Cross your fingers

Around the left

In the latest issue of The Socialist we get to see the Socialist Party’s clunky determinism yet again. In a double-page spread, SP’s general secretary, Peter Taaffe, “looks at the prospects for the working class and socialists, in Britain and worldwide, in 1998” (January 9).

In essence, we see the ‘cry wolf’ syndrome from comrade Taaffe, as he majestically surveys the current state of world capitalism. Predict catastrophe, melt-downs, crashes, etc often enough and you are bound to be right eventually. As Leon Trotsky famously remarked about such an approach, the broken clock is always right twice a day.

With disturbing relish, comrade Taaffe prophesies the “looming world economic catastrophe” - something the comrade has being looking forward to all his political life. The recent - and continuing - financial/economic turmoil in Asia only adds considerable grist to comrade Taaffe’s catastrophist mill. Like a fatalistic ancient astronomer observing Halley’s Comet, the comrade discusses how Japan will withdraw its investments from United States government bonds: “This alone could trigger a major US financial crisis, with the collapse of the dollar. This is apart from the underlying instability in the US - share prices will inevitably collapse as a certain stage. This will, in turn, bring the present US expansion juddering to a halt. Nor can Europe take up the ‘slack’, which the US can no longer provide, of Asia’s exports. European capitalism will be burnt by the meltdown in Asia”, and so on grimly - yet cheerfully.

Mocking the “capitalist economists” who thought that capitalism was in a “perfect state of equilibrium”, comrade Taaffe makes a bold claim for the SP’s exclusive brilliance: “Almost alone, The Socialist and our theoretical journal, Socialism Today, refuted these arguments and showed that we were on the eve of a new world financial and economic crash.” All I can say to that is that the comrade should really make an effort to read more.

1997 was another glorious year of course. Puffing up the events of last year, perhaps in order to salvage his “red 1990s” schema, comrade Taaffe points to the “magnificent French truck drivers’ movement”, which did not suffer “an outright defeat”; the Liverpool dockers’ struggle, “another tremendous example of working class solidarity nationally and internationally”; and the “magnificent” UPS workers’ strike in the USA, even if the Teamsters leadership did “quite unnecessarily” make concessions to the bosses.

The harsh reality is that these disputes were in the main examples of defensive strikes - in some ending up as a war of attrition. Without a political programme such struggles are prone to isolation and leave the employers only marginally affected.

Comrade Taaffe also talks up the student protests in Germany. Apparently, “some lectures are crammed to bursting point, similar to the conditions in French universities before the 1968 general strike”. The comrade is stretching his ‘optimism’ to its furthest point. The student radicals in the 1960s were inspired by political ideas, had a vision of their society of the future - no matter how utopian or idealistic it might have been. That does not appear to be the case at the moment.

“The students are always the ‘light cavalry’ in any mass movement,” comments comrade Taaffe. Perhaps. But, comrade, there is no “mass movement” for the students to connect to, or take inspiration from. The working class has had its historic vision removed. The 1990s are not revolutionary, but a period of reaction of a special type.

As always, the SP relies on spontaneity and single-issue politics, particularly the fight against lone parents’ benefit cuts, the clampdown on disability payments, etc. In this context, comrade Taaffe takes heart from the rebellion of 47 Labour MPs: “We argued that this anti-Thatcherite mood would sooner or later clash with the Blair government’s avowed rightwing pro-capitalist policies. It has come sooner rather than later.”

To give further comfort, comrade Taaffe states: “In all countries, a new capitalist recession will severely dent the capitalists’ huge ideological offensive against socialism.” Not necessarily. Without a workers’ movement, armed with Marxist theory, such a recession could just as easily give a boost to that “ideological offensive”, and lead to the further erosion on the working class as any sort of conscious alternative to capital.

The comrade is therefore right to worry about layers of the working class, especially the youth, “who could turn away from ‘politics’ in disgust”. However, “where a real socialist alternative is posed, these very same workers can be mobilised into action and won to the ideas of socialism” - ie, the SP’s Joe Higgins in Dublin West in the 1997 Irish general election. Unfortunately Taaffe has no strategic perspective of how to forge and unite a revolutionary workers’ party. Saying it won’t make it happen - that is one prediction that can safely be made.

The comrade’s analysis, such as it is, is totally SP-centric. All we are told is that the launch of the SP last February “helped lay the framework for developing a powerful socialist movement in the future”; and “1998 promises even more favourable opportunities for the genuine forces of socialism and Marxism in Britain and worldwide” - a statement of pure faith, not science.

Comrade Taaffe’s article graphically highlights the fact that SP has no real project for political intervention, no real strategic orientation. Just carry on as before, cross your fingers and hope things turn out OK.

Like Trotsky’s stopped clock, not very helpful or inspiring.

Don Preston