July 5 is the sixtieth anniversary of Algeria’s Independence Day in 1962 which marked the end of the eight-year war of independence. CLARE DOYLE looks back at a seminal struggle in the post-1945 movement against colonialism.
“The Algerian war, 1954 to 1962, was a savage colonial war, killing an estimated million Muslim Algerians and expelling the same number of European settlers from their homes. It was to cause the fall of six French prime ministers and the collapse of the Fourth Republic; it came close to bringing down de Gaulle and – twice – to plunging Metropolitan France into the chaos of civil war”. This description is carried on the back cover of an authoritative book by historian Alistair Horne, called A Savage War of Peace, published in 1977.
The Algerian war of independence lasted twice as long as the first world war and its victory marked the end of 130 years of brutal French colonial rule. But even today, six decades on, Algerians both in their ‘homeland’ and in metropolitan France, face an uphill struggle for democratic as well as economic justice.
Continuing Socialism Today’s Introduction to Marxism series, NAOMI BYRON looks at the Marxist view of history, the theory of historical materialism.
Capitalism, the system we live under today, is unequal and undemocratic. It is a class society, based on the exploitation of the working class by a ruling class – the capitalists, a small minority of the population who own and control the main industries and financial institutions.
In the capitalist education system we are led to believe that class society has always existed, that class exploitation is natural and unavoidable, and that capitalism is the best way of organising society. We are also told that history is made by famous individuals and that working-class people have no power to change the system of society.
The theory of ‘historical materialism’, developed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, provides a framework for socialists to analyse human society and the laws of its development. It explains that class societies have not always existed; that in fact the earliest human societies were classless societies based on cooperation and consensus, without systematic exploitation or oppression.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.