Socialist Worker

How the left can win amid global turmoil

by Alex Callinicos
Issue No. 2536

Bernie Sanders showed there is an audience for the left

Bernie Sanders showed there is an audience for the left (Pic: Alex Hanson/flickr)


Last year was remarkable. In some ways the election of Donald Trump in the US summarises many trends.

To understand it we have to go back to the financial crash of 2007/08. Ruling classes around the world prevented the kind of collapse seen in the 1930s. But because neoliberalism has made bosses so much richer, it is too good to abandon.

The recharged neoliberalism of the ruling class—austerity —hasn’t solved the crisis. And the attempt to displace the cost of the crisis onto working class people has weakened the hold of the dominant ideology. This has led to voter revolts.

For a long time ordinary people have felt disdain for mainstream politics. The crisis has turned that into active hostility. Unfortunately the main beneficiaries are the right.

There have been movements on the left—such as Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain, Bernie Sanders in the US and Jeremy Corbyn in Britain. But the right has been dominant.

We have to be precise about what we mean by the right. There’s a lot of talk about fascism and there are fascist dangers.

We had the near miss of someone from the fascist Freedom Party nearly winning the Austrian presidential election. It’s likely that Marine Le Pen will get into the second round of presidential elections in France this year.

But the dominant trend on the right internationally is the populist racist right, such as Ukip and Trump. Yet the advance of the populist right helps create an environment where it’s easier for real fascists to flourish.

Global capitalism is drifting into even greater uncertainty and instability as a result of Trump’s election. This should be a good situation for the left to offer an anti-capitalist alternative.

The truth is not so cheerful. Syriza and Podemos retreated and their supporters have shrunk.

The weakness of the radical left is one factor that has allowed the populist right to seize the initiative.

There is now a terrible danger of popular frontism. The idea is that as fascism is on the rampage, we need to unite with everyone who opposes it.

Dangerous

This is very dangerous. It means associating yourself with neoliberal policies that helped produce these revolts in the first place.

We need to offer an alternative to neoliberalism. We need to act, not on our own, but together with others.

Across Europe the International Socialist tendency has drawn a line in the sand and tried to build united mass movements against racism. In Britain Stand Up To Racism is crucial. Austerity has greatly strengthened racism and we have to fight them both. But racism is not simply one issue among others. Racism is increasingly the language that is used to frame all the other issues.

You can see that with Brexit. People voted to leave the European Union for all sorts of reasons. But what is the established view? It’s all about racism.

Even sections of the left are conceding to arguments, such as over freedom of movement. The problem is amplified by the low level of struggle. And racist pressures are shaping debates in the unions.

Anti-racism is the best way in which we can relate to people who support Jeremy Corbyn. They don’t exist on a significant scale in the branches and Constituency Labour Parties because these are dominated by the right wing.

And Momentum is being ripped apart by a factional struggle. Many Corbynites will be tempted to start running away from that.

A serious movement against racism can relate to substantial numbers of people inspired by Corbyn but who aren’t involved in Labour because of how it operates.

We can only do that if we build a really broad Stand Up To Racism united mass movement.

Racism is the key link—the poison seeping deeper and deeper into British society. We’re much better placed than any other section of the left to respond. We have to rise to the challenge.

This isn’t staying on the sidelines. It’s the way we move into the street of history.

This is an edited version of Alex’s speech opening the SWP annual conference

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