Posts Tagged ‘left wing’

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

The left in Britain 1990-2013

May 21, 2013

left party

Abbreviations – SP Socialist Party, SWP Socialist Workers’ Party, AGS Alliance for Green Socialism, AWL Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, CPB Communist Party of Britain, S All remaining members of Socialist Alliance, ISN Independent Socialist Network

This is a timeline I made to illustrate attempts to build a left alternative to New Labour. It is by no means exhaustive (I have missed out developments in Scotland, for example, which whole books have been written about).

It is clear to increasing numbers of people that there is a crying need to oppose Labour cuts, and that there is little difference between any of the main political parties. If a party is not built which can represent working-class people, and bring together trade unionists in struggle, the cuts will only get worse, and people may resort to the blind alley of nationalism, of fighting amongst ourselves rather than uniting against the bosses.

It is also obvious that this has been the case for the last 20 years. TUSC and Left Unity are only the latest in a number of attempts to build a mass, left-wing alternative. I would like to look at some of these briefly and outline where I think they have gone wrong, not in order to score any political points, but because we need to learn from past mistakes.

The Socialist Labour Party has not built on its foundations, because it is not outward-looking or democratic in its approach and has not sought to build links with other socialist groups. It has been controlled by Scargill in an authoritarian fashion and has consistently refused not to stand against other socialists. As much as we can admire Arthur Scargill as a militant trade union figure, this is not, in my opinion, the way to build a mass consensus for socialism.

The Socialist Alliance was formed in the mid-1990s, and had some modest successes before unfortunately the Socialist Workers’ Party tried undemocratically to wrest control of the party at its 2001 conference.

Respect had enormous potential, launched after the start of the Iraq War, on the back of the 2 million strong Stop The War Coalition demonstration in Hyde Park. Incidentally, this was when I first became involved in political activity, as I joined the Socialist Party, out of increasing anger at the betrayal of New Labour. By ditching the Socialist Alliance for Respect, the SWP jumped onto a pro-Islamic platform (perhaps on the basis of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”), which led them to compromise on important principles – such as abortion rights, LGBT rights and feminism. When cracks in Respect appeared, the SWP abandoned this project in turn. Now they too are in crisis and the democratic opposition which has split from the SWP has recently launched the International Socialists platform, which I hope will grow into a democratic and outward looking party.

The Socialist Party looked towards the trade unions, and the mass of the organised working-class. It approached unions like the RMT and FBU (the RMT having been expelled from supporting Labour for supporting Scottish Socialist Party candidates, and the FBU having voted to disaffiliate due to cuts to the fire service), through the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party, launched in 2006.

At the CNWP’s first conference, I remember Bob Crow giving a stirring speech, calling on anyone left within New Labour to stop giving it a left cover, and join instead the beginnings of a new workers’ party. The Socialist Party does not envisage a party with a fully-fledged socialist programme coming out of nowhere, but emerging gradually and organically through struggles of the working class. This led first to co-operation with the RMT and CPB (Communist Party of Britain) in the No2EU Yes to Democracy challenge in the European elections, the first nationwide left-of-Labour challenge. The RMT had a historic role in founding the Labour Party itself, with the Taff Vale dispute and the Labour Representation Committee representing a decisive break from Liberalism at the beginning of the 20th century.

Out of No2EU, and with the CPB reverting back to its former position of supporting Labour (although at the 2012 TUSC conference, it said that it would give Labour ‘one last chance’), grew TUSC, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition. From the timeline above, it is clear that these are early days for this new electoral force. It brings together the two largest revolutionary parties the SWP and the Socialist Party, together with Independent Socialists. it now has the official backing of the RMT, but we still need more unions to jump ship from Labour and fight for their members’ interests. TUSC is based on the idea that we agree on a set of core policies, but candidates are also free to campaign for their own party – a federal and deliberately cautious approach.

TUSC is important because it is putting down an anti-cuts marker for the future. So far, voters understandably have largely settled for Labour as opposed to the Tories, as the lesser of two evils, while many are turned off politics altogether, or have fallen for the lure of the far right UKIP as a protest vote. However, as Labour is once again likely to come into power in the next few years, it will be more difficult for them to appear as anything other than a vicious party, intent on cutting services and slashing jobs. They have committed themselves to maintaining the Tories’ austerity programme, just not as fast or as deep. Labour have expelled those few councillors who have stood up against cuts (the Southampton Two and Hull Three, for example).

However, TUSC is not yet a fully-fledged party in its own right. Left Unity has also gathered a lot of support recently, following Ken Loach’s screening of the Spirit of ’45. I hope that the two forces can co-operate, that more trade unions will back a project to build an alternative to the left of Labour, to stand up for their members and oppose cuts. The urgent need to do so has never been more apparent, with the demolition of our NHS, privatisation of the postal service and comprehensive education, with corrupt politicians awarding themselves massive pay rises and a widening gulf between rich and poor. In such a volatile situation, disgust at mainstream parties can quickly produce results – look at the spectacular rise of Syriza in Greece.

It is still early days and we need to be patient, but is clear that we need to build a united force to the left of Labour. Let’s learn from past mistakes and build a comradely, non-sectarian, federal and democratic organisation, welcoming to new layers of people coming into struggle for the first time as Tory and New Labour cuts bite ever harder. TUSC is still the best chance of achieving this, in my opinion.