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Editorial: 2012: a year for shedding illusions if we are to win

2011 was a remarkable year for protest movements, mass uprisings, general strikes – and revolutions.Millions of young people and workers across the world have taken to the streets and workers have taken strike action in the fight for more control over their lives. No wonder Time magazine made ‘the protester’ its Person of the Year in 2011.

The Occupy Movement in the US from Wall Street to Oakland challenged the grotesque inequality of capitalism – the way the 1 per cent of billionaires exercise a dictatorship over the 99 per cent, even in the most democratic of republics. It issued a call to fundamentally reorganise society, to make the world one of freedom not dictatorship, of sustainable wellbeing for all not misery for the vast majority.

No wonder the bosses and their hired politicians in all the major parties – right and left – are afraid. They know that 2012 will be a year of more chaos for their economy with the euro crisis adding to grinding stagnation across most of the world, with governments hell–bent on making the poor pay for any recovery in profit making. The IMF – no friend of the poor – is worried that 2012 could see a ‘1930 moment’ when austerity and budget slashing could tip the world into a new Great Depression.

The year 2012 will be one of struggles and new rounds of resistance, but also potentially horrific new wars, with Israel and the US’s threatening Iran.

No doubt we will suffer setbacks as well as breakthroughs and victories. Egypt will be either an example or possibly a warning… the democratic revolution did not destroy the military regime in Egypt. The reactionary Muslim Brotherhood and even more reactionary Salafists completely dominate the new parliament. So the struggle for democracy in Egypt continues.

In Britain, too, after an initial breakthrough, Occupy has reached a dead end. In addition, the pensions revolt that brought two million on the streets on 30 November has split, with the biggest unions trying to force through a rotten compromise with the government that could lead to a major defeat. The major far left groups keep trying to brand the movement of resistance, resulting in unnecessary rivalry and duplication.

The future is bright
What does this mean? Not that the battle is over, nor that our hopes for revolutionary change were delusions. Sure we need to shed certain illusions, which the apparently irresistible forward surge of many struggles last year engendered. The most illusory of them is the idea that the very power of spontaneity means we can actually have ‘leaderless revolutions’, and that leadership itself is the antithesis of democracy and freedom. Nothing could be further from the truth.

2010–2011 was a period when we rediscovered the power of spontaneous rebellion by tens of thousands and millions, and the incredible creativity of youth and workers, using new social media tools to mobilise action. We learned to improvise mass democracy in the squares and on the streets, focusing on one or two simple but powerful demands – for the dictators to go and for real democracy to oust politicians who offer no alternative to the people.

However, what the outcomes of struggles from Egypt to Britain show is that strategy is a critical question, and it becomes more and more so as a potentially revolutionary situation unfolds. The spontaneous anger and action of millions pose the question of power in society – who should rule. They often also create the embryos of a solution in terms of new mass organisations of struggle – from people’s assemblies to new rank and file–based trade unions and factory committees.

The events of 2011 in the UK and the US, as much as in Tunisia and Egypt, show us that the existing masses of the working class movement – political parties and trade unions – play a critical role and cannot simply be ignored or bypassed. So let’s make 2012 a year when we not only unite our forces for effective resistance, but start the process of creating effective organisations for the struggle for power (a revolutionary party) based on a democratically agreed strategy (a revolutionary programme). Last but not least we have to recognise that this will require the international unity of our experiences and forces: a new – fifth – revolutionary International.

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