Beware the Grand Old Dukes Of York – a comment on the People’s Assembly against Austerity


We are in the midst of the deepest crisis of capitalism since the late 1920s. Like all capitalist crises, this is a crisis of overproduction, notwithstanding the fact that it had made itself most forcefully felt in the financial sphere. This is to be expected since the feverish speculation in stock markets, bonds, derivatives, etc., is merely a reflection of the lack of profitable opportunities in the productive sphere.

After the collapse of the Lehman Brothers investment bank in the US, there was a near meltdown of the imperialist financial system, with large banks in all the centres of imperialism staring bankruptcy in the face. To save the financial system, imperialist governments poured gargantuan sums of money into rescuing the banks. But while this temporarily staved off ruin for these establishments, it failed to cure the problem, merely transforming the banking crisis into a sovereign debt crisis, so that now many governments are facing bankruptcy.

As a result, various governments have been forced to resort to extreme measures of fiscal austerity, attacking working-class living standards through a combination of cuts in social spending, job losses and tax rises. The entire exercise is an attempt to save capitalism by transferring hundreds upon hundreds of billions of dollars of wealth from the working class to the robber barons of finance capital.

Con-Dem austerity and the People’s Assembly

In Britain, the Con-Dem coalition government, through its draconian austerity programme, has launched an unprecedented attack on the British working class – an attack that affects jobs, welfare, health and education provision, legal aid and facilities for the youth.

As a result there is much anger, and attempts at organising this anger are beginning to build up. Not surprisingly, the ‘left’ opportunists, ranging from ‘left’ social democrats to Trotskyites and revisionists, have sprung to life – all in an effort to control and stifle a movement that has barely started. Enter the People’s Assembly Against Austerity (PA).

At a meeting on 6 February, the initiators of the PA announced that on 22 June 2013 they would congregate in a ‘historic’ assembly against austerity. Their launch statement states that a PA can play a crucial role in opposing the government’s austerity programme with a movement “broad … and powerful enough to generate successful co-ordinated action, including strike action”, promising that “… the Assembly will be ready to support co-ordinated industrial action and demonstrations against austerity”.

This launch statement, which appeared on 28 February in The Guardian in the form of a letter, was signed by all the great and good of the opportunist left, including Len McLuskey, Jeremy Corbyn, Tony Benn, Lindsey German, John Rees, Kate Hudson and Owen Jones, etc., as well as various no doubt well-intentioned individuals.

Labour Party – the backseat driver

One of the leading lights of this initiative, Owen Jones, was asked during a recent interview as to why the Labour Party was being welcomed into the PA. This, he replied, was because of Labour’s link to the union memberships “so at least there is capacity for workers to be represented”.

This is the crux of the matter – a People’s Assembly that seeks to bring together campaigns against cuts and privatisation and for social justice, yet seeking to achieve its declared aims though industrial action by unions which have steadfastly refused to go along that road, and by reliance on the Labour Party that carried out an extensive programme of privatisation and austerity measures, not to speak of its predatory wars abroad, when in office, and that promises to do the same if elected at the next general election.

This is absurd. Not only have Labour-controlled councils been implementing government cuts, the trade unions have failed utterly to stop the cuts, or job losses in the public sector, or the privatisation of swathes of the NHS. And this for two reasons: first, the stranglehold of the labour aristocracy – the better-off layers of the working class – on the trade-union movement, whose membership is increasingly confined to these sections. Second, the close alliance between the trade-union movement and the Labour Party which is the political representative, now as in the past, of this labour aristocracy – a role which it cannot perform without defending the British imperialist exploitation that forms the material basis of the well-being, and opportunism, of this stratum.

In their set-piece speeches of 3 and 6 June, Labour’s shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, and Labour leader Ed Miliband, have respectively declared that, if elected, the next Labour government will continue the austerity measures and welfare cuts now being implemented by the Con-Dems, the largest cuts in British history affecting over 9 million British families.

Far from being opposed, these speeches were greeted with enthusiasm by the leading lights of the unions, who will also be the moving spirit behind the PA. Len McCluskey, the leader of UNITE, Britain’s biggest trade union, said: ” If Ed Miliband continues in this vein, then we will win working people back to Labour”. He even degraded himself by endorsing Miliband’s forced labour scheme, saying ” Labour now needs to firm these up, working with unions, as well as with employers, because with our connection to millions of working people, we can bring these promises to life”.

GMB General Secretary Paul Kenny hailed Miliband’s speech for containing ” exactly the type of policies that will win working people back to Labour”.

The above statements by prominent figures of the trade union movement, expressing complete support for Labour’s austerity agenda, serve to expose the blatant fraud that the People’s Assembly is. Far from being “a national forum for anti-austerity views”, aimed at developing “… a strategy for resistance to mobilise millions of people against the Con-Dem government”, the Assembly is a sordid attempt at fooling whoever this gentry can into working for the election of a Labour government pledged to the same kind of austerity as the present government, by propagating the lie that such a course of action presents an alternative to the coalition.

Len McLuskey takes the palm among the host of trade union chiefs listed as the moving spirits behind the PA. He has long experience of working with counter-revolutionary petty-bourgeois outfits such as the Socialist Party, the SWP and the latter’s Counterfire splinter. His support for Miliband’s austerity agenda clearly reveals the irreconcilable hostility of the trade union labour aristocracy towards the interests of the wider layers of the proletariat. Earlier in the year, this same McCluskey waxed lyrical over Miliband’s adoption of Disraeli’s ‘one nation’ claptrap ” for the way he has raised this idea and for the content he is trying to give it… As the working class reasserts itself, Labour is the natural, historic, vehicle for their voice. Every Labour victory has been based on an alliance. And that is the alliance I see delivering a victory for Labour in 2015″.

Nothing could be clearer than this. The PA is being conjured into life just in time for the general election of 2015 and as a vehicle for Labour’s electoral victory. This is the real purpose behind the anti-cuts rhetoric of the movers and shakers of this assembly. They have every intention of hijacking this assembly in the interests of the imperialist Labour Party, following the example set by the opportunists of the Stop the War Coalition.

STW saboteurs at it again

As if to prove the point, the leadership of the Stop the War Coalition, which wrecked the anti-war movement in the service of the Labour party, have now moved on to the PA for a repeat performance in the anti-austerity movement.

When the Iraq war was about to start, 2 million people demonstrated in the hopes of stopping it – the biggest demonstration London had ever seen. Stop the War was supposed to be the umbrella organisation that would bring about the unity necessary to stop the war! But of course, we know it did not. It is not, either, that it tried and failed – that would have been honourable at least. What it actually did was to ensure that the mass response to the war was as muted as possible.

On the one hand, it flatly refused to organise any action to disrupt or sabotage the ruling class’s war effort (such as urging rail unions not to transport weaponry or media unions not to transmit war propaganda) – and this despite the fact that StW members repeatedly voted for such action. On the other hand, it often joined with the ruling-class media in maligning those who were targeted by the imperialist war.

Whenever our ruling class wants to attack an independent country, you can be sure that you will see the leaders of the ‘anti-war movement’ lining up to tell British workers what brutal dictators the leaders of those countries are! Today, having successfully turned 2 million anti-war protestors into passive cynics, and despite the fact that the wars are still raging, Stop the War has dwindled to a trickle.

It is therefore pertinent to ask whether, having in the past employed a plumber to fix a problem in your house who actually ended up flooding everything, you would seek the services of that same plumber again!

Labour – chief purveyor of bourgeois influence

The Labour Party is the chief purveyor of the influence of the bourgeoisie in the working-class movement. Despite Labour’s proven record of betrayal of the working class at home, and its predatory wars on the oppressed peoples abroad, the principal public sector unions – UNISON, UNITE and the GMB – continue to pour millions of pounds each year into Labour’s coffers, all the better to attack the working class and oppressed peoples. Three quarters of Labour’s funding comes from the unions, for which the working class get nothing in return except attacks.

UNITE General Secretary, Len McLuskey, has even been hypocritically advocating civil disobedience against austerity and cuts. Yet, his basic proposition to fight the cuts is to work for the election of yet another Labour government, that is, a government which would continue to implement cuts and austerity. True resistance to the cuts requires union leaderships willing to risk their vast property portfolios in opposing government plans; it requires, too, the willingness of the trade unions to break the link with Labour. As neither is likely to happen, any resistance movement based on an alliance between the leading lights of the public sector unions, left social democrats and their flunkeys – the Trotskyites and revisionists – is doomed to failure. Labour and Labour councils will not back any direct action to oppose the cuts, any more than they did to oppose the poll tax in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

In four years, the ‘leaders’ have offered no leadership and done absolutely nothing to harness the collective strength of the working class against cuts and privatisation. As a result, workers are increasingly becoming resigned to austerity and falling for capitalist propaganda that seeks to divert them with scapegoats (scroungers, Muslims, etc) and to divide them according to such Victorian categories as ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’, ‘strivers’ and ‘skivers’.

The Grand Old Dukes of the TUC and Stop the War will be well rewarded if they succeed in marching ten thousand men and more up to the top of the hill and down again, but they are taking us for fools if we let them do it, and laughing all the way to the honours list (Sir Brendan Barber, anyone?)

We need a leadership that is prepared to lead the working class to take on the British bourgeoisie and win, by whatever means necessary, to overthrow them and establish socialism. Nobody on the list of those who signed the letter to the Guardian comes into that category.

Fight opportunism

The anti-cuts and anti-austerity movement must make it clear that those who support Labour, those who feign to oppose the cuts and austerity agenda of the Con-Dems while in actual practice implementing or pledging to implement it, far from offering any solution, are part of the problem. As such, they must be exposed, opposed, isolated and got rid of. Unless and until the working class movement learns to fight against their opportunism, its struggle for its own social emancipation will meet with no success. ” The most dangerous of all … are those who do not wish to understand that the fight against imperialism is a sham and humbug unless it is inseparably bound up with the fight against opportunism .” (VI Lenin, Imperialism the Highest Stage of Capitalism).

Presently, the urgent task is to organise the suffering masses and the poor in the communities and on housing estates, for genuine and meaningful action in which no doubt militant mid-ranking and low-ranking trade unionists will play an important role. In this way there can arise a vibrant and organised movement, which may possibly force the hand of even the leadership of the trade unions to act in accordance with the wishes of the mobilised working millions.

Furthermore, those who claim to be revolutionaries need to bend every effort to the building of a genuinely proletarian – Marxist-Leninist – party, which truly represents the needs and interests of the working class. Only such a party can lead both the struggles against cuts and the long-term struggle for the establishment of socialism, without which there can be no freedom for the working class from unemployment, poverty, misery and war.

A real People’s Assembly would be a body of workers who come together to represent the true interests of the working class, and to fight for them. The ‘People’s Assembly’ as planned by the opportunist ‘left’, however, is nothing but a political sausage mincer aimed at turning the anti-austerity anger of the working class into a vehicle for the election of a monopoly-capital-friendly Labour Party government – which will dispense yet another dose of misery and exploitation once elected, and will serve as a diversion from the tasks, immediate and long-term, facing the working class.

In the short term, the working class needs to take drastic and direct action to save jobs, services and social benefits. In the long term, it needs to organise itself to replace this insane and wasteful system, which degrades, dehumanises and humiliates the masses at every turn through war, poverty, disease, unemployment, ignorance, racism and greed, with planned socialist production that can meet everybody’s needs and give the working masses a life worthy of human beings.

Only by following this line will the working class be in a position to win the battle for a bright future!

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