Workers Hammer No. 210
No vote to Labour, party of racism and war!
Labour plans deeper cuts than Thatcher
Troops out of Iraq, Afghanistan!
Down with racist "war on terror"!
From the standpoint of the working people, it makes no difference whether Gordon Brown’s Labour Party or David Cameron’s Tories win the general election. Both parties are committed to the brutal imperialist occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and to the “war on terror” against Muslims at home, while each strives to outdo the other in racist hostility to immigrants. Above all, both are committed to fleecing the working people to pay for the enormous deficit in Britain’s public finances.
The 2008 financial meltdown and the worldwide crisis that followed had a devastating impact on the British economy. The burden, which is being heaped onto the British working class, is proportionally higher than elsewhere largely because Britain’s financial sector is so bloated relative to the rest of the economy. With public borrowing as a share of national income forecast to be the highest in the G20 group of the largest world economies, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, and a budget deficit that is higher than that of Greece, the European Commission warned that Britain must take tougher measures to cut its deficit by 2015.
Both Labour and Tories know that to tell the truth about the state of the economy would be suicidal in electoral terms. But whoever forms the next government will implement massive public spending cuts and chancellor Alistair Darling has admitted that Labour will cut “deeper and tougher” than Margaret Thatcher did in the 1980s. Since the beginning of the present economic crisis, half a million people have lost their jobs and according to one estimate a British property is repossessed every eleven minutes. Economic analyst John Lanchester sums up the situation saying: “We had the longest period of sustained economic growth since records began, followed by the longest period of sustained economic contraction since records began, all of it under the leadership of a government that repeatedly and explicitly promised ‘an end to boom and bust’” (“The Great British Economy Disaster”, London Review of Books, 11 March). Lanchester predicts cuts amounting to around eleven per cent across the board, rising to 16 per cent in certain areas, which he notes are of a magnitude never before achieved in this country, while “a two-year freeze in NHS spending — which is what Labour have talked about — would be its sharpest contraction in 60 years”. Meanwhile the Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates spending cuts of up to 25 per cent.
We say: No vote to Labour, party of the City bankers and of imperialist murder and pillage in Iraq and Afghanistan, of vile racism against immigrants and minorities and contempt for the working class at home. When Labour won a landslide victory in 1997, in contrast to the euphoria amongst the reformist left, we vehemently opposed any support to Tony Blair’s Labour Party. Our 21 April 1997 election statement titled “For a revolutionary workers party! For a federation of workers republics in the British Isles!” said:
“ The Spartacist League/Britain says unequivocally: No Vote to New Labour in the general election! New Labour is pledged to maintaining the sickening reality of life under capitalism — keeping the unions in shackles, slashing welfare programmes, waging war on workers, racial minorities and immigrants, women and youth — everybody who is consigned to the bottom of the heap by rotting British capitalism. Blair’s ‘contract with Britain’ is a pact with the bloated City of London, where vast wealth is generated from profits extracted through exploitation of workers around the world.”
— Workers Hammer no 156, May/June 1997
The working class needs a party that fights for its own class interests. We fight for a multiethnic revolutionary workers party, part of a Leninist-Trotskyist international, dedicated to the task of fighting for socialist revolution to overthrow the capitalist order. Boom-and-bust cycles are endemic to the capitalist system itself which is also the root cause of all exploitation and oppression. Fundamental change in the interests of the working people can only come about through revolutionary internationalist class struggle which must shatter the framework of capitalism worldwide. Socialist revolution will lay the basis for rationally planned economies based on production for need, not for profit and for a qualitative development of the productive forces, opening the road to the elimination of poverty, scarcity and want and to the creation of an egalitarian socialist society.
Labour government racism bolsters BNP
The run-up to the election has been marked by an ominous increase in fascist activity. On the one hand the British National Party (BNP) has been running a high-profile election campaign, spreading racist filth against immigrants and Muslims, while on the streets the English Defence League (EDL) has been staging violent anti-Muslim provocations in various cities. A protest by Unite Against Fascism (UAF) against the EDL in Bolton on 20 March was viciously attacked by the police who arrested prominent leftists and anti-fascists. UAF leader and Socialist Workers Party (SWP) member Weyman Bennett was held by police on outrageous charges of “conspiracy to commit violent disorder” (Morning Star, 22 March). We say: Drop the charges against Weyman Bennett and all anti-fascist protesters!
Fascists are paramilitary shock troops dedicated to racist terror who aim to smash the organisations of the working class. BNP and EDL provocations must be met with massive protests, centred on the trade unions mobilised in defence of Muslims, immigrants and all their intended victims. However, Marxists understand that the decaying capitalist system breeds the social conditions for the growth of the fascists, thus the struggle against fascism is inseparable from the fight for socialist revolution. Mobilising the social power of the multiethnic working class in a fight for jobs and for the rights of immigrants and minorities is anathema to the pro-capitalist trade union bureaucracy, which aims to keep the unions tied to the capitalist order. The fascists have intervened heavily into the chauvinist strikes against foreign workers that began at Lindsey oil refinery in January 2009 under the slogan of “British jobs for British workers”. This has long been a rallying cry of the fascists (see “Down with reactionary strikes against foreign workers!” Workers Hammer no 206, Spring 2009).
Disgracefully, these strikes were championed by the Socialist Party as well as by the Unite trade union bureaucracy and by Bob Crow, leader of the RMT. These unions — which consist of white, black and Asian workers — have enormous potential power that can hit the capitalists where it hurts. But Crow and the leadership of Unite have kept the lid on class struggle under Labour and the Unite bureaucrats have done their utmost to sell out their members who are on strike against British Airways (see “Shut down Heathrow Airport!” page 12).
Unions: defend immigrants!
Responsibility for the racist climate that has bolstered the fascists rests squarely with the Labour governments of the last 13 years. Under Labour, the imperialist occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and the “war on terror” at home elevated anti-Muslim racism to unprecedented levels. Liberal journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown in her Independent column (8 March) bitterly complains that the British establishment “has surpassed its previous disgraceful record”, treating Muslims as “contemptible creatures, devalued humans”. The indifference of Gordon Brown (and Tony Blair) to the countless Iraqis killed and indiscriminately bombed, Alibhai-Brown says, only confirms that “native Iraqis are grains of sand to those who executed the imperial war”. Even while the press is filled with revelations showing that “terror suspects” are routinely tortured abroad with the connivance of the British secret services, Muslim youth in Britain are being served with serious prison sentences for protesting against the murderous Israeli attack on Gaza last year (see article, page three).
Labour removed some of the most basic rights from asylum seekers, replacing meagre welfare benefits with food vouchers. Among other things, those incarcerated in detention centres are denied access to healthcare; other asylum seekers have been “dispersed” to sink estates such as Glasgow’s Red Road flats where in early March a Russian family — Serge Serykh, his wife Tatiana and her son — tragically threw themselves to their deaths from a tower block, having been refused leave to remain in Britain. This tragedy is not unusual, as Guardian columnist Deborah Orr points out, noting “the fact that the three had to chuck down a large wardrobe before they jumped, to break the anti-suicide netting that had been installed, is an indication that they were not the only people in the vicinity who were considered to be in danger of finding their lives intolerable” (“Who is really to blame for the Glasgow suicides?”, Guardian, 11 March).
Britain’s “flexible labour market” is heavily dependent on immigrant workers who work for pitiful wages in a climate of racist hostility. The sub-human conditions endured by workers in the meat processing industry — which is worth hundreds of millions of pounds and employs almost 90,000 people — was the subject of a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. A Guardian article titled “‘I’m not a slave, I just can’t speak English’—life in the meat industry”, summarised the condition of these workers, many of whom are immigrants, predominantly from Eastern Europe, saying:
“Pregnant women being forced to stand for long hours in factory production lines without breaks, or perform heavy lifting under threat of the sack; meat factory workers having frozen hamburgers ‘like stones’ thrown at them by line managers; women with heavy periods being refused toilet breaks so that they bled on their clothes on the production lines; workers with bladder problems refused breaks so that they urinated on themselves, workers exposed to verbal and physical abuse.”
— Guardian, 13 March
The unions must organise immigrant workers and demand equal pay at the highest going rate for all work, no matter who does it! Down with reactionary strikes against foreign workers! No deportations! Full citizenship rights for all immigrants!
Under the slogan of Karl Marx: “Workers of all countries unite!”, immigrant workers from Eastern Europe must become a bridge to proletarian internationalist opposition to the European Union, a bosses’ conglomerate designed to bludgeon the multiethnic working classes of all Europe.
No vote to Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition!
Following a long period when it seemed likely that Labour would lose big in the general election, in recent months the Tory lead has been narrowing. At the mere hint of a rise in Labour’s fortunes, the reformist left — including Workers Power and the SWP — jumped to attention, calling for a vote to the rotten Labour Party, to “keep the Tories out”. But calling for a vote to Labour in 2010 is hard to stomach for many. Notably it caused something of an uproar in the ranks of the SWP, an organisation that, since its inception over half a century ago, has voted Labour without fail. The SWP cites the age-old excuse that “over the last 50 years the majority of working class voters, between 50 and 60 percent, consistently vote Labour. Just over 4 million trade unionists are affiliated to Labour — the unions remain the biggest source of funds for the party”. Moreover, these consummate Labourites assert that: “To sit in a canteen, staff room or office and say there’s no difference between the Tories and Labour cuts you off from some of the best people around you. You will look like you are some sect on the fringe.” Heaven forbid. Better to vote for the party of imperialist occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, the party which lavished benefits on the City bankers and which is running on its willingness to shove massive public spending cuts down the throats of working people.
The SWP is also supporting the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (Tusc). One doesn’t have to be a Marxist to be repulsed by Tusc, which upholds the chauvinist strikes against foreign workers and counts among its luminaries prison officers’ leader, Brian Caton. Tusc is the successor to the No2EU coalition formed by the Socialist Party and RMT rail union leader Bob Crow for the European Parliament elections last year. We said “No Vote to No2EU”, whose campaign consisted of chauvinist protectionism. As a 22 May 2009 article on BBC News online put it: “NO2EU was born out of the ‘British jobs for British workers’ protests at the Lindsey oil refinery and its aim is to provide working class voters and trade union members with a left wing alternative to the British National Party”. Today Tusc’s list of candidates includes Keith Gibson of the Socialist Party, who played a leading role in the strikes at Lindsey. Moreover the Socialist Party and Bob Crow appear to decide who is eligible to join Tusc according to whether or not they supported the Lindsey strikes and/or the No2EU coalition. An article by the Socialist Party informs us that the SWP’s admission to Tusc was “not automatic” and explains:
“Bob Crow, reflecting the response of RMT militants as last year’s Lindsey strike unfolded, immediately and rightly condemned those ‘misrepresenting the strikers as xenophobic — a posh word for racist’ (in a letter to The Guardian, 6 February 2009). The SWP, on the other hand, criticised the strikes as ‘nationalist’.
“The SWP took a similar stance towards No2EU, the electoral body which was supported not just by the union tops but a big majority of RMT activists. These and other political mistakes by the SWP will not make winning support for TUSC easier inside the RMT, and other unions too.”
— Socialist, 3 February
The SWP tried to have it both ways on the Lindsey strike, claiming to oppose the slogan of “British jobs for British workers” while petitioning in the unions for support to the demands of the strike committee, which included a version of local jobs for local workers.
The Tusc leadership allowed the SWP to join, because workers “would naturally want to see the widest possible unity”, but both the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) and Workers Power, who applied to stand candidates under the Tusc umbrella, were turned down. As a condition of admission both groups were asked to provide membership figures, details of any members they have on union national executive committees who would support Tusc and a statement of “what recommendation did your organisation give, if any, on how to vote in the 2009 European elections” (letter from Tusc to CPGB, 3 February, published in Weekly Worker, 11 February). The CPGB answered that they did not call for a vote to No2EU, because it wasn’t for “working class unity on a European level”...so they voted Labour! The CPGB will of course vote for Tusc anyway, as well as for “Labour candidates who are prepared to call for an unconditional and immediate withdrawal of all British troops from Afghanistan and Iraq, and who pledge to oppose all cuts in public services and benefits” (Weekly Worker, 11 February).
In a recent split, the SWP lost three senior cadre — Chris Nineham, John Rees and Lindsey German, who criticised the SWP’s failure to build a mass electoral vehicle to replace old Labour. In her 13 February resignation statement, German, convenor of Stop the War, opined: “I believe the party leadership has systematically moved away from the perspective applied in the past decade, which has been so successful in building the anti capitalist and anti war movements.” Upholding the Respect coalition, an attempt to “try to build a left electoral alternative involving working class people, including Muslims” as “a courageous thing to do”, German laments “the abandonment of the methods of building pioneered by Tony Cliff ”, which he termed “bending the stick”. In the recent period the SWP has certainly bent the stick in every conceivable direction. But the SWP failed to grow out of the Socialist Alliance, the Respect coalition or the Stop the War Coalition and overall its numbers have declined, while the Socialist Party’s several years-long campaign for a “new mass workers party” has yet to get off the ground.
In the aftermath of counterrevolution in the former Soviet Union in 1991-92, these reformists have followed the rightward shifts of the mass reformist parties, notably the Labour Party, dropping any remaining lip service to socialism that might taint them by association with the Russian October Revolution. Yet despite their opportunist efforts they failed to cash in. The restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union, a bureaucratically degenerated workers state, and in the deformed workers states in Eastern Europe was a historic defeat for the working masses of the entire world in material terms. This counterrevolution, which ushered in the bourgeois ideological offensive that “communism is dead”, was supported by both the SWP and the Socialist Party.
The SWP as a tendency originated out of the anti-communist Cold War hysteria that accompanied the Korean War of 1950-53. Its founder, the late Tony Cliff, reneged on the Trotskyist position of unconditional military defence of the Soviet Union as well as the Chinese and North Korean deformed workers states against imperialist attack. This was a cowardly capitulation to the British bourgeoisie and to the Labour government that sent troops to Korea. See “The Bankruptcy of ‘New Class’ Theories” (Spartacist no 55 [English-language edition], Autumn 1999). The SWP actually played its small part in helping to create today’s political climate of post-Soviet reaction. In August 1991 when Boris Yeltsin’s imperialist-backed forces of counterrevolution staged a countercoup in Moscow, the SWP triumphantly proclaimed: “Communism has collapsed”, describing this as a fact that “should have every socialist rejoicing” (Socialist Worker, 31 August 1991).
We in the ICL fought with all our resources against capitalist restoration. During the unfolding political revolution in East Germany in 1989-90, we unconditionally opposed capitalist reunification with imperialist West Germany. We fought for political revolution in the East and socialist revolution in the West. Against Boris Yeltsin’s forces of counterrevolution in Moscow in August 1991 we headlined: “Soviet Workers: Defeat Yeltsin-Bush Counterrevolution!” We upheld the Trotskyist programme of unconditional military defence of the Soviet Union and the East European deformed workers states, and for workers political revolution to oust the Stalinist bureaucracies and replace them with regimes based on workers democracy and revolutionary internationalism. This is the programme we apply today to the remaining deformed workers states — China, Cuba, North Korea and Vietnam.
Counterrevolution in the Soviet Union has led to a profound retrogression in proletarian consciousness. Although it is uneven throughout the world, today even the most politically conscious workers in the capitalist countries by and large do not identify their struggles with the goal of socialism. Our task is to swim against the stream of today’s reactionary climate and to forge the nucleus of a revolutionary vanguard party. As Trotsky noted in his article “Stalinism and Bolshevism” (1937):
“Great political defeats inevitably provoke a reconsideration of values, generally occurring in two directions. On the one hand the true vanguard, enriched by the experience of defeat, defends with tooth and nail the heritage of revolutionary thought and on this basis attempts to educate new cadres for the mass struggle to come. On the other hand the routinists, centrists, and dilettantes, frightened by defeat, do their best to destroy the authority of revolutionary tradition and go backward in their search of a ‘New Word’.”
The British SWP’s “socialism” only ever amounted to pressuring the Labour Party and trade union bureaucracy who are wedded to British imperialism and to parliament. The old Labour Party was born out of a unique situation in which Britain’s industrial proletariat was a majority of the population. Thus Labour had a sufficiently large working-class vote to get elected to parliament as a majority government. This is no longer the case. As a reflection of Britain’s relative economic decline and also a product of the de-industrialisation policies pursued relentlessly both by Margaret Thatcher’s Tory governments and by New Labour since 1997, the majority of the population is no longer proletarian. Under Tony Blair in the 1990s the Labour Party began to sever its historic links to the trade union movement (while trying to keep the unions’ financial contributions to the party) and to cast around for the support of other social layers, particularly those who had swung to the Tories in the 1980s.
It was the political bankruptcy of old Labour that led to the rise of New Labour, which now stands discredited among workers after a prolonged period at the helm of a country in an economic mess. New Labour is a product of decades of attacks — including by Labour governments in the 1960s and 70s — on working people to break the power of the unions in an effort to improve the competitiveness of British capitalism. Labour was replaced by the Thatcher government in 1979 which prepared a showdown with the miners, culminating in the heroic year-long strike of 1984-85. Defeat in this battle was far from inevitable and was the result of the treachery of the Labourite union leaders, particularly the “left” leaders of the unions in rail and the docks who refused to organise solidarity strikes alongside the miners. The difficult conditions under which the British workers struggle today — including the anti-union laws — are the legacy of the defeat of that struggle and the fact that under the New Labour governments the leadership of the unions have refused to rock the boat with class struggle.
The British capitalist order is based on the dominance of the City of London and the middle-class English Home Counties over the former industrial heartlands of the north of England as well as the national oppression of Scotland and Wales. We oppose the reactionary United Kingdom, which is centred on the archaic institutions of the monarchy, the House of Lords and the established churches. We seek to build a multiethnic revolutionary workers party that fights to overthrow Westminster rule and replace it with a workers government. Abolish the monarchy, the established churches and the House of Lords! British troops out of Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan! For an Irish workers republic within a voluntary federation of workers republics in the British Isles!