People's Assembly

The People’s Assembly could be vehicle for broad, popular, democractic anti-monopoly struggle

Political Report to the Executive Committee last weekend by CP Chair Bill Greenshields:

Firstly the achievement of the organisers of the People’s Assembly on June 22nd should be acknowledged, and they should be congratulated. To bring together the range of trade union leaders, community activists, anti-austerity and privatisation campaigners, Left organisations and individuals that together led to 4000 participants was a major achievement. It provided a good starting point for further developments, and the Party will be determined to play its part.

But we need to make a careful assessment of the Assembly in order to play our part – a leading part – in taking it forward to become a real vehicle for a genuine broad, popular democratic anti- monopoloy alliance, and not just a vehicle for “leftism”.

At the People’s Assembly, the General Secretary of the TUC, Frances O’Grady declared that the Government was waging “class war”. The General Secretary of Britain’s largest trade union, Len McCluskey again called for coordinated and increasingly general strike action and civil disobedience. UNITE’s Chief of Staff, Andrew Murray declared that it must be our aim to “make the country ungovernable” and to bring down the Tory led ConDem coalition. Each received widespread applause.

At the very end of the Assembly as we were leaving the hall, I overheard one participant say, “Well, it was very good – but not much controversy.” Its strange that certain old hands might be already be looking back with misty eyed remembrance at labour and progressive movement conferences in the recent past where delegates would tear one another to shreds in order to advance one faction or grouplet over another. The fact that the statements by Frances O’Grady, Len McCluskey and Andrew Murray provoked no opposition inside the Assembly illustrates the positives and negatives of the crisis situation – the dangers and opportunities – that we face.

Thousands of activists can be brought together to hear working class leaders call for civil and industrial unrest to the point that the country becomes ungovernable, in order to bring down a government that is waging class war… and consider such a program to be “uncontroversial”. But such a program put to the TUC as a whole, or to any gathering of ordinary working class people would be quite “controversial” I think.

It is excellent that the Party’s analysis of the situation is increasingly reflected – at times word for word – in the views and pronouncements of more and more of the leaders of the movement. It is far from excellent that these views are still very far from those of the mass of the working class, whether trade union organised or not. It’s the deliberate refusal to recognise this contradiction that led some of the more over-excited ultra-leftists in the room – “hangers on” to the Assembly and not representative of any of the organisers – to heckle and jeer at Len McCluskey for not getting to the question of strike action early enough in his speech for their liking. And in the Assembly workshop on building strong trade unions, where the platform speakers argued for strong unions, workplace organisation, collective bargaining and organising from the bottom up, many from ‘the floor’ argued that all that was holding workers back from general strike action was the failure of trade union leaders to lead!

We need to ensure that the trade unions are at the heart of the People’s Assembly. Without the strength and discipline of the organised movement, represented by trade union delegates – elected and accountable to others –the Assembly would only have limited success. Without the organised working class the Assembly will remain an organisation of protest. It will lack proper class perspectives. With the organised working class it can become a major vehicle to help unify individual trade union struggles, build the essential links with the community, and provide a forum – though not the only forum – to assist in developing the political significance of the struggle as a whole.

So it is clear that important as it is to bring together those elements of the left that are serious about building resistance to austerity, and essential as it is to bring as many community based and single issue anti-cuts and privatisation groups as possible together under the umbrella of a single unified anti-austerity movement, the key question – the principle task for the Party and the rest of the Assembly leadership – is to win the active participation of the trade unions and the appointment/election of delegates not just to further national meetings, but in the development of local People’s Assemblies – widely recognised as the necessary next step.

The Assembly made clear our opposition to all cuts and austerity measures – but needs to make clear a detailed coherent economic, social and political alternative. UNITE is in the process of developing a People’s Manifesto – clearly aimed at influencing the Labour Party manifesto as part of UNITE’s focused attempt to reclaim the party. We need to restate the position of NO cuts or austerity measures, and a clear alternative economic, social and political programme.

The People’s Charter provides both, and has already been widely adopted and re-adopted (albeit largely passively) by the trade union movement – including UNITE. We need argue that the People’s Charter should be at the heart of the People’s Assembly, and to quickly reach agreement about how it can be integrated into the emerging Assembly structures, whilst retaining the existence of the Charter since it already reflects the policy of – and is endorsed by – the TUC and nearly every major Trade Union. We need to agree how the activists of the Assembly, existing and those to come, can be encouraged to promote it.

The Assembly also needs to recognise that “austerity” cannot be seen as separate from the European Union – world finance capital’s regional management body. It really is impossible to wage a successful struggle against cuts, privatisation and unemployment, without debunking the myth of “social Europe”, and fighting to take Britain out of this neoliberal club.

Between now and the EU elections next year, we hope to have built People’s Assemblies around Britain. How can an electoral challenge to the EU from a working class perspective not resonate with anti-austerity campaigners?

To coincide with the Assembly, in a message aimed at the participants and anyone who thought they might be wavering, Miliband and Balls reaffirmed their allegiance to finance capital, and reassured the capitalist class that the Labour Party were “safe hands” when it comes to the economy and to “austerity” – the code word for cuts, privatisation and weakening the working class, etc.

How will the TUC and the unions generally square Frances O’Grady’s “class war” with the commitment of the Labour Leadership to more of the same that has been set by the Tories and their LibDem pets? Frances chose her words carefully. “We will oppose all savage Tory cuts,” she told the Assembly. The TUCs concept of class war is different from ours, which in part explains the continued attempts to reinvigorate the illusory “Social Europe”.

We have to reinforce both within the Party and in our political work generally the position adopted at our last Congress concerning the Labour Party and working class representation, which itself reiterated that in BRS. This position was again made clear in our “Open Letter” to the Labour Movement, and in subsequent statements, pamphlets and other publications.

We are clear. We need to build a militant mass movement of resistance to “austerity” and for the alternative program of the People’s Charter. This is part of building the anti-monopoly alliance and struggling for the Alternative Economic and Political Strategy (more than just an alternative program) – both of which lie at the heart of our strategy for Socialist revolution… a strategy, which includes the election of a progressive left government, committed to that Alternative Economic and Political Strategy and a left wing programme.

It is the process of building that mass movement, with the organised working class at its heart, and it taking action along the lines suggested by Frances O’Grady, Len McCluskey and Andrew Murray in challenging finance capital, both in policy and in action, that will EITHER lead to the success of those struggling within the Labour Party for its reclamation, OR will see that mass movement re-establish, through organic development, through the contradictions it will need to resolve, a mass party capable of representing the working class and winning elections. Communists understand development in such dialectical terms. The struggle over the contradictions within capitalism, and within our own labour movement WILL lead to change. That change cannot be imposed on that process by some wishful thinkers or dogmatic idealists – such as those seeking to be “Left Unity”.

In the meantime, let us also repeat. No matter how reactionary by intent or uselessness the Labour Party is at the time of the next election it has the undeserved honour to be the only possible vehicle by which the working class can remove the Tories and Lib Dems from office. Even the most wishful of wishful thinkers, the most self-deceptive of delusional idealists know this to be the case.

Only the Communist Party has a strategy for Socialism in our lifetime. It is entirely winnable, given the nature of contradiction in capitalism in crisis. We need to ensure that the whole Party – Branches, Districts and Nations, Commissions, Advisories and leading committees study and understand that BRS strategy. And we need to be tough with each other when we fail to put it into practice, and simply react to events, join “bandwagons”, put the Party behind idealist adventures, fail to lead wherever and whenever we can.

I want to finish where I started. The Capitalist system is in crisis. The ruling class are engaging not just in the day to day class struggle, but have launched a class war. We are advocating a broad anti-monopoly alliance, in which the People’s Charter and People’s Assemblies are important, in winning a substantial and sustained shift to the left in the labour movement. This is what BRS refers to “the first stage of the revolutionary process in Britain”. We are organising for coordinated and generalised industrial action, and widespread civil disobedience in order to make the country ungovernable, bring down the government and begin the struggle for the election of a progressive left government, which will mark the “second stage”. How uncontroversial!

But here is something to consider. If there really is a “permanent structural crisis in the economic base of capitalist society” as we say in BRS, and if the current acute crisis is deepening, and if we expect to see further, deeper and more frequent crises… we can expect to see the ruling class pushing home its class war ever more vigorously… and that would mean of course undermining as best they can by any means necessary the progressive movement (and any progressive party and government it produces), thus raising the struggle for Socialism to a new stage.

Are we geared up to fight to WIN – or just PROTEST? For those who say we cannot expect to see Socialism in our lifetime, and that to suggest that we will is just “pie in the sky” – we have to ask them, “What DO you expect to see in five, ten, twenty years?”

A capitalist class, following the imperatives laid down by the permanent structural crisis in the economic base, needs to defeat the working class decisively. It is not a choice – it is a necessity for them. There never was a “post war consensus” – just a powerful working class and trade union movement, a strong reforming Labour Party, a Communist Party at the height of its membership, and a Socialist reality in the world. The ruling class were on the back foot. They retreated – but only temporarily. From the 80s on they have been following a strategic path of undermining and destroying working class organisation. The crisis has given them a context in which to accelerate that attack in their class war.

If the movement continues to resist and increases that resistance, but has no strategy, or even intent, of winning – that is decisively defeating the capitalist class – we put ourselves and our class in extreme jeopardy. The response of a capitalist class facing economic and political crisis, continuing working class resistance and international competition from other capitalists, is to up their game to enforce their power. It is a recipe for fascism and war.

So we have to have a clear understanding in the Party of these issues. We need structured and disciplined study and cadre development at all levels. It means planned, prioritised and systematic work… with our strategic aims in mind. It means pride in Party membership, and in promoting the Party’s positions and policies. There is, as they say, no alternative.


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