Having the run of a nearly 200-year-old thatched smuggler’s cottage, surrounded by acres of lush vegetation, gave A World to Win’s three-day discussion over Whitsun a unique atmosphere. The quiet and distance from usual routines helped to focus all three sessions on the questions and issues we had come to debate.
AWTW members gathered in Ringstead Bay, Dorset, having travelled from Wales, Nottingham, Sussex, Dorset, Swindon, Kettering, Hounslow and London, getting to know each other, in some cases, for the first time.
An advance party arrived on Friday, preparing the cottage for the next day by switching on appliances, pitching the first tents, shopping and preparing food. We had time to walk down the path from the cottage to the stunning beach and breathe the sea air.
After everyone met up for lunch on Saturday, Gerry Gold opened the first session. He concentrated on the changes in the global economy since A World to Win was published. The instability and volatility of global financial markets in May provided the background to the discussion.
Gerry summarised the reverse in the flow of capital from the emerging economies to the developed countries, which was now financing US debt. He explained how the system seemed to defy logic in its operations and delved into the contradictory nature of capitalist production relations.
The corporate sector, he explained, is ‘awash with cash’ as the corporations had held back from both distributing and re-investing profits. The relationship between companies and other sectors of the economy has reversed. Corporations were lending money to fund the US and UK deficits.
Gerry explained the role of financial markets within global capitalism and their relationship to real value produced by labour. Estimates of their size were difficult to come by but a recent survey shows that that the amount outstanding in the market in ‘interest rate swaps’ which began in 1987 rose above 160 trillion US dollars This must be seen in relation to Global GDP which was 61 trillion dollars in 2005 according to IMF calculations. These were unsupportable contradictions and the movement of interest rates upwards was likely to trigger a major financial/assets crash.
Gerry explained how capitalism had to grow on a continual basis to try and overcome the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. But the limits to growth were expressed in the fact that consumers could not buy all the commodities produced, especially with half the world at starvation levels. In America, the expression was that people were ‘all shopped out’. Gerry examined how the drive for growth had produced the ecological crisis that threatened the planet.
In the evening campers walked about three miles through misty fields to one of the local pubs for an evening meal.
On Sunday morning the discussion, chaired by Corinna, focused on the concept of contradiction and the relation between evolution and revolution. A number of definitions and quotations provided a starting point. Some understood change as an evolutionary, step by step process. Others saw it as a cyclical movement, in which things returned to their beginnings.
But it was stressed that evolution could take an unexpected path and there was a necessity in revolutionary transformations. All things were contradictory – in the individual, the social and historical as well as in thought. The birth, ageing and death of every human being was a demonstration of contradiction. Revolutionary change was different from previous change and the point was to understand how it took place.
Some members stressed people’s desires and consumerism as the motor force for change. Alienation and unhappiness were seen as major forces in today’s world.
Developing knowledge of reality is of necessity a process of approximation, it was agreed. Through constant checking of the results of our practice with our theory, we develop knowledge to bring about the changes we seek. [see notes]
After the morning’s discussion, five of the more athletic members set off for a four-mile run along the coastal path. In a world-record time for the course, they returned 30 minutes later to join the others for lunch.
Later, a superb walk along the top of Whitenose Cliffs took us up steep hills along sheer drops, with Durdle Dor rock face in the distance. Tiny blue flowers, buttercups, daisies and gorse bushes bloomed along the path and the rain stayed away – as indeed it did the whole weekend, despite dire weather forecasts.
On Monday, Paul focused on the strategic aim of achieving political power. He started by examining the nature of the 1926 General Strike.
The state regarded the general strike as a challenge to the constitution and the state. It declared that the strike’s aim was the overthrow of a lawfully-elected government. The atmosphere was conditioned by the Russian revolution and its impact. The strike was precipitated by the Tory government’s decision to end subsidies to the coal industry, which meant that miners would have their pay cut substantially and their hours increased. The government had prepared for more than a year to meet the strike.
On the side of the trade union leaders, brought together through the TUC – who only spent a few days in preparation - there was absolutely no intent on challenging the state or the government. Quite the opposite. In fact, they did not have any clear strategy in terms of how the miners could win their struggle. When, after nine days, the government still refused to talk, the TUC ended the strike behind the miners’ backs.
The miners’ strike of 1984-85 was also against the state and government. Despite the heroic self-sacrifice and commitment of the leaders, there was no rallying call to bring down the government and for the rest of the working class to take part in defending jobs. The assumption was – as in 1926 – that there was a solution to the crisis within the framework of capitalist profit and loss relations. But from a capitalist point of view, the pits were unprofitable. Just as in 1926, the Tories had prepared well in advance for the strike. They mobilised the state and its propaganda machine. As a result, the miners were driven back to work. The pits closed and the industry ceases to exist.
So the issue boils down to one of leadership, strategy and alternatives. Without those, the forces of the status quo will always have the upper hand as they have something to defend. Without a plan to defeat the state and assume power, major confrontations will always end with victory for the status quo. Without a leadership ready to take up that challenge, victory is impossible.
Paul explained how globalisation had increased the numbers of workers by several billions, creating a new international, interdependent workforce. It has allowed workers to communicate via ICT with each other. In Britain, the numbers involved in manufacturing has fallen substantially over the last 30 years. Most are now involved in services – professions, retail, finance, leisure etc. The privileges of being in middle-class professions or higher-paid jobs have been eroded by globalisation. The tendency is towards a levelling out of conditions – if not salary. Job stability or security is now non-existent.
The session closed with a number of concrete ideas and plans for the coming months (see Strategy, which will be discussed at Steering Group, June 10).
There was a large range of ideas and political views which were expressed passionately and frankly. The great thing about the weekend was that while people differed, there was a common desire to collaborate and cooperate, inside and outside the discussion sessions. Everyone joined together brilliantly to keep things moving and provide the best conditions for work and play.
As we held our weekend in Dorset, eighteen of our comrades in Uganda gathered for their own seminar, helped along by the £300 contribution we have collected over the past two months. We still need to raise a balance of £85 so that we can send them the final £100.