Global Tremors, British Quakes and Party Fissures

The following is an edited version of my contribution to World and British Perspectives from the Socialist Party South West’s recent Regional Committee which took place on Sunday 4th February.

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Photo: Taken from the Socialist Party website, originally from the Creative Commons

“Before discussing the situation in Britain, it is important to look at some of the trends currently taking place in global Capitalism which provide the backdrop to the economic and political processes currently unfolding in Britain.

In recent weeks we’ve seen the unfolding of demonstrations and protests in Tunisia. This is in part due to the fact that ISIS have been pushed back and are losing their stranglehold over the territory which they had held previously. ISIS formed somewhat of a safety valve to the Tunisian bourgeois as a section of those being radicalised by poor economic conditions were being attracted to ISIS. With ISIS on the retreat the radicalised workers and youth are looking to the government for answers.

Like many countries, political stability is quickly deteriorating with 9 governments being formed within the last 7 years in Tunisia. The situation in Tunisia is being aggravated by the large levels of graduate unemployment. This and many of the factors that fuelled the Arab Spring of 2011 still being present, presenting potential material for revolutionary change.

As in Tunisia, there is a layer of articulate, more middle class, workers starting to draw radical conclusions even if we are not seeing the heavy battalions of the working class being drawn in at this stage. This can easily be exemplified here in Britain with the outbreak of the junior doctors strikes, with UNISON, GMB, RCN and other unions representing the bulk of health workers remaining quiet.

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Photo: Mary Finch

One of the consequences of the ongoing carnage and war in the Middle East is that there are now 11 million Syrian and 4 million Iraqi refugees. This is prompting the less than benevolent response from the EU to become ‘fortress Europe.’ This is despite many countries in Europe directly fuelling the refugee crisis by engaging in bombing Syria such as Britain.

Economic crises are aggravating political and social upheavals. War, famine and natural disasters can often trigger movements and revolutions. This can easily be seen by the recent outbreak of avian flu in Iran. The culling of chickens caused a skyrocketing of the price of eggs and chicken meat, staple foods in the Iranian diet which has led to the outbreak of protests.

Another crisis for capitalism is the development of new technological advancements which are wasted as there is no market to sell them in. As workers are continually squeezed with eye-watering austerity, they are unable to buy back what they are able to produce meaning that new technologies are not able to be utilised to their full potential as profits remaining the driving force within the economy.

The bourgeois are trying to find a way out of the ongoing economic crisis which is leading to ideological splits in their ranks. This is best highlighted by the difference of approach of US vs China.

On the one hand Trump is beating his chest over North Korea and warning China of their expansion into the South China Seas islands whilst opting to take an “America First” approach. On the other hand, Xi Jinping is portraying himself as a poster-boy of globalisation with the One Belt, One Road policy.

This is essentially Chinese imperialism at work, fuelled partly by a desire to weaken US dominance. However, the One Belt, One Road policy is also being prompted by a looming debt crisis which China hopes to export to surrounding countries by providing loans to encourage the development of infrastructure, increasing Chinese trade and influence whilst kicking the can down the road.

Trump is a right populist, opting for protectionist and often xenophobic policies. This is echoed by a layer of bourgeois in the Tory Brexiteer camp. These splits in the bourgeois worldwide over the weakness of the global economy are expressing themselves in a crisis of political representation for the bourgeois. For instance, Germany, the strongest economy in Europe, saw the worst vote for Merkel’s Christian Democrats since 1949. They are losing ground to the more prominently right-wing and anti-EU AfD party.

These ideological splits are also aggravating the National Question. In Spain, the recent push by the bourgeois Catalonian independence parties and the PP government’s repressive reaction for a move to independence has led to a huge defeat for the PP in the Catalonian parliamentary elections.

Brexit has prompted the calling of a border poll by Sinn Fein and the stoking up of sectarian troubles as the Tory party has been forced to go into coalition with the DUP.

We’ve warned of the consequences of taking an incorrect position on the National Question. It can be exemplified by the lukewarm return to Labour seen in Scotland as Jeremy Corbyn does not come out in favour of the still looming question of Scottish Independence which has also been aggravated by the Brexit referendum.

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There is a growth in a broad anti-capitalist mood and the development of a primitive socialist mood. This is expressing itself largely in passive support rather than active engagement in politics that would further a socialist cause. This stems from the economic crisis of 2007/8 and the subsequent austerity. There are little prospects of recovery, especially for the poor. [This is further highlighted by the nosediving of global stock exchanges yesterday and today].

Whilst a small section of the British bourgeois were in favour of Brexit, the Brexit vote has been a huge blow to the bourgeois both in Britain and in Europe not least because it deepens the EU crisis. Wary that they would be cutting their nose to spite their face, the European bourgeois are torn between making an example of Britain to stymie the growing anti-EU mood developing across Europe, or going easy to prevent further economic uncertainty. This is particularly the case as Britain is the 2nd biggest economy in Europe.

In Britain, there is a lack of confidence by the bourgeois in the economy. The fall in the pound won’t have helped this. Yet, there is no desire for the section of capitalists to take advantage of cheaper exports and expand their share in the global markets. Instead, British capitalists are electing to sit on the cash that they are accruing which is widening the already huge chasm of inequality that exists. The British bourgeois are treading water whereas the working class are being subjected through austerity to increasing levels of poverty and misery. This could be a potential flash point in what is already a situation fraught with increasing class antagonisms.

The trigger for political upheaval is just as likely to come from Britain as from countries in the Eurozone or indeed the wider world. There is a seeming quiet on the surface in Britain and the sense that things are not moving very quickly. However, this is partly the product of a weak government that cannot make decisive moves in any direction through fear of going to pieces. Such is the potential for splits in British politics. As one comrade put it, ‘we are paddling in petrol’ with Brexit and the bourgeois reaction to a Corbyn led government providing a potential match to ignite the whole situation.

Corbynism is largely representative of the more middle-class layers. These are layers which we can win to us but working-class layers have not been nearly as motivated into action.

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There are now over 500,000 members in the Labour Party; Momentum [The group set up to support Jeremy Corbyn] claims to have 35,000 members. However, through its determination to purge itself of political debate, Momentum has largely become a moribund organisation whose main contribution is to provide canvass training to bolster Blairite Councillors and MPs. Those that still engage are mainly, with some very small exceptions, of a petit-bourgeois character.

That being said, working class appetites are rising. We caught a glimpse of this in the 2017 general election with the 10% swing to Labour as Corbyn unapologetically put forward his anti-austerity manifesto. This is the biggest swing to Labour since the Clement Attlee government of 1945. If Corbyn were to be returned to number 10 in another general election we could see the working class more decisively take to political engagement.

We have seen in the recent period, growth of more offensive strikes as working class confidence to struggle grows. Strikes have largely been of a defensive character since harsh austerity measures have been doled out in the aftermath of the 2007/8 crisis. Focus had been on defence and protection of current pay and conditions whereas now small pockets of workers are starting to demand better pay and better conditions.

One feature in recent strikes by the RMT, PCS and others has been the distinctive lack of Labour lefts on picket lines. It has largely been members of the Socialist Party that have expressed solidarity on picket lines as workers take to struggle. This is in part due to the soft left Momentum types demobilising their own supporters by preaching unity. Compare this to the right-wing in Labour who have cut to the quick and made no bones about attacking and undermining the left as evidenced by the recent letter attacking Corbyn signed by 68 council leaders and Labour group leaders.

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/labour-councils-defy-momentum-b5sv0t25n

The situation is at different stages across the country, in some places right-wing Councillors have been legitimately unseated by pro-Corbyn supporters. In other areas the right-wing bureaucrats still have a firm stranglehold of the party. In Plymouth, it seems that the right-wingers in Momentum who were quick to buddy up with the Blairites have succeeded in deselecting some Councillors but are still firmly married to the idea of continued austerity. This will simply mean a changing of the axe wielders as they offer the meagre and untrue defence of ‘we’re doing the best we can.’

As the left in the Labour Party have adopted the right’s mantra of preaching unity in the Labour Party the right-wing have the audacity to launch an attack on the party leadership claiming that Corbyn and the NEC are being undemocratic. This is somewhat ironic when it was democratic mechanisms which propelled these figures into the leadership in the first place, showing where the direction of travel is heading.

It is clear that the Blairites, who would be more at home in the Tory party, wish to continue cutting and privatising in peace whilst hiding their lack of principles under the broad church of the Labour Party. Our role is often to pop the balloon [so to speak] of these Corbyn types. It is clear that whilst the Labour Party could potentially be a broad church for discussing and implementing working class policies, it cannot accommodate the Blairite, pro-austerity, pro-capitalist and thus pro-misery bureaucrats which cling to the Labour ‘brand’.

We need to pick up and innoculate those who are being frustrated by the lack of strategy to take the right-wing in the Labour Party head on. Even since the general election, by-elections have shown a 5% swing to Labour. They have also shown a swing to parties that portray themselves as anti-austerity such as the Greens, Plaid Cymru and the SNP. This shows the fertile ground that TUSC can reap in this period.

As Theresa May continues to traverse the harsh negotiations of the Brexit negotiations, there is a very possibility that we could see the Tories split as the Remain and Leave camps remain utterly divided. However, it is just as likely that we could see a split in the Labour Party as the anti-Corbyn, pro-capitalist wing act as a 5th column for the bourgeois. They would likely detonate a split if faced with the prospects of a Corbyn led government.

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It remains clear that the quiet mood won’t last forever. There is an explosive mood which can rise to the surface. On Saturday we saw 500 people take to the streets of Exeter at relatively short notice to demonstrate in defence of the NHS. This mood can quickly fall back however and we need to harness and capture the mood as it strikes, with a programme and strategy to advance struggle as it breaks out.

The betrayal of Syriza in Greece marks the potential for a similar betrayal in Britain. Corbyn has done little to challenge the recent issue of Carillion and has instead relied on parliamentary methods rather than the building of a movement which will be much more reliable than those sat next to him on the Green Benches. The failures of even this limited left reformism will likely resurface under a Corbyn government.

This is not a personal attack on Corbyn but rather a warning. If Corbyn cannot face down the opposition within his own Party, is it any wonder that there are sections of the working class that have concerns about the strength of his leadership in forming a government? Particularly when said government would have to face down the sharks in the EU, the capitalist press, the bankers and the heavyweights in big business.

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More people will draw radical and revolutionary conclusions in this period and we need to be there as a revolutionary party to pick these people up, arm them with perspectives and a strategy to end capitalism.

So comrades, we need to hold our nerve, patiently explain but also prepare ourselves and those around us for the huge tremors that lay ahead and the potential for colossal battles to unfold which will highlight the power of the working class and the need for the socialist transformation of society.

There are regional variations about the current mood but it is clear that the idea of a strategy to end austerity is having to be grappled with and refuted more strongly by the Blairites thanks to our influence and intervention. The trade unions have largely been absent in organising big demonstrations and the trade union leaders have tried to apply the brakes on strike action but it is beginning to break out nonetheless.

Events are likely to get hectic as more struggles develop. It is important that we keep cool heads and plan to ensure we make the biggest impact. Events can be great teachers but we also need to be educating particularly newer comrades in Marxism. We can make steps forward, we may only be able to edge forward at this stage but we have to maintain flexibility as events can erupt around us.

We need to engage in and, where necessary, provoke events but we also need to spend time in branches with comrades, arming them with perspectives. People will be attracted to us for different reasons, some will want to ‘storm the heavens’ whereas others will want our grounded analysis in charting a course through the stormy times ahead. We need to temper our cadres by cooling the firebrands but raising the spirits and temperature of comrades who may be in danger of cooling off.

We have gained a certain authority, it is for this reason that the right-wing in the Labour Party treat us with such contempt as they have to justify why they continue to make cuts when we have highlighted a clear, and above all legal, strategy for practically opposing austerity and the Tories.

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Photo: Mary Finch

Comrades, we’re not in a revolutionary period but the potential for incendiary events is there and we have to prepare the ground by building cadres and engaging in struggles as they develop, burst illusions and at each stage in a struggle lay out with workers a strategy and a programme for change.

We consistently manage to punch above our weight but we need to choose our battles carefully, be precious with our time and invest it in a balanced way between agitating and organising, between being patient and impatient in the struggle for socialism and most importantly of all between building and consolidating the party.”

Ryan Aldred

Plymouth

Tuesday 6th February 2018

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On Young and Precariat Workers

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Above photo taken by Mary Finch

Below is an editted version of my contribution to the discussion on British Perspectives at the Socialist Party’s March 2017 National Congress:

Ryan Aldred, Plymouth and South West

Comrade chair, comrades.

For many youths growing up in the 90’s, those putting forward a so called “alternative” to the Tories would have been Tony Blair, promising a university education for everybody and a life of prosperity thereafter. And how prosperous we are now! This was followed by Nick Clegg, promising to end tuition fees and put a brake on Tory austerity; well done there Cleggy!

It should therefore come as no surprise that in some of the most deprived areas, that young and precariat workers take a very jaded approach to Corbyn. There is some mileage in more boldly putting forward our programme among these layers. It is mainly a layer of older workers returning to the Labour Party and more politically engaged students who identify with Corbyn and recognise that he is qualitatively different from his neo-liberal predecessors.

There is a backwardness in class consciousness and particularly combativity compared to previous periods. This, coupled with the atomisation of young and precariat workers especially along with their abhorrent living conditions which can explain the increasing prevalence of mental health issues working class people are struggling to overcome. With poverty contributing to isolation and social exclusion leading to depression and the constant worry of living hand to mouth resulting in greater levels of anxiety.

It is these same material conditions which give rise to an often inchoate and elemental anger which can quickly rise to the surface and potentially spill over. Thus in this volatile period there is a danger that we could see a return of the riots which took place in 2011 as the conditions are still there which caused the riots to erupt.

Likewise, we could see a new occupy style movement albeit one on a higher political level due to the increased pace at which processes and events are taking place compared to the original occupy movement. Moreover, we’re likely to see the explosive injection of youth on demonstrations such as we have seen with the anti-Trump protests for instance.

With the lack of generalised industrial struggle in this period compared to some of the heroic struggles that took place in the Thatcher years, combined with the lack of organised opposition from Corbyn and general lack of momentum in Momentum, we could see the frustrations of youth finding expression in a resurgance of ultra-left and anarchist ideas. We have already seen this in embryo in the anti-party mood in the indignados and occupy movements and this will no doubt increase if we see further betrayals by left populist parties such as Syriza in Greece.

With all this unpredictability and volatility, one thing remains glaringly obvious, we will continue to see the accumulation of capitalist contradictions, agitating and radicalising the working class and especially the youth and more precariat layers. Improving technology is exacerbating this, self-service machines replacing shop workers and, as reported in the Financial Times this week, electronic lecturing displacing even this once secure profession.

We’ve seen the opportunities for super exploitation with apps such as deliveroo and uber eats, this has been compounded by Phillip Hammond’s budget, targetting the self-employed which will hit those in the rising gig economy hardest.

There is a desperate need for a bold and audacious alternative and in the absence of a serious fightback from the Corbynistas, TUSC is well placed to build towards that, even with the disappointing withdrawal of the SWP from TUSC. By showing confidence in our ideas and our programme, as evidenced by our strong intervention in the March 4th NHS demo, we can win new layers to our ranks and capture and hopefully harness some of that anger.

By being patient, flexible and resilient when building amongst casualised and particularly young workers, accommodating for comrades’ daily struggles, we can build confidence in these layers to take their first steps organising in the harsh conditions of zero-hours living.

This can help us to sink deeper roots into the class to ensure workers don’t internalise feelings of failure for not being productive members of a capitalist society which sees fit to discard them. By agitating among these workers to express their rightful indignation at a system that is failing them, whilst linking their struggles into the wider struggles of the working class by helping to organise these layers, we can prepare the ground for the revolutionary idea that we can instead discard this capitalist system and build with our class towards a socialist alternative.

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“Pasokification” of the Labour Party: A Workers’ Party is Needed

“Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad.” This certainly seems to ring true when looking at the current state of the Labour Party. When analysing the comments and actions exuding from Labour representatives and thereby extrapolating its current direction or lack thereof it is clear that it is reaching a political cul-de-sac.

Recently, Sadiq Khan expressed that cuts to legal aid cannot be reversed:

http://www.theguardian.com/law/2015/mar/02/labour-cannot-reverse-tory-legal-aid-cuts-sadiq-khan-says

This might have come as a shock if it were not for the fact that this is only the latest statement in a mounting list of evidence for the Party’s complete degeneration. No matter which area of policy is looked at, the Labour Party seems to barely go beyond apologism for the last 5 years of Con-Dem austerity in a political manifesto that is as anaemic as it is sophistic.

This is to be expected of a party which long ago did away with even giving lip service to the ideas of Socialism with the purging of Clause 4 under Blair. This, coupled with the effective neutering of the Trade Union voice through the Collins Review is very telling of the Party’s gradual but inevitable bourgeoisification. As the leadership continue to break away from the party’s historical roots they will only hasten their demise; a fate which is evident in that their entire existence has become that of simply putting the brakes on Conservative austerity and privatisation rather than seeing any reversals.

The significance of this is crucial because it is evidence that the Labour Party’s leadership is ailing from the fact that it has no alternative to offer and so spends its entire time reacting to Conservative policies rather than offering up anything that goes beyond being the lesser of two evils. If the Labour leadership were to listen to the diminishing number who still cling to the Labour Party in the hope that it will shift direction, or better yet listen to those who have been completely disillusioned it would easily be able to put together a bold programme.

Rather than simply increasing spending on the NHS why not reverse the privatisation which has opened up the funding gap? Rather than promising to freeze energy bills, why not renationalise the utilities? Rather than reducing fees from £9,000 a year to £6,000 a year why not scrap fees altogether? It’s insulting enough that the Labour Party are dressing up a reduction of fees as a step forward when students graduating as late as September 2014 will have only had to pay £3,000 a year. How much angrier will the firefighters, teachers, NHS workers, local government workers and many others be when Labour offers up nothing but excuses for why Conservative policies that have led to the degeneration of pay, terms and conditions to all these workers cannot be undone?

The point that needs to be stressed is that it simply is not true that the damage done by the Con-Dems cannot be undone. What is clear is that the Labour Party is not the vehicle through which to effect this change. The very fact that Labour members are floating the idea of a grand coalition of Tories and Labour in the result of a hung parliament is evidence that Labour is reaching a political cul-de-sac:

http://labourlist.org/2015/03/labour-mp-says-party-shouldnt-rule-out-a-grand-coalition-with-the-tories/

Such a move will only bear the same result as their disastrous coalition with the Tories and Lib Dems on the issue of Scottish Independence.

The Pasokification of the Labour Party appears to be a question of when rather than a question of if as it is following the same course of action as Greece’s Pasok party. Pasok continued to implement austerity when it was voted into power in 2009 and has now completely collapsed as Syriza’s anti-austerity message propelled them to take the most seats, largely at the expense of Pasok.

The troika’s (European Central Bank, IMF and EC) strangulation of the hopes of Greek the working-class cannot last as anti-austerity parties gain traction in countries like Spain and spread across Europe. Moreover, unless Syriza stops retreating from its pre-election promises, the working-class could potentially sweep away the current leadership to secure the relief from austerity it was promised, so long as disillusionment does not set in. However, for this to take hold there is a need for the development of a socialist leadership which has the confidence to take on the Troika even if doing so means Grexit.

The feeling around for a vehicle through which to oppose austerity resonates with the current picture in Britain. It seems that even some of the trade union leadership, in anticipating backlash from its rank and file membership which have been at the receiving end of cuts made by Labour led councils, are cautious about putting forward Labour as a solution to the problem of the Tories. A pamphlet recently sent to Unite members urging them to register to vote so that their voices can be heard in the elections clearly gives tacit support to the Labour Party but dares not mention them by name.

Instead, the pamphlet talks about tuition fee hikes, the bedroom tax and the NHS and pushes union members to vote for a party which can protect these things. It seems that the trade union officialdom are just as embarrassed of putting forward their alleged political voice as the Labour Party leadership are embarrassed of strikes and its party’s historic working-class roots.

There is a desperate need for a political alternative that has a programme that reflects the growing feelings of anger at the relentlessness of cuts that have been passed by a rainbow coalition. Labour, Tories and the Lib Dems are committed to continuation of current spending plans and the likes of UKIP and the Greens have posed as an alternative but have shown themselves to be more of the same. Whether it is UKIP Councillors in Plymouth voting against an implementation of the living wage for agency workers employed by the council or Greens in Bristol attempting to close down 7 libraries, it is clear that actions speak far louder than words.

This is where the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) enters, stage left. TUSC mounted a mammoth 560 candidates in the local elections last May and is set to mount over 130 parliamentary candidates this year as well as 640 candidates in local elections taking place at the same time. TUSC has a growing number of Councillors up and down the country putting forward a principled stance of refusing to administer cuts as a means to protecting jobs and public services.

Having now achieved the threshold to qualify for a political broadcast, the national media blackout on TUSC can finally be lifted meaning that millions of people up and down the country can finally hear about TUSC and embrace the only party that will offer a genuine alternative to austerity and misery this May. A vote for TUSC is a vote against cuts but moreover the growing support for building local TUSC groups and steering committees means that the foundations of a new workers’ party are firmly being laid down. TUSC has a comprehensive programme and can only build on its accumulating success to replicate the anti-austerity mood which is starting to sweep across Europe. Capitalism offers no way out of this protracted crisis, Socialism is the only way forward for working-class people and the future of the planet.

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Greeks Reject Austerity: Prospects For The European Working Class

Many Greeks will no doubt be inspired by the election of Syriza in the last few days. With a full quarter of Greeks unemployed and a staggering 60% of Greek youths without work it is no wonder that the Greek working-class is looking to a political alternative rather than sticking with the eye-watering austerity consensus offered by the main parties of Capitalism. The election of Syriza poses some interesting questions for the working-class across Europe over the next period but the road ahead is by no means staightforward.

The very fact that Syriza stood on an anti-austerity platform throughout the elections will no doubt sprout hope amongst Greeks that have faced huge falls in living standards since the global economic crisis which unfolded in 2008. Moreover, this could bolster support for Podemos in Spain, as well as opening up prospects for anti-austerity alternatives in Portugal and Italy.

With General and Local Elections taking place in Britain in May, the publicity which these results have received could also encourage a layer of the British working-class to question the necessity of austerity. However, with the first past the post system as well as a media blackout on the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), it is unlikely at this stage that TUSC will see results of this magnitude yet.

Nevertheless, it is worth noting that it was only in 2009 that Syriza was polling less than 5% of the vote with Pasok (Greek equivalent of the British Labour Party) being the main contender for power. Pasok has now seen a massive collapse in its support which serves as an example to the Labour Party which has remained committed to continuing with Con-Dem austerity if elected later this year. The importance of raising the TUSC banner high and offering a no cuts alternative cannot be stated enough as the rank and file of trade unions are increasingly questioning the point of supporting a Labour Party which has continued to ignore the needs of ordinary working class-people in favour of big business.

As highlighted above, the election of Syriza could potentially cause a leftwards shift to occur across much of Europe, although this depends largely on the movement that can be built against austerity in the next period. The European bourgeois are no doubt wary of this new development with stern warnings being passed onto Greece since the results of the election were announced on Sunday. In a bid to foster divisions among different sections of European workers, Sigmar Gabriel of the German SPD stated “Things that Greece itself won’t do cannot be shunted on to the taxpayers and employers in neighbouring states”.

Yet, there have been some worrying signals which clearly indicate that Greece is by no means on a clear path to recovery just yet. First of all is Tsipras’s backpedalling on the strong anti-austerity rhetoric being used throughout the elections, toning down his position to one of compromise rather than confrontation of the troika (European Union, European Central Bank and IMF). Furthermore, is the unlikely choice of the Independent Greeks as a coalition partner to prop up a Syrizan Government. Though also being against austerity, the Independent Greeks are a right-wing party with a reputation for racism and homophobia.

With this in mind, it is not yet clear how things will shape up in the next period. However, the working-class of Greece need to keep the pressure on Tsipras to deliver on the promises that have been made as the current prospects for Greek, and indeed all, European working-class people remains unacceptable. If Tsipras is not to go the way of the “Socialist” Hollande in France, then a firm stance against austerity needs to be upheld as the working-class of Greece will not acquiesce with so much at stake. In addition, with the elections already causing a stir in the rest of Europe, the Greek working-class will very quickly find that they have allies in the working-class across Europe and indeed the world if they take the route of struggle.