Issue 246 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published November 2000 Copyright © Socialist Review

Editorial

Reaching crisis point

Revolution in Serbia and a new uprising in Palestine: either event would have been momentous enough in any one year. But they follow on from an incredible 12 months of protest and struggle which began in Seattle on 30 November last year, and which has encompassed general strikes, mass demonstrations and challenges to the very heart of the system.

The Serbian Revolution takes place against a growing revulsion with capitalism in the west, which therefore gives it a very different context from the East European revolutions of 1989. Since then the market has failed there. In addition, successive western interventions in Serbia, culminating in the Nato bombing last year, has led to a strong anti-imperialist sentiment. Both factors mean that there is a scepticism about western solutions to the problems of Serbia which can help to fuel further agitation.

The recent anti-capitalist protest in Prague, where 20,000 demonstrators travelled from across Europe, further showed that the major capitalist powers now find that they face growing opposition to their project from within their own populations.

Tony Blair's Britain is no exception. In the past few weeks Blair has experienced the revolt over fuel prices (led by people quite far from the labour movement) and over pensions at the hands of union leaders.

These issues have altered the position of the Labour government, making it look powerless for the first time in three years. The oil blockades and the pensions issue show how quickly issues can explode, just when they are least expected. This is despite all the best efforts of the Labour Party itself, and of the trade union leaders who try to find safety valves for the protests to prevent them spreading into a wider fight against the system. While they can contain the spreading of some issues--as they managed to contain the protest over Rover to the West Midlands earlier this year--they cannot keep the lid on the anger for ever.

They will try to do so up to and beyond the election. Indeed, Tony Blair's fall in the polls following the fuel protest led to a chorus of demands that the left stop rocking the boat and fall in behind Labour. But there is a great deal of bitterness, and many of the local campaigns over issues such as hospital closures or council house sell-offs have taken on a wider element of protest against the system itself.

This will continue and grow. The same neo-liberal agenda which attacks the poorest countries and will try to impose its values on Serbia means that taxes are raised for the poor and slashed for the rich, that pensions and welfare are cut, and that the NHS is under constant threat.

Protests over pensions are continuing this month as it becomes increasingly obvious that Gordon Brown will make concessions to the road hauliers at the expense of ordinary workers. Demands that we tax the oil companies to pay for better public transport and decent pensions have a wide resonance inside the working class. But there is also a need to project an alternative to New Labour.

The Socialist Alliance is an attempt to present an electoral challenge to Blairism at the coming election, probably only six months away. It is the chance to begin to regroup the left and give a voice to much wider forces who embody the ideas of anti-capitalism, and who are fed up with the policies of Labour and its masters. Socialist Alliances can provide the means of generalising local struggles and projecting a bigger vision of the future which in turn can help build an alternative to Labour.


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