Workers and Socialists all over all world are celebrating May Day this year against the background of darkening economic clouds and the bright light of what could be one of the most significant victories the labour movement has won one for some time.
A victory against neo-liberalism
After a few weeks battle Australian dock workers are on the verge of defeating a government sponsored and financed attack on their jobs, wages, conditions and trade union. In a year that unfortunately saw the Liverpool dockers forced to end their battle without victory, despite a 28 month struggle, a success in Australia will inspire and encourage all those in struggle against the bosses around the world. Workers everywhere should remember the key aspects of this struggle:- swift, decisive action both by the workers under attack and the rest of the labour movement. This is the way to defeat the international offensive which the ruling class and employers have launched on working people. Significantly, even where union leaders were not prepared to call for action the rank and file themselves moved to support the dock workers.
Further north Indonesia is witnessing the early stages of a revolution unfolding not only against the Suharto regime but also against the savage effects of sudden economic depression. While sometimes economic hardship can have a stunning effect on workers’ willingness to struggle, in Indonesia it has rapidly had a radicalising effect. The students’ protests are beginning to involve more and more the wider population. It is clear that the Suharto era is coming to an end. The question now for the workers’ movement is how to replace the capitalist system which gave rise to Suharto and which is the root cause of the present deep economic and social crisis.
In Europe over 500,000 Danish workers have just begun a strike for higher wages. While in France workers and youth are demonstrating increasing combativity. Regularly in different sectors and areas struggles are breaking out, which often bring gains. Politically a polarisation is continuing to take place and, especially since the March elections, the term "Trotskyist" is being used to describe the growing left opposition to the basically pro-capitalist policies of the Socialist/Communist government. This process began in the late 1960s, but more immediately reflects both a continuing rejection of the ruling class’s programme of attacks and looking for an alternative to the policies of the Socialist and Communist leaders.
Dark clouds over the world economy
Behind all these developments lie a looming world economic crisis. After seeing their prize ’Tiger’ economies run into a brick wall the ideologues of capitalism rapidly began to try to ’spin’ the story to read that this crisis was only limited to East Asia. In this way they are trying to overcome the ideological setback they suffered with the lost of the ’Tiger model’ of development. But now there are increasing numbers of capitalist commentators worried not only about the effect of East Asian crisis itself, but also over the possibility of a deflationary crisis developing in Japan and, above all, the growing speculative bubble in the USA provoking a serious financial crash at a time when competition is increasing in a slowing world economy.
Coincidentally these economic fears have emerged at the same time as the 150th anniversary of the Communist Manifesto’s publication. Significantly this has made some of the bourgeoisie develop an interest in Marx’s analysis of capitalism, but not in Socialism!
In East Asia the effects of this crisis have already been devastating. In South Korea currently an average of 10,000 workers a day are losing their jobs. In Indonesia 27 million were unemployed in March. On top of the job losses inflation is rapidly increasing. Already effects of this crisis are spreading out. Brazil was one of the first countries to be hit, with the result that there is a good possibility that President Cardoso will be defeated in October’s elections.
Positive changes in world and class relations
The past year has seen important developments in world relations and the class struggle.
Significantly US imperialism was forced to back down and not attack Iraq earlier this. Partly this was due to the breakdown of the ’Gulf coalition’ as rival imperialisms pursued their own interests. But mainly this last minute retreat reflected imperialism’s fears that a renewed attack on Iraq would provoke widespread radicalisation, protests and social explosions within the Arab world. It showed how imperialism’s freedom of action can be limited by either potential or actual mass movements.
Within more countries the growing desire for change has been reflected in elections, with the defeat of the right in Britain and France. The historic defeat of the PRI in Mexico’s parliamentary elections was also a significant harbinger of future developments. During the coming year these results are likely to be repeated in other countries like Australia, Brazil and Germany.
In Iran last year’s massive defeat of the most reactionary candidate in the Presidential election was a sign of the growing demands from that country’s very youthful population for an end to the strict controls and hardships which have been endured over the past years. In Kenya the old regime is being undermined by a similar process.
Other countries, like Nigeria, have also witnessed the beginning of a revival in the mass movement after a lull brought on by a previous defeat.
Rebuilding and rearming the workers’ movement
In Britain Blair is still benefiting from the feeling of relief that the Tories were finally ousted after ruling for 18 years. New Labour have set themselves in the vanguard of the transformation of the old Labour and Social Democratic parties into purely capitalist formations. A process symbolised in their proposal to finally wind up the misnamed "Socialist International", which in reality is neither socialist or internationalist, and replace it with a "standing conference" of the "centre-left" involving the US Democrats and "beyond".
However in Britain, while there is a growing questioning of Blair’s government, it has not yet been really put to the test. Events and experience will show that Blair’s so-called "Third Way" is the latest attempt to politically bind the working class to the capitalist system.
Currently Blair is the most conscious pace setter in the drive to transform the old socialist and social democratic political parties into purely liberal parties, without any pretence of standing in any way against capitalism. This has meant that in an increasing number of countries the question of rebuilding, or building, the workers’ movement has come to the fore. This is not just an organisational question, it is political as well. The East Asian crisis now means that the relatively new workers’ organisations there, like the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, are immediately faced with the issue of what alternative is there to the chaos of the market system.
Although the recent economic growth in some countries, like Sweden, has helped their governments to rebuild support, this will be undermined in the next recession. In those countries, like Greece, where attacks on living standards have continued, the PASOK government’s support is being undermined
Opposition not enough – a socialist alternative is needed
Generally, in many countries there has been a growth of opposition towards governments and greater uncertainties about the future. But opposition itself is not enough; a real alternative needs to be present. The experience of Albania really shows this. Last year the mass of the Albanian population rose up in anger against the government which had colluded with the infamous "pyramid" swindles which had bankrupted hundreds of thousands. Rapidly the state disintegrated and the government was removed. But the Albanian masses did not then have a clear idea of what to put in its place, with the result that the new government was fairly quickly able to consolidate its rule and continue capitalist policies.
In less extreme form other former Stalinist countries also have the combination of bitterness against the consequences of the restoration of capitalism and lack of clarity over what can be done. In this sense there is still the poisonous legacy of old regimes which, while not capitalist, used ’socialist’ phrases to paint over totalitarian states, a privileged elite and an increasing stagnant economy. The working masses, while knowing what they do not want, currently still do not see an alternative to the privations of the market economy.
In a different form the increasing crisis in society in other countries is also still effected by the after-effects of Stalinism, ideological confusion and organisational setbacks, all too often made worse by the failure of most labour leaders to lead effective fightbacks.
This not only means a loss of opportunities. The mounting crisis of society produces a polarisation between Left and Right. Generally there is first a swing to the Left, but when the workers movement fails to seriously fight for or to implement an alternative, we have the warning of the development of the extreme right. Recent elections in Denmark, France, India and now Germany, have seen successes for fascist or extreme right forces. But the warning of France needs always to be remembered, namely that the National Front only grew in the 1980s as the then Socialist/Communist government failed to implement its promises of decisive change. Decisive struggles by the workers’ movement to improve living standards and fight for real change are the way to prevent the far right building a base.
The absence of a workers’ alternative can mean that reaction against the effects of crisis is directed against specific ethnic or immigrant groupings. Thus, at first, before the wider protest movement developed the Chinese community in Indonesia were the first targets of attack, while Indonesian migrant workers have been attacked by the Malaysian state. In the Balkans there is the continual danger of communal clashes developing.
The key is what the workers movement does. In this regard lessons need to be drawn from the Italian Rifondazione Comunista leadership’s sudden about turn last October when they went from opposing the Olive Tree "bankers" government to agreeing to support its budget in the space of 24 hours. Only a consistent and determined struggle can defend the interests of working people. An important part of this is the ability of workers’ organisations to withstand the inevitable pressure of "official society" against fighting back.
The meaning of 1968’s anniversaries
1998 has some particularly importance anniversaries for the workers’ movement, each of which serve to illustrate different aspects of the class struggle.
it is 30 years since 1968 when the 10 million strong French general strike showed the strength and role of working class, but also the need for a clear programme and leadership if capitalism is to be overthrown.
it is also 30 years since the massacre of students in Mexico City by state forces and 25 years since the military coup in Chile, both of which show the ruling class’s violence when defending itself. The Chilean experience shows that the working class cannot gradually overthrow the ruling class, as the bosses will use any space they get to strike back to defend their power and wealth.
it is 80 years since the start of the German revolution, an event which showed how already pro-imperialist labour leaders consciously helped the capitalists retain power by beheading the left.
it is also 30 years since the crushing of the "Prague spring" in the former Czechoslovakia. This event showed again the poisonous role of Stalinism and its hostility towards socialism. This also was one of the factors which helped prepare the way for the later restoration of capitalism in the Stalinist countries.
possibly the most important anniversary is that it is 150 years since the original publication of the Communist Manifesto, the first generalised scientific explanation of what capitalism is and how to overthrow it. Since then there have been numerous struggles of the working class and many attempts to overthrow capitalism. The tragedy that many have not been successful and that we still live in a world dominated by capitalism and imperialism is not due to any lack of heroism the party of workers and youth. Today’s situation is mainly due to the absence, in these previous struggles, of an experienced, independent socialist force, a party of socialist revolution, which can chart a way forward to secure capitalism’s overthrow and the beginning the construction of a new, socialist society
The Committee for a Workers’ International
In this new period of world-wide upheaval there have been already many struggles. The key question for activists and fighters is what is the best way forward to end once and for all the capitalist system ?
The CWI, founded in 1974, defends the tradition of Trotsky’s struggle against Stalinism and to create a "World Party of Socialist Revolution", a Fourth International. Currently the CWI has members and supporters in over 35 countries on every continent.
The Committee for a Workers’ International and its supporters are active in fully participating in the struggles which take place, seeking to defend and improve the conditions of working people, youth, the old and all oppressed layers. We have to win these battles and, at the same time, we campaign to gain wider support for the programme of the socialist transformation of society.
Today the CWI works to restore the real international socialist traditions of May Day and sends warm greetings to all those workers and youth engaged in struggle and to all activists fighting to achieve a SOCIALIST WORLD.