THE capitalist system is in its deepest economic crisis for 80 years at least.
But it is not yet in a political crisis. The "masters of the universe" may be a little shamefaced, but no-one can hear the roll of the tumbrils.
The reason for this is simple, the massive setbacks suffered by the working-class movement worldwide from the late 1970s onwards - what is now termed the "neoliberal offensive" spearheaded by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.
The decisive battles were fought in the 1980s and none was more decisive than the miners' great strike against pit closures of 1984-5. With that battle behind her, the way was clear for Thatcher and, later, her acolyte Tony Blair to pursue without let or hindrance the economic and social policies which have led to our present ruination.
The 25th anniversary of that epochal battle is being marked in many ways including, inevitably, a rush-job book - Marching to the Fault Line by Francis Beckett and David Hencke.
Beckett is a contributor to, inter alia, the Daily Express and The Guardian and the author of a book on the history of the Communist Party that might mildly be described as unsatisfactory from both the political and scholastic aspects. Hencke is a staff reporter on The Guardian fond of union "scandal" stories.
Arthur Scargill, National Union of Mineworkers president during the strike, declined to be interviewed for their book - wisely, for sure. He might have persuaded Beckett and Hencke to correct some of the more egregious consequences of their poor research and lack of grasp of the NUM constitution, but he could not have altered their world view.
That view is encapsulated in the book's conclusion, which is where the authors abandon their last scraps of objectivity and lay into Scargill with abandon. They write that "the miners trusted Arthur Scargill" and assert that he let them down, although they can find no actual miners to say so.
Then this - "the nation trusted Margaret Thatcher." Never mind that this is simply untrue as a summary of public opinion at the time. Which nation is this? Were miners and the NUM's millions of supporters part of it or does it reside somewhere else. Who exactly expressed trust in Thatcher?
The story about the duchess heard in a West End hotel in 1945 remarking as the general election results came in that "they've elected a Labour government, the nation will never stand for it" may be apocryphal. Beckett and Hencke's identification of "nation" with its rulers is real and there in black and white.
It is this world view, also expressed in The Guardian's revolting editorial on the strike's anniversary last week welcoming Thatcher's victory, which transforms the book from a mediocre cuttings job which could easily be ignored into an actual weapon in the ideological war against militant trade unionism.
Free rein is given to their impulse, natural perhaps to journalists in this Heat and Hello culture, to attribute great social movements and historical events to the whims of individuals - in this case, Scargill.
Every judgement and particularly every actual or alleged error is down to the one man. The rest of the union leadership and the union simply fade away. But when the existence of other NUM bodies during the strike is unavoidably acknowledged what do we find? They either unanimously or overwhelmingly took the same position as their president.
The authors clearly find it more congenial to seek the key to all questions by subjecting Scargill to pop-psychology profiling rather than address why strong, militant and independent-minded miners' leaders from across the country remained united in support of a dispute which Beckett and Hencke regard as unwinnable.
The book's lack of historical grasp veers from the exasperating to the comic. For example, Beckett and Hencke aver that the strike brought Britain "nearer to civil war than it has come from 400 years."
The numerate reader will have spotted straight away than subtracting 400 years from 1984 takes us back to 1584, 60 years before the event universally recorded in history as the English civil war.
And the historically literate reader will have wondered what happened to the Chartist rising, the Jacobite rebellions, the General Strike and so on. This overheated approach betrays a serious lack of political judgement by the authors.
There are a number of other misjudgements - for example, the insistence that the Communist Party was being outflanked on the left by rank-and-file movements in the trade unions in the late 1960s and 1970s, when such a development did not happen until 20 years later where it happened at all.
This is echoed in the authors' deluded idea that Scargill was in some way sympathetic to Trotskyism and the Workers Revolutionary Party when nothing could be further from the truth. It is a pity, to say the least, that among the important books the authors failed to consult is Vic Allen's masterly The Militancy Of British Miners, the definitive work on the left in the NUM and the emergence of the left in the union in Scargill's Yorkshire Area in particular.
The Durham area of the NUM is misdescribed as "militant," which it had not been since 1926. Loyalty and militancy are different things.
Nor has Scargill's daughter broken off contact with her father, one of the particularly unpleasant untruths Beckett and Hencke peddle.
Before chasing down the book's further errors, it would be best to pause and establish that the outcome of the strike was determined by two straightforward factors.
First, the whole weight of the capitalist state apparatus - police, security services, judiciary and media - was flung in the scales against them under Thatcher's determined leadership.
This operation cost vastly more money than the government would have had to spend on keeping collieries open. But that was not the point. Winning the class war for capitalism was.
Such an offensive could only have been seen off by a united fighting response from the entirety of the trade union movement. Such a response was the deepest desire of tens of thousands of workers, but not of the wee timorous beasties at the head of the TUC and the Labour Party, headed by Neil Kinnock, neither use nor ornament throughout.
In fact, the movement was deeply divided by reformism and that division constitutes the second reason why the incredible self-sacrifice and suffering of the miners and their families in the face of violence and deprivation was not rewarded by victory.
Of course, the divisions within the NUM itself, rooted in 60 years of history, did not help, not least because they became a cover from which others in the movement could hide from their own obligations, including the obligation to implement their own conference declarations of solidarity with the NUM.
The split among the miners - essentially the majority of the Nottinghamshire coalfield against the rest at the outset - are attributed by the authors in line with conventional wisdom to the absence of a national ballot on the strike.
They barely acknowledge that the decision not to hold one was perfectly in line with the NUM constitution and was taken not by Scargill, but by a delegate conference of the union.
To have held a ballot when the struggle was already under way would have demobilised the miners and have guaranteed defeat. It is all of a piece with the suggestion, echoed by Beckett and Hencke, that the NUM should have waited until the start of winter before taking action, notwithstanding that the pit closures which triggered the strike would long since have been accomplished and acquiesced in by that time.
The reality of class struggle is that you cannot always choose the timing and arena of battle. The greatest defeat possible would have been to allow the coal industry, the mining industry and the miners' union to slip into history through surrender, however presented, obliterated by the enemy without a fight.
That was the only real plan B on offer - defeat with lipstick on. It had its supporters at the time in the hierarchy of the labour movement and it is Beckett and Hencke's preferred option 25 years on.
Beckett and Hencke make great play of the diary kept by printworkers' leader Bill Keys in their superficial scamper through the great miners' strike. Keys, according to himself, was always on the brink of clinching a deal through Chablis-fuelled backstairs talks with everyone from Willie Whitelaw downwards.
Here, the authors make the error that journalists often do when they gain access to a document or information hitherto undisclosed. Simply because they have an "exclusive," they attribute to it far greater weight in the overall narrative than it deserves.
But there is a deeper point in the elevation of Keys and his self-proclaimed role up from the prosaic reality that he was a bit-part player. It is that he represented the sort of pragmatic trade unionism which the authors believe could have led to a different outcome.
They quote, with what seems like approval, Keys confiding in his diary that "any agreement is better than none." Earlier they summarise Keys's work behind the scenes as "a secret mission ... which almost secured the miners something that could have been dressed up to look like a partial victory."
And that is the nub of the problem. First, these attitudes - agreement at any price, dress up a bad deal as a great victory - are precisely what has led to widespread cynicism and apathy regarding trade unionism on the shop floor.
They became the dominant approach of the movement in the years after the miners' strike, under "new realism" and "social partnership," with results that are all too evident today.
Second, they misread entirely the intentions of the government, which were to have no agreement at any price and to ensure that the NUM enjoyed nothing that looked remotely like a victory.
In fact Scargill, despite the old tropes repeated in the book that he couldn't negotiate and would never agree anything with the Coal Board, secured a deal which could have ended the strike no less than five times. Each time, ministers intervened to scupper the agreement.
So the laborious details of the negotiations and talks, open and secret, which take up most of the second half of the book serve only to obscure the bigger picture, which was the heroism of the miners' fight for their jobs, the nationwide solidarity operation mounted by ordinary people across the country and the vast state assault on the miners and their communities.
These last issues do not go unmentioned, but they get nothing like the attention they deserve. Neither the authors nor their researcher Dan Johnson, whose duties appear to have been light, seem to have troubled to speak to many of the thousands of miners and their families who lived through the struggle.
Instead, we get a regurgitation of the allegations regarding Libyan money and the adventures of NUM chief executive Roger Windsor. These have already been exhaustively discredited in Seumas Milne's The Enemy Within, published many years ago.
'The book's lack of historical grasp veers from the exasperating to the comic.'
Curiously, Milne's book is described in Beckett and Hencke's preface as being "about the tangled finances of the miners' union." It is not - it is in fact about the state assault on the NUM. Why the authors of the book under review should wish to obscure this is odd. They are also keen to clear Windsor from the allegation, which has a deal of supporting evidence, that he was not exactly as sound as a pound.
Likewise, they are anxious - perhaps unsurprisingly - to acquit journalists of any role in the attack on the miners.
The industrial correspondents of the national media were all good chaps sympathetic to the miners' cause only exasperated by Scargill's media-handling techniques, we are told. And, when the BBC re-edited news footage to make it seem that pickets had attacked police first rather than the other way round, it was all an innocent mistake - why, they even found a BBC journalist to attest to the fact.
Those who lived through the strike will recall a different reality. The mass media was almost united in its desire to see Thatcher prevail and, whatever the subjective feelings of some labour reporters, themselves a group penetrated by the security services, it functioned as an arm of the state in the great struggle.
The miners' strike was in fact the one thing which liberals of the Beckett and Hencke type fear most of all - an elemental class struggle where the middle ground has no place from which to wave its white flag and reformism no room to peddle its "any agreement is better than no agreement" bromides.
The uncompromising nature of the struggle is only acknowledged in the now-clichÃ©d references to the "iron egos" of Thatcher and Scargill and the hackneyed WWI analogies.
The point is not - was not - the strengths of the personalities of either the prime minister or the NUM president. Rather, it is what did each represent? What would have been the consequences of a victory for the one or the other?
Had the NUM prevailed, which could well have happened had the pit deputies' union NACODS stayed true to its commitments, it is at least arguable that the Tories would have had to retreat from the excesses of Thatcher, the "new Labour" gang may not have been able to hijack the Labour Party and the country might have been spared the worst of neoliberalism. Maybe even greater prizes would have been in reach.
And that is profoundly relevant today. Beckett and Hencke's book is echoed in the attitudes of much of the Establishment in the midst of the economic crisis. Nationalisation, yes. State intervention, of course. Keynes is great man all of a sudden. But working-class power? Never. The Establishment must remain established at all costs.
I recall a Tory MP at the time declaring that victory for the miners would have meant "rule by the soviets." An exaggeration to be sure, but he had a class instinct cutting to the heart of the matter for which, as Beckett and Hencke establish beyond doubt, the liberal aversion to taking sides is no substitute.
In fact, the course of events since the conclusion of the strike have corresponded in every particular to the predictions of Scargill and others in the NUM leadership at the time.
Scargill said two things above all. First, that the coal industry would be finished if the government prevailed. Second, that the movement would collectively suffer a historic defeat if the movement allowed the miners to fight alone.
He was right on both counts. Since the virtual disappearance of the coal industry is an undeniable fact, every effort is now made to attribute this to the consequences of the strike itself, as if the Coal Board had not already an extensive hit-list of pits to be shut beforehand and as if for all the world the final blows to the industry were not struck a full eight years later, when Tory Michael Heseltine ordered the closure of most remaining mines.
Indeed, Beckett and Hencke go further in attempting to lay all the movement's troubles at the door of Scargill, giving space for Kinnock to float the obviously self-serving theory that Labour lost the 1992 general election because of the strike.
Doubtless, Scargill is also to blame for Fred Goodwin's bonus and Jade Goody's cancer - and we never did find out who was at the wheel of the white Fiat Uno which slammed into Princess Diana's car in Paris, did we?
In the book's odious concluding passages, the authors cannot resist quoting the words used at the 1985 TUC by electricians' union scab leader Eric Hammond - the miners were "lions led by donkeys."
They omit the riposte made to Hammond in the same debate by the T&G general secretary Ron Todd. "I'd rather be a donkey than a jackal."
This is still true today. So, to anyone thinking of buying this book, only remember this. Don't feed the jackals.
Andrew Murray was a reporter and editor on the Morning Star during the 1984-5 strike.
If you appreciated this article then please consider donating to the Morning Star's Fighting Fund to ensure we can keep developing your paper.