The future for socialism
Europe: The working class fights back
Over the last year many changes have been effected in the economic, social and political map of Europe. We have seen the mighty events in France, in December, followed by the strike wave in Germany, upheavals in Belgium, all of which will be repeated in the rest of Europe in the next period.
These events signify the re-emergence of the European working class. This working class is the oldest on the planet, with the longest tradition. Of course the new working classes, in Asia, in Africa and Latin America, will play an important role. But from the point of view of the world revolution the metropolitan areas of Europe, the US and Japan will play a decisive role. In the 1990s, of the roughly five billion people in the world, almost one billion reside in industrialised societies. Of this one billion, 750 million live in the industrialised West, and 200 million in industrialised East Asia.
Western Europe is the area of the greatest concentration of the forces of the CWI and still, perhaps, represents the best chance of a breakthrough for our organisation towards the development of important mass organisations.
From every point of view the position of the bourgeoisie in Western Europe is not better, but much worse than a year ago. There has, indeed, been a period of ‘growth’, since the recession of 1991-93. Yet the bourgeois economists themselves refer to this as a ‘jobless recovery’. The bourgeois economists of Morgan Stanley estimate that the EU, as a whole, will grow by only 1.5 per cent this year, significantly down on their earlier projection of 2.4 per cent growth (the IMF expected that Europe would grow by 2.6 per cent this year).
There is a virtual world stagnation of the productive forces. In Europe, Germany is virtually stagnant and was technically in recession for a couple of months this year, growth in France is anaemic and in Italy the Confindustria, the employers’ organisation, expects the economy will grow by no more than 0.7 per cent this year.
One in ten of West Europeans are out of work, twice the jobless rate of the US at the present time. Unemployment has grown inexorably over a 12-year period. The Wall Street Journal pointed out: "During the past 20 years, the number of unemployed men in the EU has tripled to nine million, with the number of jobless women more than quadrupling to 8.7 million from two million. From 1974 through to 1994, the EU created only 800,000 additional private-sector jobs."
This is not ‘normal’ cyclical unemployment - it has now become structural. Half of those without work in Europe have been unemployed for at least a year. Moreover, even the sober bourgeois economists expect that unemployment will hover at about 10 per cent of the labour force right into the next century. And this does not take account of the possibility of a further deep-going recession or even slump before the decade is out.
The crisis of capitalism has had a devastating effect on the working class. In Britain, ten million workers have been made redundant since 1990. Some have been re-employed but on lower rates of pay and with far less job security. Most have lost relatively high-paid jobs, a significant number in manufacturing industry, and those who are re-employed are in low-paid jobs, the "Mac jobs", which have become synonymous with low-paid employment. The growth of temporary contract labour, casualisation, etc. has become an increasing phenomenon in Western Europe. Nearly every second worker in the Netherlands holds either a part-time or a temporary job. In Spain the proportion is 41 per cent of the workforce and France has seen the percentage of its workers in either temporary or part-time jobs jump to 26 per cent from 14 per cent a decade ago.
The new feature in the situation today is that these conditions have begun to affect the middle class as well. The Wall Street Journal, for instance, estimates that "two-thirds of today’s middle management tasks will disappear". De-regulation, the introduction of American and British conditions on a continental scale is the future which is held out by capitalism for the European working class.
What this will mean is shown by the position in the US. Since 1979, only the top fifth has seen a large increase in real incomes while the incomes of the poorest 60 per cent have declined in real terms. At the same time the more far-sighted bourgeois are concerned about the consequences of their actions. Roach, the apostle of downsizing in the US, has urged the American bourgeoisie to desist from further massive redundancies and to adopt a ‘social conscience’.
The President of the European Commission, Santer, has called for the halving of unemployment by the turn of the century. There has even been pressure for the introduction of a minimum wage, with the spectacle of a significant number of Republicans voting with the Democrats to increase the US’s minimum wage. All this denotes a fear of the consequences of the impoverishment of the workers by the bourgeoisie and the terror developing in their ranks at the coming industrial upsurge on a continental scale. However, the call for a reduction in unemployment, a theme in all countries in Europe, is mere phrasemongering. Santer, for instance, was unceremoniously rebuffed at the EU meeting in Florence, where the national governments rejected a European programme to reduce unemployment.
Rather than moving in the direction of cutting the jobless rate they will be compelled to adopt measures which will aggravate the situation. The bourgeois are wrestling with the consequences of their profligacy in the 1980s. This has resulted in the huge piling up of state debts. This was a consequence, partly, of the attempt to buy off the working class in the course of the 1980s. They are now wrestling with the consequences of their past actions. The result can be shown in the colossal state debt of Belgium, for instance, averaging between 127-130 per cent of GDP. In Italy it stands at 125 per cent, and even if the Prodi government carries through privatisations, it will stand at 123 per cent. Britain’s national debt has doubled in the course of the 1990s.
This situation, irrespective of any other factor, compels the bourgeoisie to undertake attacks. The IMF has estimated that state debt, as a proportion of gross domestic product of the advanced industrial countries, is the biggest for 150 years, except during wars. If this was to go on unchecked then it would result in an inevitable rise in interest rates world-wide as the states compete for finance to plug the gap in their income and expenditure. It would also result in inflation well into the next century. The bourgeois are, therefore, determined, despite the record profits they are making at the present time, that they have to undertake a massive attack against the conditions of the working class.
In effect they have declared a ‘civil war’ to cut the share going to the working class in the form of welfare, housing, education, etc. The attack on this part of state expenditure affects practically every European country. Not just the well-known cases of Britain, now of Germany, and France, but even previously relatively prosperous Austria has faced draconian cuts in education.
The position facing Britain, under a Labour government, has been highlighted by Labour MPs in Britain. If a Labour government was to meet the Maastricht criteria this would represent a reduction of £12 billion from today’s public expenditure programme. This is the equivalent of the whole of the police and fire service budgets, or half of all the National Health Service Trusts, or the shutting down of all the secondary and two-thirds of primary schools in Britain. Even the estimate of a £12 billion cut is probably an underestimate.
Keynesianism is dead. Boosting state expenditure in order to nullify the worst effects of capitalist recession is rejected by the bourgeoisie. Only in Japan have the bourgeoisie got the resources to attempt such a policy. Despite four programmes of additional state expenditure this has only resulted in a very partial growth in the Japanese economy. There is no prospect of a return to the fireworks of the past, so far as Japan or capitalism as a whole is concerned.
The European bourgeoisie is hiding behind Maastricht, at least partly, to justify these attacks. But it is important for us to explain that even without Maastricht and the EU the bourgeoisie would be undertaking a massive attack on the living standards of the working class today. Up to now, particularly during the 1980s, with the exception perhaps of Britain, the bourgeoisie nibbled away at welfare. Now they have decided on a frontal attack. Borrowing the language of the counter-revolution in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, the European Monetary Institute calls for the adoption of a ‘fast track’ in the assault on the welfare state. The goals of Maastricht, in order that convergence will be reached by 1999, are that the budget deficit should be no more than 3 per cent of GDP, that state debts should be no more than 60 per cent and inflation on average no more than 3.6 per cent. At the moment, throughout Europe, the average state debt as a percentage of GDP is running at roughly 70 per cent. The average budget deficit, throughout Europe, is 4.7 per cent, 50 per cent above the Maastricht criteria. Only Luxembourg, with 0.1 per cent of the population, meets all the Maastricht criteria at the present time.
There is even a tacit acceptance that for instance France, crucial for Germany in any proposals for an ‘inner core’, will not reach the Maastricht criteria. The ‘fast trackers’ are undoubtedly encouraged by the docility of the leadership of the official organisations of the working class. They are, however, in danger of over-reaching themselves and provoking ‘social explosions’.
Nevertheless, the remorseless pressure of the world market, as shown in the previous discussion on globalisation, compels them, and all parties which stand within the framework of capitalism, to carry out the demands of the bourgeoisie at this stage. The right-wing bourgeois parties do this openly and the social democracy complies. Even the left parties, as the experience of Sweden and other countries in Scandinavia have demonstrated, shows that there is no alternative to this course within the framework of capitalism. This was seen recently at a demonstration organised by hospital workers of the CWI’s Swedish section, Arbetarfšrbundet Offensiv, and others. A Left Party councillor, in a discussion with our comrades, was reduced to tears because she was attacked for supporting the measures which will result in 6,000 workers being made redundant in the hospital services in Stockholm. Her only argument was "there is no alternative".
The whole essence of the situation today is that in order to defend past gains, never mind to improve the conditions of the working class, it is necessary to conduct a revolutionary struggle. The experience of the poll tax and of Liverpool from 1983-87 demonstrates that reforms are a by-product of revolutionary struggle.
Because Maastricht is associated with cuts in living standards there is a huge growth of Euro-scepticism throughout Europe. Even in those countries in which Maastricht was most enthusiastically supported there is a growth of Euro-scepticism, for instance in Germany. There the Social Democratic leaders, at least some of them, are arguing in favour of postponement of convergence. In Sweden, Britain, Austria there is a growth of Euro-scepticism while even in Finland, which has benefited because of a decrease in food prices, a majority is against monetary union at this stage. Of course, amongst the ‘outs’, in Norway for instance, there is even greater opposition.
In the case of Britain, there has recently been the ‘mad cow’ controversy, which has demonstrated ‘mad politics’ as well as ‘mad cow disease’. Despite the arguments of the Euro-sceptics, Britain’s fate is now tied to Europe. In the EU, the German/French axis will undoubtedly push for a ‘hard core’ and the rest will be relegated to a ‘second tier’. Chirac, the President of France, has recently engaged in the little ‘entente cordiale’. He has attempted, through his recent visit to London, to balance Britain against the economic weight of Germany. But the fate of French capitalism is tied, at the present time, to the development of German capitalism.
It is very difficult to see the EU reaching full economic and monetary union. There has been a little speculation on whether it would be possible for some countries to establish a ‘Euro’ in place of their present currencies. This is highly unlikely. It is more likely that a new form of the European Rate Mechanism (ERM) will be set up. This would involve a band of exchange rates, but maybe more limited than the previous ERM. It is very doubtful that European monetary union will be effected by the European bourgeoisie. There will be a ‘fast’ and a ‘slow’ lane within which British capitalism will participate, signifying its economic and political demise vis-à-vis Germany and even France.
One thing is clear: those in the ‘inner core’ will not allow the series of competitive devaluations which followed the collapse of the ERM in 1992 to be repeated. This will be particularly the case in a new recession, which could be much deeper and have more far-reaching consequences than the recession of the early 1990s. And what is also clear is that Maastricht, EMU, the ‘project’ of the European bourgeoisie, already represents in the minds of the working class savage attacks on their living standards.
The move to the right in the workers’ organisations signifies to the capitalists that their path will be eased. This can lead to them over-reaching themselves. To some extent this was the case in the recent French events. The Right had a massive parliamentary majority, the biggest for 200 years, the presidency was in their hands with the election of Chirac and then, on this basis, the Jupp plan was launched. Some workers’ leaders, moreover, in effect accepted the plan. This was shown by the attitude of some of the CFDT leaders. Jospin, the Socialist Party candidate in the presidential election, in effect accepted the plan, but to be implemented in ‘stages’.
The working class was written off by all except the Marxists. Only 10 per cent of the workers were organised in unions, the same percentage as in Pakistan. This was not a complete strike, even in the public sector, but the effects, in some senses, were like a general strike. There was an element of 1968 in the sense that the power of the proletariat, at least partially, was demonstrated during the course of the strike. Despite all hardships there was overwhelming support for the strike amongst the proletariat. Regional demonstrations were in some cases even bigger than in 1968.
Reaction was extremely weak and yet the consciousness of the working class was very confused. The masses knew what they did not want but were not clear about the alternative. There was, of course, a socialist minority who sang the Internationale, etc., from which the CWI can recruit. But support for a general strike was not like in 1968. It was not for power or for socialism as it clearly was in 1968. Also, there was no mass support for the idea of a Socialist Party government. The memory of the betrayals of the Socialist Party was still fresh in the consciousness of the working class.
This raises the question of the consciousness of the working class at this stage on a European and to some extent a world scale. Some debate has taken place recently about the level of socialist consciousness and how this relates to the industrial battles which have taken place. There must be a differentiation between the combativity and preparedness of the working class to struggle, particularly when faced with the capitalist offensive, and the development of socialist consciousness. That preparedness has been clearly demonstrated in the movements of the working class in the course of the 1990s. It was shown in the public-sector general strike in Belgium in 1993; in Italy there was the enormous demonstration in the Autumn of 1994; and of course since then there have been the events in France, and now in Germany and other countries of Europe. But this combativity, this preparedness to struggle, reflects the opposition of the working class at this stage to the effects of capitalist cuts. It has not yet reached, amongst the broad mass, the stage of a complete rejection of the market, that is of capitalism. In particular, it would be wrong to say that a widespread socialist consciousness has reappeared in these events.
The crisis of capitalism and the experience of the working class is preparation for such a re-emergence. Above all the colossal growth of inequality, the massive salaries paid out to the captains of industry (200 per cent increases, on average, for the top executives in Britain); the recent massive increase of 26 per cent for MPs in Britain; all of this is preparing the ground for the re-emergence of socialism. The idea that capitalism is not working, that a new system with ‘greater equality’ is necessary will gradually form in the consciousness of the proletariat.
We have tried to draw a parallel with previous periods to better understand the stage through which we are passing. The present period has elements more like the latter part of the nineteenth century and the earlier part of this century, when the Second International took shape. It is not a period which can be directly compared to the 1930s, which was characterised by revolution and counter-revolution and at the same time the existence of a broad layer of workers who accepted socialism. Such a period, marked by the development of a widespread socialist consciousness, will be prepared by events and of course by our intervention.
The CWI has a dual task today: to help develop this broad socialist consciousness by advocating new independent parties of the working class; and, at the same time, to build the revolutionary party. This does not mean Marxists are in any way contemplating the liquidation of the revolutionary party in favour of ‘broad non-revolutionary’ parties.
The question of consciousness presented problems for the CWI in France. In effect the CWI’s French section, Gauche rŽvolutionnaire, relied upon an algebraic formula when it came to a governmental alternative. The idea of a workers’ government was put forward but on the basis of committees of action, etc., without specifying which parties would form such a government. The government was forced to undertake a partial retreat, in particular as far as the railway workers were concerned. But the Jupp plan remains in place. The bourgeoisie, in France and elsewhere, will be forced to undertake further attacks. In France the programme for privatisations, the attempts to close the budget deficit, etc. mean a further savage round of attacks on the living standards of the French working class. Therefore, a new round of upheavals is being prepared, not just in France, but in the whole of Europe.
The French events signify a new period. It is worth noting that one of the first movements in this decade was the October events in 1992 around the issue of the miners in Britain. But the most important, and the one with the biggest European repercussions, was undoubtedly the events in France. France will visit the whole of Europe in the sense of big movements of the working class, as shown by the developments in Germany and now in BelgiumThe situation also demonstrates the weakness of the bourgeoisie and its parties. An incidental, but striking, example of this was given recently in the revelations of Thatcher’s hairdresser. This individual claimed that he was responsible for most of Thatcher’s policies! While she had her hair done, he would comment on the state of Britain, suggesting outlandish proposals, only to find that they were government policy by the afternoon. Major has no such ‘guru’. He is forced to act a little bit like Yeltsin, who as we know, carried round suitcases of roubles and travelled in planes stuffed with money in order to buy off voters. Major does not have the opportunity to do this, but he was recently held to ransom by two Tory MPs who threatened to bring down the government unless hospital emergency departments in their constituencies were kept open. Major immediately complied. These MPs demonstrated a greater capacity to defend the health service than the leaders of the trade unions with millions of members behind them! But these events also signify an inevitable split within the Tory party at a certain stage.
The further weakness of the bourgeoisie was underlined by the collapse of the Christian Democrats in Italy. The bourgeois parties have splintered with the previous prime minister, Dini, actually setting up a party called ‘Dini’s Party’. The defeat of Forza Italia and the victory of the ‘Olive Tree’ coalition was itself a striking illustration of the weakness of the bourgeois parties at this stage. The Italian ruling class is forced to rule through a coalition dominated by the ex-workers’ leaders in the former Communist Party, the PDS. It is the first time since 1946 that the PCI/PDS has entered the government. The PDS is in effect on the way to becoming a bourgeois party, if it has not yet already reached that point. It is true that on the night of the Olive Tree’s election victory, d’Alema, the PDS leader, proudly swung the hammer and sickle from the balcony of the PDS headquarters. Yet when the crowd demanded "imprison Berlusconi", d’Alema said that things like that are not "done in Italy anymore". The evolution of the PDS in a bourgeois direction is shown by the proposal of d’Alema to fuse with the remnants of the PSI, a completely bourgeois rump.
Moreover, on the day after the election victory the stock exchange shot up. The reasons why the bourgeoisie favours the coming to power of the Olive Tree were underlined in a statement by Giovanni Agnelli, the recently retired head of Fiat, who trumpeted in Italian newspapers his view that: "The centre-left coalition is better placed to impose sacrifices on the working class than a centre-right one." On its assumption of office the coalition immediately announced cuts.
The strategy of the Rifondazione Comunista (RC) could be very important as a model for other left developments in Europe. It could evolve either way. But it will only maintain its left character if it develops in a clear revolutionary direction. Its leadership has opposed the attacks proposed by the government, such as the further privatisation measures. On the other hand, the Olive Tree has managed to extract from the RC an acceptance of the ‘financial criteria’ which will govern its policy in the next three years. In this period there is no room for mass reformist social democratic formations in Europe, let alone left reformism.
The situation will be different at a later stage. Once politicised movements of the working class begin to take place reformist, and left-reformist illusions will develop amongst the masses which will be reflected in the statements of different labour movement leaders.
The situation that looms in the next period presents important opportunities for our organisation. A big vacuum exists on the left. Because of our size we cannot completely fill this vacuum, but we can do so partially. It is possible to recruit and integrate the best workers into our organisation, but on condition that we have a clear programme, tactics and a determination to intervene in the struggle. Youth, in general, are repelled by official politics at the present time. But this will change, particularly when the working class moves into action and also when we become an important force within the workers’ movement.
In Pakistan, the CWI’s section, JIT , has been able to intervene in the situation to the stage where it is now an important force, because of the absence of serious obstacles. An element of ‘Pakistan’ exists now in all the countries of Europe. The possibilities for the CWI are shown by the success of Joe Higgins standing as a candidate in the elections in Ireland, as well as the more limited, but nevertheless important, impact the CWI made in Greek Cypriot elections. Of course events will not develop in a straight line. The absence of a mass revolutionary party guarantees periods of reaction, nationalism, regionalism as in Spain, or for instance, as with Bossi, in Italy.
Racism remains as a threat, as shown by the development of the National Front in France and Haider in Austria. State racism and attacks on asylum seekers in particular is a feature, already, of most of the governments of Europe. The change in the attitude of the bourgeoisie is typified by the developments in Sweden. There, where the right of asylum is conceded, the government is proposing to implement measures which in effect can move those granted asylum from one city to another. This is a form of internal exile. It will undoubtedly lead to a recoil, particularly amongst the youth. Moreover, the bourgeoisie will use racist forces largely in an auxiliary capacity.
The weakness of the right is shown even where they triumph. In Italy, Forza Italia was a little taste of the whip of counter-revolution. This led to a counter-movement of the working class, an to their weakening and eventual defeat in the last general election. Even in Spain where the right-wing party, the PP, triumphed it only got 39 per cent of the vote as opposed to 34 per cent for the PSOE. There was widespread disenchantment amongst the working class with the PSOE. This even led to the burning down of the party’s headquarters in Cadiz. But for lack of an alternative many workers, ‘holding their noses’, undoubtedly voted for the PSOE as the only realistic alternative, to prevent a PP victory. In Spain there was the ‘Franco factor’. The connection of the PP with Franco and fascism is an idea that still resides in the minds of the older generation in particular. Even where this was not present, despite the attacks on the working class, the vote for the PSOE held up surprisingly well. This did not represent any real enthusiasm for this party, but signified a fear of something even worse.
The difficulty of putting together a right-wing government has been demonstrated in Spain. In fact, Aznar was only able to take power after big concessions were made to the Catalan nationalists. The Spanish bourgeoisie wish to use the PP as a vehicle for attacking the proletariat. There will be attempts to close down the shipyards, to cut back on pensions, employment rights, etc. Within a matter of weeks of the government coming to power, the reaction of the working class is clear. In July the trade union leaders called for workers’ representatives to assemble in Madrid. Instead of the two or three hundred they expected, 10,000 shop stewards turned up and the assembly threatened a general strike unless the government withdrew its attacks on the working class.
The most important country in Europe, the economic powerhouse, is undoubtedly Germany. The underlying radicalisation of the working class is demonstrated by recent events in Germany. This was once the model for the bourgeoisie. Not any more! Now we read that "Germany has the highest labour costs in the world". Even the bourgeois press in Britain commented recently about "well-heeled trade unionists mobilising in Bonn" on the 350 000 plus June 15th demonstration. Far from being "well-heeled" one unemployed worker commenting to the Wall Street Journal said that his income had been reduced by two-thirds. Moreover, he never expected at any time in the future to get such a high-paid job as he had before .
Further attacks are being prepared by Kohl as the German bourgeoisie moves towards the casualisation, deregulation and privatisation common in Britain and America. There is a clear consciousness now of what is involved in the attacks by Kohl. There is growing insecurity. The idea of ‘cradle to the grave’ welfare is being thrown into the rubbish bin of history.
The trade union leaders have furiously attacked Kohl. They have declared that he has ‘gone over to the capitalists’, denounced ‘naked capitalism’ and even talked about the class war. They threatened that they would adopt a ‘clenched fist’. All this, however, is a pale echo of the mood of the working class. The Guardian newspaper, in a report on the May Day demonstrations quotes a worker declaring: "A general strike, that’s what we need. It’s the only answer to this government." Only the CWI’s German section, Sozialistische Alternative Voran (SAV), caught the mood correctly. Other organisations were vague in relation to what was demanded by the situation. The SAV, called clearly for a 24-hour general strike. The SAV comrades made a tremendous intervention in the Bonn demonstration with four speakers on the unofficial ‘left’ platform.
A similar situation to that in France and Germany looms in Britain. Britain is dominated by the elections at the moment. But a look at Sweden can give us a little insight into how events, in their broad outline, will develop in Britain in the aftermath of a Labour government coming to power. Sweden was a by-word, in the past, for the welfare state and tolerance of asylum seekers. Now, as the Swedish comrades have pointed out, the Social Democratic government of Goran Perssšn has cut welfare by the equivalent of 12.5 per cent of state expenditure.
The same process of bourgeoisification of the Social Democracy is unfolding in the unions. We do not adopt the ultra-left position of boycotting the official unions, of a kind of policy of ‘red trade unions’. But we must be sensitive to the mood that is developing amongst the ranks of the unions. There is a clear paralysis at the tops of the trade unions in Britain, in Sweden and elsewhere. In Britain the official trade union leaders in effect hide behind the Tory anti-union laws and just fold their arms in the teeth of one onslaught after another against the rights and conditions of the working class. In the marvellous dockers’ dispute in Liverpool, Britain it is an indisputable fact that the dockers did not want the official support of the trade union leaders who they now identify with sell-out. The same attitude was shown in the Post Office dispute of the last couple of weeks. They want the funds and the buildings to be used in the struggle, but they do not want the involvement of the official trade union leaders.
In Sweden, the trade union leaders, who attacked the previous bourgeois government for attempting to abolish the principle of ‘last in first out’, now look as though they are going to acquiesce to the Social Democrats when they try to introduce precisely the same kind of policy. It is not excluded that in Britain a Blair government will outlaw strikes in the ‘emergency services’. Trotsky in his pamphlet The Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay pointed to the process that develops even within new unions, the tendency for the trade union leaders to become more and more enmeshed with the state machine and act as policemen over the working class.
Of course, Trotsky also pointed to the ‘countervailing’ factors which sometimes push the unions in the opposite direction. In other words, a mass movement, at a certain stage, of the working class will compel the trade union leaders into opposition or semi-opposition to the bourgeois state. This was shown recently in Belgium where the socialist trade unions refused to accept the austerity programme of the government. It was also demonstrated in the recent British Post Office strike with the official leadership, after a period of equivocation, being pushed by mass pressure into opposing the Post Office management and the government.
The CWI must, of course, fight for official support but in the next period initiatives from below, as the dock workers’ struggle, the bus workers’ movement in Denmark, and others have demonstrated, are crucial for the revolutionary tendency. While the CWI does not want to split the trade unions it is vital to defend the interests of the working class in the struggles that are opening up. Belgium is not very far behind Germany, France and Sweden in the scale of class conflict. In Wallonia there were undoubtedly elements of ‘civil war’ in the ferocious struggle of the teachers and others against the austerity programme in education imposed by the Belgian bourgeoisie. These workers have their own views on the process developing within the Socialist Party. On a demonstration in Wallonia workers carried a placard which read: "Socialists... Still; PS [Socialist Party]... Never Again!"
Faced with the revolt of the unions and the working class, Dehaene has in effect introduced measures which allow the Belgian bourgeoisie to rule by decree. Here the question of a general strike could easily flare up, given the scale of the attacks on the working class. It also indicates the way the bourgeoisie will move in the future faced with a resurgent mass movement. The measures of Dehaene, a form a parliamentary bonapartism, as well as the different measures against asylum seekers are an indication of future movements towards the right on the part of the bourgeoisie and its state machine.
A key question for the CWI is the analysis of the evolution in the traditional workers’ parties and the tactics and slogans which flow from our analysis. Some comrades have been surprised at the characterisation, by the British organisation, of the Labour Party as a bourgeois party. In Britain, as the comrades know, not much seems to have happened on the surface, with strikes at an all time low, etc. But there has been a colossal speed in developments within the Labour Party. This has compelled us to update our analysis as to what has been taking place.
What is the criteria which determines our characterisation of the British Labour Party as a bourgeois party? At what point did it become a bourgeois formation?
It is not just the deletion of Clause IV or the cancelling out of our influence within the unions, nor the neutering of internal democracy. There are very few workers within the Labour Party now, which is full of hopeless petit bourgeois. The key question has been the change in the attitude of the working class towards the Labour Party, particularly of the advanced guiding layers of the working class. There are still some illusions in the masses. But there are no great expectations that a Labour government will fundamentally alter the situation apart from lifting the incubus of a Tory government from their backs after 18 years.
Comrades then argue, how can we advocate a vote for what appears to be a bourgeois party? The position that may arise in the future, where a vote could be advocated for an ex-workers’ party, can be compared with the developments with the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), in the past, and the recent experience in Sri Lanka where CWI members gave critical support to the Popular Alliance (PA). Neither of these parties were genuine workers’ parties, but represented a strain of bourgeois populism.
Some comrades counter this by saying, "the position is different in the developing world because these formations were ‘anti-imperialist’". Unfortunately this is not true. Even before they came to power the PPP and the PA advocated privatisation, in effect acting like agents of imperialism. In any case, at this stage, this is not an issue which is posed baldly for us. There is hardly a country in Europe now where we can advocate a clear vote for the Socialist or Labour Parties. Even in Britain in the upcoming general election it is very unlikely we could advocate a bald ‘vote Labour’. Our main slogan will be: "vote Militant Labour". In the text we can explain, however, that we understand that many workers see Labour as the only viable mass alternative to the Tories at this stage. But our main job will be to warn workers of the consequences of a Blair government and to prepare to fight for a socialist alternative.
Bourgeoisification of the traditional workers’ organisations is an international phenomena. There are only now questions of degree. The train of bourgeoisification is going to arrive at the station in Gent, or some other station. Some trains will be five minutes early, some ten minutes or fifteen minutes late, etc. But the ‘countervailing factors’ which can prevent the completion of this process do not exist and will not exist in the foreseeable period. This does not mean that the social democracy will disappear in a kind of ‘big bang’. Rather there will be a process of fragmentation and disintegration over a certain historical period.
Alongside this, new workers’ organisations will arise within which the CWI can participate. In some cases we can be in the driving seat. Take the example of the developments in Ireland in the last period. In the last general election the Labour Party got 23 per cent of the vote and the CWI’s Irish section’s candidate got 4 per cent. In the Dublin West by-election, on the other hand, we see that the position was completely reversed. The CWI’s Irish section, Militant Labour/Socialist Party, got 23 per cent of the vote and the Labour Party got about 4 per cent. There is the clear possibility of the disintegration of the southern Irish Labour Party. A lot depends upon factors outside of our control, such as the developments in Northern Ireland and the spin-off effect in southern Ireland. But Militant Labour/Socialist Party could become a focus of a new force which could arise and play a key role in Southern Ireland in the next period.
Of course the situation is not the same everywhere, but an element of what exists in Ireland does exist in every country in Europe. The period of relative industrial and political malaise which followed the collapse of the Berlin Wall, and with it a relative political quiescence of the working class, has now come to an end. Under the whip of the capitalist offensive the working class will be compelled to move into action. It is dawning on the more advanced layers of the proletariat that capitalism offers no way forward.
In the last recession the religion of capitalist progress, as Trotsky called it, could still keep its hold over sections of the working class. That recession was presented as a temporary blip after the upswing of the 1980s. A new recession which looms in the next 18 months, two, or three years, as the case may be, could shatter the lingering hopes of the working class that the ‘market’ can deliver the goods. We are extremely optimistic, but also realistic. Marxists cannot shove history along with their fingers. In the main, events shape the consciousness of the mass of the working class. But there will be periods which will arise when the subjective factor can play a big, indeed decisive, role.
Even small forces can have an effect out of proportion to their size. This is the lesson of the success of some our sections in the last period. In the aftermath of the collapse of Stalinism and the ideological offensive of the bourgeoisie, the CWI kept its bearings. The CWI is prepared to open a dialogue with genuine revolutionary forces throughout the world for the recomposition of the revolutionary movement and of the workers’ movement in general. But we stand four square on the perspectives of Trotsky on the vital necessity of the building of a revolutionary party and also of a ‘world party of socialist revolution’. In the main, however, the key for the development for our organisation is the recruitment, training and education of the new layers of the proletariat. Big opportunities will occur for our organisation in the next period. We must learn to take hold of these opportunities and build a powerful force amongst the European working class, and internationally.
Peter Taaffe, International Secretariat of the CWI
The general theme of the discussion was the ruling class offensive in Europe and the resistance of the working class. While the discussion concentrated on three major themes, it was perhaps in that sense unfortunately a bit unbalanced.
We have to select what is the most important at each particular stage and those themes which have come out at this School are some of the most pressing at the present time. But it is a pity that other questions such as, for example, the national question, the growth of regionalism and the potential for reaction, were not really dealt with. Furthermore, the discussion really concentrated on Western Europe, leaving out the Central European countries of Poland and the Czech Republic.
The Ruling Class Offensive
The background to the whole discussion was of course was the ruling class offensive over the recent period. Many speakers gave examples of the different public sector cuts which have been carried out or which are being proposed at the present time. As has been said, there is a relentless pressure from capitalist governments to cut public spending. But, as a number of comrades pointed out, despite these efforts to cut public spending the level of state expenditure has in fact actually increased in a number of countries. Partly this reflects the fact that the current economic slowdown has meant that on the one hand taxation revenues have gone down, and on the other, more has been spent on unemployment pay, etc.
But this also reflects the difficulties which the bourgeoisie have in carrying out cuts because of the underlying strength of the working class at the present time. Even in Britain, the savage cuts which have been implemented were only successful on the basis of a number of defeats of the working class in the 1980s. And the defeats which took place then were not because of any basic organisational weakness of the working class, but because of the role played by the Labour and especially trade union leaderships.
But the crisis in Europe is not simply a crisis of public spending. Comrades have already pointed to the existence in all European countries of mass, structural, unemployment. But there is also the fact that in quite a number of European countries, the capitalists last year enjoyed very high profit levels. In fact, one report at the end of April this year said that, in Western Europe as a whole, profits were at a 30-year high. So why is it that, when many sectors of the capitalists have increased their rate of return and are getting higher profits, they are still launching offensives? This is because they understand that these high profits are only temporary: they do not think they are at the beginning of a long, profitable period. Also, they have learnt that in a number of sectors, the high profits are in fact the immediate result of the offensive which they have already started against the working class.
A number of European industries are facing severe crisis. In the Western European, it is estimated that there is presently between 25-30 per cent overcapacity. Therefore, for instance, when recently the EU stopped VW from getting subsidies for building plants in East Germany, VW privately said that they were not unhappy about this because they did not want to build any new capacity. The existence of overcapacity means that there is going to be pressure for further offensives against the working class, first of all on the question of jobs and conditions.
The bourgeoisie are worried about the implications of this situation. In June, one of the major international capitalist institutions, the Bank for International Settlements, issued its annual report. It warned that unless the mass unemployment in Europe went down there was a danger of social unrest. But at the same time, it did not have a solution to this dilemma. The bourgeoisie are trapped: on the one hand there are immense economic pressures forcing them to attack the working class; on the other they are scared of the consequences of such attacks. This is one of the factors leading to the splits and divisions in all the political parties in Europe.
Part of the discussion concentrated on those parties which originated from the workers’ movement. But there are also divisions and splits which exist inside the capitalist parties. This is reflected in the fact that, as comrades have said, there is a generalised questioning of bourgeois society; bourgeois institutions are questioned and challenged. Amongst increasing sections, especially the youth, there is alienation. In general, in all societies, there is an increasing polarisation, not just between the classes, but also within the working class, and between different layers.
This is especially true of the plight of the long-term unemployed, and is also a very important issue in relation to immigrant workers and youth in Western Europe.A French comrade spoke of the growing movement of immigrant youth in France. This is a very important question for the CWI. On the one hand, the increase in state racism and nationalism further alienates these youth from the societies in which they are living; on the other the economic crisis condemns them to either the worst jobs or large-scale unemployment. This combination of alienation, repression and poverty is providing the basis for explosions among this layer, which has very important implications for our future work among some of the most oppressed strata in Europe.
The bulk of this discussion centred on three issues. Firstly the question of perspectives for the EU and the possibility of monetary union; secondly the characterisation of the old parties and thirdly, flowing from that, the question of our tactics in regard to our slogans, new parties, and in elections.
EU Perspectives and EMU
The CWI has commented for a long time how the collapse of Stalinism and German unification changed the balance of forces in Europe. The other West European powers were not particularly happy with German unification. The French government, at that time under Mitterrand, sought to strengthen the EU as a way to try to limit the freedom of action of the newly enlarged German imperialism. The British government used to have a saying regarding their relations with German imperialism that NATO was formed to "keep the Russians out, the Americans in and the Germans down". They saw both the "Russian threat" and NATO as means of trying to limit German imperialism’s freedom of action. German unification and the USSR’s collapse made German imperialism the dominant power in Europe. After 1989, elements within the EU saw the possibility, through monetary union, of trying to have some way of limiting German imperialism’s freedom of action economically. Originally they also hoped that a move to create a single currency in Europe would create a stable basis for economic growth. But in fact, now, it is turning into its opposite .Currency unions, or links between currencies, are not theoretically ruled out. The currencies of Belgium and Luxembourg are completely linked together: there is in fact one currency for the two countries. Once the Canadian and United States dollars were of equal value and, in a limited way, were accepted in both countries. This also occurred in the past between the Irish Republic and Britain. So such currency unions, or fixed links, are possible.
But when examining the prospects for the plan of European monetary union, economic, as well as the political factors, not just for the working class, but also for the individual ruling classes have to be taken into account.
It has already been said that it is a big step for individual ruling classes to give up the power of controlling their own currency. But also, as we know from the discussion on EMU, there is the problem that countries which are thinking of going into the EMU are worried about countries outside using devaluation as a weapon to expand their trade. This happened in Italy between 1992 and 1995. In two and a half years, the Italian Lira was devalued by 38 per cent, which, for Italian industry, meant a temporary tremendous cost advantage against their European rivals. This has led to the German government saying that if there is going to be an EMU, they want some kind of controls over other EU countries outside to prevent them from devaluing to gain an advantage in the world competition.
But there is also rising popular opposition both to the EMU and to Maastricht. The Maastricht Treaty and the EMU plan are popularly seen as being one of the main reasons behind the current assault on living standards. At the same time, there is a growing feeling against the EU. The EU is being seen more and more as an undemocratic institution, out of the control of the people of Western Europe. In a number of countries in Western Europe there is popular resistance to the idea of joining the EMU which is seen as being run by the German Bundesbank. Inside Germany itself, given the illusions which exist in the Deutschmark, there is resistance to any project which would be seen to weaken the currency.
It is true that the financial markets are acting as if they expect EMU to take place. Interest rates are rising for the longer-term loans which the governments are taking out because they fear instability over EMU at the turn of the century. What they are really saying is that the EMU threatens to create financial storms. And when the risk increases, the interest rates increase as well. So really, this is a safety measure by the financial market: it is not that the financial markets are confident that EMU is going to actually succeed.
Speakers have rightly stressed that many of the European politicians have invested quite heavily, personally, in the EMU project. But the bourgeoisie can sacrifice individual politicians. Thatcher built herself around the Poll Tax, and in the end she was sacrificed when the Poll Tax was sacrificed. In Germany, Kohl has presented himself as supporting EMU, but EMU could in fact be the issue, or one of the issues, which leads to his replacement. Chirac could always say: "Well, it was Mitterrand’s idea: it was a nice idea, but it didn’t work and I’m clearing up the mess which Mitterrand left behind."
So therefore, there is the possibility that there could be, at the very least, a modification of the plans for EMU. It is highly unlikely that there will be a true single currency circulating in a number of West European countries. As has been said, there could be the development of a new parallel currency which would exist alongside the existing national currencies. According to the present timetable Euro notes and coins are only planned to start circulating in 2002.
But the question of the perspectives for the EU and for monetary union depends also on the general perspectives for the economy and for the class struggle. If, of course, the capitalist world was facing a period of long economic growth, like that of the 1950s and 1960s, then perhaps, for a temporary period, there could be steps towards that type of integration. But clearly this is not the likely economic perspective. Already there are growing tensions between the major imperialist blocs world, and at the same time within each bloc.
The Transformation of the old Workers’ Parties
The second theme of this discussion has been the question of the bourgeoisification of the old parties. Perhaps a new way of referring to these parties has to be found, for example: "parties formerly known as ‘traditional’". This is not a new discussion. Last year the School saw a debate on the character of PSOE in Spain. The discussion has not only been based on the experience, especially over the last year or so, of the British Labour Party. But the very speed of the developments inside the British Labour Party does illustrate some of the general processes and also gives us a way of judging how the CWI came to the conclusion that there has been a qualitative change.
The comrade from Scotland said that in running candidates in the coming British election, the comrades do not expect at this stage to get very big votes. This is because the mass of workers are so desperate to get the Conservative government out that they will vote Labour, and there will even possibly be hostility to us in some areas for splitting the vote. The attitude of many workers will be that there is no electoral alternative to Labour as the way to get the Tories out.
This in itself is quite a significant psychological change. Years ago, many workers would say that the Labour Party is "our party", it represents "us" against the bosses, against the rich. Only very few, older workers, would even dream of saying that now. This is not just a shift in wording, it represents a shift in attitude, in the relationship between the Labour Party and the bulk of the class. The Social Democratic and Stalinist parties have been degenerating for a very long time. The British Labour Party never was a clearly socialist party in the way that the majority of socialist and social-democratic parties in the rest of Europe were when they were founded. In the postwar upswing the character of these parties continued to change. What was the character of the membership of these parties 20-30 years ago? It was largely composed of older workers, maybe those who had been active in the 1930s and 1940s and still remained in the party. But there was also a layer of middle class elements who joined in the 1950s and 1960s. Even when sections of radical youth joined in the late 1960s and 1970s, they often came mainly from a middle class background.
Our general perspective at that time was that at a certain stage, the development of the class struggle would lead to an influx of workers into these parties which would create opportunities for the CWI’s work as well as the general development of a left wing. What has happened in the recent period is simply that the development of events has led the CWI to alter its perspective for these organisations. Their bourgeois wings became stronger and their roots in the working class became weaker. In the foreseeable future, mass influxes of workers into these parties are not going to happen. The only party whose membership has grown recently is the British Labour Party and this has been a mainly middle class influx.
It is also unlikely that there will be significant mass splits from the existing structures. A comrade mentioned the death of the Italian Socialist Party a few years ago and the fact that it died as a bourgeois party. If you look at that party, a very significant date in its development was the split of a mass left wing in 1964. This mass split went on to create a centrist party, the PSIUP, which in 1968 won 1,414,697 votes (4.5%). But this is not the perspective for most of the existing old traditional parties (or whatever we call them) at the present time, because their memberships are mostly aging and declining. The RC in Italy seems to be the exception rather than the rule, although small splits which could help create larger new movements cannot be ruled out.
This does not mean that the CWI is altering its general perspective, that large sections of the working class will have to pass through the political stages of left reformism and centrism on the way to achieving revolutionary clarity. The change in our perspectives is in regard to the organisational form this can take. We are not automatically linking this process to developments within or around the existing old organisations. Left reformism and centrism could develop in completely new formations, as was the case with PASOK in Greece after it was formed in 1974.
Now the general direction of development is clear. There are different layers within the class: these different layers will draw different conclusions. It is possible in the British Labour Party to find old members who still regard themselves as socialists, who think that it is still a socialist party, but these are really, to be honest, the relics of a past historical period. The fact that these parties are in the process of becoming, or have become, totally bourgeois parties does not mean that their influence over the working class automatically disappears. There have been many examples of bourgeois political organisations which had an influence over the working class. For instance, the Peronists in Argentina, in a peculiar way the ANC in South Africa, and also in another way, as has been mentioned, there is the question of the Christian workers’ organisations in Belgium.
The "New Party" Slogan and Today’s Activity
This process of the old parties becoming bourgeoisified creates a political vacuum. This is because, as a result of their experiences, the working class will understand that it needs a new force to represent it. More precisely, both trade union forces and political forces to represent it.
Obviously, the speed at which different layers to these conclusions is different, but increasingly the question will be posed: "These parties no longer represent us. They are capitalist parties. We need a new party which represents us." This process has been behind the discussion in many sections about whether or not we should launch the slogan for a new party, and if so, what form should that slogan take? As has been said in the "name-change" debate in the CWI’s British section, Militant Labour, we have to be slightly ahead of the class; not too far ahead, but we have to be slightly ahead in raising demands which represent the next step forward for the class to take.
Now in Europe, an old question is coming back on to the agenda: that of building a political force which represents the working class. In Europe, for a long time, this question has not been posed. Of course, after the Russian revolution there was the whole debate on the character of the workers’ organisations, the struggle in the 1920s between reformism and Marxism. That was the debate inside the parties in France, Italy, Germany and other countries over which International to join, either the reformist Second or the revolutionary Third International. It was a debate over policy for the workers’ movement. But for a historical period it has been outside Europe, in the neo-colonial countries and in the United States of America, where the primary question of the workers needing their own organisation has been on the agenda. In that sense, it is both an old question but also a new question for the CWI in Europe.
The CWI needs to be quite precise in the demands that it puts forward. We have to analyse each development and see what is our role as Marxists. For instance, in Lenin’s approach to the formation of the British Labour Party, he outlined what he saw was positive and what was negative. There was a debate about whether or not the new British Labour Party should be allowed to join the Second International, then formally a Marxist organisation. A section opposed the British Labour Party joining because it was not a socialist party. Lenin argued that it should come into the Second International, not because it was a socialist party (which it wasn’t) but because it represented a step towards a socialist workers’ party. Marxists must be quite precise in their demands and analysis of any new formations which develop. There must be a clear understanding of the relationship between our call for a new workers’ party and the building of our own forces, especially where an "open turn" has been made.
In most countries at the present time, the forces which could create big new parties do not exist. However, in a number of cases, there are now quite important opportunities. On the one hand, there is the beginning of a consciousness that the working class needs a new party, and on the other hand there is no organisation, or very few organisations, which are beginning to answer that need. But where the CWI has the opportunity, it can play a combined role in beginning to create new workers’ organisations at the same time as building the revolutionary organisation. In that sense, this demonstrates some of the best aspects of the development of the Second International or the building of the old LSSP in what was then called Ceylon.
Originally the Second International both organised the unorganised proletariat and at the same time, in its best days, attempted to give it a revolutionary education. The CWI has to be clear that it is not going to build a new Second International. We must learn from the histories of both the Second and Third Internationals on how to prevent degeneration. This aspect of our work we can see most clearly at the present time in Pakistan. The CWI’s section in Pakistan, JIT, is growing rapidly for a number of reasons. Fundamentally because there is a radicalisation taking place now among sections of the Pakistani workers and peasants, and JIT , is the only organisation which is able to appeal to them. The Pakistani comrades are very fortunate in that they have very few, if any, competitors on the left. Therefore, they are both organising the working class and at the same time trying to educate them in the spirit of revolution.
In Europe it is a different and more complicated situation. In some areas there could be the type of development where the CWI’s sections are the organisations which take the initiative in rebuilding the workers’ movement. But this cannot be done on a national scale given the CWI’s forces in Europe and the general situation. Nevertheless, the Scottish Socialist Alliance shows how the CWI can play an important role in taking initiatives to try to bring together new forces of the working class and, possibly, lay the basis for new formations. This united front style of work also gives the CWI the possibility of creating our own powerful positions of support before there are large-scale movements to create new organisations.
Future Election Slogans
Now, flowing from this discussion, there has been the question of how the CWI works in elections. First of all, elections often provide the opportunity for wider political work. This is especially the case now where in many countries the CWI is actually running in elections. In the future, as has been demonstrated in Scotland, there will be the opportunity of winning positions in elections, which gives the CWI and its sections a basis for future work. But also, in a broad political sense, we approach elections from the point of view of how to defeat the enemies of the working class and what is the best result from the point of view of the working class itself?
Obviously the question of how actually to vote is quite important in the sense that in the CWI’s political activity, as an election approaches, people will ask: "What are you going to do? Are you going to vote and if so for who?" But it would be a mistake to approach elections firstly from the point of view of who we say we will vote for. It is a question of looking at each case in a specific political situation. Given the consciousness of the working class, given its state of organisation, what is the best way to begin the dialogue with the working class? In that way we have to see how we can develop our transitional programme, our transitional demands. We have to stress that elections are not an answer in and of themselves, but link the question of the elections with the ongoing struggle and the question of building an alternative. Especially important now is the need warn against the role of the old leaders when they are in government or when they get into power.
Each case has to be examined separately to see what is the best approach. This also relates to the last question on Italy which was asked in the discussion. Given the illusions which existed in the formation of the new Italian government, it would have been wrong for the RC to oppose the formation of that government. But from the very beginning, the RC would have had to warn what was the character of the government, that it was a government which the capitalists wanted, that the government was planning from day one to launch attacks, warning that the supporters of the government would be disappointed, and putting forward an absolutely clear alternative and taking no responsibility whatsoever for the government. In that way could it develop a dialogue with those layers which had illusions or hopes in the government.
The Relation Between Perspectives and Tasks
In the discussion on the programmethat took place at the CWI School last year, comrades explained how perspectives discussions were also developing into discussions on demands and tactics. At the same time it is important to discuss the general processes which are taking place at the present time and how they are likely to develop in the future. But the discussion this year has also shown that not only slogans and tactics have to be examined, but also concretely the role the CWI can play, and how in some situations it can have an impact on events. This was shown in a very big way in regard to the election in Dublin West. There we have not just created opportunities for ourselves, but also had an impact on the entire political situation in the Irish Republic.
Many of the comrades who spoke mentioned the effects of the strike movement last year in France. The fact is that throughout Europe it has become an example, at the very least for a large number of activists, for the more advanced, the more militant workers and youth. The French comrades have also given important examples of how the very experience of the movement which took place has helped to revive class consciousness, and also regarding the process of change and rebirth from the bottom of the workers’ movement.
The French movement also illustrated another element of the situation in Europe. Trotsky wrote about how the working class in the colonial countries can, in one sense, put itself at the head of the nation’s struggle against imperialism. In a similar way the opinion polls last year in France showed how the strikers put themselves at the head of a national movement, not just of the working class, but also of sections of the middle class against the austerity programme and against the government. Opinion polls showing mass opposition to Kohl’s cuts package also show that the same potential exists in Germany, although it has not been realised yet, because there has, so far, been no decisive movement as there was in France.
In the coming period the CWI must strengthen the links, between the different European sections. This also relates to the ealier discussion on globalisation, of the increasing links between the different national economies. But the fact that in the EU many of the attacks which have taken place are associated with Maastricht immediately raises the question of an international alternative.
The CWI can be very optimistic about its future in Europe. One of the themes of this discussion has been the rising tide of opposition. Obviously, it will not go in a straight line. But as one of the comrades said, it is precisely through the advances and then the retreats of the struggle that increasing layers draw political and ultimately revolutionary conclusions. At the same time, in every contribution which talked about struggles, the comrades have also said, quite concretely, how the CWI has been involved in the those struggles. Not just involved in trying to help those sections who are struggling to win their demands. The CWI has intervened in the struggles to help win victories, and through this strengthened the position of the International. It is through this method of work that we can see how the future period in Europe will give us the opportunities to further extend our success and on this basis lay the foundations for powerful sections of the CWI throughout Western Europe.