The struggle for world socialism
Reviewed by Alec Thraves, Socialist Party national committee
Yes, at long last!
Those four words will be on the lips of Socialist Party members, supporters and our international collaborators in the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI), as they welcome the news that Peter Taaffe's third volume of the history of Militant/Socialist Party is ready for publication.
Peter Taaffe was a past editor of Militant, until recently longstanding general secretary of the Socialist Party and is presently the party's political secretary.
'The Struggle for World Socialism' is an incisive Marxist analysis of the key events both in Britain and internationally, following on from his second volume, which concluded in 2007.
And it won't be just our own members who will be captivated by our Marxist approach to these events. There is a whole new young audience of fresh and determined fighters searching for a socialist alternative to the bankruptcy of this corrupt and diseased capitalist system.
Out of almost every page of this inspiring book leap political gems of Marxist theory, tactics and strategy: necessary to give a concrete socialist way forward for the working class in confronting an ever-increasing brutal capitalist system that continues to make ordinary people pay for the billionaires' economic crisis through austerity, mass redundancies, youth unemployment, public sector cuts and pay restraint.
This book deserves to be read by the widest possible audience.
The opening chapters obviously deal with the 2007-8 'Great Recession', its impact on the capitalist world economy and, more importantly, the devastation it has wreaked on the working class in Britain and internationally: a theme that runs through the book and has consequences up to the present day.
Unlike most economic academics and capitalist and 'socialist' commentators who were taken by surprise by the economic collapse, the Socialist Party had previously argued that such a crisis was inevitable given the organic, diseased nature of the capitalist system. The economic crisis for Marxists was never about 'if' there would be a crisis but 'when'.
On the frontline
This book is a 'must read' for trade unionists and anti-cuts campaigners because, as Peter confirms, since the 2007-8 economic crisis it has been Socialist Party members who have been on the front line, challenging local Labour councils which have implemented Tory-LibDem cuts, advocating and fighting for 'no-cuts' budgets in contrast to those Labour 'cuts councillors' who have pathetically whinged that 'there is nothing we can do' to stop the cuts!
That campaign continues to the present day in Socialist Party-led Unison branches like Carmarthenshire County Unison and elsewhere, in an attempt to defend existing jobs and services, and to win back the hundreds of thousands of public sector jobs that have been lost and the council services that have been destroyed. As well as fighting to restore the 20% cut in living standards which has given rise to the rank-and-file initiated NHS movement to demand a justifiable 15% pay increase.
When the hated Tony Blair resigned in 2007, he was replaced as prime minister by the big business lackey Gordon Brown, who dutifully handed over £500 billion of tax payers' money to rescue his rich banker friends after the financial crisis. This was just a reaffirmation of the pro-big business position of New Labour.
It's not surprising nor a coincidence that Brown has recently been wheeled out, alongside Lord Peter Mandelson and other arch-Blairites to assist in trying to mould Starmer's Labour Party back into its past disastrous neoliberal image.
A new mass workers' party
The Socialist Party stood firm against those class traitors, and Peter highlights our collaboration with Bob Crow, militant general secretary of the RMT transport union, in co-founding the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) in 2010 as an electoral step towards a new mass workers' party to replace the moribund pro-market Labour Party.
Since its formation TUSC has played a key role in offering a genuine, electoral socialist alternative in hundreds of national, local and mayoral elections.
Peter notes that after the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party in 2015, TUSC later took the tactical decision to throw its weight behind the growing Corbynista movement and to not contest elections against Corbyn-supporting candidates.
However, in 2020, after the defeat of Corbyn, now suspended from the Labour Party, TUSC was relaunched to provide a socialist challenge to Starmer's renewed 'New Labour' project.
Peter's book explains the tactical flexibility of Marxists in the struggle to promote the interests of the working class. When we called for the affiliation of the Socialist Party and other socialist and campaigning organisations to Corbyn's Labour Party to assist in advancing and defending his popular left-wing programme from right-wing attacks, we also explained that If Labour was to become a genuine workers' party, the right-wing dominated Parliamentary Labour Party would have to be purged of its Blairite saboteurs through the mandatory reselection of MPs.
Unfortunately, this necessary and comradely tactical advice was ignored by Corbyn and the pernicious, middle-class leadership in Momentum, with the resulting defeat of the Corbynista movement and a big setback for the working class and the thousands of young, enthusiastic and aspiring socialists attracted to Corbyn's radical manifesto.
For a revolutionary party whose central and consistent orientation is towards the working class, particularly the organised working class and its trade unions, a clear, socialist leadership is vital for success.
Marxist theory is the essential bedrock for gauging the consciousness of workers and developing a programme and set of demands to counteract the complicity of right-wing and sometimes even so-called 'left-wing' trade union leaders with the employers and government.
In the 12-year period covered by the book, Peter gives numerous examples of passivity and betrayal, but also some significant victories in the unions.
Trade union struggle
Passivity and betrayal were rife amongst public sector trade union leaders in 2011. Peter points out that the 750,000-strong Trades Union Congress demo against austerity was followed by a huge strike wave across the UK over planned pension changes. However, that magnificent action was allowed to just wither away, especially by the right-wing dominated leadership in Unison.
Those self-interested union bureaucrats have had an almost pathological hatred of our intransigent Socialist Party members in Unison. This was exemplified by their five-year long undemocratic, expensive and damaging witch-hunt against four of our members on trumped-up charges of racism.
The 'Defend the 4' campaign was immediately launched to counteract these blatant slurs, and was ultimately successful in exposing this disgraceful attack, resulting in an embarrassing defeat and slap in the face for right-wing general secretary Dave Prentis and his team of inept officials.
Peter's book also highlights important victories, where trade union militancy, led on many occasions by Socialist Party shop stewards and reps, points the way forward for future battles.
One such example was the magnificent Lindsey oil refinery strike victory in Humberside which broke out in 2009, with undertones of British nationalism against Italian migrant workers. With the intervention of Socialist Party members and collaboration with our Italian comrades, it become a model of how to unite workers of all nationalities around class demands. This has big lessons for future struggles as the Tories will try to divide working-class people in the face of mass youth unemployment, pay cuts and attacks on terms and conditions.
An important tool in promoting class unity and solidarity in the workplace, and also overcoming the potential obstacles of right-wing trade union bureaucrats, has been the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN), formed in 2006 on the initiative of Bob Crow.
The NSSN's influence has had an important impact among the most combative trade unionists. With a strong Socialist Party leadership, it continues to provide a platform for militant rank-and-file leaders to meet, organise and encourage much-appreciated solidarity and guidance to trade unionists in struggle.
Young people reading this book will devour the lessons of the past 12 years, when radical students, young workers and campaigners have protested, marched and demonstrated against climate change, youth unemployment, along with witnessing the beginnings of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2014 and the students revolt against the 'Fib Dems' - so-called by students after Nick Clegg, leader of the LibDems, voted for a tripling of tuition fees, selling out his 'principles' in order to join the 2010 Con-Dem coalition government.
This book will be read by housing campaigners, sometimes facing a David and Goliath battle against multinational housing corporations and complicit Labour councils. Nevertheless, with clear leadership, spectacular victories can be won, like the Butterfields housing campaign in Walthamstow, London.
Led, organised and assisted by local Socialist Party members and supporters, that hard-won victory inspired housing campaigners who recognise that the lack of social and affordable housing is now a monster problem for the working class, not just in London but across the country.
The Butterfields campaign was living proof that a 'socialist David' can bring down a 'capitalist Goliath'!
The ebbs and flow of the national question has also been to the fore over the past 12 years, particularly in Scotland, with the spectacular collapse of the Scottish Labour Party and the total disarray and confusion of the 'left' in advocating a 'no' vote during the 2014 independence referendum.
The clear, class position of our CWI section, Socialist Party Scotland, won many of the predominantly young, pro-independence supporters over to a socialist 'yes' position by exposing the inadequacies and limitations of a capitalist independent Scotland.
Our call for a voluntary, socialist confederation of Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland will be echoed even more loudly as Scotland prepares for the prospect of a second referendum in the near future.
Struggles around the national question in Scotland inevitably impact on Wales and Ireland, and this remains a running sore for the capitalist class internationally, having exploded once again in Catalonia, Sri Lanka and continuing to fester in Israel-Palestine and elsewhere.
A Marxist analysis and programme when dealing with the complexities of the national question, wherever it may raise its head, is fundamental, and is forensically taken up by Peter in his book.
Despite being a history of Militant/Socialist Party, as Marxists our outlook is always first and foremost international, so Peter also comments on the momentous working-class movements that occurred around the world in the period the book covers, and the interventions of our CWI sections. These have been well reported in more detail on our CWI website and in our other publications, including the Socialist.
Always close to the hearts of all international socialists, and especially to the CWI, Peter vividly comments on the incredible struggles of the South African workers, particularly the infamous Marikana massacre of 2012, after which Peter once again visited South Africa to address and assist our heroic comrades in their struggle.
The continuous interventions of our members in Nigeria, persistently struggling to build a solid foundation for Marxism in a country ravaged by corruption and gross inequality, gives a remarkable insight into the determination and resoluteness necessary to build a revolutionary party in such difficult conditions.
The 'Arab spring' of the early 2010s shook the seemingly unmovable dictatorships in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and Libya. But the failure of the protesting masses to overthrow capitalism resulted in new capitalist dictators re-emerging in what became an 'Arab winter'. This is a massive lesson for future generations of the vital need to build revolutionary parties with a socialist programme to complete the struggle by finishing off these brutal, capitalist regimes.
New left parties
New left parties have sprung up in Europe throughout the past decade as the old social democratic parties have been all but wiped out by frustrated and disillusioned workers.
Peter gives examples of Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain. These parties grew exponentially in a short space of time on left-wing populist manifestos, but ended up capitulating to the pressures of the Troika and big business.
Such defeats helped give an impetus to the growth of right-wing forces and governments, not just in Europe but across the globe, with the election of Trump in the US, Bolsonaro in Brazil, Modi in India, and others. But these have also been counteracted by mass protests and demonstrations of millions of working-class people who have refused to be cowed and are fighting back.
The CWI has become politically strengthened in recent years after the battle against the poisonous and divisive influence of identity politics, which unfortunately crept into our ranks. But the experience in action that flows from this book decisively re-confirms our correct working-class orientation and our Marxist perspectives.
Peter recounts the history of the last 12 years chronologically but it is a book that can be read from cover to cover all at once, or in separate sections or topics, depending on your preference.
This third volume is the culmination of almost 60 years of our history and, as Peter himself has stressed, it has been the collective participation and action of thousands of our members and supporters across England and Wales, alongside our CWI comrades, that has ensured that his latest book on the history of Militant/Socialist Party is such a riveting account of the self-sacrifice, determination and tireless efforts that are necessary to build a successful revolutionary party.
At almost 700 pages this is a weighty and inspiring Marxist analysis, written by a key figure of modern-day Trotskyism who has led, developed and translated Marxist theory into practice. In the process, the foundations have been laid down for the building of mass revolutionary parties across the globe that will eradicate capitalism once and for all, and ensure that future generations can reap all the rewards from a genuine, democratic, socialist society.
Finally, our opponents will undoubtedly comment that this account of our history is biased: they are correct!
Marxism has never been neutral in its methods or practice and will always portray, reflect and champion the interests of the working class first and foremost.
This latest volume and the two volumes preceding it represent almost 60 years of our history, and is a tremendous legacy to pass on to a new generation of young, enthusiastic socialists who have the responsibility on their shoulders to continue the fight; because our best history is yet to come!
Order now - The Struggle for World Socialism
- Online launch - 15 July 19:30 on Socialist Party Facebook and Youtube
- Pre-order now for £10 (RRP £12)
- Order with From Militant to the Socialist Party, both for £20 or get all three volumes including Rise of Militant for £30
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In The Socialist 7 July 2021:
What we think
The Struggle for World Socialism