Reparations or revolution?

The Black Lives Matter movement has reignited an ongoing discussion about whether or how reparations should be made for the horrors of slavery. To coincide with Black History Month we are publishing the following article by PAULA MITCHELL as a contribution towards that debate.

Karl Marx famously said that capitalism came into being “dripping from head to toe, from every pore, with blood and dirt”.

By this he meant “the discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the indigenous population of that continent, the beginnings of the conquest and plunder of India, and the conversion of Africa into a preserve for the commercial hunting of black skins, are all things which characterise the dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief moments of primitive accumulation…”.

From the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries, estimates vary but between ten and fifteen million Africans were kidnapped and crammed into merchant ships, to be enslaved in the Caribbean and southern states of America. The trade was begun by the Portuguese but by the seventeenth century Britain was at the heart of it. An estimated two million perished on the Middle Passage, dying in horrific conditions or thrown overboard. On arrival they were sold and sold again as commodities; families divided, and put to work on plantations; branded, raped, lynched and mutilated. The trade in slaves and in the commodities produced on the plantations was one of the key elements in the genesis of capitalism, and in particular enabled the growth of Britain as the world’s foremost capitalist economic power.

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Cracks in the ‘Chinese miracle’

The multiple problems facing China’s state capitalist economy have grown significantly during 2023. The western capitalist press is full of often self-serving analysis predicting the end of the ‘Chinese miracle’. In addition, ratcheting tensions between China and the US have led to severe trade embargoes – first under Donald Trump’s presidency, and more recently Biden’s so-called ‘Chip Wars’.

US imperialism is determined to stop its primary world rival from acquiring the advanced technologies in semiconductors to enable moves to an advanced economy. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP), in contrast, is trying to transition China from an ‘assembly plant’ into a higher value-added manufacturing economy. Especially in green energy, healthcare, artificial intelligence, supercomputing, life sciences and military technology.

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Crunch time on campus

In August, the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) brought its long-running dispute over pay and conditions into the new academic year 2023/24, announcing five days of action – though later adding an opt-out clause for branches outside of Scotland.

This latest round of strikes also coincided with a nationwide re-ballot of UCU members, which started on 20 September and will decide whether this dispute – involving the so-called ‘Four Fights’ over pay, pay equality, workloads and casualisation – is extended into the spring of 2024. 

While at the time of publication it is impossible to know exactly the outcome of the re-ballot, what is for certain is that the accumulated anger of university staff, which has found expression in the historic industrial action taken by UCU and joint unions over the past twelve months, has not gone away. 

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Spycops: When the public is the enemy

PAUL HERON, Legal Director at the Public Interest Law Centre, and a member of the Socialist Party, was one of the lawyers representing three core participants in Tranche One of the recent Undercover Policing Inquiry. Below he outlines his views on its conclusions – both the realities it recognises and its stark omissions.

For more than four decades, the Metropolitan Police (MPS), the Security Services, the government, and the British state maintained a veil of silence regarding political policing. They concealed from public scrutiny the system of state-sponsored surveillance carried out by British police officers. The endorsement of political policing extended to the highest echelons of government.

The discovery of this level of political policing is owed to the courageous women – mainly grouped in the organisation Spies Out of Lives – who were deceived into engaging in intimate relationships with undercover officers (UCOs). Their unwavering determination and advocacy compelled Theresa May to announce a public inquiry in 2015, which has begun to lift the veil of secrecy. Shamefully, UCOs infiltrated campaigns advocating for family justice, a grievous violation of trust and privacy. To compound the scandal, UCOs were deployed to spy on the Stephen Lawrence Family Campaign, exacerbating the sense of betrayal and injustice.

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Drawing lessons from the strike wave

The current strike wave, which erupted more than a year ago with national strike action by railworkers in the RMT union, marks the beginning of a new era in the class struggle in Britain. ROB WILLIAMS gives an overview of the strike action so far and draws vital lessons for the workers’ movement for the battles to come, especially under, as looks likely, a future Starmer government.

At last year’s TUC Congress, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer was unabashed in facing the leadership of the trade union movement. He would not apologise for his refusal to support strikes and made no promises: “There will be tough times during my Labour government”. The crises in the Tories, which reached a nadir as Congress ended, with the resignation of the disastrous then prime minister Lizz Truss, buoyed Starmer’s confidence.

As the general election nears, Starmer and his team will be hoping that 2024 will be a repeat of 1997, when Tony Blair’s New Labour won an historic landslide against another Tory government which was also clearly out of time. But it’s not merely the electoral arithmetic that he hopes will be similar, he also hopes he can inherit the same ‘industrial peace’.

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Global Warning: Another fruitless talking shop

Global scientific monitoring has recorded 2023 as being almost certainly “the hottest in human history”. As the year nears its end, representatives of the world’s governments will again be gathering at the latest Conference of the Parties to the UN climate convention (COP28) to discuss what can be done to avert climate crisis.

Even the least cynical onlooker must already be wondering what can be achieved when the COP28 presidency has been awarded to the chief executive of the state oil company of the host state – the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Bitter experience of previous COP summits suggests that, while few serious capitalist politicians can any longer deny the threats posed by climate change, nothing will be agreed that matches the urgency required to deal with them.

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Germany 1923: On the brink of revolution

According to capitalist mainstream history 1923 was the year of hyperinflation and the failed Hitler putsch. This narrative equates German history, first and foremost, with fascism. Yet 1923 was also the year that Germany was on the brink of revolution. Below we carry extracts of an article written by WOLFRAM KLEIN, a member of Sol (CWI in Germany), translated by Sue Cummins. This is followed by extracts from Leon Trotsky’s 1924 book, Lessons of October, which look at the missed opportunity of Germany 1923 compared to Russia 1917, where the working class was able to successfully take power.

Germany entered the twentieth century as a major industrial power with limited access to a world market dominated by other imperialist powers. The first world war was largely about markets but the ruling class also hoped that war would stir up patriotism among the masses and derail pre-war strikes and class militancy. Instead, the carnage of war and the Russian revolution sparked factory protests and mutinies in Germany in 1917. The German Kaiser fled a country in the grip of revolution. By 1918 councils of workers, sailors and soldiers had formed in several cities, notably Berlin. A soviet republic was declared in Bavaria.

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Chile 1973: Heroism was not enough

The international workers’ movement celebrated the election of Allende’s socialist government in Chile in 1970. Three years later, a CIA-backed military coup swept the dictator Pinochet into power. In an article first published in the September 1998 edition of Socialism Today, issue No.31, TONY SAUNOIS, secretary of the Committee for a Workers International (CWI), explains how this tragedy unfolded and the lessons that persist today.

On 4 September 1970 Salvador Allende, Unidad Popular (UP) candidate, won the Chilean presidential elections with 36.3% of the vote. He defeated the hated leader of the right-wing Partido Nacional (PN), Jorge Alessandri, who polled 34.9%, with the candidate of the populist capitalist party, the Christian Democracy (PDC), Radomiro Tomic, trailing third with only 27.8%.

This election was not simply a ‘routine’ change in the presidency. It unleashed a revolutionary process which brought the working class into confrontation with the Chilean ruling class and US imperialism. Three years later, on September 11, reaction triumphed as the military seized power in a bloody military coup that was partly organised by the CIA.

The reaction of the Chilean ruling class and US imperialism was all the more ferocious because it was terrified by the sweep of the revolutionary movement which went far beyond the intentions of the UP leaders. It was the revolutionary dynamic of the masses, and not the actions of their leaders, that placed the capitalist system in danger.

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The end of Golden Eras

The new lease of life that world capitalism experienced after the collapse of the Stalinist states of Russia and Eastern Europe from the late 1980s has definitively run its course. Whatever the immediate perspectives are for the world economy, argues HANNAH SELL, there is no prospect of any new golden era of capitalist progress.

This March saw the second and third biggest bank collapses in US history, followed by the failure of the Swiss banking behemoth, Credit Suisse. A new worldwide financial crisis seemed to loom, and with it another Great Recession akin to 2007-08. No more banks have failed since, but that does not tell us much.

The events that set off the 2007-08 crisis began in the US subprime mortgage sector. In April 2007 the first major US subprime mortgage company was made bankrupt, yet in December 2007 the US stock markets were at an all-time high. In March 2008 the investment bank Bear Stearns folded, but it was not until September of that year that Lehman Brothers imploded, now remembered as the ‘shock event’ that triggered the Great Recession. So the cautious optimism of increasing numbers of capitalist commentators that we are not heading into a new recession, at least in the US, is certainly not justified merely by the booming major stock markets (with the exception of London) and the lack of any catastrophic financial events for a few months.

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New Labour, new capitalist managers

Keir Starmer’s Labour is seeking to “curry favour with big business”, was the response of the Unite general secretary Sharon Graham to the recent leak to the Financial Times of the party’s latest policy proposals on workers’ rights. These were policies signed off at the Labour Party’s National Policy Forum (NPF) meeting in July which, by mid-August, had still not been officially published by the party nor made available in full to affiliated organisations such as Unite.

The Labour Party’s attitude to big business was spelt out earlier this year in the New Business Model for Britain document, published in May by the shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves. Presented as a long-term strategy for the establishment of a high-growth British capitalism, capable of competing with other world capitalist classes and powers, it really does deserve the epithet of being an attempt to ‘curry favour with big business’.

After years of economic and political instability at the hands of an increasingly unpredictable and unreliable ruling Tory party, it is an appeal to the British ruling class to place their trust in an incoming Labour government to ensure the long-term strategic interests of British capitalism.

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