From 30 March and 1 April 2009, the CWI held a very successful European Bureau meeting in London. Representatives from 16 of the CWI’s European sections met to discuss the development of the economic and political situation in Europe over the last year of capitalist crisis, and the tasks in relation to building support for socialist ideas and the CWI .
The last months and weeks have been characterised by sharp and fundamental changes, both in regard to the dramatic decline in the world and European economy and the political and social attitudes prevalent in society, particularly amongst the working class and young people. The meeting opened with a wide-ranging discussion on the devastating world economic crisis and its impact on Europe (see CWI Analysis and Commentary: A profound crisis of capitalism, Kevin Parslow, on socialistworld, 31 March 2009)
During the discussion, speaker after speaker outlined the complete transformation of the economic situation, which in many countries went from unprecedented boom to dramatic bust in a matter of weeks. The scale and depth of the economic crisis has been such that the series of massive bailout packages (as much as 10% of GDP in Britain) for banks and financial institutions which European governments have implemented have not brought stability to the situation.
Class battles inevitable
As the response of European governments to the crisis has shown, any solution to the crisis on their terms involves working class and young people, who had no hand in the crisis, paying its price. This involves a vicious assault on public services, with cutback budgets as have been seen in Ireland, Italy, France and other countries; as education, healthcare and other services are attacked and undermined. The cash injections so easily handed over to big banks and crisis-ridden financial institutions have not been made available to workers threatened with unemployment, home repossessions etc. The European Bureau meeting heard of the prospect of the return of mass unemployment to Europe, with dramatic increases in numbers on benefits. In some countries, the rapid development of mass unemployment has had a kind of ‘stunning effect’ on the majority of the working class. Many workers even still hold out hope that the crisis will be short-lived. However, as the reality of the situation - a drawn out period of economic downturn - hits home, the absolute necessity of fighting to defend and improve living standards will be understood by many.
As reports at the European Bureau meeting demonstrated, this situation has led to the development of strong anti-rich, emerging anti-capitalist mood across Europe, as anger develops against the crisis and attacks on living standards that have been thrust upon the majority by the greedy, irresponsible ruling elite. This anger has already manifested itself in the development of important struggles in a number of European countries. Waves of national strikes in France, Italy and Greece, as well as the mass movement that has developed in Ireland against government attacks, reflect a renewed militancy by workers and youth who, have been forced into struggle in response to attacks on their living standards. Workplace occupations in Ireland and Britain, and “boss-nappings” in France, which have taken place in defence of jobs, indicate the willingness of the working class to struggle, despite the union leaderships, which often act as a barrier to an effective fight-back in a number of countries. As the situation develops further, major class battles between workers and young people, organised in defence of their interests, and bosses and governments intent on making them pay for their crisis, are inevitable throughout Europe and beyond.
The CWI meeting also discussed the massive impact the economic crisis has had on the political outlook of the majority in society. The ideology of free market capitalism has been entirely discredited, its policies having so obviously led to ruin. The capitalists themselves have been forced to abandon these policies to an extent, in favour of elements of Keynesian state intervention (in some cases nationalisation), in their desperate attempts to save the system. However, these measures have been implemented in the interests of the rich, with nationalised banks in many countries making no attempt to ease the burden of the credit crisis on working families.
The meeting discussed the necessity for socialists to counterpose a programme of genuine socialist nationalisation, under the democratic control of workers and the wider population. Nationalisation on this basis should not be confined to banks and financial institutions, but should also be implemented in industry, particularly those industries threatening mass layoffs. The demand to open the books of companies threatening redundancies was also stressed. These questions are posed particularly sharply in the car industry, where a crisis of overproduction has led to widespread attacks on jobs and conditions in Europe. The meeting discussed the need to put forward a programme on an international level for the nationalisation of the car industry under workers control and management, which could protect jobs and conditions and also help to fight mass unemployment by creating socially useful work in the development of alternative, sustainable transport. Developing public works programmes to provide jobs and much needed services is a question that should also be raised.
In contrast to the incapacity of the union leaders in many countries, a militant programme of action also needs to be put forward. Militant actions, such as workplace occupations can force the concerns of workers onto the agenda, and also raise the question of workers’ control. Demands for a general strike are also crucial in this period, representing a united class fight back against the bosses and government, as well as serving as a reminder of the immense power of the organised working class.
Building the socialist alternative
The realisation amongst a wide layer of people that capitalism is unable to ensure decent, stable living standards or employment has led to a questioning of the system and the beginnings, among significant layers of people, of the search for an alternative. The return of Karl Marx to the pages and commentary of the capitalist press was reported by speakers from many countries. In Germany, for example, statistics show that the number of people, particularly youth, reading Marx has skyrocketed. This situation has been reflected in an increased openness to the Marxist ideas of the CWI throughout Europe.
The European parliament elections, which will be held in June, will be an opportunity for workers and young people to register their anger and opposition throughout the continent. Already, opinion polls indicate that government parties in a number of countries will be decimated. Several of the European sections of the CWI will participate in the elections, putting forward a socialist workers’ alternative to the crisis-ridden bosses’ European Union. In Sweden and Belgium, the CWI is participating in electoral alliances – ‘Workers’ Initiative’ in Sweden and LCR/PSL in Belgium – in order to maximise the potential for a viable workers’ alternative. In Britain, the Socialist Party is taking part in the ‘No2EU – Yes to Democracy’ initiative, led by the Rail Maritime and Transport workers’ union (RMT), which represents an important step in the struggle for working class political representation.
The need to build new mass workers’ parties, to give a political voice to the struggles of workers and youth, which could argue for a socialist alternative, was stressed at the meeting. There has been the development of new left parties with the potential to play such a role in some countries. The CWI participates in these formations, such as the New Anti-capitalist Party in France, The Left Party in Germany and SYRIZA in Greece. However, if these parties are to develop further and win the support of the mass of workers and youth, they must base themselves on their struggles and put forward a clear, viable socialist alternative to capitalist crisis. The issue of racism will be faced increasingly by socialists in this period, as capitalism attempts to pit workers against each other to hinder an effective fight-back. The emergence of the threat of the far right in a number of countries, such as Austria, in the recent past poses urgently the need for a force that can cut across the development of the far right and racism, by appealing to workers and youth on a united class basis, in the fight against the effects of the crisis.
A feature of the changed situation in Europe in the last months of 2008 has been the emergence of mass youth struggles. The impact of the crisis, and the launching of a two-fronted attack on jobs and education by bosses and governments, has led to a deep radicalisation of young people. This led to the mighty movement of last December in Greece, as well as militant movements against attacks on education in Italy, France, Spain and elsewhere. This radicalisation will continue in the next period, as a significant layer of youth search for an alternative to the capitalist system; unable to provide them with a decent future. International Socialist Resistance (ISR), a socialist youth organisation initiated by the CWI, can play an important role as an international banner for youth who want to fight capitalism and its attacks.
Comrades left the meeting confident of the opportunities that will present themselves for socialism and the CWI in this new period. Recruitment to the CWI has grown rapidly in many countries, including England & Wales, where it has doubled in the last 6 months. The meeting agreed on bold targets and initiatives for expanding the scope of the CWI, including into new countries. It was also agreed to expand the financial and organisational capabilities of the CWI in order to take full advantage of the period ahead. In the struggles and movements that will inevitably develop, as the working class resists attempts to pass off the cost of the crisis onto its shoulders, socialism and Marxism will come firmly back onto the agenda. In this context, the next months and years will potentially see the CWI develop as a decisive force, in Europe and internationally.