Chris Harman, editor of the International Socialism journal, introduced the opening session on the state of the capitalist system held on Friday evening.
“To refer to what is happening today as a credit crunch is to completely underestimate the situation,” he said. “We’re dealing with a multi-dimensional crisis of the system – an economic crisis, a political crisis and an ideological crisis.”
He argued that today’s crisis differed from those of the 1980s and 1990s. Then the Tories and the bosses saw an opportunity to attack the working class. “But this time the employers don’t welcome the crisis – they are panicking.”
Chris drew attention to the divisions among the global ruling classes. “The US will try to deal with its weakening economic situation by using its military power,” he said.
“To those who say the economic crisis means that capitalists will join together and call an end to the ‘war on terror’, we have to say – this is not the end of the ‘war on terror’.”
He talked about the bitterness and fear that the crisis creates among ordinary people, and argued that we cannot predict when or where struggle will take place. It can break out unexpectedly – as we have seen in Greece, Ireland, Italy and Spain.
“We have to be continually prepared for the unexpected – not sitting back and waiting, but always being on our toes, relating and intervening, developing concrete analyses of concrete situations.”
Chris noted that Gordon Brown had resurrected his political career by announcing policies widely described in the media as “Old Labour”.
These moves have acted to limit resistance to some extent, he said. But nevertheless Brown’s economic policies are not the same as the classic “Keynesianism” of the 1950s – they go alongside open and vicious attacks on workers.
We need an ideological assault on capitalism, said Chris. “But we’re not just propagandists. Our aim should be to find every bit of struggle and generalise it.”
The discussion threw up a number of issues. Many stressed the importance of continuing to develop an analysis of the crisis and its impact on workers.
Comrades pointed out that struggle will not be limited to trade unions but can erupt in many different ways.
Sabby from north London spoke about the scope for organising united fronts against privatisation in local areas.
“We need to be at the heart of anti-privatisation campaigns and try to unite them wherever we can,” he said.
Comrades also debated how the recession would affect working class resistance. Nick from west London said he was concerned about “the political impact of the permanent debt economy on workers”.
He argued that “our ability to mobilise people into activity has been hindered by fears of debt and repossession”.
But many others challenged the idea that fear of debt and recession will automatically block people from fighting.
“Previous recessions that have happened in my lifetime seemed to have come from nowhere,” said Karen from Manchester.
“But people have a very clear idea of who’s to blame this time – and I think that makes people more angry than fearful. The question is how to mobilise that anger.”