Europe

In the latest episode of IMTV – the International Marxist Television channel, hosted by our British section, Socialist Appeal– our guests look back over a busy year for student and labour activists on UK campuses. Earlier this year we saw the largest ever strike by academic staff in the University and Colleges Union (UCU), who took action over cuts to pensions.

The current crisis of capitalism has had huge consequences for ordinary people, with dramatic falls in living standards, increased job losses and severe welfare cuts. Working-class women are being particularly hard hit by this crisis, facing stagnating wages in already low-paid jobs and often having to bear the brunt of austerity cuts to public services and welfare. Since 2010, 86 percent of Tory cuts in Britain have been targeted at jobs and services that are dominated by women.

After days of fraught negotiations, Theresa May survived a crunch Brexit vote in the House of Commons on 20 June, which had threatened to bring the simmering civil war in her party to a head. But this most recent compromise will only prepare an even deeper political crisis in future.

Over the past weekend, nearly 2,000 people arrived in Spain by sea, most travelling in totally inadequate boats for the journey, risking their lives in the process. The vessel Aquarius drew media attention after the newly installed president, Pedro Sánchez, decided to allow its passengers in after Italy refused to let them shore up. The ship was carrying 629 people, 123 of them under 18, who were mainly travelling on their own.

On 14 June 2018, a fire at the Grenfell Tower block of council flats in the London Borough of Kensington & Chelsea claimed the lives of 72 people. The avoidable catastophe was the result of years of neglect by the Tory government, the Conservative-led council and the managing association responsible for the tower's upkeep – who cut corners on safety to maintain profits. Written to coincide with the opening of the Grenfell fire inquiry, Andrew O’Hagan presents The Tower. In this 60,000 word essay, O’Hagan

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On 14 June 2017, disaster struck in Britain as the Grenfell tower in west London was engulfed in flames. 72 people died in the fire, according to official reports. But the real number could be even higher. One year on, and the inquiry into the Grenfell fire is underway.

In May, far-right former leader of the English Defence League (EDL), Tommy Robinson, was jailed for 13 months for contempt of court. The sentence followed his filming and revealing details of a child grooming trial at Leeds Crown Court. The stunt was clearly aimed at getting himself arrested and turning himself into a martyr for “free speech”, victimised by a “politically correct establishment” protecting “Muslim grooming gangs”.

50 years ago, women at the Dagenham Ford Factory began a strike that became a turning point in the fight for equality. It was not the first such strike, and it would certainly not be the last. However, by standing up against bosses, union officials, and even other workers, they would send a message that has stood the test of time and inspires still.

Three months after the 4th March Italian elections, the new government of the Five Stars Movement and the League (formerly Northern league) has finally been sworn in by by the President of the Republic and a whole new situation opens up where these parties will be put to the test. This experience will prove to be a necessary experience in exposing in the eyes of the Italian working class the real nature, particularly of the Five Stars Movement and prepare the ground for a new wave of class struggle.

The leader of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE), Pedro Sanchez, has become prime minister after defeating corruption-tainted Mariano Rajoy in a parliamentary vote of no confidence. Sanchez has promised a few cosmetic changes but will keep the budget approved by Rajoy’s Popular Party (PP) and has vowed to “guarantee economic and fiscal responsibility” as well as to fulfill “European duties”.

There has been a series of new twists in the deepening Italian political crisis. Prime Minister Conte resigned after President Mattarella vetoed the appointment of Paolo Savona as minister of the economy. The president subsequently assigned the task of forming a government to [former IMF official] Carlo Cottarelli.

On 24 May, the Spanish National Court finally ruled on the Gürtel corruption scandal. The verdict condemned the former treasurer of the ruling Popular Party (PP) and other high-ranking members for an illegal ‘kickbacks-for-contracts’ scheme, and also determined the party as a whole had benefited from corruption. The Socialist Party (PSOE) responded by filing a no-confidence motion, which will be discussed on 31 May and 1 June and could bring the government down after seven years in power.

With the UK Conservative Party engaged in fratricide over Brexit, there is talk on the Tory backbenches of a snap general election in the making. This is entirely possible given the mess they are in. We could therefore see Jeremy Corbyn heading for 10 Downing Street sooner rather than later.

On Friday 25 May, Ireland went to the polls to decide whether to repeal the 8th amendment of the constitution, which denied women the right to abortion as long as the unborn fetus had a heartbeat. Under these laws, which are part of the legacy of the Catholic Church’s domination of Ireland, abortion was illegal, even under the horrific circumstances of rape, incest or fetal abnormalities. The repeal of the 8th amendment is an epoch-making slap in the face against the Catholic Church and the establishment in the Republic.

Pro-choice rally in 2012

There were celebrations in the streets of Dublin as the conservative establishment in Ireland was dealt another heavy blow. The landslide vote to repeal the 8th amendment, which banned abortion in Ireland, follows the unexpected 'yes' result in the gay marriage referendum three years ago.

On Thursday 24 May, rap artist Josep Miquel Arenas, better-known as Valtonyc, was supposed to turn himself in to Spanish police to start his three-and-a-half-year jail sentence. He had been condemned for “glorifying terrorism” and “injuries to the Crown” over the lyrics of several of his songs. Rather than spend time in jail for his opinions he decided to flee the country and go into exile. Spain’s list of political exiles just acquired another name.

This week, on Friday 25 May, voters in the Republic of Ireland will go to polls to decide whether to repeal the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits women from obtaining an abortion. A Yes vote would pave the way for the government to legalise abortions, and would be a severe blow to the authority of the Catholic Church.

It has been nearly two years since the British public lobbed a grenade into the Tories’ lap by voting to leave the European Union. Since this particularly hot potato was chucked her way, May has made an art out of kicking the can down the road. But for how much longer? Recent events suggest her luck may just be running out.

The question of the UK’s post-Brexit relationship to the EU customs union has become the focal point for the deepest crisis the Tory Party has ever faced: a crisis that is driving all the contradictions of Brexit to breaking point.

The Conservative government in Britain is facing a perfect storm of crises. Brexit looms large over every decision and event. The question of the Irish border and the customs union has intensified the civil war inside the Tory Party. And without a majority to command in Parliament, the Prime Minister is paralysed, unable to pass any meaningful legislation.

This weekend, on Saturday 19 May, British royal, one-time Nazi impersonator and sixth-in-line to the throne, Prince Harry will marry the American actress Meghan Markle. Hot on the heels of the birth of a third royal baby, the establishment are clearly hoping that another royal spectacle will help to distract from the multiple crises engulfing Theresa May’s embattled government.

100 years ago, on 9 May 1918, the Scottish socialist John Maclean went on trial at the Edinburgh High Court facing charges of sedition. Maclean, however, used the trial to make an impassioned defence of himself and his socialist ideas (lasting 75 minutes in total), which we publish in full here.

200 years ago the founder of scientific socialism and arguably the greatest thinker of modern times, Karl Marx, was born. To celebrate, on Saturday 5 May in London, Socialist Appeal(the International Marxist Tendency in Britain) held Marx in a Day: a series of talks and discussions exploring Marx’s revolutionary ideas and political activity. The event was a great success, with around 80 workers, activists, students, and young people from across the country and even as far away as Paris coming along and taking part.

The establishment media machine has been in overdrive since last Thursday’s local elections in England, attempting to portray the results as yet another disaster for Labour and its leader, Jeremy Corbyn. But after three years of spewing bile, nobody pays much attention to such hysteria and distortions anymore.

During the night of 7 April, our comrade Martin Oskarsson passed away at the age of 59 years. He was hit by a sudden bout of pneumonia that led to blood poisoning. Despite being under intensive care, it was unfortunately not possible to save him. Our thoughts are with his close friends and relatives.

“The Governor of the Bank of England has warned that massive job losses driven by technology could resuscitate Marxism in the West,” announced the Daily Telegraphrecently.

A wave of mass protests has spread across Spain in response to yet another display of crass sexism by the Spanish state. In an unambiguous case of brutal gang rape, the so-called La Manadaaffair, a Spanish court has delivered a verdict of “sexual abuse”, not rape. One of the three members of the jury even called for the acquittal of the accused. As a result, the defendants have received shockingly lenient sentences.

We publish here an in-depth analysis of the political situation in Britain, which was discussed at the recent conference of Socialist Appeal supporters. Although originally drafted in December, the processes and contradictions that this document outlines still lie at the heart of British politics. In this first part, we look at the long-term crisis of British capitalism, the implications of Brexit, the movement on the industrial plane, and the ever-growing anger towards the elite.

Hundreds of people of Caribbean origin, who migrated to Britain as part of the ‘Windrush generation’ (named after a ship that famously brought a large number of West Indian immigrants to London in 1948) are having their citizenship called into question by the state. Despite having lived and worked in the country for most of their lives, many such people (largely of retirement age) are now facing severe problems with their immigration status – seemingly out of the blue.

Hundreds-of-thousands took to the streets of Barcelona once again on Sunday 15 April to reject Spanish state repression. A key demand was freedom for Catalan political prisoners – the demonstrators marched under the slogan “Us Volem a Casa” (“We want you home”). This came at the end of a week in which the state attempted (and failed) to charge members of the Committees for the Defence of the Republic (CDRs) with terrorism. The massive demonstration revealed the resilience of the movement, despite a leadership that is failing to show the way forward.

The Dutch Marxists have launched a new paper, Revolutie(Revolution), which has replaced the old paper, Vonk. On 24 March they held a public event to announce the name change. The change did not come from nowhere. The new name connects much better to the new objective situation in the Netherlands.

The railway workers' strike has encouraged other sections of the working class (and also the students) to mobilise. Refuse collectors, Air France workers, civil servants, lawyers, postal workers, hospital workers and care workers assisting the elderly (among others) are gearing up for action, and every day new layers are joining the fight. The ‘convergence of struggles’ is no longer just a slogan; it has become a fact.

Last Sunday, Hungarians went to the polls following a campaign period the likes of which has been unseen since the fall of Stalinism. One of the functions of bourgeois democracy is to create a false sense of participation. Previous elections were generally conducted in an atmosphere of anticipation, with the public following debates between political parties in the media, and discussing developments on street corners and at work. The people felt they had some say over their destinies. In the last eight years however, there has been a fundamental change in the character of Hungary’s democratic process.

UPDATE: We have just been informed of the good news that the students have been released, but the fact they were arrested to begin with is still a scandal. Yesterday, 9 April, University of Nanterre management called two units of the CRS [Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité: general reserve of the French National Police] to violently expel 100 students gathered in a General Assembly. Seven students were arrested. Six were remanded in custody, including our comrades Andreas Coste and Victor Mendez. It is clear that the arrests targeted student activists at the university. 

The Catalan Committees for the Defence of the Republic (CRDs) have come under a sustained campaign of criminalisation. The state prosecutor, the mass media and the political parties of the Spanish regime have all ganged up to brand them as “violent”, demanding that “action should be taken” against them and threatening them with prosecution for “rebellion”. Why are they so afraid of the CDRs?

Yesterday, the Spanish regime’s strategy of repression against the Catalan independence movement suffered a serious blow, when a German court in Schleswig-Holstein decided there were no grounds to extradite Catalan President Carles Puigdemont for rebellion. Additionally, a series of decisions by the Belgian justice system further undermined the position of the Spanish regime.

Lucha de Clases (section of the International Marxist Tendency in the Spanish state) opposes the arrest of Carles Puigdemont in Germany and demands his immediate release. We also demand the release of five Catalan independence leaders arrested on Friday, including the last candidate for the presidency of the Generalitat, Jordi Turull; along with all Catalan political prisoners. Original statement in Spanish here.

The latest issue of Révolution (French organ of the IMT) will be published in the wake of a social movement that could mark a turning point in the correlation of forces between our camp (the youth and workers) and the bosses, of which Macron’s government is the executive body. A rail strike, starting from 3 April, will be the focal point of the struggle. But, both for us and for our enemies, the significance of this strike goes beyond the fate of the SNCF [Société nationale des chemins de fer français: France’s national state-owned railway company] and its employees.

The arrest of Carles Puigdemont in Germany on Sunday morning was an escalation of a strategy of repression against those who dared call an independence referendum in Catalonia on 1 October. On Friday, five other politicians were jailed and another went into exile. These moves were met with a surge of anger from below, with mass demonstrations and road blockades on Friday and Sunday. Tens-of-thousands in the streets had two main slogans: "General strike" and "Parliament should decide who’s president".

On 4 April, public sector workers in Denmark will be taking strike action in response to negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement. The government has reacted by threatening 440,000 public sector workers (of a total 825,000) with lockouts, which could take effect any time from 10 April. This could result in the biggest class conflict in 20 years. The impending confrontation bears major historical significance, because it marks the beginning of the end of 'class peace' and 'social partnership' in Denmark.

On Monday, David Davis and Michel Barnier – the lead Brexit negotiators for Britain and the EU respectively – announced that an agreement had been reached to implement a 21-month transitional period following the original March 2019 deadline. During this time, the status quo would apply and the UK would effectively remain in the EU. The extension period, it is hoped, would be used to thrash out the final Brexit deal, including the as-yet-unspecified future trading arrangements.

One decade on from the onset of the Great Recession, and British society is undergoing a series of crises: economic, political, and social. The status quo has broken; the centre ground has collapsed; political polarisation and radicalisation is taking place everywhere.

We are happy to introduce no.marxist.com, the website of Revolusjon: the Norwegian supporters of the IMT! The celebrated ‘Nordic models’ of capitalism – with an extensive welfare state – have not avoided the general crises in the capitalist system. Huge tax cuts for the rich, privatization of public services, and the increasing economic gulf between rich and poor are creating discontent among workers and youth. The election of a candidate to the parliament from a socialist party that calls itself Marxist (Red) is a sign that mass discontent is beginning to shift the political climate.

There is an old film starring Peter Sellers called The Mouse that Roared that describes a comical situation in which a tiny, insignificant, European nation declares war on the United States in order to obtain aid. By a peculiar twist of circumstances, they win. The scenario of this amusing production was strikingly brought to mind by the events of the last few days in Britain.

Alek Atevik, a member of the Central Committee of the Macedonian organization Levitsa(Left) and a leading figure in the Yugoslav section of the International Marxist Tendency (IMT), spoke to Epanastasi [‘Revolution’] about nationalist myths and the need for internationalist class solidarity.

For weeks pensioners have been protesting across the Spanish state against the government’s decision to increase state pensions by a paltry 0.25 percent (against a 1.6 percent inflation rate). The largely spontaneous movement has been growing and is now calling on other sectors of society to join in mass demonstrations on Saturday, 17 March.

Alan Woods, editor of In Defence of Marxism, discusses the latest spy thriller: the attempted assassination of an MI6 double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, England, which the Tories are blaming on the Kremlin. But what lies behind this story? Alan argues that there is something suspiciously theatrical about the use of nerve gas (a 'Cold War relic') to bump off an ex-spy. But maintaining a sense of Cold War tension is certainly in the interests of the British ruling class.

Mario Iavazzi, a supporter of Sinistra Classe e Rivoluzione [the IMT in Italy] intervened at the recent gathering of the National Committee of the CGIL (Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro – General Confederation of Italian Labour – equivalent to the TUC in Britain, CGT in France or AFL-CIO in the USA). He openly criticised the leadership for its lack of a fighting programme and for its total lack of understanding of what happened in the recent Italian elections.

What happened in Spain on International Working Women’s Day was remarkable. A commentator in the Barcelona daily El Periódico described it as “more than a strike, almost a revolution”. Over 6 million workers, mainly women but also men, came out on strike, the first time a strike had ever been called to mark 8 March. Hundreds-of-thousands participated in huge demonstrations in over 120 cities in a mass movement that can only be compared to the indignados in 2011 or the huge anti-war marches of 2003.

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