On this important day, we salute socialist and working class fighters, and send solidarity to all those resisting oppression, discrimination and injustice. We salute CWI comrades in Kazakhstan fighting for shanty down dwellers’ rights. We salute the United Socialist Party (CWI Sri Lanka), which opposes war on the island and courageously calls for Sinhalese and Tamil workers’ unity in the teeth of vicious chauvinism. The Socialist Movement Pakistan (CWI) must be congratulated for holding dozens of May Day rallies across the country, in opposition to military rule and the capitalist and feudal elites.
May Day is also an occasion to remember and to learn from past workers’ struggles. This year, we commemorate the 90th anniversary of the immortal 1917 Russian Revolution. Despite decades of vicious attacks, lies and distortions by the boss’s representatives, as well as the monstrous crimes of Stalinist counter-revolution, the October Revolution remains the greatest event in human history, ushering in the first ever workers’ state.
In 1917, only the workers’ revolution could see an end to capitalist war, hunger, poverty and exploitation in Russia, and globally. Today, the same fundamental problems of class society exist, worldwide, and require the same solution. Only the creation of a socialist society – a society based on people’s needs not profits – can see an end of capitalism’s ills, like poverty, exploitation, wars, oppression, discrimination and joblessness.
Capitalism cannot meet people’s basic needs
Capitalism cannot meet the basic needs of the world’s people. Despite record profits for big business, half of the world – nearly 3 billion people – lives on less than $2 a day.
For the super-rich, capitalism is a bonanza. A few hundred of the richest people spend as much wealth as the world’s poorest 2.5 billion.
Capitalism hits hardest women and the young. Women make up 70% of the 1.3 billion people in absolute poverty. Every second child in the world lives in poverty and 125 million children never attend school.
The environment is degraded by profit-driven capitalism. Half of the forests that originally covered 46% of the Earth’s land surface are gone and desertification threatens nearly one quarter of the land surface of the globe. Scientists predict that continued global warming is likely to result in a rise in sea levels, leading to more coastal erosion, flooding and greater threats to human health.
Capitalism cannot take society forward. Millions live in abject poverty in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Even the much vaunted ‘economic miracle’ in countries like India and China see the majority of the population left behind and inequalities widening. India has an average wealth of only $6,500 per person. The top 10% in China own 40% of the country’s wealth.
But even in the ‘rich’ West, inequality grows. The US has the widest gap between the rich and the poor of any industrialised nation. The poorest 60 million Americans have average incomes of less than £7 a day. The US and Britain, the first and fourth ‘richest’ countries in the world, are, according to a new report, the “worst places” in the major industrialised countries to be a child.
And all this during the so-called ‘boom’ years for capitalism!
Recessions and slumps will be even more catastrophic for working people. Recent big fluctuations on the financial markets show the world economy is fragile. Major convulsions will wreck the lives of millions of working families.
Under capitalism, wars and violence are endemic. Over 70 armed conflicts were recorded since the end of the Cold War. World military spending reached $1,001 billion in 2005, equivalent to 2.5% of world GDP. The US accounts for almost half of the world total, followed by Britain, France, Japan, China and Russia. Intensified competition between imperialist powers, in their desperate scramble for energy resources, profits, influence and power, will lead to yet more armed conflicts, in which working people and the young will be the main casualties.
The ongoing agony of Iraq and Afghanistan are the starkest examples of the brutality of imperialism today. Between 655,000 and one million people died in Iraq since 2003. Two million Iraqis are displaced within their own country, while two million are refugees abroad.
The US military lost over 3,300 soldiers in Iraq, with 50,000 wounded. Four years after ‘Mission Accomplished’, and months after the US troop ‘surge’, US forces face even bigger casualty rates in Iraq. Six years after the US attacked Afghanistan, thousands of Afghanis are dead and hundreds of ‘Coalition’ troops killed.
The US spent $2.5 trillion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, while promised ‘reconstruction’ is non-existent. In Iraq, five million people lack access to safe water and 1 in 8 children die before the age of five. The puppet regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan are only able to survive due to protection from foreign armies. Most of Afghanistan is under the control of the Taliban or the Northern Alliance warlords/poppy growers. Much of Iraq is controlled by Shia and Kurdish militias or Sunni ‘insurgents’. The working class of Iraq is plagued by bloody sectarian carnage and national divisions.
The CWI demands the immediate withdrawal of all imperialist forces from Iraq and Afghanistan. While supporting the right of the people of Iraq and Afghanistan to resist foreign intervention, the CWI calls for the development of workers’ militias that cut across all religious, ethnic and national lines. The CWI gives full support to the development of genuine workers’ organisations, including independent trade unions.
The Iraq and Afghan wars, and the threat of imperialist attacks on Iran, will continue to bring millions of workers and youth onto the streets, across the globe. In the US, no more than a third of people believe the Iraq war was worth fighting. Youth and workers in the US must reject the phony opposition of the Democrats - who voted this month for another $124.2 bn to be wasted on the occupation – and start to build a mass socialist alternative to the two big corporation parties.
The way forward in the Middle East is by building workers’ unity, as can be seen by recent strike waves in Egypt and in Israeli. The workers’ movement must guarantee full rights to oppressed nations. The CWI calls for a socialist Israel and an independent socialist Palestine, as part of a socialist confederation of the region.
Protesters head for G8 summit
After all the big promises by the G8 countries to write off billions of ‘Third World’ debt, the ‘developing world’ now pays out $13 on debt repayment for every $1 it receives in grants. This and other key issues, like fears over environmental destruction, will mobilise radical youth and workers during May Day, and also against the G8 summit, in Rostock, Germany, in June.
As long as capitalism and imperialism exist, so will poverty, exploitation and environmental destruction. But so will mass resistance. Increasingly, workers and youth across the world will conclude they need a party to bring these struggles to a successful conclusion by transforming society.
Chavez discusses Trotsky
Latin America leads the way in struggles by the neo-colonial masses. Huge movements erupted against privatisations and for social rights. In a series of Latin American countries, left or left populist leaders scored high in the polls. In Mexico, one of the biggest Latin American countries, the 2006 presidential elections were rigged to stop the left populist, Obrador, coming to office. This provoked mass protests but no mass working class alternative existed to lead the working masses in a struggle for power.
The process of radicalization across Latin America is helping to make popular again the ideas of revolutionary socialism. Hugo Chavez recently praised Leon Trotsky’s Theory of the Permanent Revolution and Transitional Programme. This allows for wider discussion on the ideas of Trotsky. The application of revolutionary socialism to Venezuela would see the working class playing the key role in the revolution, taking the economy, especially the oil industry, into their hands. A workers’ and peasants’ government, with a revolutionary socialist programme, would prove to be a beacon for the rest of the continent. Unless capitalism and landlordism are abolished, and a socialist society created, reaction will always find a way back, threatening bloody counter-revolution.
Car workers take action
Important struggles also broke out in the Europe and the West. Greek students and teachers took action for months against privatization. Over 200,000 protesters marched in Vincenza, Italy, against US plans to double the size of its military base in the area, with the backing of the Prodi government. This mass opposition caused a government crisis.
Public sector workers in Portugal held a series of strikes against. Car workers across the world are under ferocious attacks and are fighting back in many countries, including Spain, Russia, Czech Republic, US and Australia. Workers at VW and Opel car plants in Belgium recently went on strike to defend jobs and conditions. Engineering workers in Germany are holding ‘warning strikes’ and telecom and building workers also threaten industrial action. Big protests took place across Britain against New Labour’s health cuts, and the main public sector union, the PCS, marks May Day 2007 with a national strike. Nurses in Ireland recently took industrial action for better pay and less working hours, getting huge public support. Strikes and mass protests show militant action pays. But very often workers’ struggles are held back or diverted by the conservative union bureaucracy and leadership. The CWI calls for fighting, democratic unions to effectively resist boss’s attacks.
United workers’ struggles can cut across all forms of racial, religious, ethnic, sex and gender divisions. Public sector workers in Kashmir, one of the poorest and most oppressed places in the world, took bold action this year, demanding government compensation for losses suffered during the devastating 2005 earthquake. In Northern Ireland, a campaign of mass non-payment of water chargers finds huge support, in both Catholic and Protestant working class areas.
Elections show need for workers’ representation
Recent elections around the world show the working class desperately needs political representation. Massive government rigging of presidential elections provoked a crisis in Nigeria. Only the Democratic Socialist Movement (CWI Nigeria) advocates a class solution, demanding democratic rights, as part of a struggle to replace the rule of gangster-elites with a workers’ and poor peasants’ government.
The first round presidential elections in France, leading to a Royal versus Sarkozy second round run-off, again shows the need for French workers to build a powerful, mass socialist force, inside and outside parliament. Many working people, particularly immigrants, will reluctantly vote for Royal to try to stop the right-populist Sarkozy coming to office. But, whoever gets elected, workers will need to mobilise against new neo-liberal attacks. Everywhere, the traditional social democratic parties have embraced big business and carry out neo-liberal cuts when in office. Even the Rifondazione Comunista (Prc), in Italy, is part of the Prodi government, which shifted even further to the right and aims to carry out neo-liberal policies.
A genuine socialist alternative needs to be built, fighting for decent jobs, housing and welfare. In its absence, racist, anti-immigrant ideas can grow and also the electoral support of the populist right and even the far right.
The CWI will field candidates in local and general elections this year, including in Ireland, this May, where Joe Higgins - a workers’ MP on a workers’ wage – will defend his seat in Dublin West.
The CWI is also part of wider left parties, which can make electoral gains and influence wide sections of the working class, like the Dutch Socialist Party and the Belgian CAP (‘Campaign for Alternative Politics’). But as the recent experience of several parties, like the Rifondazione Comunista (Prc), in Italy, the German WASG (‘Electoral alternative- work and social justice’) and Scottish Socialist Party shows, there is no guarantee left parties will succeed in developing the workers’ movement – this ultimately depends on a party’s political programme and ideas and taking an independent class stance.
The working class’ right to celebrate May Day is due to international struggles. Russia’s first ‘legal’ May Day was declared by the Provisional Government, in 1917, following the February Revolution. The rapid development of working class consciousness and action prepared the way for the socialist October revolution, later in that momentous year.
In the 90th anniversary of the Revolution, 1917 is hardly mentioned by the ‘mainstream media’. Instead, we are treated to eulogies to Boris Yelstin – the representative of 1990s capitalist restoration. But the hatred expressed by most Russians towards the Yelstin years, when robber-baron capitalism plunged millions into desperate poverty, is the real testament to what capitalism means for the masses in the former Soviet Union.
Through the experience of future struggles, the Russian working class will again seek out socialist ideas and return to the traditions of Bolshevism. Internationally, the working class and youth will also turn in greater numbers to socialism.