It is clear now that the section of the British capitalist class that has come out victorious from the struggle following Brexit is the most viciously imperialist and nationalistic the Empire has to offer. Flag waving jingoism, Boris’ pasty face filling the air waves, uncritical celebrations of colonialism, racist rhetoric on full display: the British people are now faced with the most openly reactionary government since the reign of Margaret Thatcher. It may even exceed it in sheer cruelty and hatred for the working class and minorities. Unfortunately for workers, its own historical institutions are not remotely as powerful and entrenched as those that were arrayed against (and defeated by) Thatcherism. Even more unfortunately, a large section of the English working class seems to welcome this descent with open arms. The newly emboldened British regime has also made it clear that they intend to hold onto Scotland, the Occupied 6 Counties of Ireland and Wales by any means necessary. The orchestrated Loyalist rioting and attack on a nationalist area in Belfast this week being only the most recent example.
In its desperation to cling to any shred of relevance, the British Labour Party, with the social reformist Corbyn wing soundly defeated, has decided to embrace the tide of chauvinism. Keir Starmer, a man notable for having put several Irish patriots in prison as a public prosecutor, denounces the Tories for being “soft on crime” as well as “terror” and presents himself as standing for “law and order”. These pitiful attempts to Out-Tory the Tories don’t appear to be resonating with British workers, who have abandoned Labour in the famous Northern “Red Wall” areas, a decades long Labour stronghold. Labour provided little to no opposition to recent repressive bills, including a bill which would allow British intelligence assets to commit any crime up to and including rape and murder. After recent laws aiming to target gypsies and travellers were proposed by the Tories this year, Charlotte Nichols the Labour Shadow Minister for women and equality distributed a leaflet promising to deal with “traveller incursions”. The Labour Party has never fully supported the right to self determination, and the chauvinism directed at Scotland, Ireland and Wales has only intensified as they set out to make it clear they are true British Patriots.
Given that the trade unions, Labour Party, and other traditional working-class institutions in Britain are not providing real resistance to the Tory onslaught, who exactly is? The parties of the “radical” left in Britain largely tied themselves to the Corbyn bandwagon. His utter defeat has left them in total disarray. Begging Corbyn to form an alternative party failed. Articles their intellectual luminaries have written on the situation are heavy on the self-pity and wallowing, light on any sort of programme. There are smaller radical groupings that kept themselves aloof from Corbynmania, but many of these take chauvinist positions themselves and are for the most part unable to influence events. In the absence of organisation, we have seen promising signs of resistance by ordinary people in the streets, particularly in Bristol following the Black Lives Matter protests and in recent confrontations. The brutal abduction and murder of Sarah Everard by a London Met cop has led to an explosion of anger following heavy handed repression by that same police force at a vigil. Marching and protesting across England and Wales against the Police and Crime Bill, which aims to essentially make all protest illegal, has demonstrated that there remains some fighting spirit in the British people. Even more encouragingly, the rising support for Scottish and Welsh independence among the working classes of both nations present a serious challenge to the Union.
While we welcome any resistance to the British imperialist state, it would be dishonest to uncritically celebrate these efforts. In the absence of a revolutionary movement that can provide both organisation and direction to the masses, these spontaneous and often separate struggles have definite limits, no matter how heroic and determined they may be. What is promising in this is that with the Labour Party increasingly discrediting itself as a progressive force, and with most reformist alternatives weakened also, there is currently no organisation that can effectively channel protesting workers and students away from confrontation with the state.
While a section of British workers appears to have embraced the Tories, they have done so as the result of decades of failure and neglect by social reformists. Breaking these workers away from chauvinism is an absolute necessity for any successful socialist movement to succeed, and this would mean not only challenging racism, sexism and so on, but challenging the very basis of the “United Kingdom” itself by supporting the struggles of the Scottish, Irish and Welsh working classes for freedom. We also welcome the fight for Scottish and Welsh independence as Socialist Republicans while remaining critical of the current upper-class leadership of these movements that wish to return to the EU imperialist bloc. We can only hope that the separate and spontaneous struggles are the embryo of genuine working-class alternatives in England, sure to be a long and protracted struggle. In the absence of such alternatives, the movements that have the greatest chance of disrupting British imperialism are struggles for national independence. Breaking up the Union is the greatest blow that could be struck against the British government, and it is a fact that Johnson and his allies are all too aware of.