It is now over six months since the World Health Organisation declared the Covid-19 outbreak to be a global pandemic, and two weeks later, that Britain went into lockdown.
After retreating from his government’s original ‘let them get herd immunity’ strategy – the existence of which was confirmed in August by Jeremy Corbyn reporting Cabinet Office briefings he attended in the spring on Privy Council confidentiality terms – Boris Johnson initially benefited from a rally round the prime minister mood as the public health crisis escalated.
The enforced government U-turns over the grading of this summer’s school exams has shone a spotlight on the inbuilt class inequality inherent in education under capitalism.
The disputed algorithm at the heart of the grading controversy had inequality programmed into it. With school students unable to sit written examinations because of the Covid crisis, schools were asked to provide estimated grades for their GCSE and A-level students based on their knowledge of the students’ work. But the exam authorities decided that these predictions then had to be processed through an algorithm that prioritised the previous overall exam performance of the school, rather than that of an individual student.
At the beginning of the lockdown, the government’s mantra was ‘we’re all in this together’. The experience of the pandemic has exposed for many that no such unity exists. Instead governments around the world have put the interests of capitalism before people’s health. To varying degrees they have largely failed to protect people in the workplace and the vulnerable in the community.
“We are measuring the pulse of the ice sheet”, said the lead author of a recent Ohio University study, Michalea King, referring to the annual changes in Greenland’s three kilometre-thick ice covering. And that pulse is weakening – the patient is bleeding out.
King has demonstrated that Greenland’s vast ice sheets are melting so fast that even if global warming was to end today, not enough snow would fall to replenish the ice sheets. The yearly pulse of snowfall and melting, measured by King and her team over decades, shows a sudden change.
Unlike some other unions that have grown during the Covid crisis, the PCS civil servants’ union has not reversed a pre-pandemic trend of declining membership. The debate now under way on the union’s future structure, assessed here by NEC member DAVE SEMPLE (in a personal capacity), has relevance for all trade unionists in the struggle against the capitalists’ attempts to pass the costs of the crisis onto the working class.
Meetings of the PCS national executive committee (NEC) over the summer have discussed two papers which laid out ‘strategic options’ for the union. The two options were potential merger with an unspecified other union; and restructuring, which expressly included the idea of voluntary redundancies of union staff. Neither paper explained how these options would address the problem of a membership base that is still shrinking while the civil service as a whole has been growing since the EU referendum in 2016. This lack of analysis is a theme that runs through everything the formerly left leadership of the union have said or done on the ‘strategic options’ so far.
Eighty years after the assassination of Leon Trotsky by an agent of Stalin a new book is being produced by the Committee for a Workers’ International, Leon Trotsky: A Revolutionary Whose Ideas Couldn’t be Killed. It contains a series of articles looking at the continuing relevance of Trotsky’s ideas, including the article below by HANNAH SELL on the role of a revolutionary party today.
Leon Trotsky, in the preface to his masterpiece, The History of the Russian Revolution, summed up a revolution as “the direct interference of the masses into historical events”. He explained how “at those crucial moments when the old order becomes no longer endurable to the masses, they break the barriers excluding them from the political arena, sweep aside their traditional representatives, and create by their own interference the initial groundwork for a new regime”. Trotsky explained the crucial role of the revolutionary party in this process as constituting “not an independent, but nevertheless a very important, element in the process. Without a guiding organisation, the energy of the masses would dissipate like steam not enclosed in a piston box. But nevertheless, what moves things is not the piston or the box, but the steam”.
The Socialist Manifesto: The Case for Radical Politics in an Era of Extreme Inequality
By Bhaskar Sunkara
Published by Verso, 2020 (pbk), £9-99
Reviewed by Mark Best
Bhaskar Sunkara is the editor of Jacobin magazine, a publication orientated to the Democratic Socialists of America, and behind the attempt to relaunch Tribune in 2018 as a magazine aimed at Corbynistas.
His book, published as a hardback last year but now released in paperback, attempts to explain what socialism is, to give a history of the socialist movement, and point a way forward for young people looking towards socialist ideas today.