Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Not ready for it.

The IMF predicts widespread social unrest if these cuts are forced through: a "social explosion" as they put it. Their new study says that the world economy has to create 45m new jobs a year for the next decade just to tread water, which is an objective that is incompatible with the determination to implement social spending cuts. They detect a decline in the "employment intensity of growth", meaning that much of the growth is resulting from financial speculation, since capital finds it less risky to invest in bubbles than in actual production.

Contrary to the Tories' refrain that private sector growth is required, the state has to provide much of the growth in the coming period, to make up for the feebleness of the private sector, where few are investing, and few lending (even if a new round of debt/speculation-based growth was desirable). Cutting spending at this point, especially to the degree Chancellor Gideon is contemplating, may be like dragging an ailing British capitalism off the life support, humping it out of the hospital, kicking it through the doors and saying "now walk, you bastard". Even Jesus wouldn't be that arrogant.

The political risk to the government, if it insists on pursuing these cuts despite nervous warnings coming from the OECD and IMF, is not negligible. Andrew Rawnsley reports that cabinet members are terrified of what's being imposed on them, which is to be - as was expected - far deeper than anything Thatcher achieved in the 1980s. Of course, there are politically easy cuts, but these are the least effective. Cutting funding for the arts, for example. The Tories can always paint that (wrongly) as money for millionaires. But cutting education, health, pensions, justice, disability benefits... not only will this hammer the working class, it will also, by dint of its effects on the wider economy, yank the rug out from under the feet of Tories' middle class voting base. The coalition's approval ratings are well into the red, and at their lowest level since the elections. The Tories still get the benefit of the doubt from their core vote and a segment of 'swing voters', but if the IMF is right, that political credit will be rapidly withdrawn, and payment demanded with interest in a relatively brief period of time. I suppose, then, the question is whether the Conservative Party is prepared to be a kamikaze squad for capital - because if, as Mervyn King predicted before the election, the austerity programme finishes it off for a generation, it can't very well be the dominant party of capital afterwards.

Now, a spokesman for the Police Superintendents' Association warns that cuts will produce such grave social disorder that the police will struggle to contain it - and look at the hysterical reaction from the Telegraph. The copper's behaving like a trade unionist! The worst thing imaginable! Undoubtedly there's an element of the police trying to protect their turf from the Tories' promised cutbacks, but it's also a realistic intervention. In the 1980s, the police bureaucracy often complained about its forces being used as a shovel to clean up the shit unleashed by social destructive Tory policies. This is not because the coppers are a humanitarian body. But the last thing they want is to be faced with an angry, insubordinate population which their best forces and superior organisation can't deal with. If the Tories are going to turn the country into a social wasteland, they at least want enough men with appropriate powers and weaponry to be able to keep it under control. But the dilemma of austerity is that if they're determined to reduce spending to the extent that they are (while protecting Trident and NATO commitments), they have to seek cuts in all possible areas.

Of course, the risk is not only to the government. Stathis Kouvelakis writes on the attempted imposition of the "shock doctrine" in Greece, which basically involves creating a state of emergency in order to engineer support for a qualitative, lasting change in the social fabric, a "neoliberal purge". His conclusion is that if the Left and the popular forces in Greece are unable to meet this challenge, "they will be swept away by the dislocation of social relations and the rise of despair and, probably, of the most reactionary and regressive tendencies within society". It is not hard to see how similar prospects pose themselves in different ways across Europe, and in the UK. We are waging a difficult firefight with the far right, though their forces are as yet fractious and limited. If we don't effectively resist these cuts, and out of that resistance rebuild some basic grassroots left, with resilient community organisation and a much more democratic and popular trade union movement, then we could be devastated by the oncoming tide.

Those are the stakes we have to prepare for. The government has been preparing for this for more than a year, and it still isn't ready for the consequences.