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Capitalism's crisis and the tasks of Britain's communists

Communist Party general secretary ROBERT GRIFFITHS delivered the first political report to the party’s new executive committee last weekend — this is a summary of the main points

THE Communist Party’s programme, Britain’s Road to Socialism (2020), includes a new section on the “general crisis of capitalism,” noting that the long post-WWII economic expansion in the West had come to an end.

Another dimension of capitalism’s general crisis has come to the fore in recent decades, one which threatens the very future of humanity, namely, the combined environmental and energy crisis: global warming and climate change, caused by capitalism’s “rapacious short-term drive to maximise monopoly profit.”

Other dimensions arise on this material base: social oppression and inequality, cultural domination and degeneration and — reflecting and reinforcing all these aspects — political crisis. In the major imperialist countries, the ruling class finds it increasingly difficult to rule in the old ways, although the working class has yet to understand the need to fight for state power in order to rule in a new way and construct the socialist alternative to capitalism.

British state-monopoly capitalism is emerging as a prime example of this general crisis.

The deep structural weaknesses and contradictions of the British economy are proving difficult if not impossible to resolve: our unbalanced economy, the domination of finance capital in the City of London, the balance of payments dependence on income from British imperialist investments abroad, chronic under-investment in the productive economy domestically — except for a dangerous reliance on armaments production and foreign capital — and the long-term under-investment in new technology, research and development, labour skills and education.

Britain’s social crisis is reflected in the reversal of progress on every front in the struggle against social inequality, whether in the battles against child poverty and the gender pay gap, or in the fight to save the NHS — when six million people are now waiting for operations — and overcome the chronic housing crisis in all its manifestations.

The two increases in household fuel bills last year pushed half a million more households into fuel poverty. The increases due next April are likely to plunge an additional one-and-a-half million households into fuel poverty, to make a total of six million.

Yet the “big five” energy retailers are making big profits, some of them as gas producers as well. British Gas more than doubled its profit in the first six months of 2021, helping parent company Centrica to offset the losses when 7,000 engineers took industrial action to defeat the company’s “fire and rehire” plans.

The Communist Party calls for an immediate cap on gas and electricity charges, a windfall tax on monopoly profits and the permanent abolition of VAT on household fuel — a measure only made possible by Brexit. But, unlike the Labour Party under new management, we also insist that only public ownership will end the profiteering market anarchy that has seen 50 suppliers go out of business since 2018 — half of them since last November — compelling the state to step in and rescue millions of consumers at a cost to the public purse of £2 billion.   

Certainly, British state-monopoly capitalism is in a political crisis that runs much deeper than Boris Johnson’s tenure in 10 Downing Street. Divisions within the Conservative Party over relations with the EU; the determination of 17 million voters to defy ruling-class scaremongering and support Brexit; and the deadly failure of the Conservative government and the state system to protect the public against the Covid pandemic — while protecting the profits of big business — had already destabilised bourgeois politics in Britain, even before Johnson turned Number Ten into the equivalent of an American speakeasy during Prohibition.

Of course, Johnson is unfit by any measure to be Prime Minister. But what many millions of people need more than anything is a change of government, policy and direction. They need a government that will challenge monopoly power, not subsidise it and protect it with a battery of new laws designed to increase the rights of the police, the courts and the intelligence services and decrease our hard-won rights to dissent and demonstrate.

Talking of which, we must do more to oppose the threatened extradition of Julian Assange to face trumped-up charges before a kangaroo court in the US and demand his immediate release after almost three years of imprisonment without trial.

Britain’s political crisis also includes the threatened secession of Scotland and the break-up of the union. The Communist Party has long argued for federalism as the only means by which working-class and progressive unity can be retained in the struggle to transfer wealth and power from the monopoly capitalist class to the working class and peoples of the whole of Britain.

Scotland breaking away will leave all of that wealth and much of that power behind in England shattering the organic unity of the labour movement for the mirage of “independence” under the thumbs of the EU, Nato, the English Treasury and the Bank of England.

Then there is the international dimension of British state-monopoly capitalism’s general crisis, namely, the crisis of British imperialism’s alliances and the implications for peace.

There is no settlement yet of Britain’s future economic and political relations with the EU, within which the dominant state-monopoly capitalisms of Germany and France struggle for supremacy while also seeking to maintain dominance over other member states in turmoil.

British imperialism’s main ally, the US, has itself been in growing political crisis since the 1990s if not earlier, with presidents taking office despite losing the popular vote and more than one-third of potential electors choosing not to vote for anyone.

Donald Trump’s presidency worsened the instability instead of reducing it.

As global economic, political and military hegemony tilts away from the US and its major allies and towards China, imperialism’s desperate rearguard action has taken the form of a new cold war. Dangerously, this has a military dimension as well as an economic and political one.

One of Britain’s contributions to this second cold war is the planned 40 per cent expansion in its stock of nuclear weapons.

The US-Britain-Australia pact is an aggressive escalation of military intervention in the Asia-Pacific region and in particular, in the South China Sea. The new military pact between Australia and Japan does likewise. France wants to strengthen the military dimension of the EU beyond the reach of US domination, with or without some form of British collaboration.

The Communist Party of Britain’s 56th Congress set the perspectives and priorities for our work over the coming two years, with an emphasis on building solidarity and unity between campaigning bodies in a popular, democratic anti-monopolies alliance.

We have to:

• Promote green jobs and the New Deal for Workers.

• Work with unions to organise and mobilise precarious, low-paid and young workers and the unemployed.

• Oppose a new austerity for the working class and strengthen the People’s Assembly.

• Campaign against carbon emissions, for environmental security.

• Launch a campaign against energy price rises and for public ownership.

• Defend women’s rights, promote the Charter for Women and build the National Assembly of Women.

• Promote a new initiative against racist immigration and nationality laws.

• Defend and rebuild the NHS.

• Highlight the policies needed to resolve Britain’s housing crisis.

• Win the labour movement to support “progressive federalism.”

• Oppose the new cold war and strengthen the peace movement and the British Peace Assembly

In this work, we will also promote the Morning Star and work closely with the Young Communist League.

For the local elections on May 5, the Communist Party will stand candidates and run campaigns showing the real political alternative to state-monopoly capitalist policies and rehashed New Labourism.

The Communist Party must continue to grow in numbers and influence if we are to play a significant role in the fightback. Our district and national congresses later this year will be an important opportunity to strengthen our work and organisation at these vitally important levels.

Our members have elected this executive committee to show leadership, which we must do in deeds as well as words, setting a personal example whenever possible.

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