May Day 2008: A socialist alternative to capitalist crisis

The Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) sends warm socialist greetings to workers and youth across the world on May Day, International Workers’ Day, 2008.

Socialists, trade unionists, anti-war campaigners and many others celebrate May Day 2008 against the background of deepening economic crisis. Belatedly many pro-capitalist economists and commentators have confirmed what the CWI has been arguing, namely that today the profit system potentially faces its worst situation since the 1930s Depression. The consequences of the madness of the market economy for many working families in the US and the West is the disaster of ‘credit crunch’, job losses, house repossessions and rocketing food and fuel costs. Rising costs for rice and other basic food stuffs have already this year plunged 100 million people into “extreme poverty” while provoking mass demonstrations and social unrest in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

After the collapse of Stalinism, the defenders of the bosses’ system crowed about the ‘triumph’ of capitalism. Now it is clear for everyone to see that capitalism is an irrational, chaotic and hugely wasteful system. Millions of workers will face slashed wages and unemployment as the bosses make cutbacks to try to keep their enormous profits or simply to try to help their companies survive recession. Working people and youth everywhere are the victims of capitalist crisis and recessions.

The profit-led system means endemic poverty, joblessness, environmental destruction, wars, and the spread of preventable diseases. Imperialist wars and occupation bring untold misery for the masses. It is estimated that the invasion and occupation of Iraq will cost a staggering 3 trillion dollars, as well as hundreds of thousands of lives.

Even during the recent years of global economic growth, 840 million people were chronically undernourished worldwide. Now the world economy stands on the edge of a cliff! Economic recession or even slump will destroy the lives of millions in the West and plunge the poorer countries further into the abyss.

General strikes

However, the working class will not meekly accept new attacks on their living standards, jobs and working conditions. Dockers in California are striking on May Day. Last week, teachers and public sectors workers went on strike in Britain over wages and oil refinery workers struck this week, in Scotland, over pensions. Danish and Swedish health workers are on strike. 2007-2008 has seen, for example, magnificent general strikes in Greece, mass industrial action in Portugal and militant action by German transport and public sector workers. West and East Europe is seeing more industrial action, from France to Romania, in both public and private sectors. For these actions to be successful, workers need their unions to truly represent their class interests – for fighting, democratic and independent unions!

2008 marks importance anniversaries for the workers’ movement; each of which serves to illustrate key aspects of the class struggle, particularly 1968. 1968’s high point was May-June in France, when ten million workers occupied their factories in a month of revolution and challenged the capitalist system. This clearly showed the power and role of the working class, but also the need for a clear programme, strategy and leadership if capitalism is to be overthrown. It is vital the Left and workers and youth learn the lessons of this revolutionary movement, to prepare for future struggles.

Today, Latin America is the most radicalized part of the world. A series of radical populist or left-leaning leaders have been elected to power in Latin America, the latest being Fernando Lugo, in Paraguay. Many of these leaders have spoken of socialism, most recently Morales last week while speaking to the UN in New York. But it is one thing to speak of socialism and another to show concretely what steps are needed to achieve it. Social change does not come simply through individual leaders but from mass action. To successfully overthrow capitalism and landlordism, and establish genuine workers’ and peasants’ democracy, mass parties of the working class, armed with bold socialist policies, are needed. The worldwide crisis of capitalism and the revolt against neo-liberalism in Latin America will put the issue of socialism back on the agenda, notwithstanding the continuing imperialist efforts to restore capitalism in Cuba and defeat the movements in Venezuela, Bolivia and elsewhere.

Socialist policies needed to answer capitalist crisis

Capitalism cannot meet people’s basic needs anywhere in the world. Under the pressure of severe economic crisis and growing class anger, even parties of big business will increasingly advocate state intervention and ‘neo-Keynesianism’ to try to find a way out of the economic turmoil and recession caused by their system. The CWI sections across the world call for the workers’ movement to urgently fight for decisive measures to guarantee jobs, a living wage, decent homes and for free education and health. But only socialist policies can end this crisis in the interests of working people and remove the threat of future crises. This is why the CWI combines fighting for the immediate needs of working people and the poor with arguing for the building of socialist movements that can transform society.

In recent years, new parties of the Left have started to develop in the space left by many old, former workers’ parties being transformed into purely capitalist parties. Unfortunately many of these have failed to seriously champion struggles of the poor and working class or put forward clear socialist policies. A result has been that they have not taken off or have gained some electoral successes only to later crash at the polls. The Prc in Italy is the latest example of the consequences of the leaders of such parties turning to the right and participating in capitalist coalition governments. Yet, this is just at a time when real socialist ideas can gain much wider popularity than they have done in many years!

Despite the deep disappointment felt by many workers and youth at the behaviour of the old parties and setbacks with some of the new left formations, new broad parties of the working class will inevitably arise, at some stage, in country after country, due to capitalist crisis and workers’ mass struggles. But to succeed, and not repeat the mistakes of the past, these new parties must adopt fighting socialist policies and be open and democratic organizations.

In some countries the crisis, and past mistakes of the workers’ movement, have combined to create difficult situations for socialists. In countries like Sri Lanka the CWI campaigns both on the immediate questions and to rebuild the socialist movement. This May Day the USP, the CWI in Sri Lanka, is holding a rally in the teeth of war-mongering and chauvinism, attacks on its election candidates and when the major parties have cancelled their traditional rallies.

The current capitalist crisis means the idea of a planned economy, under democratic workers’ control and management, will increasingly find a wide echo, as working people and youth look for a way out and are forced into titanic struggles. The only way to permanently overcome the present and increasingly acute crisis facing humankind is by abolishing capitalism and landlordism. The task of the socialist transformation of society is to bring the big monopolies, the banks and financial institutions into public ownership and to work out a democratic plan for the production and redistribution of wealth on a national and international scale. A planned economy, run and controlled democratically by working people, will make it possible to develop the productive forces in harmony with the environment. Only a socialist organisation of production and distribution can assure humanity a decent standard of life and end all kind of oppression and violence.

A new International

A new struggle for socialism will unavoidably involve answering the question of what happened to the Russian Revolution, were the establishment of Stalinism and its later collapse back into capitalism inevitable?

These questions will bring activists back to the ideas defended by the great Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky. He fought against the rise of the Stalinist dictatorship and then, 70 years ago, helped established the Fourth International because the old internationals had become obstacles to the struggle for socialism. Trotsky described this as his life’s most important work – even more than his historic role in the 1917 Russian Revolution – because he was attempting to pass on the traditions of genuine Marxism and socialism to the new generations, who in turn would struggle to abolish capitalism.

Over the next years, mass consciousness will be violently shaken up due to the crisis of this system and by the realization by millions of workers and young people that they desperately need unions and parties that represent their class interests. Arising from this, the Committee for a Workers’ International, an international socialist organization, with affiliates and co-workers in 40 countries, on all continents, proudly carries on the struggle to help create a powerful mass workers’ International, which can lead the way in the fight to liberate humanity from the chaos and catastrophe of capitalism.

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