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International Workers’ Day and the socialist alternative to austerity and barbarism
May Day (International Workers’ Day) is an opportunity for celebrating the militant internationalist traditions of the working class movement, converging with the explosive struggles of today. 1st May this year is as a key date in the calendar of living struggles and movements. The CWI believes that these struggles - from Greece to Chile, Nigeria to Tunisia - not only represent the inevitable explosive response to the current crisis. They also signal the emergence of a social force capable of reducing to rubble the plans of the international ruling class to pauperise workers and young people. The organised working class, mobilised in the fight for a genuinely socialist alternative, can transform society.
In Spain, the crucible today of the European crisis, 1st May will see new mobilisations against the labour reform and cutbacks. In the USA, the ‘Occupy’ movement is building towards another huge day of protest, including attempts to incorporate workers’ class action. In Africa, Asia and Latin America, this year’s May Day mobilisations take place against the background of increasing instability. The spreading of the effects of the world economic crisis, and the impact of the Maghreb and Middle Eastern revolutions, have ushered in new upheavals and a consequent increase in state repression, often bloody and brutal. These factors will also undoubtedly be reflected as workers, youth and the poor take to the streets on 1st May.
Europe remains the area in which the capitalist crisis finds its most concentrated expression. It reveals the dead end on offer from the capitalist system for workers, the unemployed and youth. The repeated and desperate attempts of European governments and financial and economic elites to draw a line under the chaos of the Eurozone debt crisis, quickly give way to repeated and devastating episodes of crisis and failure. The epicentre of the crisis is constantly shifting and expanding, now towards Spain, but also increasingly towards the previously ‘stable’ core countries, such as France and the Netherlands. The partial default and second ‘bailing out’ of Greece, along with the growing confirmation that similar bailout projects in Portugal and Ireland have failed to meet their stated objectives, are crushing reminders, not only to the ruling class but also to the majority of people, of the depth of the current crisis. Countries outside the Eurozone also face massive cuts and the risk of “contagion”, such as the UK and Czech Republic. On a world scale, any ‘recovery’ is shaky and unstable. There is the beginning of a downturn in those countries seen as exceptions to the crisis (such as China and India). This will have profound economic and political effects worldwide.
We see soaring ‘risk premiums’ and the ‘no mercy’ approach of the financial markets and international and European institutions. The capitalist governments’ attempt to satisfy them through imposing austerity budgets and anti-worker reforms and they respond with demands for more blood to be drawn from the welfare state and workers’ living standards. Despite this, and the clearly depressionary effects of such policies, the entire capitalist political establishment maintains the propaganda that ‘There is no alternative’.
But this cosy consensus has been broken again and again on the streets and across the workplaces of Europe. So far in 2012, powerful general strikes have rocked Belgium, Portugal, Spain and Greece, bringing the economies to a halt and millions onto the streets. They give a glimpse of the power of the working class to halt the attacks upon it, through a serious sustained struggle armed with political alternatives to cuts and capitalism.
Even in those countries until now lauded as an example of peace and tranquility, the spectre of mass struggle is emerging. Ireland had been held up by the capitalist establishment everywhere as an example of a people who knew how to sit back and ‘swallow the medicine’. It is currently experiencing a mass revolt against the government and the Troika-imposed ‘Household tax’. The Socialist Party (CWI in Ireland) is playing a leading role in this defiance movement . In France, the likely defeat of Sarkozy, following the first round of elections, will have far-reaching consequences both in France and beyond, with at least a limited shaking up of the agenda of the ‘Merkozy’ axis.
A Hollande government will be immediately put to the test in the heat of the crisis and events. Its policies, including welcome reforms which it may introduce, such as the increase in taxes on the wealthy etc, will unfortunately be limited to austerity as a solution to the crisis. The experience of this ‘Socialist’ government will undoubtedly push many people to search for genuinely socialist answers and policies, following the last period of attacks and ridicule heaped on the ideas of Socialism and Marxism, exacerbated by the experience of so-called ‘Socialist’ governments worldwide which continued and deepened neo-liberal policies. Political instability and volatility are on the order of the day, with important swings in the political outlook of millions towards both left and right wing formations. This has been recently demonstrated on the electoral plane and in opinion polls in France and also in the Netherlands, where the government is in the process of falling. In the absence of mass fighting socialist parties and organisations capable of uniting opposition around a consistent anti-capitalist programme, the danger of increasing social division and advances for far-right and reactionary forces are growing. This demands a serious and united response from the left and labour movement. Splits and discord are also emerging within governments and regimes, as witnessed recently in the UK ConDem coalition and in the deep splits that have opened up in the Chinese ruling elite.
The workers’ struggles in the majority of countries, come up against the obstacle of the right-wing ‘yellow’ bureaucracies in the leadership of many trade unions. They pursue a strategy of demobilisation and policies limited to only slightly limiting the austerity measures being imposed. It is essential to build mass opposition to such leaders from below, with demands for leaders to be regularly elected, subject to recall and to live on no more than the average workers’ wage. The National Shop Stewards’ Network in the UK is an inspiring example of how to build a combative workers’ organisation. It was a key force for bringing about a public sector general strike on 30 November last year - the most significant action since 1926 and something on which an escalating fight-back can be built.
It was a feature in the revolutions of 2011 and the Indignados/Occupy movement that big similarities between the situations in different countries showed the possibility of struggles spreading on an international scale. This is now a real possibility in the case of the countries on the European ‘periphery’, under the boot of the markets, credit agencies, the Troika and governments. To an astonishing degree, the same questions: of fighting back, of general strike action as part of a strategy to win, of the need for viable alternative policies to capitalism, are all placed onto the table simultaneously.
Portugal and then Spain were convulsed by general strikes in the same week, between 22 and 29 March. What would it have cost the trade union leaders to coordinate these strikes, in a simultaneous and powerful expression of workers’ power across borders? A continuation of largely token protests by the European trade unions is insufficient. The CWI continues to demand and fight for the urgent development of plans for coordinated strikes and protests in the peripheral countries and beyond, as steps towards an all-European general strike. This demand deserves to be given a wide hearing on 1st May, a celebration of working class internationalism. Such a struggle is where the fight for a socialist alternative to the capitalist EU begins.
In Tunisia, where the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ began, May Day celebrations and protests will take place in the aftermath of brutal episodes of repression. The new government installed following the removal of Ben Ali, has been trying to firmly establish itself, sending a clear message to the left and trade union movement not to stand in its way. The CWI has organised, and continues to organise, workers’ solidarity in word and deed, with these and other movements.
In Tunisia and Egypt, the incomplete character of the revolutions has led to a growing sentiment of the need for a ‘second revolution’ to sweep away the economic and political systems responsible for the misery of the region. The building of the forces or Marxism in these countries in order to organise around a programme capable of completing the revolution, is a key task which the CWI is engaged in.
In such situations, only the power of the organised working class and poor, in their millions throughout the planet, can be relied upon. In Syria, as in Libya before, only the mobilisation of these forces, not an imperialist intervention, can begin to lay the basis for a way out of the bloodshed and dictatorship of Assad and imperialist interests. The false status of imperialism’s ‘friendship’ with the peoples of Syria is revealed by its astonishing hypocrisy in the case of its ally, the Bahrain dictatorship, which received only a mild ‘wringing of hands’ by imperialism when it crushed pro-democracy protests last year. It also displays a cosy relationship with the murderous dictatorship of Nazarbayev in Kazakhstan, which CWI comrades play a key role in opposing.
In Asia, state repression has also been hiked up, with the ‘disappearances’ of leading socialist activists in Sri Lanka, and the wave of arrests, including the forced exile of comrades of the CWI, in China. Again, these developments follow an upturn in struggle as the labouring hundreds of millions of this mighty continent take steps forward in the organisation of often successful struggles, as seen recently in Sri Lanka. In February this year, India witnessed a general strike of more than a hundred million workers, exposing the lies of the boom in ‘Shining India’ benefitting’ the majority.
Africa has also seen general strikes - in South Africa and Nigeria. CWI comrades have played a crucial role in organising support for a strategy of struggle linked to a pro-working class and poor programme to break with capitalism. In Latin America, the recent summit of the Americas reflected growing division and instability despite the best efforts of Obama and co. In the mass movements in Chile, we have seen a glimpse of what is to come in the continent. Even in countries lauded for their economic growth, such as Brazil and Chile, serious developments in the class struggle have been seen, exposing the unequal character of capitalist ‘growth’.
This is also the first May Day since the magnificent movement of the ‘indignados’ exploded in Spain, then across Europe and the world. In the US, where the ‘Occupy’ movement has seeen an outpouring of anti-capitalist sentiments, May Day this year sees a new stage in this movement, reflecting important advances made towards basing itself on workers’ action, including calls for strikes. In a year dominated by the presidential election - a debate from which the concerns of the working and unemployed majority have been without a voice - this movement continues to play a key role. The indignados and occupy movements are calling international mobilisations on 12 May and 15 May in which the CWI will continue to stress the need to ‘unite the generations’ in a class movement against capitalism.
The events of the last year have confirmed again and again that working and poor people will not take the destruction of living standards lying down. Both this year and next, May Day will reflect the period of class battles and revolutions which capitalism has opened up. Whether these battles will result in a way out from the crisis of capitalism in the interests of the overwhelming majority – the 99% - depends on the level of preparedness of our class, both organisationally and politically. The absence of a widely understood alternative to capitalism and austerity is the central problem.
Only the building of mass political parties to popularise a socialist alternative of nationalisation under democratic workers’ control and management and a socialist planned economy on a world scale, can help to solve it and end the spiral of crises. A key task of the hour is the re-popularisation of genuine ideas of revolutionary socialism - of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky and of the Russian revolution (before the Stalinist counter-revolution) - which have enjoyed support throughout the working class movement historically. This is a task which the CWI enthusiastically embraces. This could open the way for a new historical epoch, in which after the disaster which capitalist governments, of and by the 1%, have administered, new governments of and by the working people can develop the economy and society. The CWI appeals to workers, unemployed, young and poor people around the globe to join the struggle for the building of such organisations, and to begin to make possible a socialist world.
Committee for a Workers' International
PO Box 3688, London E11 1YE, Britain, Tel: ++ 44 20 8988 8760, Fax: ++ 44 20 8988 8793, firstname.lastname@example.org