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"The dividing lines in this election could not be clearer", declared Jeremy Corbyn as he launched Labour's general election campaign. He went on: "It is the establishment that complains I don't play by the rules: by which they mean their rules."
"And in a sense, the establishment and their followers are quite right. I don't play by their rules. And if a Labour government is elected on 8 June, then we won't play by their rules either. They are yesterday's rules, set by failed political and corporate elites and should be consigned to the past. It is these rules that have allowed a cosy cartel to rig the system in favour of a few powerful and wealthy individuals and corporations. It is a rigged system set up by the wealth extractors, for the wealth extractors. But things can, and they will, change."
Jeremy's clear call for voters to elect a Labour Party that "is standing up for working people to improve the lives of all" was a good start to the election campaign. Only by clearly putting forward a radical anti-austerity programme will he be able to lead Labour to victory in this election against the Tories' government of millionaires.
In the first round of the French elections, the equivalent of the right wing of Labour - the PS - was reduced to 6% as workers punished it for carrying out capitalist austerity. Meanwhile, Melenchon - standing on a fighting, left programme- scored 19%, despite a very late campaign. Melenchon's substantial vote, like the support for Bernie Sanders in the US, shows that voters are angry with the capitalist establishment and will vote for parties and candidates that they see as standing up to it.
Theresa May has called a general election gambling, based on the opinion polls, that she will be able to increase the Tories' currently puny majority. She wants to try and buttress the Tory government against the coming class storms that even she can see on the horizon. May hopes to win an increased majority by appealing to workers that only the Tories can negotiate a Brexit deal in 'Britain's' interests, but she is only interested in negotiating a deal in the interests of Britain's big business. In fact a major factor in her calling the election now is in the hope that she can then avoid a general election for five years - because she knows full well that any Brexit deal she negotiates will mean increased misery for the majority.
But hers is a very high-risk strategy. If Corbyn leads a fighting campaign there is every chance that May could end in June!
There are myriad ways that May could come unstuck. Already Chancellor Philip Hammond's refusal to rule out tax increases seems to have cut the Tories' poll lead. Anything that drives home the reality of a May government - not help for the 'just about managing' but brutal austerity - would destroy the Tories' poll lead. So could losing a section of Tory 'remain' voters to the Liberal Democrats, and having the deep divisions in the Tory party over Brexit come to the surface in the course of the election.
The most important factor in this election, however, is the real possibility that Jeremy Corbyn will be able to mobilise popular support around a radical anti-austerity programme. Jeremy has rightly pointed out that the establishment will do all they can to prevent this. It is necessary, however, to explain who 'the establishment' are. In reality it is the 'capitalist establishment' - the capitalist class. Today a tiny group of people, in Britain and worldwide, own and control industry, science and technique, and harness them in order to maximise their own profits.
Globally eight people own as much wealth as the poorest half of humanity; the greatest polarisation between rich and poor in human history. In Britain there are today around 100 major corporations that completely dominate the economy. It is the tiny elite that own those companies and their hangers on who are the real establishment.
Jeremy Corbyn rightly name-checked Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley and former BHS boss Philip Green - who have both been caught in particularly vicious acts of exploitation - but they are not alone. Capitalism is a system based on production for profit and not for social need. The exploitation of working class people is written into its DNA. Today capitalism is increasingly not even capable of carrying out its historical mission of developing science, technique and the organisation of labour.
Capitalism today, despite the claims of 'recovery', has only economic crisis and endless austerity to offer the majority; hence the search for an alternative that has led hundreds of thousands of people to signing up to Labour in order to support Jeremy Corbyn.
The capitalist establishment, however, is strongly represented inside the Labour Party as well as outside. As last summer's coup attempt showed, the big majority of Labour MPs are desperate to ditch Corbyn. Contrary to their claims this isn't because he is 'unelectable' but because they fear he might be elected.
Back in 2015 Tony Blair declared that Corbyn becoming prime minister would be "a very dangerous experiment" which he wouldn't be prepared to risk. No surprise then that he is now going all out to try to prevent it happening - even suggesting that Labour voters consider supporting Liberal Democrats or Tories if they are 'pro-remain'.
If a pro-Corbyn MP had suggested people vote for non-Labour candidates the majority of MPs would be baying for their expulsion but you can be sure that won't apply to Blair. On the contrary, many Labour MPs are not far behind him, with the likes of Wes Streeting and John Woodcock blatantly declaring they couldn't support Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister.
Never before has it been so clear that Labour is two parties in one: A pro-capitalist Blairite party and a new anti-austerity party in formation. Over the last six months doomed attempts by the anti-austerity party to try to compromise with the Blairites have meant no clear anti-austerity message has reached the majority of the working class.
Only a campaign in the hands of the potential new anti-austerity party stands a chance of winning the election. The manifesto should be decided by Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters - it is too important to allow it to be watered down to 'austerity-lite' via compromise with the right wing. Any attempts to impose a right-wing manifesto should be met with mass protests from the hundreds of thousands who are actively supporting Corbyn.
What should be the socialist policies in the manifesto? The policies that first thrust Jeremy Corbyn into the leadership of the Labour Party would be a good beginning - an immediate introduction of a £10 an hour minimum wage, an end to zero-hour contracts, free education for all, mass council house building, rent controls, repeal of the anti-trade union laws, and nationalisation of the rail and energy companies. These should be combined with policies such as an immediate end to all cuts in public services and a pledge to immediately renationalise Royal Mail.
Of course, the capitalist media will scream that such modest policies are 'unaffordable' - by which they mean that they might be detrimental to the gargantuan profits of the capitalist elite. There is no lack of wealth in Britain, but it is in the hands of a tiny handful of billionaires. We have to answer that the working and middle class can no longer afford to continue living in a society based on low pay, super-exploitation and unaffordable housing.
When the 1945 Labour government founded the NHS the capitalists also squealed about it being unaffordable but it was met with enormous enthusiasm by the working class able for the first time to access decent healthcare.
For 30 years successive governments - Tory and New Labour - have privatised public services, leading to vast profits for the privateers, and the undermining of public services for the rest of us.
There is huge popular support for renationalisation of privatised public services. Jeremy should pledge to renationalise them all, with compensation paid only to small shareholders in genuine need. This does not mean simply repeating the nationalisation of the post-war era. This time it should be based on popular democratic control involving service workers, trade unions and users.
And why limit public ownership only to what was achieved in the past? The fact that the pharmaceutical industry was left in private hands when the NHS was founded costs taxpayers billions through extortionate charges for medicines. Pharmaceutical products currently cost the NHS in England about 13% of its budget annually, about £16 billion.
And what about the banks? When the capitalist financial system was teetering on the brink of collapse New Labour did step in and effectively nationalise the banking system - but it was socialism for the bankers, not for the rest of us! The bankers were bailed out while we suffered endless austerity. Socialist nationalisation of the banks would bring them under democratic control, run in the interests of the majority - including low cost mortgages, and loans for small business. These demands and others should be linked to the need for fundamental socialist change - for a society run in the interests of the majority instead of for the profits of a few.
A clear anti-austerity programme - in the interests of the working class - should also define the Labour manifesto's approach to Brexit. Corbyn is of course correct to say they would rip up May's negotiating plans and start again. Workers who voted for Brexit did so primarily because they were in revolt against all the misery they have suffered over the last decade. Jeremy should make clear that he is fighting for a Brexit in the interests of the working and middle class majority.
It would be a mistake to allow the Labour right to pressure Corbyn into calling for membership of the single market, or even to include access to it in his demands for Brexit, if by that he means acceptance of its neoliberal rules. Instead he needs to set out a programme based on repudiating the EU's anti-worker directives and privatisation rules that oppose nationalisation of companies and industries. This should be linked to opposing racism and defending the rights of EU migrants, as Jeremy has done. It should not be confined to this country but on these policies reach out to the working class across Europe who are suffering from the EU's austerity offensive.
It is clear to everyone that Jeremy Corbyn will not be able to rely on the capitalist media, or the right of his own party, to give unbiased reports of his programme. The election campaign cannot therefore, be fought only on this unfavourable ground. Those trade union leaders who support Corbyn, including Len McCluskey - re-elected despite the best efforts of the Blairites - should vocally and energetically campaign for Corbyn. Mass rallies should be called in every town and city in the country. This should be combined with a gigantic trade union demonstration in defence of the NHS and education, and in opposition to austerity.
The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) national chairperson, Dave Nellist, today welcomed the general election called for June 8th as a chance to drive out the Tory government and reverse their vicious austerity agenda.
Dave, a Labour MP from 1983-1992, urged his former backbench colleague Jeremy Corbyn to fight the election on clear socialist policies, pledging to support him in resisting the efforts of Blairite MPs to water down the anti-austerity platform which won Jeremy his Labour leadership victories.
"According to the annual Sunday Times Rich List survey the wealth of the thousand richest people in Britain has more than doubled since the Tories came to power in 2010", said Dave. "Levying capital gains tax even just on that increased wealth would alone bring in over £80 billion for extra public spending. Austerity is 'working' only for the rich and a new course is needed.
"If Jeremy resists the pressure of the pro-capitalist wing of the Labour Party and instead sticks firmly to core socialist policies he could confound the pundits' predictions and win enthusiastic support. That wouldn't stop the Blairites continuing to plot against him - including during the election campaign itself - but it would inspire millions that a different society is possible.
"TUSC was the sixth-biggest party on the ballot paper in the 2015 general election, standing 135 candidates across Britain (see http://www.tusc.org.uk/policy for TUSC's 2015 general election platform). But the political situation has changed since then with Jeremy Corbyn's leadership of the Labour Party.
"TUSC has still continued to contest local elections against right-wing Labour councillors carrying out Tory cuts. We have 80 candidates in this year's elections (see http://www.tusc.org.uk/17354/10-04-2017/local-elections-2017-final-list-of-tusc-candidates ) and every vote for TUSC on May 4th will bolster the case for Jeremy Corbyn to stand up against the right.
"Our local election campaigns will also lay the groundwork for building the support Jeremy will need against the capitalist establishment, including the Blairites within the Labour Party, if he does win in June.
"But a general election intervention is different to building a campaign against local Blairite councillors, and in a hastily called snap election especially so.
"So the TUSC steering committee will be discussing in the coming days how best we can take forward our founding aim of helping to create a mass vehicle for working class political representation, in the general election itself and, even more importantly, in the new political situation that will present itself after June 8th".
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 25 April 2017 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.
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Article dated 25 April 2017
The Socialist, weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party
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