Preparing the forces to fight capitalist austerity
Last weekend, branch delegates and visitors gathered at 2015 Socialist Party congress to discuss and debate the key political developments internationally and in Britain, and to map out the party’s tasks over the next 12 months.
Documents and motions outlining these perspectives and tasks were voted on, and a new national committee of the party was elected.
The following articles touch on the main themes of conference.
A world in turmoil
The whole world is being rocked by political, social and economic turmoil. The speed of developments is accelerating and the capitalist ruling class has no long-term solutions to the multiple crises. This places colossal responsibility on the shoulders of working class and socialist forces – just as it presents us with great possibilities.
Those were some of the themes developed by Peter Taaffe, Socialist Party general secretary, in his introduction to a wide-ranging discussion on world perspectives at this year’s party congress.
The significance of the election victory in Greece of the left-wing Syriza party was a key theme in the discussion, linking the eurozone’s economic crisis with the emergence of new formations fighting againstausterity.
The cuts have been cruel and people responded to Syriza’s anti-austerity message – in spite of an onslaught by the capitalist media. Immediately after theelection, Syriza summed up the mood with the positive declaration: ’Hope is coming!’
The Syriza leaders’ visit to the graves of those killed fighting the Nazis, and their rejection of the parliamentary dress code also marked them out from the political establishment. Syriza has promised to re-employ thousands of public-sector workers, halt privatisation and stop evictions due to mortgage arrears.
Of course, it is not straightforward. The Communist Party’s refusal to back a minority Syriza government is shameful.
Not one step back
Syriza and the workers’ movement face huge difficulties. German capitalism and the Troika – European Central Bank, European Commission and International Monetary Fund – lord it over Greece like a colonial power. The governments of Spain, Portugal, Ireland and others – pushing through brutal cut-backs on the troika’s orders – also demand that no concessions are given to Greece.
Xekinima, our sister party in Greece, raised the slogan on demonstrations after Syriza’s victory: ’Not one step backwards.’ And, in order for Syriza to withstand the immense pressure to concede ground, it will need the support of mass mobilisations of workers, youth and the middle classes – and to fill its ranks with worker andsocialist activists.
The meteoric rise of Podemos in Spain is another example. This radical movement now has 300,000 members, many of them ’online’. Getting all of them actively involved in decision making and mobilisations will be crucial if Podemos is to mount a consistent challenge to Spanish capitalism’s austerity programme.
The Irish state is lashing out viciously in its attempt to make working-class people pay for the economic crisis. Paul Murphy, TD (MP) for the Anti-Austerity Alliance, was arrested along with 20 others for campaigning against the introduction of water charges, in a desperate attempt to stop the growing mass non-payment movement.
Paul and other Socialist Party members are proving that they are a principled alternative to the establishmentparties and are mounting a major election campaign. If successful, that would add a powerful socialist voice to the emerging anti-austerity formations in Europe.
Desire for change
Further afield, in India, many on the left were in despair following last year’s election victory of the right-wingBJP. Yet the BJP was recently defeated in Delhi by the Common Man party. Although it does not have a socialist programme, it is another indication of the widespread anger at the political establishment and the desire for change.
Other areas of the world face other kinds of crisis. In the Middle East, the catastrophic consequences of imperialist intervention are only too plain to see. Syria is being torn apart – as are Iraq and Libya. Western power miscalculation in Ukraine has brought conflict to the EU’s borders.
Meanwhile, the rise of Isis is a stark warning that the political vacuum which exists can be filled for a time by ultra-reactionary Islamist forces, in the absence of a mass socialist alternative.
’Blow-back’, such as the attacks in Paris on Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket, is a direct result of imperialism’s policy in the Middle East. Those attacks are now being used to introduce further measures of state repression which will be turned against future workers’ movements in Europe.
The global economy is also on the rocks. The US economy is limping along. Obama even called for a tax on company cash hoards – colossal wealth lying idle because of a lack of profitable outlets – as a means of kick-starting the economy.
The EU is stagnant and the eurozone could be shipwrecked on Greek rocks. Growth in the Chinese economy is slowing. Tensions between nation states are rising, initiating competitive devaluations through currency ’manipulation’, as countries attempt to gain an advantage by lowering the price of their goods on world markets.
There is a real possibility of deflation, the vicious spiral of falling prices. Indeed, we could be on the threshold of a new economic collapse like that of 2008 – this time deepened by years of austerity.
Hand in hand with this is the relentless increase in inequality. Some capitalists are even waking up to the fact that this flammable mix is fuelling anger and revolt. Capitalism however, especially in a time of systemic crisis, will not grant serious reforms without mass, even revolutionary, struggle.
Developments will not move in a straight line. But a new period of mass movements, and of new mass formations, will be one in which socialist forces, armed with a flexible approach and a correct programme, can play a decisive role.
Britain: An upswell of anger
With all the main parties committed to pursuing savage austerity cuts in the new parliament, and the working class and middle classes facing a cost of living crisis for another five years, Hannah Sell (deputy general secretary) asked: ’Will Greece come to Britain?’
Hannah told delegates that beneath a seemingly calm political landscape in Britain, a volcanic upswell of anger over public service cuts, job losses, low wages, insecure employment and widening inequality, is likely to explode whichever party – or more likely combination of parties – forms the next government.
This prospect hasn’t been lost on the super-rich, many of who can see the ’pitchforks’ coming and are hastily buying up offshore island bolt holes!
How is it then that the 1%, the wealthy capitalist class, continues to escape the wrath of the population? Hannah explained that the absence of a generalised fightback by workers is down to the baleful role of the right wing trade union leaders.
Notwithstanding this road block to struggle, a number of coordinated strikes – the NHS pay campaign and the London busworkers’ dispute – have recently broken out, giving a glimpse of widespread battles that could develop in the next year.
Struggles against austerity can also develop in other arenas – as expressed by many yes voters in last September’s independence referendum in Scotland.
Pressing social issues such as the housing crisis especially in the large cities can also act as an outlet; witness the recent thousands-strong demos in London against sky high private rents, the New Era tenants victorious struggle against a rogue landlord, and the anti-eviction protests of the Focus E15 mums.
No political voice
The absence of a sizeable left political voice to represent the working class is also an obstacle to struggle but this hasn’t stopped the fracturing of the traditional party political system in Britain. And as the rapid development of Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain shows, new left-leaning political formations can develop mass support very quickly.
Labour is repelling potential electoral support by its slavish adherence to capitalist austerity measures. Yet many trade union leaders continue to spout the mantra: ’Labour is the only show in town’.
Several contributors in the discussion highlighted the fact that only five Labour MPs, in January, voted in Parliament against Osborne’s five year plan of an extra £30 billion of cuts to balance the government budget.
Claire Job and Mark Evans from Wales explained that the right-wing trade union leaders campaigned for Labour. But control of the Wales Assembly has not led to Labour resisting the Tory/Lib Dems austerity. On the contrary, Labour has unhesitatingly passed on the cuts.
Matt Dobson, from Socialist Party Scotland, explained that Labour in Scotland could suffer meltdown in the general election similar to what happened to Pasok in Greece. The main beneficiaries would be the Scottish National Party (SNP), whose ranks have swelled by tens of thousands since last year’s referendum. But increased support for the SNP as an anti-austerity party will dissipate when Scottish workers experience further SNP administered cuts.
In England, Labour too is in a process of disintegration.Ukip hopes to cash in on working class disillusionment with the main parties by projecting an image of being anti-establishment, notwithstanding Ukip’s pro-austerity agenda and backing by wealthy ex-Tories.
This right-wing threat can only be seriously challenged by building a serious left alternative to Labour. Such a formation, of which TUSC is an embryonic beginning, could cut across anti-migrant worker sentiment by adopting policies that unite the working-class in fighting for a living wage, reversing the cuts and inequality by means of nationalising the banks and major monopolies.
The Green Party is trying to position itself as an anti-austerity, anti-establishment alternative to Labour. However, their stated opposition to cuts has not been borne out by many of their council representatives and it could prop-up a pro-austerity Labour government.
Whatever permutation of parties coalesces after the election the next government will be weak and unstable. Not least because the ruling class, whatever policies it adopts – more austerity, economic stimulus measures – will remain trapped in a straitjacket of capitalist crisis. What is guaranteed however is that the trade unionscan expect a ferocious onslaught – on a scale not seen since the 1920s and 1930s.
John McInally gave details of how the government has already launched a major assault on the left-led PCS union. John appealed for support in PCS’s campaign to defend the right to strike and effective trade unionism.
Claire Laker explained that the roll back of wages and conditions by employers and the attacks by the government on access to benefits means that the current generation of young people will be materially worse off than their parents. But renewed student protests and young workers’ actions against low pay and precarious employment can be expected.
The effects of austerity particularly on women both in and out of the workplace was also discussed, including the wider related issues of sexism and campaigns to defend women’s rights. Lizi Grey exposed the government’s attitude by pointing out that there are more animal shelters than women’s refuges!
Summing up the session on Britain executive committee member Judy Beishon said that after the general election, there will inevitably be increased pressure from members of the largest trade unions to disaffiliate from the Labour Party and at some stage concrete steps will be taken to build a new workers’ party.
Such a party would be a "powerful draw" to workers, young people, pensioners – all those facing the driving down of their living standards at the hands of the present government ministers.
TUSC lays down its election challenge
Socialist Party executive committee member Clive Heemskerk – and national agent for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) – reported on TUSC’s 2015 electoral plans.
A debate is intensifying in the trade unions about their relationship with the Labour Party and the question of backing candidates that actually support trade union policies.
In this debate, TUSC is the reference point – even for those who still argue to retain the link with Labour at this stage.
There are now 91 applications in to stand for TUSC in the general election, with more to come. The report emphasised, however, the importance of the council elections where TUSC hopes to field 1,000 candidates.
Whoever wins the general election it will in effect be a ’change of management’ only. With local government cuts so deep that they will bring councils down to the bare legal minimum of service provision and in some cases below even that. Moreover, with the public sector pay freeze being maintained, no matter who wins, councillors will be in the frontline in the battle to defend services and pay.
TUSC is not yet a reference point for the broad mass of working class people – currently they are more likely to look to Ukip and the Greens as an alternative, not least because of the huge press publicity given to both. Also, in the general election many people will still vote Labour despite all their misgivings, in the hope of kicking the Tories out of office.
But if TUSC reaches its targets then it could secure a TV broadcast and the potential to start to break the silence of the mainstream press.
There can be no doubt that events are preparing the way for the development of a new anti-austerity political voice. With attacks on trade union rights escalating,
Clive reminded us that it was the infamous Taff Vale case – allowing a union to be sued for damages by employers if it took action – that paved the way for the start of the Labour Party 100 years ago.
Socialist Party members should ensure they get report backs of Congress deliberations and decisions. The finalised documents on international developments and Britain, as well as on the party’s organisational tasks, are now available. Copies can be obtained via your regional secretary or the national office – 020 8988 8777.
Funding the fight for socialism
In addition to the travel and accommodation costs, conference delegates donated a magnificent £10,859 to the party’s fighting fund. This huge sum, raised from many low income members, is on top of donations to the party’s general election campaign fund. Readers who share our enthusiasm about the prospects of building the forces of genuine socialism in this election period can also donate.
This spirit of financial sacrifice was further expressed in the pledged increases in members’ regular party dues.
The thirst for ideas by those attending congress was reflected in the sales of over £1,000 of literature from the party’s bookstall.