To counter right-wing populism’s claim to be the voice of the people, the left must adopt a class-based strategy, argues Robert Griffiths
For several decades, the left in Britain and other parts of the world has led the argument and the movement against capitalist globalisation.
The selective drive for free trade, flexible and migrant labour and unrestricted access for Western capital, untrammelled by national legislation and strong trade unions, has benefited the giant monopoly corporations above all.
Yet the biggest losers from globalisation in the US have just elected a right-wing business tycoon as their next president on a nationalist, protectionist platform.
Understandably, after backing Bernie Sanders for Democratic Party candidate on a progressive and mildly anti-globalisation manifesto, much of the left ended up supporting Hillary Clinton as the party’s candidate — although she is a champion of big business globalisation.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, the European Union embodies the drive for a European free market in goods, services, labour and capital dominated by the capitalist monopopolies. The EU also leads the drive for big business globalisation at the World Trade Organisation (WTO), with its “troika” partner the IMF and through bilateral trade and investment agreements.
For several decades until the early 1990s, the left in Britain led the battle against this European “common market” with its Single European Act and Maastricht Treaty. Much of the trade union movement did likewise, until the TUC and its affiliates swallowed Jacques Delors’s guff about a “social Europe” at its congress in 1988.
Today, at the end of 2016, the left and the labour movement in Britain is largely associated with support for the EU and globalisation — and that threatens to become a disaster of historic proportions.
As working-class communities in most deindustrialised parts of Britain react against the consequences of EU-style globalisation, not least the “free” market in super-exploited migrant labour and the unlimited import of European steel, the Labour Party and most of the unions continue to worship at the altar of the single market.
Instead of maintaining a clear class understanding of the EU and globalisation, sections of the left and the labour movement have confused capitalist internationalism for the genuine internationalism of workers and peoples.
During the EU referendum campaign (having raised doubts about its stance in 2015), the TUC buried its previous objections to EU Court of Justice rulings protecting the super-exploitation of migrant workers from trade union and legislative action.
Having attacked capitalist globalisation since 1985, the Green Party appears to have turned itself into a megaphone for the EU Commission. Its spokespersons attribute many of the workers’ and women’s rights won through struggle in Britain to the bountiful generosity of Brussels.
Ever uncritical of the EU, Plaid Cymru calls for limits on the import of Chinese steel while staying silent about steel imports from the rest of Europe, which are eight times greater.
What the Labour Party, the Greens, the SNP and Plaid Cymru have in common is their lack of a clear class analysis not only of globalisation and the EU but also of British society.
In the case of the nationalists, they believe that Westminster politicians and Whitehall bureacrats are the main enemy. Labour, Green and some trade union leaders — like many of their members and supporters — think it is the Tories and Ukip.
Hence the calls from these quarters for a “Progressive Alliance” with the Lib Dems, in favour of the EU and against the Tory government and Ukip.
So far, Jeremy Corbyn has resisted such a suicidal course of action.
Hitherto, he has always understood that the ruling capitalist class is the
ruling force in society, maintaining exploitation and oppression and blocking progress on every front.
These are the powerful vested interests that must always be understood and challenged.
What right-wing political parties and politicians propose at any particular juncture is secondary.
That is why Corbyn and some sections of the left — notably the Communist Party — have opposed the EU even though elements on the right and far-right have also done so, albeit for very different reasons.
Most of monopoly capital is pro-EU in its own class interests, as has been the Tory Party mainstream from Harold Macmillan, Alec Douglas Home, Edward Heath, Margaret Thatcher (almost to the end) and John Major to David Cameron, George Osborne, Jeremy Hunt and Theresa May.
Had the Labour leader’s class-based outlook prevailed in the Parliamentary Labour Party this year, his party would now be reflecting and shaping the anti-Establishment public mood, turning it in a progressive and left direction.
Instead, Corbyn faces enormous pressures to support British membership of the single market, should big business and pro-EU parliamentarians fail in their efforts to sabotage exit from the EU.
Other sections of the left support membership of the single market in their delusion that capitalist “internationalism” and monopoly-dominated “free markets” are in the interests of workers and their families.
Some confuse access to the single market, which could take place on the basis of a bilateral treaty or WTO rules, with membership of it.
The latter would leave Britain subject to monetarist and neoliberal restrictions paying into EU funds for that dubious privilege, while no longer having any voice at all in the EU itself.
Those who propose single market membership believe it could help pave the way to EU re-entry.
Big business favours this for the same reasons that it overwhelmingly supports EU membership: both effectively outlaw most of the policies necessary to plan the economy, regulate the labour market, rescue strategic industries and extend public ownership.
That’s why Bank of England governor Mark Carney has added his voice to those urging a “soft Brexit” and protection for Britain’s feral financial sector.
He represents the interests of finance monopoly capital centred on the City of London, not those of workers whose real pay is lower than a decade ago.
He fully supports monetarist policies, including austerity cuts and bailouts for the bankers and speculators — but now Carney is worried that working-class victims of capitalist globalisation and neoliberalism are turning against so-called free markets.
Deutsche Bank’s Long Term Asset Return Study confirms that workers in the advanced capitalist economies have been among the biggest losers in the globalised labour market.
It estimates that the next “long cycle” of international capitalism will see lower GDP growth, higher inflation, negative real returns on bonds and a lower share of wealth going to corporate profit.
Why the grimmer outlook for finance monopoly capital? Because popular and working-class resistance will lead to greater “repression” (ie regulation) of the financial sector, more controls on migration and higher real wages.
According to Deutsche Bank, a major part of the ruling-class response in Europe will need to be greater EU political as well as economic integration.
Such is the class analysis, outlook and remedy adopted by one of the world’s most powerful capitalist monopolies.
It is a perspective rejected by communist and workers’ parties in Portugal, Ireland, Denmark, Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Germany, France and Italy and by more and more sections of the trade union movement there.
What is urgently required on the left and in the labour movement in Britain is a working-class outlook, analysis and strategy.
That must include a wages offensive led by the trade unions and resolute opposition to membership of the EU and its single market rigged in favour of big business.
Otherwise the right and far-right — in Britain as in France, Austria, Germany and the US — will present themselves with growing success as the patriotic champions of the working class and the people, standing up to big business globalisation.
That would be both a travesty and a tragedy.
Robert Griffiths is general secretary of the Communist Party of Britain and a contributor to 21centurymanifesto
This article also appeared in the Morning Star