Socialist Party documents

Perspectives for Britain and the world 2009

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Youth fight back

We have a special responsibility towards the new generation. As pointed out before, they will face problems of a character and a scale that their counterparts of the last 60 years did not.

The upheaval in education, both in Britain and in Europe, is a harbinger of what is to come. The students are the 'light cavalry of the revolution'. The ferment amongst this layer is an indication of the deeper processes of revolt amongst the masses which is waiting for the opportunity to express itself.

The situation in Britain is not yet of a 'revolutionary' character or even pre-revolutionary in this period.

But that situation could rapidly develop - much quicker than even the Marxists anticipate - and one of the barometers of coming upheavals is always the movement of young people.

The students have their own specific issues, provoked by the attempt of the European ruling classes to take back whatever concessions were given in the past.

'Free education' has disappeared with the imposition of savage fees for universities implemented across Europe, inadequate educational facilities and the authoritarian dragooning of youth into the big business project, which is particularly evident in Britain, with the increasingly 'business ethos' of academies.

Moreover, like the Chinese peasant of old, burdened by colossal debts that could take decades to pay off, when they finally leave university they are confronted by fewer and fewer McJobs or unemployment - with the government expecting them to work in unpaid 'internships' for their benefits.

The intervention amongst young people in general is a life or death question for the Socialist Party and Marxism in general.

The battle on fees, which we have pioneered and will still play a crucial role in, is a vital issue that the youth in the party must throw themselves into, with the help of the older generation.

The long boom from which we are now emerging, with the ideological effects of the collapse of Stalinism, has meant that socialism and Marxism have remained unattractive for two or three generations.

But this new crisis of capitalism has created a layer, still small, who are interested in socialism, who have read socialist and even Marxist or Trotskyist literature, and who are looking for a Marxist combative organisation.

We must not hesitate to reach out to them, to involve them in a dialogue, in action above all, and in the process drawing them into the ranks of our party.

This necessarily involves us in a competition with others on the left, notably the SWP, who in their haughty, arrogant, petty bourgeois fashion, consider that the universities are 'theirs'.

But, preoccupied with their internal difficulties - which as our recent book demonstrates go wider than the debacle with Respect but are rooted in their false methods - they will nevertheless attempt to recruit from the colleges and student milieu.

In this arena, the new generation enters into debate and struggle largely with a blank sheet, with little knowledge of the antecedents of different left organisations.

The SWP has severe problems because it is not just a theoretical debate - which is crucial - but their record and the methods which underpin this, which have led to their setbacks.

They can attempt to bulldoze some into supporting them - and can get a certain echo from impatient, largely middle-class layers - but the more serious students will be more open to a patient but firm ideological approach, particularly in the sense of turning to and learning from the workers' movement, which will re-emerge in this situation.

At the same time, we must remember the words of Marx who warned his German followers not to be preoccupied with combating the influence of competing socialist organisations but to look towards the new, fresh layers of the working class, untouched by any organisation but just going into activity.

The great majority of students, even those who stand on the left, will not be immediately acquainted with the differences between the groups.

They will be looking for a fighting combative organisation with clear ideas, which is the image we must project in this decisive field.

At the same time, working-class youth, not yet engaged in struggle, will be affected by the general situation and will be compelled to look for explanations and answers.

In the first instance, this could develop, as in the past, amongst school students, angry at the education system, worried about future prospects in 'adulthood' and looking for ideas like ours.

It is not excluded that a similar movement amongst students can develop, as happened during the 1985 school students strikes, in which 250,000 young people came out in Britain.

From this field came a number of important cadres for Militant, later the Socialist Party, who still play a crucial role in the development of our party.

An anticipation of what could happen was shown in the school student movement against the Iraq war, which we initiated through Youth Against the War.

At the same time, it is not just the day-to-day, bread-and-butter issues that will motivate young people but in particular the overarching issue of the environment and the lasting legacy which could be bequeathed by capitalism to them and future generations.

The actions of protestors such as 'Plane Stupid' at Heathrow and other airports has highlighted the massive opposition to the extension of airports, which has even provoked splits within Brown's cabinet that could break out into the open in the next period.

What is striking is that even seemingly 'respectable' middle-class women have publicly stated on TV their preparedness to take 'unlawful' activity to prevent the building of a third runway at Heathrow and similar measures at Stansted with all the terrible environmental problems that flow from this.

If such 'direct action' becomes widespread it could have an effect on workers, particularly young workers, adopting similar methods.

However, we must warn against impatience, of those workers and young people who seek a short cut. A failure of the labour movement to win the new generation could mean that support for anarchist ideas could grow and even terrorist moods.

The inadequate right-wing leadership of the trade unions in Greece over many years, including the failure of the general strikes, has helped to feed a nihilistic mood amongst a section of young people.

We must counterpose to this the ideas of mass struggle, not pander to it like the SWP who, on their web site, glory in their alleged 'City riot' in London.

To save the environment means planning, something which is flatly contradicted by a continuation of the capitalist system.

Everybody wants to 'save the world' but this is impossible without the planning of resources on a national and international scale.

Of course, we have to adopt a transitional approach, demands carefully calibrated to deal with specific issues of the environment, as our comrades in Greece have done with 'Green Attack'.

Our pamphlets on the environment also provide a general analysis and the weapons for reaching the most thinking elements with a socialist perspective on the green issues and the environment in general.

Young people are highly sensitive as well to the issues of world peace, as shown by the massive demonstrations against the slaughter in Gaza, as well as to the desperate plight of the workers and peasants in the neo-colonial world, who during a boom face mass starvation and malnutrition which will only be compounded by this world crisis.

In the advanced countries, even in this crisis, we are used to speaking about the problems of Wall Street and now Main Street, but for many there is 'no street'.

This is the case in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Their prospects will become even dimmer on the basis of this crisis and part of our attempt to reach the new layer of the working class is to explain that charity, the numerous UN agencies, hardly make a dent in the irresistible rise in poverty and deprivation in these continents.

Under capitalism, it is like taking an egg cup to empty the ocean. We need to inspire them with a vision of a socialist world, which is the only way to begin to eradicate the diseases of poverty, mass unemployment or social deprivation in housing education and health, and abolish the obscenity of war and the colossal wastage of armaments.

In Britain, it is estimated that the minimal cost of the Iraq war has been at least 8 billion, enough to fund 25,000 teachers for ten years and to build 107 new hospitals.

In the US, the minimum wasted in the same 'theatre' has been 400 billion with an estimate by Joseph Stiglitz, formerly of the World Bank, that the total cost is a colossal $3 trillion! Spent on useful purposes, these amounts could begin to save the majority of the world's population and open up the vista of real and lasting improvements.

As Marxists, we also have the specific responsibility to approach working-class youth - even the few now who are able to find employment in industry.

Faced with mass unemployment among young people, combined with mass unemployment and huge 'skills gap', a consequence of deindustrialisation and the short-termism of British capitalism, the British government is going to attempt to shovel young people into an already decrepit education system and 'training schemes'.

These will invariably, as they were in the past, be at slave labour rates. McDonalds has already volunteered to take 10,000 'trainees' - literally McJobs. Therefore, we may have to revisit the battles we undertook against the Youth Training Scheme (YTS) in the 1980s.

At the same time, we should attempt to develop, as with the PCS, youth structures in the trade unions, which could provide a forum for young workers and lead the way for real fighting militants occupying an important place in the trade unions.

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