Teachers taking part in the strike wave in 2023. Photo: Paul Mattsson
Teachers taking part in the strike wave in 2023. Photo: Paul Mattsson

Mark Best, Socialist Party National Committee

Meeting on the eve of a general election which will usher in a new period of class struggle, delegates from our many Socialist Party branches across England and Wales met in London to discuss, debate and prepare for the coming class battles. As Sarah Sachs-Eldridge from the Socialist Party’s Executive Committee said, opening the congress: “Every day there are new developments, revealing the rottenness of capitalism, helping new layers of working-class and young people draw conclusions about the nature of society” and the necessity of fighting for socialist change.

Capitalism means war, poverty and climate change – it is unable to provide a decent future. The Tories are a busted flush, Starmer will act in the interests of the bosses, and we need our own mass party of the working class. The working class is beginning to stamp itself on events. By taking strike action we can win gains, but crucially the working class itself has the power and ability to run society for the good of all.

The world – war and polarisation

Developments in Britain flow from the world situation. Hannah Sell, general secretary of the Socialist Party, described how capitalism means “unimaginable riches for those at the top” – the five richest men’s wealth has doubled since 2020. Markets have soared based on new speculative bubbles, and a few have got filthy rich – the approximate value of all global assets is an unprecedented 600% of global GDP – the real economy.

And for working-class and poor people? 60% of the world’s population has got poorer since 2020. Capitalism means horror without end. Violent conflicts are at their highest level since the second world war, affecting two billion people. Meanwhile, global military spending hit an obscene record of $2.2 trillion last year.

The wars in Gaza and Ukraine have massive repercussions in every country of the world. Half a million people are dead or injured because of the Ukraine war, and the Israeli state’s invasion of the Gaza Strip and constant bombardment has left hundreds of thousands living in “apocalyptic” situations. The hypocrisy of the capitalist classes in the West has been laid bare.

As it has with their inability to tackle the momentous task of climate change. US President Joe Biden billed his Inflation Reduction Act as a ‘road to the green transition’, but oil and gas production has hit a record high while bosses’ profits have tripled during his time in office. In reality, it is about protecting the US economy at the expense of their rivals – particularly China.

Hannah explained: “What a condemnation of capitalism – that an issue that can be only solved on the basis of international cooperation is used as a lever for protectionist measures.”

The shift from a unipolar world, in which for a brief period the US was able to play a completely dominant role in geopolitics, to an increasingly multipolar world, in which China and other powers begin to jostle for position, adds fuel to the fire of crisis-ridden capitalism. The end of the era of ‘cheap money’ with low interest rates, the level of indebtedness of the global economy, and feeble growth, stagnation or recessions show new financial shocks, wars or other events could lead to a deep crisis in the global economy.

While a few at the top have got richer, the majority of people in the US have not seen the benefits of growth. The presidential election later this year may well return Trump to the White House – what a condemnation of the representatives of the capitalism.

The sick system of capitalism, with investment in production, science and technique at historic lows, is fuelling rage against the system. Two thirds of young people in Britain consider themselves socialist. In the US it is 44%. We are clear, the need for a socialist transformation of society is well overdue.

Alongside capitalist misery, we are also seeing the working class, the only class capable of replacing capitalism with socialism, begin to stamp itself on events in some countries. In October, 4.5 million days were lost to strike action in the US, the highest for decades. In Germany, Canada, Northern Ireland and Argentina, just to name a few, the working class has taken action.

Among the contributions during the discussion, the uprisings in Sudan and Sri Lanka were brought up to show that people will move into action, and movements can decisively hold power, but without the right leadership and programme, these opportunities can be lost.

War on Gaza

And this was true of the momentous mass movements that spread across North Africa and the Middle East during the Arab Spring of the early 2010s. While the brutal war on Gaza continues, the need for a new Arab Spring, fighting for a socialist programme is clear.  Egyptian President Sisi is building new refugee camps in the Sinai desert – new prisons for fleeing Palestinians. The interests of Palestinians won’t be fought for by the capitalist leaders of Middle Eastern countries.

A mass movement, fighting to break from capitalism and landlordism, would have a massive impact on Palestine and within Israel itself, with the potential to split society on class lines. Israeli capitalism isn’t capable of providing safety, security and prosperity to the Israeli working class. Only on a socialist basis, which respects the rights to self-determination of people across the region, can war and poverty be ended.

As Tony Saunois, secretary of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), who replied to the discussion said, against a backdrop of capitalist crisis, social disintegration in many countries, with famines caused by climate change, disruptions to supply chains and ultimately profit, broad support for socialist ideas can grow. The importance of the CWI’s work now, to build the embryos of new mass parties of the working class prepared to take the steps needed to replace rotten capitalism with international socialism, is clear.

Britain in turmoil

Many of the worldwide processes discussed are being posed particularly sharply in Britain. Judy Beishon, introducing the discussion on Britain, started by describing the sickness and crisis of British capitalism, compared to other advanced capitalist countries. This has made it harder than ever for the capitalist class to hold back working-class struggle.

The Tories are in complete disarray, a “broken tool for British capitalism” there is no “major issue that has not caused crisis for the Tories.” And there are a lot of points of crisis; the longest sustained fall in living standards in 70 years – since records began; 11 million people facing food insecurity. Public services “cut into the bone” – sharply seen in the NHS. And the crisis in local government funding, the meeting heard from delegates involved in fights against the cuts in places including Nottingham and Birmingham, where the Labour-led councils’ unwillingness to fight has meant massive budget cuts and council tax hikes being proposed.

All of these issues, as well as the brutal job losses at Tata Steel, will land on the desk of a Starmer-led government on day one. Judy made the point that Starmer will come to power not due to enthusiasm for a Labour government but due to the widespread hatred of the Tories. The next government will take power with an economy that has no prospect for sustained and healthy growth. And as Judy put it: “Starmer won’t emerge from a chrysalis as a Robin Hood butterfly when he comes to power.” The dropping of the £28 billion green investment target and repeated assurances they will govern with ‘fiscal responsibility’ show already the nature of a Starmer-led government.

But Starmer will come to power with the organised working class having flexed its muscles in the strike wave. In a separate discussion on the Socialist Party’s work in the unions, Rob Williams, industrial organiser, took stock as the first stage of the strike wave comes to an end. Spurred into action by the cost-of-living crisis, the fight of hundreds of thousands of workers over pay exploded the working class back onto the scene after a period of relatively low struggle. And, when action was taken, better offers from Sunak or the employers were won.

The role of Socialist Party members in a number of unions to push for coordinated action, with strategies to fight and win were discussed. Congress applauded after hearing the result of Sheila Caffrey standing for vice-president of the NEU getting an impressive 5,500 votes in runner-up position.

Starmer-led government

Working-class action will face a Starmer-led government as the hope against hope that ‘anything’s better than the Tories’ comes up against reality. Already some sections of workers and young people are concluding the need to build an alternative. Judy highlighted that the protests in Britain against the war on Gaza have been some of the largest. The effects of these demonstrations have been to remove a home secretary from power and increase the splits in the Tories, and to, amongst a significant section, deepen the unpopularity of Keir Starmer. As one delegate put it, the refusal to call for a ceasefire vote in November was for Starmer like the ‘Iraq War moment’ was for Blair, but before he’s even taken power!

Rochdale by-election

The congress took place days after George Galloway won the Rochdale by-election, reflecting a rejection of establishment political parties.  Tories, the Liberal Democrats, and Labour – whose ‘disowned’ candidate Azhar Ali still appeared at the top of the ballot paper as Labour, next to the rose emblem – mustered just 26.7% between them. Sunak’s impromptu public address the following evening shows the capitalist class is shaken by the result. But Sunak’s attempts to whip up racism and division in response will only make it worse for the bosses.

While the Socialist Party has important disagreements with Galloway over programme and approach, his election has placed the idea that anti-war candidates can stand in opposition to the establishment on the front pages. Clive Heemskerk, editor of Socialism Today, in the reply to the discussion, highlighted that the key now was to develop such electoral breakthroughs towards the task of building a new mass workers’ party that is capable of uniting the working class, which Galloway’s previous election victories have not achieved. But as the editorial of the March edition of Socialism Today states: “On the basis of collaboration with others in the trade union and socialist movement, George Galloway and the Workers’ Party could contribute to [the process of building a new mass party of the working class]”.

This year’s elections

Flowing from the perspectives discussed, the congress dealt with the tasks relating to this year’s elections. While the majority of people will vote Labour as the best way they can see to get the Tories out, pointing towards a working-class alternative is vital. The Socialist Party is part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), which brings together socialists, trade unionists and campaigners under a common banner in elections, organised around a core policy platform giving groups the flexibility to produce their own material and demands from this base. It came out of over a decade of work to fight for working-class political representation under a Blair government. As Lenny Shail, Socialist Party campaigns organiser, made clear in his introduction to the discussion, TUSC isn’t a new mass workers’ party, but can play an important role in the fight to build one, particularly in the fight for trade unions to take steps to stand candidates that will fight in their interests when plainly the Labour Party isn’t.

In this year’s local elections, Labour councillors have no excuse not to fight the cuts from the Tory government and send the bill to a future Starmer government. The appeal for all campaigners and trade unionists to stand in these elections, to provide a pole of attraction to anti-cuts and anti-war campaigners was made.

The general election later this year will be an important opportunity to raise socialist ideas and the need for a new mass workers’ party in general. The Socialist Party plans to stand candidates under the TUSC umbrella, and hopes to work with others to meet the 100-candidate threshold for fair media coverage. To fund the Socialist Party’s campaign in this election a financial appeal was launched to pay for leaflets, posters, public meeting venues and the resources we need to put forward a fighting socialist alternative in opposition to the pro-capitalist establishment.

Fighting to build the Socialist Party

The leaflets, papers and placards snapped up at protests against the war on Gaza; new reps and members organising and taking strike action for the first time; and the impact a Starmer-led government will have on working-class consciousness, all point to the need and ability to build a party capable of taking a lead and fighting for socialism.

Delegates voted for and agreed documents on perspectives for struggle in Britain – and flowing from that, priorities and tasks for building the Socialist Party to push struggle forward. Documents, which had been discussed in branches across England and Wales, were amended and agreed. And a new National Committee, to guide the Socialist Party in between national congresses, was elected. Socialist Party members pledged £12,922 to help fund the fight for socialism over the next period.

Delegates and visitors came away from an inspiring weekend ready to fight for socialist change. The massive opportunities to win support for the ideas of socialism and Marxism are posed in the next period. If you want to be a part of that fight, join us today.