The Internationalist  
November 2010  

50,000 March in London Against Conservative/Liberal Cuts

Students outside Parliament in Westminster, London, November 10 protesting tripling of tuition fees. 
(Photo: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

Workers: The Time for Strike Action Is Now!
Break with Labourism – Build a Leninist-Trotskyist Party!

Finally! When an estimated 52,000 students marched through London on Wednesday, November 10, their mobilization ended up shattering not only the windows of Conservative (Tory) Party headquarters at Millbank Tower but also the eerie calm that had enveloped the country following elections last April. The incoming cabinet of Conservative prime minister David Cameron and Liberal Democrat deputy PM Nick Clegg vowed to impose “painful” cuts to what’s left of Britain’s once extensive social programs. Already badly tattered after 18 years of Tory rule beginning under Margaret Thatcher, followed by 13 years of “Thatcher II” under the “New Labour” Party of Tony Blair and then Gordon Brown, the “welfare state” was about to receive the death blow. So where was the resistance? Labour was passive, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) put off national protest until March 2011 (!). Except for several solid one-day London Tube (subway) and firefighters’ strikes, silence on the social front had settled in. Would the Con-Dem coalition get away with their program of budget axe murder?

Not if the students could help it. Organised by the National Union of Students (NUS) and University and College Lecturers Union (UCU), tens of thousands came by coach from all over the country. They even travelled from the farthest reaches of Scotland, which will be spared this round of cuts – but students could read the handwriting on the wall. As they marched down the Strand past the government ministries in Whitehall and Parliament in Westminster, they chanted “Tory, Tory, Tory – scum, scum, scum.” When they reached the Conservative headquarters at Millbank, the pent up anger exploded.  About 500 broke away from the “official” demonstration and began to lay siege to and take over the building. With few police to stop them, windows were kicked in, the lobby received a thorough ransacking, some office furniture was burned in an impromptu bonfire.  This brought out the riot cops but they were dwarfed by the crowd that had grown to several thousand cheering on the action. Some protesters managed to reach the rooftop, from where they sent a defiant text message:

“We stand against the cuts, in solidarity with all the poor, elderly, disabled and working people affected. We are against all cuts and the marketisation of education. We are occupying the roof of Tory HQ to show we are against the Tory system of attacking the poor and helping the rich. This is only the beginning.”

This is only the beginning.” We hope so, a lot of the bourgeois political establishment fear so. The Guardian (11 November) splashed the phrase across its front page. It was repeated by MPs (Members of Parliament) and cabinet ministers as they shuddered with recollections of the 1968 demo against the U.S. embassy in Grosvenor Square over the Vietnam War, and the much larger 1990 “riots” over the Tories’ “poll tax.” For students facing a drastic increase of university tuition fees, their lives are at stake: tens of thousands will be driven out, and many of the rest will be saddled with a lifetime of debt. After venting against the Tories on Wednesday, much of the anger is now directed at Nick Clegg and his fellow Lib-Dems who pledged during the election campaign to “vote against any increase in fees” even as secret documents show they were planning to raise them. But to really defeat the cuts and fee hikes, it is necessary to mobilize working-class power to take on not only the government parties but the capitalist system itself, among whose most ardent defenders over the century have been the Labour Party, “New” and old.

The Occupation of Tory Headquarters:
An “Unrepresentative Minority” of Thousands

Protester delivers swift kick to window of Conservative Party central office in Millbank Tower, London,
November 10. Government, media and official student leaders piously intoned against
but demonstrators furious over cuts that could destroy their lives, cheered.

(Photo: Dominic Lipinski/Press Association)

The government and media have sought to divert attention from the issue of cuts and fees by expressions of feigned outrage over the trashing of the Conservative party HQ, blaming it all on an “unrepresentative minority” of “anarchists” and assorted riffraff and ne’er-do-wells. The press all ran the same photo of a protestor kicking in a window at Millbank. “Hijacking of a Very Middle Class Protest,” screamed the Daily Mail (11 November). The same theme came from official protest leaders: UCU general secretary Sally Hunt denounced the “actions of a mindless and totally unrepresentative minority.” NUS president Aaron Porter tweeted his “disgust” at the actions of “a minority of idiots.” Before TV cameras he “absolutely condemn[ed] the actions of a small minority who have used violent means to hijack the protest,” calling them “despicable.” What’s truly despicable is this support for the rulers. But what else could one expect from a right-wing Labourite like Porter anxious to use his NUS position to launch his political career, as generations of Labour MPs before him have done. The fact is, and everybody knows it, that nobody in power would have paid the least attention to the students’ march, no matter how large, if it weren’t for the Millbank occupation.

Time and again, all over the world it is claimed that the most militant actions are the result of a “handful of outsiders.” Nonsense. John Harris in the Guardian (12 November) quoted a colleague who described the scene at Millbank as “ordinary students who were viscerally angry,” adding that this was “an early sign of people growing anxious and restless, and what a government pledged to such drastic plans should increasingly expect.” Damage to property? Please spare us the cynical handwringing. Cameron and his fellow members of the Bullingdon Club at Oxford used to regularly smash up pubs and the like in their drunken sprees. Likewise for threatened charges of “attempted murder” against demonstrators. In fact, very few people were hurt, far fewer than in the G20 protests last year where riot police of the Territorial Support Group sought to terrorise protesters and killed newspaper vendor Ian Tomlinson (for which no cop has been prosecuted, or even disciplined). Some 58 protesters have been arrested for the occupation of Conservative Party headquarters. There should be an outcry demanding that they all be released and all charges dropped. The criminals are the government and the ruling class it serves.

Not all NUS and UCU representatives had the same belly-crawling response as their top leaders. Student union presidents at the University of London, Sussex University and others issued a statement saying: “We reject any attempt to characterise the Millbank protest as small, ‘extremist’ or unrepresentative of our movement. We celebrate the fact that thousands of students were willing to send a message to the Tories that we will fight to win. Occupations are a long established tradition in the student movement that should be defended.” Several thousand activists have added their names to this statement. Certainly the police will use this incident to ramp up repression in the next round. A “senior police figure” was quoted as saying “In the past we've been criticised for being too provocative. During the next demo no one can say a word.” But more fundamentally, lashing out at such symbols of an upper class elite, while thoroughly understandable and justified, cannot break its power to cause misery for the masses. Much more is needed to hit the capitalist rulers in their pocketbooks where it counts. To really fight to win, it will be necessary to mobilize the power of the working class in action. And despite the treachery of the trade-union misleaders, millions of British workers are ready to fight.

An  “unrepresentative minority” of anarchists? Hardly. Thousands of protesters cheered the occupation
of the hated Tories' HQ.
  (Photo: Carl de Court/AFP)

Although the government and police commissioners were reportedly “caught by surprise” by the size and militancy of the students, which far exceeded their expectations, such angry protest has long been in the cards. A “senior Tory aide” was quoted back in May saying that “if we win, this is going to be a deeply unpopular government. They have six months at maximum” to get their program of cuts in place. Now, writes Michael White in the Guardian (11 November): 

“Right on cue, exactly six months into David Cameron’s premiership, the ancient British roar of ‘Tory scum’ echoed across central London again. In honour of the coalition's deal on higher tuition fees, student protesters spliced their message with cheerful abuse of Nick Clegg. After almost 100 years of apathy Lib Dems can hold their heads high – hated at last.”

And the hatred they are harvesting is not limited to “professional protesters,” as Tory spokesmen claim. All accounts agree that for many if not most of the students who marched on November 10, including the thousands who cheered the occupation of Millbank, this was their first demonstration. It won’t be their last.

Fee Hikes: A Class Purge of Higher Education

The coalition government of Prime Minister David Cameron (Conservative), left, and Deputy PM Nick Clegg (Liberal-Democrat), posh twins in a millionaires’ cabinet. Shown here in front of No. 10 Downing Street, the prime minister’s office, after taking office on May 12. Luckily they are wearing different ties so you can tell them apart. Politically they are united on program to make the working class pay for the capitalist economic crisis.
(Photo: Carl de Souza/AFP)

The Con-Dem cabinet’s plans will drastically change British universities and schools. University tuition fees are set to be tripled to £9,000 (US$14,500) a year! At the same time, government expenditure on university instruction is to be cut by 40 percent. Not only is this paying “more for worse” education, the only way it could be accomplished is if there is a big fall in enrolment, which is exactly what they are aiming at. The intent, and not only the predictable consequence, is to deprive tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of young people of a college education. And by cutting as well the £30-a-week Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) for 16-19 year olds and slashing budgets for FE (Further Education) colleges (similar to community colleges in the U.S.) by 25 percent, universities are set to be places just for the wealthy, leaving the working class either unemployed or stuck in dead-end McJobs.

The responsibility for this class purge of Britain’s universities is not confined to the Tories and Liberal Democrats who are carrying out the horrendous program. This was, after all, the outcome of a review by Lord Browne – what better “expert” on education than a former CEO of British Petroleum! – that was commissioned by the previous Labour government of Gordon Brown. The expansion of higher education courses and the student population by New Labour under Tony Blair after 1997 was deliberately under-financed. The costs of paying for it were shoved onto students and their families by cutting student grants and introducing tuition fees in 1998. While they were at first means-tested and many working-class students still studied for free, this changed drastically in 2004 when Blair/Brown introduced top-up fees, tripling the maximum of £1,250 to £3,290. Like previous Conservative measures, they were mainly aimed at expanding the pool of skilled labor: according to the 2003 New Labour white paper, “The Future of Higher Education,” students are to attend universities merely for the “acquisition of skills.”

Seeking to one-up Labour’s extreme business-friendly policies, the Con-Dem coalition has come out for all-sided privatization. Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt announced budget cuts with the idiotic claim, “The changes I have proposed today would help us deliver fantastic culture, media and sport, while ensuring value for money for the public” (Guardian, 26 July 2010). But “value for money” is hardly an invention of this coalition. Commenting on government spending cuts in 1922, the historian R.H. Tawney observed: “consider the philosophy behind its proposals. It does not actually state, in so many words, that the children of the workers, like anthropoid apes, have fewer convolutions in their brains than the children of the rich. It does not state it because it assumes it.… While most decent men have viewed with satisfaction the recent considerable development of secondary education, they deplore it as a public catastrophe, and are indignant that education … is sold ‘below actual cost’” (Guardian, 21 February 1922).

The rhetoric of the authors of the 1922 cuts has now resurfaced unchanged, with talk of the undeserving poor who commit a “sin” by not working for starvation pay. Such Social Darwinism inevitably has a racist character. This was recently expressed in its crudest form by the Social Democrat banker Thilo Sarrazin in Berlin, who has made waves by openly bemoaning the destruction of German Kultur by Turkish immigrants. Sarrazin argues, as the New York Times (13 November) summed up his views, that “since Muslims are less intelligent (his conclusion) than ethnic Germans, the population will be dumbed down (his conclusion).” That this is not just some crackpot talking was underscored by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s pronouncement last month that “multiculturalism is dead.” And as Sarkozy in France goes in for mass expulsion of Roms and threats to cancel immigrants’ citizenship, the Con-Dem government in London shares the same worldview, vituperating against an “out of control” immigration system.

Liberal-Democrat leader Nick Clegg in April 2010, holding up his signed pledge to vote against any increase in university fees. The entire Lib-Dem parliamentary slate signed the pledge. Now they will vote to triple fees as part of coalition government.
(Photo: National Union of Students Press Office)

This cabinet of 18 millionaires (by the Guardian’s count) really has it in for Britain’s working people. The day after the student protest, the government announced plans to replace hardship payments (to the unemployed whose benefits have been held up) with loans (to be repaid), and to ban anyone who refuses a job or “community service” from receiving benefits for up to three years. According to the spending review by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, some £18 billion is to be slashed from the welfare system. Public sector workers are to be hit with a pay freeze and a 3 percent increase in pension contributions – in other words, a pay cut. Local council grants are to be slashed by 27 percent. Planned cuts of 500,000 public sector jobs could lead to an equal number of private sector job losses, adding one million more people to the dole queue (unemployment lines). While the health service is supposed to be exempt from cuts, nurses say 10,000 jobs are threatened. It’s all supposed to reduce a budget deficit of £149 billion. Yet as a result of the world capitalist economic crisis, the Labour government funnelled ten times that amount – £1.5 trillion – into the coffers of Britain’s banks to stave off collapse.

But Britain’s students aren’t taking it. The London protest was the latest in many in Europe over the austerity measures being pushed by the capitalists to make the working class pay for the economic meltdown. Repeated one-day “general strikes” in Greece during the winter and spring, mass protests in Portugal, a strike by Spanish unions against the Socialist government in Madrid, and now two and a half months of weekly “days of action” by French unions and students: the working people of Europe have demonstrated their readiness to do battle.1 Barely three weeks ago the New York Times (23 October) was contrasting Britain – “stiff upper lip,” “inherent stoicism,” “bulldog resolve in the face of hardship,” and all that – to the strike-prone French for whom taking to the streets is a “rite of passage” for the young. Confronting “five bleak years of austerity, the British barely seemed to blink,” the writer sagely opined. But now British students are accused of “acting French,” and the deputy editor of the Wall Street Journal Europe suggests that perhaps French president Nicolas Sarkozy would lend Cameron his CRS riot police.

The fury of British students over the fee hikes and cuts was all the more fierce as they had been pushed through by the recently elected Lib Dem/Conservatives. After the broken promises of Tony Blair’s/Gordon Brown’s “New” Labour which oversaw the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq and repeated attacks on immigrants and the working class, many young people (especially students) voted for Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats hoping that they would be a ‘progressive’ alternative.  They have been disappointed – big time. Yet Labour is no opposition. Even today, while needling Clegg in Parliament, Labour spokesmen have not flatly opposed the cuts. They mainly differ over the pace, and Labour local councils will be administering the cuts. As for the student fee hikes, Labour is now toying with a “graduate tax,” which only means that students will have to pay off the £9,000 a year fees later. They may quibble about specifics, but all the parliamentary parties support the attacks on working people in Britain. And that is because all of them – including Labour, which Russian Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin long ago characterized as a “bourgeois workers party” – uphold the capitalist order.

“Broad Coalitions” vs. Worker-Student Struggle

So what is to be done now? British students are energized, even exhilarated. NUS leaders want to pull back and limit themselves to embarrassing Liberal Democrats who signed the “no fee rise” pledge. However, the Labourite student bureaucrats of the NUS and UCU are hardly in control of the protests. On November 10, there was a “free education bloc” of assorted left social democrats and a “radical students and workers bloc” of a more anarchist and syndicalist bent. Now, over opposition from the NUS, the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) has called for university walkouts and occupations on November 24 and a central national demonstration at Trafalgar Square to be accompanied by “direct action.” Already an occupation has begun at Sussex, after a one-day occupation at Manchester U.

There are a host of leftist student groups in Britain, usually led by one or another socialist group, ranging from Communist Students of  the CPGB (Communist Party of Great Britain) and Socialist Students of the SPEW (Socialist Party of England and Wales, led by Peter Taaffe) to the Education Activist Network (EAN) led by the SWP (Socialist Workers Party, followers of the late Tony Cliff2). The EAN is a follow-on to the SWP’s earlier Student Respect and Another Education Is Possible ventures, and of course the Stop the War coalition. Where Che Guevara called for “two, three, many Vietnams,” the SWP’s variant is two, three, many front groups, one (or more) for every “movement” it is tailing at the time (Muslim, anti-globalisation, antiwar). It has been noted that while the parent organizations may have some differences, the programs of their student affiliates are virtually interchangeable. This reflects the fact that at bottom they are all part of the social-democratic reformist milieu.

Not-so-red Ed Miliband after being elected leader of the Labour Party in September. Social-democratic student groups all act as pressure group on Labour stewards of British capitalism.
(Photo: Leon Neal/AFP)

As always, the SWP places itself squarely on the right flank. Positioning itself one baby step to the left of the NUS leadership, which calls for the graduate tax, the SWP, while itself formally in favour of “free education” (that is, the abolition of all fees), insists that the EAN should not raise this fundamental demand, as that might hinder its opportunist manoeuvring in the NUS. Following November 10, the SWP decided to pose as the biggest defenders of the Millbank occupation, crowing that “First through the doors of Millbank Tower were members of the Socialist Workers Party…” (Socialist Worker, 20 November). The SWP’s perspective was set out in a pamphlet calling for “a huge campaign that turns every college into a centre of resistance.” This is bread and butter for the SWP, which looks to everyone from CIA-run unions in Poland to mullahs in Iran, but never the working class (though while calling for everyone to “build the fightback,” it does say that they could “invite local trade unionists to come along”).

Other groups have their own profile. The SPEW calls for “building a mass, sustained and determined movement that can stop the Con-Dem onslaught” – carefully avoiding any attack on Labour – that would be “joined by the powerful organisations of the working class.” Meaning they want the TU bureaucrats to sign on. Alan Woods’ Socialist Appeal (SA), which bills itself as a tendency in the Labour Party, calls for “a movement that can bring this government down” – and thus pave the way for a return to Labour. They all have their criticisms of the “New Labour” of Blair and Brown, and they may say that the recently elected Labour leader is not the “Red Ed” (Miliband) portrayed in the media. But, the SWP writes, “the movement will be looking to Miliband to speak up for all those who will be hammered by coalition cuts” (Socialist Review, November 2010). And there they and their various coalitions all were, lobbying the Labour conference in Brighton September 27, “to tell the Labour Government that they must change direction,” as the UCU put it.

Whether in the SWP’s “student power” version or the more Labourite SPEW/SA variant, these social democrats act as pressure groups on the Labour stewards of capitalist Britain. Lobbying Labour, especially now that it is out of office, cannot stop the cuts. Only powerful worker-student class struggle, independent of all political ties to the bourgeois state, can take the struggle forward.

Dreams of a New Poll Tax Revolt and
Social-Democratic Support for the Police

In the wake of the November 10 occupation of Millbank Tower, the bourgeois press harked back to the 1990 “poll tax riots” as a harbinger of what could be in store. At the same time, several socialist groups saw that as a model of how mass struggle could bring down this Tory government, as the revolt over the poll tax led to the downfall of “Iron Lady” Thatcher. SWP: “This is a sign we can resist. The poll tax riots show it is possible.” SPEW: study “the lessons of the poll tax struggle and how we took on the Tories and won last time round.” Socialist Appeal: “The anti-poll tax movement … shows that the government can be defeated if a serious and effective struggle is mounted.” This is at best a partial truth. While hatred of this tax on the poor and working people and revulsion over police brutality eventually led to Thatcher’s resignation and abandonment of the tax, she was succeeded by the Tory John Major … and eventually by Tony Blair, whose “New Labour” government continued the anti-worker polices of Thatcher.

The “poll tax” replaced graduated local taxes (based on the rental value of houses) by a single head tax for every adult, whether earl or pauper, a capitalist or an unemployed worker. Those who didn’t pay would go to jail, bringing back the debtors’ prisons of centuries past. The Militant tendency in the Labour Party, from which both Socialist Appeal and the Socialist Party devolved, initiated a national Anti-Poll Tax Federation. Eventually 14 million people refused to pay the tax, making it effectively uncollectible. On 31 March 1990, some 200,000-plus people jammed into central London to protest the tax. They were met with a wanton cop attack. Police vans drove into crowds at high speed, police horses trampled on demonstrators, police batons rained down on old ladies. Millions were shocked as they watched the spectacle on TV. The Tory barons concluded Thatcher had to go if they were to avoid defeat in the next elections. A few months later she was out. And the Tories got seven more years in office.

Poll tax “riot,” 31 March 1990. Bloody police attack on demonstrators sealed Margaret Thatcher's fate.
(Photo: journalismfrombelow)

Bringing down a hated government in a palace coup by fellow Tories, though it may have given a measure of belated satisfaction to those who were defeated in the epic coal miners’ strike and other hard-fought labour battles, hardly counts as a victory for the working class. Moreover, when the poll tax battle is held up as an model for how to struggle today, it is an argument that it is possible to go around the obstacle of the Trades Union Council. In particular circumstances, mass civil disobedience may be a possible tactic – such as when 14 million people are willing to risk jail rather than pay the heinous tax. But to actually defeat Thatcherism, it was necessary for the trade unions to undertake political strike action against the poll tax, as Trotskyists called for at the time. Today it will take workers action on a national basis to defeat Cameron and Clegg’s cuts and fee hikes. And that means a fight within the labour movement.

A key issue is the nature of the police. Various left groups, but particularly the heirs of Militant (SPEW and SA) characterize the cops as “workers in uniform.” But there is a vital difference between workers conscripted into the army, and the police who are strikebreakers and professional agents of repression. “We have to distinguish ordinary police officers from Chiefs of Police,” write Socialist Appeal supporters Adam Booth and Ben Peck about the recent student march (In Defense of Marxism web site, 12 November). But did chiefs of police kill Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protests in 2009; or execute Jean Charles de Menezes with shots to the back as he entered the London Underground in 2005; or beat anti-fascist demonstrator Blair Peach to death in 1979? No, these were the acts of “ordinary police officers,” who are the armed fist of the capitalist state.

Socialist Party says to “distinguish ordinary police officers from Chiefs of Police.” Territorial Support Group killer cop delivers death blow to newspaper seller Ian Tomlinson, 1 April 2009. You see any chiefs of police in this photo?
(Photo: Guardian)

Not surprisingly, the authors of the article sought to distance SA from the “attack” on Millbank Tower, saying it was “initiated by a minority of ultra-lefts” and was “not a method that the labour movement would adopt.” An article by the SPEW criticized the NUS leadership for denouncing the protesters at Millbank, but remarked elliptically that “stewarding of the protest was inadequate - particularly at the end.” Meaning that had SPEW “stewards” been there, they would have tried to prevent the occupation of Tory headquarters? Naturally, the SA does not call to defend the arrested protesters, and the SPEW  has only a mealy-mouthed reference to no victimisation of students involved in the demonstration. What constitutes victimisation, and what about non-students? The SPEW scandalously includes a leader of the Prison Officers Association among its members, in total contradiction to Leon Trotsky’s insistence that “The worker who becomes a policeman in the service of the capitalist state, is a bourgeois cop, not a worker.” In contrast to the SA/SPEW, the League for the Fourth International calls for cops out of the unions (see our article, “Her Majesty’s Social Democrats in Bed with the Police,” The Internationalist No. 29, Summer 2009).

Class Struggle vs. Class Collaboration

Clearly there needs to be a massive mobilization against the war on the working class spearheaded by the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government. Mobilize on what basis? Campus occupations and mass marches are necessary, but with the strategic aim of mobilizing workers’ industrial power on a program of class independence. Talk of “student power” is illusory – by themselves, students do not have the social weight to bring down the government, although they can play a key role in sparking struggle. And marching alone will do little. A million people demonstrated against the Iraq war, but it didn’t sway Labour PM Tony Blair, who kept right on wagging his tail for poodle master George Bush. What is called for is joint strike action pointing toward a general strike, based on elected strike committees, to break the stranglehold of Labour and a trade-union bureaucracy beholden to capitalism.

There must be a struggle to mobilize labour’s strength, in the factories and on the streets, now, not some time next year, in a sharp class battle against the capitalist rulers. This will face opposition from the Trades Union Congress tops, who have been dragging their heels – and not just from open right-wingers like Unison, which clearly wants to avoid a showdown with the government. Tony Woodley, general secretary of Unite, Britain’s largest union, and one of the “awkward squad” who sought to “reclaim” Labour for “socialism,” saluted the “anger and passion” of the students, but would only commit to “linking up with the broadest range of other groups, including students, to make the government change its mind.” Like how? Even Bob Crow, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, which earlier appealed to the TUC for “coordinated strike action,” now says only that the RMT seeks “the strongest possible co-ordinated and peaceful resistance in the coming months.”

What they are aiming at is to build yet another “broad” coalition of a popular-front character that would tie workers, students, immigrants and others to minor bourgeois forces on a program of cosmetic reforms, in order to ensure that any protest does not challenge capitalist rule. An example was the no2eu coalition, initiated by Crow and the RMT, an alliance with the thoroughly bourgeois splinter Liberal Party for the June 2009 elections to the European parliament. One of the coalition’s top candidates was John McEwan, a Socialist Party supporter and leader of the chauvinist 2009 strike by Lindsey oil refinery workers whose main demand was “British Jobs for British Workers.” (The strike committee tried to prettify this disgusting demand as hiring of “locally skilled union members” instead of the Italian and Portuguese workers employed there.) This year a popular-frontist Coalition of Resistance has been launched by former Labour left MP Tony Benn last August to fight the cuts and “defend the welfare state.” This is also what most groups on the British left are angling for. But such “coalitions” are vehicles for class collaboration and roadblocks to militant class struggle.

Coalition of Resistance march protesting cuts, October 20. What welfare state? Defending remaining
social gains will require hard class struggle, not “popular-front” coalitions with minor bourgeois parties
and politicians.
(Photo: Coaltion of Resistance)

After World War II, the Labour Party under Clement Atlee and Aneurin Bevan enacted a series of measures to salvage bankrupt British capitalism. As Britannia no longer ruled the waves, having lost its Empire, the bourgeoisie hoped to stave off the “communist menace” by nationalizing unprofitable but vital branches of the economy (coal, rail, steel, docks, electrical energy), and providing some social services to the workers, notably the National Health Service and council housing. Following the counterrevolution in the Soviet Union and East Europe during 1989-92, capitalists the world over no longer felt the need to make concessions to the workers they exploited. In Britain the process of dismantling the “welfare state” had already begun under Margaret Thatcher. It continued apace under “New Labour” and now the bourgeoisie is determined to finish it off under the Con-Dem cabinet.

No “broad coalition” is going to stop this wrecking ball, only mobilizing workers’ power and the students’ militancy in sharp class struggle can do the job. To stop the purge of higher education, the mass redundancies (layoffs), the destruction of local services will take a battle far surpassing the 1984-85 coal strike in scope and intensity. What then? In the 1978-79 “winter of discontent,” British workers undertook widespread strike action, but since they had nothing to replace the Labour government of James Callaghan, the forces of reaction won, in the figure of Margaret Thatcher. A general strike would starkly pose the question of which class rules. If the workers movement is not prepared to fight for power, as the TUC was not in the 1926 general strike, the result will be a colossal defeat. Today, the only way to defend the remaining gains of the “welfare state” of distant memory is by fighting to overthrow capitalist rule.

To Defeat the Cuts, Fight for International Socialist Revolution

The struggle against the class war on the workers currently being waged by the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition is no isolated national battle. Across Europe, workers and students are confronting a drive by governments and business to make the working class and large sections of the middle classes pay the costs of the capitalist economic crisis. The bankers who triggered the new Depression are demanding that the bailouts be paid for by massive elimination of social programs such as they have sought for years. They have no compunctions. Last week, Barclays Bank announced it was anticipating paying out £2.24 billion in bonuses in 2010, an amount equal to the entire planned cuts in government expenditures on university teaching budgets. Meanwhile, market speculators hold entire countries hostage. Earlier this year Greece was targeted, today it is Ireland, tomorrow Portugal, and the day after tomorrow…Britain?

London tube strike, 7 September 2010. RMT must not stand alone! Urgently needed: all-out strike action to defeat the cuts.
(Photo: Solveigh Goett)

If the Con-Dem cabinet does not succeed in ramming through the cuts, the impersonal forces of “the market” will take their revenge and push the country into sovereign bankruptcy, which would make the collapse of the Wall Street banking house Lehman Brothers in September 2008 seem small potatoes. When social-democratic leftists speak of a “socialist transformation” of Britain through an enabling act, as Militant did in the 1970s and ’80s, and their offspring do today with programs for “socialist nationalisation” and “public ownership” of 150 top companies under “democratic workers’ control and management” (SPEW, “Where We Stand”) they are peddling democratic illusions. Such a “transformation” would be no more socialist than the post-WWII nationalisations by Labour, and in any case a peaceful transition to “socialism” through parliamentary channels is impossible. It will take nothing less than socialist revolution on an international scale to expropriate British capital, and only by fighting for that goal can British workers hope to defend what’s left of their past gains.

The starting principle of Marxist politics is the class independence of the workers from the bourgeois exploiters. Thus the League for the Fourth International opposes voting for any bourgeois candidate, party or coalition – even for workers parties in “popular fronts” – no matter how leftist their rhetoric may be. In Britain, after a dozen years in office, Labour was thoroughly discredited and no class-conscious worker or genuine Marxist could have voted in the 2010 elections for these warmongers and loyal servants of British (and U.S.) capital. But class independence is only the beginning. To obtain decent housing, quality health care, free and accessible education for all, capitalism must go. And it is necessary to build  a workers party to lead that struggle, by putting forward a transitional program leading to socialist revolution.

Workers should mobilize to force British troops out of Afghanistan – and Northern Ireland – with proletarian action, including strikes, such as heralded by the West Coast U.S. port strike against the war on May Day 2008 (which was endorsed by the RMT). Fight mass unemployment by demanding a shorter workweek, with no loss in pay, to divide the available work among all hands. Government attacks on Travellers must be vigorously opposed, and the anti-“foreigner” backlash combated by demanding full citizenship for all immigrants. The growing threat of the British National Party, the English Defence League and anti-Muslim attacks should be met by workers defence guards to disperse the fascist scum. In the face of all the hoopla over the upcoming wedding of Prince William of the House of Windsor (will his swastika-loving brother Prince Harry attend in full Nazi regalia?), we call to abolish the monarchy and the House of Lords, and for a voluntary federation of workers republics of the British Isles and a Socialist United States of Europe.

It is necessary to struggle within the unions as well as among students, the black and immigrant populations and all the oppressed to break from Labourism, the heritage of an all-embracing social-democratic reformist party, and forge a proletarian revolutionary vanguard. The LFI seeks to build the nucleus of a workers party such as Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolsheviks, to educate and lead (in word and deeds) the fight for a workers government, as part of the struggle to reforge the Fourth International as the world party of socialist revolution. 

1 See our articles “French Students and Workers Strike: May in October? The Spectre of a New ’68” (18 October), “To Drive Out Sarkozy & Co., Fight for Power to the Workers” (26 October) and a series of reports from Paris on the www.internationalist.org web site.

2 Though often referred to in the British press as a Trotskyist, Cliff broke with Trotskyism at the start of the Cold War, declaring the Stalinist-ruled Soviet Union to be “state capitalist” rather than a bureaucratically degenerated workers state, and in 1950 refusing to defend North Korea and the USSR against imperialist attack, an act of class treason for which his supporters were rightly expelled from the Revolutionary Communist Party.

To contact the Internationalist Group and the League for the Fourth International, send e-mail to: internationalistgroup@msn.com