National Sections of the L5I:

Workers Power Political Perspectives 2005

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1. Introduction
1.1. Last year the international arena saw:
• an intensification of class contradictions and militant struggles, including major class battles in continental Europe and pre- revolutionary situations in Latin America
• the re-election of George Bush and thus the possibility if not the certainly of continued wars and upheavals
• the unravelling of the occupation of Iraq and the development of mass resistance and a popular uprising, facing the US and Britain with the spectre of defeat

1.2. In Britain the past year saw:
• the final discrediting of Blair’s reasons for war
• in the first part of the year significant sections of sections of the vanguard of the working class seeking a political break with Labour, one temporarily sabotaged by the union bureaucracy and the populist project of the SWP
• a significant increase in the number of trade unions struggles in the public sector against both government policies and in the private sector too, encouraged by the highpoint of the cycle and calling out for rank and file organisation.
• a positive political development in the European Social Forum which, despite its reduced size, raised calls for united action against neoliberalism and war (March 19 and G8) and steps towards creating a regularly meeting international coordination of resistance

1.3. These struggles also witnessed the deep crisis of proletarian leadership we have emphasised before in our national and international perspectives.

1.4. The necessity for revolutionary leadership and programme, nationally and internationally, is acute and requires agitation and propaganda for the key measures and slogans to answer this need.

2. Nature of the period

2.1 It is ABC for Trotskyists that a political organisation cannot develop its perspectives by starting solely or predominantly from national conditions. It must first understand those international developments ”” economic, political and military ”” that determine national developments. These are combined internationally but in an uneven manner. The source of this unevenness is contradiction between the international capitalist economy and the nation state.

2.2 In a period dominated by the war in Iraq (in which the UK plays a role second only to the USA) and the continued expansion and deepening of globalisation (in which Blair and Brown are the main proponents of “neolberal” reform in the European Union), the actions of the Blair government and the British bosses, and those of the leaders of the official labour movement, cannot be understood separately or apart from this international context. However this combined international reality certainly expresses itself unevenly. The British relationship of forces is not identical to that of Germany, France, Italy or the United States.

2.3 From the point of view of the neoliberal ruling classes, Britain is much more advanced than most of the larger countries of continental Europe. From the point of view of the working class - i.e. from our point of view - it is more backward. Backward in terms of militancy, fighting capacity of union organisation, local social movement mobilisation, and above all backward in its international horizons. A backward, intellectually challenged national Labour movement needs to look abroad to more advanced theories and practices - to continental Europe, to the United Sates and to semi-colonial countries.

2.4 At the sixth congress of the League for the Fifth International (April 2003) we agreed that the counterrevolutionary phase that followed the downfall of Stalinism had come to an end. We asserted that, with the emergence of resistance to capitalist globalisation in Latin America, Europe and the other continents, starting in isolated instances in the mid 1990s, but coming together in the growth of the anticapitalist movement after Seattle, a new world pre-revolutionary period was now
manifest.

2.5 Revolutionary and pre-revolutionary situations in Argentina, Bolivia, Venezuela, the second Palestinian intifada, general strikes in Africa, the attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq and the unprecedented antiwar mobilisations of 2002-03 all confirm that this assessment of the character of the period is correct. Globalisation is not a new epoch, nor a new “long boom” period, despite prolonged cyclical upturns in the Anglo-Saxon world and rapid development in China. It is a destabilising offensive by the dominant imperialist powers to solve the problem of the post-1974 tendency to stagnation at the expense of the metropolitan working classes and the masses of the semi-colonies.

2.6 This destabilisation is manifest not only in the increase in both class and anti-imperialist struggles but in inter-imperialist rivalries ”” more open than at any stage since 1945.

2.7 The League characterises this period as pre-revolutionary. What does this mean? That the long counter-revolutionary phase following the destruction of the degenerated workers states in 1989-92 has come to an end; that class contradictions impel the imperialist bourgeoisie to a counter-offensive against the workers and against the masses of the semi-colonial world; that in many countries class conflicts occur that have the potential to turn into struggles for power; that global developments increase rather than reduce the incidence of such struggles taking place in a combined way across many countries as in February 2003; that pre-revolutionary situations arise in certain countries more frequently; above all that the crisis of proletarian leadership becomes the main obstacle to these struggles developing into fully-fledged revolutionary crises.

2.8 Thus we are no longer in a period characterised predominantly by the aftermath of the retreat and defeat of the world working class in 1989-92. Nor are we in a period of world revolutionary crisis. Globally we are in a preparatory period of transition in which class contradictions, wars and sharp clashes are intensifying, a period pregnant with opportunities and risks.

2.9 The term ‘period’ refers not to an immediate conjuncture - a ‘situation’ - such as the revolutionary days in Argentina or February 2003, but to a longer time scale of several years. Our characterisation of the period should therefore not be misunderstood to mean that we are in - now - a pre-revolutionary situation, either in Britain or internationally. Nor does it mean that the transformation of the period into a new revolutionary period is inevitable ”” an objective process alone. Such an approach would constitute a form of processism - one which relies on history or spontaneous developments to resolve the political tasks which in reality fall to a conscious political vanguard.

2.10 But it would also be wrong to conclude that the severity of the crisis of leadership will block all further development of struggle. That is not the way the world works. The contradictions of capitalism unfold whether the proletarian vanguard is ‘ready’ or not. And economic crises and military reverses for imperialism ”” particularly the USA - will greatly improve the possibilities for communists to overcome this crisis of leadership.

2.11 Until the mass anti-war mobilisations of 2003, Britain was relatively
backward in these developments. Blair’s backing of Bush when most world leaders opposed the attack on Iraq meant that Britain leapt into the forefront of an unprecedented global mass antiwar movement. Blair found himself with only right-wing European politicians, Berlusconi and Aznar on his side as the major forces of the European Union went into open opposition to the USA’s war project, an unprecedented rift not seen since the Second World War ”” a rift that has not been healed and will not be healed in the immediate future.

2.12 Blair, by forcing the war through parliament, against the majority view of the population, with millions on the streets against him, created an unprecedented crisis. The subsequent unravelling of every one of his pretexts for war, the disastrous course of the occupation means that this crisis has not been fundamentally resolved and will remain an important question in the coming general election.

2.13 In February-March 2003, had the leaders of the antiwar movement ”” trade union bureaucrats, Stalinists, Left Labourites and centrists - not utterly failed the test of this crisis then the downfall of Blair was a real possibility. Even as late as the winter of 2003-04 Blair was tottering. What was needed was intensification of the mobilisations, direct action and mass strikes. But the centrist leaders in the Stop the War Coalition failed to appeal to the masses over the heads of the reformist and bureaucratic leaders.

2.14 Britain thus came into line with the sort of social crisis that mobilised trade unionists and youth against economic globalisation and war in Italy, Spain, France, Germany, produced huge mobilisations in the USA, actual revolutionary situations in Latin America (Argentina, Bolivia, Venezuela), heightened resistance to imperialism and Zionism in the Middle East, and spurred mass struggles in Asia.

2.15 Conference affirms that over the last five years the League’s analysis has, in its overall line, been borne out by events and continues to be the grounding from which we understand the relations between the classes and class fractions in Britain too. They form the indispensable basis for understanding the objective contradictions that are forcing Blair and Brown to carry on with marketising, thinly disguised neoliberal “reforms” of the public services, massive attacks on civil liberties, whilst trying to mobilise reactionary social forces in their support by anti-immigrant state racism and fostering religious prejudices.

2.16 Such measures of class war would not be necessary unless the project of fostering globalisation and playing close comrade in arms to George Bush was not a policy flowing from a period of deep instability and ultimately crisis, not one of stability or long term economic expansion. Only such a correct understanding of the world period can explain the profound nature of the crisis of working class leadership and historic nature of the potentially explosive tensions within the Labour Party, which, along with the continuing radicalisation of the youth, are the key to the current situation.

2.17 In Britain we are still encumbered by the inheritance of the Thatcher defeats (anti-union laws, weak workplace organisation, very low political horizons) ”” but we are in a period of recomposition not decomposition, one in which revolutionaries have a critical role to play and in which centrism can experience acute problems which will open major opportunities for us.

3. The international context

3.1 The USA remains the only global super power. Its economic, political and military might are unequalled. It dominates and dictates to the global institutions that have arisen in the post war era. From the International Court to the World Trade Organisation it ignores or tries to subvert rulings not in the immediate interests of US capital. From its military bases around the globe it has the power to act unilaterally and intervene militarily at a moment’s notice.

3.2 Rather than leading to a peaceful and stable world, US hegemony has lead to the opposite. Instead of blunting the contradictions and rivalries between the imperialist powers, US hegemony has actually sharpened them. So much so that the Franco German alliance at the heart of the European project has been forced to rapidly move further down road of a European super-state that can rival the US on a global scale. The road of the European super state is the road towards a future inter-imperialist war.

3.3 Under the USA’s hegemony we have the doctrine of pre-emptive strikes and the never-ending global war on terror - the continuation of economic globalisation by military means. The re-election of Bush with a democratic mandate and political capital to spend, coupled with republican control of both the Senate and Congress, will mean a continuation of the policies and practices that have characterised Bush’s first term - four more years of war, poverty and misery for the masses of Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Africa.

3.4 Even though the US is powerful, it is not unbeatable. Its attempt to smash and grab the strategic oil reserves of Iraq has not gone to plan. It has become bogged down in a guerrilla war with a growing national resistance movement. With no end in sight for the conflict, the spectre of a Vietnam defeat looms closer the longer it remains bogged down. Its threats to impose regime change on Syria, Iran and North Korea sound more and more hollow as the conflict in Iraq continues and forces it to deploy more troops.

3.5 The US economy is already showing the signs stain as the cost of the war in Iraq increase. At the start of the 2005 it is estimated that the war in Iraq has already cost the USA $150bn. In November its deficit widened to a record $60.3bn (£22.1bn) further increasing the downward pressure on the value of the dollar and a lowering of growth forecasts. Its inability to pay for its military campaign in Iraq by increasing oil production and lowering the cost of crude oil is another important factor which will hinder US growth rates and lead to a further devaluation of the dollar which effectively offsets some of the US’s economic woes onto its imperialist rivals.

3.6 To build the European Union as a real counter-weight to US Imperialism, Europe’s ruling class have, as we said in the second issue of our journal, “to Americanise or Bust”. This is the objective that is driving the neo-liberal offensive across Europe. Agenda 2010 and the attacks on unemployment benefits (Hartz 4) in Germany, Berlusconi’s attacks on the Italian working class and Chirac’s push for pension and health care reforms, are all been driven by the need to catch up with the US.

3.7 This strategic aim is outlined in the Lisbon agenda and is the central doctrine of the new European constitution. Britain, which has already undertaken its neo-liberal offensive on the working class, continues to play an important role in urging on the attacks on the rest of the European working class. The attacks we have seen in 2004 will continue in 2005 and draw more and more workers into struggle against the neo-liberal offensive.

3.8 The failure of the Assembly of the Social Movements at the Paris ESF to seriously address the issue of social cuts and the day of action last year has had an immediate effect on the German movement and the struggle against 2010. It left the German workers isolated as they were the only section to take up the call seriously and organised demonstrations and strike action against the EU social cuts. This isolation has enabled the union bureaucrats to sell out their struggle in a number of the key unions and to beat a retreat in the face of a class wide attack. There have been similar setbacks in France and to a lesser extent in Italy where mass struggles continue against Berlusconi.

3.9 But these are only setbacks - the workers of Europe have not been strategically defeated like the British working class under Thatcher. What is holding the workers of Europe back from scoring a victory is not unwillingness to fight. It is the tactics and reformist prejudices of their leaderships. There will be no slow down in the European class struggle in 2005. International mobilisations like the demonstration in Brussels on March 19 provide communists with the opportunity to agitate for the coordinated fight back that is so desperately needed; revolutionaries should continue to raise this critical question in the preparatory meetings of the ESF.

3.10 The effects of the class struggle on the mainland will reverberate in Britain in 2005. In the medium term, the success of the revival of the workers movement in Britain after 20 years of defeat will in large part depend on the outcome of the struggles of our brothers and sisters on the mainland of Europe. There is no hermetic seal between the struggles.

3.11 The European constitution, increasingly a political issue on the mainland as more and more countries seek to rarity it through referendums, will become an issue in Britain as Blair has promised a referendum on this issue and the UKIP will raise it in the general election campaign. Against the rest of the left, who will only raise the question of a “social Europe”, we will take the opportunity to make propaganda and agitation around the question of the Socialist United State of Europe - the socialist answer to the neo-liberal unification of Europe. We should be raising the question of the EU as often as we can and linking it to the privatisation agenda of Blair and Brown.

3.12 The British class struggle was dominated by the question of politics in 2003 not economics - the war and not mass strikes. 2005 will not be the same, because economic questions such a pension reforms will be an important factor. Nevertheless political questions will play an important role in the British class struggle in 2005. Britain not only hosts the G8 meeting in June but also the European presidency in the latter half of 2005. There will be large demonstrations and counter conferences around both the G8 and the EU meetings which will provide Workers Power with a opportunities to intervene and agitate around our key slogans not only during the events but also in the lead up. And of course, the occupation of Iraq, mass opposition to Blair’s war and rising discontent among the troops themselves will continue to be critical factors providing major opportunities for revolutionary agitation, propaganda and organisation.

4. Blair, Brown and a third term

4.1 The Tories are still lagging so far behind Labour in the opinion polls that anything other than a third term for Labour seems a near impossibility. Yet opinion polls register a deep mistrust of Blair because he dragged Britain into war under false pretences. The Tories of course also backed the war to the hilt so their criticisms do them no good whatsoever. Labour’s racism against asylum seekers, law-and-order measures from ASBOs to the pledge to introduce ID cards, controls on tax and privatisation have made it impossible for the Tories to put much “clear blue water” between themselves and Blair. They have “moved to the centre” under Howard but this only increases their difficulty in presenting themselves as a real alternative, even to the more conservative sections of the middle classes and the least class conscious workers.

4.2 The Liberal Democrats hope a combination of the Tories woeful performance, plus distrust of Blair’s warmongering, will present them with the best opportunity of achieving an electoral breakthrough since the SDP split from Labour in the 1980s. However, the vast bulk of their target seats are currently in Tory hands. Therefore, any significant progress for the Lib Dems will more likely hurt the Tories than Labour, except in areas with a high proportion of Muslim voters who voted Labour in previous elections.

4.3 Certainly there is no viable left alternative to Blair. The SSP is not a UK but a national Scottish party, focussed on the Scottish Assembly and local elections, and increasingly nationalist. They have been recently severely damaged by the sinister bourgeois-engineered scandal surrounding the downfall of Tommy Sheridan as party leader. In any case they have never won a first-past-the-post election except at local authority level.

4.4 Respect has not reached out beyond its support among the SWP’s periphery and those constituencies with a high concentration of Muslim voters, such as Tower Hamlets. It has not even become the undisputed party of the antiwar movement because it did not draw in the CPB or significant left union backing. Since Labour has done a deal to keep the big trade union barons quiet, at least till after the election, and satisfy the middle class and the labour aristocracy it could still win the election comfortably.

4.5 Nevertheless there could very well be a substantial abstention by Labour loyalists alienated by the war, repressive policies, and above all attacks on the public sector. Some of these”” certainly in Muslim communities ”” may turn to Respect but its non-class and populist character, and the fact that it is not even a party, will make it unattractive to large numbers of disaffected traditional Labour voters.

4.6 However, Labour’s support could fall, perhaps significantly”” especially amongst the vanguard of hundreds of thousands of public sector workers and opponents of the war. Despite being blessed with economic good news, despite having delivered measures in the interests of some workers, such as the minimum wage and tax credits for low income families, it has failed to plug the “lack of trust” and “democratic deficit” that many people experience in British parliamentary politics. Disillusion with bourgeois democracy, as we noted in the last perspectives and have witnessed in by-elections since as well as the North East regional assembly vote, continues to be a mass and deep-rooted phenomenon. Abstention could reach new levels.

4.7 For all these reasons, Blair will not enjoy an extended honeymoon at the start of his third (and final) term. He is probably aware of that and will seek to finish the job of “reform” of the public services, support for Bush’s crusade etc.

4.8 Blair wants to go down in history as the Labour prime minister who carried out a “modernising” revolution by bringing market discipline into the welfare state and breaking the power of the public sector unions to resist it. This project he initiated with Brown and still shares with him. There was originally little difference between Brownism and Blairism. He would, as we have said before, like to achieve Labour‘s transformation into a fully bourgeois party, albeit with a long term alliance to the union bureaucracy (i.e. a US-style Democratic Party or a continental Christian Democracy). Brown sees no harm and a lot of advantages in keeping tame union bureaucrats on board providing they do not try to dictate party policy.

4.9 Brown and his spin-doctors like to claim the credit for Labour’s successes in tackling poverty and improving services, especially on child poverty and nursery school provision. Some albeit limited progress has been made but from such a low base that gross poverty still remains a major problem. Most of Labour’s policies are aimed at the “deserving poor”, at getting them into low-paid jobs and off the dole. Other policies particularly in health and education are mainly benefiting the middle class and labour aristocracy, giving them “choice”, i.e. privileged access to the better state schools, hospitals etc. and an escape from local authority control. Brown may pay more tribute to the “public service ethos” and court some public sector union leaders but there is no qualitatively different approach. Many Brown policies are subsidising employers or private service providers and, because Brown has stuck to Tory spending and direct taxation levels, a recession would force him to abandon most of his plans.

4.10 More important is the rivalry between them and the fact that the main union leaders are in Brown’s faction. The bitterness is because Brown has been repeatedly swindled by hints and, it seems, direct promises from Blair that he is about to step down. In 2003-04, Blair again deceived and outmanoeuvred Brown and his parliamentary, trade union and journalistic backers. Hence the scarce-concealed infighting only three months or so from an election.

4.11 A recent poll for the Independent confirms that Blair is now a net
liability”” i.e. he has lost the key quality that matters in the electoral-cretinous British Labour movement”” being the only one who can assure victory. As much as 7% more respondents said they would vote Labour if Brown replaced Blair. However it is by no means certain that Brown will succeed Blair even after an election. Blair would clearly like to get rid of him, purge his allies and rebuild his cabinet around Milburn, with Byers and even a returned Blunkett.

4.12 If his third election victory is judged a personal triumph, Blair could well dump Brown, hoping to weather the impotent rage of the union leaders and even face down either a Brown leadership challenge or one by a Brown stalking horse. However any serious humiliation for Blair at the polls (large scale abstention and loss of seats in Labour strongholds, etc.) could force him to stand down or face a leadership challenge in which he could be “fatally wounded”.

4.13 In any case the weakening of the social roots of the Labour Party will continue. In the European elections Labour’s vote fell 6% to 23%, their worst share of the vote since before World War I. It also scored the worst local election results in the party’s recent history. But Blair and Labour got away with it because the continued distrust and scorn of the electorate was even greater for Michael Howard and the Tories, than for Blair. Opinion polls at the time revealed 74% of voters were unhappy with the government but only 35% preferred the Tories.

4.14 The “pitiless test of numbers” shows a Labour Party in sharp decline. It had 405,000 members when Blair won the 1997 election. By July 2004 membership had fallen to 208,000 with a drop of 25,000 in the previous six months. Activists report a tremendous haemorrhage in the wake of the Iraq war. Because at least 12 percent of the official number are out of membership due to non-payment of subs, the real figure is now widely considered to be 190,000: the lowest since Ramsay MacDonald split the party in 1931.

5. The Unions and the Labour Party

5.1 “Despite US and UK’s victory in Gulf war 2 we are witnessing the most important revival of the working class movement since the miners’ strike and in the level of political struggle in Britain since the poll tax campaign.” (Prospects for the Working Class Movement in Britain, Workers Power conference, May 17/18 2003)

5.2 Last year’s perspectives were more circumspect. We talked of the “uneven and limited revival of union militancy.” In fact this revival has not only continued but deepened.

5.3 Provisional strike figures show that the first 10 months of 2004 saw 775,000 strike days lost due to trade disputes, which surpasses the number of strikes in any single year since 1996. This figure does not include the 200,000-strong PCS strike on 5th November, or significant action by the RMT, Liverpool Unison and CWU. The CBI complains that the number of ballots for industrial action, a form of class struggle that workers know often forces the bosses to improve their offers, has continued its steady climb in 2004. With the election out of the way by May or June, and the pensions dispute crucial to both sides, this revival seems likely to continue in 2005.

5.4 The major industrial disputes were among civil servants (first over pay, then over job cuts and sick pay), the Scottish nursery workers (pay), firefighters (stand down time), lecturers (contracts), railworkers (pay and hours/leave) and Yorkshire bus workers (pay and sick pay). In addition there were significant manufacturing and private services disputes (Landrover, Sainsbury, Heathrow baggage handlers, Scottish whisky workers, etc.) These disputes represent a mixture of defensive struggles in the public sector and offensive struggles in the private, or privatised, sector by workers aware that their wages had not risen relatively or even absolutely, despite a continuing economic upswing.

5.5 The results of these struggles were likewise a mixture of victories, partial victories and a few defeats. Only in the case of the PCS and FBU could the disputes be simply described as defeats. However, all the disputes raised serious question marks over leadership: even the “left” bureaucrats, like Mark Serwotka and Bob Crow, failed to map out serious campaign strategies; even the best organised rank and file workers, like the FBU and CWU, failed to challenge their bureaucracies’ misleadership effectively and successfully because they had no instrument for replacing them.

5.6 What cannot be denied, however, is that these workers have shown no reluctance to fight hard and, where necessary, long: all out strikes are showing a real if limited revival. How can this be the case when figures show that many workers have benefited from Labour’s tax policies and average real wages have increased? Because the cost of reproducing labour power has a strong social component; it is not just workers’ living standards, but their relative position in society that motivates them to feel content or discontent. Average and poor workers, women, youth and black and Asian workers, and - above all - public sector workers have failed to gain as much as other classes and strata in society from Labour.

5.7 Under John Major’s government the incomes gap actually narrowed (after Thatcher’s destruction of workers’ living conditions); under Labour this halted and inequality began to rise again. New Labour, for all Gordon Brown’s claims to have aided the deserving poor, has simultaneously boosted profits, cut corporate tax and encouraged conspicuous consumption by bourgeois fat cats. In a period of renewed cyclical economic growth, 2002-04 many workers are asking, “Where’s our cut?”

5.8 Public sector workers (including the privatised sector), meanwhile, are facing a political attack by New Labour in the form of PFI, PPP, de-skilling/re-grading and attacks on conditions (often in the form of “modernisation” strings to long-delayed catch-up pay deals). The FBU and PCS have faced attacks aimed at seriously undermining the power of the unions. The Labour government has not sought outright derecognition (except for Newham Unison) nor strike bans (though it has threatened them), but it has sought to take the FBU, PCS and sections of other public sector unions out of the frame by breaking the spirit of their membership and their ability to fight back in the short to medium term.

5.9 This will continue over the next several years to be a major plank of the government’s industrial relations policy. Derecognition and/or strike bans could even be implemented, where the sections concerned can be isolated and witch hunted by the media. In any case the need for a generalised fightback will come more and more to the fore if Blair claims a mandate for a radical third term of reform. The pensions issue could well be the first such battleground.

5.10 The RMT remains the most important left union in Britain. Its
vanguard position is not just respected inside the labour movement but inside the anticapitalist movement too. Its leadership faction around Bob Crow (though not absolutely hegemonic) is left Stalinist. What does this mean?

5.11 First its industrial strategy is left bureaucratic: one-day sectoral strikes, open-ended ballots, works-to-rule (e.g. Midland Mainline), which duck a head on confrontation over the major issue. In the situation of an economic upswing, and with its serious economic muscle it has been quite successful. However, its limitations became apparent over the privatisation of the tube. Its alliance with Livingstone was based on guerrilla strikes plus legal challenges to the Treasury’s PPP measures, with both sides fighting an effective propaganda war.

5.12 This broke down in April almost immediately that Livingstone rejoined Labour and agreed to back the government’s agenda in return for backing for Crossrail. Crow’s provocative call for a strike on 11th June (which Livingstone feared would lose him the mayoral election) was met with “Red” Ken’s infamous call for scabbing. Crow backed down. However, events on Midland Mainline, EWS, Eurostar, and even the tube since show that this was not a sectoral defeat.

5.13 Early 2004 saw an important sharpening of the crisis of political representation inside the unions, though especially in the unions mentioned above. All the political fund ballots resulted in huge majorities to keep the funds, most with large turnouts. The RMT, Aslef, FBU and GMB had the highest turnouts and the biggest “Yes” votes.

5.14 The FBU voted to disaffiliate from Labour and call a conference of trade unionists to discuss political representation, took place against the bitter opposition of Andy Gilchrist, its discredited general secretary (a Reclaim Labour supporter). Its London region FBU has given its support to Respect.

5.15 But because there has been no change in leadership the rank and file has been witch-hunted and the leadership has blocked any moves to form a new workers party. Indeed, this is what its “flirtation” with the SNP - like Billy Hayes’ “flirtation” with the Greens in the summer - is all about; it is not a sign of a serious move away from class politics, it is a deliberate decoy designed to block the road a new workers’ party. We will see if the rank and file, especially those grouped around Grassroots, can recover sufficiently to make further steps forward towards the formation of a rank and file movement and a new workers party over the next 12 months.

5.16 But the RMT’s political strategy is not at all the same as Reclaim Labour. Unlike Prentis, Woodley and co. Crow has never been a member of the Labour Party; he is a Stalinist, who takes his line from Rob Griffiths (CPB General Secretary), but also from Fausto Bertinotti (Rifondazione) and even Jacques Nikonoff (PCF). He believes that European social democracy (including Labour) needs to be won to opposition to the US, via a popular front at home and an alliance with the semi-colonial bourgeoisie abroad. This, he thinks, can push back the worst aspects of neoliberalism and aggressive wars. This political strategy explains the RMT’s unrivalled and early orientation to the ESF, compared with any other British union.

5.17 But Crow is for Labour, not of Labour. He is in favour of independent political organisation, indeed he believes it is essential, to push Labour on the right path. He has allowed seven branches in the Scottish region and the region itself to affiliate to the SSP; he admires Tommy Sheridan. He has made sympathetic remarks about Forward Wales and even the Green Party. However he refused to be drawn into Respect. Under certain circumstances (e.g. proportional representation), he might even countenance a new left reformist workers party, though its aim, like Rifondazione’s, would be to position itself just to the left of the main reformist party. This is why Crow was quite happy for the RMT to be expelled by Labour; it is why he supported the 2004 AGM resolution to explore options for political working class organisation; and it is important because it is the most coherent expression of a strategy of a whole layer of middle ranking, Morning Star reading bureaucrats.

5.18 The leaders of the Big Four unions ”” Amicus, GMB, TGWU, and Unison ””are all Reclaim Labour supporters. They act as though Blair’s leadership is just a nasty interlude, a takeover by a clique of pro-business parliamentary interlopers. Get rid of Blair and install Brown and Labour is well on the road to being “reclaimed”, for the bureaucracy of course, not for the rank and file members or traditional Labour notions of “socialism”. They have been the most determined to bureaucratically stamp on any moves to either democratise the political fund or form a new workers party. In the spring they were totally deluded by the prospect of a rapid replacement of Blair by Brown”” which the Brownites told them was just around the corner.

5.19 In July 2004, at the National Policy Forum in Warwick, they believed they had extracted over 50 policy agreements from the list of the 70-odd they submitted. In fact they are not worth the paper they were printed out on if Blair has a successful election. In return for this dud cheque they again defused the labour Party conference, even backtracking on their conferences call for withdrawal of British troops from Iraq. They have handed over their far from dud cheques for Blair’s re-election. So far, they have been successful in aborting the moves for other unions to disaffiliate or call into question Labour Party membership. This is because the smaller left union leaders ultimately always given in to the big barons, just as the fake left union barons give in to the real right-wing Labour leaders.

5.20 Is this the end of the story of the strained and splintering “organic links between the unions and Labour? This is not likely because the factors that put this relationship under a historically unprecedented strain”” Labour’s thinly disguised neoliberal assault on workers social gains and its brazen support for US imperialism - will not go away. Neither will a realisable project for reclaiming Labour emerge. The Reclaimers have repeatedly told their suspicious and discontented activists, “Don’t worry, we’ll win our policies and Gordon Brown is coming.” But they will soon see the reality of all these promises; after the election the Warwick “agreement” will not be agreed where it counts (in the cabinet). The promise of Gordon Brown in No 10 is a double-edged sword even if he succeeds Blair. In power”” and free of Tony Woodley and Co”” he would prove in substance just as much of a
neoliberal and a warmonger as the present incumbent.

5.21 The cracks in this capitulationist policy of the Big Four are already beginning to appear. The “revolt” over pensions before the election is both a result of rank and file pressure and a reflection of bureaucratic unease at Milburn’s role. Kevin Curran - John Edmonds’ true successor as the most far-sighted of the bureaucrats - has continued to rattle Blair’s cage.

5.22 The vanguard elements in the unions have, for all their disparate character and lack of political leadership, pressed for a break with Labour. They have not succeeded or only partly succeeded in most unions. But the issue, the idea, is there as never before in our lifetimes. For revolutionaries not to agitate within the vanguard to get their unions to split from Labour would constitute an unwarranted retreat in face of the pressure of the Big Four and the cowardice of the “left” union leaders. During the election itself the need to raise the new party slogan is obvious. And within months of the election the issue of political representation of the working class, of the need for a fighting party, will be posed once again in all its acuteness by the actions of the new Labour government, whoever heads it.

5.23 To sum up, our major slogans in the trade unions will be:
• For a rank and file movement in and across the unions
• For permanent democratic coordinations of struggle between and across unions, linking up with campaigns of resistance to neoliberalism and war
• Form social forums in defence of pensions, healthcare, education and in support of all union struggles, linking up with antiwar and crucially European-wide forums of resistance
• For the unions to break from Labour and form a new workers party with the anticapitalist and antiwar youth, as part of the fight for the formation of a new International

6. The SWP- heading for crack up?
6.1. The Socialist Workers Party has over the last eighteen months or so made an unprecedented swing to the right in all the major spheres of the British and international class struggle. In the US elections they supported the pathetic Nadar candidacy. In the anticapitalist movement they have dropped any real attempt to build Globalise resistance and gone for an alliance with Livingstone and the GLA, top union bureaucrats like Billy Hayes, and most recently Jaques Nikonoff of Attac.

6.2. In the trade unions and Stop the War too they have adopted an uncritical attitude to the centre-left trade union bureaucrats”” even defending t as a principle that involving them in a united front means not criticising them.

6.3. This was seen most shamefully in the way they capitulated to the
TUC and the RMT over IFTU speakers in the ESF, then shifting away from Troops Out Now as the formal basis for Stop the War to keep the union leaders on board. In fact the SWP is acting in a thoroughly right-centrist fashion. But even worse is its attitude to Respect: The Unity Coalition.

6.4. According to John Rees Respect is an alliance of “trade unionists, socialists and the Muslim community”. For this reason it was founded on a non-working class, non-socialist programme to attract the support of influential people in the Muslim community and traditional voters of the Green Party.

6.5. Rees and Callinicos theorise these as “united fronts of a special type”. Very special indeed. This comes very close to the method of Stalinist Communist Parties in the mid- 1930s The SWP has adopted the method of the popular front. Respect however is not a formal popular front, i.e. an alliance of workers and bourgeois/petty bourgeois parties. It might have been more so if the SWP’s overtures to the Green Party, the Muslim Association of Britain and the Communist Party of Britain had been succesful But in fact Respect is only a populist election machine utterly dependent on the SWP cadres and finances, with a scattering of Muslim community figures and maverick reformists headed up by George Galloway.

6.6. Even less than the Socialist Alliance could it survive without the SWP. Its electoral showing”” with one or two exceptions in strong Muslim areas- was lamentable and nearly bankrupted the SWP. If it does not make a break through in the general elections ”” i.e. if it does not elect George Galloway”” then it will almost certainly collapse

6.7. Since the last five years of “united fronts of a special type” have brought the SWP no successes, indeed their membership has seriously declined. Marxism was half its former size, and they have been forced to sell their printshop. Respect could break the camel’s back financially and then the membership’s patience. A serious crisis in the SWP ”” or at least a serious exit of members - would be very likely.

6.8. For this reason we need to pay them serious polemical attention during the general election. If the SWP splits or starts to crack up, many of their older cadre might move still further to the right. But because such a powerful rightward zigzag provoked it, this could also lead to some younger cadres reacting in a leftward direction, or seeking out a ‘revolutionary alternative’. We need to ensure that our analysis of them is updated at both a theoretical and a propaganda/polemical level and that we agitate against Respect effectively during the election campaign and during the G8 mobilisation.

7. The anti-capitalist and antiwar movements

7.1. “The European Social Forum continues to be a centre of the growing internationalism of these forces. It will (probably) take place in London in 2004. This will present significant and recently unparalleled opportunities to transform, radicalise and reorganise class politics in Britain.”

7.2. “The fact that the next ESF is in London presents an enormous opportunity to loosen the dead hand of the SWP on the conjoined antiwar-anti-capitalist movements. Organising the ESF will be a formidable task for the SWP. The difficulty of this task is compounded by the still relatively low level of trade union struggle in Britain. The limited prospects for a generalising battle in 2004 (….) will make vibrant social forums harder to construct at local level, albeit no less necessary.:” (Turn to the Working Class and the Youth: Tasks of Workers Power 2004 February 2004)

7.3. Nothing in the above quotations means that last years conference predicted that the London ESF would ”” by some sort of objective process”” transform class politics in Britain. Indeed our perspectives warned of the obstacles that the SWP and the weakness of rank and file trade unionism presented. It did however rightly stress the potential of
holding the ESF in London.

7.4. The optimum possibility”” i.e. a really huge mobilisation, on the scale of Florence or Paris, got there via locally organised committees, public meetings and report backs could indeed have qualitatively transformed the recomposition of the labour movement. It did not happen but it could have happened. That it did not was not due to the absence of trade union and antiwar activists in Britain but to the leadership of the unions, the GLA/SA and the SWP. Nevertheless the ESF ””if it fell well short of the optimum”” was not a failure.

7.5. The third European Social Forum in London in fact saw 20, - 25,000 activists (10 -15,000 from the UK) attend, making it the biggest such event that Britain has ever witnessed. In addition the “horizontals” drew around 3000 people to their rival events. The debates about the future of the anti-capitalist movement, about the war, Palestine and Iraq, the hijab etc, addressed the big questions facing the movement in a more open and critical way than was the case in Florence and Paris.

7.6. The Assembly of the Social Movements was committed to a series of important mobilisations, such as the March 19 European demo in Brussels and the Anti-G8 protests in Scotland. This actually constituted a step forward from Paris in 2003, where the LCR and the IST balked at taking firm decisions for action in solidarity with German, Italian and French workers fighting against the EU’s Lisbon agenda. However the number attending was low, due in part to a switch of venue to Alexandra Palace, when the demonstration which followed it was in Bloomsbury.

7.7. The ’Extraordinary’ European Assembly in Paris in December 2004 saw a further step forward, forming a working group to discuss a new function for the European Preparatory Assemblies””i.e. overseeing and developing the actions agreed to at the ESF. To bring this change into being will of course need a struggle between the present right, centre and left of the movement.

7.8. At the moment and on this issue the SWP/ISTand the reformist leadership of Attac, plus the big unions represent the right wing, opposing any leadership initiatives and structures or any “threats” to national autonomy. The Fourth International and the Italian radical unions and social forums has made a turn to the left. The task is to create a real left of the movement, which by its fearless exposure of the right and criticism of the centre-left will drive the latter forward and isolate the former.

7.9. Certainly the London ESF was the smallest and most bureaucratically run to date”” half the size of Florence and Paris, one day shorter and priced out of the reach of the socially excluded or poorly paid. Although the main trade union leaders and the TUC officially endorsed the event this did not translate into active campaigning to get their members to it.

7.10. In part this was undoubtedly a by-product of the summer turnaround in the unions relations with Blair (Livingstone’s return to the Labour fold, the Warwick agreements, the surrender of the big four on demanding an end to the occupation of Iraq at the Labour Party Conference). Thus despite the official plenary platforms groaning under the weight of general and deputy general secretaries there was a very limited mobilisation of the rank and file compared to what was possible.

7.11. But the really critical reason for the ESF to achieve its full potential was the weakness of the local and national structures of the anticapitalist movement and therefore the fact that there was no real agitation and campaigning to get people to it who had not hitherto been involved. We cannot expect the mobilisations of the ACM to be mainly the work of trade union officials and reformist politicians. There are tens of thousands of anticapitalist and anti-imperialist youth in Britain but virtually no organisations to give it expression.

7.12. This is due to the obstruction and even sabotage by the SWP, by the anarchists, and by the indifference of most union leaders. If the SWP were a revolutionary party and not a rightward moving centrist sect”” we would undoubtedly have such a movement since the obstacles presented by the latter would be easily overcome. The SWP added one more crime to the list: refusing to build even mobilising committees for the ESF.

7.13. The Livingstone/ Socialist Action control over the organisation of the event, fully supported by the SWP, meant that the more radical European forces were to some degree sidelined. In the preparatory process decisions of the European meetings were often ignored by the British organising committee”” as was the case with inviting the IFTU speaker. The demonstration at the end of the ESF was hijacked by the Stop the War Coalition and had no international speakers on the platform in Trafalgar Square.

8. Antiwar movement

8.1. In 2003 the antiwar movement reached historic levels of mobilisation. In February and March the possibility existed to turn this movement of protest by millions into mass direct action and strikes to bring the country to a halt. In such conditions the downfall of Blair and any Labour leadership that would insist on continuing with the war was a realistic achievable aim. The first People’s Assembly also had the possibility to launch such a struggle. But the Stop the War Coalition, led by the SWP and the CPB, miserably failed the test. The war went ahead and the antiwar movement suffered a serious defeat.

8.2. In November, however, with Bush’s visit and the unravelling of Blair’s lies, another huge demonstration (200,000 - the largest held on a weekday without industrial action) showed that the hatred for the war was still intense and militant. But the SWP was by then determined to convert the huge capital of antiwar and anti-imperialist action into the small change of electoral advantage for itself and the maverick adventurer George Galloway. The SWP’s demobilisation of the StWC in favour of campaigning in the European elections in 2004 was analogous to the Ligue Communiste Revolutionaire’s turning away from the mass anti-Raffarin strikes and street demonstration of 2003 for the same elections. Both ended in electoral humiliation because they involved demobilising mass struggles and ducked a decisive struggle.

8.3. Thus 2004 saw StWC wither away, with many local groups falling into abeyance. In June the demonstration called against the handover from Bremer to the interim government was a total flop as was, in the autumn, the central London mobilisations on Fallujah. Only the post-ESF demonstration (70,000) was at all respectable. Now the SWP has “relaunched” a campaign for a mass international demonstration on 19th March. Leaving aside the fact that they happily let it clash with the ESF anti-EU demonstration in Brussels, their aim is obviously, once again, that it provides a ramp for Respect’s take-off in the general elections.

8.4. Respect split the antiwar movement, but not along the lines of who would and who would not take action against imperialism. The end of the war of invasion and the beginning of the war of national liberation posed the need for StWC to agitate for troops out now and solidarity with the resistance. The CPB and the Greens refused to join the Respect Unity Coalition; the SWP’s antics exposed it as an unprincipled manoeuvre. Their failure to make a breakthrough in the Euro-elections opened the door for the trade union bureaucracy post-Warwick to prepare for another, more damaging split.

8.5. The unprincipled character of the SWP’s relations with the big union leaders led to a retreat when the latter betrayed their own union conferences and withdrew support at the last minute for resolutions at Labour conference calling for troop withdrawal. The SWP got caught in a scissors crisis between their Muslim and trade union bureaucrat allies. The latter supported the IFTU collaborators, on the grounds that they were building trade unions and effectively condemned the Iraqi resistance. The former wanted to support the resistance. This led to a crisis in StWC with the exit of Mick Rix of Aslef and a bitter attack by the SWP on those like ourselves who condemned the IFTU and called for immediate withdrawal and support for the resistance.

8.6. The war of invasion had grown over into a war of national liberation; Stop the War was now an insufficient slogan when the call for Troops out now and solidarity with the resistance were sorely needed. Indeed, the US movement had begun to mobilise significant forces around these demands. This, plus the inactivity of StWC, opened the way for smaller organisations like Iraq Occupation Focus to hold a series of well-attended meetings and seminars. These all indicate that the movement against the war/occupation is not dead, has not suffered a strategic defeat and can be revived. However the dead hand of the SWP and its Respect project weighs heavily on it and will require active campaigning in the next period to throw off.

8.7. Critical to the prospects of success in this are developments in Iraq. A rising tide of armed resistance and the inevitable impact of this on the morale of the occupying troops - together with courageous campaigning by the families of the soldiers themselves - provide us with every right to expect a revival of antiwar/anti-occupation activity in the months and year ahead.

9. Key Slogans

9.1. The headlong retreat of the “left” union leaders, under pressure from the big four, around the TUC and LP conferences, as the election came into view meant that the new workers party lost short-term prospects of organisational expression. During the election the NWP will remain a subject for agitation, propaganda and polemic but almost certainly not for practical organisation.

9.2. Does that mean we should drop the slogan or withdraw it into propaganda alone? Not at all. An election is more than most other times an occasion for presenting a few ideas to many people (the only scientific definition of agitation and in no way to be confused with “things we can put into practice or organise NOW” let alone “things that the masses are already sympathetic to”). Without a fighting party of the vanguard none of the other struggles can hope to be fully victorious. It is also key to our criticism of what the union leaders, the Labour left, the CPB and the SWP are doing now - i.e. supporting Labour or promoting Respect, etc. It sharply distinguishes us from the anti-partyism of radicals in the anticapitalist movement.

9.3. After the election, the question of a new party will probably erupt once again as an issue for practical organisation, once Blair’s real anti-working class programme emerges in the autumn.

9.4. Its continued presence in our list of priority slogans is related to a longer-term crisis of direction within the workers’ vanguard (those who are in the forefront of struggle: who organise against the bosses, war, capitalist globalisation, racism and fascism, on the political and the trade union front). It is vital wherever the possibility exists of a substantial part of this vanguard breaking from Labour. Our aim is to encourage this break and do all in our power to ensure this leads on to the formation of a revolutionary party. If revolutionaries intervene clearly and convince sufficient forces they can make this a reality.

9.5. The same is true with the slogan of building social forums. The sabotage of the SWP and Union leaders, the kindergarten politics of the anarchists has meant that they played virtually no role in preparing for the ESF. In the few places where they do exist in name, they are often reduced to feeble talking shops by the antics of the ‘Horizontals’ and petit-bourgeois windbags.

9.6. Nevertheless there is an urgent need for structures to coordinate struggles from below, linking trade unionists up with supporters from the urban poor, the unorganised, the youth, the antiwar, anti-racist and anti-repression initiatives, with local campaigns against cuts, sell-offs and closures. By raising the call for social forums - whatever we call them - we propose not talking shops but effective democratic coordinations of struggle. And we are proposing that they link up with such struggles abroad, by taking their place in the European process of discussion and coordination of resistance.

9.7. Thus in the antiwar movement we do not just advance the most effective methods of struggle and the clearest class and anti-imperialist goals - we continue the fight we launched in 2003 for the antiwar activists to link up with other struggles against the system that causes war. The fight for social forums expresses this well.

9.8. In particular we can continue this agitation in the context of the mobilisation for the G8 in Scotland in July. The coming together of activists from different spheres, the anticapitalist/antiglobalisation dynamic of the mobilisation, the presence of significant numbers of foreign activists associated with the European social movements, all this will enable us to raise the call for a UK Social Forum as a key step in coordinating struggles in Britain and linking them permanently to struggles in Europe and beyond. In this context the ESF and its international mobilisations present a hitherto unprecedented medium for making these links and learning from one another.

9.9. In addition, we should maintain our agitation for a rank and file movement in the unions. In the context of rising strike figures and bureaucratic obstruction it is a burning necessity. Any serious national strike, like the firefighters or the post-office workers, will push the rank and file movement slogan to the forefront of our agitation.

9.10. Together these demands express in a shortened and focussed form what WP and the League is fighting for as distinct from the reformists and centrists and why militants should join us.

9.11. We have to be the voice of the big wide world - a world wracked with class struggles - in the often stuffy, low-horizoned, demoralised world of the official British labour movement, providing that is we do not fall victim to this atmosphere ourselves. It means suggesting and fighting for new ways (often also old ways, ways of the ‘70s and ’80s in the UK too) of mounting a fightback - and is embodied in our key slogans and in our action programme. The fact that the Continent has finally reached the crunch struggle over their social gains means that we are likely to have the advantage of raising these demands - each of them a burning necessity for the working class - in the context of stormy battles in Europe.