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From The Socialist newspaper, 31 March 2010

What we think

Stop the cuts, build a socialist alternative

Last week the Financial Times angrily dismissed the "absurd belief" of the 75% of the population who do not support cuts in public services. In general, when the capitalist media and politicians unite to declare that a lie is truth, the resulting avalanche of propaganda means that sections of the population at least partially swallow the lie, particularly when there is no mass socialist party to put an alternative.

Sometimes, however, instinctive opposition to an idea is so deep that wide sections of the working class stubbornly refuse to buy it. When this happens mass movements are on the agenda. This will be the case on cuts. Inevitably the relentless reiteration of the necessity of wielding the axe has had some temporary effect, particularly where cuts are not yet concrete, but despite the avalanche of propaganda, the latest polls show that a majority now oppose cuts.

Already civil servants, railway workers, BA cabin crew and others are refusing to bow down in the face of attacks on pay, conditions and jobs. This does not yet represent a return to the level of strikes in the 1970s - despite the hysteria of the right-wing tabloids - but it is a foretaste of what is to come. Beyond the general election, as in Greece, Spain, Ireland and Iceland, huge anti-cuts movements are on the cards.

Since Britain's economy stuttered into growth, national income has grown by 27 billion - 24 billion of that is made up of increased profits and only 2 billion from increased wages. The next government, of whichever political stripe, will be determined to make sure that it is the working class that continues to pay the price for the economic crisis.

Alistair Darling's budget was designed to show that New Labour would cut more 'fairly' than the Tories. In reality though, its central message was that New Labour would cut 78 billion from public services over the next four years. Accurately described by Darling as "deeper and tougher" than Margaret Thatcher's, these would be the deepest cuts since the early 1920s. Cuts in 'non ring-fenced' parts of the public sector would reach 25% over six years. Yet these appalling figures are 'optimistic' in that they are based on Darling's overly upbeat predictions for the economic growth.

Nor did Darling's budget have any real measures to help working class people. It is true that stamp duty relief for first time buyers whose properties are worth between 175,000 and 250,000 (they already had exemption for properties under 175,000) is being paid for by increased stamp duty on the rich - those whose properties are worth over 1 million. However as only a small minority of first time buyers will be buying houses in that price bracket, it will do little to help the housing crisis. What is needed is a mass council house building programme combined with real assistance for people who cannot pay their mortgages.

Labour supports big business

New Labour's slavish support for big business ruled out them announcing this kind of real 'vote winners'. Nonetheless, a large majority of big business funding has shifted from New Labour to the Tories, reflecting the belief that a Tory government would act more effectively in their interests because New Labour is now a broken reed. The capitalist class is anxious to have a strong government beyond the general election in order to force through dramatic cuts in workers' living standards and public services, in the face of mass opposition.

However, whatever the parliamentary arithmetic after 6 May, it will not add up to a strong government. Even a Tory majority government would have a weak social base, elected because of anger with New Labour rather than support for the Tories. However, as the Tories' poll lead slips away, a Tory majority looks increasingly uncertain.

The Tories' initial election strategy was to say they would cut faster and even more viciously than New Labour. This is probably true, but when Darling is saying that New Labour's cuts would lead to "two parliaments of pain", promising greater cuts is not going to win votes.

Tory shadow chancellor George Osborne's pledge to reverse the increase in national insurance could potentially gain some support for the Tories - except that they are promising to pay for it with an 'extra' 7 billion of cuts. Particularly for older workers, this reawakens painful memories of the brutal anti-working class policies of Thatcherism. Terrified of a 1992 in reverse (when the Tories narrowly held on to power) Tory leader Cameron and Co. have recently tried to tone down their baying for cuts. These changes are making them look economically incoherent.

A New Labour minority government or a coalition of New Labour with the LibDems are growing possibilities. Less likely is a LibDem/Tory coalition, as this could provoke a split in the LibDems, which would tie Clegg's hands no matter what his personal preferences are.

Even a grand coalition of all three establishment parties cannot be ruled out if it appears the only means by which the capitalists' programme can be carried out. Of course, this would leave a huge space for other ideas to develop, including socialist ideas on the basis of the development of a new mass workers' party. For this reason the strategists of capitalism would rather avoid such a broad coalition at this stage unless there is a complete economic collapse, in which case all options would be possible.

But whether they are formally in coalition or not, after 6 May the three main parties will act as a 'cuts coalition' when it comes to attacking the working class. Any party which promotes the logic of the market is going to carry out a programme of vicious cuts. However, the working class will not accept that logic.

There is nothing inevitable about big business succeeding in its programme of cutting our public services. The more far-sighted strategists of capitalism realise this. In its editorial on 22 March the Financial Times pleaded with Cameron and Brown to spell out the cuts they are planning, saying that if cuts begin "without Britons being given a choice about how [cuts] should occur - or even a warning - they will be justifiably enraged, so making the task even harder". The problem for capitalism, of course, is that if the population were given a choice they would not choose cuts - cuts are being forced down the throat of working and middle-class people, and they will undoubtedly be "justifiably enraged".

Defeat the cuts

The job of socialists is to help organise and channel that rage into a movement that can defeat the cuts. It is also to raise the need for a socialist alternative. Alan Greenspan, head of the US federal reserve during the boom years - once treated as a god by capitalists and now reviled as being responsible for the crisis - recently excused his role in the crisis by saying: "Unless there is a societal choice to abandon dynamic markets and leverage for some sort of central planning, I fear that preventing bubbles will in the end turn out to be unfeasible. Assuaging their aftermath seems to be the best we can hope for."

Greenspan is right, capitalism, an unplanned blind system driven by profit and not by social need, will always have periods of 'irrational exuberance' and periods of crisis like at present. Anxious to restore their profits, the capitalists' way out of the crisis will always be to try to trample working class people a bit further into the dirt.

As a result, a growing number of people will indeed draw the conclusion that what is needed is 'some sort of central planning' - a democratic socialist society, planned to meet the needs of humanity and the environment.

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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.
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In The Socialist 31 March 2010:

We will not pay!

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Stop the cuts, build a socialist alternative

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