Tuesday, January 8, 2019

2019, a year like no other

Paris December 2018
Originally published as an editorial in Left Horizons UK
January 1, 2019 

Fasten your seat belts. The political ride in 2019 is going to be wild, bumpy, pot-holed, booby-trapped and chaotic. There will be a lot of unexpected turns on the road, as well as sharp swings to left and right, with a few hand-brake turns, skids and emergency stops for good measure.

Even as 2018 was drawing to a close, the chronic decay and senility of world capitalism has been evident in the volatility on the world stock exchanges and in growing predictions of recession, not from the mouths of Marxists, but from the leading economists of capitalism.

As our excellent article from Michael Roberts spells out, (read here), the economic prospects at the opening of 2019 are in complete contrast to those a year ago. Compared to January 2018, all the leading stock market indicators are down: the UK FTSE by 12 per cent, the Eurostoxx Index by 14 per cent, the US DOW by 7 per cent, Japan’s Nikkei by 14 per cent and China’s CSI300 Index by a massive 25 per cent. Five significant G20 economies – Japan, Germany, Italy, Sweden and Switzerland – saw actual contractions in the third quarter of 2018 and they are unlikely to have made much recovery since.

Polls taken among capitalist economists bring out an almost universal gloom. “A total of 48.6 per cent  of US chief financial officers surveyed by Duke University now believe the US will be in recession by the end of 2019, and 82 per cent think a recession will have started by the end of 2020.” (Financial Times, December 31). Bearing in mind that the US economy is at the moment probably one of the most robust, in terms of growth, this gives an indication of what is in store for other economies. According to data compiled the financial group UniCredit, “global trade has slowed sharply, down to 2.25 per cent growth compared with a long-term average of 4.5 per cent” (Financial Times).

Global policy of austerity

What this means in political terms is that for workers everywhere, the global policy of austerity is likely to continue or worsen in the coming months. The vast and almost unimaginable gulf in income and wealth between the mass of the world’s populations and the tiny handful of billionaires and super-rich will be further amplified, as also will be the resentment and anger against the system among the billions with little wealth to their name. There is not a single election anywhere on the globe today that can be won without at least a promise – more often than not a false promise – of ‘change’. That shows the vast and inchoate yearning among billions of people for a better life than they have at present. That yearning will be transformed into an insistent demand in the coming years.

The old political parties and organisations are being pushed to one side where they fail to offer a way out for the mass of the population. If the traditional parties of the working class, historically parties of the left, fail to offer solutions to the everyday problems of the working class, they will be eclipsed by newer, more radical parties of the left or right. Volatility is the basic political characteristic of the period which we are now in and that will be evident in 2019 more than ever before.

In Britain, it is almost impossible to predict what is going to happen with the Tory government, sometimes even from one day to the next. It does not look likely that Theresa May will get her Brexit agreement through the House of Commons this month. She is calculating that by running down the clock and presenting her deal as the only alternative to a ‘hard Brexit’, she will get it through. That remains a possibility, but doesn’t look the most likely outcome.

What happens after that is anyone’s guess. It is possible that May herself will resign or be replaced. The most clear-headed representatives of capitalism do not want a Corbyn government, because of what it represents in terms of the radical expectations of millions of voters. But the most clear-headed representatives of capitalism are in short supply in the leading ranks of the Tory government. Events can develop a momentum of their own, beyond and outside the control of the best strategists of capitalism. It is possible that there might be an extension of Article 50 and a second referendum. It is also possible that the UK might bounce out of the EU without an agreement at all. It is not at all easy to predict detailed events.

The cold, grey dawn of austerity

Meanwhile, probably a large proportion of British workers are becoming completely alienated from the adolescent shenanigans in the chamber of the House of Commons. The baying and howling of Tory MPs in the final sessions of 2018 could not have been more removed from the daily lives of millions.

In the cold, grey dawn after the Christmas holidays – festivities were in any case severely curtailed for those families in the greatest need – it will be seen that ongoing austerity will continue to blight the lives of tens of millions. Whatever happens in the remote stratosphere of the parliamentary Brexit debate, there will still be 14 million in poverty in the streets of the UK. Millions of young people will still have no prospect of a decent roof over their heads or a good, steady, well-paid job. Those on welfare will still continue to be pauperised. Food banks and homelessness will still increase. The services on which working class people depend – state education, the NHS, libraries and local services – all these are will still be eroded at an ever-increasing pace.

As for Left Horizons and its readers and supporters in the Labour Party, we will re-commit ourselves in 2019 to the struggle for a new society. The ideas of Marxism, of real socialism, have never been more relevant than they are today. Capitalism offers nothing more than unending austerity, national and ethnic conflict and insecurity, even assuming the system doesn’t destroy the human species by global warming or war. It is socialism that has the key to any future at all. What better way is there to guarantee the needs of the big majority of the population, than the democratic ownership and control of the commanding heights of the economy, including the banks and big industry, in order to plan resources rationally for the general good? Labour’s excellent election slogan, ‘For the Many, not the Few’ must be the centre-piece of Party campaigning in 2019.

The Labour Party must take a leaf out of the book of the French workers who conducted the gilets jaunes demonstrations and rallies in the last weeks of 2018. Labour needs to mobilise its mass support in demonstrations and rallies, to demand a general election. Labour needs to be the champion of workers in Britain and internationally. While the Tories and the right-wing press are ramping up their campaign against illegal immigrants crossing the Channel in flimsy boats – consciously playing the ‘race card’ – Labour must stand up as the champion of the most down-trodden and oppressed, whether they are workers in Newcastle, Glasgow or London, or desperate refugees looking for safety and security. It is not and has never been migration that has caused crises in housing, education and the NHS, and Labour must say so, loudly and clearly.

The coming year will be like no other in recent memory, either in Britain or internationally. Economic, social and environmental crises are all coming to a head in coming years. All these processes will work their way through the political system as shocks and upheavals of various kinds. It will be the task of socialists to keep a clear head: to discuss, to debate, to listen and sometimes explain, always using the language of facts, figures and argument. Although we will live through unprecedented events, we will use the experiences and the history of the movement as our guides, as best we can. We must educate and arm ourselves with ideas that strike a chord with working people and which correspond to their everyday experiences and needs.
We, too, might be strapped in for a bumpy ride in 2019. But we at least understand the importance of having a map, a compass and even old guide-books as some kind of assistance for the rocky road ahead. Welcome to 2019. Keep reading Left Horizons.

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