiment with privately-run schools outside the control of Local Education Authorities. These were then called ‘city academies’. They were another failure, and her education secretary, Norman Fowler, was forced to wind them up quietly. Unfortunately, Tony Blair thought it was a wizard idea and it became a major part of New Labour education policy. Simply called ‘academies’, these schools would be run by private companies. Some of these would specialise in particularly subjects, such as Maths and science. Expertise from private industry would ensure that standards would be high, and they would provide a powerful incentive through their competition for the remaining state schools to improve their performance. Except that didn’t happen either. The academies don’t perform any better than ordinary state schools once the massive difference in funding is taken into account. An academy may receive tens of millions of funding compared to a fraction of million that the Local Education Authority receives to spend on all the schools it runs. Furthermore, many of the academies have only been able to maintain their high standards through being highly selective about their intakes. Pupils that may not reach the marks demanded by the schools, including those with behavioural problems or who come from poorer families, are often excluded and expelled. Educational performance and standards in many academies has been so abysmal that the chains managing them have collapsed and the schools once again taken into public administration. But private enterprise under the Tories cannot be allowed to fail, and so we had the grim spectacle a few years ago of Nicky Morgan, the Tory education secretary, repeatedly not answering the questions on the Andrew Marr show why the government was pushing ahead with turning schools into academies when just a little while ago 25 academies had had to be taken over by the government again.

Now, thanks to a mixture of Brexit and global problems elsewhere, the gas industry is in crisis. There are shortages of gas, a number of the smaller companies have already collapsed and customers are being faced with sharp price rises. Novara Media have even said that the government has admitted that if there are severe problems with the major gas suppliers, then they will have to be nationalised.

Gas, like electricity, should never have been privatised in the first place. When it was initially privatised, the company was not split up into separate, competing companies and so it was able to dominate the market as a private monopoly. Now some of those companies are suffering because they are unable to cope with free market conditions. This says to me very much that Jeremy Corbyn was right – that the public utilities need to be publicly owned and rationally managed as part of an integrated system. This is another point that Ken Loach’s documentary makes very well.

And Brexit has created further problems. The establishment of a customs border with Eire overturns one of the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and so threatens to return Northern Ireland to sectarian violence and chaos. There is a shortage of CO2 as a result of which some foods and other goods may suffer shortages. And there may be further shortages, including petrol and other fuels, because Brexit has also resulted in fewer haulage drivers. Some are even now predicting a new ‘Winter of Discontent’, like that in 1979 that resulted in the defeat of the-then Labour government and the election of Maggie Thatcher.

I remember the petrol crisis of the ’70s, when OPEC suddenly raised oil prices and there were queues at petrol pumps. Just as I remember how Ted Heath’s dispute with the coal miners resulted their strike, the three-day week and power cuts. It got to the point that by the middle of the decade the right were expecting a Communist takeover and the end of civilisation as we know it. There were supposedly private militias being formed by bonkers right-wingers while parts of the establishment wanted to overthrow the minority Labour government in a coup to be replaced by a kind of coalition government composed of representatives from all the parties. Well, that was what the Times discussed in its articles. The security services, however, were forming plans to round up trade unionists and left-wing politicians and activists and intern them on a Scottish island somewhere. The editor of the Mirror went to Sandhurst to interest them in overthrowing the government but was met with a no doubt polite refusal. I think he, or one of the other plotters, even went as far as Paris to see if that old Fascist, Oswald Mosley, would be interested in leading the new government.

All that has been used in the Tory myth that socialism doesn’t work, and only creates the economic and political chaos that helped bring Britain to its knees. Chaos that was only ended by the glorious reign of Maggie.

Except that these problems look like they’re coming back, and this time the fault is Brexit and the free market.

I think Boris will be able to find temporary solutions to alleviate, but not cure, some of these problems. He has, for example, introduced new legislation to encourage lorry drivers from the continent to come over here. But the underlying structural problems remain. The only way to solve them is through nationalisation.

The Labour party is in an excellent position to drive this home, at least in the case of gas. Even if it doesn’t go that far, it should still be landing hard blows on Johnson and the Tories because of Brexit’s massive failures. But Starmer isn’t doing that. Instead, as Zelo Street pointed out in a piece published a day or so ago, the Labour leader is more intent instead on destroying democracy in his party as part of his war on the left.

Which is why I’m almost nostalgic for the old Socialist Workers’ Party. They’re still around, rebranded as ‘the Socialist Party’, but they’re nowhere near as active as they were. Whenever there was any kind of crisis or major issue you could count on them turning up with their megaphones and copies of their newspaper to harangue the masses and demand further action against the problem. Unfortunately, in many cases the Socialist Workers’ Party were the problem. They colonised left-wing issues in an attempt to turn protest groups into front organisations, which they could then use to produce further discontent. Rock Against Racism collapsed when the SWP took over the leadership of that organisation, formed to protest against the rise of Fascism. They were also busy infiltrating the Labour party and other left-wing parties here and abroad with the intention of radicalising them. I think the eventual hope was to create some kind of mass revolutionary movement. It didn’t work, and has only resulted in purges, such as that of Militant Tendency by Kinnock in the 1980s. In fact, the policy has helped strengthen the right in the Labour party, as they smeared Momentum and Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters as Trotskyite infiltrators as the pretext for their continue purge.

The Trotskyites lived, however, in the firm belief that capitalism would eventually fail. Well, it isn’t doing that now, but it should be abundantly clear that Thatcherite free market capitalism isn’t working. The SWP would have realised that and tried to get the message across. The Labour left, which isn’t remotely Trotskyite, realises too that Thatcherism isn’t working. Their solution is simply a return to the mixed economy of the social democratic consensus. This wasn’t perfect, but it operated far better than the free market shambles we have now. And no, mixed economies are not ‘Communist’, ‘Trotskyist’ or ‘far left’. The real Communists and Trotskyists hated it as a form of capitalism, just as they hated reformist socialist parties like Labour.

But Starmer’s leadership is pledged to propping up the same wretched free market capitalism. Which is why I really feel there should be a mass movement driving home the point, again and again, that Thatcherism is ideologically and economically bankrupt. It is doing nothing but producing chaos in the economy and industry, and poverty and starvation to Britain’s working people. And this poverty will get worse. This is why I’m almost nostalgic for the wretched SWP, as they would have been determined to drive this home. And who knows? Perhaps if they behaved like a reasonable party, they might have gained further support and forced the Labour party to rediscover its socialist heritage in order to head off a challenge from real Communists.

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