Party members will be meeting at Mansion House tube station at 12 noon, to pick up leaflets and Standards, before dispersing to hand them out and try to sell them to the demonstrators gathering up the road outside the Bank of England (chosen because the organisers think, or say they think, it was greedy bankers rather than capitalism that caused the crisis.)
Reform or revolution has been the main debate in the workers’ movement for the past century. Today, austerity and heightened class struggle are on the order of the day. Far from being able to offer any genuine reforms, capitalism today is attacking all the gains that workers had struggled for in the past. Free education; free health-care; adequate welfare benefits and pensions: all of these are either under threat or already long gone. Demands for full employment under capitalism remains a utopian pipe dream. The austerity measures first introduced by the Labour government, intensified under the Conservative/LibDem coalition and now being extended by the new Tory government have led to the destruction of public-sector jobs and the handing over of health, education and social service budgets to the private sector. Real wages have fallen. Any hope of a decent future is disappearing. Austerity policies are unleashing outrage and opposition everywhere. Such parties as the Green Party posture as alternatives to Labour but are nothing of the sort. Where they have been part of government, as in Germany and Ireland, the Green Party has been complicit in imposing austerity measures. As defenders of a system designed around profits, they are incapable of offering anything more than trifling concessions to workers, and that only after lengthy struggle. TUSC, too, has a programme with many popular ideas, but it also is locked into capitalism and has no idea how to ‘pay for them’ except for their ‘tax the rich’ rhetoric
Austerity has been criticised as an irrational policy, which further exacerbates the economic crisis by creating falling effective demand. However, this criticisms scarcely explains why such a policy persists, despite its ‘failure’. In reality, economic crises express themselves above all in a reduction of profitability of the capitalist class. Austerity constitutes a strategy for raising capital’s profit rate. Austerity constitutes a strategy of reducing business costs. Austerity reduces the price of labour, increases profit per labour-unit cost and thus boosts the profit rate. It is complemented by institutional changes that, on the one hand, enhance capital mobility and competition and, on the other, strengthen the power of managers in the enterprise and share and bondholders in society. As regards fiscal consolidation, austerity gives priority to budget cuts over public revenue, reducing taxes on capital and high incomes, and downsizing the welfare state. However, what is cost for the capitalist class is the living standard of the working majority of society. This applies also to the welfare state, whose services can be perceived as a form of ‘social wage’. It is clear, therefore, that austerity is primarily a class policy. It constantly promotes the interests of capital against those of the workers, pensioners, unemployed and economically vulnerable groups. In the long run, it aims at creating a model of labour with fewer rights and less social protection, with low and flexible wages and the absence of any substantial bargaining power for wage earners.
Recession puts pressure on every capitalist to reduce all forms of costs, to more intensively follow the path of ‘absolute surplus-value’, i.e. to try to consolidate profit margins through wage cuts, intensification of the labour process, infringement of labour regulations and workers’ rights, massive redundancies, etc. From the perspective of big capital’s interests, recession gives thus birth to a ‘process of creative destruction’. There is a redistribution of income and power to the benefit of capital, and concentration of wealth in fewer hands as small and medium enterprises, especially in retail trade, are being ‘cleared up’ by big enterprises and shopping malls.
This strategy has its own rationality. It perceives the crisis as an opportunity for a shift in the correlations of forces to the benefit of the capitalist power, subjecting societies to the conditions of the unfettered functioning of the market, attempting to place all consequences of the systemic capitalist crisis on the shoulders of the working people. This is the reason why, in a situation of such an intensification of social antagonisms like today, no government will succumb to pressures to mitigate austerity policies. Working people, however, in practically every capitalist country will always be opposed to shrinking wages and precarious employment, the cut-back of public services, and the raising the cost of education and healthcare, along with the weakening of democratic institutions, strengthening the repression. They will always conceive unemployment, precarious and underpaid work etc. as a social illness that should be tackled by itself by reforms and not as a consequence of the recovery of profits. Confronted with such a climate, labour face the dilemma of deciding whether to accept the employers’ unfavourable terms, implying loss of their own bargaining position, or face the possibility to lose their job: accept the “laws of capital” or live with insecurity and unemployment. Attempts to end the symptoms of capitalism, while not pulling its roots, will invariably fail.
Some aspects of the Socialist Party’s goal must remain vague, our path must remain unmapped or else we will fall into the trap of imposing a blueprint. For many, it is clear what we are fighting against but it can be harder to picture exactly what we are fighting for. Socialists are not crystal-ball gazers. We cannot predict the future with absolute certainty and so we cannot say exactly what socialism will look like and we can only offer broad guide-lines about how it should even be achieved. Society is not shaped by the speculation of the future but by the decisions and actions of the present. Until we build for ourselves a mass movement of people prepared to end a capitalism which has far outlived its usefulness and is destroying our planet, we are going round in circles. It is unfortunate that workers around the world do not seem to have the confidence to take the next logical step, and move from being against austerity to being against capitalism, and more crucially, for socialism.