It gives me great pleasure to bring you all warm, comradely greetings from Socialist Alternative in the United States. Greetings to everyone in the Socialist Party in England and Wales and to all those attending Socialism 2015!
Earlier this week in Seattle, we succeeded in winning my re-election as a Socialist Alternative City Councilmember. This is an historic achievement for workers in Seattle and throughout America. A veritable army of 600 working class volunteers and 30 unions defeated the combined forces of big business and the political establishment that cravenly serves corporate interests.
My opponent was financially backed by millionaire executives of corporations like Microsoft, Amazon.com, Alaska Airlines; by every business that fought against our historic 15 dollar an hour movement last year; by every anti-union business entity, such as the Washington Restaurant Association and the Hotel Association; and by giant city developers who are making profits hand over fist as working people get pushed out of the city due to skyrocketing rents. My opponent’s campaign was fully backed by Republicans and Big Money Democrats.
In contrast, we ran an unapologetically anti-corporate, pro-working class campaign that did not take a dime from corporate interests, but was funded only by ordinary working people and by the labor movement. And on such a principled basis, with a median donation of 50 dollars, we raised nearly 500,000 dollars, making it the largest city council campaign in Seattle’s history!
This monumental scale of our grassroots campaign is testament to the hunger of the American working class for a bold and clear alternative to the bankrupt politics of both the Democratic and Republican party establishments. It also reflects how Socialist Alternative has earned the confidence of Seattle’s working people, by using our position on the City Council to relentlessly push for the interests of working people and everyone who is marginalized by the system. In our two years on the Council, we not only won the 15 dollar wage, we also successfully fought against rent hikes at public housing, won millions for human services in the city budget, actively assisted the recent historic and successful teachers’ strike, and replaced Columbus Day with a citywide Indigenous People’s Day.
We have shown that the election of a socialist in a major US city was not a flash in the pan, but that socialist politics are here to stay in Seattle. We have given a genuine socialist expression to the deep discontent and anger of working people at income, racial and gender inequality. We are doing this by campaigning for rent control, fighting the slumlords, and demanding that big developers and the rich are taxed to pay for affordable housing and mass transit.
Our success comes at the same time that there is a growing enthusiasm at the campaign of Bernie Sanders standing as a socialist for the presidency of the United States. His call for a political revolution against the billionaire class, while also refusing any corporate cash, has opened up a new space for a discussion about socialist ideas, albeit unfortunately within the context of a race in the corporate-dominated Democratic Party.
The remarkable victory of Jeremy Corbyn for the leadership of the Labour Party shows that the dissatisfaction with corporate-sponsored capitalist politicians is a global phenomenon and provides new opportunities for socialists everywhere to provide a real alternative to capitalism and its attacks on working people. The Committee for a Workers International is uniquely placed to provide a clear analysis and programme. Socialist Alternative in the United States looks forward with you in the UK to the victories of our comrades in the Irish elections as they defy state repression fighting the hated water tax.
I wish you every success with Socialism 2015 and with the wider struggle against Tory austerity and pro-capitalist Blairism. Solidarity!
Last week we were very pleased to announce that Jon Lansman, a director of Momentum, had agreed to take part in a debate at this weekend’s Socialism event with Peter Taaffe, general secretary of the Socialist Party, on how best to defend and build upon Jeremy Corbyn’s victory. We are disappointed that Jon has now taken the decision to withdraw from the debate following an article that appeared in the Sun on Wednesday.
Under the heading ‘Corbyn aide will join ex-Militant leaders to plot battle for Labour’s soul’ the Murdoch paper quoted right-wing Labour MP John Mann denouncing Jon Lansman for attending. They also quoted another alleged ‘moderate’ MP who said: “It is just absolutely horrifying that people who are now at the centre of the party are associating with members of the extreme left who we kicked out decades ago.”
It is inevitable that the big business media are petrified of socialists discussing how to defeat austerity and consolidate Jeremy Corbyn’s victory. But if we are to succeed we cannot retreat in the face of these attacks. We appeal to Jon not to allow the right wing and their big business backers to set the agenda and to reconsider his decision. Alternatively, if another director of Momentum was able to step in, we would of course welcome this too.
Greek Socialist Andreas Payiatsos of Xekinima (CWI) to speak at socialism 2015
At every stage working class people in Greece have heroically fought against the misery and threats meted out by the institutions of European capitalism. After more than 30 general strikes they elected Syriza – on an anti-austerity programme – in the face of the frenzied opposition of the 1%.
Then, in the referendum on 5 July 2015, a magnificent 61% people voted ‘oxi’ despite all the blackmail of the troika of the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund. This victory appeared to break the logjam and raised the prospect that a mass struggle for an alternative to austerity and neoliberal capitalism was possible.
Unfortunately, these hopes were dashed by the capitulation by Syriza prime minister Alexis Tsipras to the terms of the bailout imposed by the troika. This betrayed the hopes and aspirations of the Greek people and those of the whole of Europe. Activists are now faced with the question: was such a capitulation inevitable given the balance of forces of ‘tiny Greece’ pitted against the Goliath of the troika and EU alliance of capitalist powers?
Come and hear Andreas Payiatsos argue that it is possible to end austerity in Greece. He will explain that to do so requires a decisive programme to break with the EU and the capitalist system.
Only a democratic mass party with a clear socialist programme and the mobilisation of the working class of Greece and across Europe can successfully defeat the demands of the troika.
Andreas will be speaking on the tasks facing socialists in Greece between 10am and 12 on November 8th as part of the Sunday sessions of debate and discussion and will be speaking at the closing rally later that day.
Now the battle to create an anti-austerity party begins
This is a historic moment. Nothing will be the same again. For decades Westminster politics has meant nothing but right-wing, pro-big business politics.
A handful of left Labour MPs like Jeremy Corbyn voted against austerity, war and the undermining of democracy but their isolated voices were largely drowned out.
Now the pro-austerity consensus has been smashed with Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader of the Labour Party with 59.5% of the vote.
The hopes have been raised of millions who want to see a society for the 99% not the 1%.
The election of Jeremy Corbyn, however, is only the beginning. Throughout the election the right wing that dominates the Labour Party and the capitalist media have done everything in their power to try and stop Corbyn winning.
Tens of thousands of people have been ruled out of voting in the leadership election, overwhelmingly Corbyn supporters.
But nothing has worked, on the contrary the attacks on Corbyn from Blair, Brown, Mandelson and the rest have only increased his support.
Deeply disillusioned with the establishment politicians, hundreds of thousands of people have seized the opportunity created by Jeremy Corbyn’s presence on the Labour leadership ballot to begin to create a political voice for their anti-austerity views.
Even ultra-Blairite Liz Kendall was forced to admit that Corbyn had “mobilised and enthused vast numbers of people in a way we haven’t seen for decades.” In the face of that enthusiasm the Labour right has been forced back.
It is ruled out that the Labour right will accept defeat and simply allow the Labour Party to be shifted left by Corbyn and his supporters.
Legal challenges or immediate attempts to launch a coup against Corbyn still cannot be totally ruled out but are not likely given the scale of his victory.
It is clear, however, that the Labour right will attempt to imprison and undermine Corbyn with the aim of removing him as soon as possible.
In doing so they will have the full support of the capitalist establishment. Thatcher considered Blair and New Labour were her greatest success.
Labour had been transformed into a party that could be relied on to act in the interests of the 1%. There will now be a huge campaign, putting what has happened during the election into the shade, to try and once again make sure that the voice of the majority – the working class – is once again extinguished within the Labour Party.
How can onslaught from right be defeated?
Jeremy Corbyn will not be able to defeat the onslaught he will face if he remains isolated within the constraints of the right-wing dominated Labour Party machine.
There are only nine members of the socialist group of MPs of which he is a member. To win he needs to build on the popular movement against austerity that found a voice in his election campaign.
Much of his support has come from the ‘outside’ – new members and registered supporters who were attracted by the hope of something different.
This is a new party in the process of formation. Many of those are a new generation of young people, alongside some returning former members.
As a starting point we would urgently encourage Jeremy Corbyn to organise a huge conference of all those who have voted for him, plus the many trade unions – including non-affiliated unions like the RMT, PCS and FBU – which support a fighting anti-austerity programme.
The Socialist Party would participate in such a conference and would encourage all other anti-austerity campaigners to do the same.
Part of the transformation of Labour into a pro-capitalist party has been the complete destruction of the democracy which previously existed.
Labour ‘moderates’ are already bleating that the left would ‘seize the party’s levers of power’ under Corbyn’s leadership.
What they mean by this is “giving more control over policy to the annual conference and the National Executive Committee and less influence to the Parliamentary Labour Party” (The Independent 11.09.15).
In other words restoring some of the party democracy that existed in the past! They are also hysterically attacking any attempt to re-select MPs.
Yet the right to re-select MPs just means the democratic right of a party’s members to replace an MP that has voted against the party’s policies.
That should be uncontroversial. However, it is not a surprise it upsets Labour MPs who have voted for welfare cuts, austerity and war.
Jeremy Corbyn should fight to implement every one of the democratic measures which so terrifies Labour’s right wing, including restoring the collective voice of the organised working class, via the trade unions, within the party.
At the same time the party should be opened up. All those who have been forced out or expelled in the past for fighting against cuts and for socialist ideas should be invited back.
The Corbyn campaign has raised the idea of using social media and virtual democracy to hold policy consultations.
Such methods can play a useful supplementary role but defeating the pro-big business elements that dominate the Labour machine will require mass, active participation.
Socialist ideas popular
The capitalist media has united in insisting that a Corbyn-led Labour Party is unelectable. They will do their best to make it so, but it isn’t true! On the contrary, the latest polling from Lord Ashcroft gives 52% of people agreeing that a ‘radical socialist alternative would be a good thing’.
The population is far to the left of the establishment politicians. For example, 68%, 67% and 66% support renationalisation of the energy companies, the Royal Mail and the railway companies respectively.
The last general election has already shown the popularity of anti-austerity ideas. While ‘austerity-lite’ Labour was almost annihilated in Scotland the SNP, despite implementing austerity policies in Scotland, was able to sweep the board by promising to oppose austerity in Westminster.
Meanwhile, despite hatred for the Con-Dem government, Labour in England and Wales was only able to regain the support of a million of the over four million votes it has lost since 1997.
Disillusioned Labour voters did not, in the overwhelming majority of cases, vote Tory but voted for parties that they saw as protesting against the establishment – or stayed at home and did not vote at all.
Jeremy Corbyn’s calls for nationalisation of rail and the energy companies, a £10 an hour minimum wage, free education, council house building, and repeal of the anti-union laws have already enthused millions.
Nonetheless, the programme Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign has presented in his written programme is actually quite limited.
He has raised the popular idea of a ‘peoples QE’ but has not drawn all the conclusions about what would be necessary to implement such a policy.
He merely calls for ‘meaningful regulation of the banking sector’ rather than for nationalisation of the banks under democratic control, for example.
Part of building a successful movement against austerity would be a democratic discussion on how to permanently defeat it.
Within such a discussion the Socialist Party would argue that would require the need for the nationalisation – under democratic working class control – of the major companies and banks that dominate the economy.
Only in this way would it be possible to begin to build a democratic socialist society planned to meet the needs of the majority instead of having, as at present, a society driven by maximising the profits of the 1%.
For councillors who fight the cuts
Local councils will be a central battleground in the struggle to create an anti-austerity party. Jeremy Corbyn has rightly made the call for councils to stand together and refuse to implement government cuts.
Over 450 councillors have signed up to support Jeremy Corbyn. This is significant, but it is barely 6% of the total number of Labour councillors.
Unfortunately, the majority of Labour candidates in the next year’s council elections will still be pro-austerity.
Council services have already been cut by 39%. We cannot accept Labour councillors continuing to slash more.
The experience of Syriza in Greece, where the leadership of an anti-austerity party capitulated to the pressure of big business and is now implementing austerity, shows that defeating austerity requires a determined struggle.
To accept pro-austerity Labour councillors continuing to slash jobs and services would be to prepare the ground for the defeat of the movement that has begun with Jeremy Corbyn’s election.
The Socialist Party is part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) which was co-founded by Bob Crow the late general secretary of the transport workers’ union (the RMT) in order to stand anti-austerity candidates in elections.
TUSC will assist in next year’s council elections, by supporting Labour candidates who clearly pledge to vote against cuts and at the time standing against those who say they will continue to axe local services.
For a mass party of the working class
Jeremy Corbyn’s victory has lifted the confidence of all those who oppose austerity and has already dealt a blow to the establishment.
However if the right succeed in containing and undermining him the danger is that those drawn around Corbyn’s campaign will become disillusioned and leave.
If he is removed at any stage it is vital that all the conclusions are drawn about the viability of Labour as a vehicle to continue the struggle against austerity.
We urgently need a mass party for the working class that can spearhead a struggle against austerity. The route to this is not straightforward.
But Jeremy Corbyn’s victory and, above all, the mobilisation of hundreds of thousands of anti-austerity young people and workers that have ensured that victory are an important step forward.
Growing poverty and inequality, unemployment and low pay, war and its horrific consequences, economic stagnation and crisis; these are the conditions suffered by billions of people under capitalism.
But across the world we are seeing the fightback growing. Lessons are being learned from the experience of austerity and the battles to date. In the US the movement for a $15 minimum wage is scoring victories. Here in Britain, there are strikes and campaigns in every area.
In Greece, workers have shown time and again that they are determined to fight back when they have the opportunity. But the capitalist system continually drives down workers and young people.
But there is a growing appetite for an alternative. In the US, 47% of people surveyed said they would vote for a socialist for president. Here a wave of enthusiasm for left-winger Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership campaign has inspired a frenzied panic among the party’s Blairite leaders and discussion about the alternative to Tory austerity and to capitalism.
The Socialism 2015 weekend will give us a chance to discuss the key questions facing us in the struggle to change the world. How can we build a powerful working class movement? How can we unite our movement in the face of division and sectarianism?
At Socialism 2015 you can hear from key activists in the fight against austerity. The weekend will feature discussion on Marxist theory and its relevance today. It will celebrate the history of workers’ struggle and draw out the lessons.
And it will bring together working class fighters, trade unionists and youth and student activists, anti-cuts campaigners, and people who want to change the world, for a weekend of discussion and debate on the socialist alternative.
DON’T MISS IT!