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Socialism 2006 featured discussions and debates which focused on the key issues facing socialists today. We carry reports from some of those sessions in the socialist this week and next. We also feature some of your comments and letters about the weekend.
How can the consequences of globalisation be combated?
This Socialism 2006 discussion forum saw around one hundred people pack in to hear Simon Tormey (Centre for the Study of Global and Social Justice), Andrew Glyn (author of Capitalism Unleashed) and Lynn Walsh (editor of Socialism Today - the Socialist Party's monthly magazine) debate the key questions posed for socialists in a globalised world.
There was common agreement from the speakers and the audience that globalisation has sharpened and made more obvious the inequalities and contradictions of capitalism. This arguably new phase of capitalism has seen an increased polarisation of wealth between the northern and southern hemispheres and further class polarisation within the 'privileged' north. This is a result of attacks on the welfare states of Europe, the privatisation of natural resources like water in Latin America, increased environmental destruction and ongoing war and terrorism the world over.
Andrew Glyn expertly outlined the features of this new form of capitalism but it was Lynn Walsh who gave a clear analysis of the roots of globalisation in the shifting balance of class forces and underlying changes in technology from the late 1970s and 1980s, leading to new global social relations. Therefore, neo-liberal globalisation is not simply a change in policy by the capitalist class but the result of a more profound change in the structure of capitalism.
This was a crucial point in the debate as it makes arguments from those who believe that we should try and reform capitalism in order to return to its supposed 'golden age' between 1950 and 1973-74 very problematic. It was issues in this vein that occupied most of the meeting - which way forward for socialists in a globalised world?
Simon Tormey argued that forms of struggle and the approach socialists should take need to change in the context of a globalised world. Simon argued around three core points. 'Dis-aggregation' - that traditional forms of organisation (political parties, trade unions etc) with a clear structure and purpose are increasingly irrelevant and that looser 'networks' are more appropriate today; 'de-ideologisation' - 'big ideas' like Marxism no longer hold much appeal; 'diversity' - rather than organising along class lines new movements build cross-class alliances to campaign.
This argument provoked a large number of contributions from the audience. Some speakers pointed out that it was a response to the features of the 1990s. These features flowed from the collapse of Stalinism and the throwing back of the idea that society could be organised in a different way. The capitulation of the leadership of the trade unions and traditional workers' parties, such as the Labour Party in Britain, to an accommodation with 'the market' led to a relatively low level of class struggle. The attitudes and methods of non class-based movements, such as the anti-capitalist movement, were elevated and generalised as the new way forward for struggle by political theorists such as Simon.
Lynn pointed out that Simon's approach was a repetition of 'soft-anarchism', originating in the 1960s, and was based on a superficial examination of society. Other speakers from the audience highlighted that class struggle, as expressed in trade union organisation and action, had turned a corner and was on the increase again and that new workers' parties were in the first stages of being built in a number of countries around the world.
Lynn concluded by emphasising that the fundamental relationship between workers and capital is unchanged, so the ideas and methods of Marxism will inevitably come to the fore again.
Hopefully the debate can continue at Socialism 2007! Tickets on sale now!
26 Feb Austerity kills
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