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From The Socialist newspaper, 4 March 2020

Socialist Party Congress 2020: A world in turmoil and weak British capitalism faces working-class anger

Socialist Party Congress 2020, photo Theo Sharieff

Socialist Party Congress 2020, photo Theo Sharieff   (Click to enlarge)

The Socialist Party national congress on 29 February and 1 March was a big success. 300 branch delegates and visitors attended and participated in the democratic discussion and debate.

They included members with decades of class struggle under their belts, and members who have taken the important step of becoming a party member more recently. All, as one young branch secretary put it, went away "politically refreshed" and more ready to play a role in the struggle for socialism.

The three main discussions at the congress were 'A World in Turmoil', 'Britain post-election' and 'Building the Socialist Party.

A party's ideas are tested in events and struggle - but so too is its determination to fight. This was reflected in the financial appeal which raised an excellent 17,129.

Building the struggle demands clear ideas and an understanding of society, and this was shown by members spending over 2,000 in the bookshop buying Marxist literature.

Importantly, the discussion on building the Socialist Party revealed that a new generation of members are becoming organisers and ambassadors for the party and the working class; selling the Socialist and raising finance, campaigning among young people who are at the sharp end of capitalist crisis, in the workplaces and trade unions, and in local communities.

A world in turmoil

Peter Taaffe, general secretary of the Socialist Party, opened the first session of discussion and debate at the party congress entitled: 'A world in turmoil'. The following excerpts touch on the main points Peter referred to.
France pensions strike, local demonstration in Noisy-le-Grand, 17.1.2020, photo James Ivens

France pensions strike, local demonstration in Noisy-le-Grand, 17.1.2020, photo James Ivens   (Click to enlarge)

This discussion of momentous events already occurring should be used as preparation for those events which will happen on a colossal scale in the future. World capitalism has entered a new period, perhaps a decisive period, of stagnation and decline. The whole world is in turmoil - some countries catastrophically so.

There are multiple enduring crises as the economy takes a downward turn. There are increased tensions in international relations and conflict between major powers. Imperialist appetites have accumulated and been stimulated. There is a looming environmental catastrophe, not the least decisive factor in ratcheting up class conflict.

As always, the situation in the world economy will be decisive. If the capitalists could deliver relative growth, they would expect a certain amount of social peace. But the first quarter has shown negative growth in China - the 'world's factory' - because of the enormous fallout from coronavirus.

We have entered a new era of what capitalist economists call 'de-globalisation', a term the Socialist Party and the CWI have previously used to predict that globalisation would reverse at a certain stage.

Recent weeks have seen a profound change in the economic situation. Nouriel Roubini, who along with us predicted the crash of 2007-08, has written articles in the Guardian and Financial Times warning of a downturn that confirms our analysis, but from a capitalist position.

The shine of 'emerging markets' has been tarnished while in the US and Europe manufacturing is in trouble. The effects of the coronavirus are as much economic as a health issue. It could have the same destabilising effect as the 'sub-prime' mortgages scandal.

From intensified economic competition follows the ratcheting up of conflict in world relations. There is a certain interdependence between the US and China but this will not stop world conflict or even small wars involving the US.

China is now the biggest telecoms manufacturer but also the most advanced. This is the real reason why Trump and US imperialism complain about Huawei, not primarily 'security' concerns.

Economic commentator Joseph Stiglitz has said the US economy is far behind the standards of other countries despite Trump unbelievably claiming most Americans feel better off.

Not just the political fates of the US, but also the world, to some extent, are tied to developments there and particularly this year's presidential election. If Trump wins then there will be a colossal crisis with an administration even more slanted in favour of the rich, which will face the accumulated anger of the masses.

'Gig jobs' amount to one-third of the jobs in the US. Most income gains have been swallowed up by debt and the increased cost of living, particularly affecting millennials and younger layers of the population, with the colossal accumulation of student and other forms of debt.

Political earthquakes

If Sanders wins the Democratic Party nomination - by no means certain - he could have the same effect as Corbyn in 2017, if he is bold. He will face a colossal scare campaign and mass antisocialist rhetoric, but even that may not work. The social composition of the US is changing against the right, particularly as it becomes less rural, more secular and younger.

The spectacular victory of Sinn Fein in the recent elections in Ireland reflects the desperate social situation there. Europe as a whole is facing its biggest crisis - particularly the workers' movement - probably since the 1970s. The collapse of two-party politics - especially support for classical social democracy - has been a continental phenomenon, including in Germany.

In Europe there is economic stagnation, with permanent mass unemployment - youth unemployment stands at 19.3 million - precarious work and poverty, particularly in the weaker economies like Greece.

At the same time, clashes reflect the increased tension and struggle over resources, as between Turkey against Greece and Cyprus over energy.

However, France has shown the colossal conflict between the classes as President Macron battles with the organisations of the working class over pensions, even with middle-class professionals like lawyers. The resistance to Macron can intensify involving movements of general strike proportions. If it develops in this way it can resonate throughout Europe.

Both Germany, with the resignation of the heir apparent to Merkel over collaboration with the far-right Alliance for Germany (AfD) in Thuringia, and France, with gains for the former National Front, now the National Rally (RN), raise theoretical and practical issues over fighting the far right.

But there is no possibility of classical fascism coming to power, even with right-wing populist leaders in office like Trump, Bolsonaro in Brazil and Modi in India - where the fascistic RSS has 100 million members used against Muslims and the labour movement.

Sometimes the whip of counterrevolution spurs the labour movement to react. The colossal general strike recently in India is perhaps the most important single development in Asia and the world.

As important are events in the Middle East. The recent Iranian election saw the hardliners in the regime come out on top. Trump is preparing for regime change and there may even be conflict, not necessarily classical battles but perhaps cyberwar.

Whatever follows, American imperialism will reap a whirlwind. The end of the Syrian civil war in Idlib is causing headaches for Erdogan and the Turkish regime. This is just a guarantee for further and bloodier continuation of the war in the region.

Mass struggles

Just months ago mass movements - which were non-sectarian at the outset - in Lebanon, Iraq and other countries rocked the region. These are anticipations of the emergence of the working class as the unifying force which could put its stamp on society.

Latin America remains a powder keg with the recent battles in Chile and other countries, as does Africa which is entering a very crucial new phase.

The Socialist Party will face to the working class and particularly the youth, to build the base for the construction of a mass international and a socialist world.

British capitalism: Weak, divided, and facing the wrath of the working class

Storm clouds are gathering for Johnson's government, photo Maurice/CC

Storm clouds are gathering for Johnson's government, photo Maurice/CC   (Click to enlarge)

Hannah Sell, Socialist Party deputy general secretary

In the aftermath of the general election, the capitalist class in Britain is, in the main, sighing with relief after the nightmare of 2019. It is hoping that a Tory majority government - even led by an untrustworthy character - will result in a bit more stability.

Their hopes will be shattered - if not immediately, in the relatively near future. The resignation of a top civil servant threatening to take the government to an employment tribunal reflects the splits that exist.

In 1987, Thatcher was elected with a majority of 102 and seemed unassailable. But a year later we began the campaign against the poll tax with 18 million people refusing to pay. By the end of 1990, Thatcher and her tax were history.

The Tory Party of those days had far stronger social roots and popular support than is the case today.

Johnson won the election on the basis of promises that he will not be able to keep. The British economy is slowing - even before the consequences of coronavirus which might be the trigger for a major global economic slowdown.

For a decade, we have been told to tighten our belts on the understanding that at some time things will 'go back to normal'. So a new economic crisis, regardless of its depth, could have a seismic effect on the consciousness of working-class people.

The first crisis rehabilitated 'socialistic' ideas - in the form of Corbyn and Sanders. The next crisis will be a central factor in working-class people seeing the need for fundamental socialist transformation society.

But even without a world crisis - or the consequences of Brexit - the British economy is expected grow by only 0.8% this year. With divisions over taxation, spending and balanced budgets, the can might be kicked down the road, and the main decisions taken later in the year - by which time the economic and political space for manoeuvre will have shrunk further.

On top of the global economic problems there is Brexit. It is guaranteed that Johnson will disappoint those workers who voted for him 'to get Brexit done'. Whatever the outcome of the negotiations with the EU, it will result in further undermining workers' living conditions.

Events will be buffeted by eruptions of working-class anger. We have to be prepared for France and Chile 'coming to Britain'. And struggle could come from unexpected directions. The movements that have erupted globally have sometimes done so over seemingly secondary issues such as WhatsApp charges in Lebanon or metro fare increases in Chile.

France has just had a movement of the organised working class over pensions, but that was preceded by the inchoate uprising of the gilets jaunes.

Given the break of the right-wing trade union leaders, and the absence at this stage of a mass workers' party, we have to be prepared for all kinds revolts on social issues, such as the youth protests on the environment.

Currently, the trade union leaders - many of those on left as well as the right - are generally reeling from the defeat of Labour in the general election.

The rank-and-file trade unionist National Shop Stewards Network can play a very important role in the next period as a lever on the trade unions - putting forward a strategy for building fighting trade unions, including the building of a 'coalition of the willing' to fight any attempts by Johnson to introduce new anti-union laws

Younger workers see the need to fight. Most right now are not in trade unions but could be drawn in as struggles erupt in their sectors. Even now though, there are over a million trade union members under 35.

Worried about the road Johnson is going down, and considering him an unreliable representative of capitalist interests, a section of the capitalist class is clearly looking to try and ensure a safe 'second eleven' in the post-Corbyn era.

Former Tory chancellor George Osborne has now twice recommended Keir Starmer as Labour leader in the London Evening Standard. Starmer won't reveal who has funded his campaign because it would expose his big business backing.

There is not, however, widespread enthusiasm for Long-Bailey who is widely seen as lacking in backbone; bullied in minutes in a radio interview into saying she would the press the nuclear button; signing up to conservative Jewish Board of Deputies pledges and opening up the road to future witch hunts against the left. And nothing at all on the question of fighting council cuts!

At the moment, Starmer is the frontrunner in the race - winning the nomination of 369 constituencies compared to 161 for Rebecca Long-Bailey. It is still possible, however, that she could win. In that situation it would be necessary to call a mass conference of all those, inside and outside the party, who want to fight to transform Labour into a workers' party. This should be led by the left trade unions.

If Starmer wins, this will represent a right-wing 'counterrevolution' in the party, regardless of the more 'left' face he has been forced to present in order to try and win the contest. With Starmer as leader it would be necessary to find another route to the building of a mass workers' party in England and Wales.

Capitalism is in crisis, the ruling class is split and there is enormous discontent among working-class people.

The protests in Latin America, Middle East and across the channel in France have shown that the missing ingredient is a mass party tested in struggle, with an authority among the working class and a clear programme to give direction to those struggles and bring about a revolutionary change in society.

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Coronavirus crisis - Finance appeal

The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
  • Our 'fighting coronavirus workers' charter', outlines a programme to combat the virus and protect workers' living conditions.
  • When the health crisis subsides, we must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
Inevitably, during the crisis we have not been able to sell the Socialist and raise funds in the ways we normally would.
We therefore urgently appeal to all our viewers to donate to our special coronavirus appeal.

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In The Socialist 4 March 2020:


Covid-19: A socialist response to the Coronavirus crisis

International Women's Day 2020

International Women's Day: Fighting sexism and austerity

A legacy of women workers and the class struggle

Workplace news

Uni strikers determined to defeat the bosses

Defend the right to strike! Southampton solidarity meeting

Strike wave around London - this is why we need socialists in city hall

West London parking workers' strike

Charity workers' strike

Electricians pay victory

Anti-academy strikes kick off in Redbridge


Royal Glam A&E: Victory is within our grasp

What will we do if they cut Camden nurseries?

Labour councils miss opportunity to stop Tory cuts

30,000 strike for the climate in Bristol

Why I joined the Socialist Party: I resent the 1% and the system that allows them to exist

Secret cuts meeting couldn't prevent protests in Newham

Socialist Party Congress

Socialist Party Congress 2020: A world in turmoil and weak British capitalism faces working-class anger

International news

India: Bloody pogrom fuelled by Modi's sectarianism

Readers' opinion

The Socialist Inbox


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