The deepest crisis since the Great Depression, with its accompanying
financial, banking and sovereign debt crises, has opened up splits and
arguments not seen for generations. Where do they go from here? Savage
austerity, which threatens the weak recovery, or possibly pump-prime the
economy and risk market turmoil? That is their choice as the crisis
moves into its next dangerous phase. Under the topsy-turvy logic of
capitalism they are both right and both wrong. Whatever they do they
will not be able to cure this unsolvable and protracted crisis of the
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” – Alice
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.” – The Cheshire Cat
“In that direction lives a Hatter: and in that direction lives a March Hare. Visit either you like: they’re both mad.”
‘Alice in Wonderland’, Lewis Carroll
The dilemma facing Alice is very similar to the one facing the ruling class at the present time. The deepest crisis since the Great Depression, with its accompanying financial, banking and sovereign debt crises, has opened up splits and arguments not seen for generations. Where do they go from here? Savage austerity, which threatens the weak recovery, or possibly pump-prime the economy and risk market turmoil? That is their choice as the crisis moves into its next dangerous phase. Under the topsy-turvy logic of capitalism they are both right and both wrong. Whatever they do they will not be able to cure this unsolvable and protracted crisis of the system.
In Britain, they have chosen the road of austerity. The Coalition has embarked on the biggest programme of cuts since the 1920s. Hundreds of thousands will lose their jobs as budgets are slashed. The working class is to pay for the crisis not of their making. The Welfare State is being dismantled and privatised. The weakest and most vulnerable, the infirm, the poor and the unemployed will be ground into the dirt by this government of millionaires, while the bankers and rich parasites continue to receive massive state handouts.
While the Coalition plans to axe some £110bn in spending, the latest figures show that the banks are still being propped up by the taxpayer to the tune of £500bn, on which we must pay some £40bn in annual interest. At the same time, more than £7bn is being set aside for City bonuses in February and March, the very time when councils up and down the land will be introducing massive austerity cuts.
But the ruling class is sitting on a social volcano. Over the last 25 years, the working class has been remorselessly squeezed. Flexibility and casualisation became the standard as terms and conditions were continually undermined. Many workers have been faced with a race to the bottom, chasing ever lower paid jobs. All the politicians, who worshipped at the shrine of the “market economy” welcomed this onslaught. Workers were only able to keep their heads above water by taking on more and more amounts of debt. Eventually, Britain had the biggest credit card debt of any major industrialised country.
That situation came to an abrupt end in 2008-9 in the deepest slump since the 1930s. Now we are being asked to pay the price. This is not due merely to Tory ideology but reflects the parlous state of British capitalism itself. The ruling class cannot any longer afford reforms and is hell bent on counter-reforms.
We have entered an epoch of capitalist crisis similar to the inter-war period, with all the horrors that accompany it. Capitalism can no longer develop the productive forces, industry, technique and science, in any sustained way. This is the real meaning of the current crisis-ridden situation. No amount of tinkering with the capitalist system will alter this fact. The system will go from crisis to crisis with little respite. However, the working class cannot afford to abandon the gains of the past.
This means that we are entering a new epoch of struggle not seen for generations. The change has already begun. The magnificent movement of students and youth against the government was the biggest such mobilisation since the unrest of the 1960s. As if from nowhere, students took to the streets in every part of the country in unexpected numbers. Student demonstrations, protests and occupations took the Establishment by surprise. School students were also drawn into the struggle in their tens of thousands. In this struggle, they learned new lessons. They felt their power as they marched and fought in unison against the Coalition.
Despite growing police provocations they would not be intimidated. Police truncheons and police-mounted horses would not stop them. On the contrary, such actions increased their resolve.
The sight of violent disorder on the streets of London, quickly seized upon by the Tory press, did not have the intended effect of alienating public opinion. On the contrary, there is widespread sympathy for the students. Even the skirmish with the pampered royal parasites, Charles and Camilla, attracted sympathy. The open and underlying support for the students is a reflection of the general mood in society. This is no meaningless episode, but one of enormous importance. In “normal” times, such sympathy would be unthinkable, but these are not normal times.
Leon Trotsky long ago wrote about the importance of the student movement as a social barometer, which reflected the crisis of society. “During the development of the first Russian Revolution , we observed this phenomenon more than once, and we have always appreciated its symptomatic significance”, he explained.” Such revolutionary or semi-revolutionary student activity means that bourgeois society is going through a profound crisis. The petty-bourgeois youth, sensing that an explosive force is building up among the masses, try in their own way to find a way out of the impasse and to push the political developments forward.” (Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution, pp.58-59)
The students have been an inspiration and an example to follow, especially for the trade unions. The Labour movement has been in a prolonged winter sleep but is now beginning to stir. Pressures are building up as workers face attacks both from the Coalition and employers . Recently, tube drivers voted nine to one in favour of industrial action over changes to pay and conditions. London underground workers are in the middle of strike action over redundancies and other issues. Fire fighters are threatening further industrial action in London over employers’ attacks. More action is also expected at BA as negotiations face stalemate.
These disputes, which arise from the attacks of the bosses, need to be linked together. The unions should seriously prepare now to take on the Coalition, including the use of industrial action. With its austerity measures, the ConDem government has thrown down the gauntlet. The TUC needs to face the challenge by mobilising the entire trade union movement in a mass campaign to defeat the cuts. However, instead of preparing the fight, the TUC is engaged in talks in Downing Street with the Cameron government. The Coalition is laying a trap, hoping to ensnare the union leaders. “The TUC refused to say who would attend [the meeting], amid expectations that some may veto the gathering. But it is understood that Len McCluskey, new general secretary of Unite, will be among them”, reported the FT (20/12/10). As it happens snow put paid to him attending but others were present.
How can such a timid meeting with the class enemy benefit the working class? What signal does it give the Labour movement? Cameron has made it clear that there is no alternative to the austerity cuts. The TUC leaders say the cuts are unnecessary but no amount of sweet-talk will make the Coalition change its mind. “It was nice talking to you Gentlemen, but we need to get on with the affairs of government.” Cameron will say as they are shown the door empty-handed. This discussion is pointless so far as working people under attack is concerned.
There should be no talks with this government. The Tories will see such meetings as a sign of weakness and weakness invites aggression. There is only one thing they will listen to – militant action. With a nightmare facing millions of workers, the TUC should be preparing to fight back. The students are showing far more resolve and fighting spirit than the union leaders. By their actions the students shook the Coalition government and split the Lib-Dem forces down the middle. This is despite the fact that the students do not possess any industrial muscle. However, the trade union movement, composed of several million members and their families, is potentially an invincible force. Nothing moves without their permission. The unionised power workers alone can shut down the country and we saw that they were prepared to take action recently in solidarity with striking construction workers. All that is needed is a fighting lead from the top of the movement.
Together with such leadership, the movement also needs to be armed with a clear programme. The austerity cuts arise from the crisis of capitalism, which cannot any longer afford reforms. The Coalition has embarked on the cuts in order to restore the fortunes of British capitalism. While the banks are bailed-out to prop up the capitalist system, it is the working class that has to pay. That is the logic of the “market economy.”
The Coalition government is a capitalist government, the “executive committee” of the ruling class. Its actions are dictated by the interests and needs of the capitalist system. Their cuts will certainly undermine the market and endanger the recovery but they are caught in the contradictions of their profit-driven system. Whatever they do will be wrong as this is no temporary problem but lies at the root of the whole capitalist system worldwide. No amount of tinkering will resolve this crisis. The solution required is a fundamental change in society based on the socialist transformation of society.
Such action must include the nationalisation of the banks, finance houses and insurance companies, together with the 150 major monopolies that dominate the British economy. These should be placed under democratic workers’ control and management. This would allow us to draw up a socialist plan of production where the resources and talents of all can be put to use. On this basis, the fetters of capitalism could be cast aside and production geared to need and not profit. Rather than capitalist austerity, we would see a massive rise in living standards for everyone. That is the real alternative for working people and youth. On a capitalist basis, there can only be misery, crisis and hardship.
The present position in Britain is the calm before the storm. In 2011 all hell will be let loose. The working class has no alternative but to fight. On the road of capitalism there is no way forward.