2014: Economic & social chaos? A general strike in Britain at last? Prospects for Left Unity

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2013 was quite a good year for the left, particularly in Britain. I will summarise by listing items from my blog about some of the things that happened last year:

  • Margaret Thatcher died – giving me inspiration for this blog! I just happened to have written a song for my band Fruity Frank & the Frisky Freaks called The New Poll Tax (based on the mass campaign of non-payment that defeated the poll tax and played a large part in removing her from power), which we recorded two versions of a few days before Thatcher died, and my first post on the blog was The demise of Maggie Thatcher and my song: The New Poll Tax. The “new poll tax” refers to council tax payments by those on benefits, which can be up to 30% of the full value (and are set at 25% in Rochdale where I lived at the time).
  • There was some progress towards a general strike, against austerity (cuts) and perhaps to bring the ConDem (Tory/Liberal Democrat coalition) government down. I took part in (and spoke at) a meeting in Liverpool organised by Merseyside TUC (Trades Union Council) which unanimously decided to put forward a motion at the North West (of England) TUC Annual General Meeting (AGM) calling on the national TUC to call a general strike, preferably on International Workers’ Day (1 May, popularly called May Day although the “May Day” public holiday is always on a Monday in the UK). The motion also called for international coordination (i.e. strikes elsewhere in the world) on the same day. I created a Facebook page: Launch an international general strike on 1 May against the 1% and also modified the lyrics of a song called “The Stars Look Down” from Billy Elliot (the musical) about the miners’ strike, to refer to present day and call for a general strike and demonstrations on 1 May. I sang it with a very good female singer (a singing teacher) and put it on the internet with a video including clips of protests and strikes (etc.) on YouTube (which includes a call from Anonymous for similar action on the same day) – see The Stars Look Down – join the 1 May global MayDay general strike! As it happened, at the NW TUC AGM, a deal was struck whereby an amendment to massively water down the motion, removing any calls on the national TUC and suggestions for a particular date on bureaucratic grounds. Nevertheless, the North West became the first region of the UK in which the TUC officially had a position of support for a general strike. I handed out a newsletter before and at the (national) TUC conference (Trades Union Congress) in Bournemouth: Lobby TUC for serious coordinated strike action, fracking, Revolutionary Platform of Left Unity, Tory conference demo – a motion on it was passed unanimously but, predictably I suppose, bureaucrats in the various unions affected by attacks by the ConDems have totally failed (so far) to coordinate action. [I would like to think that my activities influenced the general strike in Greece (but there had been many before) and demonstrations by workers in Iran (but there is little internet access there) on 1 May…]
  • The campaign against perhaps the ConDems’ most vicious measure – the bedroom tax – has been strong in 2013. I helped by providing some Non-payment advice (on leaflets and my blog – with a record 560 views of a blog post on a single day). My other achievement (not to ignore the parts played by many thousands of other protesters across the country on the issue) was to appear on the BBC TV programme Question Time – playing a part in Labour leader Ed Miliband saying Labour will abolish the bedroom tax the day after I question his deputy Harriet Harman on it (if they come to power at the next election). It had been forecast, including in the Sunday People, that Miliband would make that announcement, but perhaps I brought it forward a few days from the party conference.
  • Revelations by US whistleblower Edward Snowden (particularly in the Guardian and New York Times) about spying by the US National Security Agency with its PRISM software (and similar activities by GCHQ in Britain) and a huge database containing information about virtually everyone in the world who has been on-line (including contents of emails, Facebook interactions and Google searches) plus details of phone calls, which ultimately provides the possibility of artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms processing this data without need for human intervention and eliminating the possibility of further potential whistleblowers. I know that this is possible based on my expert knowledge of AI (I was the main designer and sole developer of an AI/simulation language called SDML) but such world fascism (as John Pilger has also called it) has hopefully now been averted by the Snowden revelations and the response to them. My posts The purpose of PRISM – stopping worldwide socialist revolution forever with Orwellian 1984-style society and #copsoffcampus demos against police clampdown on student protests – infiltration, PRISM & possible UK police state provide my analysis.
  • My role (perhaps) in alleged rapist Martin Smith’s resignation from the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). Some will see the self-destruction of what has been (and just about still is) the largest party to the left of Labour, excluding the Greens, largely stemming from the rape allegations against their former national secretary Martin Smith (aka Comrade Delta) as positive, others negative. Make your own mind up (free will is the best antidote to such “Leninist” organisations’ propaganda and something that Marxist philosophy doesn’t seem compatible with). The fact that there is another organisation that is far better (Left Unity) and already involves some who split from the SWP in March (the International Socialist Movement) is a good sign.
  • The debate between Russell Brand and Jeremy Paxman, with Brand arguing for revolution and there being no point in voting when there’s no real choice, on Newsnight went viral on YouTube (with over 9.5 million views), and there were a large number of Facebook shares (102,000) of his New Statesman article too for the edition he was guest editor of. I wrote a blog entry Russell Brand v Jeremy Paxman on “revolution” plus bureaucratic centralism of the SWP (but not the Socialist Party) which went off at a tangent explaining why the latter has a more healthy internal regime than the SWP based on my eight-and-a-half years in it (including when it was called the Militant Tendency and Militant Labour). I didn’t argue that “democratic centralism”, as practiced by the Socialist Party/Militant was ideal though, and I am pleased to say it has not been adopted as a way of operating by Left Unity.
  • Left Unity started with a call for a new party to the left of Labour by socialist film director Ken Loach in March, although I didn’t get involved initially (I waited until I saw a meeting in Manchester advertised although there was a big one I missed). My position has been consistent, in wanting a broad socialist party but with a revolutionary “platform” bringing together people who want a “sudden thorough” change of society, as I put it, rather than gradual reforms (which wouldn’t actually lead to socialism anyway). I therefore issued a Call for a Revolutionary Platform of Left Unity. I didn’t get sufficient support for an official platform (of 10 members), perhaps due to sabotage by my email providers, and found that the Socialist Platform was basically revolutionary anyway, so dropped my own platform in favour of it. Under pressure from the Socialist Platform (which in the meantime had virtually self-destructed due to ultra-left amendments from the tiny CPGB), the strongest platform called the Left Party Platform (LPP) put forward a much improved statement of aims compared with its initial wishy-washy statement. I therefore proposed amendments to the improved statement, one of which (on improving the paragraph on trade unions to mention strike action, including mass/general strikes) as a means to winning individual disputes and changing society (with improvements suggested by other Manchester Left Unity members in also mentioning occupations and solidarity) was submitted, and (despite only having 2 minutes to speak on it and another amendment) I got it passed at Left Unity’s founding conference on 30 November. See Compromise between the Left Party Platform and Socialist Platform: Justification for my amendments to LPP. Another branch (Camden, which actually is Ken Loach’s branch, potentially undermining claims that he is steering the party in a reformist direction) getting another amendment to the LPP passed committing the party to ending capitalism – Socialist Platform main instigator Nick Wrack’s main objection to the LPP’s revised statement of aims and something I asked others to take up after failing to persuade Manchester members. Consequently, Left Unity is truly broad and reflects both revolutionary and reformist views and members will hopefully continue to put both kinds of views forward, on the website and forum (and in a publication once we decide to produce one). I also put forward a motion to keep Left Unity as the name of the party, suggesting much more than the main rival Left Party that there is an aim to unite the far left and bring many of the “57 varieties” (which should actually be 150 according to Facing Reality but is based on an old advert for Heinz soups) together rather than be just another socialist party/organisation. Another Manchester member, Ali Treacher, spoke on that motion and it won by 98 votes after transfers.

By far my most popular blog entry towards the end of 2013 was Is MoneyWeek’s “End of Britain” just fearmongering? What about US debt default? Is socialist revolution on the cards? with “End of Britain” being heavily advertised by the (allegedly) most popular stock market investors’ magazine MoneyWeek and my blog entry being in the top 10 of Google searches for it. MoneyWeek predicted inevitable economic and social chaos in Britain, and the UK going “bankrupt” if inflation reached about 5%. The issue of whether British capitalism is very healthy (as reformists who claim Britain is “the seventh richest country in the world” argue) or in dire straits (as Max Keiser and Stacy Herbert argue in The Keiser Report, on RT and YouTube, hence them shifting their TV programme from the USA to London) is probably the most important debate socialists can have to determine strategy. The former banker Frances Coppola, who “debunked” the MoneyWeek video/letter has started debating with me on the above-mentioned entry on my blog, after I demolished the arguments of Martin Odoni, a follower of the US “unorthodox post-Keynesian economist” Warren Mosler, so I am directing those particularly interested in that debate there (especially if you wish to comment on my views on the subject). But let me just leave you now with the following thoughts:

  • Tax avoidance by the ultra-rich is costing tens of billions of pounds every year (at least), they are getting cuts in corporation tax every year (to compete with other capitalist countries in a race to the bottom) and still very few multinationals pay any tax whatsoever to the UK Treasury! [And of course, there’s (illegal) tax evasion too.]
  • There is no obvious way to solve tax avoidance under capitalism, since many countries are in severe economic difficulties, particularly in the Eurozone (hence Ireland insisting on keeping its corporation tax at 15% when it accepted a bailout). There are also many tiny countries whose entire economies are based on them being tax havens.
  • The ConDems know that in order to be popular, they cannot just bash immigrants, benefit “scroungers” and violent Muslims, but they must offer some financial incentive to vote for them – hence the LibDems’ (almost fulfilled already) promise to lift those earning under £10,000 a year out of tax altogether (not as fair as it sounds since the poorest workers gain less than the not quite so poor) and the Tories’ pledge not to attack pensioners’ benefits. They have now got so desperate in trying to reduce the size of the deficit that they are considering changing that, but will endeavour to keep that to the other side of the next election (and those so pessimistic to forecast the Tories hanging on should surely ask themselves what sort of policies would enable them to succeed!)
  • The former economics editor of BBC2’s Newsnight, Paul Mason, who now works for Channel 4 News, predicted “a second credit crunch” in 2011 (or earlier) – but argued that this time governments would not be able to afford to bail out the banks. Unfortunately (probably due to the prospect of it spreading panic) his blog entry on the subject is no longer on-line (or if it is, biased search engines won’t find it). Barclays Bank (as well as the Co-operative) was in difficulty financially in 2013 as I revealed in Barclays’ problems, a second credit crunch, bank nationalisation, cancelling national debt, a financial email I read said that the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) “wants to see a minimum leverage ratio of 3% (equity to assets). This also happens to be the new standard to be introduced globally under the Basel III rulebook.” Barclays slipped to 2.2% according to that email, but the whole idea that a ratio of just 3% would be enough to avert some sort of second credit crunch scenario seems unlikely. Frances Coppola, on my MoneyWeek blog entry, suggests that it could be the threat of not paying the national debt back, rather than inherent problems of capitalism, that lead to financial disaster (including hyperinflation according to her). I was aware that it could lead to markets panicking and that was my point in making the proposal not to pay the money back (rather than being dishonest/naive and falling into the trap of the Tories who claim it’s selfish leaving it to future generations to pay). You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs and it’s not as if the poor are not suffering (and dying) already due to austerity. I didn’t specifically predict hyperinflation, but when the financial speculators start doing that, it’s time for socialists to launch a bid for power (with perhaps a general strike from below, called a “mass strike” by Rosa Luxemburg). I first proposed not paying bondholders back in July 2013 in Revolutionary Platform News: edition 5.
  • What happens when quantitative easing ends, in the UK, in the US, or by the European Central Bank (which appears to be keeping economic problems at bay in the Eurozone)?

It is essential when arguing for socialism that we don’t neglect the environment. The argument Labour has put forward on freezing energy bills is popular because of the huge profits the gas and electricity companies make, and many elderly people die literally because they cannot stay warm at winter time. However, it is such a shame that what Owen Jones particularly liked in Ed Miliband’s speech As you probably haven’t heard, Ed Miliband pledged 1 million green jobs at Labour Party conference was quietly dropped (largely due to the mass media ignoring by far his most radical proposal). Arguments over not raising petrol prices are inevitably popular, despite cars being far from good for the environment, are predictable. Left Unity should argue strongly against promoting nuclear power (at double the going rate) and pledge to cancel the contract under a socialist government. This is the reverse of companies pulling out of investment in African concentrating solar power (CSP) plants. Now unstable regimes in North Africa and few benefits for poor Africans make it too risky, but under world socialism, CSP plants, taking advantage of the predictable and highly efficient sun, are ideal – and they could provide much of the power for Europe as well as supply villages in Africa where they don’t yet have electricity – and provide income for entire African populations. That’s not to discourage investment in green energy now – I’ve particularly been promoting tidal power (not on a large scale that is harmful for wildlife like the Severn Barrage but smaller devices on or near the sea bed). The technology is available now (but R&D could make it even more efficient), it is ideal for an island country, and I am also informed by my father Max (who is an expert in the field) that subsidies are lower than for nuclear power, and there are no clean-up costs that still have yet to be resolved for nuclear sites like Sellafield. There is also the vital issue of fracking, which has led to appalling pollution of water supplies in the US (with some people unable to bathe in tapwater never mind drink it) and that has been banned in France and the Republic of Ireland. I happen to live near one of the first sites in Britain being investigated for it, Barton Moss in Salford, and have visited and protested there (along with other members of Left Unity, one of whom got arrested for “obstructing the highway” but with video evidence to the contrary).

As well as arguing for ecosocialism and revolution, there is the question of what sort of democracy we want in a future socialist society (in Britain and internationally). In my Very Democratic Socialism Facebook group (which has over 650 members), I argued for a form of socialism “in which the government is elected by proportional representation (PR), there is workers’ control of industry and there is an element of ‘direct democracy’ (whereby everyone in society can discuss and vote on important issues – perhaps by referenda initiated by a petition signed by some proportion/quantity of the electorate like in Switzerland).” I am counterposing this to the idea of a “workers’ state” where just workers are in control. One thing that was positive about the LPP and Socialist Platform was that their positions were not over-dominated in talking about the “working class” (although speakers for both mentioned it early on at the conference, probably due to their past backgrounds in the Militant Tendency). There seems to me to be a need for an alternative “caucus” as platforms are renamed according to the new constitution, based around the idea of having a government elected by proportional representation as well as there being some degree of workers’ control (and users, customers, etc., with representative of government, to be more precise – I think it’s time to start a debate on the Facebook group of what we are calling for).

There will inevitably be some socialists who would be reluctant to concede any power once they obtain it – much like Lenin said “All power to the Soviets” when the Bolsheviks (who later called themselves the Communist Party) were in control of them in Russia 1917. After the October revolution, they abolished the Constituent Assembly that they had called for previously (before Lenin’s return from exile) and that the capitalist “provisional government” that came to power in the February revolution refused to hold elections for – because they and their allies in the “Left SRs” lost those elections (where SR stands for “socialist revolutionary” or “social revolutionary” depending on the translation, with the former sounding more left-wing). The “Right SRs” tended to be large landowners despite it supposedly being a peasant party (with them being better organised and more educated), and the Bolsheviks not going into the countryside before the elections to create a united socialist party was a big mistake – easy to say in hindsight, I know. The arguments that soviets were more democratic (despite Russia containing far more peasants than workers but them having considerably less representation in them) or that there would be huge repression of the Bolsheviks if they allowed the Right SRs to govern and show themselves up in practice (there had been two revolutions in the space of a year so they could have been defended/hidden by workers and launched another revolution later if necessary). Again easy to say in hindsight, but the result has been nearly 100 years of world capitalism (plus Stalinism however you wish to categorise it for much of the time) since, during which time people calling themselves “socialists” or “communists” have been regarded as undemocratic by many ordinary people (reinforced by the mass media). The ironic thing is that (most) Marxists today still haven’t learnt the lessons and continue to argue for what used to be called “the dictatorship of the proletariat” (control just by the working class), despite more people regarding themselves as middle class than working class according to most surveys. [As an exception, I met someone recently who called himself “a libertarian Marxist” and wants everyone in control of society, like me.] If socialists can’t win majority support via a fair election (which nowadays means via PR), socialism is doomed anyway and clinging onto power (with consequences of being seen as undemocratic for many more years) would be an outcome far worse than letting a capitalist government back in and biding our time…

It is very important that Left Unity does act to unite rather than divide, by seeking electoral agreements not to stand against other left organisations (including the Green Party). Discussions have already taken place with the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC). Whereas standing against right-wing Labour councillors wouldn’t do any harm, we should only stand in “safe” Labour seats in a general election because it does make a difference whether Labour wins it (even if only marginally and because it would look very bad for Left Unity if we are seen to let the Tories back in, just as the Green Party suffered immensely due to being seen to let George W Bush in against Al Gore in 2000, with the hanging chads fiasco and the Democrats being defrauded by not having votes properly counted the real primary reason) and because our vote would be squeezed a lot anyway in marginals. We mustn’t be the mirror image of UKIP who could cause enormous damage to the Tories’ chances!

So: let’s deal with the questions in the blog post’s title.

  • Firstly, “Economic & social choas?” Possibly! My arguments on the MoneyWeek “End of Britain” video/letter cover that.
  • Secondly, “A general strike in Britain at last?” This partly depends on the answer to the first question – even if our trade union leaders refuse to act under conditions of economic and social chaos, workers surely would from below, even if it is up to Left Unity to do much to lead such struggles. It also depends on what Tory chancellor George Osborne’s March budget is like – if it’s a massive attack on workers, or some sections of workers, they are much more likely to act. And if they are serious about reducing the deficit (and claiming that they can afford giveaways when they need them most – before the planned 2015 general election), then they cannot just rely on attacking those on benefits (many of whom are in work anyway). I am thinking of raising the issue of a general strike on 1 May again, using the same video I produced for International Workers Day in 2013 this year, and using the Facebook page also referred to above. But this time, I wouldn’t be acting on my own; I would try to get Left Unity to support this initiative.
  • Finally, “Prospects for Left Unity” In terms of electoral prospects, standing in the European elections are surely ruled out (there’s not enough time, it would cost a lot and it would mean standing against other left candidates) but we may be able to get some reasonable votes in the local elections, particularly where we have candidates with a good record of campaigning. However, it will be hard to compete with TUSC, which is planning to stand around 650 candidates (about half Left Unity’s current total membership) and thereby get a party election broadcast. We should concentrate, therefore, on extra-parliamentary activity – campaigning in the unions for strike action, on environmental issues like fracking, in the communities against cuts, the bedroom tax and “new poll tax”, etc. There is a possibility that a general strike could bring the ConDem government down in 2014, and I do have a Facebook group around this Bring down Cameron – millions can’t afford to wait until 2015, but realistically a general strike is more likely to win concessions and lay down a marker for the general election, putting pressure on Labour not to continue with austerity (and perhaps undermine those within that party particularly inclined to emulate the ConDems like Ed Balls), and perhaps lead to election victories in some general election seats for parties to the left of Labour (including, but not necessarily limited to, Left Unity). Ultimately, winning power under the current electoral system, even if a big split-off from Labour joins us, will be well nigh impossible under the misnamed first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system – we need a revolution!

I will end this new year’s message by wishing you a happy new year (unless of course you are in the National Public Order Intelligence Unit of Special Branch or some other dodgy organisation, or if you are a computer program such as PRISM!)

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