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Unite the Resistance - Forward to a Socialist Europe

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Statement to Florence 10+10 from the League for the Fifth International

In Florence, ten years ago, we took historic steps towards building a pan-European, indeed a worldwide, movement of resistance to the impending war and occupation of Iraq. The movement unleashed in Florence also had the potential for extending this resistance to the neoliberal “reforms” then being carried out by Berlusconi, Chirac, Blair and Schroeder, and to targeting capitalism itself as an exploitative, socially and environmentally destructive system.

Although that potential was not realised, Florence’s historic achievement was February 15, 2003, when twenty million marched against the impending war on Iraq, and the widespread direct actions on March 20, when the war started. However, the necessary follow-through of mass direct action against the occupation fell far short of what was needed to shorten the suffering and aid the resistance of the Iraqi people.

Moreover, at subsequent European Social Forums in Paris, London and Athens, this movement failed to develop its “anti-capitalism” beyond a critique of particular features of neo-liberal policy. Worse still, its de facto leadership systematically prevented its development into an organisation that could coordinate the actions of the millions it initially mobilised. The lessons must be learnt; 10 years on, this whole model, which excluded political parties and refused to take any further decisions for action, should now be rejected.

The internationalist spirit and potential for action, which Florence 2002 showed, can guide us today – but we need to avoid the mistakes made then. We need to focus on action that is openly anticapitalist, and on organisational structures that can make that possible. The challenges we face are even greater than those that faced us then.

A historic crisis

Ten years on, capitalism itself is facing a crisis that is unprecedented in its duration and historic in the sense that it poses the system as a whole with the alternative - “to be or not to be.” It also faces workers, youth and all progressive forces, with the same dilemma with regard to the accumulated social and economic gains they have won over the past half-century and more. If they are to survive and be improved to meet growing need, then capitalism itself has to go.

The most severe global crisis of capitalism since the 1930s is far from over. Indeed, the banking and financial crisis is threatening to break out again in the aftermath of the US elections, since the new president/congress will have to impose massive tax rises and spending cuts. The capitalist solution to their crisis is to destroy capital on an enormous scale (both means of production and jobs) and to cheapen the costs of reproducing labour power (by precarity, social cuts, lower wages).

The crisis is deepening across Europe and extending to those states, like Germany, that “recovered” quickly from the recession of 2008-09. The sovereign debt crisis prevailing in much of Europe threatens the survival of the Euro, if not the EU itself. With slowing growth rates threatening China and other BRIC countries that escaped the worst of the crisis, there will be no escape from a global Great Depression. Except, that is, by the historic means by which such things are done – by barbaric wars and slumps or by a socialist revolution.

Our nearest neighbours in the Middle East - radically transformed by the democratic revolutions in 2011 – have been plunged into prolonged civil wars; first in Libya, then Yemen, and now, most bloodily of all, in Syria. Add to this the imminent threat of an Israeli attack on Iran, once the US election is out of the way, and we can have no doubt that the Middle East and the countries in west-central Asia, are a powder keg of wars and revolutions.

The critical factor allowing our rulers to hand over trillions to the bankers and to slash billions from social spending, health and education is not the absence of resistance but the fact that the leadership of the resistance lacks a coherent alternative, a strategy to bring it about and the will to mobilise millions to do this. In short, as well as an economic, social and political crisis we face a crisis of leadership within the resistance.

In Europe, the “capitalist solution” of austerity has been wreaking social havoc across the continent for five years, with resistance in southern Europe generating a series of 24 and 48 hour general strikes. Greece has been in a prolonged, pre-revolutionary situation, which threatens to extend to Spain, Portugal, and Italy etc. Greece has proved in practice that, while such strikes are important for mobilising people to fight back, they cannot force governments to retreat. An unlimited general strike, democratically controlled by councils of action, will be needed to put a final stop to austerity and drive out the austerity governments.

A sure sign of capitalism in mortal crisis is the growth of racism from governments, the popular (demagogic) media, the “respectable” bourgeois parties and last, but not least, the populist and outright fascist parties and movements. State racism – as the recent action by governments across Europe shows, is a vital diversionary ploy for governments deliberately increasing social misery for their own populations. It is picked up and spread by the millionaire media.

From Golden Dawn to Jobbik to the English Defence League, fascist or proto-fascist groups are on the rise and taking to the streets. In Greece, one can already say that a race is on between fascism and revolutionary socialism as to which will provide the solution to the crisis. Fascism is not something alien to “normal” capitalism and imperialism but rather, as Trotsky said, their chemically pure distillation. It cannot be defeated with a strategy limited to defending or preserving liberal capitalism (as distinct from defending our rights and gains within it). Capitalism itself must be despatched into the abyss whenever and wherever the opportunity arises.

The Crisis of Leadership and how to solve it

Our trade union leaders, our so-called socialist parties, left as well as right, ex-Communist as well as Labour and Social Democrat, have accepted that some cuts must be made and thus allowed each sector to struggle over which will suffer the least. Internationally, they have not combated the filthy chauvinist propaganda of governments, media and the EU authorities that the heavily indebted countries are lazy and spendthrift. Class solidarity and international solidarity have remained empty phrases. The labour movement, youth, anti-capitalists, in Germany, France and Britain in particular, must combat the billionaire media propaganda blaming workers in southern Europe for “profligacy.”

The European Left Parties - the Front de Gauche in France, Izquierda Unida in Spain, Die Linke in Germany, Synaspismos/Syriza in Greece, do not have the answer with their neo-Keynesian programmes of state spending, raising wages to stimulate demand, redistribution through the taxation system etc. Their programme, for all its seeming radicalism, is one of trying to revive capitalism with a social face. It is a utopia at a time when really existing capitalism can only revive profitability by means of a massive destruction of capital and by shedding its “social” burdens. What is not a utopia – though all these parties think it is – is to overthrow the capitalist class and the profit system and create a Socialist United States of Europe.

Because of the deepening of the capitalist crisis and an approaching moment that will be decisive for the fate of the social gains of the working class and because of the need to address the crisis of leadership, this gathering of activists and representatives of unions and parties in Florence could not have come at a better time.

We agree with the Italian organisers' original statement that they “are aware that to achieve (victory) we have to get away from fragmentation and the closure of each in their own narrow national dimensions: only if we are united can we win.”

We believe history should repeat itself and that we should take an even bolder initiative than we did ten years ago. We should call for Europe-wide days of action and general strikes starting from November 14 and even bigger and more Europe-wide mass actions in 2013. These should certainly be against the capitalist austerity in Europe but also against the threat of imperialist and Zionist war in Europe’s near abroad and against racism at home. We must reach out the hand of solidarity beyond our continent to the youth and workers struggling for democracy and social justice in Syria and across the Middle East and, indeed, to all those fighting the crisis in the Americas and in Asia, too.

We need to organise around the demand that governments and EU institutions immediately and completely stop imposing cuts and cancel the memoranda and the illegitimate loans that impoverish other nations and reinforce national divisions. We must declare our support for any state which renounces its external debt.

We believe that the gathering in Florence must take important steps to bring about a united front of trade unions, rank and file workplace organisations, anticapitalist political parties, and networks of activists fighting imperialist wars, racism, sexism, youth oppression and homophobia.

We should plan for Europe-wide solidarity action with those most directly under attack from the bankers, billionaires and their politicians in the European Union. In the first place this means Greece. We must declare our unequivocal support for the total renunciation of its debt and the tearing up of all the memoranda with the Troika, and the restoration of its education, health, social and transport services, its pensions, and public sector workers' wages.

The biggest hegemonic imperialist powers of the EU project, Germany, France, and even non-euro zone Britain, are imposing brutal cuts to public services through ad hoc mechanisms like the Troika. They are also using the crisis to make giant leaps towards an imperialist superstate that can impose capitalist economic policies on all the member states. A major step in this direction is the new European Fiscal Treaty, whose “golden rule” makes balanced budgets and therefore slashing social spending mandatory. We have to declare war on this treaty, obstruct its passage or demand its repeal.

In every country, this means private as well as public sector workers need to be drawn into the struggle. Where the bosses' lie machines point to low wages and insecure employment in the private sector as justifying privatisation, downsizing and off shoring, we need, today, an end to Precarity. We need to demand:

Secure, well-paid jobs with pensions for all at full union rates
Jobs for the millions of unemployed, citizenship rights for the migrant workers
Slash the tax burden on the workers and the poor and put it onto the super rich
Save the public services, health, education, transport, social security that everybody needs.

We need to recognise that isolated struggles, whether sector-by-sector or even nation-by-nation, or apolitical struggles, will not in the end succeed. Nor will one-day general strikes, no matter how big and impressive. Why? Because protests will not soften the hard hearts of the billionaires and their bought and sold politicians. In Spain and Greece, demonstrators have recognised the hollowness of normal parliamentary democracy when the media are all in the bosses' hands, when the police have the power to smash demonstrations and protect the legislators against the people.

As long as there are governments made up of parties that serve the bosses and bankers and are, therefore, committed to austerity, protests will be impotent to change things. Their value is in mobilisation, to show where the millions stand. But then, decisive action needs to be taken. We need all-out, unlimited, general strikes, to drive out the austerity governments, to scatter and dissolve the riot cops and repressive forces, to install governments based on the mass organisations of struggle of the working people, the unemployed, the poor. Greece, in 2012, showed that such a perspective is a realistic one. An indefinite general strike, with councils of action and a workers' defence guard, could bring to power a workers' government that would be able to impose the above measures and start to reorganise the economy according to a plan based on social need, not private profit.

This would not only represent a massive gain for the Greek workers, youth and poor. It would also give an enormous impetus to impose a real alternative to the imperialist unification of Europe, as well as to any nationalist solution. A Greek revolution would need to be generalised throughout the continent to create a true European unification from below – A United Socialist States of Europe.

There is an Alternative

Now we have to find - or rather recover - an alternative to capitalism's nightmarish future. It is an alternative that previous generations of working class fighters knew, but either narrowly failed to establish or laid the foundations for and then lost. A real alternative cannot limit itself to a negative anti-capitalism or to tiny, prefigurative utopias on the fringes of society. It will need to seize hold of the vast, large-scale means of production that now exist on every continent, taking control of the global means of communication that have spread to even the most remote villages in order to plan together the means of a decent life for all.

In a word, it is socialism

An alternative, socialist society must be based on providing socially valuable work for all and, in the process, constantly increase the time available for free and creative activities and the enjoyment of life to the full. This freeing of time from necessary labour is the mainspring of socialism, replacing the profit motive.

The working class, young people, the socially and racially oppressed, must be in the forefront of proclaiming this positive goal, linked indissolubly to human freedom from the state and all its coercive machinery. There is an alternative and we are fighting for it.

But we will not achieve any of these goals under the existing leaderships of the unions and parties that have failed so far to lead a united resistance. We can only overcome their mistakes and betrayals by creating a democratic fighting movement – transforming the bureaucratic unions by rank and file movements, organised in the workplaces, creating assemblies and factory committees.

In the cities and towns, we need to build delegate-based councils of action to lead and control the fight back so that no bureaucrat can sell them out. Such bodies could then take over direction of the general strike if union leaders wavered or betrayed. In every one of these bodies, we need to organise the socialist and communist militants to give direction and leadership. We need new revolutionary workers' parties linked together in a new, Fifth International.

Many will say such changes and transformations are impossible. But the challenges presented to us by capitalism's historic crisis are revolutionary challenges and can only be met by revolutionary answers. The European workers' movement has repeatedly shown it can rise to such challenges and Florence 2012 is as good a place to start as any.

What Florence can do

We believe that in Florence we should not only welcome and give added force to the 14 November general strikes and ETUC European day of action but should also issue a call to trade unions, student organisations, political parties and social movements to make an even bigger and more universal Europe-wide general strike in the first months of 2013. This should be accompanied by occupations by students from schools and universities, by mass demonstrations and other forms of direct action, drawing in the unemployed, pensioners, the disabled, indeed, everyone hit by the cuts.

Its slogans should be;

• No to Austerity! Stop all social cuts and privatisations! Stop paying the debt!
• Make the rich, the bankers, the corporate exploiters pay for their crisis!
• Solidarity with all countries under EU/Troika attack - Greece, Spain, Portugal etc.
• Reject the European Fiscal Treaty
• Bring down the governments of unemployment, wage cuts and social destruction

Such days of action and mobilisations should also be the impulse for a tidal wave of actions in the months and year ahead to stop the Troika’s plans in their tracks and demand our governments either halt their national cuts programmes or make way for governments that will make the rich pay – governments answerable to the entire working people.

In addition, in Athens, around the alter summit, we should seek to hold a representative assembly – which could seek pledges from its participating organisations to be ready to take Europe-wide mass action whenever a country is victimised by the Troika, or whenever the imperialist powers and their allies threaten bombing attacks, wars or invasions.

We should also agree to build a more long lasting coordination that can act to mobilise resistance on the whole spectrum of attacks we face.