Rachel Gibbs of the Glasgow Marxists looks at the recent promises from Ed Miliband and the resultant attack from the Daily Mail against Ed’s Marxist father Ralph. What are the reasons for this hysteria on the part of the right-wing press? And do Marxists really “hate Britain”?
The end of September brought the usual season of party conferences. The Liberal Democrats attempted to defend their capitulation to Tory policy, such as the huge hike in tuition fees, with promises of free school dinners; the Tories returned to their “nasty party” image, with Osborne pledging to cut all benefits for under 25s – at a time when youth unemployment is 21%, not even including those in unstable employment, with 37% of those on zero-hour contracts aged 16-24; and Labour, after a quiet summer and promises of continued cuts if they were to come to power, making something of a small sidestep to the left with Miliband pledging to freeze energy prices, build 200,000 new houses, and ‘bring back socialism’.
It is important to see these comments in a context where Rachel Reeves, Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions, later stated that Labour would be harsher to those on benefits than the Tories! Nonetheless, it is important to recognise that Miliband, who up until this point had only pledged “softer and slower” cuts, must have felt some pressure to respond to the anger and squeezed living standards of ordinary working people.
The hysteria of the right-wing press
The fact that, since their party conference, Labour have moved 11 points ahead of the Tories in the polls goes some way to explaining the right-wing media reaction, with the Daily Mail leading the charge. Firstly, it should be noted, that Miliband’s comments, whilst important in the context of a Labour Party still bound up in New Labour politics, are far from being a return to Clause IV and a socialist programme of widespread nationalisation. Miliband was quick to reassure big business that his party remains committed to capitalism and the free market. If anything, this makes the media reaction more interesting, as it shows that even small moves in a leftward direction can provoke a climate of fear and reaction amongst the ruling elite.
The Daily Mail’s article – stating that the root of Ed Miliband’s policies are to be found with his socialist father, Ralph Miliband, a professor at LSE from 1949-1972, “the man who hated Britain” – was clearly written in an effort to provoke fear and backlash against any left rhetoric.
This is hardly surprising given the climate that we are living in. The high rate of youth unemployment in the UK, supplemented by figures such as the increase of 300,000 children living in absolute poverty between 2010-11 to 2011-12, indicate that, as with the rest of the world, the deep financial crisis has impacted upon the living standards and prospects of the working class in Britain, which have only been worsened by cuts to benefits and public services.
In response, we have seen huge jolts of the labour movement, such as the November 30th public sector strikes in 2011 and the massive anti-austerity demonstration on in March 2011. These responses have mostly been constrained to strike days and demonstrations, with the class struggle yet to be played out in the tumultuous forms we have seen in Spain and Greece, where crisis and austerity have been on an even higher level.
But at this time of deep crisis, protests and strikes will not solve the problems facing society. What is needed is a clear political lead from leaders of the labour movement: the fight for a socialist programme to this crisis of capitalism and the ensuing austerity policies. The ruling class, as represented in the mass media by papers such as the Daily Mail, is only too aware that the conditions are ripe for class struggle; that ordinary people are open to socialist policies that break with capitalism. It is for this reason that small leftward moves, such as those by Ed Miliband, have resulted in such a hysterical reaction.
Do Marxists “hate Britain”?
In regards to the comments in the Daily Mail, we must ask: do Marxists really “hate Britain”? Karl Marx stated that ‘the workers have no country’ – in this sense, British nationalism, as purported by the British bourgeoisie, based on colonial images of “rule Britannia”, is certainly at odds with Marxism.
But does this really amount to “hating Britain”? And what does the Daily Mail really mean when it refers to “Britain”? Does this image of Britain include the young people unable to find jobs because of a crisis they did not create? Does it include those who are giving up the opportunity to go to university because they don’t want to be saddled with nearly £30,000 of debt in their early 20s?
The only Britain that is hated by Marxists is the Britain of the ruling class, who exploit the majority in order to amass obscene amounts of wealth for themselves. Even the bankers – who played their part in creating this crisis – have carried on receiving lavish bonuses, with 2013 seeing an 82% annual rise in the amount paid out in bonuses in the financial sector.
The nationalistic image played out by the Daily Mail – as one of the great, colonising British bulldog created through the hardworking, loyal citizens of Britain – is of no use to anyone but the ruling class. This nationalism must be seen as a jingoistic attempt to cut through class antagonisms, with the idea that we’re all British and we’re “all in this together”; that the “British” way is to put your head down and get on with it. This is part of the superstructure of ideology used by the ruling class to retain the economic base of capitalism – to encourage workers and students not to revolt and change society, but to make do with capitalism.
Marxists recognise the role of national identity and culture in society; but this should not be conflated with loyalty to the systems and structures of power within the country you happen to be born in. The bourgeoisie has proved it has no loyalty to Britain, as it is in the process of tearing the country apart with promises of continued austerity, a dismantling of the welfare state, and a lack of access to higher education.
The only loyalty we should have is to workers and youth across the world who are being exploited by the same international capitalist system and the same ruling class – just with a different set of faces in each country. In this time of global capitalism, with a global capitalist crisis, we cannot be separated by national barriers, but must move forward to a united international class struggle.