Britain: Crisis, Resistance & the Alternative

The following two articles appear in the newspaper of our sister party in England & Wales, and the analysis and alternative set out in them will undoubtedly be of interest to our readers. They discuss the upcoming public sector strike in Britain and northern Ireland, the capitalist crisis, and the socialist alternative.

The following two articles appear in the newspaper of our sister party in England & Wales, and the analysis and alternative set out in them will undoubtedly be of interest to our readers. They discuss the upcoming public sector strike in Britain and northern Ireland, the capitalist crisis, and the socialist alternative.

Capitalism is crisis

The titanic strike of 30 November in Britain will display the colossal power of the working class through the trade unions, to resist the savage cuts demanded by the capitalists and their political representatives, the Con-Dem austerity coalition.

It also presents a unique opportunity that must not be lost for the leaders and ranks of the trade unions to reach big audiences of working people. Many will be involved in mass action for the first time and therefore can be receptive to discussion and debate about a real alternative to the future of unrelieved misery, ‘planned poverty’, promised by Osborne and Cameron with Clegg and Co in tow.

The PCS civil service union has already proposed an immediate alternative to Osborne’s £81 billion worth of cuts over four years. It demands the collection of the massive £120 billion unpaid tax of big business which, if implemented, would render the cuts completely unnecessary. The Socialist Party and the whole labour movement support this demand.

However, the speed and depth of the present crisis of capitalism and its devastating effect on the lives of millions of workers in Britain and worldwide poses sharply the issue, not just of immediate measures that offer some relief for working people, but of more profound solutions, of ‘system change’. This means outlining and fighting for a democratic socialist alternative.

The powerful and inspirational mass movements of the Greek workers have heroically battered away at the foundations of rotten Greek capitalism. Their counterparts in Spain, Portugal, Italy and here in Britain, in this decisive movement of 30 November, seek to emulate them. It is also articulated in the tremendous ‘Occupy’ movement, which in the last months has swept through 1,000 cities worldwide and touched every continent.

Moreover, this first breeze of the class struggle – which foreshadows the storms and hurricanes to come – has even touched the summits of capitalism. A founder of the far from radical Independent newspaper, Andreas Whitham Smith, recently stunned readers by telling them that the threat of “revolution” was stalking “Western capitalism”.

However, this was not the deathbed repentance and repudiation of a former stalwart of capitalism but a warning to the capitalists themselves of the need for ‘change’ in the structure and organisation of their system in order to avoid such a ‘nightmare’. Whitham Smith favours a ‘political revolution’ aimed at renovating and legitimising capitalism.

The Egyptian revolutionaries show that it needs to be fundamentally challenged. They have correctly characterised the post-Mubarak regime – dominated still by the army and the security apparatus – as a ‘change of the curtains’ rather than complete dismantling of all remnants of the Mubarak regime, which would involve a social revolution.

Not one of the leaders of the main political parties in Britain is proposing serious change. David Cameron, pressed on all sides by the increasing unpopularity of the venal system he presides over, poses as an alternative, mythical ’moral markets’, a contradiction in terms.

Obscene bankers’ bonuses, eye-watering and growing inequality, sky-rocketing poverty and unemployment are to be underpinned by the cement of a new capitalist ‘morality’. This represents an attempt by the apostles of capitalist slavery to reconcile us to the perpetuation of this failing system.

We can imagine Cameron’s reply: “The talent and ability of bankers and the chief execs of top companies should receive their due rewards. Without them, we are doomed.”

Ed Miliband, the New Labour leader, fares no better with his appeal for a “better capitalism”, counterposing “productive” capitalism, which is ‘good’ to “predator” capitalism, which is ‘bad’.

In reality, these are just different wings of the brutal profit system and are linked together in perpetuating the current deadly paralysis of society. Manufacturers gamble in the finance sector at the cost of building factories and creating jobs, and finance is organically linked to industry.

Miliband is incapable of answering the doctrine of ‘Tina’ – there is no alternative – which has from the time of the vicious Tory government of Margaret Thatcher been the mantra of every bosses’ government which seeks to unload the burden of the crisis of capitalism onto the shoulders of the working class.

Cuts and crisis – there is an alternative: Fight for socialism

Against the background of the worst crisis “ever” (according to Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England) the claim that ‘there is no alternative’ is a difficult argument, to say the least, to sustain today. Yet all three main parties insist on it.

The real situation is revealed in the army of unemployed, the colossal wastage arising from the ‘great recession’, which threatens to topple into outright ‘depression’. One million young people alongside one million women are part of what is likely to become a permanent 2.75 million minimum army of unemployed in Britain. And this is just part of the legions of at least 200 million unemployed in the world who increasingly form a substratum of the poor, homeless and dispossessed.

Eighty-one million of this figure is composed of young people – who are condemned to a life of ‘worklessness’. There is almost a 50% rate of unemployed young people in Spain and 40% in Greece.

Added to this are the seven million in Britain and 1.6 billion worldwide in part-time ‘precarious’ jobs. They are a ‘precariat’, a modern manifestation of Marx’s “reserve army of the unemployed”. This is a pool of cheap, sometimes almost slave labour – including young people working as ‘interns’ for nothing. They may be drawn into work when needed and then conveniently tossed aside like an old boot when the economic cycle of capitalism deems they are ‘surplus to requirements’.

There is also the scandalous example of the 3,000 BAE workers thrown out of their jobs because of ‘defence cuts’. How easy it would be to plan, for instance, to switch them with their accumulated technical expertise, into green technology and other necessary useful products? But mention of the ‘planning’ of industry and society is anathema to the capitalists and their representatives. Yet when it comes to cuts, Osborne enthusiastically embraces ‘plan A’ and rejects a ‘plan B’, which amounts to a “plan pie in the sky”.

Searing inequality – which has deepened and extended during this crisis – has fuelled the revolt of the working class, which in turn has sparked the worldwide ‘Occupy’ movement. Its ringing denunciations of the 1% of the population that controls an unprecedented hoard of wealth to the detriment of the 99% majority have found a wide echo. But the laudable attempts to close and eliminate the ‘wealth gap’ are likely to be stillborn under capitalism. We support a ‘Robin Hood tax’ on the transactions of big business. But history shows that the capitalists always find a million and one ways to circumvent any law which seeks to claw back some of the wealth and eats into their profits.

When the Labour government of Harold Wilson attempted to do something similar through a corporation tax in the 1970s, such was the opposition of big business it was completely watered-down and rendered largely ineffective. The only way to prevent this is through the nationalisation of the banks and finance houses. Similarly, the ‘dictatorship of the market’, which is holding the whole of Europe to ransom, should be met with the cancellation of the debt to the bond parasites. This in turn could only succeed if nationalisation was carried through not just in one country but on a continental and world basis.

Inequality is intrinsic to capitalism. The exploitation of the working class – the capitalists garner what Marx called ‘unpaid labour’ in the form of profits – is the very foundation of the system. From this flow all the inequalities and the class antagonisms which shape this society. The system can go ahead for a while as long as the surplus is invested in productive industry to create more factories and thereby the production of more goods and services. But it stagnates and falls back when the restricted incomes of the working class – particularly marked in the last few decades – means they cannot buy back fully the goods and services they produce. This results in ‘overproduction’, a glut of unsold goods and redundant workers and capital. This, in turn, can produce a ‘death spiral’ reflected in the paralysis of production evident throughout the world today.

Combine all this clear evidence of the wasteful character of the system with the extraordinary mass movements – Greece, Italy, Spain, Britain on 30 November, etc – and it is clear that capitalism faces one of its greatest threats in its long history. In fact, a new social system is knocking at the door of history. This is the idea of a socialist democratically planned and organised economy and society. To usher it in requires a movement and the urgent building of a mass workers’ party.

Ironically, this current threat to capitalism arises from its very triumph following the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the downfall of Stalinism. The consequent dismantling of the planned nationalised, economies and its replacement by ‘wild capitalism’ represented a big ideological victory for capitalism.

This in turn moved the leaders of parties such as the old Labour Party, at its base a ‘workers’ party’, and the trade unions to the right, leading to the transformation of these parties largely into pro-capitalist formations. This meant that the capitalists no longer needed to look over their shoulders at a threat posed by the working class. There is no check on their actions as there had been previously. Capitalism was therefore unrestrained in pursuing the policies of financialisation which were already underway in the late 1970s and 1980s.

In this sense, it became its own gravedigger, manifested in the economic madness of debt-driven capitalism; financial bubbles on top of financial bubbles, which collapsed like a house of cards in 2007-2008. The consequences of this are evident in the idle factories, workplaces and the tragedy of the millions of ‘idle hands’ which presently litter the economic landscape of world capitalism.

Through the immediate shortening of the working day, working people will be allowed to participate in managing and controlling nationalised industry through a plan. Now, the working day is being extended under capitalism. The Russian revolution and its aftermath indicated the direction in which society could develop, particularly if socialism was rooted in the advanced industrialised countries. Great efforts were made to establish a collective, solidarity type of consciousness. Industry and society were under the control of the workers and poor farmers. This allowed the setting up of communal laundries and eating places in the first period after the revolution.

However, it is unlikely that the organisation of a new social society in today’s conditions will be like this. Given the widespread use of technology today – domestic washing machines – communal laundries are probably not necessary. On the other hand, such is the intensity of the working day – for instance in America – that a form of ‘communal’ eating already exists in the form of ‘diners’. These tend to be widely used by working people during the working week, with families eating at home at the weekends.

It is impossible to prescribe exactly how a plan of production, with all the details and priorities to be worked out, will be implemented in today’s society. This will be best left to the initiative and intelligence of the working class organised through their own collective power. But the present horrors of capitalism will continue to exist, indeed, will be perpetuated, if this system is not replaced by socialism.

Because of the isolation of the Russian revolution – primarily because of the failure of the social-democratic and right-wing trade union leaders in the West to spread the revolution – the beginnings of the bureaucracy took shape in Russia from 1923 onwards. This bureaucracy, from a pimple on the body of society, became a massive ulcer – a privileged social caste – which undermined the advantages of the planned economy and ultimately presided over its liquidation in 1989 with the return of capitalism.

This experience is unlikely to be repeated today because of the entirely different changed conditions in Britain and the advanced industrial countries, which have a high level of culture and technique. It is true support for a socialist alternative will not develop easily or automatically given the relentless anti-socialist, pro-capitalist propaganda of the last two decades. It has to be argued for and explained, particularly when the working class is on the move, as it will be on 30 November.

But support in the polls for the ‘Occupy’ movements has demonstrated the broad support for a better world. The ‘99%’ does not yet have a full understanding, consciousness, of how to achieve that alternative. Even those involved in the ‘Occupy’ movement know what they don’t want but do not have a clear alternative. Yet their aims can only be realised through real ‘system change’, socialism. Brutal capitalism is demonstrating daily the blind alley which this system is in and is preparing the ground for millions to search for an alternative. Capitalism is incapable of satisfying human requirements in today’s world. Socialism is the idea which will dominate the 21st-century.


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