The John McDonnell Column Nov 2011

Let’s talk about where we go from here. There is no need for hyperbole about the sorry state of the UK and European economies. Unemployment at 2.6 million in Britain and over one million young people out of work speak for themselves. The “experts” charged with managing economic policy increasingly appear totally bewildered by the turn of events and powerless to stem the tide of recession turning into a long term depression.

Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England, has cut his growth predictions to confirm that the UK economy will stagnate as we go into 2012. European Commission President Barroso has described the eurozone as facing a “systemic crisis.” Many traditional conservatives fear we face a lost decade of high unemployment, no growth and falling property values. Austerity is the only commonly agreed policy they have been able to come up with. Managed, partial defaults with investor haircuts and bailout packages are being put together as country after country falls victim to crude market judgements and speculation.

It is beyond irony that the very bankers and speculators who caused the economic crisis are now replacing political leaders as heads of government in some countries. In others the speculators are determining the policies of governments by shaping their bond yields. A very European coup is taking place all the way across Europe. Democracy is being subverted by market speculation capable of making or breaking governments and setting the parameters of their economic and social policies.

In the 1930s when capitalism went into crisis and big business wanted to stabilise the situation it resorted to rule by fascist leaders in many parts of Europe. Today it has brought in the technocrats and obedient political coalitions to attempt to restore profitability by impoverishing the mass of the people. Compromised by their complicity in creating the economic crisis, official opposition parties have proved feebly ineffective in offering any opposition or alternatives. When faced with any real opposition to their austerity measures these supposed technocratic governments have been willing to use the iron heel of the state to suppress unrest.

What will it take then to provide a real opposition to the ruling class consensus on austerity? The resources for the alternative are very basic raw materials at the moment. These will need assembling more coherently if we are both to mobilise an effective opposition and to develop a realistic and convincing alternative model for organising society.

In these early days the principles that need to underlie our approach are becoming much clearer as the reaction to the economic crisis grows. The challenge is how we combine the spontaneity of protest with the organisation and planning that is needed for a sustained challenge to the system.

The solution is first to seize every opportunity for mutual support. Mobilise to support the spontaneous outbreaks of direct action that are motivated by the anger people feel when they are being pushed too far. We need to use every traditional, more permanent organisational form that is available to prepare the longer term sustained ideological and organisational challenge to the system.

Immediately, the Labour left has a responsibility to throw itself into defending the spontaneous Occupy movements that have emerged. When the City Corporation comes with its bailiffs to evict OccupyLSX, the LRC should be prominent in participating in the non-violent passive resistance to this attack on direct democracy.

As other movements take action, the Labour left needs to be among them to show that we have relevance to their struggles. For example, this means supporting with action the growing and vibrant protest movement that has emerged among people with disabilities organised by DPAC, Black Triangle and the Hardest Hit marches.

There are vast swathes of people who are already suffering severely as the austerity measures bite: the poorest in our society; the unemployed (particularly the young); the poverty wage workers; people facing benefit cuts; homeless families (many living in appalling housing conditions); the council tenants hit by rent hikes and housing benefit cuts and the squatters who are being criminalised by recent legislation.

These people have always been the hardest to mobilise because of the mountain of problems they face just to survive. The Labour left needs to think hard about how it can assist in creating opportunities for these groups to mobilise and resist. Creative initiatives like the recent re-enactment of the Jarrow march exemplify what can be done.

The labour and trade union movement has the organisational resources to maintain the momentum of resistance. The scale of turnout on 30th November is important, but we also need to be planning for after the strike. The Labour left should be calling now for further co-ordinated action in the new year and challenging any trade union leaders seeking to undermine the campaign.

Throughout this process our role is to demystify how this corrupt, crisis ridden system operates and what the alternatives could be. This means convening the opportunities for activists, academics and policy experts to release what Chomsky describes as the “radical imagination” to map out the alternative policies, structures and institutions that could make up the new society we now have the chance of building.

John McDonnell is MP for Hayes & Harlington and Chair of the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs and the Labour Representation Committee.

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