Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Are the cuts necessary? What is the Socialist Alternative?

Below is a talk given to students at Brighton College introducing the ideas of socialism:

In our opinion the system of society that presently rules which is called capitalism, is a destructive, exploitative system that forces the majority to work for the profits of a tiny minority. The wealth and effort of society should instead be used for the well-being of society as a whole. This recession is the best example of the development of society being kept in cold-storage or put into reverse until big business can make enough profit.

Capitalism is showing itself to be a system that is rocked by crisis, and a system that is massively destructive. At the same time as huge advances have been made in large and small scale technology and work techniques, those advances have not been applied for the benefit of society as a whole. The environment is getting worse while big business continues to pollute and no government wants to undermine growth by investing in green technology on a necessary scale. The ongoing economic crisis has resulted in huge wasted potential across the world, with unemployment rising, more and more people working very short hours or multiple jobs, and the worst yet to come.

In Britain all the mainstream political parties agree that cuts have to take place. The government argues that the cost of the benefit system and much of the welfare state is unsustainable and must be reduced. We say this is hypocrisy, why doesn't the government collect the tax which remains unpaid by the super-rich? Instead of demanding the collection of an estimated £90billion unpaid tax, mainly owed by the richest companies and people within British society, the government cuts £3 billion from the tax office, axing 10,000 jobs. When Google was confronted over paying 3.2% tax its chairman, Eric Schmidt insisted he is "very proud" of the company's tax structure, and said that measures to lower its payments were just "capitalism".

It is hard to imagine ordinary people acting in such a way and getting away with it! One of our members recently went on ITV to debate the government's new jobseeker penalties which could see benefits stopped for three months if an appointment is missed. The Minister in charge of this failed to turn up to the interview because he was still in bed; if he was a jobseeker he would have his benefits cut, instead he and other MP's are clamouring for a 32% pay rise! 

The government says that big business must be handled with delicate hands because otherwise they will flee the country, but that simply means the squeeze on everyone else, those who don't have the wealth or the power to intimidate the government, is even greater.

At the same time the government frequently argues that Britain is competing with China, India, Indonesia. After years of plowing profits into finance instead of investing in manufacturing and infrastructure, Britain is now trying to catch up with other nations. However the 'edge' that these nations have over Britain and America is the dreadfully low wages and conditions of their workforces.

In our opinion this is the main motivation behind the government's cuts: to reverse the gains of working-class people in an effort to make them cheaper to employ compared to the impoverished work-forces in the East. The government claims we cannot afford the costs of public spending, pensions, benefits and so on. They claim the burden is preventing the economy from growing,. But if the cost of growth in a capitalist economy is the degradation of living and working standards, aren't we entitled to say we cannot afford the cost of the capitalist economy?

The government is cutting the debt through attacking the gains of the working-class, they are doing this to soothe the nerves of the holders of British government debt, to reduce taxes for big business and to make workers cheaper to employ. Good schools, good health, houses, working hours and conditions all get in the way of this. That is the reality of capitalism, a reality that is even starker across the world in countries without the welfare state heritage of Britain.

Socialists do not think the only way to develop the economy is to make life harder for the working-class and the poor. We ask the question; in whose interests is the economy growing? Inequality has rocketed across the world in the past three decades, and Britain is no exception. A UN report from 5 years ago said the total wealth held by the top 10% across the world was 85%, while the poorest 50% own just 1% of the world's wealth! This trend is worse as a result of the recession. In 2012, the world's 100 richest people became $241 billion richer, they are now worth $1.9 trillion: just a little less than the entire output of the United Kingdom.

And the worst is yet to come, the government has extended its cuts programme to 2018 while the economy has barely registered any growth. While growth bumps along the bottom all the ingredients of growth are sitting idle! There is currently £700billion that British big business alone refuses to invest due to the poor economic situation. Last year alone 60,000 construction workers lost their jobs while overcrowding rises and 1.5m families await decent affordable housing. That wealth and resources could be put to good use for society, but is kept under lock and key until a profit can be made.   

We, along with others, point out the short-sightedness of the current austerity policies, which ignores poor consumption which is the biggest obstacles to growth. Less money in people's pockets and the storm clouds of debt discourage people from purchasing goods and services. Even the International Monetary Fund, an organisation notorious for forcing cuts on poor countries in exchange for so-called development loans, has identified this as a problem, and has criticised the austerity of Britain for being too short-sighted!

However despite the high debt levels people continue to borrow, and continue to live beyond their means. But while an entire industry is dedicated to advertising the means of purchase, or wages, we are provided by capitalism are minimal and declining. We are not all at fault for the mountains of debt accumulated over the years. Over the years the ability to borrow to make up the difference was encouraged by government and the banks. In fact, it was the lynchpin of their economic strategy and a handful of people became incredibly rich as a result of it. We say that a few simple ways to close that gap would have been to pay people decent wages, build enough affordable houses and prevent the banks from blowing finance bubbles many times larger than the global economy itself!

However we cannot expect capitalism to experience a sudden conversion – as these simple measures run against the fundamental interests of the capitalist system. Some people argue that calling for a socialist transformation of society is going to far; that all we need to do is to clip the wings of capitalism and teach it to behave. But it was the essence of capitalism itself, the profit motive, that led it down this path; it is no wonder that an inherently short-sighted system fails to adopt more far-sighted measures.

Others argue that now the crisis has hit, and austerity is strangling the economy, more government spending is necessary to put money in our pockets and boost growth. This kind of spending took place to protect the banks, especially after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008. We campaign for public ownership of the banks and to use those resources for the benefit of society, however we have no illusions that the leopards will change their spots. The government is in the pockets of big business and finance and the voices of the working-class are not heard or listened to. It would take a mass movement of the working-class to achieve any kind of concession, and that mass movement could demand a lot more than a few crumbs.

Capitalism relies on the labour of the working-class. Ultimately, it is this labour that is the source of capitalist profits, assisted by technology and by the production of the past. This reliance on labour as the source of profit is a major weakness to capitalism, because the working-class can organise and act together to pursue its collective interests. This can mean striking for immediate improvements or for wider political ends. Strike action (backed up by protests, boycotts and other actions) can paralyse the economy and have a huge impact on capitalism, far greater than even the best delivered argument. But such movements also show how the working-class can run society without capitalism.

We argue the economy cannot be left in the hands of capitalism. We want to build a movement that will replace capitalism with a rational plan of production, where the development of the economy is performed on the basis of democratic decision-making by ordinary people within the economy itself, not by a handful of un-elected bosses fighting it out in the market. We argue for democratic control of the economy and for no single individual or groups of individuals to privately own the forces of production. If this was the case then development could take place according to the needs of the population, not the blind anarchy of the market.

This kind of democratic control of the economy would be a world away from the top-down rule of bureaucrats that existed in Soviet Russia and other so-called Communist countries. We have nothing in common with those dictatorships, which emerged because of the isolation and poverty of Russia after 1917, when revolutions in other nations were defeated and Russia, a poor and backward country, fell back on its own resources. Socialism needs democracy like a body needs oxygen, and without it the huge potential of a planned economy will be wasted in controlling the population, in mismanagement and arms spending. 

These economies stagnated after they industrialised, and were delivered back into the hands of global capitalism. While those dictatorships fell, they have been replaced with massive inequality. The Lancet medical journal estimated in 2009 that one million deaths and reduced life expectancy resulted from the mass privatisation of the Russian economy. The promise of liberal democracy in Russia became a reality of gangster capitalism, poverty and repression of dissent.

The economy is rotten ripe for a socialist transformation – it is a global, social economy where co-operation and common interests keep peeking through the seams of the marketplace. It is so developed, complex and widespread that it could easily be run consciously with human and environmental need at the forefront of decision-making, and the advances in communication technology could easily enable the democratic involvement of everyone. However the present social organisation of capitalism prevents this taking place.

In our opinion the reality of this is forcing its way into the open. Mass revolts of the working-class are taking place across the Middle-East and Europe, and they will only develop and come closer to home as the crisis continues. The role of our party, which is organised across the world, is to guide those inevitable movements towards ending capitalism and constructing a socialist society.

The Socialist Party fights this battle up and down the country, in schools, colleges, Universities, workplaces and among service users. One of our main demands is for a new workers party, to fill the hole in British politics to the left of New Labour. We feel there is a need for a mass party of the working-class which fundamentally opposes the pro-capitalist arguments of all the major parties. That would be a big step forward towards a mass, socialist political organisation in Britain. We also argue for a general strike against austerity, and campaign inside and outside the trade unions for it. For the working-class the best weapon to use against the government and the bosses is a mass, well-organised strike which is uncompromising in its aims and says: stop the cuts, make the bankers and big business pay for their own crisis!

This is only a brief explanation of our ideas, which leaves a lot of questions to be answered, so please fire away!

If you agree with the Socialist Party or want to find out more, please get in touch: - -