This Saturday more than 3,000 people are expected to attend the People’s Assembly Against Austerity in London. John Keeley examines what it offers the people.
Launched in February 2013 with a letter to The Guardian signed by Tony Benn, President of the Coalition of Resistance (CoR), & many trade union leaders, it stated its aim as being to “bring together campaigns against cuts and privatisation with trade unionists in a movement for social justice”.
The CoR is largely a Counterfire (John Ress, Lindsey German, Chris Nineham) initiative. As such it conforms to the united-front tactic of enabling revolutionaries to engage & shape things working alongside non-revolutionary workers. By bringing together those who are essentially social democrats, wanting to defend the welfare state but not challenge capitalism, with trade unionists who have the power to lead strike action, & those who are already clear that capitalism is the problem, there is the possibility of reforms that benefit the working class leading to demands for more reforms & the eventual overthrow of capitalism.
Obviously, the success or otherwise of such a strategy largely depends upon the material conditions. As I’ve mentioned many times before, I believe that capitalism is in real trouble, & what we are now seeing is the politics catching up with the economics. In otherwords, the workers have been suffering, there’s little prospect this will end, indeed it’s more likely to increase, & hence consciousness is now changing & more & more people want to do something about it.
Finally, this is resulting in the left starting to work together, realising that petty arguments over the nature of the Russian Revolution are not vitally important, even that ‘democratic-centralism’ has been largely undemocratic & totally unappealing to today’s generation.
The word that is catching on more & more is ‘participation’. People want involvement. They want to be involved in decision-making. They are sick of the elites; whether professional politicians, bankers & other corporate fat-cats, even professional revolutionaries & trade union leaders who have constantly sold out their members. So we will have to see how much power the union leaders have & whether they are brave enough to lead the fight or become a hindrance.
The draft statement that the People’s Assembly is being asked to endorse talks about defending education, health & welfare provision. It aims to unite the anti-cuts movement & states its goal as being to “make the government abandon its austerity programme”. All limited but quite sensible. It then goes on to say it intends to “develop rapidly key policies and an alternative programme for a new anti-austerity government”. What does this mean? For many, no doubt, it will be to get the Labour party elected. The ‘One-Nation’ Labour party of Ed Miliband & Ed Balls who have no intention of reversing many of the cuts already made or proposed by the Tories in their vain attempt to convince the City, & big business in general, that they are no threat to capitalism – which they clearly are not. The Labour party are now very openly a pro-business party & therefore cannot be a party for the workers. This will be a battle to be fought by all involved in the People’s Assembly.
There are positives though. Through the building of local people’s assemblies based upon participatory decision-making, there’s a real chance that a movement based upon real people power can take on its own momentum. The union leaders & professional politicians may well find that the people do not follow them in the direction they want to go – social democracy, for many – but get a real taste of their power & ability to shape things. One of the first tests will be the proposed national day of civil disobedience on Guy Fawkes Day – 5th November. Will the more radical elements end up being disowned by the union leaders or will there be a ground-swell of support for a General Strike? As protests spread throughout the world & an economy on a knife’s-edge, where things go is quite hard to predict.
The People’s Assembly, just like Left Unity, it’s an initiative that allows revolutionaries to reach a larger number of people who are being increasingly radicalised by the current crisis. As such I think it’s a vehicle that should not be ignored. For too long now revolutionaries have held ideologically pure positions where, in their own minds at least, they are right & everyone else is wrong. Here’s an opportunity to engage with others, & although many will not agree, increasing numbers will. The world is going to change, don’t let it pass you by.