Peter Taaffe, Socialist Party England and Wales general secretary
2016 was the year when the pent-up anger of the masses worldwide finally spilled over in a series of political earthquakes – a delayed reaction to the devastating world economic crisis of 2007-08. And tremors are still being felt, with serious aftershocks – if not new earthquakes – expected in 2017.
The changed situation was dramatically illustrated by Brexit, with repercussions not just in Europe but worldwide. At bottom, this reflected a working class revolt against the austerity programme both of the British Tory government and the predatory capitalist EU.
The Socialist Party has consistently opposed the capitalist, imperialist EU from its origins and therefore called for a Leave vote in the referendum, along with the transport workers’ union the RMT and many others.
Moreover, it was striking that those who had suffered under the iron heel of the EU – the Greek, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian workers – hailed Brexit, which they saw as striking a decisive blow against their mortal enemies, the gang of EU robber capitalists.
Fight the right
We also fought against the corrosive nationalism of Ukip and other reactionary forces who attempted to seize hold of Brexit as a means of dividing workers against one another. We will stay implacably opposed to the neoliberal EU while at the same time proposing a class and socialist alternative: no to the EU, yes to a socialist confederation of Europe.
It is no exaggeration to say that the leave vote resounded throughout the world. How dare the ignorant untutored masses defy their rulers, reasoned an army of capitalist comentators!
The leave vote upended the Tory cabinet and Cameron was soon consigned to history. Absolute turmoil has ensued, which continues into 2017, plunging the Tory party under Theresa May into an endemic crisis. The capitalist media constantly harps on the split within Labour but from the medium and long-term perspectives, the divisions within the Tory party are much more serious.
A schism within the Tory party, like that over the Corn Laws in the first half of the nineteenth century, is entirely possible. This saw the Tory party out of power for generations.
In Italy, Renzi has followed Cameron, after a stunning 60% to 40% rejection of his own undemocratic referendum, which sought to consolidate his austerity regime.
But the far right in Europe is still on the march, having been given a lift by the victory of Trump in the US presidential elections. Although the Austrian far right failed to win the re-run presidential election.
It is not even excluded that at a certain stage some countries – Austria, France, the Netherlands and possibly also Italy – could repeat the successes of the far right in Eastern Europe, participating in right-wing coalition governments.
It is the transparent failure of right-wing social democracy in Spain, Greece, Portugal and Britain – trapped within the framework of diseased capitalism and consequently presiding over savage cuts, eye watering poverty, mass unemployment etc – which has provided this opportunity for the right to emerge and threaten past conquests of the working class.
They believe that they have been given a huge comfort blanket by the victory of Donald Trump in the US elections. There are even some on the left who believe that a ‘festival of reaction’ will follow.
Nothing of the kind is likely or possible. Without in any way minimising the threat from the right – which should be fought – the relationship of class forces is still decisively in favour of the working class and its organisations, although weakened. The fascists could not successfully use today the methods of Hitler or Mussolini, the mobilisation of mass middle class forces to terrorise and atomise the working class.
Coming to power – even partially sharing power in a right-wing, conservative government – would act like a crack of thunder to awaken the working class and particularly the youth into ferocious resistance to such governments and the measures that they would undertake.
Witness the marvellous resistance of Polish women to the attempt to restrict abortion rights. Other powerful mass women’s movements have developed in Ireland against strict abortion laws, in Argentina against vile attacks on women, and in Turkey against attempts to legitimise rape.
Look also at the mass resistance that erupted against Trump‘s fraudulent victory in cities in the US, in some cases led by our co-thinkers in Socialist Alternative. It is expected that mass demonstrations in the US and worldwide will take place on 20 January at Trump’s inauguration. This is just a little payment on account for the mass working class resistance he is likely to encounter in the next years.
Moreover, such right-wing governments with far-right participation would pave the way for a massive swing towards the left among the working class, which would be reflected in the labour movement. This will act to further discredit the right-wing social democrats, who through their failure have paved the way for the right’s re-emergence.
The truth is class radicalisation overwhelmingly predominates worldwide. This was shown in the 180 million Indian workers who demonstrated their power in a mighty general strike against the right-wing Modi regime in September 2016.
Unprecedented mass movements have also a broken out in South Korea, which are likely to force the president out on corruption charges.
Of course, this has to be balanced against the horrific intractable crisis in the Middle East with its countless victims – a monument to the endless horrors to which humankind will suffer on the basis of outmoded capitalism.
The war in Syria has lasted longer than World War One, and moreover there is an element of that situation in the present conflict with its mutual slaughter. Leon Trotsky remarked in relation to the pre-1914 Balkan war: “Our descendants… will spread their hands in horror when they learn from history books about the methods by which capitalist peoples settled their disputes.”
If nothing else, the Syrian war has demonstrated beyond all doubt that none of the capitalist powers – the US, Russia, the European Union – can provide a solution to the myriad national conflicts within the region.
Indeed, imperialism in all its guises – British, French, US – is the author of the present divisive patchwork divide-and-rule tactics on a massive scale, undemocratically stitched together when these imperialist powers were forced to retreat from direct domination of the region in the post-1945 situation.
A representative of the British spy agency MI6 recently appeared on British television and had the effrontery to quote from the Roman historian Tacitus – “You create a desolation and call it peace” – while attacking Putin’s Russia! If so, then Putin learnt well in the school of the British ruling class and MI6. They were the first to pursue a bloody divide-and-rule policy, to carve out their empire upon which the ‘sun would never set’.
Only the decisive intervention of the working class and poor in the Middle East region through a programme of class unity and socialism on the basis of a democratic confederation can put an end to this horror once and for all. The first step towards this would be the development of an independent political voice for the masses.
But in the meantime the catastrophic situation which has beset all countries in the Middle East will continue. The attempted coup in Turkey has led to an even bigger and more effective right-wing counter-coup led by Turkish President Erdoğan himself. Over 100,000 public sector workers have been dismissed; there has been a clampdown on the media and suppression of democratic rights. Only by determined struggle, and a vision of a new humane, socialist society, will the forces of the right be pushed back.
Nowhere is that more necessary than in the US following the victory of the right-wing demagogic populist Donald Trump, who lied and cheated his way to power by pretending to champion the ‘working class’. Nothing could be further from the truth.
He lacks any real ‘legitimacy’ for his right-wing programme. While he won the Electoral College, he was decisively beaten in the ‘popular vote’ by 2.6 million, receiving fewer votes even than the last defeated Republican presidential candidates Romney and McCain, and George W Bush when he won.
Within a matter of weeks – and without being installed yet as president – he has shredded most of his promises. His proposed government, true to form, is stuffed with billionaires, representative not of ‘Main Street’ but of Wall Street, which he denounced during the election campaign.
He is recruiting heavily from Goldman Sachs, which after the crash of 2007-08 was described by Rolling Stone magazine as “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity”. Its tentacles are poised to try and further strangle working people in the cause of Trump’s pro-big business agenda.
The trade unions face a massive challenge as he seeks to emulate Ronald Reagan in rolling out so-called ‘right to work’ legislation to weaken them. He will seek to reward Wall Street sharks who supported him by ruthless measures like privatisation and sackings, particularly of public sector workers.
Infrastructure and jobs
He hopes to soften the blatant pro-billionaire agenda by borrowing from capitalist economist Keynes with a promise to increase government spending of at least $1 trillion on the US’s collapsing infrastructure.
However, as welcome as any new jobs would be in restoring the confidence of the US working class to fight back against the bosses and providing the unemployed with work, nevertheless these would not replace the high paid secure jobs which have been lost in the massive deindustrialisation of the US.
An estimated 70,000 factories in the US disappeared during this process, never to return on the basis of capitalism. Since 2010 something like 15 million new jobs were generated in the US but these have been overwhelmingly low paid and insecure, many the equivalent of the hated zero-hour contracts in Britain.
Moreover, the US is already saddled with colossal debt – government, corporate and personal – which is the main reason why enfeebled US and world capitalism has been able to still stagger on.
But will even a Republican congress ratify big increases in public spending, without any overall economic growth and ratcheting up even more debt? Top US tax expert and Congressman Ken Brady has declared: “The greatest threat to our prosperity long term is our growing national debt.”
On the basis of capitalism, particularly the parasitic kind which Trump represents, a return to a ‘golden age’ when today appeared to be better than yesterday, and tomorrow would certainly be better, is over. The 60% of the US population who now consider themselves worse off than before signifies this.
Hence the explosive developments in the US with the rise of the Bernie Sanders movement. Sanders’ call for a political revolution drew mass support from discontented workers and young people and in turn terrified the pro-capitalist Democratic Party establishment.
When he was denied victory in the primaries by the manoeuvres of the pro-Clinton Democratic establishment, Bernie made a big mistake in not taking to the open road and establishing a new party. He had successfully appealed to the same impoverished and discontented layers of workers and young people to whom Trump was also pitching his message.
If he had stood for the presidency, then if not beating Trump, he would have at least attracted sufficient support to have allowed for the possibility of Hillary Clinton coming to power. This would have been the ideal scenario for the prospects of the further political awakening of the American working class and the youth.
A Clinton Democrat administration, which would have been tested to destruction – much as the Liberal Party in Britain was at the turn of the 20th century – could have created the base for the emergence of a new mass workers’ party. Given the economic catastrophe of US capitalism and the desperation of the masses for an alternative, a new mass movement for socialism would have taken shape.
The election of Trump – the whip of counter-revolution – will not halt but ultimately spur on this process. There are features present in the current situation reminiscent of the explosive years in the 1960s and 70s. Socialism is an idea which has already captured the imagination of the new generation of workers and young people.
Socialism in the US
‘Trotsky in New York 1917’ – part of the avalanche of new books in preparation for the hundredth anniversary of the Russian Revolution this year – while inaccurate about Trotsky’s real political views, nevertheless provides valuable insights about the powerful attraction for the American masses of socialism and its leading international figures then.
We are informed that “at least six New York newspapers with more than half a million readers would announce Trotsky’s arrival in the city. Three put the story on the front page.” There was a vibrant socialist movement and Eugene Debs had stood as a Socialist Party candidate in every presidential election since 1900, receiving over one million votes in 1912, the equivalent of six million today.
Those traditions will be revived, alongside those of the monumental class battles of the 1930s. American capitalism’s colossal wealth and power allowed it to soften class relations in the post-1945 situation. Its relative economic decline has now sharpened these divisions, which will be further deepened by Trump.
And this will develop with American speed and elan. The success of our US co-thinkers, with the spectacular growth of Socialist Alternative and the election of the first socialist councillor in 100 years in Seattle – Kshama Sawant – is a measure of the changes wrought in the heartland of world capitalism.
As is the success of the school student union in Spain, which chalked up a big national victory against the PP government – the first in five years – when it successfully mobilised two million school students in a national strike which compelled the government to withdraw its attacks on education.
The political force behind this victory, the Spanish Marxist organisation Izquierda Revolucionaria, is in the process of linking up with the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), which represents a great strengthening of the genuine forces of Marxism internationally. This will undoubtedly act as a magnet for other Marxist forces to come together with us to confront capitalism and its agents within the workers’ movement.
Never has this been more necessary. Even the representatives of the capitalist system, like Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, have warned the class they represent of the inherent dangers arising from the current crisis. Carney warned of the worst crisis for over 100 years with the UK “suffering its first lost decade since the 1860s”, when Karl Marx was alive.
He repeatedly referred to the sense of insecurity and frustrations with global trade and technology, which has favoured “the superstar and the lucky… But what of the frustrated and frightened?” He denounced “inequality” as well as the banks who had been, according to him working in a “heads I win, tails you lose bubble”.
Its intent was to warn the bosses who Carney represents of the incendiary economic and social situation in Britain which threatens to blow the system apart. And the examples which he uses are damning indictments of British capitalism, as well as an indication of further seismic events to come.
More than a fifth of the UK’s population – almost 14 million people – is below the official yardstick for calculating poverty, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. That includes 4.8 million adults and 2.6 million children in poverty despite living in a working family. The numbers in this category grew by over a million in the last decade, symbolising the inexorable impoverishment of broad swathes of the British people.
Stories now creep into the press of how those who come from the middle class can now rapidly sink into a desperate situation. From having a job, to no job, therefore no income, then being incapable of paying the rent and ultimately ending up on the streets. The wheel of progress has gone into rapid reverse towards barbarism, with some homeless people now found to be living in caves in Wales!
Jeremy Corbyn and Labour
It was these conditions – arising from the complete failure of traditional ‘social democracy’ trapped within the framework of outmoded capitalism to provide an answer – which lit the flame of populist revolt symbolised in Britain through the mass movement gathered around Jeremy Corbyn. And yet 18 months after this – and with the crushing defeat of two right-wing Blairite coups – his campaign has now stalled. Jeremy himself seems to be missing in action. Why?
Because a policy of ‘peaceful coexistence’ during a civil war, which has existed in the Labour Party and the labour movement from the very first day that Jeremy was elected, has been adopted by his closest supporters in the leadership of Momentum. It is potentially fatal for his leadership prospects and the mass anti-austerity movement around him. This has been successfully urged on him by his closest advisers in Momentum.
There is an element of dual power in the Labour Party at the moment. The right controls the Parliamentary Labour Party – mainly the unreconstructed Blairite right, who display their opposition and contempt for Corbyn and his allies on a daily basis.
These ‘Labour’ MPs are unmistakably in the camp of the bosses. This was illustrated by Chris Evans, MP for Islwyn – one of the poorest constituencies in South Wales – seeing himself as the ‘voice’ of the parasitic hedge funds rather than the working class, and proposing a parliamentary liaison committee with these City of London creatures.
This right-wing MP is prepared to get into bed with the financial spivs, who create nothing and who treat factories and workplaces as ‘assets’ that can be gambled away on the stock exchange. They are the sworn enemy of working people and yet this alleged representative of the workers of South Wales seeks the participation of corrupt, parasitic swindlers who are shunned by even ‘respectable’ capitalists.
This shows just how politically corrupt large swathes of the Parliamentary Labour Party are – the sooner they are driven out the better. The Labour right have played for time, while the left has dithered and refused to conduct a real struggle, therefore playing into the hands of the right.
This is particularly the role of the leaders of Momentum. They refused to consistently support the one measure that would have mobilised hundreds of thousands of left-leaning workers and youth who joined the Labour Party in great enthusiasm to complete the Corbyn revolution: namely, subjecting right-wing MPs to reselection.
The Socialist Party has offered to further this process, to join the Labour Party on the basis of a political and organisational reconfiguration, leading to a federal form of party. Jon Lansman, the leader of Momentum, unceremoniously refused to support this, while showing touching sensitivity to the right. His tactics have blown up in his face, with Momentum torn apart over forms of organisation.
There have been no systematic protests at the arbitrary and bureaucratic denial of access to its ranks or that of the Labour Party.
Our request for readmission of 75 supporters of the Socialist Party previously expelled has met a brick wall. This while the right have ruthlessly used their position on the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Labour Party to consolidate their grip.
Unresolved civil war
The right have a clear plan to expel and marginalise all those on the left who pose a threat to their continued rule. The left under the baton of Momentum’s leadership – organisationally and politically inept – have allowed the right to make a comeback.
All of this could have been avoided if clear direction had been given from the beginning to the hundreds of thousands who rallied enthusiastically to Corbyn’s anti-austerity programme and clearly demonstrated the desire to drive the Blairite right out of the Labour Party. The response of Momentum’s leadership was to rule out any such political ‘confrontation’ with the right.
The Labour Party is still composed of two incompatible parties in one. The right from the beginning showed they were absolutely unreconciled to Corbyn’s leadership and would overthrow him at the first opportunity. That still remains their goal.
The civil war which has existed from the beginning of Corbyn’s accession to the leadership remains unresolved. The right, having failed to remove him in an open coup and afraid of leaving the Labour Party in the hands of the left, have fallen back on a ‘creeping coup’. The tactics consist of a war of attrition, constantly seeking to discredit Jeremy and John McDonnell, and marginalising and excluding their supporters.
There is nevertheless everything to play for in 2017. Capitalism is a blind alley, incapable of taking society substantially forward. All of those parties who accept the system will ultimately fall under the wheels of history.
The movement around Jeremy represents a determined attempt to throw off the outmoded shell of Blairite pro-market, pro-capitalist forces and take to a more radical, socialist road.
The Socialist Party, together with the CWI, will do everything in its power to assist workers and young people to attain the goal of a mass, socialist party fighting for a socialist society in Britain and the world.
Book early: Socialism 2017 event
To discuss the ideas in the above article, how to build the resistance against austerity and capitalism and the socialist alternative, why not book now for the Socialist Party’s weekend event in November? It will also discuss and debate the relevance and lessons of the 1917 Russian Revolution on its 100th anniversary. Socialism 2017 will take place at the Institute of Education in Central London on 11 and 12 November 2017. Click here to get your tickets.