Liberalism Has No Answers

JEREMY CORBYN’S assessment of the “shallow populist appeal” of US president-elect Donald Trump and French fascist leader Marine Le Pen is spot on.

While canny exploitation of people’s insecurities to whip up xenophobia and hatred can pay off electorally, the right has absolutely no answer to the “fundamental economic injustices that are getting worse, not better, in Europe,” as Corbyn says.

Nor of course does Western liberalism, which Trump’s victory leaves in profound crisis.

The capitalist economic consensus has lost popular legitimacy since the 2008 bankers’ crash. Since it is delivering falling living standards for the majority, it can no longer muster the support required to achieve its goals democratically.

Those goals — the transformation of all public services into a cash cow for private business, whatever the cost to users and workers; attacking wages and pensions so business owners can claw more profit from the fruits of other people’s work; weakening job security, terms and conditions and workplace rights to lower the cost of production — have instead to be achieved undemocratically.

There are a number of ways the Establishment manages this, from simply lying about what’s happening (the repeated denials that the NHS is being privatised, for example) to using undemocratic institutions such as the European Union to turn corporate wish-lists into law and getting together with big business behind closed doors to draw up “trade” treaties with much the same effect.

At the same time, resistance is made harder by clampdowns on workers’ organisations through anti-trade union laws such as David Cameron’s Trade Union Act or the perniciously misnamed “right to work” legislation in the US.

But people have seen through these tactics, and are refusing in increasing numbers to play along.

That’s why millions campaigned across the European Union against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), with politicians who insisted the poisonous deal would benefit our economies unable to rally any public support whatsoever.

That’s why near-unanimous backing for remaining in the EU from the liberal “centre ground” could not defeat the popular feeling that this distant and authoritarian union was part of the problem for our “left-behind communities,” leading to Britain’s vote to leave.

And it is why millions who voted for Barack Obama’s promise of change were not prepared, eight years later, to give the Establishment in the form of Hillary Clinton yet another chance.

That handed the White House to the repulsive Trump. But the Republicans are not in fact surging forward: they too lost votes, just not nearly as many as the Democrats. The entire political centre is being rejected, in the United States as well as in Britain.

The left’s job at this crucial moment is not to wring its hands in horror at the collapse of liberalism.

The liberal centre is in crisis, but it continues to push for utterly destructive policies from the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (TTIP by the back door) to the marketisation of the public sector and menacing Russia with war.

Instead, we should be putting the “fundamental economic injustices” working people face front and centre, and demonstrating that socialism is the solution.

The ideological battle against both the right’s chauvinism and the vestiges of “capitalism’s OK really” liberalism will be important, but it is through campaigning on the ground that the labour movement can start to take the initiative and win over uninspired citizens.

Given the clear and present danger posed to the National Health Service — highlighted so dramatically in this morning’s news — the struggle to halt the attacks on our NHS is an obvious place to start.

This article appeared in The Morning Star, Monday 14th November 2016

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