Below is the text of the Why you should join Socialist Party Scotland pamphlet produced in November 2017. It gives a good outline of what Socialist Party Scotland stands for and why you should join.
At the start of 2017, eight people owned as much wealth as half the people on the planet. Never before has inequality reached these gargantuan levels. Prolonged economic crisis has meant growing impoverishment for the majority but it has not halted the enrichment of a few at the top, either globally or in Scotland, where the richest 1% own more wealth that the poorest 50% of the population. Meanwhile average pay in Scotland and Britain has fallen by 10.4% since 2007, second only to Greece in the economically developed economies. Savage austerity has meant increased poverty, insecurity, danger and deprivation for millions of people, as brutally revealed to all by the horror of the Grenfell Tower fire.
Hopes that the economic crisis was an aberration and that life would soon return to ‘normal’ have faded as austerity has become the ‘new normal’. A temporary and weak economic recovery barely registered for most workers, many of whose wages continue to fall. Now a renewed economic crisis is on the horizon, not caused by Brexit but the underlying failures of capitalism. This will be a nightmare for the millions who are already struggling with debt and doing low-paid, insecure work – with no prospect of ever having somewhere decent and permanent to live.
A profound anger is developing at the meagre future that capitalism is offering. For a long time that anger had no outlet and so remained hid- den beneath the surface of society. As Socialist Party Scotland predicted, however, it was inevitable it would start to find an expression. In different ways the majority in society, the working class, along with many young and middle-class people, have been able to shake the establishment by collectively voicing their anger.
This mood was clearly seen during the 2014 Scottish independence referendum campaign that culminated in 1.6 million people defied the capitalist establishment by voting Yes. The rise of the SNP – who posed, falsely, as an anti-austerity alternative – also reflected a desire for radical change. The growing revolt against the existing order also found an expression in the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, the subsequent campaign to defend him against the Blairite pro-capitalist wing of the Labour Party, and in the surge to Labour in the general election: the biggest swing to any political party since 1945 as workers and young people were enthused by his radical manifesto.
Prior to Corbyn’s election Labour had become a party that could be relied on to act in the interests of the capitalist class, the 1%. It was not for nothing that Maggie Thatcher claimed New Labour as her greatest achievement. Corbyn’s election put Thatcher’s triumph into danger and has resulted in a ferocious campaign to attempt to reclaim Labour for the capitalist establishment. Hundreds of thousands of people have responded, however, by rallying to Corbyn’s defence. The general election campaign has enormously strengthened Jeremy Corbyn’s position but that does not mean the divisions in the Labour Party have gone away. The pro-capitalist Blairite wing of the party remains determined to undermine his leadership and sabotage him coming to power on a left programme.
Another example of the growing anger in society was the EU referendum. At base, notwithstanding the right-wing racist campaign run by the official exit campaigns, the vote to leave the EU was a working-class revolt against everything we have suffered: cuts in public services, low pay, insecure work, expensive housing and more. Many workers voted Leave in defiance of a gigantic ‘project fear’ campaign, and by doing so struck a blow against the establishment and ended the careers of Tory politicians from both sides of the referendum debate, including the hated Cameron and Osborne. Of course, many of those who voted Remain were also angry about austerity, but particularly in the absence of a mass left campaign for exit and despite the best efforts of the Socialist Party – voted remain for positive reasons: internationalism and opposition to racism.
All of these examples – the independence referendum, support for Corbyn and the Brexit vote – show the growing anger against the exist- ing order, and the ability of ordinary people to change things when we act together collectively. In different ways, however, they also show the limits of what we can achieve if we are not organised with a clear goal. This pamphlet puts the case for being organised in a democratic and cohesive party that is fighting for a completely different kind of society. The last decade has demonstrated beyond doubt to millions that capitalism means crisis and misery. Here we put the case for socialism.
Socialist Party Scotland’s demands include:
• No to ALL cuts in jobs, pay, public services and benefits. Defend our pensions.
• No to privatisation and cons like the Private Finance Initiative (PFI). Renationalise all privatised utilities and services, with compensation paid only on the basis of proven need.
• Fully fund all services and run them under accountable, democratic committees that include elected representatives of service workers and users.
• Free, publicly run, good quality education, available to all at any age. Introduce a living grant. Write off student debt. No cuts to colleges and funding for education!
• A socialist NHS to provide for everyone’s health needs – free at the point of use and publicly owned under democratic control. Nationalise the pharmaceutical companies!
• For a massive building programme of publicly owned housing, on an environmentally sustainable basis, to provide good quality homes with low rents. Introduce rent controls so private landlords can only charge a fair rent.
Work and income
• Major research and investment into replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy and into ending the problems of early obsolescence and unrecycled waste.
• Public ownership of the energy- generating industries. No to nuclear power. No to the Trident nuclear missile system.
• A democratically planned, low-fare, publicly owned transport system, as part of an overall plan against environmental pollution.
• Trade union struggle to increase the minimum wage to £10 an hour without exemptions as an immediate step towards a real living wage. For an annual increase in the minimum wage linked to average earnings. Scrap zero-hour contracts.
- All workers, including part-timers, apprentices, temps, casual and migrant workers, to have trade union rates of pay, employment protection, and sickness and holiday rights from day one of employment.
- An immediate 50% increase in the state retirement pension, as a step towards a living pension.
- For the right to decent benefits, education, training, or a job, without compulsion – scrap all benefit sanctions.
- Scrap the anti-trade union laws! For fighting trade unions, democratically controlled by their members. Full-time union officials to be regularly elected and receive no more than a worker’s wage. Support the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN). A maximum 35-hour week with no loss of pay.
- Oppose discrimination on the grounds of race, gender, disability, sexuality, age, and all other forms of prejudice.
- Repeal all laws that trample over civil liberties. For the right to protest! End police harassment and surveillance. For democratic community control of policing.
- Defend abortion rights. For a woman’s right to choose when and whether to have children.
- For the right to asylum. No to racist immigration laws. For the right to vote at 16.
New workers’ party
- For a mass workers’ party drawing together workers, young people and activists from workplace, community, environmental, anti- racist and anti-cuts campaigns, to provide a fighting, political alternative to the pro-big business parties. Support the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition.
- Fight for Labour to be transformed into such a party: deselect the Blairites! Allow all anti-austerity fighters to join.
Socialism and internationalism
- No to imperialist wars and occupations.
- For an independent socialist Scotland and a voluntary socialist confederation with England, Wales and Ireland.
- Tax the super-rich! For a socialist government to take into public ownership the top 150 companies and banks that dominate the British economy, and run them under democratic working- class control and management. Compensation to be paid only on the basis of proven need.
- A democratic socialist plan of production based on the interests of the overwhelming majority of people, implemented in a way that safeguards the environment.
- No to the bosses’ neo-liberal European Union and Single Market! For a socialist Europe and a socialist world!
The Scottish independence referendum of September 2014 was a seismic event. We in Socialist Party Scotland described it as an “electoral uprising against austerity and the political establishment”. 1.6 million overwhelmingly working class and young people voted Yes to an inde- pendent state in the teeth of a ferocious campaign of opposition by the British ruling class and indeed the bourgeois internationally.
Project Fear, as it was called by its proponents, was the mobilisation of the billionaire controlled media, big business and the political elite in a mass campaign of class hostility to the threat of the break-up of the British state. US president Obama, the prime minister of Spain, Rajoy, the heads of the European Union, the Pope and the premier of China all came out against Scottish independence.
An unprecedented turnout of 85% – the largest participation in Scotland for any plebiscite or election since the introduction of universal suffrage – saw hundreds of thousands take part who had never previously voted, or had not voted in decades. It was a heroic attempt to find an escape route from unemployment and low pay, brutal poverty and cuts. No less was it a damning verdict on the political elite rightly held responsible for these crimes.
Working-class dominated cities like Dundee and Glasgow voted by a majority for independence, as did the majority of young people. While the No side won by 55% to 45%, with the older generation and rural and middle class communities voting heavily against independence, it was in many ways a pyrrhic, empty victory that has not “settled the question for genera- tions”. Instead, as we explained at the time, the “winners become the losers and the losers the winners.”
In the wake of the referendum the base of support for the “pro-union” capitalist parties has been dramatically weakened. Scottish Labour, who spearheaded the “Better Together” No campaign, suffered an electoral annihilation just 8 months after their “victory” in the referendum. The former “Peoples Party” was reduced to its worst election result since 1918 in 2015. Scottish Labour lost 40 of its 41 MPs as the working class took brutal revenge against the party that had lined up beside the Tories and big business against independence.
In contrast, a landslide of support towards the Scottish National Party (SNP) who led the campaign for a Yes vote, saw it secure 56 of the 59 available seats from Scotland to the Westminster parliament. Since then the SNP have betrayed the hopes of hundreds of thousands, including many young people, who had expected a real anti-austerity opposition. This culminated in the SNP losing 21 of their MPs in the 2017 general election. The SNP’s continual carrying out of Tory austerity and their hostility to workers taking strike action as meant Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP have been outflanked on the left by the welcome rise of Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of the Labour Party.
Socialist Party Scotland campaigned for a Yes vote in 2014. But we could give no support to the SNP leaders who support capitalism and defend the rigged market system. For that reason we campaigned for an independent socialist Scotland based on widespread public ownership of the economy and an end to all cuts and austerity. This was a complete contrast to the SNP’s support for tax cuts for the corporations and the implementation of Tory cuts. Today, an urgent task in Scotland and internationally is to build new mass work- ing class parties for the 99% to help lead the fight for socialist change and against failing capitalism. At the same time we stand for the right of self- determination, including the right to form independent states for nations like Scotland, Catalonia etc.
A party for the 99%
For decades working-class people have had no voice in Westminster. The establishment parties – not least New Labour – all acted in the interests of the capitalist class. Labour had become one more party acting in the interests of the 1% – supporting pay restraint, cuts, privatisation and war. The Tories won the 2015 general election not because they were popular – on the contrary, only 24% of the electorate voted for them – but because of Labour’s failure to offer any alternative under Ed Miliband’s leadership. Despite the lowest level of support of any government since the introduction of universal suffrage, the Tories scraped to power because Labour’s ‘austerity-lite’ programme was incapable of inspiring voters. Millions protested by not voting at all or by voting for Ukip, the Greens, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) or others outside the major parties.
The 2017 snap general election was a very different story. May called it believing the Tories would win a landslide but instead they were left clinging to power by their fingernails. Jeremy Corbyn’s radical anti-austerity manifesto was incredibly popular. As a result, despite open sabotage from many of his own MPs and from the Labour Party machine, Labour’s vote increased by 3.5 million, the biggest increase in the popular vote for any party since 1945.
Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader has provided an unexpected opportunity for the working class to gain a voice in parliament. Jeremy Corbyn only got on the ballot paper as a result of right-wing MPs nominating a candidate they believed was a no-hoper out of ‘charity’. Little did they foresee that the new Labour Party rules – designed to destroy what remained of the trade unions’ voice in Labour – would inadvertently give an opportunity for hundreds of thousands of people – mainly from outside the Labour Party – to vote for Jeremy Corbyn. They did so because of what he stood for: opposition to austerity, £10-an-hour minimum wage, mass council house building, free education, renationalisation of the railways and energy companies.
But as we warned from the beginning there was never any possibility of the Labour right accepting Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. Instead they have been determined from day one to force him out as soon as the opportunity arose. Jeremy Corbyn’s general election success has made this more difficult for them, but, nonetheless, Labour remains two parties in one: a pro-capitalist party on the one side, and a potential new anti-austerity party on the other. Standing behind and egging on the pro-capitalist wing of the Labour Party is the capitalist class, which is desperate to once again block the voice of the working class out of Westminster.
The excuse the Blairites gave up until June 2017 – that Jeremy Corbyn could never win a general election – was never their real motivation. On the contrary, their greatest fear is that he might! Blair himself said that Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister would “be a very dangerous experiment”; an experiment his acolytes are determined to prevent.
Socialist Party Scotland has consistently warned that it is counter-productive to compromise with the Labour right. Attempts to pacify them only embolden them to step up their offensive. Unfortunately a number of compromises did take place, including not calling for deselection of Blairite MPs, agreeing to the right’s demands to call for a Remain vote in the EU referendum, and refusing to make a clear call for Labour councils to stop carrying out cuts in public services. None of this prevented 172 Labour MPs passing a vote of no confidence in Corbyn in the hope of bullying him into resigning. It is urgent that his success in defeating this attempted coup, and then in the general election, is organised and built upon to consolidate and extend the gains that have been made.
On that basis there is a real possibility that the outcome of this struggle will be the coming into existence of a mass party that stands for the 99% in- stead of the 1%, and has a clear anti- austerity programme. That would be a huge step forward for working-class people, including in Scotland, and we will do all we can to assist in the development of such a party.
However, even a left wing Labour party, if it does not change its die-in-a- ditch opposition to Scottish independence, will struggle to undercut support from the SNP. Making a mistake on the national question, as Jeremy Corbyn and the Scottish Labour left are doing, can have long-term consequences for the potential to build a left alternative in Scotland.
For mandatory reselection
Right-wing Labour MPs have threatened to split away – particularly if they face deselection. They seem to think they have a God-given right to be MPs! We say that mandatory re- selection should be introduced – so that party members have the democratic right to choose who stands for parliament on their behalf. If MPs choose to split away under this threat, let them go! An anti-austerity Labour Party should have no room for MPs who vote for cuts, austerity, privatisation and war.
It would be a major error to water down opposition to austerity in a desperate effort to get unity with the Blairites. Unity with the Blairites is no different – in essence – from proposing unity with the Tories. Both act in the interests of the capitalist class, whereas the new anti-austerity party in formation around Corbyn has diametrically opposed class interests.
Since 2010, local councils’ budgets in Scotland have been cut dramatically. 40,000 jobs have gone – more than one million local government workers have lost their jobs and countless local services have closed across Britain as a whole. Without exception Labour and SNP councils have loyally implemented these Tory cuts. Yet there have been calls from the three major local government trade unions – Unison, GMB and Unite – for councils to set no-cuts budgets. If Labour councils and councillors in Scotland and across Britain refused to implement any more cuts they would have huge popular support, and could build a movement that could defeat the government and even force an early general election.
A refounded anti-austerity Labour Party could quickly make electoral gains – as was demonstrated by the 2015 election of Syriza in Greece, initially on an anti-austerity platform, and by the growth in support for the left in Spain.
Such an anti-austerity Labour Party would need an open, democratic, federal structure, along the lines of the Labour Party’s structure in its earliest days. Jeremy Corbyn should put his full weight behind a programme to democratise the Labour Party. Just as in the general election he appealed to Labour’s membership and to the working class over the heads of the right wing party machine he should do the same on these issues. He should put his own democratic constitution to a referendum of all Labour Party members – full and associate – which would have at its heart mandatory re- selection and the replacement of the bureaucratic machine, with power resting in the hands of the membership, particularly new members and the trade unions.
This would allow the participation of all anti-austerity forces, including the Socialist Party, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, anti-austerity Greens and others. The party would need to launch a fight against austerity, whoever it is implemented by: Holyrood, Brussels, Westminster or local councils. Such a stand – including a £10-an-hour minimum wage, free education, repeal of the anti- trade union laws, nationalisation of the rail and energy companies, and mass council housebuilding – would be able to enthuse millions, including many of those who showed their anger at the existing order by voting for independence or indeed exit in the EU referendum.
In essence it would mean the formation of a new radical workers’ party, able to attract all those workers and youth wanting to fight back against capitalism.
What is the socialist alternative?
Socialist Party Scotland is a campaigning party. We are involved in many day- to-day battles in defence of working- class people – from opposing cuts to the NHS, to fighting for a £10-an-hour minimum wage, to demanding the trade unions organise a 24-hour general strike against austerity. We support Jeremy Corbyn in the battle against the Blairites. In every struggle in which we are involved, however, we also argue the case for socialism.
We say there is an alternative to endless misery. Today, more than ever before in human history, enormous wealth, science and technique exists which could, if properly harnessed, easily provide all of humanity with the necessities of life that capitalism cannot. Yet we are being told that the most basic public services can no longer be afforded. It is not much to expect a job with a living wage, a secure and high-quality home, and a dignified retirement with a living income. Yet 21st century capitalism is making these unobtainable luxuries for millions. The obstacle to achieving these modest aspirations is capitalism: a system that puts the production of profit for the few – the millionaire and billionaire capitalist owners of industry and the resources of society – before the social needs of the majority – the multi-billion poor and working class throughout the world.
Capitalism is an economic system which has the exploitation of the working class at its heart. Profit, which provides its driving force, is, as Karl Marx – the founder of scientific socialism – explained over 150 years ago, “the unpaid labour of the working class”. From this flow all the inequalities of capitalism, which the current crisis has laid bare. Even in boom time, the working class cannot afford to buy back the full product of its labour power. In periods of growth capitalism can temporarily overcome this problem by ploughing part of its profits into developing the means of production. This in turn creates new factories, workplaces – the organisation of science and technique – but at a certain stage all the same contradictions reappear. Capitalism is an inherently unstable system, riven by contradictions, which swings from boom to slump. However, in today’s world the booms have become weaker and the slumps deeper. We are now in the worst crisis since the 1930s.
Yet the capitalists are drowning in profits. In Britain alone, the major corporations are hoarding an incredible £750 billion, which they are not investing because they do not consider they would make a sufficient profit from it. The capitalists are thus betraying their historical purpose. In the past, despite the many horrors of capitalism, it at least drove society forward by developing the means of production. Today, the sickness of the system is summed up by a failure to invest. Even before the recession, levels of capital investment were historically low. Instead of investing in manufacturing, the capitalist class tended to gamble on the world’s financial markets because it was more profitable. The bursting of the huge speculative bubbles that were created was the trigger for the ‘great recession’. British capitalism has led the world in this process with massive deindustrialisation. For example, Germany’s manufacturing base accounts for 20% of its economy but Britain’s is just 10.5%. British capitalism today is a third-class power. Only its finance and banking sector is a world ‘leader’, including leading the way into the catastrophic crisis of 2008!
While capitalism is driving more and more people to food banks in order to make ends meet, socialism would be able to meet people’s very modest demands – for a living income, a secure home, some leisure time – and much more, by the planned use of the re- sources of society for the benefit of all. By socialism we do not mean the old dictatorial regimes of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, which were dominated by a privileged caste of bureaucrats. They presided over a planned economy which played a progressive role until it was strangled by bureaucratic mismanagement. We stand for international socialism, based on mass participation in the control and running of industry and society.
The fight for reforms
Even in this society, capitalism can be forced to give concessions which improve the living conditions of the majority, particularly when they are faced with mass movements which make them fear that their system is under threat. We support and campaign for every measure which improves the living conditions of working-class people, no matter how minor. However, we also recognise that – as long as we live in a capitalist society – we will always face a constant struggle to keep any gains which we win, with the capitalist class constantly searching for ways to restore their profits by taking back what we’ve won.
We support the demands in Jeremy Corbyn’s general election manifesto, for example, which was largely made up of points we have been campaigning on for years. This modest programme was far from comprehensive but included numerous points – such as a £10-an-hour minimum wage and mass council house building – that could transform the lives of millions. However, the frenzied reaction by the capitalist class, gives a glimpse of the lengths the capitalists will go to in order to defend their profits. Any government which comes to power aiming to act in the interests of the working class will have to overcome every obstacle that capitalism can throw at it. When a Labour government in the 1970s – led by Harold Wilson – attempted to increase taxation on corporations – big business, including the media, conducted a huge campaign against it, including threatening a strike of capital. The result was the proposal being watered down so far it was effectively annulled.
Look at the experience of the Syriza government in Greece, which came to power on an anti-austerity programme. It is now implementing austerity having capitulated to gigantic pressure from the Greek capitalist class and the institutions of the EU.
That is in no way to suggest that capitulation is automatic. The Greek working class did not capitulate, but stood firm by overwhelmingly voting ‘oxi’ (no) in the 2015 referendum on austerity. Had the leadership of Syriza shown the same courage as the Greek people a very different scenario would have opened up. The events of Greece show that the election of an anti-austerity government would be positive – but it is only a first step.
To fully and permanently transform the lives of working-class people would require breaking with capitalism. Only by taking power out of the hands of the 1% would it be possible to begin to build a new, democratic socialist society. This would mean nationalising, under democratic workers’ control and management, the 125 or so major corporations and banks that dominate Britain’s economy. This would provide the foundations to begin to build a democratic socialist planned economy, capable of meeting the needs of all.
This would need to be combined with full government control of incoming and outgoing foreign trade. Doing so would enable a democratically elected government – and the working class, not the market – to control imports and exports, including capital. This would provide the possibility of developing a democratic, socialist plan of production that could very quickly transform the lives of millions.
Of course, a genuine socialist government would not take small businesses, such as local shops, into public ownership. Many of these are currently forced out of business by the multinationals and the behaviour of the banks. Nor would it, as opponents of socialism claim, stand for the taking away of personal ‘private property’. On the contrary, socialists are in favour of everyone having a decent home and the other conveniences of modern life.
Just some of the things that could be done include:
Unemployment + the working week
As unemployment and underemployment increase, Scotland and Britain’s full-time workers still have one of the longest average working weeks in the European Union. More than four million workers officially work more than 48 hours a week (and many more do so in reality) in order to make ends meet. At the same time workers are being told that they have to retire later and later. This is the lunacy of capitalism – millions thrown on the scrapheap while others work their fingers to the bone.
By introducing a 35-hour week with no loss of pay – in other words, sharing out the work – it would be possible to dramatically decrease the number of unemployed while simultaneously improving the quality of life of working- class people. Zero-hour contracts would immediately be banned. They are a return to the misery of the 1930s – with workers not knowing from one day to the next if they will be able to earn anything. Instead everyone should have the right to a full-time job with decent pay, and without having to work them- selves into an early grave.
If this was combined with, not only an immediate halt in cuts to public services, but a massive increase in them, it would be possible to eliminate unemployment. This would allow us to develop a vastly improved health service, education system and childcare.
Most of the politicians in Westminster received free university education and a student grant to live on while they studied. New Labour abolished this and introduced fees, which the Con-Dem coalition government then hiked up massively. The Scottish Government eventually abolished fees for Scottish students but student debt has rocketed for the lack of a living grant.
Big cuts in education are taking place, especially impacting FE colleges and schools. But education should be a right for all, not a privilege for a few. Socialists stand for free education for all, from the cradle to the grave.
For every student – FE and HE – to receive free education plus a maintenance grant would cost £1bn-£2 billion for Scotland. That sounds like a lot of money but York university research found that £14 billion was paid out in grants and subsidies to big business across Britain in 2011-12. For example, the Department of Business Innovation and Skills provided £5 billion of coaching, marketing and advocacy services for big business. A socialist government in Scotland would not only abolish fees for all students – including from England, Wales and Northern Ireland – and introduce a grant, but also write off the burden of student debt which is weighing on previous generations of students.
As of March 2017 there were 137,000 households in Scotland on council waiting lists, looking for a home with a further 25,000 waiting for a transfer. All in all there are hundreds of thousands of households in Scotland who are desperate for quality social housing. Yet such housing remains neglected and under-funded, as the horror of Grenfell lay bare.
One expression of this is the scandalous numbers who live in fuel poverty. 748,000 families – almost one-in- three of Scottish households – are in this position of having to spend more than 10% of their disposable income on heating. The huge underfunding of investment is revealed by the fact that almost one-in-four council and housing association homes are below official standards.
Soaring house prices are an added problem, with the average deposit required by first-time buyers now hit- ting £21,000, almost exactly the media wage in Scotland. The crisis in social housing is underscored by the fact that the proportion of the population living in council or housing association properties has fallen, dropping from 32 per cent to 23 per cent over the past 17 years.
The pipe dream propagated by Thatcher of a ‘home-owning democracy’ lies in ruins. In Scotland, the Right to Buy has resulted in the sale of over half a million council homes in the 30 years from 1980. This has left a massive hole in the available housing stock. Despite a decade of an SNP government at Holyrood, the situation is getting worse. The pledge by the Scottish government to help fund the building of 35,000 houses for rent by 2021 is in reality no more than a quarter of what is needed to match current demand. The average monthly rent for a Scottish tenant in July 2017 averaged £630, up from £607 last year and is at the highest ever level. The percentage of households who rent privately has grown from 5 per cent in 1999 to 15per cent last year.
The introduction of Universal Credit, benefit cuts and sanctions have increased numbers of people are facing homelessness. Even for those not facing homelessness the housing crisis is a blight on their lives. According to Shelter, 59% of under- 45-year-olds have had to put one or more aspects of their lives on hold because they have no secure housing.
A socialist government would introduce immediate democratic rent controls so landlords could only charge a fair rent. It would also immediately institute a mass programme of building high-quality, affordable council houses. In the past even Tory governments, under mass pressure from the working class, supported a mass house-building programme.
A house-building programme would provide work for building workers, but would also immediately halve or more the amount of money spent on housing benefit, which is currently handed to the private landlords.
Of course, a socialist government would have to take the protection of the environment into account when building housing. At the moment the big construction companies build purely for profit with little concern forthe environment, or the standard, or affordability of the housing.
A mass house-building programme would mean careful planning to ensure the protection of green spaces. In many cases, it would be possible to build on fully decontaminated brownfield sites. Moreover, pleasant and safe homes for all form a crucial part of a decent environment.
Childcare in Britain is the least regulated, hardest to obtain and most expensive of any country in the European Union. The average weekly cost of a nursery place for 25 hours in Scotland is £116. Lack of decent childcare means that increasing numbers of parents, in particular women, do not have the choice of going out to work. Others are forced to rely on unqualified child carers.
New Labour’s solution was to introduce the Working Families Tax Credit (WFTC) and some parents are able to struggle through with this. In total the government still spends millions of pounds helping pay for childcare via the childcare element of Working Tax Credits.
The Tories have already made cuts to WFTC, and even at its height it was nowhere near enough. Instead of handing money over to private nurseries, it would make far more sense to spend the money building and directly funding free, publicly owned nurseries, and after-school and holiday clubs, with fully qualified, decently paid staff.
The crisis in elderly and social care is reaching catastrophic proportions. Many elderly people are left to cope alone, or with whatever assistance over-stretched families are able to give. Hospital beds are ‘blocked’ by patients who don’t need to be in hospital but are waiting for a place in a care home, or assistance to live independently.
Meanwhile the private companies that dominate the care sector often make obscene profits while providing appalling substandard care, and overworking and underpaying staff. The answer is simple. A socialist government would bring social care back into the public sector and properly finance it so that care homes were high-quality and free to all those in need. This could be combined with massive investment into decently paid, qualified staff in order to provide the assistance needed to those still able and wanting to live in their own homes.
The NHS was the greatest achievement of the 1945 Labour government. Cuts and the implementation of Tory austerity are systematically destroying the NHS, which was already been undermined by New Labour in power. In Scotland, cuts to health boards are the order of the day with hundreds of millions of “savings” being made year-on-year. The impact on staff morale of pay caps, non-filling of vacancies and stress has been dramatic. A real crisis in GP provision is apparent in heath board areas across Scotland. The cost of PFI, with hundreds of millions being lost every year to private companies is also devastating.
A socialist policy for the NHS would mean a democratically and accountable NHS with the full involvement of NHS workers and users. It also needs to be better integrated (between hospitals, primary care, community care, social services, dentistry, etc) in order to give people the best possible service. All charges for healthcare, including dentistry etc should be completely abolished.
How could this be paid for? A socialist government would redirect money currently spent on war and occupation into the health service. The cost of replacing Trident nuclear missiles, for example, is an estimated £205 billion, which could be far better spent on the NHS and other public services. We would also take the pharmaceutical and drug companies into democratic public ownership. The pharmaceutical industry bled and continues to bleed the NHS through extortionate charges for medicine. Pharmaceutical products cost the NHS about 10% of its budget annually, about £11 billion. A nationalised pharmaceutical industry would take decisions driven by meeting people’s health needs, not by profits. It would be able, for example, to direct research at curing diseases and developing treatments for less common illnesses which the current drugs industry ignores – because it is not profitable to do otherwise.
At the same time a socialist government would carry out measures to increase living standards – such as a decent living pension, increased annually and linked to earnings, and the right to a job with a living wage for all. It should not be underestimated how much such measures would improve people’s health. Ill health remains a class issue – even according to government statistics, low-paid workers are almost three times as likely to suffer from chronic ill health as high-level managers.
In a world of crisis, there is a particular crisis of British capitalism, which is paying the price for its refusal to invest in industry over decades. Despite the CBI bosses’ organisation calling for the government to find ways to increase investment in manufacturing, there is no prospect of rebuilding Britain’s feeble manufacturing base.
Both Tory and Labour governments have done nothing but stand aside and wring their hands as factories and steel plants have closed or had their workforces cut to the bone. This time, under huge pressure from below, the government had to say it was prepared to buy a 25% stake in Tata Steel. This, however, is not enough – in reality offering to help out any vulture capitalist that is prepared to buy the plant even if they intend to do little more than asset strip it.
In the past, even Tory governments intervened in the economy occasionally. Tory prime minister Ted Heath, for example, nationalised Rolls-Royce in the early 1970s. Clearly, the Tories were acting in the interests of big business, propping up industries before selling them back to the fat cats at rock-bottom prices, similar to the way the banks have been propped up by government money today. Manufacturing industry, by contrast, is allowed to go to the wall. Hundreds of millions of pounds of public money are being spent picking up the pieces in Dagenham, Birmingham, Yorkshire, Scotland and Wales and all the other places where factories have closed or jobs have been slashed. The cost comes from the loss of tax and National Insurance income, the increase in benefit claimants, and the unquantifiable social costs such as the extra strain on the health and welfare system.
Rather than spend that money dealing with the aftermath of cuts and closure, it would be far better to invest it in keeping the industry concerned alive and, if necessary, developing new, more socially useful production. For example, there is no need for all car plants to continue with their current production. Workers should be asked what the best use of their skills would be.
Options might include environmentally friendly cars, buses or trams, or the development of green technologies. In the mid-1970s, workers at Lucas Aerospace, the weapons manufacturer, produced an alternative plan of production. They worked out that their production lines could easily be altered to produce kidney machines, electronic wheelchairs and a number of other products far more useful to humanity than weaponry.
But such huge public investment should not be yet another subsidy to private companies’ profits. Government intervention and public investment should be matched by public ownership and control. It would then be possible for workers in individual plants, together with representatives of workers throughout industry, to draw up a new plan of production to better meet the transport needs of the whole of society.
A real living wage
One of the most popular things New Labour did was to introduce a minimum wage. From the beginning, however, the minimum wage was set at a level that was acceptable to big business – a minimal wage. Today, despite the Tories claims to introduce a ‘living wage’, millions are suffering poverty pay. On average workers are still £40 a week worse off than they were before 2008. Working Tax Credits, which cost over £30 billion a year despite the cuts to them, a large part of the country’s benefit bill, are essential for millions of workers to get by. In reality, though, tax credits are a subsidy to rip-off employers, allowing them to get away with wages that are too low to live on.
A socialist government in an independent socialist Scotland could immediately implement a real living minimum wage for all, of at least £10 an hour, and probably more. A real minimum wage would be just that – the minimum that is paid to any worker with no exemptions. The youth rate should be immediately abolished and young workers guaranteed the adult rate. Hundreds of thousands of workers currently do not even get the legal minimum. For example, even the government’s Low Pay Commission estimates that between 9% and 13% of care workers are paid below the minimum wage. There has been a spate of changing workers’ terms and conditions since the introduction of the ‘living wage’ in order to avoid paying it. Bosses can do this knowing they are very unlikely to face any penalty. Between 2009 and 2015 there were 4,780 employers identified as not paying the minimum wage; only three were successfully prosecuted.
A socialist government would strictly enforce the minimum wage. If small and medium-sized businesses said that they could not afford to pay it they would have to open their books to scrutiny by democratically elected committees. Those that genuinely could not afford to pay the minimum wage, and which were playing a socially useful role, could then receive government subsidies to allow them to pay their workers fairly.
At the same time, implementing a living minimum wage would not be the only measure a socialist government could quickly implement. Today there is no relation between the ex- tent to which the majority in society value the work someone does and the amount they get paid for it. Hence stockbrokers receive gigantic salaries while highly skilled nurses, firefighters, paramedics and other life-saving workers are facing a pay freeze.
The same is true for teachers, who play the enormously valuable role of educating the next generation, and are seeing their terms and conditions being viciously attacked. We want to create a society where everyone receives a decent wage. Highly skilled workers would receive higher pay than the minimum wage, but there would be no need for the huge differentials that exist under capitalism.
At the time of the Russian revolution in 1917, wage differentials were initially set at 4:1. However, in a modern economy like ours it would be possible to have a smaller gap between top and bottom.
A socialist government would also scrap Universal Credit and the attacks on benefits by the Tories. A fair social security system would see housing benefit meet the cost of rents for all over 16. and Benefits would be set at a level that ensured a decent standard of living with dignity for the unemployed and those with disabilities, alongside public investment in a real job creation programme.
Fighting racism + discrimination
Capitalism has all kinds of discrimination and oppression written into its DNA. Any society based on vast inequality will inevitably be divided and prejudiced. Racism, for example, has been an integral part of capitalism since its infancy when it was used to justify the slave trade. Later, racism was adapted to justify the colonial powers carving up the world between them.
Today racism is still ingrained in capitalist society. The increased wealth and privilege of a small minority of black and Asian people is used to disguise the fact that we still live in a deeply unequal society. The police are up to 28 times more likely to stop and search you if you are black or Asian. The gap between average pay for white workers and those from ethnic minorities has actually increased over recent years despite an improvement in social attitudes. Over half of young black men are unemployed, more than the double the unemployment rate for young white men.
Internationally, direct colonial rule may have ended, but imperialism still dictates to the poor countries of the world via the multinational corporations and their agencies – the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Capitalism is more than happy to adapt the ideology of racism to its own ends whether that it is to justify the nightmare of poverty that is Africa under capitalism, or to distract workers in Britain from the real reasons that our public services are crumbling.
Discrimination against women is also embedded in the structure of capitalist society. In Scotland and Britain the position of women has improved dramatically compared to two generations ago. Nonetheless, although women now make up over 50% of the workforce, on average they still earn only 72% of male wages. Even though most women work they still tend to bear the brunt of domestic tasks. Even when women work full-time they spend an average of nine hours a week more than their male partners cooking and shopping.
It would be naive to suggest that a socialist government could just sweep aside sexism or racism and other prejudices, all deeply ingrained in this society. However, by beginning to construct a society democratically run by and for the majority, rather than a privileged elite, it could quickly begin to undermine prejudice and eradicate discrimination. It could rapidly take economic measures – such as decent wages and jobs for all, free high-quality childcare, free universal education, good housing, widely available inexpensive high-quality restaurants, and other measures – which would enormously ease the situation.
This would be combined with creating major campaigns to eradicate prejudice. Longer term, the change in economic relations, the abolition of class divisions and the construction of a society based on democratic involvement and co-operation would also change social relations. Society would move away from hierarchies and the oppression and abuse of one group by another. Human relations would be freed from all the muck of capitalism.
Is a democratic socialist transformation of society possible?
The capitalists try to claim that socialists could only come to power by force. This is a red herring. The popularity of the anti-austerity programmes of Jeremy Corbyn here and Bernie Sanders in the US has given a glimpse of how socialists could win elections. But it is the capitalists who have the most brutal record of violence imaginable, including overturning democratic elections if they threaten the rule of capital.
For example, in Chile, from 1970 to 1973, the Popular Unity government nationalised approximately 35% of industry, but the main levers of economic, and therefore political, power remained in the hands of the capitalists. This enabled them to carry out a brutal coup, murdering tens of thousands of workers in the process. Unsurprisingly, Thatcher defended this, saying it was justified by the threat of ‘communism’ – by which she did not mean Stalinism, but workers’ democracy.
Nonetheless, in a country like Scotland and other economically advanced nations, it would be possible for an entirely peaceful socialist transformation of society to be carried out. If a socialist government was to nationalise the ‘commanding heights’ of Scotland’s and Britain’s economy, provided it mobilised the active support of the majority of the population – the working class – then the efforts of the capitalists to stop it would come to nothing.
Of course, if they thought they could get away with it there is no doubt that the other major capitalist powers would attempt to strangle a socialist Scotland and even a socialist confederation of Scotland with England, Wales and Ireland etc. However, they would not be able to get away with it. In today’s globalised world one country breaking with capitalism would undoubtedly trigger off movements worldwide, not just to defend a workers’ state in one country, but to follow its lead. Look at the way the revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa inspired the Indignados movements in Spain and Portugal, and how Occupy spread around the world. Imagine the movement that would take place in support of a democratic workers’ state.
Today, far more than at the time of the Russian revolution in 1917, when the working class took power for the first time, there would be the potential for socialism to spread like wildfire. In the aftermath of the Russian revolution, at the end of the First World War, the imperialist powers did attempt to invade the revolution in order to crush it. The main reason for the governments of Britain, Germany, France, the US and other countries abandoning their assault on the Soviet Union was a fear that their armies and populations were being infected by the ‘socialist plague’. With modern communications it would be far harder for the US or other capitalist governments to justify to their own populations taking action against a democratically elected socialist government. In addition, in a globalised world, the enormous similarities between the struggles facing the working class in different countries mean that socialist ideas would have a very immediate resonance. A socialist government in in any country of Europe that acted to break with capitalism, for example, would immediately get enormous support from workers across the continent, above all in those hardest hit by austerity.
What went wrong in Russia?
The degeneration of the Soviet Union into a brutal dictatorship – albeit one based on a distorted form of planned economy – has been used to argue that socialism is doomed to failure. The ruling class has milked the collapse of the Soviet Union for everything it is worth in order to bolster its own system. This is reflected throughout society. Owning and controlling much of the planet, the capitalists have enormous power to influence ideas. It is fashionable to believe that it is naive or dangerous to dare to try and change anything. Of course, this suits big business which does not want anything to change. But for the rest of us, fashionable ‘detachment’ means accepting that we are powerless.
Capitalism has only existed for a little over 300 years. On the scale of human history that is nothing, a tiny speck of time. It is true that during that time capitalism has transformed the planet – bringing incredible technology alongside devastating want – yet it is no more permanent than any other means by which human society has been organised.
Despite the fact that the Soviet Union collapsed, writers still churn out books by the truckload, attempting to show the ‘irrelevance’ of the Russian revolution, which are systematically taught in school history lessons. This first successful attempt to overthrow capitalism still evokes enormous fear for the capitalist class. We should not despair at its failure. We should, rather, learn the lessons from what went wrong.
Russia 1917 was the first time that capitalism was overthrown by the working class with the support of the poor peasantry. The revolution was led by the Bolshevik party. However, it was organised through the ‘soviets’ – elected councils of workers, soldiers and peasants. The basic demands of the Bolsheviks were for ‘bread, peace and land’, but they explained that only by breaking with capitalism were these demands achievable.
The Bolsheviks won the leadership of the working class of Russia, not by force but by patiently explaining their ideas within the soviets. Alongside the leadership of the Bolsheviks the Russian working class was able to come to power. How did this wonderful movement – in which millions of downtrodden people were genuinely empowered because they took power in their own hands – end up in what the Soviet Union tragically became?
Karl Marx had thought it most likely that capitalism would be defeated first in the most economically developed countries. It was here, after all, where the working class was at its most powerful and the industrial basis existed for the transition to socialism. Instead, in October 1917, the chain of world capitalism broke at its weakest link. The Soviet government inherited an underdeveloped society in a state of disintegration, exhausted by three years of world war. This made the building of socialism far harder than it would have been in a more economically advanced country. The task of spreading the revolution inter- nationally, therefore, took on a burning urgency.
There were massive revolutionary movements in other countries, such as Germany, but they were defeated. The primary reason for this was that, for particular historical reasons, in no other country did a party with a similar authority or outlook to the Bolshevik party exist. The Russian revolution was therefore left isolated. And this was the principal cause of its degeneration. Vladimir Lenin, just before the Russian revolution, had laid out four safeguards to protect a fledgling workers’ state from the rise of a privileged bureaucratic elite. They were:
- Free and democratic elections with the right of recall of all officials.
- No official to receive a higher wage than a skilled worker.
- No standing army or police force, but the armed people.
- Gradually, for all administrative tasks to be done in turn by all: “Every cook should be prime minister…when everyone is a ‘bureaucrat’ in turn, nobody can be a bureaucrat”.
If implemented, these guidelines would have protected Russia from degeneration. But it was impossible, despite the efforts of the revolutionaries, to fully implement them in such an isolated and impoverished country. Economic backwardness had a devastating effect, causing food shortages and a lack of basic necessities.
Leon Trotsky, a key leader of the Russian revolution who went on to oppose Stalinism and fight for international socialism, compared the development of a bureaucracy to a policeman controlling a queue: “When there are enough goods in a store, the purchasers can come when they want to. When there are few goods, the purchasers are compelled to stand in line. When the lines are very long, it is necessary to appoint a policeman to keep order. Such is the starting point for the Soviet bureaucracy. It ‘knows’ who is to get something and who has to wait.” In this situation it was inevitable that a bureaucratic caste would develop and take control.
Joseph Stalin was a hideous dictator, but he did not create the bureaucracy; rather he was a living expression of it. Stalin created a river of blood between the revolution and Stalinist dictatorship. First to be murdered were the old Bolsheviks who had played central roles in the revolution. As a consequence of brutal purges it is estimated that Stalin’s murderous toll in the 1930s totalled 12-15 million people.
Today capitalist historians are most eager to bury the true history of 1917 under a pile of slander. It is the job of socialists to look more closely and discover the real story, the lessons of which can help guide our struggles today. The importance of building an international struggle for socialism is crucial. Today the Socialist Party is part of the Committee for a Workers’ International, which currently organises in more than 40 countries worldwide.
The other aspect of the Soviet Union that is usually ignored is the extent to which the planned economy – even grossly distorted by dictatorship – was able to develop the economy. Up until the early 1970s the nationalised economies of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe produced impressive advances, especially in heavy industries, though consumer goods were generally in short supply and of poor quality. Despite their many shortcomings, they also provided basic education, healthcare, and other social amenities to the majority of the population. For the Soviet Union, which in 1917 was an extremely economically backward country, these were major advances unparalleled in any capitalist country.
Capitalism has provided the tools which could enormously aid the genuine, democratic planning of an economy. Firstly, there is a far higher level of education among working- class people than there was at the beginning of the last century. And capitalism has developed all kinds of technology that could be used to assist in planning. We have the internet, market research, supermarket loyalty cards that record the shopping habits of every customer, and so on. Big business uses this technology to find out what it can sell. A socialist planned economy would be able to harness these tools to find out what people need and want.
Socialism would extend democracy
A genuine socialist government would not be dictatorial. On the contrary, it would extend and deepen democracy enormously. This would be much more far-reaching than the parliamentary democracies of capitalism where we simply get to vote every few years for MPs who do whatever they like once elected. Instead, everyone would get to take part in deciding how society and the economy would be run. Nationally, regionally and locally – at every level – elected representatives would be accountable and subject to instant recall. If the people who had elected them did not like what their representative did, they could make them stand for immediate re-election and, if they wished, replace them with someone else.
Elected representatives would also only receive the average wage. Today MPs are a privileged section of society. Their lives are remote from those of ordinary people. This is no accident. From the earliest days of the Labour Party, the ruling class tried to buy off socialist MPs. Its method is usually subtler than brown envelopes of cash: it is a high salary, a very comfortable lifestyle and the drip, drip of ceaseless flattery about how ‘sensible’ and ‘wise’ it is to be ‘moderate’ and ‘realistic’. The result has been that countless numbers of MPs have decided that the best way to emancipate the working class is one by one – starting with themselves!
That is why any member of Socialist Party Scotland and the CWI who become an MP, MSP etc would only take the average wage of a skilled worker. We believe that this policy can play an important role in making sure workers’ representatives remain in touch with ordinary working people. In the past, when we had three socialist MPs, they took only the average wage of a skilled worker.
Even the BBC recently recognised this, declaring: “As many MPs rush to condemn proposals to give them an 11% pay rise, few have taken the lead of the former member for Coventry South…From his election in 1983 to his deselection by Labour in 1992, Dave Nellist kept less than half his salary. Along with two other Labour politicians – Terry Fields, MP for Liverpool Broadgreen, and Pat Wall, MP for Bradford North – Mr Nellist chose to ‘get by’on a wage closer to that of the people he represented”. A socialist government would ensure that no elected representatives received financial privileges as a result of their position but, instead, lived the same lifestyle as those they represent.
In a capitalist society the mass media is either run by billionaires, or by the state in the form of the BBC. As a result we face an endless barrage of right-wing propaganda. A socialist government would nationalise the printing presses, TV, radio and internet facilities in order to open them up to society; with the right of access to all political viewpoints according to their support in the population as a whole as shown in elections.
There is another crucial sense in which democracy would be far fuller in a socialist society. Under capitalism most of the important decisions are not taken in Westminster or local council chambers, they are taken in the boardrooms of the big corporations. By contrast, a socialist government would bring major industry into democratic public ownership. It would be necessary to draw up a plan, involving the whole of society, on what industry needed to produce. At every level, in communities and workplaces, committees would be set up and would elect representatives to regional and national government – again on the basis of recall at any time. Everybody would be able to participate in real decision making about how best to run society.
Many people will argue that this is utopian, that people would not be bothered to participate in such bodies. Yet in every mass struggle – from the Paris Commune of 1871 onwards – the embryos of this type of structure have come into existence. In Britain during the struggle to defeat the poll tax, when 18 million refused to pay Thatcher’s iniquitous tax, hundreds of thousands of people took part in meetings to plan the campaign. While the anti-poll tax unions were only temporary bodies, organised to fight against a single Tory attack, they nonetheless give a glimpse of working people’s capacity to organise. More recently the mass assemblies of the ‘movement of the squares’ in Greece or Indiginados in Spain are a step in this direction.
Through struggle to change society, workers come to recognise that their own interests are bound up with the common interests of the working class as a whole. Individual needs and ambitions are best met through cooperation and solidarity, not the narrow pursuit of self-interest. Even today, thousands of working-class people attend their tenants’ associations and other community meetings. To give another example, thousands also participate in anti-bedroom tax campaigns, meetings and demonstrations, even though most are not directly affected themselves. And organisations in a workers’ state would be completely different to the bodies that working-class people currently take part in – the committees would actually have the power to say how the economy and society is organised.
In addition, for a planned economy to work, it would be vital that the working class had the time to take part in the running of society. Therefore, measures such as a shorter working week and decent, affordable child-care would be a prerequisite for society to develop towards socialism.
If you agree with this short pamphlet, then join the fight for socialism – join Socialist Party Scotland. The struggle for socialism needs your talents and abilities.
The Socialist Party is at the forefront of every struggle against austerity, from the battle against racism and oppression to the fight to save the NHS. We also fight for improvements for the working class under capitalism.
However, we recognise that capitalism will never accept permanent or lasting reforms that significantly improve the living conditions of the working class. The battle against austerity therefore has to be linked to the socialist transformation of society.
Our struggle does not stop at the shores of Britain. Capitalism is an international economic system. Multi-national companies exploit the entire world in pursuit of profit. The struggle for socialism is an international struggle.
That is why Socialist Party Scotland is affiliated to the Committee for a Workers’ International, which fights for socialism worldwide.