Archive for the ‘socialist’ Category

The Pentrich uprising

June 30, 2017

DSCN0961It is 100 years since the Russian Revolution of 1917, but the village of Pentrich in Derbyshire is celebrating the anniversary, 100 years earlier of its own “revolution”. It was one of the first workers’ uprisings, coming at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. It was the last armed uprising in the UK.

On the 9th June 1817, 200-400 workers with sticks, pitchforks, pikes and a few guns marched from the village of Pentrich to Nottingham, with the idea that they would be part of a national uprising to overthrow Lord Liverpool’s Tory government and install a workers’ government in its place.

Today, Pentrich is a quiet village, but it has few of the picture postcard cottages that most villages in Derbyshire have. Just over 100 people live in Pentrich at the last census. However, in 1817, around 700 people lived here. A mine had been discovered in 1750, and a canal dug in 1794. The Butterley ironworks (which made the roof of St Pancras Station) opened in 1790 and employed some 700 workers from the surrounding area.

With the Industrial Revolution came mechanisation – small farmers were forced out of business, and replaced with day labourers (the equivalent of today’s zero hour contracts). Textile workers, handloom weavers, knitters and lace makers were also being replaced with factories, whose steam-powered frames were forcing down prices and therefore wages.

In 1815, the Napoleonic Wars ended and 10,000 soldiers returned to the UK – today servicemen still receive inadequate support for their physical or mental health – in 1815, before any national health service, before the concept of psychiatry, there would be nothing in the way of support. Furthermore, the ending of the war further reduced demands for iron and textiles. The war had increased the national debt to 200% of GDP (today it stands at 80% of GDP). Lord Liverpool’s response was to abolish income tax and replace this with more direct taxation, benefiting the rich at the expense of the poor.

What little support there was came in the form of poor relief, but this was paid for locally, and represented an extra burden on the villagers.

In 1815 a volcano in Mount Tambora, Indonesia, recorded the largest eruption in recorded history. The effect was to turn summer into winter for the whole of 1816 – frosts wrecked the crops and the price of bread and potatoes doubled.

Unsurprisingly, workers were fighting back. In 1812, the first trade union of framework knitters was formed. they struck for minimum wages. The government had its own anti-trade union legislation at the time, in the form of the Combination Acts, which made it illegal to have collective bargaining or trade unions. The leader of the framework knitters’ union was sentenced to one month’s hard labour.

The response to mechanisation came in the form of the Luddites, who were active in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. Workers at the Heathcotes textile factory had suffered a third cut in wages, and in Loughborough 53 machines were smashed. Only one person was found guilty, due to a code of silence amongst the workplace.

The Tory government was terrified of a repeat of the French Revolution, just 20 years earlier. they introduced the Seditious Meetings Act, which forbade an assembly of more than 50 people. It was not until 1986 that this Act was repealed, and assemblies can still be declared unlawful today.

The village people held a meeting to plan their revenge, but unbeknownst to them, a spy, William Oliver, was in their ranks. The authorities still spy on trade unionists and socialists today, and spied on the predecessor of the Socialist Party, Militant Labour. A police officer recently began relationships with members of an environmental group, amounting to rape.

The agent provocateur William Oliver spread a fantastic tale of 70,000 ready to join the uprising in London, 150,000 in Birmingham and 90,000 in Manchester. In the event of the 9th June, 100 rose up in Nottingham and 60 from Huddersfield, but it was clear that no mass uprising was going to develop.

The men from the village left in the dead of night, in pouring rain. They got as far as Giltbrook, where they stopped at a pub. However, the landlord, appraised of the fate of their endeavour, offered to hide them in the cellar. Their leader courageously insisted that they should press on to meet their fate.

By the time they arrived in Nottingham, the men were arrested by the light dragoons. It was reported erroneously in the press that the troops repulsed an attack, when in fact they were the aggressors.

The leaders of the uprising were hung and their houses demolished, which is why there are no pretty picture-postcard cottages in the village of Pentrich. Some were jailed and others deported to Australia. The village has held a number of commemorative walks to celebrate and in Australia, there have also been re-enactments of the events of 200 years ago.

Workers will keep struggling against oppression, whatever is thrown at them. What is needed is a mass revolutionary party to force revolutionary struggles to their logical conclusion – the overthrow of capitalism.

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Abandoned railway station by the Butterley Ironworks.

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For fox’s sake, get the Tories out.

May 13, 2017

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Rural communities have been hit hard by the Tories – dairy farmers get almost no return for their milk, as supermarket chains have squeezed their profits. Price controls and nationalisation of big business would give them a fair standard of living.

By offering MPs a free vote on repealing the hunting ban, Theresa May has shown her priorities for the forthcoming election. With austerity hitting millions, and forcing families to resort to food banks to make ends meet, with the NHS at crisis point, with the ‘gig’ economy and zero hours contracts providing at best low-income, unstable employment, with working-class children unable to afford to go to university – you might think she would consider stopping some of the cuts, invest in the NHS, make a promise to halt privatisation of our public services. But no, she appeals to the UKIP / Tory core rural vote, by promising to bring back hunting. By contrast, drag hunting is a safe and effective way of providing dogs with a chase and horses with exercise. It can preserve rural jobs and livelihoods, without the actual kill itself.

Rural communities have also seen public transport services decimated, as subsidised bus services are cut and rail extortionately expensive. Corbyn would bring back the rail companies under public ownership (albeit as the franchises run out – better to forcibly take back control of our railways now, without compensation for fat-cat shareholders). He also promises investment and green jobs in the energy sector, by nationalising the Big Six energy companies – these could be run in the public interest, providing more environmentally friendly energy at a reasonable price, so that old people, the poor and the vulnerable can afford to heat their homes in winter.

For the sake of our economy, our wildlife and our environment, we need to vote the Tories out on the 8th June. I am a member of the Socialist Party, which is part of TUSC (the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition. We oppose Blairite cuts to services and Labour MPs who have stabbed Corbyn in the back. However, we are not standing against Labour in this vital general election, as it is imperative to put a politician with socialist policies back in charge.

You can register to vote here. There has never been more at stake. For the first time, I will be voting Labour, having been put off previously by its failed, feeble, centre-right Blairism. But the Labour party is changing radically for the better. Hopefully millions of other people will be convinced to do the same on June 8th.

 

 

 

April 1917 – a crucial moment in the Russian Revolution

April 2, 2017

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The Russian Revolution was where capitalism broke at its weakest point. This post is largely based on the latest in  a series of articles in the socialist, which follow the events of that historic year.

At the end of February 1917 (dates are from the Julian calendar, which was then in use in Russia) Tsar Nicholas II abdicated, having been overthrown peacefully in the storming of the Winter Palace. He was unable to find any regiment of the army willing to defend him. He attempted to pass power to his brother, Grand Duke Michael,  but this was refused. A provisional government then took power on the 2nd March, headed by Prince Georgy Lvov – with no mandate, it was very weak and unstable.

Russia was entering a period of dual power, nominally the state had control, but real power was in the hands of soviets – the translation from the Russian is simply “committee” – where ordinary people had taken control of their farms and workplaces. The Bolshevik’s slogan for “Bread, Peace and Land” summed up in simple terms what they were fighting for, and could be easily understood, even by illiterate people – Russia was a very backward country at the time and most of the population was extremely poor, working on the land under a feudal dictatorship under the Tsar.

At the beginning of April, both Lenin and Trotsky were in exile – Lenin was in Switzerland, and Trotsky in a prisoner of war camp in Canada – seized by British naval officers on board a ship bound for Russia, and sent to Halifax. In “My Life” – he says he did not join in a protest about their incarceration, because he didn’t see much point in “complaining to Beelzebub about Satan” – he was accused of being a German agent, backed by the British government and Milyukov, the foreign minister of the Russian provisional government.

The objective conditions for a successful revolution had been met: the Tsar had been overthrown and it was clear to the left wing of the Bolsheviks at least, that power must pass to the soviets in order that the gains that had been made could be consolidated. However, as well as this, workers and peasants must also be willing to fight to bring the revolution to a successful conclusion.

On Lenin’s return to Russia, he wrote the April Theses. This is a draft of speeches he gave at assemblies of Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, two factions of the Russian Social Democratic Party, which had split previously. The Mensheviks argued that revolution needed to be postponed to a distant future, whereas the left wing of the Bolsheviks argued that people needed to take control over the state for themselves – the names mean “minority” and “majority” in English. Trotsky, before the events of 1917, was in the middle ground – another faction which sought to unite the two conflicting positions – but as this revolutionary year unfolded, he came over to the side of Lenin.

The position of some leading Bolsheviks, such as Kamenev and Stalin,  was that of a gradual transition to socialism – they were caught unprepared by the willingness of the mass of people to fight against the Tsar, the demands for basic necessities, the right to govern themselves, and the soldiers returning from the front, who were sick of trench warfare. All of these factors forced the ferocious pace of events of 1917. Kamenev and Stalin were leading the soviet in St Petersburg – they advocated conditional support of the provisional government, and only advised that “a most vigilant watch” be put on the government.

Lenin made the following key demands:

1. To break completely with the capitalist and imperialist war, and for this to be explained to troops at the front.

2. We have got rid of the Tsar, but he has been replaced by another government of the bourgeoisie – we now must place power in the hands of the workers and peasants.

3. No support for the provisional government – we must expose their lies.

4. The Bolshevik party is in a minority at the present time – but we must explain to the people that our the soviets are the only organ capable of bringing true emancipation, and we must tailor our explanations to the needs of the masses’ and their political outlook.

5. For a republic of soviets of workers and peasants throughout the country. To abolish the police, the army and the bureaucracy. For salaries of all officials (to be subject to recall and to be elected) not to be more than the average wage of a skilled worker.

6. Confiscation of landed estates and the nationalisation of all land – to be handed over to the peasants.

7. For workers’ control of the banks, which would be nationalised and amalgamated into one central bank.

8. Production should be brought under control of the soviets.

9. For an immediate Bolshevik Party Congress. To change the name of the party to the All Russian Communist Party, to alter the party’s positions on the war, the state and its minimum programme.

10. For the establishment of a new socialist International.

Lenin made these points repeatedly. Defeated initially by the right-wing Petrograd Bolsheviks, he took his campaign to the Mensheviks and to the party membership at large and won widespread support for his ideas. At the Bolshevik Party conference on April 24th, Lenin’s motion to transfer all power to the soviets was carried by 149 to 3 votes – and the party had now rapidly grown, enthused by his ideas – it now numbered 79,000, with 15,000 members in Petrograd (St Petersburg) alone.

An important breaking point in the provisional administration was the First World War – should it support or condemn the imperalist conflict? Milyukov said they would “pursue the war to its glorious conclusion” – this resulted in huge May Day demonstrations, which forced his resignation in April 21st. Six socialist members of the Petrograd soviet then joined the provisional government. Milyukov resigned and Trotsky was then released from incarceration.

If it were not for the intervention of Lenin at this key point, and more importantly the support of the masses – whose ideas echoed with his, the revolution may well have been just another wasted opportunity as has happened in many countries since – the Arab Spring, Allende’s Chile, France 1968 to name but a few.

In May the Bolsheviks adopted Lenin’s programme, with the slogan “All power to the soviets”.

This shows the importance, even if all the other factors for revolution are in place, of having the correct programme and being able to win people to your side in order to carry through a successful socialist revolution. The Russian Revolution was unique in being able to accomplish this, but it was isolated. With the subsequent civil war, the death of Lenin and the exile of Trotsky, the USSR tragically became corrupted by Stalinism.

The Socialist Party in the UK is still fighting today, as part of the Committee for a Workers’ International, which is fighting in 50 countries worldwide, to establish true socialism. Capitalism is still failing the vast majority of people. If you are not a member of the socialist party, then join us!

Capitalism in Crisis – a socialist solution

January 17, 2017

This is a review of the pamphlet “Capitalist Crisis – ‘Alternative Strategy’ or Socialist Plan” by Andrew Glyn, which has been recently republished with a new introduction.

Many people have looked to the left for answers to the crises of capitalism, since the downfall of financial markets across the globe from 2008 and the stagnation of the economy. Austerity is not some blip that can be transcended but is here to stay – driven by the internal contradictions of the capitalist system itself.

Andrew Glyn was writing in 1979, before the doctrine of neoliberalism held sway, and at a high point of industrial struggle which had won gains for working people. At the time, 13.5 million people in Britain were members of trade unions. The Tories, under Edward Heath, had been defeated by the miners’ strike of 1974; there was still a strong manufacturing base in the UK, and while there was a right-wing Labour government under James Callaghan, the left had a strong presence in Labour and the trade unions – cause for optimism, you might think going into the 1980s.

In 1979, there were 1 1/2 million people unemployed, a figure that seems laughably low nowadays, where millions are on zero-hour contracts, work part-time, have to work two or three different jobs to make ends meet, or are unable to find work. However, Glyn points out that if a determined socialist government were to initiate full employment, this would create enough wealth to increase minimum earnings, initiate a programme of council house building, provide an increase in pensions and better fund schools and hospitals.  An unemployment rate of 10%, he estimated, involved underproduction of 20%. Nowadays, the gap between what could be attainable and the conditions people are living under, has grown. The eight richest men in the world now own as much wealth as the bottom three and a half billion. Inequality has risen inexorably since 1979, due to deliberate policies of smashing the strength of the trade unions, with the defeat of the miners’ and the printers’ unions, the down-grading and de-skilling of jobs and casualisation of employment.

So why are we in such a mess? Unemployment provides capitalism with a “reserve army” of labour, which it can use to keep wages low, keep people hungry for job opportunities and enables more profits to be made at the expense of the working class. The pamphlet discusses the fall in the rate of profits, which has led big business to demand that the Callaghan government implement what was called, quite laughably, “The Social Contract”. A contract implies that we have some say in what was going on. In reality, Labour capitulated to the demands of big business for increased profitability, in return for cuts to living standards and cuts to public services. In this, we can see the beginnings of the policy of neoliberalism, which decimated communities, tore down industries and built a ramshackle service economy in its place, which meant a few city spivs became extremely wealthy, while the vast majority of people suffered. This was a vendetta carried out by the Tories against the trade unions.

In place of austerity, the Communist Party and Tribune put forward an “alternative strategy”. This was based on the idea of import controls, price controls, bringing banks under public ownership, defence cuts and increased investment in public services. The pamphlet does not argue that these measures would not be welcomed by the working class or that they should not be fought for, rather it questions how these reforms are to be brought about without huge pressure being brought to bear by capitalism, and how such pressure is to be resisted.

Leon Trotsky put forward a different sort of programme, which sought to win reforms for workers, but kept in mind that ultimately, global socialism is necessary in order for such gains to be consolidated. We have seen since the Labour victory of 1945, that the welfare state, the NHS, the nationalisation of the railways, public transport and the utilities, have all been destroyed by the ideology of the so-called ‘free’ market. Socialism needs to be tied to concrete demands and to be linked to the aspirations of ordinary people. However, it is utopian, as Glyn argues, that reforms can be won and held through capitalist democracy.

We have seen the pressure been brought to bear on left wing governments in the past. The pamphlet mentions the military coup against Salvador Allende in Chile, which toppled a hugely popular and democratically elected leader. More recently we have seen the vitriolic attacks against Jeremy Corbyn by the right-wing press, and the capitulation of the Syriza government in Greece to the demands of the Troika. It is naive to think that any left-wing government would be handed largesse from the pockets of the bosses, to revitalise the economy.

The measures put forward in the alternative strategy amount to a Keynesian approach to economics, an attempt to kick-start capitalism back into life, increasing wages and putting money into public services. The CBI, recognising the effects of neoliberalism on the world’s poor, fears revolts, strikes and uprisings, and has encouraged governments to do just this. However, no government is in the process of implementing such a programme, as austerity has become so embedded in the economy that any such measures would reduce profits in the short-term. The only answer to this contradiction is to move to a planned, socialist economy, to take profit out of the equation completely.

The final part of Glyn’s pamphlet explains what a genuinely socialist plan of production would look like. The largest companies and the banking system should be taken into public ownership and controlled democratically, from below. Production could be based on people’s needs and the needs of the planet, rather than funnelled into short-term profiteering. The only people who would lose out would be the rich businessmen, who are fleecing the rest of us.

The wastage inherent in capitalism and the pointless duplication of new models to capture more of a market share, and the constant drive for endless consumption would be eliminated. Full employment would mean a shorter working week, and people would be more involved in their jobs, gradually eliminating the need for micro-management, drudgery and sanctions that are a feature of capitalism.

However, such gains cannot be won without a revolution, to change the nature of society completely and for good. Such a revolution would need to be carried out initially in one country, and be the impetus for working people across the world to rise up. As Glyn puts it, “simply winning the argument and securing a Parliamentary majority for a socialist programme” is simply not going to cut it with the rapacious system of globalised capitalism.

This is not to say that gains cannot be won under the present system, or that socialists should abstain from standing in elections. We need to engage with people, put forward a coherent programme based on their expectations and to explain that we need to take control back for ourselves as a class, in order to change society. The alternative is continued austerity, environmental destruction, economic wastage, high unemployment and a shocking waste of potential for the whole of the human race.

 

 

 

 

 

Trident is a white elephant

April 14, 2016

The term “white elephant” comes from the 19th century. Kings of Thailand would bequest albino white elephants to courtiers who displeased them. The albino elephants were protected; they could not be used for labour or destroyed, but they would cost a fortune in upkeep. Trident nuclear submarines are a white elephant – ridiculously expensive, outdated and a complete waste of money. They cannot be used, without endangering all our lives, but this is a project which the government does not want to get rid of. They are being replaced only for vanity, to ensure Britain remains in the “nuclear club”.

Trident’s total cost will come to some £160bn, at a time when services and the NHS are being slashed. Even by MoD’s estimates, the cost of just building the submarine (without running costs, or the costs of the weaponry) has gone up from £20 bn to £31 bn, with an additional £10bn contingency fund! To put this in context, the entire NHS budget for England and Wales is £100bn.

Trident is a cold-war relic – even if the spending on Trident was justified, militarily it is obsolete – we do not face the risk of nuclear annihilation, but even if we did, there is also MAD – the idea of Mutually Assured Destruction. If a nuclear war were to happen, both sides would be wiped out.

One of the reasons that defence projects’ spending often get out of control is that politicians have been bought off by defence companies. In 2010, Labour’s Geoff Hoon, the ex-Defence Secretary, was caught by Sunday Times reporters pretending to be defence lobbyists, along with Stephen Byers. When Geoff Hoon was an MP, military helicopter company Agusta Westland were awarded a billion-pound order. They were obviously grateful: now out of Parliament, Hoon earns his way as the company’s Vice-President of international business. There is no reason to think that the Tories are any more scrupulous – Cameron has toured Saudi Arabia selling BAE systems Eurofighter jets.

The Tories want to go ahead with an EDF and Chinese bid to build Hinkley Point C Reactor, when the existing nuclear reactors in the UK are due to be decommissioned by 2023. Rather than making Britain safer, this will only provide more terrorist targets and opportunities for sabotage. Is this to provide uranium which can be reprocessed to produced nuclear weapons? There is an alternative to the Uranium reactor, which is more abundant in the Earth, produces less radioactive waste (although the problem does not go away), and cannot meltdown – the Thorium reactor. However, this was abandoned in the 1940s because the by-products cannot be used to make nuclear bombs!

Instead, we could scrap Trident, and invest in renewable energy – jobs could be diverted into clean-up operations, at the moment there is no safe way of disposing of nuclear waste. While government provides £2.6bn for research and development for arms, it is just £42m in the case of renewable energy.

The only reason for keeping Trident is so-called “prestige”. I can’t think of any good reasons for having a weapon which will never be used, and could trigger WWIII. Tony Benn famously said, “If you can find money to kill people, you can find money to help people”. The attacks by the right-wing mass media on Jeremy Corbyn, that he would do away with the military completely, and the attacks on his personal appearance, echo the attacks on Michael Foot in 1983, the last time a Labour leader was in favour of disarmament. However, most of the Labour Parliamentary Party disagree with him – would Corbyn enforce a whip this time, as he failed to do over Syria? We argue that Blairite Labour MPs and councillors should be de-selected as soon as possible and replaced with class fighters, if Corbyn is to be successful in transforming New Labour into a democratic, socialist party.

The Labour leader’s commitment to disarmament begs the question – are war and capitalism inseparable? Military conflict took place during every single year of the 20th Century. The total number of deaths caused by war during the 20th Century has been estimated at 187 million. From a capitalist’s point of view, war is a necessary evil, because of the need to constantly make more profits – they want to conquer territories, and exploit resources and labour. War also gets rid of excess capacity, where goods are made faster than can be bought by the people who are making them. This is done without regard for the loss of human life, except as employees. It has also caused the expansion of the defence industry – weapons are

An alternative was put forwards by shop stewards at Lucas Aerospace in 1971. Instead of producing weapons, the workers could have used their skills to develop long-life batteries, kidney dialysis machines. This shows the need for democratic control of workplaces – we can decide what is socially useful and what actually needs to be made. Workers on the shop floor are best placed to make these decisions.

It is utopian to think that the threat of nuclear war can be solved under this system of capitalism. However, if there was a successful socialist revolution – this would need to be defended against capitalist interests – so we would still need arms. Only with a socialist world, could we truly get rid of the wastefulness and insanity of war.

Useful links –

http://www.iwm.org.uk/history/timeline-of-20th-and-21st-century-wars

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/arms-trading-bae-systems-and-why-politicians-and-men-from-the-military-make-a-very-dubious-mix-8210897.html

https://www.commonspace.scot/articles/2843/hinkley-point-c-and-trident-the-link-between-the-tories-two-mad-nuclear-policies

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/25/david-cameron-brilliant-uk-arms-exports-saudi-arabia-bae

Should we stay or should we go now?

March 9, 2016

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What should the response of socialists be to the EU referendum?

(Lead-off for a meeting at Leicester Socialist Students, on the case for a left exit from the European Union).

It was interesting to see the poll on facebook, which was carried out amongst those who were interested in coming to this meeting, showing a majority in favour of staying in the EU.  I am not surprised that many people on the left, in opposition to the xenophobia stirred up by UKIP and the right-wing mass media, are instinctively siding with the Labour / Conservative / Lib Dem position – that we are better off within the EU. I will outline the case for leaving, and open the debate up to the floor.

We don’t fight on a political terrain of our own making. We are socialists, so we fight for international solidarity of the working class. Yet, we live in an imperfect, capitalist world, where the rights of people are subject to the needs of capitalism – and these two continually come into conflict.

We have to be honest with people and weigh up the consequences of remaining within the EU. Quite often this is portrayed as “coming out of Europe” – it is not the same thing at all. We had a referendum in 1975 on the question of Britain remaining in the European Economic Community (EEC). In that referendum, the Labour Left campaigned against joining, including Tony Benn and Jeremy Corbyn. It is a measure of how weak and isolated Corbyn is as a leader within his own party, that he has recently turned his back on his previous convictions on this issue, under pressure from the right of Labour.

If you look at the experience of many economies within Europe – Greece, Ireland, Spain, Portugal – they have had to endure huge hardships as a result of being wedded to the troika – the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the IMF. The Greek people have been forced to pay 170% of their GDP in debt, and have been told that there is no choice but continued austerity. However, there was the choice of a different course of action – but this would need a socialist leadership prepared to break with capitalism in order to carry this through. Syriza thought they could barter concessions from European capitalism, using a referendum vote against austerity as a bargaining chip. In reality, Angela Merkel and the EC wanted to crush any dissent – the result was a humiliating defeat for Tsipras, Varoufakis and the Syriza leadership.

From an Interview with Nikos Kanellis, Volos City Councilor (Xekinima/ CWI Greece) by Sascha Stanicic (SAV/CWI Germany)

“The great majority of Greek population was in favour of taking a “hard line”. That is why mass demonstrations were organized in all the country in favor of the government and against the blackmail of Troika and especially the German government. In polls, up to 70-80% of Greeks supported the Greek government in this “battle”. Xekinima(CWI in Greece) alongside with other forces and even some Syriza MPs proposed that Tsipras should turn to the Greek people and call for a referendum on the dilemma “euro and austerity or anti-austerity, pro- working class policies and the drachma?”. We strongly believe that if this question was posed the great majority of Greek workers and poor would have chosen to break with the euro. Of course, at the same time, we explained that the return to drachma would not, in itself, provide solutions to the crisis of Greek capitalism and socialist policies should be followed immediately to put the economy on a growth path and in the service of working people.

At the same time, Tsipras should explain who is the real responsible for the debt (bankers, capitalists, the Greek, German and whole European ruling class) in order to immediately stop paying it. Then they should carry out socialist policies, nationalization of the banks and the commending heights of the economy, under social and workers’ control and management and mass public investment etc., to plan the economy and put it on the path of growth. The economy should be “protected” from profiteering and the sabotage of Greek and European capital, through capital controls and the control of the external trade.”

Similarly, in Ireland, a referendum was held on the Lisbon Treaty, where we campaigned for a NO vote, against austerity. When the result didn’t go the way of the capitalists, they simply asked the Irish public again, in another referendum, and when they finally got the required result, they imposed another package of severe austerity measures, in return for a bailout of the banks.

If you look at the fortunes of the equivalents of New Labour in Ireland and Greece – Labour and PASOK respectively, they have been hammered by the electorate. The Labour Party in Ireland has been reduced to just six seats. A new socialist electoral formation, which is a much smaller party in terms of membership, the Anti-Austerity Alliance, has the same number of TDs (the Irish equivalent of MPs). The same fate could happen to Labour in Britain, should it not put forward clear anti-austerity policies.

We say – drop the debt. Working-class people should not have to pay for a crisis of capitalism.

The EU is an undemocratic organisation. Decisions are made behind closed doors and the European Parliament has no real powers – the unelected European Commission wields the real power. It acts in the interests of big business, not the working class. Italy had its elected government replaced by an EU-approved board of bankers, the very people who precipitated the global economic crisis. Is it that the EU cannot be reformed and we should leave, or are we better off staying in and fighting to reform the EU?

Why can’t we reform the EU? Why is capitalism incapable of uniting Europe? Capitalism is based on the one hand on private ownership. Fewer and fewer giant companies control the means of producing the goods and services we consume. On the other hand, capitalism has divided us into nation states. These are not just economic entities, but also social and political formations, with historically rooted features such as territorial boundaries, language, culture, etc., which are not mechanically created and changed by purely economic forces.

The EU’s Schenken agreement, which allows free movement of people within Europe (with the exception of the UK), is being ripped apart by the “refugee crisis”. Of course this is a crisis of capitalism’s own making, created by military intervention in the Middle East. According to The Guardian, there are eleven million empty homes in the EU – this would be more than enough to home the 1 million refugees who have entered the continent, and solve housing shortages for its citizens. Yet, capitalism is incapable of squaring this circle. Housing should be regarded as a basic human right; social housing could be provided for all, yet this would need socialist planning to organise and deliver.

Instead of being urged to support the EU, ‘with reservations’ or otherwise, workers in each EU country should demand that their government defy the pro-market, anti-worker EU directives and rulings. In Britain, for example, that would mean refusing to implement EU directives to ‘liberalise’ postal services, of which the part-privatisation of the Royal Mail is another step. Why couldn’t the EU transport directives be defied and the railways re-nationalised, and other privatisations reversed? Why couldn’t the ‘race to the bottom’ under way in the EU be resisted, with European Court rulings on the posted workers’ directive defied, as the construction workers who struck for their jobs at the Lindsey oil refinery did?

But such struggles, which would come up at each stage against the capitalists’ control of the economy and society, would raise the need for new mass, socialist parties to represent the working classes of Europe.

Another argument is that we are better off within Europe, because of the rights such as the European Working Time Directive. These include paid holidays, equal rights for part-time workers, parental rights, equal pay for equal work, working time limits, health and safety standards and protection from discrimination. Paid holidays have existed in Britain since the 1871 Bank Holidays Act and were widespread, largely through collective bargaining, long before the EU working time directive was passed in 2003.

The EU employment equality directive was issued in 2000, but before that we had the 1970 Equal Pay Act, the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act, the 1976 Race Relations Act and the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act — all agreed by the Westminster Parliament without input from Brussels. However, even with this legislation – women are still paid less than men, and minorities are still discriminated against; legislation alone is not enough. We need a political voice, to ensure that workers’ interests are represented in Parliament.

EU directives on paternity leave, the 48-hour working week and rules on transfers of undertakings when a company is taken over all had to be enacted at Westminster to take effect. In England, Parliament is the sovereign decision-making body – not the EU (though this is not recognised by EU law, and it is all a bit complicated). However, laws can be broken – Thatcher was brought down by non-payment of the poll tax; water charges in Ireland are on the verge of being defeated by a similar campaign. A determined, socialist challenge to unfair laws can win victories for the 99%.

Leaving the EU does not mean that laws Parliament has passed would automatically fall. Any government that wanted to end these measures would have to go through the same legislative process to repeal them. In addition, John Major negotiated a full opt-out from the social chapter enshrined in the Maastricht Treaty, while Tony Blair did similarly with the 48-hour weekly limit in the working time directive.

The European Parliament isn’t a parliament. It can’t propose laws. That right is reserved to the Commission. MEPs cannot change the direction of the EU. It is not time for Britain to entrust the future of its people to, what has been called by Paul Murphy, ex-Socialist Party MEP for Dublin,  a “cabal of big business”. The only sensible vote in the referendum for trade unionists and socialists is to withdraw from the EU.

To abstain from this debate, or to support the “in” campaign, would be to leave the “out” campaign to the far-right – on the basis of controlling immigration and narrow-minded protectionism of the economy. This would be a disaster – Jeremy Corbyn, for example, has taken many votes away from UKIP in recent by-elections – this is putting Labour’s gains in danger, in my opinion. It was a big mistake for Galloway to appear on the same stage as Nigel Farage. Farage described him as a towering figure on the left – the only towering thing both men have in common are their towering egos.

This was an attempt to make UKIP’s out campaign official by claiming broad support for it across the political divide. By contrast, we support a position of no government funding for Tory / UKIP campaigning. There could be an official No campaign, which would receive government funding – or neither campaign would get government funding. TUSC has a petition against government money going to right-wing, Eurosceptic campaigns.

I would argue for withdrawal from the EU – not on the basis of racism or xenophobia, but as part of the struggle for a socialist Europe. Many of the fundamental problems facing workers today, from the economic crisis to planet-threatening climate change, cannot be solved in one country alone. A united Europe, bringing together in real solidarity all the resources and human talent in the different countries and cultures encompassed in the 490 million-strong European Union (EU), would be an enormous step forward in the struggle for a new world. But can the EU unite Europe, not in an artificial or imposed ‘unity from above’, but in a genuine coming together of the European peoples? The answer to this question is, “No”.

 

References –

http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/22359

https://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-861f-No-time-to-entrust-Britains-future-to-a-bureaucratic-finance-capital-cabal#.Vt_-XlSLSbk

http://www.socialistalternative.org/2015/03/04/greece-yes-choice/

 

 

Thoughts on Corbyn’s victory

September 14, 2015

Regular readers will know that the header of this blog – with three cans standing for three varieties of equally foul-tasting soft drinks, was an attempt to highlight the lack of a working-class political alternative in the UK. All the main parties (at the time of designing the blog, when I first started posting in 2009) had the same austerity agenda.

This has changed with the election of Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of the Labour Party. He has galvanised hundreds of thousands of supporters in packed meetings the length and breadth of the country to simple ideas: we do not have to put up with inequality; we can fund decent public services; we can run our public services democratically and we should be governed from the bottom up, with more democracy and transparency. These socialist ideas are what the Labour Party should be standing for, and what the party was founded on.

I have never been a member of the Labour Party, or any other party for that matter, until 2004, when I joined the Socialist Party (formerly Militant Labour) in protest at the Iraq War – now the mess we have made, with imperialist adventures in the Middle East is all too apparent, with the human cost of hundreds of thousands of refugees. Corbyn rightly opposes investment in Trident, and the bombing of Syria.

The Socialist Party had since 1996, been arguing for a new working-class party, to represent the millions disenfranchised by New Labour. As Militant, we had been the subject of a witch-hunt in the 1980s, and so turned outside the Labour Party. We argued that Labour was dead and there was no point in trying to resuscitate a corpse. One of my first blog posts was a parody of Monty Python’s Dead Parrot sketch, to illustrate this point. However, it seems that we could have been wrong – that Corbyn may be able to restore democracy and socialist ideas and finally exorcise the ghost of New Labour.

The scale of his victory (60%, and a clear winner across all sections of the Labour Party – with the exception of the Parliamentary Labour Party) is encouraging – but there is still a lot of work to be done. I support Dave Nellist’s call for a conference of everyone on the left who is opposed to austerity – the trade unions, grassroots Labour supporters, Green Left, and TUSC, the party which I am a member and have stood for in elections. I think TUSC, to a small extent, by articulating anti-austerity policies in hundreds of constituencies across the UK, played a part in convincing people of the need for an alternative. A conference would provide a platform for a discussion about how to defend the ideas of socialism from attacks on the right, and transform the Labour Party back to what it should always have been – a vehicle for democratic socialism, to provide electoral representation for the working class. Careerist, Blairite politicians within Labour will need to be deselected at the earliest opportunity, if Corbyn will have any chance of carrying through the bold programme on which he has been elected.

The Progress faction within Labour are licking their wounds now – with many resigning from the shadow cabinet, but they will waste no time in attacking socialist ideas, for they are still wedded to capitalism. Tony Blair has described capitalism as “the only system that works” – New Labour privatised much of the NHS, did nothing to reverse Tory anti-trade union laws, expanded the use of the Private Finance Initiative (started by the Tories under John Major), and fundamentally did not oppose Tory austerity.

Labour also has a huge problem in Scotland – traditionally its heartland, but the SNP have acted as a pole of attraction for people looking for an anti-austerity party there (not that the SNP actually oppose austerity themselves, and offer no real alternative, being wedded to capitalist ideas themselves). Labour shot itself in the foot by allying with the Tories on the question of independence, and will not easily be forgiven by the Scottish working-class.

We can expect savage attacks on Corbyn from the right-wing press, but also from the right of his own party. Corbyn needs to re-democratise Labour, allowing the grassroots of the party to have a say in decision making. He should enable left-wing trade unions that had been expelled from New Labour – the RMT and FBU – to return, with democratic rights to have input into policy decisions.

The working-class will need to fight back.

A week is a long time in politics . . .

February 24, 2015

The Green Party leader, Natalie Bennett, had an interview today, which was at best, “awkward” on LBC radio. She was unable to spell out the financial details of her party’s plans to build 500,000 council houses. Given that this was supposed to be part of their manifesto launch, the interview did not come across at all well.

http://www.lbc.co.uk/incredibly-awkward-interview-with-natalie-bennett-105384

While it is true that there is a crisis in housing, and that people are being exploited by unregulated private sector landlords, the Greens are unwilling to take the necessary steps to solve the situation.

This would involve taking housing stock back under the democratic control of local people; using the powers of local councils to utilise the thousands of empty properties which are lying vacant to provide social housing; for investment in a mass programme of council house building and renovation to meet demand.

The resources are there in society to provide housing to meet our needs, but the problem is systemic and simply taxing private landlords is not an answer. Here are the Socialist Party’s alternative, to solve the problems of homelessness and unaffordable rents – www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/19759

In other political news, today hasn’t been great for the main parties either, with Jack Straw and Malcolm Rifkind both being caught out selling their services to reporters. At least Rifkind has had the decency to fall on his sword and resign. Any chance of Jack Straw doing the honourable deed for once?

And finally, a senior member of the Labour Party in Scotland, Robert McNeill, has tweeted this helpful infographic – asking Labour voters to tactically support the Tories or Lib Dems in order to avoid an SNP meltdown for Labour in Scotland.tweet

So what is the alternative to parties of incompetence, greed, corruption, austerity and dishonesty?

Fortunately, there is also TUSC – the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, which is standing 100 Parliamentary candidates and is aiming to stand 1000 local council candidates in the upcoming elections. Many TUSC candidates pledge to take the average wage of a worker in their constituency if elected, far less than the £60,000 Rifkind thinks it is “unrealistic” to expect him to scrape by on.

Join the fight to build an alternative for the 99%. http://www.tusc.org.uk

Nothing like a cup of tea

October 27, 2014

marathon14

 

The best cup of tea I have ever had was served at 19 miles, as I was running in the Potteries Marathon (now sadly no more). This was not a cuppa from a plastic cup, but poured from a teapot into a pottery mug. The prize at the end was a plate, testament to the once-thriving pottery industry in the towns around Stoke On Trent.

Bosses at Leicester’s hospitals have decided that staff in public places are no longer entitled to have a refreshing cuppa. Doing a 12 hour shift on a hospital ward is much like running a marathon, except that nurses have to concentrate, calculate dosages, make potentially life-or-death decisions. I would much rather be treated by a professional who was alert and awake than someone nodding off at the end of a long day. Hypocritically, the same bosses acknowledge the importance of being well-hydrated and require staff to be alert.

Socialists would put an end to petty bureaucracy in the NHS, by increasing democracy and putting workers themselves in control. I did my bit to raise the profile of our party, by running the Leicester Marathon this Sunday, selling 40 copies of the paper and raising over £40 in fighting fund as I went round the course. There was not a cup of tea in sight as I went round the course, just energy drinks and water, but some caffeine would have been very welcome indeed.

Be true to yourself

October 14, 2014

The title of this post might seem like a trite cliche. However, I do think this is a powerful tool to examine ourselves, and our relationship to the world we live in.

Question everything. Take nothing for granted. Don’t follow the herd.

When you next read an article in a newspaper, or watch Question Time on the telly (hard not to do without wishing to throw a brick at the screen, I know) – think about: Why are you being told this? What is the agenda of the person telling you the “news”? Are you getting the full picture?

We delude ourselves by thinking that we live in a free and democratic society, where we have a real choice in who governs us, and the decisions that are made. Putting a cross in a box every four or five years, for a choice of identikit political parties does not constitute democracy.

The word “democracy” means “people power” – in our case those who rule us are hardly representative – an elite political class drawn from private schools and top Universities, careerists who do not serve the interests of those who elected them.

A central problem with our democracy is that the dominant discourse of the media, is decided by the state. That is why small parties are grouped together as “others” in election polls, and why in the UK we have a first-past-the-post system deliberately designed to make it as hard as possible for any alternative view to gain electoral currency.

The dominant ideology seems to be gradually slipping further and further to the right, with Labour, the Tories and UKIP competing with each other to see who can punish immigrants the most, who can most effectively use benefit claimants as a scapegoat, and who can make the most cuts to public services.

But people’s everyday experience constantly clashes with this view of the world. When we rely on public health systems like the NHS, when we use a public library, when our local services are cut, when the elderly have to pay for a private care home, when students have to pay exorbitant tuition fees, when rents go through the roof because of a lack of council housing, we see that there is the need for an alternative, a planned economy run in the interests of all of us, not a rich elite.

The need of capitalism to constantly extract more and more from workers, for less and less pay, in order to maximise profits impacts on our everyday lives. This means that increasing numbers of people see through the smokescreens and lies and become angry. When wars are waged overseas, when MPs are given a 9% pay increase, and we are simultaneously told that we are all in this together and we all must make sacrifices, the hypocrisy of those in charge becomes all too apparent.

When we see time-lapse footage of ice-caps melting in Greenland, or when fracking undermines (literally) our rights to protest against drilling under our homes, we get involved in struggle to protect our environment, for the sake of all life on this planet. It is the only one we have.

It becomes apparent to more and more people, that the direction of travel is forever downward – to lower pay, to working longer for less pension. We are going backwards to Victorian times, when the poor had to rely on charitable handouts, with modern-day food banks replacing the workhouse.

We must be true to ourselves, and a vision of fairness and co-operation.
We need to find our own way.
We must replace the dominant media, by listening not to politicans on the television, or the mass media, but to our conscience.
We must fight back, by joining alternative, left-wing parties, by getting involved in our trade unions and arguing for a fighting strategy for better wages and against cuts.

However, it is not all doom and gloom. In the UK, TUSC is fighting back, planning to stand 100 candidates on a no-cuts platform and 1000 local council candidates in the general election. http://www.tusc.org.uk

In America, Socialist Alternative is gaining support across the continent, with new branches springing up, and hundreds of people applying to join – http://www.socialistalternative.org

In Ireland, the Anti Austerity Alliance has just won its third TD in Parliament as the main parties are increasingly exposed for supporting austerity – http://www.socialistparty.ie

IN Scotland, Solidarity’s server crashed with the demand from people wanting to join a socialist alternative in the wake of the narrow referendum defeat – http://www.new.solidarityscotland.org

In Brazil, 1.6 million people voted for PSOL (Party of Socialism and Liberty) in the recent Presidential elections, winning 5 seats in the process – http://psol50.org.br/site/

In Spain, millions voted for Podemos “We can!” – as a break from corrupt, mainstream parties. http://www.socialistworld.net/mob/doc/6806

In Greece, Syriza is ahead in the opinion polls, and there has been a huge wave of general strikes which have rocked the political establishment. http://www.socialistworld.net/mob/doc/6808

And across the world, people are rising up against this unfair system of Capitalism, which only promises poverty and inequality. http://www.socialistworld.net

Be true to yourself. Join us in fighting for the alternative.