The outcome of last Thursday’s general election victory represented an historic defeat for the working class in the UK. That seems like a startling statement, as it was only a parliamentary election after all, and the class struggle is not won by electioneering. That is a Marxist truism that is worth bearing in mind in most circumstances. But sometimes election results highlight trends on the ground in a very dramatic manner.
There has already been a beginning to social protest by youthful sections of the working class, against the new Tory government. The 4000 strong London demonstration on May 9th, which was unsurprisingly pushed around by the cops, demonstrated that. The advent of a unalloyed Tory government, minus the discarded and destroyed Nick Clegg and his Lib Dems, whose project is to declare war against all of the remnants of social security and post-WWII gains of the working class that Thatcher failed to smash in her offensive in the 1980s, as well as against migrants and refugees, will force the working class to fight back. But we had better be aware of the real significance of current events on the relationship of class forces, as part of preparing the working class on a wider level to resist.
The narrow defeat of the Scottish independence referendum was seen as a relief by the core of the British ruling class. But in a sense, it is a relief for partisans of the working class also. To the superficially minded, this may seem illogical or incongruous. How can what seems like a victory for the core of the ruling class not be a defeat for the working class? A pointer to this is contained in a salient point once made by the Russian Revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky:
“In ninety cases out of a hundred the workers actually place a minus sign where the bourgeoisie places a plus sign. In ten cases however they are forced to fix the same sign as the bourgeoisie but with their own seal, in which is expressed their mistrust of the bourgeoisie. The policy of the proletariat is not at all automatically derived from the policy of the bourgeoisie, bearing only the opposite sign – this would make every sectarian a master strategist; no, the revolutionary party must each time orient itself independently in the internal as well as the external situation, arriving at those decisions which correspond best to the interests of the proletariat.” (Learn To Think: A Friendly Suggestion to Certain Ultra-Leftists, May 1938)
The British ruling class, in its dotage in terms of capitalist de-development and decline, is no longer able to guarantee the coherence of its own national state in the face of centrifugal nationalist forces, including some within its own class, and faces a real possibility of state fragmentation. This might be true, but that does not make it a progressive development.