Europe: The Working Class Fights Back: Introduction

Over the last year many changes have been effected in the economic, social and political map of Europe. We have seen the mighty events in France, in December, followed by the strike wave in Germany, upheavals in Belgium, all of which will be repeated in the rest of Europe in the next period.

These events signify the re-emergence of the European working class. This working class is the oldest on the planet, with the longest tradition. Of course the new working classes, in Asia, in Africa and Latin America, will play an important role. But from the point of view of the world revolution the metropolitan areas of Europe, the US and Japan will play a decisive role. In the 1990s, of the roughly five billion people in the world, almost one billion reside in industrialized societies. Of this one billion, 750 million live in the industrialized West, and 200 million in industrialized East Asia.

Western Europe is the area of the greatest concentration of the forces of the CWI and still, perhaps, represents the best chance of a breakthrough for our organization towards the development of important mass organizations.

From every point of view the position of the bourgeoisie in Western Europe is not better, but much worse than a year ago. There has, indeed, been a period of ‘growth’, since the recession of 1991-93. Yet the bourgeois economists themselves refer to this as a ‘jobless recovery’. The bourgeois economists of Morgan Stanley estimate that the EU, as a whole, will grow by only 1.5 percent this year, significantly down on their earlier projection of 2.4 percent growth (the IMF expected that Europe would grow by 2.6 percent this year).

There is a virtual world stagnation of the productive forces. In Europe, Germany is virtually stagnant and was technically in recession for a couple of months this year, growth in France is anemic, and in Italy the Confindustria, the employers’ organization, expects the economy will grow by no more than 0.7 percent this year.

One in ten of West Europeans are out of work, twice the jobless rate of the US at the present time. Unemployment has grown inexorably over a 12-year period. The Wall Street Journal pointed out: “During the past 20 years, the number of unemployed men in the EU has tripled to nine million, with the number of jobless women more than quadrupling to 8.7 million from two million. From 1974 through to 1994, the EU created only 800,000 additional private-sector jobs.”

This is not ‘normal’ cyclical unemployment – it has now become structural. Half of those without work in Europe have been unemployed for at least a year. Moreover, even the sober bourgeois economists expect that unemployment will hover at about 10 percent of the labor force right into the next century. And this does not take account of the possibility of a further deep-going recession or even slump before the decade is out.

The crisis of capitalism has had a devastating effect on the working class. In Britain, ten million workers have been made redundant since 1990. Some have been re-employed but on lower rates of pay and with far less job security. Most have lost relatively high-paid jobs, a significant number in manufacturing industry, and those who are re-employed are in low-paid jobs, the “Mac jobs”, which have become synonymous with low-paid employment. The growth of temporary contract labor, casualization, etc. has become an increasing phenomenon in Western Europe. Nearly every second worker in the Netherlands holds either a part-time or a temporary job. In Spain the proportion is 41 percent of the workforce and France has seen the percentage of its workers in either temporary or part-time jobs jump to 26 percent from 14 percent a decade ago.

The new feature in the situation today is that these conditions have begun to affect the middle class as well. The Wall Street Journal, for instance, estimates that “two-thirds of today’s middle management tasks will disappear”. De-regulation, the introduction of American and British conditions on a continental scale is the future which is held out by capitalism for the European working class.

What this will mean is shown by the position in the US. Since 1979, only the top fifth has seen a large increase in real incomes while the incomes of the poorest 60 percent have declined in real terms. At the same time the more far-sighted bourgeois are concerned about the consequences of their actions. Roach, the apostle of downsizing in the US, has urged the American bourgeoisie to desist from further massive redundancies and to adopt a ‘social conscience’.

The President of the European Commission, Santer, has called for the halving of unemployment by the turn of the century. There has even been pressure for the introduction of a minimum wage, with the spectacle of a significant number of Republicans voting with the Democrats to increase the US’s minimum wage. All this denotes a fear of the consequences of the impoverishment of the workers by the bourgeoisie and the terror developing in their ranks at the coming industrial upsurge on a continental scale. However, the call for a reduction in unemployment, a theme in all countries in Europe, is mere phrasemongering. Santer, for instance, was unceremoniously rebuffed at the EU meeting in Florence, where the national governments rejected a European program to reduce unemployment.

Rather than moving in the direction of cutting the jobless rate they will be compelled to adopt measures which will aggravate the situation. The bourgeois are wrestling with the consequences of their profligacy in the 1980s. This has resulted in the huge piling up of state debts. This was a consequence, partly, of the attempt to buy off the working class in the course of the 1980s. They are now wrestling with the consequences of their past actions. The result can be shown in the colossal state debt of Belgium, for instance, averaging between 127-130 percent of GDP. In Italy it stands at 125 percent, and even if the Prodi government carries through privatizations, it will stand at 123 percent. Britain’s national debt has doubled in the course of the 1990s.

This situation, irrespective of any other factor, compels the bourgeoisie to undertake attacks. The IMF has estimated that state debt, as a proportion of gross domestic product of the advanced industrial countries, is the biggest for 150 years, except during wars. If this was to go on unchecked then it would result in an inevitable rise in interest rates worldwide as the states compete for finance to plug the gap in their income and expenditure. It would also result in inflation well into the next century. The bourgeois are, therefore, determined, despite the record profits they are making at the present time, that they have to undertake a massive attack against the conditions of the working class.

In effect they have declared a ‘civil war’ to cut the share going to the working class in the form of welfare, housing, education, etc. The attack on this part of state expenditure affects practically every European country. Not just the well-known cases of Britain, now of Germany, and France, but even previously relatively prosperous Austria has faced draconian cuts in education.

The position facing Britain, under a Labour government, has been highlighted by Labour MPs in Britain. If a Labour government was to meet the Maastricht criteria this would represent a reduction of £12 billion from today’s public expenditure program. This is the equivalent of the whole of the police and fire service budgets, or half of all the National Health Service Trusts, or the shutting down of all the secondary and two-thirds of primary schools in Britain. Even the estimate of a £12 billion cut is probably an underestimate.

Keynesianism is dead. Boosting state expenditure in order to nullify the worst effects of capitalist recession is rejected by the bourgeoisie. Only in Japan have the bourgeoisie got the resources to attempt such a policy. Despite four programs of additional state expenditure this has only resulted in a very partial growth in the Japanese economy. There is no prospect of a return to the fireworks of the past, so far as Japan or capitalism as a whole is concerned.

The European bourgeoisie is hiding behind Maastricht, at least partly, to justify these attacks. But it is important for us to explain that even without Maastricht and the EU the bourgeoisie would be undertaking a massive attack on the living standards of the working class today. Up to now, particularly during the 1980s, with the exception perhaps of Britain, the bourgeoisie nibbled away at welfare. Now they have decided on a frontal attack. Borrowing the language of the counter-revolution in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, the European Monetary Institute calls for the adoption of a ‘fast track’ in the assault on the welfare state. The goals of Maastricht, in order that convergence will be reached by 1999, are that the budget deficit should be no more than 3 percent of GDP, that state debts should be no more than 60 percent and inflation on average no more than 3.6 percent. At the moment, throughout Europe, the average state debt as a percentage of GDP is running at roughly 70 percent. The average budget deficit, throughout Europe, is 4.7 percent, 50 percent above the Maastricht criteria. Only Luxembourg, with 0.1 percent of the population, meets all the Maastricht criteria at the present time.

There is even a tacit acceptance that for instance France, crucial for Germany in any proposals for an ‘inner core’, will not reach the Maastricht criteria. The ‘fast trackers’ are undoubtedly encouraged by the docility of the leadership of the official organizations of the working class. They are, however, in danger of over-reaching themselves and provoking ‘social explosions’.

Nevertheless, the remorseless pressure of the world market, as shown in the previous discussion on globalization, compels them, and all parties which stand within the framework of capitalism, to carry out the demands of the bourgeoisie at this stage. The right-wing bourgeois parties do this openly and the social democracy complies. Even the left parties, as the experience of Sweden and other countries in Scandinavia have demonstrated, shows that there is no alternative to this course within the framework of capitalism. This was seen recently at a demonstration organized by hospital workers of the CWI’s Swedish section, Arbetarfsörbundet Offensiv, and others. A Left Party councilor, in a discussion with our comrades, was reduced to tears because she was attacked for supporting the measures which will result in 6,000 workers being made redundant in the hospital services in Stockholm. Her only argument was “there is no alternative”.

The whole essence of the situation today is that in order to defend past gains, never mind to improve the conditions of the working class, it is necessary to conduct a revolutionary struggle. The experience of the poll tax and of Liverpool from 1983-87 demonstrates that reforms are a by-product of revolutionary struggle.

Because Maastricht is associated with cuts in living standards there is a huge growth of Euro-skepticism throughout Europe. Even in those countries in which Maastricht was most enthusiastically supported there is a growth of Euro-skepticism, for instance in Germany. There the Social Democratic leaders, at least some of them, are arguing in favor of postponement of convergence. In Sweden, Britain, Austria there is a growth of Euro-skepticism while even in Finland, which has benefited because of a decrease in food prices, a majority is against monetary union at this stage. Of course, amongst the ‘outs’, in Norway for instance, there is even greater opposition.

In the case of Britain, there has recently been the ‘mad cow’ controversy, which has demonstrated ‘mad politics’ as well as ‘mad cow disease’. Despite the arguments of the Euro-skeptics, Britain’s fate is now tied to Europe. In the EU, the German/French axis will undoubtedly push for a ‘hard core’ and the rest will be relegated to a ‘second tier’. Chirac, the President of France, has recently engaged in the little ‘entente cordiale’. He has attempted, through his recent visit to London, to balance Britain against the economic weight of Germany. But the fate of French capitalism is tied, at the present time, to the development of German capitalism.

It is very difficult to see the EU reaching full economic and monetary union. There has been a little speculation on whether it would be possible for some countries to establish a ‘Euro’ in place of their present currencies. This is highly unlikely. It is more likely that a new form of the European Rate Mechanism (ERM) will be set up. This would involve a band of exchange rates, but maybe more limited than the previous ERM. It is very doubtful that European monetary union will be affected by the European bourgeoisie. There will be a ‘fast’ and a ‘slow’ lane within which British capitalism will participate, signifying its economic and political demise vis-à-vis Germany and even France.

One thing is clear: those in the ‘inner core’ will not allow the series of competitive devaluations which followed the collapse of the ERM in 1992 to be repeated. This will be particularly the case in a new recession, which could be much deeper and have more far-reaching consequences than the recession of the early 1990s. And what is also clear is that Maastricht, EMU, the ‘project’ of the European bourgeoisie, already represents in the minds of the working class savage attacks on their living standards.

The move to the right in the workers’ organizations signifies to the capitalists that their path will be eased. This can lead to them over-reaching themselves. To some extent this was the case in the recent French events. The Right had a massive parliamentary majority, the biggest for 200 years, the presidency was in their hands with the election of Chirac and then, on this basis, the Juppé plan was launched. Some workers’ leaders, moreover, in effect accepted the plan. This was shown by the attitude of some of the CFDT leaders. Jospin, the Socialist Party candidate in the presidential election, in effect accepted the plan, but to be implemented in ‘stages’.

The working class was written off by all except the Marxists. Only 10 percent of the workers were organized in unions, the same percentage as in Pakistan. This was not a complete strike, even in the public sector, but the effects, in some senses, were like a general strike. There was an element of 1968 in the sense that the power of the proletariat, at least partially, was demonstrated during the course of the strike. Despite all hardships there was overwhelming support for the strike amongst the proletariat. Regional demonstrations were in some cases even bigger than in 1968.

Reaction was extremely weak and yet the consciousness of the working class was very confused. The masses knew what they did not want but were not clear about the alternative. There was, of course, a socialist minority who sang the Internationale, etc., from which the CWI can recruit. But support for a general strike was not like in 1968. It was not for power or for socialism as it clearly was in 1968. Also, there was no mass support for the idea of a Socialist Party government. The memory of the betrayals of the Socialist Party was still fresh in the consciousness of the working class.

This raises the question of the consciousness of the working class at this stage on a European and to some extent a world scale. Some debate has taken place recently about the level of socialist consciousness and how this relates to the industrial battles which have taken place. There must be a differentiation between the combativeness and preparedness of the working class to struggle, particularly when faced with the capitalist offensive, and the development of socialist consciousness. That preparedness has been clearly demonstrated in the movements of the working class in the course of the 1990s. It was shown in the public-sector general strike in Belgium in 1993; in Italy there was the enormous demonstration in the Autumn of 1994; and of course since then there have been the events in France, and now in Germany and other countries of Europe. But this combativeness, this preparedness to struggle, reflects the opposition of the working class at this stage to the effects of capitalist cuts. It has not yet reached, amongst the broad mass, the stage of a complete rejection of the market, that is of capitalism. In particular, it would be wrong to say that a widespread socialist consciousness has reappeared in these events.

The crisis of capitalism and the experience of the working class is preparation for such a re-emergence. Above all the colossal growth of inequality, the massive salaries paid out to the captains of industry (200 percent increases, on average, for the top executives in Britain); the recent massive increase of 26 percent for MPs in Britain; all of this is preparing the ground for the re-emergence of socialism. The idea that capitalism is not working, that a new system with ‘greater equality’ is necessary will gradually form in the consciousness of the proletariat.

We have tried to draw a parallel with previous periods to better understand the stage through which we are passing. The present period has elements more like the latter part of the nineteenth century and the earlier part of this century, when the Second International took shape. It is not a period which can be directly compared to the 1930s, which was characterized by revolution and counter-revolution and at the same time the existence of a broad layer of workers who accepted socialism. Such a period, marked by the development of a widespread socialist consciousness, will be prepared by events and of course by our intervention.

The CWI has a dual task today: to help develop this broad socialist consciousness by advocating new independent parties of the working class; and, at the same time, to build the revolutionary party. This does not mean Marxists are in any way contemplating the liquidation of the revolutionary party in favor of ‘broad non-revolutionary’ parties.

The question of consciousness presented problems for the CWI in France. In effect the CWI’s French section, Gauche Révolutionnaire, relied upon an algebraic formula when it came to a governmental alternative. The idea of a workers’ government was put forward but on the basis of committees of action, etc., without specifying which parties would form such a government. The government was forced to undertake a partial retreat, in particular as far as the railway workers were concerned. But the Juppé plan remains in place. The bourgeoisie, in France and elsewhere, will be forced to undertake further attacks. In France the program for privatizations, the attempts to close the budget deficit, etc. mean a further savage round of attacks on the living standards of the French working class. Therefore, a new round of upheavals is being prepared, not just in France, but in the whole of Europe.

The French events signify a new period. It is worth noting that one of the first movements in this decade was the October events in 1992 around the issue of the miners in Britain. But the most important, and the one with the biggest European repercussions, was undoubtedly the events in France. France will visit the whole of Europe in the sense of big movements of the working class, as shown by the developments in Germany and now in Belgium. The situation also demonstrates the weakness of the bourgeoisie and its parties. An incidental, but striking, example of this was given recently in the revelations of Thatcher’s hairdresser. This individual claimed that he was responsible for most of Thatcher’s policies! While she had her hair done, he would comment on the state of Britain, suggesting outlandish proposals, only to find that they were government policy by the afternoon. Major has no such ‘guru’. He is forced to act a little bit like Yeltsin, who as we know, carried round suitcases of roubles and traveled in planes stuffed with money in order to buy off voters. Major does not have the opportunity to do this, but he was recently held to ransom by two Tory MPs who threatened to bring down the government unless hospital emergency departments in their constituencies were kept open. Major immediately complied. These MPs demonstrated a greater capacity to defend the health service than the leaders of the trade unions with millions of members behind them! But these events also signify an inevitable split within the Tory party at a certain stage.

The further weakness of the bourgeoisie was underlined by the collapse of the Christian Democrats in Italy. The bourgeois parties have splintered with the previous prime minister, Dini, actually setting up a party called ‘Dini’s Party’. The defeat of Forza Italia and the victory of the ‘Olive Tree’ coalition was itself a striking illustration of the weakness of the bourgeois parties at this stage. The Italian ruling class is forced to rule through a coalition dominated by the ex-workers’ leaders in the former Communist Party, the PDS. It is the first time since 1946 that the PCI/PDS has entered the government. The PDS is in effect on the way to becoming a bourgeois party, if it has not yet already reached that point. It is true that on the night of the Olive Tree’s election victory, d’Alema, the PDS leader, proudly swung the hammer and sickle from the balcony of the PDS headquarters. Yet when the crowd demanded “imprison Berlusconi”, d’Alema said that things like that are not “done in Italy anymore”. The evolution of the PDS in a bourgeois direction is shown by the proposal of d’Alema to fuse with the remnants of the PSI, a completely bourgeois rump.

Moreover, on the day after the election victory the stock exchange shot up. The reasons why the bourgeoisie favors the coming to power of the Olive Tree were underlined in a statement by Giovanni Agnelli, the recently retired head of Fiat, who trumpeted in Italian newspapers his view that: “The center-left coalition is better placed to impose sacrifices on the working class than a center-right one.” On its assumption of office the coalition immediately announced cuts.

The strategy of the Rifondazione Comunista (RC) could be very important as a model for other left developments in Europe. It could evolve either way. But it will only maintain its left character if it develops in a clear revolutionary direction. Its leadership has opposed the attacks proposed by the government, such as the further privatization measures. On the other hand, the Olive Tree has managed to extract from the RC an acceptance of the ‘financial criteria’ which will govern its policy in the next three years. In this period there is no room for mass reformist social democratic formations in Europe, let alone left reformism.

The situation will be different at a later stage. Once politicized movements of the working class begin to take place reformist, and left-reformist illusions will develop amongst the masses which will be reflected in the statements of different labor movement leaders.

The situation that looms in the next period presents important opportunities for our organization. A big vacuum exists on the left. Because of our size we cannot completely fill this vacuum, but we can do so partially. It is possible to recruit and integrate the best workers into our organization, but on condition that we have a clear program, tactics and a determination to intervene in the struggle. Youth, in general, are repelled by official politics at the present time. But this will change, particularly when the working class moves into action and also when we become an important force within the workers’ movement.

In Pakistan, the CWI’s section, JIT, has been able to intervene in the situation to the stage where it is now an important force, because of the absence of serious obstacles. An element of ‘Pakistan’ exists now in all the countries of Europe. The possibilities for the CWI are shown by the success of Joe Higgins standing as a candidate in the elections in Ireland, as well as the more limited, but nevertheless important, impact the CWI made in Greek Cypriot elections. Of course events will not develop in a straight line. The absence of a mass revolutionary party guarantees periods of reaction, nationalism, regionalism as in Spain, or for instance, as with Bossi, in Italy.

Racism remains as a threat, as shown by the development of the National Front in France and Haider in Austria. State racism and attacks on asylum seekers in particular is a feature, already, of most of the governments of Europe. The change in the attitude of the bourgeoisie is typified by the developments in Sweden. There, where the right of asylum is conceded, the government is proposing to implement measures which in effect can move those granted asylum from one city to another. This is a form of internal exile. It will undoubtedly lead to a recoil, particularly amongst the youth. Moreover, the bourgeoisie will use racist forces largely in an auxiliary capacity.

The weakness of the right is shown even where they triumph. In Italy, Forza Italia was a little taste of the whip of counter-revolution. This led to a counter-movement of the working class and to their weakening and eventual defeat in the last general election. Even in Spain where the right-wing party, the PP, triumphed it only got 39 percent of the vote as opposed to 34 percent for the PSOE. There was widespread disenchantment amongst the working class with the PSOE. This even led to the burning down of the party’s headquarters in Cadiz. But for lack of an alternative many workers, ‘holding their noses’, undoubtedly voted for the PSOE as the only realistic alternative, to prevent a PP victory. In Spain there was the ‘Franco factor’. The connection of the PP with Franco and fascism is an idea that still resides in the minds of the older generation in particular. Even where this was not present, despite the attacks on the working class, the vote for the PSOE held up surprisingly well. This did not represent any real enthusiasm for this party, but signified a fear of something even worse.

The difficulty of putting together a right-wing government has been demonstrated in Spain. In fact, Aznar was only able to take power after big concessions were made to the Catalan nationalists. The Spanish bourgeoisie wish to use the PP as a vehicle for attacking the proletariat. There will be attempts to close down the shipyards, to cut back on pensions, employment rights, etc. Within a matter of weeks of the government coming to power, the reaction of the working class is clear. In July the trade union leaders called for workers’ representatives to assemble in Madrid. Instead of the two or three hundred they expected, 10,000 shop stewards turned up and the assembly threatened a general strike unless the government withdrew its attacks on the working class.

The most important country in Europe, the economic powerhouse, is undoubtedly Germany. The underlying radicalization of the working class is demonstrated by recent events in Germany. This was once the model for the bourgeoisie. Not anymore! Now we read that “Germany has the highest labor costs in the world”. Even the bourgeois press in Britain commented recently about “well-heeled trade unionists mobilizing in Bonn” on the 350 000 plus June 15th demonstration. Far from being “well-heeled” one unemployed worker commenting to the Wall Street Journal said that his income had been reduced by two-thirds. Moreover, he never expected at any time in the future to get such a high-paid job as he had before.

Further attacks are being prepared by Kohl as the German bourgeoisie moves towards the casualization, deregulation and privatization common in Britain and America. There is a clear consciousness now of what is involved in the attacks by Kohl. There is growing insecurity. The idea of ‘cradle to the grave’ welfare is being thrown into the rubbish bin of history.

The trade union leaders have furiously attacked Kohl. They have declared that he has ‘gone over to the capitalists’, denounced ‘naked capitalism’ and even talked about the class war. They threatened that they would adopt a ‘clenched fist’. All this, however, is a pale echo of the mood of the working class. The Guardian newspaper, in a report on the May Day demonstrations quotes a worker declaring: “A general strike, that’s what we need. It’s the only answer to this government.” Only the CWI’s German section, Sozialistische Alternative Voran (SAV), caught the mood correctly. Other organizations were vague in relation to what was demanded by the situation. The SAV, called clearly for a 24-hour general strike. The SAV comrades made a tremendous intervention in the Bonn demonstration with four speakers on the unofficial ‘left’ platform.

A similar situation to that in France and Germany looms in Britain. Britain is dominated by the elections at the moment. But a look at Sweden can give us a little insight into how events, in their broad outline, will develop in Britain in the aftermath of a Labour government coming to power. Sweden was a by-word, in the past, for the welfare state and tolerance of asylum seekers. Now, as the Swedish comrades have pointed out, the Social Democratic government of Goran Perssön has cut welfare by the equivalent of 12.5 percent of state expenditure.

The same process of bourgeoisification of the Social Democracy is unfolding in the unions. We do not adopt the ultra-left position of boycotting the official unions, of a kind of policy of ‘red trade unions’. But we must be sensitive to the mood that is developing amongst the ranks of the unions. There is a clear paralysis at the tops of the trade unions in Britain, in Sweden and elsewhere. In Britain the official trade union leaders in effect hide behind the Tory anti-union laws and just fold their arms in the teeth of one onslaught after another against the rights and conditions of the working class. In the marvelous dockers’ dispute in Liverpool, Britain it is an indisputable fact that the dockers did not want the official support of the trade union leaders who they now identify with sell-out. The same attitude was shown in the Post Office dispute of the last couple of weeks. They want the funds and the buildings to be used in the struggle, but they do not want the involvement of the official trade union leaders.

In Sweden, the trade union leaders, who attacked the previous bourgeois government for attempting to abolish the principle of ‘last in first out’, now look as though they are going to acquiesce to the Social Democrats when they try to introduce precisely the same kind of policy. It is not excluded that in Britain a Blair government will outlaw strikes in the ’emergency services’. Trotsky in his pamphlet The Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay pointed to the process that develops even within new unions, the tendency for the trade union leaders to become more and more enmeshed with the state machine and act as policemen over the working class.

Of course, Trotsky also pointed to the ‘countervailing’ factors which sometimes push the unions in the opposite direction. In other words, a mass movement, at a certain stage, of the working class will compel the trade union leaders into opposition or semi-opposition to the bourgeois state. This was shown recently in Belgium where the socialist trade unions refused to accept the austerity program of the government. It was also demonstrated in the recent British Post Office strike with the official leadership, after a period of equivocation, being pushed by mass pressure into opposing the Post Office management and the government.

The CWI must, of course, fight for official support but in the next period initiatives from below, as the dock workers’ struggle, the bus workers’ movement in Denmark, and others have demonstrated, are crucial for the revolutionary tendency. While the CWI does not want to split the trade unions it is vital to defend the interests of the working class in the struggles that are opening up. Belgium is not very far behind Germany, France and Sweden in the scale of class conflict. In Wallonia there were undoubtedly elements of ‘civil war’ in the ferocious struggle of the teachers and others against the austerity program in education imposed by the Belgian bourgeoisie. These workers have their own views on the process developing within the Socialist Party. On a demonstration in Wallonia workers carried a placard which read: “Socialists… Still; PS [Socialist Party]… Never Again!”

Faced with the revolt of the unions and the working class, Dehaene has in effect introduced measures which allow the Belgian bourgeoisie to rule by decree. Here the question of a general strike could easily flare up, given the scale of the attacks on the working class. It also indicates the way the bourgeoisie will move in the future faced with a resurgent mass movement. The measures of Dehaene, a form a parliamentary bonapartism, as well as the different measures against asylum seekers are an indication of future movements towards the right on the part of the bourgeoisie and its state machine.

A key question for the CWI is the analysis of the evolution in the traditional workers’ parties and the tactics and slogans which flow from our analysis. Some comrades have been surprised at the characterization, by the British organization, of the Labour Party as a bourgeois party. In Britain, as the comrades know, not much seems to have happened on the surface, with strikes at an all-time low, etc. But there has been a colossal speed in developments within the Labour Party. This has compelled us to update our analysis as to what has been taking place.

What are the criteria which determine our characterization of the British Labour Party as a bourgeois party? At what point did it become a bourgeois formation?

It is not just the deletion of Clause IV or the cancelling out of our influence within the unions, nor the neutering of internal democracy. There are very few workers within the Labour Party now, which is full of hopeless petit bourgeois. The key question has been the change in the attitude of the working class towards the Labour Party, particularly of the advanced guiding layers of the working class. There are still some illusions in the masses. But there are no great expectations that a Labour government will fundamentally alter the situation apart from lifting the incubus of a Tory government from their backs after 18 years.

Comrades then argue, how can we advocate a vote for what appears to be a bourgeois party? The position that may arise in the future, where a vote could be advocated for an ex-workers’ party, can be compared with the developments with the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), in the past, and the recent experience in Sri Lanka where CWI members gave critical support to the Popular Alliance (PA). Neither of these parties were genuine workers’ parties, but represented a strain of bourgeois populism.

Some comrades counter this by saying, “the position is different in the developing world because these formations were ‘anti-imperialist'”. Unfortunately this is not true. Even before they came to power the PPP and the PA advocated privatization, in effect acting like agents of imperialism. In any case, at this stage, this is not an issue which is posed baldly for us. There is hardly a country in Europe now where we can advocate a clear vote for the Socialist or Labour Parties. Even in Britain in the upcoming general election it is very unlikely we could advocate a bald ‘vote Labour’. Our main slogan will be: “vote Militant Labour”. In the text we can explain, however, that we understand that many workers see Labour as the only viable mass alternative to the Tories at this stage. But our main job will be to warn workers of the consequences of a Blair government and to prepare to fight for a socialist alternative.

Bourgeoisification of the traditional workers’ organizations is an international phenomena. There are only now questions of degree. The train of bourgeoisification is going to arrive at the station in Gent, or some other station. Some trains will be five minutes early, some ten minutes or fifteen minutes late, etc. But the ‘countervailing factors’ which can prevent the completion of this process do not exist and will not exist in the foreseeable period. This does not mean that the social democracy will disappear in a kind of ‘big bang’. Rather there will be a process of fragmentation and disintegration over a certain historical period.

Alongside this, new workers’ organizations will arise within which the CWI can participate. In some cases we can be in the driving seat. Take the example of the developments in Ireland in the last period. In the last general election the Labour Party got 23 percent of the vote and the CWI’s Irish section’s candidate got 4 percent. In the Dublin West by-election, on the other hand, we see that the position was completely reversed. The CWI’s Irish section, Militant Labour/Socialist Party, got 23 percent of the vote and the Labour Party got about 4 percent. There is the clear possibility of the disintegration of the southern Irish Labour Party. A lot depends upon factors outside of our control, such as the developments in Northern Ireland and the spin-off effect in southern Ireland. But Militant Labour/Socialist Party could become a focus of a new force which could arise and play a key role in Southern Ireland in the next period.

Of course the situation is not the same everywhere, but an element of what exists in Ireland does exist in every country in Europe. The period of relative industrial and political malaise which followed the collapse of the Berlin Wall, and with it a relative political quiescence of the working class, has now come to an end. Under the whip of the capitalist offensive the working class will be compelled to move into action. It is dawning on the more advanced layers of the proletariat that capitalism offers no way forward.

In the last recession the religion of capitalist progress, as Trotsky called it, could still keep its hold over sections of the working class. That recession was presented as a temporary blip after the upswing of the 1980s. A new recession which looms in the next 18 months, two, or three years, as the case may be, could shatter the lingering hopes of the working class that the ‘market’ can deliver the goods. We are extremely optimistic, but also realistic. Marxists cannot shove history along with their fingers. In the main, events shape the consciousness of the mass of the working class. But there will be periods which will arise when the subjective factor can play a big, indeed decisive, role.

Even small forces can have an effect out of proportion to their size. This is the lesson of the success of some our sections in the last period. In the aftermath of the collapse of Stalinism and the ideological offensive of the bourgeoisie, the CWI kept its bearings. The CWI is prepared to open a dialogue with genuine revolutionary forces throughout the world for the recomposition of the revolutionary movement and of the workers’ movement in general. But we stand foursquare on the perspectives of Trotsky on the vital necessity of the building of a revolutionary party and also of a ‘world party of socialist revolution’. In the main, however, the key for the development for our organization is the recruitment, training and education of the new layers of the proletariat. Big opportunities will occur for our organization in the next period. We must learn to take hold of these opportunities and build a powerful force amongst the European working class, and internationally.