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Socialist Party congress 2018
The Socialist Party's national congress 2018 took place in London on 10 and 11 March, attended by delegates and visitors from Socialist Party branches all over England and Wales, as well as from Socialist Party Scotland.
Below are reports of parts of the sessions on developments in the world and in Britain. We also discussed building the Socialist Party, had an update on the building fund and heard a report of the work of the Committee for a Workers' International. A fighting fund appeal raised £6,231.
World in crisis: volatility prepares the way for revolutionary upheavals
The Financial Times, mouthpiece of British capitalism, had published on the morning of the first day of congress, a piece on how relevant the Communist Manifesto is today. "We live," according to an Oxford University academic, "in the wake of a calamitous financial crisis and in the midst of whirlwind social change, a popular distaste of financial capitalists, and widespread revolutionary activity."
The conclusion? That if Marx and Engels were writing today, they would rename their work the 'Activist Manifesto' and tone down its explicit pro-working class and anti-capitalist message!
In leading off on 'world perspectives,' Socialist Party general secretary Peter Taaffe referred to this article but applied the real method of Marxism to analyse the world situation and show a way forward to building socialism internationally.
A wide-ranging discussion followed in which comrades elaborated on developments in South Africa, the Spanish state and Catalonia, Italy, Eastern Europe, Japan, China, Israel/Palestine and the US. Judy Beishon, from the Socialist Party's executive committee, replied to the discussion.
Peter explained that the most striking feature of the current period is the rapid and convulsive changes in the world today. They denote ultimately revolutionary upheavals at a certain stage, for which socialists should be prepared.
This is typified by the results of the elections in Italy, where populist parties gained the most votes, and forming a government will be difficult.
The Italian result could also be a blow to the 'EU project' of greater integration. Italy could even follow Britain out of the EU door.
The eventual formation of a coalition government in Germany between the right-wing Christian Democrats of Merkel and the Social Democrats took almost six months from the general election in which both these 'traditional' parties achieved their worst results since 1949.
What these outcomes show is that the capitalist class internationally cannot rule in the same way as it did in more stable times in the past, partly due to them not having reliable parties to do their bidding.
Most of Europe is similarly convulsed. The events of the last year in Catalonia have shown the volatile situation within the Spanish state. President Macron in France is conducting an offensive against the working class, which could lead to big battles there in the 50th anniversary of the revolutionary events of 1968 in that country.
Mass upheavals in the neocolonial world in the past few months are further indications of the speed of events today. The catastrophic war in Syria is terrible for ordinary people as the regional and world powers battle for 'supremacy'.
But Peter also referenced the recent mass movements in Iran and Tunisia as examples where the working class has lost their fear of the ruling class and their political representatives. Similar volatility shakes Africa and Latin America.
The biggest factor in the world situation today is undoubtedly Trump and US imperialism. The instability of his presidency is reflected in the standoff with North Korea, with no guarantee of success for the planned talks; the imposition of tariffs on steel, threatening retaliatory measures worldwide and affecting the international economy; and possible clashes with China, the world's second biggest economy.
In China itself, economic growth is fuelled by debt. This situation is unsustainable and will come to a head at a certain stage.
The country's leadership under President Xi Jinping have consolidated their powers, including scrapping term limits, to stifle the coming mass explosions.
Some of the capitalist class have talked about a new 'Gilded Age', similar to that at the turn of the 20th century dominated by so-called 'robber barons' like the
Rothschilds, Vanderbilts and Rockefellers. Today's billionaires - numbering just over 1,500 worldwide - are a new plutocracy and, in the words of the Financial Times' Martin Wolf, Trump represents 'Plutocracy populism'.
But Trump is mobilising the opposition against him, like the youth uprising against school massacres and a wave of teachers' strikes in West Virginia and other states.
The task of the Socialist Party and our sections in the Committee for a Workers' International is to prepare for big developments and build support for socialist forces worldwide. Realising socialism in Britain and worldwide, Peter concluded, is a goal worth fighting for!
Britain: Corbyn surges and Tories' weakness mean favourable terrain for socialists
The era we are living through - following the surges in support for Jeremy Corbyn, and with many young people talking about socialist ideas and consciously considering themselves on the left - is more favourable terrain for socialists to be organising on than we've had for many years.
As Socialist Party deputy general secretary Hannah Sell described in her introduction to the 'British perspectives' discussion: "After 30 years of nothing but establishment politicians supporting neoliberal ideas, we've now got John McDonnell putting the case for nationalisation of at least some utilities, and being attacked again in the Financial Times as 'singing a Marxist tune'."
The support for Corbyn and McDonnell's ideas has come from "a profound, deep-rooted anger at what capitalism means for the majority."
Hannah pointed out that the return to formal growth in the economy has meant nothing for ordinary people. Instead we see huge personal debt levels, life expectancy for girls falling for the first time since the 1920s and public services like the NHS facing catastrophe.
While the majority of national trade union leaderships are holding back national and coordinated action, the same anger as is behind support for Corbyn has driven a number of important sectional and local industrial disputes, as well as community campaigns.
For example, in the discussion we heard from Socialist Party members who are playing leading roles in the University and College Union strikes, RMT strikes against driver-only operated trains, and local campaigns to save NHS services and on housing and other local council cuts.
These struggles show the potential, but unfortunately both the majority of trade union leaderships and the Labour leadership have not acted to maximise this. Instead, both give too much the impression that it is enough for working and middle class people to get behind Corbyn and hold on until a Labour government is elected.
It is a mistake to not use their positions to mobilise workers in mass campaigns for jobs and services now - that would be the strongest basis on which a Corbyn government could come to power. For example, as executive committee member Rob Williams said in replying to the discussion, the emergency NHS demonstration at the start of February could have been much bigger than it was had Corbyn and the trade union leaderships thrown their full weight behind it.
It is similarly a mistake - by Corbyn and those who claim to lead the support for him, like Momentum - to continue to talk of 'unity' within the Labour Party. "The reality," Hannah said, "is that the pro-capitalist wing of the Labour Party has been forced to appear reconciled to Corbyn's leadership, while continuing to work to undermine him."
And they would continue this undermining in the case of a Corbyn-led government coming to power, trying to prevent Corbyn's anti-austerity manifesto from being implemented.
Many workers understand that the Labour Party remains "two parties in one". That is why in many areas we see the best campaigners, including those who have joined Labour, correctly willing to prioritise fighting in the interests of the working class over fear of criticising Labour's right wing.
For example, those Labour Party members in Bristol who have signed a letter to Corbyn demanding that Bristol's Labour (and supposedly Corbyn-supporting) mayor Marvin Rees stops implementing Tory cuts.
Similarly, many workers who back Corbyn, including some who have joined Labour, are supportive of the Socialist Party standing candidates against the Blairites in May's local elections as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC).
Hannah said that "unlike any Labour leader in the last epoch" Corbyn and McDonnell can be pushed to take a more radical anti-cuts stance by pressure from below. This can be built through campaigns and strikes, but also through an electoral challenge which backs them, but boldly stands against the saboteurs within their own party.
These battles are made all the more important and urgent by the fact that the opportunities facing the working class are huge and there is "disarray on the other side". The capitalist class is in an extremely weak position, with no reliable political representatives to carry out a programme in their best interests - "the Tories are at each other's' throats."
Nowhere is this more clear than over the issue of Brexit. As we pointed out in the editorial of the last issue of the Socialist (see 'May's EU speech kicks can down the road') the pro-EU wing of the Tories has been temporarily pacified by May's latest position, which stressed having high level access to EU markets.
But the divisions will soon come to the surface again - it is clear that this wing hopes to push May towards accepting Single Market and/or Customs Union membership, which will be intolerable to the other side.
The bosses are attempting to use Labour as a stick to push May into a Brexit position they could accept, while hoping the undemocratic Fixed Term Parliament Act will maintain her in power. But as Hannah said, "this is a very high risk tactic... events are not under the control of the capitalist class."
The fudged positions to maintain unity in the Tories will become more and more difficult as Brexit deadlines approach, and the DUP could pull out of the 'supply and confidence' agreement at any time. So while it is possible that the Tory government could "stagger on", we could also see a general election within the next year.
Such an election would present a huge opportunity for the working class and for socialists. The work we are doing now, including mobilising people through campaigns and industrial battles as well as winning workers and young people to join the Socialist Party, is preparation for the battles that would be faced in such a situation.
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