Deepening Socialist ideas in a period when capitalism is in crisis
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DSM Socialist School 2008
The recent Socialist School 2008, held by the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) in Nigeria, proved to be a great success in advancing the political understanding and commitment of both established DSM comrades and new members.
Significantly, the school, held between Saturday 4 October and Sunday 5 October, was largely dominated by individuals attending their first DSM national meeting. Among the new DSM members attending, were workers the Amalgamated Union of Public Sector Workers (AUCPCTRE) and a Lagos State government owned corporation.
Between the two days about 60 people attended the School. Eight branches were represented, with others attending from UNIBEN, LASU, UNILAG, University of Nigeria, Nssuka and UNIZIK Akwa.
The topics discussed at the School were the Nigerian political and economic situation, world relations and the economy, the Russian revolution as a guide to the struggle for socialism, Trotsky’s transitional programme and the building of the DSM.
The School was inspiring and electrifying. Participants expressed enthusiasm to learn about developments in Nigeria, and around world, as well as about socialist ideas. Contributions were informed. Workers gave practical experience to illustrate the crisis capitalism is in. Questions were asked on how to deepen and spread the ideas of socialism, how to and build the DSM. Obviously, the recent battering capitalism has been receiving around the world, of which Nigerian capitalism has had its fair share, inspired interest in the search for socialist analysis and alternative. The morale of comrades present was lifted.
Political, social, and economic developments in Nigeria have continued to underline the imperative of a fighting, mass-based, working people’s party. Despite huge resources at its disposal on account of high prices of crude oil, the neo-liberal economic agenda of the Yar’Adua government, like its predecessors, has meant that the vast majority of Nigerians are denied access to their basic needs, while infrastructure is still primitive.
Instead of committing public resources to the provision of education, health care, electricity, roads, and other social, and physical infrastructure, the government has ceded to the profit-maximising interests, and greed of private vampires under the arrangement known as Public Private Initiative. The private sector is expected to provide funds, and recoup its investment, by charging user fees. The government has already announced that it would stop allocation in the budget for infrastructure. Unfortunately, Labour has not issued statements opposing this position of the government. The country has huge external reserves which have been placed at disposal of international financial sharks, while there are monumental developmental challenges facing the country, which require the injection of resources. Nigerians have not been told how much of the real value of external reserves has been lost in the global financial meltdown. In Nigeria, we face a situation where working people, having gained hardly anything when the oil export price was high, will suffer even more as a result of the oil price’s recent fall.
Nigerians have been asked to prepare to pay more for goods and services next year, with planned hike in fuel prices, and sales tax (VAT). At the same time, the government has hedged its functionaries, who have already looted the treasury, against the effect of the price rises, with a jumbo pay package. The DSM has called on Labour, and pro-masses’ organisations (NLC, TUC, and LASCO) to demand immediately a new minimum wage, linked to rises in the rate of inflation, and to begin the mobilisation for struggles against fuel price, and VAT hikes.
More importantly, the DSM has been calling on NLC, TUC and LASCO to mobilise workers, youth, and poor masses for the formation of a fighting, working peoples’ party that could wrest political power from the thieving ruling elite, and commit resources to basic needs of all, and to infrastructural development. Such a party, when in power, have to take into public ownership, the commanding heights of economy, under democratic management, and control by working people. The DSM has argued that the Labour Party can serve as germ for such a party. Thus, we have been calling on Labour, and pro-masses’ organisations to join the Labour Party, and build it as a fighting organisation, that intervenes in daily struggles, and demands of workers, youths, and the poor masses.
There was no better way to introduce the discussion on world perspectives than by discussing the monumental crisis gripping the global financial sector, which is having a telling effect on the larger economy. The global financial meltdown, which started last year with the sub-prime loan crisis, has come to height with the collapse of major banks, and financial institutions in the US, and Europe. The crisis has attracted huge government intervention that has not been seen since the Great Depression, yet it seems there is no light at the end of the tunnel, as the list of the causalities is grows longer. But in the absence of an international revolutionary working class movement, that could seize the opportunity of the crisis to establish socialism, capitalism can bounce back. However, it will not solve the fundamental problems of capitalism, which the crisis has underlined.
The crisis has shown that the hitherto boom in the world economy was fuelled by the flaws, and frauds which capitalism is fraught with. In the US, over $1 trillion of taxpayers’ money has been earmarked to bail out some of the collapsing banking institutions, and buy the rotten assets that litter the financial system. This is on top of the huge resources that have been spent on wars of occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bail-out is nationalisation of rotten assets and bad debts. The capitalist commentators are wont to blame the crisis on corporate greed and lack of proper regulation. But there is no capitalism without greed, and even the re-introduction of regulation would not, on its own, end capitalist booms and slumps. The crisis is a fundamental crisis of capitalism, and seems to be leading to a serious worldwide recession.
Incidentally, the financial crisis is raging in the run up to the US election. It has catapulted the economy to the front burner of electoral issues. Both presidential candidates want the crisis to be solved before assuming leadership, which is one of the reasons they are centrally involved in the bail-out deal. But this is a hallucination. Whoever wins will surely have his fair share of this monumental crisis to contend with.
Obama’s African appeal
Most opinion polls have put Barack Obama in the lead, in the contest. The Obama phenomenon is raging globally, with the same tempo as the financial meltdown. It is commonplace now to see cars on the streets of Lagos with Obama stickers. This is on the account of him being the first African-American to be a nominee of either of the two pro-establishment parties in the US for president. His rhetoric has only iced the cake. Besides, the deep-seated unpopularity of Bush administration has rubbed off positively on the Obama-Democratic ticket. Even McCain has been trying to avoid sharing public podiums with Bush. They can avoid Bush like the plague, but in reality neither Obama nor McCain have fundamentally differences with the neo-liberal economic policies of Bush. Both of them are candidates of big businesses whose interests they will strive to protect in office.
The emergence of Obama as presidential front-runner shows that there is huge potential for change in US politics. However, Obama offers nothing to the American electorate. A combination of factors, including a possible gloom complacency amongst the electorate, and racism, could lead to the victory of McCain. But if McCain wins, it will be a continuation of a barefaced, ruthless attack on living standards, and unwinnable and expensive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is also possible that faced with unmitigated crisis of capitalism, McCain could take some measures that would fly in the face of capitalist orthodoxy to gain popularity.
While the American electorate is faced with duopoly of the Republicans and Democrats, an alternative candidate exists in Ralph Nader. Nader, a radical populist who contested the 2000, and 2004 elections, and campaigns on an anti-war, anti-corporate, and pro-worker platform will attract a layer of radicalised workers and young people, who are searching for a real alternative. With the propaganda of Democrats, that Nader contesting would swell the prospect of a McCain victory, in addition to the enthusiasm for Obama, Nader’s vote may be lower than that which he received in the previous elections. If Nader is able to turn the radical votes into an alternative political platform (which he failed to do this in the past), it could set in motion the process of the emergence of a formidable political alternative, that could stand up to the pro-business parties in the contest for political power.
In the US and elsewhere, the monumental global capitalist crisis could provoke social tensions, and political struggles that could draw workers and the poor masses towards a socialist alternative. But if the workers’ movement does not offer a fighting alternative, right wing, chauvinistic or religious populists could exploit their anger and divert it away from drawing socialist conclusions and challenging capitalism.
South African crisis
Side by side with financial crisis, are the political crises thrown up by quests for economic control from different channels. From the Russia-Georgia war, to South Africa and Zimbabwe there has been political struggle, among different layers of ruling elites over economic interests. It was easy for Thambo Mbeki to be thrown out of power without a fight-back or mass protests because his anti-poor government unleashed violent neo-liberal attacks on the masses. The celebrated economic growth which occurred under Mbeki’s government was jobless growth. The rate of unemployment is on the rise. It has created social tension, including attacks on African immigrants, who are erroneously blamed for the economic woes of the South African masses. The working masses of the country have also taken to streets in massive protests against neo-liberal attacks. Jacob Zuma will most likely emerge as President from next year’s election. On the basis of neo-liberal capitalism he will not be able to dislodge the few who control the commanding heights of economy. Besides, as the deputy of Mbeki, when the going was good, Zuma proved he did not have differences on the economic policies of the government, which have meant poverty, unemployment, squalor and the denial of basic needs to the vast majority of South-Africans.
In Zimbabwe the on-going power sharing deal between Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC (Movement for Democratic Change), and Mugabe has further underlined the fact that there is no fundamental difference between the policies of the two parties.
As in Venezuela, Bolivia has also witnessed its own wave of counter-revolution. While there have been some social reforms, and anti-imperialist actions, Chavez and Morales’ governments in Venezuela and Bolivia have not developed a programme to defeat capitalism. Rapacious capitalists, who still have some control over the economy, and right wing forces are regrouping because of the half measure approach of the left governments towards the revolution.
One important thing that the developments around the world have shown is that everywhere one turns, capitalism is in crisis. What has saved its collapse is the absence of revolutionary working people’s party. The formation of such party has been the major aim of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) and its affiliates across the World.
One major lesson of the October revolution, is that it represents proof that capitalism can be defeated. The collapse of the Stalinist state in the former the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, rather than show proof of that socialism is unworkable, was a confirmation of genuine ideas of Marxism. It was a revolution betrayed. Understanding both the victory and the betrayal of the Russian revolution is an essential guide to struggle for socialism. It is the task of every comrade to come to understand the class struggle, the need for a revolutionary party, and to understand the ideas of the permanent revolution, the transitional programme, workers democracy, internationalism and all of the ideas, and methods of Marxism. During the DSM school, comrades were advised to read the works on Russian Revolution.
Transitional Programme and Building the DSM
It is impossible to build a revolutionary organisation without a set of demands, and slogans, backed by political activity that attracts the interest of the poor and working masses to socialist ideas. Besides, any socialist organisation worthy of its name has to intervene in the daily struggle for improved standards of living, and support the democratic demands of workers, youth, and the poor masses. In doing so, it has to articulate a set of transitional demands, that will link immediate and democratic demands, to the imperative of the struggle to defeat capitalism. Transitional demands, such as those for free education and health care, decent housing, and jobs for all, constant electricity and water, good roads and railways etc, help expose the inability of capitalism, despite the availability of human and material resources to provide for the basic needs of the vast majority, on a lasting basis.
Specific demands encapsulated in the transitional programme vary according to time and concrete circumstances. That is, while the method is constant, what constitutes a transitional programme in Britain for example, is different from that of Nigeria, for instance. Even in Nigeria, the transitional programme changes, i.e. the set of specific demands, during military rule, is different from those for the present period. This means that the concept and method of the transitional programme has to be understood. Leon Trotsky’s Death Agony of Capitalism and Tasks for Fourth International should be read by all socialist activists who have not yet done so. Socialists have to be conscious of the transitional demands in our propaganda and campaigning work. Every political, economic, and social issue is linked to the imperative of socialist reconstruction of society, through appropriate transitional demands.
The struggles, interventions and propaganda of the DSM, at different stages of its development, have been formulated on the basis of the method of the transitional programme. A number of examples, such as 1989 Labour Party work, the June 12 struggle, the NCP (National Conscience Party), the Sovereign National Conference slogan; demands for self-determination, a minimum wage, resource control, the anti-fuel price general strike, the protest against 2007 election, the CDWR (Campaign for Democratic and Workers’ Rights), the ERC (Education Rights Campaign) etc were used at the School to illustrate the application of the transitional programme by our CWI section.
It is in the spirit of a transitional approach to struggles and demands of workers, youth, students and poor masses that we have formed interventionist platforms, like the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) and Campaign for Democratic and Workers Rights (CDWR). This same reasoning helps to explain the formation of the community organisation of our Ajegunle branch, the Aijeromi Ifelodun Community Association (AICOM). DSM comrades are conscious of the need to develop demands and approaches that help raise the consciousness of those we have come in contact with; interesting them in ideas of socialism, beyond their immediate demands. The DSM must introduce the most combative layers of contacts or members of ERC, CDWR and AICOM to socialist ideas.
Specifically, DSM student comrades should not limit their activities to campuses, or to student matters, alone. We have to build a working class orientation. While in some areas, the DSM may be currently mainly composed of student comrades, it should be noted that we are essentially a working class organisation. Thus, student comrades must always initiate, or look for links between the struggles and demands of workers, and other strata of the oppressed, within and outside of the campuses. Even the demands of students on fees, welfare, learning conditions, etc should be linked to the pro-capitalist programme and policies of government.