The day before a revolution erupts the consensus is that it could never happen here. The day after it erupts the consensus is that it was always going to happen here. Such a dichotomy marks the difference between complacency and inevitability, which in the context of a social revolution is but a hairsbreadth in dimension.
In his classic account of the French Revolution of 1789–93, Jean Jaures opines that one of its causes was the fact “French royalty didn't have the ability to understand events or to be open to renewal…It was too old and too tied to ancient powers to accommodate itself to the new times.”
Reading Jaures’ words, this year’s ritual Queen’s Christmas message hovers into admonitory view.
There she was, Queen Elizabeth, as old as time itself, perched inside her gilded palace surrounded by the opulent evidence of an out of touch institution, one that despite standing as a symbol of class privilege manages in normal times to remain inoffensively peripheral due to its enduring presence in our lives.
But the time we are living through now is far from normal. How could it be when the social carnage wrought after eight years of a brutal and one-sided class war, officially known as austerity, has reached the point where there is no longer any hiding place for a ruling class whose utter disregard for the millions of lives destroyed in the process may well, proceeding along its current trajectory, prove its undoing?
If it be so, in decades to come historians will look back and identify the sight of Queen Elizabeth delivering her 2018 Christmas message, perched on a chair in front of an obscene gold piano in a room laden with riches, to be of similar historic moment as Marie Antoinette’s infamous “let them eat cake” dismissal of the suffering of the French masses prior to those masses taking matters into their own hands.
In Britain we have been conditioned to believe that revolutions are either a thing of the past, a mere footnote in history, or only ever take place in far away places we associate with instability and chaos (en passant, that this instability and chaos is created in large part by our own foreign policy is another matter that need not detain us here).
Yet as we move into 2019, the contradictions of a society in which so many have been pushed into poverty and destitution in service to the ideology of wealth and privilege, have become more acute than at any time since the Second World War.
Married to a Brexit crisis that has induced a state of paralysis within government, and with a liberal commentariat in complete and utter meltdown as the ground shifts beneath its feet — effecting its escape from reality with the intoxicating wine of ‘Russians under the bed hysteria’ — and Britain is fast becoming ripe for revolution.
That the Tories have pushed the austerity envelope too far is now indisputable, with the recent findings of the UN’s rapporteur into extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston, confirming it.
14 million people, a fifth of the population, live in poverty. Four million of these are more than 50% below the poverty line, 1.5 million are destitute, unable to afford basic essentials. The widely respected Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts a 7% rise in child poverty between 2015 and 2022, and various sources predict child poverty rates of as high as 40%. For almost one in every two children to be poor in twenty-first century Britain is not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one.
Crucially, despite this grim picture and the indictment of the status quo it represents, Professor Alston emphasises how the
Government has remained determinedly in a state of denial. Even while devolved authorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland are frantically trying to devise waysto ‘mitigate’, or in other words counteract, at least the worst features of the Government’sbenefits policy, Ministers insisted to me that all is well and running according to plan. Some tweaks to basic policy have reluctantly been made, but there has been a determined resistance to change in response to the many problems which so many people at all levels have brought to my attention.
In truth though, you do not need the findings of a UN report to grasp the magnitude of social carnage that now exists in the UK. All you need do is walk outside your front door and look around you. Rough sleeping in towns and cities across Britain is now so ubiquitous Charles Dickens would balk.
Add to this foodbanks that are struggling to cope with the increased demand caused by the rolling out of the government’s latest benefits wheeze, universal credit; an epidemic of violent crime combined with cuts to the police that has left nobody safe from its consequences; draconian cuts to fire services; prisons in chaos; the NHS crumbling; a rail system that is antiquated, unreliable and increasingly unsafe — all of this while the country’s political class is fixated on Brexit with no resolution in sight — and it doesn’t take a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.
Injecting a sinister element to this deepening crisis are the embryonic shoots of a potential anti-Corbyn government coup. Established by the charity The Institute for Statecraft, and funded by the FCO to the tune of £2 million, the Integrity Initiative has been exposed as a conspiracy not only to drip feed anti-Russia disinformation into the public domain via social media accounts, and with the willing collusion of various high profile mainstream journalists, it has also been engaged in a campaign to undermine and attack the credibility of the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn.
More worryingly is the participation of British military intelligence in this conspiracy, drawing parallels with the contours of the plot that was uncovered to topple Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson in the mid-1970s by a similar cabal of deep state actors; alleging, as they do Corbyn now, sympathy with the British establishment’s designated external enemy, Russia.
In such a crisis-ridden setting, whoever advised the Queen to deliver her Christmas message this year in a room dripping in gold, this person is either a revolutionary in disguise, intent on lighting the spark, or else the loyal servant of a monarchy whose detachment from lived reality of millions is so complete as to make the Bourbons appear like social reformers by comparison.
If, as they say, revolutions are not made by the poor but by the rich — with the poor merely finishing what the rich begin — austerity Britain at the end of 2018, moving into 2019, has never been more ripe. As Marx points out: “To call on people to give up their illusions about their existence is to call upon them to give up a condition that requires illusions.”
As those illusions melt away, that sound you hear in the distance is the sound of a storm gathering.
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