Category Archives: financial crisis

Osborne Lights the Fuse to a Perfect Storm

Public Sector Strike, 30 November

Osborne’s mini-budget, spewed forth in the House of Commons the day before the two million-strong one-day public sector strike over pensions, is a big ‘fuck you’ to the majority of the population of the UK. In response to an imminent double-dip recession, and the potential collapse of the Euro, with its cuts in tax credits and its multi-year 1% public sector pay limit brazenly redistributing wealth away from the poor to the very wealthy, he has lit the fuse to a social explosion that will undoubtedly be very different from the lumpen nihilism of the August riots. This is a provocation to the organised working class, an incitement to strike, and also an incitement to those outside of the trade unions to get organised!

The Cameron myth of ‘we’re all in it together’ looks pretty sick now. This is an even more brazen assault on the vast majority than the Poll Tax, or the Social Contract wage cuts under the 1974-79 Labour government which turned on the working class at the very dawning of neo-liberalism. The latter, however, was not initially presented as an attack on the majority, but as a trade-off for social reform that never materialised. There is nothing of the trade-off in Osborne’s latest package, not even the ‘cuts for growth’ trade-off that the coalition was promising earlier. Going beyond pension cuts to years long-pay freezes and benefit cuts in the face of unpredictable and high inflation, is a brazen incitement to workers to combine together and smash the pay limits.

It may not come immediately, but an explosion surely must come in the medium term. The two main  countervailing factors are the anti-union laws, and the electoral cycle. But in a real explosion of anger from below, if it were wide enough, these laws would be worth very little. Years of planned austerity, going on beyond this parliament, put the coalition in an extremely difficult position as they now plan still to be cutting when they go to the polls in 2015. The Labour Party under Milliband promises very little, but may shift rhetorical gears if and when something kicks off simply in order to protect its left-flank from any possible challenge.

Millliband’s barely social-democratic profile could perhaps be expanded a little under pressure from the  base of the unions. It is also likely that the closer we get to the end of this parliament, the more restive the Lib Dems will become, fearing being finally dragged down to electoral oblivion by Cameron and Osborne. Such signs of weakness while trying to impose years-long austerity could be the signal for real resistance from below, most likely in the form of a strike wave.

The Occupy London movement, part of the whole international phenomenon of soclial protest flowing, at least at the start, outside of the framework of seemingly moribund trade unions, is another sign of an explosion to come. But it comes under conditions which threaten to make trade union action of burning relevance again to millions who have hardly looked to them since the defeat of the miners in 1984-5, or in some ways even earlier.

But on its own, trade unionism also has its dangers, and cannot solve the overall problem. Indeed, a successful trade union rebellion that swept away this government would then again confront the same problem that happened in 1974. The Labour Party. After the greatest working class upsurge and victories in the 20th Century, Labour under Wilson and Callaghan bailed out capitalism politically and sought by stealth, with the help of the pro-capitalist trade union bureaucracy, to restore capitalist profitability by means of a steady erosion of working class living standards.

This led by massive demoralisation in the working class, a wave of racist sentiment that led to a frightening growth of fascism, and then Thatcher was able to take advantage of this to inflict major defeats on the working class and the whole idea of socialism.

But in those days, market fundamentalism was a rising trend in bourgeois terms. Now it is deeply discredited. Labour’s prolonged crisis, never resolved, is fundamentally a product of the failure of those days, the failure of reformism to deliver real reforms.  Blair tried to resolve that by doing away with the reformism, but that adoption of market fundamentalism with a (barely) human face, even writing it into the Labour Party constitution, just led to Labour overseeing a major, world-historic capitalist failure in 2008-10.

The political vacuum to the left of Labour is thus as wide as ever. We need a real party, not a sect like any of the existing far left groups, that can politically organise and represent our class, develop a genuinely socialist economic and political programme in collaboration with others around the world, and fight to bury capitalism, not save it. How we do that has to be a matter of sustained debate and activity,  looking to a new left party initiative that can take things in that direction.

At the moment, the only formation that even hints at the need for a new party is TUSC. But this is not a party: it may be a bridge to one but that is not clear and in any case any evolution towards that is likely to be complex. Among the main political aims of this blog is promoting the kind of discussions that will help in solving this problem, which is the main problem facing socialists today.


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March on Parliament – November 5th 2pm


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Occupy London: A Germ of Socialist Democracy in Action

capitalism is crisis banner

Telling it like it is

“Capitalism Is Crisis” reads the main banner at the Occupy London camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral. This new anti-capitalist movement seems to have a lot more going for it than the previous anti-globalisation movements that pursued the leaders of the G7 advanced capitalist countries from summit to summit a few years ago. The difference this time is the economic context. Starting in Spain, with the Indignados protesting since May against the massive austerity imposed by the social-democratic government at the behest of the IMF, EU and bankers, protest movements fuelled by rage at economic disaster and rampant inequality have spread widely.

Most notably to the United States, where the Occupy Wall Street movement rapidly took off in reaction to the continuing economic crisis and impoverishment of working class America. From Wall Street and Manhattan it has spread around the country. In many major and not-so-major cities there is an ‘Occupy’ movement, camps and protests. This has flowed outside the traditional expressions of working class organisation, the trade unions, whose leaders have been co-opted and whose members have been hammered for decades. But this movement could well be a spark that leads to a new radicalism in the unions also.

At the Occupy London public assembly

And now it is underway here. Occupy London is not huge … yet. But it has huge potential. The resonance is palpable, and so is the fear in the capitalist media. The movement itself is highly democratic in the way it is organised, with public assemblies twice a day, and all decisions taken pretty much on a principle of unanimity. It is possible for minorities to vote to ‘block’ a measure that might have majority support which undoubtedly leads to the formulations of decisions that really do have broad support. A ‘block’ can only be overturned with a 75% majority. It could appear that this kind of ‘ultra-democracy’ might lead to paralysis, but it hasn’t yet.

Indeed, the idealism and decency of those involved shines through in the statement of solidarity issued by the occupation with those resisting the eviction of the Travellers site at Grange Farm, Essex. This produced something of an outcry from elements online who claim to support the aims of the occupiers but not ‘divisive’ stands like Dale Farm. But of course, it would be wise take such claims to ‘support’ the aims of the movement with a very large pinch of salt, as indeed the occupiers have done. In fact, as is to be expected, the dawning of this movement has produced a rash of such people, patronising the occupiers that ‘of course’ they support what they want, if only they would refrain from raising ‘divisive’ issues like anti-capitalism, or anything remotely at odds with the status quo.

A whole brace of such trolling critics have appeared in the comments on their website, and it is testament to the energy and openness of the people running it that they have kept it open for free discussion despite such aggravations.

Occupy London statement of principles

Democracy In Action - agreed Occupy statement of principles on public view

I went along this afternoon to the St Paul’s camp for a couple of hours, having been unable to make it last weekend and unfortunately also yesterday. At the public assembly, at this point there was little real controversy among the occupiers. There was considerable cheer at the establishment of a second camp, at Finsbury Square, on the other side of the City Of London, as a further sign that the movement is making progress.

The most contentious point was the closure of St Paul’s Cathedral by the Dean, who after an initially friendly feint towards the occupiers, now has reverted to the archetype of the Church Of England as the ‘Tory Party at prayer’, closing the Cathedral on spurious ‘health and safety’ grounds and complaining bitterly that the Cathedral’s commercial interests are suffering because of the camp.

In fact, the occupiers have made considerable efforts to accommodate the Dean, and have liaised with both the Health and Safety Executive and the London Fire Brigade about issues concerning fire risk and other safety matters. They have written to the Dean and management of the Cathedral seeking details of their alleged concerns, but to date have received no response. Which needless to say, is not surprising.

Their openness also extended to allowing a couple of people to denounce them for supposedly ‘closing’ the Cathedral from the mike at the assembly. One of them was an elderly woman who seemed misinformed, the other was a fairly vehement Christian who oozed contempt for the occupiers, but was counterbalanced by a Christian minister who was supportive and said that not everyone in the Church supported what the Dean had done.

The occupiers are mainly young people, many unemployed, some students, and a smattering of older people, academics, and others who have the free time to devote to something like this, who will undoubtedly be a kind of vanguard of the movement. But the movement is only going to be successful if it works with lots of workers who have jobs and/or family responsibilities who are not going to be able to camp out overnight. As indeed, they seem well aware, and are very welcoming, though for obvious reasons decision-making is the preserve of those actually involved in the occupation itself.

public assembly open mike

Open mike at the public assembly

One thing they are doing with apparent flair is the organisations of discussions, seminars, public meetings etc in the new public space that the occupation has given birth to. I attended a session of ‘Tent City University’, in which a moderator ran a pretty informal discussion on ‘human nature’. It was not the conventional kind of meeting where you have a presentation, followed by a discussion. Rather, the discussion is the meeting, the moderator gives out a printed sheet containing points relating to the topic being discussed, and invites free-flowing comments and discussion on them.

It was a novel way of discussing, and somewhat unfamiliar, but i managed to speak a couple of times in the discussion, putting a communist view of the malleable and socially conditioned nature of ‘human nature’, and found a considerable degree of agreement with many of the participants. Whether this is the best format for discussions of a more complex and controversial nature is open to doubt, but it certainly was a change from the usual format of left meetings where a single person (or sometimes a panel) gives the main content of the meeting in a presentation and the discussion from the floor is something of a subordinate event. Here the discussion from the floor was the main event.

Anyway, Occupy London needs your support. It has the potential to really shake up this country in a way not seen for many years, it has resonance with a very wide layer because it is capturing a mood of anger and betrayal by all the parties that promote the interests of big business. It needs the support of socialists, trade unions and all opponents of oppression and seekers after progressive social change.


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“Occupy Wall Street”: A New Socialist Movement In the Making?

Occupy Wall Street

Occupy Wall St protesters in Washington Square Park, New York

The ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement has resonated around the world. Its significance, in the middle of an economic/financial crisis that the head of the Bank Of England, Mervyn King, says may be the worst ever in the history of capitalism, could be enormous. Unlike some of the ‘anti-capitalist’ and ‘anti-globalisation’ movements that have sprung up and died down over the past couple of decades, this is directly linked to a sense of failure of capitalism itself. It is also intimately linked to working class discontent and rage at the conspicuous enrichment of the super-rich continuing through an enormous decline in working class living standards, unprecedented since the 1920s.

This at last offers up the opportunity for the re-emergence of a mass-based left. Capitalist failure is obvious to many millions today. It is also what we on the Marxist left are in business to lead humanity out of. Ultimately, we have the arguments why capitalism is not a rational system that maximises the productive potential of humanity and uses that potential in a rational and humane way, but rather an obsolete method of organising social production.

Capitalism played a progressive role in earlier times in industrialising important parts of the world and creating the material basis of an advanced human civilisation freed from blind subjection to uncontrolled natural forces. But at the same time, having outlived that progressive role, through its deep social, economic and ultimately political contradictions, it threatens to destroy the fruits of that earlier progressive development. Economic collapse, destruction of the environment to the extent that life on this planet is under threat in the longer term, the threat of future world wars waged with nuclear weapons, all are part of the capitalist system and eloquent arguments as to why it needs to be superseded. But to be replaced by what?

There is only one thing that can supersede capitalism in a progressive sense. That is democratic control and management of the world economy. Major productive forces cannot be allowed to be the private property of individuals or private corporate bodies that are in fact collectives of owners of productive forces that control the lives of all of us in practice. These productive resources must be controlled by all of us – equally and democratically. The economy must be planned democratically, for the benefit of all. Decisions as to what is to be produced must be taken rationally, by accountable bodies elected by the mass of the people affected by those decisions, and recallable by them if they mess things up. Living standards cannot and must not be limited by the ability to pay in a society where inequality has never been greater.

Decent living standards must be available to all that contribute to society. And anyone who is able to work must do so – in decent jobs with decent pay and./or benefits in kind to reward their work. Those who are unable to work through disability must be looked after and have full social and economic equality. If there are no jobs in existence for people right now, they must be created, either through public works or by sharing out available work among all potential workers with no loss of pay. The crippling debts, both for ordinary working people and for whole nations, that are the result of the capitalist financial crisis must be cancelled, and those who have been profiteering from them have their wealth confiscated and reduced to the level of the 99%. Basic social and economic equality can only be achieved by taking all the large-scale industrial resources out of the hands of the big capitalist elite.

With small capital more flexibility is needed, we cannot simply abolish business in a rigid and punitive manner. But we can modify it to stop the reproduction of profiteering and the regeneration of a new big capitalist class We can use democratic measures such as enhanced workers rights, workers control, the encouragement of elected workers representative with real power over management, and the conversion of smaller companies into cooperatives, to modify the small business sector to the point where it mutates into something very different, a grass-roots cooperative socialism.

This could be envisaged only in the context of the abolition of big capital as an economic and political force, which would create a massively different relationship of forces and environment when addressing questions involving small-scale enterprises. But the thrust of this is clear, the domination of big capital over everyone’s lives, the system of capitalism, rule by big capital where the political system, though formally democratic is in fact bought and paid for by big capital, has to be torn up by the roots and replaced by real popular control and democracy.

And this cannot be done in one country, on a local basis. That is what is good about the spreading of the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement. The capitalist press calls it ‘copycat protests’. Good! We need an international movement against capitalism, attempting to build some isolated fortress of socialism while capitalism remains intact in the rest of the world will fail. Globalisation is a good thing, but in its capitalist form it has been a curse allowing capital to move across borders whereas workers are hounded and impoverished when they stay in their own countries and persecuted, shunned, treated as outlaws, often brutally abused and sometimes even murdered when they try to migrate for a better life.

We need to turn the tables on this, we need to bind the capitalists hand-and-foot so that they cannot move their property, obtained through exploitation and robbery, anywhere without workers’ permission, but workers have the right to move anywhere they like in pursuit of a better life. Yes to workers control over all capital movement, and smash all immigration restrictions on workers! For socialist globalisation and a world citizenship of a socialist world!


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