The problem is not the Tories….

‘GENERAL ELECTION NOW. TORIES ROBBERS MUST GO’ screamed a recent headline in a Trotskyist paper. It could have been one of many but this one was from the March issue of Counterfire, an SWP fragment.

The article denounced ‘fourteen years of Tory rule’ as ‘fourteen years of austerity, of cuts in our standard of living, cuts to public services, cuts in wages and conditions, cuts in benefits and cuts to the NHS.’

This is a more or less accurate description of what has happened since 2010 when the Tories came into office (with the LibDems as their junior partners for the first five of these years). But correlation is not causation. That the Tories were responsible for all these things is the standard Labour Party line, the suggestion being that they would not have happened had there been a Labour government. But wouldn’t they? These sorts of things have been known to happen when there’s been a Labour government in office; in fact under every Labour government that there’s been.

The cuts to public services, benefits and the NHS since 2010 were imposed by the government as decisions on these are a government responsibility but, in the economic circumstances of the slump that followed the financial crash of 2008, the government had no real choice. The capitalist economy is driven by the quest for profits and any government has to give priority to helping this.

In a slump this means reducing taxes on profits and cutting back on government spending. In theory a government could choose to refuse to do this but that would only make things worse by prolonging the slump. The cuts, then, were forced on the government that happened to be in office at the time by the operation of the coercive economic laws of capitalism. If Labour had been in office for these fourteen years they would have had to have done much the same. In any event, the fall in the standard of living and worsening wages and working conditions are a direct result of capitalism having been in a slump. That’s what happens in a slump and no government can stop this.

Counterfire is of a different opinion. They suggest governments do have a free choice in the matter. The budget, their article stated:

‘is an attempt to con us into believing that there is not enough money to fund the basic services we need, and a decent income for everyone. This is a lie. The truth is that there is plenty of money to go round; the truth is that austerity, the impoverishment of the British people and the devastating cuts to the NHS and public services are a political choice’.

This is left-wing populism as its stupidest — the money is there but the government refuses to spend it to provide ‘a decent income for everyone;’ they are robbers; kick them out. The money — or at least some of it — is there but no government is going to prioritise using taxes to improve public services, even less to provide a ‘decent’ income for everyone. That’s not its remit. Capitalism’s economic laws force governments to give priority to profit-making and conditions for profit-making. As government spending comes from taxes which ultimately fall on profits, governments cannot simply increase taxes to improve living conditions for the population. Under capitalism production is for profit, and must be, not to meet people’s needs. No government can change or even challenge that.

There is reason to be believe that Counterfire know this — some of them have written books which indicate some knowledge of how capitalism works (one by Chris Nineham is reviewed in this issue) — and so are just being populist in a bid to gather a following. This is in the Leninist tradition of contempt for the intellectual ability of the working class. They think that workers are capable only of reaching a trade-union consciousness and so there’s no point in putting before them anything that goes beyond this. Hence the populist rabble-rousing.

The politics of the headline is equally incoherent. They want the ‘Tory robbers’ out and are calling for an immediate general election to bring this about. So they want the Tories to be voted out. In other words, for workers to vote for some other party. But they don’t say which. Their call could be interpreted as saying vote for any party whose candidate has a chance of beating the Tory one; which in practice would mean voting Labour in most constituencies but voting LibDem in ‘blue wall’ seats. It certainly rules out voting for the Greens or any fringe left-wing candidate such as those of Galloway’s Workers Party (which he says hopes to contest every constituency in Britain).

But supposing this happens and the Tories are voted out. That means that there will either be a Labour government or, less likely, some sort of Lib-Lab arrangement. Nothing else changes. The means of life continue to be owned and controlled by private capitalist businesses. The economy remains driven by business investment for profit. Profit, not satisfying people’s needs, is still the aim of production.

In these circumstances the new government won’t be able to behave much differently from how the Tories have been. It too will have to abide by the economic laws of capitalism and give priority to profit-making. It is certainly not going to allocate any of ‘the plenty of money to go round’ to reverse previous cuts. The likely future prime minister has said so in so many words. He told last year’s Labour Conference that a Labour government would not be ‘a cheque-book state’ and declared in December that ‘anyone who expects an incoming Labour government to quickly turn on the spending taps is going to be disappointed’. He at least understands the limitations capitalism places on what governments can do in this respect, even if Counterfire doesn’t (or feigns not to).

So what’s the point of kicking the Tories out (objectionable as they are and happy, as many will be, to see the back of them) just to replace them with others who will have to pursue the same basic policy of prioritising profit?

The problem is not the Tories, it’s capitalism. It’s capitalism that must go.


Next article: Playing by the rules of war ⮞

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