Sunday, December 27, 2015

RISE for what?

Scotland’s newest party, RISE, Scotland’s Left Alliance,dubbed the Scottish Syriza, unveils its regional list candidates for Holyrood on Tuesday. RISE will also launch a fundraising appeal for £100,000. RISE is an electoral pact between the Scottish Socialists, the Scottish Left Project, environmentalists and independence campaigners. Former Scottish Socialist MSP and current SSP co-convenor Colin Fox has explained the SSP will not field candidates in its own name, but will only stand under the RISE banner in order to avoid splitting the Left vote. Fox said RISE would appeal to SNP supporters for their second votes to maximise the number of pro-independence MSPs in parliament. The anti-austerity party, which is backed by former SNP deputy leader Jim Sillars, is standing only on the list system, where candidates can be elected with just 6 per cent of the vote.

Among RISE’s policies are a minimum wage of £20,000, maximum wage of £100,000, free public transport, an income-based Scottish service tax instead of council tax, ending charitable status for private schools, and, ultimately, an independent Scottish republic with its own currency. RISE advocates the construction of half a million new affordable houses over the next 25 years. Of course, there is no guarantee that five consecutive governments would maintain the massive building scheme. Abolish Police Scotland which was established in 2013. RISE proposes to return to local forces and to end the practices of stop and search and police carrying guns that were introduced under Police Scotland. Rise also wants to abolish the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act, which critics have claimed criminalises young football fans. RIAE advocates the decriminalisation of all drugs, and the introduction of a public programme of drug rehabilitation. The policy states that the so-called ‘war on drugs’ has resulted in organised crime and addiction. RISE proposes the “public ownership” of energy companies. It calls for the gradual phasing out of the oil industry to be replaced with renewable energy, which Rise policy says Scotland has in abundance. Although a transferance of ownership is implied in the policy, there is no detail of whether private energy companies would be compensated and how much this would cost. RISE will campaign to have employers who use zero hours contracts sanctioned with the withdrawal of subsidies and awards. The policy is one of several that RISE will campaign for under the auspices of an Employment Freedom Bill. Other policies attached to the Bill, much of which could only be instituted if employment law is devolved to Scotland, include employee involvement in workplace decision making and trade unionism taught to children at school level.

These policies are not unexpected and nor are they steps towards socialism but simply the usual platform of the Left to make capitalism run better and not to abolish it. We do not deny that certain reforms won by the working class have helped to improve our general living and working conditions. Indeed, we see little wrong with people campaigning for reforms that bring essential improvements and enhance the quality of their lives, and some reforms do indeed make a difference to the lives of millions and can be viewed as "successful". There are examples of this in such fields as education, housing, child employment, work conditions and social security. Socialists have to acknowledge that the "welfare" state, the NHS and so on, made living standards for some sections of the working class better than they had been under rampant capitalism and its early ideology of laissez faire, although these ends should never be confused with socialism. However, in this regard we also recognise that such "successes" have in reality done little more than to keep workers and their families in efficient working order and, while it has taken the edge of the problem, it has rarely managed to remove the problem completely. Socialists do not oppose reformism because it is against improvements in workers' lives lest they dampen their revolutionary ardour; nor, because it thinks that decadent capitalism simply cannot deliver on any reforms; but because our continued existence as propertyless wage slaves undermines whatever attempts we make to control and better our lives through reforms. Our objection to reformism is that by ignoring the essence of class, it throws blood, sweat and tears into battles that will be undermined by the workings of the wages system. All that effort, skill, energy, all those tools could be turned against class society, to create a society of common interest where we can make changes for our common mutual benefit. So long as class exists, any gains will be partial and fleeting, subject to the ongoing struggle. What we are opposed to is the whole culture of reformism, the idea that capitalism can be tamed and made palatable with the right reforms.

We oppose those organisations that promise to deliver a programme of reforms on behalf of the working class, often in order to gain a position of power. Such groups on the Left, often have real aims quite different to the reform programme they peddle. Many of the Left are going to put before the working class only what they think will be understood by the workers - proposals to improve and reform the present capitalist system- and, of course they are going to try to assume the leadership of such struggles as a way of achieving support for their vanguard party. These Left parties may try to initiate such struggles themselves and they will try to muscle in on any struggles of this sort that groups of workers have started off themselves. But it's all very cynical because they know that reformism ultimately leads nowhere (as they readily admit in their theoretical journals meant for circulation amongst their members, though not in the populist, agitational journals). The purpose in telling workers to engage in such struggles is to teach them a lesson, the hard way which is the only way some on the Left think they can learn i.e. by experiencing failure. The expectation is that when, these reformist struggles fail the workers will then turn against capitalism, under the Party Leadership. It is the old argument, advanced by Trotsky in his founding manifesto for the "Fourth International" in 1938, that socialist consciousness will develop out of the struggle for reforms within capitalism: when workers realise that they can’t get the reforms they have been campaigning for they will, Trotsky pontificated, turn to the "cadres" of the Fourth International for leadership. All that's achieved is to encourage reformist illusions amongst workers. The ultimate result of this is disillusionment with the possibility of radical change.

The Socialist Party does not accept the view that nothing but socialism concerns the socialist and in regards to trade unionism has stated that the non-revolutionary phase of the struggle between the classes is as inevitable as the revolutionary. When the worker acquires revolutionary consciousness he is still compelled to make the non-revolutionary struggle. We fight in the here and now, where we are and where we can, rather than tell everyone to wait until the revolution comes and that all struggle is a diversion from creating a united Marxian socialist party of the world. It doesn't mean we have to sit around and wait for a revolution. A blanket opposition to everything that does and can happen in capitalism in the guise of being supportive of working class interests and being true to socialist principles, they would involve actions (or sometimes, inaction) would be ridiculous and taken to its ultimate, logical conclusion would lead to the situation whereby socialists in parliament determinedly resolved to oppose all reform measures as a matter of course, even those of clear benefit to workers or the socialist movement (and by doing so inadvertently allying themselves with the forces of reaction to keep wars going, or oppose factory legislation and anything else that might benefit workers).

Every organisation has to decide what it is working for, and whether that aim is important. When the first of the parties in the World Socialist Movement was founded in 1904, it decided it was going to work for socialism. Socialists are, of course, not immune to the human tragedies which occur daily, by the millions, and which has generate thousands of reformist groups trying to stem the tide. Socialists made a choice. They chose to use their time and limited funds to work to eliminate the cause of the problems. One can pick any problem and often one can find that real improvements have taken place, usually after a very long period of agitation. Rarely, if ever, has the problem disappeared, and usually other related problems have cropped up to fill the vacuum of destruction or suffering left by the "solution". The mistaken idea that we should devote our energies to improving capitalist society through reforms has led, certainly in absolute terms, to the most destructive century in history. What has been the most pernicious lie of the century? It is that hope for the future lay in the gradual, imperceptible, but certain amelioration of capitalism through the process of reform. The false hope of piecemeal improvement of an essentially cancerous system captured the imaginations of millions, exhausted their energies in the reformist struggle to humanise the profit system, and then left them dumbed by frustration. Whether the changes were to come through Holyrood or by gaining control of local councils or by humanitarian and "green" appeals for a nicer, gentler world, the system which puts profit before need has persistently spat the hope of humane capitalism back in the face of its advocates. The progressive enthusiasm of millions has been stamped out in this way. Dare we imagine how different it would have been if that energy—or even a half or a tenth of that energy—which has gone into reforming capitalism had gone into abolishing it? 

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