The eruption of the international financial crisis last August has thrown into sharp relief an often neglected dimension of inter-imperialist contradictions—namely the relation between the domestic class struggle and the international competition of the major imperialist states. There are two ways of neglecting this relationship: one simply regards the struggle of each working class against its own bourgeoisie as a more or less self-contained process dependent on the traditional or innate virtues and vices of the respective protagonists; the other presents an anonymous and undifferentiated international capitalism riven by an equivalent and omnipresent contradiction between labour and capital. It is now becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the simple fact of an interconnection between the domestic and the international policies of the different ruling classes in the imperialist states. But this does not mean that the problem is adequately thought through or even correctly posed. In Britain the standard solution even for the Marxist Left is to insist periodically that the ruling class is attempting to solve the problems of British capitalism at the expense of the
Unfortunately one can scan the pages of the Left press in vain for any analysis of the Heath Government that goes beyond stereotyped phrases. On the one hand, one can read pedestrian demonstrations that the Conservative administration is after all a capitalist one and that its members actually have links with big business. On the other, one can find displays of indignation at particular ‘Tory’ measures that would do credit to a Labour Front Bench spokesman. But as for scientific analysis of the variations of ruling class policies in this country, there is a complete blank. There is, of course, a generalized sense that there has been a sharp shift to the right in British politics, but in the absence of any proper framework for interpreting this shift grave errors of political evaluation are made. In this vacuum it is quite natural that certain readymade notions current on the Left should be invoked—notably, talk of a drift to the corporate state or even of ‘creeping fascism’. Because the Left has not yet understood the new political formula which Heath is developing, it postulates that some fundamental mutation in the form of bourgeois domination is imminent. What is argued in this article is that the innovation involved is at the level of fundamental policy options, not at that of the political form of the state.
With Heath, the Conservative Party has produced a leader who promises to defend effectively and coherently the interests of a major sector of British capitalism and to develop a new formula for both foreign and domestic politics. Far from abandoning the framework of British bourgeois democracy, Heath intends to use its resources in carving out his new course. In formulating a strategy for restoring the fortunes of British capitalism, he intends to jettison the backwardness of British bourgeois politics—its sentimentalism about old friends and old customs—and to exploit the backwardness of the British working class—its parliamentarianism and economism. This conclusion is suggested by every field of Government policy, whether at home or abroad, and by its handling of all major issues from the bankruptcy of Rolls Royce to the conduct of the eec negotiations, from the policy for sterling during the international crisis to the introduction of the Industrial Relations Bill. But before exploring the nature of this reorientation of British politics, it will be necessary to indicate the main axes on which the policies of any bourgeois government turns and to identify the general formula for British bourgeois politics which Heath is in the process of remoulding.
In periods of orderly bourgeois development, the basic co-ordinates of capitalist policy come to seem entirely normal and immutable. Even Marxists can be persuaded that short of the proletarian revolution they cannot change. Yet this is to ignore the restless dynamic of the capitalist system and the workings of the law of uneven development. The shifts and reversals involved express changes in the following coordinates of bourgeois politics in the contemporary imperialist states:
—The ability and willingness of a given imperialist state to compete successfully with other imperialist states.
—The ability and willingness of a given imperialist state to undertake the economic and military burden of defending capitalism and imperialism from antagonistic social systems and from national liberation movements.