Over 150 years ago, in his master work Das Kapital, Karl Marx noted the paucity of intellectual talent amongst the political representatives of Britain’s imperialist class. That class may have been supremely self-confident; it may have ‘ruled the world’, but its best days – the days when it had something useful to offer to humanity – were already firmly behind it.
Referring to the philosopher, political economist and parliamentarian John Stuart Mill, considered one of the ‘great men’ of 19th-century liberalism, Marx wrote: “On the level plain, simple mounds look like hills; and the insipid flatness of our present bourgeoisie is to be measured by the altitude of its great intellects.” (Capital, Volume 1, Chapter 16, 1867)
One can only imagine what he would have made of the present crop of career politicians (Sunak, Starmer, Sturgeon, Drake, the latest LibDem guy …), whose vapidity and utter forgetableness make Mill and his ilk seem like giants in comparison.
In their race to the bottom, the main characteristic shared by today’s parliamentary drones seems to be a sociopathic willingness to lie and cheat for money in full view of an increasingly disgusted and cynical public; to shamelessly sell their souls in return for a decent salary today and a nice pension tomorrow – boosted by whatever can be wrung from a seat in the Lords and a few boardroom sinecures.
And so, as we go to press, we note that the liberal-turned-Margaret Thatcher wannabe Liz Truss will soon be anointed as the new leader of the Conservative party – and as the next prime minister of Britain.
It is obvious to anyone who cares to look that Truss is a political nobody, with neither ideas nor principles to her name. The general public hadn’t even heard of her a year ago, and she clearly has nothing meaningful to contribute on any level. In no way can she be said to be ‘Britain’s choice’.
Yet we can be quite sure that when she is appointed as the country’s ‘leader’ via a Tory party popularity contest, the British chatterati won’t miss a beat in continuing to lecture the rest of the world about the importance of ‘western democracy’, or in asserting the superiority of the system that fills our ‘mother of all parliaments’ with such a motley collection of third-rate attention-seekers, charlatans and grifters.
Ruling class backing Truss for more of the same
So if Liz Truss is such a nobody, what is it (besides the fact that most people with a bit of talent prefer to expend their energies elsewhere) that is suddenly catapulting her into the driving seat of the British imperialist executive office?
Watching her leadership campaign, we cannot help concluding that what has sold our rulers on Ms Truss is her dedication to becoming a perfect servant to the ruling class. Time and again she has shown her willingness to do and say whatever is required by her masters, without a hint of demur or pushback.
Like her good friend (for now) Voldymyr Zelensky in Ukraine, she is an empty vessel ready to regurgitate whatever talking-points she is fed – and to change the narrative as and when required, whether or not it conforms to the narrative she was spouting the day before, and without a thought of her own to interfere.
In her role as foreign secretary (and clearly aware that this would be one of the keys to the top job), Truss has been more rabid than any of her competitors in her support for the war in Ukraine and in promoting the virulent Russophobia that has engulfed the country.
Far from approaching her role as Britain’s ‘chief diplomat’ (don’t laugh) with tact and discretion, keeping open the doors to negotiation and realpolitik, she has revelled in the opportunity to show her ‘toughness’, fanning the flames of Nato’s hysterical war propaganda by donning a bullet-proof vest (“like a modern Amazon”, as one commentator put it) to ride in an Estonian tank for a photo opportunity near the Russian border.
Even the aggressively pro-war Guardian ran an opinion piece pointing out that Truss’s “belligerent comments on Russia” were “reducing Ukraine to a pawn in the Conservatives’ power struggle”:
“Liz Truss is playing with fire. On Wednesday night she described Russia’s Vladimir Putin as a ‘rogue operator’ lacking rationality, and with ‘no interest in international norms’. As a result, she said: ‘We will keep going further and faster to push Russia out of the whole of Ukraine.’ She is clearly revelling in her imagined proxy war on the Russian bear and no one in Whitehall appears able to restrain her.
“The use of the word ‘we’ publicly identifies Britain’s interests with Kiev’s. Truss calls for ever more economic and military aid to be sent to Ukraine, and such aid now teeters on the brink of overt engagement with Russia … She nowhere mentions the risk involved in her desired escalation, let alone the possible compromises of peace. Hers is tabloid diplomacy.
“Before his stunt visit to Kiev this month, Boris Johnson also instructed Volodymyr Zelensky not to make any concessions to Putin, a line Truss is clearly seeking to rival. It is not unknown for democratic leaders to play war games to excite their electorates, but this must be the first Tory leadership contest fought on the frontiers of Russia.” (Liz Truss risks recklessly inflaming Ukraine’s war to serve her own ambition by Simon Jenkins, 28 April 2022)
Truss’s posturing has indeed been reckless and inflammatory. But she appears to have been right in believing that that was what her bosses were after. Despite the evident blowback from both the military and economic fronts in Nato’s proxy war against Russia, the British ruling class appears to be intent on doubling down on that war drive – and even on expanding it to China.
On that front, Liz has been equally aggressive. She has stirred Sinophobia by accusing China of “not playing by the rules”, by promising to “clamp down” on Chinese companies in Britain, by making veiled threats about a possible sanctions war against China, and by demanding the “defence” of the Taiwanese region against “Chinese aggression”.
In a recent speech on Commonwealth trade, she labelled China’s growing influence as “malign” and her campaign spokesperson described the country’s leadership as “authoritarian”. In 2020, back when she was trade secretary, Truss supported a move to give British courts the right to decide on whether a ‘genocide’ was taking place against the Chinese Uighur muslims of Xinjiang – against the advice of the Foreign Office, which was concerned about the impact of a sanctions war on the British economy.
Many more thoughtful politicians and businesspeople continue to be aware that picking a fight with Beijing would have dire consequences for ‘Global Britain’ (British imperialism), but the saner voices do not appear to be prevailing.
The imperialist system is in trouble. Its economic crisis is deepening. Its people are becoming restive. And the only solution it can see is to break open all those markets that are currently closed to its domination and superexploitation – by economic means if possible, and by military means if not.
The lesson of the economic war against Russia – that the western imperialists are simply not strong enough to fulfil the task they have set themselves, and that although they have the power to wreak untold damage on the world and its people they no longer have the power to enforce their will onto the globe at gunpoint – is one they are constitutionally incapable of learning.
Meanwhile, as they ready themselves for further and more catastrophic wars, our rulers want to make sure that no money is being wasted on such trivialities as lightening the cost of their economic crisis on the impoverished workers.
Although she quickly backtracked when it proved a step too far for some in the commentariat, Truss clearly showed her loyalty to the ruling class on this point too, when she announced her plans for a pay review for nurses and teachers. Not with the aim of compensating them for a decade of real-terms pay cuts, or to make good on the still unfulfilled Tory promise of ‘levelling up’, but in order to cut pay to those living and working outside London and the south-east. Levelling down, in fact.
Mindful of the gaffe made by Theresa May in announcing her ‘dementia tax’ to the electorate in 2017 (rather than waiting until she was in office to quietly implement it), Truss performed an immediate U-turn. But as Kate Andrews of the Spectator pointed out, this wasn’t so much a change of heart as a recognition that it had been “bad timing”.
The priority of attacking national pay-bargaining remains high for the ruling class. Ms Truss knows it, and is prepared to act as soon as the time seems propitious.
And just in case anyone should suspect Truss of having too much heart, her most recent pronouncements have been focused on her determination to implement tax cuts for the rich, which she claims will be far more “effective” than what she calls “hand-outs” to the poor, currently facing rampant inflation and out-of-control energy bills.
So while our rulers have chosen their next representative based on their priorities – saving their decaying and crisis-ridden system at the expense of the working masses at home and abroad – it behoves workers to be equally clear in understanding our own interests and priorities.
First and foremost must be the understanding that no changing of the guard at No 10 or on the green benches of parliament is going to help us escape the downward spiral of crisis, poverty and war.
There is no third way.