Austerity and war: hand in bloody hand
Saturday 31st May 2014
History shows that austerity agendas are a naked form of class warfare, writes BILL GREENSHIELDS
ON May 2 1933 the nazis attacked and occupied the buildings of the trade union movement of the German working class.
They declared the unions “incorporated” into the German Labour Front – an employer and state-led “nazification” organisation.
They arrested, incarcerated, tortured and murdered thousands of union members, acting directly in the interests of the German ruling class, and “against the threat of communism to Europe.”
They acted because the German unions, socialists and communists had, in the face of economic crisis and depression, organised the working class to resist attacks on their living standards, attacks designed to re-establish and increase the rate of profit.
The nazis, new to state office, proclaimed that “we are all in it together,” and that resistance must be eradicated.
European and US capital thus found nazi Germany an attractive investment and trading proposition. And the nazi political programme too was supported by a very wide section of the capitalist ruling class across Europe and US. It was glorified by many, from Henry Ford, the Kennedy family, the governor of the Bank of England, to many of the British royal family, Lord Rothermere and his Daily Mail and many, many more.
On May 2 2014, Ukrainian fascists attacked and burned the trade union building in Odessa, chanting, singing and cheering the deaths of those they had trapped inside, who they then shot as they tried to escape.
The fascists were again undertaking the nazi task of eliminating resistance. Now, as the nazis were in 1933, they and their putschist government are widely supported, financed, directed and used by US and European capital and their international organisations – with the “we are all in it together” European Union in the lead – aiming to consolidate and accelerate their imposition of austerity across Europe, in order to re-establish their rate of profit.
This is one of the most vicious attacks of the class war – the same class war that was officially recognised by TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady at the founding conference of the People’s Assembly in June last year.
Throughout Europe, workers are being subjected to various versions of the same “austerity” treatment.
But resistance is growing, both in the form of the People’s Assembly movement and most importantly in the trade unions’ struggle, including the use of co-ordinated strike action – yet to grow into generalised strike action.
The recent People’s Assembly conference, as well as unanimously adopting the People’s Charter as the Assembly Charter, also unanimously endorsed motions identifying the nature of the crisis and the ruling class attack.
The assembly agreed that “austerity” is working for the ruling class and that the capitalist system requires a decisive defeat of the working class in order to re-establish the rate of profit – just as it did in Germany in 1933.
Activists of the People’s Assembly need to show therefore that we have no alternative but to develop a strategy designed to inflict a decisive defeat on the ruling class.
What would such a defeat of the ruling class look like? Certainly an end to austerity, the defeat of any “austerity government” and its replacement with one committed to People’s Charter policies.
This would certainly not end the class struggle but it certainly would represent a decisive defeat for the ruling class in the war it has launched. And there are many smaller victories to be won along the way.
Simple protest and resistance is not enough, strikes and civil disobedience are not aims in themselves, rather they are the weapons with which to achieve both the small victories and the real goal – the end of austerity and all that entails.
The huge danger is that if we are right that a decisive defeat of our class is an imperative for capitalism – that it is not a matter of choice or simple political position – and if our resistance is limited to growing protest, we are inviting the kind of response that capitalist forces are inflicting on the trade unionist, socialist and communist resistance in Ukraine, and that they have inflicted before across the world when they have felt it necessary. We need a strategy to win, and win decisively.
It genuinely is class war rather than the regular day-to-day class struggle than characterises capitalism per se.
This ruling class war has seldom been more evident than in the 1980s, through the Thatcher and Reagan administrations. It was clearly recognised then by the NUM, among others in the movement, in the 1984-5 strike, which was summed up by the headline of The Miner: “This Is War!”
It is a class war stepped up and accelerated as a consequence of the current financial and economic crisis. It is a class war that will not end in a draw.
We must help to develop in the People’s Assembly and trade union movement a day-in, day-out class war consciousness and a strategy for winning. The June 21 Anti-Austerity and Anti-War demonstration is very important. But even more important is what happens on June 22 and beyond as the People’s Assembly strives to put down deep roots into communities around Britain, and trade unions strive to organise and activate whole memberships, understanding that only they themselves can secure progressive economic, political and social advance.
It is in this light that we need to understand the role of the European Union as a major weapon of class war, owned, controlled and operated by the capitalist class as it sees fit, depending on the particular battle and terrain of that war.
The unreformable capitalist nature of the European Union is not yet grasped by the majority of activists in the movement and the People’s Assembly decision to organise an “assembly inquiry” into the role of the EU in the imposition of austerity is a big step forward.
Similarly, we need to see a real debate in the movement generally over the crisis in working-class political representation and the way forward.
We have been lacking a broad workers’ movement prepared to fight to win. Instead the movement developed the “service model” of trade unionism, leading to vacillation, capitulation and finally willing surrender by the leadership of the Labour Party to the very powerful pressure and dominance of capitalism and particularly the City of London and its US investors.
Now that the trade union movement is re-establishing an organising agenda across the left and showing increasing determination to fight back, the Labour leadership hacks away further at their historic links with those unions, while intermittently making sympathetic gestures towards the victims of the austerity policies it shares with the Tories.
Still, despite valuable proposals from one or two unions as to how the working class could be properly represented politically, the majority of unions, affiliated and non-affiliated, seek to “wait and see,” while elements of the far-left debase and confuse the issue with absurd suggestions that somehow they can, between their squabbling selves, cobble together a new party which they could then “offer” to the working class – patronising and arrogant childishness.
The class war has been declared and is under way. It is reflected in “austerity,” in disguised and statistically manipulated unemployment, in privatisation, in legal and organisational attacks on unions, in increased exploitation at work, in pay and pension cuts, in attacks on health and safety and other working conditions, in the deprivation and demonisation of those most vulnerable, in orchestrated “divide and rule,” in public service cuts, in poverty and the wealth gap with its obscene and growing disparities. It’s also reflected in the beatings, bullets and flames of the Ukraine.
We need to confront the task in full understanding of what’s at stake.