Workers Hammer No. 208
Down with racist capitalist rule!
The bankruptcy of Labour
The case for socialist revolution
If the elections to the European Parliament held in June are anything to go by, the Labour Party is in the throes of a political crisis at the end of twelve years in government. Labour was trounced at the polls, coming in third behind David Cameron’s Tories and even beaten by the xenophobic United Kingdom Independence Party, while the fascist British National Party (BNP) won two seats in the European Parliament. Labour’s dire election results, coming at a time of widespread fears over job losses and in the context of a huge scandal over MPs’ expenses, signal almost certain defeat at the general election.
To say that New Labour in office has alienated its traditional base of support is an understatement. The majority of the population opposes the brutal occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Britain’s minorities have deserted Labour in droves, especially those of Muslim background, who have been relentlessly targeted by the racist “war on terror”. Meanwhile immigrant workers are scapegoated for everything from job losses to lack of housing and more.
Responsibility for whipping up the racist climate that played into the hands of the BNP lies squarely with the Labour government. As an article by John Nicholson, a leader of the Convention of the Left, says: “Now there are British fascists in the European Parliament and there is no question that it is Labour’s fault. Blair and Brown and a succession of home secretaries have gone out of their way to legitimise the BNP, seeking the approval of the Daily Mail for increasingly racist measures before the far-right had even thought of them” (Morning Star, 7 August).
In government, Labour held true to Peter Mandelson’s declaration that the party was “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich”. Mandelson, who was fired for corruption on more than one occasion, was brought back into the Cabinet last year by Gordon Brown in an effort to revive the government’s image. New Labour continued Margaret Thatcher’s devastation of manufacturing industry that has resulted in a vast reduction in the size and weight of the proletariat that historically formed the party’s core membership. This went hand in hand with slavish support to the City of London: the financial sector now accounts for over seven per cent of gross domestic product, larger than in most developed countries, while manufacturing has shrunk in the last decade from around 20 per cent to 13 per cent (guardian.co.uk, 30 August). Thus the international banking crisis had a tremendous impact on the British economy, for which the working people are being made to pay a heavy price, especially in terms of job losses.
Last year’s government bailout of the banks has pushed public borrowing to £13.3bn in June, and total borrowing now stands at a whopping 56.6 per cent of gross domestic product. This recalls the level of debt Britain incurred to pay for World War II and fears abound that Britain may default on its debt. Prior to the financial crash, the booming house prices enriched some, but created an excruciating housing crisis for the majority of working people. An article on the Guardian website (30 August) says: “When Labour came to power in 1997, the average price for a house in England and Wales was £63,313. By January 2008, when the market peaked, you would need to fork out £184,362 to purchase one — a near 200% rise.” Now there are “270,400 mortgage loans in arrears of three months or more” while “hundreds of thousands of construction workers have been laid off and built units are at historic lows”. Moreover “in 12 years under Labour, the number of households on council waiting lists has risen 70% to 1.7 million”.
Tony Blair set out to transform the Labour Party from its original character as a “bourgeois workers party” — ie having a mass working-class base yet saddled with a capitalist programme — into an outright bourgeois party. This means severing Labour’s historic link to the trade unions, a process that remains unfinished. The character of Labour’s relationship to the unions needs to be tested and could well be resolved in the event of a crushing defeat at the next election. But New Labour today is moribund as a reformist party.
The fact that New Labour’s relationship to the unions has not undergone a decisive test in the form of a sharp class confrontation is not because Tony Blair or Gordon Brown lacks the bottle to attempt to smash a union. Rather the venal trade union bureaucrats, in particular the “lefts”, have refused to engage in serious class struggle under Labour and have betrayed the strikes that did occur. To avoid being seen as unpatriotic the Fire Brigades Union leadership called off a powerful strike as Tony Blair was preparing the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Postal workers who repeatedly staged wildcat strikes in recent years and British Airways staff who almost shut down Heathrow airport in 2005 were disowned by the union leaders of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) and the Transport and General Workers Union (now part of Unite), because these wildcat strikes defied the anti-union laws.
The utter bankruptcy of old Labour “lefts” is also evident in their support to protectionist poison. After decades of campaigns to “save” British coal, British steel, British Leyland, ad nauseam, today there is precious little industry that could be described as “British”. But still “left” union leaders such as Bob Crow of the rail union RMT grotesquely support the chauvinist strikes against foreign workers that have been raging in the construction industry under the slogan “British jobs for British workers”. An Economist article (5 February) about one such strike quoted David Lindley, a former director of the construction firm Taylor Woodrow, saying: “Britain’s hollowed-out manufacturing sector lacks the capacity to produce much of the specialist machinery that such projects require”. The vile “British jobs” campaign echoes the protests by London dockers who marched in support of Enoch Powell’s landmark racist speech in 1968 intoning that immigration would lead to “rivers of blood”.
From the point of view of the working people it matters little whether Labour or Tories win the next election. Further attacks on living standards and welfare spending are planned and both parties will tighten the screw on working people to restore profitability to British capitalism. Contrary to the bourgeois myth that Marxism is a “failed experiment”, the situation cries out for an authentic Marxist party dedicated to the struggle for socialist revolution to rid society of the decaying capitalist order. Our task is the construction of such a party — a multiethnic revolutionary workers party — based on a programme that is proletarian, revolutionary and internationalist.
Europe’s mass reformist parties in crisis
The Labour government’s present crisis takes place in the broader context of widespread disillusion among workers in other European countries with their historic parties. In recent years these parties have held office and have been among the best enforcers of “neo-liberal” policies, fleecing working people in the service of “flexible” labour markets, attacking welfare provision and leading to enormous wealth for the capitalist masters. Workers in Germany are turning their backs on the social-democratic party, the SPD, the French Communist Party has collapsed and the once-mighty Italian Communist Party is no more. The latter split in the 1990s into a majority wing, which now appears to have become an openly capitalist party while its “left” wing, Rifondazione Comunista, is in severe crisis.
Be that as it may, the social-democratic parties in Europe are not about to go out of business — they continue to provide an invaluable service to the ruling classes by tying the working classes to the capitalist order. The strategic task of ICL sections in these countries is to forge Leninist-Trotskyist parties by splitting the mass reformist parties and winning their working-class base to our programme. In contrast, the aim of the pseudo-Trotskyists of yesteryear who are wedded to social democracy is to build new electoral formations to retain and strengthen illusions in parliamentary reformism. Such “new” parties amount to roadblocks to the construction of revolutionary parties.
A case in point is the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in Britain. An article by Alex Callinicos in Socialist Review (July 2009) bemoans the fact that “centre-left governments brought to office by popular revulsion against neoliberalism continued with free market policies”, noting that “in Germany the Red-Green coalition under Gerhard Schröder between 1998 and 2005 forced through Agenda 2010, which was designed to make labour markets more ‘flexible’”. Nowhere does he mention that the SWP supported the election of these anti-working-class governments all across Europe — not least in Britain where then SWP leader Tony Cliff shamelessly proclaimed that the SWP was “over the moon” for Tony Blair’s landslide win in May 1997. By the time of that election New Labour was certainly a known quantity. We wrote, “the sheer size of Labour’s victory is ominous; it will be taken as a mandate to carry out New Labour’s vicious anti-working class programme” (Workers Hammer no 156, May/June 1997).
The reformists have marched in lockstep with the rightward shifts of the social-democratic parties, dropping any remaining verbiage that might taint them by association with revolution. In France the former Ligue communiste révolutionnaire formally junked the terms “revolutionary” and “communist” to form a “New Anti-capitalist Party” that seeks to occupy the space left by the Communist Party. In Germany the pseudo-Trotskyists are liquidating into the Left Party — Die Linke — which upholds the programme of the earlier SPD. This is a party of countless betrayals of the working class. Above all, Die Linke embraces the PDS, the remnant of the leading Stalinist party in the former East German deformed workers state. The founders of the PDS joined with the Kremlin bureaucracy under Mikhail Gorbachev in handing over the DDR to capitalist reunification of Germany in 1990. This was a precursor to counterrevolution in the USSR in 1991-92, a historic defeat for the working classes of the entire world. This enormous betrayal by the Stalinist bureaucracies was supported by reformist pseudo-Trotskyists internationally. Foremost among them was the British SWP whose paper crowed that “Communism has collapsed”, a fact they said which “should have every socialist rejoicing” (Socialist Worker, 31 August 1991).
In the aftermath of counterrevolution in the former Soviet Union, reformists have become the perennial “moving right show”. The SWP formed a coalition with Muslim organisations in Respect, which disavowed even a nominal commitment to “socialism” (ie social democracy) but this was a disaster and blew apart in 2007.
In the wake of the European elections the SWP issued an open letter to the British left declaring that: “The SWP firmly believes that the first priority is to build even greater unity and resistance to the fascists over the coming months and years”, coyly stating that “those who campaigned against the BNP in the elections know that when they said to people, ‘Don’t vote Nazi’ they were often then asked who people should vote for. The fact that there is no single, united left alternative to Labour means there was no clear answer available.”
Over the years, the SWP has routinely resurrected “anti-fascist” work at election time as a way of getting out the vote for Labour. However Labour is so despised today that even these consummate opportunists are leery about openly saying vote Labour (although they will surely campaign for Labour when the time comes). Moreover the SWP doesn’t see much point in setting out the “vote Labour” stall just now. As the open letter says, it would “take a miracle for Gordon Brown to be elected back into Downing Street” and “the danger is that by simply clinging on we would be pulled down with the wreckage of New Labour” (“Left must unite to create an alternative”, Socialist Worker, 13 June).
The SWP’s current “anti-fascist” face, Unite Against Fascism — like the Anti Nazi League of old, complete with music gigs and pressure tactics — aims primarily to bring people out to vote. The idea of “stopping” the BNP by voting is in itself parliamentary cretinism. The BNP is a fascist organisation, consisting of paramilitary shock troops whose real programme is murderous racist terror against immigrants and minorities. Fascists are generally kept on a leash by the capitalist class for use in times of crisis, especially when bourgeois rule is threatened by socialist revolution. Manifestly this is not the case today in Britain or elsewhere. Nevertheless the election of BNPers Nick Griffin and Andrew Brons to the European Parliament gives respectability to the fascist stormtroopers and will lead to increased attacks on the streets, posing real and present danger to minorities, gays and leftists. Guardian journalist Inayat Bunglawala has noted that the BNP’s campaign against Muslims has translated into a series of violent attacks on mosques, in Luton and elsewhere. Ominously, an outfit called the English Defence League has carried out physical provocations against the left in Birmingham.
Against such fascist provocations, we call for trade union/minority mobilisations to stop these race terrorists in their tracks. But the social conditions endemic to decaying capitalism provide fertile ground for these scum to thrive, particularly during the present historically low level of class struggle. Therefore for Marxists the struggle against fascism is inseparable from the fight for socialist revolution to overthrow the capitalist economic system that breeds it.
The BNP cashed in on the chauvinist strikes on construction sites at Britain’s oil refineries and power stations which popularised the fascist slogan “British jobs for British workers” (see article on page 12). The SWP’s appeal for unity of the left “against the BNP” is directed at organisations such as Peter Taaffe’s Socialist Party which has been in the forefront of leading these strikes. For the European elections the Socialist Party joined with “left” union bureaucrat Bob Crow of the rail union RMT and the remains of the British Communist Party to form the “No2EU” electoral alliance. As we said last issue: “No2EU boasts that its electoral list comprises candidates who played a leading role in those reactionary protests on construction sites and participation in the alliance is conditional on having supported them. This in itself is enough for Marxists to reject any support whatever to this outfit. We say: No vote to No2EU in the European elections!” (Workers Hammer no 207, Summer 2009).
For Bob Crow, as for the Socialist Party’s supporters in the trade union bureaucracy of the PCS, protectionism goes hand in hand with their refusal to wage any meaningful, effective class struggle to defend their own union members against the bosses. Recently the government has further tightened restrictions on immigration, while brutal round-ups of immigrants — such as the one staged in June at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, in which cleaners were lured to a bogus meeting where they were trapped and seized by immigration police — are on the rise. We insist that the trade unions must fight for full citizenship rights for all immigrants. Mobilising the unions in defence of immigrants requires a political struggle against the existing trade union bureaucracy — against Bob Crow, whose RMT union organises immigrant cleaners in the London Tube network and against the Socialist Party-influenced leadership of the PCS union. Scandalously, the PCS organises immigration cops and the wretched Socialist Party regard these guard dogs of the racist capitalist state as part of the workers movement. Down with immigration raids! No deportations! Immigration cops out of the unions!
Down with protectionist poison!
Internationally, fascist and xenophobic outfits have benefited from the vile nationalist protectionism being whipped up by social-democratic parties and trade union leaders as a substitute for the class struggle that is needed to fight job losses. Protectionism sets workers of each country against each other and lines them up behind their “own” bourgeoisie. As the car giants in the US slashed jobs, union leaders of the United Auto Workers proffered “America first” protectionism, railing against “outsourcing” of jobs to foreign countries, while handing over historic gains won by the auto workers in decades of struggle in order to bail out the Big Three car producers. Part of the government’s bailout package includes the “Employ American Workers Act”. In Australia, the construction and mining union has recently appealed to “its” government to provide stimulus monies only to employers “that give preference to local content” and “local labour” (Australian, 26 May).
British construction workers, many of whom work in other European Union countries, should note that protectionism is a two-way street. In March 2007 when Airbus workers faced mass layoffs and plant closures, a trade union representative in Hamburg, Rüdiger Lütjen, complained that German workers were losing out to British workers, saying: “My impression is that England and Spain are getting extra work, and we Germans have to foot the bill” (quoted in Hamburger Abendblatt, 3 February 2007). Meanwhile a representative of the French union Force Ouvrière complained that German workers were getting the lion’s share, saying “Hamburg alone would profit from an increase in production of up to 45 planes from the A320 family. That’s unacceptable.” We counterposed a class-struggle perspective to the bureaucracy’s vile protectionism in a joint ICL statement issued by the British, French and German sections (published in Workers Vanguard no 889, 30 March 2007) under the headline: “For United Class Struggle Against Airbus Bosses! Against National Protectionism, Chauvinist Poison for the Working Class! For the Socialist United States of Europe!” Britain’s construction bosses are currently renegotiating the national agreement with the unions and also demanding a wage freeze in January. The unions must fight tooth and nail against attacks on the national agreement just as they went on strike in June against job losses. We supported these strikes, despite the union leadership’s recent crusade against immigrants, in the spirit that Trotsky outlined in 1939 when he said:
“A trade union led by reactionary fakers organizes a strike against the admission of Negro workers into a certain branch of industry. Shall we support such a shameful strike? Of course not. But let us imagine that the bosses, utilizing the given strike, make an attempt to crush the trade union and to make impossible in general the organized self-defence of the workers. In this case we will defend the trade union as a matter of course in spite of its reactionary leadership.”
— In Defence of Marxism
With the construction bosses gearing up for further attacks, it is all the more urgent that the reactionary strikes must stop! Immigrant labour is endemic to the building trade (as is subcontracting) and the bosses will always seek to foster national and ethnic divisions to “level down” wages for all. At the same time the bottom line for the trade union movement should not be who the employers hire, but what rate of pay they get and under what conditions they work. The construction unions must appeal on an internationalist basis to workers from other European countries, especially from Poland and the other Eastern European countries, to become allies of British workers in a struggle for jobs for all.
Our perspective requires a political battle against the trade union bureaucracy, which is wedded to British capitalism. The unions must demand: Full union pay for all work at the prevailing rate, no matter who does it! Under the slogan of Karl Marx: “Workers of all countries unite!”, migrant workers of Europe must become a bridge to proletarian internationalist opposition to the European Union, a bosses’ conglomerate designed to bludgeon the workers of Europe, the better to compete with the EU’s rivals such as US and Japanese imperialism.
For revolutionary internationalism!
The decimation of the proletariat and de-industrialisation of Britain is not part of some inevitable process but the result of defeats and betrayals of the working class in struggle, of which the defeat of the miners strike of 1984-85 was pivotal. However, contrary to wishful thinking by the arrogant capitalist rulers and the venal trade union bureaucracy, the class struggle cannot be consigned to history. What is urgently posed is the need for a class-struggle fight to save jobs and to save the working class from decay, demoralisation and ruin. To combat mass job losses it is necessary to fight for a shorter working week with no loss in pay and for spreading the available work, as part of a fight for jobs for all. Wages and benefits must rise with the rate of inflation, benefits for the unemployed must be extended until they get jobs. All pensions must be guaranteed by the government and a huge rise is needed: Britain has the worst pension provision in Europe, its pensioners being paid on average a mere 17 per cent of their average earnings, in contrast to the European average of 57 per cent (guardian.co.uk, 3 July).
To redress the housing crisis there must be a massive building programme of good quality, affordable public housing. Also needed is a building programme to upgrade the crumbling infrastructure — railways, roads, power stations and other energy facilities, etc — employing all workers (including immigrants) at the highest union rates of pay. To reveal the extent of capitalist corruption, robbery and exploitation, not least in the government’s “private finance initiatives” (PFI) and other scams, workers should demand that the capitalists open their books to show the gross misuse of human labour in the pursuit of profits.
A vast improvement in health care is necessary. The class divide in health is a yawning gulf: former Labour health minister Alan Johnson admitted that: “A man living in Kensington and Chelsea will on average live 10 years longer than a man living in Manchester. For every stop on the Jubilee line from Westminster to Canning Town, life expectancy goes down by one year” (Guardian, 9 June 2008). Even before the parasitical “private finance initiatives” that proliferated under Labour permitting capitalist enterprises to make millions out of building hospitals, schools and other facilities, the pharmaceutical giants made untold wealth out of the NHS. Nationalise the pharmaceutical companies! Abolish charges for medicines, dental and other health care! Full access to free, good quality medical care for all!
The class divide permeates the education system which is designed to favour the wealthy few. “Scores of state schools have become ‘no-go’ areas for pupils taking traditional A-level subjects such as maths, science, history, geography or languages” according to recent research, while “children from the higher social classes were more likely to opt for subjects such as biology, further maths, English literature and languages” (independent.co.uk, 19 August). Only seven per cent of all pupils are educated in the elite “public” school system, yet this produces 75 per cent of judges, 70 per cent of finance directors and 55 per cent of solicitors (independent.co.uk, 22 July).
The British ruling class sees little need to educate and train working-class people beyond what is needed for the City, which in the words of Guardian columnist Stewart Lansley “has sucked in the pick of Britain’s brightest graduates with some of the best young PhD mathematicians and physicists behind the fiendishly complex mathematical formula used to run arcane financial instruments” (guardian.co.uk, 27 August). As against the capitalist rulers’ wilful neglect, we demand free, good quality education and training for all, with open admission to universities and colleges and a living grant for all students.
These demands are based on the 1938 Transitional Programme, the founding document of the Trotskyist Fourth International, which asserted:
“Under the menace of its own disintegration, the proletariat cannot permit the transformation of an increasing section of the workers into chronically unemployed paupers, living off the crumbs of a disintegrating society. The right to employment is the only serious right left to the worker in a society based upon exploitation. This right today is being shorn from him at every step. Against unemployment, ‘structural’ as well as ‘conjunctural,’ the time is ripe to advance, along with the slogan of public works, the slogan of a sliding scale of working hours.”
— The death agony of capitalism and the tasks of the Fourth International, 1938
An effective fight against the catastrophe of mass unemployment must be led by those committed to socialist revolution and the establishment of a workers government. Particularly in Britain, transitional demands are commonly misused by reformists to cover the fact that at bottom they uphold the old Labour programme centred on nationalisation of industry under capitalism, to be achieved through legislation in parliament while leaving the capitalist state intact. Our programme of transitional demands will not be granted by the profit-gouging capitalist rulers. We understand that the capitalist state exists to defend the profit system and the rule of the bourgeoisie and cannot be transformed into an instrument that will serve the interests of the working people.
It was the political bankruptcy of old Labour that led to the rise of New Labour, which now stands discredited at the helm of a country in crisis. The crisis of New Labour is a reflection of the abject decline of Britain’s industrial proletariat, itself the product of efforts by successive governments — including Labour governments in the 1960s and 70s — to enforce wage reductions on the working people and break the power of the unions in an effort to improve the competitiveness of British capitalism. Labour was replaced by the Thatcher government in 1979 which prepared a showdown against the miners, culminating in the heroic year-long strike of 1984-85. Defeat in this battle was far from inevitable and was not mainly the result of the massive state repression, but of the treachery of the Labourite union leaders.
Particular responsibility lies with the “left” leaders of the unions in rail and the docks who failed to strike alongside the miners, and with Labour “left” MPs such as Tony Benn who mouthed off in many speeches about solidarity with the miners, but whose perspective — like that of militant miners leader Arthur Scargill — did not go beyond the election of a Labour government.
The regeneration of Britain’s infrastructure and the re-industrialisation of its manufacturing centres, putting the proletariat back into productive work, requires a thoroughgoing socialist revolution that will introduce a rationally planned economy. This is part of an internationalist programme for socialist revolutions in other countries, particularly in the rest of Europe. Workers revolution will overthrow the British capitalist order, and with it the dominance of the City of London and the yuppie English Home Counties over the former industrial heartlands of the north of England as well as Scotland and Wales. Down with the reactionary United Kingdom and its archaic institutions of the monarchy, the House of Lords and the established churches! The multiethnic revolutionary workers party that we seek to build will be dedicated to the overthrow of Westminster rule by the revolutionary proletariat and the establishment of a workers government.