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A World to Win
Capitalism's chaos and the socialist alternative
THE ANNUAL European school of the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI - the international socialist organisation which the Socialist Party is affiliated to) was held recently in Belgium. 250 visitors attended, including sizeable groups from the USA, Israel and Australia.
The school discussed a number of themes of vital relevance to the workers' movement internationally; the state of the world economy and its effects on the European workers' movement; the significance of moves towards Left Unity in different countries and the prospects for a new mass workers' party and how the CWI was building in its respective national sections.
Over the next few issues we will report some of these discussions in The Socialist. This week we look at the world economy and the European workers' movement.
INTRODUCING THIS discussion, Per Ollson from the International Secretariat (IS) of the CWI said that as society headed into the 21st century the conditions of oppressed people were in some ways heading back to the 19th century.
Half of the world's population live on less than $2 a day and 1.2 billion live on less than $1 a day. In contrast the combined wealth of the world's 200 richest people is ten times bigger than that of the 600 million people who inhabit the world's poorest countries. In one of these countries, Sierra Leone, most people die before the age of 37.
The gap between the haves and the have nots has enormously widened during the last decade; despite the longest ever cyclical economic upturn in the USA and Western Europe. This so-called economic boom had concentrated the accumulated wealth in the hands of a small group of super rich. These, in the main, were the same people who owned and ran the multinationals that control one-third of world economic production and control two-thirds of world trade.
These multinationals are engaged in a frantic bout of merger mania to try and increase their wealth and power. But, Per argued, this was like two drunks trying to keep each other standing.
These mergers, however, don't give capitalism a new lease of life and do not overcome the anarchy of the capitalist market. Particularly, there is now a massive dependence on making money from financial transactions rather than profits from traditional manufacturing industries. $1.55 trillion is the daily turnover on the world's foreign exchange markets - 55 times the level of world trade.
Per gave a detailed array of statistics to show that world capitalism had extended itself even more than it did before the 1929 Wall Street stock market crash and that a severe stock market crash, which is a strong possibility, would cause a massive downturn in the world economy because of the high dependence of the rest of the world on the US economy. The present US boom has gone on longer than we thought but it cannot be sustained much longer.
Per concluded that even if there was not an absolute fall in world economic production, a downturn will provoke an enormous working-class backlash because the economic growth of the last decade has not generated any improvement in living conditions for the masses.
But in Europe there has been a certain economic growth this last year which has created new jobs - albeit part-time, deregulated low-paid jobs.
However, this has not diminished the anger of working-class people against capitalism's growing inequalities, and if anything it has given them more confidence in taking on the bosses in some countries.
Real wages have started to rise for sections of the working class for the first time in recent years. The bitterness and discontent felt by the working class against the capitalist system has been intensified by the scandals and excesses of the fat cats - especially in countries like Ireland.
The recent Norwegian general strike had been partially triggered by the bosses' arrogance over wage increases for themselves compared to what they were prepared to offer the workers.
Against this background the process of the transformation of the former mass workers' parties into openly capitalist parties had deepened. In Sweden it was one pundit estimated the Social Democratic Party was losing members at such a rate it would have no members at all by 2010.
Added to this was the process of Americanisation of European politics where support for the establishment parties is rapidly dwindling and fewer voters bother to vote.
Finally, Per said that the biggest problem facing the working class at this stage was the lack of an independent political voice. But the strike movements and anti-capitalist struggles will turn into a more organised political movement.
Our sections in the CWI are well placed to be at the fore of such a development. Even in a period which has not been the most favourable for socialist ideas we have made electoral gains, such as the election of Joe Higgins MP in Southern Ireland and the councillors we have in Britain.
Such experience could play a vital part in the formation of a new mass workers' party.
There then followed speakers in the discussion from Austria, Britain, USA, Ireland, Russia, Sweden, Netherlands, Scotland, Greece, Belgium and Germany.
Controversy in the discussion centred around the issue of how to characterise Haider's Freedom Party. Els from Belgium felt that they should be described, like the neo-fascist Vlaams Blok in Belgium. Other speakers disagreed with this categorisation.
No one disagreed that Haider's party had a core of fascists and Haider himself had a fascist past. But it was felt better to categorise the Freedom party as an extreme-right populist party.
Unlike the Vlaams Blok in Belgium the Freedom Party, at this stage, does not have a paramilitary wing intent on attacking workers' organisations and ethnic minority groups. Haider had not come to power like Hitler had by crushing the organisations of the working class. Indeed the Haider movement is currently being held back by the strength of resistance to it from the Austrian working class and youth.
Sonja from Austria reported that there were still weekly demonstrations against Haider's Freedom Party despite the lack of organisation and response from the official trade union and workers' leaders in Austria.
Other speakers raised questions about what stage the world economy was at and how long the US boom in particular could be sustained.
Aron from Germany pointed out that although Germany has experienced its first real growth in jobs since unification ten years ago, the working class is also preparing to move. At present Germany's public-sector workers appear to be heading for strike action against the Schroder government this autumn.
Lynn Walsh, replying to the discussion, said the economy is heading for a downturn in the quite near future though it is not possible to put an exact date on this or how exactly it will unfold.
Lynn said an economic crash is possible but the capitalists are themselves trying to deflate the US market bubble at present, so fearful are they of the consequences of a sharp plunge. But the capitalists' problem is that they are currently making so much money that they don't want to stop and many seem oblivious to the social and economic consequences of the class antagonisms their greed is building up.
Lynn concluded that the recent anti-capitalist movements were a very significant development and represents an important swing to the Left in global society.
This new mood and embryonic movement puts a big responsibility on the members of the CWI sections to intervene and argue for a socialist alternative to the chaos and anarchy of capitalist society.
In The Socialist 4 August 2000: