Socialists must prepare for next war, not the last one

Photo: Craig Maclean

by Ken Ferguson

· It is often said that politicians, diplomats and generals prepare to fight their battles with plans based on what happened during the last war they fought only to find that this one is different.

Perhaps the most memorable example of this approach is the French construction of apparently impregnable fortifications along its border in the form of the vast Maginot Line only to find that their opponents simply went round the side of it, won their victory and then demolished the forts at their leisure.

Despite some fashionable theories to the contrary history does matter and, more importantly still, politics which determines everything, is not static but in continual movement requiring activists—particularly serious socialists—to plan and act accordingly.

Whatever else will be written in years to come we can all agree that 2020 has been, and continues to be a year of high drama, crisis, conflict and challenge probably unparalleled since the life and death struggles against Hitler in 1940.

Collective effort
Just as then, it is increasingly clear that the lived experience of millions of us imposed by Covid-19 (C-19) has impacted on the outlook, values and understanding about what matters, collective effort and, yes, sacrifice and what we expect afterwards.

Just like the lightning flashes that recently lit our skies perhaps most dramatically it illuminated the central falsehood of the last 40 years of neoliberalism that the lack of money is a barrier to change.

From paying the wages of millions, building emergency hospitals, finding billions to pay for everything from ventilators to going Dutch with diners on their steak and chips the “there is no money” myth is now stone dead.

If proof of this was needed then it came from the boot of Manchester United star Marcus Rashford when his well aimed kick connected with Boris’s backside and forced a rapid retreat on free school meals.

Faced with plans that would have starved poor children the public said no and the rout was complete.

Of course none of this can minimise the death of tens of thousands, the bumbling incompetence over care homes, PPE, testing and tracing and, of course the blatant lies of the Cummings affair.

Now joined by the growing exams crisis the overall political impact for the Westminster government has been to burn vast stocks of political capital gained at the 2019 election and reducing them to a government at the mercy of events rather in control of them.

Here is Scotland the management of the crisis both in schools and C-19 has certainly been more deftly handled but many of the Westminster blunders were echoed here with equally horrific results.

On exams the sting was drawn—and a no confidence vote in Education Secretary Swinney defeated—by a dizzyingly rapid U-turn.

Holyrood storm brews
Elsewhere in this Voice we also look at the gathering Holyrood storm generated by the confrontation between First Minister Sturgeon and her predecessor Salmond and, as we have said before, this remains an affair with serious implications both for the SNP and the wider Yes movement.

However as the polls show a continuing lead for Yes, the SNP looks at a Holyrood landslide and disarray sweeps both Tory and Labour parties talking and planning based on 2021 being the Indyref election is rife.

This includes an ever increasing list of Yes supporting formations all vying for a list vote, debates about Plan Bs and so forth. Largely this debate is predicated on what happened in 2014 based on a broad based Yes movement and, like the Maginot Line, risks fighting the wrong war.

The Voice like the SSP stands firmly in the Yes camp believing that Scotland should be an independent democratic republic free to chart its own path to deal with the issues we all face.

However as a socialist paper our support for a Yes vote is based on a wider vision not just for an independent Scotland but an independent Scotland using its powers to advance the interests of Scotland’s working class.

In this context, while Yes activists count the second votes, draw up plans and call socially distanced demos beyond their ranks the storm clouds are rapidly gathering and are on a scale probably not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Concretely the UK government scheme which is paying the wages of millions is due to end placing mass unemployment firmly on the table.

Indeed, almost every day sees firms implementing mass sackings in sectors from retail and hospitality to airlines and this will only worsen.

All this is feeding in to an already poverty scarred, insecure jobs workforce who will be further under the hammer as tens of thousands are sacked and compete for the shrinking pool of jobs.

Yet the plans offered by the SNP for “recovery” are puny at best and a weak failure base around New Labour style market tinkering.

At least formally we are still due to see the UN COP26 conference in Glasgow later this year and, as C-19 has raged the environmental crisis has, despite some temporary pollution dips, kept growing.

Dealing with these twin crisis of jobs and poverty alongside the urgent need reverse the climate crisis present both a challenge and an opportunity.

People & planet, not profit
The C-19 crisis has shown that the old excuse of lack of money is untrue and rather than trying to revive an expiring “business as usual” the full power of the state needs to be deployed to meet the needs of both people and planet.

It is not rocket science to build thousands of high quality desperately needed social houses, expand and make free public transport, raise wages to at least £12-an-hour. But it needs a clear political effort to break with production based on profit to one based on meeting real needs.

Drawn together in a Green Socialist Recovery Plan this approach can both meet the urgent needs of the working class and build unity with the forces taking the field against the climate emergency in a way which meets the interests of us all.

A campaign for such demands can link meeting peoples’ interests to the democratic demand of independence offer a pathway out of today’s crisis ridden world to one meeting the needs of people and planet.

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