Global perspectives in the new era

The recent national congress of the Socialist Party, held from 14-16 May, began with a discussion looking at global developments and perspectives for national conflict, economic crises, and the struggle for socialism. Here we reproduce the introduction to the discussion, made by the Socialist Party general secretary, HANNAH SELL.

Today we are assessing the world that is emerging on the other side of the Covid pandemic. It threw all aspects of society into flux. It has created enormous economic uncertainty and increased tensions between nation states, different sections of ruling elites and, above all, between classes.

Of course even now the pandemic is not over. Part of the reason that the Chinese regime has set its lowest growth rate target in three decades is that it is struggling to deal with a huge surge in Omicron. There are currently 290 million people in harsh total lockdowns, which are increasingly ineffective and unpopular. There are numerous reports of people in Shanghai protesting because they have been locked down without food for days at a time.  Nonetheless, on a global basis – while Covid is still an ongoing cause of stress in people’s lives, and a disruptor of the economy – it is increasingly becoming seen as an endemic disease: one more problem that society has to deal with.

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No Ukraine bounce as the vacuum remains

Despite his efforts to portray himself as the dashing war leader, there was no Ukraine bounce for Boris Johnson in the 2022 local elections that took place across 200 councils in England, Scotland and Wales on May 5.

The contrast with the performance of Johnson’s heroine, Margaret Thatcher, in the 1982 council elections held during the war with Argentina over the Malvinas/Falklands Islands, could not be starker. In 1981 the Tories lost over a thousand seats and control of the then Greater London Council. Come 1982 Thatcher increased the Tories’ share of the vote to 40% while Labour, on 29%, had a net loss of 225 councillors, losing control of nine authorities including Birmingham, Bradford, the Lothian region in Scotland, and the London boroughs of Lambeth and Waltham Forest.

This year the Tories’ projected national share of the vote was 30%, down from 36% in the 2021 local elections, with a net loss of 485 councillors and eleven councils. Johnson’s alleged electoral ‘magic touch’ is coming to an end. And with it the glue that has been holding together a Tory party that has become a collection of different sectional capitalist interest groups, containing within itself the basis of at least two parties that could crystallise into being at some point in the stormy events that lie ahead in Britain and internationally.

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Few winners in Scottish council elections

The Scottish council elections saw the Tories suffer major losses as their share of the first preference vote fell to 19.6%, with almost a quarter of their councillors being wiped out. Since 2007 the single transferable vote system for local government elections has been used in Scotland.

Despite the huge class anger over the cost of living crisis and Boris Johnson neither Labour nor the Scottish National Party (SNP), however, made significant gains. Turnout was also down, at just 43%. 

Scottish Labour – now led by the pro-capitalist right under Anas Sarwar, dubbed the millionaire tendency – gained only 19 seats and ended up with a vote share of just 21.7%, marginally ahead of the Tories. Labour now have 281 councillors across Scotland, to the Tories 216. 

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Behind Aspire’s Tower Hamlets triumph

The stand-out development in the May elections was Lutfur Rahman’s victory as an Aspire party candidate in Tower Hamlets’ mayoral contest, unseating the right-wing Labour incumbent. Aspire also won a council majority, with 24 seats to Labour’s 19.
In April 2015 Lutfur Rahman was unjustly removed as mayor by an election court hearing – and debarred from standing for office for five years – as the establishment parties ganged up against him. Council spending had fallen by £172 million during Lutfur Rahman’s 2010-2015 administration as it faced a central government squeeze, but Rahman, and his then Tower Hamlets First party, were still not trusted to uncomplainingly deliver by the Con-Dem coalition or New Labour.
Seven years later the same establishment parties still rule in Westminster and they won’t give Lutfur Rahman, or the new council, an easy ride now. What role Aspire can play in the fight for a new, mass national vehicle for working class political representation is a discussion that the Socialist Party will fully engage with in the period ahead.
Here we reprint as background analysis an article by HUGO PIERRE, first published in the June 2015 edition of Socialism Today, No.189, which examines the lessons of Lutfur Rahman’s previous mayoralty and the campaign against him.
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The struggle for sustainable food systems

Vocal for Local: Why Regional Food Systems are the Future

By Isabelle Thompson, Rebecca Laughton and Tony Little

A report by The Landworkers’ Alliance, 2021

Reviewed by Iain Dalton

With the rise of protest movements around climate change in recent years, an increasing spotlight has been shone on the question of food production and distribution.

On one hand, global food production is estimated to account for 18% of carbon emissions according to a 2006 UN study, while including the global food system as a whole accounts for as much as 40%. On the other hand, the impacts of climate change on food production are already being felt, with both heavy rains and droughts in different parts of the world limiting wheat harvests adding to the already high wheat prices as a consequence of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Increasingly the question of how to ensure a stable and sustainable food supply is posed by such developments. It is to answer this question in the UK that the Landworkers’ Alliance produced their report, Vocal for Local: Why Regional Food Systems are the Future. The Landworkers’ Alliance is a union of small farmers and other land-based workers (such as forresters) established in 2012, with a membership of around 1,200, and is the UK affiliate of the 200 million-strong La Via Campesina peasants movement, mainly based in Latin America. They are particularly interested in the role that the members they represent would play.

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Debate: how to fight sexism and change the world

Continuing a debate with Woman’s Place UK that started in the pages of The Socialist, the weekly sister paper of Socialism Today, on whether the fight for trans rights conflicts with women’s rights, we print below a further contribution from WPUK and a response by the Socialist Party executive committee member, SARAH SACHS-ELDRIDGE.

We think that Michael Johnson’s reply to Woman’s Place UK (United struggle for LGBTQ+ and women’s rights is integral to the wider struggle to change society, The Socialist, No.1166) clarifies two fundamental, and perhaps irreconcilable, differences in approach between us and the Socialist Party.

Every major advance in women’s rights – from suffrage, access to abortion and a legal entitlement to equal pay – has been won not because women waited “for the maximum unity of the working class in struggle”. They happened because women identified the problem, organised and struggled without waiting for male union bureaucrats or politicians to decide that the time was right and maximum unity (whatever that might mean) had been achieved. These things were often done despite opposition from some working-class men.

There are direct comparisons to be made with lesbians, gay men and black people. These minorities often faced immense hostility from bigots and racists inside the working class and if they’d waited for “maximum unity” they’d still be waiting. They organised and fought, changing both laws and social attitudes through their struggles.

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Introducing Marxism: The state and class rule

A defining feature of Marxism which sets it apart from other political trends is its theory on the state and its programme and policies for dealing with it, as PAULA MITCHELL explains in the second instalment of Socialism Today’s Introduction to Marxism series.

In modern society, the term ‘state’ is used in many contexts. People might think of the ‘welfare state’ – the NHS, pensions, benefits, etc. Or they may be familiar with references to ‘state intervention’, for example the payments to furloughed workers during the Covid pandemic. Also, it is often a term used when referring to geographical territories which have their own government and boundaries, whether national, or sub-national in the case of countries like the United States of America.

The main sense in which Marxists use the term ‘state’ is to describe the institutions through which class rule is maintained. We live in a class society where a small ruling-class minority at the top doesn’t represent the interests of the whole population, but its own interests in maintaining its power and privileges – and exploiting the majority. It has to try to conceal this situation, or to persuade, and at times force, the majority to accept it.

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Editorial: A new era of world relations has begun

Some events become iconic when they are subsequently seen as a representative summation of a new turning point in social, economic or political developments. The fall of the Berlin Wall is one example. It symbolises the collapse of Stalinism in Russia and Eastern Europe and the end of the Cold War framing of world power relations as that between competing social systems: capitalism in the West, and the non-capitalist Stalinist states of the East.

The rotting of the Stalinist regimes under the internal contradictions of totalitarian rule – the mirror opposite of workers’ democracy – had been an extended process as the bureaucracy moved from being a relative to an absolute fetter on the economy and society. But that did not diminish the significance of the November 1989 drama. And while it too is the product of underlying and ongoing processes, the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24 will also come to be seen as another pivotal moment in history.

Already the war, however it finishes, has upset the global architecture of treaty organisations, diplomatic conventions and so on built up over the past 30 years. This international machinery was either remoulded from institutions of the Cold War era (GATT became the World Trade Organisation, for example) or superseded them (the G7 and G20, the International Criminal Court, the COP climate summits). Together they constituted the means by which the conflicting interests of the world’s most powerful capitalist nation states (and the formally ‘non-market economy’ Chinese regime) were mediated in the post-Stalinist world.

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The P&O warning

March 17th 2022 will now always be synonymous with P&O as far as trade union activists are concerned, with the vicious assault on the workers’ jobs and contracts carried out on that day. The company informed 800 workers by zoom that they were being instantly made redundant, without notice or consultation. To back this up, they employed security guards to forcibly remove workers from ferries, consciously using brutal ‘shock and awe’ methods. There are reports that some of the hired security guards had handcuffs and were wearing balaclavas. P&O had already lined up a new workforce on exploitation wages of less than £2 per hour.

The sacked workers and their unions, the RMT and Nautilus International, launched an immediate campaign of protests and demonstrations, particularly at the ferry ports of Dover, Hull, Liverpool, Larne and Cairnryan. Most of the workers had signed up to the enhanced redundancy by the March 31 deadline. Nevertheless the struggle continues, for reinstatement and more generally against the super-exploitation of seafarers so that the industry bosses are not able to benefit from P&O’s brutal tactics.

But this is also a struggle for the whole trade union movement as the economy shows signs of faltering after the initial post-Covid recovery. The first stage of the Covid pandemic saw a severe contraction which was exploited by a whole series of companies to impose worse pay, terms and conditions through vicious ‘fire and rehire’, which rapidly became the favoured weapon of choice for the bosses during the pandemic. Disgracefully, this included the New Labour council of Tower Hamlets, which triggered a dispute with Unison members. British Gas workers took 43 days of strike action in a bruising battle which ended with their annual income cut by over £10,000.

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The consequences of the Ukraine conflict for Britain

HANNAH SELL assesses what impact the war in Ukraine will have for the already tenuous position of British capitalism internationally and domestically, faced with the prospect of economic recession and political representatives viewed with historic levels of distrust.

While the invasion of Ukraine by Putin’s regime has been watched in horror by working-class people in Britain as in other countries, the UK prime minister Boris Johnson has led the global charge by capitalist politicians to cynically use these events to try and consolidate his position. Before the invasion Johnson’s leadership of the Conservative Party was hanging by a thread as the Partygate revelations piled up. He has successfully used Ukraine to gain a little breathing space, but none of the problems facing Johnson, his party, or British capitalism have been solved. 

Nor, other than the short term distraction they have so far provided, will events in Ukraine assist Johnson. His crass comparison between the Ukrainian resistance and the vote for Brexit is just one more example of his populist approach, where he is often prepared to disregard the interests of British capitalism, prioritising instead shoring up his own short-term base. In an increasingly fractious world, with a war taking place less than two thousand miles from Britain, the majority of the UK’s capitalist class would clearly rather have a more reliable representative than Johnson.  Many would prefer the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who has used the war to once again demonstrate what an eminently safe pair of hands he is for British capitalism.

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