Since the coronation of Boris Johnson, the British state crisis has reached a new peak. This has revealed all the morbid symptoms of the systemr that socialists have, for years, insisted lies behind Brexit. The conspiracy theory of a Machiavellian elite faction bent on ‘disaster capitalism’ has lost credibility (among those paying attention) with every dire turn in the Brexit story.
The repeated defeats of Theresa May should have put paid to this tired concept. The rise of Boris Johnson and his senior adviser Dominic Cummings gave it new life.
Many on the left are so traumatised by decades of defeat that they view every blunder of the rich as a power-play. Every squalid manoeuvre and failed initiative to emerge from Downing Street in recent days has been heralded as part of a long game that doesn’t exist.
The undead conspiracy theory took another bound into irrationality with the notion that Johnson’s threat to prorogue the parliament represented a ‘coup’. This misunderstood both the class character of the British state and the position of weakness currently occupied by the ruling class, including the ramshackle faction around Johnson.
The commitment to prorogue parliament did not indicate the overturning of the constitutional form of the British state. What it did indicate was both the elevation of that constitution to its natural anti-democratic height, and simultaneously its point of essential dysfunction.
The British constitution could be thrown together so haphazardly through the formative history of British capitalism because the state could rely on a hegemonic party – the Conservative party.
That party has been able, in every generation (with a few key Labour interventions), to construct a bloc sufficient to rule British capitalism through the travails of the international system and internal class tension.
What we are witnessing is an historic moment in the collapse of that party’s cohesion and therefore of the whole functioning of British politics.
The diverging strategic orientations which have presented themselves to the Corbyn project and wider left throughout its development are now presented again in the most blatant terms; is the left’s mission to stave-off the crisis and restore order to a battered system, or to ride the tiger of the crisis and assert a radical programme that favours the working class?
There are worrying indications in this regard. The business press is warming to Labour, and this was preceded by a more co-operative tone from John McDonnell towards the City, and promises to secure the independence of the Bank of England.
In a fit of self-delusion, some on the left are telling themselves and anyone who will listen that the Overton window is shifting, a new Bretton-Woods settlement is in the ascendancy, and the radical left is hegemonising the centre via a ‘Popular Front’ – or some other flippant nonsense, armed with the lowest kind of historical analogy.
The more accurate description of these dynamics is the most obvious; it is the left that is being incrementally hegemonised by the centre.
Right now British capitalism is like a man falling down the stairs. With the Tory party no longer by his side, he lashes out a hand to grab something, anything, to break his fall.
If what he finds is the Corbyn project and wider layers of leftwing opinion, then the radical potential of those forces will be rapidly spent.
What then follows in the wake of the Conservative party’s decline is not a radical social alternative, but a reactionary alternative.
Corbynism must attack the political system with a demand for a general election which will be a referendum on the entire social order. Socialists must tell the country in plain English that the current state of affairs cannot continue and that sweeping change on every front is urgently required. The politics of the defence of institutions, from the parliament to the City to the EU, will result in certain failure.
David Jamieson is a writer, socialist, editor @ConterScot and @TheCommonSpace and a signatory of the LeFT Campaign’s Founding Statement. This article was first published on Conter.
Picture: Francisco Goya – Antropos