Bill Jefferies: Reply on organisation

Category: Organisation
Published on Thursday, 27 June 2013
Written by Admin
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The 2008 credit crunch opened a new period in British politics. No longer were the establishment parties vying to win votes through cheap credit and minor reforms; from here on the future was to be one of austerity. To pay for the bankers' bail-out and to keep the IMF happy pay needed to be cut – and it has been, by around 10% over the last three years – the largest ever sustained fall in real terms. Pensions were to be reduced, the working age extended and public sector jobs and services to be slashed. By the end of the first term of the Tory-led coalition the cut to public services will be around 30% cumulatively.

Yet after a few limited public sector strike days the response to this onslaught from the organised working class has been extremely weak. The trade union leaders were easily able to control the movement from the top down and to sell out, with varying degrees of readiness, any real opposition to wage freezes, job cuts and pension reductions.

Where there has been community-led resistance, notably to hospital closures, this has not been supported by the main health union Unison. Indeed in Lewisham, which saw a 25,000-strong local demonstration against the proposed downgrading of the hospital, the branch secretary of the Lewisham Hospital Health Branch condemned the local campaign in a circular issued to all staff members. The campaign failed to respond, and refused to publicly criticise either the failure of the trade unions to do anything real to oppose the closure or the refusal of the Labour Party to pledge to reverse the proposed closure. There was no revolutionary alternative.

The People’s Assembly too illustrates the crisis. Well attended and demonstrating the general discontent amongst the rank and file, but offering no perspective of a real fightback. No promise of industrial action beyond the inadequate actions allowed by the TU leaders, no criticism of the sell-outs engineered by the union bosses supporting and attending the assembly. Instead it promised only a ritual demonstration and the establishment of local people’s assemblies to be built without any class struggle. Wait for Labour was the clear, if unspoken, subtext. Disagree with the perspective/resolution? Come back in 2014 to amend it!

Meanwhile the left has continued to disintegrate, divided into competing sects run by rival bureaucracies who boast about the number of members they control, rather like feudal landlords valuing their land based on the number of souls attached to it. The members after all are only sheep to be fleeced. The disintegration is most obvious in the SWP, but the stagnation affects all the rival left groups to one degree or another, with no obvious way out.

So are there answers?

The non-revolutionary nature of the period, in the UK at least, is asserted only for its significance to be denied. Revolutionary movements abroad in Greece, Turkey and Brazil are pointed to as a prelude to ditch revolutionary politics at home – to build such mass movements, we are told, means building broad, non-revolutionary parties.

But as the Lewisham hospital campaign, the NUT pensions dispute and the local government pensions dispute show, the difference between reform and revolution is a practical question of how to fight for the interests of our class in the everyday struggle. Reformist politics will not only fail to win reforms; they will fail to defend what reforms we have won. So firstly, revolutionary socialists need to reassert that revolutionary politics are what we are all about. It is a practical question that also determines how we fight to win.

Secondly, we have seen that top-down initiatives will not rebuild the movement at the base. While “building from the base” is much lauded as an objective, this needs to be matched with practical organisational measures and solutions. Local groups of revolutionary socialists need to be formed who can work together in local campaigns. Only through getting to know each other and discussing the actual practical import of our differences will we be able to work out what the fundamental red lines are that underpin our work.

Third, if and when local groups, trade union factions or other real groups based on struggles or self-identified groups begin to function, they can then elect representatives to coordinate between themselves, to the extent that this is necessary, posed by the struggle itself.

Fourth, we are not starting from a blank sheet: our diverse experiences and political traditions should be a source of strength, not a reason to divide the movement. We need to unite it and prove that socialism and socialists are a living, breathing movement open to all who want to fight capitalism.