- Is there a crisis in the economy? Or are massive cuts in public spending, sacking thousands of public sector workers, rise in tuition fees, soaring youth unemployment – just an ideologically-motivated attack by a Tory government that hates the welfare state, supported by the treacherous Lib/Dems?
The National Campaign against Fees and Cuts rejects “the rhetoric of deficit reduction and the inevitability of austerity and social injustice”.
The Education Activist Network claims, a campaign of resistance “stop neoliberal reforms” is what’s needed. Are they saying taxation and regulation can get capitalism back on the growth path?
Public sector union Unison says: “Cutting public spending now will prolong and deepen the recession. It is purely an ideological, not economic, response. Even when it is appropriate to start reducing the deficit, spending cuts will not be the only ways to cut debt.”
According to the Right to Work Campaign: “Cameron’s Con-Dem government is set to launch the biggest attack on working people since the 1920s. A financial crisis caused by the greed of bankers is being used as an excuse to dismantle the welfare state.
“But none of this is necessary. The cuts are being made while big business and the rich fail to pay billions in taxes and while billions more are squandered on illegal wars and a new generation of nuclear weapons......The money is there to pay for decent public services for all. We have to resist the Tory assault on our way of life and build a movement capable of opposing the cuts and fighting for a better world.”
If all of this were true, then all we would need to do is carry on business as usual – elect a different government that doesn’t hate the welfare state, that would tax rich people, and then there would be no need for cuts.
- So are they right? Or is the crisis so deep that more revolutionary answers are needed? If the majority of the people allow “business as usual’ then what price will they pay?
Many deny that the economic crisis is real, or separate the financial crisis from the ‘real economy’, blaming the bankers but never looking at the underlying cause which is the massive debt crisis. And that debt crisis arose from the need to expand credit MASSIVELY to restart the world economy after the slump of the 1970s, and fund the process that we have seen, of globalisation and a massive expansion of production. The debt was not just for bankers’ bonuses – the capitalist economy needed it credit.
These two diagrams show that there is something major going on – a crisis in global capitalism that is greater than that which led to the slump of the 1930s, that culminated in the destruction of the Second World War.
They give some strong pointers to the reasons for the long-term, chronic build-up to the crisis that exploded in 2007/2008.
The first shows over a 50 year period the declining amount of economic growth bought by each additional dollar of credit, and conversely that maintaining growth required an exponential increase in credit
With profit rates dependent on growth, and growth trailing the ballooning of credit, the second diagram shows that whilst profits increased in America, albeit slowly, credit accelerated at a much faster rate. The growth of hugely profitable, gigantic global corporations was made possible only by a world financial system that flooded the world with credit and debt,
These long term trends confirm the law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, first discovered by Marx, which lies behind the increasingly erratic trajectory of the capitalist economy as it oscillates ever more wildly between periods of growth, crisis and contraction.
This law-governed objective process determines the ideology of the corporations and governments who willingly submit to it, and force its consequences on the rest of us. These consequences are unfolding today and can’t be dealt with by existing political processes.
- Does Parliamentary democracy have a future?
- What new forms of democracy should we work towards?
- And by the way – what is ‘The State’?
Wanted: a new democracy
Parliamentary democracy doesn’t have a future.
But Parliament in the context of an extended new forms of democracy does.
So why do we need a new democracy? We have the right to vote to send representatives to Parliament. The votes are not rigged. We have the freedom to set up political parties. What more do we want?
What this system doesn’t give us, despite what the establishment says, is actual democracy which roughly translated from the Greek means the power of the people.
e.g. today’s Coalition government. No one voted for the cuts because no party made it clear what they would do. So the coalition has no mandate – yet it is in power, destroying jobs and services.
Just 1.8 per cent of the electorate – fewer than 450,000 voters – decided the outcome of the May election in 108 marginal constituencies. “The overwhelming majority of us live in safe seats where we are increasingly neglected by the political parties both during and between elections – and where we have little chance of influencing the result of general elections,” the Institute for Public Policy Research report notes.
The report shows the dramatic shift away from Labour and the Tories over the last 60 years. In 1951, the parties polled 96.8% of the total electorate between them at that year’s general election. By last year, the figure had slumped to 65.1%. Yet the voting system continues to reward Labour and the Tories, who between them won 86% of the seats in the House of Commons last May .
To a large extent the present system is theatre which has by and large satisfied most of the people most of the time since the right to vote was first granted to working men in 1867.
It satisfied because parties like Labour could win elections and bring in some effective changes like the NHS and the welfare state.
But today the real power over people’s lives today is beyond even the grasp of Parliament and the government.
It is in the hands of powerful corporations and banks, who forced the government to bail them out. It is in the hands of bodies like the World Trade Organisation, the IMF, the unelected European Commission.
All the political system does is dress this process up with the formality of voting and political choice.
There are key reasons why we need a democratic change:
- The economic and financial crisis. It will be worse than the 1930s – unless people act in their own interests.
- Climate crisis is deepening and the political system is so tied to the corporates than nothing is being done about it.
- The political system is in crisis and there are those in the wings waiting to shut even the limited democracy down.
- We cannot move forward socially without a functioning democracy.
So we need a political system that is democratic in the sense that it covers all the key aspects of social life: the economy, finance, the workplace, the college and university, policing and so on.
What could it look like? It would build on the democratic achievements society has made so far.
On the political representation side we could create local or People’sAssemblies.
The biggest extension of democracy would be in the workplace. Here are talking about a transfer of ownership of all major enterprises and places of work and study.
Not state-run, top-down ownership and control which failed in Britain and in countries like the Soviet Union. But experiments in open democracy.
There all sorts of options: ownership along John Lewis lines of worker-shareholders; or other forms of co-operative ownership in partnership with local Assemblies. But the shares would not be tradable.
Whereas under capitalism, exploitation gets more intense, in a people’s democracy, the workforce could decide against redundancies in favour of work sharing, for example.
This would open the way for a different type, a more democratic type of economy based not on profit but on meeting people’s needs, including those of the workforce.
We would also need to think how we could end the oppression of people’s rights through a constitution that guarantees basic freedoms and sets out how the country is governed.
We would need to work out how we could introduce democracy in areas like policing and the legal system, ending the way in which these institutions lord it over us and are unaccountable.
In other words, we have to remake the entire state – the political system, the machinery of government, the legal system and judiciary, the police, army and secret spy agencies – and the monarchy.
A Convention on Democracy open to community, trade union and campaigning organisations. And political parties.
What a Convention might do:
- articulate the popular anger with the political system.
- open a wide-ranging debate about how Britain is run/should be run.
- scrutinise existing structures to establish where power lies.
- Suggest ways of redefining, extending and broadening the democratic process into areas like the workplace and the economy in general.
- Become a rival centre of political power.
Apart from meeting in open plenary sessions, a Convention could:
- set up commissions, drawing on expert advice, to produce detailed reports.
- hold public hearings on the constitutional crisis.
- work towards a statement of aims and objectives.
- offer support to campaigns and struggles.
The short answer is NO.
The ideology of the system is crucial in sustaining it by making people believe in it and rationalising it so that no alternative appears possible or realistic.
Its predominant outlook is to separate out the parts from the whole, to examine the “facts” but not their origin, to present things and social relation as eternal and immutable.
We need to develop our own concepts and understanding by understanding capitalism as a CONTRADICTORY system. A social system that is finite in historical terms.
- while the system appears all-powerful (as its ideologies suggest) its gravediggers, as Marx explained, come from within.
- not to confuse the FORM (the ideologies) with the CONTENT (human knowledge and development of scientific understanding)
- crucial to understand that the fundamental SOURCE of ideas is not the ideas in people’s heads but the social being of humanity. ie. the medium (a) is (are) not identical with the message. There is a real world out there which is the origin of ideas. People’s ideas change as their lives change, though there is also a contradiction between ideas and reality.
- contradiction is an all-important concept as it reveals the reality of change.
- thus, whilst deployed to perpetuate the current system, philosophy, science and the arts also belong to human development from before capitalism and can also help to take us beyond it.
- the possibility and reality of major social change and its implementation cannot be grasped simply by casual observation or routine practises.
- how to bring about change needs to be studied and developed through collective discussion and the serious business of working together in organisations
Urgent need to develop understanding of how to go beyond the superficial reaction to change (e.g. the Labour Party, TU leaders, NUS leaders, SWP, SP) who hang on to the old – welfarism, naughty bankers and Tories – and always stress that fundamental change is beyond people and not on the agenda.
They get away with this because it is the easier option in terms of received ideas and because it is not sufficiently challenged. People find it easier to stick with what they already know and what they see as “human nature”.
Can education challenge the Status Quo?
But not the education that prevails in schools or universities or just the common sense knowledge that people absorb from every day life.
Just as the ruling classes have their institutions so those who want revolutionary change need to work for an alternative kind of education.
Ruling classes have had several centuries (since 1640s) to perfect their instruments of rule, including “education” of the young.
Schools and Universities, esp. in UK, centres of reaction (Oxford for example) and places where the ruling class trained its leaders. (Playing fields of Eton, for example). This has broadened out to middle classes (Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown, Milibands) as they needed new blood and ideas
Therefore we need to develop our own education through Teach-Ins like this one, in discussions and workshops, in uni-occupations.
- drawing out of the knowledge and science developed under capitalism, that which belongs to the “bigger society”. Art, science and technology (i.e. culture and social being) existed long before capitalism and have contradictory forces within them which constantly break through the constraints imposed by the system and its ideologies.
- the revolutionary role of HUMANS as SOCIAL ANIMALS who have ideas and carry out conscious practices to change the world and themselves. That is what defines us as humans and is the revolutionary potential within all people, regardless of their education and background. That is also what occurs in mass upheavals – people act together in their own interests against the SQ.
The challenge is to release that potential and show the way out of the current predicament by developing concepts and practices that go beyond resistance.
People’s Assemblies are a revolutionary idea because they can bring together struggles of the present – for example against the cuts or the increases in student fees – and at the same time plan for a better future.
Most campaigns are asking the government to do something or us, to change its mind, to be different. But the government can’t be different – all the parties are agreed that the course being taken by the coalition is unavoidable.
So we need to have the experience of the Stop the War campaign in mind when we take action that goes BEYOND RESISTANCE.
There are those who just want to have perpetual struggle – slogans such as ‘tax the rich’ assume the continuing existence of the rich to be taxed! But surely we should be looking to replace these undemocratic systems that are carrying out measures that nobody voted for.
In other words, as we see from the fact that in spite of determined resistance, the fee increases went through. So we need to concern ourselves about HOW TO WIN.
Anti-cuts campaigns have spread throughout the country. Protests and lobbies take place on a nightly basis. Students and education workers reacted to the cuts with strikes, marches and occupations.
Now that movement is at a turning point. The cuts are going through town halls – many of them Labour controlled. Tuition fees rises have passed through Parliament along with the abolition of educational maintenance allowances. Planned cuts in higher education spending will devastate the universities.
So the movement must not restrict itself to the PRESENT but look to the FUTURE.
People’s Assemblies help to do this. They are of course working in the PRESENT – they give an opportunity to all those with current grievances, include trade unionists, service users, students, the unemployed, minorities and climate change activists, to come together for struggle and defence.
They are connected to the PAST because they build on, and try to go even further with, the struggle for democracy and representation that dates at least from the Levellers and Diggers of the English Revolution, through the Chartists, the Suffragettes and to the present day.
But they are not limited by the Present or the Past. They are also looking to the FUTURE – how to harness our enormous power, talent and potential for co-operation to transcend the current system and replace it. They represent a LEAP IN THINKING BEYOND RESISTANCE and towards an actual transformation to a truly democratic society.