1 Oct 2010

Austerity cuts battle a fight we must win

Politics is about power. Not the power of swapping one party for another but the art of making fundamental change.

Effective political leaders do not simply win an election but uses electoral power to shape society. In 1945 - while I of course don't defend its pro-US foreign policy - the Labour government of Clement Attlee changed Britain for the better.

The creation of the NHS, the expansion of the welfare state and the building of hundreds of thousands of council houses were just some of its many achievements.

Now fast forward to 1979. Margaret Thatcher won the general election and ushered in a right-wing revolution. She destroyed the trade unions outside of the public sector, started a trend towards privatisation and outsourcing, dramatically weakened local government and freed finance capital so it could profit from esoteric and exploitative practices.

There should be no doubt that the present government has similar ambitions to fundamentally change Britain. While its liberal politics rejects the shrill homophobia and other petty prejudices of Thatcher, David Cameron and Nick Clegg want to create a more market-based Britain just as Thatcher did.

The deficit provides an excuse for massively rolling back the state and outsourcing the entire British economy. The effects will be brutal but neoliberals Cameron and Clegg worship the market and are closely allied to the City of London.

Forget the mock outrage of the Daily Mail in response to Vince Cable's attacks on the banks - he was the court jester put in place to keep a nervous party on board. While the government would like a stable banking sector the bigger goal is an assault on public-sector spending.

Above all, cuts are being justified by the deficit. On the face of it this is economically illiterate. Britain has had far greater debt in the past - one thinks again of the 1940s when Attlee's government spent more money to create a more just society. Likewise, cuts will slow or reverse economic activity reducing tax revenues and making things worse.

Economic insanity is trumped by more fundamental considerations - utter stupidity is not an obvious feature of the British right in government. The deficit is a means to legitimise policies based on the desire to dismantle what little is left of the Atlee legacy.

Naomi Klein's book The Shock Doctrine could read as a manifesto for Cameron and Clegg. Klein starts with the overthrow of the socialist government of Allende in Chile in 1973 to describe how a crisis is used to justify intensified capitalism - in the 1970s, as Pinochet's government killed and tortured opponents, the "Chicago Boys" such as monetarist guru Milton Friedman flew into Santiago with their neoliberal blueprints.

Britain's current deficit was created by the billions of pounds needed to bail out the banks that had crashed because of the fundamental contradictions in global capitalism, triggered by regulatory failure. The deficit is now being used to cut, privatise and outsource on a massive scale - a failure of capitalism is being used to strategically extend the rule of capital.

The Con-Dem's ambition is to take five years to cut so fundamentally that they cannot be reversed. Massive public-sector cuts are intended to destroy public-sector trade unions so that politics can be permanently shifted right.

It is hoped that if the pain can be introduced swiftly, "reform" of the electoral system together with a continuing partnership with the Liberal Democrats can be used to cement a permanent rightwing, neoliberal politics. From "free schools" to the "decentralisation" of the NHS to an assault on the BBC, Cameron and Clegg believe clever tactics can be used to shove society in their desired direction.

The fight against the cuts is a life or death struggle for the left in Britain. I would urge all readers of the Morning Star to support the Coalition of Resistance and to build a fight for the survival of the NHS, free education, pensions and the other services under threat.

We need to build solidarity for unions taking action against the cuts like many of us did for the miners' strike in the 1980s. We need to create and sustain local anti-cuts networks. We need to build for the Coalition of Resistance national conference on November 27 in Camden, London (www.coalitionofresistance.org.uk).


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