This short essay is a study of British politics. Britain’s politics are in crisis. The crisis in Britain’s politics is a deep crisis. British politics and British society are both political realities of British society. British society has often determined British politics. British politics has often shaped British society. Today there is a need to think about British politics — in order to develop a better Left politics in Britain. Britain is faced with a simple choice today: Capitalism or Socialism, Barbarism or Socialism. British politics need to lead to a better Britain — towards a Socialist Britain.
British society is in crisis today. The reality of this crisis can be seen in British society today — in the reality of the crisis of Capitalism, the crisis of Austerity, the crisis of British society, the crisis of British politics, and the crisis of Europe. All British politics, today, are being shaped by the reality of the crisis of Britain. If a better Britain is ever to emerge it must be based on confronting the crisis and based on overcoming the crisis. Britain needs a new politics and a new society. Britain needs Socialism.1
British society is a political society.2 British society has always been a political society. British society has always debated its politics, its political origins, and its historical origins — ever since the revolutions of the 17th century and the emergence of the United Kingdom itself in 1707 and 1801.3 These politics have resulted in the political struggles of British society.
British politics is divided into two types of politics — Capitalist politics and Socialist politics. All of British politics, since the Industrial Revolution, can be divided between the Right and the Left — between Capitalism and Socialism. British politics since the Industrial Revolution has been determined by the struggle between these types of politics. The struggle between the capitalist class and the working class has been shaped by these politics. The struggle in British politics is between these politics — between the Right and the Left. The politics of Britain, like politics everywhere else in the world, is the struggle between Capitalism and Socialism.
The crisis in British politics and in British society shows that British Capitalism is incapable of solving its problems. The problems of Britain can only be solved by Socialism.4
The crisis of British politics has been a long crisis. The origins of this crisis go back to the 1980s and the 1990s — to the triumph of Neo-Liberalism, Thatcherism, and Blairism. These politics have created the crisis in Britain. These politics need to be overthrown — and replaced by Socialism.
What direction British politics takes is a political question. The writing and discussion of British politics, today, will also be dependent on political struggles and political events. In the end politics determines politics — and economics determines politics. For the British Left and the British Right, politics has always been a battleground for such debates and such political debates.
What direction British politics takes is a political struggle. Britain could go to the Right. Britain could go to the Left. It is likely, given Brexit and the crisis over Europe that British politics will go to the Right. It is the duty of the British Left to struggle to make Britain go to the Left. The only way to solve Britain’s crises and Britain’s problems is a shift to the Left — a shift to the politics of Socialism.
Britain is divided by its politics. Britain will always be divided by its politics. The struggle between such politics has always depended on the Left politics or Right politics present in Britain at certain points in British history and the political strength of political forces. For example, the Whig vision of British politics reached its height in the 19th century — at the height of the Liberal phase of British Capitalism. The Conservative vision of British politics often dominated in the 1930s and 1980s — periods when the Conservative Party was dominant in British politics. The strength of Left politics, in British politics and British society, has usually depended on the relative strength of the Left itself in British society — such as in the 1940s and 1960s. For any Socialist the power of the Socialist understanding of British politics and British society has always depended on the strength of Socialist politics and Left politics in Britain in general. The current debates about British politics, then, are not simply debates — they contain a powerful and vital political element to changing British society. Today British politics has been reduced to a few parties and a few types of politics — from the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party, and the Labour Party. For the British Left, today, all politics are political struggles to change British politics. For the British Left, today, all politics are political struggles for a new Socialist politics and a new Left politics in British politics.
Britain is in crisis today. The future looks very bleak for Britain. E.P. Thompson, writing in the 1980s, warned us that Britain’s future will always look bleak as long as Britain is a Capitalist society.5 His solution was to struggle for Socialism. Britain needs to become Socialist. Britain needs to struggle for Socialism. British politics has its own visions of the past, present, and future of British politics. Where will British politics go in the future? In a way we cannot really know. The future of British politics will be determined by the past and present of British politics. It might be that Britain is forever destined to remain a Capitalist country and a Capitalist society. It might be that Britain is destined to collapse under its own contradictions and its own historical limits — into various small nations and nation states, such as England, Scotland, Wales, etc., or into something much worse. It might be that Britain is destined for something else, such as a collapse of its civilisation entirely with the threat of nuclear war and the threat of ecological collapse.6 Yet there is still hope that something better might emerge in Britain and in British politics — Socialism, a Socialist Britain, and a Socialist world. It might be that Britain is destined to finally become a Socialist state and a Socialist society. For Socialists such a society is preferable — and it is necessary. Britain might go on being a Capitalist society, but its own politics implies that Britain can change and will change. It is still possible that Britain will become a Socialist society — and a free society and a better society. It will be up to both Britain’s politics and Britain’s society to decide on that political question of Britain’s future. The future is not set — a Socialist future might be part of that future. The present is not set — any discussion of British politics shows this. Britain might yet still achieve the potential of a better society — a Socialist society.
1. E.P. Thompson, Socialist Humanism, (1957)
2. P. Anderson, Origins of the Present Crisis, (1961)
3. G. Orwell, Notes on Nationalism, (1945)
4. G. Orwell, The Lion and the Unicorn, (1941)
5. E.P. Thompson, Writing by Candlelight, (1980)
6. E.P. Thompson, Zero Option, (1982)
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This post was written by R.G. Williams